How God became Jesus is a masterpiece book by Michael Bird, who is a theology lecturer at the Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry. This book deconstructs various claims by Bart Ehrman in his book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Ehrman argues that the concept of Jesus being God evolved. However, Bird responds to this claim by providing a well-written book, which explains Christology in detail coupled with defending the Christian understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ. According to Bird, claiming that Jesus evolved implies that at one point in time, he was not God. Based on Ehrman’s arguments that challenge the conservative Christian beliefs, Bird is compelled to provide a critical response by stating what he sees as an alternative perspective to Christians that feel confused by Ehrman’s analysis.
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Summary of the book
This book generates mixed reactions among its readers. It deals with an extremely important issue not only for Christians but also for other individuals interested in understanding the past and the rise of Christology. It provides a critical analysis of Ehrman’s work, How Jesus Became God. The book highlights how people from the early centuries of the Greco-Roman world viewed divinity and divine people. Bird begins by offering a simple, but compelling introduction to the early church Christology, which aims at providing an alternative to Ehrman’s approach that relies too much on the parallel arguments to the conservative fundamentalism. Ehrman argues that the belief that Jesus is God developed later within the church and it had no attachment to early Christian teachings. While projecting Ehrman’s arguments to a critical evaluation, Bird offers a readable and reasonable historically supported account of why the man from Nazareth came to be recognized as the Messiah. Bird’s work entails many references to the New Testament, which contend the existence of Jesus as evidenced in the ancient Christian works of people that experienced the presence of Jesus, but not as the invention of the later church as viewed by Ehrman. In the first chapter, Bird appeals to the true Christians and responsible Christian scholars to evaluate and understand issues about Christology and make responses based on their faith. Throughout the chapters, Bird retaliates that Jesus was a divine agent given a unique mandate and association with the God of Israel. These responses provide a positive argumentation with varying strengths, but very effective and compelling to the layperson.
This book should not be viewed as only a response to Ehrman. Even though it is substantially organized around giving responses to Ehrman’s arguments, it is a communicative read since it offers a historical analysis of the development of orthodoxy. Bird shows that Ehrman’s translation of St. Paul’s theology of Christ is erroneous. This assertion is evident in the way Ehrman drifts into the ideas that parallel Christology without making clear reference to St. Paul’s doctrine; for instance, the concept of Jesus based on the idea of Greco-Roman gods and Jewish perspective to divinity. Also, Bird challenges Ehrman’s thesis by indicating the key flaws that he makes when analyzing angels and other glorified beings. Bird gives evidence on how the Biblical narratives translated the practices that demonstrated the presence and experiences of Jesus as divine and unique. These counterarguments provide a wide approach to evaluate Ehrman’s thesis coupled with outlining the weakness of his argument. However, readers gain insight into methodological, credibility, validity, and other flaws in Ehrman’s book. Bird’s work is a solid resource for those seeking knowledge on the history of Christ. It also provides a strong basis upon which other related topics can build. The last interesting aspect of this book is that it is independent. Readers do not have to read How Jesus Became God by Ehrman in a bid to benefit from Bird’s work, albeit it would be helpful. How God Became Jesus serves its intended purpose, and it sparks the need for more research on this topic.
The book at some point lacks organization, thus making it very tedious to read. For instance, Bird’s responses are repetitive even though they are separated into chapters. A cohesive response would have been strong, thus making the book compelling to read. At some point, Bird seems offended by the thesis presented by Ehrman and he tends to feel justified when he slips to use disrespectful and non-scholarly statements. This aspect lowers the credibility of Bird’s work despite its critical relevance. Most of Bird’s statements overlap and revolve around Ehrman’s case instead of giving a clear and concise alternative response. This book deconstructs and finds flaws in Ehrman’s book rather than raising new theories and arguments about ancient Christology. This aspect implies that Bird is highly threatened by Ehrman’s argument since he directs most of his efforts to attacks. Furthermore, Bird’s personal beliefs overwhelm his judgment, and thus he fails to control his emotions. He gets too personal with criticism, thus making his thesis appear overly personal. Although Bird disagrees with Ehrman’s thesis, he acknowledges that understanding where and how Christians started to view Jesus as divine is a hard question that requires a keen investigation of the facts. Instead of falling to such presumptions, Bird should have focused on providing answers to such questions. By tackling such a critical topic, readers would have been pleased if the author gave a broader approach to details than he has done.
Chapter 2, viz. Gods, Angels, and Men provide an interesting account of Bird’s response to Ehrman’s view about intermediary figures whose divinization is seen to evolve through time and it may provide an answer to what people referred to when they started seeing Jesus as God. The interesting aspect of this chapter is the way the two opposing authors come up with compelling arguments with each providing reasonable cases but from varying perspectives. Bird explores Ehrman’s work and points out several shortcomings in his thesis. First, Ehrman’s notion about early Christianity is overemphasized. Also, Christian perspectives about Jesus’ divinity were in no way related to the ideas attached to intermediary figures. Different from the intermediary figures, Jesus was seen as part of God’s identity. Angels and exalted beings despite serving God did not share his authority. Also, God does not praise them, but Jesus was different since he was won God’s praise. Therefore, Ehrman fails to give sufficient evidence to support his claim that there was no absolute difference between the divine and human spectrums. Instead, he gives mythical tales concerning intermediary beings, for instance, the exalted kings who became divine or heavenly angels who became human.
Ehrman acknowledges that the first-century Jewish faith in God was monotheistic and at the same time inclusive of other divine and exalted beings. This aspect implies that Ehrman’s work is problematic. Bird notes in chapter 2 that Jews maintained the uniqueness of God in the way they worshipped God. In a bid to clarify his position, Bird identifies that emphasizing too much on worship may lead people to believe that several worshiped beings such as Enoch as more powerful than they were at the time. Therefore, it is inevitable for Bird to engage talks that define God’s nature concerning religious commitment and faith. Ehrman emphasizes the former and claims that the latter lacks evidence since people constructed beliefs about early Christology. Ehrman posits a methodological error when he claims that the book of Romans supported what was well known to the ancient church. He goes further to claim that these teachings reflected the common beliefs shared by Paul and the Christians in Rome. Contrary, Paul’s perspectives were relatively diverse and more informed than what Ehrman presents on the exalted Christology of Rome. This aspect implies that Ehrman makes a selective analysis of what he termed as pre-Pauline. He emphasizes literature that would seem to back his thesis about the evolution of divinity. He intentionally evades texts that could raise questions on his arguments.
Ehrman overemphasizes the idea that one became an angel upon death. He gives the examples of Moses and Enoch and concludes that just as people started to reckon some individuals as angels after their deaths, Christians used the same criteria to create beliefs about Jesus. Bird comes out firm to defend his monotheistic belief. He refers to the New Testament authors by arguing that they understood all these controversies. They were present during the time of Jesus, thus meaning that they did not only read the history but also experienced the ancient times. The major challenge that faced the early Christians was establishing a way through this religiously divergent perspective to instill the faith to believers and ensure that they were not shaken to lose their beliefs. Bird offers the account of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, where he suggests that there were many gods for the carnal people, but for the true Christians, only one God existed in Jesus through whom all creations live. In this chapter, Bird presents a scholarly and informative critique, thus exposing Ehrman’s weaknesses by making a firm case against Ehrman’s application and translation of the early Christology evidence. The second chapter shows that Ehrman’s framework failed to provide the reader with a better understanding of major issues regarding Christology and monotheism. This assertion means that Ehrman’s readers will have a hard time to understand the facts of ancient Christology.
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Chapter 3, Did Jesus Think He Was God, brings forth important discussions, which are necessary for the church. It is difficult for the church to keep believing in Jesus if, for instance, he did not know who he was. Christians don’t have to keep faith in Jesus if he did not think of himself as God. Although Ehrman’s thesis is well developed, it lacks precise evidence to show that Jesus was not God. Bird heavily employs the teachings of the New Testament when discussing issues concerning this topic. Bird points out that Ehrman is controversial about his understanding of the New Testament. At one point, Ehrman points out that it was difficult to talk about the word of God because less was known about what the original words were. To him, it seems that the New Testament was constructed to serve the conservative standpoint about early Christology. It becomes interesting when Ehrman uses the New Testament text as his primary source to express his views about historical Christology.
Nonetheless, Ehrman’s study about Jesus compels Christians and other readers to ask questions about the history of Jesus. Understanding who Jesus was and whether he thought of himself as God is a complex, but necessary task. In answering these questions, Ehrman does not even consider to what extent Jesus shared that evaluation of himself being God or not. He goes straight to claim that Jesus thought of himself as a prophet by foretelling the coming of a future king of Israel. Contrary, the gospel of John presents Jesus as the same with God. Ehrman refutes this claim strongly by arguing that such logic developed later and it is invalid since the divine claims by John lack a historical basis. However, Ehrman ignores that John’s gospel was inspired by teaching on what took place in the early church. Also, Jesus was humble and his public ministry did not seek to self-proclaim his divinity. Instead, nothing was focused on self-praise about divinity. In response, Bird points out that Jesus proclaimed himself as having unique authority and he believed himself to represent God in his endeavor to save Israel and humanity.
Bird critically engages Ehrman’s thesis with a well-developed response to his key claims. Throughout the book, Bird shows that it is baseless to restructure history by advancing Greco-Roman and Jewish perspective of intermediary figures. Despite some reasonable sentiments by Ehrman, the ancient church developed a clear Christological monotheism and Jesus was exalted as the God of Israel. This assertion explains why Jesus was worshiped in the early church and the same beliefs about Him persist within the modern church. Generally, this book offers a new dimension t understanding ancient Christology coupled with giving grounds for more research to address the controversies arising within the modern church.