The Exaltation of Jesus and Others - Summary

8.   Summary

8.1       Exalted Men in Ancient Palestine

We identified eleven forms of exaltation that could apply to a person in ancient Palestine.

Six of these forms of exaltation do not imply divinity, but indicate that one is a ‘holy man’ or a man with ‘mortal greatness’: being a prophet with a following; healing physical conditions; performing exorcisms to heal mental conditions; being deemed great (ex: with certain titles); being killed or martyred by your enemies; and performing resuscitations of apparently dead persons.

The other five forms of exaltation do imply a degree of divinity: a virgin birth; miracles other than healings and exorcisms; being deemed divine, or treated as such; being said to have been resurrected; and being said to have ascended to heaven.  Some people will believe these stories but skeptics will not.

These eleven signs of exaltation were observed or reported by one or more persons, but there were/are other people (either ancient or modern) who doubted the truth of almost all of these signs.

A table listed 31 men who had one or more signs of exaltation in Palestine in the years surrounding the ministry of Jesus within a century either way (65 BCE to 135 CE).  Jesus Christ was the only man exalted in all eleven ways.  Next in importance were Peter, Paul, and Apollonius of Tyana who were each exalted in six ways.  The reason why Jesus, Peter and Paul are so prominent in this list is that Christianity became the dominant religion, and its story was told in detail in the NT and other writings which are preserved to this day.  On the other hand, Apollonius of Tyana was seen by many as an equally great man who could have been the founder of just as great a religion – but it did not happen!

Stories in the Acts of the Apostles show that, apart from Jesus, there were three other mortals who were also declared by witnesses to be gods:

Herod Agrippa with the Jews at Tyre (Acts 12:20-23) .

  • Paul and Barnabus performing healings at Lystra (Acts 14:8-13); and
  • Paul who was unaffected by the viper’s bite at Malta (Acts 28:3-6).

These events show the willingness of people at that time to believe that mortals could be gods; this thinking applied to both Jesus and many others.

Apart from Jesus, the NT provides one or more signs of exaltation in many of his associates: John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, and his twelve disciples.   Apart from Jesus and his associates, the NT also provides one or more signs of exaltation in seven other men (Augustus Caesar, Theudas I, Jeudas the Galilean, Simon Magus, Claudius Caesar, Herod Agrippa, and the Jew from Egypt) and two groups of men (the sons of the Pharisees and the itinerant Jewish exorcists).

8.2       Christology

There has been a debate about how to best characterise Jesus Christ.   Bart Ehrman and a few liberal colleagues think that the earliest Christians saw Jesus as a man who was exalted to divinity, possibly at his baptism or resurrection, as shown in certain gospel passages.  Traditional Christian apologists think that the gospels contain some evidence confirming this point of view, but even more evidence that Christ was seen as existing over all time, and only became incarnated as a man to fulfill God’s plan of salvation.  Their book, How God Became Jesus [HGBJ], contains detailed counter arguments to those of Ehrman in his book, How Jesus Became God [BE3b].

The arguments got into a number of specific topics.  After reviewing both sides of these arguments, we concluded that Ehrman was right in thinking that:

  • Jesus did not see himself as the Son of Man – the relevant texts were retrojections;
  • Jesus can forgive sins without being a priest;
  • Some of his disciples believed they had seen the risen Christ, but these were just visions;
  • There was some sense of continuity between the divine and human realms; and
  • Many of his earliest followers saw Jesus as being exalted or adopted to God-like status within Judaism, at his baptism or his resurrection – an exaltationist Christology.

But Ehrman was wrong in thinking that:

  • Jesus was not buried in a specific tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, and subsequently found to be empty by the women; and
  • Paul saw Jesus as a human exalted to divinity – although Paul’s writings are mixed, most of them are closer to the incarnationist Christology.


  • Bconc        Kohlenberger, John R., III. The NRSV Concordance Unabbridged.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991.

  • Bdict         Powell, Mark Allen, general editor.  HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.

  • Bency        Cornfeld, Gaalyhu, editor, with Bible scholars, historians and archaeologists. Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia: a visual guide to the old and new testament.  NY: The Macmillan Company, 1964.

  • BE3b         Ehrman, Bart D.  How Jesus Became God: the exaltaton of a Jewish preacher from Galilee.  HarperOne, 2014.   Also available as  [BE3a] Ehrman, Bart D.  How Jesus Became God: the exaltaton of a Jewish preacher from Galilee.  course transcript. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses

  • Bible         Harper Collins Study Bible.  NY: HarperOne an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.  Based on the New Revised Standard Version Bible, 1989.

  • BW1          Wilson, Barrie.  How Jesus Became Christian.  Random House Canada, 2008.  Dr. Wilson is a professor of humanities and religious studies at York University in Toronto.  He thinks that Paul created the modern gentile Christianity by minimising its Jewish origins.

  • CE2           Evans, Craig A.  Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: a guide to the background literature.  Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.  Baker Academic paperback edition, 2011.

  • Chr            MacCulloch, Diarmaid.  Christianity: the first three thousand years.  Viking, 2009.

  • GV1          Vermes, Geza.  The Religion of Jesus the Jew.  Mineapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

  • HGBJ        Bird, Michael F, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling.  How God Became Jesus: the real origins of belief in Jesus’ divine nature – a response to Bart Ehrman. [BE3a].  Zondervan, 2014.  Most Bible quotations are from the NIV, but there are some from the RSV and NRSV.

  • IG1            Gafni, Isaiah M.  Beginnings of Judaism, course guidebook.  Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses, 2006.  Professor of Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  • ISBE         Orr, James, John L. Nuelsen, Edgar Y. Mullins, Morris O. Evans, eds, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  The Howard-Severance Co., five volumes published over 1915 – 1939. .  This encyclopedia takes the conservative approach to Christian thinking.

  • JDC1         Crossan, John Dominic.  The Historical Jesus: the life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.  HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

  • JS1            Spong, John Shelby.  Liberating the Gospels: reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes.  HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.   John Spong is an Anglican Bishop.

  • LTJ2          Johnson, Luke Timothy.  Early Christianity: the experience of the Divine. Course guidebook. Chantilly, Virginia: The Great Courses,  2002.

  • PF2            Fredriksen, Paula.  Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews. NY: Vintage Books edition, 2000.  Original Random House, 1999.,, 1999.  She is an historian of ancient Christianity and Judaism.

  • PF4            Fredriksen, Paula. From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

  • Sage          Flusser, David with R. Steven Notley.  The Sage from Galilee: rediscovering Jesus’ Genius.  Fourth expanded English edition.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

  • SPQR        Beard, Mary.  SPQR: a history of ancient Rome.  NY: Liveright Publishing, 2015.

  • W/ApoT    Wikipedia/Apollonius of Tyana.

  • ZIBD         Douglas, J.D. and M.C.Tenney, editors.  Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary.  Revised by Moises Silva.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2011 edition.  Text references are to the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.  The approach is more conservative and evangelical.