Saturday, 13 December 2008

Richard Hays on Divine Identity in Luke

This is the fourth post in a series of posts dealing with the deity of Jesus.

I’m struggling to find the words to express how good both speakers were. They both gave really, really important papers, made really, really significant points throughout, and spoke very, very persuasively. In my little world, I doubt I could overestimate the value of these two papers. This was indicated by the audience’s expression of appreciation at the end of the day. The applause went on and on and on. The applause seemed more typical of the response an audience would give to a great opera performance. Someone called for an encore….

Interestingly, some people were quite sure that Prof. Bauckham gave the better of the two papers. Not so, in my estimation. Perhaps it was simply my American ears which gravitated toward Prof. Hays’ presentation more so than the subtleties of Prof. Bauckham’s reading. But I think also that I probably have a predisposition for Prof. Hays’ use of narrative to discern Jesus’ identity. I learned a great deal about general methodology in Prof. Hays’ presentation which will be useful not only in the quest for divine identity, but for the whole range of interpretive issues in the Gospels.

Thus, I appreciated Prof. Hays beginning with the question of how narrative impacts the issue of identity: 1) identity unfolds cumulatively through the whole book so that one must not focus merely on isolated pericopes; 2) in order to appreciate the cumulative impact of narrative, one must engage in multiple re-readings—reading it from the back to the front; 3) narrative allows for irony and ambiguity; 4) narrative identity isn’t simply what is unique, but what is characteristic of a person; 5) identity is enacted, and is not merely a matter of one’s nature. All of this I think is extremely important for any understanding of the theology of the Gospel writers and, in regard to divine identity, will ultimately lead the sensitive reader to an understanding that Jesus is portrayed as nothing less than Israel’s LORD/Lord.

Prof. Hays made it clear that he thinks that due appreciation of these five aspects of narrative will result in a high Christology in the Gospels. In this regard, it is remarkable that Prof. Hays makes his stand for a high Christology in Luke—the subject of his paper—which is otherwise reputed to have the lowest Christology of the four Gospels. But Prof. Hays is so overwhelmed by the evidence as it arises through narrative analysis that he can, in good conscience, direct Jesus’ Emmaus road statement toward his sceptical colleagues: “‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25). This was one of the great moments in Prof. Hays’ presentation.

Let me hasten to say that despite my previous comment, I’m not so sure that Prof. Hays would make his stand for a “high” Christology in any book. He does not think the categories of “high” and “low” are helpful. Yet, he does buck against the consensus of modern New Testament critics who deny that the Gospels held to Jesus’ pre-existence or who think that they assume Jesus to be a subordinate being to God. Since I didn’t fully grasp his critique against the traditional terminology of high and low Christology, I will end up retaining it throughout this post with the caveat that the reader should understand that Prof. Hays avoids those terms.

An important corrective for me was Prof. Hays’ claim that Lucan depictions of Jesus as the Son of God entails more than just royal-political identity. For the last 15 years I have thought that in the Synoptic Gospels, the title Son of Man (cf. Dan 7) entails a higher Christology than the title Son of God. I had understood Son of God in the Synoptics to refer to Jesus’ kingly, messianic status as heir to the Davidic throne, as opposed to the Johannine understanding of Jesus being in nature God the Son. In contrast, Prof. Hays argued that Son of God in Luke indicates Jesus’ origins, and serves as a polemic to the worship of the emperors who made claims about their own divine nature. Jesus’ statement about his Sonship in Luke 10:21-22 that “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" must be understood in terms of Jesus’ divine identity and not merely in terms of his right to David’s throne. The fact that this passage sounds as if it had been lifted out of John’s Gospel amidst all its high Christology (what Prof. Hays calls a Jubelruf) reinforces the notion that Son of God in Luke has major implications for divine identity. See also 1:26-38; 3:22; 9:35; 22:29; 23:46.

After discussing Jesus as the Son of God, Prof. Hays turns to Jesus as the awaited LORD of the New Exodus/End of Exile. The Baptist claimed to be preparing the way of the LORD (3:4-6; Isa 40)—the LORD who would bring about the New Exodus. In light of the Baptist’s declaration, who is it that actually comes? What does this say about Jesus’ identity? Was he not the LORD himself? And when the Baptist is in prison and questions Jesus’ divine identity, does not Jesus make further claims about his identity as Israel’s LORD when he tells John to look around and see the fulfilment of Isa 35? This precipitated one of the great moments in the lecture, as Prof. Hays proceeded to recite the lines from the Wesley hymn, “Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, your loosened tongues employ; ye blind, behold your saviour come, and leap, ye lame, for joy.” Thus, Luke depicts Jesus as the “coming one” in fulfilment of those Old Testament passages which speak of the LORD leading Israel out of captivity and back to Zion. The capstone to all of this is Luke’s declaration through the mouth of Peter that this Jesus whom they hanged on a tree, was vindicated by God who raised him to life and is now Lord of all (Acts 10:36). Indeed, reading from back to front, we see that all the references to Jesus as Lord, when taken cumulatively, ultimately blur the distinction of the Lord Jesus and Israel’s LORD.

If Prof. Hays is right in seeing all this as indicating Jesus’ divine identity, then there are a number of elements which fall into place with greater clarity: 1) the fusion of Jesus’ action with God’s; 2) the visitation theme; 3) calling on the name of the LORD; 4) Jesus’ sending of God’s Holy Spirit; and others.

Prof. Hays also remarked on how Luke’s use of sources does not negate the theology explicit in the source. For example, if Luke appropriated pre-existing hymns in Luke 1-2, it means that he embraced their theology. The same is true for Luke’s use of Mark. Whenever Luke does so, it means that he probably liked Mark’s theological emphasis. This is so obvious, but yet a scholar no less than James D. G. Dunn, for example, tries to water down Paul’s high Christology in Phil 2 by suggesting that since Paul borrowed the “hymn” from another source, then it is questionable whether Paul really embraced its theology—an argument strongly refuted in Prof. Fee’s Pauline Christology. All this leads to the conclusion that if Luke appropriates Marcan material without substantially altering it, then Luke also imports Mark’s Christology as well.

On a side note, Prof. Hays expressed some degree of scepticism about Q. His narrative analysis is viable despite either the use or non-existence of Q.

Prof. Hays concluded with several implications for theological reflection on divine identity: 1) Luke’s Gospel requires a fundamental rethinking of God: God is not a theological/philosophical construct, but an acting person (this is why the categories of high and low are not helpful, for God reveals himself in lowliness); 2) Jesus makes good on the Second Exodus prophecies—he is the LORD of the Exodus present with his people; and 3) preaching needs to recover narrative intertextual continuity.

What more can I say? ‘Twas a tremendous day for Cambridge. Ultimately, I walked away feeling that Moses and all the prophets had been opened up to me, as to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, and that I had clearly been shown how the Christ had to suffer and then enter his glory.


Mort said...

Thanks for the report, Jim. You make me wish I had been there!

Anonymous said...

Do you know if Hays was planning to publish this somewhere?


Rev. James M. Leonard said...

Sorry, Jonathan. I don't know. You might want to ask him directly through his Duke University email.

Anonymous said...

OK, thanks.

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