Despite the often rigorous defense over the centuries of the received “orthodox” creedal Christology of the church (i.e. Nicaean, Constantinoplitan), historical critical scholarship barrels forward perfunctorily it seems as the conversation regarding how to best understand and articulate the earliest Christology in their eyes is far from settled. While this is true for many contemporary scholars, it is not true for all. Many scholars with Christian creedal obligations attempt to engage captiously with modern critical scholarship under the guise of the historical critical method. Though this is the case, many reveal their true colors (creedal presuppositions) in their interpretation and application of many of the primary canonical and non-canonical Jewish and Christian sources. While I do not want to simply name names or point fingers, either at those explicitly apathetic toward any later developed creeds or confessions or those who attempt to claim historical continuity with the creeds while being motivated apologetically toward their defense, I would like to function as a possible mediatorial figure in the discussion if I may (hehe lame Christology joke).
While I resonate wholeheartedly with the historical critical scholarship who note that we must not allow creeds written centuries later to be arbitrarily placed over the new testament documents as a hermeutical grid, allowing them to speak for themselves in their own historical context, I have noticed that many who utilize this way of thinking sometimes minimize categories that may contain much higher christology than they initially expected. For example, rhetoric often employed to downplay or reject the divinity of Jesus looks something like as follows: “Jesus was an eschatological prophet.” Even though I would ardently agree with that characterization of the Jesus of Nazareth witnessed to in the synoptic gospels, there is something fundamentally wrongheaded about the use of this appellation by those who have a bone to pick against any early high christology. It is used predominately to combat the view that the traditional references to Jesus as prophet, priest, or king are not the avenues that get us to the high christology we later find delineated in the creeds, but it’s calling Jesus God that gets us there. It seems to be the case that fundamentalism gives birth to more fundamentalists, regardless of what side of the camp you end up on. It will be my goal in an upcoming series on this blog to show that those who characterize Jesus as “merely an eschatological prophet” and those who say Jesus is “clearly portrayed as God” are both misconstruing the actual witness to the christology found in the synoptic gospels themselves to a great degree.
My goal in the upcoming series entitled “Prophet Christology as Early Jewish “High” Christology: The Employment of Elijah/Elisha Traditions in Luke/Acts” will hopefully show that both of these ways of approaching the christological question can be supplanted by a much more contextual way of articulating Jesus as Prophet. If we are tempted to read the creeds back into the new testament witness instead of coming from the Hebrew Bible forward, our christology may have been done backwards. By looking critically at the use of the Elijah/Elisha traditions in the gospel of Luke as an example will demonstrate the middle-of-the-road approach I am calling for. I am only going to look at the gospel of Luke for the sake of interest and focus due to my belief that there is something very interesting and unique in the way Luke uses the Elijah/Elisha traditions. In no way will I be asserting that this is the only aspect of Luke’s christology that is important or that Elijah/Elisha are the only figures alluded to either implicitly or explicitly in the Lukan narrative that are used to characterize Jesus. Keep on the look out for it coming soon!