Recent progress in scholarship on the origins of NT Christology

In the first chapter of my Jesus Monotheism Volume 1 I describe the most important features of the emerging consensus view that very early in the history of the Christian movement the risen and exalted Jesus was accorded a divine identity. I could not possibly have started Jesus Monotheism with this chapter if I had written a similar book fifteen or more years ago. The field has changed dramatically in the last two decades.

When I wrote my doctoral dissertation (completed in 1996 + published a year later as Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology and Soteriology*) the study of Christology was dominated by approaches, positions and characters that are less important now. The most influential book back then was James Dunn’s Christology in the Making (1st edition: 1980). But when I set about the detailed research for the writing of Jesus Monotheism (in 2012) it quickly became clear to me that the work of Larry Hurtado (especially his landmark Lord Jesus Christ) and Richard Bauckham (with his shorter but equally influential Jesus and the God of Israel (and a number of others who have worked under their sphere of influence) has now changed the field dramatically.

I do not say much about the history of Christology scholarship in Jesus Monotheism and here are a view obvious ways in which the emerging consensus scholars have changed the field:

Then Now
A divine Christology resulted from external forces and factors, especially the early church’s exposure to Greco-Roman religion. A divine Christology appears from within a still young Jewish movement (based in Jerusalem and Palestine).
NT texts place Jesus Christ somewhere on a ladder of being: not quite fully “God,” but “transcendent,” “god-like,” “divine”—and subordinate to the one God. → Debates about how high a text’s Christology might be. A clear distinction between God and the world, with plenty of evidence that Jesus Christ was viewed as divine in the full sense. → Debates how exactly Jesus is identified with the one God of Israel.
A lengthy process of development from a low to a high view of Jesus Christ. Not much evidence of development. Strong signs of a sudden appearance of a widely held view of Jesus Christ as a divine figure.
Focus on texts, ideas and beliefs. Focus on texts, ideas and how practices (especially worship of Jesus) are evidence of Christian belief.
Texts (esp. the Gospels) analyzed to discover layers of Christological development. Less confidence that we can reconstruct layers of tradition beneath the texts. Increased focus instead on patterns, themes, the cumulative evidence of discrete bodies of texts (e.g. the Gospels and Paul).

In all these ways the academic debate has, to my mind, progressed in the right direction and I am grateful for all the work that others have done that has made my task a little easier.

* Although I stand by some of the arguments in that book (that is narrowly focused on texts in Luke-Acts), it does not represent my current thinking on most of the big questions of NT Christology.

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