How did early Christians come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Son of God? This is the central question in this book. When Did Jesus Become God? is a transcribed conversation between Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird, with a helpful historiographic introduction by Robert Stewart that helps readers understand the conclusions reached by Ehrman and Bird.
Ehrman contends that neither Jesus himself nor the apostles believed that Jesus was divine during Jesus’ life; it was only after Jesus was crucified and the apostles began to have visions and revelations that they became convinced that Jesus was a godlike figure who was sent by God. Over an extended period of time, the early church solidified its belief that Jesus was “God”—first, with an inventive claim that Jesus was exalted to divinity, then later by seeing him as a preexistent angel become human. Bird disagrees. Based on different historiographic criteria and different readings of Scripture, he asserts that Jesus himself claimed to be the divine Son during his lifetime and that many of the apostles believed Jesus to be identified with God’s own prerogatives and identity. In Bird’s account of the early church, Jesus was the preexistent Son of God from the beginning, who then became human, exercised the role of Israel’s Messiah, and was exalted as God the Father’s vice-regent.
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A reader may come to this book already knowing which side is correct, and I was no exception; but that did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the book—I enjoyed reading it more than I ever thought I would. In a world that is increasingly polarized, it is more important than ever to have—and model—respectful dialogue, debate, and disagreement. This book is important because it is both an introduction to an ongoing scholarly debate and also an example of how to argue well. The opening section on historiological methodology alone would make this book invaluable. From now on, when I teach historiography, I will assign this book.
—James L. Papandrea, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Although there are many reasons to recommend When Did Jesus Become God?, I can cite three that identify this as an essential, short model for Christian debate: Stewart’s clear articulation of a user-friendly approach to historical analysis; the irenic and respectful interaction of Ehrman and Bird, which is sincerely lacking in much modern discourse; and the clear dialogic approach to a theology that is at the core of Christian faith. Get this book!
—Jacquelyn E. Winston, Professor Emerita Church History and Theology, Azusa Pacific University
It’s not every day that you find a debate about when early Christians believed Jesus was divine prefaced by a very helpful introductory discussion of logic and how to assess historical arguments. But that in fact is what we find in this extremely interesting little book. The focus in the book is not on Jesus’ self-understanding but on what the earliest Christians believed about Jesus after his death and resurrection. The lively but respectful and humorous back-and-forth between Michael Bird and Bart Ehrman is worth the price of the book all by itself.
—Ben Witherington III, Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary
Bart D. Ehrman is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written over thirty books, including undergraduate textbooks and trade books for general readers. Among Ehrman's New York Times best-sellers are God's Problem; How Jesus Became God; Jesus, Interrupted; and Misquoting Jesus.