Archive | Rob Bowman

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 →

Shawn McCraney on the Linear Thinking of His Theological Critics

Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who became a “born-again” Christian and eventually left Mormonism, received some ministry training through Calvary Chapel, and launched his own ministry in Salt Lake City to evangelize Mormons. In the past few weeks Shawn has gone public on his television show denouncing the term Trinity as “garbage” and explaining his own doctrine of God in ways that have been confused at best. I flew out to Utah to meet with Shawn, had very friendly and enjoyable conversations with him, and appeared on Shawn’s show Heart of the Matter. I also posted a few messages on Facebook regarding the controversy.

On March 12, 2014, Shawn McCraney’s lecture on his TV show was a critical response to his critics, whom he characterized as scholars, theologians, and apologists who impose their exclusively “linear thinking” on the church to rule, control, and dominate. There is a “teachable moment” here because the issues that Shawn’s argument raises have relevance beyond the specific controversy over his teaching. Continue Reading →

How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist

In an article on Huffington Post (naturally) entitled How to Debate a Christian Apologist, atheist Victor Stenger explains why non-Christians usually do so badly in debates with Christians and then offers a cheat sheet of brief answers to Christian apologetic arguments. The reason why the Christians do so well, according to Stenger, is that they have had years to polish their arguments in their religion classes and churches. The atheists, apparently, don’t have comparable opportunities. This will come as a surprise to Christian students throughout the Western world who have sat under atheists and other skeptical professors routinely spouting off against Christianity even if it entails ignoring the subject matter of the course. 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 →

14 Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—and 14 References

In this article I will summarize, as briefly as possible, fourteen evidences for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The summaries of each point are deliberately brief and undeveloped. No pretense is made here of having anticipated every response that skeptics might make. Nor is this an exhaustive list of evidences. Rather, it is a simple overview of many of the factual elements that contribute to the historical case for Jesus’ resurrection. No one point is by itself absolute proof that Jesus rose from the dead, but the evidence is cumulative (that is, each piece adds further weight to the total) and integrative (that is, the various facts fit together in a meaningful whole). The result is a very strong case that Jesus (a) died, (b) was buried, (c) rose from the dead, and (d) appeared alive to a variety of persons (1 Cor. 15:3-8). At the end of this article is an annotated bibliography of 14 books that examine in great detail the issues touched upon in the list of 14 evidences.

 

14 EVIDENCES

  1. JESUS’ EXISTENCE. That Jesus was a historical individual is granted by virtually all historians and is supported by ancient Christian, Jewish, and pagan sources. Yet modern skeptics often feel that their best strategy for denying the evidence of his resurrection is to deny that he even existed.
  2. JESUS’ DEATH. The most popular counter to the Resurrection in non-Christian and heretical beliefs is to deny that Jesus died on the cross (e.g., this is the position of Islam). However, historians regard the death of Jesus by crucifixion as ordered by Pontius Pilate to be as historically certain as any other fact of antiquity.
  3. CRUCIFIED MESSIAH. Crucifixion was a horrible, shameful way to die, so much so that it would never have occurred to anyone in the first century to invent a story about a crucified man as the divine Savior and King of the world. Something extreme and dramatic must have happened to lead people to accept such an idea—something like his rising from the dead. Continue Reading →

Quarles Reviews Licona on the Resurrection

Charles L. Quarles of Louisiana College has a lengthy review of Michael R. Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) in the newest issue, which I just received in yesterday’s mail, of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, 4 (Dec. 2011): 839-44. Although the book represents a major advance in evangelical scholarship on the historicity of the Resurrection, discussions about the book have focused largely on Licona’s controversial  suggestion that the pericope of the saints raised from the dead (Matt. 27:52-53) may be viewed as apocalyptic imagery rather than as a literal historical occurrence. In 2011 evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler publicly denounced Licona’s interpretation as a denial of biblical inerrancy, leading to Licona’s departure from the Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board (NAMB) at the end of the year and to his being ostracized at several other evangelical institutions. (Full disclosure: Licona and I worked together in the same department at NAMB for two years, 2006-2008, and we are good friends.)

Not surprisingly, Quarles devotes about half of his review to a discussion of Licona’s handling of this one passage. Quarles offers what appears to me to be a very thoughtful and well considered critique of the apocalyptic interpretation of the pericope, which I will only summarize briefly here. He objects that the text of Matthew gives no clear indication of a shift in genre from historical narrative to apocalyptic. He posits that Licona’s arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection would also support the historicity of Matthew 27:52-53 (a point Quarles unfortunately does not develop, no doubt due to space constraints). He critiques the claim that the pericope is non-historical because it may be poetic. Quarles emphasizes that it is especially difficult to exclude historical and even evidential intent from Matthew’s statement “they appeared to many.” Finally, Quarles takes exception to Licona’s appeals to pagan parallels. His arguments here are worthy of reading and careful reflection.

Quarles mentions the controversy itself only very briefly at the end of the review:

“Recently, Licona’s position on these two verses has stirred considerable controversy, necessitating a more extensive treatment of his discussion of Matt 27:52-53 than a typical review would warrant. My hope, however, is that a treatment of two verses that amounts to only 6 pages out of the 641 pages of text in the book will not prevent conservative evangelicals from carefully reading and digesting the author’s many fine arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection” (843-44).

Amen to that.

Quarles offers no further comment on the Licona controversy, not even mentioning Norman Geisler, and says nothing about the claim that Licona’s view of the Matthean pericope is a denial of biblical inerrancy. This is rather ironic, given that JETS is the journal of a society founded on the issue of biblical inerrancy. To his credit, though, and as is appropriate in a book review, Quarles keeps the attention focused where it should be, on the relevant exegetical and hermeneutical issues and not on personalities or red-flag accusations.

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Five: Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the fifth (and long overdue) installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” As explained in the first part of this series, Peterson quotes from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, an unnamed Jewish source, and a few church fathers to illustrate the Mormon belief that Joseph Smith’s doctrine of exaltation restored an ancient doctrine. Specifically, Peterson says:

“With this doctrine of exaltation or human deification, though, Joseph Smith wasn’t actually moving away from Judeo-Christian tradition. He was returning to a forgotten strand of it. For ancient Christians and Jews also had a doctrine of human deification, which scholars call ‘theosis.’”

Scholars do indeed use the term theosis for what can be called a doctrine of human deification. Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Four: Esoteric Jewish Theology and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the fourth installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” As explained in the first part of this series, Peterson quotes from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, an unnamed Jewish source, and a few church fathers to illustrate the Mormon belief that Joseph Smith’s doctrine of exaltation restored a doctrine of deification sometimes called theosis. In this fourth part, I take a look at Peterson’s unnamed Jewish source.

Peterson introduces the quotation at issue here as coming from “an early Jewish midrash or scriptural commentary.” This is the one citation from a Jewish source cited in his article as evidence that Joseph Smith’s doctrine was a return to a “forgotten strand” of “Judeo-Christian tradition.” Here is Peterson’s quotation:

The Holy One … will in the future call all of the pious by their names, and give them a cup of elixir of life in their hands so that they should live and endure forever. … (And He will also) reveal to all the pious in the world to come the Ineffable Name with which new heavens and a new earth can be created, so that all of them should be able to create new worlds.

None of Peterson’s quotations from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, or the church fathers surprised me. However, I must admit I was taken aback at this quotation from “an early Jewish midrash.” Continue Reading →