Posts Tagged ‘Christology’

Book Plunge: Johannine Theology

October 10, 2014

What do I think of Paul Rainbow’s book on the theology of John? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

JohannineTheology

Johannine Theology is over 400 pages of looking at a highly complex topic. John is the Gospel that is often the most problematic for people due to its being so different from the others. Even N.T. Wright has said it is like his wife Maggie. In speaking of her he says “I love her, but I do not claim to understand her.”

Rainbow begins with a brief history on Johannine studies and with a defense of authorship and the date of the writing and such and from there, it’s off to see what the book has to say. The opening should be sufficient for those who are interested in the basic apologetic aspect to understand the usage of John in studies of the historical Jesus.

Rainbow argues that while John’s Gospel certainly tells us about the life of Jesus, the main character being it all is really God. The Gospel should be read not just as a Christological statement but as a Theological one. This is fitting since we are told that it is the Son who is explaining the Father. We know God by knowing the Son. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. We cannot know God as He truly is apart from knowing the Son and the Son came to reveal the Father.

I found this to be a highly important insight. Rainbow is not at all downplaying the importance of Christology. He has plenty to say about that in a later chapter and of course, he comes down on the side of orthodox theology, but he does want to stress that we cannot leave God the Father out of the equation in John.

I will say when he got to Christology, I was disappointed on one aspect. Much of the Christology came from the Gospel. I find an excellent place to go to really to get Christology in the Johannine corpus is to go to the book of Revelation. I did not see this interacted with in the work. Revelation begins after all describing itself as the Revelation of Jesus Christ and it does say that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Rainbow also covers other themes related to theology. He covers the question of salvation and that of apostasy. He covers issues related to free will and predestination and points out that John has no desire to really address our questions there. It could be argued that John in fact argues for both sides of the equation. He also argues for how John says the church is to be to the world.

Surprisingly, there is little on eschatology and this was one area I did have a difficult time with as I happen to highly enjoy discussions of eschatology. Rainbow does take a futurist stance in his writings and that is not something that is argued for. I find it interesting for instance that Revelation is said to tell us about the antichrist and yet Revelation never once uses the term.

Still, Johannine Theology is a difficult topic to handle and I think Rainbow for the most part does an excellent job. I would have liked to have seen more on eschatology, but then that could be its own book entirely. Still, if you want to understand the writings of John in relation to theology, then you should get yourself a copy of this volume.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Jesus Became God

April 28, 2014

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There is an increasing pattern in Ehrman’s books. He is more and more hesitant to interact with that which disagrees with him and goes more on his own pronouncements or only the people who agree with him. I refer to this as an argument with just one-hand clapping. Naturally, if one is a scholar one can and should speak with one’s own authority and one should cite those who agree with you, but one should also have extended argument with those who disagree. No Ph.D. dissertation would be accepted without interacting with opposing views, yet Ehrman writes books where he does not deal with the best that disagrees with him.

Consider for instance that he asks the question about miracles and history on pages 147-8. Does he interact with Keener, who wrote the massive two-volume work “Miracles”? Not a bit. The reader who never knew about Keener will leave this work not knowing about Keener. He writes about the burial customs in Israel. Does he interact with someone like Craig Evans? No. Evans is never interacted with in the book. He writes about the idea of a spiritual body in 1 Cor. 15, but he never interacts with the work of Licona and Wright where both address this as an extended length. This is most revealing since he refers to both of these books for those who want to read a defense of the resurrection. His whole book is on Christology and yet, Hurtado and Hengel are barely mentioned. Bauckham is never once mentioned.

Ehrman also comes at this from a heavily fundamentalist standpoint. He has the view that if Jesus really thought that He was God, shouldn’t He have mentioned this?” Well, no. Not really. Had Jesus gone and done something explicit like that, it would have led to further confusion. What does He mean? Is He saying He is God the Father? After all, Jesus was often interacting with the common man and not the trained theologian, and even those would have a hard time with the concept, as we still do today.

The same happened with Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah. It is extremely rare that we see Jesus explicitly say that He is the Christ, and this is not before a public audience. He does actions however to show that this is how He sees Himself. These include actions such as the triumphant entry. Why would He go this way? Because had He come right out and said “I’m the Messiah” we would expect people would be ready to lead a revolt against Rome and not to be people who would be His disciples seeking to grow in holiness.

Ehrman also thinks something like the virgin birth should have been mentioned by other writers. Yet why should it? We consider it fascinating, but the ancients, especially Jews, not so much. For Jews, it would be close to paganism and it would in fact implicate YHWH in Mary being pregnant outside of marriage. That would also lead to charges of Jesus being illegitimate, not something you want to announce about your Messiah. David Instone-Brewer even includes the virgin birth in his book “The Jesus Scandals” as something the evangelists would prefer to avoid talking about. He also ignores that Mark is an inclusio account giving the testimony of Peter, who would not have been present for the virgin birth. As for John, well He has quite an exalted intro for Jesus already. It’s hard to think how a virgin birth could improve that.

This is a constant problem for Ehrman. He thinks everything needs to be mentioned explicitly, but why should it? In the synoptics, we are even told that Jesus did not speak plainly. He spoke in parables. He was giving a message that those who were true seekers would find it. Ehrman’s view relies on an approach of the Bible as a fax from Heaven that will spell out for us what we want to know. It is highly fundamentalist and shows Ehrman never got past his fundamentalist background that he grew up with.

For Christology, Ehrman never has prolonged interaction with the Shema. He does cite 1 Cor. 8:4-6, but you’d never see the connection with the Shema, the great statement of monotheism that shaped Jewish culture. The only extended argument he has is with Phil. 2:6-11. His main focal point to start off with is in fact Galatians 4:14. It’s an oddity that when Paul calls Christ “God” in Romans 9:5, Paul agrees, but thinks he doesn’t mean Jesus is ontologically God, despite later texts having the same implication in Romans 10. Thus, when Paul speaks most explicitly, Ehrman reinterprets it to suit his own viewpoint. When Jesus doesn’t speak explicitly, Ehrman asks why He didn’t do so.

As for church history, there is just as much absent. There is no extended argument with Irenaeus and Athenagoras for instance. Again, this is the constant flaw in Ehrman. He is extremely selective with what he cites. Now of course, one cannot cite everything, but one should cite the main figures.

It’s also tragic because of so much that Ehrman gets right. He is right that Jesus believed He was the Messiah. He is in fact right when He argues that Jesus said much that could get Him to be seen as the Wisdom of God. He is right that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. It is as if Ehrman is right on the edge but then wants to step back by just saying “Well He doesn’t say anything that is explicit!”

This is the sad aspect of it. Ehrman does know how to do scholarship and yet the ignoring of the best against him leaves one wondering why is this the case? IF Ehrman’s case is as strong as he thinks it is, why does he hesitate to point out those who disagree with him? Perhaps he should in fact mention them more explicitly than he normally does? (Odd for someone isn’t it who wants to hear truths expressed explicitly so much.) The tragedy will go both ways as there are too many atheists who read Ehrman as the last word just as there are too many Christians who read their side as the last word. Interact with both.

I have earlier written a review of “How God Became Jesus.” After reading Ehrman’s book, I do stand by that review. I encourage those wanting to study this issue to read both books.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/29/2014: How God Became Jesus.

March 27, 2014

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last week, my guest was Dr. Charles Hill. This week, he’s going to be back again and he’s got some friends with him. The others will not be here for the whole show but will be here for part of it. Those will be Chris Tilling and Michael Bird. Do those three names sound familiar? They should. All three of them are some of the co-authors of a book called “How God Became Jesus”, a response to Bart Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God.”

Those wanting to learn about Dr. Hill are invited to check the link to last week’s show. So what are the details on Bird and Tilling?

ChrisTillingPhoto

“Dr. Chris Tilling is Lecturer in New Testament Studies at St Mellitus College and Visiting Lecturer in Theology at King’s College, London. He is the author of Paul’s Divine Christology (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012) and the editor of Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul (Eugene, Or: Cascade, 2014). He also runs the biblical studies blog, Chrisendom.”

MikeBirdPhoto

“Michael F. Bird (PhD, University of Queensland) is lecturer in theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective, Evangelical Theology, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A moderate Case for Gender Equality in Ministry and editor of The Apostle Paul: Four Views. He is also a co-blogger of the New Testament blog ‘Euangelion.'”

As readers of this blog know, I have already read and reviewed this excellent book and that review can be found here. This is going to be a must-read for those who want to answer the latest from Ehrman. After all, as I indicated earlier.

braceyourselveschristology

Of course, this doesn’t apply to just atheists. Muslims are likely to jump at this as well as groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fortunately, a work such as this one can introduce the layman to the Early Highest Christology Club, that says that the earliest view of Jesus was the highest view of Jesus and it was not an evolution of Jesus into deity.

So on the show, we’ll be discussing all these topics. Bird largely deals with concepts like the deity of Christ found in Second Temple Judaism. Tilling deals with many of the hermeneutical issues in the writing of Ehrman and the kind of methodology he uses to interpret the data. Hill is the main authority on the patristics and the history of the doctrine throughout the life of the church.

I really hope you’ll be joining me for this. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a group discussion on the Deeper Waters Podcast and this will be the work that people will be talking about for some time. I highly recommend that you go to Amazon or your local bookstore and get a copy of the book, but also to listen to the show. It airs from 3-5 PM EST this Saturday, 3/29/2014. If you have a question, you can call in at 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How God Became Jesus

March 17, 2014

What do I think about the latest response to Bart Ehrman? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

HowGodBecameJesus

It’s time for your regular book due out around Easter that will silence the Christians once and for all. This time, it’s Bart Ehrman who has written “How Jesus Became God.” Fortunately, a group of Christian scholars were allowed to have a copy of the manuscript and have already written a response. Doubtless, the response will not be read by internet atheists who are never interested in reading both sides of an issue and all the scholarly data that they can, nor will it even be read by new atheist leaders. Instead, as I made this image a few days ago, I want to give people a preview of what they can expect after Ehrman’s book comes out.

braceyourselveschristology

I was sent a copy in advance courtesy of Zondervan seeing as Charles Hill, one of the writers of this book, had agreed to be on my podcast for an interview and apparently in talking about that, it was decided that it would be good to have a show based on this book. It is amusing to hear Michael Bird’s description of Ehrman’s book that I was sent and can be found in the introduction of “How God Became Jesus.”

“While Ehrman offers a creative and accessible account of the origins of Jesus’ divinity in Christian belief, at the end of the day, we think that his overall case is about as convincing as reports of the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, sitting in a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, wearing a Texan-style cowboy hat, while reading Donald Trump’s memoire—which is to say, not convincing at all.”

Yes. As far as I’m concerned, Michael Bird stole the show. Michael Licona has called Michael Bird a new rock star in the New Testament world. I can see why. Since his chapters in the book are first, it is apropos to start with him. I actually found myself laughing a number of times throughout reading what Bird says. How do you beat hearing someone say that Ehrman’s view of Jesus is so low that it could win a limbo contest against a leprechaun?

Bird has excellent information as well on what was and wasn’t considered divine in the world of Second Temple Judaism and about the view that Jesus had of himself. Throughout what the reader sees is what Craig Evans, the next writer in the book, says about Ehrman. Ehrman is simply on a flight from fundamentalism. He still has the same mindset as to how Scripture should be that he had as a fundamentalist. His loyalty has just changed.

Bird points out that too often, Ehrman gives into a parallelomania, a condition where he sees ideas that he thinks are related but really aren’t. This is the same thing that is done with the idea of Jesus being based on dying and rising gods, which is interesting since Ehrman argues against this idea in “Did Jesus Exist?”

Moving on to Evans, Evans deals with the idea that Jesus was not buried and shows that Ehrman just hasn’t interacted with the latest archaeological evidence. He points out that in many cases, crucified people would not be buried, but that Jerusalem would certainly be a different scenario due to Jewish laws and rituals and such. He also points out that Paul as a Pharisee would certainly have seen Jesus as buried and raised meaning raised bodily. Evans takes us through numerous archaeological findings and writings of Jewish Law to convincingly make his point. (This would also deal with Crossan’s view that Jesus’s body was thrown to dogs.)

After that, we have Simon Gathercole. Gathercole writes on the pre-existence of Jesus to deal with the way that the early Christians saw Jesus. He points out that Ehrman seems to switch back and forth between Christologies based on the idea he has before coming to the text, including the tunnel period, the period between 30 to 50 A.D.

I found it amusing to hear about how Ehrman wants to know the primitive Christology of the early church. (Keep in mind, he does not once also interact with Bauckham, who is part of the Early Highest Christology Club. Not once.) The reason this is amusing is that Ehrman is constantly speaking about how we have such great uncertainty about the text, yet he wants to take this text he thinks is so uncertain, and use this uncertain text to determine oral tradition in it, which we can only know from the uncertain text, and from that oral tradition get to what the early Christians believed about Jesus. Why is it that Ehrman is uncertain about the text but certain about the oral tradition that predates the text that he has no direct access to?

Gathercole also points out that the NT does not quote the OT in a straightforward way. He uses the example of the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem. Rachel did not literally weep. Also, the slaughter was in Bethlehem, not Ramah. Still, Ramah is close to Bethlehem and Rachel is seen as one of the mothers of Israel. (Though interestingly, she would not be the mother of the tribe of Judah.) The NT simply did not use the OT the way Ehrman thinks it did.

After this, we come to Chris Tilling who writes about the interpretative categories of Ehrman. Tilling points out that Ehrman bases the Christology of Paul on Gal. 4:14, which is hardly the main place to go to find out Paul’s Christology. Ehrman, for instance, does not at all interact with the Shema, which would mean how it is used in a passage like 1 Cor. 8:4-6. Ehrman also says 1 Thess. is likely the earliest Christian writing that there is, yet he does not interact with the Christology in that letter either.

To make matters even worse, the only extended argument with Paul’s letters is the extended exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11. This is an important passage for Paul’s Christology, but there are numerous more passages. Amusingly at places like this, Tilling says Ehrman does not do the work of a historian. One can almost picture Tilling saying “Put some ice on the burn. It will help.”

Finally, we have Charles Hill who looks at church history and the deity of Christ there. He goes through several sources in the church fathers to show that this was indeed the reigning view and wasn’t some aberration as Ehrman would have you to believe. He also points out that the paradoxes that Ehrman thinks should be so embarrassing don’t really seem to embarrass the church fathers at all nor the writers of Scripture.

He also deals with the idea that the charge of killing God given to the Jews led to their persecution. Hill points out that Islam has a non-divine prophet who is not a Christian and has been responsible for going after the Jews. What is that to be blamed on? Does this mean Christianity has always been innocent of anti-semitism? Nope. Does this mean that that anti-semitism is justifiable? Nope. Does this mean that Ehrman overstates his case? Yep.

Finally, we have a conclusion from Bird wrapping up the whole piece. He reminds us of what was argued against in the previous chapters and wraps up with a conclusion that the orthodox view is correct. It’s not that Jesus became God, but that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus.

If there was one flaw that this book has in light of all the great benefits it has it is this. There is no index. The book would be greatly benefited to have an index to look up terms and Scripture passages and other parts like that. The notes are extensive and helpful, but I do hope future editions have an index.

Still, for those wanting to see another great response to Ehrman, it would benefit you to read this one. After all, you can be sure the internet atheists that you’re interacting with won’t be reading it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters