A Word in Edgewise

Home » 2015 (Page 2)

Yearly Archives: 2015

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence

by James D. G. Dunn

Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2010, pp. 168, $20.00, ISBN: 978-0-664-23196-5Dunn's book

For over two decades scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have been involved in a vigorous debate over the origin and nature of early Christian devotion to Jesus.  James Dunn has been and continues to be one of the major voices in that dialog.  He dedicates this book to Professors Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, two scholars who have argued that Jesus was worshipped early in Jewish Christian circles within a monotheistic context.  Dunn analyzes the NT evidence and draws a different conclusion. Although Dunn at first appears to answer the question with a qualified “yes,” he comes finally to a qualified “no”: “No, by and large the first Christians did not worship Jesus as such” (150—italics added).  Dunn’s ambivalence is evident throughout the book. He often remarks that the early Christians’ language and disposition toward Jesus is striking, remarkable, and without precedent in Judaism. Still he finds that the reverence addressed to Jesus is of a different order than reverence addressed to God.

After exploring the relevant language of worship (ch. 1) and the practice of worship (ch. 2), Dunn investigates (ch. 3) potential antecedent traditions within second temple Judaism (e.g., the angel of the Lord, Spirit, Wisdom, Word, and exalted human beings) which might permit the worship of Jesus within a monotheistic setting.  Finding none, he turns his attention to the NT evidence itself (ch. 4): Jesus’ self-understanding; the central claim that Jesus is Lord; the use of Yahweh texts to refer to Jesus (e.g., Phil 2:6-11, 1 Cor 8:6); Logos, Wisdom, and Spirit Christologies; Jesus as god/God; the contribution of John’s apocalyptic vision in Revelation; and various other themes.  Dunn concludes this chapter with a critique of Bauckham’s proposal that the NT texts indicate that early Christians included Jesus within the “divine identity.”  Citing the confusion associated with the language of “identity,” Dunn argues that “equation” is a better way of saying “that if Jesus is God he is not YHWH.”

As the conclusion makes clear, Dunn is concerned not only with the historical question but with two modern, theological problems: (a) the worship of Jesus to the neglect of God the Father and (b) the challenge of interfaith dialog.  By looking at the earliest available evidence, Dunn hopes “to clarify what lay behind the confession of Jesus as the Son of God in Trinitarian terms” (1).James D G Dunn

Few people are able to marshal the depth, breadth, and height of historical questions as skillfully as James D. G. Dunn.  His mastery of texts, critical judgment, and ability to make complicated matters accessible to a wide audience make him one of the most compelling voices in the study of Christian origins.  Not everyone will agree with all of Dunn’s conclusions—including this reviewer—but he raises the relevant issues which require us to think and rethink the status accorded Jesus in our faith.

Chris Tilling’s Recent Book

Chris Tilling’s important book Paul’s Divine Christology has been published in America by Eerdmans.   I paid nearly $100 for it 2 years ago. Now you can get it on Amazon or through Eerdman’s for $25 or so.  I recommend it highly if you have interest in how early Christians thought about and assessed the significance of Jesus.  Here are excerpts from an earlier post that laid out the thesis of the book.Tilling Eerdmans book

****************************

About 18 months ago I purchased a copy of Chris Tilling’s book Paul’s Divine Christology (WUNT 2.323; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).  Because I was busy writing and  traveling, I had not had a chance to do anything more than browse it. This summer I’ve had a chance to sit down with mechanical pencil and highlighter in hand.

Chris is part of a new generation of scholars interested in the historical development of early Christianity.  Born in 1975, Chris studied at the University of St. Andrews and completed his PhD at the London School of Theology.  Although I don’t know exactly where he is teaching now, he has served as a tutor in New Testament at St. Mellitus College in London.

Chris Tilling

Chris Tilling

I don’t intend to do a full review of the book here but simply to alert you to a book which I—and many others—regard as an important contribution to the field.  I’ll engage him more fully in a new book I’m working on tentatively entitled An Early High Christology: Paul, Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel.  That one, God willing, will be published in 2017.

Paul’s Divine Christology is Tilling’s contribution to a debate which has been going on over the last 30 years regarding whether Paul’s Christology can properly be described as “divine,” in what sense, and how it came to be.  Tilling answers the question in the affirmative: Paul’s Christology is indeed a divine Christology.  Other scholars (Gordon Fee, Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and I) have been arguing a similar point.  Assuming the work of others on this topic (Cullmann, Hengel, and Moule, for example), each of us has offered something unique to the discussion.  Tilling does a good job in setting the table, working through the primary and secondary sources, and offering a new pattern of data which had been noticed (by C. F. D. Moule) but not fully described.

A phrase which carefully summarizes Tilling’s approach is this: “the Christ-relation is Paul’s divine-Christology expressed as relationship” (p. 3). For those who have dabbled in Paul you realize that Christ-relation language is significant so significant that some scholars regard the center of Paul’s theology to be “participation in Christ,” a shorthand way of describing the many ways in which the Christ-believers stand in relationship to and participate in the life of Christ.  Christ’s relation to his people stands in direct continuity with YHWH’s relation to his people Israel.  To put it another way, when Paul speaks about the relation between Christ-believers and the risen Jesus, he used the same language and themes found in second temple Jewish texts to speak of Israel’s relation to YHWH.  Tilling consistently says the data forms a pattern which Paul himself would have recognized.  In Tilling’s own words:

[I]t will be maintained that this pattern of Christ-relation language in Paul is only that which a Jew used to express the relation between Israel/the individual Jew and YHWH.  No other figure of any kind, apart from YHWH, was related to in the same way, with the same pattern of language, not even the various exalted human and angelic intermediary figures in the literature of Second Temple Judaism that occasionally receive worship and are described in very exalted terms. (p. 73, italics original)

In brief, I think Tilling is on to something important which scholars have noticed but frankly  neglected.

I wrote the article “Christology” for Oxford Bibliography On-line.  When I revise the article—which I have been asked to do recently—I will be sure to include Tilling’s book. It is one of the most important books on Paul’s Christology written in the last few decades. If you’re interested in these matters, go out and buy your own copy of Tilling’s book.  If that is not possible, borrow a copy from your local library.  Even if the library does not have it, most will have some sort of interlibrary loan program.

Rediscovering Jesus (IVP, August 2015)

Coming to a classroom near you.

Paul’s Divine Christology

Chris Tilling’s important book Paul’s Divine Christology has been published in America by Eerdmans.   I paid nearly $100 for it 2 years ago. Now you can get it on Amazon or through Eerdman’s for $25 or so.  I recommend it highly if you have interest in how early Christians thought about and assessed the significance of Jesus.  Here are excerpts from an earlier post that laid out the thesis of the book.Tilling Eerdmans book

****************************

About 18 months ago I purchased a copy of Chris Tilling’s book Paul’s Divine Christology (WUNT 2.323; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).  Because I was busy writing and  traveling, I had not had a chance to do anything more than browse it. This summer I’ve had a chance to sit down with mechanical pencil and highlighter in hand.

Chris is part of a new generation of scholars interested in the historical development of early Christianity.  Born in 1975, Chris studied at the University of St. Andrews and completed his PhD at the London School of Theology.  Although I don’t know exactly where he is teaching now, he has served as a tutor in New Testament at St. Mellitus College in London.

Chris Tilling

Chris Tilling

 

I don’t intend to do a full review of the book here but simply to alert you to a book which I—and many others—regard as an important contribution to the field.  I’ll engage him more fully in a new book I’m working on tentatively entitled An Early High Christology: Paul, Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel.  That one, God willing, will be published in 2017.

Paul’s Divine Christology is Tilling’s contribution to a debate which has been going on over the last 30 years regarding whether Paul’s Christology can properly be described as “divine,” in what sense, and how it came to be.  Tilling answers the question in the affirmative: Paul’s Christology is indeed a divine Christology.  Other scholars (Gordon Fee, Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and I) have been arguing a similar point.  Assuming the work of others on this topic (Cullmann, Hengel, and Moule, for example), each of us has offered something unique to the discussion.  Tilling does a good job in setting the table, working through the primary and secondary sources, and offering a new pattern of data which had been noticed (by C. F. D. Moule) but not fully described.

A phrase which carefully summarizes Tilling’s approach is this: “the Christ-relation is Paul’s divine-Christology expressed as relationship” (p. 3). For those who have dabbled in Paul you realize that Christ-relation language is significant so significant that some scholars regard the center of Paul’s theology to be “participation in Christ,” a shorthand way of describing the many ways in which the Christ-believers stand in relationship to and participate in the life of Christ.  Christ’s relation to his people stands in direct continuity with YHWH’s relation to his people Israel.  To put it another way, when Paul speaks about the relation between Christ-believers and the risen Jesus, he used the same language and themes found in second temple Jewish texts to speak of Israel’s relation to YHWH.  Tilling consistently says the data forms a pattern which Paul himself would have recognized.  In Tilling’s own words:

[I]t will be maintained that this pattern of Christ-relation language in Paul is only that which a Jew used to express the relation between Israel/the individual Jew and YHWH.  No other figure of any kind, apart from YHWH, was related to in the same way, with the same pattern of language, not even the various exalted human and angelic intermediary figures in the literature of Second Temple Judaism that occasionally receive worship and are described in very exalted terms. (p. 73, italics original)

In brief, I think Tilling is on to something important which scholars have noticed but frankly  neglected.

I wrote the article “Christology” for Oxford Bibliography On-line.  When I revise the article—which I have been asked to do recently—I will be sure to include Tilling’s book. It is one of the most important books on Paul’s Christology written in the last few decades. If you’re interested in these matters, go out and buy your own copy of Tilling’s book.  If that is not possible, borrow a copy from your local library.  Even if the library does not have it, most will have some sort of interlibrary loan program.

Paul's Divine Christology (Mohr-Siebeck 2012)

Paul’s Divine Christology (Mohr-Siebeck 2012)

The Tragic Event in Charleston and Loving Your Enemies

In light of the tragic events in Charleston last week the question we’ve been considering seems all the more relevant.  A group of faithful Christians gathered in prayer and Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last Wednesday evening in Charleston.  They welcomed into their circle a young white man, 21 years old.  They probably thought he was there to find some answers.  But he was there on a mission.Charleston shooting

When the hour was up, the young man pulled out a 45 caliber handgun and began shooting.  According to reports, he shouted racial slurs and reloaded his handgun five times.  In the end nine people were dead, families would be changed forever, and a city and state and nation would be plunged into grief.

The young man jumped into his car and fled the scene.  The police captured him the next morning after his father, having recognized his son in the surveillance photographs, turned him in.  He and his family were devastated by what his son had done.

Initial reports indicate that the young man wanted to incite some sort of race war.  He wanted to set the world ablaze after several years of high-profile, racially-charged events in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore.

How do you love an enemy in a situation like this? What does  it mean to love the young man so troubled he thought it right to kill nine innocent worshipers on a Wednesday night?  If you really want to be a follower of Jesus, then you have to take what he said seriously in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-45):

43 You have been taught to love your neighbor and hate your enemy.[e] 44 But I tell you this: love your enemies. Pray for those who torment you and persecute you— 45 in so doing, you become children of your Father in heaven.He, after all, loves each of us—good and evil, kind and cruel. He causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the fields of the righteous and the fields of the sinner.

On Friday several members of the victim’s families had a chance to address the shooter directly.  Through tears and cracked voices these amazing, salt-of-the-earth people offered the young man prayer and forgiveness.  How could they so quickly speak  a redemptive, healing word?  I don’t know exactly. I believe, however, it was God’s work in them.

On Thursday the nation and the world woke up to unthinkable news; the young man bore witness to rage, racism, and hatred.  On Friday these family members wanted to bear witness to something greater: God’s love and grace.

%d bloggers like this: