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