For those interested, there is a 47 min interview with Matthew Bates over at OnScript about my Jesus Monotheism Volume 1.
The interview may be useful for anyone wanting an audio summary of the argument of the four volumes and of volume 1 (5:15 – 17:31 minutes into the recording).
I was also struck by the way a good deal of the discussion that Matthew led focused on an excursus at the end of volume 1. When writing the first volume I had not anticipated that that part would garner so much interest. Others, besides Matthew, have indicated to me that to their mind it is an important part of my unfolding argument.
In that excursus I offer a new explanation of the fact that in the Jewish and biblical texts there is both a clear and strong distinction between God the Creator and his creatures, on the one hand, and that there is also plenty of evidence that Jews were happen to use “divine” or “god” language for angels and for exalted or divinely chosen human beings. Until now scholars have played these two phenomena off against each other. Richard Bauckham, for example, insists that the absolute distinction between the Creator and creation and his understanding of that distinction means he plays down or denies the presence of “divine” or “god” language for created beings. Others, for example James McGrath, have used the presence of such “divine” and “god” language for created beings to challenge the view that first century Jews held to the kind of distinction between Creator and creatures on which Bauckham insists. In Excursus B I offer a theological model that can explain both the clear and strong distinction between the Creator and the creation and also the presence of “divine” or “god” language for creatures. In short, because God is God he is sovereign and therefore he is able, in his sovereign freedom, to share his own life and identity with whomever, or whatever, he chooses. A kind of “deification” or “theosis” was possible for first century Jews precisely because God is God and because he is utterly distinct from all that he creates he is also, paradoxically, not bound by, or constrained within, his own otherness. He is able to enter time and space, take on materiality, manifest himself in a creature (in being and action), and take up creaturely existence into his own eternal divine identity.
In the interview Matthew Bates indicated that he was intrigued by this proposal, though not that he is yet convinced by it. (He had only read that part of the book the night before). I am also keen to know what others think of it. But I do think that it gets to the heart of some underlying problems in the recent history of the study of the earliest beliefs about Jesus. My sense is that many (or most?) New Testament scholars have worked with questionable and unexamined assumptions about what it means to be God and what it might or might not mean for first century Jews to have said “Jesus is God/divine” in a first century Jewish context.
For example, I agree with Larry Hurtado that all talk of Christ’s divinity is an essentially theocentric matter; it has to do with who God is and God’s relationship to Christ, as Hurtado has recently reminded his readers in his two most recent blog posts (for July 19th and 20th, 2016). However, I part company with Hurtado when he appears to deny to the human Jesus of Nazareth his own divine identity and self-consciousness. I have the impression that Hurtado’s denial of that possibility is largely the result of his conviction that Jewish theology could not have allowed such a possibility. No Jewish man could have thought of himself in the terms that everyone agrees John describes and that many of us also think the Synoptics describe. And if I read him rightly, Hurtado seems to think that it really does not make sense, within the conceptual framework of Jewish monotheism, to say that the man Jesus of Nazareth is divine (and therefore worthy of worship). As I have explained at length in volume 1 of Jesus Monotheism, for Hurtado (and for many other modern NT scholars) it is only the exalted and glorifed Jesus, the Christ, who is divine and worthy of worship. This all makes clear and tidy conceptual sense if the Jewish God has the kind of identity that Bauckham has described. Hurtado operates, it seems to me, with a similar understanding of God to Bauckham.
On the other hand, if first century Jews took for granted the kind of understanding of the divine identity that I have sketched in Jesus Monotheism Excursus B, then it might well make sense that the historical Jesus thought of himself as “divine” and that, within the conceptual framework of Jewish monotheism, there would be reasons for concluded that he was right about that self-understanding. Our theological categories and philosophical assumptions bear directly on the historical task of assessing what Jesus of Nazareth could or did say and think.