Should Developed Christology form a basis for the theologising of the New Testament?

Sabaoth as head of New Testament Trinity (the ...
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Or, as Mark asks, How does Christology form a basis for the theologising and ethicising of the New Testament?

He writes,

It is therefore my opinion that the resurrection redefined the narrative worldview of the earliest Christians, both Jews and Gentiles. In the same way that resurrection changed Paul’s outlook, so to it changed the orientation of those who professed Jesus as Messiah or Lord (Witherington, 2009, p.182-183).

Therefore, Christology in the New Testament is essentially a shift from Jewish monotheism to what would be described today as Trinitarian thinking. The revealed nature of the God of Israel changed. Yahweh became Father. Jesus is referred to as the Son of God and the Spirit is the believer’s helper.

But is that really the case? Is the developed Christology of today, or rather, since the late 4th century, biblically accurate?

Mark goes on to write,

…it must be grounded in an understanding of who the New Testament writers believed Jesus to be.

But, the New Testament writers were not Trinitarian and might not fully appreciate the developed doctrines of the later Church. Are there Trinitarian seeds there? (And even in that, we might need to better define what Mark means by ‘Trinitarian’.) Or, rather, does the New Testament give allowance to the doctrine of the Trinity which developed along side Arianism (archaic use, but not sure what other term I might use here) and monarchianism? Sure, I believe so, but for instance, what about ideal pre-existence among the Jews? Did the Apostles have such a radical change in their Judaism to now understand pre-existence as something tangible rather than ideal, which was the Jewish mode of thought? If their radical understanding of Christ was not Jewish in origin, then do we have to step back and examine whether or not the Christian faith is really Jewish in origin? Is it a shift away from the monotheism of the Jews? If the Trinity is such a strong shift away from Judaism, then what is really the religious parent of modern Christianity?

For this, I would urge a reading of such books as ]]’s The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (especially, his chapter on John) matched with ]]. What might also examine, closely, how the Spirit came to be developed.

I believe that there are theological developments current which must be examined in light of biblical studies, regardless of the pain that they may cause us and our theologizing. There is no doubt in my mind that, as Mark writes, the Resurrection so changed the Apostles (and I do not believe that it was a dream or a political story) that it did shift them in their theology, but it didn’t completely destroy their Judaism(s) either. The Christian community was formed well within the bounds of the Judaism(s) of the day. We simply cannot explain away Pentecost to the confines of historical interpretation. Something happened to the early Messianic community because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, I believe that we shouldn’t use later developed theologies to further theologize the New Testament, but first gain an accurate, biblical view, and (re)build our theology from that.

I believe in… Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Of course, I could just be writing this to disagree with Mark. Or not. You decide.

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12 Replies to “Should Developed Christology form a basis for the theologising of the New Testament?”

  1. “If their radical understanding of Christ was not Jewish in origin, then do we have to step back and examine whether or not the Christian faith is really Jewish in origin? Is it a shift away from the monotheism of the Jews? If the Trinity is such a strong shift away from Judaism, then what is really the religious parent of modern Christianity?”

    There is no unified “Jewish”. And I don’t mean that (only) in Judaism(s) – I mean it in reference to Hellenistic thought. There is no clear dividing line (that I can see) between the two classical thought-worlds as we’ve defined them. We see them interwoven prior to the time of Christ.

    Certainly there is Bauckham and Hurtado on one side of the argument, and McGrath and Dunn on the other. I used to be on the latter, now on the former. Why? Precisely because of this hermeneutical question. What gets primacy in interpretation? Clearly in the case of the NT the experience and understanding of the apostles and leaders in the Church had primacy over the strict use and reading of the OT. That is without question. I ask myself, what has changed? If they were right to do so, why ought the Church change its method of interpretation? I understand the times change, but is the Church subject to the times or are the times subject to the Church?

    1. The Church must always have primacy, but who is to say that like the Reformation and other eras of renewal, that we are not in an era of theological renewal which calls us back to a better understanding of the Person of Christ?

      I am suspicious, myself, of any hermeneutic which attempts to remove Christ and the Christian experience from the Old Testament, but I am suspicious as well of any such hermeneutic which doesn’t allow that later theological development may have in fact gone further off course than it should have.

      Regarding the unified Judaism – I agree, which is why I tried to label it Judaism(s), but we cannot simply think we know the Apostle’s Judaism.

      I don’t accuse you of any of this, BTW, John. Just dialoguing out loud

      1. Doesn’t the criticism of the hermeneutic have to remain within the hermeneutic? A square can’t yell at the circle for not being a square. Their methods and purposes are fundamentally different. Which I think is what the original article you linked to is going after.

        1. I don’t think so, John. If that was the case, then could we rightly criticize any hermeneutic? I believe that we have to examine the hermeneutic which we are using, and have used in the past, to see if it lines up or doesn’t.

          1. But lines up to what? To the “Scripture” ? According to which hermeneutic? The question is circular without a doubt. This is where I think “the Scripture is of no private interpretation” means. The Scripture is interpreted by the Church as a whole. Not you, not me. Not your church, not my church. Throughout its history, and even today, the Church’s hermeneutic has remained largely the same.

            Lately the academic/critical/historical hermeneutic has garned a lot of attention. But not so much in the wider Church. Perhaps to a degree in evangelical churches, but even there there is a hesitancy to accept their method entirely and its conclusions.

          2. John, what about the hermeneutic of literalism and Creationism, or the hermeneutic which says women are inferior to men? Should we cease from questioning that one as well?

            As far as remaining the same – I agree, at least on Christology, and generally.

            I don’t believe we should accept any method entirely without hesitancy. I, for one, believe that the experience of the Church must be included in biblical studies, which is why I am hesitant when I read anything from those with an ax to grind against Christianity or those who aren’t sympathetic to the faithful.

  2. (Resetting the crazy indenting)

    The hermeneutic of literalism is not a dogma which the Church has held since the beginning. Complimentarianism is a teaching which must be understood within the hermeneutic (and is incorrect in my reading, and the reading of the wider Church).

    The question is not “is biblical studies appropriate”, of course it is. The question is “which hermeneutic”. In your last paragraph I entirely agree with you. But the wider Church’s adoption of her hermeneutic has been critical and fraught over for two thousand years. And we are still with it.

    1. True, but the Church hasn’t held much ‘since the beginning’ unchanged or unchallenged. I believe that if we allow for development and progression (and if we have a Canon, then we must), then we should allow for it to develop with biblical studies as well.

      1. I think that the Church has held very much to belief “always and everywhere”. (Again this is not a literal reading of “every individual”, but the greater core of belief revolving around God, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel)

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