Who do you say I am?

He pressed the disciples! “And how about you?  Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  He swore the disciples to secrecy.  He made them promise they would tell no one that he was the Messiah.

MT 16:15-16;20

“It’s really happened!  The Master has been raised up – Simon saw him!”  While they were saying all this Jesus appeared to them and said “Peace be with you.”

LK 24:34;36

As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, was crucified for our sins, died and rose again from the dead before ascending to heaven.


In his 2014 book How Jesus Became God, Prof. Bart Ehrman asks the question “But what did Jesus really say and do during his life on earth?”  As a historian, based on historical evidence, he concludes that during his lifetime, Jesus’ followers understood him to be an apocalyptic preacher who predicted the world would soon be ending and that the Son of Man would come down from heaven, to vanquish evil and save those people who had repented and lived by God’s rules.  It was only in the years after his death, that Jesus was elevated by his followers from being a man, to being a pre-existent divine being, equal to God himself, professes Ehrman.

The main tool he uses to justify historical truth is “plausibility”.  If it is mentioned in multiple sources, (e.g,  in multiple Gospels) it probably happened.  If it is somewhat negative, it probably happened. (e.g. Jesus recruited lowly fisherman and tax collectors as his disciples.)  However, if it is mentioned only once, particularly if it somewhat enhances the stature of Jesus or if the multiple reports are inconsistent, it probably did not happen like that, or at all (e.g., the passage from Mathew above was a single report only.)

Ehrman admits that there is no ‘historical’ doubt that the disciples had “visions” of the risen Christ and that led them to firmly believe that he had risen from the dead.  Otherwise, Christianity could never have established itself as a religion.  However since there is no way to prove historically that Jesus actually did rise from the dead, it seems that it was man and not God who raised Jesus up to the level of a deity, in the initial and subsequent 300 years of theological debate after his death, says Ehrman.

It is interesting to note that apart from the quote in MT above and when he was before Pontius Pilate, Jesus never acknowledged himself to be divine, ie. the Messiah and the Son of God.  Rather, he refers to the mysterious “Son of Man” over 50 times in the Gospels, but does not say that he is that being.  It was like Jesus did not seem to know during his lifetime that he was divine – further evidence of his lack of divinity according to the author.  The passage from Luke quoted above differs from the reports of this in the other Gospels, hence it is suspect according to Ehrman.

A lot happened particularly in the first 20 years after Jesus death. By the 300s there was no doubt Jesus was God, the arguments were more about was Christ two persons or one, the nature of his soul and how Mary could be the Mother of God given God is pre-existent. The author uses the term contextualize a lot. By nature we humans contextualize our views of things based on our lived experience. An example is that today about 80% of Catholics believe that anyone can get to heaven by following their particular religious beliefs. 50 years ago this figure was more like 10%. The context has changed.  Now many of our neighbours and family members practice a different religion, no religion or are of a different race.

Ehrman is a great teacher and very respected New Testament scholar.  A former evangelical Christian, he now admits to having become an atheist.  Hence he is the darling of those who wish to apply “scientific” tools to debunk the Christian faith, e.g., too many of today’s youth, atheists and the so-called “nones.”  Don’t get me wrong, he is a very credible researcher who clearly presents his ideas in a convincing and scholarly way.  He then makes his conclusions and recognizes that others are free to make theirs.

So it comes down to a matter of faith of whether Jesus resurrection really occured or not.  In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.  When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood” but “from my Father who is in heaven.”

A good read but I disagree with the author’s conclusions.



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