In the last two posts I suggested that the claims put forward by Richard Hays for “divine identity” in the Synoptic Gospels are problematic less for what they affirm—I am not arguing against Trinitarianism—than for what they obscure. Matt Colvin had this comment to make, and I think it merits a response:
I would gladly read more from you about what is missing or wrong about “divine identity” christology. If it is steamrolling an important narrative, flesh that out for us. Or remind me if you’ve done it elsewhere. (I have Re:Mission, The Future of the People of God, and The Coming of the Son of Man, and have benefited greatly from them all, but I don’t recall anything specifically targeted at this issue.)
I want to approach it by way of Richard Bauckham’s essay “Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity”, which is published in Jesus and the God of Israel, but can be accessed online. In it he discusses Romans 10:9-13, a passage in which he believes Paul “interprets Jewish monotheism christologically”:
…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:9–13 ESV)
The argument is that Paul has taken a text from the Old Testament that applies to YHWH and has applied it to Jesus. On a day of judgment against Jerusalem, when there will be wonders in the heavens, the sun will be darkened, the moon will turn to blood, it will be that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32). In Romans 10:13 this last part is quoted in the course of an argument about Christ as “the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). But the Kyrios in this context is not YHWH but Jesus: everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved.
So there would appear to be a simple syllogism (loosely understood) at work: YHWH is Kyrios and Jesus is Kyrios, therefore Jesus is YHWH.
In Romans 10:9-13 Paul propounds a christological version of Jewish eschatological monotheism, such that confessing Jesus as Lord or calling on the name of the Lord Jesus is tantamount to acknowledging YHWH as the one and only God.
Wright takes the same view: “The context makes it clear both that this refers to Jesus himself, the one who is confessed as kyrios, and that Paul intends the full meaning of kyrios/YHWH to resonate across from Joel’s statement to his own.”1
There are syllogisms and there are syllogisms
It seems to me, however, that this line of argument only works by suppressing the apocalyptic narrative, which gets us back to Matt Colvin’s comment.
Consider another syllogism (loosely understood): Gordon has the ball. David has the ball. Does that mean that Gordon and David are the same person? Perhaps, but it is much more likely that Gordon has given the ball to David.
Or again: Gordon is Prime Minister. David is Prime Minister. Do we assume that the Prime Minister has changed his name from Gordon to David? No, the more likely narrative is that following a general election the office of Prime Minister was passed from Gordon to David.
My argument is that given the New Testament narrative it is more likely that the statement “Jesus is Lord” presupposes the transfer of authority from YHWH to Jesus, or the bestowal of authority by YHWH on Jesus, than the identification of YHWH and Jesus. Wright recognizes that there is a “messianic narrative” at work here (“with the Christos as the goal of Israel’s long story”), but he thinks that the narrative “opens up to indicate that this Christos is to be identified with the kyrios of the Septuagint”. The narrative does no such thing.
Paul does not quote Joel 2:32 for the purpose of identifying Jesus and God. Jesus is the cornerstone laid as a foundation for Zion. The rulers of Jerusalem mistakenly imagine that they have cut a deal with death so that they won’t be harmed. But those who believe in the cornerstone that has been laid “will not be put to shame” (Is. 28:16 LXX; cf. Rom. 10:11). The stone is not something that God is. It is something that God has done. How? By raising Jesus from the dead and making him Lord, both for Jews and for Gentiles. Those who confess that God has done this will be saved.
The application of the Kyrios text to Jesus presupposes the same narrative that we get from Peter in Acts 2, which also makes extensive use of Joel 2:28-32, including the line “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). But Peter makes it clear that Jesus has been made both Lord and Christ, having been instructed by YHWH to sit at his right hand (Acts 2:34-36). Bauckham claims that God’s rule over all things defines who God is, so it cannot be “delegated as a mere function to a creature”. But this disregards the whole point about kingdom: YHWH gives authority to his king to rule over the nations, to rule in the midst of his enemies (Ps. 2; 110).
Here’s the point…
Now here’s my answer to Matt’s question. The “messianic narrative” in the New Testament does not end with the ascension of Jesus. It runs on to the parousia, which in my view is not the end of the world or some “second coming” for which we are still vaguely waiting. It was the historical moment when the nations of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē would en masse abandon their idols to worship the true and living God because of what Jesus did and what happened to him. This is the culmination of the kingdom argument: historically speaking, the final consequence of the resurrection was that Jesus would be judge and ruler of the nations (cf. Acts 17:30-31).
The problem that arises when we impose a “divine identity” christology on the apocalyptic narrative is that we terminate it prematurely—we don’t allow history to take its course. It’s significant, to my mind, that when the church did go about systematically and explicitly constructing a divine christology, it did so on the basis of John’s Gospel, more or less leaving the apocalyptic narrative about kingdom alone—in fact, more or less forgetting the apocalyptic narrative about kingdom.
So the argument about divine identity in Roman 10:13 put forward by Bauckham and Wright is a good example of how narrative is suspended prematurely in deference to the theological interests of the later church. An important narrative is being steam-rollered. Flattened. The dynamic engagement with history, by which YHWH’s servant or son, representing faithful Israel, gains victory over his enemies and is given authority to rule, for the sake of the reputation of YHWH in the ancient world, is forced to yield to a much more static and abstract conceptuality. The story of the Son of God loses out to the theory of God the Son. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I think Paul remained engrossed in the kingdom narrative—my argument in The Future of the People of God.
- 1. NT Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 703.