Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado, Part 7: Response from Dr Hurtado

OVER THE LAST couple of years, I have been amazed at both the opportunities created through the digital age to interact with scholars - regardless of credentials (I have virtually none in the field) - and the openness of some Christian scholars to discuss.

I have previously had some interaction and interest with Dr. Hurtado over my work on the LXX's translation tendency to remove the article to Kyrios as a pre-Christian translation of the Hebrew divine name for God, Yahweh. (That work is currently on hold, but I do intend to continue it).

On this occasion, Dr. Hurtado responded to my previous post in this series on the disagreement with James Dunn - you can consult that post here.

In that post, we were exploring a section on Hurtado's review of monotheism as a factor contributing to Christian "binitarian worship" of Jesus and the Father. His interaction with James Dunn there was fascinating. For Dunn, that kind of worship was progressive: through the humble pre-Pauline beginnings to the full-blown binitarian worship of Jesus "alongside" the Father, to use Hurtado's term, an event that was perceived by the Jewish establishment to finally break their monotheistic requirements of worship to Yahweh alone. Hurtado wants to disagree: all of the first-century expressions of "successfully mutated" Christianity from its Jewish heritage (please see here for what is meant here by "successful", it was an important post in developing my view) were properly binitarian in their worship practices.

At this point, my Ricoeurian viewpoint kicked in. How can both be true? My viewpoint is that it is both useful and important to remember that hermeneutics does not begin after the close of the Christian canon. The New Testament authors were interpreting one another, along with their own theological and practical settings, and of course in line with their own revelation (a question for another day: is there really a fundamental difference between divine inspiration and divine interpretation?) That is the case of Luke with respect to Mark, and of Matthew with respect to both of them, plus their other aforementioned concerns. John, a representative of a late first-century Christian practice, may not have any literary dependence on the Synoptics, which is significant for discussions on its authorship (I'm back on board with the apostle), but ignorance of Pauline and earlier Christianity and worship practices is obviously absurd. I then attempted to present the two Dunnian views diagrammatically, in order to attempt to highlight the potential for deeper convergence of views despite the surface-level disagreement between our two scholars.

It is both possible that my subsequent explanations were insufficient, and that due to his time restraints Dr. Hurtado read it en diagonal. Although maybe not: I had said:

The break-through nuance of (1) is that whereas second temple Judaism knew some striking examples of divine agents, acting in the Name of Yahweh (or Name of LORD), this is the first time that an agent can mediate a hitherto divinely reserved right back to God. That, combined with exclusion from the Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities, and the image of Christ reigning and God's right hand, may have led later Christian communities to interpret the earlier nuance in a new, more "alongside" fashion...

Dr. Hurtado perceived my presentation of the Johannine worship as dualistic. He reminded me to be cautious with John's gospel: 

... [it] is a tricky text:  It both presents a highly exalted picture of Jesus and also emphatically makes him the unique Son/agent of the one God.  And even where the text asserts that Jesus is to be reverenced "just as the Father" (5:24-25), it makes it clear that this was the Father's fiat for this to be so.

Needless to say, I felt a little humbled and wondered if I had overstepped. But if I look back to my presentation, it really is not a defence of Dunn's development, and I don't think I ever intended Dunn to imply that, and certainly not that I was implying that. If that had been the case, then the undoubtedly oversimplified diagram of the Johannine picture would not have commenced with a single arrow that split to the Father and the Son, but simply two arrows.

Dr. Hurtado's other comments regarding Paul simply seemed on the one hand to confirm the "through" aspect I was highlighting of worship to Jesus, who would naturally mediate that back to the Father, although on the other hand provided me with fresh fodder for the "alongside" development/interpretation idea with Paul's consistent joint grace/peace greetings from God and Jesus.

Finally, a couple of comments on a 2013 paper Dr. Hurtado very kindly shared with me, which highlights the dangers of adopting "trajectory" development models of early Christianity. The scholars who have advocated this in the past and whose work Hurtado is critiquing, I haven't yet read so can't comment specifically. But this paper is much more than a critique, it is a proposal for a model that integrates both interaction and diversity of the early Christian movement. As I read this paper, I was reminded of my early concerns of Ricoeur that I shared with my friend, Barney Aspray. I was worried that the ideas he was sharing with me (absolutely new to me) could not integrate precisely these same two central characteristics of diversity and interaction that prompted Dr. Hurtado to also share with me his paper, that it was too linear.

But I think that is not at all characteristic of the Ricoeurian model - Ricoeur is defiantly opposed to a simplistic ontological understanding of the world, including biblical texts. There are no shortcuts to his voie longue, which questions our relationship to the matter at hand, asking lots of tricky why questions. Like why am I interested in Christian origins? Why am I writing a blog, and why are you reading it? I am still on the lookout for an explicit rejection of linearity with Heidegger's hermeneutical circle as I slowly plough through Ricoeur's Le Conflit des Interprétations, but perhaps the point is that a line must always be traced between you and your interpretation of events. It sounds kinda like philosophical mumbo jumbo, but interpretation would be said to reside within your sense of being. This prods us to humbly realise that we are probably unable to have a direct access to truth, one that bypasses this process. 

So my response is again to highlight that I am neither siding with Dunn or Hurtado in this matter - I am trying to ask how we might perceive the hermeneutical circle functioning between these perspectives highlighted of Paul and John, which indeed embraces the interaction and diversity between the two and the communities they represent. If John is more "alongside" in worship practice and Paul more "through", neither (as I already emphasised in the post in question) would need to be positionning Christ less centrally, and neither would need to be devoid of the other emphasis. Both interpret according to what precedes them, which, I wholeheartedly agree, is the extraordinary resurrection-ascension event of the Messiah to the right hand of God.

My thanks once again to Dr. Hurtado for such a stimulating conversation!


  1. Very interesting reading! Glad to see Ricoeur's hermeneutics being used in action for helping understanding!

  2. Thanks Barney! I was beginning to fade at the end of that post so clarity probably slipped a bit :)

    As I read Conflit, there are just so many quotes that speak directly to the Trinity, I sometimes have that absurd feeling he wrote it for that precise purpose! Thanks again so much for all your input.

    1. Well, you MUST write a post all about the many quotes that speak to the Trinity!

    2. Thank you as ever Barney for your contagious enthusiasm :)
      I hope indeed to get round to that some time. You and Ricoeur were mentioned a couple of times in my pleasant and ongoing exchange with your co-blogger Sam, which you might find interesting over here: http://everydaytheology.net/2016/08/god-in-three-persons/#comment-3378954914


Thanks very much for your feedback, really appreciate the interaction.