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Tuesday, July 04, 2006 

A Third Christological Option?

Since I have been caught up in my "Future Resurrection of the Body" posts I have been unable to read very many blogs this past month . But there is one issue I have been following and that is the various Christological discussions going on at Derek's Eucatastrophe (especially these two posts: here and here) and Jonathan's According to Jonathan (see this post). I would encourage you to read these posts from Derek and Jonathan as well as Q's comments on their posts. Though I am entering late into the discussion, here are some of my own brief thoughts on the subject.

When discussing the process of Christological reflection generally only two options are presented for how one must understand this process. To those who have studied Christology these two options should be familiar: the evolutionary model and the developmental model (both terms are taken from C.F.D. Moule's The Origin of Christology, particularly pp 1-3). An evolutionary concept concerning the genesis of Christology betokens images of the change of one species into that of an entirely different and new species such that the Christological process can be understood in successive stages. In contrast, a developmental view of Christological genesis means "something more like the growth, from immaturity to maturity, of a single specimen from within itself." (Moule, p 2). The point is that both perceive of the development of Christology as progressional or successive in some sense.

But is there a third option to choose from, one that does not necessarily include any kind of progression in Christological reflection? John P. Meier seems to think so. After a lengthy discussion concerning the passage in Mark 6:45-52 and its OT background in epiphany miracles, Meier says:

"the application of these motifs to Jesus in the brief miracle of the walking on water is nothing less than astounding. It must be especially astounding for anyone accustomed to charting the development of NT christology via a neat progression from a pre-Synoptic "low christology" of Jesus the prophet and teacher, endowed with special power from God, to John's "high christology of the eternal Word made flesh. Such tidy evolutionary schemas should always be suspect, and in reality they simply do not mirror the complexity of NT christology." (John P. Meier, Mentor, Message, and Miracles (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 2), p. 919)

Meier here condemns conceptions of Christology that are evolutionary (whether in an evolutionary or developmental sense). But then what is the alternative that Meier proposes? In short, Meier offers the conception of Christology as a theological grab bag set off by the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Meier explains:

"once the early Christians believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, a theological explosion was set off that assured both creativity and disorder for the rest of the 1st century A.D. When it comes to understanding NT christology, it is best to recite this mantra: in the beginning was the grab bag. The next couple of centuries would be taken up sorting out the grab bag. Many early Christians were quite content to make both 'low' and 'high' affirmations about Jesus, with no great concern about consistency, systematization, or synthesis." (Ibid)

In other words, in the very beginnings of Christology there were both "high" and "low" Christologies from which one could choose (thus Meier's "grab bag" terminology). If this was indeed the case then to speak of Christology as evolutionary or developmental would be erroneous. Or would it? I would like to know what you guys (particularly Derek, Jonathan, and Q) think about this third option? Is it a valid third option? If not, why? And are there other Christological options (in terms of its "genesis") that have yet to be considered?

Hi Chris,

I haven't read Meier's book, though it looks like I will have to (It would be nice for once, not to realise after the fact that someone has already been there before you). I was hoping by my rosebud analogy to tie into that kind of thinking, which is why I changed the language away from "species" and to a single flower etc. In fact, my next post was going to be on the walking on water episode!

Where I would want to differ from Moule is that his developmental scheme still suggests more of a long term process, a drawing out of what is there (growth from child to adult). What I intend is that the "high" elements are more on display (when we see the petals) than at other times (when we only see the bud, or the "low" Christology). But the whole flower is always there. To compare Mark and John - Mark's Christology is higher than is often thought and John seems to me to be driving Mark's own point home e.g., the "I am" of Mk. 6:50; Jn. 6:20 et al (especially if you think John knew and was deliberately trying to complement Mark as I do). Many thanks, my thoughts were not as clearly articulated as I intended. You've immediately made me sharpen my language and how I wanted my analogy to work.

Nonetheless, I wonder if the truth is not somewhere between Meier and Moule?

Great stuff, I'm glad you've joined the conversation.

I wouldn't worry too much about jumping to read Meier's book for Christological content. His work is concentrated on the historical Jesus (currently three volumes with a fourth on its away!)and so lacks theological reflection except at this one point which is why it caught my eye when I was reading it. Nevertheless, if you are into historical Jesus research Meier's work is one of the best so far and when completed may become the best. It is certainly the most comprehensive.

As far as your analogy goes it is perhaps better than most. Unfortunately analogies are always problematic since they can hardly do justice to the complex elements in such as a study as Christology. And though I perceive a bit more (perhaps a lot more) discontinuity between Mark and John's christologies than you I agree that the truth is probably somewhere between the different models proposed by Meier and Moule.

Like all metaphors, I suspect the "grab bag" suggestion captures one aspect of the truth while obscuring another.

I think the grab bag is a good metaphor for New Testament christology in general. It's like the bumper sticker: "Jesus is the answer; now what was the question?" The New Testament writers used every available typology and applied it to Jesus, without worrying overly much about consistency.

In reaction against that grab bag approach, we get the reductionist approaches of critical scholars. Jesus didn't set out to be all of these things is their starting point; only one of them can be historical.

But evolution is also a valid metaphor. The clearest evidence comes from the comparison of Mark to Matthew and Luke. For example, Mark 6:5, "And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them." Matthew smoothed out the theological wrinkles inherent in Mark's account; Luke dropped the passage altogether.

What is that but theological evolution in progress, from Mark to Matthew in particular? I discuss a number of such examples in the link provided above.

I also think it is instructive to imagine a line marking the overall christology of a book. The little details may vary first one way and then the other (as in the grab bag model); but the book will leave an overall impression of one sort or another.

John, for example, clearly affirms Jesus' humanity. And Mark's christology is not low — I quite agree with Jonathan on that point.

Even so, the overall christology of John is much higher than the overall christology of the synoptics. If you doubt it, ask any evangelical whether Jesus is God and see what scriptures they cite to answer the question. They will turn immediately to John, every time.

Once again, the grab bag metaphor doesn't quite capture the data; there is also a clear evolution from the synoptics to John. But I do think both metaphors capture part of the picture.

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