Bart Ehrman and the Divinity of Jesus

By Robin Schumacher

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Bart Ehrman's latest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee [1], asserts a number of things, most notably that Jesus is not God and that His divinity is overlooked in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In an interview with the Boston Globe, Ehrman says:
The problem is that Jesus only makes claims for himself as being divine in the Gospel of John....But what scholars have long noted is that Jesus doesn't say any of those things in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are [written] much earlier than John....What I argue in the book is that it's virtually inconceivable that if it was known Jesus called himself God, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke would just leave that part out. [2]
Is Ehrman correct? Do the first three gospels contain nothing that speaks of Jesus' divinity?

Four Gospels for a Reason

Before examining whether Ehrman's claims are true, it's first important to understand why we don't have just one account of Jesus' life. In the same way a celebrated individual might have multiple biographers that focus on different facets of the person's life (e.g. their sports, accomplishments, professional life, benevolence activities, etc.) the same is true of Christ.

Matthew concentrates on his Jewish audience and quotes the Old Testament more than any other author to convince his readers that Jesus is their Messiah. Mark, written from the orations of Peter that he delivered to an elite Roman audience, [3] focuses on Jesus' servanthood, while Luke spotlights Jesus as Savior to the Gentiles. Lastly, there is little doubt that John centers his gospel on Jesus' divinity.

But just because John's focal point is on Jesus being God, that doesn't mean the other gospels don't mention it also.

Common Examples of Jesus' Divinity in the Synoptics

Skeptics often claim that if Jesus was God, or believed He was God, then He would have certainly been more overt about it. My response is that He was indeed clear about His divinity, and in fact that openness is what eventually led to His death.

A survey of sayings and acts of Jesus in either two or all three of the synoptic gospels that point to His divinity in either a subtle or very obvious fashion produces the following table of each particular incident:

Account References Commentary
John the Baptist being foretold as preparing the way of "the Lord" Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:7677; 3:4 The Greek word for "Lord" (kyrios) references God in this context
John the Baptist's statements about Jesus' eternal power Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17 Jesus is referred to as the one who rescues or assigns people to Heaven or Hell
Jesus forgives the paralytic's sins Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:2021 As his detractors asked during the episode, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21)
Jesus calms a storm Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39 This event references God in the Old Testament being the one that "made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed" (Psalm 107:29)
Jesus says He is Lord of the Sabbath Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5 God created and is Lord of the Sabbath (e.g. Leviticus 19:30)
Jesus makes direct claim to divinity as the Son of God and Son of Man as mentioned in Daniel (7:13-14) Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:6162; Luke 22:70, and many other places in the synoptics A major claim in all three of the synoptics. The gospels clearly showcase that this was the reason the Jews condemned Jesus to death — His claim to be divine/God

In addition, Jesus demonstrates sovereignty over birth defects (Matthew 12:9-13; Mark 3:1-5), disease (Matthew 8:2, Luke 7:1, Mark 3:1), nature (Mark 4:35, Matthew 14:25), creation (Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:12-17), Satan/demons (Matthew 8:28, Luke 8:26, Mark 1:34), Jewish customs (Matthew 5:22; Luke 6:27), and death (Mark 5:22, Luke 7:11) with his own authority. Never once does He say "Thus says the Lord" or call upon God to perform a miracle, but instead He acts on His own.

Unique Events in the Synoptics that Point to Jesus' Divinity

Beyond those accounts that exist in either two or all synoptics are references, events and sayings that are unique to a particular gospel that point to Jesus being divine. These include the following:


Jesus' birth being referenced with Isaiah 7:14, with the obvious claim being that He is Immanuel, God with us (1:23).
Jesus being worshipped by the wise men (2:2, 8, 11).
Jesus speaks of sending forth "His" angels (13:41; 25:31).
During the calming of the storm, the Greek of Matthew (see NA27 for example) has Jesus literally say "Take heart; it is I am", which references God in Exodus 3:14 as well as John 8:58 where Jesus makes His most overt claim to be God (14:27). The end result is the disciples worshipping Jesus after the storm is calm.
Jesus is the one who sends prophets, wise men, and scribes in the future who will testify about Him (23:34; see God doing this in 2 Chronicles 36:15).
Jesus is worshipped by the disciples (28:9, 17).
Jesus claims He possesses all authority in Heaven and on earth and directs that disciples be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Note that "name" is singular and not plural indicating one God with three distinct Persons (28:18-19).


Mark begins his gospel by calling Jesus the "Christ, the Son of God" (1:1).
Demons call Jesus "the Son of God" (3:11).


Jesus is called "Christ the Lord" (2:11).
Jesus forgives a woman's sins (7:48).
Luke uses God and Jesus interchangeably (8:39).
Jesus says He shares glory with the Father (Luke 9:26; God says He does not share His glory with anyone: Isaiah 42:8).
The disciples remark that demons are subject to them in Jesus' name (10:17).

Parables and Old Testament References

In addition, Jesus uses various parables / metaphorical sayings and direct references to God in the Old Testament to claim divinity. These include the following:


God in the Old Testament Jesus Comparison to Himself
The Sower (Jeremiah 31:27; Ezra 34:9) The Sower (Matthew 13:3-9)
The Shepherd (Genesis 49:24; Psalm 23:1) The Shepherd (John 10:11)
The Rock (Psalm 18:2) The Rock (Matthew 7:24)
The Bridegroom (Isaiah 54:5, Hosea 2:16) The Bridegroom (Matthew 25:1)

Continue to Page Two

1. In this short article I am not addressing all of Ehrman's arguments in his latest book but rather the key claims he makes in the referenced article, which summarizes his overall thoughts on the subject of Jesus' divinity.
2. Ruth Graham, "A provocative new theory of Easter".
3. See reference of Clement's early testimony to this in David Alan Black, Why Four Gospels? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), pg. 38.

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Published 4-28-14