Early Jesus-Devotion: Underscoring Key Points
I had hoped that my previous posting would have clarified the points I tried to make in the one before that. But in light of ensuing questions and comments, it appears that it was not entirely successful. So, this further (and much briefer) attempt. I want to underscore the key things I wanted to highlight initially. (And I request that comments be directed to the focus of my postings, and not wandering off afield into other matters.)
First, and most importantly, all the historical evidence indicates that it was the experience of the risen and exalted Jesus that generated the really lofty claims about him (e.g., ascribing to him a status likened to God’s, seated “at God’s right hand,” sharing divine glory and name, the title “The Kyrios,” etc.) and that generated the “dyadic” devotional pattern that I have emphasized over some 25 years now. So, whatever the “historical” Jesus thought of himself, whatever he may have secretly believed, hoped, knew, etc., the key point is that this remarkable body of lofty claims and the accompanying devotional practice seem to have erupted in the “post-Easter” period.
During his ministry, Jesus certainly excited claims and counter-claims about himself, including specifically the hope that he was (or would be) Messiah, which appears to have been the basis of the charge against him that led to his crucifixion.
He certainly seems to have acted with an authority that excited some, offended others, and that reflected an implicit claim to be God’s unique agent announcing and enacting in some ways eschatological salvation. But, still, the claims and devotional practices that erupted after his crucifixion exceeded anything held about him during his ministry.
The fundamental basis for these claims and the devotional practice was the powerful conviction that God had exalted Jesus to heavenly glory and now required him to be reverenced. As I tried to emphasize earlier, the Christological claims and worship practices had a theo-centric basis: God’s actions that had Christological consequences.
The second major point I’d like to underscore and clarify (again) is that notions of Jesus’ “pre-existence” seem to have erupted in this same “post-Easter” period, and also as a consequence of God’s exaltation of Jesus. This attribution of “pre-existence” to Jesus seems to have happened very quickly, certainly not as a result of some slow and incremental process.
The final point is that doctrinal development certainly didn’t cease at that early point, but continued as believers reflected further on what they believed God had done, what Jesus had done and revealed, and what they believed the Spirit had revealed. Moreover, as early Christians thereafter sought to engage the wider intellectual currents of the Roman world (esp. influenced by Greek philosophical traditions), they developed further notions and responded to new issues. But the beliefs of each period need to be considered in their own time. So, e.g., the Christological beliefs and expressions found in early writings (the NT and other early texts) deserve to be studied in their own right, preferably (to my mind) without reading them through the lens of subsequent issues and formulations.
Likewise, those later creeds and formulations deserve to be considered sympathetically, with respect for the issues, the inventory of available concepts, etc. But that takes us into a period later than my own focus.