From Carpenter to Creator

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, by Bart D. Erhman – Erhman, a scholar of early Christianity and a former fundamentalist who’s now an agnostic, has written several informative and enjoyable books on Biblical subjects. In this case, he takes on the issue of how Jesus came to be seen as God. The standard Christian view now is that Jesus was always God and pre-existed his earthly life, but this took a while to develop. We don’t really have a whole lot of sources to work from, but references in the earliest Gospels suggest that Jesus was originally thought to be the fully human Jewish Messiah, and it was only after he died that he started to be considered God. Other possibilities include his having been adopted as the Son of God at his baptism, and that he was an incarnated angel. Ehrman presents this latter as Paul’s view, and while it’s a little difficult to determine exactly what Paul believed about Jesus, this does fit with the idea of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament sometimes serving as the mouthpiece for God Himself. The Gospel of John has Jesus being fully aware that he is God and saying so frequently, which isn’t the case in the Synoptic Gospels. It also begins with the idea that Jesus is a physical form of the Logos, usually translated “Word,” through which God created the world. This links with Platonic philosophy, as well as the representation of Wisdom as a female entity in the book of Proverbs. Ehrman also addresses the issue of how being viewed as God or the Son of God was hardly a clear-cut proposition. The Messiah was supposed to be the King of the Jews, and such kings were referred to as the Son of God without it being seen as literal. Some movements in early Christianity held that Jesus was only human or only divine. And some beliefs that came to be viewed as heretical only differed from what came to be the orthodox view in tiny details, but were still the cause of much consternation from heresy hunters. Certainly the idea of Jesus being an avatar, aspect, or child of a god was pretty well in line with pagan religions of the time, but Christians insisted on remaining monotheistic, yet saying God existed in three different persons. I’m not sure why three and not, say, ten; but three is a number often associated with aspects of gods. Anyway, attempts to understand how various elements of Christianity developed are usually fraught with confusion, but they’re quite fascinating to read about.

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3 Responses to From Carpenter to Creator

  1. joseph says:

    I’d be factored into the heretic category by the early Roman Catholio Church as I’m not a Trinitartan and consider Jesus to be God’s son and not God himself.

  2. Glenn I says:

    Every so often I get out a book like this. The last one I read was “Misquoting Jesus.” Scholarship about the early church, how it originated, how it changed, what made it triumph. I don’t get Christianity. There’s nothing about it that speaks to me. Well, not nothing, as the good works stuff is nice. Thus my confusion as to why it achieved hegemony. I can’t say as I feel enlightened, but I know more than I did before I started reading these books.

    • Nathan says:

      I’ve never entirely understood why Christianity achieved dominance either. There’s certainly a lot of good in it, but it’s kind of weird that so much of the world still subscribes to the idea that the most important moment in history was a wandering preacher in the desert being executed 2000 years ago.

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