Friday, December 16, 2016

Making Jesus Into God: Four Reviews (Part 5)

For the previous parts in this series, see the following:  Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

AP: In this post we turn our attention to James D. G. Dunn's ¿Dieron culto a Jesús los primeros cristianos? Los testimonios del Nuevo Testamento (Estella: Verbo Divino, 2011). This is, of course, a translation. The title in English is Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox , 2010).

Regarding the question posed by the author in the title of his book, the author addresses a remarkable number of related themes––the Jesus of history and the role that the God of Israel played in the religion of this character. For example, was Jesus a monotheist? The question is not absurd, says Dunn, because the religion of Israel, the frame of mind of Jesus and his followers, was left without clarifying the question of the existence of other gods, although in no case did they consider the idea of ​​worshiping another being who was not the God of Israel. Dunn also analyzes: (1) the titles that were applied to Jesus, especially that of "Lord" in apparent competition with the same title applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament; (2) how the early Christians considered Jesus' relationship with the principal divine mediators––Spirit, Word, Wisdom; (3) Jesus as the last heavenly Adam; (4) the New Testament texts that strictly call Jesus God, especially the prologue to the Gospel of John and Revelation.

Dunn arrives, as does Larry W. Hurtado, at the conclusion that the monotheism of Israel was much broader than our concept of it and, also like Hurtado, he maintains that the Judaism of during Jesus' day had been preparing the religious atmosphere so that no one would rip their garments if a human person was considered a kind of divine or semi-divine entity once they died. But the radical question, in Dunn's view, is difficult to answer: "invoking the name of Jesus", calling Jesus "Lord" as Yahweh or to consider him the Wisdom of God, his incarnate Word, or the life-giving Spirit, does all of this support a divinization of Jesus and, as a result, a true cult of latria? Apparently, yes, since the Fourth Gospel defends the preexistence of the divine Word that is incarnated in Jesus ("And the Word was made flesh," John 1:14). Revelation is even clearer. In him it is clearly seen that Jesus, the Lamb, is exactly equal to God and comparable to the divine in everything. But at the same time, in the New Testament as a whole, "God" is ascribed directly to Jesus not more than six times (John 1:1; 1:14; 20:28; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). There is a certain modesty in clearly saying that Jesus is God.

In spite of such clear cases of the divinization of the Messiah, early Christian worship was only to the God of Israel, but with the conviction that Jesus was completely and intimately united to the God that even he worshiped. The early Christians did not worship Jesus directly, but the only God through Jesus. However, as we have seen, they at once considered that Jesus was God, in some way. Dunn maintains that Jesus was understood as the incarnation of the closeness of the transcendent God; that this was in a real sense God himself approaching humanity, that Jesus participated in the Wisdom and the divine design, and that invoking it was the means and the way by which they should come to give true worship to the transcendent God.

What is important, according to Dunn, is the conviction of the early Christians that, with more or less a clear manifestation of the divinity in Jesus, and with phrases such as the Pauline phrase in Phil. 2:11 ("that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow . . ."), the maximal expression of Israel's monotheism in Isa. 45:23 in its Greek version, did not break the monotheistic creed that forbade worship to anyone but God. Therefore, in spite of venerating the exalted Nazarene to the divine realm by God himself, it was affirmed that the divinity was unique and that the Father was always greater and more important than the Son. That is why, except in the case of Revelation, and with some objections in the Gospel of John, the question is whether the first Christians gave true worship to Jesus and if they considered him God, with a capital G, the answer must be no: The exalted Jesus was not the recipient of the worship as if he were totally God or fully identified with him. His veneration was understood as worship given to God in him and through him, "the worship of Jesus in God" and "of God in Jesus."

Dunn's book concludes stating that, in the face of Jews and Muslims, Christianity offered a formula–– the divinization of Jesus––as a way of crossing the abyss between the transcendent divinity and humanity. Therefore, contrary to the opinion of Jews and Islamists, Christianity is not a trithean religion but a monotheistic one, since it maintains that the unique recipient of the worship is the one and only God.

Deep down, Dunn perplexes the reader with this continuous "yes but no" swing back and forth. The believer must "ruminate" what exactly the expressions just transcribed or summarized mean. Anyway, and as a historian, I agree with Dunn in his statements regarding Christian worship given exclusively to God through Jesus and through his intermediation. I also think that the idea that the early Christians conceived the heavenly Christ––and, by imaginative rear projection to his earthly life, also the earthly Jesus––as the representation of God closest to men, and the closest human being possible. I also agree that the consideration of the exalted Jesus as Logos, Wisdom, and Spirit will be the basis of the process of full divinization of him in later times. No doubt such speculations were only possible because of the conscious assimilation by Hellenistic Judaism for centuries and, consequently, by the later Judeo-Christians, of popularized and popularized Platonism and Stoicism.

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