Did God Become Jesus, or Did Jesus Become God?

Christians believe that God became a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they refer to as Jesus Christ. However, some agnostic and atheist authors argue that Jesus wasn’t divine and that he only began to be regarded as divine by Christians many years after he lived on earth.

The Christian belief that God became a man in the person of Jesus is called the Incarnation. It is based on various key Bible passages (e.g., Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1-2, 14; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Hebrews 1:8). Christians believe that Jesus is the unique God-man—the Son of God and the one and only divine person who has ever lived. They also believe that Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and the way to God (see Mark 14:61-62; John 14:6).  

In response to Christians’ belief in Jesus’ divinity, popular agnostic writer Bart Ehrman has written many books, including the book How Jesus Became God (HarperOne, 2014). This book is one of several books by Ehrman that I have read. Ehrman argues in this book that Jesus only came to be considered divine many years after he lived on earth. Is Ehrman right about this issue, or is he wrong about it?

In How Jesus Became God, Ehrman makes some controversial statements. He contends that Jesus was not originally considered to be God by his followers (p. 44). He also maintains that Jesus didn’t consider himself to be divine or call himself divine (p. 87). In addition, Ehrman asserts that exalted self-claims by Jesus are only found in the Gospel of John—not in the other three New Testament Gospels (pp. 125-126). Ehrman also argues that Jesus didn’t actually make the divine self-claims that he is reported to have said in the Gospel of John (pp. 125, 271). Finally, Ehrman contends that Jesus was never given a proper burial after his crucifixion, and his body was probably left on the cross to be devoured by scavenging animals (pp. 157, 160-161).

Ehrman’s main arguments in his book How Jesus Became God are all flawed. Jesus was considered to be God by his earliest followers because he claimed to be God’s Son. He makes divine self-claims not only in the Gospel of John, but also in the other three New Testament Gospels (see Matthew 11:27; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 10:22). These self-claims were recorded by eyewitnesses of Jesus’s ministry. Moreover, a very early Christian creed that went back to the first Christians shows that Jesus’ first followers regarded him as divine, having been buried, and as having risen from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; see also Philippians 2:5-11). The risen Jesus was also seen in his physical body by over 500 eyewitnesses at one time (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).

Although How Jesus Became God is full of false statements, it does make at least one important point. It correctly states that the four New Testament Gospels are the earliest and best sources about Jesus available to us (p. 90). Other so-called “Gospels” about Jesus (such as the “Gospel of Peter,” which was not actually written by Peter) were written much later than the New Testament Gospels and are thus not good sources of information about what Jesus actually said and did.

God became Jesus; Jesus didn’t become God. In my book The Life Changer, I have a chapter on the why we can trust the New Testament Gospels and a chapter about why we should believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Please read my book to know more about the Gospels and the Resurrection!

Posted on May 25, 2022

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