What did the First Christians think about Jesus? -Gathercole

In Gathercole’s essay: What did the First Christian Think about Jesus? the author describes the likely Christology of early believers so as to show that the facts do not point a Jesus that gradually becomes God. Gathercole does so by contrasting the thought of Bart Ehrman, a novelist purporting Jesus as an “ugly duckling” arriving at divinity during different stages of his life, i.e. at birth in Luke and Matthew and the baptism in Mark. One of the responses is the “I have come” statements made by Christ which imply Jesus as pre-existing then come into the world to accomplish his mission. During the Tunnel Period, Erhman claims to have found a pre-literary formula or creed in Rom 1:3-4 which seems to imply Jesus being adopted at Son of God at the Resurrection. This claim is addressed as wildly speculative by Gathercole on many levels. Finally in the exaltation understanding of Jesus glorified, Gathercole highlights the different characteristics and actions of Jesus during his earthy mission and glorification in order to show where the adoptionists go wrong in their line of thought, namely seeing this transition as the moment Christ became God, which he posits, was not the orthodox position of early Christians.

            I enjoyed the article however the author does assume the reader have an advanced understanding of theology, scripture and logic. I found myself re-reading sections just to understand his arguments. I did agree with his positions and especially enjoyed his reflection on Jesus’ exalted and earthly characteristics as a pitfall for some adoptionists who view this as the moment of divinization for Jesus. The work was a great counter argument and debunking of the claims of Ehrman positing the Jesus became God gradually in the thoughts of early Christians.

6 thoughts on “What did the First Christians think about Jesus? -Gathercole”

  1. I agree with you that this was not the easiest read, but it was definitely fruitful. Of most interest to me was the section concerning what the synopitcs claim of Jesus’ identity. Ehrman claims that the Gospels support more of an adoptionist theory of divinity for Jesus while Gathercole argues the opposite. I liked Gathercole’s defense not only of the orthodox position, but that the orthodox position is not one that developed gradually over time, but was held from the beginning. By using the “I have come” statements and the fact that Jesus acts in ways unique to the God of Israel, I think he makes a strong case for his position.

    1. Understanding fully the hypostatic union that Jesus has is impossible. However, we must always agree that He is always, from the moment of conception, fully God and fully man. For Him to have been adopted as a Son of the Father would show a disunity and an imperfection which cannot be found in Him.

  2. this was a great read and also thank you for sharing your experience and difficulties in reading it!

    In my opinion there are many things that can be said about Jesus and many scholars can be in favor or against the two natures of Christ, However at the end, even the author presents good arguments regarding the Divine and Human nature, is also true that when the author assumes that the reader is an expert in Theology and Logic, the risk is that the reader might come into the article with skepticism and focus in finding the argumentative and unlogical errors (which the article does not have) and let the person of Jesus out of the discussion and argumentation.

  3. I agree with Giuseppe and Josh at the issue of the dense nature of the article; it took me a couple of sittings to really process the material. That being said, the article was well worth the two sittings. Gathercole gives a well-articulated counter argument, effectively responding to and critiquing Erhman’s arguments. Yes, the counter arguments may have seemed like overkill, especially to someone with not a lot of biblical study, but it is better to leave “no stone unturned” when defending a position than giving simple responses for the sake of the reader.

    In my opinion, the key to the effectiveness of Gathercole’s arguments can be summed up in one word: context. He exposes Erhman’s arguments as being grounded in mere conjecture, isolating Scripture passages to agree with his reasoning. On the other hand, Gathercole bases his arguments in a canonical context that is immediate, local, and global. Also, his opinions factor in the culture in which the first followers of Jesus lived. This can be found when he cites the strict Creator/creature divide which existed in Judaism at the time.

  4. Excellent and descriptive review – you likely caught more details than most! Yes, very important to avoid Christological heresies. Those ones that say that Jesus didn’t realize he was God at first are particularly repulsive.

  5. To fully enter into the mindset of the first followers of Christ is a very attractive idea. I think that this article provided great accounts of different views. However, I ultimately believe that the biblical accounts must be read with the eyes of faith as well. It is true that it wasn’t till after the resurrection that the disciples truly believed but saying that they only after the resurrection Jesus became God is definitely not in accord with our christian doctrine.

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