Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel," Chapter 1B (Monotheistic Christology)

I am still in chapter 1 of Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel. See my previous remarks on the Introduction and Chapter 1A (monotheism).

The second third of chapter 1 is about Christological Monotheism in the NT or Monotheistic Christology.

In this section, Bauckham reiterates his (problematic) position that worship (monolatry) is the recognition of unique divine identity, and that there is no blurring of the boundaries with exalted angels or patriarchs, who do not participate in terms of creation or sovereignty—except for the exceptions which prove the rule (Enoch, and all the figures I listed last time like Melchizedek, Adam, Moses (although Bauckham directly denies this) and the anonymous self-enthroned figure from 4Q491c). There is no blurring with wisdom and word because they are already intrinsic in God’s own identity.

From here, he moves into the Christology of the New Testament. He forewarns that it is not an exhaustive investigation of NT texts regarding Christology, but illustrates a “way to read” the texts with monotheism as the hermeneutical key (Why do people always insist on such keys? Do hermeneutical keys exist?). We will find, in fact, that this key does not unlock every door in the NT.

Back to his use of adverbs, he claims that NT texts place Jesus within the unique divine identity “deliberately and comprehensively” (19). The marks of Jesus’ inclusion in the unique divine identity are his roles as sovereign (his enthronement), creator (we’ll discuss this a bit), taking on the divine name (“Lord”), and receiving worship. I admit up front that all these things are present in various texts in the NT, but I would disagree that just because they are found in certain texts that they present the perspective of all texts. Meaning, while all these things are in the NT, not all texts in the NT contain all of these elements. This will become an issue mostly with the role of “creator.”

With these criteria, he states this thesis: “the highest possible Christology—the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity—was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them” (19). He is probably right that all of the writings has a conception of one or a few of these terms (excepting perhaps Mark), but that does not mean that all or any of these terms occurs or is even implied in all of the writings: so which writings exactly invoke “Lord,” which sovereign, which creator, and which suggest worship? Are they separate? Is there convergence? He writes on that this highest of the high Christologies would be later fleshed out and developed in various ways, but it was high from the beginning. To be high from the beginning, moreover, it had to be possible in Judaism. Semi-divine figures have no place, since there were really no such things, and the most exalted angels were not enthroned, did not participate in creation, and were not worshipped (you might notice something missing—the divine name—but we’ll talk about that in a bit).

First, Jesus participates in God’s sovereignty, because he was exalted after death to the throne of God. Bauckham claims this is completely unprecedented (20-21). He has already forgotten about Enoch! Even if we exclude Moses (which is debatable whether we should or not), what about Melchizedek (11Q13) and potentially the dude in 4Q491c? I wonder, does this mean Jesus, like Enoch, is merely another insignificant exception that proves the rule? Exaltation and enthronement is quite common in the NT. It is all over Luke-Acts; a primary theme in Hebrews; and of course Revelation. Part of the evidence is the extensive quotation and allusion to Ps. 110:1 (20, maybe 21 times in the NT) maybe not in every book of the NT, but every author, except, interestingly enough, the Johannine corpus (which already generally are known to hold a pretty high Christology; 21-3). And, I fully agree that the “creative exegesis” of Ps. 110:1 allowed such a Christological moment, giving Jesus the designation “Lord” (see n. 39). The further occasional conflation with Ps. 8:6 emphasizes sovereignty “over all.” This actually points to a discontinuity with Second Temple Judaism, since Ps. 110:1 is very rarely cited (except in T.Job 33:3, and there for different purposes): “the difference simply reflects the fact that early Christians used the text to say something about Jesus which Second Temple Jewish literature is not interested in saying about anyone: that he participates in the unique divine sovereignty over all things” (22). Only God rules over all things before hand, and now Jesus joins ranks. It is clear, moreover, that this exaltation is greater than the angels spatially and qualitatively (see Eph. 1:21-26; cf. Heb. 1).

Again, this overlooks all the other enthroned figures. Even so, however, why did not ancient Jews want to say this about anyone? While the NT writers presumably used the unique divine identity to discuss Jesus and presumably understood this as remaining within bounds of “monotheism,” would those Second Temple writers have agreed? Perhaps the reason that you find such ideas so rarely is that they did think it could threaten the “unique divine identity.” As such, regardless of the NT writers intentions, by including Jesus in the “unique divine identity,” do they blur the distinctions between human and divine, distinctions that had been so well-guarded according to Bauckham? He is still a human exalted and appointed to a divine position, and only has half the divine qualities so far—sovereignty—still not a creator. Would this designate a “semi-divine” category? While from one perspective this is inclusion into the divine identity, from another perspective, it is muddying the waters of divinity.

There is something unsaid here as well. There remains a distinction between the Father and the Son, so to speak, since Jesus must be exalted by the Father and must be appointed, given the throne. God must give it to him. So, while there is identification, there is still some differentiation within that identification. I would note that, for most of these texts (not all though), Jesus is still a creature exalted to godhood; he is not yet a creator. In that sense, there is no real difference or incompatibility (excepting in John, Hebrews, and maybe Revelation) of an adoptionist Christology.

Jesus also attains the divine name—Lord—as seen from the extensive application of Ps. 110:1. It is the name “exclusive” to God in a way that the “ambiguous word ‘god’ is not” (25). “God/s” is a famously ambiguous term. The singular is also the plural form, and it is applied to a vast variety of beings from God to those often falsely called “angels”—they too are called “gods.” PBut there is usually a distinction for the highest God, YHWH, as the “God of Gods” in those cases. erhaps, since "god" is ambiguous, we should do away with "monotheism"? Perhaps we should be speaking of "monokurism" or something of the sort. I further agree that title of “Lord” is the divine name and not just “Mr. Jesus,” but I must disagree that Jesus is the only exalted figure to receive it. There is the “angel of YHWH” throughout the Hebrew Bible, especially in Genesis, and YHWH seems to be very closely associated with this angel, to the point that “YHWH” and “angel of YHWH” is used interchangeably at points (see Gen. 22, for example). There is also the angel Iaoel in the Hellenistic period, being the transliteration into Greek of Yahweh + El. Many highly exalted angels are theophoric in this way: they “carry” the divine name. So, Jesus holds a mark of divinity, but this particular one is not without precedent.

Next, worship is the recognition of divine sovereignty (25), using Phil. 2:9-11 and Rev. 5 as the primary examples. I would note, however, that Adam receives worship in the Testament of Adam, and is exalted above the angels, because he is the image of God. One angel refuses, however, and is cast down, making Satan the only true monotheist (ha!). We should recall all of those "negligible" cases of angel veneration (just because something is "negligible" does not mean the early Christians do not pick up on it--the use of Ps. 110:1 is a perfect example!).

Finally, Jesus is creator. Bauckham relates this to his sovereignty, which he calls “eschatological monotheism”: “Jesus is seen as the one who exercises God’s eschatological sovereignty over all things, with a view to the coming of God’s kingdom and the universal acknowledgement of God’s unique deity” (26). Christians are primarily concerned, in this regard, with Jesus’ future participation in divine sovereignty—does this suggest Jesus does not participate in it in the writers’ present? Mirroring this is the “protological” aspect because being sovereign and creator are indivisible: “The participation of Christ in the creative work of God’s is necessary, in Jewish monotheistic terms, to complete the otherwise incomplete inclusion of him in the divine identity” (26). Oh, but they are divisible, and, if not, then the divine identity Christology must remain incomplete, half-baked, for many early Christians! Firstly, as we saw in the last post, the texts that discuss God’s sovereignty and those that discuss God as creator rarely converge. Moreover, very few early Christian texts portray Jesus as creator. Bauckham may claim that it is implied, but I hardly think this is the case in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for example, when Jesus’ origins are so clearly human and earthly and as a creature, being possessed by the Spirit of God at baptism, abandoned at the cross, and then, for a job well-done, exalted and enthroned. Perhaps Bauckham has caught some logic at hand for some authors—they saw the parallelism of protology and eschatology and emended their views accordingly—but it seems that at least the synoptics, for example, can only present half of the divine qualities excluding the possibility of preexistence and creator. This is a shift away from merely being appointed sovereign.

The evidence here is John 1:1-5 (fairly expected); 1 Cor. 8:6 (really?); Col 1:15-16 (perhaps); Heb 1:2-3, 10-12 (definitely true here); and Rev.3:14 (fairly obscure, but we’ll check it out). John and Hebrews are, I think, clearly supportive of Jesus as creator: God creates the world through the word or the son respectively. No problems here. The surprise, I think, is 1 Cor. 8:6, and this is the only text at this point that Bauckham looks at in any detail (perhaps because it is sort of a surprise?). The text, in fact, relies upon the Shema (that’s why Bauckham emphasized it disproportionately before!). It speaks of:

“One God, the Father,
From whom are all things
And for whom we exist,
And one Lord, Jesus Christ,
Through whom are all things
And through whom we exist.
(1 Cor. 8:4-6)

This is a fairly well-balanced verse, with two basic parts broken into three phrases each, with each phrase mirroring the other. It rings of a creedal statement in my ears. So, one God (the father) mirrors one Lord (Jesus Christ), and so on. As Bauckham notes, it identifies Jesus as the Lord from the Shema. Paul does so, it seems, with great skill. The parallelism does what parallelism does: it draws two things into a relationship, perhaps an identity, but it also draws attention to variation. God is the one “from whom” and Jesus is the one “through whom.” Other texts also present Jesus “through whom” (Col. 1:15), but that “unambiguously” gives Jesus the role of creator. Bauckham likewise notes that this text gives Jesus a creative role. Is this passage so clear? And what is that creative role exactly? In general, Bauckham notes that God is the one from, for, to, and by creation exists; and now Jesus gets the instrumental case, the “by,” and perhaps is identified with the Wisdom and/or Word in that way? If that is the case, it does differ, since the Wisdom and Word were never human figures exalted to the status of creator. It seems to me that the parallelism draws a distinction between the father and the son in that all things come from the father and all things exist through the son. In other words, the father is the creator, the son is the sustainer. I would suggest that the Pauline phrase, in which Jesus, at best, is the restorer and sustainer of creation, and, in that way, belatedly relates to creation, has later become in Colossians, John, and Hebrews reinterpreted to mean the original creator. But I agree with Bauckham that it marks Jesus as somehow divine, because the gist of the larger context is to distinguish true from false gods. It uses the patterns of monotheism of the Shema, brings in the creative function as divine, and gives Jesus one aspect of the creative function (the by), but does not necessarily mean that Jesus is the originator; he is the sustainer of creation—and that is in itself significant. Bauckham is clear that this is not just adding or tacking on Jesus, but “including” Jesus.

Rev. 3:14 refers to Jesus as the “origin of God’s creation” (ἡ ἀρχὴ τῆς κτήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ). What does that mean? It too is ambiguous. If it does mean “origin” or “beginning” as its use in John suggests, for example, then it can mean two possible things: it could mean something like Bauckham’s idea of Jesus as creator, or it could mean that Jesus is the first created being—preexistence, yes; creator, it is not so clear.

Bauckham explains away the paucity of evidence for Jesus as creator as merely being not a concern of most NT writers. But, I think it is because for most he is sovereign without being creator: he shares in half the divine attributes. In fact, the perspective of the synoptics precludes such a possibility of preexistence and creator, since Jesus is sort of “adopted.” Bauckham seems to think that this can’t be so because this would be incomplete in terms of including Jesus in the divine identity, but such a case is only true within Bauckham's rhetoric and not in the sources themselves. My response is that some NT writers must have included Jesus incompletely. Just because the earliest writer may have some inkling of Jesus as a restorer of the cosmic order (Paul), does not mean all the other writers shared his perspective. Thus, we must just accept that many NT writers had not fully developed this Christology (and this does not imply their Christology is in any way "incomplete" but was not so concerned with divinity)—even if they did post-date those who did. Only a few authors, therefore, included Jesus fully in terms of being Creator (Colossians, Hebrews, and John; maybe Revelation; possibly, but not really likely, Paul).

Bauckham makes a dangerous move next: he claims that the high Christology of Paul in 1 Cor. 8:6 summarizes the NT position as a whole (30). The NT, though, does not have a single position. Each author has his own conceptualization, and even if the highest Christology already appears in Paul, it does not mean that Mark, Matthew, and Luke fully agreed with it; in fact, they clearly differ in protology. This is the same methodological problem I raised last time: he normalizes texts that don't fit into his view by reading them through texts that do and does not read them on their own terms.

Despite my numerous objections, I do think Bauckham’s divine identity Christology effectively moves things beyond “ontic” and “functional” categories. I think the evidence is just a whole lot messier, more ambiguous, and less comprehensive than he does, but what evidence that exists is still significant. Bauckham has shown that there is widespread attestation to Jesus as the enthroned sovereign and has the name of God, there is good evidence of worship, and then there are a handful of texts that speak of Jesus as creator. This is high Christology, indeed, but the application of the various divine aspects to Jesus was neither always complete, comprehensive, nor, at times, without precedent (particularly with enthronement and the investiture with the divine name). There is a great deal of variety and, even with similar concepts, shades of meaning as one moves from text to text. NO TEXT IS REPRESENTATIVE.


James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for posting on this - it is good to know that someone else finds Bauckham's claim that none of the other exalted figures from the Judaism around the time of the rise of Christianity represent genuine parallels or provide a basis for comparison that can help us make sense of the rise of early Christology.

Presumably Paul's view should be called "monotheomonokurism"? :) I devote a significant amount of attention to the 1 Corinthian passage in The Only True God, and basically my argument is that Paul supplements rather than "splits" the Shema, in a manner that is not at all without parallel or precedent.

Thanks again for blogging through Bauckham's book!

Jared said...

Is your new book out yet?

James F. McGrath said...

I've been notified that the advance copies are in, and so I should hold one in my hands for the first time very soon. Others who've requested copies for review and who've pre-ordered the book should get them within a matter of weeks.

Jared said...

It would be nice to read after reading Bauckham's book. I also have the Hurtado tome in my pile.