Sat 11 Apr 2009
See Stephen Colbert dialogue with Bart Ehrman about Ehrman’s “new” book, Jesus Interrupted. (Click here instead if you’re in Canada.) It’s a pretty funny interview, as is usual for Mr Colbert. Although Colbert plays a character on his show, in real life he is a practicing Catholic and Sunday School teacher, so it’s not too surprising that he would want to invite Ehrman on his show to give him an intellectual leg-drop. He actually does make some valid points against Mr Ehrman, who clearly isn’t prepared for such a sarcastic assault.
One of Ehrman’s main points goes unchallenged on the show, however. That being that the earliest Christians didn’t think Jesus was divine. Ehrman’s argument seems to be that even though Jesus is clearly portrayed as being divine in the Gospel of John (which he admits), in the (ostensibly earlier) synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) he is not portrayed as being God. So, Ehrman is saying, since the synoptics are earlier and don’t portray Jesus as God, John can be dismissed as a later invention (or evolution) of the Jesus story.
At the outset, this black-and-white distinction is false, since reading the synoptics should not result in anyone thinking that the authors intended to portray Jesus as “just a guy”. Even if someone wants to claim Jesus is not divine in the synoptics, it would be ridiculous to say that Jesus is not seen as being utterly unique and far above and beyond all other people who have ever lived.
But when Ehrman’s claim that Jesus’ divinity is absent from the synoptic gospels is studied more carefully, there are at least two huge problems. First, I think it’s false that Jesus’ divinity is not found in the synoptics. There are in fact many ways the authors speak of Jesus’ divinity in the synoptics. I’ve explained one of these ways in depth in my post “Jesus Never Claimed to be God?“. I think we can see in the early synoptic gospel writings how the authors are struggling to comprehend this god-man, this real human being who lived and ate and walked with them, but who at the same time was nevertheless “God in the flesh”. (See also Glenn Miller on the subject of Jesus’ self-understanding in the synoptics.)
The second problem is that the synoptic gospels are not the earliest documents in the New Testament. The earliest documents are generally agreed to be Paul’s letters, which contain some of the strongest statements of Jesus’ divinity, such as Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” and Philippians 2:5-7: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Therefore, going by Ehrman’s method, since Paul’s writings are earlier than the synoptics, the should be trusted instead, and these statements regarding Jesus’ divinity should be believed ahead of the later synoptic gospels’ descriptions.
A featured article series currently on TheLife.com, written by Canadian philosopher Michael Horner, investigates Jesus’ resurrection as final proof of Jesus’ divinity; ie, that not only did Jesus claim to be divine, but that the resurrection validated His claim. Please take a moment today to read “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”
Oh, and happy Easter! Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, it is truly the greatest and happiest of all holidays.