Archive | Historical Jesus

How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response

Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, released just yesterday, is the most recent example of a scholarly tradition of books with similar titles offering to explain how Christianity turned a simple itinerant Jewish teacher into the Second Person of the Trinity. Two of the earlier, notable such books were Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God (1999) and Larry Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (2005). In what may be an unprecedented publishing event, a book by evangelical scholars critiquing Ehrman’s book was released at the same time yesterday, entitled How God Became Jesus. The concurrent publication of the rebuttal book was facilitated by the fact that its publishing house, Zondervan, is owned by HarperCollins, which published Ehrman’s book under the HarperOne imprint.

Ehrman, of course, has more name recognition in the English-speaking world than any other biblical scholar today, due especially to his de-conversion story (enthusiastically disseminated in the mainstream media) of abandoning evangelical Christian belief and becoming an agnostic. Sadly, he is probably a hundred times better known than any of the five scholars who contributed to How God Became Jesus. In particular, it is a shame that Craig A. Evans is not better known. Evans is also the author of what I consider the stand-out chapter responding to Ehrman. More on that later.

An Overview of the Two Books

Ehrman’s thesis is that Jesus was not viewed, by himself or his disciples, as in any sense divine during his lifetime, but that belief in his divinity arose almost immediately after his disciples had visions of Jesus that they interpreted as meaning that God had raised him bodily from the dead. Continue Reading →

John Shelby Spong on the Gospel of John

John Shelby Spong’s newest book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, was released this week. For those unfamiliar with Spong, he is a retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and the author of a string of notorious books such as Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (1992), Why Christianity Must Change or Die (1999), A New Christianity for a New World (2002), and Jesus for the Non-Religious (2008). The recurring theme in these books, reflected in some of the titles, is that Christianity must stop being Christianity and become a mildly spiritual humanism. (Spong actually won the 1999 Humanist of the Year award.) Spong is a devotee of the liberal humanistic theology of Paul Tillich (1886-1965), a German-American theologian who argued that God was not a personal Creator but the ground of being, or being itself. This is a philosophically sophisticated way of saying that God does not exist, of having one’s God and eating It too. Spong has also written several books attacking specific traditional Christian beliefs and values, such as Living in Sin? (1990, against traditional Christian sexual values), Born of a Woman (1994, no virgin birth), Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (1995, no resurrection of Jesus), and Eternal Life: A New Vision (2010, no heaven or hell).

Spong claims, both in the book and in an article on Huffington Post promoting the book, that The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic is the result of an “intensive five-year-long study” of the Gospel of John and of Johannine scholarship. “I have now read almost every recognized major commentary on John’s gospel that is available in English from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries” (Fourth Gospel, 8). Unfortunately, it doesn’t show. Continue Reading →

“Run Away Naked Mark” – The First Streaker

One of the great tragedies in cinematic history was the show LOST. It was not a tragedy in the sense that there was something wrong with the acting, screenplay, camera work, visuals, character development, or the like. All of those elements were among the best I have ever seen. It would have been hard to improve any of them. But what kept people like me coming back for more each week was the intrigue. We were all captivated by the story. “What could all of this mean?” That was the question with which I was left each week. I could not wait to see how they were going to pull it all together. For the last five or six episodes, the previews of the final week kept us coming back with this promise: “All your questions will soon be answered.” Of course, I believed them. One does not create a fictional story where the individual parts do not fit into a bigger picture, do they?

In season 1 episode 2 of LOST, the writers introduced this polar bear. On the mysterious tropical island where the plane crashed, the survivors run into a polar bear. Why? Well, we did not know, but we could not wait to find out. This, along with a thousand other odd things, created the intrigue. However, many of us found our hopes turned into tragedy as we finished the final minutes of the last episode, and virtually nothing was explained. Nothing! From September 22, 2004 to May 23, 2010, we anticipated the moment when all the blanks would be filled in. We wanted it all tied together. It was like we were given a thousand pieces to a jigsaw puzzle without a picture from which to work. We had the individual pieces of the puzzle distributed to us, one by one, for six years, and we expected that the creators knew how to put it together. As the final episode came to a close, we had to accept the tragic reality that the writers themselves did not really know what the big picture looked like. On May 23, a day that will live in infamy in the history of television, fans of LOST had dozens of leftover puzzle pieces in their laps. One of these pieces had a picture of a polar bear on it.

Live and learn.

Seconds after the final episode, Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage. Fans were crying for explanations. Immediately, blogs and YouTube videos were produced listing the dozens of unanswered questions. Some of those who were holding out hope, in a last-ditch effort to keep LOST as one of the great shows of all time (which it could have been), cried, “Genius! They meant to leave everything unanswered. Now, we can fill in the blanks.” Are you kidding? No. I won’t have any of that. I don’t want to fill in the blanks, not in fiction anyway. You see, when we are dealing with fiction, we don’t like incidentals. We don’t like puzzle pieces that don’t fit into the big picture. And this is the difference between history and fiction. In fiction, there are no incidentals. Everything is told with a purpose to fit into the fabrication of the story. However, in real life, incidentals are plenty. They endear us to the truthfulness of the story. They are a sign to us that what we are hearing is probably not made up. In short, a characteristic of stories that represent true history is that they will often have incidentals and we don’t mind. Continue Reading →