Jesus’ death and the belief by some that he was resurrected changed things. Following this event, scholars claim that a variety of beliefs about Jesus emerged. In recent years, scholars often subscribe to the idea that there was a general progression toward a greater and greater exultation of Jesus from the time of Jesus’ death to the end of the first century. There is some evidence that suggests immediately after the death of Jesus, some of his followers came to believe God had adopted him as his son. Jesus become divine through adoption. Others came to think that Jesus was adopted by God at his baptism by John. The Gospel of Mark, which scholars believe is the oldest gospel, seems to imply that. Mark doesn’t have a birth narrative. Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus’ baptism.
Ehrman thinks that Paul believed Jesus was an angel who was elevated to a higher status following his death. If that’s correct, then Paul’s view would be a kind of hybrid. Jesus was divine before his earthly existence, but he was only an angel. Then he got a promotion after his death as a human being. Paul’s letters are believed to be the oldest surviving Christian texts. They predate the gospels. (But scholars believe that some of the letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul were not actually written by Paul.)
In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, you’ll find the birth narratives. (And they are different from one another, but this time of year, they are often conflated in the Christmas plays.) They suggest the idea that Jesus was divine from birth. God impregnated Mary, and she gave birth to a special divine child, the son of God.
John is the last gospel, and it is quite unlike the three earlier gospels. The author skips over the birth narrative, and in this gospel, Jesus is presented as a lofty figure from the start. Jesus claims to be at one with the father, and he claims to have been with the father since before creation.
So to start off with, you have this poor carpenter fellow from a small town who was inspired to start teaching an apocalyptic message about the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. He tells his followers to prepare for this by repenting and to start living as though they were already in this kingdom…love your neighbor, don’t engage in violence, share your stuff with the poor. He goes to Jerusalem during the Passover celebration, gets in trouble with the authorities and gets himself killed. After that, his followers, or some of them, come to believe he was resurrected. Then he goes from the adopted son of God, to the actual son of God who was divine from conception, to a divine being that predates creation.
Of course, the Gospel of John didn’t settle the matter. There were all kinds of interpretations of Jesus in the second century. Some (the Ebionites) claim Jesus wasn’t divine at all. Others (the Docetists) claim he was divine but not human. Some stuck with the adoptionist idea. Some thought a divine spirit entered Jesus’ body at his baptism and then left his body before he died. But the proto-orthodox believed, as the author of the Gospel of John, Jesus was a divine being who predated creation and that he became human so he could suffer and die for the sins of humanity.
However, that view leads to the question of Jesus’ relationship with God. Are their two gods? God the Father and God the Son? Or is Jesus divine but somehow subordinate to God the Father who is really God. Many of the proto-orthodox accepted a modelest view. There was only one God, but God had different modes. He could be God the Father. He could be God the Holy Ghost. And he could be God the Son. Just like a human being can be an aunt, a sister and a postal clerk. Some person, different modes.
That’s a neat way of looking at it, and many Christians sort of seem to think that way even now, but the problem is, the proto-orthodox were kind of stuck with those first century gospels. Those were the gospels they had promoted as authoritative, and in those gospels, Jesus and God are presented as two different beings. And Jesus prays to God. So was Jesus talking to himself? Eventually, modelism was condemned as heresy, and the Orthodox explained how you could have God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost and still have only one God with the unfathomable doctrine of the Trinity.