Saturday, 12 April 2008

More on Jesusanity

I did add a comment on the Jesusanity post below, but decided the issues raised in the other comments were worth a fuller treatment.

The observation about the lack of uniformity in the NT is well made – Acts and Hebrews don’t have exactly the same pattern as Paul or Peter in their use of the name Jesus. There’s no reason why we should expect uniformity by different writers or in different genres and our own practice might well reflect this. I’m not endeavouring to be prescriptive here, just wondering out loud if I should modify a little my practice of 40 years on this one and work through the implications of what I still observe as a marked reticence within the NT to use the name Jesus of the ascended Lord and of our present relationship with him, unless in close combination with some way of reinforcing a perception of his exaltation.

The NT practice might not be quite so diverse as at first appears. Take the book of Acts for example. There are 73 references to Jesus in Acts (besides 75 occurrences of Lord alone — some of which have God as their referent). In 38 of the occurrences of Jesus, the name occurs without either Lord or Christ in the same verse (isn’t Accordance wonderful?). However, on closer inspection, this does not support an even-handed analysis. Some are historic references to his pre-glorified presence on earth, and thus follow the practice of the gospels. Others are in reported speech of pagans or unbelieving Jews, who of course would not be expected to attribute Lordship or Messiahship to him. Others are in constructions where Messiahship is predicated of Jesus in the verse (5:42), so we would not expect to find “Christ” used in apposition as well. Others identify him as the Saviour (13:23) or Son of God (9:20). In 7:55 Jesus is depicted as standing at the right hand of God and sharing his glory, which would make any further title redundant.

Of the remaining nine or ten instances, some have a discernible literary reason for not using a title with Jesus. Take 28:23 which describes Paul testifying to Jews about Jesus from the law and prophets. A title here would have been tautologous – it was the Messiahship of Jesus that was the point of the testimony.

As to Jesus’ self-reference in Acts 9:5, Saul has already addressed him as Lord, so we would not expect Jesus to repeat it. The point is to identify who the Lord is (the converse of the situation we are more likely to face when we may need to identify who the Jesus is we are calling upon people to trust). Unless we doubt that Jesus’ use of the “Son of Man” title in the gospels was self-referential, as do some scholars, this use suggests there is no incompatibility between the friendship he espouses and the use of honorific titles.
The question is (as John and Dave hint with their references to contextualisation in the comments on the earlier post), what is the question behind the question? In one way it matters little what label I use to refer to Jesus, except insofar as this label reinforces in me and in my hearers/readers a particular understanding of who he is. Might my language lead to an over-emphasis on Jesus as he was in his earthly ministry, to the neglect of his present position as Lord of the universe — and it is with the risen and ascended Lord that I have a personal relationship (not having been born in the first century)? The converse question should also be asked, for we could slip back into a de-personalised and de-historicised understanding of a Christ figure. I want to hold to the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith and I want to make clear that he is the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6).

2 comments:

Dave said...

Thanks John for the more detailed info on the titles of Jesus in the NT. I think it helped clarify my issues that I was trying to identify, and so I still have some questions that I hoped you might be able to answer.

You have said that ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ’ (among others) are titles used “when addressing him (Jesus) or referring to him in his exaltation.” At the same time, he is referred to as Lord through out the Gospels during his earthly ministry. He is also referred to as being, ‘the Christ’, by Peter. He was seen, therefore as the Christ that was to come…who had come. I noted that Paul referred to Jesus many times in Colossians as the ‘Christ’. Do you see Paul’s references in Colossians as being different to, say Peter’s acknowledgement that Jesus was the Christ? It seems some refer to his earthly ministry and some to his risen and exalted state? Are all references to ‘Christ’ and ‘Lord’ reference to Jesus’ exalted state?

Following on from that question (perhaps this is my question behind the question)… Are you wanting to make a distinction between the Jesus who walked on earth, and the risen Jesus who has since been exalted? Is not the risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ the same Jesus of Nazareth who has now been exalted? Let me explain…

Paul says in Col 1:19, in what I believe is a reference to Jesus’ earthly ministry, that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” At the same time, Paul says in Philippians 2:6 (again I believe in reference to Jesus’ earthly ministry), “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus, in his earthly ministry was the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’, as much as after his ascension, although he had humbled himself in one, and was raised back up in another. This did not change the fact that the fullness of God dwelt in him. I think John has a similar view when I read John 1. It was the eternal Logos who washed the feet of the disciples – and who hung on a cross – who took on flesh and walked among us.

But I still have a question about your comment, “I’m just asking whether we have indeed lost something the NT values by wandering too far on the familiarity side.” Is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ built around the fact that the God of the Universe wants to be familiar with us? As a result, Jesus – the risen and exalted Lord, has also come to dwell within us through his Spirit? C.f. John 14:16-17, Matthew 28:20b, Ephesians 3:17, Colossians 1:27 and James 1:21.
Is it enough to say that we need to recognize the two ‘sides’ to Jesus (ask both the questions you mentioned), or do we need to recognize that it is the same Jesus? Jesus is the Creator – the eternal Logos – who died for us because he wanted a personal and intimate relationship with us (Romans 8:15-17). As you noted, we did not have to live in the First Century to have a personal relationship with the ‘historical’ Jesus – and I might add that those who lived in the First Century did not have to see the risen Lord to have met the eternal Logos.

Sorry about the length of the comment – I understand if you do not wish to post it on the blog!

John Davies said...

Dave,
Good points and good questions. It’s not a matter of my wanting to make distinctions, rather of seeking to observe patterns in the NT in the use of Christ, Lord and Jesus, and then to think about what I do about this. While Jesus in his humiliation and the post-ascension Christ are one and the same Lord (I did say that!), there is at least a noticeable tendency to use different modes of address and reference in these two phases of his work. I think that the implications of the ascension need further theological and pastoral reflection in our circles, and if this discussion at least triggers that, it will not have been in vain.

Yes, there are references to Lord and Christ in contexts relating to Jesus’ earthly ministry. Lord is used in Matthew and Mark not so much as a narrative identifier of Jesus, as in addressing him. Luke and John have some narrative references to “the Lord”. Instructively perhaps, the only occurrence of “Lord Jesus” in the gospels is in the longer ending of Mark (accepting UBS4’s preferred reading of 16:19, with reference to the ascension).

Did Peter at Matt 16:16 have the same understanding of “Christ” as did Paul after the resurrection? No two people ever have precisely the same full denotational and connotational range for any word. While we will have the same referent, what passes through my mind when I say or hear “mother” will not be the same even as for my brother. Both Peter (accepting the authenticity of his affirmation!) and Paul will have been informed by the Old Testament Scriptures (Paul, with his formal training, no doubt more so than Peter). But Peter, lacking the benefit of hindsight, does not yet understand a key OT aspect of Messiahship, as evident by his reaction to Jesus’ announcement of his death later in the same chapter.

The word Lord likewise undergoes a development of its range in early Christian circles. On the lips of those such as the leper of Matt 8:2 or Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8, and perhaps the disciples for much of their experience of Jesus, it may be little more than a courtesy title for a revered teacher (John 13:13) or social superior, somewhat like the “lords” of the parables. Later, it takes on a more political and subversive flavour, Jesus (not Caesar) is Lord (Phil 3:20-21 – see N.T. Wright’s article , while the full force of the application of Lord as a substitute for the name Yahweh lies behind other passages such as Acts 2:21 (Richard Bauckham is good on this and I’m looking forward to his new book due any month now). The Messiahship of Jesus for Israel, and consequently his Lordship for the whole world, was an emerging consciousness on the part of the disciples, but the events that most profoundly shaped their new awareness of what it meant to call Jesus Lord were the resurrection and ascension.