Tag Archives: Christology

Is “Son of Man” in the Gospels a mere idiom for “I”, the speaker?

Have recent posts here about two “son of man” sayings of Jesus missed their mark (claiming to be references to Daniel 7) if the term “son of man” was simply a common way for a speaker to refer to himself?
Vermes argued that, in addition to being a normal term for “man”, the Aramaic bar nasha, “son of man”, was also a conventional substitute for the first person pronoun, “I”. — Casey, 1991:48

Casey a few years later drew a similar conclusion:

[A]s we try to recover the original force of sayings of Jesus which used this idiom . . . [w]e must go back to the term ‘son of man’ being bar (e)nāsh(ā), an ordinary Aramaic term for ‘man’, used in an idiomatic way in a general statement which refers particularly to the speaker with or without other people. — Casey, 2010:361

With the author’s permission I am posting a few pages (355-358/9) of The Sovereignty of the Son of Man: Reading Mark 2, an article freely available online on Daniel Boyarin’s academia.edu page.

I have bolded key thought changes and background coloured examples to (hopefully) assist with easier reading. I have also kept the original page breaks with in-place footnotes.

A Read Herring: “The Son of Man” as Periphrasis for “I”

In order, however, to proceed into my own inquiry into the evidence of Mark for the “Son of Man” in early Judaism, I must first show why I do not accept the conclusion of Geza Vermes, who argued that it is just a circumlocution for “I.” In a series of articles, culminating in an important essay published as “Appendix E” to the third edition of Matthew Black’s Aramaic Approach,7 Vermes attempted to revive a theory that had been advanced and abandoned a century ago to the effect that “The Son of Man” is merely an ordinary Aramaic locution by which someone refers to themselves in the third person, hence “I.” I think it can be taken as granted that given Vermes’s exhaustive investigation, his study should be considered definitive,8 and if it fails, we can consider that suggestion as rejectable.9 Although an entire array of scholars have already disputed Vermes’s conclusion, none have, I think, shown that the interpretations of rabbinic literature adduced by him, do not stand, and that there is, therefore, no evidence whatsoever for the argument that in Aramaic, “son of man” can mean “I” (that it means a human being is, of course, not in doubt at all).10 I thus accordingly

———————

7 G. Vermes, “Appendix E: The Use of Bar Nash/Bar Nasha in Jewish Aramaic: An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (ed. Μ. Black; 3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon, 1967), 310-28; P. Haupt, “The Son of Man = Hic Homo = Ego,” JBL 40 (1921).

8 P. Owen and D. Shepherd, “Speaking up for Qumran, Dalman and the Son ofMan: Was Bar Enasha a Common Term for ‘Man in the Time of Jesus?” JSNT 81 (2001): 84.

9 And it has been rejected by a host of scholars, from Fitzmyer through Jeremiah to Colpe, for all of which references see A. Yarbro Collins, “The Influence of Daniel on the New Testament in Daniel: A Commentary on the Book Daniel (ed. J.J. Collins; Hermeneia; Min-neapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 94, n. 30.

10 It should be noted that Norman Perrin, A Modern Pilgrimage in New Testament Christology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 70, makes major use of this untenable argument to make his case that all Christological use of “The Son of Man” must be post-Easter, an argument that is, in this respect, repeated by Lindars, Jesus, Son Man.


essentially agree with Hans Lietzmann as cited by Vermes to the effect that “His main findings are that the term is a common one, and that it is used as a kind of indefinite pronoun (ברעש = jemand; לית בר נש- niemand; בני נש= Leute). It is, he writes, ‘die farbloseste und unbestimmteste Bezeichnung des menschlichen In-dividuums’ (p. 38). He then goes on to postulate what seems to him to be the only logical corollary: as a designation בר נש is by nature inapplicable to any particular man, let alone to Jesus, the greatest of all men (p. 40).”11 Lietzmann put the question brilliantly; his answer, on the other hand, that the Son of Man must be a Hellenistic terminus technicus is a non-sequitur, for even if semantically and syntactically “Son of Man” in Aramaic means indeed just a person and nothing else, pragmatically (by which I mean in the case of a particular set of syntagms), the “Son of Man” as a citation of Daniel could certainly have come to mean the Christ already in Hebrew/Aramaic. An example, just to make this clear, would be the following: “Rav” simply means “Rabbi,” but for the majority of Orthodox Jews in the U.S., “the Rav” means one and only one Rabbi, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik OBM. Let us, then, have a look at Vermes’s evidence.

In order to make his case, Vermes must demonstrate the alleged use of בר נש as a circumlocution meaning “I.” Although he gives several examples, in every one of these, rather than seeing a circumlocution for “I,” we can see quite a (different idiom. I shall first discuss an example that Vermes seems to consider particularly strong.12 In the first:

Jacob of Kefar Nibburayya gave a ruling in Tyre that fish should be ritually slaughtered. Hearing this, R. Haggai sent him this order: Come and be scourged! He replied, should בר נש be scourged who proclaims the word of Scripture? (Gen. Rabba vii 2)13

Vermes wishes to claim that, “theoretically, of course, bar nash may be rendered here as ‘one’, but the context hardly suggests that at this particular juncture Jacob intends to voice a general principle. Hurt by his opponent’s harsh words, he clearly seems to be referring to himself and the indirect idiom is no doubt due to the implied humiliation.”14 Vermes here simply confuses the semantics and the pragmatics of the sentence. Of course, pragmatically the speaker is referring to himself, but semantically he is using a general expression. An example from English will make this clear. In the famous and brilliant lyric from Guys and Dolls, Adelaide sings plaintively: “In other words, just by waiting around for that

———————

11 Vermes, “The Use,” 311.

12 Vermes, “The Use,” 321-2.

13 Genesis Rabbah (eds. J. Theodor and H. Albeck; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1965), 51. Ver-mes’s translation.

14 Vermes, “The Use.”


little band of gold […] a person could develop a cold!” Of course, pragmatically she is referring to herself; it is her own situation of which she complains, but semantically “a person” in English is an indefinite pronomial form and not a circumlocution for “I.”15 The same is true for this example and, mutatis mutandis, all the other ones that Vermes cites. But another should be cited, because, at least, of the mutatis mutandis:

When R. Hiyya bar Adda died, son of the sister of Bar Kappara, R. Levi received his valuables. This was because his teacher used to say, The disciple of בר נשא is as dear to him as his son. (Yer Ber. 5b)

There is not the slightest justification to see a circumlocution for “I” here either. Rabbi Hiyya has expressed a general principle that the disciple of a person is as dear to him as his son and the conclusion was drawn on the pragmatic level (in several senses) that he intended his disciple to be his heir.

Another example cited by Vermes turns out to be a counter-example:

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoh said: “If I had been standing on Mt. Sinai at the hour that the Torah was given to Israel I would have demanded of the Merciful One that that human being would have been created with two mouths, one to be busy with Torah and one to do with it all of his daily needs.” Then he changed his mind and said: “If even with only one, the world cannot subsist because of all of the delations, if there were two all the more so!” [Palestinian Talmud Shabbat chapter 1, halakhah, page 3b]

Now it is obvious here, pace Vermes, that the Rabbi is not referring to himself as “that man” here, for then he would be, as well, accusing himself of being an informer, which he hardly was and hardly would do.16 There can be no doubt that here, as well, we must understand “הדין בר נש” here as “One,” German “Mann”, and nothing else. There remains not even one example in which the term Son of Man is a periphrastic usage for “I.”

In all of Vermes’s examples, then, “general principles are stated which are applied in the context of the narrative to an individual, usually the speaker.17 Vermes’s argument fails totally because he does not even once observe the

———————

15 Vermes’s citation of the answer “You […]” as confirmation of his thesis hardly needs refuting. Nathan Detroit, of course, would comfort Adelaide by saying: “Ah baby, you’ll be married soon.” That still doesn’t make “a person” = “I” semantically.

16 This consideration also thoroughly discredits Lindars’s reading according to which bar nesha here means “anyone (…) who was as deeply conscious of the divine generosity as Simeom himself,” Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 22. Even more sharply than with respect to the interpretation of Vermes, one would ask: Is this the class of people one would suspect of being informers to the Romans and even more so had they two mouths? I think the conclusion is inescapable that here (with or without haden=this), the meaning is the human being in general.

17 See examples cited Vermes, “The Use,” 323-7. For similar conclusions reached by slightly different methods, see Μ. Casey, “Method in Our Madness, and Madness in Their Methods: Some Approaches to the Son of Man Problem in Recent Scholarship,” JSNT 42 (1991): 18.


difference between semantic (lexical) meaning and pragmatic meaning or between sense and reference. There is, therefore, no evidence, whatsoever for “son of man” being used in Aramaic texts as a circumlocution for “I,” as Lietzmann realized.18

I conclude, therefore, that Vermes has adduced no convincing evidence that “Son of Man” was ever used as a circumlocution for “I” even in the Palestinian Aramaic of Late Antiquity; still less has he witnesses for the Aramaic of the first century. Vermes’s argument thus fails to convince on lexical philological grounds, in spite of its superficial attractiveness for the interpretation of some verses within the Gospels. Given that Vermes’s alleged idiomatic usage of “son of man” as periphrasis for “I” proves to be a ghost, another explanation of this genuinely weird usage must be sought. Lietzmann (and a host of others) have sought the explanation in the positing of a “Heavenly Man” or Anthropos myth underlying Christology. Rejecting (as have, I think, most interpreters by now) such far-fetched and far-flung explanations, to my mind, the only plausible one that remains is that of the great Jewish theologian and scholar of the last century, Leo Baeck, who wrote: “Whenever in later works ‘that Son Man,’ ‘this Son of Man’, or ‘the Son of Man’ is mentioned, it is the quotation from Daniel that is speaking.19 In other words, I fully accept (as I think wë must) Vermes’s hypothesis of an Aramaic origin (in the oral traditions that lie behind the Gospels) for the phrase, “The Son of Man,” but deny his interpretation of that Aramaic

———————

18 For another review of Vermes’s evidence, arriving, however, at different conclusions, see Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 19-24. Lindars accepts only one example as fully relevant and builds his entire case on that, the example being y Shevi’it 38d: [Rabbi Shimon] sat at the mouth of the cave [where he was hiding from the Romans] and he saw a hunter catching birds. He spread his net. He heard a voice from heaven [ברה קול], say dimus [Dimissio], and it was freed. He said [to himself], “a bird does not perish without Heaven, so much more so a human being!” Lindars chooses to translate this as “How much less a man in my position,” without any warrant other than the alleged article on bar nesha. Given, however, the philological state of the Palestinian Talmud, as well as the centuries later date in any case, to build an entire interpretation of the Son of Man on this one highly doubtful example, seems almost to constitute scholarly legerdemain. There is no reason to imagine that Rabbi Shimon means a man in his position as opposed to any human whatsoever. Once again, a simple generic is being used and applied by the speaker pragmatically to himself. A bird doesn’t perish except by the will of Heaven, still less a human being, [so why am I hiding here]? What is most important to recognize is that if this idiom is operative, for instance, at Matthew 8:20: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but bar enasha has nowhere to lay his head,” it could only mean that foxes have holes and birds have nests but humans have nowhere to lay their heads, which is palpably false (Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 30), so despite the apparent similarity of this one single exemplum from late-ancient Palestinian Aramaic, we must resist the temptation to treat them as the same linguistic form, pace Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 29-31. Lindars’s own solution to this problem involves pure philological fantasy, nothing more or less. In another, longer version of this argument, I will provide further argument against Lindars’s position. Insofar as it depends on Vermes’s flawed conclusions, it is, in any case, untenable.

191 L. Baeck, Judaism and Christianity: Essays (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1958), 28-9.


phrase. In what follows in this necessarily brief paper, I shall try to show how the hypothesis of literary allusion to Daniel in this phrase enables stronger readings of a pair of Markan loci.


 

And that takes us back to yesterday’s post, How the Gospel of Mark Retrofitted Jesus into a Pre-Existing Christ Idea.

.


Boyarin, Daniel. 2010. “The Sovereignty of the Son of Man: Reading Mark 2.” In The Interface of Orality and Writing: Speaking, Seeing, Writing in the Shaping of New Genres, edited by Annette Weissenrieder and Robert B. Coote, 353–62. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Casey, Maurice. 1991. From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology. Cambridge, England: JClarke ; Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Press.

———. 2010. Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. London ; New York: T&T Clark.


 

 

 

How the Gospel of Mark Retrofitted Jesus into a Pre-Existing Christ Idea

The background to the following post is The Gospel of John as  a form of Jewish Messianism? (Part 2). It presumes some awareness of how in some Jewish quarters Daniel 7’s Son of Man was being interpreted in a way that led to controversial Jewish texts like the Similitudes of Enoch and the Gospel of John.

In my view Jesus was entirely unnecessary for the formation of Mark’s Christology, as he is the fulfillment, not the provocation of that Christology. — Boyarin, 354

Before the Gospel of Mark was written, even possibly before the figure of Jesus was existed in anyone’s mind, there were Jews who interpreted Daniel 7 to claim that the Messiah, the Christ, would be divine human and known as the Son of Man. Again on the basis ultimately of Daniel 7 those Jewish sectarians believed that the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Man, would be a divine human with the “Father God” (“Ancient of Days”) having granted him total sovereignty on earth. The author of the Gospel of Mark was one of those who embraced this belief about the messianic prophecies. He chose to fit Jesus into that divine Son of Man messiah or christ template in his gospel.

(This notion of Christ was not the same as the one advanced by Paul. Paul never spoke of the messiah as a Danielic Son of Man figure. Perhaps the author of the gospel acquired the Danielic view of the Christ after Paul had done his work.)

Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, is the about the Messiah as a divine human (which is not to deny a Markan contribution to the development of such ideas). This article, in its present form, is intended as an answer to the question of “how the ‘Son of Man’ . . . came to appear on Jesus’ lips in Mark’s Gospel, or for that matter in the tradition as a whole.” My simple answer is that the “Son of Man” was on Jesus’ lips, because he was a first-century, Palestinian Jew, and “Son of Man” was the name that these Jews used for their expected divine-human (Christological!) redeemer. (354)

What evidence for this view can be found in the Gospel of Mark?

Mark 2:5-10

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins“—he said to the paralytic—

Boyarin argues that Mark 2:10 is meant to recall Daniel 7:14.

20 Indeed, even were it possible (which it is not) to entertain Vermes’s suggestion on
philological grounds, it would be excluded here. If Jesus is not identifying himself by a known title, then his claim to be the one (the only one) who has authority to remit sins would be unrelenting personal arrogance and indeed blasphemy. For this point, see Μ. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark: A Study of the Background of the Terms “Son of Man” and Its Use in St Mark’s Gospel (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1967), 84.—22 See too, “In claiming this divine prerogative Jesus classes himself as the Son of Man into the category of the divine, and his superhuman act of healing is the sign for this claim. So already in 1927 O. Procksch suggested that here ‘the Son of Man’ stands for the Son of God,” S. Kim, “The ‘Son of Man’ as the Son of God” (WUNT 30; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 2.—24 J. Marcus, Mark 1—8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 530. See too Kim, “The ‘’Son of Man’,” 90.

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” This verse is the crux. Once we have excluded the possibility of “the Son of Man” being simply, another way of saying “I,” then I think it must be conceded that it is a title, here.20 The Son of Man has authority (obviously delegated by God) to do God’s work of the forgiving of sins on earth. From where could such a claim be derived if not from Daniel 7:14, in which we read that the One Like a Son of Man has been given, “authority, glory, kingship;” indeed an “authority that is eternal that will not pass away”? The term that we conventionally translate as “authority” in its New Testament contexts, έξουσία, is, of course, exactly the same term which translates Aramaic שלטן (compare Strong’s #7985) in the Septuagint, so what Jesus is claiming for the Son of Man is exactly that which has been granted to the (One Like a) Son of Man in Daniel. Given the meaning of the Aramaic Vorlage in Daniel, “authority” strikes me as a rather weak rendering; “sovereignty” would be much better. Sovereignty would surely explain why the Son of Man has the power to remit sins on earth. According to this tradition, then, there may be no question; this Jesus claims to be the Son of Man to whom divine authority on earth, “under the heavens” (Daniel 7:27) has been delegated. In contrast to most interpreters, I would argue, moreover, that this One to whom authority has been delegated, as a divine figure, is a redeemer king, as the Daniel passage clearly states, and thus ripe for identification with the Davidic Messiah, if not always clearly so identified.22 I thus here directly disagree with Yarbro Collins’s assumption that the title “Son of Man” conceals as much as it reveals or that we cannot understand that the audience of Mark already understood the epithet. I find much more compelling in this instance the statement of Joel Marcus:

This conclusion [that the “Son of Man” in the Similitudes is pre-Christian] is supported by the way in which Jesus, in the Gospels, generally treats the Son of Man as a known quantity, never bothering to explain the term, and the way in which certain of this figure’s characteristics, such as his identity with the Messiah or his prerogative of judging, are taken for granted. With apologies to Voltaire, we may say that if the Enochic Son of Man had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him to explain the Son of Man sayings in the Gospels.24

I would only shift the terms of the last phrase to indicate that what this means is that the usage of the Son of Man in the Gospels joins with the evidence of such usage from the Similitudes to lead us to consider this term used in this way (and more importantly the concept of a second divinity implied by it) as the common coin — which I emphasize does riot mean universal or uncontested — of Judaism already before Jesus. (359 f)

read more »

The Gospel of John as a form of Jewish Messianism? (Part 2)

To continue from the first part first part of this post:

The Double Bind

For the similar quandary on the question of Jesus as the Messiah in Pauline scholarship Reynolds directs readers to a section of Novenson’s Christ Among the Messiahs; coincidentally the section he cites has been set out in an earlier post here: Christ among the Messiahs — Part 1.

Thus, on the question of Jesus as the Messiah, Johannine scholarship finds itself in an interesting place not unlike that of Pauline scholarship. Johannine scholars, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have recognized the Palestinian Jewish nature of the Gospel of John, but by and large, they have understood John’s Christology as a corrected, theologized, or Christianized version of Jewish messianology. Meanwhile, scholarship on Jewish messianism has acknowledged the diversity of early Jewish messianic expectation, but at the same time, the Fourth Gospel is almost never referenced as an example of this expectation. This situation appears counterintuitive, but there may be ways to move beyond the apparent impasse.

Jewish “High Christology” Preceded Christianity

The first instance of a move “beyond the apparent impasse” that Benjamin Reynolds discusses is the argument of Daniel Boyarin. For Boyarin, the “high christology” we find in the Gospel of John is all part of the same set of ideas that had been expressed in the Jewish works of the Parables of Enoch, 4 Ezra 13 (and 2 Baruch). In these Jewish texts we read of a messianic figure who

  • is preexistent
  • judges the wicked
  • is the Servant of the Lord
  • is seated on the Lord of Spirit’s throne

But let’s read Boyarin’s own words:

The proposal being advanced in this paper is that at least since Daniel and almost surely earlier, there had been a tradition within Israel that saw God as doubled in the form of an old man and a younger human-like figure, sharing the divine throne (or sharing, rather, two equal thrones). Although not necessary for the present argument, my guess is that this doubling of the godhead within much of Israel’s tradition goes back to the original El/Y’ merger. The vision of Daniel 7 . . . represents this tradition . . . .

After introducing the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra 13 into the discussion as further evidence of this Jewish concept of a “second anthropomorphic divine figure” who is associated with the Messiah, Boyarin is persuaded that such Jewish literature should be seen as the backdrop for the divinity of Jesus:

It is this view of God, given full rein in Enoch, that explains the development of High Christology as fully explicable within Jewish religious history, with the enormous innovation on the part of the Gospels being only the insistence that the divine man is already here as a historical human being and not as a prophecy for the future. Apocalypse now! This provides, in my view, a much more appropriate historical explanatory model than one that depends on visionary experiences of Jesus on the Throne allegedly ungrounded in prior speculation, as per the view of, e.g. Larry Hurtado and others who advance similar views.

Ouch! I have been one of those who has been prepared to accept those “similar views”.

What Enoch can Teach us About Jesus“*

read more »

Gospel of John as the turning point in a New Religion and a New God

Eight years ago I posted Starting a New Religion with The Gospel of John. In that post the punch line was: 

Where the Gospel of John is different:

Where the fourth evangelist differs from all of these [books written in the names of other prophets], as well as from those who exploited the Moses tradition, is in his conscious substitution of this tradition by the story of Jesus: ‘You search the scriptures,’ Jesus tells ‘the Jews’, ‘and I am the one to which they bear witness’ (5:39). The deliberate replacement of one founder-figure by another (the same step would be taken centuries later by Mohammed) is effectively the proclamation of a new religion. We may compare John with Matthew here, for whom Jesus is a second Moses, refining and purifying the law, but not replacing it (5:17). John, by contrast, puts the law aside, offering instead, in the name of Jesus Christ, ‘grace and truth’ (1:17). Similarly the Temple, the second pillar of contemporary Judaism, was for Matthew a place where Jesus’ disciples continued to offer their gifts: whereas in John the locus of Christian worship has shifted to a place of ‘spirit and truth’ (4:23)

(Ashton, p. 448)

Gabriele Boccaccini

This year I have read a proposal for another dramatic innovation that we find in this same fourth gospel. Gabriele Boccaccini picks up the recent publications of Larry Hurtado and Bart Ehrman that have sought to explain when and how “Jesus became God”.

Bart Ehrman and Larry Hurtado are the scholars who in recent years have more directly tried to address the question. For Ehrman [How Jesus Became God], the attempt to identify when and how Jesus “became God” is not the clear-cut divide that one would expect, but a much subtler discourse about how and when Jesus became “more and more divine,” until he climbed the entire monotheistic pyramid (almost) to share the top with the Father. Jesus, argues Ehrman, was first regarded as a human exalted to a divine status (like Enoch or Elijah before him), and then as a preexistent heavenly being who became human in Jesus and then returned to heaven in an even more exalted status.

Answering the same questions some years earlier, Larry Hurtado [Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity] traced the origin of such a belief by asking when Jesus began to be worshiped by his followers. In his view the devotion to Jesus marked a unique development within Jewish monotheism, even before the emergence of an explicit theology of the equality of Jesus with the Father. Jesus “became God” in the very moment in which he was worshiped.

(Boccaccini, p. 337)

Boccaccini finds both arguments problematic. Ehrman, for instance, does not really explain how Jesus is different from other figures in the Jewish “pantheon” who are also “divine” (e.g. Enoch, Elijah) and “preexistent”. “Being divine” and “being God” were not identical concepts in Second Temple Jewish belief systems. Angels were superhuman “divine” beings and divine beings could become human and humans could become divine. Preexistent divine beings like the Son of Man figure in the Parables of Enoch were not God; that figure was created at the beginning along with the angelic hosts. Thus in 1 Enoch 48:2-6 we read:

At that hour, that Son of Man was given a name, in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits, the Before-Time; even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars [i.e., the angels], he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits. He will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He will be the light of the gentiles and he will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts…. He was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of the Spirits) prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity.

Hurtado is correct in pointing out that

Jesus was the only person in Judaism of whom we have evidence that he was worshiped by his followers;

But . . .

nonetheless, the force of the argument is somehow diminished by the fact that “veneration” was a common practice toward people of authority. Even within the Jewish monotheistic framework, different degrees of veneration could apply to divine beings other than, and inferior to, God.

Note, therefore, in the Life of Adam and Eve (13-16) the archangel Michael called on all the angels to worship Adam as the image of God: read more »

Another Flip Flop Argument: Ehrman again on early Low Christology

Once again we see evidence of the ad hoc nature of arguments built upon the assumption of the historicity of Jesus.
Fra_Angelico_-_St_Peter_Preaching_in_the_Presence_of_St_Mark_-_WGA00464
Peter preaching: From Wikimedia

After a closer look at Romans 1:3-4 in Ehrman’s case for the earliest Christians thinking of Jesus as a “mere man” who only became a Son of God at his resurrection, I had to try to get a better grasp of the next pieces of pre-Gospel (and pre-Pauline) evidence he offered: passages in several speeches in the Book of Acts. I suspected these would not be so assailable as his interpretation of the Romans passage but I was wrong.

Here are the exhibits:

“We preach the good news to you, that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled for us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’” (Acts 13: 32– 33).

“Let the entire house of Israel know with assurance that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2: 36).

“the God of our fathers raised Jesus . . . This one God exalted to his right hand as Leader and Savior” (Acts 5: 30– 31).

Inconsistency would not be expected but….

As with the Romans passage Ehrman points out that the author of these passages, “Luke”, believed something quite different. Here in Acts Luke has the apostles preach their conviction that Jesus became the Son of God or was exalted to divine status only at the resurrection, while he himself (called Luke for convenience) actually believed that Jesus was the Son of God from the moment of his inception and birth. That’s why he wrote the nativity scene in Luke 1.

Ehrman concludes:

On Acts 13:32-33

In this pre-Lukan tradition, Jesus was made the Son of God at the resurrection. This is a view Luke inherited from his tradition, and it is one that coincides closely with what we already saw in Romans 1: 3– 4. It appears to be the earliest form of Christian belief: that God exalted Jesus to be his Son by raising him from the dead.

Ehrman, Bart D. (2014-03-25). How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (p. 226). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

On Acts 2:36

The earliest followers of Jesus believed that the resurrection showed that God had exalted him to a position of grandeur and power. This verse is one piece of evidence. Here, in a preliterary tradition, we learn that it was precisely by raising Jesus from the dead that God had made him the messiah and the Lord. During his lifetime Jesus’s followers had thought he would be the future messiah who would reign as king in the coming kingdom of God to be brought by the Son of Man, as Jesus himself had taught them. But when they came to believe he was raised from the dead, as Acts 2: 36 so clearly indicates, they concluded that he had been made the messiah already. He was already ruling as the king, in heaven, elevated to the side of God. As one who sits beside God on a throne in the heavenly realm, Jesus already is the Christ.

More than that, he is the Lord. During his lifetime Jesus’s disciples had called him “lord”— a term that could be used by a slave of a master, or by an employee of a boss, or by a student of a teacher. As it turns out, in Greek the term lord in each of these senses was the very same term as Lord used of God, as the “Lord of all.” Just as the term Christ came to take on new significance once Jesus’s followers believed he had been raised from the dead, so too did the term lord. Jesus was no longer simply the disciples’ master-teacher. He actually was ruling as Lord of the earth, because he had been exalted to this new status by God. And it happened at the resurrection. The man Jesus had been made the Lord Christ.

Ehrman, Bart D. (2014-03-25). How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (pp. 227-228). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

On Acts 5:31

Once more, then, in an early tradition we find that Jesus’s resurrection was an “exaltation” specifically to “the right hand of God.” In other words, God had elevated Jesus to his own status and given him a prominent position as the one who would “lead” and “save” those on earth.

Ehrman, Bart D. (2014-03-25). How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (p. 229). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

So once again, as he argued in relation to Romans 1:3-4, here we find passages that are at odds with what the author of the larger two-volume work apparently believed. This is the foundation of the argument that these passages are adapted from very primitive Christian beliefs, relics that somehow hung around even into Luke’s day.

What is the motive?

So what could have motivated Luke to do something like this? read more »

Why Scholars Now Argue for an Early High Christology

It seems that a growing number of scholars (thinking in particular here of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham and others who approvingly cite them on this question, and now even Bart Ehrman) have in recent years been taking up the argument that the followers of Jesus took up the view that Jesus was exalted to a very high divine status almost from the moment he was believed to have stepped out of his tomb.

Why is this happening? One would think that the gradual evolutionary view that Jesus’ exaltation to the godhead would accord more with a “plausible historicity”. We are regularly reminded how Jews abhorred the notion of a human being considered divine (though with many qualifications given the Second Temple evidence for persons like Moses being thought of as divine by at least some Jewish authors) and that it must have been with the increase in numbers of gentiles joining the church that the notion of a divine human was conceived and grew.  read more »

Another way to argue against mythicism

Here’s another little gem from of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith (1942). Recall from my previous post that he is arguing against mythicism. It is refreshing to see someone tackle the arguments seriously and with respect for both the persons and the arguments of the mythicists of his day.

Howell Smith is addressing Couchoud’s interpretation of Philippians 2:5-11, in particular in this passage verses 9-10:

 9. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow

Of Couchoud’s argument Howell-Smith writes: read more »

How did Jesus become a God? (or How did Christianity begin?)

Larry W. Hurtado (How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God?) raises some interesting points about how Christians came to worship Christ alongside God. He focuses on the role of personal revelation (hallucination?). My initial response to his book was to think that his explanation was as vacuous as saying “God did it”, and that it was not an explanation at all. Indeed, he finds it necessary to defend his explanation against other scholars who do not give it the time of day. But I have come to think there is probably more to what he is arguing than I first understood, although he would disagree with my slant.

(Hurtado’s problem is greater than mine, however, because he is seeking to explain how a historical human of recent memory was exalted to be worshiped alongside God, and I don’t think Hurtado’s explanation is sufficient to explain that. But it may well go some way towards helping explain the development of the exalted Christ concept alongside God that we find in Paul’s and other New Testament letters. Hurtado also expresses disapproval of interpreting revelatory experiences as psychopathology and downplays related personal and social crises factors.)

Hurtado asks

what might have moved Jews in touch with their religious tradition to feel free to offer to Jesus the kind of unparalleled cultic devotion that characterized early Christian religious practice? (p.198)

How exalted was Jesus Christ in early Christian thought?

Pretty high up.

God made life, the universe and everything else through Jesus, and Jesus keeps everyone alive and everything in existence now:

yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (1 Cor. 8:6)

has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:15-17)

And God has ordained that everything and everyone should worship him:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Is there anything unusual here?

Hurtado (rightly) struggles to understand how a mere mortal should be exalted to this God-status level and worshiped alongside God. read more »