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” (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.


Targum Jonathan and Messianic Expectations in Jeremiah

aramaictargumI’ve been doing some work on how the Jewish Targums give us a glimpse at the variety of messianic interpretations were available during the second temple period. Targum Jonathan (not to be confused with Targum Pseudo-Jonathan) is an Aramaic rendering of the prophetic material from the Hebrew Bible. Most scholars date Jonathan close to the writing of the Onkelos Targum. Some of the internal evidence in the targum itself presupposes a date prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

I want to focus on three passages in particular. To begin, I will lay out what our modern translations do with Jer. 23:5:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”

However, the Tg. Jonathan interprets the Branch figure as “the righteous Messiah.” Interesting.

Moving on. Jeremiah 30:8-9 likewise envisions the restoration of Israel:

“It shall come about on that day,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”

Tg. Jonathan reworks the last sentence to say that they will “serve [Yahweh] their God and obey the Messiah, son of David, their king.” Most interesting indeed.

My final text comes from Jer. 33:15 (which sounds very similar to 23:5):

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.”

Again Tg. Jonathan reworks this passage messianically. It reads “I will cause to spring up for David the righteous Messiah.” Fascinating.

What conclusions might I reasonably draw from such data? It seems that the figure known as ‘the Branch’ was understood as the promised Messiah. It also seems apparent that this messianic figure was to come from the line of David and is actually called the “son of David” in one occurrence. As a lineal descendant from King David’s line, this logically suggests that the expectation for the Messiah, at least according to the targumist, would be found in a human figure who will reign as king. Or to state it from a different angle, the targumist does not expect the Messiah to be the person of Israel’s God, in the strictest sense of the word. No, the targumist seems to long for a human descendant from David who will rule as king.




Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 5 – Rom. 1:3-4)

Those who have the book will notice that I have moved from chs. 2 and 3 on into ch. 6. I am not haphazardly skipping over the two chapters on what historians can and cannot know about the resurrection (chs. 4 and 5). I simply wish to interact with the more christological aspects of this book. Much of my theological and graduate training has been in the area of christology, so I am attracted to such discussions. My philosopher and history buff friends are, arguably, more apt to interact with chs. 4-5.

Ehrman’s sixth chapter is entitled ‘The Beginning of Christology.’ He starts his inquiry by looking into the pre-Pauline traditions (hymns and creeds) preserved within the texts of the New Testament. The first of these pre-Pauline traditions discussed by Ehrman is the creedal statement preserved in Rom. 1:1-4. The text reads as follows (my translation):

1. Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, marked out for the gospel of God

2. which was previously promised through His prophets in the holy scriptures

3. concerning His son, begotten out of David seed, according to the flesh

4. marked out as son of God in power according the the spirit of holiness from the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our lord

Within this pre-Pauline creed is an abundance of Jewish messianic theology. Firstly, the “promise coming from the prophets in the holy writings” indicates that the early believers found, in Jesus, a christological identity which conformed to the expectations of their heritage. They could look at the prophets within the Hebrew Bible and check off, in a sense, the qualifications of the office designated ‘Messiah,’ based on what they came to believe and preach about Jesus’ person.

One of these qualifications is my second point: Jesus is the human descendant of David. Ehrman is familiar with 2 Sam. 7:12-14, where God promises the monarch David, through the prophet Nathan, that the royal line will endure forever. The descendant of David, according to 2 Sam. 7:14, will be called God’s sonWe also learn from that verse that God will be his FatherI stress the tense in both of these propositions because it is popular in modern theologies about Jesus and God to say that there was never a time when the Son didn’t  exist, which presumes that God was always a Father in relation to that very eternal Son. 2 Sam. 7:14 says otherwise. God will be his Father and the descendant of David will be His son. The Chronicler in 1 Chron. 17:11-14 makes sure that this reference is not confused for Solomon, strongly suggesting a messianic reading of that promise during the composition of the book of Chronicles.

We also know from the Qumran texts that the title Son of David was understood in Jewish circles messianically. In an important text in the Dead Sea Scrolls called 1QSa 2:11 we even get a sense of Israel’s God’s relationship to the Messiah:

“…when God begets the Messiah”

In some sense I have digressed. Back to 2 Sam. 7:12-14, where this descendant of David will be understood as God’s own son. “Son of God” was a title of the Davidic king, a human descendant from his line. The same can be seen from Psalm 2:7 where the king of Israel is called God’s son.

Why am I stressing these points? Ehrman sees in Rom. 1:3-4 a contrast between the son of David (1:3) and the Son of God (1:4). It is true that Paul contrasts the two. However, the specifics of that contrast are not taken seriously by Ehrman. In Rom. 1:4, Jesus, upon being raised from the dead, is designated son of God in power. It is not the case that Jesus was not the son of God prior to his resurrection, for the messianic office of the son of David was equivalent to being called “son of God” (2 Sam. 7:14; Psalm 2:7). Ehrman is, I think, aware of these points because he writes on p. 222 that, “Jesus was the descendant of David (which was a requisite, of course, for the earthly messiah).” You see there? Ehrman is aware of these “requisites” as he calls them. Those requisites are noted in 2 Sam 7:12-14 (which he quotes on p. 77). Unfortunately, those requisites seem to only matter to the early Christians and Paul, but not for Ehrman, who is trying to ascertain the beliefs of the early Christians and understand this passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Ehrman needs to be quoted in order to get the true sense of his misunderstanding (or misrepresentation). Ehrman writes on p. 222 that,

“the idea that Jesus was made the Son of God precisely at the moment of his resurrection is also stressed.”

Precisely at the moment of his resurrection? Go back and read Rom. 1:1-3 which talks about God’s gospel, promised beforehand, concerning His son. There! Son of God is there identified as the human descendant of David. Apparently when Paul writes περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ in Rom. 1:3 this should not be understood as Son of God for Ehrman.

Later Ehrman says,

“Jesus was “appointed” (or “designated” the “Son of God” when he was raised from the dead” (p. 224).

No sir. Jesus was God’s son when he was brought into existence as the seed of David (τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα).

Let me reiterate. There is a difference between Jesus prior to his resurrection and exaltation. Paul says that he is, in Rom. 1:4, designated son of God in power…Jesus Christ our lord. James D.G. Dunn, in his Romans contribution to the Word Biblical Commentary, notes correctly that the emphasis on Jesus being “our lord” is a direct allusion to Psalm 110:1, where Yahweh exalts the human lord (Hebrew adoni) up tho God’s right hand. This reference to Psalm 110:1 is, unfortunately, not mentioned by Ehrman in his treatment of Rom. 1:4, although he does mentions it earlier in this book, showing that he is aware of it. However, if he were to admit that it is in Paul’s mind (or even in the mind of the composers of this pre-Pauline creed) then it would give away his argument which unfairly differentiates the human Messiah (prior to his death, Rom 1:3) and the resurrected exalted lord (Rom. 1:4).

misquoteIn short, Ehrman, conveniently, fails to note three important facts in his interpretation of Rom. 1:1-4. First, he fails to take seriously the fact that the Son of David was understood as the Son of God. Second, he misquotes Paul, leaving out the fact that Jesus was designated Son of God “in power” at the resurrection. Thirdly, Ehrman fails to see (or admit) the reference to Psalm 110:1 at the end of Rom. 1:4, which would mark out that the Son of God in power has, powerfully, been exalted to the position of lordship as described in that psalm. Ehrman has a book called ‘Misquoting Jesus.’ Ironically, Ehrman has now Misquoted Paul.

I expected better from Ehrman. Now it is time for a refill of my Starbucks iced coffee.