Bauckham: New Testament Christology [2]

To recap the first post on Richard Bauckham’s understanding of the development of NT Christology: the God of Israel has a unique, personal identity, which is marked out by characteristics and facets that by definition are God’s alone. E.g., YHWH is the only eternal one, the creator of all and the ruler of all, the one seated on the heavenly throne, high and lifted up above all others, the one who alone may be worshipped. 

The Divine Identity of Jesus 

Building on his presentation of Jewish monotheism, Bauckham proceeds to argue that new light is cast upon the christological texts of the NT and, using his category of ‘identity’, he speaks of a ‘Christology of divine identity’. He argues that the inclusion of Jesus within the divine identity cannot have been achieved piecemeal, but must have happened early, quickly and de novo. Thus, a kind of ‘christological monotheism’ was developed which was both continuous with Jewish monotheism, but was novel in viewing Jesus as intrinsic to God’s own identity. Further, that while 

Jewish monotheism clearly distinguished the one God from all other reality… the ways in which it distinguished the one God from all else did not prevent the early Christians including Jesus in this unique divine identity.[1] 

As Bauckham seeks to demonstrate, not only was Jewish monotheism structurally open to such a development but the unique elements in the divine identity are precisely those which the first Christians drew upon to explain who they thought Jesus was. A natural consequence of this observation is that those scholarly hypotheses which seek to understand the development of NT Christology by the use of intermediary figures are therefore mistaken. Not only is there no such principal agent model which may be drawn upon, but regardless of how highly exalted some of these figures may appear, they are all created beings subject to YHWH’s rule and not to be worshipped. Such figures cannot help us to understand the development of NT Christology, for if Jesus was modelled on them, the boundary between the one God and all other reality would still have to be traversed. Thus, Bauckham deems any such explanatory model as falling short. However, he proposes a model which be believes is more adequately based on the foundations of the NT texts themselves. 

Through the medium of creative exegesis, the story of Jesus and Israel’s scriptures were mutually interpreted, resulting in profound, if often stunning, theological insights. In particular, Bauckham calls attention to the importance of Ps 110:1 for the earliest post-Easter Christology. This foundational scripture, the OT text most alluded to in the NT, used in combination with a specific selection of other texts, makes clear that “Jesus’ exaltation was understood as his sharing the divine throne in heaven”.[2] This is not a step the early Christians could have taken lightly due to the importance of the divine throne as a key symbol of Jewish monotheism; for if Jesus was seated on God’s own throne, he must also be participating in the unique divine sovereignty. Therefore, as the divine rule over the whole of the cosmos was not something that could be delegated to any creature, Jesus must have belonged to the divine identity, with all that such a conviction would entail. Thus, in Bauckham’s view, 

The concern of early Christology, from its root in the exegesis in Psalm 110:1 and related texts, was to understand the identification of Jesus with God.[3] 

Additionally, however, there is an important corollary to this, for there is no convincing allusion to Ps 110:1 in any other Second Temple text. As such, the early christological use of Ps 110:1 is “a major impediment in the way of attempts to see early Christology as the transference to Jesus of a Jewish model already well developed and well known in relation to various principal angels and exalted patriarchs.”[4] The early Christians wished to say something about Jesus which no other Jews wished to say – that a second figure was seated with God and, according to Bauckham, participating in the unique divine sovereignty. 

In Bauckham’s opinion, it is this radically novel first step which led to all of the other christological claims of the NT, such as Jesus being given the divine name and receiving worship, which within a Jewish monotheistic and monolatrous setting was absolute confirmation and recognition of his divine identity.[5] This was carefully presented so as to include Jesus within the worship of the one God (e.g. Phil 2:9-11; Rev 5), for Jesus is not an alternative object of worship to the Father. Further, Bauckham notes that Phil 2:9-11 cannot mean, 

that merely honouring Jesus is a way of worshipping God, since this was precisely the way sophisticated pagans related polytheistic worship to recognition of a single supreme God. Jewish monotheists always rejected it (e.g., Philo, Spec. leg. 1.31).[6] 

Thus, to worship Jesus entailed that he was intrinsic to the unique divine identity, otherwise Jewish monotheism would have been subverted. Moreover, if Jesus belongs to the divine identity then he must have done so eternally. Texts such as the Johannine Prologue and Hebrews 1 demonstrate that he is even included in the unique creative activity of God. All of these claims were “the early Christians’ Jewish way of preserving monotheism against the ditheism that any kind of adoptionist Christology was bound to involve.”[7] 

The recognition that Jesus was intrinsic to the divine identity naturally led to further reflection on how precisely this was the case. For example, when the pre-existent Christ is described 

in terms corresponding to Jewish language about the Word or the Wisdom of God, it is not the Jewish concepts of Word and Wisdom themselves which are driving the christological development. The purpose is to include Jesus completely in the unique identity of God, protologically as well as eschatologically.[8] 

Still, both of these are especially appropriate in helping to express some kind of distinction within the divine identity, as is apparent in the Johannine Prologue. Moreover, in Bauckham’s analysis of monotheism and Christology in John’s Gospel, he argues that ‘Father and Son’ language naturally supersedes that of ‘Word and God’, and further elaborates early Christian thought on the relationship between Jesus and the one he knew as Abba. Indeed, according to Bauckham, the Fourth Gospel 

serves to redefine the divine identity as one in which Father and Son are inseparably united in differentiation from each other… [and that while it] is in the portrayal of this intra-divine relationship that John’s Christology steps outside the categories of a Jewish monotheistic definition of the unique identity of God… [it] does not deny or contradict a Jewish monotheistic definition of God.[9] 

In fact, the Gospel’s entire presentation of Jesus and God is precisely configured to both preserve monotheism and yet elaborate on this intra-divine relationship.[10] 

Finally, Bauckham argues that the NT writers had an integrated reading of Deutero-Isaiah which interpreted its eschatological hopes and promise of salvation as fulfilled in the life and history of Jesus. Thus, Deutero-Isaiah’s eschatological monotheism is reinterpreted as christological monotheism. “So far from the inclusion of Jesus in divinity constituting a problem for monotheism, these New Testament writers present it as the way in which the unique God demonstrates his unique divinity to the world.”[11] Moreover, these events were all revelatory of God, including Jesus’ humiliation and suffering. Therefore, if the exalted Christ is intrinsic to the unique divine identity, so must be the suffering and crucified Christ. Consequently, while this has fascinating implications for who God is (hence, the title of his original book: God Crucified), it lies beyond the scope of our current posts. 

Next up: General Assessment of Bauckham’s Interpretation 


[1] Bauckham, God Crucified, 4. 

[2] Bauckham, “Throne”, 60-1. Ps 110:1 with Ps 8:6 in Mt 22:44; Mk 12:36; 1 Cor 15:25-28; Eph 1:20-22; 1 Pet 3:22; cf. Heb 1:13-2:9. “That it is on God’s own heavenly throne itself that Jesus sits beside God is explicit in some of the texts (Heb 8:1; 12:2; Rev 3:21; 5:6; 7:17; 22:3) and should probably be assumed for all” (“Throne”, 64). Unfortunately, Bauckham does not intimate whether or not he believes that the impetus for using Ps 110:1 by the early Christians was rooted in Jesus’ own usage (e.g., Mt 22:42-46). 

[3] Bauckham, “Throne”, 64. 

[4] Bauckham, “Throne”, 62. Bauckham deals in various places with other enthroned figures which some scholars may use to object to this argument (e.g., God Crucified, 16-20). 

[5] Additionally, the ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ tradition is now applied to Christ (1 Cor 1:2 cf. Rom 10:12-14; Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16; 2 Tim 2:22), and Paul explicitly uses OT texts which spoke of YHWH and refers them now to Jesus (e.g., Rom 10:13; Phil 2:5-11; 1 Cor 8:4-6). 

[6] Bauckham, “Worship in Phil 2”, 134. 

[7] Bauckham, R., “Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1” in L.T. Stuckenbruck and W.E.S. North (eds.), Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (JSNTSup, 263; London: Continuum, 2004), 167-185; 168. 

[8] Bauckham, God Crucified, 40. 

[9] Bauckham, “John”, 165. 

[10] In an early article Bauckham argues that NT ‘Father and Son’ language is rooted in the historical Jesus’ unique filial consciousness, though this has played no part in his recent work. While I see no reason why this earlier perspective would require repudiation, how this fits with his current thesis awaits his projected opus. Bauckham, R., “The Sonship of the Historical Jesus in Christology” SJT 31 (1978), 245-260. 

[11] Bauckham, God Crucified, 56. See generally for this argument, the case studies on John’s Gospel, Revelation, and Phil 2:5-11, pp. 47-69.

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3 Responses to “Bauckham: New Testament Christology [2]”

  1. Bauckham: New Testament Christology [1] « Introspective Cogitations Says:

    […] up: The Divine Identity of Jesus   [1] Bauckham, R., God Crucified: Monotheism & New Testament Christology (Carlisle: […]

  2. Bauckham: New Testament Christology [3] « Introspective Cogitations Says:

    […] New Testament Christology [3] By Jonathan Click here for the first and second posts outlining Richard Bauckham’s understanding of the development of New Testament […]

  3. Week in Review: 08.13.10 | Near Emmaus Says:

    […] Jonathan Brown has begun a series on Richard Bauckham’s Christology (see here, here, and […]

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