Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 8 – “Son of God” in Matthew)

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I have been thoroughly enjoying Daniel Kirk’ssaintmatthew.JPG newest book, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Overall his thesis is proving to be extremely persuasive as well as a welcome addition to the many scholarly voices on Christology these days. Today I will discuss the section entitled “Son of God in Matthew,” which is the final section in the second chapter. As per my custom, I will summarize and review Kirk’s arguments in bullet points while adding a few comments and observations of my own in italics.

  • Son of God for Matthew’s implied readers – Kirk rightly notes that those who read and obey the teachings of Jesus contained within Matthew’ Gospel may authentically regard God as their heavenly Father, thus making them sons (and daughters) of God. In other words, the father-son terminology is not reserved for Jesus alone but is used of the Church which seeks to follow the words of Jesus as outlined by Matthew. How can the title “son of God” be a persuasive reference for divinity or even the divine side of the later doctrine of the two natures?
  • Hosea 11:1 – The first reference to Jesus’ sonship is in a citation from Hosea 11:1 used in reference to Jesus leaving Egypt as a child. The phrase “Out of Egypt I have called my son” originally referred to God’s election and rescue of the nation of Israel during the Exodus event. In Matthew, however, Jesus is the fulfilment (dare I say, embodiment) of Israel, and Exod 4:22-23 clearly regards Israel is son of God. Jesus is thus regarded typologically as the new Israel (son of God), a nod to Exodus’s title used of the nation in regard to their election.
  • Baptism – Matthew, like Mark and Luke, places heavy emphasis on Jesus’ baptism where he is identified (and anointed) as the messianic son of God. Jesus submits himself to John’s baptism in solidarity with the rest of Israel. Kirk sees in this narrative hints that Matthew may even by pointing to Jesus as the new Isaac, drawing attention particularly to the language of “my beloved son” from Gen 22:2, 12. I still think more can be made out of the baptism/anointing of Jesus as the messianic son of God, an event alluded to later in the Gospel (21:25) in order to answer a question about Jesus’ self-understood authority to enact prophetic signs of judgment in the temple. If son of God is a messianic (kingly) title then the baptism allowed others to hear the voice from heaven designate Jesus as the kingly son of God, one who because he is the king possesses legitimate authority over the temple (cf 2 Sam 7:13).
  • Johannine bolt from the sky – The reference in 10:22 to Jesus full knowledge of the Father is not due to, according to Kirk, ontological unity with the Father or Jesus’ supposed preexistence in heaven. Nothing in the text indicates a coequal or omniscient relationship between the Father and Jesus ( esp. 24:36 discussed below). Rather, it is best understood in light of Israel’s kings and prophets sometimes regarded to possess exclusive divine knowledge. Kirk helpfully notes that there is a major narrative emphasis in Matthew regarding the people’s ability to recognize God’s authorized agents. He offers examples drawn from his research in the first chapter of the book regarding idealized human figures who were admitted into heavenly/sacred space: Moses (Heb 8:5), Isaiah (Isa 6), and Zechariah (Zech 3). This further indicates that Matthew regards Jesus as the authentic revealer of the Father, thereby making the words of Jesus important for Matthew’s readers to faithfully observe and retain.
  • Peter’s confession – The chief apostle gets an A+ for correctly answering the question regarding Jesus’ identity as revealed in Matthew. Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (redacting and further clarifying the remark made in Mark’s Gospel). Again, both “Christ” and “son of God” are parallel titles (cf Psa 2:2, 7). Jesus further notes that the Father in heaven has revealed this information to Peter. If the Father revealed this information to Peter, it should be sufficient christological information. No further revelatory data is required, such as Jesus being the second member of the so-called triune godhead.
  • Jesus walks on water – It is often suggested that Jesus walking on water, claiming ego eimi, and receiving worship as the son of God points to a divine status. Kirk rightly notes that Psa 89:25 regards the Davidic king as genuinely empowered by God to calm the seas of chaos (just as Moses and Joshua split the waters). Kirk also notes that Peter also walked on water, and this does not make him divine. The claim by Jesus to ego eimi is a simple affirmative phrase “it is I” and nothing more in the text of Matthew indicates that it should be read any other way. As for Jesus being worshipped, this is reminiscent of David the human king being given prostration from the people in 1 Chron 29:20. I also suspect that Jesus possessing authority over the created realm makes him out to be an Adam figure, as Adam was given authority and kingship over the created realm in Gen 1:27-28. This authority is explicitly mentioned at the end of the Gospel, where God gives authority to Jesus (28:18). Admittedly, Adam is not a key figure in Mathew as he is in Luke, but he seems to be an example of Kirk’s idealized human figures relevant for this particular account.
  • No one knows the day nor the hour – Kirk also notes the important passage in Matt 24:36 where Jesus admits that he does not possess knowledge of the moment of his second coming. Even as the empowered and authorized revealer of the Father, Jesus nevertheless bears limitations to what he knows. The Father clearly possesses knowledge and understanding above the son of God. It should also be noted that Matthew redacts Mark and adds the adjective “alone” to the Greek text, further clarifying that only the Father possesses this knowledge.

After summarizing the data presented by Matthew, Kirk offers a quotable observation worthy of sharing:

Even where we might see Matthew’s Jesus pushing us to recognize aspects of idealized human Christology not fully enunciated or depicted in Mark, we nevertheless find ourselves dealing with a human Jesus and not, yet, incarnate God” (p. 258)

Tomorrow I will begin to work through chapter 3 wherein the “Son of Man” is the focus in the three Synoptic Gospels. Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of “Son of God” in the Gospel of Matthew. Thanks for stopping by!

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 7 – “Son of God” in Luke’s Gospel)

saintlukeHappy Labor Day and welcome to my seventh post containing my reviews and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Having taken a few days off to enjoy a wild weekend of college football and to observe my religious duties, I will today present on the section entitled “Son of God, Son of David, Son of Adam in Luke.” As per my custom, I will summarize his arguments in bullet points while adding a few comments of my own in italics.

  • Starting point – Luke redacts Mark, thereby using Mark’s christology as a foundation. Kirk suggests that Luke “takes the opportunity to clarify and/or reaffirm that son of God connotes messiah.” Luke does not redact Mark in any manner which indicates that he disagreed or desired to elevate the christological identity of Jesus.
  • Announcement of Jesus’ birth – Gabriel declares to Mary that Jesus will be the son of the Most High and that the Lord God would bestow upon him the throne of his ancestor David (in fulfillment of 2 Sam 7:12-16). Thus, Jesus is the human descendant of King David while also being declared to be son of God. In other words, Jesus is a lineal descendant of David, and Yahweh is not the son of David.
  • Luke 1:35 – God is the actual father of Jesus in a manner which, according to Kirk, is “creational rather than incarnational.” The act of the spirit hovering over Mary is akin to the original Genesis creation where the spirit hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). In this way, a new being is being formed at this birth and is to be understood as an act of new creation. This makes the spirit of God the creative force enabling the coming into existence of Jesus in the womb of Mary (and if the Son of God came into existence, then he did not personally preexist).
  • Baptism – The voice from heaven declares that Jesus is the anointed son of God (or as Kirk puts it, “God’s human agent”).
  • Genealogy – After the account of the baptism Luke strategically places the genealogical record of Jesus, tracing his lineage back to Adam. Adam is called explicitly the “son of God” and Kirk takes this reference subsequent to the baptismal announcement that Jesus is God’s son as a clear indicator that Luke possesses an Adam christology. Son of God, in reference to Jesus, is therefore both Adamic and Davidic.
  • Temptation narrative – Satan tempts Jesus in three different attempts (“If you are the son of God…”) in a manner which sheds insight on the nature of this important title. The temptations are not out to get Jesus to question if he actually possessed some preexistent, divine ontology with God. Rather, they clarify for the reader that son of God is the title for the office of Israel’s messiah, the one who represents and typifies Israel. Jesus demonstrates himself faithful to the messianic vocation, succeeding where Israel as a nation failed. Furthermore, God cannot be tempted, but Jesus was indeed tempted. Why would the Devil tempt Jesus if Jesus was the Creator of the Devil?
  • Demons – The demons possess supernatural understanding that Jesus is both the son of God and the agent of the coming judgment. Jesus silences them “because they knew that he was the Christ” – Luke 4:41. Therefore, Jesus’ encounter with the demons again clarifies that “son of God” means “messiah” for Luke.
  • Transfiguration – Kirk notes that Luke goes out of his way to portray this event in light of a Moses/Exodus framework. Note the following parallels:
    • Luke changes Mark’s six days of waiting to eight days, likely to portray Jesus in light of the Israelite firstborn sons dedicated on the eighth day (according to Exodus 13 and 22)
    • Luke also changes Mark’s glowing and luminous Jesus by adding the fact that Jesus’ face also glowed, a clear allusion to Moses’ face shining the glory of God (Exodus 34)
    • Luke 9:31 speaks of Jesus’ exodus (τὴν ἔξοδον), rendered as “departure” in most translations
    • The voice from the cloud declares that Jesus is God’s “elect one” – indicating that he is chosen by God likely along the lines of corporate representation of Israel’s chosen human beings (like David)
  • The Johannine bolt from the sky – Luke 10:21-24 speaks of the intimate knowing between the Father and Jesus the son. Kirk rightly notes that this needs to be read in light of Luke’s theology, wholly detached from influence of the Fourth Gospel. The passage does not demand that the messianic secret, brought over from Mark’s Gospel, entails that Jesus is identified as Israel’s God. Rather, Jesus is the one who discloses and reveals the Father. In other words, Jesus reveals the Father to whomever he desires (reminiscent of Moses and the Israelite prophets).
  • The trial of Jesus – When Jesus is placed before the priests on Thursday night before his crucifixion the questions all regard the identification of the messianic office. The titles “Christ” and “Son of God” are parallel queries (just as they are in Psa 2:2, 7).

In sum, Kirk skillfully and persuasive demonstrates that Luke regards Jesus as the idealized human messiah, plump with Adamic, Davidic, and Israelite echoes of the title “Son of God.” In regard to Luke’s christology, Kirk aptly states that:

“the high Christology of Luke fits well within the paradigm of Jesus as an idealized human figure who takes up the primordial call to rule the entirety of the created order on God’s behalf.” (p.236)

 

Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of “Son of God” in the Gospel of Luke.

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 6 – “Son of God” in Mark)

saintmark.JPGThis is post number six in my ongoing series containing my reviews and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will start your Labor Day weekend examining Kirk’s second chapter – “Son of God as Human King.” In particular, I will focus on the Gospel of Mark, the first document Kirk discusses in this chapter. As has been my custom in these reviews, I offer a few bullet points covering his arguments along with a few comments of my own in italics.

  • The Christology of Mark needs to be read on its own terms, particularly outside of the lens of the Fourth Gospel. I would be interested in testing Kirk’s idealized human figure hypothesis on the christological claims and statements within the Gospel of John, but that will likely require another 600+ page book from him (here’s hoping).
  • Kirk builds a overall persuasive argument noting the internal structure of Mark in which Jesus is proclaimed as “Son of God” in three key moments of the narrative: at his baptism, at the Transfiguration, and upon the cross by the Gentile centurion. Thematically, these three episodes share, broadly, many elements, actions, and phrases, suggesting that the writer deliberately placed them there for structural and theological reasons. Each of these episodes contain:
    • a voice claiming that Jesus is the Son of God
    • a reference to Elijah
    • the act of ripping (heavens, cloud, temple curtain)
    • a reference to the Spirit/spirit
    • an associated meaning with Jesus’ death
    • a key linking with Jesus’ kingship
  • Mark’s Gospel opens with a YHWH quotation from Isaiah seemingly used with Jesus as “Lord” instead. However, Kirk has already demonstrated in the previous chapter that this manner of using texts from the Hebrew Bible also appears at Qumran without any hint that those persons were claiming to be YHWH himself.
  • Jesus is empowered with the Spirit at his baptism. Many other human figures in the Hebrew Bible were similarly empowered. Furthermore, the voice from heaven proclaiming the sonship of Jesus, if indeed echoing language from Psalm 2, makes Jesus out to be an anointed king distinguished from and wholly subordinate unto YHWH.
  • Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God as gospel and performs deeds/miracles, such as healings and exorcisms, which verify the preaching of God’s rule.
  • Mark places considerable stress in regarding Jesus as the royal king of God’s kingdom, but a king whose path to kingship first involves rejection, suffering, and death. This emphasis, of course, is not initially understood by the disciples. That is why they are called the “duh-sciples” because they just dont get it. =)
  • Jesus is said to one day return “in the glory of his Father” (8:38), indicating a measure of an agent invested in the glory of the one who sends him. This glory, not surprisingly, appears in the following episode’s vision of the Transfiguration. Kirk rightly notes that Dan 12:2-3 regards those who are bodily resurrected to the life of the age to come as shining in luminous glory, and this image is the appropriate way in which to understand the glowing Jesus at the Transfiguration (cf also Moses’ veiled face from God’s glory). Kirk suggests the appearance of Moses and Elijah at this event is indicative that they had been exalted to heaven. I prefer to see the Transfiguration as a vision of the resurrected (per Dan 12:2-3) glory of Jesus accompanied by Moses and Elijah, both bodily resurrected from the grave. Matthew redacts this account and has Jesus clearly stating that it is a “vision” (Matt 17:9) and the fact that the episode subsequently follows a statement about a few disciples witnessing the kingdom of God further points me in this interpretive direction. But I digress…
  • Kirk draws attention to some nice parallels between Jesus at the Transfiguration and Moses ascending to the mountain:
    • Both encountered God on the mountain
    • Both brought three witnesses (Peter, James, John with Jesus; Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu with Moses)
    • Both waited six days before ascending to the mountain
    • Both come into contact with God in a cloud
    • Both appear to be glorified or bearing a piece of God’s glory
  • The titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man” appear to overlap and offer similar roles of rejection before exalted kingship. Furthermore, these are not thinly veiled indicators of divinity and humanity (in the sense of the later doctrine of the two natures of Christ).
  • Plutarch recounts how Caesar’s death resulted in cosmic signs, particularly the sun being blocked. Since Caesar (and his successors) were widely regarded and worshiped by the imperial cult as “Son of God,” Mark’s insistence that Jesus’ death resulted in “darkness falling over the land at the sixth hour” of Good Friday indicates that Jesus is also to be regarded as “Son of God” (perhaps, in my opinion, polemically against the claims of Rome and the imperial cult).
  • Fallen spirits/demons worship Jesus. Yet Kirk has already demonstrated that angels worship Adam in contemporary Jewish literature. Being worshiped does not prove that one is identified as YHWH. See also 1 Chron 29:20.
  • Jesus, far from being the omniscient God of Israel, admits he does not know the day or the hour of his second coming (13:32). In stating this, Jesus differentiates himself from the angels and from the Father, the one who alone knows this information. Mark does not say that Jesus’ humanity didn’t know but that his divine side did know. No, rather only the Father knows (even the Holy Spirit is unaware, if it is to be regarded as a person distinct from the Father, which I doubt).
  • “Abba” does not mean “Daddy” (cf. Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6). It only further points to Jesus as the authentic Son of God.
  • When Jesus heals the paralytic earlier in the Gospel he is met with opposers who state, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” God has given authority to the Son of Man to forgive sins, and Jesus later gives that very same authority to the disciples (11:25). If the disciples can truly forgive sins, then they are certainly not divine (and neither is Jesus for that matter).

 

Mark checks out to fit the working hypothesis that Jesus of Nazareth is best understood as a Jewish idealized human figure (rather than a preexisting divine person or angel). Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of the Gospel of Mark. Tomorrow I plan to post on Kirk’s arguments in the Gospel of Luke regarding how he depicts Jesus as “Son of God,” so stay tuned!

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 4 – Priests as Idealized Human Figures)

This is my fourth post containing my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will look at the significantly important section on Priests as “idealized human beings” in Judaism, data upon which the Synoptic evangelists drew in order to articulate their christological conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. Kirk covers a lot of complicated ground, so as usual I will use bullet points and put my own thoughts in italics.

  • Melchizedek in Scripture– This enigmatic figure developed in tradition by combining priest.JPGthe priestly image in Genesis 14 and the kingly role in Psalm 110. Since King David and his sons, on rare occasions, functioned as both kings and priests (2 Sam 8:18) this allows Psalm 110 to promote a human lord as the idealized priestly king. Furthermore, Psa 110:1 envisages this human lord as exalted to God’s right hand, followed by an appointment of priesthood forever (110:4). Yet this figure is distinct from YHWH in both Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.
  • Melchizedek in Qumran – The Temple scroll (11Q13) identifies Melchizedek as “god” of Psalm 82, which is generally understood to be referring to human judges. Kirk rightly notes that this is in line with previous attributions of elohim to the human king (Psa 45:6; Isa 9:6). As priest, this figure represents both sides, human and divine. Therefore, Melchizedek becomes an intense figure crossing the boundaries between God and humans without compromising strict monotheism.
  • Priest in Sirach – Written in a period when Israel only possessed priest and no kings, Sirach highlights Simon ben Onias as an idealized human figure echoing divine images drawn from the vision in Ezek 1:28. He may even be intended to be understood as one reflecting the “glory of Adam” (which appears in both Qumran and Paul). Of no small significance is that Sirach 24 describes Lady Wisdom as the personification of God’s wise ordering in creation, only to take those traits and give them to the high priest Simon in Sirach 50 (thus making Simon the poetic incarnation of Wisdom nearly three hundred years before the Gospel of John was completed). The same chapter takes images of the idealized Davidic ruler from Psalm 89 and reinterprets them for Simon the priest.
  • Testament of Levi – An eschatological priest evokes God’s glory reminiscent of Moses’ face in Exodus. Furthermore, he is gifted with the heavenly spirit of understanding and sanctification, allowing him to bound Belial and the ability to grant authority to others over wicked spirits. There is a lot of food for thought regarding depictions of Jesus along these very lines of thinking.
  • Jubilees – More priests are depicted as possessors of the divine glory. These priest perform functions on earth likened unto angelic functions taking place in heaven.
  • Priests in Qumran – 1Q28b ushers in a blessing for the community’s priest so that they may shine with heavenly angelic light, thus illuminating the congregation. This draws upon Moses’ face and the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6, but goes further than the picture of Moses and states that these priests will indeed allow their glorious faces to shine upon their people. These priests are nevertheless still human figures, albeit while possessing luminous glory of their God. 4Q400 depicts the priests who serve in the holy temple as ascending into the heavenly throne room. They also are agents through whom God’s sanctification is carried to the holy people. 4Q418 notes how the addressee (either a king, priest, or ruler) is described as a “holy of holies over all the earth.” This make the inner room of the Jerusalem temple into a person, one who bears in himself the very presence of Israel’s God (or as I call it, “poetic incarnation”). The Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q471b, 4Q491c) depicts a singer, who is a “friend of the king” who is exalted to heaven, seated, and sharing in the lot of the angels. Yet this person is a human member of the Qumran community, albeit a highly exalted human figure. My favorite citation made by Kirk is 4QApocryphon of Levi wherein the human eschatological high priest is described as sharing in the creative word of God which made the Genesis creation. Kirk summarizes the scroll’s contribution by noting that the “priest is identified with God through the recapitulation of God’s role in creation…without any indication that the priest is being identified as God or as some other divine being.”

 

Kirk also has an interesting section noting that at least habpeshertwo times in the DSS the authors replaced the divine name (YHWH) with the name of a human priest (just as the NT does with Jesus in Rom 10:13 and Acts 2:21). In particular, the moreh hatzadik (“Teacher of Righteousness”) in the Habakkuk Pesher puts the reference to the teacher in for the divine name. This also occurs in 4Q167 where the “last priest” replaces the first person reference to Yahweh’s “I” in Hosea 5:14. This observation is hugely significant, noting that the NT authors were not going rogue in their high claims made of Jesus. They were only doing what other Jews were practicing before them.

Although one might not think that a study on priests bears any significant relevance on the development of Christology, this section of Kirk’s book argues persuasively to the contrary. I feel a growing excitement reading this book, attempting to process all of the small changes this makes for some of the more popular arguments regarding the divinity of Jesus which now are shown to have a broken foundation. It might be a little premature for me to state this, but Daniel Kirk’s contribution here might be as noteworthy as James Dunn’s Christology in the Making published some thirty years ago.

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” (part 3 – Kings in Worship and Rule)

godtomanIn this third post wherein I provide my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels I will focus on the section entitled “Kings in Worship and Rule.” In this part of the book Kirk lays out the evidence demonstrating that the Israelite king was regularly represented as the idealized human being, one who embodies God’s rule upon the earth.

Many texts are discussed in this section, so I will offer a brief summary of his arguments and accompany them with a few thoughts of my own:

  • David in Historical Texts (Scripture) – The Davidic dynasty is understood as kingdavid God’s son on earth per 2 Sam 7:14 (cf. Psa 2:7). 2 Samuel’s reworking in 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 signifies that the Davidic kingdom is also the kingdom of God, indicating that the human ruler is the one through whom God is/will be enacting his sovereignty.
  • Psalm 45 – The Davidic king here (likely Solomon in my opinion) is called “God,” although there is another God above him (“your God has anointed you”). Both Yahweh and the Israelite king can rightfully be called “God.” This language evoke the similar terms used of Moses, the prophet who functioned as God to Pharaoh. Psalm 45 is significant because this is the text which the author of Hebrews uses to call Jesus “God” (Heb 1:8), and this author includes in his citation the part of the human king having a God above him.
  • Psalm 72 – Kirk notes that the tsi’im in 72:9 (71:9 MT) are better rendered as animal desert dwellers, therefore indicating that animals will bow down in prostration to this idealized human king. This recalls the language of Adam in Gen 1:26-28 where the idealized human ruled over the animals as God’s viceroy. Kirk also notes that the name of this idealized king is petitioned to flourish “before the sun” (72:17), a statement used to describe the notional preexistence of the Messiah’s name in Rabbinic Judaism. Since the phrase “before” (liphnai) can be temporal as well as spatial, this very well may be a reference to preexistence of God’s idealized king’s name before the sun was created.
  • Psalm 89 – Another major psalm echoing the promised of 2 Samuel 7’s Davidic covenant. Particularly of interest is that the anointed Davidic king will possess the ability to control the sea and the waves, and the waters in Judaic thought are usually regarded as personifications of the chaotic evil. God, who generally reserves the ability to control nature, extends this function unto the Davidic king, the son of God.
  • Solomon’s Throne and Worship in 1 Chronicles – Both David and Yahweh are kingsolomonworshiped, being the recipients of a single verb in 1 Chron 29:20. In 1 Chron 29:23 Solomon sits on the throne of Yahweh, indicating that Yahweh has invested his personal rule and throne upon the earth so that the human king can function as his embodied representative. The Israelite king, therefore, is the visible presence of Yahweh.
  • Isaiah 9:6-7 – The idealized king, likely originally referring to Hezekiah, is called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.” He will also function as the human embodiment of Yahweh, the divine warrior ushering in the peaceful reign of God. Elijah was a “father” to Elisha (2 Kings 2:12).
  • Ezekiel 34 – Long after King David has died, the restoration of the kingdom envisions the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. This idealized king will function as the shepherd of the people (34:23), sharing in the responsibilities of shepherding which Yahweh himself will perform (34:11-16). In other words, the restored Davidic king will share in the functions of Yahweh as the idealized human ruler.
  • Micah 5 – This promised ruler, whose origins extend “from days of old” (miyamai olam), reach back to the ancient Davidic family (not back to eternity). God will bestow upon this ruler his strength and glory. More striking is the indication that God’s own name will be shared with this promised Davidic king (Micah 5:4; 5:3 MT). This is no different from Yahweh extending his throne down to earth upon which Solomon was to rule as the human king in 1 Chronicles.
  • Zechariah 12 – Yahweh, functioning as the divine warrior, is spoken of in conjunction with the idealized human king. Zechariah 12:8 importantly notes that the house (dynasty) of David will be “like God” (c’elohim), further overlapping the functions of the idealized human ruler and Israel’s God.
  • Psalms of Solomon – Chapter 17 of this work regards the idealized Davidic king playing the role of God on earth, particularly over Israel. Kirk quotes John Collins who remarks that, “The kingship of God… is implemented though human kingship.” There are other echoes in the Psalms of Solomon where the idealized king’s mission to rule over the Gentiles seems to be deliberately drawing upon Psa 2:7-9, where the human Son of God will smash the nations with a rod of iron. Furthermore, Kirk points out that while Isa 66:18 says that Yahweh knows the thoughts of the people, Psalms of Solomon 17:25 says that the human Davidic king is the one who now possesses this prerogative. The fact that the promised Messiah could be spoken of as possessing the ability to know the thoughts of humans has massive implications upon similar texts in John’s Gospel and Rev 2:23.
  • Animal Visions of 1 Enoch – In the midst of a vision of sheep, a champion arises to sit on the throne for the Lord (90:9). This enthroned ruler is thus playing the role of God as both king and judge of the people (90:20).
  • Qumran References to the Idealized King – 4Q246 notes how God will wage war on behalf of the human king (who is called “son of God”). 4QFlor states that the idealized king will function as the agent of deliverance for God, drawing upon the prophecy of Amos 9:11, itself a promised of the restored Davidic dynasty. 4Q521, which has precipitated a 4q521plethora of interpretations by scholars (about which Kirk shows awareness), notes how the God’s anointed one will be obeyed/listened to by the heavens and the earth. This recalls the primordial Adam image who functioned as the crowning achievement of the original creation, ruling over everything God had created.

Kirk has demonstrated that the images describing the Israelite kings (primarily David and Solomon) as idealized rulers in whom God embodies his attributes and sovereignty can abundantly be observed in both the Hebrew Bible and in a variety of texts in Second Temple Judaism. Combined with the case which Kirk has already established regarding the images of Adam, Moses, and prophets like Elijah, these Israelite kings provide fertile soil out of which the Synoptic evangelists can grow their depiction of Jesus as the idealized human being. This first chapter of the book is proving to be a solid reconstruction of how Judaism’s strict monotheism could incorporate these human figures as mortal “embodiments” of Israel’s God, carrying out his rule and purposes.

Stay tuned for further updates on A Man Attested by God.

 

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 2 – Adam, Moses, and the Prophets)

This is the second installment of my review and thoughts of Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic GospelsI will take the time now to begin working through the contents of Chapter 1 – Idealized Human Figures in Early Judaism.

 

Adam as Past and Future

In Kirk’s search of the Synoptic evangelists’ sources for shaping Jesus of Nazareth as an idealized human being, being neither personally preexistent nor angelic, the primordial figure of Adam is discussed at length. Here is a summary of the texts which Kirk covers:

  • Genesis – Adam is placed by the Priestly writer not simply as God’s representative but adamevean actual living representation who points creation to the true God in heaven. Adam is made in God’s image and likeness and rules as God’s viceroy. Rulership over creation is a divine prerogative given to Adam. This makes Adam an idealized human figure. I would like to add to Kirk’s analysis that the P source of Genesis 2 tells of God letting Adam name the individual animals (another divine prerogative as observed in P’s record of God himself naming the day, night, sun, moon, etc.). 
  • Psalm 8:6 – Human beings (initially Adam) are crowned with glory, honor, and majesty. These traits are divine qualities shared with Adam (as depicted in Genesis 1). These attributes are not merely expressed by the psalmist as Adam representing God but more likely regarding the human as the embodiment of elohim’s power and presence here on earth.
  • Ezekiel 28 – The King of Tyre (not Satan) is poetically described as the initial human being in Eden, the garden of God. This king is described as formerly possessing divine glory (now lost due to his transgression) in a manner reminiscent of the Adam story in Genesis 1-3.
  • Wisdom of Solomon – The unknown author of this document puts into the mouth of Solomon words which equate the role of the Israelite king with the initial vocation given to humanity, thus indicating that Solomon reckons that he is taking upon himself the role of Adam in all of his idealized human glory. This suggests that the author of Wisdom of Solomon used Gen 1:26-28 as the lens through which to understand the role of Israel’s kings.
  • Dead Sea Scrolls – Kirk surveys the pertinent scrolls mentioning the “glory of Adam” as an inheritance promised to the Qumran covenant community. These texts indicate that the authors of the scrolls regarded themselves as the ones who will one day receive the role given originally to Adam, namely rulership on God’s behalf. These roles make better sense as relating to humanity rather than to angels, Kirk persuasively notes. It would be interesting to know of 4Q381 originally read that the remnant of Israel would rule with God over the “heavens and the earth” (although I cannot imagine what the text could say other than shamayim there in the decayed part of the scroll). Either way, part of the nation of Israel looked forward to regaining the idealized human function given to King Adam by God.
  • Philo – The famous Alexandrian Jew notes in De opificio mundi that the animals of the original creation were to worship the human being Adam as their natural ruler and despot. Worship, as an act, is therefore not limited to the Creator alone. Humanity is described as functioning as God’s sovereign ruler, acting as God’s delegated viceroy. Even Noah, the head of the creation after the flood, is understood by Philo as the ruler likened unto Adam, embodying divine rule upon the earth.
  • The Animal Visions of 1 Enoch – Images of Adam and the Davidic king are depicted as the earthly embodiment of God. These figures appear to exercise judgment precisely as the judge, a prerogative initially belonging to God alone.
  • Life of Adam and Eve – Humans are distinct creatures from the angels. Adam is promised to sit on a divine throne in the restoration of humanity. Kirk notes that angels do not share in God’s throne nor do they receive worship. It is rightly noted that this text probably has been influenced by early Christians and therefore needs to be bracketed out of possible influences on the New Testament Christologies.
  • Testament of Abraham – Adam is again depicted upon a divine throne. This time, however, Adam shines in heavenly glory, appearing like the Lord. This suggests that humans appearing with heavenly glory are not to be taken as direct indicators of being angelic in nature or existing as divine persons.

It is clear that the Apostle Paul was influenced by these depictions of Adam as the idealized human figure. Romans in particular notes how all persons, sharing in Adam’s likeness, suffer from his sin and loss of initial glory (Rom 3:23). However, the redeemed people of God hope and boast/celebrate in the glory of God (Rom 5:2), namely a restoration to the image and position of rulership of Adam. Christ himself is the type of Adam as clearly described in Rom 5:12-21. Christians are therefore co-heirs with Christ in the restoration of the idealized human vocation (Rom 8:17). 

 

Moses and the Prophets

Kirk also sees in the Jewish depictions of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha further representation of his “idealized human being” category:

  • Moses in the Bible – Moses is called “god” precisely as the agent/representative of Yahweh. Kirk sees in Moses the one who brings God’s rule to earth just as the vocation was given to Adam. Throughout the Exodus narratives Yahweh speaks and performs miracles in and through Moses. The same God who conquered the chaos in Genesis 1 divides the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14, yet this feat is performed through the prophet Moses.  God’s glory is even reflected off of Moses’ face. The famous passage in Deut 18:15 further indicates that Moses was regarded as the ideal figure and prophet (and the NT clearly regards Jesus as the “prophet like Moses”).
  • Philo’s Moses – Philo continues the line of thinking exhibited in the Pentateuch by regarding Moses as God and as the one who shares in God’s sovereign rule over humanity. Moses is both theos and King according to Philo. It might even be the case that Philo prays to Moses in Somm. 164-65. More work could be done on this passage, for sure.
  • Moses in The Exagogue – In a vision, a nobleman summons Moses so as to give up his Charlton-Heston-as-Moses-001throne unto Moses. As Moses looks over the created order, some of the stars bow down before him. If these stars are a reference to angels them Kirk has a good argument against Bauckham and even Fletcher-Louis regarding how humans can be given roles which are regularly reserved for God alone. This reminds me of the Apocalypse of John in the NT where human beings are to be worshiped but angels refuse the very same action. 
  • Moses at Qumran – Moses is again depicted as reflecting the glory of God upon his face. If the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6 wishes that the face of Yahweh shine upon the Israelites, then the fact that Moses already possesses this glory indicates that he is embodying God in some measure as his representative. This further contributes to the notion that Moses was understood as in idealized human being
  • Elijah in the Scriptures – The deuteronomistic author of 1 Kings regards elijah Elijah the Tishbite as controlling aspects of nature in ways which are generally reserved for God alone. In fact, the awesome episode upon Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 17 indicates that it is the human Elijah, and not Baal the storm god, who controls the storms. Yet no one honestly thinks that Elijah is divine. Rather, everyone knows that he is a faithful prophet of God empowered to do miracles and wonders. Kirk notes the many ways in which the deuteronomist sees Elijah as the parallel figure to Moses, noting where both persons do the same miracles and feats. If Moses was an idealized human figure then certainly Elijah is depicted in Scripture to be similarly understood!
  • Elisha – Elisha the prophet begins his career by receiving upon him the power and blessing of Elijah. Therefore, Elisha shares in Elijah’s ministry as the idealized human prophet. I thought it was great for Kirk to point out that the same sort of passing the torch from master to disciple can be observed in the Moses narratives, perhaps even from John the Baptist unto Jesus, and certainly with Jesus unto his disciples. One of my favorite parts of this discussion was the point where Kirk noted that Elisha was able to extend his personal presence in places where he was not physically present (just as Paul did in 1 Cor 5:3-4). Excellent insight here.
  • Elijah in Sirach – There are many Jewish traditions which regard Elijah as physically taken to heaven without dying. Sirach works this material and suggests that the heavenly Elijah as the instrument of God who controls the natural world with “glory.”
  • Elijah in Qumran – Kirk again surveys the various scrolls referring to “the prophet” (i.e., Elijah the expected one). Perhaps a prophetic figure will share in the eschatological role of raising the dead in 4Q521. That there were traditions steaming from the biblical book of Malachi regarding the expectation of Elijah returning can be observed in 4Q558, perhaps hinting that this unnamed figure will share in the coming judgment of God. Personally, I didn’t find the Qumran arguments regarding Elijah as sharing in the coming judgment of God very persuasive, although I admit that Jesus and John the Baptist are aware of such expectations and interpret them for their own purposes (so Kirk’s thesis still stands on the NT evidence).

It is fairly clear in my mind that Adam, Moses, and Elijah are significant examples meeting the criteria for Kirk’s idealized human being. The case for Elisha is not as strong, but he certainly deserves to be included in the discussion. I had formerly been pointed to these figures by reading John Collins and James Dunn, but no one has worked the material as exhaustively as Kirk has demonstrated in this chapter.

I look forward to continuing through this first chapter as it is proving to lay the groundwork for his reading of the Synoptic Gospels in their understandings of who Jesus actually was.

Did Mark Identify Jesus as a ‘Preexistent Heavenly Figure?’ A Response to Michael Bird

235-2There has been quite a fuss on the internet recently (eg., here and here) regarding Michael Bird’s assertion that Mark, our earliest Gospel in the New Testament, presents Jesus Christ as a preexistent figure from heaven. In a rather short blog post, Bird stated the following,

The Marcan Jesus participates in the kyricentricity of Israel’s God. He is identified as a pre-existent heavenly figure who has come to earth, who carries divine authority, who embodies royal and priestly roles; and in his person, words, and deeds he manifests the holy presence, the redemptive purposes, and the cosmic power of the Lord of Israel.

This will be my first interaction with Bird’s work, although Bird himself is not unfamiliar with me as he was actually a reviewer of my latest book The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus. I hope to meet Michael one day in person, as I hear that he is a very pleasant fellow. However, I do feel that he is grasping at straws be arguing that Mark presents a Jesus who preexisted in heaven. In this post, I will break down his two sentences with evidence from Mark which I feel runs counter to Bird’s position.

  1. The Marcan Jesus participates in the kyricentricity of Israel’s God. – I can only surmise that this phrase, being a combination of kurios and centricity, is an adjective suggesting the Lord [God] as the center point. Despite my attempts to really get at what Bird is saying this word (which Darth Vader would describe as a “technological terror you’ve constructed”) I cannot seem to lock down what is intended. The correlating indication that Jesus “participates” in this centrality of the Lord God further begs for clarification. All Christians would agree that Jesus participates in the will of God (Mark 14:26) by obediently carrying out his ministry in Mark’s Gospel. It is quite another thing to insist that Mark teaches that Jesus participated with Israel’s God as the second member of the Trinity, a theology wholly absent from Mark (see esp. Mark 12:29). I wonder if this ‘participation’ language is a rehashing of Bauckham’s similar terminology.
  2. He is identified as a pre-existent heavenly figure who has come to earth – I respectfully suggest that there is absolutely no evidence to back up this claim. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is identified as the descendant of his mother Mary (Mark 6:3), who is called his mother (3:31). Furthermore, Jesus is hailed as the Son of David, a messianic title referring to the promised king among the descendants of David (Mark 10:47, 48; 12:35). To put it plainly, it is impossible for Jesus to be a preexisting figure if he is younger than and originating from Mary and David. Mark makes no attempt to suggest, imply, or hint that Jesus is anyone other than the human Messiah, a lineal descendant of King David carried forth down to Mary, Jesus’ mother.
  3. in his person, words, and deeds he manifests the holy presence, the redemptive purposes, and the cosmic power of the Lord of Israel – Again, the real questions regards what all is meant by these words. As an authorized agent, Jesus could carry with him a delegated and even empowered authority. The redemptive purposes, as admitted by Jesus, seem to be expressed in Mark 14:62 with a combination of Dan. 7:13 and Psa. 110:1. Mark 14:62 presents Jesus claiming to be the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel 7 (a figure distinct yet empowered by the Ancient of Days), who will be exalted to the right hand of Yahweh as the adoni figure (a nondeity figure in all of its OT occurrences) of Psalm 110:1. In other words, both passages alluded to distinguish Jesus from Israel’s God while simultaneously indicating that Jesus is/will be exalted and empowered by that very God. It is quite another thing to suggest that Jesus is the embodying presence of God with incarnational connotations from the later creeds of 325 and 451 CE. In fact, the crowds understand Jesus as he rides humbly into Jerusalem as the one who rightfully “comes in the name of the Lord” (11:9), indicating an authorized agent of Israel’s God. Does the Markan Jesus embody all of God’s attributes? The answer would have to be no, since Jesus did not know the day of his return (13:32) and since Jesus died (15:37). Jesus also attributes the role of Creator to Israel’s God and not unto himself (Mark 10:6).

In sum, I suggest that Bird’s description of the Markan christology needs further clarification and fails to take into account off of the available data. There is no use presenting a hypothesis that is both unclear and unwilling to take seriously all that Mark has to say to his readers.

Book Review (part 17: How the Gospel of John Contributed to the Parting of the Ways) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In the seventeenth post regarding my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek  I will draw out a particularly fascinating discussion on how the Fourth Gospel contributed (and in what sense) to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between Judaism and Christianity (section 46).

The-Breakup_0Dunn outlines this chapter by first discussing how the terms ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity are unhelpful terms because they are not defined and distinguished entities during this period of inquiry. He moves on to note some of the early strains between the followers of Jesus and their Jewish counterparts, such as the death of the Messiah, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, and the lynching of Stephen in Acts 7. Furthermore, Rome’s involvement certainly caused ripples between the two groups with the destruction of the temple (70 CE), the fiscus Judaicus, and the revolts in 115-117 and 132-135 CE. During this time Judaism was being refined with the slow emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and the fading away of other sects (Essenes, Sadducees, etc.).  Four NT documents (Matthew, Acts, John, and Hebrews) are likewise examined to see in what sense do they depict the conflicts between Jews and early Christians. Finally, Dunn notes the writings of the second century Apologists, Church Fathers, and others to observe how the tone has changed during their time periods. This entire chapter is a gold mine of excellent historical data and should be required reading for Church History students (who rarely get exposed to the developments between the first and second centuries CE).

I will now move to interacting with Dunn’s section on how the Gospel of John contributed to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between what eventually came to be known as Judaism and Christianity. The section (46.5c) notes how the GJohn apparently goes out of its way to argue how traditional Jewish icons are now passé in light of the coming of Christ (temple to body, purification water into wine, Jacob’s well into living water, manna from heaven to bread of life, etc.). These themes seem to indicate that GJohn invites its readers (especially the Jews of its time) to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and visions.

It is in GJohn that ‘the Jews’ are the designated antagonists, regularly hostile to Jesus. In John 8:39-44 Jesus defines them as “children of the devil” rather than children of Abraham. This sharply distinguishes ‘the Jews’ from Jesus and his followers (who are also Jewish). It seems, after a closer examination, that ‘the Jews’ most likely refers to the Jewish authorities, in contrast to even the neutral crowds and common folk observing the dialogues of Jesus and his opponents.

IMG_1352Of particular interest is the phrase coined by GJohn aposynagogos, “expelled from the synagogue.” In John 9:22 the parents of the blind man refuse to stand up for their own son in fear of ‘the Jews’ who threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah. The next reference is in 12:42 where many of the rulers believed in Jesus, but did not publicly confess him for fear of the Pharisees, lest they be put out of the synagogue. The third and final reference is in 16:2 where Jesus warns that his disciples should expect to be kicked out of the synagogue. It has been common in Gospel of John scholarship to suggest that the blessing against the heretics (known as the birat ha-minim) had already been pronounced by the post-70 rabbinical authorities and that this pronouncement in synagogues explains the social situation exhibited in John 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2. Dunn argues that this suggestion is problematic and unable to be sustained historically principally because the reference to the Christians within this blessing  was likely a later addition. Dunn concludes, nevertheless, that the three references to synagogue-expulsion indicate that the pressures towards the parting of the ways was instigated on the side of Judaism rather than Christians.

The other relevant feature in GJohn is the objection on the side of Judaism that claims being made of Jesus by his followers were a threat to God’s unity. Dunn cites John 5:18 (‘the Jews’ seek to kill Jesus because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God) and 10:30-31 (‘the Jews’ pick up stones to stone Jesus in response to the statement, “I and the Father are one”). In the Synoptic Gospels there appears to be no fierce reaction from the Jewish authorities quite like John 5:18 and 10:31. Dunn notes that the question of why these claims about Jesus were not made prior to the year 70 CE has not been sufficiently asked. The solution seems to be that John’s understanding of Jesus is best explained through the lens of God sending an authorized agent who bears the name and privileges of God himself.  Or, in the words of Dunn,

…much of John’s christology can be best seen in the context of late Second Temple Jewish reflection on divine epiphanies and divine agency.

Dunn goes on to note some of the particular christological points in GJohn. Of interest are these bullet points:

  • The Wisdom/Logos christology of John 1:1-18 is essentially a part of the Wisdom theology of Lady Wisdom traditions exhibited in Prov. 8; Sirach 24; and Baruch 3-4. Philo’s Logos theology is also influential;
  • John 3:13 seems to be a direct rebuttal of other Jewish claims to heavenly journeys and apocalyptic visions (only Jesus is the designated revealer of God);
  • The Son of Man ascending/descending in 3:13 and 6:62 is an extension of reflection on Dan. 7:13-14, a reflection in which 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra also were taking part;
  • The motif of Jesus as the one whom God “sent” sounds like the theme of God sending a prophet, but transcends both the prophet and the kingly figures;
  • The “I am” statements and other claims like John 8:58 “would not ring oddly to anyone familiar with the ‘I’ claims of Wisdom.”

John’s christology was not foreign to the Judaism of the period, argues Dunn. It seems that it was the claim that Jesus was God’s authorized agent, likened to God’s Wisdom, which was the factor provoking the post-70 CE rabbis to regard these Christ-followers as heretics (the minim). Dunn notes that the Gospel of John did not finalize this split, pointing to the second-century christological controversies which continued to bring definition to Christianity and Judaism which were both attempting to define each other over and against the other.

In sum, the Gospel of John indicates that the rabbis expelling Christians from the synagogue in a disagreement as to whether Jesus really was God’s authorized and empowered Messiah, and that the Johannine community indicates that this schism was well under way at the end of the first century CE.

What do you think of Dunn’s reconstruction? Be sure to ‘like,’ share, and subscribe for further updates!

 

Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 1)

ehrmangodI have for a long time waited for the release of this book. I remember emailing Dr. Ehrman back in 2008 and discussing a few small details concerning this book at that time. Now it has been released and it is certainly as controversial as the rest of his publications.

Unfortunately, I am disappointed with his efforts.

These posts will be a series of responses to various parts of the book. Today’s post deals with his section entitled ‘The Angel of the Lord as God and Human’ (chapter 2).

Starting on p. 55, Ehrman begins to build his case which argues that within the multifaceted expression of Judaisms, “divine” beings, as he calls them, could indeed become human. I will begin my objection with his terminology. The phrase “divine” is not a term to which everyone ascribes the same definition, thus proving to be less helpful in this manner of discourse. Does calling someone divine mean that they are Yahweh? Does it mean that they are superhuman? Do demons fit this description? Are they immortal? Are they all-powerful? The questions can go on, but I contend that the word “divine” needs to be jettisoned from these types of discussions.

Ehrman goes on to describe the account in Genesis 16 when the Angel of the LORD appears to Hagar. A dialogue ensues where the angels speaks as if it were God himself. In Gen. 16:13 Hagar expresses her shock that she had “seen God and remained alive after seeing him.” Ehrman concludes the following:

“either the Lord appears as an angel in the form of a human, or the Angel of the Lord is the Lord himself, God in human guise.” -p. 56

So either God showed up, literally, in person, as a human being, or the angel is God. Sadly, the most likely option is not stated by Ehrman, which is that angels are messengers who speak on behalf of their sender. This is the widely known principle of agency. Even the rabbis repeatedly wrote that “an agent is as the one who sent him” (m.Ber 5.5; b.Baba Met 96a; b.Hag 10b; b.Qid 42b; b.Men 93b; b.Naz 12b).

The article on angels in the TDNT states that, “Even in the most developed angelology the angels only serve to execute and reveal the power and deity of Yahweh; they are his court, and train, and ambassadors.” (1:81)

Ehrman seems to be aware of the principle of agency as an interpretive option available to him because he cites a note (in his discussion of the same theme in Exod. 3:1-22) in the HarperCollins Study Bible (no doubt to support his own publisher) which says that:

“Although it was an angel that appeared in v. 2, there is no substantive difference between the deity and his agents.”

See? He knows that the angels represent God as his agents, but he fails to give this option as an interpretive choice, which is by far the most convincing in my opinion.

Ehrman also quotes from Charlces Gieschen who argues that the passage could easily be read as seeing the angel as “a distinct figure, separate from God, who is bestowed with God’s own authority.” See? There again Ehrman is aware that agency is an scholarly answer to interpreting the angels who speak on behalf of God. Yet sadly, Ehrman does not find this argument convincing enough to push forward. Surely he is aware that the Hebrew for angel, malak, means both a messenger as well as one of the angelic hosts. The messenger both represents the sender in every way while remaining a distinct person (or self) from him or her. This, I argue, is obvious.

This is just one of many parts of this book that made me disappointed. Ehrman is a great historian, but it seems that he has room for improvement in his biblical interpretive skills.

Is Jesus called God in Psalm 45?

Image

Psalm 45:6

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.”

 

-This text is thought to refer to Jesus, perhaps because it is quoted and applied to Jesus in Heb. 1:8.

-The psalm seems to be referring to one of the Davidic kings who is married and with children (cf. 45:9-11, 13-14). The most likely application for this psalm is arguably Solomon, but Jesus certainly does not have a wife or virgin daughters.

-Therefore, the Davidic king, who is promised an eternal throne (cf. 2 Sam. 7:13, 16), is addressed by the psalmist as God. The very next verse (45:7) says that, “Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy.” The Davidic king has a God who is his superior.

-The title God is in this psalm used in two different senses. In 45:6 it is used of the king,   clearly in a representative sense. The king is ruling on God’s behalf and can therefore be given the title through the principle of agency. The Davidic king’s God (45:7) is the one   true God who has anointed the king with oil.

-Some translations (NAB) recognize the different ways in which elohim is used in the psalm by differentiating the two individuals. The king is “god” (lowercase) while his God is “God” (uppercase).  

Part 6 – Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus? book review

Dunn’s final chapter contains his concluding thoughts on his study of early Christian worship. I will take the time here to discuss his conclusions and comment with my own.

Potential dangers and problems with a too-narrowly defined worship of Jesus: Dunn is quite nice and diplomatic when he writes this critique, but anyone familiar with American Christianity will soon realize what he is trying to get across. Many Churches, Christian songs, media, and books are worthy of the critique which Dunn calls “Jesus-olatry”- which is the giving of worship to Jesus which falls short of the worship due to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dunn compares this to idolatry, where the idol (in whatever shape or form) takes the place of the one true God. Then he comes out and says it: Jesus has been substituted for God.

This is a rather stunning critique indeed, but upon further reflection (a week after finishing the book) I think that it is well founded. Too many Christians think that Christianity is all about Jesus. Two examples will hopefully get my point across. I overheard a conversation between a young Christian and Jew who were about to eat lunch. The Jew asked the Christian to make the mealtime prayer “non-specific.” The young Christian was puzzled and asked his friend, “Well, I have always prayed to Jesus, who else is there to pray to?” His Jewish friend replied. “You can pray to the Father.” The Christian responded that he has never prayed to the Father, only to Jesus. I personally wonder if this Christian has ever read the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus commanded prayers to be directed to the Father who is in heaven. Dunn makes a similar point that the Father has almost been forgotten by citing another book which makes the same point. My second example comes from a Christian song called ‘One Way’ which I believe is still on the radio. Here is a Youtube link to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lP8fHN53t0 . The chorus lyrics go like this: “One way, Jesus, You’re the only one that I could live for.” These examples, I hope, show that Dunn’s critique is very real and should be heard by all professing Christians.

Dunn’s second point deals with monotheism and the unity involved therein. He states that the evidence is fair enough to remind readers that God’s oneness is not a mathematical unity. God has revealed himself in the past through his Wisdom, Spirit, angels, and his Word, without detracting from him being the one and only God. Dunn does not say that this divides that God into something other than one (like two or three) but his point is that the one God of the Shema is that he has revealed himself in many ways, expressed his purpose and mission in different outlets and opportunities. As John 1:18 states, it was Jesus Christ who ultimately exegetes the Father to the world. Early Christians in the first century never worshipped the Holy Spirit, as he points out in a footnote.

I think I am persuaded by Dunn’s logic here, even though I agreed with his reasoning prior to reading the book. I just never came to the wording of the conclusion he has on my own. I do still see God as one, but understand his way of revealing himself in the terms of agency. Perhaps I need to nuance that and say that when God sends his angel, messenger, Spirit, prophet, king, or even Messiah out on a mission that God not only invests his authority in this agent but also his presence and identity. I think that too often Christians have confused the invested authority and titles given to these agents with the one who sent them. Nobody really thinks that Steve at your front door delivering Papa John’s Pizza really is Papa John. Steve is the agent delivering on behalf of Papa John’s. It is true in some sense to say that, “Papa John’s is at the door.” But we understand that Steve is only representing the business that sent him. Since the Ancient Near Eastern culture was fully a functionally agentival readers of the Bible need to take this area of context seriously.

This realm of agency (if that is the best way to define the concept) is used in Dunn’s closing thoughts. He states that “The only one to be worshipped is the one God.” Yet he goes on to say that hymns and petitions should still be offered to Jesus, but to the glory of God the Father. This is why Christians pray “in Jesus’ name” because prayer is offered to the heavenly Father but through Jesus Christ.

Here the direction is seems to be a vertical one, going up from the congregation to Jesus (as mediator) and then on up to the Father, God. This is not a horizontal rendering.

As for the answer to the question which brings about the title of the book, Dunn admits that it is less relevant, less important, and misleading. I agree. On the whole, early Christians reserved worship for the Father and expressed it in terms of point #3 above.

Of course, what we think of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ is much narrower that it is used in the Scriptures. The point must always be kept in mind when pursuing these topics.

Part 5: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? book review

The fourth chapter of Dunn’s book is where the previous three chapters get incorporated into the New Testament texts. This chapter is, not surprisingly, the longest in the book. I won’t be able to discuss every detail of Dunn’s arguments, but I will try to highlight all of the major points he raises.

In this chapter, Dunn seeks to bring the discussion in ways which will answer these questions:

  1. Was Jesus remembered as a monotheist? Did he restrict worship solely to the God of Israel?
  2. What is the significance of the post-resurrection proclamation “Jesus is Lord?”
  3. In what sense is Jesus the embodiment of God’s Wisdom (and/or Word)? What was meant when Paul described him as the life-giving Spirit?
  4. In what ways did the Book of Revelation offer worship to the Lamb?
  5. How and in what ways did the early Christians call Jesus god/God?
  6. How were the terms “Last Adam,” “mediator,” and “heavenly intercessor” understood?

As to the first question of wondering whether or not Jesus was a monotheist, Dunn acknowledges that this line of inquiry would be shocking to those who suppose that Jesus is to be understood in line with the debates of the fourth and fifth centuries. It is argued that Jesus’ upbringing would have placed him firmly within the educational system of the synagogues of his time. This would have introduced him to the Shema of Israel, the central creed of Judaism which affirms the oneness of God. Jesus was remembered in Mark 12:28-32 as affirming the Shema as the foremost commandment (even above the command to love one’s neighbor). Dunn also recalls the previous discussion in which it was pointed out that Jesus sought out worship for God alone (Matt. 4/Luke 4.), the God who alone was good (Mark 10:17-18). I was actually surprised that Dunn did not talk about the clearest statement of monotheism in John 17:3, but this perhaps comes from his hesitation to attribute the sayings in the Fourth Gospel to the lips of the historical Jesus. Nevertheless, Dunn concludes that Jesus was indeed a monotheist.

The discussion moves onto the subject of Jesus as Lord. Dunn rightly points out that the master Christological text governing this topic, especially in the New Testament, is Psalm 110:1, where YHWH speaks to adoni to sit at his right hand until he makes his enemies his footstool. The title of ‘lord’ is simply a title given to a human master, but it is also used of pagan gods as well as the Roman Emperor. This brings about the issue of the YHWH (LXX kyrios) texts which were used of Jesus. Dunn proposes that this could mean one of two things: that in Paul’s thinking Jesus is Yahweh, or that God has bestowed his unique saving power on the Lord who sits at his right hand via Psalm 110:1. Dunn argues that the second option is more likely. He notes in Phil. 2:5-11, where the YHWH text of Isa. 45 is attributed to Jesus, that the final stanza of the hymn attributes worship ultimately to God the Father. In 1 Cor. 8:6, where Paul speaks of there being one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, Dunn actually seems to have changed his mind on how this passage is to be interpreted. Previously, Dunn saw this verse as an affirmation of the Shema in which Paul split open to include Jesus within the creed of Israel. Dunn now argues, along with his student James McGrath (which he footnotes) that:

“It is quite possible to argue, alternatively, that Paul took up the Shema, already quoted in 8:4 (‘there is no God but one’), only in the first clause of 8:6 (reworded as ‘for us there is one God, the Father’); and to that added the further confession, ‘and one Lord Jesus Christ’…A distinction remains between the one God and the one Lord.”  

He goes on to state that this statement from Paul is the natural outworking of Psalm 110:1. When Dunn gets around to talking about 1 Cor. 15:24-28 he concludes that this passage, which while quoting Psalm 110:1, ends by placing God the Father as the one who will be “all in all” in which Christ will be included.

Dunn moves on to looking at how the NT authors pickup the themes of God’s Wisdom, Word, and Spirit and incorporate them into their discussions of Jesus. The first text (and most controversial in my opinion) is John 1:1-18. The author of the Fourth Evangelist has obviously taken up and developed the metaphor of the Word in ways which are coinciding with how other writers used it as a way to speak of God’s action in creation, revelation, and salvation. Dunn questions whether it is right to attribute to the Word the opening pronoun of ‘he’ (is can be translated as ‘it’). Dunn speaks of the common interpretation of the poem, that which speaks of Jesus’ preexistent life with God. He offers another option which points out that nothing written in the poem which would be strange to a Hellenistic Jew (such as Philo). Dunn makes the comment, “Properly speaking, then, it is only with 1.14 what Jesus comes into the story…Jesus is not the Word; he is the Word become flesh.” Jesus then is the one who personally reveals the character of the Logos, a character which previously was only able to be expressed in terms of personification. In Col. 1:15 where Jesus is said to be the image/eikon of God, this according to Dunn, should be read as Jesus embodying the wisdom which God wisely uses to act in his world. Jesus is God acting and outgoing, expressing the very purpose and character of God himself. Wisdom christology is also found in Heb. 1:1-3 in Dunn’s reading.

Dunn carries the discussion over to include the Apocalypse of John and the honors given to Jesus in it. In this book Jesus is seen in visions which are reminiscent to the Ancient of Days found in Daniel 7. Both God and Jesus share the Alpha and Omega titles. And at times they both share the same throne. Yet Dunn asks whether these descriptions were written to be understood as literal facts or not. He concludes by stating that the hermeneutical rule on interpreting the various apocalypses should not be ignored: to interpret them literally is to misinterpret them.

The title of ‘god/God’ is sometimes given to Jesus in the NT documents, although many of them are disputed for syntactical reasons. Dunn offers his opinion on the debate. Rom. 9:5 he leaves open, although his Romans commentaries state that answer should be negative. Titus 2:13, which Dunn reminds us that the thing which is to be revealed in the glory of our great God and Savior, he attributes to Jesus (but with some qualification). Matt. 1:23 is to be read as symbolical according to Dunn. John 1:1c is qualified with a parallel in Philo who distinguishes theos with the article and theos without it. 1 John 5:20 is left open as ambiguous. Heb. 1:8 is cited as quoting one of the looser elohim texts in the Hebrew Bible where the Davidic king is called ‘god’. The very next verse, Heb. 1:9, says that Jesus has a God. Dunn concludes by saying the following:

“The traditional attempt to capture this fuller portrait has been to emphasize the human as well as the divine in Jesus. But the distinction is too crude, already for the New Testament writers.”

Discussion of the Last Adam comes up with reference to 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Dunn sees this line of thinking as the expressing of Jesus as the beginning of the new creation of God. Both Adam and Jesus are spoken of in ‘image’ terminology. 1 Tim. 2:5 is read as the natural outworking of Paul’s previous statement in 1 Cor. 8:6. The title of the heavenly intercessor is interpreted as one who, as the priest, becomes the intermediary between God and mankind.

Dunn then interacts with Bauckham and asks if it is really helpful to interpret all of this data in terms of ‘divine identity.’ He argues that this terminology runs the risk of actually confusing rather than clarifying. Dunn points out that the NT writers are careful to not identify Jesus with the one God of Israel. He goes on, “He is not the Father. He is not Yahweh.” Dunn suggests that the language of ‘divine agency’ or ‘plenipotentiary’ hold together the data better. Jesus is the one who embodied God’s immanence. The NT writers say that Jesus, as the divine agent, is never the source (‘ek’) of the act of the Creator, to where God the Father is constantly described as such.

Dunn concludes the chapter by stating that the best way to understand Jesus in light of all the evidence is to see that the early Christian writers saw him as God’s extension to the world in his redeeming action. Yet God remained the God and Father of Jesus. Jesus was not worshipped as wholly God. If he was worshipped, worship was offered to God but through Jesus.

The next chapter of the book is the Conclusion where Dunn wraps up all of the evidence surveyed and offers his closing remarks. I will reserve my own until that time. Thanks for reading.

Part 4: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

 In the 3rd chapter, Dunn puts away the toys and brings out the big guns, err, the theological big guns. It is by far the most complex and important chapter up to this point. Since the end of the previous chapter the driving question was forced to be revised. Therefore, Dunn seeks the consideration of the following points:

  1. Generally, what did Israel’s monotheism entail?
  2. How did the mediation of angels small and great reflect the one true God of Israel?
  3. How were God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word understood by Israel?
  4.  In what sense were select human beings spoken in terms of apotheosis?

Monotheism is summarized in the first section. Dunn reminds his readers that the Shema denoted the oneness of Israel’s God. This is similar to what we read in the first of the Ten Commandments. Dunn cites both Philo and Josephus who both report in their writings that Jews understand God to be one, even amidst their pagan neighbors. Only one God was deemed worthy of worship: the God of Israel.

That being said, Dunn points out that the noun ‘god’ does not carry only one meaning within the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Moses, acting as God’s agent, was called ‘god’ in the book of Exodus. The Davidic king (probably Solomon) who ruled on God’s behalf was called ‘god’ in Psalm 45. Even human judges, who judge in place of God, are given the title ‘god’ on a few occasions. Dunn concludes this section that even though the Shema was of central and crucial importance for Jews it was not something which restricted the use of the title ‘god’ in metaphoric or poetic fashion.

The next section deals with angels/messengers who bear messages on God’s behalf. Within the Hebrew Bible there are various accounts of these messengers not only bringing forth the word from the LORD but also carrying his name and very presence. Sometimes the narrator of these accounts seemingly switches back and forth between the voice of the messenger and the LORD himself. Dunn argues that the best way to understand these accounts is to recognize that the angel was not God as such but could be said to be God in his self-revelation. The Hebrew concept of the ‘agent bearing the authority of the one who sent him/her’ seems to be the best piece of context in bringing the meaning of these passages to light. Dunn cites Exodus, various pseudopigraphal texts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls which identify the messenger as ‘the angel of the presence’. The Apocalypse of Abraham bears an account where the angel Yahoel is spoken of having God’s very name in him. Yahoel itself seems to be a combination of YHWH and el, the divine name and the Hebrew word for ‘god’. The level of the divine presence represented by this angelic messenger is at one of the highest levels possible.

Dunn turns next to the complicated subjects of defining God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word within the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, and pseudopigrapha. These terms were used to express God’s interaction and intervention within his creation. The Spirit of God is defined by Dunn as “a way of characterizing God’s presence and power.” It also is used as a synonym for ‘breath’, God’s ‘presence’, and God’s ‘hand’. In the 2nd Temple literature the Spirit of God seems to have taken the role of a semi-independent divine agent. Various passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, Book of Wisdom, Judith, and even 2 Baruch depict the Spirit in ways which are more poetic and independent from God. The evidence, according to Dunn, seems to be describing how the unseen and invisible God can interact in revelation, salvation, and inspiration to his creation. Also, Dunn points out that worship is never ascribed to his Spirit in any text. He concludes from this fact that Israel never understood this poetic way of describing God’s action as something “semi-independent of God.” God reveals himself and is active by means of his personal and powerful Spirit/breath.

The pursuit of wise and honorable living came to be expressed by the personification of divine Wisdom within the literature of the Jews. In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is depicted as a lady sought after by young men. She is also seen as God’s personal companion in the poetic reconstructions of creation. This same theme is picked up in Sirach as well as the Book of Wisdom. Dunn summarizes the available evidence to argue that Wisdom should be understood as metaphorical and poetic in nature, not as an independent being from God. In both Sirach and Baruch it is ‘Torah’ which is the ultimate interpretation of Wisdom.

God’s word is the general way of depicting God in his communication and speech with his creation. The various days in the Genesis creation are opened by with God speaking them into existence. Dunn points out that over 90 percent of the occurrences of ‘the word of the LORD’ refer to inspired prophecy. God’s word also seems to at times take on a personality of its own, such as when God establishes his word, or when the word gets praised, gets trusted in, and even hoped in. Many of the poetic sections of the Bible and the post-biblical literature speak of God’s word being the means of God’s creation, such as Psalm 33:6 where the word is used synonymously with his ‘breath’. Dunn argues that these passages hardly constitute the designation of a semi-independent or hypostatic status to the word itself. He cites Philo who in his most extended discussion of God’s creative activity likens it to an architect who plans the city he is building in a blueprint. For Philo, the Logos (word) is “the archetypal idea, the overall plan that comes to material expression in creation.” In similar fashion to God’s Spirit, the divine Word/Logos of God was never worshipped, even in Philo’s writings.

What might be the most surprising part of this chapter to readers unfamiliar with the subjects and literature would be the next section Dunn tackles: that of the exaltation of select human beings within Israel’s understanding. He points out that “we need to be alert to the fact that the concept of a human person being divinized was not unfamiliar in the world as Jesus’ time.” He cites evidence of Moses, Elijah, and Enoch all being exalted into the heavens. Other literature suggests that even Adam was thought of having been exalted to a heavenly throne. Dunn states that this evidence raises the possibility within monotheistic Judaism of a great human figure being exalted to heaven as permissible.

Dunn’s next chapter will seek to take all the evidence surveyed up to this point and place the New Testament rightly within this very context. As for my own comments, these are my thoughts at the moment:

-It is interesting that within a strict monotheistic religion that human beings appointed by God can rightly be called ‘god’. What is even more interesting is that when the book of Hebrews wishes to call Jesus ‘God/god’ that it cites one of these looser passages (Heb. 1:8-9/Psalm 45:6-7).

-Angels/messengers seem to unambiguously carry the divine presence and even God’s very name in the way which can only intelligently be understood under the principle of agency.

-I’m not sure what to think of the thought of exalted human beings, but it seems that figures of importance within the Israelite religion surely were honored with exaltation and even worship at times.

-Dunn’s assessment of Wisdom, Spirit, and Word need to be taken seriously by anyone looking at this subject in relation to Christology or multiple persons of the Trinity.

-Philo in particular should be read by anyone who wishes to make any definitive statements about the interpretation of John 1:1-18, especially his De Opificio Mundi 16-44.