Early Jewish Christian Christology

Early Jewish Christian Christology January 23, 2014

At Reading Acts, there have been two posts on Jewish-Christian Christology. Here are links to part 1 and part 2. See also the video shared at Euangelion, in which Mike Licona and Dale Martin discuss  whether Jesus thought he was God:

I find the depiction of Paul as claiming that Jesus was God to be problematic. Paul is nuanced in ways that modern conservative Christians are not, and strong evidence of that is the lack of any evidence that Paul’s Christology was controversial in a Jewish context.

Larry Hurtado blogged about a forthcoming article of his on ancient Jewish monotheism.

Dale Tuggy interacted with Ben Nasmith on related issues as well.


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  • Just because Paul did not proclaim Jesus to be God does not mean that Jesus is not God.

    • Just Sayin’

      Did Dr. McGrath claim it does? Kindly be a tad more irenic.

    • Jaco van Zyl

      No, it does. The profound absence of evidence which implies the evidence of its absence. As well as statements irreconcilable with a theology of Jesus-as-God.

      • Logically speaking, my statement stands as written. If you want to prove that Jesus is not God, you have to do so on other grounds.

        Nevertheless, it’s not possible to know that Jesus is God without first being willing to know it, for no one can know that Jesus is God except by revelation (Matthew 11:25-27). That is, someone can explain it to you, but they cannot argue you into accepting or understanding it.

        The human will deprives us of more of God’s blessings than we can imagine.

        • Jaco van Zyl

          “Logically speaking?” Anyone can claim something without textual support and resort to the “yes, but it was revealed progressively after the demise of the bible writers.” Or in your case, after 70 C.E. What is worse is that none of the claims about Jesus in post-70 C.E. NT writings go beyond what the pre-70 C.E. writings do. Furthermore, it is absurd, “logically speaking,” to demand explicit denials of Jesus’ being God in the Bible, since such a demand requires the existence of such a claim to begin with. There is no such claim – either implicitly or explicitly – hence the redundancy of demanding a position against it as proof against it.
          What you further write is as applicable to yourself as it is to everyone else. I can return it by saying: it is not possible to embrace Jesus as the highly exalted human being without first letting go of your infatuations with worshiping him as God Almighty.
          Self-deception deprives us more of God’s blessings than we can imagine.

          • Indeed it does. Blessed is he whose heart is pure before the Lord.

  • Doug

    If (to compress a lengthy argument) Paul thinks that the messiah’s faithfulness replaces Torah as the pattern for the knowledge and obedience of God’s people, as well as the locus for the encounter with God, I’m not sure how easily you can claim there’s no evidence his christology was uncontroversial in Jewish circles!

    • His view of Torah clearly was controversial. But do we see any evidence that his view of Jesus was controversial because it involved a significant change with respect to monotheism as previously understood, for instance?

      • Doug

        I’m not sure what would count for evidence on this particular point as opposed to the whole package. His letters are to people who continue to accept his view of Jesus, while not following through on what he thinks are the clear practical implications of the confession “Messiah Jesus is Lord”.

        Paul only says “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one”. (2 Cor 11:24) – he doesn’t say what for. I don’t think the evidence permits anyone to claim it was for part a of the message but not part b or c.

        All of this begs the question of how exactly monotheism was previously understood, and what was it about it that made it comparatively easy for Paul to make these claims about Jesus.

        • Well, I think he makes clear that his view of the Torah was controversial in a Jewish context. We do not get the impression that what he says about Jesus is controversial except in the sense that it is controversial to say such things about Jesus the crucified. And so indeed, as you say, we ought to look at the Jewish context to see how it could seem appropriate to say the sorts of things that Paul says about Jesus. And ideas of agency, evidenced in works like the Parables of Enoch, help us to answer that question.

  • Sean Garrigan

    James: I’m glad that you brought this up, because it provides a somewhat logical place for me to ask you a question about Larry Hurtado’s review of your book, “The Only True God”. Towards the end of his review, Hurtado says the following:

    “In spite of McGrath’s energetic efforts here to make the Jesus-devotion in the NT appear uncontroversial and unremarkable, many will likely judge that the Jesus-devotion reflected in the NT in which Jesus is programmatically linked with God in worship and belief represents a unique (in its time) and highly significant variant-form of monotheistic faith.”

    See: http://larryhurtado.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/mcgrath-reveiw-essay1.pdf

    Do you think that Hurtado is accurately representing your views, here? I’m familiar with your work, and I’ve read “The Only True God”, and I don’t recall ever seeing you assert that Jesus-devotion in the NT is “unremarkable”. My impression of your view would go more like this:

    “While the NT’s depiction of Jesus as the recipient of devotion expressed via a constellation of cultic religious practices performed as part of the early followers’ worship of the One God was certainly remarkable, there doesn’t appear to be any compelling evidence suggesting that those practices were considered a breach or mutation of monotheism. While one might say that there was a “mutation” in that the treatment of Jesus and inclusion of him as a central figure in context of their worship was remarkable and novel, monotheism was not breached because God the Father remained the One God of their faith, and the object of the worship Jews felt only God could receive, while the devotion given to Jesus was ‘to the glory of God the Father’.”

    Which of us has inferred your view more accurately?

    • Sean Garrigan

      BTW, I have a lot of respect for Professor Hurtado’s work, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I think he deliberately misrepresented you. Have you offered an official response to his review in Expository Times, or will you save that for the 2nd edition of The Only True God? 😉

      • If I ever write a second edition, that is precisely the sort of thing that will be in it. 🙂 Hurtado and I did some back and forth on our blogs after he shared his review there. I think it got at some of the key issues and differences between our views.

        Here’s one of the posts, which should help you navigate forward and backwards into the conversation. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2010/11/continuing-conversation-with-larry-hurtado-on-monotheism-christology-and-worship.html

        • Sean Kasabuske

          Thanks, James. I didn’t think that his characterization accurately reflected your view. I think Professor Hurtado’s perception probably has to do with the common orthodox view of people who don’t believe that Jesus is God, or, in your case, who don’t believe that the NT presents Jesus as God. For example, Unitarians are often told that their Jesus is a “mere” man. Well, of course Unitarians don’t say that he’s a “mere” anything, but when one believes that Jesus is God himself, the adjective “mere” fits for anything short of that.

          • Jaco van Zyl

            Humanitarian Christology is as high as one’s evaluation of humanity. As a non-Trinitarian, I regard my Christology as high, simply because I regard humanity as exalted.

  • Tim

    Just FYI: those two links to Reading Acts no longer connect to anything on the site.

    • Thanks for letting me know – the posts seem to have been deleted. Not sure why that would have been done…

      • Tim

        No problem. I was wondering the same.