Christology Interview with CTR (3) – Historical Issues

I had the privilege of doing an interview with the Criswell Theological Review on the topic of “Issues in Christology,” and they have graciously allowed me to post that here. I will divide it up into (1) Introductory questions, (2) Systematic Theology questions, (3) Historical Studies questions [this post], (4) Ethics questions, and (5) a final question related to Current and Looming Issues. This interview appeared in the Fall 2015 (13.1) edition of the CTR, where the entire issue was dedicated to Christology. I encourage you to check it out.

(5) How would you respond to the entrenched notion in mainline biblical studies that the Synoptics pose models of Christology that are antithetical to the one provided by John’s Gospel?

I would try to help them understand that differences in perspective do not necessitate differences in content and fact. It has long been recognized, from the very beginning, that John’s perspective and presentation of Jesus is significantly different than that of the Synoptics. If fact, it is 92% unique. However, even in the early church John’s Gospel was viewed as a complement to the Synoptics. I agree with this perspective. Further, the audience that John is addressing is Judean and urban, whereas the Synoptic audience is more Galilean and rural. That in and of itself ought to tip us off to expect some differences.

I am not optimistic that this is going to satisfy the more critical scholars because they are starting with presuppositions and a bias that prevents them from seeing how John complements the Synoptics. However, I think the works of men like D.A. Carson and Leon Morris demonstrate clearly, and even quite easily, that the content and emphases of John’s Gospel can harmonize quite well with the Synoptic Gospels if one simply has an eye and an expectation for this harmony. However, and once again, a “hermeneutic of suspicion” will always find irreconcilable differences. How one starts and their presuppositions clearly play a very important role.

(6) In light of recent projects spearheaded by scholars such as Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, James Dunn, and Larry Hurtado concerning the deity of Christ and how it relates to ancient views of monotheism, what precautions and theological observations would you propose regarding how evangelicals should evaluate such discussions?

All of the men mentioned in this question are superb scholars. Now, I don’t endorse everything they have written. For example, Dunn’s approach to Philippians 2:5-11 is problematic. I am still convinced Wright misunderstands justification by faith. However I gladly admit that I have learned a great deal from each one of them. They have done excellent work in terms of historical investigation of the person of Christ in the first century context and 2nd temple Judiasm. I think they make the argument that the early church came to believe in the full deity of Christ within the context of the Jewish monotheism that the Jews of that day had inherited. I believe they demonstrate that within monotheism, there is room for a perspective or understanding that allows for plurality within the one true God. Their research demonstrates that this was not a later development in the 2nd century.  It was not even a later development in the late 1st century. It was something that came about rather quickly following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The one caution I would note in this discussion is that our ultimate authority in these discussions is the inspired biblical text. Historical investigation can serve as a confirmation. However, our faith rests in the more sure word that God has provided in Holy Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21).

(7) Recognizing the current emphasis in New Testament studies regarding the context of 2nd Temple Judaism and Jesus’ historical identity as a 1st century Jew, how would you say that Jesus saw himself as divine, or more specifically, God?

The Gospels present a consistent and coherent picture of Jesus and his “developing messianic consciousness.” Already as a 12 year old boy he recognizes and communicates his understanding of a unique relationship to God as Father. Following his baptism, it is crystal clear he accepts the identity of Messiah and one who will be a suffering Messiah. Repeatedly he weds the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 to the Royal Messiah of Psalm 2 and the apocalyptic figure of Daniel 7. I believe Jesus, especially as reflected in the Gospel of John, saw himself as the I AM of Exodus 3:14. Interestingly, he often would point his hearers to his mighty acts as an evidence of who he was. This is not to say that he shied away from verbal declarations of his deity, but he repeatedly showed that the works that he was doing were the works of YAHWEH of the Old Testament Scriptures.

I think great insight is provided for us in his high priestly prayer of John 17 where he makes clear in verse 5 that there was a previous glory that He enjoyed with the Father that had been willingly laid aside during the time of the incarnation. Therefore, one could criticize Jesus for being delusional. However, any honest reading of the Gospels would lead to the conclusion that He saw Himself as indeed very God of very God and nothing less than YAHWEH of the Old Testament.