My article “Marking a Difference: The Gospel of Mark and the Early High Christology Paradigm” JJMJS 3 (2016): 102-24 has been published. Let me provide an overview of its contents:
- Older models that suggested that Jesus’ divinity were only entertained in non-Jewish circles after a slow process of evolutionary development are built on problematic assumptions about “identity” and “orthodoxy” in Second Temple Judaisms (e.g. all Second Temple Jews believed or practiced x, y, or z) and overlook the divine Christology found in some of the earliest texts (i.e. Paul’s Letters). The Early High Christology Club (EHCC) is an important corrective here.
- My general critique of some contributions of the EHCC is the claim that the highest Christology was necessarily the earliest, that all Christ-following groups had the same beliefs and practices relating to Christology, and that only Jewish parallels are relevant before insisting that Christology transcended all known parallels.
- I look at Bauckham’s categories for what constitutes the divine identity – God’s role as creator and ruler of all things and the fact that God is known through His name (i.e. the Tetragrammaton) – and test them against the text of Mark.
- My findings is that Mark does not go as far as other New Testament writers (e.g. Paul, Hebrews, John) in describing Christ as the agent of creation or pre-existent in heaven. Mark does insist that Jesus is the chief agent and exalted ruler of the cosmos. Finally, we must be careful to not read too much into the title “lord” (kyrios) for Jesus.
- Mark has an agency rather than a divine identity Christology. We need to allow more diversity into their reconstructions of the theologies of the first century Christ associations. It is by combining different voices in the canon, such as including Mark and John as scripturally authoritative Gospels, and subsequent philosophical categories that enable Christians to articulate a fully developed view of Jesus’ humanity and divinity.
For a foretaste of some of the general critical points I will be making in my soon to be published article, you can check out my piece over at the online journal Bible and Interpretation. Some of the key points I wanted to make was that whether a divine Christology appeared early or late has no bearing on its theological truthfulness, that Christology did not emerge in a vacuum as an unparalleled phenomenon, that both Jewish and Greco-Roman influences need to be accounted for, and that a more historically plausible model is that there was diversity on the subject. After all, if a divine Christology was the product of some post-Easter followers of Jesus having visions or reading the Scriptural texts in a new inspired way, you would expect there to be opposition from other members of the Jesus movement who maybe did not share the same experiences. Anyways, if you check out the comments on this post, there are links to how the discussion unfolded after it was published. I will be interested to see what the discussion will be after my piece for the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting.
Richard Bauckham is a respected senior scholar and his major contribution to the study of Christology is his work on the “divine identity.” Bauckham recognizes that philosophical, ontological language about divine essences that characterized fourth century Christian debates about the Trinity would have been unfamiliar to Second Temple Jews. Instead, Second Temple Jews used relational terms to describe God’s distinction from the rest of creation; the God of Israel is the creator and ruler of all things. Inasmuch as no other intermediary figures participated in God’s creation of and absolute rule over the cosmos, they are irrelevant to understanding the origins of Christology. God’s Wisdom and Word are described in this way, but these should either be understood as personified divine attributes or divine hypostases rather than created beings separate from God. Basically, when Jesus is described as the creator and ruler of the cosmos in the New Testament, Jesus has been included in the “divine identity.” You can see a fuller discussion about this thesis by reading this link.
In my forthcoming article for the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting, I offer some critical reflections about this whole approach and try to test it against the text of the Gospel of Mark. For instance, I think Bauckham underestimates some of the texts that do allow a supreme intermediary agent to be enthroned and share in God’s sovereignty. I do not reject the thesis entirely – I am open to Bauckham’s point about Wisdom and Word and I also find the texts that describe Jesus as the agent through whom the universe was created (John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:2) to be a remarkable development (!) – but I do not think his categories are applicable to Mark’s Gospel. You will have to read the article when it is published to find out why.
Many who have been involved in the “biblioblogging community” for a long time will be familiar with Nick Norelli’s blog Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. I have mentioned this before on past blogs, but students who are interested in Christology need to check out the collection of chapters, articles, and blog posts that he has compiled on the subject here.
I have learned a great deal from Paula Fredriksen, Larry Hurtado, and James McGrath about not imposing an anachronistic conception of modern “monotheism” onto Second Temple Jewish literature. Fredriksen has urged that the term “monotheism” be retired in scholarly discussion, while Hurtado and McGrath believe that it is still a useful term as long as it is defined by the ancient evidence. Basically, unlike the post-Enlightenment worldview that relegated a deistic watchmaker deity to setting creation in motion but no longer taking an active part in it, the ancient cosmos was populated with gods, goddesses, and spirits. Second Temple Jews (and Christ-followers) did not necessary deny the existence of these other divine beings, and indeed adherents of the Abrahamic religion continue to affirm other spiritual beings as angels, but to insist that Yahweh was at the top of the divine pyramid or hierarchy. Hurtado and McGrath has argued that what set Second Temple Jews (and Christ-followers) apart was their exclusive cultic worship of the God of Israel, though McGrath argues that other divine beings could be offered more limited forms of obeisance or worship while sacrifices were to be offered to Yahweh alone. Anyways, you can find a wealth of publications from Fredriksen, Hurtado, and McGrath respectively here, here, and here.
Larry Hurtado has a new article entitled “The Distinctiveness of Early Christianity” at the online journal Catalyst based on his new monograph Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. He basically points out the cultic exclusivity of the early Christ followers. What was seen as treasonous was that many people were suddenly abstaining from worshiping their own native deities and exclusively worshiping the God of the Jews through the appointed Messiah Jesus, yet without becoming Jews themselves, and thereby risked the wrath of a bunch of unhappy deities who were no longer receiving sacrifices. If you are interested in the discussions about ancient monotheism and Christology, you should check out the article.
J. R. Daniel Kirk has written his new monograph A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. He has an online discussion about his book with Anthony Buzzard, a unitarian theologian and scholar, that is available on youtube. I find myself in a similar boat as Kirk as I worship and teach in a Trinitarian Christian framework, but I also think it took time and intellectual effort for Christians to come to a full realization of the Trinity. I do not think the Synoptic tradition itself goes beyond seeing Jesus as a human who has been exalted to the highest place to rule over the cosmos, the Davidic Messiah who far surpasses the rule of the Roman emperor and the representative of the saints of Israel in Daniel 7. However, reading the Synoptics in the canon of Christian Scripture, alongside the images of Jesus as God’s Word or Wisdom incarnate in other parts of the New Testament, enables Christians to begin to articulate a complete understanding of Jesus’ full divine and human natures. Thus, I think Professor Buzzard is mistaken in his reading of Paul and John and on the theological implications that he draws from the canon as a whole. I will have more to say on this in an article for the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting that will be published near the end of October.
The text of the Epistle of Barnabas online
Authorship: technically anonymous rather than pseudonymous.
- Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-210) seems to be the earliest known writer to cite the epistle and was familiar with its ascription to Barnabas (Strom. 2.10; Eccl. Hist. 6.14.1).
- However, the epistle never claims to be by Paul’s co-worker Barnabas (cf. Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11:22-15:39; 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1, 9, 13; Col 4:10).
- The author appears to have a non-Jewish background. 3:6 warns against proselytizing to their law and 16:7 speaks of a time before “we” believed in God as idolaters.
Date: a general consensus dates the text after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE (Barn. 16:3-4) and before the end of the Bar Kochba revolt between 132-135 CE.
- 4:4-5 refers to a succession of ten kings followed by a small horn who subdues three kings. This may fit Vespasian who established the Flavian dynasty after the year of three emperors in 69 CE (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) or Nerva who succeeded the Flavian rulers Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian and had a short reign from 96-98 CE. Or it may allude to scripture (Dan 7:7-8, 24) to predict a future Nero redivivus or anti-Christ figure.
- 16:3-4 marvels at how “they” (=certain Jews) say that the very servants of the enemy (=Rome) who tore down their temple will build it again. It is unlikely that the enemies’ servants build the spiritual temple. Either it refers to the emperor Hadrian’s plans to build a pagan temple to Jupiter Capitolinus in the lead-up or aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt or to possible Jewish hopes that the emperor Nerva would rebuild the Jerusalem temple after he suppressed the tax forced upon them (i.e. fiscus Iudaicus).
Provenance: Alexandria, Syro-Palestine, and Asia Minor have all been suggested as the place of origin.
- The epistle shares an allegorical approach popular in Alexandria, speaks with contempt towards the circumcised priests of the idols and non-Greek Egyptians (9:6), and receives early attestation from the Alexandrian theologians Clement (Strom. 2.6.31; 2.7.35; 2.20.116; 5.10.63) and Origen (C. Celsus 1.63).
- The familiarity with Jewish and rabbinic traditions and exegesis and the positive reference to Syrians and Arabs in contrast to Egyptians (9:6) may point to an author located in Syria-Palestine.
- The Pauline parallels to the Epistle, its lack of ecclesiastical organization, and its fierce debate with a local Jewish community along with its dismissal of literal Jewish interpretations could fit the location of Asia Minor.
- The epistle shows clear signs of local Jewish influence from its apocalyptic orientation (4:1-5, 9-14; 12:9), use of midrash (6:8-19), familiarity with Jewish traditions about the Day of Atonement not included in Leviticus 16 (7-8), practice of gematria or assigning numerical value to letters (9:8), and employment of the “Two Ways” tradition (18-20; cf. Deuteronomy 30; Didaache 1-6).
- The author, nevertheless, wants to sharply differentiate the two peoples (laoi); there is an in-group (“us”) and a Jewish out-group (“them”).
- There was only one covenant that the Jews lost when they worshiped the Golden Calf and Moses broke the stone tablets containing the Decalogue (contra 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:7-18; Heb 8:1-13). There is some tension with the Deuteronomistic theology of the epistle in which the Jews are depicted as continuously rejecting the appeal of the prophets culminating with Jesus.
- Christians have inherited the covenant, just as the Scriptures predicted that Abraham would be the father of the uncircumcised nations (13:7).
- Literal Jewish practices are re-interpreted in a spiritual or typological manner.
- The heart should be circumcised; an evil angel inspired fleshly circumcision (9:4). 9:7-9 uses gematria to show that Abraham’s circumcision of 318 men foreshadowed Christ (i.e. 10 = iota and 8 = eta to spell the name Iesous or Jesus, 300 = tau for the cross).
- Acts of justice are preferred over fasting (3:1-6). The Jewish food laws signify the exclusion of certain types of people (10:3-8).
- The Sabbath day foreshadows a future eschatological period of rest (15:4-5).
- The promise of land is universalized in the new creation (9:9-19) and the church is to be the spiritual temple (16:1-10).
Significant Monographs or Books including Chapters on Barnabas
- James Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background (WUNT 2.82; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1994).
- Clayton N. Jefford, The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2006).
- William Horbury, Jews and Christians in Contact and Controversy (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998).
- Michelle Murray, Playing a Jewish Game: Gentile Christian Judaizing in the First and Second Centuries CE (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004).
- Reidar Hvalvik, The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (WUNT 2.82; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996).
- Stephen G. Wilson, Related Strangers: Jews and Christians 70-170 CE [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).
- Reception: though credited to Paul by some Patristic authorities (e.g. Clement and hesitatingly Origen of Alexandria) and included in a collection of Pauline epistles dating around 200 CE (P46), doubts about this attribution persisted among many ancient Christian commentators especially in the West.
- Authorship: an anonymous writer familiar with members of Paul’s circle (13:23); the refined literary style and theology of Hebrews differs from Paul. Other candidates include Apollos, Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Priscilla, Clement of Rome, etc.
- Date: the epistle is cited as early as 1 Clement at the end of the first century CE. The audience seems to be second generation followers rather than eyewitnesses of Jesus (2:3) and Timothy was imprisoned (13:23). It is unclear how much the author draws knowledge of the temple cult from observation or scriptural exegesis or whether it is presently functioning.
- Audience: there is no specific address (1:1) and greetings are sent from “Italy” (13:24). There is debate over whether it was written to Hellenistic Jews or non-Jews (former “God-fearers”) wanting to adopt Jewish customs, perhaps in response to social ostracism or persecution (10:32-34; 12:4). The author stresses the superiority of the revelation of Christ and issues warnings against disobedience and admonishments to endurance (2:1-3; 3:12-13; 5:11-14; 6:1-12; 10:23-31; 13:7, 9, 17).
- Combines thorough knowledge and creative interpretation of the Septuagint and intertestamental Jewish traditions with Middle Platonism (e.g. the earthly sanctuary patterned after the heavenly one) .
- Jesus is identified with God’s pre-existent wisdom (1:1-3). The text emphasizes his incarnation and exaltation.
- Jesus is superior to the prophets (1:1-4), angels (1:5-2:18), Moses (3:1-4:13), and Aaron as well as the Levitical priesthood (4:14-7:28). Jesus ushers in a new covenant (8:7-13; Jeremiah 31:31-34) and is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (9:13-10:18).
- Jesus’ priestly office is compared to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Dead Sea Scrolls fragment 11QMelch [11Q13]).
- A call to endurance like the former pioneers in the faith (chapter 11).
Christian Supersessionism in the Patristic Period
Replacement Theology: the idea that the church replaced Israel as the covenant people.
- “…be not made like unto some, heaping up your sins and saying that the covenant is both theirs and ours. It is ours: but in this way did they finally lose it when Moses had just received it, for the Scripture says: ‘And Moses was in the mount fasting forty days and forty nights, and he received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord.’ But they turned to idols and lost it. For thus saith the Lord: ‘Moses, Moses, go down quickly, for thy people, whom thou broughtest forth out of the land of Egypt, have broken the Law.’ And Moses understood and cast the two tables out of his hands, and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of Jesus the Beloved should be sealed in our hearts in hope of his faith” (Epistle of Barnabas 4:6-8)
- “We have been led to God through this crucified Christ, and we are the true spiritual Israel, and the descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, who, though uncircumcised, was approved and blessed by God because of his faith and was called the father of many nations.”(Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 11.5)
The Third Genos (race, people, tribe) that is neither Jewish nor Greek
- “Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, and not long ago…” (Epistle to Diognetus 1.1)
The Harmful Charge against Jews of Deicide (The Accusation of Killing God)
- “The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.” (Melito of Sardis, On the Passover)