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“A Man Attested by God”: Kirk’s Response

March 14, 2017

Daniel Kirk has blogged here in reply to my review of his book, A Man Attested by God, exhibiting an irenic tone that is much to be commended.  I’ll allow myself just a couple of observations in response.

First, and perhaps most importantly for the purpose and argument of Kirk’s book, he doesn’t respond to my point that his proposed reading of the Synoptic Gospels seems very implausible in the late first-century CE Christian setting in which these texts were composed.  Kirk seems to want to read the Synoptics as if (1) they were complete Christological statements on their own, and (2) early Christian readers would have had to hand only what these texts explicitly state.  But, as I noted in my SBL response published on this site earlier, these are most unlikely.  For we know that the treatment of Jesus as worthy of divine honor and cultic devotion had been in place and widely practiced already by the 50s when Paul wrote his letters.  So, to imagine that some 30-50 years later the authors of the Synoptics and/or their intended Christian readership would have been ignorant of these things (as Kirk’s approach seems to me to require) is an implausible stretch of imagination in my view.

Positively, therefore, it’s far more plausible to think that the Synoptic authors emphasize a genuinely human Jesus, not because they are uncomfortable with treating him as sharing in divine status, or because they want readers to take their narratives of the historic and human Jesus in isolation from other early Christian beliefs, but because, instead, these authors simply want to present ordered narratives of the earthly career of this Jesus.  Perhaps they wished to maintain (or re-establish) a balance, underscoring that the exalted Jesus of early Christian devotion is also the man of Galilee.  In any case, my point is that it’s methodologically dubious to read the Synoptics as if they were the only statements about Jesus available to original readers.

And my further observation here is that Kirk doesn’t seem to me to have responded to this point.  At least not directly or explicitly, so far as I can see.

My other point is in response to the quotation that he cites in defence of his accusation that my views show the influence or “Chalcedonian” creedal categories.  I’d think that a careful reader of that quotation will note that I’m simply making the historical observation that the discursive and devotional patterns evident in NT texts played a [NB: a] major role in the subsequent (NB:  subsequent) developments in Christological thought.  To make such a historical observation is not, however, to read those subsequent developments back into the earlier phenomena (contra Kirk’s claim), nor is it to frame the investigation and characterization of those earlier phenomena in line with later developments.  The historical connection moves from earlier to later, and that’s just a fact.  But to note this is hardly to commit the anachronistic analysis that Kirk seems (albeit softly) to ascribe to me.

I’d hope that anyone who reads my work without such an accusation in mind would see that I go to great lengths to avoid using later creedal categories to describe the earlier beliefs and devotional practices of the Jesus-movement.  There are real distinctions between the discursive categories of 4th century Christological debate and the first-century texts in the NT.  At the same time, the one could not have developed without the other.

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  1. John MacDonald permalink

    I think we should be cautious about attributing a high Christology to the risen Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
    ……………… (edited for conciseness, LWH)
    It seems absurd to think Mark knew of the virgin birth, because he certainly would have included it in his gospel had he known about it.

    This line of reason, by analogy, also applies to attributing a high Christology to Jesus after he died in the Gospel of Mark. Mark would certainly have portrayed his Jesus in a high Christological light after his death because that would make his gospel a more effective evangelizing tool. Common sense says Mark doesn’t include any of this because he was either unaware of it, or thought that though some attributed high Christology to the risen Christ, that Mark thought these people were wrong and that high Christology was foreign to the historical Jesus.

    • JOhn, Your “common sense” seems very unhistorical to me (and others). You’re essentially arguing from silence, and making inferences that don’t carry weight. I’ve indicated that the genre of Mark (and the other NT Gospels) is that of a biographical-type narrative, of the man in his own situation, so, of course, they don’t have scenes of him being given cultic worship, etc. For these authors, with all other early witnesses, likely held that the basis and justification for worshipping Jesus as divine was not given until God raised Jesus from death and installed him as Kyrios and “Son of God in power”. Your closing alternatives simply betray your failure to consider sufficiently the historical situation in which Mark wrote. And you also fail to do justice to the various data in Mark that point to a transcendent significance of Jesus (e.g., demonic recognition, et alia). So, come down from your high horse of misguided “common sense” and attributions of absurdity, and weigh the relevant data more carefully.

      • John MacDonald permalink

        I think if I had to sum up Jesus’ personality in one word, it would be “dedicated.” As Jesus sums up the Jewish scriptures, he believed the essence of life was loving God with all his heart, and loving his neighbor as himself. In fact, Jesus was so “dedicated” to God that he was willing to die to fulfill God’s plan, even though Jesus fundamentally didn’t want to die (as the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrated).

        Given this, it would be odd to have a high Christology for Jesus. After all, one of the main commandments in Hebrew scripture is to have “no other Gods beside Yahweh.” Given Jewish monotheism, if Jesus was supposed to be worshipped on the same level as God, there should be a very direct instruction in the New Testament (possibly from God) explaining that, and why, this is.

      • John: You’re not listening! Yes, it would have been odd for Jesus to demand worship and treatment as exalted by God before God exalted him! Jesus didn’t do so. The consistent NT witness, however, is that God did exalt Jesus to share divine throne, divine name, and divine glory, and that he is now to be reverenced accordingly (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; Romans 10:9-13, et alia). In short, NT writings presuppose and explicitly affirm the treatment of the risen/exalted Jesus as rightful co-recipient of cultic reverence with God.

  2. John MacDonald permalink

    Mark certainly has a low Christology for Jesus. Mark has Jesus identify himself as a fallible human prophet who can’t perform miracles in his hometown. Mark writes:

    4Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.” 5So He could not perform any miracles there, except to lay His hands on a few of the sick and heal them. (Mark 6:4-5)

    If Mark’s Jesus was a ‘high Christology’ entity, he would have been able to perform miracles in his home town.

    What was going on, rather, is that Mark’s Jesus was a fallible human prophet who God did great miracles through. Jesus was not responsible for the miracles himself. This is what was meant in Acts where it says: ““Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—” (Acts 2:22).

    As with any prophet, the power comes from God acting through the prophet, not that the prophet was powerful. This nature of the prophet is born out in scripture when a prophet of Yahweh battled the prophet of another God, and Yahweh got the glory when His prophet won for Him.

    Jesus was Yahweh’s greatest prophet because he took on the forces of Satan and Sin and death and was victorious, demonstrating the might of God’s power against His greatest adversaries (Satan and Sin and Death).

    • John MacDonald permalink

      And it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the gospel writers had sources that long pre date Paul that emphasized the humanity of Jesus. Low Christology could be very early.

      • Yes, John, perhaps. But why invoke phantom sources when we know that real sources show that a cultic devotion to Jesus was pretty widely circulated already, and indeed characteristic, by the time of the Gospels? Also, you seem to assume that affirming a real humanity of Jesus is somehow conflictual with a “high” Christology. Not at all!

    • John: Your premises are fallacious and so your inferences are. Mark tells the story of the earthly Jesus, who was not worshipped or treated as divine, but that agrees perfectly with the stated bases of “high” Christology in various NT texts: that God’s resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to heavenly glory became the basis for ascribing to Jesus divine status and treating him as rightful recipient of worship. It would have been a massive anachronism to ascribe such things to Jesus before God exalted him.

      • John MacDonald permalink

        Hi Dr. Hurtado. Thanks for responding. Are you saying that IN MARK we find that God’s resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to heavenly glory became the basis for ascribing to Jesus divine status and treating him as rightful recipient of worship.

      • Uh, no, John. I wrote that in GMark as in the other Gospels (1) Jesus is presented essentially in his earthly career prior to God’s exaltation of him, but also (2) the reason that the authors wrote is their conviction that God has raised Jesus and exalted him to heavenly glory, and (3) the Gospels allude in various ways to the higher claims made about Jesus in the period after Jesus’ earthly career.

  3. Michael permalink

    Dr Hurtado… in your view did Jesus utter the actual baptism formula or words articulated in Matthew 28:19?

    • In Matthew 28:19, it is the risen Jesus to whom the words are ascribed, not the “earthly” Jesus.

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