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.
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.