Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hurtado 3: Chapter 2, "Early Pauline Christianity" 1

My task today is to begin to summarize and review the second chapter of Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. The chapter is titled, "Early Pauline Christianity." It is over 75 pages long and thus a torture to my attention deficit mind. I decided to break it up into several posts--should have done so much sooner.

Where to Begin
The opening section of the chapter justifies beginning with Paul rather than with earliest Christianity after the resurrection (the topic of the third chapter). Hurtado gives two main reasons:

1. We have no undisputed source that stems directly from any of these very early circles of "pre-Pauline" Jewish Christians.

Although we have books with the names of Peter, James, and Jude on them, there is significant debate among scholars over the literal authorship of all of them. Hurtado is no liberal--the heart of a believer beats from every page of this book. But as a thinker he does not seem to think the evidence points in the direction of literal authorship for these books (at this point his exact position is not completely clear to me).

I admire him because, on the one hand, it is clear to me that he enjoys standing up for faith--as you'll see in how he treats Crossan below. I believe he has an underlying "apologetic spirit" that he has no doubt had for a very long time. But he is also more interested in truth--at least as it seems to his understanding of the evidence--than in tradition. The more I read this book, the more I respect him as someone who is really interested in truth, whatever conclusion that might mean.

So with regard to arguments by people like Selwyn, Bauckham, and Davids for the literal authorship of these books, Hurtado concludes that "I find some of the arguments impressive, but I choose to proceed here on the basis of views of the sources more commonly shared" (80 n.3). In other words, he will address them later in the book without building his case on the presumption that James, Peter, or Jude are their literal authors.

2. Paul's writings are the earliest surviving writings of Christianity.

In this section Hurtado deliciously dismantles the absurd positions of John Dominic Crossan on Paul in Crossan's book, The Birth of Christianity. People like Crossan (Burton Mack, Marcus Borg, etc...) build their understanding of Jesus and earliest Christianity from a hypothetical reconstruction of Q and its supposed community. How convenient if one wishes to say that these were something different from the actual documents we possess from early Christianity!

Hurtado is very clear. We have no direct source from Jewish Christian groups of this period, making any reconstruction that starts there highly uncertain from the very start. Second, Paul believed perhaps within 3 years of the crucifixion and his writings clearly interact with the earliest layer of Christianity. [Insert here condescending and pompous comments on the stupidity of famous scholars who pretend like Paul doesn't exist when they try to reconstruct this period]

Hurtado sums his reason for beginning with Paul thus: "Paul is important for historical analysis of the earliest Christian decades mainly because of his personal participation in Christian circles in these early years, his acquaintance with Christian traditions from the earliest years of Christianity, and the reflections in his letters of the beliefs and practices of Christian circles of the 50s and previous decades" (84).

I think Crossan must be a nice guy, and he knows the data way better than I do. But he trips so fantastically as he moves to the goal that it makes him look horribly inept as a historian and scholar. I believe there are things we can learn from him, but I personally treat his every word as a hostile witness.

These two sentences were a good snapshot of Hurtado's critique: "Crossan concludes these few pages on Paul with an aphorism: 'Start with Paul and you will see Jesus incorrectly.' In the same spirit, I will give an aphorism in reply: Fail to take adequate account of Paul and you will describe the 'birth of Christianity' incorrectly" (85).

So Hurtado begins his study of earliest Christian devotion by looking at Paul. Paul gives us the earliest direct access we have to the early church. His letters date to the 50s and reach back to the 30s. He knew the key figures--Peter, James, Barnabas. He disagreed with them and tells us so. We see Christ-devotion of an unprecedented sort in Paul already, which anticipate what we will see in the rest of the NT (now getting into Hurtado's unique claims).

Key Personal Factors
In this section Hurtado raises three key personal factors that likely shaped Paul's Christ-devotion.

1. Paul's Jewish background, not least his affirmation of Jewish monotheism.

This was a factor Paul shared with the other earliest believers on Christ. As a note, Hurtado clearly takes the faith in Christ position in the pistis Christou issue. Although I half disagree on that issue, it does not affect his basic conclusions one way or the other. This section gives a nice summary of Paul's Jewishness and shows the impact of the new perspective on Paul (although I don't know if Hurtado might differ with it on some points).

Hurtado mentions to features of Jewish monotheism that are important to consider when appreciating the significance of monotheism for Christ-devotion in Paul:

a. In addition to refusing worship to deities of the Roman religious environment, conscientious Jews also maintained a difference between God and other exalted beings like exalted angels, patriarchs, etc... (91). Devout Jews insisted that worship was to be given to these alone. Note that, as we have seen, this is a point of debate.

b. The Jewish monotheistic stance forbade apotheosis, the divination of human figures. This is certainly the case with Roman emperors (see Philo on Caligula). But even exalted Jewish figures were not given cultic worship. Again, this is a point for discussion.

2. A second key personal factor in understanding Paul's Christ-devotion is his "conversion."

Hurtado knows the debate over whether we should speak of Paul's coming to Christ as a conversion or calling. Hurtado has the appropriate balance--it depends on what you mean. If we do not mean a conversion from Judaism or out of Judaism, the word conversion is appropriate as a significant change from one life to another.

H thinks it likely that we see in some of Paul's arguments a mirror of things he believed before his turn. So if he now speaks of Christ becoming a curse for us, he probably thought of Christ as accursed before as well. On the matter of his conversion, H sees this as a part of his background that distinguished him from the other early Christians. None of them had opposed the Jesus movement in the way that Paul had before he believed.

[I should mention again the occasionally targumic nature of some of my summaries. H never uses the phrase "Jesus movement" here. That's my language.]

3. Paul felt a call to the Gentiles.

Paul did not see himself as an apostle to the Jews. In this respect starting with Acts in our understanding of Paul is prone to mislead us. Paul may very well have used local synagogues as a starting point of his ministry in a new location. But Paul did not equally target Jew and non-Jew. He did not see himself as an apostle to the Jews but as apostle to the Gentile. In this respect he also differed from other early Christians.

Hurtado believes that this sense of mission likely shaped the emphases in his Christology (97).

Christological Language and Themes
I've decided to break up the summary of this chapter with the first half of this section (the longest), namely, the part that covers the three Christological titles Christ, Son of God, and Lord.

This is the honorific term most frequently applied to Jesus in Paul's writings (270 uses in the seven undisputed letters of Paul--Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon--over half the times the term is used in the NT). Yes, at times it does almost seem to function as a alternative name for Jesus. But Hurtado rightly recognizes that Paul does clearly understand it to refer to the fact that Jesus is the Jewish messiah.

He summarizes: "Paul's use of Christos shows how early the term had become a conventional feature of the claims asserted in early Christian belief" (101). An interesting tidbit in this section is Werner Kramer's observation that "Christos is particularly used in sentences that refer to Jesus' death and resurrection" (100, from Christ, Lord, Son of God, 26-28).

Jesus' Divine Sonship
There are only fifteen references to Jesus as God's Son in Paul, wrongly leading Kramer to conclude that it was not an important Christological affirmation for Paul or his churches but merely a feature of pre-Pauline tradition he had inherited (Christ, 189). At least Bousset got it right in seeing it as important to Paul.

Hurtado thinks that perhaps the Greco-Roman environment might have actually led Paul to deemphasize the title so that Jesus was not confused with Greco-Roman demigods and such. But he thinks Paul is too early to reflect the influence of emperor devotion in his categories here--and in fact that if it had been a factor of his environment the impact would have been negative, away from it.

A key statement is this: "In this messianic usage [of Son of God language], divine sonship did not function to connote divinity, but it certainly indicated a special status and relationship to God" (103). Hurtado appropriately strikes a balance between two different senses to Jesus' sonship: 1) Jesus as exclusively the Son of God, messianic king, and 2) Jesus as the "prototype and basis for all others who are brought into filial relationship with God" (106).

H believes that "Jesus' divine sonship expressed the total opposite of what he had thought of Jesus prior to his conversion" (108).

It is the title of Lord that Hurtado believes functions especially to indicate Jesus' divinity, although he does not explore this dimension yet in this section. It seems to me that there is little to object to in this section, in which I find Hurtado much clearer and more thorough than Bauckham. I suspect I will take some issue with where H goes with the material of this section in the rest of the chapter, but this section seems to have the usual scrupulous scholarship that I am coming to expect of H in this book.

First, Hurtado gives important background. Lord was used of a range of individuals in the pagan context, ranging from "Sir" to the master of a slave to a god like "Lord Serapis." But Greek-speaking Jews regularly used it as the Greek translation of the name of God: YHWH. Hurtado rightly fries Bousset, Kramer, etc. for suggesting the term arose in Hellenistic Jewish Christian settings. The traditional use of marana tha in 1 Corinthians 16 is enough to show that the phrase was used in the earliest Christian Jewish circles of Jerusalem.

I further agree with Bauckham that by far the most likely ground zero for the origins of this epithet in relation to Jesus is Psalm 110:1: "The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

However, unlike Bauckham, I believe that the dual use of kyrios in this verse gave the early Christians an exegetical warrant to interpret OT kyrios passages in whichever direction best suited them. I think a blind spot of B and probably H is the expectation of consistency and higher attention to OT context in the NT use of these terms than is warranted. H doesn't cross the line so far, merely arguing that "in some profound way he [Jesus] is directly and uniquely associated with God" (112). Absolutely!

Hurtado's study of the just over 200 occurrences of kyrios in Paul is, as usual, exemplary. Paul can use the term both in reference to YHWH and to Jesus. Yes, he does strikingly use it in reference to Jesus where it was clearly a reference to YHWH in the OT. Yes, Bauckham is right that in passages like Philippians 2:9-11, Paul would have surely known that the background OT text, Isaiah 45:23-25, is perhaps the most polemical monotheistic text in the OT. This is indeed striking and significant.

Hurtado groups the references to Jesus as Lord into three categories:

1. Passages where Jesus is the master or king (my language).

2. Eschatological passages--where he's coming back as Lord.

3. Passages that reflect the use of Jesus as Lord in a worship setting.

To me, this language--even the third--also fits very well in relation to Jesus' kingship as Christ and Son of God. I agree that the term Lord introduces far more exalted dynamics into the equation than the other two. Without doing what I think Bauckham does with his phrase, I would agree that it does "include Jesus within the unique identity of the one God."

More to come...

1 comment:

Jared said...

I have, too, found the Burton Mack / J.D. Crossan reconstruction of the early Christian movement to be perhaps the most unlikely and most strained. The idea that the movement Jesus joined (from John the Baptist) and all of his earliest followers were apocalyptic in orientation but that Jesus, alone, was not seems so difficult to maintain. I agree with him that starting with Paul makes the most sense, since, in the end, starting with the reconstructed "Q" is really just an inkblot test--you see in your reconstructed Jesus what you want to see. It amuses me that Crossan created a Jesus that seems like a cheeky college professor.

I have Hurtado's book on my shelf at the moment and have only read the introduction, but have spoken with him personally a few times about the book. In fact, I first met him right after the book was released. I enjoyed his shorter book, One God One Lord, and look forward to slowly making my way through this massive tome.