Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Yesterday, I received in the mail the latest edition of R.C. Sproul's/Ligonier Ministries', Tabletalk (a "devotional magazine" - Jan. 2011/vol. 35.1). In this thread, I would like to examine the essay penned by Dr. Robert A. Peterson: "The Deity of Christ & the Church" (pp. 74, 75). This essay 'caught my eye', for in it's introduction, two verses from the OT that I have recently discussed (Pss. 45:5-7 and 110:1 - see the following threads: ONE; TWO; THREE), are listed as "seed form" proof texts for "the deity of Christ". Another item in the introduction which drew my attention was Dr. Peterson's assertion that, "There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ." The following is the entire introduction:
There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ. Although this truth exists in seed form in the Old Testament (Pss. 45:5-7; 110:1; Isa. 9:6; Dan. 7:13-14), it comes to full flower in the New Testament. I marshal five arguments for the deity of Christ. (P. 74)
An 'interesting' introduction for sure! Though I am quite certain that Dr. Peterson is sincere in his bold assertion that, "There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ", the Bible, Jesus, Paul, Lutherans, and other EVs suggest otherwise. Now, if "the deity of Christ" is the most important Biblical truth, one would expect to find it's teaching on the lips of Jesus Christ—i.e. that our Lord would not only have CLEARLY/EXPLICITLY taught such a doctrine, but would have EMPHASIZED it—however, when one reads the words of Jesus as recorded in the NT, the doctrine is found wanting. Instead of teaching (let alone emphasizing) his "deity" (in the sense Dr. Peterson advocates), Jesus taught the monotheism of the Shema, and in a number of discourses, clearly distanced himself from "the Father" who is "the one true God". Dr. Scot McKnight pointed out in the beginning of his Christianity Today article, "Jesus vs. Paul" (Dec. 2010/vol. 54.12 - pp. 24-29) that, "Many biblical scholars and lay Christians have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven" (p. 25). And let us not forget that Lutherans (and many EVs) advance the dictum that, “justification by faith alone is ‘the article upon which the church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae)’”. (See THIS THREAD for some important historical information on this quite famous dictum.) As for the apostle Paul, a number of NT scholars are quite adamant that Paul never called Jesus "God" (see THIS THREAD, and THIS ONE, especially the combox, for some discussion on this issue). In a 'nutshell', I think it is safe to point out that Dr. Peterson's assertion is highly subjective, and may in fact be inaccurate.
Moving on, Dr. Peterson's first of "five arguments for the deity of Christ", is as follows:
Jesus is identified with God. Recent scholarship has taught us to argue for Christ's deity based on the way that the early Christians identified Jesus unambiguously with the one God of Israel (1 Cor. 8:5-6). (P. 74)
I sincerely wonder what Dr. Peterson is referring to when he mentions "recent scholarship"; fact is, a substantial portion of "recent scholarship" has taken the exact opposite position—i.e. Jesus did NOT identify himself as/with the one God of Israel, but rather, as the agent/representative of the one God of Israel. Further (and this importantly) the OT texts cited in Dr. Peterson's introduction, are not some "seed form" for identifying the future promised Messiah as/with the one God of Israel, but rather, they clearly identify this eschatological figure as God's agent/representative.
As for his statement that, "the early Christians identified Jesus unambiguously with the one God of Israel", the text he lists for support, 1 Cor. 8:5-6, does NOT assert what he claims; rather the text CEARLY identifies "one God of Israel" with the Father, NOT with Jesus. Now, I am quite aware that some Evangelical scholars have suggested that 1 Cor. 8:6 is an "expansion", "splitting", and/or "Christianizing" of the shema (e.g. Bauckham, de Lacey, Wright)—however, other scholars are not as convinced. For instance, Dr. James F. McGrath wrote:
In this chapter, we will look at evidence that challenges the idea that Jesus has here [1 Cor. 8:6] been included inside rather than alongside the Shema. The main difficulty with the view that Paul has "split the Shema" to produce a "Christological monotheism (whatever that might mean) is that it does not do justice to the nature of the Shema itself." (The One True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, p. 40.)
And then, a bit later:
Theoretically, he [Paul] could have written, "There is one God: the Father, from whom are all things, and the Son, through whom are all things." This would have emphasized the oneness of God while including Jesus clearly within that one God. Instead, Paul uses a statement about one God, which itself is sufficient to reiterate the point off the Shema, and then goes further to talk about "one Lord." When the oneness of God is coupled with another assertion of oneness in this way, we must look carefully to determine whether we are indeed dealing with a splitting of the Shema that is without parallel, or an addition of a second clause alongside the Shema, which is not in fact unparalleled in Jewish literature. (Ibid.)
Interestingly enough, James D.G. Dunn, who once held to the "expansion", "splitting", and/or "Christianizing" of the shema in 1 Cor. 8:6, later adopted McGrath's view, adding: "if anything the fuller confession of 8:6 could be said to be a more natural outworking of the primary conviction that 'the Lord (God) had said to the Lord (Christ), "Sit at my right hand..."' (Ps. 110:1)." (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus, p. 109.)
I could add so much more, but I do not want my opening post to get to cumbersome—I shall end here by making an assertion of my own:
Dr. Peterson is taking the highly developed theological system that he embraces, and reads it back into texts that predate his system by centuries, while ignoring how much of the important terminology of those texts was being used in their original context.
Grace and peace,