Did Jesus think he was God?
This may be one of the most common questions people ask about early Christology. And it reflects a long-standing scholarly debate about Jesus’s own divine consciousness. Even if other people thought Jesus was divine, did Jesus himself think so?
A number of years ago, Bart Ehrman jumped into the fray of these debates over early Christology in his book, How Jesus Became God (HarperOne, 2014). And he addressed this question about Jesus’ divine self-awareness.
Not surprisingly, Ehrman argued that Jesus never thought of himself as God. Leaning on his earlier book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford, 2001), he says that Jesus just viewed himself as an apocalyptic prophet who was ushering in the Kingdom of God (basically Albert Schweitzer redivivus).
Ehrman adopts what he regards as the standard methodologies of modern critical scholarship, including the criteria of authenticity (and even the controversial and oft-debated criteria of dissimilarity). Of course, the upshot of Ehrman’s reconstruction of the historical Jesus is that any statements that might sound like a claim to divinity are conveniently dismissed as unhistorical.
So, not surprisingly, the claims of Jesus in the Gospel of John are considered “not part of the historical record of what Jesus actually said” (p.125). In addition, Ehrman refuses to allow any statement where Jesus identifies himself as the “Son of Man.”
Needless to say, this all works out a little too neatly. Ehrman portrays his critical methods not only as something that all scholars agree upon, but as something that leads to clear cut, unambiguous results. [Read more…]