Sunday, April 3, 2016

An Episode of Unbelievable Got Me Thinking

Such is my synthesis so far...

The Saturday, April 2, 2016 episode of Unbelievable - Did Jesus' followers believe he was God? Yusuf Ismail vs Jonathan McLatchie - was a thought provoking hour and a half. Yusuf Ismail was erudite and well spoken. Still I found it interesting that a Muslim apologist was chosen to argue for an evolving Christology - in which he does not believe. And it was amusing when the evangelical apologist, Jonathan McLatchie, quoted the Quran - to which he otherwise grants no warrant - to buttress his claims for the credibility of Paul.  Here are the comments I left in the discussion section below the episode:

As I read my early Church history, there were all flavors of Jesus followers: Ebionites, Adoptionists, Docetists, Separationists, Gnostics, Modalists, Patripassanists, and so on and so forth. Most of these believed Jesus to be divine in one way or another at some point in his life or ministry. Believing that the man Jesus had been raised from dead as the first fruits of a coming resurrection of all the faithful at the end of time is different from believing that Jesus' resurrection elevated him to the status of messiah, appointed lord, or divinely elected saviour, is different from believing Jesus was adopted by God at his baptism or conception, is different from believing Jesus to be a pre-existing deity, let alone co-equal and co-eternal with God.

There are Ebonite and adoptionist strains in Mark (60s CE). There's fuel for docetism and separationism in Matthew and Luke (70-80s CE). John responds to separationist and gnostic themes (90s CE). When one reads the gospels in parallel the evolution from a simple to a sophisticated Christology is striking.

But because "bible believing" evangelicals regard everything in the good book to be factual and moreover that all the red letter words actually came from Jesus' mouth they treat all the gospels as though they were composed during Jesus' ministry and simply were not recorded until 30, 40-50, and 60 years later. By doing so, rather than simply finding their theology in the NT and OT, Christians read their ever evolving Nicene, Constantinopolitan, and medieval Christologies into and over the stories there.

The Christian who reads the Pauline epistles as though they were written after Paul (and those writing in his name) had read everything in all the gospels might be forgiven for thinking the story was meant as a fully harmonized package. If one reads the papers in order Paul comes across more as the first franchisee, a little too desperate to establish his credibility and at times at odds with a more conservative Jesus movement (and its traveling preachers) in Jerusalem to whom he had to pay licensing fees. If one doesn't assume Paul really was Jesus' mouthpiece then a lot of his theology reads like he just made it up, riffing on hymns and statements of faith made by early Jesus followers.

The authors/editors/redactors of the later gospel traditions spent 30-60 years adapting the good news for their respective audiences, quote mining the OT, as well as responding to traditional, skeptical and heretical criticisms.