Christology around the Blogosphere

Christology around the Blogosphere October 28, 2015

On the Bible Odyssey website, Larry Hurtado answers a question about the worship of Jesus.

Dale Tuggy has a two-part podcast interview with Keith Ward, focused on his latest book, Christ and the Cosmos: A Reformulation of Trinitarian Doctrine.

Daniel Kirk blogged about divine identity Christology, suggesting that, like Biblical inerrancy, it is a viewpoint that is contradicted by the very texts on which is claims to be based.

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  • John MacDonald

    Bart Ehrman also had an interesting post on his blog today about Christology in Paul: Like in his book “How Jesus Became God,” Ehrman says Paul thought of Jesus as a pre-existent divine angel. This confuses me. If Paul says he met Jesus’ brother James, wasn’t Jesus just another human with a human family?

    • John MacDonald

      Maybe Ehrman would argue the “James passage” in Paul was an interpolation.

    • Some people in this time believed that all human pre-existed, and others believed that occasionally pre-existent beings were born among us. We get an expression of that viewpoint in the quotation from “Prayer of Joseph” that Origen records, for instance.

      • John MacDonald

        Ehrman says “The apostle Paul understood Christ, before coming into the world, to have been the great angel of God, a divine being who was absolutely a pre-existent divinity, but was not on a level equal with God. He then came into the world in order to fulfil God’s plan, died for sins, and was exalted, as a result, to a position of even greater power and authority as one actually *equal* with God.” It seems kind of awkward to reconcile this with the idea that Jesus had a brother.

        • This particular view held by ancient people seems no more odd than many things ancient people believed about themselves, conception, personhood, and many other things.

          • John MacDonald

            If the idea of Jesus’ “virgin birth” postdated Paul, how did Jesus as “the great angel of God” get a human family with a human mother and brother?

          • This has nothing to do with virginal conceptions. An angelic entity could become incarnate the same way any pre-existent soul could, and get a human family with human parents and siblings in the process. That was what ancient people thought about human beings – that we are incarnate souls, spiritual entities of celestial origin in a material home/prison (depending on your outlook).

          • John MacDonald

            Interesting. I’d like to look into this further. Can you give an example from the Old Testament of an angel that became incarnate and had a human mother and brother? That would be a place for me to start.

          • Why would you want to start with the “Old Testament” (by which you presumably mean, in this context, the Jewish Scriptures)? We are talking about angels, which are a major focus in literature from close to the time of Jesus, and have only just barely begun to become a significant focus in some of the latest works to make it into the Jewish Scriptures.

          • John MacDonald

            Okay, so what would be an example in the Hebrew tradition of an angel incarnate who had a human mother and a human brother?

          • That was why I referred to “Prayer of Joseph,” as it is precisely that.

            Considering the matter more broadly, do you think there is a fundamental difference between believing that all humans are the incarnation of pre-existent souls, and the belief that some particularly important humans pre-existed as angels?

          • John MacDonald

            The “Prayer of Joseph” is from Origen, which is a great deal later than Jesus, and so could have been influenced by him. I was wondering if you can name an example prior to Jesus of an incarnate angel that had a human mother and brother. Maybe the idea of God’s great angel becoming incarnate in a non-virgin birth and having a brother just sounds weird to me because I never heard it before.

          • Mark

            Finding it ‘weird’ presupposes having some idea what is meant by ‘angel’; good luck to you figuring that out.

            Note that even today it is standard orthodox teaching that every Jew ‘pre-existed’ and was present at Mount Sinai. I guess they weren’t ‘angels’, but ‘pre-existent souls’ or whatever expression you think you understand. One day each of these immaterial whatzits becomes incarnate in a non-virgin birth and often has a brother.

            Views like this are a dime a dozen.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s hard to square the idea that Paul thought of Jesus as the great angel of God, because Paul also talks of Jesus as the seed of David, which suggests a human male lineage.

          • Mark

            But it’s characteristic of all such views to say such things. Thus David himself had not been born at the time the commandments were given on Sinai, but nevertheless pious Jews affirm that David and all his seed were present there in a not-yet-incarnate state. Such views are very ordinary expressions of religious imagination.

            Saying that Paul thought Jesus was a pre-existent angel is saying almost nothing to distinguish him from anyone else. If there is any action here, it is in the expression ‘great’.

          • John MacDonald

            To me, it doesn’t make sense (as Ehrman wants to argue) for Paul to say Jesus, the Great angel of God, is the “seed” of David, unless the term “seed” is a completely meaningless and vacuous term. So in what sense can the great angel of God be the “seed” of David?

          • Mark

            Easy, he was born. Same as all the souls present at Sinai are progressively being born — including the seed of David, who were all present alongside the pre-existent David at Sinai – only later, after he was born, being born themselves, and thus becoming his seed.

          • John MacDonald

            So everyone on the earth who was born after David was “the seed of David,” regardless of their paternal bloodline?

          • Maybe we need to back up a step here, since I gather that ideas such as the Christian notion of incarnation are unfamiliar to you.

            When Jews spoke or speak of the Messiah as pre-existent, what do you think that might mean? Does it have to mean that the Messiah will not be a human person? Or could it be somehing like their “soul” that pre-exists, which will come to dwell in a person conceived and born in the usual way?

          • John MacDonald

            I get that part. lol. I started off by asking if there was any precedence in the Hebrew tradition of an angel becoming incarnate and having a human mother and brother. But what I was asking now is how can Paul think, as Ehrman argues, that Jesus was “the great angel of God,” and “the seed of David.” Wouldn’t Paul calling Jesus the seed of David just mean Jesus was a normal human who had a normal paternal bloodline back to David?

          • Personally, I think it would. I think Ehrman makes more of the “angel” reference, especially since the same word means messenger. But I am frustrated that you still seem unable to grasp even what it means to envisage an angel becoming incarnate as a human being.

          • John MacDonald

            I get that. An angel becoming incarnate is commonplace in Judaism, like the 2 angels in the Sodom story. I was clearly making too much of a rather simple concept just because it involved a mother and brother. Sorry. But I also think it speaks against Ehrman’s interpretation when Paul calls Jesus the “firstfruits” of the general resurrection. By calling Jesus the “firstfruits,” Paul seems to be lumping Jesus together with all the other humans to be resurrected – not that he was different from everyone else by being some great angel.

          • I have said before that I think Ehrman is wrong to see Paul’s Christology as angelic-incarnational.

          • Jim

            Hi John;

            IIRC Ehrman originally held the view that Jesus progressed
            to higher Christology from the earliest gospel to the latest. When he was writing HJBG however, he realized that Paul (Gal 4:14) and some of the very early Christians (creed in Phil 2) believed Jesus pre-existed before his time as a
            human. He was apparently convinced of the possibility of Jesus’ angelic pre-existence by the arguments in following two references:

            C. A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence. Leiden, E. J. Brill 27 (1998).

            S. R. Garrett, No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims About Jesus. Yale University Press (2008).

            These two references may contain some of the info you are
            looking for. I haven’t read either of them though. Maybe someone else here has and can comment on them?

        • Gakusei Don

          John MacDonald, the idea that a person with a mother and brothers was an incarnation of a spiritual being (especially a god) was a common one. E.g. Caligula. Some even claimed to be the incarnation of daemons.

          Think about it from the other side: any historical person had at least a mother. If someone wanted to claim the person to have been an incarnated god, angel or daemon, then they had to recognise that the incarnated being had a mother. According to Ehrman, Paul thought that Jesus was a human being who was originally (pre-existed as) an angel. It isn’t awkward to reconcile this with the idea that Jesus had a brother, it is inevitable. Assuming a HJ, Paul had no choice but to reconcile this. But given the beliefs of the time, it would have been quite natural.

          • John MacDonald

            Like I said to Mark, I find it odd (as Ehrman tries to do) to try to reconcile the idea that Jesus was the great angel of God, and, as Paul says, that Jesus was the “seed of David.” How can the great angel of God be the “seed” of David?

          • By becoming incarnate. Either by replacing the soul of a human conceived in the normal way, or possessing/inspiring an individual conceived and born in the normal way. Why is this so hard to understand?

          • John MacDonald

            I get it. It’s like the 2 angels becoming incarnate in the Sodom story. I was finding difficulty in a relatively simple concept. My bad. lol

          • We are not told that the angels in the Sodom story had been born and lived normal human lives, so that seems an odd example to appeal to, if you have indeed understood the point.

          • John MacDonald

            I just used that example to show I get that there is nothing complicated in the idea of an angel becoming incarnate. I was wrong before to make a big deal about it. All my questioning was just meant to help me understand Ehrman’s perspective, which is new to me.

          • Gakusei Don

            John MacDonald: If I wanted to claim that you were the incarnation of the great angel of God, does that mean I am claiming you didn’t have a mother or siblings? I don’t understand why you are having a problem with this. Can you explain why you find it odd what Ehrman is claiming? Perhaps I am missing something here.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s not hard to understand. I was finding difficulty where there was none. Sorry, my bad. lol