PART 2 NT Christological Monotheism
Bauckham now uses this view of Judaism as a ‘hermeneutical key’ for interpreting NT statements about Jesus’ relationship to God.
He finds in all the NT texts the intention to ‘include Jesus in the unique divine identity as Jewish monotheism understood it’ (p.19). This is evident in their inclusion of Jesus in the divine creation and in the divine rule over all things.
What follows is a summary of Bauckham’s exegetical evidence for this massive claim.
Jesus and divine sovereignty
Jesus is said to have ascended to the throne of God in the highest heaven. Jesus is frequently said to have been placed ‘over all things’ – a standard phrase in Jewish monotheism. He is exalted high above all God’s angels: the image that in Judaism distinguishes God as sovereign. Jesus inherits the divine name, ‘the name above every name’ (Phil 2:9). As a result he is worshipped by all creation (Rev. 5; Phil 2:9-11).
Christ and the divine act of creation
The act of creation was God’s alone. When NT writers include Christ in this work, their purpose is to make clearer Christ’s inclusion in the divine identity. Paul includes Jesus in the Shema, and also treats him as the Word or Wisdom of God, present with God in his original work of creating.
In these ways Jesus is described using all the key Jewish terms for denoting God’s unique identity.
In summary, Bauckham finds ‘the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the NT writings were written, since it occurs in all of them’ (p.19). Pin that sentence to your bedroom wall, friends, that’s a big, bold statement.
Bauckham ends Part 2 by sharpening up the concept which has allowed him to cut through so much scholarly encrustation: that of identity. This category has got Bauckham a whole lot of mileage. He contrasts it here with the typical scholarly dichotomy between divine function and divine ontology as categories for reading the NT texts: was Jesus said to be divine ‘ontically’ or only ‘functionally’? But, says Bauckham, these categories are foreign to 2nd temple Judaism, which is preoccupied with who God is. The NT’s failure to ascribe divine nature to Jesus is not significant, other than demonstrating that Jews didn’t think in terms of nature or essence at that time. The alternative to nature which is employed in the NT is not function, however, but identity.
Tomorrow: What Jesus reveals about God