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Jesus Monotheism

I met Crispin Fletcher-Louis in 1998 at a conference at St. Andrews. He was a rising star in historical and theological matters relating to the origins of Christianity. His star continues to rise.

Recently he published the first volume of a four volume series entitled Jesus Monotheism. This particular volume is Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Cascade, 2015).

In this series Fletcher-Louis hopes to explain how it happened that early Jesus-followers came to see him as divine and worshiped him in continuity with the worship of the One God of Israel (what I like to call an early high Christology). His purpose is historical: where did it happen? With whom? What caused it? What shape did it take?jewish-monotheism

I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article.  For now at least let me introduce the key elements.

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.

Fletcher-Louis situates the causative factor for an early high Christology not in powerful religious experiences post-resurrection but in Jesus’ own self-awareness. He claims that the historical Jesus had an incarnational self-consciousness. The resurrection, of course, is a key event. For the crucifixion appears on the surface to deny Jesus’ messianic and divine claims. In the event Christians call the resurrection something happened to reverse the negating elements of Jesus’ death and confirm not only that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah but that he is also the incarnation of a divine being. Now, for those of you who’ve been following the scholarship in this arena, that is a bold claim.

Fletcher-Louis starts with the emerging consensus. Frankly, I don’t know recall who coined the phrase but it is a good one. The emerging consensus among many scholars is that a divine Christology is indeed early (that’s why I am a founding member of the early high Christology club) and located historically within Jewish milieu. It did not arise late in the first century only after Gentiles had streamed in and overtaken the Jesus movement.   Divine Christology means that early followers included Jesus within the divine identity and engaged in actions toward him which can only be described as worship, or as Larry Hurtado has put it “Christ devotion.”

There are scholars, however, who haven’t emerged. These include Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn, James McGrath, and Bart Ehrman.

To this point Fletcher-Louis finds himself in broad agreement with the emerging consensus and its leading lights, Hurtado and Bauckham. Where he goes “beyond” is to try to locate (historically) the belief in a divine Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism and in the self-awareness of Jesus. Jewish writings which could have a pre-Christian origin such as the Life of Adam and Eve and the Similitudes of Enoch can be read in such a way to suggest that Jews before Jesus had a messianic expectation which included a divine Messiah who comes from heaven.

Hurtado has made the case that it is powerful religious experiences post- resurrection which caused these early, Jewish followers to consider Jesus divine and to worship him. Apparently, through visions and prophetic utterances early Christians “saw” Jesus enthroned at God’s right hand and came to believe that worshiping Jesus was the will of God. While Fletcher-Louis applauds Hurtado’s sense that we need to take seriously the role of religious experience, he does not consider it is enough to account for what happened so quickly after Jesus’ execution. The problem, as he sees it, is that with no precedent for the worship of a divine person or Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism or without taking seriously the possibility that Jesus’ himself had a sense of his own divine identity, it is hard to account for the speed and exact shape Christ devotion took in the first decades after Jesus’ execution. It is more believable, according to Fletcher-Louis, that Jesus had a divine self-consciousness.

Well, his chips are on the table. Scholars, emerging and otherwise, are likely to agree with some of his points and disagree with others. Three more volumes to come. These are a welcome additions to the conversation.

God-talk in the New Testament

Here is a link to a good post by my friend, Larry Hurtado.  It is his reflection on over 30 years of critiques of his work.  Critics have accused his work of being either Arian or proto-Calcedonian.  Both accusations are drawn from later church controversies and should not be read back into the New Testament.  If Hurtado can be accused of anything, it is doing history not theology.  He’s not averse to theology; he just thinks the later categories invade historical reconstructions too often.

Read more about it here.

Or you can cut-and-paste this URL: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/jesus-and-god/

God in NT Theology

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!

Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian?

 

I recently received a book by my friend, colleague, and co-conspirator in the Early High Christology Club, Larry Hurtado. The book is entitled Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Marquette University Press, 2016).  It is the published version of his Marquette Lecture in Theology in 2016.  As with everything Hurtado does, the book is well researched and well written steering clear of claiming too much or too little from the evidence he cites.  He is a sober and careful historian of early Christianity.larry-hurtado1

The driving question or “big idea” of the book comes down to this question: given the serious social and political consequences of choosing to identify with the Jesus movement, why did anyone make that choice in the first three centuries (AD or CE, if you prefer)?  Now this question is distinct from the one posed by Rodney Stark (The Rise of Christianity, [Princeton University Press, 1996]): How did an insignificant, mustard-seed-sized movement from the fringes of the empire grow to eventually displace the dominant religions in the Roman and Mediterranean world?  While Stark’s question is important on a macro-level, Hurtado drills deeper into the personal and individual choices a person made in order to become a Christian in those early centuries.

Hurtado begins with a brief analysis of the kinds of diversity expressed in early Christianity.  Evidence for this is seen throughout the New Testament and extra-canonical Christian and pagan texts.  Then he turns his attention to the growth of the Christian movement from its Judean and Galilean origins throughout the Roman empire east and west.  The largest section of the book deals with the “Costs and Consequences” to individuals of what it meant to join the Christian movement.  People lost a great deal (socially, economically, relationally, politically) for choosing to throw their lot in with the Jesus believers and Hurtado asks the question: Why?

In the end Hurtado does not think he answers the question sufficiently in this little book (133 pages), but he argues persuasively that it is a question worth posing.  I have little doubt he will inspire others to think, research and write on the topic.  It conjures up for me a variety of questions which could be the topic of papers and further study.

The book is  worth buying and reading if you have interest in Christian origins.  Hurtado’s academic career has been given to understanding various aspects of early Christianity: its devotion to Jesus, its book culture, its distinctive features, among other things.

 

 

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

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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)