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Messiah and Worship

March 19, 2014

In Tom Wright’s new opus on Paul, there is a section headed “Jesus as Risen and Enthroned Son of God” (pp. 690-709), where he offers a proposal for how Jesus came to be regarded as in some sense “divine” so quickly after his execution.  To cite his own words:  “. . . the resurrection, demonstrating the truth of Jesus’ pre-crucifixion messianic claim, joined up with the expectation of YHWH’s return on the one hand, and the presence of the spirit of Jesus on the other to generate a fresh reading of ‘messianic’ texts [in the OT] which enabled a full christological awareness to dawn on the disciples” (692).”

In this discussion, he accuses me (and Carey Newman too) of making “far too little of the resurrection itself, collapsing it in effect into the concept of ‘glorification’, and supposing that the early Christian awareness of the latter came through visions and revelations” (693).  But, he continues, “without the theme of YHWH’s return on the one hand, and the Messiahship of Jesus on the other, demonstrated by the resurrection, they would not have generated that early christology which we find already in Paul” (693).

In response, my first comment is to reiterate (from an earlier posting) the point that, in fact, it is difficult to find in Paul’s letters any explicit reference to Jesus as “the personal, embodied return of YHWH.”  One can see something like this, perhaps, in Mark 1:1-3, as argued, e.g., by Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord:  Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992).  But Wright doesn’t actually identify Pauline texts where this idea is evident, which raises a question about just how crucial/central it was in the very earliest moments of christological reflection.

My second comment is that there is no disagreement between us over the importance of the conviction that Jesus had been raised from death, and specifically that this likely served as divine vindication of Jesus and the basis of the messianic claim of earliest believers.  (Indeed, in understanding Jesus’ resurrection as also involving glorification, I fail to see how I/we “make far too little” of it!)  Wright’s project seems to be to develop a coherent representation of Paul’s theology.  But my work has been directed mainly to the historical question of how it was that Jesus (even a messianic Jesus) came to be treated as “divine” and came to be included so programmatically in the devotional/worship practice of early Christian circles.  “Messiah” doesn’t get us there.   To put it concisely, I don’t see that the conviction that Jesus is Messiah could readily have served as a sufficient basis for the radical “mutation” in devotional practice that I’ve repeatedly pointed to (and itemized its specifics) over some 25 years now.

So, if a “return of YHWH” isn’t evident in Paul (our earliest evidence) as a central factor, and if Messiah isn’t a sufficient category, then how to account for the remarkable “dyadic” devotional practice in question?  My own proposal has been that earliest believers treated the risen/exalted Jesus as they did only because they felt required to do so by God.  Note that the typical way that reverence of Jesus is justified in various NT texts is to invoke God’s action of exalting him and requiring that he be reverenced:  E.g., Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Hebrews 1:1-4; Acts 2:36; John 5:22-23, et alia).

How then would the conviction have been formed that God had done such an astonishing thing, and now required this novel development in devotional practice?  Well, my own proposal is that this conviction was formed through an interaction of powerful “revelatory” experiences (e.g., visions of Jesus in heavenly glory, etc.), prophetic oracles (declaring his exaltation), and intensive and creative interpretation of certain biblical texts (e.g., Isaiah 45:22-23; Psalm 110:1).  (For further discussion, see, e.g., my discussion of the “Forces and Factors” in Lord Jesus Christ, 27-78).  But, whatever the means/process, the key point is that earliest believers seem to have come quickly to the conviction that Jesus had been exalted to a unique heavenly status, had been given to share in the divine name and glory, and must now be reverenced in obedience to God.

In short, we have to reckon with two distinguishable convictions:  Jesus as Messiah and Jesus as rightful recipient of cultic devotion.  Both erupted early, perhaps simultaneously.  But resurrection, by itself (i.e., restoration to life and a vindication of Jesus as Messiah), didn’t suffice for the latter conviction or the devotional practice in question.  For that, a “glorification” of Jesus seems to me to have been necessary, a glorification understood as by God and requiring that Jesus be reverenced.

So, given that my own work was focused on trying to examine the eruption of the dyadic devotional pattern reflected already in Paul’s letters, I hope that it’s clear why I’ve underscored the “glorification” of Jesus and not simply (so to speak) his resurrection.  The two were obviously linked for earliest believers, but we should avoid collapsing either into the other.

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  1. 1 Corinthians 2:8 ‘None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’

    Was Jesus the Lord of glory when he was crucified?

    • “President Lincoln” was born in a log cabin in Illinois. Was he President then??

      • No he wasn’t President when he was born in a log cabin in Illinois. Can we really say that his mother made the President of the United States do chores?

        Paul clearly felt that the rulers of the age did not understand that they were crucifying the Lord of glory.

      • Yes, they crucified the one who he believed was now the Lord of Glory. He clearly believed that Jesus was made “Lord” in God’s resurrection/exaltation (e.g., Philip 2:9-11). The “rulers of this age” didn’t realize what they were doing, and to whom they were doing it.

      • Could we ever find a reference to the Lord of glory being crucified which would lend support to the idea that people thought Jesus was the Lord of glory when he was crucified?

      • I don’t know of any. The NT texts are pretty consistent that Jesus was glorified by God in his resurrection. Even those (e.g., GJohn) that present Jesus as “pre-existent” Logos, emphasize this.

      • Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 is that the rulers of this age were deprived of the wisdom of God. If they had possessed this wisdom, Paul says, they: (1) would have realized that Jesus is the Lord of glory and (2) would not have crucified him. In Paul’s mind Jesus must have been the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Otherwise his accusation against the rulers of this age is meaningless.

        Jesus was not, as President Lincoln was, elected to his high status at some point in his adult life. So God “made” (ἐποίησεν) Jesus the Lord and Christ by his resurrection and exaltation (Acts 2:36) only in the sense that Jesus “made” (ἐποίησεν) himself the Son of God by his words and deeds while on earth (John 19:7). The resurrection and exaltation established who Jesus is, just as his words and deeds had done all along.

      • Thanks for your view, Bobby. But it doesn’t do justice to what Paul or others thought. In Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation (NT authors say), Jesus was given a status THAT HE DIDN’T HAVE BEFORE, as the one now to be confessed as Kyrios. He was enthroned in a new role as Messiah and Lord. Let’s be done with this, OK??

  2. david permalink

    Dear dr. Hurtado, did you noticed a new book from Bart Ehrman on similar topic? (How Jesus Became God). Will you review it somehow on your blog?

    • I know that Bart has published a new book by this title, but haven’t seen it yet. I may blog on it when/if I do have the time to read it.

  3. Bobby Garringer permalink

    You express doubt about Wright’s conviction that Paul regarded Jesus as “the personal, embodied return of YHWH,” which means – as I understand it – that Wright asserts that Paul believed Jesus fulfilled a stated prophetic eschatological expectation that Yahweh himself would come to Israel.

    The passages from Paul and their background scriptures are:

    (1) Romans 10 [in the context of the apostolic confession, “Jesus is Lord” (verse 9)], where Paul declares: (in verse 12) “…the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him” and (in verse 13) “…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    In the background of his statements are: (a) Joel 2:27 (“You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other.”) and (b) Joel 2:32 (“…everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”)

    (2) 1 Corinthians 8:4 (a general reference to the Shema), where Paul declares: “…there is no God but one.” Then in verse 6, he seems to give a theological break down of the contents of the Shema, when he writes, “…for us there is one God, the Father… And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ…”

    Of course, Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) stands in the background, “The LORD our God, the LORD is One.”

    (3) Philippians 2:9-11, where Paul declares, “…God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    In the background, are statements from Isaiah 45:

    (a) (in verses 21 and 22) “…Who…? Was it not I, the LORD? There is no other God but Me, a righteous God and Savior; there is no one except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other.” (b) (in verse 23) “…Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance.”

    I wonder if Wright does not believe that the practice of identifying Jesus and Yahweh was so pervasive and obvious in Paul’s thinking – and in the thinking of the apostolic church generally – that it needs no overt restatement from him.

    • Bobby: I don’t think you grasp Wright’s claim. It isn’t simply that Jesus is intimately linked with YHWH in Paul, or that Paul used YHWH passages in the OT to refer to Jesus. Wright claims that Paul saw Jesus as the embodied, personal “return of YHWH to Zion/Israel”. It’s that specific claim that I don’t find supported in Paul.

      • You have asked that I end this, and I will at this point. But it seems to me that you are making no effort to respond to my careful and prayerful observations.

        I do not think Paul is saying – in the Scriptures cited immediately above – that Jesus is “linked to” Yahweh, but that he “is” Yahweh. My reasons for believing this are laid out clearly and simply. And you offer no counter-explanations for them.

        Likewise, in my comment made further above about 1 Cor 2:6-8, it seems clear that, in Paul’s mind, Jesus was the Lord of glory before the crucifixion and – this status – was what the rulers lacked the wisdom to see.

        Then Acts 2:36 (considered in light of John 19:7) need not mean that Jesus, in being exalted, was given a status that he did not have before.

        I am offering New Testament evidence that you say is nonexistent that stands against some of your conclusions. Where is a fatal linguistic error in any of my explanations?

      • Bobby: No disrespect intended, but if you haven’t yet seen my reasons for seeing your view of things incorrect, then we have problems (to my mind, perception on your part). I’ll try, briefly, once again. First, as 1 Cor 2:6-8 is under discussion, let’s start with clear texts. Philip 2:9-11 says the exalted Jesus was given the name “Kyrios” at his exaltation, by which he must now be confessed. Heb 1:1-4 says that, after completing his priestly work, Jesus took his place at God’s “right hand”. Rev 5 portrays the slain and risen “Lamb” as then awarded co-enthronement and heavenly worship. GJohn portrays Jesus as given glory in his resurrection. We could go on, but these will serve.
        They clearly show that, whatever Jesus’ “pre-existent” nature/status, (e.g., “en morphe theou” as in Philip 2:6), in his resurrection/exaltation he acquired a new status and role as the Kyrios to whom all things are now to be made subject.
        So (following so far?), when we read 1 Cor 2:6-8 (which could be read woodenly as you prefer, or could be read in light of the sort of clear texts I’ve listed), I think that we’re bound to take the view that Paul is speaking of Jesus retrospectively. For Paul, Jesus was somehow “pre-existent” (e.g., 1 Cor 8:4-6), yes. But in his resurrection he took on a new role as designated Lord, and so, e.g., OT texts referring to YHWH could be applied to him now. If this doesn’t satisfy, then I fear that nothing in the nature of mere blog comments will.

  4. Steve Walach permalink

    “My own proposal has been that earliest believers treated the risen/exalted Jesus as they did only because they felt required to do so by God.”

    In “Lord Jesus Christ” you also cite the “causative significance of the revelatory experiences” in early Christian circles, which “obviously formed such a major part of the early Christian ethos (66)”.

    In “The Fourth Gospel,” CH Dodd notes that in 20:22 — when Jesus breathes upon his disciples — the ‘insufflation’ (Dodd’s term) conveys a very different concept of the Spirit “from that of the Farewell Discourses — so different as to suggest that the story of ‘insufflation’ may have come to the evangelist out of a different tradition, rather than it was created by his own theology (430)”.

    (You also highlight the significance of GJohn 20:22 (397 – 8 LJC) with an exclamation point.)

    If there was a time before the resurrection when Jesus offered blessings in the form of his breath, I have to believe such an experience would have indeed been revelatory, not-soon-forgotten and certainly a key feature of the early Christian oral history.

    Given the almost exact parallel of GJohn 20:22 to Gen 2:7 — when it is YHWH doing the breathing and enlivening of the first human — it’s not much of a leap to see the causative significance of the GJohn 20:22 event in early Jesus devotion and worship — no requirement necessary.

    You note that Paul refers to the Spirit being sent “into the hearts of believers” (398).

    What were believers receiving? Seems to be an internal revelation, doesn’t it?

    And what should we make of the Name (YHWH?) Jesus refers to in GJohn 17:26? “I have made known to them your name and I will make it known.” Could disciples have had an internal revelation of that as well?

    Paul and most commentators on the Name and Jesus that I am familiar with either inextricably link, or equate, YHWH and Jesus and consider the matter closed.

    Where do you — and current scholarship — stand on these events (GJohn 20:22 and 17:26) regarding its role in 1st and 2nd Century devotion to Jesus ?

    Again, thank you for your consideration.

    • Steve: A few brief/concise responses to your (overly?) lengthy comment. First, the scene in John 20 where Jesus breathes on the disciples is a post-resurrection setting, not pre-resurrection.
      As to what I can say about lst-century Christian religious experiences, see my publications: e.g., “Religious Experience and Religious Innovation in the New Testament,” in my book How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, 179-204.

  5. Larry, please can you clarify for me. I take it from what you say here (and in other places) that to your mind when Luke 24:47 has the risen but not yet ascended and glorified Jesus tell the disciples that they can and should now proclaim a repentance and forgiveness in his name that Luke does not provide a reliable historical record of what happened. In other words, we should not look to Luke at this point for reliable evidence for the historical origins of Christ devotion (of which the proclaiming of forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name was a key part—as you have demonstrated in various places).

    And if that is how you take Luke here do you have in mind specific “literary purposes” (as you put it above) that explain Luke’s presentation of the story? Or, looking beyond Luke, how do we explain why it was that at some point in the development of the gospel tradition that post-resurrection-pre-glorification passages such as the one in Luke 24:47 were developed or created?


    • Crispin: I’ll try to clarify. The first thing to clarify is that, whereas you seem to distinguish sharply between Jesus’ resurrection and his empowerment/exaltation, in the main at least, NT writers (including Paul) don’t. Jesus wasn’t resuscitated, and his “resurrection” isn’t presented as like that of Lazarus (which appears to be presented as a restoration to mortal existence). The NT typically presents Jesus as catapulted into eschatological, transformed existence, the first thereby of the “glorification” of believers (after his pattern) that Paul projects in Rom 8. So, Jesus’ resurrection includes his glorification.
      True, Luke-Acts projects an ascension as a separate event, uniquely in the NT texts. With some others, I take this as reflecting the author’s literary emphases, as, e.g., Arie W. Zwiep, The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology, NovTSup, no. 87 (Leiden: Brill, 1997). In any case, we’re talking about Paul. And in Paul, I don’t see a two-stage process, “ascension”/glorification separate from Jesus’ resurrection.
      Matt 28:16-20 presents Jesus as having been given “all authority in heaven & earth” as the risen Lord, who is then able to command the mission there. And Luke 24 presents the risen Jesus ascending to heaven, whereupon his disciples worship him, even though Acts 1 then relates a separate ascension (which is a reason for taking the latter as shaped by literary purposes of the author, as proposed, e.g., by Zwiep).
      Now, I suspect that you’re not showing all your cards on this, and that behind your question/comment there lurks your continuing stance that Judean kings and high priests were regularly worshipped, and so Jesus, seen as royal messiah and priest, would have been worshipped without hesitation. I.e., there really is (in your view, I take it) no historical problem to solve about early believers worshipping Jesus. But for me (and many/most others) you haven’t made your case, and it still seems to me/us that there is an interesting historical problem to study: How did professing “monotheistic” Jews so readily take up the “mutation” in traditional exclusivist worship of the one God, incorporating the exalted Jesus as well?

      • Hi Larry, I do have my own explanation of the data (which I am laying out fully in a forthcoming book in a way that I hope will allow it to be subject to proper scrutiny. I think, BTW, that until now what I have said in various places has not been properly understood). But whatever explanation we (your, or I, or N.T. Wright) give, your post and our discussion is helpful—for me at least—in that it clarifies what the data actually says (before we decide how to explain it).

        On the nature of that data, I’d like to make two points in response to your post yesterday:

        1. I think that what you say above (e.g. “Jesus’ resurrection includes his glorification”) is the reason that I (and probably Tom Wright too) think you collapse resurrection and glorification in a way that does not do justice to all the NT evidence. You do seem to agree, at least, that this is not the picture in Luke-Acts.

        2. I think other NT evidence besides Luke-Acts also does not fit the picture as you describe it.

        – In Matthew 28:9 we have proskynesis to a Jesus who has simply been raised from the dead. The two Mary’s do not offer proskynesis to Jesus at this point as a response to his appearance as one now glorified in heaven on God’s throne. Neither do we have proskynesis at this point in response to Jesus’ claim to universal authority – that comes several verses later. As far as the two Marys are concerned in in verse 9 they have no reason to believe that what has happened to Jesus is substantially different to what John 11 says happened to Lazarus (and what most Israelites expected would happen to all the righteous one day). Indeed, the angel’s words in Matt 28:6–7 only reinforces the emphasis on resurrection back to a thoroughly human life: he has been raised and goes before them to Galilee. And is their action in v. 9 not an expression of Christ devotion? If it is, is it not historical data consistent with the picture also painted in Luke for the origins of Christ devotion?

        – In John 20 the picture is similar: Jesus has not ascended to the Father (verse 17). Yet he is acclaimed by Thomas with words that surely reflect patterns of early Christian acclamation of Jesus that are constitutive of Christ devotion (20:28: “My Lord and My God”).

        So the gospel evidence is pretty consistent: Christ devotion began as a response to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, not his exaltation to a position of Glory at God’s right hand.

        And I’m not sure that the evidence of Paul requires us to dismiss this gospel evidence; it is just that Paul, for his own reasons, does not distinguish clearly between events and realities that are discrete in the gospels.

        I guess we could say – and you seem to me to be saying – that Paul is the earlier and more reliable evidence and that what we have in the gospels is, at this point at least, a reflection of later Christological beliefs. That may be the best/most economical explanation.

        But surely there is no getting round the way these NT texts tell the story: for the gospels Jesus’ resurrection emphatically does not include his glorification (in the sense of an exaltation to heaven where other NT texts say Jesus is now enthroned at God’s right hand). Am I missing something?


      • Crispin: I thank you for your careful sketch of your “take” on the various texts, which does make for productive discussion. I’ll be brief in response at this point (and will await your fuller discussion in the forthcoming book you mention).
        I want to object (still) to the accusation (and that’s what it is) that I “collapse” Jesus’ resurrection into his “glorification”. I link Jesus’ resurrection with his glorification, or perhaps better see them as two sides of one divine action, because they are treated so in NT texts. Consider, e.g., Rom 6:4 (“Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”), Rom 8:18-23 (where the future resurrection of believes is described also as their glorification, likened to that of Christ), Philp 3:21 (believers promised conformity to Christ’s glorious body), 1 Peter 1:21 (God “raised Christ from death and gave him glory”), et alia. In John, to take another example, you have references to Jesus’ resurrection (e.g., 2:22) and to his glorification (e.g., 12:16) as interchangeable references to what appears to be the same event (in both cases producing a new cognitive situation for believers).
        As for Matthew’s use of proskynesis, you’re surely aware that this author deploys the term distinctively, likely to depict reverential actions as anticipating the worship of Jesus that his readers will know (e.g., my discussion in How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, 134-51). I.e., Matthew depicts people giving proskynesis to Jesus from his cradle onwards! Again, one must read language in context.
        Since for John Jesus’ resurrection is (as I’ve said) his glorification, of course in John 20 the author can show Thomas acknowledging Jesus’ divine status.
        It’s not so much a matter of playing off Paul against the Gospels, but more a matter of seeing how NT texts seem (to me) to link Jesus’ resurrection and glorification, and then seeing also how the individual writers of NT texts pursue their respective literary purposes. But perhaps this will do for now, and we can continue this exchange (if you wish) in some other and more suitable circumstances.

      • Thanks Larry, let’s leave it there! A useful discussion and no doubt there will be suitable occasions to return to it.


  6. I think I’d put it something like this: One aspect of early Christian language about Jesus, the ‘agency’ aspect, comes from the identification of him as Messiah, the other aspect, the ‘divine’ aspect, comes from identifying him directly as YHWH. The latter is seen in Paul especially in all the OT texts about YHWH that he applies to Jesus. In the first part of the Phil 2 ‘hymn’ (the movement of humiliation) Jesus is YHWH-as-the-Servant, in the second part (the movement of exaltation) Jesus is the Servant-as-YHWH. Where I find Tom’s work potentially misleading is that it sometimes seems to claim that 2nd Temple period Jews were expecting something like this kind of fusion of the coming of the Messiah as YHWH’s agent and the coming of YHWH himself. The fusion is original to early Christianity and, I am sure, presupposed in Paul.

  7. Fr Aidan Kimel permalink

    Might Phil. 2, with the bestowal of the divine Name upon the exalted Christ, be understood as supporting Wright’s claim that Jesus was/is the embodied return of YHWH?

    • Well, not really, to my view. If the divine name was given consequent to Jesus’ crucifixion and as part of the resurrection/glorification of him, then he didn’t have that status previously in his earthly ministry.

  8. Larry, thanks for this post on Wright’s Paul book. Your interaction with Tom on the issue of resurrection and Christological origins helps clarify your own position (and Tom’s). I think, however, that the force of Tom’s concern that you collapse glorification and resurrection still stands. I came to the same conclusion about your model before reading (and talking) to Tom about this point.

    I think the problem is what you say in several places in what you have written. What you say here: Lord Jesus Christ, 71–2; How on earth?, 192–94 seems to disregard the way that in the gospel narratives (and in Acts) resurrection and glorification are kept apart as discrete events/divine actions, and there is the beginnings of Christ devotion (proskynesis, forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name …) after resurrection but before glorification.

    Crispin (Fletcher-Louis)

    • Crispin: Hmm. I think it’s pretty widely understood that the resurrection-appearance narratives in the Gospels (which vary considerably) all seem have their individual literary purposes, which are perhaps primarily to underscore that Jesus was raised from death, not to give a full account of why/how Jesus came to be worshipped. But I will point to Matt 28:16-20, where the risen Jesus also claims to have been given [NB] “all authority in heaven and on earth” (which suggests something more than simply being brought to life). And I note that it is visions of/encounters with the risen Jesus ascended to heaven (and so to heavenly status/glory?) that provokes the disciples to worship him (v. 52).
      I don’t intend to “collapse” anything. My own questions have been focused on why earliest believers felt free to make Jesus so central in their devotional practice, and how this was exhibited. My point is that Jesus’ resurrection (understood as restoration from death, vindication as Messiah, etc.) isn’t presented in isolation from the larger divine exaltation of him.

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