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Early Christology: How I Changed My Mind

It seems like every time I write a book, based on the research I do I change my mind about one thing or another that I've thought for a long time.  Some people (including some fellow scholars) think that's a weakness or a problem.   I think of it as one of my charming personality traits.  :-) OK, seriously, I think more scholars ought to be willing to change their minds -- instead of being intransigent and thinking they are always right.  If intense research gives you new and different insights, that's a *good* thing, not a problem. I think about this a lot every time I'm in the midst of doing research for a book (such as now) (well, OK, such as almost always), and just now I was looking through old blog posts , and I ran across one (almost exactly five years ago today!) where I talk about a big change of mind involving the early understandings of Jesus as a divine being, in connection with the book I eventually published, How Jesus [...]

Did They Crucify the Wrong Guy? Jesus’ Identity Switch.

Yesterday I posted about the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, which clearly differentiated between the man Jesus and the spiritual being, the Christ, who inhabited him temporarily – leaving him at his suffering and death since the divine cannot suffer and die.  That understanding of Jesus Christ is not, strictly speaking, “docetic.”  The term docetic comes from the Greek word DOKEO which means “to seem” or “to appear.”  It refers to Christologies in which Jesus was not a real flesh-and-blood human but only “seemed” to be. In reality, what they saw, heard, and touched was a phantasm. That is not what is going on in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter.  Here there really is a man Jesus – flesh and blood like the rest of us.  But he is indwelt by a divine being who leaves him at his death, abandoneding him to die alone on the cross.  That is similar to a docetic view, but also strikingly different.  I call it a “separationist” Christology because it separates Jesus from the Christ (who himself separates from [...]

Did Jesus’ Death Matter? The Intriguing View of the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter

From remembering the birth of Jesus (Christmas!), we turn for a moment to remembering his death.  I recently received this question, in response to my statement that some Christians did not think the death of Jesus mattered for salvation, and others maintained that he never actually died.   QUESTION: Can you give some reference to where I can explore this idea of the Crucifixion being unimportant or not happening at all? RESPONSE: I will take two posts to answer this question, since they involve two different sets of “Gnostic” belief, which, in brief, was a distinctive and “declared-heretical” understanding of the Christian faith that stressed that the ultimate divine realm was not closely connected with this material world (the highest God was not the Creator), a world that was to be escaped, not one that would be redeemed.  One document that embraces the view that the death of Jesus had no bearing on salvation is the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, which provides an alternative understanding of what happened at Jesus’ death – as witnessed by [...]

Is Luke’s Christology Consistent? A Blast from the Past

I have had several comments about the point I made that in Acts 2 Luke indicates that it was at the resurrection that God "made" Jesus both "Lord" and "Christ."  Uh, does that fit in with Luke's views otherwise?  Wasn't he *born* the Lord and the Messiah, for example?  Then how could it be at his resurrection? I dealt with the question on the blog a couple of years ago, and after some digging, found the post.  When I discussed the issue before it was because at Jesus' *baptism" Luke appears to indicate that it was then that God made him his Son.  So how does all that tie together?  Or does it?  Here is that post again: ************************************************************************** Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise the question because of the textual problem surrounding the voice at Jesus’ baptism.  I have been arguing that it is likely that the voice did NOT say “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” [...]

Is Luke’s Christology Consistent?

Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise the question because of the textual problem surrounding the voice at Jesus’ baptism.  I have been arguing that it is likely that the voice did NOT say “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (as in most manuscripts; this is what it clearly does say in Mark’s version; Matthew has it say something different still); instead it probably said “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” In the past couple of posts I’ve suggested that this wording – found in only one ancient Greek manuscript, but in a number of church fathers who quote the passage (these fathers were living before our earliest surviving manuscripts) – makes particular sense if the Gospel did not originally have chapters 1-2, the accounts of Jesus’ birth.   In yesterday’s post I gave the evidence for thinking that originally the Gospel began with Jesus’ baptism. But if I’m wrong about that (and hey, it won’t be [...]

Scribes Who Changed the Voice at Jesus Baptism?

I have been discussing views in the early church that asserted (or were claimed to assert) that Christ was not a divine being by nature, but was only “adopted” to be the Son of God, for example at his resurrection or, more commonly, at his baptism.   Some such views were allegedly held by the Jewish-Christian Ebionites and by the Roman-gentile Theodotians.  Whether these Christians actually held to such views is a bit difficult to say, since we don’t have any writings from their hands.  But it is clear that they were *thought* to hold these views, and for my study of the changes made in the texts of the Bible by Christian scribes, that is all that matters.  Scribes sometimes changed the text in light of “aberrant” views thought to be held by others. (Whether these others actually held such views or not.) We have seen instances in previous posts of changes made in order to oppose “docetic” Christologies, which had just the opposite problem (in the eyes of the proto-orthodox): these held that Christ [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:53-04:00October 19th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Early Christian Docetism

I can now, at long last, start talking about the kinds of textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament that I covered in my 1993 book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (I did a second edition, updating the discussion with a new Afterword in 2011).   From the surviving documents of the period, there appear to have been five major competing Christologies (= understandings of who Christ was) throughout the Christian church, and I will devote a post or two to each of the first four.  Docetism, the subject of this post, understood Christ to be a fully divine being and therefore not human; Adoptionism understood him to be a fully human being and not actually divine; Separationism understood him to be two distinct beings, one human (the man Jesus) and the other divine (the divine Christ); Modalism understood him to be God the Father become flesh.   The fifth view is the one the “won out,” the Proto-orthodox view that Christ was both human and divine, at one and the same time, that [...]

How Can You Know A Scribe’s Intentions?

My next step in this thread about my  book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture will be to discuss the various Christological views known from the second century (Docetic Christologies, adoptionic Christologies, separationist Christologies; and Modalistic Christologies), and then I will try to show how textual changes made by scribes in the period reflect opposition to this, that or the other Christology, in support of the “Proto-orthodox” Christology that came to dominate the early Christian tradition. Before doing that, I need to clear out one final piece of underbrush.  The argument of my book was that Christological changes of the text were “intentional” not simply accidental.  But that raises a very large question that I have not addressed on the blog, even though I have discussed intentional changes a number of times.  It is this:  how can we determine the “intention” of a scribe? This is part of a much larger question that literary scholars have dealt with for many decades now, going back at least to the middle of the twentieth century, to what is [...]

How God Could Become a Human

I have finished my posts on the passage of the so-called “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:43-44.   I devoted some considerable time to this text (for a second time on the blog) because I wanted to use it to set up a discussion in response to a question that a reader asked (that I started answering a very long time ago. June 30 in fact….) about what motivated me to write my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   Now, after setting the stage for about two months, I’m able to answer the question.   About time, you might think…. But first, in response to my recent posts, I received this interesting query from a reader, not about the textual tradition of the New Testament but about early Christian understandings of Christ.  Here’s the question.   QUESTION: Have any Christians suggested that Jesus was fully God (from all eternity); but *because* he was God, and was *omnipotent*, he could choose to incarnate as a human and – for a planned period of time – *forget* that he was [...]

2020-04-03T13:23:23-04:00August 26th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Christ as an Angel in Paul

This will be my final set of comments on the evaluation of How Jesus Became God by Larry Hurtado, on his blog.   His review consisted of a set of positive comments, of things that he appreciated (for which I’m grateful); several misreadings of my positions, in which Larry indicates that my book was asserting a view that, in fact, it was not (he corrected those after our back and forth in a subsequent post); one assertion that I was motivated by an anti-Christian agenda and wanted to convince readers that Jesus’ followers had hallucinations (I dealt with that assertion yesterday; I do not think that it is a generous reading of my discussion – especially since I explicitly stated on repeated occasions that I was *not* arguing for a non-Christian or anti-Christian view); and, well, this one point that I’ll discuss here, on which we have a genuine disagreement.   The point has to do with whether the apostle Paul understood Christ, in his pre-existent state, to have been an angelic being.   Larry devotes two paragraphs [...]

Why I (Actually) Discuss Hallucinations

In this post I continue with my response to Larry Hurtado’s critique of How Jesus Became God.  In the previous posts I dealt with factual errors – where he assigned views to me that I do not state and do not have.  As I have pointed out, Larry was generous to retract these critiques in a subsequent post on his blog.   In this post I want to deal not with a factual mistake but with an assertion he makes about my motive for part of my discussion – an assertion that I take issue with. One of my major premises in How Jesus Became God is that Jesus was not considered divine during his lifetime, but that it was belief in his resurrection that made his followers begin calling him God.   But since my study is a historical account of how Jesus came to be considered God, rather than a theological or religiously motivated account, I have to deal with a very big problem, which is that historians cannot declare a God-produced miracle as a [...]

Christ as an Angel in Paul

I continue here with another post about something that I learned about or changed my mind about while writing How Jesus Became God. I have to admit, that for many years I was puzzled by the apostle Paul – specifically his Christology. All the various things he said about Christ didn’t seem to add up to a coherent whole to me, even though I thought and thought and thought about it. But I finally found the piece that, when added to the puzzle, made it all fit together. I think now I can make sense of every Christological statement in Paul’s letters. This not because I myself finally figured it out. It’s because I finally read some discussions that actually made sense, and saw that they are almost certainly right. Here’s what I say about it in the book. It’s a result that I would have found very surprising just two years ago. ********************************************************* Many people no doubt have the same experience I do on occasion, of reading something numerous times, over and over, and [...]

2020-04-03T17:03:12-04:00April 10th, 2014|Book Discussions, Paul and His Letters|

More on Mark

I started this thread by mentioning that when I teach my undergraduate class on the NT, I not only teach them about the four Gospels, but I teach them different *methods* for studying the Gospels – for example redaction criticism and “literary-historical” criticism. In my class I use the latter to explore the Gospel of Mark, and in order to illustrate here, on the blog, how it works (establishing the genre of a writing then seeing how that genre “worked” in the relevant historical period) I started showing how Mark can be interpreted as an ancient biography. But now that I’ve given several posts on that, I realize that I’m deep into the interpretation of Mark but haven’t actually pointed out the really important themes of the Gospel in its portrayal of Jesus. So that seems unsatisfying. I’ve decided to continue on to the end, and give the rest of my discussion of Mark from my textbook, to show what a fuller interpretation (which, of course, just scratches the surface) would reveal. This will take [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:54-04:00February 19th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

More on the Beginning of Mark’s Gospel

In this post I resume what I began yesterday, an explanation of how the Gospel of Mark can be read as a biography of Jesus, with the “character” of the main subject shown in the stories told about him at the early part of the account. I’ve pointed out that Jesus is portrayed in a very Jewish light as the messiah, the Son of God (and I have said a few words about what that would mean to a Jewish audience). And then, in Jesus’ first actions, we learn more about who he is – specifically, what kind of Son of God. Again, the following is taken from my textbook on the New Testament. ************************************************************** Jesus the Authoritative Son of God The reader is immediately struck by the way in which Jesus is portrayed as supremely authoritative. At the outset of his ministry, he sees fishermen plying their trade; he calls to them and without further ado they leave their boats and family and hapless co-workers to follow him (1:16-20). Jesus is an authoritative leader; [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:04-04:00February 18th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

The Beginning of Mark’s Gospel/Biography

OK, I won’t do this for all the Gospels, but I thought rather than trying to type up at length how the beginning of Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus (on the assumption that since it’s an ancient biography, it will lay out the character of the subject at the very outset), I should simply reproduce what I already say about this in print elsewhere, in my Introduction to the New Testament. Here is the first part of that discussion. The second part I’ll give in my next post. **************************************************************** One of the first things that strikes the informed reader of Mark's Gospel is how thoroughly its traditions are rooted in a Jewish world view. The book begins, as do many other ancient biographies, by naming its subject: "The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (1:1). But readers living in the Greco-Roman world would not recognize "Christ" as a name; for most of them, it was not even a meaningful title. It came from the verb "to anoint," and typically referred to someone who has just [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:11-04:00February 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Paul’s Christology

A small bit from my now chapter 7: ********************************************************************************************************************** I have read, pondered, researched, taught, and written about the writings of Paul for forty years, but until recently there was one key aspect of his theology that I could never quite get my mind around.   I had the hardest time understanding how, exactly, he viewed Christ.   Some aspects of Paul’s Christological teaching have been clear to me for decades – especially his teaching that it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that makes a person right with God, rather than following the dictates of the Jewish law.  But who did Paul think Christ was exactly? One reason for my perplexity was that Paul is highly allusive in what he says.  He does not spell out, in systematic detail, what his views of Christ are.   Another reason was that in some passages Paul seems to affirm a view of Christ that – until recently – I thought could not possibly be as early as Paul’s letters, which are our first Christian writings to survive.  How could Paul [...]

2017-12-31T23:17:05-05:00April 10th, 2013|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Jesus as Divine in the Synoptics

In yesterday’s post I pointed out that if one asks about an early Christain text: “Does it portray Jesus as God,” then almost always if the answer is Yes (which it usually is), it has to be qualified: “Yes, in *some sense*. “ And the question is always, in *what* sense? The reason I stress this point is that for many years – until about six months ago – I was quite vehement, in person and in print, that the Synoptic Gospels did not portray Jesus as divine, but only the Gospel of John did. It’s true – I still think and, I suspect, always will think – that in the Gospel of John there is little doubt about the divinity of Jesus. As we have seen, the Gospel opens with the amazing poem: “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being that came into being. In him was life, [...]

2020-04-03T18:44:39-04:00March 3rd, 2013|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels|

Early Christology: How I Have Changed My Mind

I’m ready now to get back to the issues involved with early Christology and the question of How Jesus Became God. In this post I’ll quickly review what I’ve covered up till now and indicate a major change in my thinking that has happened over the past six months. In these posts I have been arguing that there were two separate streams of early Christology (this too has been a major shift in my thinking, and is closely related to the one I will be discussing momentarily). The first Christologies were almost certainly based on the idea of “exaltation.” Christ, as a human being, came to be exalted to the right hand of God, where he was made to share in God’s status as a reward for his faithfulness. The earliest Christians – the earthly disciples themselves (or at least some of them: we have no way of knowing if they all “converted” to believe this about Jesus) --thought that this happened at Jesus’ resurrection, where God “made him” the Son of God (and thus [...]

The Christ-Poem in John

Arguably the best known and most influential passage dealing with Christology in the New Testament is the Prologue of the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. It is also probably the most studied and discussed passage – even more than the Christ poem in Philippians 2:6-11. The first eighteen verses of John are typically called the “Prologue” because they are clearly set apart from the rest of the Gospel as a kind of celebration of the main character of the book; these verses are written in a different writing style from the rest of the Gospel (lofty poetry), they contain key concepts not found in the rest of the Gospel (Christ as “the Word” made flesh), and yet they introduce well some of the most important views of the Gospel (the high view of Christ generally). And so it is widely thought that the author of the Fourth Gospel appended these verses as a Prologue, possibly after the rest of the book was written. It is widely thought, in fact, that the Gospel went through multiple editions, [...]

2020-04-03T18:47:39-04:00February 22nd, 2013|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine|

Final Thoughts on the Philippians Christ-Poem

There is a whole lot more that could be said about the Christ-poem in Philippians 2.   You could literally write an entire book on just this passage.  In fact, people *have* written books on just this passage.   The most important one, a classic in the field, is by Ralph Martin, A Hymn of Christ (which in earlier editions was called Carmen Christi) (which is a Latin phrase that, unsurprisingly, means A Hymn of Christ  :-) ).  This passage has had more ink spilled over it by scholars over the last century than almost any other in the entire Bible (with the exception of John 1:1-18).   In any event, to make sense of what I want to say here, it would help, if you haven’t done so, to read the other posts I’ve made on it. Here I just want to mention briefly an interpretation that is sometimes floated for the passage which takes it in a very different way indeed, as not being about incarnation at all.  In this alternative interpretation, the passage is not [...]

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