Bart Ehrman and the Divinity of Jesus

By Robin Schumacher

Single Page/Printer Friendly
Continued from Page One

Old Testament References

God in the Old Testament Jesus Comparison to Himself
I AM (Exodus 3:14-15; Isaiah 48:12) I AM (Matthew 14:27; John 8:58; John 8:18, 24)
The shepherd (Psalm 23:1) The shepherd (John 10:11)
The light (Psalm 27:1) The light (John 8:12)
The stone (Isaiah 8:14-15) The stone (Matthew 21:44)
Ruler of all (Isaiah 9:6) Ruler of all (Matthew 28:18)
Judge of all nations (Joel 3:12) Judge of all (John 5:22)
The bridegroom (Isaiah 62:5; Hosea 2:16) The bridegroom (Matthew 25:1)
God's Word never passes away (Isaiah 40:8) Jesus' words never pass away (Mark. 13:31)


I believe the evidence shown above demonstrates that the synoptic gospels do indeed make reference to Jesus' divinity and portray Him as God and Jesus Himself believing that fact. Such proof led C. S. Lewis to famously remark:
Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean, that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips. [4]
However, Ehrman is not persuaded by Lewis' claim, and in the Boston Globe report asserts that any mention of Jesus' divinity could be chalked up to legends that rose about Him after His death. [5] What about that?

The problem with such a position is threefold. First, Ehrman believes that only John (written last in the gospel timeline) contains Jesus divinity claims and the lengthier period of time between Jesus' death and its publication could have allowed legend to infiltrate its construction — something that did not happen with the earlier written gospels. But as we have just seen, such is not the case as the synoptics do indeed make claims of Jesus being divine/God.

Second, Paul's writings also testify to Jesus' divinity (e.g. Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1:16-19, 2:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:15) and there is no doubt about their early dating and inability for legend to infect the work.

Third, with respect to the legend charge in general, many scholars date the gospels to be anywhere within just a few years after Jesus' death to at most A.D. 90. The material was in circulation during a period where exaggerations could have easily been refuted by others alive at that time and therefore too little time elapsed for legend to be introduced into the accounts.

A case for this has been made by historian A. N. Sherwin-White in his work Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Using the writings of Herodotus, Sherwin-White maintained that it takes the passing of at least two generations before myths can develop, be introduced, and remain in the record of a historical figure.

When Sherwin-White considers the New Testament gospels, he says that for the gospels to be fables, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to have been "unbelievable." [6]


Lastly, Ehrman argues that those who believed Jesus to be divine and risen from the dead only did so because of hallucinations they experienced. Ehrman says:
What I realized is the people who came to believe in the New Testament, it's always because they've had a vision of Jesus afterwards, including Paul....That led me to look into what we know about hallucinations, based on modern psychological research. And it turns out hallucinations happen a lot....My view is that the disciples had some kind of visionary experiences; some of them did. And these visionary experiences led them to conclude that Jesus was still alive. [7]
The hallucination theory is the top skeptical theory to explain away Jesus' resurrection, but as I have argued elsewhere [8], it collapses fairly quickly under even modest analysis. Hallucinations fail to explain the empty tomb and fail to explain why no one expecting Jesus to come back from the dead (including the disciples and enemies like Paul) would experience them.

In addition, for hallucinations to have produced what Erhman asserts, they would have to happen:

Not just once, but multiple times…
Not just to one person, but to different persons…
Not just to individuals, but to groups of individuals…
Not just at one location, but at multiple locations…
Not just in one circumstance, but in multiple circumstances…
Not just to believers, but also to unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies...[9]

In the end, with all due respect to those who hold to the hallucination theory, my response is they simply have more faith than I do. [10]


So in conclusion, I maintain there is enough material in the synoptic gospels (and John, of course) to argue that they indeed contain both direct and indirect references to Jesus being divine and God, that the introduction of legendary material into those accounts regarding His divinity is quite unlikely, and that hallucinations cannot explain away the facts of Jesus' resurrection.

For further study on this subject, a group of authors has recently released How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature — A Response to Bart D. Ehrman. In addition, a free PowerPoint presentation that contains the above material and more is also available for download and use.

4. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York; Macmillian, 1952), pp. 54-5.
5. Note that Erhman does not believe that Jesus, as a person, is a legend and has argued for His historicity in a previous book.
6. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp. 188-91.
7. Ruth Graham, "A provocative new theory of Easter".
8. Robin Schumacher, "The Resurrection of Jesus — A Miracle in One of Three Ways."
9. William Lane Craig, "Top Five Questions," Ravi Zacharias podcast.
10. For a PowerPoint presentation that covers this and other data on Christ's resurrection, see: "The Essentials of Apologetics — Why Jesus (Part 2)?."

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Current-Issues  |  Jesus-Christ  |  Reviews-Critiques
comments powered by Disqus
Published 4-28-14