Bart Ehrman is one of those scholars who impresses with his extensive knowledge (to say nothing of his personal charm and communication ability), but who makes glaring errors of judgement on too regular a basis. Perhaps it is his own loss of Christian faith that makes him so certain that he has no axe to grind that he cannot see the axes lying all around him – some on have already been ground, others are waiting to be ground, still others are in the process of being ground. The secret of sound scholarly judgement is not to pretend that you have rid yourself of all vested interests, but rather to acknowledge your potential prejudices and consider what effect they might be having on your selection and manipulation of the data.
In his recent book How Jesus Became God, Ehrman argues, amongst other things, that the early church came first to believe that Jesus was an exalted (i.e. risen and ascended) divinity, and only a little later that he was a pre-existent divinity. In the first, an ‘exaltation Christology’, the belief would be that God conferred divinity on Jesus at his resurrection. This would be reflected in passages such as Rom 1:3f (a text widely regarded as drawing on an even earlier Christian confession). In the second, which developed a little later (but still early enough to be presupposed by Paul), an ‘incarnation Christology’, Jesus is regarded as a pre-existent being.
As Larry Hurtado points out, it is clear enough that both emphases are found in the New Testament. In fact (as Ehrman himself recognises) they can be found together in a passage such as Phil 2:6-11, which describes a pre-existent and divine Jesus becoming incarnate as a man and, subsequent to his death and resurrection, being exalted as ‘Lord’. What is not at all clear is that the early church made any great separation between these two beliefs. This is especially so in the light of those early Jewish texts (such as 1 Enoch) that demonstrate that there was already belief in the pre-existence of hoped-for eschatological figures. It is at least as likely that the two ran together in the thought of the early church: that resurrected and exalted Lord requires a pre-existent one (and vice-versa).