Thursday, October 27, 2011

Did Jesus Think He Was Divine? A Revolutionary New Study

The Library of New Testament Studies just released an important new title by Sigurd Grindheim, God's Equal: What Can We Know About Jesus' Self-Understanding? (London: T & T Clark, 2011).

The Continuum website describes this book with this tag line: "An examination of Jesus' claims in the Gospels to be God's equal with reference to the historical Jesus."

Of course, orthodox Christianity recognizes Jesus as one of the three divine persons of the Trinity. Many scholars, however, have been skeptical about whether or not the "historical" Jesus understood himself as divine. Indeed, in a much neglected (yet important!) essay, John A.T. Robinson described the question of Jesus' divine self-consciousness as "the last tabu". ( Twelve More New Testament Essays [London: SCM, 1984], 155-70).

Suffice it to say, the scholarly community looks with extreme skepticism on any claim that Jesus taught that he was in fact divine. Even academics who do profess a belief in the Trinity are typically hesitant about attributing to Jesus any kind of divine "Christology".

Enter Grindheim.

This book is extraordinarily bold. It makes the case that--contrary what many scholars have thought--the evidence in fact does suggest that Jesus saw himself as "God's equal". Instead of appealing to John's Gospel--which many exclude from historical discussions about Jesus--he goes right to the Synoptic Gospels. In short, Grindheim, using the very tools of historical-criticism many have used to discredit the idea of Jesus' divinity, makes the opposite case.

(Of course, it should be noted that this book also has important implications for John. If the historical Jesus did in fact see himself as divine, claims that John's portrait of the divinity of Jesus are implausible should also be re-examined. But that's another monograph, I suspect.)

That the book appears in the Continuum catalogue as part of the Library of New Testament Studies is, frankly, shocking. This is an extremely prestigious monograph series. It is however edited by Mark Goodacre, a scholar who is not afraid to question scholarly orthodoxy. While there is no indication that Goodacre agrees with Grindheim, I'm thrilled to see LNTS release a book that is as bold as this one. That is scholarship: a willingness to consider all the arguments. Let's have that kind of conversation!

I think the release of this book in such a respectable series is huge. It reveals an openness in scholarship to listen to unpopular ideas. I also think it could be a water-shed moment. This is the first tightly argued, historical-critical case for Jesus' divine self-consciousness in a hundred years.

I haven't finished it yet, but so far, I have found Grindheim's argument, on the whole, impressive. I'm eager to hear what others have to say.


Nick Norelli said...

I'm hoping to be able to review this volume. I put in a request a week or two ago so now I'm just waiting on the verdict. Your comments here only make me want to read it all the more!

Brandon Vogt said...

Which of course is altogether poignant when juxtaposed about this recent statement from Richard Dawkins:

"Jesus would have been an atheist."

Anonymous said...

I am not interested in the supernaturalism of Christianity, but am very interested in the study of the early history of the group. I am always happy to have others that are also interested in this topic contact me. My interest specifically is up till perhaps a generation or two after Irenaeus. But I would say I am interested in anything from the Maccabean revolt up till about 384CE when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.

Cheers! RichGriese.NET

bbmoe said...

I just sat through another RCIA class on the New Testament which included the idea that there is another Gospel that was earlier than the canonical gospels that served as the source to the latter. Yes, on all points: even the hypothesis itself was presented inaccurately. In that sense it was a mercy. No reference to the Catechism. How long will it be before news of Jesus' self-understanding reaches the trenches?