I have just read a fascinating article in the latest Tyndale Bulletin (60.2, 2009). It is a critique of Larry Hurtado's work on Christology by Crispin Fletcher-Louis. The topic is 'not my area' (though I have read a fair bit about it over the years including Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ) so I'd be interested to hear from anyone who (a) knows all about the debate and, (b) has read the article.
CFL maintains that LH has a three-stage historical model for the development of Christology in the NT period.
Stage 1: The historical Life of Jesus (which was a stimulus for later high Christologies but during this period Jesus' followers did not see him as divine or worship him)
Stage 2: The earliest Aramaic speaking Christians. In this phase Jesus was worshipped as the risen Lord (though not as the pre-existent Lord who became the incarnate Lord)
Stage 3: when the risen Lord was seen as the pre-existent incarnate Lord.
LH maintains that there was an early, volcanic shift in Christology to a praxis with a binitarian shape. Now CFL also embraces an early, high Christology (EHC) so he does not dispute LH's defence of that claim. But he does dispute LH's historical account of how the EHC arose.
Some critics of Hurtado (Dunn, Casey) have responded to him as follows
1. The worship of a human would have been perceived of as incompatible with Jewish monotheism and would have been resisted.
2. The early Christ-believers were not persecuted by fellow Jews for their 'idolatrous' Christology (they were persecuted but not for that reason)
3. The early Christ-believers did not worship Christ as God.
To avoid this objection LH has argued that there is NT evidence for the claim that the earliest Christ-believers were indeed persecuted for their high Christology. CFL criticises LH's arguments here (rather well, it seemed to me).
So CFL agrees with Dunn and Casey that premise 2 is indeed correct. If this is right then there is a significant problem with the historical plausibility of LH's account of the origins of NT Christology (given that LH accepts premise 1).
(As an aside I ought to explain that CFL rejects the conclusion - 3 above - because he argues that premise 1 is wrong. It is a very controversial position that I am not going to explain here)
The second aspect of LH's account that CFL spends considerable time attacking is LH's claim that visionary and ecstatic experiences explain the surprising innovations in early views about Jesus amongst the community of Christ-believers. CFL argues that the evidence used by LH actually counts against his case. CFL concludes that LH's claims about the role of religious experiences in the development of Christology are
(a) without any supporting evidence, and
(b) historically implausible.
I am not going to go through any of the arguments - it would make this post very long (you can read the article if it interests you).
Now I have to confess I found the arguments both stimulating and rather convincing. I love Larry's book Lord Jesus Christ (and his earlier books) and whatever the outcome of this dispute I still think they are packed with great stuff. But now I am wondering about how adequate LH's historical account of the rise of high Christology is.
So is there anyone out there who has read the article and who, unlike me, knows what they are talking about that would like to comment?
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).