Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Origin of Christology

C.F.D. Moule.  The Origin of Christology.  Cambridge University Press, 1977, 1978.

Christology has recently been a prominent issue within the biblioblogosphere, due to Bart Ehrman’s new book and the responses to it.  I’ve been wanting to read Moule’s The Origin of Christology for some time, since Derek Leman’s Daily D’var mentioned it a while back, and the book looked interesting to me.  Moule’s book was not quite what I expected.

Ordinarily, Christology debates revolve around whether the New Testament maintains that Jesus was God.  Some say that all of it does.  Some say that different books in the New Testament have different ideas.  Christology debates also look at such issues as whether Jesus in the New Testament pre-existed his earthly life.

On some level, Moule participates in this debate.  He argues against the idea that a high Christology (one that regards Jesus as divine) was an importation of Greco-Roman religious ideas, which occurred due to Paul (or even occurred later than Paul) and had nothing to do with the historical Jesus.  Moule argues instead that, in some sense, what Paul thought about Jesus goes back to the historical Jesus.

Unlike many discussions of Christology, Moule does not focus much on such issues as Jesus’ pre-existence.  Rather, Moule’s focus is on the communal Christ.  In Paul’s writings, believers are said to be in Christ, or part of Christ’s body, and so, in a sense, Christ is a communal being (though Moule does not deny that Jesus was also a historical individual).  Moule compares Paul’s Christ to “the omnipresent deity ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’—-to quote the tag from Acts 17:28 which is generally traced to Epimenides” (page 95).  Moule contends that Paul and early Christians concluded from their experience after Jesus’ resurrection that Jesus was more than a man, that Jesus was a being who encompassed them, and in whom they were participating.  That would lead to the idea that Jesus was pre-existent, and maybe even God.

While Moule in one place appears to trace the early Christian belief in the communal Christ to early Christians themselves, Moule also seems to maintain that, on some level, it was consistent with the message and ministry of the historical Jesus.  Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man, and Moule believes that Jesus’ understanding of this term coincided with how the Book of Daniel used it: to refer to Jewish martyrs, which is communal, rather than a specific individual.  Jesus, therefore, exemplified Jewish martyrdom, which occurred to other Jews as well.  Jesus’ status of Son of God was closely associated with his baptism, which has a communal dimension.  I do not think that Moule draws a clear line from Jesus’ own self-conception in the synoptic Gospels to Paul’s conception of Jesus as a communal being.  Moule does well, however, to highlight that Jesus may have had some communal conception of his life and mission, and that Paul had this view as well, even if Paul expressed it differently.

Moule also argues that Paul’s presentation of Jesus as Lord may have come from Judaism rather than Greco-Roman ideas, for the Aramaic term mar (which Moule claims means lord, or something similar) can sometimes go beyond being a mere polite address.

Near the end of the book, Moule has a discussion with another scholar about the relevance of the communal Christ to the relationship between Christianity and other religions.  I vaguely understood this debate.  Moule may have been arguing that Christ encompasses all people, and thus Moule favors an inclusivist view of Christianity or Christ, whereas the other scholar was noting that Paul himself excludes people from Christ’s body—-the Jews who did not believe in Christ, for example.  This made me wonder how exactly Moule was defining the communal Christ: as the body of believers in Christ (the church), as the people of Israel (for they appear to be relevant to Jesus’ self-understanding, in Moule’s scenario), as the entire world (Jesus, after all, is the second Adam, for Paul), or all of the above?

I apologize for any misunderstandings of this book.

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