Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cracking the Code #3

Divinity and the Emperor
Was Jesus only considered divine when they voted about it 300 years later? This seems to be the most awkward claim of the whole book. He claims that Jesus wasn’t considered divine until the Council of Nicea voted him so in 325 at the request of the emperor. Then Constantine—a lifelong sun worshipper—ordered all older scriptural texts destroyed, which is why no complete set of Gospels predates the fourth century. Christians somehow failed to notice the sudden and drastic change in their doctrine. However, this flies in the face of New Testament scholarship that shows textual evidence for the fourfold gospel circulating in the 2nd Century! [1]
So let’s look at the evidence closer.
Many scholars believe that fragments of primitive hymns can be found throughout the NT. The content of these hymns includes those that are doctrinal, didactic, or liturgical in scope. Some examples of this first category can be found in Eph 5:14; 1 Tim 3:16 and 6:15–16; 2 Tim 2:11–13; Titus 3:4–7; Phil 2:6–11; and Rev 22:17. Our example is from Philippians 2:5-11.
Let the same mind be in you that was in the Messiah Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What makes this hymn or poem so striking is that it is written by a 1st century Jewish thinker. Paul was trained as a Pharisee and never abandoned his basic Jewish worldview. He merely adopted it and adapted it to respond to the reality of Jesus and everything that entailed. As a Jew, Paul held that:

the exclusive monotheism of the Jewish religious tradition, as distinct from some other kinds of monotheism, was [that] worship was the real test of monotheistic faith in religious practice… In Jewish religious practice it was worship which signalled the distinction between God and every creature, however exalted. God must be worshiped; no creature may be worshiped.[2]

But if Jesus was being worshiped, as he is in this letter, then we must conclude that Jesus was viewed as divine. The conclusion is logically inescapable. One more example to satisfy our curiosity.
In what is surely one of the most striking Christological formulations ever written in any century, Paul takes an argument which is about monotheism, and takes the Jewish formula which is the most basic expression of Jewish monotheism, and places Jesus at the heart of it.
Instead of Hear, 0 Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deuteronomy 6:4)
we have But for us: One God the father, from whom are all things and we to him and one Lord > Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things and through whom are we. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
As N. T. Wright goes on to explain:
Paul, in other words, has glossed "God" with "the Father," and "Lord" with "Jesus Christ," adding in each case an explanatory phrase: "God" is the Father, "from whom are all things and we to him," and the "Lord" is Jesus the Messiah, "through whom are all things and we through him." There can be no mistake: Paul has placed Jesus within an explicit statement, drawn from the Old Testament's best known monotheistic text, of the doctrine that Israel's God is the one and only God, the creator of the world. The Shema was already, at this stage of Judaism, in widespread use as the Jewish daily prayer. Paul has redefined it Christologically, producing what we can only call a sort of Christological monotheism.[3]
Thus, the evidence from sources dating to the mid 50’s C.E. are convinced that Jesus is divine and part of the reality we know as GOD. Christological Monotheism seems to be the view advocated by the New Testament writers, at least by Paul if not by the others. [On this point see R. Bauckham's seminal thoughts in GOD CRUCIFIED: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1998) See also Dr. Larry Hurtado's essay What do we mean by 1st Century Jewish Monotheism?].
We also gain a little information about early Christian worship from the famous letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan, written shortly after the close of the apostolic era (ca. a.d. 107–15). In asking the emperor how he should deal with the Christians, Pliny, governor of Bithynia and Pontus, briefly summarized their gatherings on the basis of information he had been able to glean through interrogation of witnesses. The pertinent portion of his letter states that:
On a fixed day, [the Christians were] accustomed to meet before dawn, and to recite a hymn, singing to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath [sacramentum]. . . . After the conclusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food; but it was ordinary and harmless food; and they had ceased this practice after my edict in which, in accordance with your orders, I had forbidden secret societies.[4]

The Roman writer clearly view the early Christians as giving honours to Christ that were readily due to a god. In fact, if time and space were available, one could point to many of the early Christians being persecuted for their belief that Jesus was in fact the supreme ruler and not the emperor. N. T. Wright's article Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire would be a good place to look for those interested.

Now, it appears Brown is completely ignorant of all the sources. The evidence for the divinity of Jesus in the letters of Paul is undeniable, unless of course one has not read or studied the evidence. Any first or second year bible student would be able to point this out. Why has Brown missed something so fundamental? Has Brown actually provided us with a researched proposal for understanding the origins of the Christian faith? Is that beyond the genre and point of the novel? How serious does Mr. Brown want us to take him? Or is this just an example of postmodern literary theory at it's darkest spectrum where a reader can use sources to suggest/create any kind of meaning that one can?
[1] Skeat, T. C. “The Oldest Manuscript of the Four Gospels” NTS 43 (1997): 1-34
[2] Bauckham, R. “The Worship of Jesus in Apocalyptic Christianity,” NTS 27 (1980-81): 322-323
[3] Wright, N. T. “One God, One Lord, One People: Incarnational Christology for a Church in a Pagan Environment’ in Ex Audito Vol. 7
[4] Epistle of Pliny the Younger. 10:96.7

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