Monday, 10 July 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, Part 16: Triune Hub Gleanings?

HURTADO'S POWERFUL STRUCTURE functions well not only in chapter 1 but also as a way in which to organise the historical data that aligns with his thesis of consistent Jesus worship in early Christianity for the rest of his book, Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to have enough flexibility to allow for the diversity of various strands of "successful" Christianity while ensuring that the model is sufficiently broad by insisting that the various factors he identifies are all covered as we move between location and time.

As a reminder: I am not just doing a critical series for the sake of doing a series. I have a thesis of my own. It is not yet as sophisticated or robust as Hurtado's, but it is definitely out of the starting blocks. It is my conviction that study of key works like LJC will help me form the case I want to make for a first-century form of Jewish-Christian trinitarianism that does not require the Triune God idea of post-381 Christianity (when a Roman-sponsored Church Council ruled in favour of the notion of "consubstantiality" of the Persons: Father, Son and Spirit) but rather provides a better platform for speculation about its historical occurrence via hermeneutics theory. So before we continue with the book Lord Jesus C, how might I follow Hurtado's fourfold structure, and where should I depart from it?

1. Monotheism

This constraining force prevented Jesus from supplanting the Father or a simple apotheisis of Christ as an additional God. All of what has already been said is 100% relevant for the Triune Hub hypothesis. But is the Holy Spirit ever at risk of apotheisis? You might think not, but check out this "unsuccessful" Gnostic movement in the early second century:

"Whoever blasphemes against the Father, it will be forgiven him.
And whoever blasphemes against the Son, it will be forgiven him.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit,
it will not be forgiven him, neither on earth nor in heaven." (Gospel of Thomas 44:1-3)

(Gnostic trinitarianism provides an interesting early case of the problem of a triune Hub, but one in which "some are more equal than others", to borrow from George Orwell's famous line in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this case, it is the Holy Spirit, even though it is considered possible to blaspheme (and somehow get away with it) against the Father and the Son. In other cases, especially in the fourth-century, the theological equilibrium is under threat by subordinationist proponents, who may simply be trying to follow through with authoritative texts with seemingly obvious interpretations like "the Father is greater than I", John 14:28. If the Son is lesser in glory and greatness than the Father, then it is also therefore legitimate to place a still lesser place of glory and greatness to the Spirit.)

2. Jesus

Well, this is going to sound heretical, but I think my case is going to be clearest by emphasising and focusing on the John-Jesus distinctions that the gospel writers are at pains themselves to emphasise. So if I were to adopt such a subheading it would likely either need to be "Jesus and John" or "John and Jesus" or possibly isolating John into his own subheading. This contrast does not only propel Jesus more to the centre but the Spirit also, who is the fundamental differentiator between Jesus and John when it comes to baptism.

The points that Hurtado makes of the impact of Jesus' ministry as forcefully polarising his followers and opponents should be maintained, albeit adapted for my purposes, which are to see Jesus moving rapidly toward sharing the centre of the Jewish faith with God, via resurrection, enthronement etc.

3. Religious Experiences

As I already pointed out in my two posts here and here, there is ample space in this section to validate a trinitarian framework for these experiences.

4. Religious Environment

Since the clearest ideas of trinitarianism that emerge in a late first-century Jewish context follow on organically from the extraordinary events and changes that allowed Christianity's initial emergence from within Judaism in the 30s, I feel inclined to move a section such as this to the beginning. In addition to some of the comments and observations already made on the religious environment here, a summary of Tom Wright's presentation of the resurrection, Larry Hurtado's presentation of Jesus-worship and John Dominic Crossan's presentation of the collaborative kingdom may be appropriate as painting the backdrop of mutations out of which the trinitarian mutation follows, in which the Messiah is ushered into the divine centre and the Spirit is heralded out of the Father into God's now-multiethnic people in this new eschatological timeframe.

In light of my comments above, the early Gnostic threats identifiable already in the contexts into which 1 John, in particular, is written, might require repeating as a shaping force. 1 John combats this famously by insisting on the physicality of Jesus rather than an equal balance between Father, Son & Spirit, and I don't find its pneumatology particularly clear, to be honest (regardless of 1 Jn 3:24, e.g. see 1 Jn 4:2). This case of 1 John raises an interesting point about first-century trinitarianism I need to think more about.


I'm still not certain I would maintain the four factors per se, although it is tempting to adapt them for my purposes. My issue is when to lay them out. It certainly couldn't be in Part 1 of my manuscript, which will focus on my initial investigation and its inadequacies (as a reflection of some of the inadequacies of the various explanations for the Trinity currently on offer).

Since my book does not attempt a historically parcelled defence of the factors in the way we will see Hurtado to proceed, it may instead serve as a conclusion section to my presentation chapter for the Triune Hub model, which could provide a launchpad for further historical research into the early centuries of the church à la Hurtado, while preceding my other important offering, which is to develop the hermeneutical circle principle to look as a more satisfactory explanation for the Triune Hub-to-Triune God transition.

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