Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How on Earth Did Jesus become a God?


From chapter 4 of How on Earth Did Jesus become a God? – historical questions about earliest devotion to Jesus, by Larry Hurtado, published by Eerdmans 2005

Had Christians been ready to regard Jesus simply as a prophet, or had the view become dominant in which Jesus was thought of as entirely a heavenly/divine being like an angel, his earthly existence an elaborate disguise (somewhat similar to the way the earthly appearance and activity of the angel Raphael are presented in the book of Tobit), they would not have needed the time and effort that they spent on their Christological concerns. Likewise, had they been ready to adopt the apotheosis model, the human Jesus understood as made a new god in his own right, deified on account of his exceptional merit, their doctrinal efforts would have been much simpler. But no previous model seemed adequate, at least to those Christians whose efforts framed what became more classic Christological doctrine. What came to expression in the prolonged doctrinal explorations of the early Christian centuries was a remarkable, new conception: Jesus as remaining genuinely human and also genuinely divine and worthy of cultic devotion.

In these doctrinal struggles, especially in the second through the fifth centuries, Christians drew upon a wider body of conceptual categories, from biblical traditions, Jewish writers of the Second Temple period (especially Philo of Alexandria), and philosophical traditions of the day. But rarely did they simply appropriate religious or intellectual terms and categories, whether from Jewish or philosophical traditions of the time. More often they adapted traditions to express their convictions about Jesus, which, in the main, were decisively prompted and shaped by the earliest devotion to Jesus, this devotion to Jesus of Nazareth that seems to have erupted within the earliest moments of the Christian movement. It not only fueled fervent communication of the gospel message in the subsequent decades; this devotion also shaped and, indeed, required the considerable efforts of the next several centuries toward formulation of further Christian doctrine about Jesus and God. Moreover, in what became the dominant view, Jesus’ real human and historical activity remained as crucial as the heavenly glory that he was believed to share.

In the process of trying to articulate a view of Jesus, Christians also elaborated a new interpretation of the unity of the one God of the biblical tradition, a unity in which Jesus, ‘the Son,’ is integral. In the doctrinal language that began to be favoured in the second century and thereafter, the Son shares the same divine ‘nature/being’ (Greek: ousia) with ‘the Father.’ Of course, in the classic expression of Christian teaching about God, the doctrine of the Trinity, ‘the Holy Spirit’ comes to be included as well, as the third constituent of the divine triadic unity. But the main concerns in this long and complex

Disputation and development of the Christian doctrine of God were to express Jesus’ genuinely divine significance and status, and, equally firmly, to maintain that God is ‘one. In this latter concern especially, which remained crucial in the early centuries, we see the continuing influence of Second-Temple Jewish monotheism.
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