First Oxford Lecture on the Development of Christology

by Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis

Our first lecture for posting overlapped quite considerably with the kind of issues that have been discussed in detail over the last few months on this list. I have, therefore, edited out a good deal.

Now in the last twenty or so years there has been a widespread rejection of the older model of Christological development according to which early Christology attained is fullest form as a result of the accommodation to Hellenistic anthropology, once Christianity became a Gentile-contaminated movement. It is now widely–though perhaps not universally–accepted that all the key theological steps in the development of a divine Christology were made within a Jewish milieu. (See esp. work of C. Rowland, L. Hurtado, J.D.G. Dunn, Barry Blackburn etc.) It is now universally recognised that the appropriate context for an understanding of how Jesus came to be viewed as more than human is a broad mediatorial speculation, that is, the contemporary Jewish belief in figures who mediate between the human and divine whilst possessing characteristics of both.Ê This includes the following figures: the Son of Man; the Logos; the angel of the LORD; Wisdom; and various human beings who were believed to possess a more than human, transcendent identity such as Noah, Enoch, Adam, Moses, Israel, Melchizedek, Wisdom, and the Logos. For surveys of these figures see, e.g. Hurtado 1988, Fletcher-Louis, LUKE-ACTS, 1997 (Part II).

The aim of this weekÕs discussion is to provide some familiarity with the relevant texts and the issues involved in their interpretation.

Two of the figures in our list of mediators have received considerable attention, perhaps too much attention, over the years. These are Wisdom and Logos. The importance given to both of these antedates the recent transition from a Hellenistic to Jewish milieu for the rise in Christology. This is because both these categories, whilst available within pre-Christian Judaism had already, it is thought, accommodated Hellenistic patterns of expression. They therefore offer a pre-Christian bridge from the Jewish Jesus the eschatological prophet through to the divine man of Hellenistic Christianity. Yet on closer examination both the Wisdom and Logos figures point to the fundamental importance of another category: the angelic.

1. Most discussion of the LOGOS has, understandably focused on Philo. I donÕt want to get embroiled in the highly sophisticated world of Philo, except to say that there is a steadily increasing body of opinion that, in actual fact his ideas are very Jewish in origin if not in expression. His use of LOGOS/LOGOI language is best understood as an adaptation to a Hellenistic idiom of the peculiarly Jewish language of angels.

Long before Philo, Greek speaking Jews had used Logos language as an alternative to Angel of LORD. As Jarl Fossum has pointed out, a key passage in this respect in Ezekiel the TragedianÕs Exagoge 96-99. In this passage MosesÕ encounter with the burning bush is retold and where the biblical account (Exodus 3) has the Angel of the LORD in the bush, Ezekiel has a divine Logos. Logos language, then, is Angel of the Lord language, (cf. also Wisdom of Solomon 18:15f, reworking 1Chron 21:16.

2. Similarly, though Wisdom has had her own independent history within Israelite culture, she has already been identified with the Angel of the LORD long before early Christianity. This is clear from Sirach 24:4 where Wisdom takes up the position of the Angel of the LORD in the cloud of Exodus 14:19 and Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2, 18:15-16 where Wisdom, Logos and Angel of the Lord are equated.

Wisdom and Logos, then, both point to the importance of angelic categories as the common denominator in Jewish mediatorial speculation.

3. Besides Wisdom and Logos the other mediatorial figure of enormous significance for early Christology is the Son of Man. We will come to this character in next weekÕs lecture. But as a primer in the kind of Jewish material upon which we need to work, 4 Ezra 13Õs vision of a Son of Man figure offers a good example of the kind of issues in interpretation which face us. 4Ezra 13Õs vision and interpretation offers a clear reuse of Daniel 7:13 (& Daniel 2) to paint a picture of a man figure who is overtly transcendent. Understanding this text, one has to consider the following:

  • The genre: does the apocalyptic and visionary genre mean we have to treat matters merely symbolically (cf. N.T. Wright, NTPG 1992, 317)? Or might the flying man offer a literary reflex of a concrete religious experience (a shamanic one) and future expectation?
  • Within the context of the rest of 4Ezra and the interpretation of the vision, the man figure is apparently messianic. Is there here a contamination of pure, earthly messianism with transcendent heavenly ways of thinking?
  • If 4 Ezra 13 is a c. 100 A.D. text, does this chapter represent a post-Christian development in mediatorial speculation, or should we regard ch. 13 as a recrudescense of an older SM mythology (viz., Similitudes etc.)?

To begin to answer these questions we need to examine other texts which gives a clear idea of the shape of Jewish anthropology and theology throughout the second Temple period. I have chosen the following texts to illustrate just how much Jews gave to anthropology a strongly theological dimension:

1. The PRAYER OF JOSEPH. (see OTP 2:699-714) is a remarkably clear statement of the Jewish belief in human angelomorphism. Although extant in a late second century A.D. commentary by Origen it is full of traditions which go back to the first century and beyond, as J.Z. Smith has ably demonstrated in his 1968 article in the Goodenough Festschrift. Here Jacob is equated with the preexistent angel Israel who holds the preeminent position within the angelic hierarchy. This kind of anthropology is normal for many late Second Temple Jews.

Also noteworthy is the degree to which cultic imagery is used. We have the language of tabernacling among men (cf. John 1), Jacob being the Òfirst minister before the face of GodÓ and his use of the Òinextinguishable NameÓ, which, otherwise can only be spoken by the High Priest.

2. To illustrate the antiquity of this way of thinking ARISTEAS 99 (OTP 2:19) offers a good Second Temple example for the belief that the High Priest is an otherworldly being–in this case angelomorphism is symbolised by clothing appropriate for a heavenly being.

3. LIFE OF ADAM AND EVE 12-16. (OTP 2:262)
In VAE 4 Adam and Eve ate angelic food before their ejection from Eden; they were angelomorphic. Yet in VAE 12-16 there are given the most exalted position over the angels: they are the recipients of the angelÕs worship in heaven. This test then takes us beyond human angelomorphism in general to a humanity put on a par with the One Jewish God. Because Adam is worshipped and the worship takes place in heaven this text should be related to the important Two Powers in Heaven debate, which has been discussed by A.F. Segal in 1977.

This brief sample illustrates the importance of the examination of texts which are much wider in scope than purely ÒmessianicÓ language which has so preoccupied New Testament scholarship this century. VAE 12-16 possibly has a cultic Sitz im Leben of some sort as Corrine L. Patton has argued: (ÒAdam as the Image of God: An Exploration of the Fall of Satan in the Life of Adam and EveÓ SBLSP (ed. E.H. Lovering, Atlanta: Scholars) 1994, 294-300). Here again, the focus on a specifically David messianism as the background to early Christology must be challenged.

Various considerations point to the primary importance of the cult as the context of mediatorial speculation and EXPERIENCE. 1. The High Priest is THE available mediatorial model in the Second Temple period; kingship has a much more shaky history after the 6th century BC. 2. Reading the OT from a first century perspective, we find that the high priesthood (Exodus 28) has a much greater claim to antiquity than kingship.

One important point emerged from the post-lecture discussion. Both Chris Rowland and I agreed that, PACE most scholarship of this century, early Christological Doctrine was not the sphere of great creativity that it has been taken to be: most of the ways of thinking about and relating to Jesus in the NT are a reappropriation of Jewish belief and practice.

This is important because we both judge the real area of creativity and source of intra-Jewish conflict on the ground to have been (in simplified terms) ETHICS NOT DOCTRINE. It was Jesus table fellowship, the scandal of the cross and PaulÕs gentile mission that really put up Jewish backs–not giving Jesus a unique position in the heavenly world.

Hope that provides some food for thought/debate/heated argument or whatever.

I guess I should add something about copyright:

Reproduction with author’s permission only.

Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis

(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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