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James McGrath and Christology

James McGrath, professor of New Testament at Butler University in Indiana, is somebody you need to know.  He’s a good scholar and a faithful blogger.  He’s worth reading on a variety of subjects. He has good judgment and sound methods.

.  In a recent post he collected some of the hubbub going on right now on the web regarding “an early high Christology,” a topic I have some interest in.  In fact over the next few years I hope to return to the topic–though I never really left it, I got distracted–with what I trust is a more measured and mature reading of certain texts. In the meantime I thought I’d link to his Patheos blog.  mcgrath-james

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Early High Subordinationist Christology around the Blogosphere

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels

Richard B. Hays completed his new book Echoes of Scripture in Gospels (Baylor University Press, 2016) in record time thanks in large part to the heavy-lifting done by Carey Newman and his staff at Baylor University Press.  Hays was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2015 and underwent successful surgery in the fall.  He stepped down from his role as dean of Duke Divinity School for medical treatment and used part of his recovery to finish up this book. Richard Hays

This book extends an earlier project, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor University Press, 2014). It echoes an even earlier bit of research written up in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1993).  In the book under review Hays turns his attention to the four New Testament Gospels with similar method and surprising results.

Hays is influenced by Eric Auerbach’s approach to “figural interpretation” in his  book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton University Press, 2013).  Figural interpretation involves linking two texts so that a past person (or event) signifies that person as well as another in the future.  The interplay between those two texts brings greater insight to both texts.  Each sheds light on the other.  It is a way of “reading backwards.” This has nothing to do with past predictions which are “fulfilled” in the future, although there are places when Gospel writers make those kinds of connections as well.  At the heart of it is the notion that a text might mean more than a human author ever intended. Once a writer has released his text, later audiences are able to read backwards through significant events/persons in order to see connections to these earlier texts.  The NT is awash in figural readings of the OT.

Hays does not spend his time working out and fine tuning a method.  In a sense he has done that already in earlier books mentioned above.  What he does do is work carefully through many Gospel texts listening for the echoes and helping his readers see and experience these in fresh and exciting ways.  One of my favorite examples is in the episode when Jesus walks on the sea of Galilee (Mark 6).  Although Mark does not make any explicit biblical allusions, the way he tells the story conjures up certain images from the first part of the Christian Scriptures.  In particular, he notes how Mark says Jesus appears to intend to pass them by and ends the pericope with the hanging question: “who is this that the winds and the seas obey?” As Hays says, there is only one right answer to that question.  It is found in Job 9, particularly the Greek version (LXX).  I won’t spoil the ending completely but Hays and I both think there is a not-so-subtle identification of Jesus with the God who created the land and seas in the first place.  Go back and read Job 9 in the Greek and it is apparent.

Hays is an advocate of an early high Christology, compared to the late, slow and low crowd. This means that the earliest evidence we have (the letters of Paul and the NT Gospels) are best read to include Jesus within the identity of Israel’s God.  As a charter member of the early high Christology club, I’m glad to make him a full-fledged member.

This is an amazing book. I cannot recommend it any higher.  I’m so glad to have it in hand as I’m thinking about a future book I’m working on entitled Matthew through Old Testament Eyes (Kregel, forthcoming 2018 or 2019).

Correcting the Record

A few days ago I posted a brief review of Dr. Crispin Fletcher-Louis’ recent book, Jesus Monotheism (Cascade, 2015).  This particular volume is entitled Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond.  I made a statement in trying to summarize Crispin’s position that mischaracterizes and goes beyond what he is claiming.  So I want to correct the record.  crispin-fletcher-louis

Let me quote my earlier paragraph in full:

Fletcher-Louis thinks that there are antecedent traditions which anticipate the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity (Bauckham’s phrase). While the worship of Jesus alongside God and beliefs in his divine identity are new and surprising, they could have been anticipated if we were attuned correctly to certain movements and ideas within second temple Judaism.

The sentence in question is the second sentence of that paragraph.  In private correspondence Crispin indicated he agreed with the first part, that is, that including Jesus within the identity of Israel’s One God and worshipping him alongside God are new and surprising claims and actions on the part of early Jesus followers.  He does not, however, agree with the second part.

In his own words (used by permission):

I agree with the first half of that sentence, but not the second. Christological monotheism is so surprising no one could have anticipated it. There are ideas in the Bible and there were movements in the Second Temple period that are in some ways conceptually continuous with Christological monotheism, but in several respects the Christian worship of Jesus and associated beliefs about him and his deity are without clear precedent. We have no evidence that anyone did anticipate the full pattern of Christ devotion that the NT texts describe (and that Hurtado has laid out in his work), and I would be rather surprised if some new text emerged that showed anyone did anticipate the full pattern. Furthermore, the evidence of the earliest Gospels is that Jesus’ followers were not expecting a messiah who would receive precisely the kind of devotion that those same followers apparently ended up giving to Jesus after his death and resurrection.

I find myself in broad agreement with Crispin on this and I’m grateful for his clarifying for me this aspect of his project which is scheduled to take four volumes to work out.  Scholarship is about putting forth an idea, presenting the evidence, and drawing conclusions with the hope that you’ll get a fair hearing. I certainly want to read, understand and present his work fairly.  So I’m grateful for the kind and generous way he approached me on this.  Dr. Fletcher-Louis has been and continues to be an important partner in the conversation regarding how Christ devotion developed so quickly after the execution of Jesus.

The Divine Name . . . before Nicea


Charles Gieschen, professor and dean at Concordia Theological Seminary (Indiana), has written what I regard to be a significant article.  I’d like for people to know about it.  It is in a refereed journal entitled Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003): 115-158.   The title of the article is “The Divine Name in Ante-Nicene Christology.” His thesis is this: many references or allusions to the “name” of Jesus in early Christianity should be understood as signifying that Jesus possesses the Divine Name, the holy, unspeakable name of Israel’s God (YHWH), often called the Tetragrammaton.  The “name” of Jesus in these contexts does not refer to the name given to him on the eighth day by his parents.  Gieschen spends a good deal of time in the New Testament but he also considers such extra-canonical texts as 1 Clement, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Odes of Solomon, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, among others. gieschen

Clearly, I think Charles is onto something.  He cites favorably my own book Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology, WUNT (Tubingen, 1992), that showed how Paul, the earliest Christian theologian, took Scriptural texts containing the Divine Name and applied them to Jesus.  The name “Jesus” was a common name in its day, even if it is unusual in English-speaking circles.  It is a transliteration through Greek, into Latin, into English of the Hebrew name “Joshua.”  I’ve been to many a baseball game where players from Latin American countries were named “Jesus” (pronounced Hay-soos).

When Paul says that “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord . . .” (Phil 2:9-11), it seems clear that the Greek genitive should be rendered possessively “the name that belongs to Jesus.”  And what name belongs to Jesus?  Gieschen argues, and I think he is correct, the covenant name of God revealed to Moses at Sinai (YHWH).

Gieschen concludes his study asking why a Divine Name Christology fades in the next Christian centuries.  He gives two reasons.  First, as the Jesus movement became more and more Gentile, knowledge of the Divine Name is no longer determinative for how Christ followers assess his significance.  This begins to happen even among Greek-speaking Christians who read Kyrios as the standard translation/ rendering of the Divine Name in Hebrew biblical texts. Knowledge of the Divine Name traditions began to fade. Second, it seems that heretical groups in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD are those who utilize and keep the Divine Name Christology in tact. The “orthodox,” in responding negatively to the “heretics,” set aside their teaching which associated Jesus so clearly with the Divine Name.

To cite one example:

“One single name is not uttered in the world, the name that the Father gave the Son, the name above all things: the name of the Father.” (Gospel of Philip II.54.5-8)

If Gieschen is correct, the heretics kept alive a neglected aspect of early Christology.


How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?

My friend and colleague Larry Hurtado (University of Edinburgh) has written a brilliant and important book entitled How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans, 2005).  It is a more popular version of perhaps his most well known book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2005). Larry Hurtado

For those who want a 10 minute distilled version of his thesis, take a look at the video here.  It is the best summary I know of his big idea!