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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Blog Posts on the Gospels

Torrey Seland presents Brant Pitre’s arguments in favour of the traditional authorship of the four Gospels. I defend the standard view that the Gospels were originally anonymous and that the titles and traditions attached to them were later developments in this series.

Chris Skinner has started reviewing James Barker’s John’s Use of Matthew.

James McGrath put up a meme about the mysterious source “Q” and the answer may blow you away. Some of you may have seen the Star Trek Q meme and, if you join the Annual Meeting Hotel Lobby group, you can check out Deane Galbraith’s clever meme in response.


James McGrath’s Round-Up of the Christology Posts

James McGrath has collected a number of links from various bloggers about Mark’s Christology here. Enjoy.

Blog Posts on the Trinity

Michael Bird and Dustin R. Smith advertise the latest book by Charles Lee Irons, Danny Andre Dixon, and Dustin R. Smith, The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015). Smith also pointed my attention to a multi-page review of the book here and the Trinities podcast has interviews with Irons, Dixon, and Smith. The positions represented by each author is Trinitarianism (God is three persons as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one essence), Arianism (Jesus is the highest created being and the agent through whom God created the cosmos), and Socianism (Jesus did not pre-exist the Virgin Birth and was the human Messiah exalted by God). In my view, there are New Testament texts that can be cited in support of all three views, but I accept by faith the direction that theology moved from the canon and church traditions to the ecumenical creeds.

I was also alerted by Scot McKnight’s blog on the following four posts by Lucy Peppiatt on how some interpreters read in a hierarchy in the relations between God, Christ, men, and women in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:21-33. There is room to debate how she has rendered the Greek word kephale (often translated as “head”) or whether one can impute all the developed trinitarian thinking back into the intentions of the writer of these letters. However, I think her posts work as exercises in canonical criticism and systematic theology and that, further, her point is that the thinking about the Trinity is not just abstract theologizing without real world implications. I like her point that a possibly deficient view of the Trinity (i.e. the eternal subordination of the Son) has been misused by some theologians to perpetuate social inequality in the subordination of women to men. I absolutely believe that Christian biblical scholars must teach students how to interpret scriptural writings ethically and oppose patriarchy as a terrible system that unfairly privileges one half of humanity at the expense of the other half.


Tributes to James D. G. Dunn

Nijay Gupta posted an interview with James D. G. Dunn, the Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. And Michael Metts has posted a discussion of Dunn’s contributions on the study of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and Paul as well as a bibliography of his writings.

In light of the discussions about Christology going around the blogosphere, it is valuable to highlight Dunn’s ground-breaking contributions in Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation and Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence. I may not be persuaded by all of his arguments such as the denial of Jesus’ pre-existence in Paul’s epistles or reading a comparison of Jesus and Adam in the Philippians hymn (see Philippians 2:6-11), but I think he is an important representative of the view that the New Testament writings reflect a development of Christology over time. Plus, Dunn’s book Unity and Diversity in the New Testament has impacted me a great deal in my own emphasis that there was a great deal of early diversity as the Jesus followers were working out what it means to follow Jesus as the risen Lord in different historical and cultural contexts.

Edited Volume on N. T. Wright’s Pauline Scholarship

I look forward to one day checking out God and the Faithfulness of Paul (edited by Christoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird; WUNT 2.413; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016). The editors have enlisted a strong line up of scholars to tackle Wright’s methodology and exegesis from all angles. See the blogger notices of the book here, here, here, and here. For those who have not had the opportunity to read Wright’s massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God, you can be introduced to his scholarship by checking out the N. T. Wright Page or by reading some of the scholarly reviews of his book here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Christology in the First Few Centuries

I want to step back from the continuing discussions about Mark’s Christology and reflect on my broad understanding of the different lines of theological development in the first centuries. From my vantage point, I am a scholar of the New Testament and Patristic literature and a Christian who teaches at a University and attends a church subscribing to the Nicene creed.

At Caesarea Philippi, Peter explains to Jesus that some view him as John the Baptizer and others as Elijah or another prophet, but Peter perceives Jesus to be the promised Messiah. This echoes the likely manifold ways Jesus was remembered from early on: a sage in the radical wisdom tradition, a prophet of apocalyptic judgment, a charismatic healer and exorcist, and the list goes on. Perhaps the remnants of these views survive in some of the material included in the Gospels. Indeed, if Josephus’s Antiquities 18.63-64 is judged at least partially authentic, then we have a neutral assessment of Jesus as a “wise man” and a “worker of amazing deeds.”

However, the “Jerusalem Pillars” (James, Peter, the Twelve) advanced that Jesus was king David’s descendant and enthroned in heaven (Romans 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-7). They prayerfully anticipated that the “Lord” would come to fully establish his kingdom (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20; Didache 10:6). I grant Larry Hurtado’s point that some Jesus followers’ devotion to their master exceeded that offered to Jewish intermediary agents with the exception that we do not hear if Jesus became the object of sacrificial worship in the temple (James Dunn, James McGrath). Yet I see more continuity with figures who were seated on a divine throne (e.g. Moses, Solomon, Enoch) and received obeisance and that the divine honours bestowed on Jesus may be a type of Jewish reaction against the Roman imperial cult (e.g. the “good news” of Augustus as “son of god”). In Mark’s story, Jesus is anointed for royal office at his baptism, while Matthew and Luke draw on traditions of the Virgin birth to mark Jesus out as special from his conception.

It is not that other New Testament authors (Paul, Hebrews, John) abandon this prior view of Jesus; for instance, I do not accept that the term “Messiah” (Christos) lost its royal connotations in Paul’s letters. However, they add a second, parallel line of development. Jesus is represented as God’s very self-expression, as embodying the divine Wisdom, Word, Name, or Glory. I remain hesitant about whether Jewish speculation about a supreme angel played a role for the New Testament authors, though a respected Christian philosopher of the second century named Justin Martyr had no qualms about identifying Jesus as the Angel of the LORD.

Proto-Orthodox or “centrist” Christians refined their theology in competition with other Christian factions in subsequent centuries. Thus, in the confused reports of varied “Jewish Christian” sects, we learn that some asserted that Jesus was the son of Joseph elected to be the Messiah or the Prophet sent to abolish the sacrificial system, while others share the proto-Orthodox view of Jesus’ virgin birth and his divinity. Other groups denied the union of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus, arguing that a heavenly being possessed the human Jesus at his baptism or that Jesus merely “appeared” to be on earth like a phantom. What contributed to what became the “orthodox” position?

First, centrist Christians allowed all of the New Testament voices to contribute to their theology of the Incarnation. Second, they did so under a change of philosophical categories. James McGrath argues that as Christians worked out the doctrine of creation out of nothing rather than pre-existing formless matter, it became imperative to decide on what side of the firm dividing line between Creator and creation Jesus should be located. Or, as Michael Peppard frames the terms of the debate, Jesus was on the side of eternal “being” rather than creation in the process of “becoming.” Third, the doctrine of theosis from Irenaeus to Athanasius emphasizes God took on our human nature to redeem it from corruption so we might inherit immortality (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 54). No one less than God could redeem the fallen creation!

In the end, Christians exhausted whatever categories were available to them in their cultural context, and developed them further through theological reflection and debate, in order to meaningfully articulate the ultimate significance of Jesus.

Mark’s Ambiguous Christology?

As this Christology conversation has unfolded, there are a few areas that all sides are in agreement. For instance, we are all clear that John is far more explicit about Jesus’ divine identity and that we should not force Mark to be just like John. Chris Keith, Michael Bird, and Doug Chaplin have appealed to the fact that Mark is purposefully ambiguous or enigmatic – there may be a general lack of an explicit high Christology but there are hints and scriptural echoes for the reader able to move beyond the surface level.

I will make a few brief replies. It is true that Mark’s Jesus speaks to the crowd in parables so they neither perceive nor understand (Mark 4:11-12), but Jesus goes on to elucidate the meaning of the parable and openly reveal the mystery of the kingdom for his circle of disciples as well as for the reader hearing the parable explained along with them. Again, with the exception of Peter’s momentary insight that Jesus is the Messiah which he followed up by misunderstanding Jesus’ mission of suffering (8:27-33), the disciples are generally in the dark about Jesus’ messiahship. Yet Mark forthrightly tells the reader that Jesus is the Messiah from the opening verse (1:1) and the reader has access to the vision at the baptism where the heavenly voice confirms Jesus’ divine sonship (1:9-11). Finally, I agree that there is still something enigmatic about the miracle stories. The disciples’ hearts are hardened in response to Jesus’ sea and feeding miracles (6:52; 8:17-21), much like Pharaoh’s heart in response to the miraculous feats of Moses. Could it be that the disciples failed to grasp that Jesus is inaugurating a greater exodus – the return from exile announced in 1:2-3 – and Jesus was calling for them to follow when he went ahead of them at the Sea and provided food for them in the wilderness yet their hearts were too dull to recognize what was happening?


Debate on the Dates of the Gospels

On a radio program sponsored by First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Houston, there is a debate between Matthew W. Ferguson and Dr. Craig Evans about the dates of the Gospels. I highly respect Evans as a solid evangelical scholar and, relevant to this debate, has done some very good work explaining Jesus’ predictions of judgment against the Jerusalem temple in its historical context. Ferguson is a brilliant PhD student in classics and, in addition to getting to chat with him at the last Society of Biblical Literature meeting, we have been in email correspondence as we are interested in the same questions about the traditional authorship and genre of the Gospels. Enjoy the debate.

Reviews of the Movie “Risen”

I am of two minds about whether I should see the movie Risen. On the one hand, I love when biblical epics come out since it gives me material to discuss with my students in class. On the other hand, this movie sounds just as cheesy as the televised version of “AD: The Bible Continues” and adds all of the Hollywood hype. I imagine that the Romans’ initial attitude to the early Jesus movement was bewilderment and something like what is reported in Acts 25:19: “they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.” Anyways, there are two reviews of the movie by Sarah Rollens and Daniel Ullacci up at the Marginalia website. I might quibble about the authors’ characterization of the genre and anti-Judaic character of the Gospels, but overall they seem to present an excellent assessment of the problematic portrayal of the Jewish leadership and the disciples (e.g. Mary Magdalene) and of the “content-less” Jesus presented in the movie. Definitely check it out. Professor Rollens, who is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, received her Masters degree at the University of Alberta around the same time that I was working on mine at that University!

Christology Posts around the Blogosphere

I may have wrapped up my posts about Mark’s Christology, but the conversation is continuing around the blogsophere.

Larry Hurtado critically reviews N. T. Wright’s proposal that the start of Christology was the belief that Jesus embodied the return of Yahweh to Zion.

Brant Pitre asks why the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy in the context of a question about Jesus’ identity. See my response to this question.

Chris Keith weighs in on Mark’s Christology as purposefully ambiguous and Bill Heroman responds.

Deane Galbraith puts up the videos for the Greer-Heard Forum on Christology (see also the reflections of Michael Bird and Larry Hurtado).

Email me if I missed your post.