Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel" 4B (Doxologies and Hymns)

In my previous post, I began discussing chapter 4 of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel on the worship of Jesus in early Christianity. That section focused on calling on the name of the Lord, the eschatological impulse of early Christian worship, and proskunesis and what that means. In this section, we turn to doxologies and hymns as evidence of early Christian worship.

B turns to doxologies and hymns because they are the most pervasive types of evidence. He claims that doxologies constitute unambiguously divine worship appropriate only for God in an unbroken tradition from NT to Nicaea. Is it broken thereafter?

He does a form analysis of doxologies, differentiating “strict” and “acclamatory” doxologies. Strict has four parts: (1) person praised in dative; (2) word of praise (doxa); (3) time (“forever”); (4) Amen. They usually form the conclusion to a prayer, sermon, letter, but are occasionally within. While benedictions are more common in Judaism, doxologies are still derived form Jewish forms of worship of God (to whom all glory belonged). Christians took the same basic formula and added “through Jesus Christ” to it. The commonest forms to Christ alone are later and fewer in number (2 Tim 4:18; 2 Pet 3:19; Rev 1:5-6), but given the distribution in three traditions in three geographical areas, it presupposes an earlier practice. Nonetheless, it becomes more pervasive in second and third century documents. Origen, for example, tended to end his homilies in doxologies to Christ as did the Acts of the Christian martyrs. As time goes on, these earlier doxological formulas are expanded into a Trinitarian formula, but these are all post-Nicene. Often doxologies are connected to the reign of Christ in martyr accounts to contrast with the idolatrous prelates of Caesar: “The doxology thus expresses precisely the issue of worship for which the martyrs died” (134).

I should note something—this may be an “unbroken” tradition, but it definitely does not appear to be a static one. It seems that doxologies to God through Jesus are most common earlier, then doxologies to Christ show up out of these, but, as he notes, this really does not catch on until the second and third centuries, and, finally, this is expanded into Trinitarian doxologies.

Next he turns to the “acclamatory” doxologies. They are basically “Glory to” plus an object in the second or third person with an optional closing giving the reason for the acclamation. Unlike the “strict” form, it is not necessarily concluding, but seems independent, and is often introductory. There are few examples of this extant. The NT uses it for God (Luke and Revelation), but tended to be used for Christ in the apocryphal acts. The NT does use it for God and Christ together (Rev. 5:13; cf. 7:10). I do find it interesting that B turns to second and third century documents for the majority of his evidence of Jesus worship.

While doxologies directly addressed to Jesus tend toward the second century, hymns, B claims, are as old as the Christian community itself (citing Martin Hengel, RIP), which also continue into the ante-Nicene period. Hymns “to the Lord,” for example show up in Ephesians, Pliny’s letter, Ignatius, and the Coptic Acts of Paul. Most endure into the third century Christological debate.

Hymns, however, in the NT, e.g, Phil. 2:9-11, are mostly not addressed to Christ, but are narratives about Christ, like the narrative psalms of the Hebrew Bible. He also discusses Melito of Sardis. I find this problematic in discussions of worship given to Christ. There are hymns about the Exodus, for example, but that does not mean these hymns are addressed to Moses!

Yet there are examples of hymns addressed to Christ (Did. 10:6; Rev. 5:9-10—is not for human use, but probably reflects hymns in churches; Heb. 1:8-12 interprets Ps. 45:6-7 and Ps. 102:25-7 as addressed to Christ (cf. Justin Martyr)). B suggests that a study of the Psalms probably inspired new songs—it is possible, but there is no evidence to adduce. The Phos Hilaron probably from the second to the third centuries vary from the texts that survive the earliest period; earliest hymns celebrate the death, resurrection, exaltation, and enthronement of Christ and have an eschatological edge.

In speaking of hymns, he concludes:

“The one who functions as God shows the divine identity with God and, naturally, receives divine worship, not of course as a competitor or supplanter of God in the community’s worship but as God’s plenipotentiary whose praise redounds to God’s glory” (138).

B also suggests that this type of worship led to more explicit formulations or statements of Christ’s divine identity. But again, B cannot escape “functional” Christology, since Jesus “functions as God” and acts as “God’s plenipotentiary.” Perhaps it is ultimately inescapable and cannot be fully replaced with a “divine identity” inclusion Christology as B had hoped.

B then briefly touches upon pagan perceptions, which indicates that worship of Jesus was the central distinguishing characteristic of early Christianity. Most second and third century pagan writers who talk about Christianity emphasize it (Pliny, Lucian, Celsus, and Porphyry). Pagans saw Christianity as a cult to Jesus like so many other cults to teachers and heroes of semi-divine status. But they thought Jesus was unworthy of such a cult and were appalled at its exclusivity, and they (mainly Celsus) saw it as inconsistent with Jewish monotheism (which was exotic at best, objectionable often).

In sum, it seems that B's best evidence for early Christian worship of Jesus comes after the NT documents in second and third century texts with occasional evidence from earlier sources. Doxologies TO rather than THROUGH Jesus appear mostly later (in both "strict" and "acclamatory" form) and hymns TO rather than ABOUT Jesus tend to be later. The developments are connected to what is found in the NT documents, but the "worship" of Jesus seems to be a dynamic rather than a static thing, making the equation of what is found in later documents with the scant earlier evidence difficult to maintain. Likewise, outsider observations begin in the later period.

Next in this chapter, B turns to how this worship is consistent with monotheism in first through third century documents and ongoing christological development.

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