Did the Early Church Invent Jesus’ Divinity After the Fact?

Bible Gateway Blog

Did Jesus’ disciples believe that Jesus was God? Was Jesus’ divinity something that was attributed to him after the fact—perhaps even centuries later—by the early church? That’s the argument of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, released this week.

Ehrman, of course, is no stranger to controversy; his books have challenged many orthodox Christian beliefs about God, Jesus, the early church, and the Bible. So what’s noteworthy about the latest Ehrman book? What’s interesting is that it’s being released alongside a counterargument: a book called How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman, by a team of five Bible scholars. (And not only are the two books being released side-by-side, but they’re being published by two arms of the same publishing company: HarperOne and Zondervan, both subsidiaries of HarperCollins.*)

One of the contributers to How God Became Jesus is theology professor Michael Bird (who you may recognize from our blog roundtable last year about the doctrine of biblical inerrancy). When Bird read the manuscript of Ehrman’s book, he was inspired to write a rebuttal of what he considered Ehrman’s unconvincing argument.

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It’s a fascinating situation, both because the topic (the divinity of Jesus) is an important one, and because it’s rare to see an argument/counterargument presented so straightfowardly in print. When we at Bible Gateway heard that Michael Bird had sat down with Emily Varner of Academic Publishing Services to talk about the reasons behind this unusual rebuttal, we were intrigued—and we’re thrilled to present to you the entirety of that discussion. Here is that discussion, in which Bird discusses the reasons behind this rebuttal, some of the weak points in Erhman’s arguments, and how we should critically consider claims like those in How Jesus Became God.

Emily Varner: Tell us about deciding to put this book together.

Michael Bird: Well, I was walking around the book stalls at SBL, and saw the poster for Bart Ehrman’s new book, How Jesus Became God. From the blurb, I reckon I had a pretty good idea as to what he was gonna say, and believed that a timely and thoughtful response should be made. And—to be honest—while I have a great respect for some of Ehrman’s works on textual criticism and early Christian history, I’m rather fed-up with the often extravagant and inflated claims that either he or his publicity team makes in his popular level books about Jesus, the Bible, and the early church. I’m weary of getting emails from some distraught undergrad who heard the latest overstated or unguarded remark that Ehrman or one of his acolytes are saying on the TV, web, or in print. So I wanted to put forward an alternative view to take him on and show that he’s not holding all the aces…

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