A Tribute to Bauckham: New Volume
I’ve just received my contributor’s copy of a multi-author volume in honour of Richard Bauckham: In the Fullness of Time: Essays on Christology, Creation, and Eschatology, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner, Grant Macaskill & Jonathan T. Pennington (Eerdmans , 2016). The publisher’s online description here.
The stature of the many contributors and the range of topics that they address reflect the breadth of Bauckham’s own contributions over several decades now. My own essay in the volume, “Worship and Divine Identity: Richard Bauckham’s Christological Pilgrimage” (pp. 82-96), attests my admiration for his work, my indebtedness to him on specific matters, and my aim to try to engage some of his stimulating theses.
In the latter part of my essay, I pose three questions. The first of these is why Bauckham’s emphasis on Jesus being included in the “divine identity” is incompatible with the proposal that I’ve supported that in Second Temple Jewish tradition we see expressions of what can be called a “chief agent” notion, which may have provided earliest Jewish believers in Jesus with a conceptual category for accommodating Jesus in a unique relationship with God and as superior to all other beings. As I’ve argued since my 1988 book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (3rd edition, Bloomington T&T Clark, 2015), the Christological statements in the NT typically portray Jesus with reference to God: e.g, as God’s Word, Son, Image, etc., which seems to me to amount to use of such a conceptual category.
To be sure, the programmatic place of Jesus in creation and redemption comprises a breadth exceeding any of the other instances of “chief agent” figures. And the programmatic place of Jesus in earliest devotional practice is likewise singular. But I see these as evidence of the novel “mutation” in “chief agent” tradition that I’ve proposed for several decades now.
My second question probes how and why Jesus, so rapidly and so early, was (in Bauckham’s terms) included within the “divine identity.” By all evidence, this was an unparalleled development. With others, Bauckham refers to the early and novel uses of biblical (OT) texts as expressive of the remarkable place of Jesus in the beliefs of earliest circles of the Jesus-movement. To my mind, the most likely answer to why these texts (e.g., Psalm 110) were read in this novel way is that early believers were moved by powerful religious experiences that they took as revelatory. That is, the distinctive appropriation of these texts reflects a “charismatic exegesis” of the OT prompted by what early believers took to be the inspiration of God’s Spirit.
My third question probes critically Bauckham’s portrayal of the inclusion of Jesus as co-recipient of worship as a “corollary” of Jesus’ inclusion within the “divine identity.” I find scant evidence of this notion in NT texts. Instead, it seems to me that the closest we get to an explanation or justification in the NT for treating Jesus as rightful recipient of cultic devotion is the claim that God has exalted him to share in divine glory and now requires Jesus to be so reverenced. Philippians 2:9-11 seems to me an early and explicit statement to this effect.
These queries are intended more to engage Bauckham’s proposals, however, rather than to refute them. I reiterate my admiration for his work, especially his varied contributions to analysis of early Christian texts, both NT writings and extra-canonical texts.