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Critical Questions for the Early High Christology Club

By Michael Kok
July 2015

Many scholars of Christian origins infer that the Christian understanding of Christ (i.e. Christology) evolved in the first century CE from a human who was exalted to heavenly glory to a divine being who became incarnate in human flesh. They debate how rapidly Jesus’ status grew over time among his devotees. For some scholars, a full-fledged Christ cult was established by the Hellenized communities in northern Syria and was spread throughout the Mediterranean by Saul of Tarsus.[1] Others contend that the divinization of Jesus is not attested until the Gospel of John or the epistles of Ignatius.[2] An evolutionary model for the development of Christology, however, has remained as a standard historical reconstruction.

This paradigm is not without its shortcomings. It presumes a unilinear trajectory culminating in the deification of Jesus and may be tied to essentialist assumptions about ethnic identity. Some scholars cannot fathom how a divine Christology could be conceived unless the constraint of Second Temple Jewish monotheism was removed in predominantly non-Jewish settings.[3] “Monotheism” is extrapolated as the item of discrimination to differentiate Jews and Christians.[4] Jonathan Z. Smith urges researchers to jettison monothetic procedures in favor of a polythetic system of classification in which there may be a large number of properties possessed in varying degrees within a group yet not every property is possessed by all its members. For example, Smith explores the range of Jewish attitudes towards circumcision such as identifying it as the quintessential marker of the covenant (Gen 17:9-14; Exod 12:43-49; Phil 3:5), regarding it as an ancestral custom (Josephus, Ant. 1.192, 214) shared with other ethnic minorities (Ant. 1.214; Philo, Spec. Laws 1.2), or discarding its literal application (1 Macc 1:15; Jub 15:33-34; Philo, Mig. 89-93).[5] The cultic invocation of Jesus as Lord derives from Aramaic-speaking Jewish circles (1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20; Did 10:6) and challenges scholarly notions about what they could entertain. For this reason, several reputable scholars are involved in an informal group known as the Early High Christology Club (EHCC).

Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham are prominent representatives of the EHCC. Hurtado’s thesis is that the positioning of Jesus alongside the god of Israel as the co-recipient of a constellation of “binitarian” devotional practices constituted a significant mutation of Second Temple monotheism. This unparalleled development was generated by visions of the risen Christ receiving heavenly worship and celebrated in prophetic oracles, inspired songs, and charismatic exegesis.[6] Whereas Hurtado allows for a partial precedent in the category of Jewish intermediary agents, with the exception that none of these figures became the object of a cult, Bauckham is adamant that a firm line separated Israel’s deity from all other reality. Even so, Bauckham proposes that the early Christ followers included Jesus within the divine identity, which is characterized by the deity’s rule over and creation of all things. Creative exegesis of Psalm 110 and Isaiah 40-55 led to this novel conclusion.[7] Space does not permit a full engagement with their ground-breaking monographs, but I hope to open up a dialogue.

First, is there a concern to date a “high Christology” as close as possible to the founding of the “Christian” movement? Bauckham stresses that “the earliest Christology was already in nuce the highest Christology” and that “the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them.”[8] This could leave the impression that the recognition of Jesus’ divinity was a virtually instantaneous response to charismatic experiences rather than the result of historical processes (a-->b-->c). Pushing the point further, a curious agreement is occasionally found between defenders and detractors of Christian dogma that the legitimacy of Christian confessions about Jesus in the canon and creeds depends on whether or not they approximate Jesus’ self-understanding.[9] The quest for origins may be an attempt to capture the essence of “Christianity” before the fall into discord over the plethora of views on Jesus’ dual natures championed by rival Christian factions in the Patristic period.[10] It may be unfair to paint Hurtado’s work with the same brush since he does “not believe that the religious validity of a Christian Christological conviction necessarily rests upon the time or manner of its appearance in history.”[11] Bauckham’s rhetorical point could be modified to speak about the earliest recoverable Christology. This permits the possibility that it was preceded by, or contemporary with, evaluations of Jesus as a sage, prophet, healer, or other messianic types that were superseded in the extant New Testament books.[12]

Second, having been formulated in reaction to the parallelomania of the “history of religions school” (religionsgeschichtliche Schule), does the exclusive focus on the Jewish matrix of the Christ followers serve to insulate them from influences from the Greco-Roman world?[13] After insisting upon a purely Jewish genealogy for Christology, some scholars seem to take the next step of asserting that it surpassed the Jewish parallels as well and belongs in a class of its own (sui generis). In James Crossley’s words, it is “Jewish… but not that Jewish.”[14] Granted, Bauckham concedes a few rare parallels of another figure sitting on the divine throne such as the “son of man” (1 En. 61:8; 62:2, 5; 69:27, 29) and, much later, the angel Metatron (b. Hag. 15a).[15] Hurtado contrasts the act of paying obeisance and prostrating before a human or cosmic superior (1 Chron 29:20; Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 40.3.3-8; 1 En. 48:5; 62:6-9; Josephus, Ant. 11.331-335; Life of Adam and Eve 12-16) to the cultic veneration of a deity. He adds that imaginative scenes in literary fictions do not compare to the embodied praxis of the Christ congregations (e.g., prayers, invocations, hymns, cultic meals, baptisms rites).[16] Yet Michael Peppard wonders why he does not factor the popular enthusiasm for the imperial cult in as an analogy for Christ devotion.[17] It is probable that the minority of Jews who accommodated the imperial cult were outnumbered by those who opposed its imposition (e.g., Josephus, War 2.169-174, 184-203; Philo, Legat. 198, 208), but, through a process of colonial mimicry, some Jews may have replaced the emperor with Jesus as the sovereign to whom divine honors were due.

Third, is there a risk of depicting ancient “Christianity” as monolithic, assuming that a divine Christology was the definitive feature of all Christ associations? For instance, Jesus is involved in the act of creation in select New Testament passages (John 1:1-3, 10; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:2). Jesus assumes the role of Lady Wisdom and the Logos, personified divine attributes or hypostases that Bauckham considers to be intrinsic to the divine identity,[18] though other texts may be more ambiguous than his tidy categories (e.g., Philo, Heir 206). Alternatively, Jesus’ pre-existence is neither articulated in the Synoptic Gospels nor in the sermons in Acts. Against this view, Simon Gathercole advances the “I have come” sayings (cf. Mark 1:24, 38; 2:17; 10:45; Matt 10:34/Luke 12:51; Matt 5:17; 8:29; 10:35; Luke 12:49; 19:10) as analogous to statements made by heavenly visitors to earth.[19] He rejects sayings that do not fit his criteria (i.e. “I have come” followed by a purpose expressed in an infinitive formula) even if they shed light on the idiom, such as the different opinions regarding the coming of Jesus and John (Matt 11:18-19/Luke 7:33-34). He also distinguishes the sayings that have a single event in mind from the ones that sum up a person’s whole purpose in life so he can exclude Josephus’s proclamation that he had come to bring good tidings to Vespasian as a parallel (War 3.400). The Synoptic sayings may not cover Jesus’ entire life but refer to events in his public ministry such as exorcising a possessed person (Mark 1:24), preaching the gospel in Galilean villages (1:38), or calling sinners to repentance (2:17; Luke 19:10). The idiom simply denotes a sense of a special commission.[20]

In the end, we must resist the tendency to treat the textual representations of Christian beliefs and praxis in the New Testament and other Christian literature as univocal. We must be rigorously historical in contextualizing which group was putting forward what claim about Jesus and what function did the claim serve in their symbolic universe and social formation. It is perfectly valid to inquire about the theological truthfulness of various canonical and creedal declarations about the person of Christ within confessional communities. The tools of the historian’s trade are not sufficient to engage such questions. They are only fit to investigate the individuals or groups who found a given Christology persuasive in a specific historical and social context.


[1] Wilhelm Bousset, Kyrios Christos: A History of the Belief in Christ from the Beginnings of Christianity to Irenaeus. (trans. John E. Steely; Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), 119-132; Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament: The Making of the Christian Myth (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996), 75-98.

[2] James Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (2nd ed., London: SCM, 1989), 239-245, 248-50; Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 1991), 23-40, 156-159; A. E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982), 158, 158n.29.

[3] Harvey, Constraints, 154-173; Casey, Gentile God, 11-20, 27-38. Casey defines an ethnic group as a social group that exhibits or is perceived to exhibit several shared traits (e.g., geographical origin, language, ancestry, customs) and identifies the eight key identity factors shared among Second Temple Jews as ethnicity, scripture, monotheism, circumcision, Sabbath observance, dietary laws, purity laws, and festivals. John’s Gospel, Casey avers, polemicizes against “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) as the Other and repudiates most of these identity markers in its references to “their law” (John 15:25; cf. 8:17; 10:34). Casey’s thesis is partly dependent on his debatable reconstruction of the Johannine community as filled with assimilating Jews who had been expelled from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42-43) after the formulation of the benediction against the heretics (minim) and an increasing number of non-Jews, leading the community to take on a “Gentile self-identification.”

[4] Jonathan Z. Smith, “Fences and Neighbours: Some Contours of Early Judaism,” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism: Volume Two (ed. William Scott Green; Chicago: Scholars, 1980), 2. Paula Fredriksen deems conceptions of “monotheism” that rule out the existence of lesser divinities and spirits ruled by a chief deity to be anachronistic for ancient Jews, Christians and Pagans. See her review of “Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, by Larry Hurtado” JECS 12 (2004): 537-41.

[5] Smith, “Fences,” 4-5, 10-15.

[6] Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 27-78, 134-153, 194-206.

[7] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 5-57, 152-181, 191-232.

[8] Bauckham, God of Israel, 19, 184, 235.

[9] Michael Bird, “Did Jesus Think He Was God?” in How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 69; Casey, Gentile God, 176. This critique applies to apologetic appropriations of the work of the EHCC rather than to its main scholarly proponents.

[10] On origins, see Michael Foucault, “Nietzsche, Geneology, History,” in Aescetics, Method and Epistemology (Volume 2) (ed. James Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al; London: Penguin, 2000), 374.

[11] Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 9.

[12] Mack (Myth, 43-74) speculates too much in moving from hypothetical sources possibly underlying the material in the Synoptic Gospels (e.g., the double tradition in Matthew/Luke, the Markan pronouncement stories, and the Markan/Johannine sea and feeding miracle chains) and the Gospel of Thomas to putative communities who only maintained the Christologies expressed in these sources. Even so, the Synoptics differ markedly from the Pauline corpus in the silence on Jesus’ pre-existence, the attention to his pre-crucifixion ministry, and the depiction of him as the apocalyptic Son of Man. The Synoptic sayings tradition and other Christian writings (e.g., James, the Didache) further suggests that not all Christ followers placed the exact same weight on Jesus’ vicarious death.

[13] On this point, see Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 44.

[14] James G. Crossley, Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century (Sheffield: Equinox, 2008), 186-189.

[15] Bauckham, God of Israel, 16, 169-172.

[16] Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 38-42.

[17] Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World: Divine Sonship in its Social and Political Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 24-26. Fredriksen (540-541) notes that, with the exception of the blood sacrifices, the imperial cult was alive and well after the Christianization of the Empire.

[18] Bauckham, God of Israel, 16-17, 158-159, 165-166.

[19] Simon Gathercole, The Pre-existent Son : Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark and Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 113-145.

[20] See the criticisms in Adela Collins and John J. Collins, King and as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 124-126.

Comments (19)

'high christology club'. brilliant. nice work young fella.
#1 - jim west - 07/30/2015 - 19:22

What a great start to an important conversation! Some thoughts, shotgun style:

I have to say I'm not comfortable with Bauckham's notion of "divine identity." I think it retrojects too much concern for ontology and modern notions of selfhood into a time period when individuals (or more appropriately for most ancient societies––"dividuals") were conceived of in primarily functional terms. Bauckham's "God/everything else" dichotomy has no real evidence in favor of it that doesn't have to be imported by the modern orthodox reader, as Peppard illustrates (quoting Gradel's work related to the divine in the Classical world; see also Pongratz-Leisten on deity in ancient Mesopotamia).

I think McGrath is headed in a better direction with the concept of divine agency, and again Pongratz-Leisten is instructive in pointing out that ancient Mesopotamians similarly appeared to identify independent objects and entities in some way with separate deities. She's not beholden to any Nicene notion of a trinity with Mesopotamia, though, and so she finds a much more efficient and methodologically sound resolution in scientifically evidenced concepts of communicable agency. We find this in the angel of YHWH in the Hebrew Bible as well ("for my name is in him," etc. [more on this in my upcoming SBL paper]), and acknowledging this dynamic between the deity and his agent I think obviates the need to try to concoct an answer that doesn't hurt the feel-bads of whatever brand of monotheism we're retrojecting into their ideology.

Here's where I think Hurtado betrays a bit of presentism by assuming Paul and others meant the exact same thing by "one God" that Christians do today. Instead of assuming "one God" means X and then trying to figure out how to massage the presence of other deities into that meaning, we should be acknowledging the presence of other deities and trying to figure out what they meant by "one God."

I think angelomorphic christology was too quickly dismissed by many scholars, and largely because they misunderstood it to mean the angel of YHWH evolved into Christ or is identical to Christ, when what it really suggests is that the function of the angel of YHWH provided handy conceptual templates for reconciling Christ's relationship to God with growing concerns for orthodoxy. Bird's awkward attempt to insist the angel of YHWH "embodies God's presence" and "both is YHWH and is not YHWH," but "did not shape expressions of belief in Christ" because the latter's "mode of divine presence was couched in far more concrete language" illustrates just how much exegetical effort must go into dodging the conclusion to which the evidence points.

Anyway, I'm interested in others' thoughts and think this could be a productive discussion. Thanks!
#2 - Daniel O. McClellan - 07/30/2015 - 20:59

Good stuff. I did have two questions though.

You mentioned the tendency to treat early Christian history as univocal. But what if (I'm not saying it is) the evidence was of univocal expression of Christ-devotion?

Second question, why is the historian not equipped to question the truthfulness of creedal claims? For instance, if a historian demonstrated that Jesus was made up (I'm not saying he was...he wasn't), wouldn't that disprove Christianity as a whole?
#3 - Geoff - 07/30/2015 - 21:16

Thanks Jim West for the compliment.

Thanks Daniel McClellan for these observations. I think that Bauckham might object that he is not importing anachronistic ontological language onto the NT when he insists that "divine identity" is characterized by the deity's actions (i.e. creating, ruling, saving), but perhaps you are right that the category of "identity" remains under the influence of individualistic modern understandings of the self? Hurtado might likewise object that he is not working with modern Christian definitions of "monotheism" that often excludes the existence of other divinities or apotheosized humans but is denying, rightly or wrongly, that there is much textual or archaeological evidence that (most? all?) Second Temple Jews regarded them as the rightful recipients of cultic devotion alongside the god of Israel. I agree that McGrath is on the right track in contextualizing NT Christologies in the light of Jewish conceptions of divine agency and Pongratz-Leisten research sounds interesting as well, though I have not yet read her so I cannot comment further. Finally, while I am not sure that Jesus is explicitly identified with the Angel of YHWH before Justin Martyr, I hear what you are saying that OT angelophanies might have provided early Christ followers with a conceptual template for how they related Jesus to the deity. Bauckham counters that the idea of a single vicegerent appears in only a handful of Second Temple Jewish texts (e.g., God of Israel, 15n.28) and argues that other angelic intermediaries (e.g., Yahoel) had more limited roles, so perhaps you would want to elaborate on this point further?

Thanks Geoff for your questions. I do not think that the range of devotional practices that we see in some texts (e.g., Paul's letters, Acts, Revelation) are characteristic of all the extant Christian literature in the first few centuries CE and we may not enough data to make a definitive judgment about the practices of "all" Christians on the ground, especially if we ask to what extent the texts are descriptive or prescriptive. Secondly, if in the very unlikely scenario most historians concluded that Jesus of Nazareth was probably not historical, this may create issues for creedal claims about the incarnation. I imagine that some Christians would totally reject this new position, others might acknowledge the arguments yet continue to believe in Jesus' historicity since the probabilistic methods of historical inquiry cannot absolutely disprove it, and others might re-interpret the meaning of the "incarnation" to reconcile with the new academic perspective. Inasmuch as "Christianity" is an abstraction from what living Christians choose to believe and practice, I suspect that Christians (and other religious groups) would continually adapt by bringing their traditions into dialogue with ever changing intellectual developments.
#4 - Michael J. Kok - 07/31/2015 - 02:57

How does Chris Tilling's contribution fair in your estimate please?
#5 - david booth - 07/31/2015 - 15:14

Thanks David Booth for your question. I have only read my friend Chris Tilling's contribution in Michael Bird's edited volume "How God Became Jesus" and hope to get to his monograph soon, though I checked out the RBL review ( and some of the blog interactions about it. My initial impression is that Tilling joins Hurtado and Bauckham in wanting to move beyond anachronistic ontological categories but, seeing the focus on worship or on certain activities (rule, creation) as too restrictive and not altogether unparalleled in Jewish intermediary figures, puts forward the whole pattern of Christ's relationship with his people as basically equivalent to YHWH's covenant relationship with Israel. For instance, he points out that 1 Cor 8-10 contrasts the worship of "idols/demons" with the believer's relationship with the risen Lord (e.g., do not test Christ, do not provoke the Lord [Jesus] to jealousy). I need to interact further with the exegesis in his monograph, as well as see how he deals with passages that might pose some interpretive difficulties (e.g., in the same epistle, does 1 Cor 15:28 imply that the Christ-relation is a temporary measure before Christ is subjected to God so that God may be "all in all"). Regardless, since he is exclusively examining Paul's Christology and not necessarily claiming that it characterizes all of the New Testament writings, some of the questions above may not apply to him.

By the way, readers might be interested in Larry Hurtado's fair and thorough blog response at I appreciate that he took up the offer for a conversation.
#6 - Michael J. Kok - 07/31/2015 - 19:12

Thanks for the response, Michael! I know Richard and Larry wouldn't be overly hasty to recognize the underlying methodological problems I find in their work, but I think there's the rub. Bauckham certainly points to God's functionality, but then insists that functionality evidences certain conclusions about ontology, and that's where I take issue. For instance, he refers to God's creator and ruler status and insists, "they are features which most readily distinguish God absolutely from all other reality." I don't find any indication anywhere that such a philosophical implication is in view until the mid-second century CE, when the debate about creation gave rise to the development of the notion of creation ex nihilo. The seeds are obviously present in much of the rhetoric of the New Testament, but the implications are fleshed out until much later.

Yes, Hurtado is obviously thinking of a somewhat different notion of monotheism, but the requirement to find a Jesus that is united with God's being still holds. The formula still requires a single sovereign divine being, and that's the interpretation of "one God" that I think is presentistic. What if that's not what Paul is talking about?

Here's a link to Beate's article on divine agency in Mesopotamia:

It's true that the angelic models from early Judaism had rather limited roles in the literature and the ideology, but I cannot understand the argument that this means there can have been no influence, or that a central or more prominent figure couldn't possibly adopt that relationship. This idea of communicable/extended agency is actually a cognitive universal. We are evolutionarily predisposed to it, and particularly with counterintuitive entities like deities. This is the subject of the doctoral dissertation I'm writing, but it will be aimed more directly at the Hebrew Bible. I think it has important implications with christology, though, and I hope to expound on that much more in the future.
#7 - Daniel O. McClellan - 07/31/2015 - 20:22

Thanks Daniel for the comment and the linked article; I look forward to hearing more about your dissertation as you work through it. I also find increasingly attractive the view that the NT writers worked with and developed categories of divine agency and, with the emergence of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, Christians were forced to decide whether Jesus as the Logos belonged on the side of eternal being rather that the creation side of becoming (cf. McGrath, Peppard). Further, as a member of a community that subscribes to the doctrine of the Trinity in addition to my role as a scholar, I would say that the study of the historical processes that led to this development have no bearing on its theological legitimacy.
#8 - Michael J. Kok - 07/31/2015 - 22:43

Thanks for the comment, Michael. I, too, think that has potential to be a fascinating conversation, and I hope to be able to participate in it in some capacity. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the discussion here and don't mean to come across as too curt or conceited; I'm just trying to be succinct and use up as little space as possible, and I guess that can make me sound short sometimes. It's something I'm working on.

Thanks again!
#9 - Daniel O. McClellan - 08/01/2015 - 02:55

One might also mention Litwa's book that discusses widely shared conceptions of deity in the Mediterranean.

And Charleswoth's book in which scholars are now admitting that e Son of Man figure in Enoch (not just Daniel) probably influenced the authors of the synoptic Gospels.
#10 - Edward T. Babinski - 08/01/2015 - 10:06

Nice piece. Two quick points. First, because of Paul's theme of the new creation, it is not hard to interpret those passages as not implying that Jesus was involved in the Genesis creation. Also, Christians still speak of the Father as creator all the way up past Nicea, and the main objection to logos theology c. 150-300, we know from several authors, was that it made two creators, and not one. Why such a position, as they were all reading the New Testament as straightforwardly asserting that Jesus also created? Second, I have argued that Bauckham'
s "christology of divine identity" just doesn't do the work he assigns it. It is crucially ambiguous, and he seems to alternate between two different claims.
#11 - Dale - 08/01/2015 - 11:34

I think all Christology is both high and low in the senses mentioned, these not being terms in real contradiction.
Suppose we think of two beings. First, consider a) one from heaven who has, under divine providence, a special connection with the created world (perhaps helped to create it) and therefore executes a mission of help and rescue in whose course he descends, is humbled for a time and and is found here below.
Then consider b) one found here below who, because of a special connection with heaven (maybe he is, or is destined for adoption as, God's son, maybe he is the microcosm of the whole pleroma) executes a mission of help and rescue under divine providence and therefore ascends. is exalted for ever and is found in heaven.
How different are these two? I would say very little different, maybe even necessarily identical if you probe the meanings, either in an ancient or a modern setting, of the characteristics ascribed. Both cannot be thought of in one world (divine; created) without reference to their connection with the other, the essential point in making sense (I acknowledge that some would deny that any sense can be made of any of these ideas) of their activity. So there may not be much to gain from debating whether either the Jesus-figure or the Christ-figure of the New Testament is an a) or a b). If he's one he's the other.
However, the emphasis of so much of the NT on obedience and subordination shows that the element of high Christology may well not imply the ontological equivalent of Christ and God that became the Catholic Faith. We might also note that Jesus often seems to open the way to God in prayer, very rarely seems to be the target of prayer himself.
It is said that Christians had to decide whether to assign the logos to the realm of being or of becoming. But surely there could be no sense in the idea of creative logos that did not involve both these worlds and the question would be how its nature in one related to its nature in the other. It is surely true that Plato's distinction and connection between God in being, on whom everything depends, and God in action, who can be resisted, was the operative form of binitarianism at the time the NT was taking shape and deserves considerable attention.
#12 - Martin Hughes - 08/01/2015 - 15:48

Thanks Daniel O McClellan, I thought you raised great points and didn't come across curt or conceited at all!

Thanks Edward Babinski for the two sources. I am more hesitant to see direct influence of the Similitudes of Enoch on the Synoptic Gospels as a whole instead of more specifically on Matthew (e.g., Matt 19:28; 25:31). I prefer to think that interpretations of Daniel's "son of man" figure were in the air and that the Similitudes and the Synoptic tradition were parallel developments of interpreting Daniel's corporate symbol in an individualizing messianic direction.

Thanks Dale, I did once read your sophisticated philosophical critique of Bauckham's category of "identity" and wonder if there have been any attempts to respond. I think you could possibly be right that 1 Cor 8:6 is referring to the new creation, but I am not sure that Paul's new creation theology can be imported into the Colossian's pre-existing hymn or John's opening chapter. I think these probably presuppose Jesus' pre-existence in the form of Wisdom and Logos and activity in creation, building on both the description of Lady Wisdom (probably a personified metaphor in Prov 8 but does seem to develop into something like a divine hypostatis in later Wisdom literature) and God creating with a word in Genesis 1. These passages are poetic, though, so I can see how different interpretive communities in the early Patristic period might read them differently (e.g., a highly stylized way of just asserting Jesus embodies divine wisdom and reason).
#13 - Michael J. Kok - 08/01/2015 - 19:25

Thanks Martin for these interesting observations. I think you are getting at the problematic nature of the theological labels "high" and "low"; whose perspective makes them "high" or "low" and so-called adoptionist Christologies where Jesus inherited the position of ruler of the cosmos and supreme benefactor of the world could be seen by their advocates as remarkably elevated claims(cf. Peppard, Ehrman). Perhaps scholarly labels are ideal types (adoptionist, possessionist, incarnationalist, docetist Christologies), yet on the ground the reality is messier. For instance, the epistle to the Hebrews seems to combine a strong emphasis on Jesus' incarnation "a little lower than the angels" and his exaltation "above the heavens." I will think more about your second point, though I do see the shift to ontological questions as due to a shift in philosophical categories in the second to fourth century CE.
#14 - Michael J. Kok - 08/01/2015 - 19:43

Readers might also be interested in the discussion at Michael Bird's blog (
#15 - Michael J. Kok - 08/03/2015 - 20:41

After listening to an interview with Dr. Hurtado, I have to correct my earlier characterization of his position. I was wrong to suggest he's using his notion of cultic worship to try to squeeze Jesus into a single divine being alongside God. He pretty clearly and correctly explains in the interview that such a concept was simply not a part of the early Christian worldview, but rather a conceptual borrowing from Greco-Roman philosophical categories from a later time. I was presumptive and unfair in my comments above, and that was wrong of me. I apologize.
#16 - Daniel O. McClellan - 08/11/2015 - 12:50

I think you may be apologising a bit too soon, Daniel O. I cannot see how Hurtado's well known position is compatible with the suggestion that a christology which was significantly higher than that of the earliest Christianity emerged only later.
#17 - Martin Hughes - 08/12/2015 - 20:11

Thanks Daniel O' McClellan and Martin Hughes for these additional clarifications. Daniel, were you referring to this podcast by any chance ( Perhaps Martin is correct that confusion might be generated by the classification of these different proposals under the rubric "early high Christology" and to the reception of these scholarly monographs that might take them as suggesting more about Christology than the author's intended. I would stand by my critique of treating a binitarian or dyadic devotional pattern as utterly unprecedented and unparalleled in the ancient context. I could grant that Christian praxis may be distinct in some areas, just as every social group may be both similar and dissimilar from the others in all sorts of ways, but I want to push back against denials that there are not at least partial precedents(unless it is totally unique and sui generis) and argue that any number of historical or social factors could have led to some distinctive Christian developments.
#18 - Michael J. Kok - 08/14/2015 - 07:48

Just to say once more that Jewish people took full part in the discussions of the Hellenistic world a and that Plato's Timaeus played a big part in those discussions. Timaeus contains a form of binitarianism, with God in his serene being both linked with and separated from the divine force striving and suffering frustration in this world of change and struggle. This idea must have mattered to the Christians.
#19 - Martin Hughes - 08/22/2015 - 15:01

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