an obession with first principles

Ecclesia as Diaspora

Posted: Sunday Nov 27th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Exegesis, Jesus, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

For the Christian community to join with Israel in the diasporic work of mission is to insist that the work by which we ‘seek the peace of the city’ and according to which we await the New Jerusalem to come is no less a concrete flesh-and-blood reality than the singular event of Christ’s cross and resurrection. For it is only as such that the Christian is given over to the excess of God’s perfect agape that is the Spirit’s work in history. At the same time, to make the Christian messianic claim is to insist that Israel’s obedience to Jeremiah’s command to seek the peace of the city was itself always-already an embodied sign of the coming reign of God. So it is precisely by way of the reality of and her participation in Christ’s apocalyptic historicity that the Christian joins with Israel in embodying the coming of God’s reign as a mode of apocalyptic hope. For only as it joins Israel in diaspora does the Christian ‘not yet’ become something other than a theological dilemma concerning the ‘delay’ of the parousia and become rather the condition for the political cry of ‘come’, a cry for the messianic inbreaking to occur everanew, in the very contingencies of our own ongoing histories, into the reality of the ‘already’.

Christ, History, and Apocalyptic by Nathan Kerr, p187

On Scripture

Posted: Tuesday Jul 27th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Early Church, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

We need to think about how we approach the Scriptures. If we are unable to recognize how we make sense of what we read with what we experience in the world we will misrepresent Christ and God. How can I make this claim? It is painfully clear that by looking at Jesus in the gospels he does not conform to the expectations of those around him. No matter what interpretive stripe of Jesus you follow they all agree his opponents, and Judaism in general, did not expect Jesus to be what Jesus was.

Jesus asserted that those around him were misrepresenting God. Jesus made this claim merely by going back and reading over the prophets. He took what he read there, combined it with his own personal experience and knowledge about himself (either as a prophet, the prophet, the Messiah, or God – take your pick) and came out with his conclusion.

Taking scripture seriously means acknowledging that there are texts that have been used in dangerous and harmful ways to subjugate women, legitimate violence against gays and lesbians, foster suspicion of other religious traditions, commit violence, and support barbarous ancient practices such as slavery. Taking scripture seriously means trying to understand what the original authors intended and, through literary, linguistic, or historical criticisms, either redeeming these texts from modern misinterpretations or, in the most extreme cases, condemning them. HT: HuffPost

Jesus took Scripture seriously, and threw down the edifices created by the institutions which were corrupt. Christianity after Jesus looked seriously at the biblical texts in an attempt to create an understanding of themselves in the story of God. These are all things we must do in our time. We must take Scripture seriously in combination with our experience and traditions. And we have to be open to talk about it. We have to be open to learn from one another.

Jesus and the Identity of God

Posted: Monday Aug 17th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Exegesis, Historical Method, Jesus, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

In an effort to further this discussion, I will specifically be lifting my argument and points from my previous paper. I don’t really think it needs re-working. Perhaps the point and argumentation was being lost amidst my own questions that I felt the paper would generate. Here we go:

Paper Excerpts

The purpose of this paper is to introduce a historically, literary, and sociologically sensitive method for approaching the Jewish texts that talk about God.

The main argument goes thus. First, Judaism defined God definitively in two ways; the sovereign one, and the creator. Second, all other pagan claims of deity were fought off on these grounds, as their god is neither sovereign, nor the creator. In most cases their god was declared to be impotent (not non-existent, though it did happen occasionally). Third, Jesus is included in “the identity of God” because he is argued in the texts to be sovereign and involved as creator when Christians faced pagan claims. Jesus is not assaulting the Jewish God to replace him (as a pagan god would be doing). Rather Jesus, with God’s election, is involved in doing
what God does according to the Jewish worldview

The dominance of the distinction between ‘functional’ and ‘ontic’ [ontological] Christology has made it seem unproblematic to say that, for early Christology, Jesus exercises the ‘functions’ of divine lordship without being regarded as ‘ontically’ divine. In fact, such a distinction is highly problematic from the point of view of early Jewish monotheism. For this understanding of the unique divine identity, the unique sovereignty of God was not a mere ‘function’ which God could delegate to someone else. It was one of the key identifying characteristics of the unique divine identity, which distinguished the one God from all other reality. The unique divine sovereignty is a matter of who God is… The distinction commonly made between ‘functional’ and ‘ontic’ Christology has been, broadly, between early Christology in a Jewish context and patristic Christology which applied Greek philosophical categories of divine nature to Christ…. However this is to misconstrue Jewish monotheism in Hellenistic terms as though it were primarily concerned with what divinity is – divine nature – rather than with who YHWH, the unique God, is – divine identity. Bauckham pg 30-1

The modern version of the question is “what metaphysical characteristics must a being possess to rightly be termed ‘god’, or even ‘God’?”. Bauckham is right to show the ancient question is more like “which one of these so-called deities is the real God, or a god?”. That modern question has no relevance when we are talking about our ancient sources. We must treat the source as they come to us, from their own time and culture. To find an answer to our question Bauckham goes to the most likely place to find an answer – the texts in which Second Temple writers are combating pagan god-claims.

To our question, ‘In what did Second Temple Judaism consider the uniqueness of the one God to consist, what distinguished God as unique from all other reality, including being worshipped as gods by Gentiles?’, the answer given again and again, in a wide variety of Second Temple Jewish literature, is that the only true God,
YHWH, the God of Israel, is sole Creator of all things, and sole Ruler of all things. Bauckham pg 9

When the Jewish people needed to qualify who God is to themselves, or to pagans, they repeatedly used the themes of Creation and God’s Sovereignty to back up their claims. Bauckham’s full footnotes on the themes, first of Creation read thus: Isa 40.26, 28; 42.5, 44.24, 45.12, 18; 48.13, 51.16; Neh 9.6; Hos 13.4 LXX, 2 Macc. 1.24; Sir 43.33; Bel 5; Jub 12.3-5; Sib Or 3.20-35; 8.375-76; Sib Or frg 1.5-6; Sib Or frg 3; Sib Or frg 5; 2 En 47.3-4; 66.4; Apoc Ab 7.10; Ps-Sophocles; Jos Asen 12.1-2; T Job 2.3; second of Rulership thus: Dan 4.34-35; Bel 5; Add Esth 13.9-11; 16.18, 21; 3 Macc 2.2-3; 6.2; Wis 12.13; Sir 18.1-3, Sib Or 3.10, 19; Sib Or frg 1.7, 15, 17, 35; 1 En 9.5; 84.3; 2 En 33.7, 2 Bar 54.13 Josephus, A.J. 1.155-6

Bauckham has ceased attempts to find late Jewish parallels for the exaltation and veneration of intermediary figures as precursors for the Christian devotion of Jesus. In his view this approach is a red herring. Jews did venerate intermediary figures and dead heros. There is no clear and agreed upon way, however, to draw a line in the sand regarding devotion to these figures whether human, alive or dead, or angelic figures, as signifying that they are in fact “divine”, whatever that slippery word may mean. Better not to try! Instead take cues from the very writers reacting to social and prophetic situations in the texts. This idea of defining who God is by sovereignty specifically leads us back to the Gospel proclamation of the early Church.

The addition of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to the Gospel message adds material to the Gospel message that I, and perhaps we, have not fully grasped yet: “Jesus is Lord”. I am persuaded that there is some subversive play going on with Jesus and Caesar, though the degree is up for debate. Caesar claims to be the ‘lord over all the world’. Paul would seem to say that Caesar is the parody of which Jesus is the reality, Jesus is the real “lord over all the world”. However, it seems there is more. Paul makes this move in the Roman world, but without leaving his Jewish influences. And Bauckham would have us look at the early Christian usage of Ps. 110 based on Jewish exegetical use in light of how they define who God is. We are right to recognize that Ps. 110 is the most referenced OT portion in the NT. The New Testament rests its understanding of who Jesus is based on it’s own interpretation of Ps 110. That interpretation is by definition different than the authorial intent. Of course, the authorial intent is important both in its own right, and as a launching pad for the understandings and interpretations about the Messiah held by Jews during the Second Temple period. Do not mistake for me casting it off, only bringing to the forefront theological points found in the literature.

What then might “Jesus is Lord” mean for defining who God and Jesus are in light of Ps 110? We first have to go to other literature of the second temple period, specifically Enoch, with Bauckham’s argument in mind:

The symbolic function of the unique divine throne is such that, if we find a figure distinguishable from God seated on God’s throne itself, we should see that as one of Judaism’s most potent theological means of including such a figure in the unique divine identity Bauckham pg 165

If God is defined by his sovereignty, and the symbol of that sovereignty is his throne – what does it mean when another is on that throne? It cannot mean that another besides God is sovereign, especially when written by a Jewish writer protesting their pagan rulers. The very fact that they write is a protest against such an idea! Rather the fact that YHWH is God is reinforced, and somehow, includes whoever is on the throne in God’s plan and identity. After all, God is the one who sits on the throne. I find this argument to be falsifiable, sound, and
precise, qualities all good arguments need.

A good example we should all agree with:

All the heavens are your throne forever, and all the earth is your footstool for ever and for ever and ever. For you have made and you rule all things, and nothing is too difficult for you; Wisdom does not escape you, and it does not turn away from your throne, nor from your presence Enoch 84.2-3

Wisdom is depicted on God’s throne with him. Wisdom is intrinsic to who God is, it is of no threat to monotheism. Wisdom is part of the identity of God. Notice that we see both symbols – creation and sovereignty – in this text used to define who God is, and Wisdom as a separate figure is mentioned right there, with no threat to YHWH.

The Son of Man in Enoch is presented on God’s throne:

And the Lord of Spirits placed the Elect one on the throne of glory. And he shall judge all the works of the holy above in the heaven, and in the balance shall their deeds be weighed
Enoch 61:8

And the Lord of Spirits seated him on the throne of His glory, and the spirit of righteousness was poured out upon him, and the word of his mouth slays all the sinners, and all the unrighteous are destroyed from before his face. Enoch 62:2

The Son of Man in Enoch is depicted as the eschatological figure through which judgment will take place. This figure exercising God’s sovereignty is placed, by God, on his throne – indicating, according to Bauckham, that he should be understood to be a part of the identity of God.

What Ezekiel the Tragedian attributes only figuratively to Moses, the Parables of Enoch attribute literally to the Son of Man, though only in the eschatological future. The contrast enables us to see that, in all other portrayals of exalted human and angelic figures, there is no question of participation in the unique divine identity:
they fall unproblematically outside it. They execute God’s will, but they do not participate in the divine sovereignty in the way which sitting on the divine throne signifies. They do not receive worship, which is often refused by them or forbidden. The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch is the exception that proves the rule. Bauckham pg 171

The Son of Man in Enoch receives worship on the throne as a result of his sovereignty. That worship is not just the respect due a king or authority figure, it is more. The worship is the correct response to God’s throne and sovereignty. I find no fault in Bauckham’s argument, and no fault in its execution on the text in Enoch.

When we look at the proclamation surrounding Jesus we must recognize it is not a metaphor for some earthly truth. He did not reign on any throne during his ministry that would make sense out of any metaphor.

Psalm 110:1, perhaps the most foundational text for the whole configuration, was a novel choice, evidence of the exegetical and theological (the two are inextricable) novelty of the earliest Christian movements. The explanation of its role in early Christology, contrasted with its absence from Second Temple Jewish literature, is
that, for early Christians, it said about Jesus what no other Jews had wished to say about the Messiah or any other figure: that he had been exalted by God to participate now in the cosmic sovereignty unique to the divine identity. Bauckham pg 175

The Christian interpretation of this passage as it relates to understanding the present state of Jesus is stated explicitly elsewhere: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth”. A passage about being “exalted to the right hand of God” when used to explain the historical event of Jesus’ ascension, combined with other elements, God’s sovereignty, create a strong picture and symbol. The point of that picture and symbol is exactly the same as in Enoch. It seem that the intention of the NT is to present Jesus exercising God’s sovereignty on God’s throne, thereby including him in the divine identity.

No wonder Paul creates a definitive statement about who God is amidst pagan influence in 1Cor 8.6 in light of Jesus’ present eschatological situation participating in God’s divine sovereignty on His throne. What, in light of the Shema, might this mean? If we’ve abandoned the functional and ontic categories, what we must conclude is one, that Jesus is subordinate, and two, one is what one does in the ancient world.

If Jesus receives these qualities then he does not innately hold them himself. That is precisely what the ascension would have us understand. Because of his faithful obedience he is exalted to a heavenly position. Both Hurtado and Bauckham hold that “the name above every name” is God’s name, an exploration we cannot make in this limited space.

Paul has taken over all the words of this Greek version of the Shema, but rearranged them in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. Bauckham pg 101

These verses are the NT Shema. What Paul has done is extremely new. No other Jewish group of the Second Temple period even came close to understanding the Shema in a new way. Most likely because no other group experienced God’s activity in the world through their own leadership figures. There was no theological event for any other group to reflect on which would add new information to their already complex map of symbols, stories, and praxis.

The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema. But this is, in any case, clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’ applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’ is taken from the Shema itself. Paul is not adding to the
one God of the Shema, a ‘Lord’ the Shema does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema affirms to be one. In this unprecedented reformulation of the Shema, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah (who is implicitly regarded as the
Son of the Father) .ibid

This is the most damaging claim. However, the fact that Paul has used all of the words of the Greek Shema I cannot disagree with it. There is no question the Shema is in use here. And there is no question that the text equates Jesus with the ‘Lord’ in the text. Bauckham moves further forward:

Of the Jewish ways of characterizing the divine uniqueness, the most unequivocal was by reference to creation. In the uniquely divine role of creating all things, it was, for Jewish monotheism, unthinkable that any being other than God could even assist God (Is 44:24, 4 Ezra 3:4, Josephus, C. Ap. 2.129) But, to Paul’s unparalleled
inclusion of Jesus in the Shema, he adds the equally unparalleled inclusion of Jesus in the creative activity of God. Bauckham pg 102

It is true that there are some non-Jewish Hellenistic parallels to the formulation which relates ‘all things’ (ta panta) to God by a variety of prepositions… The point of such formulae is that they describe God as the cause of all things, indicating the various types of causation (as standardly recognized in ancient philosophy) which are appropriate to God’s relation to the world by means of the various prepositions: i.e. efficient causation (ek), instrumental causation (dia or en), and final causation (eis) Bauckham pg 214

We can, therefore, be confident that Paul’s formulation – ‘from him and through him and to him [are] all things’ – is neither original to Paul nor borrowed directly from non-Jewish sources, but was known to him as a Jewish description precisely of God’s unique relationship to all other reality. That God is the instrumental cause (dia) as well as the agent of efficient cause (ek) of all things well expresses the Jewish monotheistic insistence that God used no one else to carry out his creative work, but accomplished it solely by means of his own Word and/or Wisdom. Bauckham pg 215

When we talk about ‘creation’ we do not need to make such a hard and fast distinction (approaching deism) between Genesis and the New Creation. Jesus in the early Christian experience is the pinnacle example of the New Creation via resurrection, and through the Spirit he administers that New Creation to the rest of the Church. Both creation in Genesis and New Creation fall under this ‘all things’ that Paul references.

In this sense, salvation, as well as creation is envisaged, but in no less cosmic a sense and scope than in the case of creation. This point is missed when, in support of a soteriological rather than a creational reference in 1 Cor 8:6, it is claimed that Paul uses the phrse ta de panta ek tou theou either with reference to God’s creative
work (1 Cor 11:12) or with reference to God’s salvific work (2 Cor. 5:18). In fact, 2 Cor 5:18 refers to God’s work of salvation precisely as new creation (cf. 5:17). There is no evidence that, when Paul says ta panta, he means anything less than Jewish writers normally meant by this phrase: the whole of reality created by God,
all things other than God their Creator. Bauckham pg 216

Paul’s intent in writing then is to show that Jesus is intimately involved in what God is doing at their time (and our time) in history. Jesus is the head of God’s New Creation project. How Paul does this is the interesting part. Jesus is responsible for, at least some, of ‘all things’. What was previously all God’s responsibility, some has fallen to Jesus due to his eschatological role in God’s plan. Jesus is just as responsible for the current state of affairs is in the world as God is. Because Jesus has been exalted to that position of authority and sovereignty. The tougher question is what is Paul’s intention, if any, to talk about Genesis creation and Jesus.
The only text which seems to go definitively in this direction is Hebrews 1:10.

If the prologue of John, read in light of this method, communicates that an intrinsic part of God, the Logos (which is a way to talk theologically about God being active in the world), comes into the world as Jesus, is this not a new way to talk theologically about God being active in the world – only now through Jesus? Moreover, what continuity exists between Jesus and the Logos? I argue that Jesus is extrinsic to God, since he is distinguishable and not eternal. Therefore the continuity cannot be without bounds. The Logos remain unchanged, it remained as a part of God, or God’s character, whereas Jesus was a part of this world, and is now a part of the next world, not transcendent, not eternal(Jesus becomes ‘eternal’ as a result of his resurrection and ascension. Transcendence is merely a semantic point based on resurrection, are all resurrected people depicted as “not of this world”? Surely they have bodies as did Jesus. But again that transcendence would be conferred on him, not innately held). Could it be appropriate to reference Jesus in Genesis creation when we the referent is actually the Logos/Spirit/Wisdom? I would argue against it on the basis of intrinsic versus extrinsic and partial (forward, not backward) continuity.

What ought we make of this new landscape? If the question of ‘Who is God’ is answered by ‘The One who is Creator and Sovereign’ then it seems that Bauckham has a foothold for his argument since Paul uses the appropriate language of both his Jewish and pagan contemporaries to make his points. His work raises the confidence with which we can analyze how Jews in the Second Temple Period defined and defended their God, even if it creates muddier waters while we sort it out.

Jesus flatly agrees with who the Jewish people understood God to be. Therefore any further development on that idea must remain within the Jewish worldview (not a hellenistic one). And if the Parables of Enoch are any
indication a human individual partaking uniquely in God’s eschatological plan can, in some ways, be seen as participating in the identity of God (in the Jewish worldview). Again, if the Parable of Enoch is the closest parallel, we have we seem to have surpassed it in the NT. That surpassing can be understood as Jesus’ fundamental necessity to Christianity, which at the time of the authors is still a Jewish sect. Jesus’ centrality is intrinsic to Christianity, or “Judaism according to Jesus”.

Understanding Jesus’ role in creation is based on the kerygma of the Church: “Jesus is Lord”. Second Temple Judaism defined God through sovereignty as well, and if Jesus is sovereign, then we have to address that. However, our modern view of “all things” does not correspond well with the ancient view. The ancient view is more nuanced and holistic – it addresses the ongoing maintenance and activity in the world (which Jesus is unquestionably involved in via the Spirit) – it does not only refer to Genesis creation, but both Genesis creation, New creation, and everything in between. Therefore, if Jesus is added to the identity of God (that is not the
only person involved) and Jesus is included in the present ordering of the world, he need not be involved with Genesis creation, as God took care of that. I am not persuaded, based on the texts which follow the Jewish pattern of using creation and sovereignty, of any backwards projection of Jesus beyond his birth. Only Heb 1:10 seems to reference Genesis creation with respect to Jesus, and that is up for debate.

End Paper

Blog Excerpts

1. I’m not sure whether Paul expands the Shema (McGrath) or places the identity of Jesus within the Shema (Dunn) in 1 Cor 8.6. However, I am growingly inclined to the latter over against the former for the following reasons.

2. Exegetically, in 1 Cor 8.6, one could take the “one God” / “one Lord” pairing either as adding “one Lord” to the “one God” of the Shema,” or, in a short of midrash explaining the Shema by locating the identity of God Most High in both the Father and Jesus. A decision is quite difficult on this matter. In fact, for me, what tips the scale in favor a Jesus sharing in the identity of God Most High is not any one exegetical argument, but evidence from outside of the immediate context.

3. What I mean is this: It is often easier to judge one’s actions than his or her thoughts. The former is easier to see. In the same way, it is easier to see the contours of Paul’s Christology by looking at the contours of Pauline Christianity. When I look at the marks of Christianity in the ancient world, I am compelled to believe that the earliest Christians (Paul included) treated Jesus in much the same way they treated God Most High. For example, they prayed to Jesus (”called” on his name), celebrated a modified passover regularly that was centered about Christ, they attempted to do great works in his “name,” etc. Of course, it may objected that this is not “worship” in the sense of sacrificial worship. Perhaps, but it is certainly devotion to Jesus as an expression of their loyalty to God Most High. In this way, to show devotion to Jesus was to express loyalty to “the one who sent him.”

4. The interesting thing about devotion to Jesus is that it was perceived by later paganism as worship (Lucian Peregrinus 13; Celsus ap. Or. Cels. 8.12, 14, 15; Porph. ap. Aug. civ. Dei 19:23; cf. Mart. Pol. 17:2). For example, the Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.3 reads:

τοῦτον μὲν γὰρ υἱὸν ὄντα τοῦ θεοῦ προσκυνοῦμεν, τοὺς δὲ μάρτυρας ὡς μαθητὰς καὶ μιμητὰς τοῦ κυρίου ἀγαπῶμεν ἀξίως ἕνεκεν εὐνοίας ἀνυπερβλήτου τῆς εἰς τὸν ἴδιον βασιλέα καὶ διδάσκαλον· ὧν γένοιτο καὶ ἡμᾶς συγκοινωνούς τε καὶ συμμαθητὰς γενέσθαι

For this one, who is the Son of God, we worship, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord, as they deserve, on account of their matchless devotion to their own King and Teacher. May we also become their partners and fellow-disciples!

Now, it might be objected that one would need to nuance the meaning of προσκυνέω here and elsewhere. However, whether it merely refers obeisance or is itself a mark of attributing some sort of divinity to the object of devotion, it would seem to me that the context of these acts make clear that whatever the specific act was, it would be seen as a violation of the Shema unless the identity of Jesus was indistinguishable from the identity of God Most High.


If there is one key weakness to Bauckham’s work, it is his failure to take the time to clarify in detail what exactly “divine identity” means. At times, it becomes clear that Bauckham’s usage of this terminology is far from self-explanatory, and that the phrase does not seem to use “identity” in the way it usually is in English. One common place to encounter it nowadays is of course in referring to identity theft. Bauckham’s references to more than one person sharing the “divine identity”, and even to an identity that the Son shares with the Father, seems at times to be at odds with the terminology itself (see e.g. pp.3-4, 236, 263, 265). This does not necessarily mean that Bauckham should use other terminology, but it does suggest that more attention needs to be paid to clarifying the meaning of “identity” as he uses it, before we can hope to have this terminology clarify texts from ancient Judaism and Christianity (see p.154 for a helpful discussion of the concept, one which is nevertheless much too brief to justify the concept as the foundation for all that precedes and follows in the book). McGrath

If God is willing to share this arguably most unique facet of the divine identity [ed. the divine name YHWH], what does this suggest about Bauckham’s assumption that anyone who is at any point included in the divine identity must, by implication, have eternally been part of that identity?

This is also an objection I share and made explicit in the last paragraph of my paper where I argued against backward continuity.

Although I believe he is correct to identify God’s ultimate role as creator and sovereign as key facets of the “unique divine identity”, Bauckham’s attempts to deny that God shares these prerogatives with others fails to do justice to the evidence. .ibid

I think Bauckham contends they are shared with others – and precisely that specific sharing of creation and sovereignity is what includes one in the identity of God; thus allowing worship, being seated on the divine throne, etc, as we find in the case of the Parables of Enoch and Jesus

Bauckham seems to be right to claim that there is a distinctiveness about early Christianity’s exalted portrayal of Jesus (p.231). But he is unwilling to entertain seriously the possibility that it is a difference of degree rather than kind. Believing that Jesus is not merely the Anointed One but the one through whom God will reconcile all things to himself, and believing that their salvation had been accomplished during their own time, it is not surprising that the earliest Christians depicted Jesus as God’s superlative agent, claiming that Jesus does everything that any divine agent has ever done and more. But ultimately, if we are talking about New Testament times, monotheism is preserved not by including Jesus fully within God’s identity (although eventually Christianity would indeed do just that), but by ultimately subordinating Jesus as God’s agent to God (and to God alone). Thus in the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the one who has been given the divine name before the creation of the world; but he still does only what he sees his Father do, and calls his Father “the only true God”. In Paul, Jesus is exalted to the highest possible rank and given the name above all names; but this is still done “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11), and in the end God is said to not be among the “all things” subjected to the Son, who in the end hands over the kingdom to the Father, so that “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15) .ibid

I agree with this, however, argue that this mention of degree and kind would need to be defined specifically by each author to make a better judgment. As I said before, there does not appear to be a definitive line within the literature as to the worship offered to God but not other figures (sacrifice is the leading candidate, but is unable to be tested based on the NT evidence).

I hope this specifically highlights the issues at hand, the evidence, arguments for, as well as arguments against. Go at it.


Posted: Monday Aug 3rd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Early Church, Exegesis, Historical Method, Jesus, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

As a result of my Dallas paper there has been a huge discussion (which I’ve jokingly termed “theofighting”). And it seems that at almost every turn the point is being lost. I felt that the more important part of the paper, that I hoped people would be forced to deal with, was that a method sensitive to historical, social, and literary forms was being used. I come from a fundamentalist background where none of these sensitivities are given consideration largely because they are entirely unknown. Hard to do something you know nothing about. This is meant to be more of a re-cap of the situation with the hope of a launching off point for more fruitful discussion.

So let me re-cap my position for the sake of clarity. I wrote an appendix, in which I tried to present the crux of the method that I find to be incredibly fruitful. You can find it here. And in a post titled “He Gets It I wrote the following:

This is what is going on when we read a Scriptural text. The infusion of theological meaning into a cultural situation in order to present God’s take on the matter. Professors should ask their students to do this and show them the parallels with the texts they are reading. The students are doing exactly what the ancient peoples did. The only that remains to be discussed are the roles of prophet, revelation, and inspiration – but none detract from the basic principle of understanding religious texts.


He gets it too

Check out a post titled “Fallible Criteria” to see some comments about the traditional criteria used by the historical-critical method.

Disclaimer: I ask that anyone who wishes to chime in on these topics read these posts and their links before doing so. In order to have fruitful discussion this topic will be moderated so that we stay on topic. Rhetoric and debating tactics will not be tolerated. Understanding the issues at hand is the prime focus. If that is not your interest, do not comment

More On Method

The painstaking creation of a method which will be sensitive to the context of a text in all it’s historical, social, and literary requires lots of effort. If we are to be true to our calling to find our what is really going on in a text, in a historical situation so that those who in fact waked, talked, lived, breathed, and had faith in that situation are not silenced, we must do this. We cannot expect them to write for us. We cannot expect them to talk like us. We must immerse ourselves in their world as fully as possible. We cannot set up our own conclusions to which those writers must arrive. We must define a method, we must gather evidence, we must apply the method evenly, and we must live by the conclusions of that method. To argue that the conclusions are untenable is not allowed. One can only argue that the method is wrong, that we are lacking evidence, or that we are applying the method unjustly.

For me this is entirely fresh ground. I came from a fundamentalist community in which the method was practically non-existent. The method was to use our own frames of reference, with a literal reading of the texts. This is going to get your some strange results. The “defense” of our belief against others was often “your conclusions do not make sense with the Scriptures”. When you deconstruct that statement it really means, “your conclusions do not make sense with the conclusions I have already arrived at about the Scripture”. Since no one of us stands authoritatively outside the Scriptures. One always stands in relation to the Scriptures. It is the hermaneutical circle at work. I grant that the hermaneutical circle will always have an influence. However, we must cannot use it to defend a method. We can only use the circle within a method. We must recognize when our dialogue partners are using a different method. We must suspend our own belief in our method, and try theirs on for size, to see through their lens. Only then will we actually see what they are truly saying.

That is what I ask on the issue concerning Bauckham’s Jesus and the God of Israel

The Issue at Hand

The issue is, I feel, appropriately framed and outline in my Dallas paper. I hope that those who might have already read it, in light of more discussion with me take the time to read it again. I feel the issue, and the time spent on it, demands that we treat each other with respect by studying the material before engaging in discussion. There has since been more discussion on the very same topic:


WIth this, I hope you read the paper closely, and the blog entries in order to properly participate in the discussion.

Identity of God

Posted: Wednesday Jul 1st | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Historical Method, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

Jesus and the God of Israel

This phrase from Bauckham, in his new book Jesus and the God of Israel is causing a stir. I wrote a paper (that I did not get to present unfortunately) based on this book, with some anecdotes from Hurtado’s How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God?. Both books, and as a result the paper, are written from the historical angle. I have not put it up here yet because I am not yet sure it is clear. Normally that happens through conversation partners, which on this topic have been hard to come by. I tried to have a conversation about this topic, and it has created a serious rift. You will certainly see something on this topic here eventually.

Fallible Criteria

Posted: Thursday Jun 25th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Early Church, Exegesis, Historical Method, Jesus, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments


Michael Barber is Singing about the criteria most often used by historians, and I am finding a lot of truth in what he says. At the moment I am reading through a critique of NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. And I just finished Michael Borg’s critique of Wright, which is basically a whole different set of presuppositions about how to do history. And they are all fair.

In discussing the parable of the Vineyard and its historicity, Michael shares the most common points for which this parable is assigned to the construction by the later Church, and not Jesus:

  1. That the “the son” is rejected and killed would seem to point to a post-Easter setting.
  2. The implications of the parable are that Jesus is the son of the vineyard, i.e., the Son of God. This is also said to most likely reflect the theology of the early church.
  3. In the parable the judgment on the tenants comes only after the “son” is killed. This highlights the unique importance of Jesus and thus also seems to point towards the early community’s view.
  4. The destruction that comes as a result suggests a setting after the destruction of Jerusalem.
  5. The son is depicted as the final climax, being sent only after other messengers have been killed. This is said to make little sense―why would a father send his son into such a situation? The language is only explicable if one sees Jesus as the climax of salvation history―as the one who comes after all the prophets, a view most see as more likely the product of the early church than Jesus himself.
  6. The image of the vineyard being handed over to others is said to point to a period after the “parting of the ways”—i.e., to some belief that God has rejected Israel in favor of the Church.

He goes on to answer those specific points, so if you are interested in those, please jump on over there for them. However, I wanted to step back, since this is exactly what Borg’s take on the situation is. He cannot, based on the probability, assign certain things as going back to Jesus. There is an inherent problem here.

The basic logic works as Michael has described, sayings are attributed to the early Church based on their proclamation of it. However, no one disputes whether or not the early Church said Jesus was the Son of God. Therefore, whether Jesus said it or not, there is always a reason, and it is a very good reason, to expect an at best even, often a higher probability of the Church saying it. If we are making decisions based on probability we are going to have a problem. Because Jesus could never have said anything the Church did say, according to this method. It is always better to err on the side of caution saying the “The Church put that in the Scripture, it did not come from the mouth of Jesus”.

Of course I am not saying anything new here, NT Wright went on about exactly these fallible historical criteria in his book. The strange issue is that no one is talking about the validity of his own criteria, specifically the criterion of similarity and dissimilarity – which would seem to do a much better job of highlighting whether or not Jesus did, or did not say something historically. Simply put, if the words are similar to Judaism, yet suggest a difference in interpretation, while at the same time being similar to the later Church, while being either never fully carried out/implemented or simply dropped to the extent spoken of, there is a high probability it was spoken by Jesus, rather than created by the Church. It would seem to me that this method would do far better justice to the evidence. With the other method you have, at best, a coin-flip: “It really could have been either one”, and at worst “That is exactly what the Church said, therefore I have no confidence Jesus said it”. It boils down to this. One would expect some continuity between Judaism and Jesus, and Jesus and the Church. If Jesus really did not say anything the Church proclaimed he said – well you really do have a big historical problem on your hands. How in the wide-world did the Church come to be? (And there are serious people working on this problem: “How did the Church come to exist given that miracles do not occur, Jesus never claimed to be the messiah, and was not resurrected”). That historical problem, I would think, should scare historians rather than a small chance of a false-positive that Jesus did not in fact say something we think he did.

Jesus and the God of Israel

Posted: Monday May 4th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Early Church, Exegesis, Jesus, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

I just finished Bauckham’s newest last night. Coming from my tradition, this is a hard book to swallow. However, I must give his central thesis a good look. It uses the appropriate hermanuetical method – basing the method of “How to define who god is” on Second Temple Judaism. In the face of paganism and idolatry, the writers of the time period used certain literary techniques, and exegetical motifs to show the world that YHWH was, is, and will be the one true God. Bauckham’s thesis when applied to the writings of the New Testament shows that Jesus is “brought into the identity of God”.

There is much in the book that I don’t find entirely convincing, and there is a serious point of contention between being a part of the ‘identity of God’ intrinsically and/or extrinsically (I tend to think he starts to flip flop without any argumentation concerning Jesus). But, again, his main point, in my view stands up. And this is a serious argument that I need to take into consideration. So serious that I’m writing a paper on this book (along with Hurtado’s “How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?”) for the Dallas conference. I’m sure it will be hard for them to swallow.

I hope that the paper will not put people off, but rather allow dialogue to take place. It is a serious argument that cannot be hand-waved away.

On Reading Scripture

Posted: Monday Apr 20th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Exegesis, Historical Method, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

Reading any literary piece is both a science and an art. It requires discipline, as well as creativity. Many of the principles here are applicable to any literature. That goes for holy texts as well. Here we’re looking at the Christian Scriptures. You could easily use this for other religious texts (though for ahistorical works like Buddhism the historical method is far less important). When reading a contemporary novel you won’t recognize that you’re doing these methods – but you really are. On a side note these methods are also exactly why fantasy (Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings) and sci-fi (Battlestar Galactica) is such a ready medium for displaying moral and ethical dilemmas and dramas that challenge us in our life. In short, the method is threefold; history, worldview, and exegesis.


When reading texts about ancient religions in history we need an appropriate historical method. We have to recognize what we are reading was not written with our expectations in mind (When talking about fantasy and sci-fi, as above, our expectations are in mind). We have to start with history. We have to understand (as best we can) the social, cultural, political and religious climates we are dealing with. We do this by reading both insider, and outsider information: that is material written by people about themselves, and material written by others about the people we are studying. Both sides are incredibly valuable, especially when you consider the worldviews of both peoples (presuming they are different, and we’re not talking about a purely sectarian thing). History involves the study of both individuals and people groups. It involves the study of their motivations and goals. This is not to say we are talking about psychology at all. It is a plain thing for a person to reveal their goal and motivation by their actions. Not to mention we have to apply that at the level of a whole (or part of a) cultural people. What is Israels’ motivation? What is Rome’s? To what end? All this requires both disciples, to be understandable in their worldview, and creativity, to be imaginative enough when our authors don’t write out all the steps taken for us. To presume that the writers’ purpose was to lay out, for us, all their logic and steps like a math problem is just that, a presumption. We need to eliminate these common expectations of ours.


There is famous CS Lewis quote (you might have seen it on Vineyard church advertisements:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

This is the epitome of a definition for ‘worldview’. Worldview is assumed. It is the very context of how you look at the world. You look at the world “through” worldview. Worldview is affected by so many different things – even generations within the same country. To imagine that any biblical character has the same worldview as you is, to be kind, absurd. In the many ways I am like my Father, I don’t even have the same worldview as him, and he raised me. There are four elements that make up worldview:

  • Praxis (your practice)
  • Symbols (icons)
  • Stories
  • Questions

These questions are further broken down:

  • Who are we?
  • Where are we?
  • What is wrong?
  • What is the solution?

The answers to these questions are informed, debated, and reformed by the previous praxis, symbols, and stories. Those are the raw materials of answering these questions. What we witness in the New Testament is the ‘debate’. We see Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all using their natural resources; the symbols of the present day, (e.g. a coin with Caesar on it), the biblical stories they have known and reflected on (e.g. the Exodus and entering into rest from Hebrews, Jesus as Moses in the gospels), and their own praxis (e.g. the Last Supper as a Passover meal, transformed with new meaning) to answer these worldview questions. And the answers, based on their life experience with Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus, and the community are very different than any other Jewish sect.

There are so many other peculiarities of worldview, and other specific questions related to the stories and history of Israel that have cropped up in Jewish writings. This is why the Dead Sea Scrolls were such an important find. It gave us so much more information about how the Jewish people of the Second Temple period used their stories, symbols, and practice, to come up with different – but all Jewish – ways to answer these questions.


When reading any literature we have to realize what genre we are reading. Within the Christian cannon there are several genres; mythological narrative, historical narrative, poetry and song, prophetic narrative, and apocalyptic narrative. The entire Bible is not historical narrative, and we cannot do justice to its writers and inspirer to read it all the same way. Furthermore, the questions that are being answered by the writers are the questions based on the worldview. Since your worldview is different – your questions will not be directly found in the text. The Scriptures do not directly address the immediate questions of 21st century Western people. It could not possible do so directly. The more and more we submit ourselves to the Christian worldview the New Testament puts forth (that is, to put down our cross of our own worldview) the more and more we will see answers to the right questions, as we make those questions our own.

Using these three elements

To use these three elements appropriately is the goal of study. To not lean on any one, at the loss of another is hard to do. A comprehensive reading of the text in question needs to maximize for these things:

  • Fitting all the data
  • Simplicity of thought
  • Sheds light on other areas

If you can’t fit all the data into your approach and method, then a mistake has been made. If all the data fits, but there is no possible way my conclusions could have been reached by the historical figures (data beyond their knowledge, or language beyond their knowlege) in the way I’ve outlined, then a mistake has been made. If the results of the method do not shed light on any other unilluminated areas, then something has been missed. The best way to accomplish this goal is by starting large and vague.

Take the period of Second Temple Judaism up until Christianity. Examine their worldview and writings. Examine their various answers to the questions. Mark out fixed, but sufficiently vague, points. Take the history in the same manner. Mark out fixed, but sufficiently vague points about kings, client-rulers, their misdeeds, wars, and revolutions. Mark areas before and after the time period you’re studying. Don’t mark your time period! Put down verifiable data that must be started from, and must be met on the end. A good example that must be explained by any Christian origins study is this remarkable statement made:

Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and he has never done me the least wrong: How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? Polycarp 186AD at his martyrdom

Whatever your reconstruction of Jesus and early Christianity, you must explain this fixed point with it, loyalty to Jesus over Caesar in the face of death, and specifically in that manner – King and Savior. That is just one point, there are many others.

Arguments that fail to show any knowledge of the above are lacking when we begin to talk about anything historical or theological in relation to the Scriptures. There is plenty of freedom in devotional writing. But when it comes to theology and history there are certain bars that must be met. Failure to meet them means the idea is dismissed. That is just how the study works. I hope that we can continue to strive to meet the rigors of the study.

What’s the Deal With Resurrection?

Posted: Sunday Apr 12th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Jesus, Second Temple Judaism, The Gospel | View Comments

I really have seven hundred places I could start, but this is closest to the main point I want to talk about:

This true meaning has remained hidden because the Church has trivialised it and the world has rubbished it. The Church has turned Jesus’s Resurrection into a “happy ending” after the dark and messy story of Good Friday, often scaling it down so that “resurrection” becomes a fancy way of saying “He went to Heaven”. Easter then means: “There really is life after death”…

Now, suddenly, the real meaning of Easter comes into view, as well as the real reason why it has been trivialised and sidelined. Easter is about a new creation that has already begun. God is remaking His world, challenging all the other powers that think that is their job. The rich, wise order of creation and its glorious, abundant beauty are reaffirmed on the other side of the thing that always threatens justice and beauty – death. Christianity’s critics have always sneered that nothing has changed. But everything has. The world is a different place.
NT Wright in Times Online

I will be the first to admit that resurrection scares the be-Jesus out of me. I do not, for one second, admit to understand what all the implications are. But I am left with certain facts. Jesus was raised bodily, not to live as he formerly lived, but to live a much more real, full, whole, holy, glorified existence. The existence Paul says we “we will be like him”. He was raised in the middle of history, far before anyone expected the resurrection to happen. After all – the only category anyone in the first century had was that “this must be the end – we just witnessed resurrection”. So, don’t be surprised when that is exactly the attitude they hold about their time.

Resurrection “meant” (in the secondary sense – its implications if you will – beyond the referent that “someone who was dead, coming to bodily life”) that God’s new creation has started. Reading any of the OT passages about resurrection, either the concrete referent of raising to life, or the metaphor about a return from exile (ala Ez 37), and you will find something about a new creation. Those are the facts that I am forced to deal with in my Christian life, and the same ones that the Church at large is forced to deal with.

That very new creation theology, I’ve found is terribly lacking in the greater Church today. The power of resurrection has been sucked out of the word. Not least because the majority of people who are practicing, preaching, and teaching Christianity are now the powerful. They are now the status-quo, the empire. And Jesus challenges the status-quo. If you don’t think resurrection, the new-creation, is a massive challenge:

… is to miss the point, to cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique. Death is the ultimate weapon of the tyrant; resurrection does not make a covenant with death, it overthrows it. The resurrection, in the full Jewish and early Christian sense, is the ultimate affirmation that creation matters, that embodied human beings matter. That is why resurrection has always had an inescapable political meaning; that is why the Saducees in the first century, and the Enlightenment in our own day, have opposed it so strongly. No tyrant is threatened by Jesus going to heaven, leaving his body in a tomb. No governments face the authentic Christian challenge when the church’s social preaching tries to base itself on Jesus’ teaching, detached from the central and energizing fact of his resurrection (or when, for that matter, the resurrection is affirmed simply as an example of a supernatural ‘happy ending’ which guarantees post-mortem bliss).

Saying ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ proved to be self-involving in that it gained its meaning within this counter-imperial worldview. The Sadducees were right to regard the doctrine of resurrection, and especially, its announcement in relation to Jesus, as political dynamite.
NT Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, pg 730-1

If you think you’ve got resurrection down pat, think again.

On Resurrection

Posted: Friday Jan 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Early Church, Second Temple Judaism | View Comments

Reading the beginning of The Resurrection of the Son of God NT Wright does a good deal of work moving through the pagan writings around the ideas of resurrection and life after death (which are two different things). I wish everyone over here arguing about it would stop, and read the first hundred or so pages to get an idea about how to even talk about the subject to begin with.

That said, there is more on the topic (and I wish I could get my hands on the presentation) being talked about over at Singing in the Reign. The conclusion from the rabbinic text fits perfectly within the model suggested by Jesus talking with the Saducees: the object of resurrection is to make whole, restore, and to perfect the person. The Jewish worldview saw the created order as good, not evil or to be escaped as did the pagan views. The Jewish hope was a fully restored and perfected creation. The hope for the whole included the hope for the individual. This came about in the idea of resurrection, though not all Jewish people did believe and expect resurrection. Clearly all Christians did.

It is important once more to be clear on the key topic before we go any further. The texts we shall consider, however we understand their detailed nuances, are not speaking about a new contrual of life after death, but something that will happen after whatever ‘life after death’ may involve. Resurrection is not just another way of talking about Sheol, or about what happens, as in Psalm 73, ‘afterwards’, that is, after the event of bodily death. It speaks of something that will happen, if it does, after that again. Resurrection means bodily life after ‘life after death’, or, if you prefer, bodily life after the state of ‘death’.
The Resurrection of the Son of God, NT Wright, pg 108-9