HOW GOD BECAME JESUS
The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature.
Essays by Bird, Evans, Gathercole, Hill and Tilling
Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI. 2014.
$21.00 CAD. Kindle $11.00 CAD. 336 pp. Paper.
A critique of Bart Ehrman’s book “How Jesus
Became God.” That book was presented on
Colleagues List, April 13th,2014.
Review By Wayne A. Holst
The purpose of this volume is to offer a critical response
to Bart Ehrman’s book.
Ehrman is something of a celebrity skeptic. The media
attraction is easy to understand. Ehrman has a famous
deconversion story from being a fundamentalist
Christian to becoming “a happy agnostic.” He’s a
New York Times bestselling author, having written
several books about the Bible, Jesus and God with a
view to debunking widely held religious beliefs as based
on a mixture of bad history, deception and myth. He’s
a publicist’s dream since in talk shows and in live debates
he knows how to stir a crowd through hefty criticism,
dry wit, on the spot recall of historical facts and rhetorical
hyperbole. He also has a global audience.
For conservative Christians, Ehrmam is a bit of a
bogeyman… constantly pressing an attack on their
long-held beliefs… Conservatives buy his books if only
to keep their disgust at him fresh and to find out what
America’s favorite skeptic is up to now. For secularists,
the emerging generation of “nones” (who claim no
religion, even if they are not committed to atheism
or agnosticism) Ehrman is a godsend. He provides
succor and solace that one need not take Jesus too
seriously, confirming that Jesus is the opiate of the
masses and that the whole God thing might be just
a big mistake.
In any event, Ehrman is worth addressing, since his
skill as a textual critic is widely acknowledged and his
showmanship as a public intellectual can hardly be
denied. Such a pity that he is almost always wrong!
In the recent book “How Jesus Became God” Ehrman
proffers the view that belief in Jesus divinity emerged
gradually in a messy process that ebbed and flowed
from exaltation to incarnation. If this is so, recognition
of Jesus as God was not so much a process of divine
revelation as it was a human process, a process that
struggled for legitimacy even within the church.
We (the contributors to this collection of essays) do
not dispute that christological development took place
and the theological controversies that followed were
indeed messy. We dispute, however, whether
Ehrman’s account and explanation for this development
is historically accurate.
Not everything Ehrman says about the origins of
belief about Jesus’ divinity is wrong. Some things are
quite true, some things we’d agree with but say
differently, some things we’d suggest need better
nuance, and other things we contend are just plain
out of sync with the evidence. While Ehrman offers
a creative and accessible account of the origins of
Jesus’ divinity in Christian belief, at the end of the
day, we believe that his overall case is … not
convincing at all.
But you’ll have to read the rest of this book to find
We can’t deny that Ehrman is a kind of a celebrity
skeptic and a media darling. We don’t also deny that
he seems to like debunking widely held religious
beliefs, claiming them to be based on a mixture of
“bad history, deception and myth.” It is clear that
he can claim a global audience for his work.
That, in itself is no reason to dismiss Ehrman!
The contributors to this book claim that Ehrman
provides succor and solace that one need not take
Jesus too seriously, suggesting that Jesus is the
opiate of the masses and that the whole God thing
might be just a big mistake.
There is obviously good reason, based on history,
to concede that Ehrman may indeed be right.
Ehrman states that recognition of Jesus as God
through the early stages of Christian development
was not so much a process of divine revelation
as it was a human process, a process that
struggled for legitimacy even within the church.
Here, I believe, is the core reason for the debate
between the contributors to this book, and Bart
Ehrman. They believe in divine revelation as
a process that originates with God from a realm
beyond the human, while Ehrman believes that
this “revelation” is essentially of human origin.
A key issue, it seems to me, centers on what we
mean by divine revelation and where we locate
its source. Viewing it as a human process does
not trouble me. Ehrman’s position does not
present a faith problem even though I don’t
share his agnosticism.
I believe that revelation transcends human
understanding, but it is also something that
emerges essentially through human experience.
I am not impressed by the editor’s comments
that may be construed as a case of academic
envy. Ehrman appears to be more popular and
probably sells more books that all of these
What I do value, however, is their stated
attempt to debate whether Ehrman’s account
of the emergence of Jesus as God is historically
Too many of us who were formed by – and who
still deeply respect – classic Christianity, tend
to become defensive and resort to ad hominems
in the discussion (i.e. criticizing Ehrman as a
person rather than criticizing his ideas.)
I have encountered the same dynamics with
the reception of much of what Bishop Spong
has written. Serious Christians are inclined
to be threatened by what Spong has to say,
and the way he says it, rather than to debate
him on the level of ideas.
The contributions of both Ehrman and Spong
can become important means to one’s growth
in faith. We can enjoy engaging both of them
even when they might ‘hit below the belt’
from time to time.
I heartily recommend you secure and read
this critique of Ehrman, just as I would again
encourage you to secure and read Ehrman
himself. Do this with a group of open-minded
thinkers who do not have to defend God or
the orthodox tradition of the church in the
The end result, I suspect, will be the discovery
that you grow as a person and enhance your
A Conservative Review
of Bart Ehrman’s book
from the Christian Post
April 24th, 2014:
A correction from the book’s contributors:
dated April 25, 2014
An article on April 24, 2014, attributed comments
describing Bart Ehrman’s work in How Jesus Became
God as “populist conspiracy theories and sloppy
history” to authors Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans,
Simon Gathercole, Charles E. Hill and Chris Tilling.
The attribution was incorrect. The remark was
made by a reviewer of Ehrman’s book.
Buy the Book from Amazon.ca:
Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development at St. David’s United Church in that city.
Colleagues List, Vol. IX, No. 35, April 27th, 2014