Did Jesus Claim to be God? A Response to Bart Ehrman (Part 3)

by Michael Kruger

Note:  This is the third installment of a series of blog posts reviewing Bart Ehrman’s new book, How Jesus Became God–The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014). For the prior post see here and here.

Not surprisingly, one of the major tenets in Ehrman’s argument is that Jesus never considered himself to be God, nor ever claimed to be God. In order to make his case, Ehrman summarizes his arguments from his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford, 2001), and says that Jesus just viewed himself as an apocalyptic prophet who was ushering in the Kingdom of God (basically Albert Schweitzer redivivus).

Here Ehrman adopts what he regards as the standard methodologies of modern critical scholarship, including the criteria of authenticity (and even the controversial and oft-debated criteria of dissimilarity). Of course, the upshot of Ehrman’s reconstruction of the historical Jesus is that any statements that might sound like a claim to divinity are conveniently dismissed as unhistorical.  So, not surprisingly, the claims of Jesus in the Gospel of John are considered “not part of the historical record of what Jesus actually said” (125).  In addition, Ehrman refuses to allow any statement where Jesus identifies himself as the “Son of Man.”

Needless to say, this all works out a little too neatly.  Ehrman portrays his critical methods not only as something that all scholars agree upon, but as something that leads to clear cut, unambiguous results.  Left unsaid is the fact that the criteria of authenticity themselves have come under tremendous fire from scholars of all stripes (e.g., see Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity [T&T Clark, 2012]).  Even more, the specific criterion of dissimilarity (which fuels much of Ehrman’s reconstruction) has been vigorously debated and, in the minds of many, is fundamentally flawed.  On top of all of this, even scholars who agree on the criteria reach radically different conclusions about how those criteria should be applied.

Given that Ehrman has spent much of his academic career lamenting reconstructions of early Christianity which portray it as neat and tidy, and given that he is quick to point out that early Christianity was, in reality, full of debate and disagreement, it is ironic that he seems so unwilling to point out those same challenges within his own discipline…


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