Skip to content

“Jesus Monotheism”: My Review

August 19, 2016

My review of Jesus Monotheism, by Crispin Fletcher-Louis just appeared in Review of Biblical Literature here.  This book is volume 1 of a multi-volume project in which Fletcher-Louis aims to lay out a broad-ranging and programmatic analysis of the emergence of devotion to Jesus in earliest circles of what became Christianity.

This first volume is heavily a “ground clearing” operation in which he both aligns himself with what he calls “the emerging consensus”  (that a view and devotional treatment of Jesus as sharing in divine honor and status erupted early and in circles of Jewish believers), and also lodges a critique that he posits as requiring the sort of further work that he offers.

As my review indicates briefly, I don’t find his criticisms of my own work persuasive.  I also think that some of his key propositions are dubious (or at least will require much more support).  We will have to wait for subsequent volumes to measure adequately his case.  But in this initial volume he gives strong hints of where future volumes will take us.

One apparent point of difference is over the sources of the Jesus-devotion reflected already in Paul’s letters.  I have posited several “forces and factors,” including particularly powerful experiences of the risen/exalted Jesus that conveyed the conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and given him heavenly glory.  From this, I contend, other beliefs quickly emerged, such as the belief that Jesus had, in some way, been “there” with God from creation (“pre-existence”).

Fletcher-Louis, however, seems to hold that in his historical ministry Jesus knew himself to be the pre-existent Son, and that he taught his disciples this idea.  They didn’t quite “get” it, however, until after Jesus’ resurrection.  But the source of the idea was Jesus himself, in Fletcher-Louis’ view.  (As I say, we’ll have to wait for the full laying out of his view in subsequent volumes, so I hope I haven’t misrepresented the basics here.)

Indeed, I get the impression that Fletcher-Louis regards the sayings distinctively ascribed to Jesus in the Gospel of John as fully indicative of Jesus’ actual teachings about himself during his ministry.  This might amount to making GJohn superior to the Synoptics as to Jesus’ self-understanding and teaching about his person and purpose.  Clearly, Fletcher-Louis’ project involves some major issues.

10 Comments
  1. HI Larry:

    You said:

    “Opposition to Jesus-devotion is not “conspicuously absent” in NT writings! Having produced a large article on the subject some time ago (and echoing the prior work of some other scholars as well), I hope to be forgiven for being a bit peevish to encounter that claim still: “Early Jewish Opposition to Christ-Devotion,” Journal of Theological Studies 50(1999): 35-58; republished in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, 152-78.”

    Sorry to have inspired a bit of peevishness, but I’ve already informed you that while I agree with a good part of your work, I’m on the side of Jimmy Dunn, Maurice Casey, and James McGrath when it comes to that narrow question about opposition to Christ devotion. As they would point out (and have), in the earliest writings there’s evidence of internal disputes over halakhah, and there’s also evidence that Jews were appalled over the notion of a crucified Messiah, but I see no clear evidence in the earliest writings of the sort of disputes from outsiders or concerns and questions from insiders that one would expect if they believed that Christ devotion implied what you and other proponents of the ’emerging consensus’ believe it does.

    If things go well for me then I hope to make ‘the emerging consensus’ the subject of a masters thesis after I retire (yes, that approach is a bit backwards!), and I’ll look forward to your input when/if I’m still alive and able to make that happen. In the mean time, let’s resolve to agree to disagree sans peevishness, ok?

    ~Sean Garrigan

    • There’s no evidence that Jewish opposition to Jewish Christians was over “halakhah”. There were then, as there remains today, considerable differences among Jews over how to observe the commandments of Torah. Just look at 4QMMT, where a Qumran stance is posed over against another (Pharisaic?). There’s no persecution, just vigorous discussion. And until someone refutes my analysis of the evidence in my article showing that in fact THE basis for controversy was over Jesus, I really can’t take your claim seriously about an absence of such evidence. We’ll have to disagree over how one goes about framing a viewpoint in the matter. I insist on building on the evidence.

  2. hermanqx4824 permalink

    Dr. Hurtado, you wrote: ” I have posited several “forces and factors,” including particularly powerful experiences of the risen/exalted Jesus that conveyed the conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and given him heavenly glory.” I would love to read what you have written. …. Thanks!

    • The best place to refer you too is the chapter, “Forces and Factors” in my book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.

  3. Bob Garringer permalink

    Taking only material found in Mark’s Gospel, in your opinion, what did Jesus’ words and actions indicate about his self-awareness? As examples: (1) if John the Baptist and those possessed by demons, said the sorts of things they said about him and Jesus does not object to their exalted assessments (in the sense of denying them) (2) if, as he was about to perform a mighty work, people “fell down” before him (in acts of humble submission unlike that given to either prophets before him or apostles after him) (3) if, as Mark represents his teachings, Jesus claimed that all eschatological and soteriological expectations hinged upon his person (climaxing in his glorious presence and judgment in the end): how would you express what Jesus thought about himself?

    • Bobby: From Mark one gets the impression of Jesus as acting with unique authority and purpose on God’s behalf, such that one’s response to Jesus is determinative for eschatological judgement/salvation. That is pretty impressive. But it doesn’t project any explicit notion of pre-existence, or Jesus’ demand that he be treated as recipient of worship. The clear force of a host of NT passages is that in Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation, he is given a new status as “Lord” and reigning Son of God: e.g., Rom 1:1-4; Philip 2:6-11; Acts 2:

  4. Hi Larry,

    Thank you for alerting us to your review. I’ve been reading Fletcher-Louis’s book, and I’ve been wondering what you thought of his thesis so far and whether you’d be offering a response.

    You didn’t mention (in this blog post) the one part of Fletcher-Louis’s thesis that I think will likely prove to be the most problematic: In an effort to account for the lack of concern or controversy over devotional practices that are ‘binitarian’ or ‘diadic’ in their shape in reference to Jesus, he seems to be suggesting that there are pre-Christian precedents for such ‘binitarianism/diadicism’, i.e. that the treatment of some other figure or figures was also ‘binitarian/diadic’, which paved the way for an easy transition of such treatment to Jesus and an easy acceptance of such treatment by Jewish Christians.

    As you’ve said, we’ll have to wait for his remaining volumes before we can adequately assess his case, but in my view arguing for pre-Christian binitarianism/diadicism is a non-starter, especially when one considers the nature of the devotion to Jesus that Fletcher-Louis promotes. Bowing down to Adam as the image of God or to the high priest (or whomever) isn’t even within shouting distance of a binitarianism/diadicism whose shape incorporates his interpretation of verses like 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Philippians 2:6-10!

    What is your initial reaction to that problem? Is it covered in your review, which I’ll be turning to next? I can’t imagine how Fletcher-Louis will bridge the gap between the supposed reverence of pre-Christian figures, which I find to be rather unremarkable for the most part (except for e.g. Melchizedek/11QMelch), especially when compared to Jesus devotion as defined by Fletcher-Louis!

    ~Sean

    • In the review I don’t have space to engage the matter very extensively. I have given my views of the relevant OT and 2nd temple Jewish texts in various places, beginning with my 1988 book, One God, One Lord, with most recent work addressed in the extensive epilogue to the 3rd edition (2015). Fletcher-Louis can speak for himself (he reads this blog site), but I’d say that he grants that the full devotional pattern/practice reflected in the NT is novel, but insists that there are at least partial precedents, e.g., alleging that the high priest received cultic worship.

      • Thanks, Larry. Maybe he’ll read my comment and interact.

        Until then, I’ll just note that I don’t see any logical path that would allow us to conclude that the devotion you and he believe Christ received would be easily accommodated because Adam or the high priest were offered devotion. We’re not talking about simple matters of degree, here, but of kind. The exaltation/devotion given to pre-Christian figures was clearly the exaltation/devotion of God’s agents, whereas the devotion F-L sees Christ receiving is the very devotion due to YHWH Himself, and it’s given to Jesus as KURIOS/YHWH (in his scheme) not as agent of KURIOS/YHWH.

        I think F-L is correct in noting how opposition to ‘binitarian/diadic’ Christ devotion is conspicuously absent, which is historically quite problematic, but I don’t see how appeals to devotion of an entirely different species solves the problem. I’m looking forward to greater clarity on this score.

        ~Sean Garrigan

      • Opposition to Jesus-devotion is not “conspicuously absent” in NT writings! Having produced a large article on the subject some time ago (and echoing the prior work of some other scholars as well), I hope to be forgiven for being a bit peevish to encounter that claim still: “Early Jewish Opposition to Christ-Devotion,” Journal of Theological Studies 50(1999): 35-58; republished in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, 152-78.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: