Archive for the ‘Christology’ Category

Pre-existence of the Son of God in Paul? Series Link

November 6, 2010

Phil 2;
1 Cor 8;
Col 1;
Gal 4/Rom 8;
1 Cor 10;

Complete pdf file with notes and bibliography.


Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Conclusion

November 6, 2010

After analyzing the major texts (Phil 2; 1 Cor 8; Col 1; Gal 4/Rom 8; 1 Cor 10), it is clear that Paul manifestly did present a pre-existence Christology. Firstly, there are a number of clear references to the idea within the undisputed Paulines and several appear within hymn or creedal-like material, which suggests that Paul was not inventing the concept, but was relying upon even earlier Christian tradition. The presuppositional nature of this is remarkable. Paul does not argue for it, but argues from it, as in Phil 2:6-11 (v. 4) and 1 Cor 10:4, 9 (v. 14). This is important, for it shows that Paul was not indulging in speculative theology for its own sake, but was acting as a pastoral theologian. This indicates that the idea of Christ’s pre-existence was already well known and considered authoritative, for otherwise his arguments would have carried no conviction. Apparently, ‘pre-existence’ was simply part of Paul’s and his readers’ symbolic universe.

Yet, this brings us to an important point. When constructing a Pauline perspective, are we to read the individual letters in the light of one another or in isolation? For example, Dunn isolates each text, and, by suggesting an alternative meaning to pre-existence for each, he is able to cast doubt on the whole concept. However, is this methodologically sound? Should a text which might assume pre-existence (2 Cor 8:9) be read in the light of a more explicit one (Phil 2:6-8)? How do we come to an authentically Pauline view? With due caution to preserve the integrity of each letter, my own view is that we must allow the more explicit references to aid us in our interpretation of those where assumptions and presuppositions are at work. Thus, when we employ a cumulative approach, both Dunn’s and Kuschel’s cases become increasingly improbable until eventually they collapse under the weight of evidence.

Moreover, although Dunn attributes Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence to Christ, this is unlikely. Firstly, I concur with Moo’s assessment that the presence of Wisdom in Paul has been “exaggerated”. There is little evidence for the concrete influence of Wisdom beyond 1 Cor 1-4 and often there are much closer parallels to hand (e.g., 1 Cor 10:4 and the ‘rock’ traditions). Further, we must judge what the application of a background tradition means in its new context, not assume its complete and immutable transfer. Thus, what pre-existence connotes must be determined by its Pauline uses, which are defined by the person of Jesus Christ. As Gathercole observes,

“Just as the New Testament identifies the risen and exalted Lord with the Jesus who was born, lived and died, so also the New Testament identified this one who was put to death and exalted with the one through whom all things were made.”

In other words, we have in view the personal continuity of the eternally pre-existent one, through whom all things were created, who existed in the form of God and was equal with God, was active in Israel’s history, but choose to empty himself, to become incarnate in accordance with the Father’s will, sent in order to redeem fallen humanity. Therefore, although Paul provides us with very little in terms of quantity on Christ’s personal pre-existence, to reject it and thus his pre-temporal relationship with his Father, gravely erodes the extremity of divine love which lies at the heart of Paul’s proclamation. At stake is nothing less than the image of the Christian God who was manifested in Christ to reach out to the world at great cost and risk in love (see Rom 8:32, 39).

Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 10

November 5, 2010

1 Cor: 10:1-14: I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.

As our last little exegetical post, we’re going to look at “the rock was Christ”. Dunn states baldly that “There is no evidence that any NT writer thought of Jesus as actually present in Israel’s past”. This is incorrect with respect to the NT as a whole (e.g., John 12:41; Isa 6:10), and probably also with regard to the Pauline materials. In 1 Cor 10 Paul relates the OT story of the Israelites in the wilderness to the Corinthians’ own story. According to Dunn, in 1 Cor 10:1-4 Paul was using “a sort of allegory to warn his readers”: the ‘fathers’ experienced a type of baptism and Lord’s supper, and drank water from the spiritual rock which ‘followed them’, and to make the correspondence complete, Paul identifies this rock – ‘the rock was Christ’. Nonetheless, despite such blessings, they suffered a dreadful end and the Corinthians’ dallying with paganism was putting them in danger of befalling a similar  fate. Thus, in this type of allegorical reading there is no thought of the pre-existent Christ as actually active in Israel’s history. Paul was simply doing something similar to Philo who identified the rock allegorically as Wisdom (Leg. All. 2.86). Thus, Kuschel comments that, “just as the fathers once had a ‘spiritual rock’ which constantly went with them, so too the Christians today have such a rock in Christ.” On this basis, we should not press the metaphors and imagery for historical or doctrinal insights. In addition, Dunn notes the past tense (ἦν), and suggests that if Paul intended a “historical rather than a typological equation”, then, as in 8:6, it is Wisdom’s role which is being attributed to Christ (cf. Wis 11:4).

However, this interpretation is open to question. Firstly, my earlier critique of Dunn’s method of attributing personified Wisdom to Christ equally applies here. Moreover, rather than rock = Wisdom = Christ, it is more likely that Paul made the direct association of Christ with the ‘rock’ traditions, which are often linked to God’s redemptive actions (the ‘rock of salvation’, ‘my rock and my redeemer’; Ps 19:14 etc.). Thus, as it would have been natural to think of God’s greatest redemptive work in Christ, Paul may have shifted ‘rock’ from God to Christ, just as he had done with ‘Lord’. Further, as the ‘following rock’ emphasized God’s continuing graciousness, and Christ is the source of every spiritual gift (1:4-7), then as the instrument of creation (8:6) it would only be a short step also to see Christ as the source of the spiritual food and water that nourished Israel in the wilderness. Secondly, Paul is not allegorizing here, but employing typology (10:6; τύποι). As Thiselton explains, typology “is grounded in history and presupposes corresponding events”, whereas allegory “is grounded in a linguistic system of signs or semiotic codes and presupposes resonances or parallels between ideas or semiotic meanings.” In 10:4, Paul appears to make a historical reference, for if he were allegorizing he would say that the rock is Christ, instead he says that the rock was Christ. This must be granted its full weight, for it places Christ “back there” in Israel’s history rather than in the “here and now.” This is corroborated by 10:9, which states that the Israelites also ‘put Christ to the test’. Therefore, Paul wrote that ‘the rock was Christ’ in order to emphasize the typological character of Israel’s experience, stressing the historical continuity between Israel and the Corinthians. Thereby, he warned the Corinthians of the dangers which their flirtation with paganism entailed, for the same Christ who nourished both them and Israel, would also bring down judgment on them too if they continued to court idolatry. Although it would be wise not to press or over-literalize the reference to Christ as the rock, Fee seems correct that the argument does appear to reflect “not just analogies but, from Paul’s perspective, actualities… [For] it is precisely the presence of Christ in Israel’s story that will make all of this work as a warning to the Corinthians.” With the appropriate caution in dealing with these sorts of statements, the past tense and the reference to putting Christ to the test seem to indicate that Paul really did think of Christ as pre-existent and in some sense present in the OT events, not simply there in a purely figurative way.

Up next: Summation. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Gal 4 & Rom 8

November 2, 2010

Gal 4:4-7: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

It is often argued that ‘God sent his Son’ (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; cf. John 3:17; 1 John 4:9, 10, 14) recalls an early Christian confession about the pre-existent Son being sent from heaven to earth. However, as Dunn argues, it would be wrong to read later Johannine theology into these Pauline statements, for not only are the ‘sending’ verbs different, but if Paul had intended to imply the incarnation of a pre-existent being “he would have been taking a radically new step…[and] we would have expected his earliest recorded intimation of it to be a much more explicit and careful exposition”. Further, Dunn argues that this sending language is due to Jesus being thought of as God’s son and of his commissioning in the manner of the prophetic tradition. In particular, he suggests that the origin of the specific wording is drawn from the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12. The motif may well have its roots in Jesus’ parable, but with respect to Gal 4, as Marshall objects, the additional qualifying clause ‘born of a woman’ “suggests a different ‘field of meaning’ for ‘sent’ from that in Mark 12:6.” Yet, as Dunn states, ‘born of a woman’ does not refer to a heavenly being who is born as a human, but was a familiar Jewish phrase denoting ‘man’, who is “by definition ‘one who is/has been born of a woman’. So the reference is simply to Jesus’ ordinary humanness, not to his birth.” Moreover, Dunn retorts that if a different field of meaning is sought, it lies in Adam Christology. Thus, ‘born of woman, born under the law’ indicates that Jesus wholly shared the lot of fallen Adam in order to redeem and “to recover for the ‘sons of Adam’ the status of ‘sons of God’ (cf. Luke iii.38).” Indeed, the whole focus of Gal 4:4-7 is soteriological. Thus, according to Dunn, we should not conclude that Paul believed in the real pre-existence of Christ.

This position has not gone unchallenged. Firstly, although Dunn correctly notes that the verb ἐξαποστέλλω does not necessarily connote the ‘sending forth’ of a heavenly being, he treats it as if it probably does not. Fee argues that it cannot mean ‘commissioning’ in this context, for it is deliberately paralleled to the ‘sending forth’ of the Spirit. Indeed, Dunn inadequately deals with the implications of this double sending for the Son’s identity even though he also recognizes the ‘Father, Son, Spirit’ structure of 4:4-7. Secondly, although ‘born of a woman’ may connote ordinary humanity, Paul uses the participle γενόμενος (‘having come to be’) rather than γεvvwμενος, the ordinary verb for “birth”, which he does use when he later refers to Ishmael’s birth (4:23, 24, 29). Thus, in Dunn’s analysis ‘born of a woman’ is a redundant phrase which Paul does not pick up again, whereas, as Fee notes, the fact that it is used to emphasize “the Son’s human condition seems to suggest that the sending word presupposes a prior existence that was not human.” Overall, while the passage is primarily soteriological, it might well assume the prior existence of the Son before he becomes human, but what tips the balance is the same formula in Rom 8:3.

Rom 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: (literally) God’s own Son sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

Dunn and Kuschel treat Rom 8:3b (ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας) similarly to Gal 4:4, missing some significant differences (see esp. Aletti’s analysis, with which I basically concur and am following here). Firstly, as Aletti notes, the reflexive ἑαυτοῦ, “highlights the being-son of the Son”, indicating that the Son is unique and not to be “confused with any other being”. This suggests a pre-existing relationship, for by placing ‘God’ and ‘Son’ together before the participle πέμψας, “the sonship of the Son is literally affirmed before mention is made of his being sent for our salvation. In other words, it is not the sending which determines the being-son of the Son.” Further, although Dunn asserts that ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ “probably has the same function in Rom. 8.3f as the phrase ‘born of woman, born under the law’ had in Gal. 4.4f”, this does not follow, for ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ follows ‘sent’, not ‘Son’. Thus, “Against Dunn, we must also maintain that ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ constitutes a modality of the sending by God and not primarily a component of the becoming-son of the Son.” As such, the most natural way to read the phrase is “as indicating the consequence of the sending for the One sent, namely, that he comes to have a human existence”. Therefore, prophetic commissioning will not suffice in this context, for Paul’s precise wording does seem to entail “the Son’s preexistence as he articulates his message of what this divine Son has done for us by becoming a man and suffering death on our account.”

Up next: 1 Cor 10: 4, 9. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Col 1

October 29, 2010

Col 1:13-20: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christology is a major concern of Colossians. The Colossians’ fascination with or perhaps anxiety over ‘the powers’ was threatening to dethrone Christ as Lord of all. Thus, the letter was written to put ‘the powers’ in proper perspective and to argue for Christ’s absolute supremacy. A christological high point is found in the hymn-like passage 1:15-20, which looks like a further elaboration of the content of 1 Cor 8:6b: vv. 15-17 expands ‘through whom all things’, while vv. 18-20 elaborates on ‘we through him’. The basic movement of the passage is fairly clear. As Dunn notes, “from Christ’s (pre-existent) role in creation (first strophe) to his role in redemption (second strophe), from his relationship with the old creation (protology) to his relationship with the new (eschatology).” Indeed, although the hymn praises the exalted Son, the phrases ‘in him’ and ‘through him’ (1:16) leave “little doubt that a role in the original creation of the cosmos is attributed to God’s Son”. However, Dunn objects to reading this “imaginative metaphor in a pedantically literal way”, for assigning a real role in creation to the pre-existent Christ would constitute ditheism in his view. Instead,

“It must mean rather that the powerful action of God, expressed by the metaphor of the female Wisdom, in and through whom the universe came into being, is now to be seen as embodied in Christ, its character now made clear by the light of his cross and resurrection (1:18, 20).”

Again, according to Dunn’s construal, it is only Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence which is attributed to the Son. Yet, this suffers the same problems as his earlier analysis of 1 Cor 8:6 regarding both what constituted monotheism and how wisdom traditions may be applied to new situations. For instance, responding to Dunn, Schnabel states that “Paul asserts in Col. 1:16a that the act of creation (aorist ektisthē) depended causally on Christ—an assertion which does not make sense if Christ was not present at creation.” In other words, 1:16 entails the personal agency of the pre-existent Son. Thus, a solely, ideal pre-existence is inadequate. This is corroborated by the statement that the Son is ‘before all things’ (1:17), which connotes temporal priority to creation as well as pre-eminence over it. Further, a good case can be made that Wisdom is not in view in this passage either, for as Dunn acknowledges, εἰς (1:16; final causation) is not applied to wisdom in the tradition and so his straightforward identification of Christ with Wisdom is somewhat fragile. In fact, ties to Israel’s story of covenant and redemption are both explicit and closer than the alleged allusions to wisdom traditions. For example, ‘image of the invisible God’ picks up Gen 1: “The pre-existent lord of the world has become the human lord of the world, and in so doing has reflected fully… the God whose human image he has now come to bear.” (Wright) Further, as Keay argues, while ‘firstborn’ can refer to birth order, as Israel’s covenantal history progresses this meaning fades in significance, while the sense of ‘birth right’ which emphasizes special status, gains in importance. Eventually, this would centre on the promised Davidic king, so that in Col 1 we should understand ‘firstborn’ to connote a special kind of pre-eminence: messianic pre-eminence. Finally, the Son also holds all things together (1:17). Thus, in order to highlight Christ’s supremacy, Col 1:15-20 emphasizes that the Son is the eternal, pre-existent creator, the incarnate, messianic redeemer, and the sustainer of the universe. As such, the overall result is a letter in which Christ, the Son of God and exalted Lord, is absolutely preeminent – past, present, and future. And it is this pre-existent Son who was sent to rescue fallen humanity.

Up next: Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:3-4. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 8

October 27, 2010

1 Cor 8:4-6: Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth– as in fact there are many gods and many lords– yet for us there is 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.

As we saw in Phil 2, Christ’s pre-existence is both real and personal, and includes equality with God. However, other texts add a new dimension to this pre-existence. Although, conceivably, Christ might have pre-existed as an angel or some other intermediary figure who later took on human form, texts such as 1 Cor 8:6 and Col 1:15-20 assert that ‘all things’ came into being through him (cf. Heb 1:2; John 1:3), which entails that he was therefore uncreated and, hence, eternally pre-existent. In 1 Cor 8-10, Paul has provided the Corinthians with a christological centre on which to base their beliefs and actions within a pagan world. Within this explicitly monotheistic argument Paul modifies the Shema (1 Cor 8:6, cf. Deut 6:4: The Lord our God, the Lord is one), glossing ‘God’ with ‘the Father’ and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’. Thus, Paul declared both the Father and the Son as intrinsic to the divine identity (i.e., who God is), and redefined Jewish monotheism as “christological monotheism”. To reinforce his argument, Paul also splits a familiar statement about God’s all-encompassing work of creation between Father and Son (cf. Rom 11:36a “all things are from, through, and for God”). There was no more unequivocal way to characterize God’s unique identity than to describe him as the creator of all. Thus, to speak of Christ as the instrumental cause of creation (δἰ οὗ τὰ πάντα), not only confirms his divine identity but also affirms his eternal pre-existence. Importantly, Paul does not argue for this but uses it as a position to argue from, which demonstrates as Fee notes, “that it can scarcely be other than the common stock of early Christian belief.” Nonetheless, there have been a number of objections to this conclusion.

Firstly, Kuschel argues that ‘all things’ does not refer to the totality of creation, but only to the new creation. Thus, Christ as the exalted lord is the one through whom the new creation was brought into being. Consequently, there can be no question of pre-existence. Yet, ‘all things from, through, and for’ was familiar God-talk and there is no evidence that Paul means anything less than Jewish writers normally meant by this phrase. Moreover, although by comparison with Rom 11:36 only one of the three prepositions is applied to Christ, “this does not mean that they no longer all describe the Creator’s relationship to the whole of creation. On the contrary, it means precisely that Christ is included in this relationship as the instrumental cause of creation.” (Bauckham)

Secondly, Giblin also denies pre-existence is connoted by ‘through whom are all things’ by arguing that it has a solely soteriological function. However, his interpretation is dependent on denying any connection to the similar phrase in Rom 11:36, and this is not convincing. Indeed, in 1 Cor 8:6b, ἡμεῖς δἰ αὐτοῦ is used to emphasize Christ’s redemptive role. Thus, both Christ’s creational and salvific roles are incorporated into Paul’s Christianized Shema.

Finally, Dunn says that there is pre-existence in view in 1 Cor 8:6, “But it is the preexistence of divine Wisdom. That is, the preexistence of God.” Thus, it is “not so much that Christ as Jesus of Nazareth had preexisted as such, but that preexistent Wisdom was now to be recognized in and as Christ.” So Christ is not the real and personal, pre-existent agent of creation, rather, he may be assigned only Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence. However, this is both artificial and improbable. As Hurtado responds “The problem with this is that it is not what the Pauline passage says.” Firstly, it is debatable that Wisdom is even in view here, for διά is never used to describe her role in creation. Further, whatever background traditions are drawn upon, we must allow for their adaption when applied to new situations. Thus, unlike Wisdom, since Christ is a person, his personal preexistence is presupposed. In fact, it seems certain that Christ’s pre-existence must be real and personal, for the same preposition is used to describe both his historical work of salvation and his role in creation (δἰ οὗ; δἰ αὐτοῦ). Therefore, although Dunn recognizes “conceptuality in transition”, he does appear to apply it inadequately on this issue. Indeed, Christ’s sharing in God’s eternal transcendence as the pre-existent agent of creation is even more explicit and apparent in Col 1:15-17.

Up next: Col 1. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Phil 2

October 26, 2010

Phil 2:5-11: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For many, the only proper place to start this discussion is Phil 2:6-11, which is the scene of the most intense fighting over the question of pre-existence in Paul, especially 2:6-8. As Dunn observes, “Phil 2.6-11 certainly seems on the face of it to be a straightforward statement contrasting Christ’s pre-existent glory and post-crucifixion exaltation with his earthly humiliation.” Yet, he and others argue that this natural reading is in fact mistaken and that pre-existence has been read into the hymn by its subsequent interpreters. The most convincing argument for a purely human Christ is one which contends that Adam-theology is the hymn’s context: that the self-sacrifice of the human Jesus is contrasted with the Genesis story of Adam’s hubris in grasping at divinity. Like Adam, Christ was in the form/image of God, but instead of choosing to grasp at equality or likeness to God, Christ emptied himself, freely receiving the form of a slave (i.e. Adam’s condition after the fall), and became in the likeness of men who are now subject and enslaved to sin and corruption. Thus, Christ humbled himself, choosing “to embrace Adam’s lot, the fate which Adam had suffered by way of punishment”, being obedient even unto death. Therefore, in contrast to Adam’s condemnation and disgrace, God exalted Christ to cosmic lordship, which fulfils the destiny God had always intended for humanity. Thus, according to Dunn, it follows that “If Christ walks in Adam’s footsteps then Christ need be no more pre-existent than Adam.” Indeed, the very notion of pre-existence is more a “distraction than a help to interpretation.” However, this construal is riddled with difficulties.

As Dunn admits, his interpretation is “not immediately obvious.” In fact, “No mention is made of Adam” and his case is entirely based on “the recognition of allusions to Adam”. Thus, firstly, showing that μορφή and εἰκών are “near synonyms” is insufficient to demonstrate that ‘form of God’ is intended to refer to Adam as in the ‘image of God’. As Hurtado makes clear, the issue is whether “the specific expression en morphē theou is actually used interchangeably with eikōn theou in Greek texts.” And while ‘image of God’ is consistently used by subsequent writers to allude to this idea, “By contrast, morphē theou is never used anywhere in any allusion to Adam… [nor] in any other pre-Pauline Greek writing.” Dunn’s attempt to surmount this linguistic difficulty by appealing to poetic allusion will not do, for how could this be caught as an allusion, when even the prepositions of Gen 1:26 and Phil 2:6 are different (κατά; ἐν)? Secondly, for a purely human Christ, τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ must connote something which neither Adam nor Christ possessed, but at which Adam grasped (ἁρπαγμός), while Christ did not. However, as Wright points out, this is unlikely, for τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ must be held “in close connection with ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων [which] is the regular usage of the articular infinitive (here, τὸ εἶναι) to refer to ‘something previously mentioned or otherwise well known’.” Thus, as they function in a “nearly appositional way”, Christ already possesses equality with God. Furthermore, although “ἁρπαγμός” has been much debated, a growing consensus has emerged around Hoover and Wright’s analysis, which treats οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο as an idiomatic expression which refers to “the attitude one will take towards something which one already has… specifically, to the question of whether that attitude will or will not consist in taking advantage of this possessed object.”

Therefore, in this case, 2:6 indicates that Christ already possessed divine equality but refused to take advantage of it, thus affirming both his divinity and his attitude toward it. On this basis, 2:7 (‘but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness’) must be interpreted as the pre-existent Son choosing to become incarnate. Thus, as ‘emptying’ is the consequence of Christ’s free choice, it is also the crucial factor marking off a pre-existence that is truly personal from one that simply amounts to being elected, with respect to role and destiny, in the mind or purpose of God. Furthermore, the dramatic sequence of Christ ‘being in God’s form’ to ‘having taken a slave’s form’ does clearly seem to imply in this context the transition from one state (divine pre-existence) to another (human existence). Dunn recognizes this problem and argues that taking a slave’s form reflects Christ’s entire life, but this blurs the clear-cut nature of the exchange and the three aorist participles make this intrinsically unlikely. A traditional three-stage Christology (form of God, form of slave, exaltation) makes the best sense of the hymn. It is unnecessary to rule out completely any echo of Adam grasping at that to which he had no right by contrast with the humble Christ who refused to exploit what was already his. However, using an Adamic framework as an interpretive straightjacket to deny pre-existence, in the end, seems untenable. Dunn himself even admits that it is possible to conclude there is an allusion here to Adam without that ruling out pre-existence. Overall, in contrast to oriental despots, the pre-existent one who became known as Jesus understood his divine equality, not as something to exploit, but as involving self-negation even to the point of redemptive suffering and death. His humility thus serves as the supreme example for the squabbling Philippians to follow (2:1-4).

Next up: 1 Cor 8:4-6. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul?

October 25, 2010

Mark Goodacre’s latest NT Podcast fairly and succinctly argues that Paul did believe in the pre-existence of Jesus the Son of God. However, while scholars tend to agree that the attribution of a full-blown notion of pre-existence to Christ is found in the later Johannine literature, there is far less consensus with respect to Paul. Indeed, with the greater interest in all things christological in recent years, the denial of a Pauline doctrine of pre-existence by Kuschel and others has become something of a flashpoint in contemporary discussions of Pauline Christology.

Moreover, this division is compounded because the historical question of what exactly the ‘pre-existence of Christ’ connotes, elicits no simple answer. For example, at one end of the spectrum, Kuschel and Dunn (who must be major conversations partners in this discussion) argue that only an ‘ideal’ pre-existence is attributed to Christ by Paul; something similar to the ‘pre-existence’ of Wisdom or of the Torah in later rabbinic thought. However, while this ‘ideal’ pre-existence is essentially the same as divine foreknowledge or predestination, it is in stark contrast to the traditional Christian view of Christ’s ‘real’ pre-existence: the belief that the one subsequently known as Jesus Christ somehow had a personal history with God prior to his human life. In fact, its denial has prompted several robust responses for it seems to stab at the very heart of the Christian doctrines of Christ’s deity, incarnation and his redemptive actions, in which the pre-existent Son embarks from heaven on a mission to rescue fallen humanity. Just as sheer indulgence, I’m going to blog some musings this week on the focal points in the debate – those texts which garner the most support for a Pauline doctrine of real pre-existence, namely: Phil 2:6-8; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 10:4, 9.

Series Link.

Bauckham: New Testament Christology [3]

August 13, 2010

Click here for the first and second posts outlining Richard Bauckham’s understanding of the development of New Testament Christology. [Series Link



Richard Bauckham’s contribution to understanding the development of NT Christology is potentially immense. In my view, his thesis is compelling, cogent, and destined eventually to pioneer a major new scholarly paradigm. Nevertheless, in spite of my overall very positive appreciation for his contribution, I have a number of specific disagreements and general concerns with his reconstruction. As his thesis is still very much work in progress, there are a number of significant omissions and a certain dearth of the requisite, detailed arguments that are necessary for a convincing presentation. The articles and essays published after God Crucified have begun to fill in the blanks, but much remains to be explored. Consequently, my critique must also be considered provisional, while we await his projected two-volume magnum opus [which I really wish he’d get on with!]. 

The use of the category of ‘identity’ is potentially the most positive contribution to understanding the development of NT Christology which Bauckham’s thesis makes. Quite conceivably, bearing in mind the manner in which Second Temple Jews characterised their God as absolutely unique vis-à-vis the rest of reality, a thorough-going application of the divine-identity category to the NT texts could revolutionise our understanding of how Jesus was viewed among the early Christian communities. If, as Bauckham argues, a unique function of God, such as his absolute sovereignty, is one which may not be delegated to another, then the early christological claim that Jesus was exalted to rule over “all things” does not just tell us about something Jesus does, but about who he actually is. As Bauckham states, “Though not primarily a matter of divine nature or being, [the divine sovereignty] emphatically is a matter of divine identity.”[1] Indeed, in recognizing that Jewish conceptual categories are fundamentally relational, Bauckham’s ‘identity’ category is able to cut through the old impasse created by the misleading contrast between function and being. This is a very significant advance and long-term scholarly contribution to understanding the development of NT Christology. 

Nonetheless, Bauckham’s ‘identity’ category must bear a considerable weight. In fact, if one considers his approach deficient in some manner, many of his exegetical conclusions become untenable. At the current stage of his project it is certainly acceptable to employ it as a working hypothesis, but if it is not adequately elucidated in his opus, the very foundation of his thesis may collapse under the strain. For instance, he acknowledges that the analogy of human personal identity is ultimately transcended when applied to the God of Israel, but this is especially so when he seeks to include the intra-personal relationship between Father and Son within the divine identity. Moreover, in my view, a better incorporation of divine nature or essence needs to be found if ‘identity’ is to function as such a keystone. For example, a necessary correction in Bauckham’s more recent work is his greater appreciation for the way that YHWH’s eternal nature was pressed into service as an essential defining characteristic of Israel’s God. In God Crucified, he stated that the two characteristics that particularly designated YHWH’s uniqueness, were that he was the creator of all and the ruler of all, which relegated the divine eternality to the status of a mere attribute of the divine identity. Arguing for the primacy of ‘identity’ over ‘divine nature’, Bauckham did not do full justice to the importance of the divine eternity. Ultimately, it is not always easy to separate out who God is from what God is. His current position is more carefully nuanced so as not “to exclude all concepts of divine nature… [even if he does] regard the identity of God as the more comprehensive and important category.”[2] While in one essay he has slightly furthered his view of ‘identity’, much remains to be developed.[3] I hope and look forward to seeing this more fully addressed. 

Bauckham’s construal of Jewish monotheism is certainly contestable. Even so, in my estimation he has rightly assessed the historical development from pre-exilic Israel’s henotheism, with its “‘monotheizing’ dynamic”, to a robust Second Temple monotheism, which had not yet hardened into the monism of the rabbinic period. God’s oneness was still understood as the “one God, one Lord” over against the “many gods and many lords”, not as an analysis of his inner-being. Further, while recognising that monolatry is vitally important to any consideration of Jewish monotheism, he well appreciates the growing conceptual understanding of YHWH that had come to the fore by the NT period; one which focused on expressing YHWH’s uniquely defining characteristics and utter incomparability to the rest of reality, and not so much on the Greek philosophical categories of divine nature or essence. In my view, Bauckham’s analysis compares very favourably with other scholarly depictions of Second Temple Jewish monotheism. 

Bauckham recognises, though, that there are a range of scholarly views on the nature of Jewish monotheism and that each “correlate with a similar range of views as to the process by which Jesus came to be regarded as divine”.[4] Thus, if one disagrees with Bauckham’s evaluation of Jewish monotheism, one may likely also reject his view of NT Christology. For example, Bauckham’s rejection of intermediary figures as precedents for Christology is controversial. Instead, he observes that the NT writers 

include Jesus in the unique divine sovereignty over all things, they include him in the unique divine creation of all things, they identify him by the divine name which names the unique divine identity, and they portray him as accorded the worship which, for Jewish monotheists, is recognition of the unique divine identity.[5] 

Nonetheless, it cannot have been either straightforward or effortless for the early Christians directly to identify Jesus with the one God, as the charges of blasphemy in the Gospels seem to indicate. Further, the Fourth Gospel, for example, clearly represents Jesus as an agent of God. By labelling Jesus as an agent, we would expect him to be treated as a subordinate to the God who sent him and that he would have a secondary and deputy-like status (unless GJohn explicitly modified that theme). However, in an essay on monotheism and Christology in John’s Gospel, Bauckham perhaps too quickly denies that agency language is sufficient to characterise Jesus, ignores the question of subordination, and concentrates on those elements of John’s Christology which suggest that Jesus was viewed as intrinsic to the divine identity. These are important questions and challenges which at least raise some doubt as to the effectiveness of Bauckham’s thesis to deal with seemingly contradictory evidence. Again, to be fair, we must note that his thesis is work in progress and that this paper was not a detailed, scholarly presentation but a more popular-level one. 

In the same vein, Bauckham has also so far omitted to address whether messianic categories might have some explanatory force for understanding the cult of Christ, or indeed, how Jesus’ own self-consciousness fits into this portrait. Problematically, Bauckham only references the “Angel of the Lord” traditions once in a footnote,[6] noting that this figure generally was understood in post-biblical literature to be simply an angelic representative of God. Nevertheless, given that Philo and Justin Martyr could identify the Logos as an angel,[7] this might well cast doubt on Bauckham’s entire argument about the distinction between the divine attributes and angelic servants. Perhaps intermediary figures generally, and the evidence for the veneration of angels specifically, cannot be so easily dismissed. Again, we await Bauckham’s fuller treatment of these issues. 

This brings to the fore Bauckham’s insistence that worship is the recognition of and response to the unique divine identity. He is undoubtedly correct in stating that in polemical contexts Second Temple texts insist that God alone is to be worshipped because he is the creator and ruler of all (e.g. Bel 4-5). Nonetheless, Israel’s religion is a historical phenomenon in which monolatry was theoretically axiomatic long before her faith might correctly be designated ‘monotheistic’. In other words, historically-speaking, monolatry came first and the theoretical underpinning, which Bauckham emphasises, came second. However, by the Second Temple period would it really have been possible to assert which was primary, the theory or the practice? We seem to have something of a ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario. Perhaps, given the importance of the Shema for Jewish theology in this period, it would be wiser simply to hold both belief and praxis together simultaneously, and recognise their mutual influence on one another – i.e., some mediating position between Bauckham and Hurtado might be best. 

Bauckham’s position on worship also contributes to another problem in his thesis – his view of throne imagery. Bauckham believes that the one example of an intermediary figure that is offered worship is the Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch. As he understands the Son of Man to be seated on God’s own throne, the obeisance offered to him by the nations must constitute worship in the proper sense, but this seems driven by his prior commitment to what throne imagery entails. He notes that the Son of Man only receives obeisance from the nations and not from the whole of creation. Although I’m still open to persuasion, this does seem to indicate that the more likely interpretation of this episode is as a messianic one. Bauckham tacitly admits this weakness in his analysis when he writes that the Son of Man’s inclusion in the divine identity is only “partial, since he plays no part in the work of creation or indeed in the divine sovereignty until the future day of judgement, and therefore his inclusion in the divine identity remains equivocal.”[8] Thus, his use of throne imagery appears to need tighter argument. Bauckham’s application of throne imagery to Christology is on much more solid ground with a text such as Phil 2:9-11, where Jesus is exalted to the divine throne but also receives both the divine name and the worship of the entire created order. 

Finally, Hurtado criticises Bauckham’s view as essentially arguing for the worship of Jesus merely based on theological inference. I.e., Jesus is exalted to the divine throne to rule, therefore he must be intrinsic to the divine identity, and thus he must be worshipped. While this is not as potent a criticism as Hurtado maintains, nonetheless, it does contain some force. Indeed, a slightly disappointing aspect to Bauckham’s thesis is that he does not examine the role of the religious experiences of the first Christians in the shaping of their beliefs, especially the spirit-driven ecstatic revelations in communal gatherings and the impact of both the pre- and post-Easter Christ on his followers. Would the Jesus-centric focus of their lives, through baptism, the sacred meal, and prophetic oracles in the name of the risen one, not have contributed to the whole of their spiritual formation and reflection? What effect might this have had specifically on their Christology? In my view, Bauckham has given us an excellent and extremely persuasive way to understand how the early Christians expressed their beliefs theologically within a Jewish monotheistic setting. However, until he takes much more fully into account influences on the early Christians that contributed to their understanding of the events they were caught up in, Bauckham will not have provided us with a comprehensive historical explanation for the development of NT Christology. 

Though outlining some reservations, I’d like to make it clear that I’m sure these will be addressed in Bauckham’s promised fuller treatment [two entire volumes], and that these criticisms are probably unnecessarily harsh in the interim. His thesis opens up new vistas and opportunities for examining old texts in a new light and may well prove totally convincing when his opus is eventually published. In fact, on balance, I find myself persuaded by Bauckham that Second Temple Jews clearly distinguished their God from all other reality and that, 

When New Testament Christology is read with this Jewish theological context in mind, it becomes clear that, from the earliest post-Easter beginnings of Christology onwards, early Christians included Jesus, precisely and unambiguously, within the unique identity of the one God of Israel.[9] 


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PDF File of whole series 

[1] Bauckham, God Crucified, 41. 

[2] Bauckham, R., “Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity” 1-26; 2. (20/6/2006) 

[3] Bauckham, “Jesus the Revelation of God”, 188-97. 

[4] Bauckham, God Crucified, 2. 

[5] Bauckham, God Crucified, 26. 

[6] Bauckham, R., The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 127 ft 31. 

[7] E.g., Philo, Conf. 41, 60-3; Justin Martyr, Dial. lxi 1. 

[8] Bauckham, God Crucified, 20. See the update in Jesus and the God of Israel, 169-172. 

[9] Bauckham, God Crucified, vii.
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Bauckham: New Testament Christology [2]

August 12, 2010

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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Bauckham: New Testament Christology [1]

August 10, 2010

Richard Bauckham is one of my favourite NT scholars. He constantly challenges basic assumptions within the NT guild, is always interesting and a delight to read. This week I’m going to give an overview of Bauckham’s understanding of the development of New Testament Christology (probably three posts). By necessity, this will be more detailed than my usual posts. If that’s not to your taste, you can blame Brian, who is the source of their inspiration. Once I’ve finished this short series, I’ll provide a pdf.file as a handy reference for anyone who wants it.  


Jesus and the God of Israel  



One of the most prevalent assumptions within New Testament scholarship is that the early Christian belief that Jesus was a divine being worthy of worship is in considerable tension with Jewish monotheism. Richard Bauckham, in a stimulating and provocative fashion, has sought to dispel this notion while insisting that the earliest Christology was also the highest Christology. He argues that in trying to understand the development of NT Christology scholars have been utilising distorting and inappropriate conceptual categories which focus on what divinity or divine nature is rather than on who God is. Consequently, he employs the considerably more suitable category of ‘identity’ in his thesis. With this keystone of his argument in mind, Bauckham’s line of reasoning essentially proceeds in three clear phases. Firstly, “early Judaism had clear and consistent ways of characterising the unique identity of the one God and thus distinguishing the one God from all other reality.”[1] In point of fact, this construal of Jewish monotheism operates as the hermeneutical key to understanding the manner in which the NT writers relate Jesus to the one God of Israel. For secondly, the NT writers did not adapt pre-existing models from so-called semi-divine intermediaries which straddle the boundary between God and the rest of reality but directly identified Jesus with God, making use of the well-understood unique and defining characteristics of YHWH, the one God. They did so “in order to apply them also to Jesus, thereby including him in the unique divine identity.”[2] Bauckham argues that this step was taken “very early as the fundamental step on which all further christological development then rested.” Moreover, this occurred within a thoroughly Jewish milieu and “does not become any more intelligible by being placed at the end of a long process” under the influence of later Gentile and pagan ideas, for the notion is widespread across the entire New Testament.[3] Thirdly, the belief that the crucified and suffering messiah, Jesus, is intrinsic to the unique divine identity naturally has implications for who the one God is. Although this last stage of Bauckham’s general thesis is fascinating, it lies beyond the scope of the present series of posts.  

Jewish Monotheism and the Unique Divine Identity  

Bauckham believes the best way to make sense of the depiction of God in the texts is by analogy with human personal identity, and ‘identity’ is a crucial and central focus of his project.[4] From this angle, he notes that God is  

specifically identifiable through relationship to particular worldly realities – events which are particular acts of God, places in which God appears or dwells, people to whom God relates in specific ways. God in an important sense particularises Godself and gives Godself a particular identity by which God may be known.[5]  

Thus, he finds that in historical terms, it may well be appropriate to speak of the “‘monotheizing’ dynamic”[6] at the heart of pre-exilic Israel’s religion, but that by the Second Temple period there is good evidence to suggest that common Judaism was strictly and exclusively monotheistic.[7] Significantly, though, this form of monotheism did not entail unitariness nor “make distinctions within the divine identity inconceivable.”[8] The Shema was recited twice daily, often in conjunction with the first two commandments; belief and praxis were mutually reinforcing. Nonetheless, Bauckham argues that to understand the development of NT Christology within the matrix of Jewish monotheism scholars must especially attend to the way in which Jews “understood the uniqueness of God and drew the distinction between God and what is not God.”[9] He argues that in the Second Temple period this was expressed consistently and clearly: YHWH, the God of Israel, was the only eternal one, the creator and ruler of all.  

Bauckham posits that, “the overwhelming tendency in Second Temple Judaism was to depict God as absolutely unique, to differentiate God as completely as possible from all other reality,”[10] and a key symbol of this uniqueness is the high and lofty divine throne on which YHWH sits, far above all the heavenly realms. Within Jewish monotheism the throne  

represents the absolute divine rule, not merely over human society, but over the whole cosmos, the world of nature, the unseen worlds of the heavens and Hades, the whole of reality which God the sole cosmic emperor governs by his myriads of angelic servants.[11]  

This sort of imagery carefully conveyed who Jews believed their God to be, it conveyed YHWH’s unique identity vis-à-vis the rest of reality. Thus, it is against this portrait of a transcendent Second Temple Jewish monotheism that intermediary figures such as angels or exalted patriarchs are to be interpreted.[12]   

Bauckham stresses that the bulk of our evidence clearly testifies that God was treated as unique and that the small amount of highly debatable material which suggests otherwise must be viewed against this larger, dominant background. In fact, he believes that scholarly over-attention to these intermediary figures, which supposedly blur the distinction between God and the rest of reality, has proved greatly misleading.  

Specifically, Bauckham classifies the personified divine attributes as intrinsic to God’s own identity, whereas angels and patriarchs, however exalted, are not. He makes this judgement according to the decisive criteria which the texts themselves employ to differentiate between the one God and all other reality. For example, Word and Wisdom are involved in the act of creation, which is never stated of angels or patriarchs. Further, Wisdom is even viewed as sitting on God’s throne and acting as his advisor, in spite of the fact that God has no counsellors. Thus, as Wisdom is intrinsic to the unique divine identity this is not a breach of monotheism. Furthermore, while the literature may envisage a small council of angelic ministers of state, they execute the divine decrees, not co-rule, but serve and carry out God’s will. Moreover, “Some may rank higher than others but none has overall responsibility for all areas of government.”[13] This tells against those scholarly reconstructions which envisage the category of a grand-vizier or special plenipotentiary. The evidence of the texts simply does not support such a view. Bauckham’s perspective would seem to be corroborated by the well-established tradition in which angels refuse worship. As mere servants of the mighty Sovereign over all, they are simply not worthy of it. Indeed, the issue of worship is an essential aspect of Bauckham’s reconstruction.  

Monolatry is a key element in any consideration of Jewish monotheism. Bauckham observes that while pagan gods could be spoken of in exalted terms and in similar sounding language to the Jewish god, monolatry both heightened and was crucial to expressing the critical differences between the various monotheistic conceptions. YHWH was absolutely unique and not merely a high god or the source of a spectrum of divinity. Jewish worship practices, in both the giving and withholding of worship, were crucial in reflecting this. Bauckham points out that, repeatedly in polemic contexts within the literature, the reason that God is to be worshipped is that he is the creator and ruler of all, the only eternal one. Even those beings worshipped by Gentiles were created by him and were subject to his rule. As such,  

exclusive worship of the God of Israel was precisely a recognition of and response to his unique identity. For Second Temple Jews, it was because God was unique – in ways they were frequently willing to characterize – that he alone was worthy of worship.  

Thus, against Hurtado for instance, monolatry “cannot stand alone as a sufficient definition of the uniqueness of Jewish monotheism.”[14] When this Jewish understanding of the absolute uniqueness of YHWH is borne in mind, as the only eternal creator and ruler of all, the one seated on the heavenly throne, high and lifted up above all others, the one who alone may be worshipped, then it is Bauckham’s contention that the first Christians deliberately and clearly characterised Jesus in the same unique ways to state that he belonged within the divine identity. In other words, to understand who God is, we must incorporate Jesus into our thinking.  

Next up: The Divine Identity of Jesus  

[1] Bauckham, R., God Crucified: Monotheism & New Testament Christology (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998; repr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), vii.   

[2] Bauckham, R., “Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John” in R.N. Longenecker (ed.), Contours of Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 148-66; 148.  

[3] Bauckham, God Crucified, 28.  

[4] It is possible to observe Bauckham’s thought progressing towards using ‘identity’ as a category in some of his earlier work, but that he had not yet clearly worked out the implications [e.g., The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), 58-62]. To speculate, the awkward discussion of Jesus’ role in Revelation through the medium of functional and ontic categories may well have provoked him to envisage a more satisfactory solution, and spurred him on to utilise more fully the notion of identity.  

[5] Bauckham, R., “Jesus the Revelation of God” in P. Avis (ed.), Divine Revelation (London/Grand Rapids: Darton, Longman & Todd/Eerdmans, 1997), 174-200; 188.  

[6] Bauckham, R., “Biblical Theology and the Problems of Monotheism” in C.G. Bartholomew, M. Healy, K. Moller, (eds.), Out of Egypt (SHS, 5; Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Zondervan, 2004), 187-232; 211.  

[7] E.g., Jos. Ant. 3.91; Philo, Decal. 65; Ps-Philo, LAB 6:4  

[8] Bauckham, God Crucified, 22.  

[9] Bauckham, God Crucified, 5.  

[10] Bauckham, R., “The Throne of God and the Worship of Jesus” in C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila and G.S. Lewis (eds.), The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism (JSJSup, 63; Leiden: Brill, 1999), 43-69; 48.  

[11] Bauckham, “Throne”, 53.  

[12] An obvious question at this juncture is whether a Jewish monotheism which views YHWH as the ‘king of gods’ presiding over a council of gods (Ps 82; 95:31) can really be the kind of transcendent monotheism Bauckham describes? But as he notes, it should not surprise us that within Second Temple literature there still remain a few vestiges of the polytheistic notions that YHWH is the high god of a pantheon or that YHWH retains a species identity. For, “Jewish monotheism was a historical phenomenon, whose ways of portraying God and his uniqueness were often fashioned out of older and non-Jewish materials which lacked the typically sharp Second Temple Jewish understanding of divine uniqueness” (“Throne”, 48). Thus, to clarify, while for Second Temple Jews God has a “personal identity”, because of his incomparability and unique defining characteristics, he no longer retains a “species identity”.  

Moreover, as Bauckham points out, it is not the mere use of the term “god” for other beings than YHWH that assigns them divinity, but how that term is used. Given that the texts continually stress YHWH’s incomparability, a category distinction is consistently driven between YHWH and all other beings. A similar issue is the outward appearance of heavenly beings which some scholars (e.g. Gieschen) designate a feature of divinity. Again, this should be viewed as the vestigial remains of a species identity for YHWH and his heavenly retinue, but one which no longer functions to signify their common species identity. In the Second Temple period, such descriptions of heavenly beings now convey the basic idea that “heaven and its inhabitants are shining and bright” (“Throne”, 51). See esp., “OT Monotheism”, 191-6, 207-17.   

[13] Bauckham, “Throne”, 50.  

[14] Bauckham, R., “The Worship of Jesus in Philippians 2:9-11” in R.P. Martin and B. Dodd (eds.), Where Christology Began (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1998), 128-39; 129. This reflects a very interesting change of mind on Bauckham’s part and is a somewhat ironic turn of events as Hurtado explicitly credits Bauckham’s earlier work as a stimulus for his own position. Indeed, in an early article Bauckham stated that “It is not too much to say that Jewish monotheism was defined by its adherence to the first and second commandments” (“Jesus, Worship of” in D.N. Freedman (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3: 812-819; 816). Yet, it is possible that this early work also contains the seed of his current position. “The worship of Jesus in early Christianity could neither be easily rejected… nor unreflectively permitted” (My emphasis; Bauckham, R., “The Worship of Jesus in Apocalyptic Christianity” NTS 27 (1981), 322-41; 335). It seems possible that Bauckham came to think that Jesus could only be worshipped if he were first recognised as divine; or as he might express it now, they recognised his divine identity and therefore gave him worship.

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