Monday, May 05, 2014

Did Jesus Become God or was He Always God?

Christianity fascinates me, particularly the question of how it came to believe what it did. For example I am eager to learn how modern theological beliefs compare to those of the early Christians. Unfortunately, we don't have any definitive answers, but historians try to ascertain the answers as best they can by tracing the bits and pieces of evidence that they find in the New Testament (at least for the earliest bits of evidence because there is nothing else form the early days).

Such a reconstruction is what Bart Ehrman has done in his latest book, How Jesus Became God. For Ehrman, it's not as simple as saying that He always was God. (It has been sometime since I finished the book, so I am going to give an overview as I remember it. I think I have got the gist of it, but I will likely muddle some particulars.)

Starting his analysis with the glimpses of interaction between Jesus and the disciples in the gospels, Ehrman posits that neither Jesus nor his disciples thought of Him as God. He was a Zealot, the Messiah whom God would use to usher in a new age of righteousness. He would act as God's agent in establishing the kingdom.

After the crucifixion the disciples believed they had seen the risen Christ. Ehrman does not dispute this. He thinks that the disciples, or at least some of them, came to believe this. Whether the appearances were real or imagined, in spirit or in body, the disciples thought that they had witnessed a risen Lord. Specifically, they soon came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead and given Him an exalted place in heaven. This is the adoptionist viewpoint that I have read (not in this book) that a few Christians hold even today. Jesus, therefore, became a divine figure of sorts but was not, at that time, held to be equal with God. Not at all.

Another minor step in the evolution of Jesus occurred soon afterward: that this adoption must have actually occurred when Jesus was baptized by John.

As time went on, and it seems to Ehrman that at least these first steps occurred quickly, Jesus began to be seen not just as one who had been lifted by God after death but as a being who must have always existed: perhaps like an angel who became incarnated as a man. The next step was for Him to have existed throughout all of time and to be God's agent of creation.

Finally, at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, it was agreed (by most) that Jesus must have been God himself, totally equal to God the Father: distinct but of the same substance.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made ...
What I say that it was decided, I don't mean that it was a sudden and rash decision for, obviously, these concepts had been gaining strength and didn't appear out of the blue. It wasn't brand new at Nicaea. It was also in this council that the trinity became an enshrined concept: the virgin birth too.

So, according to Ehrman, in 300 years Jesus went from being a putative human Messiah to the eternally preexistent Son of God who was Very God of Very God (to quote a common version of the Nicene Creed slightly different from the version that I posted above).

As I stated earlier, I think I have the gist of the chronology, but you would have to read the somewhat lengthy How God Became a Christian for yourself to truly follow the development. Interestingly, by the time Ehrman published his work, a group of conservative scholars had already posted a rebuttal book, How God Became Jesus. I haven't read it, but I have heard Ehrman discussiong/debating with one the authors. Curiously, he made his work available to them, even before it was officially published.


EG CameraGirl said...

Lots to ponder here!

Tabor said...

Too much debate on this and too little action on living a god-like life.

TexWisGirl said...

guess it depends if you believe in the 'immaculate conception' part - as to whether he was god before his earthly existence even began.

Gail Dixon said...

In John's gospel, chapter 1 verse 2 it states "He was there with God in the beginning." There are many mysteries that we have yet to understand and I've accepted that I won't know everything in this life and that's okay with me. I trust like a child, I guess. Hope you find the answers you seek. :)

Jimmie Earl said...

I agree with Gail. I just trust like a child in what I have been taught.
There are so many mysteries in Christianity, as there must be in other faiths, that, in order to have a sane and ordered life, I have to have trust in God. And try to live a Godly life to my greatest ability, and hope for the best eternal life.
I also try to stay from discussions about religion and politics! LOL!

Donna said...

MY opinion...MY belief:
God is God the Father...Jesus is God's only begotten Son...
That's just how I roll...

KGMom said...

I recently heard him (Bart Ehrman, not God) interviewed on a radio show. And, the book is now on my to read list.
I have done a LOT of reading about Christianity, and have certain opinions, that are personal and not intended to foist on anyone.
I read The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. She also sheds light on how Christianity came to be the kind of religion it is. Orthodoxy won, and the Gnostics lost.

Jinksy said...

Once I started delving into comparative religions, the more I could never come to the point of limiting 'God' to only one religious belief system, therefore I came to the conclusion that He/She/It is a source far greater than any of us can begin to understand. So why try? I'm quite happy to debate on the pros and cons, though!

troutbirder said...

Interesting though most of my true believer friends and acquaintances would like be upset...:)

Kila said...

This link pretty much sums up my thoughts: