A Man Attested by God: Reviewing

A Man Attested by God: Reviewing September 2, 2016

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMBy John Frye

In part 1 of the review of J. R. Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God, Kirk’s hypothesis is that Jesus in the Synoptics is best understood as “an idealized human figure,” which is an established category in 1st century Jewish literature. Rather than understanding Jesus in a high divine Christology (Jesus is ontologically God), Kirk proposes a high human Christology.

In part 2, the category “idealized human figures” is affirmed by Kirk’s analysis of the Jewish Old Testament and non-canonical writings—the purpose of chapter 1- “Idealized Human Figures in Early Judaism” (44-176). Kirk defines idealized human figures as “non-angelic, non-preexistent human beings, of the past, present, and anticipated future…playing some unique role in representing God to the rest of the created realm, or in representing some of the created realm before God ” (45). Kirk elaborates, “The category of ‘idealized human figure’ seeks to chart a third way between ‘low Christology’ that defines Jesus as ‘a mere human being,’ and a ‘high’ Christology that depicts Jesus as the God of Israel” (47). The idealized human figures are:

Adam as past and future. Kirk probes Genesis and the verbs “rule,” and “subdue,” and the terms “likeness” and “image.” “…[A]n image was not merely a representation, but was seen as the embodiment of the thing signified” (53). Kirk discusses Psalm 8, Ezekiel 28, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Dead Sea Scrolls (numerous texts), Philo, 1 Enoch, Life of Adam and Eve, and Testament of Abraham. The recurring key feature is “the God who is sovereign (Pss 22:28; 47:2) shares sovereign rule with humanity, especially idealized human figures” (77).

Moses and the Prophets. Kirk discusses Moses in the Bible, Philo’s Moses, The Exagogue of Ezekiel the Tragedian, and Moses at Qumran. Often, Moses’ “shining face” is equated with “may YHWH’s face shine upon you.” Tight identity. Kirk’s conclusion about Moses is “The ascription of the title God, the actions of conquering hostile, even cosmic powers, sitting on God’s throne, and receiving celestial adoration—all these place Moses in a unique standing vis-à-vis God, yet without transforming the identity of God in any other way than binding God’s identity to the identity of this human agent through whom God has chosen to act” (87). Prophets past and future. Kirk considers Elijah in the Jewish Scriptures (along with Elisha as his Great Successor), Elijah in Sirach, and Elijah in several Qumran texts. These human prophetic figures are “tasked to play the role of God on earth” (96).

Kings in Worship and Rule. David and Solomon in the biblical text are primarily featured, with comments about Psalm 2—nations responding to the son are responding to God himself; Psalm 45—a king of Israel (or Judah) as an idealized human figure “might well be be included in Israel’s worship…” and “the king himself is the object of praise” (99); Psalm 72—“The idea would be that God is worshiped through this service [see vss 9-11] because God stands behind the king” (101); Psalm 89—the king is invested with sovereignty over creation (vs 9) that is reserved for God alone. Solomon’s throne and worship in 1 Chronicles 29:20, 23) includes this phrase “They bowed to the LORD and to the king.” Solomon is on the throne (sovereignty) and receives worship. Isaiah 9 presents a human child who is declared to be “almighty God, Everlasting Father” and sovereignly rules. Ezekiel 34, Micah 5 and Zechariah 12 are discussed.

The “exalted depictions” of these kings (historical and predicted) are presented without the least concern that they might “infringe on some realm supposedly reserved for God alone” (110). Kirk discusses kings in post-biblical Judaism with this conclusion: “Idealized kings in biblical and post-biblical Judaism shared in God’s sovereignty over the earth, sitting on God’s throne, ruling the nations, governing God’s people, manifesting God’s wisdom and righteousness.” … “Kings show such adoption of divine identity by being called God, receiving worship, being God’s stand-in in rule, bearing God’s spirit, executing God’s judgments, fulfilling Scripture of which God is the subject, and standing in filial relationship to God” (118, 120). The tie to Jesus as king is apparent.

Priests of Divinity. Melchizedek in Scripture and at Qumran and Priests in Sirach are examined. Priests in The Testament of Levi and Jubilees and at Qumran (DSS) are presented. Kirk’s conclusion: “Idealized priests provide another lens through which to see that early Jewish monotheism plays little role in limiting how Jewish writers can depict (human) figures whom they and their communities recognize as being specially endowed for some task or function” (139). Prerogatives of God are shared by these idealized priests.

Son of Man. This title in Daniel 7 and in Enochic Literature and 4 Ezra receives careful scrutiny and this title comes up again in Kirk’s chapter 3- “Son of Man as the Human One.” Kirk prefers Boyarin’s view that “‘the one like a human being’ speak[s] of the human beings who make up the faithful people of Israel” (157-58).

The Community of the Elect. From his biblical and post-biblical citations, Kirk’s main point is to affirm that the community is called “the Son of God,” that is, God is on display in Israel. “…Zion on earth is a proxy for God” (164).

Kirk’s Four Conclusions. “1. Idealized human figures are a wide-spread and wide-ranging reality in the literature of early Judaism. … 2. Although there are angelic figures who play such [God] roles as well, early Judaism maintained a special role for humans as God’s idealized agents. … 3. Idealized human figures are identified with God in various ways in early Judaism, including sharing in God’s sovereignty and receiving worship. … 4. Despite the assertions of some early Jewish writers, we discover a notable absence of anxiety about applying divine attributes to people in both biblical and post-biblical Judaism” (173-174). A recurring point made by Kirk is that idealized human figures do not jeopardize fierce Jewish monotheism.

As the one reviewing, I admit, I still need convincing about why Kirk’s hypothesis is necessary.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Norman

    Sounds like I need to read Kirks book as it appears he pursues some contextual aspects of 2nd T Jewish lit that should not be ignored.
    Jewish OT and NT lit reflects cultural aspects that do not always sit nicely with modern sensibilities, so they are often glossed over.
    The “other” in OT lit are often dehumanized whereas the faithful Jew is often the epitome of Humans reflecting Gods higher Spiritual Image. It’s a problematic story telling aspect for many and so we don’t go there.
    One aspect in Genisis 1,2 and 9 is that the animals are not really about animals per se but about the “other” (pagans/Gentiles). If one is not aware of this literary Jewish projection then ones reading will not be fully contextual.

  • Alex Dalton

    John Frye wrote: As the one reviewing, I admit, I still need convincing about why Kirk’s hypothesis is necessary.

    Alex: I think this data helps make for a more plausible historical account of the emergence of NT Christology. But theologically, I think it is crucial for Western Christianity to begin to understand that God’s love is not just expressed in God sharing in our nature, but also in God sharing his own nature with mankind.

  • Chico Martin

    Hi,
    I am interested in what Kirk has to say about Larry Hurtado; any comments?
    Thanks,
    Pastor Chico

  • “As the one reviewing, I admit, I still need convincing about why Kirk’s hypothesis is necessary”. I am with you here…look forward to see if you change your mind on this. Definitely interested in the book if you find there is something significant in it – something not already fleshed out by Alan Segal, Larry Hurtado, Michael Heiser, etc. Keep ’em coming!

  • Norman

    I’m a little perplexed why there is any perplexingly over a good contextual theological investigation. I thought this was what critical biblical scholarship was all about.

  • John W. Frye

    Chico, At this point all I can offer is that Kirk disagrees with Hurtado’s take on Jesus as presented in the Synoptic Gospels. See last week’s post.

  • John W. Frye

    Norman, I am all for a good contextual theological investigation. Yet, when you’re dealing with many biblical and post-biblical texts which may offer a host of interpretive options, for Kirk to suddenly see things about Jesus in the Synoptics that *no one* (in the evangelical camp) has seen before raises questions. Kirk is countering some big league exegetical and theological scholars. And he seems to be overthrowing centuries of traditional Synoptic understanding. Again, let’s give Kirk a fair hearing, yet not accept novelty for novelty’s sake. Others have commented (last week) that this is not a new idea to some streams of the Church. I’m OK with that.

  • Michael Chung

    Having only read Scot’s review, I do not see this theme in the Synoptics. Early on in Mark, we see Jesus identified more with divine than humankind. Mark 1:1-3 where his thesis is “who is Lord but Jesus.” Mark 2 where he forgives sin, MArk 4 where wind and sea are at his control.

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi John and all,
    When early Christianity was being displayed for the whole to see at that time, the worldview back then of polytheism and Gnosticism and Greek dualism set forth various expressions of Docetism. The problem was not Jesus being divine but
    Jesus being human. Jesus only appeared to be human and was really only fully divine. Earth and matter and flesh were evil.

    In today’s modern world, the problem is the opposite. Jesus only appears to be divine or is simply an exalted human, but human he is, not divine. I know modern theology also has a tendency to view a kind of evolution of the human Jesus of the first century to the divine-human Jesus of the third and fourth centuries.

    Kirk says he is trying to take a mediating view between the two but it sure more sounds like Jesus is human and simply exalted by other humans. God becoming man is still the scandal of particularity as well as we know all this divinity stuff comes from our tribal ancestors and not how our scientific world really works today. The orthodox Jewish perspective is also shared by many in how can God be a man in a particular time and place, that is idolatry.

    I think Kirk is onto something in regards to how Jesus viewed himself among his contemporaries. Jesus the man. Jesus the Jew. Jesus the prophet. Jesus the Messiah but in what sense Jesus own conscious evolved towards deity we don’t fully get until the gospel of John? I think there is an evolution of Jesus own self-understanding and conscious. Evolution itself may have been in at work for eons to produce the person we call Savior, Lord, fully human and fully one in essence with God.

    Maybe the greatest challenge to Kirk’s thesis is the worship of Jesus. This started from the very get go and even the worship of intermediators was forbidden from a Jewish standpoint. Worship of Jesus from the start continues to be the fly in the ointment for those who see Jesus as something less than the incarnate God-man.

  • David Moore

    Hey John,

    Thanks for your efforts with this review. Much appreciated.

    Does Kirk address Mk. 2:1-12?

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi Michael and all,
    I don’t think most Jews saw the Messiah as one who was divine and God in the flesh and they read the prophets like Isaiah. Lord is used many ways in the older testament. Forgiveness of sins did not automatically qualify as deity and there is a mysteriousness around Mark 4.

    Elijah the prophet did miracles like Jesus, healings, and even rose the dead. Nobody I know suggests that Elijah was divine. Even resurrection in itself is not proof of divinity. We read each of these events as proofs of deity as late modern Christians but I don’t believe that is how the Jewish faith at the time saw these things. There are scriptures and echoes of divinity concerning Jesus within the Bible but the modern way we read miracles and healings and resurrection as proof today of deity would be very foreign to the original context.

  • Chico Martin

    Thank you, Dr. Kirk. Hear is an argument I heard earlier today, which I think gets to the reason why your work is important:
    Only God is worshipped; Jesus is worshipped; therefore Jesus is God.

  • John W. Frye

    J. R. Daniel Kirk, thank you for joining the conversation here at Jesus Creed. My approach is to review as I go through your fascinating book. I’ve not read the ending. You provoke stimulating theological thought, and I am truly intrigued by your hypothesis. My interactions with the book are from the context of 40 years as a pastor. As I mentioned in the first post we evangelicals (pastors and scholars) need to wrestle with the realities of unfolding theological knowledge without fear. So, what does your book contribute to the evangelical understanding of Jesus’ humanity that will mean something to Joe and Jane Christian?

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel, that first paragraph is uncharitable to a review that has been uniformly fair to you so far. To say he is “afraid” is to suggest you know his heart or motives. Nor am I so sure it is fair to say conservatives today are afraid of the humanity of Jesus… maybe some but there has been a revival of interest in this for a number of decades.

  • Chris Criminger

    The Eastern Orthodox church which is as ancient as you can get for the historical church speaks of worship as that for God alone and veneration which shows respect and honor to someone or something.

    It seems to me that when monotheistic Jews were praising and worshipping a King for example it would be in the latter sense and not the former. What about counter-examples in early Jewish writings where God-fearing Jews are told not to worship any man or angel or any created being but only the Creator?

  • Norman

    John, when I wear my pastoral hat I understand your concern. When I switch to my biblical anthropological hat my curiosity is piqued.

  • Matthew G. Zatkalik

    Thank you, Scot.

  • Chris Criminger

    1 Chron.29:20 is being read like honor or praise or veneration mean the same exact thing to both parties (I’m not so sure?).

    Honor to God and honor to the King may have meant different things to the people? I did find a reference that in the Syriac and Arabic versions of this text, it says, they “worshipped the Lord and blessed the King.”

    What about the high Christology texts by Paul of Jesus as the Creator and the high Christology in the book of Hebrews?
    Thanks in advance.

  • Alex Dalton

    Loving the book so far. I think our differences would mostly lie in how we use the word divine. Rather than idealized human beings, I’d probably see them more as divinized human beings, particularly when we take the Greco-Roman context into account. You see these exalted figures within Judaism as helping us to understand the Jesus of the Gospels in a more human light. I see these exalted figures as demonstrating that human beings within Judaism can often be understood in a more divine light.

    Isn’t it the case that your thesis entails that a person could be the embodiment of God, be bound to God’s identity, sit on God’s throne, have sovereign rule alongside God over all other cosmic powers, be transfigured to manifest God’s visible glory, be called God, be worshiped, speak the word of God, demonstrate the power of God over creation and death, forgive the sins of others, be indwelled by the actual Spirit of God, given power to bestow the Spirit on others, be called the Son of God, etc., and still not even qualify to be called “divine”?

    I would agree with you that Jesus is not being portrayed as THE one God in the gospels, but when Mark has the centurion confess Jesus as “son of God”, doesn’t Mark know that, especially after all Jesus has done in this gospel, his gentile readers who are surely familiar with this title as indicator of divinity, are going to take it in just that way?

    From a theological perspective, I would have a hard time adopting this concept of God with Christ as non-divine human vice-regent. I think it makes God out to be a bit stingy. God is basically like “Here Jesus, you can have it all –the power and glory, the authority, the immortality, the praise, the responsibilities, the office, the nametag, and the chair – basically my entire job description is now your’s. After all you are my son [*makes air quotes*]. But at the end of the day, no matter how good it feels to be worshipped, always keep in mind the distinction between function and ontology – you and I are not *actually* of the same kin. When I call you my son, I just mean messianic king. I know it is confusing. I can share *almost* everything, but not my divine nature.” I would think that a God that has the greatest conceivable nature, and ultimately shares that divine nature to the fullest extent possible with others, without eradicating their individual identity, is a more generous God. I think your work actually demonstrates quite well that this is who God is and how he operates, and to the ultimate extent in Christ, the point of which is to pull us all into the nature of divinity.

  • Alex Dalton

    Daniel – I think, rather than shedding light on the question “how do you know a God when you see one on earth?”, your thesis makes it impossible to answer! A point I’ve brought up many times with other scholars who advocate a functional/agency Christology in the gospels is – what *exactly* could Jesus do, to indicate divinity in the Gospels, that could NOT be said to fall under the rubric of divine agency as opposed to ontology? Anything a divine Jesus does, can always be said to merely be a divine attribute that is bestowed upon him, and not related to any essential divinity. So I think your thesis clearly has some issues with falsifiability.

    And as for the Bauckham thesis… I have to confess my bias, because I cannot imagine reading anything by Bauckham in NT studies that “does not help us”. Even where I disagree strongly, his work is tremendously useful, insightful, creative, etc. You yourself actually come very close to using similar language as Bauckham when you say in your book that human beings “participate in the divine identity” (Bauckham has been criticized pretty heavily for this “identity” talk). One could actually accept the aspects of Bauckham’s thesis that the attributes that he identifies are indeed *properly* divine (which I think is probable), and also accept that other humans have at times shared them to varying degrees. I responded to an initial blog post you did on Bauckham’s Christology and you seemed to be taking this same angle there, seeing Bauckham’s entire thesis as rendered useless because you came up with what you think are exceptions to it. But I dont’ see that any of your research on exalted figures actually makes Jesus any less divine for having these attributes. It just makes it more plausible within Judaism that a being, other than God, might be seen as having what are properly divine attributes.

  • Alex Dalton

    Norman – can you point me to some scholarship on the animals as pagans/Gentiles in Genesis?

  • Norman

    Alex, the commentary is from ancient 2nd T literature such as Enoch and specifically the “animal apocalypse”, Jubilees, and OT writers who interfaced with Genisis animal metaphor extensively like Ezekiel, Daniel and other sections of the OT.

    The Jews were no different than most ancient peoples who often dehumanized the “Other” people’s to present their case as special. We in Anerica did this to the Native American Indian tribes until the late 1800’s. Until the Supreme court ruled that Indians were humans in1879 they were termed in military annals as bucks, does and fawns. In other words they were animals.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “The worship of intermediates was forbidden”
    I don’t see very good evidence of this; indeed to the contrary we see 1st century Judaism had incorporated a LOT from its conquering neighbors, both monotheistic (Zorastrastranism) and polytheistic (Roman pantheon). No religion in history has ever existed in a vacuum.

    The Catholic tradition you cite below actually has a great analogous example, the “worship” and intercession of saints. In much of the Catholic world one could easily be mistaken for thinking Catholics “worship” Mary or Michael as divine beings as they pray to them; that wouldn’t technically be correct, but religion often walks blurry lines.

    As for modern theological implications, to me docetism is alive and well and much more common in churches today than the alternative view you posit. I think seeing Jesus as truly human leads one to focus more on how Jesus lived and why people saw God embodied in him, and less on the ontological construct of what his “death” did. That’s my opinion, Daniel may have another take.

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi Andrew,
    I agree that Docetism is a real problem in the church. I had a minister recently tell me that Jesus was not even tempted to sin like we do (I asked him what Bible was he reading?). I also recognize anomalies and exceptions to the rule but if you noticed in some of my other replies: I am speaking of normative Judaism or normative Christianity, not some of its syncretism anomalies or what some of the later church would define as heresy. Of course, the other real problem is adoptionism. Jesus only appeared to be divine but was only human. There are extremes on both sides of this issue.

    1. I spoke of the Eastern Orthodox understanding of defining the differences between worship and veneration. Everything is not as clean and tidy as you rightly speak but things are not simply blurry or fuzzy either.

    2. Lastly, I did speak against the pop-Evangelical “proofs” for Jesus deity as well (I suspect you would applaud me on that one :–)

  • Michael Chung

    I will take a look. I am pretty convinced on Richard Hays’ views on this but definitely looking forward to being challenged.

  • Hi Daniel,

    My question is this: Even if it were true that ‘worship’ were reserved for God alone prior to Jesus (a problematic proposition, historically speaking), why should one assume that a change in the understanding of God’s being is necessitated by ‘worship’ of Jesus, as many apologists do?

    Dale Tuggy has argued that the reason Jesus became a proper recipient of worship is because the early Christians came to believe that God Himself required this treatment of his Son, which is to say that He granted an exception to the rule in Jesus’ case, so to speak. If those who have argued that Jesus is the recipient of ‘worship’ in the NT have read the data correctly (I would offer a more nuanced accounting of the data, similar to what James Dunn has done), then Tuggy’s view seems to offer a much more natural and less problematic understanding of what was going on in those early years of the new movement. No need to go through the tortuous and unfortunate process of redefining God’s being as the later church did. God granted the exception; problem solved:-)

    ~Sean

  • “Daniel – I think, rather than shedding light on the question “how do you know a God when you see one on earth?”, your thesis makes it impossible to answer!”

    If Daniel’s thesis is correct, then it wouldn’t be his thesis that makes our work more challenging; it would be the historical data itself. Better to know what you’re up against and reset your strategies than to rely on assumptions that are shown to be problematic in certain respects.

    ~Sean

  • david

    I think Kirk’s study is important and necessary, due to the tendency of the church to read the gospels and the Jesus therein, through the lens of later developed christian doctrine contoured more by greek philosophical categories rather than first century Palestinian 2nd temple Jewish frameworks. Hey Jesus, you part of the Trinity? Jesus says what ?

  • I don’t know, Scot, I found the lagniappe puzzling as well, and it struck me as either an implicit cheap shot, or as evidence of myopia. Daniel was merely being more charitable than I in that, rather than reading the final sentence and thinking “cheap shot” (as I did), he offered a possible explanation for the gratuitous comment.

    In my experience, Evangelicals typically praise the work of Larry Hurtado, and rightly so, yet Kirk has merely shown how Hurtado’s ‘divine agent’ category needs to be narrowed when it comes to the Synoptics. I’m sorry that Frye can’t see how such precision is necessarily helpful, but some of us think that Kirk is probably on to something. If Hurtado’s categories are important, then a necessary refinement in the application of those categories must be at least equally important, don’t you think?

    ~Sean