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Jesus and Christology: The Gospel of John as Case-Study

May 14, 2014

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday in which I drew attention to the widely-shared fallacious assumption that the theological validity of NT Christological claims rests upon their having been articulated and taught by Jesus, I (immodestly) draw attention to an essay of mine on the Gospel of John.  In this essay I note that GJohn in fact maintains a clear distinction between what was believed about Jesus during his earthly ministry and what his followers came to believe about him in the “post-Easter” period. This is, of course, all the more remarkable in that GJohn also is distinctive in the programmatic way that the earthly Jesus seems to speak with a lot of the discourse-features of the author and the believers for whom he wrote.

The essay in published form = Larry W. Hurtado, “Remembering and Revelation: The Historic and Glorified Jesus in the Gospel of John,” in Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity. Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal, ed. David B. Capes et al. (Waco, TX: Baylor Univesity Press, 2007), 195-213.  (I can’t here go into the curious phenomenon of having written an essay for a volume that was produced with me as the joint-honoree.)  I’ve put the pre-publication form of the essay on this blog-site under the “Selected Published Essays” tab here.

Indeed, more explicitly than any of the other Gospels, GJohn makes it clear that the author saw and accepted a distinction between what he regarded as the level of understanding of Jesus among his followers during his earthly life and the subsequently enhanced level of understanding in the “post-Easter” period.  The text (in discourse ascribed to Jesus by the author) attributes this to the work of the Spirit, who will “glorify” Jesus, and will guide believers into “all truth” (about Jesus), as, e.g., in 16:12-15.

Of course, early believers held that what they came to realize in the “post-Easter” period (through what they took to be God’s revelations to them) were truths of Jesus’ significance and person that, in some senses, were always true of him.  This, however, was again fundamentally a theo-logical conviction:  They believed that God didn’t make things up as he went along, but had it all planned out from the beginning.  Moreover, they believed that God’s eschatological actions were simply the revelation of things purposed from the beginning.

But my point here is that even GJohn doesn’t make the high Christological claims affirmed by the author rest simply (or even particularly) on demands and teaching of the earthly Jesus.  Instead, the text fully affirms that the realization of Jesus’ glorified/glorious status came subsequently, through the revelations of the Spirit.

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  1. Professor Hurtado, i’m a missionary ministering w those on the fringes and those w disabilities. Thank you for your ministry, I’m reading your volume on Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. I was looking forward to read your article “Remembering and Revelation: The Historic and Glorified Jesus in the Gospel of John” especially as we read through the Gospel of John w international students in our home. I failed to save the article, and now I cannot access it. Thank you, in Christ, cornel t.

    • The pre-publication version of the article is on this blog site under the “Selected Published Essays” tab.

  2. I understand that as a scholar you can follow the evidence only so far before you move into the realm of faith. My intent was not to engage in a theological discussion. You seem to be making the case that Christianity exists essentially because Jesus closest disciples believed that they had a supernatural experience with the risen Jesus. There were also visions of the risen Jesus sitting at God’s right hand, with God demanding that Jesus be praised and worshiped as God himself was worshiped. I’ve heard this all my life, with one point of differentiation from your own; that being, that Jesus is actually God as the scriptures proclaim. However, if Jesus is merely an exalted man, as implied by your previous article, it’s much harder to accept. I realize we’re talking about an ancient and foreign culture, which may be where the problem lies.

    Are Jesus’ disciples really suggesting that the Christian faith is based on a singular, supernatural event? Or, is the resurrection really understood a validation of Jesus’ interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures? In other words, it was Jesus teaching about God, not that of the Pharisee or the Sadducee, nor the Temple system of sacrifices that truly represent God. Neither was it nations like Egypt, Greece or Rome that ruled over Israel. It was Jesus alone that finally revealed God to man. The teaching, then, is the revelation, the resurrection is the exclamation point.

    If that’s accurate (and I realize that it might not be) his disciples, including Paul, actually believed that the resurrection was God’s validation of Jesus teaching. And, it was that teaching that would ultimately transform the world, not faith in the resurrection—but what it represented—it’s essential meaning. From this point of view a truly human messiah makes a good deal more sense (at least it does to me.) Sorry for jumping between your two articles and being obtuse, that wasn’t my intention.

    • Mark: As I hoped to have made clear, esp. in publications over the years, the conviction that God had raised Jesus and exalted him to heavenly glory BOTH validated Jesus’ preceding actions, teaching and claims, AND established him in a new and still higher role as “kyrios” to whom now obeisance and obedience was owed.
      You seem to me to be driving some wedge between these two things, preferring the one and disparaging the other. That’s a theological judgement. But in historical terms, it’s not what the earliest believers reflected in the NT did.

      • Thank you Professor Hurtado for your responses. I can’t imagine how much energy you expend in answering nearly everyone who writes, but it’s impressive. Your generosity and scholarship are rare and I’m genuinely appreciative. I’m going to buy your book and look forward to reading it.

  3. If the resurrection is a vindication of Jesus as God’s chosen, making him worthy of worship, what is really being vindicated, the man or his teaching? How did a man judged to be a heretic by his own people and crucified and publicly humiliated by Rome come to be seen as the long awaited Jewish Messiah? This would seem to fly so completely in the face of Jewish expectations that it might be like suggesting that Lee Harvey Oswald was the second coming. And, more importantly, that he was, in some sense, God. I can understand this if it’s intended to say that Jesus and not Herod, Caesar or any other earthly ruler is the rightful king over creation, placing Jesus’ teaching firmly at it’s center. If, however, it intends to engender Jesus worship first and meaning second, it seems more like a cultist form of mental illness. Even visions of a resurrected Jesus sitting at God’s right hand wouldn’t be sufficient to explain Jesus survival beyond the grave (metaphorically speaking, that is.)

    • Mark: I find it difficult to understand the latter part of your comment, but I’ll have a go at responding to what I think you’re saying. The NT not only presents God as vindicating Jesus, but also as bestowing on him a new and remarkable status as “Kyrios”, and also as requiring now that all acknowledge this (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11). It is an astonishing set of claims, I agree, which is why I’ve devoted some 30 yrs to studying the matter in numerous publications. I don’t think the Oswald analogy fits, however. It would be a bit more like Jesse James or (in Canada) Louis Riel, i.e., some figure with a devoted following who is regarded as some menace/criminal by others. (Oswald didn’t have a following!)
      I think it’s unhelpful and dubious to label the eruption of Jesus-devotion as “mental illness”. It’s arresting, astonishing, and exact analogies are hard to come by, but it’s not without analogy for major religious movements to develop from powerful “revelatory” religious experiences.

      • Thank you Larry for the response. Let me ask the same question in a slightly different way in an effort to clarify. What is more important, the Sermon on the Mount or the Resurrection? Is the resurrection a validation of the sermon and other teachings? There is also the vision of Jesus being exalted by God as Lord of all. Powerful stuff, no doubt. But, what happens when you’re no longer dealing with the original witnesses and someone asks “Yeah, but what does it all mean?” Is the appropriate answer “Just worship him because God said so! After all, he was raised from the dead!” Or, is it more reasonable to explain the meaning of his radical teaching as the reason for his exaltation. This might be especially true in the world before Jesus. That’s why I suggested that in the absence of something more, faith in a resurrected god-man, based primarily on anecdotal testimony, could easily be construed as a form of mental illness. The Lee Harvey Oswald analogy was, I admit, a bit of a stretch. I was trying to propose that it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to see Jesus as a traitor who’s actions threatened the continued existence of all Israel. From that vantage point he was a liar, heretic and anarchist who suffered a just fate. Imagine trying to sell that vision of Messiah to devout Jews.

      • Mark: I must be dense, but I can’t quite get what it is you’re trying to lay on the table. My posting was about the historical data, whether Jesus’ divine status and worship of him arose from his own teaching and demands or the perceived “post-Easter” actions and demands of God. The latter is the case.
        You seem to be wanting to engage in some kind of theological assessment of things in light of your own tastes and perceived modern ideas. Fair enough. But that’s not the point of the posting.
        But, one thing for sure, Paul refers to the preaching of the gospel as “foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews,” and grants that it requires God’s Spirit to open eyes to Paul’s gospel message.

  4. Kathryn permalink

    How far do you think these revelations of the Holy Spirit continued chronologically? Who had the authority to make them? Which ones were authentic? They seemed to get more and more irrelevant, as time went on, e.g. How many wills did Jesus have?

    • Kathryn: Interesting that Paul refers to his experience (1 Cor 15:8) as “last of all”, i.e., last in a series of special appearances of the risen Jesus that served as the testimony basis. Interesting also that even the so-called “apocryphal” texts ascribe their special revelations to apostles and figures of that first generation, and don’t claim new/further revelations for themselves. It wasn’t so much continuing revelations as it was continuing attempts to translated revelations into meaningful beliefs and discourse that could be made meaningful in the intellectual categories of ensuing times.

  5. Kathryn permalink

    The problem with this explanation is that the realization that these are not the authentic words of Jesus produces in the reader or listener the response that the speech is a fiction, a deliberate lie, a deception which cannot be relied upon. To most Christian groups, with the exception of Pentecostals, the Holy Spirit is a meaningless abstraction, whose presence is undetectable in the world. To put words in the mouth of Jesus believing oneself to be under the control of the Holy Spirit, is at best arrogance and at worst madness.

    • Well, Kathryn, that’s your appraisal of things, but it doesn’t help to judge whether the things happened. You may see a “problem” with your version of religious faith (or what you imagine it would require). Fair enough. Free country. But I’m working on understanding what the earliest believers thought and did.

  6. I’ll concede that προσκυνέω can be used in different ways. Yet, it appears GJohn has an implicit theme of worship throughout relating to eternal ‘life’ (John 6:68, 11:24-27, etc.). An emperor/king only had an effect on physical life, but he could not provide eternal life – the life that others understood Jesus promised to believers.

    • Well, Craig, as your comment indicates, one has to join up a number of “dots” to make the picture you pose. In any case, there’s no “cultic” or corporate *worship* as such given to the earthly Jesus. The devotional “dyadic” pattern reflected in the NT (specifics of which I’ve listed in several publications) erupted in the “post-Easter” setting.

  7. Dr. Hurtado,

    I appreciate that you acknowledge other points of view re: John 5:22-23 and whether these words are Jesus’ rather than the narrator’s. I hope you’ll indulge me in my own view.

    According to John 3:16ff (I think these words are the narrator’s, not Jesus here), Jesus came to redeem not condemn, and this is the theme of the entire Gospel. But judgment is a two-sided coin, both positive and negative (3:18, cf. 9:39). The blind man believed and worshiped the Son of Man (9:35-38), while some of the Pharisees ‘became blind’ due to unbelief (9:40-41; cf. Numbers 14). This correlates well with Jesus having life ‘in Himself’ (5:26) – whether an eternal ‘begetting’ or an incarnational one, no mere human possesses this – and because of this conferred “life in Himself” Jesus had the ability to grant life (5:21), a supra-human power.

    And there is not one, but two ‘judgments’ in view here (cf. D.A. Carson, contra M.M. Thompson): (1) the eschatological judgment (5:28-29 – “a time is coming”), and (2) the then-current judgment (5:24-25 – “a time is coming and is now here;” cf. 9:35-39, Luke 23:43), indicating inaugurated eschatology.

    So, in response to the angry Jews (5:18) Jesus actually confirms their suspicions that He is proclaiming equality with God. First, He claims to do what he ‘sees’ the Father do (5:19; and no one sees God – 1:18). Then He proceeds to explain that He is the present and eternal judge. But are these words here in this pericope the GJohn narrator’s rather than Jesus? It seems this would be quite a bit for the narrator to place on Jesus’ lips.

    • I will only respond by saying that (as you note) your “take” on these texts is by no means that of other scholars, and, more importantly, there is no evidence given in GJohn that Jesus was worshipped: Which is THE indication of a god.

      • The text of 9:38 states explicitly that the formerly blind man worshiped Jesus.

      • Craig: What you fail to realize is that, as with the old English word “worship”, the Greek word “proskynein” can carry a variety of nuances and be used for reverence given to a variety of figures, not simply gods.

  8. Mr Hurtado (or Larry?), so what you’re saying is that the historical Jesus never made the claims about himself that the later Gospel authors and Paul are making about him? But why wouldn’t he have made them? Was ‘the fact’ that he actually was God a kind of surprise that was only to be reveal after his ‘death’?

    • Jerome: Statements such as “Jesus was God” are not helpful. First of all, what do you mean? The NT claim isn’t that “Jesus is God” as if he replaces God, or the one formerly known as “God” is now Jesus, or whatever. Instead, Jesus is presented as having been exalted by God to share the divine throne, reflect the divine glory, share the divine name, and be co-recipient of worship with God.
      Moreover, all this is by the action and will of God. So, Jesus could not have properly demanded to be recognized as such until God exalted him to such a status. Clearer??

  9. Crispin Fletcher-Louis permalink

    Larry, thanks for this new post that follows up the one yesterday.

    It’s unclear to me what you are really saying about some key issues (such as the one I raised yesterday about the relationship between the position of 18th cent. Deists and the Christian tradition). But not doubt there’ll be other occasions to pursue that one …

    Perhaps it will help discussion on this thread if I say this: I think you are right to highlight the remarkable fact that the pattern of Christ devotion reflected in Paul and other places is not present in the gospels account of Jesus. I agree with you that this is an important historical datum that must be explained. And it is my impression that this has not received the attention it deserves amongst historians of earliest Christianity – until your own recent work. I’m not up to speed on all the discussion amongst theologians, but my guess is that it has not been much considered there either. Perhaps the fact that we are talking about this question with some intensity is a testimony to the way in which you (and Bauckham and others) have shifted the academy’s perspective to a recognition that Christ devotion and a “binitarian” theology was there very early on in the early years of the life of the Church. In this new perspective the issue at hand becomes pressing in a way that it was not for earlier generations.

    In my own model of Christological origins I agree with you that what God does to Jesus is decisive in bringing about the pattern of Christ devotion you have described (and the “Christological monotheism” as others have described what we have in Paul, Hebrews and Revelation). But, for various reasons, I am not convinced that we have to say that the historical Jesus could not have said (and did not say) things like this (John 5:22–23): “The Father … has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.”


    • Crispin: Thanks for your gracious words about my own possible contributions to current scholarly work (or at least work in some quarters of the field). As for your final comment, I’d agree that it’s not impossible that Jesus could have said such a thing. When we take account of the “Self-Glorification Hymn” from Qumran (4Q491), it seems plausible that individuals had experiences (and/or convictions) of being exalted, and/or given an exalted status. That is, the religious “culture” of 2nd temple Judaism may well have allowed for this.
      But then we have to ask why this language in the mouth of Jesus is distinctive to GJohn, and why Jesus’ language in GJohn is sometimes almost indistinguishable from the author’s.
      I think it likely that Jesus had profound religious experiences that conveyed to him strong convictions about his own role (e.g., as unique herald and vehicle of the Kingdom of God). But I’m not so sure that we can read off directly Jesus’ own historical self-statements from texts such as GJohn 5:22-23. Nevertheless, I grant that others may judge differently.

  10. John 5:18
    For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

    Of course, this is just proof-texting…..

    • Er, Steven, it’s not clear to me what it is you’re trying to say. The text in GJohn presents Jesus’ opponents as making a false judgement about Jesus. It’s their view of what Jesus is posited as saying, not a straightforward report of what he meant.

      • So the opponents of Jesus somehow thought Jesus was making himself equal to God?

        How often do people think somebody else is making himself equal to God – when absolutely nothing has happened to given them that impression? That must be quite a rare event.

      • Now, now, Steven. You’re dropping into your old bad habit of snide & sneering. What Jesus is portrayed as doing is claiming a special filial relationship to God. This the opponents are portrayed as reacting to by accusing him of “making himself equal with God”. You’re surely well aware that in debates opponents will try to smear the other by distorting and stretching what they’ve said. (Recognize the action??)
        Oh, and making yourself “equal with God” was a well-known trope, an accusation made often in Greek texts of the time.

      • Sorry, I honestly had no idea that people were often accused of making themselves equal to God, and that this was a common trope.

        We know it was a false accusation because Jesus wasn’t making himself equal to God.

      • See, e.g., 2 Macc 9:12, where the idea is referred to in similar language.

  11. Jonathan Burke permalink

    Larry, I am not disputing that ‘The NT, e.g, Paul, Hebrews, GJohn, Luke-Acts (and, indeed, subsequent “orthodox” thinking too) always and firmly insisted that Jesus was (and remains) a man, a true human being’. I am pointing out that Acts doesn’t refer to Jesus as anything but a man, and differentiates him from God.

    As you are aware, current scholarship typically agrees that even ascribing to Jesus ‘an exalted position as sharing in divine glory, divine name, and a status that requires him to be reverenced in ways that are otherwise restricted to God’, does not necessitate that he is God. I’ve read a great deal of your own work on this subject, and found your own work particularly convincing in this regard; at best I find your work good support for bitheism, and for the idea that the early Christians were pretty ok with the idea that Jesus was a divine being distinct from God and subordinate to Him, but sharing in His qualities and attributes.

    When you say the author of Acts ‘in his own way reflects this striking duality of how Jesus (esp. the post-resurrection Jesus) was perceived by early believers’, do you mean we must ASSUME this duality when we read Acts? We must assume that when Acts says ‘man’, we must read ‘God-man’? Where do you find the duality in Acts? Which passages, specifically?

    • Jonathan: I’m not asking you or others to “assume” anything. I’m simply pointing to the textual evidence and asking you to read it. E.g., Acts 2:36 posits God as having made Jesus “both Lord and Christ,” and throughout Luke-Acts the author uses the term “kyrios” in an apparently deliberately ambiguous way, sometimes referring to God, sometimes to Jesus. In Acts, baptism is in Jesus’ name (unprecedented in ancient Jewish practice), and in 9:10-16 the risen Jesus “the Lord” speaks to Ananias ordering him to go to welcome Saul/Paul as new believer, etc.
      Please drop your own lingo (e.g., “God-man”), which I haven’t used, and which is a red-herring, and just read the texts in their own terms. You should see the duality: Jesus is a real man, and he now bears/shares in divine glory and status. All the talk of “persons”, “being” etc. is anachronistic for the NT texts.

      • Jonathan Burke permalink

        As long as you continue to talk of Jesus’ ‘duality’ (as you do here), and explicitly declare early Christian beliefs as specifically ‘binitarian’ (as you do in ‘Lord Jesus Christ’), terms such as ‘God-man’ are not red-herrings. None of the passages in Acts you cite actually refer to any ‘duality’ such as you’re arguing for. Instead they speak explicitly of a mortal man who has been appointed as a divine agent; bearing and sharing in divine glory and status. There is no ‘duality’ here, this is agency.

        And this is the point, isn’t it? As late as the gospels and even Acts, there is no ‘duality’ spoken of in these writings. Instead we find them explicitly teaching divine agency (as you note in ‘Lord Jesus Christ’); Jesus is a man, and he is never described as anything other than a man chosen as a divine agent. So any ‘duality’ such as binitarianism must be assumed; the writers clearly knew nothing of it.

        As you note, ‘All the talk of “persons”, “being” etc. is anachronistic for the NT texts’. Yet binitarianism is precisely ‘talk of “persons”, “being” etc.’, and in ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ you say you find that binitarianism in the NT texts.

      • Jonathan: Read more carefully, both the early texts and my own analysis of them, please. I have repeatedly referred to a “binitarian” (or now a “dyadic”) devotional pattern, itemizing specifically the practices that comprise it, and showing that they are a unique development, Jesus incorporated into earliest Christian devotional practices in ways otherwise reserved for God.
        To be sure, much of earliest Christian Christological rhetoric reflects “agency” language (e.g., Son/Word/Image of God, etc.) But the place of the risen Jesus in earliest Christian worship and devotional practice comprises what I have termed a novel/unique “mutation”.

        Secondly, as I’ve also (with many others) shown, NT texts clearly ascribe to Jesus a status and role that goes beyond that of a human: e.g., as the agent of creation (e.g., 1 Cor 8:4-6), and as bearing “the form of God” (Philip 2:6).
        I don’t actually anywhere drag in the later categories (e.g., “persons” of a “Godhead”, sharing a divine “nature”), simply because these aren’t the vocabulary used in the NT. As I’ve indicated, these terms and categories reflect later questions and concepts.

        So, in short, there is a real “duality” in the ways that Jesus is referred to in the NT writings: a real, historical human, who was also the Logos, “in the beginning with God”, etc.

      • Jonathan Burke permalink

        Yes I understand you say you are referring to “binitarian devotion”. But you’re also saying “NT texts clearly ascribe to Jesus a status and role that goes beyond that of a human: e.g., as the agent of creation (e.g., 1 Cor 8:4-6), and as bearing “the form of God” (Philip 2:6)”, and that Jesus was “a real, historical human, who was also the Logos, “in the beginning with God””. So you’re not just referring to binitarian devition.

        Your binitarianism isn’t simply devotional; it’s ontological. You really are arguing the early Christians believed Jesus existed before he was born and was the agent of creation, at the same time that you’re arguing early Christians believed Jesus was also a mortal man. That’s the duality and binitarianism of ontology, not merely devotion.

        This isn’t just a binitarian devotional pattern. As you put it in “Lord Jesus Christ”, it’s a binitarian devotional pattern “together with the theological reflection it embodied and promoted”. And none of this explains why the book of Acts never describes the apostles as teaching and preaching that Jesus was the agent of creation, existed before he was born, and was ‘in the form of God’ in a unique way. They just don’t do that. They only teach Jesus as a mortal man who was appointed as a divine agent, and was later glorified, just as Philippians does.

      • I never use “ontological”, Jonathan. That’s you reading into my work your own assumptions, and anchronistic ones at that.
        I do talk about the “christological rhetoric”, the Claims, assertions about Jesus, as well as the devotional practices. But I urge that the latter are more important in making sense of what the rhetoric means.
        I won’t here engage the red herring of what you say about Acts. In any case, it’s never been my claim that all early circles held the same views, only that the “high” views of Jesus are as early as anything we have. So, Paul’s letters are historically more important for that issue.
        And your final statement is bizarre: Philippians clearly makes JEsus “en morphe theou” prior to his human existence (my sparring partner Jimmy Dunn notwithstanding!). So, the passage in Philip 2:6-11 must be included among those that reflect the idea that Jesus had some kind of “pre-existence”, specifically God-like. That’s more than a mortal elevated to divine status. Preferences must give way to texts, Jonathan!

      • Jonathan Burke permalink

        I haven’t said you used the term ontological. I have pointed out that you have made claims that Jesus was ‘more than man’ in an ontological way, and that his earliest followers saw him that way, not merely as a man. You have just repeated those claims. It is clear from everything you write that you are not simply asserting a devotional binitarianism, but an ontological binitarianism. I am not using the term ‘ontological’ to describe the views of the early Christians, I am using it to describe your views, so it’s not an anachronism.

        I haven’t seen any evidence that the Christological views of the early Christians as expressed in Acts are a red herring, given the topic under discussion is the Christological views of the early Christians. You may wish to exclude the evidence in Acts from this discussion, but it’s not valid to call that evidence a red herring.

        You say “Philippians clearly makes Jesus “en morphe theou” prior to his human existence”, but of course “prior to his human existence” is your gloss, not what the text actually says. And we both know James Dunn is not exactly alone in understanding this passage as referring to something other than pre-existence, and we both know that “en morphe theou” doesn’t speak of divine nature. So again you’re making an ontological claim for Jesus, but it’s not substantiated by the text.

        I understand what you mean when you say the devotional practices are “more important in making sense of what the rhetoric means”. However, most expositors seem to view it the other way around; that what you call the “rhetoric” (which is actually doctrinal teaching), establishes the theological context and informs the interpretation of, the devotional practices.

        When all you can point to is a couple of passages in Paul which appear to present Christ as pre-existent, it’s not a lot on which to establish a binitarian ontology, especially given the overwhelming evidence pointing in a completely different direction.

      • Well, Jonathan, you repeat yourself at length. I’ll try to be more concise. I’m trying to understand what the NT authors wrote, but you keep attributing to me other things. It’s just a bit frustrating. The essential point I’ve made repeatedly is that from our earliest evidence the risen Jesus is treated as sharing divine glory, divine name, etc., is ascribed pre-existence, and, most importantly, is included in the devotional actions that typically signal a deity. Indeed, the OT phrase for worship given to YHWH is adapted to refer to the reverence/worship given to Jesus: e.g., 1 Cor 1:2.
        As for Philip 2:6-11, I trust that we both know that Dunn’s proposal hasn’t attracted many endorsements, and is most definitely a minority view. Oh, and the passage does ascribe “en morphe theou” to Jesus BEFORE he “took the form of a servant and was found in human form”. That seems pretty clear to most of us.
        As for your final claim, yes, many scholars have overlooked and failed to grasp the importance of worship practices. I’ll grant that. But my emphasis has gained ground. Moreover, it has the support of scholars of earlier time as well, e.g., Bousset, Johannes Weiss, Deissmann, et alia.
        But I think you’ve ragged on quite enough. So, you’ve had your say. Let’s move on.

      • Jonathan Burke permalink

        Larry what you’ve been trying to do is make the argument that it’s legitimate for later Christians to view Jesus as something neither he nor his earliest disciples viewed himself as. That’s what this was about.

        What you haven’t shown is that any of the things attributed to Jesus make him more than an exalted divine agent. Instead you end up going backwards and forwards, getting as close as you can to saying Jesus was understood to be a god other than THE God, then retreating from it as soon as you get too far away from monotheism.

        At best you end up with a binitarian theology. At worst, it’s just an inconsistent and confusing mess. And that’s a shame given the vast majority of your work is perfectly coherent and logically sound; it just doesn’t point in the direction of the ontological claims you’re trying to nudge it towards

        Saying Jesus was ““en morphe theou” to Jesus BEFORE he “took the form of a servant and was found in human form”” doesn’t mean he existed before his was born; that’s a gloss.

      • Jonathan: You really can’t let this go, can you? One LAST exchange. Really. This is not getting anywhere, as you just keep on being a bit rude and ignoring what I say.
        First, you misconstrue my posting: It wasn’t saying that what “later” Christians say about Jesus is valid. My point (rather clear, actually) was that the common assumption that the validity of NT christological claims and devotionl practice rests upon whether Jesus authorized them himself is a fallacy. It wasn’t in fact about “later” christological developments.
        Second, what you deem a “mess” is just the NT christological data, which isn’t systematic, but more ad hoc. I avoid imposing categories that aren’t in the text. You want things presented in terms of later creedal categories, but that’s all wrong. If it disappoints, you, that’s just the way it is.
        Finally, you final statement is just…well, bizarre. I really don’t know what you mean or how you can avoid so blatantly the force of the text in Philip 2:6-8.
        I repeat: This is it. finito. No more, please of your wearying screeds. You clearly don’t want to learn anything, but instead want simply to rage on. Do it somewhere else.

  12. Jonathan Burke permalink

    In Acts, written well after the high christology found in Paul was well established, we find the apostles recorded as teaching that Jesus was a man appointed by God, a man raised by God, a man through whom God worked, a man authorized by God, a man whose work was authenticated by miracles which God did through him.

    Would you say this apparent ignorance of the fact that Jesus actually was the God who appointed Jesus, raised Jesus, worked through Jesus, authorized Jesus, and did the miracles of Jesus, is explicable by the author’s theological ignorance or lack of comprehension of the conclusion reached by the rest of the Christian community that Jesus was actually God? Had the revelation simply not percolated down to this author yet?

    • Well, nowhere in the NT (or, really, in classical “orthodox” creeds) is Jesus “actually the God who appointed Jesus, raised Jesus, worked through Jesus”, etc. To stay with the NT, Jesus is always defined with reference to “God” (“the Father”). God sent Jesus, not vice versa. God raised Jesus, not vice versa. Jesus was seen reflecting the glory of God (the “Father”), etc.
      The speech in Acts is the author’s representation of how earliest believers saw Jesus with reference to God. It’s not all they believed, but it’s one expression.
      Even in the “Nicene Creed”, Jesus is defined as “God FROM GOD”, “Light FROM LIGHT”, i.e., he is defined in relation to “God” the “Father”, not as his substitute.

      • Jonathan Burke permalink

        Actually I see in both the traditional and modern confessions, a clear belief that Jesus was the very God who did all those things, and that the differentiation is between persons, not gods; Jesus as God the son is still the same God who did all those things, though he is not the PERSON who did all those things (the quotations you’ve provided from the Nicene Creed say this clearly; Jesus isn’t ‘other than God’, or ‘another God’, or ‘a God who came from the one God’). Otherwise you end up with more than one God.

        But to return to what the apostles are represented as teaching in Acts, why is it that the author of Acts (written so late), consistently represents Jesus as a man and differentiates him from God in a manner which implies Jesus is not God? Throughout Acts, as you have noted, Jesus is X and God is Y, and it is clear that the author of Acts did not intend to represent the apostles as teaching Jesus was Y, or XY. Why not?

        Instead the apostles are represented as teaching people that Jesus was a man, that God is someone completely different, and that this is completely orthodox teaching on the basis of which people are baptized and become Christians. Is it possible that the author of Acts fell into the trap you’ve described, of understanding Jesus’ relationship to God on the basis of what Jesus said about his relationship to God?

      • Jonathan: If I may say so, I think you’re not reading Acts or other NT texts with sufficient sensitivity to the nuances involved. The NT, e.g, Paul, Hebrews, GJohn, Luke-Acts (and, indeed, subsequent “orthodox” thinking too) always and firmly insisted that Jesus was (and remains) a man, a true human being, not a god-in-drag-walking-upon-the-earth. At the same time, the NT writers typically ascribe to Jesus an exalted position as sharing in divine glory, divine name, and a status that requires him to be reverenced in ways that are otherwise restricted to God. It’s not one or the other. The author Acts didn’t “fall into a trap,” but in his own way reflects this striking duality of how Jesus (esp. the post-resurrection Jesus) was perceived by early believers.
        In the subsequent centuries, Christians attempted to articulate their beliefs in terms of different philosophical categories, and so referred to a shared “being” or essence, which is a different kind of discourse than what we find in the NT, which reflects biblical/Jewish categories (e.g., divine name, divine glory, divine throne, etc.). I’ve tried to describe matters in my large book, Lord Jesus Christ, which includes discussion of 2nd century developments that took things into those subsequent discourse-directions.

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