Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Resurrection and Christology/Early Jewish Monotheism

The Resurrection and Christology/Early Jewish Monotheism

The Tanakh: acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings). The Tanakh is referred to the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the New Testament writers also call the Old Testament “Scripture.” The reason the New Testament writers cite the Tanakh so often is that they understood it to be God’s authoritative Word to mankind.

James Charlesworth asserts that we must differentiate between Christology and messianology.
Christology is the study of the Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah) while messianology is the ideas that arose out of early Judaism about a variety of so-called messianic figures, including prophets, priests and kings.

When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. No other world religion lays claim to its founder being bodily resurrected from the dead. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15: 7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” Jesus could not have made full atonement for our sins without the resurrection. Also, through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John 2:2; Romans 8:34).His resurrection also guaranteed us the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like His (1 Cor. 15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet 1:3; Phil 3:20-21; John 5:25-29). If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he fails the test for a true prophet (Deut 18:20). The resurrection also marked Jesus as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).

It has been said over and over that there many messianic figures in the first century.The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah ,”which appears thirty-nine times in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. Within the Tanakh, the term “Messiah” was used in a general sense in relationship to kings, priests, and prophets. The messianic expectation at the time of Jesus was by no means monolithic. However, just as in the first century, one of the contentions in the Jewish community is that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he died. Within the first century, messianic movements tried to carry on after the death of their would-be Messiah. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “ If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

As N.T. Wright says, If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth. (1)

But could a dying Messiah provoke a major shift in the devotional practice of first-century Jews? One of the most interesting and crucial debates in Christian scholarship is how Jesus’ divine status came to be in light of a strict adherence to Jewish monotheism. And how did the origin of Jesus’ divine status happen within the framework of Jewish monotheism and how could it have happened so suddenly? One feature that stands out about Jewish monotheism in the first century is that there was a refusal to accept and worship any other deities of a Roman religious environment. It was forbidden for Jews to commit what was called “apotheosis,” which can be defined as the refusal to accept human figures as divine. It was clear that Jews made a distinction between the God of Israel and any of the exalted figures who could be seen as prominent in God’s entourage such as Moses or Enoch. How important was the devotional practice in Jewish monotheism? As Richard Bauckham says, “In exclusive monotheism of the Jewish religious tradition, as distinct from some other kind of monotheism, it was worship which was the real test of monotheistic faith in religious practice.” (2) So do we see devotional actions that are to be taken to be as “worship” in the specific sense of reverence that devout monotheists would reserve for God alone? Jews in the first century were certainly familiar with the passage in Numbers 23:19 that says, ‘”God is not a man.” There are even Rabbinic commentaries that state that this passage was given “because Balaam foresaw that a certain man would lead mortals astray by claiming to be God.”

In his book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Monotheism, New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado asks the following questions: Do we have a devotional pattern is open, corporate, and public? So what kind of devotional changes do we see in the early messianic community? Critics are correct to note that acts of veneration toward a specific individual do not always imply deity or deification. What needs to be asked is whether a specific figure can be identified as the recipient of honors that are reserved for God alone. If the first followers of Jesus expressed such honors in the context of religious activity or spiritual devotion to this figure, such honors can and do indicate that such honors regard him as God.

Within Jewish monotheism in the first century, there was a refusal to accept and worship any deities of a Roman religious environment. It was absolutely forbidden for Jews to commit what was called “apotheosis,” which can be defined as the refusal to accept human figures as divine. In light of this issue, how is it that a community of monotheistic Jewish people ended up giving Jesus the same honors and spiritual devotion that we reserved for the God of Israel alone? And furthermore, this transformation can be observed in a very short time after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hurtado notes that the devotional practice of the early followers of Jesus demonstrate the same devotion and honors that were revered for the God of Israel were given to Jesus Christ. What are some of these devotional practices? First, there are hymns to Jesus (John 1:1-18; Col 1:15-20; Phil 2:5-11; Rev 4:8,11; 5:9-10;15:14; and other passages that are hymnlike in form and function: Rev 5:13-14 (a doxology); 7:15-17;11:15. Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end.

Examples in the former are seen in Rom 1:7; 1 Cor:1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3-4; Phil.1:2 and Philem. 3, where there is the liturgical-sounding formula “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the [or “our”] Lord Jesus Christ (Jesus the Messiah).” 1 Corinthians is dated between 50 A.D. and 55 A.D. which makes it one of the earliest books in the New Testament about the historical life of Jesus. One passage that stands out is 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.” Maranatha means “Our Lord Come!” Because this liturgical expression was present at the worship gathering for Jesus to come eschatologically, it is evident that this was a plea that was a widely known feature of early Christian worship that started among Aramaic-speaking believers and had also become a part of the prayers among Pauline Christians. Hurtado says, “What is even more significant is that there is nothing in comparison to a corporate invocation to Jesus to any other group related to a Jewish tradition at that time period."

This indicates that for the early messianic community, the willingness to include Jesus into public devotional life is to place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation. Third, by observing that the first Christians were calling upon the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor 1:2; Rom 10:13), it can be noted that this is the same pattern that is used in the Tanakh where it refers to “calling upon the Lord”(Gen 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ;26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32). The heavy reliance upon the Tanakh should be no surprise since the first followers of Jesus were exclusively Jews. The book of Acts gives a reference to the early followers of Jesus as “the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

Fourth, the Lord’s Supper is another significant part of the early worship practice of the first followers of Jesus.1 Corinthians 11:22-36 is proof that some sort of some sacred meal tradition goes back earlier than Paul’s commitment to becoming a follower of Jesus. Fifth, we see that there was a pattern of confessing Jesus in passages such as Matt 10:32; John 9:22;1 John 1: 4:2-3; 15. “Confessing Jesus” was applied to owning up before others who did not share it (Matt 10:32), and to affirming ones faith before the gathering of believers (Rom 10:9). In Romans 10:9-13, Paul makes “Confessing Jesus as Lord” the verbal mark of being a follower of the Messiah. In the New Testament Christians are called to fear or revere Jesus (Eph 5:21;1 Peter 3:14-16), serve him (Dan 7:14), and love him (John 14:15, 21; Eph. 6:24) just as we do with God. Therefore, what has the best explanatory power for the early devotional practice of first messianic community? Could it have happened without a resurrection?

1. John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press. 2006, 71. 3.
2.Larry W. Hurtado. One Lord, One God: Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Montheism. Philadeplphia, PA. Fortress Press. 1988. 38.

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