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Engaging Bauckham on Early Christology

February 7, 2018

I have uploaded the pre-publication version of my essay engaging the work of Richard Bauckham on early christology, under the “Selected Published Essays” tab on this site here.  The published form of the essay appeared in a volume in honor of Bauckham:  In the Fullness of Time: Essays on Christology, Creation, and Eschatology in Honor of Richard Bauckham, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner, Grant Macaskill, Jonathan T. Pennington
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

As the publication is now two years old, and in the interest of making my discussion more widely available, I have uploaded the typescript.  Also, I hope that this will alert scholars and students to the volume, which has a number of other fine essays.

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  1. There is a free PDF of Dr. Bauckham’s essay “Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity”:

    Click to access Richard_Bauckham.pdf

    Even to a layperson like myself, it is evident that Dr. Bauckham is a meticulous and creative exegete, and his essay an impressive specimen of scholarship in NT studies.

  2. (LWH: As the following comment is a set of questions to me and Bauckham, I thought it more convenient simply to interlace my own responses with them, rather than put them in a separate comment. They are marked with “LWH”.)

    Professor Hurtado:
    Is the following a fair, though over-simplified, summary of your respective positions?

    Agreements: The NT writers say that
    1. Jesus shares God’s role as Creator, Sovereign Lord and Judge of the world.
    (LWH: I would modify your statement to indicate that in all these and other actions there is a distinction between “God the ‘Father'” and Jesus. In all such actions, Jesus is portrayed as acting on God’s appointment and as agent of God’s purposes. As I have repeatedly stated, there is a dyadic relationship, but it is a “shaped” dyad: not to “partners” but one the agent of the other.)
    2. Jesus is incorporated in the believers’ worship and discourse of God. (LWH: Again, to make the matter more precise, in my view, Jesus was incorporated into worship and discourse in a *unique* manner, and so centrally that, in the NT writings, it is now inadequate to omit reference to him in worship and “God-talk”.)

    1. Whether, given 1) above, it is sufficient to infer Jesus’ “identity” with God
    Bauckham: Yes
    Hurtado: No
    (LWH: Again, precision in language is important. As I understand Bauckham, he refers to Jesus being “included within the divine identity”, which isn’t necessarily the same as “Jesus’ ‘identity’ with God.” So, as I understand the matter, Bauckham and I, though perhaps in different ways, make a distinction still between Jesus and God. They are two.)
    2. What is the reason for the believers’ worship of Jesus?
    Bauckham: Jesus identity with God (LWH: Again, this is imprecise. Bauckham’s language is that Jesus is “included within the divine identity.”)
    Hurtado: God’s command that Jesus be worshipped (LWH: More specifically, I think the NT writings reflect the conviction that God exalted Jesus to a place that now requires him to be worshipped, and that God communicated this demand through various revelatory experiences.)

    Unanswered Questions:
    1. Bauckham for Hurtado (slighted edited for effect from this blog comment):
    If you’re prepared to say that the NT writers thought Jesus was really human without using later terminology such as essence or nature. So why is it so difficult for you to say that the NT writers, without using that later terminology, also thought Jesus was really divine?
    (LWH: First, see my response to Bauckham’s comment. Of course, NT texts portray the exalted Jesus as sharing in God’s name, throne, and glory. That = a “divine” status.)

    2. Hurtado for Bauckham (inthis essay):
    Does the “divine identity” of Jesus proposal explain the following:
    1. Early and rapid eruption of Jesus-devotion post-Easter
    2. Jesus-devotion is considered by the believers as consistent with their commitment to the one God

    Relevant postings and essay:

    Click to access bauckhams-christological-pilgrimage.pdf

    • Professor Hurtado,

      I think all here agree that 1) God the Father and Jesus are “numerically distinct”, i.e., distinguishable and clearly distinguished in NT writings, and 2) they are not two gods. Having said that, I’ll now try to answer the “Hurtado for Bauckham” questions posted earlier, in the hope that you both will correct me if I’m imprecise or mistaken.

      1. How does “divine identity” explain the early and rapid eruption of Jesus-devotion post-Easter?

      If I understand Dr. Bauckham correctly, “worship” in the broad sense should correspond with the worthiness of the object of worship.

      After the Resurrection, the believers may very well have received revelation about the exalted Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”, which both inspires and demands worship, whereas, before the Resurrection, individuals offered Jesus homage, as they deemed him worthy, but not worship, because he was “not yet glorified”.

      It also follows from this that the worship of Jesus must be “unique” to the same extent that Jesus is unique.

      2. Is “divine identity” consistent with Jewish believers’ commitment to the one God?

      Both the “chief agent” and “divine identity” proposals stress that Jesus is worshipped not as a separate deity, but included in the worship of God. To put it differently, the worship of the one God is now defined by and conducted through Jesus.

      There is no contradiction between God requiring Jesus be worshipped and Jesus being considered worthy of worship typically/previously offered to God. Both are probable and legitimate rationales for early believers, and I think the NT texts show evidence for both.

  3. Thanks for the upload. Apart from your interaction with Chris Tilling in your 3rd edition of One, God, One Lord, can we have access to that part(page 164-167) in any other way? i already purchased the second edition of that book in the year 2000 itself. I am very eager to know your answer to his criticism and your point of disagreement with Chris Tilling or Shall I wait for some other future extensive work from your pen?

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Larry, and highlighting Bauckham’s approach to Christology again. Appreciated.

  5. Chris permalink

    Thanks for the reply.

    I think the term “divine identity” forces a loss of distinction between Father and Son because it seems to suggest that any object within this identity is YHWH. If the divine identity (the Trinity?) is YHWH, I am not sure how the “modes” or “characters” within this identity can be named YHWH without resulting in more than one YHWH.

    For example, Ps 2 says YHWH has a Son. This cannot be the Son or the impersonal divine identity, it must be the Father. Ps 2 seems to suggest an attribute of YHWH is Fatherhood, yet the Son cannot also be Father unless the identity becomes indistinguishable and implying more than one YHWH.

    • Chris, Your argument should be taken up with Bauckham. This site isn’t the right venue. Second, you’re using ontological conceptions, whereas “divine identity” as Bauckham prefers to define it = a set of attributes/functions unique to God and shared by Jesus. Let’s move on.

      • Chris permalink


        I deeply appreciate your efforts on early Christology. But these efforts about history have huge implications for theology. You seem willing to start a discussion on theological implications (God in NT Theology), but the conclusions seem incomplete.

        Will you ever try to really unpack the theological implications of your efforts? Or is that for others to explore?

      • Chris: The serious work of theology is its own discipline and requires as much training and effort as for the kind of historical work that I do. I probe some theological implications gingerly in my “God in New Testament Theology” book, but they are more pointers or suggestions for theologians. I think that historical work and theological reflection are both important, but mixing the two, especially allowing some kind of theological issue to affect one’s historical work is the tail wagging the dog. I focus on the evidence and issues within my own more limited area of competence.

  6. Chris permalink


    Thanks for the article.

    I have always felt that Bauckham leaves out a critical element of divine identity — namely that YHWH, the God of Israel, does not give glory (give cultic devotion?) to another.

    If this is the case, it is difficult to include Jesus in the divine identity because he worships one named YHWH that seems to be portrayed as being distinct from himself. NT writers and Jesus himself speak of a God of the Lord Jesus (if Jesus has a God, it would seem that he must worship his God), Rev. 15:3 references a worship song of the lamb and the very act of the Son’s sacrifice on the cross could be taken as an act of worship as well.

    The act of worshiping another seems to demand inferiority/superiority, so I am not sure how Jesus can be included in such a divine identity. Sharing an indentity seems to imply equality, but I simply do not see equality between Father and Son in the NT.

    • Chris: Bauckham can speak for himself and his “take” on the matter. For myself, I’m not sure that (in Bauckham’s terms) inclusion with the “divine identity” means no distinctions between God and Jesus, or some sort of indistinguishable “equality”.

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