Saturday, 13 December 2008

Q and A: Divine Identity

There was a period for questions and answers. I fear that perhaps the best questions weren’t always asked or were presented without sufficient clarity for my mind. To be sure there were several really good questions, but I didn’t take notes, and my mind only conjures up my own question and Peter Head’s question on messianism and its impact on divine identity. Dr. Head’s question was especially significant since I’m not sure that the speakers spent much time dealing with Jesus’ Messiahship as a part of his divine identity.

My own question was this:

“We’ve been working under the higher criticism template that the New Testament documents had a low Christology, and that Christology evolved over the centuries until it reached full Trinitarian expression at Nicaea and Chalcedon. Yet you [Profs. Bauckham and Hays] have attempted to smash this template, and to argue for a high Christology in the New Testament writings, along with others such as Prof. Bockmuehl, Prof. Fee in his Pauline Christology, Dr. Gathercole in his The Pre-Existent Son, Prof. Hurtado in his Lord Jesus Christ, and others. My question is, Are you being persuasive, and would you prophesy to us about the future state of the question in about ten years?”

I was satisfied with the answers, and also struck in several ways. Prof. Bauckham expressed his hope that their message would fall on listening ears especially among younger scholars, confessing that many seasoned scholars may already be too entrenched to hear. He also shared with us his own experience of moving away from the old template with which he could have been pleased to keep as his own, except that the evidence itself pushed him to abandon it (as I blogged earlier).

Prof. Hays then stated that the two lines of interpretation have been clearly delineated, and that the conflict between the two sides was fierce. He stated that there are some on the other side of the line who dismiss arguments from his side as poor scholarship. He said much more, but sad to say, I can’t recall several other aspects of his response. I myself have not read the book reviews or heard the polemics play out at meetings such as Society of Biblical Literature, etc. However, I have read one review—James D.G. Dunn’s review of Dr. Gathercole’s The Pre-Existent Son, and judging by Dunn’s comments, I’d have to say that Prof. Hays’ characterisation of the raging conflict is justified.

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.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Richard Bauckham on Divine Identity in Mark

This is the third blog on this colloquium; scroll down for the first two.

Prof. Bauckham, if he doesn’t already assume this matrix (i.e., as outlined by Don Lewis here) certainly does reinforce it. He emphasises first the assumed monotheism of the earliest Christians and then traces how they incorporated Old Testament language and characterisations of God in their assessment of Jesus’ own identity. As such, Bauckham argues more for a Christology of divine identity rather than divine nature.

Prof. Bauckham himself suggested a matrix for understanding God: 1) God is the sole creator, and distinguished from the creature; 2) he is the sovereign ruler, and distinguished from his subjects; 3) he will achieve his eschatological rule; 4) he has his unique name YHWH; 5) he alone may be and should be worshiped.

This interpretive framework for understanding divine identity was applied to Jesus as the earliest Christians sought to understand his own identity. Jesus was not identical to God, but uniquely shares his identity or is included therein. The whole of Prof. Bauckham’s paper shows how this was worked out in Mark’s Gospel.

One of Prof. Bauckham’s important points was the insistence of the early Christians to apply Ps 110 to Jesus: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’” (the most quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament). The early Christians took the inviolable Old Testament principle that God’s rule cannot be asserted by the creature, yet Jesus is the one who ushers in the kingdom. This has implications for not merely Jesus’ pre-existence, but also for his eternality. If Jesus shares the divine identity, he must have shared it eternally. Along these lines, Prof. Bauckham debunks the low Christology of the old adage which stated that Jesus merely functions as God by asserting that in order for Jesus to function as God, he must truly be God.

Six Passages
Prof. Bauckham commented on six passages in Mark, as quickly outlined below….

In the exorcism of 1:21-27, the striking element is the new authority which Jesus displays. He casts out the demon not by some technique or by prayer to God, but by his own striking authority.

In the healing of the paralytic (2:1-12), Jesus is accused of usurping the divine prerogative to forgive sins. His accusers appear to have made a correct deduction. After all, the psalmist says, “Against you alone have I sinned” emphasising that sin has a personal effect toward God, requiring his personal forgiveness. This is reinforced by the Marcan reference to the Shema (Deut 6:4-6) in the Pharisee’s rhetorical question, Who can forgive sin but God alone? “But God alone” rendered literally is “God is one.” Moreover, the text does not say, “Your sins have been forgiven,” as some have (customarily?) suggested that a priest perhaps might have said in connection with Temple prerogatives, but rather, “Your sins are forgiven.” Indeed, Simon Gathercole suggests that there may be no example in extant literature that a priest ever said, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

In the stilling of the storm (4:35-41), the question of Jesus’ identity becomes an open question, one which is not explicitly answered until late in the Gospel. The motif of rebuke and obeying is found in this text, and is part of a constellation of passages which appropriate divine prerogatives to Christ’s own identity: 1:25, 27; 4:39, 41, 42.

Walking on Water (6:47-52): ego eimi (cf. 14:62).

In Jesus’ conversation with the rich man (10:17-22), monotheism is again reinforced with the same Shema formula as found in Mark 2:7: God is one. Jesus’ reply about God alone being good is not a radical disassociation of himself from the divine identity, but rather a provocative irony.

Only in Jesus’ answer to the high priest (14:61-64) is the question of Jesus’ identity explicitly answered. It comes as a climax to the whole narrative of Mark’s Gospel. It is then reinforced by the centurion at Jesus’ death who declared that Jesus was the Son of God. Strangely enough, however, Prof. Bauckham seemed to deny that the Old Testament text behind this passage (Dan 7) has implications for divine identity, a point which Prof. Hays rightly pressed him on.

Thus, questions regarding Jesus’ identity arise in 1:27; 2:7; 4:41; 10:18; which are finally resolved in Jesus’ answer to the high priest’s question, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” (14:61). I would argue that Jesus’ reply claims more for himself than the High Priest could have imagined, but I’m not sure that Prof. Bauckham himself made this point.

My Reflections
Prof. Bauckham’s background contrasts greatly from my own. He says he used to be perfectly happy with the old template that the New Testament documents began with a low Christology, but evolved over the centuries into Trinitarianism. This all changed, he says, as he looked more carefully at the New Testament documents himself.

In contrast, I have fundamentalist roots, and at Free Will Baptist Bible College, we examined the deity of Christ primarily from the standpoint of prooftexts but also through occasional good exegesis. Certainly the good exegesis was reinforced at Regent College, especially with an appreciation of the appropriation of Old Testament theological concepts by the New Testament writers. Consequently, I’m not surprised at Prof. Bauckham’s conclusions.

In many ways, what Prof. Bauckham presented today is a more nuanced and sophisticated version of the understanding of the deity of Christ that was taught to me back at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Perhaps the most striking difference is in the personalities. On one hand, fundamentalists from Bob Jones University taught me the deity of Christ in the early 1980s. On the other hand, yesterday, a scholar highly respected by everyone, who is at the absolute apex of academia, stood up at the lectern at the University of Cambridge and declared, “Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus as sharing in the divine identity,” which, as far as I can tell, does nothing less than affirm the deity of Christ. If he had done so at Free Will Baptist Bible College, the crowd would have shouted, “Amen.”

A final comment in this regard, I’m not sure I share Prof. Bauckham’s concern to distinguish the issue of Jesus’ nature as being divine and the issue of Jesus’ divine identity. It seems that the emphasis on Jesus’ divine identity leads nowhere else except to Jesus’ full deity in nature.

Primitive Christian Christology

Don Lewis’ Christian History course has been helpful in my understanding of the Christology of the earliest Christians. Here is his basic interpretive matrix: 1) the earliest Christians were fiercely and uncompromisingly monotheistic; 2) they believed that God intervened in human history; 3) this intervention in human history culminated in the incarnation: God became flesh—and this was human flesh, a human being; 4) the incarnation was that of Jesus Christ; 5) God continues to dwell with his people through the Holy Spirit. Whatever your view of Jesus, it must fit into this five-fold matrix if it is to fit into the theological parameters of the primitive Church.

This interpretive matrix falls short of the exactitudes of Chalcedonian Trinitarianism, but provides the basis for its later development. Thus, Gordon Fee can rightly refer to Paul’s “latent” Trinitarianism. This matrix also marks the parameters for Divine Identity in the Gospels. For example, the fierce monotheism of the earliest Christians bars various theories that Jesus was some sort of subordinate deity. Also, the emphasis on the reality of the incarnation bars theories which would claim that Jesus was less than God or less than man.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bauckham and Hays on Divine Identity: Tyndale House Colloquium

Today, Tyndale House featured a premiere conference on “Divine Identity.” The old template which scholars have laboured under for about a hundred years has been that the New Testament documents began with a low Christology and eventually evolved over the centuries, culminating in the high Christology Trinitarianism of 4th and 5th century Nicaea and Chalcedon. Accordingly, Peter, Paul, and Mary or any other early Christian could never have believed that Jesus was God.

Our speakers today smashed the template. It is a tribute to Tyndale House that two scholars of such sterling and high reputation were brought in for a day long conference on this important topic.

The first speaker was Richard Baukham. Yes, of course he is a great scholar and retired professor at St. Mary’s College at St. Andrews University, Scotland. More significantly is that he produces scholarship and books which shake the academic establishment not merely on account of the radical nature of his claims, but on account of the importance of the subject material. The last book of his which I read was Jesus and the Eyewitnesses which made the revolutionary claim that the Gospels actually are traceable to eyewitness accounts. Yes, I know that this is not revolutionary for conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, but it is altogether revolutionary that a major, highly respected biblical scholar would make such a claim. Prof. Baukham is reputed to be perhaps the leading New Testament scholar in all of Great Britain.

The second speaker was Richard Hays, Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. I first encountered Prof. Hays through one of my own professors, Gordon Fee who himself is one of the few really great Pauline scholars. Prof. Fee urged me to read Prof. Hays work Echoes of Scripture way back in 1992, and Prof. Hays’ scholarly capital has done nothing but grow since then. He is currently working on a mammoth project dealing with the use of the Old Testament in the Gospels. This work was reflected in today’s colloquium as Prof. Hays opened up to us how the Old Testament was employed to reveal Jesus’ divine identity in the gospels. I’m pleased to say that Prof. Hays and I share a study carrel together at Tyndale House while he is on sabbatical, and he has consistently been a very kind and considerate person during these last five or six months. I look forward to reading his work in the coming years.

I suppose we had about 125 people for the colloquium. This is a large number, considering Tyndale House did not advertise the event. We had students and professors from way up north in Scotland as well as south England. I had lunch with Dr. K. Brower of Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, and several of his students (two from Russia, one from Swaziland, and one from England). I also met several students from Oak Hill College, an evangelical pastoral training school here in England.

It was a great day for New Testament scholarship, and Tyndale House Warden Pete Williams should be commended for organising such an outstanding event. I will post a couple of more blogs about the lectures themselves.

Incarnation and Omniscience

In trying to sort out the question of the incarnation and divine omniscience, we're mixing together several ingredients. First, we throw in the biblical texts which say a) Jesus is God; and b) Jesus' knowledge was limited. Then, we mix in the divine attributes, including omniscience. Finally, we mix in our philosophical attempts to understand the ins and outs of the Trinity--and since philosophy is rational and since our reason is often faulty, we should expect some uncertainties in this endeavour.

Some ingredients simply don't mix well, and maybe they shouldn't be thoroughly mixed together. I'm not sure. But the point is that it is going to be hard to make all the data fit with each other.

Bottom line:
1) Jesus is God
2) God knows everything
3) The Bible speaks of Jesus' knowledge being limited
4) Somehow the first three points fit together without contradiction

In all this, we should fully embrace the incarnation. Jesus wasn't born fully aware that Mary must eat protein in order to produce the stuff in her mammary glands which would deliver milk from her breasts into his stomach if he capably sucks her nipples, and that his body would produce waste which would soil the clothing rags which Zach the merchant sold to her ten years ago as a blanket. (Forgive me if this is a bit crude--I hope not.) He didn't lie there in her arms sucking her breast and thinking, "Oooh, the pizza she ate last night is a bit spicy."

But by the time he was 12, he did have a sense of his special and unique relationship with God so that he could refer to him as MYFather."

This understanding of his special relationship with God as his Father was confirmed to him by the voice from heaven at his baptism: "This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased." The divine revelation propelled Jesus into the wilderness to contemplate his mission. Yes, indeed, he was God's Son, but the question remained, what kind of Son would he be?

In the baptismal declaration, the divine voice cited passages from Gen 22 (God telling Abraham to take his son, his only son whom he loved) with a Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah. The implication here is that Jesus as God's Son would be the Suffering Servant who would be offered up as a sacrifice; for (as in Gen 22), God himself would provide the sacrifice. The time in the wilderness was a time of contemplation and meditation on the baptismal declaration, and Satan tempted him along those lines: "If you are the Son of God, then...."

All this suggests that while Jesus understood himself as having a unique relationship with God as his Father, Jesus did not have a clear vision of his ministry until about age 30 when he was baptised. The plea at Gethsemane then was a genuine plea that another way would be made manifest.

More remarkably, Jesus' faith in God was a real faith--not one based on the omniscient knowledge of final outcomes. In his full humanity, he trusted God with his life, holding fast to his belief that God would raise him on the third day. Not being omniscient, Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, beaten, mocked and crucified. Not being omniscient, he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Not being omniscient, he could only put his faith in God, as reflected in his final cry, "Into your hands, I commit my Spirit."

This is our God, the Servant King.