“And Wisdom Became Flesh” – How the Gospel of John depicts Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom

Having already noted the theology in both Proverbs and Sirach which depicts the personified Lady Wisdom as embodied in human figures (i.e., the ideal wife and Simon the High Priest), I have observed the same trend within the Gospel of John. In fact, the connections between Jewish literature describing Lady Wisdom and Jesus within John are far greater in number than the connections in Proverbs and Sirach (and I might not have even found all of them).

The primary conclusion of this evidence suggests that if the Gospel of John repeatedly depicted Jesus Christ as the embodiment and incarnation of Lady Wisdom, which itself is a personification rather than a literal person alongside Yahweh, then this is a strong indicator that the Fourth Gospel is not thinking in terms of Jesus consciously existing prior to his birth. Furthermore, if Logos and Wisdom were understood as synonymous terms (as Wis 9:1-2 suggests), then the theology of Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom needs to be read in conjunction with the prologue (John 1:1-18).

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Incarnational Theology within the Book of Sirach (i.e., How Lady Wisdom Became Flesh in the High Priest Simon)

As a follow up to last week’s video on the Incarnation of Lady Wisdom in the Ideal Woman of Proverbs 31, I have set forth data which I feel points to the conclusion that the Book of Sirach also depicts a human being as the embodiment of God’s personified wise interaction with creation. In short, Sirach 24 offers a picture of Lady Wisdom in rich poetry, and that poetry is used later in the same book to describe the historical High Priest Simon, using the same Greek words in the process! Furthermore, I note how the language of Sirach was picked up by the Prologue of John in order to depict Jesus in the same terms and theology. Since Lady Wisdom is a clear personification (rather than a actual person alongside Yahweh), then this example in Sirach sheds some much needed light on how John 1:1-14 should be responsibly interpreted.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

 

The ‘Ideal Woman’ in Prov 31 is the Incarnation of Lady Wisdom

I have compiled what I feel is a very persuasive case after translating every verse in Proverbs to demonstrate that Prov 31:10-31 depicts the Ideal Woman as the embodiment and incarnation of God’s personified Lady Wisdom.

This means that John 1:1-18 is not the first to embody one of God’s personified attributes into a human being (“the Word became flesh”).

Furthermore, since Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2 equates Wisdom and Word as near parallels in thought, this would mean that John is more likely arguing along the lines of the theology in Proverbs rather than what the later creeds have suggested that he was saying.

Let me know what you think of the evidence presented.

Jesus is the Embodiment of Lady Wisdom in 1 Cor 10:4

I am experimenting with my new screen capture program and thought I would make a short video on 1 Cor 10:4. In this short clip I demonstrate that Paul was interacting with many Jewish interpreters of his day regarding the identification of the rock which provided water to the Israelites during the Exodus wilderness trek. If Paul regards Jesus precisely as the true embodiment of Lady Wisdom (i.e., God’s personified wise interaction with the world) then Paul can typologically label that rock as “Christ.” This would sugggest that 1 Cor 10:4 was never intended by Paul to refer to Christ as a physically preexistent person. 

Let me know in the comments below what you think of this interpretation.

Colossians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Here are my short lectures discussing Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. I take some time to address the issue of authorship, the likely Jewish identity of the opponents, and I even deal with the christological hymn in chapter one. I am convinced that Paul regards Jesus as the embodiment of God’s personified wisdom, being God’s wise ordering and interaction with his creation. Let me know in the comments what you think about Jesus being the embodiment of God’s wisdom.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Colossians

 

Colossians chapters one and two

 

The christological hymn in Col 1:15-19

 

Colossians chapters three and four

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!

 

Book Review (part 13: The Christology of John’s Prologue) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

the-born-of-jesus-christ-art-2We have finally arrived to what many readers have been eagerly expecting. In this post I will summarize Dunn’s reading of John’s Prologue in regard to its christological contribution (as argued in his newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek). I figured today is as good a day as any to discuss logos theology. Much of what Dunn articulates in this section (ch. 43.1) is an expansion of his explanation in his Christology in the MakingI was pleased that he was able to gather further evidence to clarify and expand upon his initial argument.

Dunn begins by noting that ‘the word of God’ within the minds of religious Jews would have called to mind a variety of nuances. It would have drawn attention to the creative word used in the Genesis creation (Gen. 1:3, 6-7, etc.). The Psalmist picks this up and expressed it in Ps. 33:6. This very word also accomplishes all that God purposes according to Isa. 55:11. In the mind of Greeks the logos denotes the divine reasons permeating the created order. It also was an achievable measure of ‘reason’ to which each person could assent. With this in mind, Dunn correctly notes how both Jews and Greeks would have initially understood the first few verses of John 1:

when John continued, ‘The logos was with God and was God, both sets of listeners would find this unexceptional. For the logos was God’s own thought and utterance. And John’s further claim that ‘All things came into being through (the logos)’ would similarly accord with the presuppositions of most of his audiences.

For Dunn, the logos is not a preexistent Son of God, but rather the very utterance of God with all of its creative and reasonable echoes.

When it comes to John 1:18 Dunn argues that the theme that ‘Jesus reveals the God whom no one has seen’ is further observed in the Father-Son statements like, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9; cf. 8:19 and 12:45). In other words,

Jesus is the self-expression of God.

Additionally, the disputed textual part of John 1:18 regarding the “unique God/Son” is given a lengthy footnote where C.K. Barrett stated in his commentary on John that although monogenes means ‘only of its kind’ when paired with the relationship of the Father then it can hardly mean anything other than only begotten son (and one who is begotten is one who has come into existence).

Dunn’s argument continues by insisting that the Johannine prologue could be more accurately described as Wisdom christology. He cites these parallels and echoes upon which the prologue drew:

  • 1:1 – Wisd. 9:9; Prov. 8:23, 27, 30
  • 1:3 – Prov. 3:19
  • 1:4 – Prov. 8:35; Bar. 4:2
  • 1:5 –  Wisd. 7:29-30
  • 1:11 – Wisd. 9:10; Bar. 3:37; 1 Enoch 42:2
  • 1:14 – Sir. 24:8

To further demonstrate the link between the poetic word and wisdom, Dunn cites Wisd. 9:1-2, “O God…who made all things by your word and by your wisdom you founded humankind.” Furthermore, it is noted that in Jesus,

the creative, revelatory, redemptive Word had come to humankind, that the divine Wisdom had made God known…

The depiction of Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom is not limited to the prologue, as Dunn notes the links between poetic passages describing lady Wisdom (in Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Proverbs, and Job) and many other passages in John’s Gospel. In particular, he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of a variety of wisdom sayings in John 1:38-39; 2:6-10; 3:13; 3:16-17; 4:10, 14; 6:30-58; 7:25-36; 8:12-30; 8:58; 10:1-18; 11:17-44; 12:44-50.

Finally, Dunn takes a swipe at those who read the christology of John through the lens of Nicea. This quote deserves to be cited in full,

It is only when the early church’s Logos christology is supplanted by the Son christology of Nicaea, and the Son christology becomes detached from the Logos christology that the issue of personal relationships within the Godhead arises and talk of ‘subordination’ becomes necessary to maintain balance within the by then much-refined monotheism of the Fathers.

Let me know what you think of Dunn’s view of the christology exhibited in John’s Gospel. Subscribe for further updates.

 

 

Wisdom Christology in Q (Matt. 23:34; Luke 11:49)

As I was preparing for tomorrow’s lecture in my Synoptic Gospels class, I was reminded of a ‘Q saying’ which involves Wisdom, the often personified attribute of God’s wise dealings with his creation (cf. Prov. 8; Wisdom 6). The Q saying texts to which I am referring are:

Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city… (Matt.23:34)

For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute… (Luke 11:49)

If I had to put my finger in the air and guess which direction the wind is blowing, I would estimate that the original Q saying is found in Luke’s version, where ‘the wisdom of God’ is doing the speaking. If this is the case, then Matthew, having Q in front of him, decided to redact it in a manner which put the words of ‘the wisdom of God’ upon the lips of Jesus (note the shift from wisdom speaking to Jesus speaking in the first person). It would seem awkward for the original Q saying to have Jesus speaking and for Luke to redact that by placing the speech into the mouth of wisdom.

Another Q saying involving Wisdom is located in Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35. For the record, no official Wisdom sayings appear in Mark’s gospel.

lady-wisdomThe implications of these observations are worth suggesting. If (and these are pretty big ‘ifs’) the Q collection of Jesus sayings is early, perhaps as early as 40-50 CE, then this places Wisdom christology earlier than its alternative expression located in the Fourth Gospel (God’s personified Logos and God’s Wisdom are closely related). This would mean that John is not saying something so new and innovative compared to the earliest Jesus traditions. If Q records authentic Jesus sayings which indicate that he thought of himself as the embodiment of God’s personified Wisdom, the human expression of God’s wise interaction in the world, then it would be difficult for some of the more critical scholars to write off the Fourth Gospel’s christology as such a late development. It would also posit a legitimate connection between the earliest Jesus tradition and Paul, who considers Jesus to be the fullest expression of Lady Wisdom (eg. 1 Cor. 8:6; 10:4; Col. 1:15-16; etc.).

What do you think?

 

 

Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 10 – Johannine Prologue)

In today’s review of Ehrman’s new book on christology, I will examine his arguments regarding the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18). One of Ehrman’s primary theses is that the Synoptic Gospels have a low christology while the Fourth Gospel as, in his words, “an extremely high Christology.” One gets the sense that Ehrman is trying to push the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel in mutually exclusive directions based on how it (key word) might be interpreted. He shoots off a catena of proof texts from the Fourth Gospel in order to make his point. This may have the affect of overwhelming the unsuspecting reader, but I will attempt in this post to look closely at his arguments, in particular, regarding John 1:1-18.

Logos-is-the-greek-word-for-reason-or-for-wordOn page 273 Ehrman claims that the Johannine Prologue describes Christ as “a preexistent divine being–the Word–who has become human.” He goes on to remark that the “Logos in Greek–was sometimes understood to be a divine hypostasis, as aspect of God that came to be thought as its own distinct being…separate and distinct.” I will come right out and state that I think that this is a gross misreading of the evidence, particularly, the Jewish background regarding the Logos/Wisdom of God. One only has to look at the texts which almost certainly influenced the writer of the Fourth Gospel in order to get a sense of what he means when he uses the Logos in his Prologue. Consider the following passages:

 Yet these things You have concealed in Your heart; I know that this is with You. (Job 10:13)

For He performs what is appointed for me, And many such decrees are with Him. (Job 23:14)

What is with the Almighty I will not conceal. (Job 27:11)

We note here that in the book of Job, one of the more poetic parts of the Hebrew Bible, God’s decrees are “with Him.” This is very similar to John 1:1 where the Word was with God. Job is best understood as saying that, when God’s decrees are “with Him”, that his plans are in his mind and a part of his divine purpose. Other passages say a similar thing:

My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you. (Prov. 2:1)

Proverbs, another highly poetic book in the Hebrew Bible, likewise speaks of words being within a person. They are decrees and commandments which are treasured within someone. Certainly this language is not to be taken literally, as if words literally exist inside of a person’s body.

And Wisdom is with you, who knows your works (Wisd. of Sol. 9:9)

All wisdom is from the Lord and is with Him forever. (Sirach 1:1)

The intertestamental literature, which are both full of poetry, follow the lead of the wisdom material located in the Hebrew Bible by describing God’s wisdom as being with God. This is not saying that wisdom, although highly personified, is an actual female figure alongside God. Rather, this is a metaphorical way of expression God’s wise intentions and interactions with His people, i.e., God acting wisely with creation.

So when we get to John 1:1 where the Logos was with God, I contend that these parallel passages should be given more weight in the interpretive process. The Logos, which is certainly personified in the fullest extent in the Prologue, was with God in the same way that God’s plans, decrees, and wisdom were with Him.  This suggests that the Logos is not a separate person alongside God, but rather a way of talking about God’s utterance which is certainly involved in creation. Consider the following passages and ask yourself whether they speak of a separate entity alongside God or not:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Ps. 33:6)

To Him who made the heavens with understanding. (Ps. 136:5)

The LORD by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up. (Prov. 3:19-20 cf. 24:3-4)

By his knowledge everything shall come into existence, and all that does not exist he establishes with his calculations and nothing is done outside of him. (1 QS 11:11, tr. Garcia Martinez)

By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished, and he appointed the different seasons and festivals. (Sirach. 33:8, my translation)

O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word. (Wisd. of Sol. 9:1)

Worship the God of heaven, who causes the rain and the dew to descend on the earth and does everything upon the earth, and has created everything by his word. (Jubilees 12:4)

Wisdom being his mother, through whom the universe arrived at creation. (Philo, Fug. 109)

Wisdom, by means of which the universe was brought to completion. (Philo, Det. Pot. 54)

In these passages, all from within poetical wisdom literature. God creates things with his word/wisdom. This is a way of portraying God has having a powerful word, a word which speaks things into creation. It also portrays God as acting wisely within his creation, using his own wisdom in the ordering of the cosmos. James D. G. Dunn’s assessment of the evidence is striking:

“Prior to v.14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and Logos, the same language and ideas that we find in the Wisdom tradition and in Philo, where, as we have seen, we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than individual divine beings as such. The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine Logos as ‘he’ throughout the poem. But if we   translated logos as ‘God’s utterance’ instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the Logos in vv.1-13 to be thought of as a personal being. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v.14 may well be that it marks not only the transition in the thought of the poem from preexistence to incarnation, but also the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.” –Christology in the Making, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 243, emphasis his.

What must be stated here, with emphasis, is that the word (Logos) and wisdom in these passages are not separate divine beings or hypostases alongside God. That would be to take the poetical writings and read them too literally and woodenly. And this, I contend, is what Ehrman (among others) has done with John 1. He sees the Logos and argues, implicitly, that this must be read literally rather than within the discourse of poetic wisdom literature wherein God’s word and wisdom is personified in acts of creation. A personification is not the same things as a distinct person. When Psalm 85:10-11 personifies righteousness and peace, are we to think that the psalmist is regarding them as hypostates or distinct persons? Or when the arm of YHWH is personified in Isa. 51:9 and described in feminine terms, is that arm now a distinct person alongside YHWH? Or maybe when repentance is personified in Jos. and Asenath 15:7-8 we should add him to the divine court of beings. Not likely, I suggest.

John 1 is best read as the personified Logos, which is active in creation and fully expressive of God, eventually becomes embodied in the human Jesus. Therefore Jesus speaks the very words of God (one of the primary motifs in the Fourth Gospel). He is God’s mouthpiece. If the Logos is properly understood in light of all the wisdom literature cited above, then John 1:1-18 does not indicate that Jesus literally existed as a preexistent being, as Ehrman argues.

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.