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Among the early influences on Larry Hurtado were Martin Hengel and his little but substantial book, The Son of God (1976). Hengel’s work presented a direct challenge to those who thought the conviction that Jesus was divine had its start in communities where pagan influences such as “the mystery religions” were prominent. Hengel provided substantial evidence from Jewish sources that the confession, “Jesus is the Son of God,” and “Jesus is Lord,” first arose in Jewish-Christian circles.
Hengel laid out clearly the chronological data, particularly those in the undisputed letters of Paul which were written 20 or so years after Jesus’ execution (50-60 AD). All the historical development schemes proposed by Wilhelm Bousset and his followers cratered in light of the Christological beliefs and practices already expressed in the earliest strata of Christian traditions. In historical terms, Hengel and Hurtado argued that in the earliest decades of the Christian movement, primarily in Jewish circles, Jesus was considered divine and worshiped alongside God the Father.
Hurtado agreed with Hengel on many points but disagreed with Hengel’s claims that most Christological development took place primarily in Greek-speaking Jewish communities in a variety of locals. Hurtado claimed instead that Christ-devotion took place initially in Aramaic-speaking communities of Jewish believers as well. This is not to discount the significance of the Greek-speaking Jews who were responsible for the geographic spread of the movement in the subsequent decades (AD 30-50). By then, however, Christ-devotion was already an established feature of Christian communities.
Richard Bauckham as well was influential in this movement. By drawing attention to worship practices rather than simply beliefs about Jesus, Bauckham showed how remarkable the worship of Jesus alongside God was in an exclusively monotheistic environment. Worship was to be given to God alone, and now (as in Rev 5) the rightful recipients of worship were God and the Lamb. So Hurtado took this as an important aspect of his own work. For him the importance of worship as a historical feature and data point for early believers became a prominent aspect in his arguments about Jesus and God being co-recipients of worship in the early Christian writings.
Johannes Weiss (Earliest Christianity, 2 volumes/ ET 1959), who was a contemporary of Bousset proposed that the cultic reverence due to Jesus commenced among the earliest Jewish believers and constituted “the most significant step of all in the history of the origins of Christianity.”
In the next post, I will consider the friendship and influence of Alan Segal on Larry and his work. Both men were dear friends of mine. Together we were founding members of The Early High Christology Club.
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 “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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: