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Is It Time to Retire “Low” and “High” Christology?

In his book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospel (Baylor University Press, 2016) Richard Hays makes a compelling case that the four NT Gospels, taken together and individually, identify Jesus as the embodiment (incarnation) of the God of Israel.  He reaches this conclusion after probing the Jewish and Old Testament roots of the Gospel stories.

Now this presents a challenge to a number of scholars who have assumed that Gospels like Mark and Luke offer a “low” Christology, that is, an image of Jesus as prophet and Messiah but not divine.  He goes on to say that it may be time to retire terms like “high” and “low” Christology because they presuppose a developmental scheme, a movement from low to high or human to divine as if these categories can be easily distinguished.  Scholars such as Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn and, more recently, Bart Ehrman have made the developmental case. The presupposition driving such analyses has been that the first Jewish followers of Jesus would have been prevented from associating the man Jesus with the God of Israel because of their monotheistic heritage.  Once the Jesus movement drifted into Gentile territory where there were gods-a-plenty, such scruples could be easily compromised.

Hays is quick to say that bold, even audacious claims about Jesus’ linkage with the God of Israel do not preclude the Gospels’ portrayal of EHCC mug “human” Jesus, a Jesus who truly suffers and dies, a Jesus who hungers, thirsts, grows weary, like the rest of us. For the evangelists it was not an all or nothing proposition.

I’m sympathetic with Hays’ call to retire the terms.  But I’m not sure what to put in their place.  Is there a single term which can unite those claims that Jesus is human like the rest of us with Jesus is divine like the God of Israel?  In private correspondence Prof. Hays writes that he likes the phrase used by Richard Bauckham “divine identity Christology.”  But does this reflect sufficiently the full and true humanity of Jesus?  I have also used that phrase because I find it useful.

In a sense that is what these discussions are about; how might we frame the Jesus-talk of the earliest Christians?  Other than repeating and explaining what we sense they meant when they used titles and echoed Scriptural language and applied it to Jesus we are often in search for language which describes, portrays, and otherwise adequately reflects these convictions.

I have to confess I’m partial to the language of “low” and “high” Christology for a number of reasons. Despite the assumption of development from low to high culturally and chronologically with which the phrases are often laden, I think the terms can be useful if they are carefully nuanced. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a mug-carrying member of the Early High Christology Club.   Still, I’d be interested to know if you think there is language out there which might help us have more fruitful discussions about early Christology.

Hengel

Founding member, Larry Hurtado, presents an official EHCC mug to the late Professor Martin Hengel (seen here with his wife, Frau Hengel)

Hell and Edward Fudge

 

I’m glad to learn that Edward Fudge is now following this blog.  I heard of Edward Fudge many years ago from my Doctor Father, Dr. Earle Ellis.  Ellis was impressed and persuaded by a book Fudge had written entitled The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment now its third edition.  My friend, Richard Bauckham, has written the forward.  Fudge makes the case that, according to the Christian Scriptures, the fate of the wicked is not conscious, eternal suffering but annihilation.  He moves carefully through the biblical texts and, like the good lawyer that he is, makes his case.  Fudge has convinced a lot of scholars and evangelicals that his reading is the best reading of a lot of controversial texts. Fire that consumes

Over the last few years I am pleased to say that Edward and I have become friends.  He lives in Houston and is a frequent participant in lectures and symposia at the Lanier Theological Library.  He has written other books which I’ve had the privilege to read and even endorse.  We talked the other day and he was busy researching another question: rabbinic stories which appear to parallel Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

Edward has lived a remarkable life. The story of how he came to write such an influential book is the subject of a movie produced by Jeff Wood, Hell and Mr. Fudge (2012; DVD released in 2012).  The movie shows how Fudge, played by Mackenzie Astin, comes under attack from members of his denomination because he dedicated a year of his life to prove whether or not hell really exists.  People who take the Bible seriously have a hard time ignoring Fudge’s work.

Recently, a group of scholars have gotten together and produced a Festschrift honoring Edward for his work.  It is entitled A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge (Wipf & Stock, 2015).  Christopher M. Date and Ron Highfield were the editors.  Stephen Travis wrote the forward.A-Consuming-Passion

If you are curious or puzzled by the biblical teaching on hell, you can do no better than pick up Edward’s book and spend some time with it.  Like I said, he’s convinced some heavyweight scholars. Maybe he will convince you too.

 

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)

Richard Bauckham and the “Eyewitnesses”

bauckham

Sir Richard Bauckham

Recently, Professor Richard Bauckham gave a lecture at Houston Baptist University which considered the descriptions of geographic locations around the sea of Galilee as part of a “mental map” of a Galilean fisherman.  It was an interesting lecture that was well attended.  The substance of the lecture will be included in a new book written as a sequel to Richard’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

I don’t normally do this but I read a blog post from Larry Hurtado (larryhurtado.wordpress.com) in which Richard Bauckham clarifies what he means by “eyewitnesses.”  It is to the point and offers a helpful handle on some of Richard’s ideas.  I include a link to Larry’s blog here:

http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/bauckham-on-eyewitnesses-and-the-gospels/

 

A. O. Collins Lecture featuring Dr. Richard Bauckham

The School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University is pleased to announce that Professor Richard Bauckham will deliver the A. O. Collins lectures for fall 2013.  Professor Bauckham’s title for this lecture is: “Mark’s Topography: The Cognitive Map of a Capernaum Fisherman.”

The geographical information in Mark’s Gospel, especially about Galilee, has often been thought to be confused and certainly presents some problems. The lecture uses the idea of a ‘mental map.’ The way we construct our spatial environment in our minds is very different from the maps we see on paper or on screen. A close look at Mark’s geography shows that it makes very good sense if it reflects the mental map of a Galilean fisherman based in Capernaum.
bauckham

The lecture will be held November 5, 2013 in Belin Chapel at 7.00 pm (Central) on the campus of Houston Baptist University.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

A Brief Biography:
Richard Bauckham was until recently Professor of New Testament Studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor in the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and is now Professor Emeritus at St Andrews.  He was born in London in 1946, and educated at Downhills and Merryhills primary schools and Enfield Grammar School. He then studied at Cambridge, where he read history at Clare College (gaining a B.A. Honours degree, first class, and a Ph.D.), and was a Fellow of St John’s College for three years.  After teaching theology for one year at the University of Leeds, he taught historical and contemporary theology for fifteen years at the University of Manchester, before moving to St Andrews in 1992.  He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  He retired in 2007 in order to concentrate on research and writing, and is Senior Scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, where he does some teaching for the Cambridge Federation of Theological Colleges. He is also a Visiting Professor at St Mellitus College, London. From 1996 to 2002 he was General Editor of the Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series. He is an Anglican (but not ordained), and was a member of the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England for some years. In 2009 he was awarded the Michael Ramsey prize for his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and in 2010 the Franz-Delitzsch-Award for a volume of collected essays, The Jewish World around the New Testament. He has traveled widely giving lectures and conference papers. Though his permanent home is now in Cambridge, he returns to St Andrews frequently. When he can find the time, he writes poetry, and has also written two children’s story books about the MacBears of Bearloch (published on his website: http://richardbauckham.co.uk/).

His published works include:
Jesus and the God of Israel (Eerdmans, 2008)
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2008)
Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (T & T Clark, 2000)
2 Peter, Jude in Word Biblical Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1983)
The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John (Baker, 2007)
The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, 1983)

The lecture will be held in Belin Chapel in the Morris Cultural Arts Center on the campus of Houston Baptist University.
The A. O. Collins lectures began in 1993 with the goal of bringing recognized scholars to address the university community in current trends in theology, religious studies and philosophy.  The series is named for Dr. A. O. Collins who chaired HBU’s Department of Christianity and Philosophy until his retirement in 1990. Over the last two decades, due to the generosity of former students and friends of the university, top scholars from around the world have lectured on our campus on a wide range of topics on religion and philosophy.

Some of our past lecturers have included:
Dr. James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary
Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary
Dr. Charles Talbert, Baylor University
Dr. Ellen T. Charry, Princeton Theological Seminary
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, Emory University
Dr. Alan Segal, Barnard College, Columbia University
Dr. Samuel Proctor, Duke University
Dr. John Howard Yoder, University of Notre Dame
Dr. James W. McClendon, Jr., Fuller Theological Seminary
Dr. Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary’s Seminary
Dr. Larry Hurtado, University of Edinburgh

Please join us for this lecture.  It is an important event for our campus and community.  Should you have questions, please contact the acting chair of the Department of Theology, Dr. Ben Blackwell, at 281-649-3000.

 

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