Christological Origins - When Crispin met Larry

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?


I haven't read it but I clearly must, and soon! Thanks for drawing it to my attention!
Anonymous said…
I thot it was

When Larry met Sally

but your description doesn't seem to fit!
Mark D Thompson said…
The article is quite a stimulating one. I'd like to see more work done by Fletcher-Louis on the nature of the Damascus Road experience, since that is pivotal. He clearly has his own point of view, including the significance of angelophanies as opening up the possibility of worshipping Christ without abandoning Jewish monotheism.

Personally I'd anchor the high Christology of these early years more closely to the life and teaching of Jesus himself and not simply to the reflections of the post-resurrection community.

None of this removes the great volume of good material in Hurtado's three most important volumes on the subject. (I was also taken by his brief video posted on youtube by St John's Nottingham.)

I'm convinced we need to work hard on the Christological questions (which is why I am spending some time writing on the subject at the moment). Both Hurtado and Fletcher-Louis help us in this.
Mike Gantt said…
Alas, I don't have access to the article, but I am glad that you called attention to it.

I love Hurtado's work, having read five of his books and working on the sixth. More than anyone else I know of, he has proven historically that Jesus was venerated as godlike by his disciples very soon after his crucifixion and not as the result of syncretism over a long period of time. However, I don't consider Hurtado the final word on every related issue. The nuance you bring up is one example.

Jesus is God, but that doesn't mean that his followers realized that immediately upon his resurrection and ascension.

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