Sigurd Grindheim on Christology of the Gospels

Dr. Sigurd Grindheim (see his webpage) is visiting professor at Fjellhaug International University College, Oslo, Norway, having taught previously at the Ethiopia Graduate School of Theology, pastored a Norwegian congregation in Chicagoland, and has a Ph.D from TEDS.

He has two new books out, both on the Christology of the Gospels (one academic, the other popular), they are:

God’s Equal: What Can We Know About Jesus’ Self-Understanding? Library of New Testament Studies 446 (London: T & T Clark, 2011).

Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’ Servant? (London: T & T Clark, 2012).

The book God’s Equal has as its central thesis: “The contention of this book is that these explanations [Jesus saw himself as no more than God’s agent and messenger] are inadequate. Jesus’ words and deeds do not make him the outstanding divine representative. Jesus did what none of God’s representatives had done or could do. Only God himself could say and do what Jesus said and did. Jesus therefore claimed to take God’s place. Jesus claimed to be God’s equal” (p. 1). Grindheim prosecutes this thesis by arguing that Jesus’ kingdom announcement identified his own presence with God’s kingly rule (chapter one), Jesus regarded his miraculous deeds as God’s eschatological acts and the new creation (chapter two), the theme of forgiveness in its Jewish setting demonstrates that Jesus exercises divine prerogatives by forgiving people (chapter three),  Jesus saw himself as the final eschatological judge (chapter four), in places like the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke with an unmediated divine authority (chapter five), the devotion that Jesus expected of his followers suggests he saw himself due devotion equal to God (chapter six), the metaphors that Jesus used of himself like bridgegroom and mother bird have an OT background used for Israel’s God (chapter seven), there is a survey of Jewish intermediary figures where Jesus does not strictly suit any semi-divine role (chapter eight), there is a return to the sayings tradition for further exploration of Jesus’ divine authority (chapter nine), Grindheim explores the enigmatic “son of man” material (chapter ten), there is analysis of Jesus’ attitude towards the temple in relation to his self-understanding and mission (chapter eleven). In the end, Grindheim concludes that Jesus’ relationship with God in the Synoptics is both subordinate to the Father and yet also equal with him. He concludes:

The Jesus who emerges then is a Jesus who said and did what only God could say and do. His claims are unmatched by Jewish expectations of the Messiah, by Jewish ideas regrading the glorious characters of Israel’s past, the most exalted of the angels, and even the heavenly Son of Man. According to the contemporary Jewish sources, these divine agents do not engage Satan directly, and they do not inaugurate the new creation. They do not forgive sins, and they do not autonomously pass the ultimate, eschatological judgment. They do not pit their own authority against the authority of the word of God. Nor do they demand a loyalty that takes precedent over the commandments of God (God’s Equal, 220).

Michael Barber has a quick glance at God’s Equal on his blog The Sacred Page.

In Christology, we find much the same argument, albeit in a more simpler form, and easier for non-NT nerds to follow. The book is broken down into four chapters on Israel’s Eschatological Expectations, God’s Coming: Christology in Mark’s Gospel, God’s Presence: Christology in Matthew’s Gospel, and God’s Name: Christology in Luke’s Gospel. After surveying all the images and motifs surrounding Jesus in the Gospels, Grindheim declares:

Despite all their differences, there are some striking similarities in the portraits of Jesus presented in the Synoptic Gospel. they have all given considerable attention to the theme of Jesus acting in God’s place. For Mark, this means that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies regarding the new exodus, and he is the divine warrior who defeats Satan and his army of evil spirits. Jesus’ miracles show that the new creation is already a reality. For Matthew, Jesus’ equality with God means that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us. He is personally eternally present with his disciples and his presence is the presence of God. The proper response therefore is to worship him. For Luke, Jesus’ equality with God means that the earthly Jesus is also the heavenly Lord. He is present in the heavenly council while he is also present with his disciples on earth. (Christology, 148).

No doubt, many will be unimpressed with Grindheim’s conclusions (I myself wonder if he presses the evidence too far in favor of a divine christology at times, Jesus “blurs” the distinction between the sender and the sent, but there is a subordinationist feel to much of the Synoptics, though not perhaps ontologically). But Grindheim cracks open the question about  exactly how “high” the Christology of the Synoptics goes, and though I may want to change his trajectory in places, I think he is taking us up to the right heights!

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • In Christology, we find much the same argument, albeit in a more simpler form, and easier for non-NT nerds to follow.

    Does this mean that if one reads God’s Equal, one needn’t read Christology?

  • Matt

    I think it is somewhat misguided to look for a High Christology in the Synoptics though I think it is there. Pauls letters are earlier and definitely depict Jesus as divine. The Synoptics are just narrative attempts to portray the earthly life of the resurected and enthroned Lord that the early Christian community was already worshipping by the time of Paul.