Thursday, April 4, 2013

Do the Synoptic Gospels Call Jesus God?

One point Bart Ehrman brings up in his book on the existence of Jesus is the fact that many modern scholars deny that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was God.

Ehrman states:
“That the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God is not a controversial point among scholars.  Apart from fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles…It is striking that none of our first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—declares that Jesus is God or indicates that Jesus ever called himself God…Jesus is not called God in Q, M, L or any of the oral accounts that we can trace from the synoptic Gospels.”[1]
Ehrman is certainly correct that this view is at least a majority among critics, and it will be very convincing to the new student who has even ever read the Gospels on his own.  But I carry with me a bit of moly herb to ward against it.  What should become of Ehrman’s conclusions if we were to find in Mark’s very climax Jesus Himself calling Himself God?  It is my contention that such a passage does in fact exist, and it is missed by most New Testament scholars who are unaware of the Ugaritic context of one verse:
Jesus before Caiaphas
And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14.62 (ESV)
Michael S. Heiser holds a PhD in Semitic languages and is the Academic Editor for Logos Bible Software.  In his article “What’s Ugaritic Got to Do with Anything?” Heiser contextualizes the phrase “cloud-rider” within Ancient Near Eastern literature.  The conclusion: The related title, "He who rides/comes with the clouds" is almost always attributed to Baal as an exclusive title of deity.[2]  The Old Testament authors polemicizing against Baal worship can be seen stripping this Baalian deity title often and attributing it to YHWH in texts like Isaiah 19.1, Deuteronomy 33.26 and Psalm 68.33 and 104.3.

Heiser states:
Jesus was making an overt, unmistakable claim to be deity—he in fact was the one who rides on the clouds.  That this is no exaggerated interpretation is evident from Caiaphas’ reaction:65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.” (ESV) 
The statement is only blasphemous if one is claiming to be the rider on the clouds. That idea may have been acceptable to Jews at the time, but it was simply intolerable that this man Jesus of Nazareth would claim to be the incarnation of the second power. What most of us might think is an odd answer, or even a deliberate deflection of Caiaphas’ demand, is the exact opposite. Jesus could not have been more blunt. He was the “second deity” of Daniel 7.[3]
So then, we have both the authors of Mark and Matthew portraying Jesus as attributing to Himself an Old Testament deity title for YHWH and originally Baal in the context of the climactic turning point of the Gospels.  As Heiser says, "The description is recognized as an official title of Baal. No angel or lesser being bore the title. As such, everyone in Israel who heard this title associated it with a deity, not a man or an angel."  Ehrman is wrong when he says the earliest Christians didn't consider Jesus God.[4]

[1] Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, (USA: HarperCollins, 2012), 231-2.
[2] Jordan W. Jones, “Who Maketh the Clouds His Chariot: The Comparative Method and the Mythopoetical Motif of Cloud-Riding in Psalm 104 and the Epic of Baal” (M.A. Th. Liberty University, 2010), 59.  Jones identifies and categorizes the following passages ascribing Baal the title “cloud-rider” in the KTU: 1.2:IV:8, 1.2IV:29, 1.3:II:40, 1.3:III:38, 1.3:IV:6, 1.4:III:11, 1.4:III:18, 1.4:V:60, 1.5:11:7, 1.10:I:7, 1.10:III:36, 1.19:I:43-44, 1.92:40, 1.92.40.
[3] Michael S. Heiser, “What’s Ugaritic Got to Do with Anything?” Logos Bible Software(2006), accessed
2 May 2012; available from; Internet.
[4] You may be wondering, if a passage like Daniel 7 talks about a cloud-rider who isn't YHWH then why didn't pre-Christian Jews anticipate a second God?  The answer is that they actually did, and this was half the subject of Heiser's doctoral dissertation.  See Heiser's website

1 comment:

  1. Phil. 2:5-11 - Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NJB)

    The word "name" is synonymous with that of "authority". If God gave him the name above all other names, then simultaneously, it is fathomable that God can allow his creature to come with the clouds. You as having a higher education than my two years of religious studies might be better able to inform me of whether I got the "name" part right. Please do so if I need correction.