Jun 12, 2014 2:37 AM GMT
This will be my final set of comments on the evaluation of How Jesus Became God by Larry Hurtado, on his blog. His review consisted of a set of positive comments, of things that he appreciated (for which I’m grateful); several misreadings of my positions, in which Larry indicates that my book was asserting a view that, in fact, it was not (he corrected those after our back and forth in a subsequent post); one assertion that I was motivated by an anti-Christian agenda and wanted to convince readers that Jesus’ followers had hallucinations (I dealt with that assertion yesterday; I do not think that it is a generous reading of my discussion – especially since I explicitly stated on repeated occasions that I was *not* arguing for a non-Christian or anti-Christian view); and, well, this one point that I’ll discuss here, on which we have a genuine disagreement. The point has to do with whether the apostle Paul understood Christ, in his pre-existent state, to have been an angelic being. Larry devotes two paragraphs to the issue; the second one I find more problematic than the first, although I disagree with the first as well (but not as strongly):
As a final criticism, Ehrman posits that the key to Paul’s Christology is that he thought of Jesus as an (or the) angel (of God/the Lord). That, says Ehrman, explains how Paul could ascribe “pre-existence” to Jesus, and how, as a devout Jew, he could countenance worshipping Jesus. As the key basis for this notion, Ehrman invokes a peculiar reading of Galatians 4:14, where Paul says that in his initial visit the Galatians received him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” Ehrman insists that this is to be read as a flat appositive construction, in which “an angel of God” = “Christ Jesus.” But this isn’t actually as compelling a claim as he thinks. Even Gieschen (on whose work Ehrman relies here) presents this reading of the construction as only a distinct “possibility.” And most scholars (myself included) don’t think it really works. The grammar certainly doesn’t require it, and it seems more reasonable to take it as a kind of stair-step statement, “angel of God” and “Christ Jesus” as ascending categories.
I did indeed find Gieschen’s argument that Paul understood Jesus as an angel prior to becoming human extremely provocative and convincing. His arguments are supported and advanced in a very interesting discussion of Susan R. Garrett in her book. No Ordinary Angel.
When Gieschen uses the term angel, he defines it as “a spirit or heavenly being who mediates between the human and divine realms” (p. 27). He shows that a large number of early Christians understood Jesus to be that kind of being; and he argues that the reluctance of NT scholars to see this kind of angel-Christology in our early sources is because they have been influenced by the views that later triumphed in the fourth century that insisted that Christ is much more than an angel. That is, they are reading later views into earlier texts.
It is indeed true that later Christians did take that stand. But not all of them. Justin Martyr, for example, is quite explicit that the “Angel of the Lord” who appears repeatedly in the Old Testament, who is both an angel of God and God himself, is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus. No one disputes that. But did Paul see Jesus that way? Gieschen argues that this is the most sensible interpretation of Gal. 4:14, a passage I discuss at length in my book, where Paul remembers how he was first welcomed by the Galatians on their first encounter, when they received him “but as an angel you received me, as Jesus Christ.” This is usually taken the way Larry indicates in his critique, as a matter of ascending categories, meaning something like, “not just as you would have received an angel, but even more, as you would have received Jesus Christ himself!” I am very familiar with this way of reading the verse, since it was the way I myself read the verse for thirty years!
But Gieschen convinced me that I was wrong about that. As Larry rightly notes, it has to do with the grammar. Paul uses this same grammatical phrase two other times in his surviving writings (1 Cor. 3:1; 2 Cor. 2:17), where he makes a comparison by saying that something is “but as” this “as” that. In both other cases, the sentence is *clearly* not giving “ascending categories,” so that the second item after the second “as” is greater than the first; it is, instead, the SAME THING as the first item. Thus 1 Cor. 3:1, where Paul says that He originally addressed the Corinthians not as spiritual people “but as people in the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Here there is not ascent in rank or distinction in the second of the two items; the relationship of the first and second items is identity (in Greek grammar this is called an epexegetical relationship). They are the same thing.
If that’s how Paul uses this kind of grammatical construction in the other two occurrences of it, why should we think that he uses it *differently* in Gal. 4:14? I completely disagree with Larry when he says that it is “more reasonable” that we are dealing with some kind of stair-step statement here. Why is the interpretation that runs *counter* to Paul’s usage elsewhere the more reasonable one? It is only because Larry is bringing his own views and assumptions into the text. He doesn’t think Paul could call Jesus an angel, and so he must *not* be calling him an angel! But I think he does.
Remember, by “angel” Gieschen means “a spirit or heavenly being who mediates between the human and divine realms” (p. 27). Before he was a human, that’s what Jesus was, for Paul. Probably the head angel. The chief angel. The Angel of the Lord. But then he became human. And then, as I argue, he was exalted to a level far above the angels, to a position of equality with God himself (Phil. 2:6-11).
This exaltation of Christ after his incarnation is what makes Larry’s next point irrelevant to the discussion, in my opinion. Larry says this:
Moreover, Ehrman fails to consider other evidence that Paul distinguished between Jesus and angels, as for example in Romans 8:38-39, where Paul lyrically asserts that “nothing in all creation,” including angels, can separate believers from God’s love in “Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or note 1 Cor. 6:3, where Paul asserts that, on the basis of their redemption in Christ, believers will judge angels (in the eschatological consummation). In short, Paul’s Christology seems to place Jesus in a category of his own, superior and distinct from angels.
Yes, that’s true, Paul does understand Christ to be superior to the angels. But that’s the case only for the *exalted* Christ, after his incarnation. According to Philippians 2, Christ came to be exalted above all other things – including angels – only after the resurrection. And so Larry is *right* that Paul differentiates between Christ and the angels. But that’s only because in Paul’s day Christ had already been exalted. Before the incarnation, Christ was an angelic being, at least in Paul’s view. By Paul’s day, Christ was above the angels, as one who deserved worship reserved previously only for God.