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“Divine Christology”: Loke Replies

October 10, 2017

After my posting yesterday here, pointing to the new book by Andrew Loke, and offering some reasons for my inability to assent to his argument, he sent me a reply.  For the purposes of scholarly dialogue and public information, I agreed to post his reply.  I have added a few comments in return, these enclosed in square brackets and identified by “LWH”.

Dear Professor Hurtado,

Thank you for posting your review of my book. It is an honour to see my book reviewed on such a respectable blog which I have greatly benefited reading for a number of years now. Nevertheless, I am concerned about several points you mentioned in your review.

First, you wrote that I argued that the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ resurrection “had the effect of somehow making them remember more fully what Jesus had already taught them about his person.” But that was not what I argued. What I argued was not a matter of the disciples remembering, but what they would have found convincing. As I wrote on p.162: “It can be argued that Jesus did claim to be truly divine ‘pre-resurrection’ but this was not widely accepted by his disciples until after the resurrection appearances. This is understandable, for given their Jewish monotheistic faith, it would have been much harder for them to believe that a flesh-and-blood figure was also truly divine than to believe that he was (say) a human Messiah. The resurrection appearances, however, were the final pieces of evidences which caused them to believe that God had vindicated Jesus’ ‘pre-resurrection’ claims through the miraculous resurrection. . . . .”

[LWH:  OK, Andrew. No intentional distortion on my part.  In my description of your position, I was attempting to capture and convey your argument that Jesus had declared his divine status, but only after their experience of the risen/exalted Jesus did they come to accept it, and to “recall” that Jesus had declared his divinity to them.]

You wrote “But the fact remains that there was no such cultic reverence of Jesus until after the experiences of his resurrection/exaltation.  This still seems to me to make these experiences the crucial factor in generating the conviction that it was now right to give Jesus cultic devotion.”  However, this objection does not take into account the distinction between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions which I spell out in my proposal. I agree that the disciples experiencing Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation was a crucial necessary condition for generating the conviction to give Jesus cultic devotion. However, I presented many important arguments on pp.117-151 for why it was not a sufficient condition and that Jesus’ claims were also a necessary condition; and these arguments deserve the attention of the reader.

[LWH:  My brief blog posting wasn’t the place for a detailed engagement with the specifics of your arguments, Andrew.  You and I have had extensive email exchanges in which I’ve offered specific critique of some of your claims and arguments.  And can I observe, that in referring to the resurrection experiences as “a crucial necessary condition” you are granting them a rather important role, as I do.]

You wrote that “critical analysis of the historical traditions does not yield evidence that Jesus himself actually claimed to share in divine glory and status during his earthly career.” In Chapter 7, I developed the proposals by Wright, Lee, Bock, Grindheim et al and argued that there are evidences that Jesus indicated his divinity pre-resurrection. I also stated a number of reasons for thinking that the post-resurrection appearances are veridical (p.160).

[LWH:  As you will know, Andrew, the various scholars that you cite (and one could add others) contend that Jesus’ words and actions narrated in the Gospels reflect him acting with unique divine authority.  Some would collapse the distinction between this and claims to divinity, others wouldn’t.  In any case, outside of the Gospel of John, it is difficult to find statements in which Jesus explicitly declares that he is a divine being and should be worshipped.  And it is the latter phenomenon that in the ancient world was most indicative of a figure being treated as divine.]

You wrote “Loke contends that for earliest believers, Jesus was their supreme authority, and so if Jesus didn’t declare his divinity his followers wouldn’t have accepted the notion. But, as I read the evidence, for earliest believers the crucial matter was what God had declared about Jesus, what God had done in making Jesus the ‘Kyrios’.”  I agree with you that for earliest believers the crucial matter involved what God had declared about Jesus. But what I contend is that the earliest believers were convinced after the resurrection appearances that the most authoritative source of information for knowing what God had declared was Jesus whom they regarded as the Ultimate Prophet whose authority surpasses even that of Moses and the Torah (pp.166-167). Thus, if Jesus did not regard himself as divine, the divinization of Jesus would have been rejected by the earliest Christians as a serious falsification of Jesus’ intention and a violation of God’s will (see Chapter 6).

[LWH:  It seems to me, Andrew, that your final sentence is a non sequitur, or at least is not a necessary follow-on from what precedes it.  Yes, of course, the experiences of the risen/exalted Jesus conveyed to early believers that Jesus is now enthroned as Kyrios and as the ultimate revelation of God’s purposes, surpassing all that went before (e.g., Hebrews 1:1-4).  But I find no statement in the NT that reflects your final sentence, that unless the earthly Jesus declared his divinity and demanded worship, it would have been rejected by his followers.]

You wrote “I remain persuaded that powerful religious experiences of the kind that I have sketched…conveyed that conviction.” But you did not mention my criticisms of those charismatic experiences you cited, viz. that they did not involve a sizeable group (p.126), that there was considerable suspicion about such experiences (p.128), that Paul’s frequent references to his own revelations did not secure widespread agreement among Christians concerning his views (pp.128-130), etc.

[LWH:  Once again, Andrew, your complaint fails to take account of the clearly-stated concise nature of my posting.  Granted, you offer objections to my proposals, and I think I indicated that there were more arguments in the book that I didn’t mention.  I read your critique of my views and, to your frustration it appears, I remain unpersuaded.]

There are many more arguments I presented in my book which are not reflected in your brief review and my brief response here. [LWH: Yup, and I repeat that I stated that.]  I hope readers will check out my book for themselves, and pay particular attention to the 14 historical considerations I listed in Chapter 8, the arguments I offered against alternative proposals in Chapters 5 and 6, and the evidences concerning Jesus’ pre-resurrection claims in Chapter 7.

[LWH:  My posting was intended to acknowledge your book, and to point interested readers to it.  I, too, hope that others will read and weigh your arguments.]

Andrew T. Loke, MBBS MA PhD (Research Assistant Professor, The University of Hong Kong)

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49 Comments
  1. Hi Lorenzo,

    As argued in Chapter 7 of my book, building on the work of a number of New Testament scholars such as Darrell Bock, Sigurd Grindheim, NT Wright, Aquila Lee et al, there are quite a number of passages outside of the Gospel of John which (taken together) imply that Jesus indicated that he regarded himself as truly divine. Of course, Jesus did not say ‘Hey guys I am God and you must worship me’. But he conveyed his point using ideas and expressions from Jewish traditions which were understandable to his audience such that those who rejected his claims charged him with blasphemy. As summarized on p.186 of my book:

    ‘each of these passages (e.g. Matt. 11:25–27) should be considered together with other saying passages (e.g. Jesus’ trial before the high priest in Matt. 26:64–65) and with Jesus’ actions (e.g. his forgiveness of sins in Matt. 9:2) rather than considered separately, in order that we may perceive the fuller picture of the Jesus whom the Gospel writers are trying to portray. For example, with regard to Mark 14:61–63 it has been noted earlier that the charge of blasphemy can be given on other grounds, such as a perceived insult of God’s chosen leaders. However, we need to consider other details of this passage, such as Jesus’ claim to share authority with God without invitation from God, the imagery of being seated next to God and coming on the clouds. The context concerns the identity of Jesus, together with Jesus’ forgiveness of sins in Mark 2, which was also considered as blasphemous. Taking these details together, it seems that the consistent and fuller picture which the author of Mark is trying to convey is that of a Jesus who was accused of blasphemy because he was saying and doing things that imply a claim to be truly divine.’

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply to me, truly and heartily appreciated. I think that most of the Gospel passages are not accurate reports of Jesus’ own words and deeds, but rather they developed as post-resurrection re-interpretations of what actually happened and how. So they tell us more about early Christians’ communities and traditions underlying the gospels.

      • Your question concerns a big issue which cannot be covered in detail here in a single blog post. As Professor Hurtado mentioned ‘Dr. Loke’s arguments required a full monograph’. I suggest you check out my book and the New Testament scholars I cited.

  2. John Mitrosky permalink

    Hi Scientific Christian,

    Yes. Ehrman does still hold to the idea that Jesus was talking about someone else when he used the phrase “son of man”. Ehrman thinks some of the Q/Luke and Mark uses of the phrase are older than the “me/my/I” replacements of the phrase, like we get especially in the Gospel of Matthew. He thinks the older uses meet the criterion of dissimilarity. In other words, Ehrman thinks that if the gospel writers wished their readers to understand that Jesus is the son of man, why would they invent the few sayings in Mark and Q, where Jesus seems to speak of the son of man as a figure other than himself?

    One obvious solution to this problem I agree with is that both Larry and Bart are correct, because Jesus probably used the phrase son of man both ways. Perhaps this was Jesus’ strategy rhetorically? Perhaps Jesus wished his followers to think about who the son of man is, just as Jesus wished his followers to think about the deeper meaning of his parables, aphorisms, and witty replies during controversies.

    • But, John, you beg the prior question: Is there in fact any instance where Jesus refers to another figure as “the son of man”? I don’t think so. The sentences put forth by Ehrman etc. don’t require their reading of them . . . at all. So, you don’t need to impute to Jesus the complex “rhetorical strategy” that you offer. It’s quite simple, actually.

      • John Mitrosky permalink

        Mark 8:38, Q/Luke 6:22, Q/Luke 12:8 are three instances (or you might say, only potential instances) where Jesus refers to another figure as “the son of man”.

        Matthew squashes Mark 8:38 into a single self-referential saying about “the son of man” (Matt 16:27). Luke preserves Mark 8:38’s tripartite reference to “me”, “my words” and “the son of man” (Luke 9:26).

        In Q/Luke 6:22 we read “on account of the son of man.” Matthew appears to have changed this Q saying to “on my account” (Matt 5:12).

        The case for Matthew’s alteration of a Q/Luke saying is even stronger in my opinion, when we consider Q/Luke 12:8:

        “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.”

        Here, I think we have the possibility that Jesus himself sometimes thought of “the son of man” as a separate being greater than the angels of God. A pre-existent separate being second only to God, or perhaps even, second only to “the Lord of the Spirits”, like we find in the Parables of Enoch, or “the Sovereign of Spirits”, like we find in 2 Macc. Mark 8:38 and Q/Luke 6:22 can be seen also in this same “potential” context. Matthew, predictably, changes this “the son of man” to “I” (Matt 10:32).

        My point is why did the author’s of the gospels create such “potential ambiguity”? Here we embark upon speculation about the difficulties of translating the term “the son of man” from Aramaic into Greek, or speculation about redaction intentions of the Gospel sayings in question. In spite of such valiant efforts, the simplest explanation might be, the enigma is present because Jesus himself intended it out of a desire to emphasize the importance of humility, even his own humility, which I also believe is the best way to interpret the “speck and log” saying (Matt 7:3; Luke 6:41; see also the conclusion to speck and log: POxy1 26)..

      • No, John. Gee whiz! The simplest solution (which also best fits the evidence, and especially the examples of “SM” in one gospel and “I” in another for the same saying) is that (1) Jesus used the expression as a self-referential idiom (and use of any self-referential expression requires 3rd person verbs!), and (2) the Evangelists knew this and occasionally replaced “SM” with the first person pronoun, probably because the expression was otherwise unusual.
        Please, John, try considering something different from what seems to be your outdated and threadbare assumptions inherited from an earlier stage of scholarship.

  3. Hon Wai Lai permalink

    Prof. Hurtado, By the time of the Arianism controversy in the 4th century, the New Testament canon was close to being finalised. Both the Trinitarian and Arian camps would have viewed the canonical gospels and Paul’s writings as authoritative. Do you think Arian christology is compatible with (1) Johannine christology; (2) Pauline christology?

    • Both Arians and “orthodox” cited biblical texts (including some from GJohn) in support of their views, each side claiming to deliver “Johannine christology” and “Pauline christology.”

      • Hon Wai Lai permalink

        Yes, both sides defended their views from the New Testament canon, so as a fact of history, both views were perceived in their historical context as compatible with Johannine and Pauline christologies. My question is more one of exegesis (assuming this kind of dispute can be adequately settled by exegesis). Suppose someone today (something like Jehovah Witnesses, or unitarians) advocate Arianism. Do you think this is compatible, on exegetical grounds, with Johannine and Pauline christologies? My question is motivated by Andrew Loke’s claim that Jesus did claim to be “truly divine”. From the perspective of New Testament christology, as distinct from much later Patristic christologies formulated in Greco-Roman philosophical metaphysics, there seems much leeway on how one construes “true” divinity.

      • Yes, true. Arians professed Jesus as divine, but distinguished between his divinity and that of “God the Father.” I think it’s a bit anachronistic to ask 4th century AD questions of lst century AD texts, however. What I can say is that Paul, John, et alia link/associate Jesus with God in a unique degree, such that in their views it is now inadequate to speak of God without reference also to Jesus. And they likewise held that the proper worship of God must now be done with reference to, and inclusive of, Jesus.
        And it’s interesting that one of the major arguments against Arians was that the worship of Jesus demanded that he be thought of in ontological terms as fully of the same “ousia” a God. But that issue of “ontology” seems to me to have come up later in this form than the NT texts.

      • Hon Wai Lai permalink

        As I understand it, Arianism though treating Jesus as divine, asserted Jesus was created by the Father in eternity past. Do you think this position is compatible with Johannine and Pauline christology?

      • You’re asking me to do theology, not history. Arianism (like “orthodoxy”) was a theological development later than the date and thoughtworld of the NT writings. In both cases, people were raising new questions and introducing new issues. But, as an exegetical question, I can’t think of NT texts that describe the “pre-existent” Christ as God’s creation.

      • In fact, this is an Off Topic – but I admit I always wondered how Arianism could reconcile its theology with the Johannine prologue, etc. I know that Jeowa’s witnesses are in fact forced to provide weird NT translations and make cherry picking of texts in order to support their “subordinationist” theology without dropping the NT canon.. but Arius was clearly much better than that. So my curiosity is great!! 🙂

      • If you’re seriously interested in Arius, the key study is: Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2nd ed. (London: SCM, 2001).

  4. Hon Wai Lai permalink

    I had brief exchanges with Andrew Loke many years ago when he was finishing his PhD thesis. His latest book seems to advance broadly the same argument in his thesis. He struck me as someone whose interest in historical study of Christian origins is wholly driven by his goal of defending his conservative theological convictions and advancing his apologetics agenda (his thesis strikes me as ultimately an attempt to revive C.S.Lewis’ lunatic liar Lord trilemma, whereby his apologetics audience is compelled to make a choice), rather than a dispassionate discovery of history. It was not clear to me then, and it remains unclear whether Andrew is claiming Jesus claimed divinity through words and actions very similar to the picture conveyed in the Gospel of John, or whether Jesus claimed divinity in a radically different fashion from the portrayal in any of the gospels. If he takes the former stance, he has numerous obstacles to overcome the body of arguments against historicity of the 4th gospel. If he takes the latter, he has to produce a plausible thesis why all of the gospels, especially the synoptics, so carefully editted out what should be one of the most astounding teaching Jesus could deliver.
    Andrew argued the absence of disputes in the epistles over whether Jesus should be worshipped is strong evidence there was consensus among the early Christians on this practice. This strikes me as inferring evidence of absence from absence of evidence. Yet the body of extant documents from the 1st century from a nascent religious movement, is inherently fragmentary and selective. Paul made references to writings for which we have no surviving record. Much of the oral debates and communications that would have gone on across the Roman empire among different Christian groups are not preserved for us. In all likelihood, none of the original 12 disciples left us any writings (perhaps because they were illiterate, as most Palestinian peasants were). There are also questions to be asked if something like precursors to the Ebionites (who would have denied Jesus’ divinity) were a significant Christian group in the 1st century. We will never know due to quirks of development of patristic history, whereby dissident Christian groups lost out, and much of their writings are lost to us. We have many accounts of disputes between Christians of Paul’s period and his non-Christian Jewish opponents regarding Jesus’ messianic status, yet we have no record of dispute over his divine status. Yet his non-Christian Jewish opponents most certainly would have objected to the latter claim, had this issue come up in debates. Here, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    Andrew argued, “if Jesus did not regard himself as divine, the divinization of Jesus would have been rejected by the earliest Christians as a serious falsification of Jesus’ intention and a violation of God’s will”. I too find this claim highly dubious, though I can think of one interpretation of the antecent clause in his conditional statement, that avoids the charge of non sequitor. If Jesus explicitly denied divinity, then the consequent clause is plausible. But the mainstream view, as I understand it, is the issue of Jesus’ divinity did not come up during his ministry. Hence Jesus would not have explicitly denied something no-one was talking about.

    • Hi Hon Wai,
      Are your remarks the result of a dispassionate attempt to evaluate my work given that you seem not to have read it carefully? The big issues you raised have all been addressed in my book: Re Gospel of John and Synoptics, see Chapters 7 and 8. Re: ‘evidence of absence and absence of evidence.’ see Chapter 5; Re: fragmentary and selective writings, Ebionites, objections from non-Christian Jewish opponents, see Chapter 5; re: falsification of Jesus’ intention, see Chapter 6. As Professor Hurtado mentioned ‘Dr. Loke’s arguments required a full monograph’ and cannot be covered in detail here in a single blog post. I can only refer the reader to my book where these big issues are addressed in detail.

      • Hon Wai Lai permalink

        Hi Andrew, as I stated in my post, my opening remarks concern the impression I received from our brief exchanges many years ago when you were finishing your thesis, before I could have evaluated your work carefully given there was nothing in the public domain to evaluate. I have not read your book (and wasn’t aware of it until Prof. Hurtado’s recent blog articles), and neither have the other people who commented on your arguments on this blog. Given you have addressed the big issues I raised, I plan to take a look in due course when a reasonably priced paperback is out. Prof. Hurtado’s critical responses would be illuminating, though I accept it would be inappropriate to disseminate private correspondences. Hon Wai

      • I don’t think you had read our brief exchanges carefully either. My book is available online on Cambridge Core which many institutions have subscription to: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/the-origin-of-divine-christology/5E4C95A4DF79ECE6851D6B927C133AF3 . Concerning Prof Hurtado’s critical responses in our private correspondences, I responded to them in my book as well.

      • Hon Wai Lai permalink

        Thanks Andrew for the link to download the book. I may be able to access it. I plan to read through your book in due course. One thing I admire about your work is the philosophical precision and your careful engagement with authors you disagree, making it easy to understand and engage with, easy to identify points of agreement and disagreement – unlike much of the work in biblical studies which are packed full of disparate facts without a tight argument.

  5. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H.
    As I read through the Gospels, it seems to me, that Jesus’ disciples are confronted with his miracles and teachings. Their response seems to be uncertainty about who Jesus is. The Gospels, themselves, indicate that it was after Jesus was raised that the disciples recognized him for who he is. While I see statements in even the Synoptics that post-resurrection look like Divine claims from Jesus’ mouth, nowhere in the Gospels prior to the resurrection do the disciples acknowledge him as such.
    Again it seems unless Loke is proposing a ‘Secret Divinity’, Jesus was not very successful in getting the Divinity message out. Does Jesus claim to be Divine, the answer for me based on the Gospels is yes, but only in light of the resurrection where or can this be seen.
    Tim

    • Tim, I would say the Synoptic narratives depict the disciples (and the demons) of being certain of who Jesus is, namely the Messiah. However I would agree with you insofar as the evangelists leave questions on their characters’ lips that suggest an unresolved tension in Jesus’s relation to God and humanity – even in the evangelists’ own eyes. Hence, questions abound like, “Who then is this, who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49), “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey” (Mark 4:41), “If David calls him ‘lord’, how can he be his son?” (Matt. 22:45)

      So perhaps one can say the disciples in the narrative (and evangelists) are certain of who Jesus is – the Messiah – but aren’t yet certain of all that that entails?

    • Hi Timothy, the main proposal of my book is that ‘Jesus was regarded as truly divine in earliest Christianity because its leaders thought that God demanded them to do so through the following way: A sizeable group of them perceived that Jesus claimed and showed himself to be truly divine, and they thought that God vindicated this claim by raising Jesus from the dead’ (p.1).

      In principle, this proposal is open as to WHEN a sizeable group of them perceived that Jesus claimed to be truly divine—it could be pre-resurrection or during the resurrection appearances which I think are veridical because of the reasons summarized on pp.160-1.

      Additionally, while I do think that the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation was a crucial necessary condition for the worship of Jesus post-crucifixion, my proposal does not in principle exclude the possibility that Jesus was already worshipped by some people pre-resurrection, as portrayed, for example, in Matthew 14:27-33 (a text outside of the Gospel of John; I find the ἐγώ εἰμι in 14:27 [cf. John 8:58] and προσεκύνησαν in 14:33 to be particularly significant). The assumption ‘if a purported event meshes well with an author’s redactional motive, then the author made up the event’ is unjustified, for there is no reason why the occurrence of a given event cannot dovetail with the author’s editorial purposes. But even if what was portrayed did not happen pre-resurrection, this does not imply that Jesus did not claim to be truly divine ‘pre-resurrection’. It is not (as you say) that I am proposing a ‘Secret Divinity’, but rather, as explained on p.162, given the disciples’ Jewish monotheistic faith

      ‘it would have been very hard for them to believe initially that Jesus was God incarnate. Indeed, in the ancient Jewish setting it would have been reasonable for them to remain unconvinced by any such claims, until and unless something utterly astonishing (such as ‘Jesus’ resurrection’) happened. Meanwhile they were waiting to see whether Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel, and the Gospels indicated that under such circumstances the disciples did not understand other things as well (e.g. that the Son of Man was going to be killed [Mark 9:32]). Thus it seems that the above explanation is not unlikely. In short, given the Jewish monotheistic context of the first disciples, it would have been initially difficult for them to accept Jesus as truly divine even if he had made the claim and did certain ‘miracles’ (see Section 7.3.4). (p.162).

      Note that saying that it would have been ‘initially difficult’ does not mean that it is impossible. I think it is also possible that the disciples had such an utterly astonishing experience as Matthew portrayed that they worshipped Jesus (14:33) as a result. In any case, such convictions of Jesus’ divinity (if they were present) would probably have been destroyed by Jesus’ shameful crucifixion, and thus I agree with professor Hurtado that the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation was a crucial necessary condition for the worship of Jesus post-crucifixion

  6. In my opinion, the “silver bullet” to Loke’s argument is this: “outside of the Gospel of John, it is difficult to find statements in which Jesus explicitly declares that he is a divine being and should be worshipped”. This is a simple and widely recognized truth, so I can’t see how to overcome this roadblock. Unless we pretend we know what Jesus thought of himself but didn’t explicitly declare..

    • Rick permalink

      However, Richard Hays, for one, would disagree on your standard, or at least definition, of “explicitly”. Hays contends there are numerous indications in the synoptics, which in the ancient hearers and readers would have recognized. Now do those fall into the clearer (in terms of across generations) declarations that John makes? The answer is no.

      • Rick, We have to distinguish between the *literary* level of the narratives in the Synoptic Gospels and the *historical* level of Jesus’ ministry. Example: Mark refers to people falling on their knees to petition Jesus, etc., whereas in a number of these instances Matthew uses the term “proskynein”, probably intending thereby to have the incidents prefigure the later worship of Jesus in the post-Easter settings. I.e., the Evangelists often wrote their narratives to allude to beliefs explicit among their intended readers.

      • Hi Rick, I think you refer to possible “allusions”. I think Jesus used allusions and I think he made some “explicit allusions” to his messianic role. But any allusions to divine sonship and requests for worship, in my opinion those are definitely too open to theological re-interpretations of his own words as literary devices. Also, I believe we can’t overlook the early different Christological developments that would have hardly happened if Jesus’ allusions were more “explicit”.

  7. Thank you for bringing this new contribution to the high-Christology debate to our attention, Larry. This one has really stimulated my interest.

    I have a question for you that came to mind in light of this response from Loke:

    “It can be argued that Jesus did claim to be truly divine ‘pre-resurrection’ but this was not widely accepted by his disciples until after the resurrection appearances. This is understandable, for given their Jewish monotheistic faith, it would have been much harder for them to believe that a flesh-and-blood figure was also truly divine than to believe that he was (say) a human Messiah.”

    Does Loke interact with the obvious historical problem with that proposal in his book beyond what he offers above? I ask because he seems to mean “truly divine” in the hard sense (=the one God of Jewish monotheism), and such a claim isn’t something that someone could just set on the back burner, as it were. If Jesus’ disciples understood him to be making such a claim — which at that time would likely have been considered *the* single most absurd claim made by a man in human history (they didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian history to prepare their minds for such an idea) — then they would likely have felt great urgency to reach a definitive decision one way or the other about whether they would accept it. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, they would have felt great pressure to decide whether Jesus was Lord, Liar, or Lunatic!

    The fact that the disciples believed that Jesus was God’s Messiah would have increased the pressure to accept or reject the divine claims, if such claims were really made. Doesn’t it seem to introduce a striking inconcinnity to suggest that they would accept his Messianic claims, but chose to set aside his claims to be “truly divine”, as if that could be ignored?

    ~Sean Garrigan

    • Sean, you register some of my misgivings about Loke’s proposal. I don’t know that he explains, in historical terms, how Jesus of Nazareth could have developed a notion of himself as “truly divine” (i.e., a literal embodiment of God), or how his disciples could have simply resisted accepting such a notion, instead of abandoning him as a blasphemer.

    • Hi Sean,
      I don’t think Jesus made the claim on the first day he met the disciples. As argued in detail on pp.189-193 of my book, Jesus would have first done a number of astonishing miracles, taught them God’s purposes with authority, and manifested an extraordinary standard of moral behaviour over a period of time, such that the disciples would not have found it utterly implausible when he indicated that he regarded himself as divine (see chapter 7). ‘Not finding it utterly implausible’ does not imply that they would necessarily have quickly come to a widespread and lasting agreement that he was divine Lord; as I wrote on p.162 of my book, given the Ancient Jewish Monotheistic context of the first disciples, it would have been very hard for them to quickly believe that Jesus was God incarnate. But what it does imply is that they would also not have simply dismissed Jesus as ‘Liar or Lunatic’ or abandoned him as a blasphemer. They would probably have reasoned ‘it’s hard to believe that this guy is divine, yet it also seems that no one can say and do the amazing things he did unless God is with him and has chosen him as a messianic figure. To abandon him as a blasphemer at this point would risk losing our reward (e.g. of seating beside him in his glory [Mark 10:35-37]) if it turns out that he would restore the kingdom of Israel with God’s help in the future. So what shall we conclude? Let’s wait and see whether he would restore the kingdom of Israel!’ The restoration of Israel would likely have been a greater concern for them than wanting to reach a quick decision about Jesus’ divinity.

      • Hi Andrew,

        May I ask how you’re using the words “truly divine”? As you are probably aware, the term “divine” can be a bit ambiguous, at least in modern use, and probably in ancient use as well (I think that Ehrman demonstrated this adequately in How Jesus Became God). The only reason I can think of that you would include the word “truly” is if you wanted to remove the ambiguity so that readers would infer that “truly divine” ultimately means “the literal embodiment of YHWH”, “YHWH Himself”, or some other description that makes essentially the same point, however that’s to be stated.

        Have you considered how much your place in time after 2,000 years of Christianity has potentially impacted your perception and made it difficult for you to place yourself back in time, as it were, so that you could truly feel the astonishing character of such a claim? As I stated previously, at the time of Jesus, for a man to claim to be “truly divine” (=YHWH) in a Jewish context would have been considered the single most preposterous statement any man ever made in human history. I personally don’t see a plausible scenario that would provide a reasonable basis to think that Jesus’ followers could just withhold judgement for a while.

        IMO, such a claim would have flashed through the countryside like lightening across a cloudy sky, and like the clap of thunder that follows lightening, the uproarious response would have been near deafening! There would be no need for a thesis arguing that Jesus claimed to be God, and certainly no one would dispute the findings of such a thesis, because the controversy such a claim would have inspired would have been so uproarious that it would be unmistakable in the historical record.

        ~Sean

      • Hi Sean,

        I am using the words “truly divine” to denote (A) being on the Creator side of the Creator–creature divide and (B) of equal ontological status as God the Father (p.13; in my book I explains that A entails B, and vice versa).

        I understand the astonishing character of such a claim, that’s precisely the reason why I argued Jesus’ followers might have withhold judgement for a while even though they perceived strong evidence for it. As I explained in detail in my book (chapters 2 to 5), the historical evidence indicates that the earliest Christians did eventually come to regard Jesus as such, and (chapters 5 to 8) the best explanation is that ‘its leaders thought that God demanded them to do so through the following way: A sizeable group of them perceived that Jesus claimed and showed himself to be truly divine, and they thought that God vindicated this claim by raising Jesus from the dead’ (p.1).

        In principle, this proposal is open as to WHEN a sizeable group of them perceived that Jesus claimed to be truly divine—it could be pre-resurrection or during the resurrection appearances which I think are veridical because of the reasons summarized on pp.160-1. As argued in chapter 8, we must be careful not to rule out a priori —based on unwarranted philosophical presuppositions– the possibility that Jesus was indeed God incarnate and wanted to reveal to humankind his identity

        My proposal does not in principle exclude the possibility that the disciples had such an utterly astonishing experience of Jesus pre-resurrection as Matthew portrayed in 14:27-33 that they worshipped Jesus (14:33) as a result (btw, this text is outside of the Gospel of John; I find the ἐγώ εἰμι in 14:27 [cf. John 8:58] and προσεκύνησαν in 14:33 to be particularly significant). The assumption ‘if a purported event meshes well with an author’s redactional motive, then the author made up the event’ is unjustified, for there is no reason why the occurrence of a given event cannot dovetail with the author’s editorial purposes. But even if what was portrayed did not happen pre-resurrection, this does not imply that Jesus did not claim to be truly divine ‘pre-resurrection’. I have already explained in my previous post how it is reasonable that Jesus’ followers might have withhold judgement for a while given their experiences of Jesus, their hope for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, and their desire not to miss out on their reward (e.g. of seating beside him in his glory [Mark 10:35-37]) if it turns out that Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel with God’s help in the future.

        In my book I argue that the response to his claim was indeed ‘near-deafening’ (to use your phrase): those who rejected his claim charged him with blasphemy and crucified him (see p.186 of my book), while the Christians of the first century were in widespread agreement that he was truly divine (see Chapters 2 to 5 of my book). These evidences indicate that, in the minds of his 1st century followers and enemies, Jesus did unambiguously indicate that he regarded himself as truly divine. The stakes of this conclusion are high, and many scholars have tried to raise all kinds of sophisticated objections to the portrayals by the Gospel writers, that’s why there’s a need to write a thesis to respond to them. The fact that there was uproarious controversy does not entail that it would be recorded down in history in such a way that people would not dispute about it.

      • Thank you for providing the additional clarifications, Andrew. There’s much that I’d like to say at this point, but Larry’s blog is not the appropriate place for the sort of extended exchange that could potentially occur between us once it was begun. Plus, you’re going to have your hands full defending your thesis before the scholarly community now that the vetting has begun, so another time perhaps:-) In the mean time I’ll request your book via inter-library loan so that I can review your position in its fullness.

        ~Sean

      • Hi Andrew,
        You wrote: “The stakes of this conclusion are high, and many scholars have tried to raise all kinds of sophisticated objections to the portrayals by the Gospel writers, that’s why there’s a need to write a thesis to respond to them.”
        High for what purpose, what end, what philosophical-theological paradigm, what academic discipline of enquiry? Please elaborate.
        Does your book also justify your claim that many scholars were motivated by the reasons you attribute to them? I envisage you would need to make some psychological inferences reading beneath the subtext of their writings. Hon Wai

    • Thank you Sean for your kind consideration. Hi Honwai, the stakes of the conclusion are high because of various reasons, such as its relation to the question how the worship of Jesus began. I am not claiming that all of the ‘many scholars’ who ‘have tried to raise all kinds of sophisticated objections’ do that because ‘The stakes of this conclusion are high’, although a number of scholars (e.g. Bart Ehrman) are evidently motivated to rebut Christian apologists who have their motivations too. At the end of the day, what really matters is not the motivations behind the range of scholars I discuss but whether their proposals are able to account for the evidences, and my book focuses on the latter.

  8. Chris permalink

    Loke writes “It can be argued that Jesus did claim to be truly divine ‘pre-resurrection’ but this was not widely accepted by his disciples until after the resurrection appearances.”

    How can it be proven that any of his disciples accepted this supposed divine claim pre-resurrection?

    The explicit claims from his closest disciples are about messiahship, not deity.

  9. You mentioned emails back and forth with Loke. Any chance they could be edited and posted on your blog?

    • No. I don’t think it would be appropriate to post/publish what were private conversations.

      • Hon Wai Lai permalink

        Given his eagerness to publicise his views, including on this blog for which he emphasised his admiration, I envisage he would gladly accept an invitation to post a single edited version of his arguments contained in the correspondence. Readers would be interested in your subsequent critique in a single post, drawing on materials used in your correspondence. I doubt many followers of this blog would be able to follow his recommendation to check out his monograph priced at £75.

      • Dr. Loke’s arguments required a full monograph. He couldn’t actually present them adequately to his mind in a blog posting that could be accommodated here. I’m afraid that he’ll just have to work at ways of disseminating his views more widely that his expensive monograph.

  10. John Mitrosky permalink

    Dear Professor Loke,

    I was wondering if your book engages the exciting claim made by the late F.F. Bruce, or folks who agree with Bruce in theory, that it was the historical Jesus’ own unique Son of Man theology that gave rise to Divine Christology in his name. For Bruce’s article on the historical Jesus and the background to the Son of Man sayings, see here:

    https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/christ-the-lord/sonofman_bruce.pdf

    • No, John. I don’t think that any such view has much traction today among scholars who have probed the matter. “The son of man” is now commonly understood as Jesus’ distinctive self-referential phrase, not at all an established title of some divine figure. That view went out several decades ago.

      • Doesn’t Bart Ehrman still hold to the idea that Jesus was talking about someone else when he used the phrase ‘son of man’ ?

      • The notion that Jesus referred to some future figure as “the son of man” rested upon the erroneous view that this was a fixed and widely-known/used title for an eschatological redeemer figure. That view went out the window (under the impact of evidence and argumentation) several decades ago.

      • Prof Hurtado, the newly established consensus that the Parables of Enoch were composed around the turn of the era, and thus predate the historical Jesus, is barely a decade old. Some scholars have also offered geographical and botanical evidence that the Parables were composed in Galilee. Given the prominence of the title Son of Man in the Parables, don’t you think this demands a re-evaluation of the title’s role in Jesus’ self-understanding? Boyarin and others believe so, and in Dunn’s original edition of Christology in the Making he said that if the Parables could be shown to predate Jesus his whole theory would be jeopardized. I don’t think it’s fair to say this view went out decades ago.

      • The date of the Parables of 1 Enoch is one matter, and what to make of the messianic figure in them another. The recent drift to an earlier date for the Parables is interesting, but actually doesn’t rest on any hard evidence. It remains the case, for example, that there are no fragments of the Parables from Qumran, although there are portions of all the other parts of 1 Enoch.
        But, aside from the date issue, the more crucial matter is what to make of the messianic figure. This figure is often loosely referred to by scholars as “the Son of Man”, but there is no such fixed title in the Parables. Instead, the more fixed title is “the Elect/Chosen One”. There are four distinguishable Ethiopic phrases that are (somewhat misleadingly) rendered uniformly in English as “the son of man”.
        The messianic figure of the Parables is certainly noteworthy. But I don’t think he gives us any magic key for understanding Jesus or the emergence of Jesus-devotion. It is a fallacious tendency for some scholars to retroject notions from the NT into the larger context in order to “explain” the NT notions. More circumspection needed.

      • The evidence (e.g., a suspected allusion to Herod the Great’s use of medicinal baths at Kallirrhoë in 1 En 67.5-13, and an eschatological interpretation of Isaiah that 1 En 62-63 shares with Wis 4:18-5:13) has been sufficient to convince most scholars. The absence from Qumran is not compelling evidence for a late date since it has several other plausible explanations (e.g., chance, or the Qumran sect’s ignorance or rejection of the Parables).

        If this new dating consensus is correct, it means the Parables arguably represent the highest “Messianology” in pre-Christian literature. And, of course, its use of the title “Son of Man” or something akin to it makes it valuable evidence for interpreting Jesus’ use of this title, which title is crucial to reconstructing the self-understanding that Jesus conveyed to his disciples. While I agree that the Parables are not a magic key for understanding Jesus or the emergence of Jesus-devotion, they do now rank very high on the list of Second Temple contextual data for interpreting earliest Christology.

      • Thomas, oh, the Parables and their messianic figure are remarkable and relevant, I think. But they don’t actually feature a fixed “the son of man” title, and so DON’T provide the key precedent or explanation for Jesus’ use of this (apparently innovative) expression to refer to himself.

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