Thursday, May 10, 2012

Christology between Jesus and Paul

Larry Hurtado has a new blog post out noting just how quickly there was a well-developed Christology, after the death and resurrection of Christ. He relies on Martin Hengel's work, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity:
* Paul's letters (which date from ca. 50-60 CE), including notably Romans (addressed to a "pre-Pauline" Christian community), already reflect a developed christology, and do not indicate any real development across the years in which they were composed, the maximum period for the christological development reflected in the letters can be no more than ca. 18 years, "a short space of time for such an intellectual process" (39). Or, to cite another memorable statement: "In essentials more happened in christology within these few years than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history" (39-40).

* This christological development took place above all in Jewish-Christian communities in Jerusalem, Caesarea, Damascus, Antioch and other places in Syria and Roman Palestine, involving both Greek-speaking and Aramaic-speaking believers.

* It is dubious, thus, to employ the multi-layered schemes of the old History-of-Religions scholars or the modified versions put out in the 60s and 70s, involving "Primitive Palestinian", "Hellenistic-Jewish", and "Hellenistic-Gentile" stages of development, all of these sometimes posited as preceding Paul's "conversion".

* Speaking of Paul's "conversion", which likely must be placed within at most a couple of years subsequent to Jesus' execution, we have to consider that an "enormously rapid christological development" took place within this even shorter period. Paul's characterization of the cognitive content of his religious re-orientation is that it was a "revelation of God's Son". But, since he then promptly associated himself with other Jewish Christians (including Peter/Cephas, per Gal. 1), the most reasonable inference is that the christological view he adopted was pretty much what he had been opposing [as a Pharisee]. And that means that some pretty powerful developments must be dated within the very first few years!

* Given this tight chronology, it is also dubious to ascribe much to any supposed influence of pagan religious ideas and practices on these early christological developments. It requires a strong necessity to ignore chronology, and some implausible assumptions about psychology too, to posit, for example, that early Jewish Christians were somehow unconsciously disposed to treat Jesus as bearing divine-like honour through the subtle influence of pagan ruler-cults.
I am taken with this: "In essentials more happened in christology within these few years than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history". Roman Catholics talk "development" over centuries. What their "development" primarily does is to obscure what was "once for all given to the saints", primarily in the quest for who was greatest [and, not coincidentally, proclaiming themselves the greatest]. To be a Roman Catholic apologist is to miss the pearl of great price.

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