Friday, April 11, 2014

How God did not become a man, but took on the form of man

This brief article is in reference to an interview of Bart Ehrman by Terri Gross, host and interviewer of Fresh Air on NPR. I am compelled to respond to Bart Ehrman’s words because there are saints in Christ who would read his words and actually think he’s hit on something real and previously unheard. This is not so. I encourage you to listen to the 38:37 minute/second interview. This is not a point-by-point response to Ehrman’s words. There are nothing less than three fundamental flaws in Ehrman’s discussion of the question concerning the deity of Jesus, “If Jesus never called himself God, How did he become God?”

1) He continues to blithely misuse the term become from his days as a young evangelical Christian up to the present day as an agnostic, historian professor of religion.

Messiah is a man

First, Ehrman’s view that the Messiah was to be a man echoes the ancient, classic example of various and numerous misunderstandings by Israel. As such he, like devout Jews, believes Christians got it all wrong by putting their trust in the man Jesus as Messiah. However, Israel’s own history abounds with misunderstanding and rebellion against God. No, they may not be any better or worse than Christians or anyone else, but there’s little to be gained by such comparisons and, more importantly, their misunderstandings cannot be overlooked on the basis of their privileged status as the chosen people of God.

One instance of Israel’s misunderstanding involves Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. As much time and as long as Israel had to ponder, analyze, discuss and philosophize this sacrifice which occurred four centuries before the release of Israel from Egyptian slavery  they were still at a loss to gain much understanding about it. Some took that sacrifice as merely a lesson from God to impress on the future nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, that He was not like the pagan gods to whom their devotees offered human sacrifice. Another view was that Isaac was literally and actually sacrificed.

Second, none of this prepared Israel for the reality of wide-scale human sacrifice, because that was precisely how God chose to free the people of Israel after four centuries of slavery in Egypt. This human sacrifice, the death of Egypt’s firstborn, in Jewish history is a psychological burden which weighs heavily on some Jews to this day. God, unlike Pharoah who commanded the Egyptian midwives to secretly kill the Jewish newborn male infants, pronounced the sacrifice of Egypt’s firstborn. It was not a secret, mindless slaughter of all Egyptians. It was a very precise and select sacrifice which God took for himself with the death of the firstborn among men, women, children and livestock. Furthermore, Pharoah and the entire nation of Egypt had been through nine plagues at the time they were warned about the coming tenth plague which was to take Egypt’s firstborn. Pharoah stood firm in his stubborn defiance.

The sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Egypt’s firstborn would seem to leave little reason for the longstanding rejection of Jews to the concept and reality of human sacrifice, not by humans, but by God himself. It is a rejection which may have a pious, devout ring to it, but it just does not complement the reality of human sacrifice in Israel’s history as related in the OT.

No wonder then that for Israel their understanding of Messiah was that he was at the very least a mere man. Maybe Messiah would be at the very most, the king of Israel. However, never, ever remotely or possibly could nor would Messiah be a human sacrifice in accordance with the will of God. Even less possible for Israel and Ehrman is that the sacrifice of Jesus could or would be God himself in the flesh.

Bart Ehrman shares this ignorance with Israel. My point is that Israel was repulsed by and saw as inconceivable the idea of human sacrifice. Their God, they believed, was not the kind of God who would do such a thing. Yet, that is what God turned out to do just as He repeatedly baffled Israel with his ways. Similarly repulsive was the notion that God should dwell among men, but this repulsion forgets that God dwelt in wooden box, the ark of the covenant, in the midst of Israel. Certainly, Jews do not believe God limited himself when he made that dwelling arrangement for himself. Would it be anymore difficult for God who dwelt in a wooden box made by human hands than to dwell in one not made by human hands?

Suddenly, it does not seem so inconceivable that that same God should dwell in human form anymore than to dwell in a wooden box. Suddenly, it does not seem inconceivable that He should demonstrate his power over death, not merely by raising a few dead people, but by

taking up his own body up from the grave of death through the very public spectacle of the resurrection.

2) Ehrman goes on just as blithely to reference the trinity, which he does not believe, (and a term for which I have no need or use) as much as ranking from first to third those same deity entities of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus, a man, became God

Ehrman claims to be a just-the-facts historian Ehrman, but completely ignores the deity references Jesus made of himself. Yes, he is familiar with these, but he dismisses these claims which appear in John’s gospel because, as he states, these do not appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts. What?!?!! Then, not only does he dismiss the references in John, but he claims they are historically inaccurate.

What Ehrman claims to have determined from his research is that Christians found themselves in a bit of a sticky situation when they claimed, according to Ehrman, that Jesus became God when he ascended into heaven. Actually, this may be professor Ehrman’s own sticky situation and one to which he has never, whether as zealous evangelical or agnostic historian, been able to offer a cohesive, comprehensible response. Long story short: Christians determined, according to Ehrman, Jesus must have been God even before he was born of his virgin mother, Mary. According to Ehrman Christians went from one sticky situation to another because then they had to explain a plurality of deities such as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This need for an explanation by Christians Ehrman mistakenly calls “exaltation christology.” According to Ehrman the first Christian writings twenty years after Jesus death were based on pre-literary traditions. What this means is that Paul and other NT writers were borrowing from those prior sources and it was in these pre-literary sources which gave rise to “exaltation christology” which began the belief that Jesus became God when Jesus was raised from the dead. It is Ehrman’s own sticky subject. Ehrman's dismissal of the apostles' first century writings on the basis that these are merely a reflection of earlier "exaltation christology" is mistaken. If Ehrman's few references to that christology are any indication, -and they are- there is nothing in it which is at odds with the whole of NT and OT writings.

“The best theologians have always classified that [the trinity] as a mystery which means that you can’t understand it with your rational mind. If you think you do understand it then you misunderstand it. (laughs).” Bart Ehrman

Theology appears to be the latest place of refuge for Ehrman. He has gone from evangelical to historian and now this last resort as theologian. He can cast himself among the best of theologians, write off the whole matter of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (the trinity) as a mystery and expound on it at length while believing it can never be understood, just like Ehrman, an agnostic who claims God can not be known. It does not occur to Ehrman that what he, the professor, historian and theologian can not understand for himself he can not explain to those whom he purports to enlighten on the true, historic and accurate matters of God. What Ehrman does not understand is what Israel did not understand.

The nature of God is just one other instance of Israel’s serious misunderstanding of God. Despite numerous references in the Tanakh (OT) by God of himself in the plural form these were simply dismissed and disregarded by Israel. This misunderstanding was rooted in their numeric quantification of God as one. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike share in this misunderstanding. Jews and Muslims quantify God as one. Christians quantify God as one . . ., but three.

What has been overlooked between Yahweh’s words to Israel in Deuteronomy 6 & 18 is the unity of his message about which he was admonishing Israel in her future years. Briefly, that unity meant that there was total harmony, unity and agreement in everything God said, everything Moses said God said, everything the prophets said God said, everything Jesus said was from the Father, everything the apostles said was from the Spirit and everything the saints in Christ read is every bit the word of God before it was heard, since it was spoken and since it was printed. When Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord is one” it was not a numeric value to be quantified as one, two or three, but to be understood as the oneness and harmony which characterizes God and which we can only strive to imitate in our lives. It is in this respect that those plural entities dismissed by Israel and equally misunderstood by Christians are seen and understood as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not numerically, but in the complete unity in their entire revelation to man. Ehrman's is seriously mistaken on his understanding of what he, in true agnostic form, or anyone can understand not the least of which is that Jesus became God. The believe and claims of the saints in Christ Jesus is that he came into this world as God.

empty tomb

Ehrman argues there is no indication that the disciples of Jesus in the first century came to believe in the tomb as proof of the resurrection. He is unwittingly, despite his unbelief, quite right.

Even twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus the apostle Paul wrote that Jesus had appeared to more than 500 people some of whom, he said, were still living at the time of his writing in I Corinthians 15. Of course, for Ehrman the resurrection, although he never states it as clearly in the interview, never happened because what was left of Jesus after his death on the cross was food for scavenger birds.

Fresh Air host and Interviewer Terri Gross presses Ehrman on his view that Pilate would not have consented to the body of Jesus being taken from the cross after his death, but would have instead let it, as was the Roman custom, rot and be prey for the scavenger birds. His reason: "Pilate was not a nice fellow." Again, Ehrman is oblivious to some particulars which are chronicled in the gospels, namely, that Pilate’s wife approached him and urged him to have nothing to do with that man Jesus because of some troublesome dreams she had about Jesus. Second, whether or not it was because of his wife, Pilate attempts to release Jesus. Pilate himself pressed the multitude as to what evil Jesus had done. Suddenly, it does not seem totally implausible that Pilate might have made an exception to allow the body of Jesus to be taken down from the cross, - especially when someone requested the body. Such a request by anyone of a one who had been crucified and brought such shame and reproach on himself and family was a common thing. Furthermore, by entombing the body of Jesus Pilate could possibly use it as a future reminder to anyone claiming that Jesus was raised from the dead. In this respect, it may have been a shrewd Pilate who saw an advantage in preserving the corpse of Jesus for future use. The fact that the gospels relate that Pilate did in fact give consent to a request for the body of Jesus hardly makes Pilate a nice fellow. He may have acted out of character, but this is what is related by the gospel writers.

All this is merely Ehrman the historian dabbling seemingly for his own amusement, because after painting for us the imagery of the corpse of Jesus being eaten by birds he asserts that he believes Jesus was not given a decent burial, but that he was just thrown into a common grave even though Ehrman acknowledges the body of Jesus was requested of Pilate by and delivered to Joseph of Arimathea who placed his body in his own tomb soon to be emptied of Jesus’ body.


Indeed, the disciples of Jesus came to believe in the resurrection because they SAW him. Here again, Ehrman dismisses the testimony of the scriptures and prefers to concoct his own explain of “visions” as something akin to euphoric delirium or human nostalgia. The gospels testify unabashedly of the unbelief of the disciples EVEN WHEN THEY SAW Jesus.

Literally, they could not believe their eyes. Jesus drew them back into reality. He invited Thomas to stick his finger in the holes in his body and to touch and feel so they can verify for himself that the Jesus he was seeing was not a spirit because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as did Jesus. He reassured the disciples he was not a vision of their delirium or their imagination as Ehrman argues. This is the evidence of testimony which asserts the disciples saw Jesus. It substantiates what they saw with touch and feel plus a measure of unbelief to remind the inquisitive seeker this was not an ordinary matter. It demands to be assessed by historians, believer and nonbeliever alike and not without some very human behavioral reaction.

My response to Bart Ehrman’s claims

Jesus took on the form of man

What Ehrman, at least in this interview, never touches on and does not seem to realize is that the scriptures never state that God became a man, that Jesus became God, or that God made Jesus God. This goes back to #1 at the beginning of this article. This is what the scriptures do state:

Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

There are three significant points made by Paul in this passage:

1) Jesus existed in the form of God.
2) Jesus emptied himself of that form of God to take on the form of a servant . . . in the likeness of man.
3) Jesus humbled himself in that human form even unto death on the cross.

The declarations in this passage do not say anything about God becoming a man, a man becoming God, or a man being made God.  Rather, it declares that He took on the form of a man. Note also, that the exaltation of Jesus so grossly misunderstood by Bart Ehrman did indeed occur. It was AFTER his death on the cross and it was also then that he was give the name above every name.

Jesus is not one of the Gods. He is one with God. He is one with the Father. He is one with the Holy Spirit. The Father and Holy Spirit are one with Jesus. This means Jesus as much and no less God than the Father and Holy Spirit. The fact is the practice of simplification such as the origin and use of the term trinity do nothing to enable believers to understand God. Any time a believer resorts to trying to understand God through a numeric value of one, two or three he/she will fail to understand the unity of the message of the will of God which spans from Genesis to Revelation.

This, according to Luke the author of Acts, is what Peter declared concerning Jesus:

Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.  (John 14:1)

peace to all.

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