'Jesus: Neither God Nor Man' by Earl Doherty

Reviewed by GakuseiDon, Jan 2011

This is my review of Earl Doherty's latest book, 'Jesus: Neither God Nor Man'. There are four sections, over four webpages. The first Section is the review proper. In Section 2, I looked at early Christian writings, and our expectations about what we should find in them. In this section, I look at Paul, and some of the issues on the language he uses to describe Christ.


Section 3: Paul and Paul's Jesus

Section 2 looked at early Christian writings, in particular the issue of silence in the wider literature of the first two centuries of Christianity. I concluded that the same silence can be found even amongst those writers who believed in a historical Jesus.

However, as Doherty stresses, his case is not just built on an argument from silence. He lays an equal, if not paramount, emphasis on what is to be found in the epistles, on the actual information presented by Paul and other early writers in describing their faith movement and the object of its worship. This section looks at what is found in the writings of Paul and the early Pauline authors.

3. 1 When did Paul write? Who was Paul?

Readers who have read Section 2 of my review should hopefully by now not be surprised that Paul provides few details about himself. As noted in Section 2, early writers provided few historical details about anything, and this makes it difficult to pinpoint when they wrote. Paul is no exception. As with many early letters, we are forced to rely on hints provided by references to names and events to get some idea of when Paul wrote.

Acts can be used to fix a date for Paul, though many question the contents of Acts as reliable history. Acts 18.12-17 refers to Gallio, whose proconsulship was around 51 to 53 CE. 1 Clement refers to Paul and Peter as examples of martyrs in “our generation”. 1 Clement was thought to be written towards the end of the First Century.

Looking at the letters in the NT generally attributed to Paul, there are two names that can help us: Aretas and Caesar. Philippians 4.22 refers to the household of Caesar, so Philippians must have been written after Julius Caesar became prominent. Caesar died in 44 BCE. However, almost certainly Paul is referring to one of the emperors.

There were several Aretases. The relevant one arguably was Aretas IV, who ruled from 9 BCE to 40 CE. (Aretas III ruled around 100 years earlier, and must be ruled out if the Caesar reference is genuine to Paul.) Paul refers to going to Jerusalem at least 14 years after his conversion (Galatians 2.1), and there are several references in the Pauline corpus that suggest that the temple in Jerusalem is still standing (2 Thessalonians 2.4; 1 Corinthians 10.18; Romans 9.4), indicating that he wrote before 70 CE, and that his conversion occurred around 50 CE at the latest.

To conclude: from the few hints available in the letters of Paul and other early writings, Paul appears to have been active at some time in the first half of the First Century CE.

Paul provides little information about his own history, vague statements about key players (mostly greetings) within the new Christian movement, and, other than a few names, nothing about key players in the wider Jewish and Roman world.

3.2 When did Paul's Christ die?

Paul arguably places Christ as dying within Paul's immediate past, though unsurprisingly Paul provides few explicit statements to this effect. However, it is clear that Paul has some timeframe in mind for this. The following references were collected by Ben C Smith, of the textexcavation website, from the FRDB thread “Paul and his older contemporary, Jesus”. Even if a few of the references are relevant, they build a strong cumulative case for Paul being a near-contemporary to Jesus.

Evidence that Paul regarded Jesus as a real human being in real human history:

1. Jesus must have lived after Adam, since Paul calls him the latter Adam (1 Corinthians 15.22, 45).

2. Jesus must have lived after Abraham, since Paul calls him the seed (descendant) of Abraham (Galatians 3.16).

3. Jesus must have lived after Moses, since Paul says that he was the end of the law of Moses (Romans 10.4-5).

4. Jesus must have lived after David, since Paul calls him the seed (descendant) of David (Romans 1.4).

Evidence that Paul regarded Jesus as having lived recently, within living memory, as an older contemporary:

1. Paul believes he is living in the end times (1 Corinthians 10.11), that he himself (1 Thessalonians 4.15; 1 Corinthians 15.51) or at least his converts (1 Thessalonians 5.23; 2 Corinthians 4.14) might well live to see the parousia. Paul also believes that the resurrection of Jesus was not just an ordinary resuscitation of the kind Elijah or Elisha supposedly wrought; it was the first instance of the general resurrection from the dead at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15.13, 20-28). When, then, does Paul think Jesus rose from the dead? If, for Paul, he rose from the dead at some point in the indeterminate past, then we must explain either (A) why Paul thought the general resurrection had begun (with Jesus) well before the end times or (B) why Paul regarded the end times as a span of time stretching from the misty past all the way to the present. If, however, Paul regarded the resurrection of Jesus as a recent phenomenon, all is explained. The resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the general resurrection and thus the ultimate sign that the end times were underway.

2. Paul expects that he might see the general resurrection in his own lifetime (1 Corinthians 15.51). He also calls Jesus the firstfruits of that resurrection. Since the firstfruits of the harvest precede the main harvest itself by only a short time, the very metaphor works better with a short time between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the rest of the dead, implying that the resurrection of Jesus was recent for Paul.

3. There is, for Paul, no generation gap between the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15.4). Furthermore, there is no generation gap between the recipients of the resurrection appearances and Paul himself; he is personally acquainted with the first recipient of a resurrection appearance (1 Corinthians 15.5; Galatians 1.18). Is there a gap between the resurrection and the first appearance? The flow of 1 Corinthians 15.3-8 would certainly not suggest one; however, I believe we can go further.

4. Paul claims that Jesus was the end of the law for those who have faith (Romans 10.4), that he was raised from the dead in order to justify humans (Romans 4.25), and that this justification comes by faith (Romans 5.1) in Jesus (Romans 3.22). Paul also claims that no one can have faith unless he first hears the gospel from a preacher (Romans 10.14) who is sent (Romans 10.15). Finally, Paul acknowledges that it was at the present time (Romans 3.26) that God showed forth his justice apart from the law (Romans 3.21), and that the sent ones, the apostles, were to come last of all (1 Corinthians 4.9); he also implies that the resurrection appearances were the occasion of the sending out of apostles (1 Corinthians 9.1; 15.7, 9; Galatians 1.15-16). If we presume that, for Paul, Jesus was raised in the distant past but only recently revealed to the apostles, we must take pains to account for this gap; why, for Paul, did Jesus die in order to end the law and justify humans but then wait indefinitely before making this justification available to humans? If, however, we presume that, for Paul, Jesus was raised recently, shortly before appearing to all the apostles, all is explained. That was the right time (Romans 5.6).

5. Paul writes that God sent forth his son to redeem those under the law in the fullness of time (Galatians 4.4). It is easier to suppose that, for Paul, the fullness of time had some direct correspondence to the end of the ages (1 Corinthians 10.11) than to imagine that the fullness of time came, Jesus died, and then everybody had to wait another long expanse of time for the death to actually apply to humanity.

Doherty's view:

In Chapter 17 “The When of Christ's Sacrifice”, Doherty concludes that the early Christians may not have known exactly when Christ was crucified, and the apparent markers that most scholars believe suggest a recent death are more likely to be related to the revealing of the Son to mankind.

Doherty asks whether the question of when the redemptive act of the crucifixion occurred in the "spiritual realm" is even a meaningful question. Did the Platonic spiritual realm possess a chronology that could be seen to correspond to that of the material dimension? (Page 261)

And yet, the markers do seem to place the crucifixion in Paul's recent past. For example, in 1 Cor 15, Paul writes (my emphasis):

3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve...
8 And last of all he was seen of me also...
...
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man [came] death, by man [came] also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

The implications of 1 Cor 15 are quite clear. Firstly, there is no apparent gap between Christ dying and rising again on the third day, and then the subsequent appearances to the apostles like Cephas and James, whom Paul actually met. This is reiterated in 1 Cor 20, when Paul says that “now” is Christ raised, and become the “firstfruits”.

The word “now” in Greek is nyni, and according to Strong's Thesaurus it means “now, at this moment”, and is only used of time. Also, the use of “firstfruits” implies a recent event. The firstfruits of the harvest precede the main harvest itself by only a short time. Since we know that Paul regarded the 'main harvest' -- the general resurrection – was at hand, then Christ as the firstfruits indicates a recent event.

How does Doherty explain the use of “firstfruits”? He writes:

Nor need the use of the term “firstfruits” in 15:20 and 23 imply that Christ's resurrection is the first of the End-time harvest and thus took place recently. Once again, the fact that these things have been revealed in the present may simply be leading Paul to treat them in terms of the present time. Since it is only now that people have learned about Christ's death and rising, the revelation and the effects it has produced become part of the present picture (just as Hebrews 9:26 finds itself implying that Christ's sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary has taken place “at the completion of the ages”). (Page 259)

I invite readers to reread 1 Cor 15:20-23 above again. Does it read as though Paul was talking about something that was revealed recently? Or does Paul appear to be referring to some actual event? To my mind, Doherty's response is terribly adhoc, and it is another example of him trying to get the data to fit his theory, rather than the other way around.

Paul and the end times

It is clear that Paul expected that the end would come soon. As Ehrman writes:

Strikingly enough, like so many Christians who lived in the centuries since, Paul was convinced that the end would come in his own generation. In fact, in the very earliest writing that we have from his pen, Paul speaks about the imminent end of the age to be brought by Jesus' return. This is the first letter to the Thessalonians, written probably in 49 CE, fewer than twenty years after the death of Jesus:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord by no means will precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with the to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17).

What has long struck scholars of the New Testament is that, as seen in the words I've italicized, Paul appears to understand that he himself will be one of those living when Jesus returns. It would have been easy enough for him to talk about "those" who are alive if he did not imagine himself to be one of them. [1]

Doherty writes on Paul's view of the end-times:

But the revealing passages are those in which Paul expresses his eschatological (End-time) expectations. The first to look at is Romans 8:12-3:

Up to now, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth. Not only so, but even we, to whom the Spirit is given as firstfruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly while we wait for God to make us his sons and set our whole body free. [NEB]

Here Paul's orientation is squarely on the future. The whole universe is groaning, waiting. Where is the sense of past fulfilment in the life and career of Jesus? Were some of the world's pains not assuaged by his coming? "Up to now," says Paul, has the universe labored to give birth, leaving no room for the dramatic pivot point of Christ's own birth and acts of salvation. (Page 55)

But here Doherty is reading modern orthodox views into Paul. For Paul, Christ is “the first-fruits” of the general resurrection about to come. Paul and the early Christians are waiting for God to adopt them as Sons. The “whole created universe groans” because the general resurrection is just around the corner. And the general resurrection is signalled by the resurrection of Christ – not just the revealing of Christ! -- who is the “first-fruits” of the harvest shortly to come. It may be a problem for orthodox Christians that Paul doesn't feel a sense of past fulfilment in the life and career of the Gospel Jesus, but there are more options on the board than just the Gospel Jesus and Doherty's mythical Jesus.

Doherty continues:

Moreover, when Paul does refer to present or immediately past events, what are they? Only the giving of the Spirit, the revelation by God which has enlisted men like Paul to preach Christ and his coming. We have here no deviation from the traditional two-age picture.

But that is clearly not the case. As above, Paul explicitly states that “NOW is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept (1 Cor 15:20)”. Given that Paul also explicitly has placed Christ's death in the past, the “NOW” would appear to indicate a recent event. Doherty has to read "revealed" into the text here, as he does in other places. But does he not complain that we shouldn't read our own ideas into the text, and that we should read Paul for Paul?

Doherty continues:

Go on to Romans 13:11-12:

Remember how critical the moment is... for salvation is nearer to us now than it was when we first believed. It is far on in the night; day is near.

Was there no dawn at the incarnation of the Son of God? Had Jesus' recent presence on earth failed to dispel any of night's darkness? Even salvation itself is something which lies in the future; its only point of reference in the past is not Christ's act of redemption itself, but the moment when Christians first believed. (Page 56)

And again, this is Doherty trying to read orthodoxy into Paul. For Paul, Christ is the "first fruits": an important indicator, to be sure, but NOT the main event. The main event is the general resurrection that Paul believes is just around the corner.

Doherty is correct that Paul is clear that we are saved by faith in the resurrection of Christ. But this does not touch on the timing of the resurrection. The indicators show that Paul is referring to an actual event that just occurred, an event that is signalling that the end-times approach.

The Second Coming of Christ

Earlier, we looked at Doherty's analysis of when Paul thought Christ had died. Doherty wrote:

If Paul had just made a reference to an act of Christ in the recent past when he was here on earth—the trendsetter for human resurrection at his imminent Parousia—it would surely have been natural for him to refer to that expected event as in some way a return.

Strong's thesaurus gives the definition of 'parousia' as follows:

    1. presence

    2. the coming, arrival, advent

Is this an indication that Paul believed Christ never existed on earth? In Section 1 I noted Doherty's comment that “We cannot judge their use of language by our own use of language”. However, if the use of the word 'parousia' is odd in the context of these passages, Doherty doesn't provide support for it. If he thought 'parousia' would not be expected in this situation, it would be important evidence suggesting that Jesus had never been on earth in the first place. But there is no attempt by Doherty to analyse the usage of the word in the wider literature.

For what it's worth, here is 'parouisa' being used in the Gospel of Matthew. Note that the disciples ask Jesus “what is the sign of thy coming” rather than “what is the sign of thy returning”:

24:3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming [parousia], and of the end of the world?

Another Greek word used to mean 'to come' is erchomai. Doherty doesn't discuss this in JNGNM, but he raises the question of its use on his website. Doherty writes:

Another common mode of expression is the use of the verb "to come" (erchomai). Greek has no specific word for "return" in the sense of coming back to a place one has visited or been at before. The word erchomai is a basic verb of motion and can mean to come, or to go, or to pass; a specific meaning, which can include "return," is conveyed by adjuncts or the context. Other passages convey the idea of Christ’s coming by using words like "the appearance of" (e.g., 1 Tim. 6:14). With one possible exception (Hebrews 9:28, which will be touched on in connection with Hebrews 10:37 and dealt with fully in the Appendix), nowhere does any writer attempt to convey the sense of "return." For example, the simple word palin, "again," employed with erchomai, could have served this purpose, yet no one ever uses it. (Cf. also Phil. 1:6 and 3:20, Titus 2:13.)

Such reticence is in sharp contrast to New Testament scholars who, when translating or interpreting such terms as "come" or "appearance" in the epistles, routinely use the word "return" or the phrase "second coming." But if readers can free themselves from the Gospel background, they will find that all these references convey the distinct impression that this will be the first and only coming to earth, that this expectation, this longing to see Christ, has in no way been previously fulfilled.

As Doherty himself notes above, the word erchomai can incorporate a meaning of 'return'. So it is odd that Doherty points out that “nowhere does any writer attempt to convey the sense of 'return'”' by using a simple word like 'palin'. If the context supports it, why would we expect them to use it? Again, there is no attempt by Doherty to examine the wider literature to determine whether the use of erchomai is odd or not. He is using modern expectations about how they should have written back then.

Here are examples of erchomai I have chosen from each Gospel:

* Mat 26:38 Then he said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me."
...
40 Then he came [erchomai] to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What? Could you not watch with me one hour? ...
43 And he came [erchomai] and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.
44 So he left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
45 Then he came [erchomai] to his disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand...”

* Mark 9:13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come [erchomai] (Elias lived many years earlier, so this can only be a 'return')

* Luk 19:12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come [erchomai]

* Jhn 21:22 Jesus said to him, If I will that he tarry till I come [erchomai], what is that to you?

In each case, the context clearly supports a meaning of 'return'. How about the context afforded by Paul? Let's revisit part of Doherty's comment I gave above (my emphasis):

But if readers can free themselves from the Gospel background, they will find that all these references convey the distinct impression that this will be the first and only coming to earth

Now, note that Doherty is reading the word “to come” or “coming” (erchomai or parousia) as “coming to earth”. So, has Paul already indicated that he thought that Christ had “come”? The answer is 'yes':

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then [serveth] the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come [erchomai] to whom the promise was made

There is no doubt that for Paul the seed had already come. He wasn't referring to the Christ coming at the end of time. Doherty explains such references as referring to the 'spirit of the Son' that had come (page 259). He offers 1 John 5:20 as an example:

We know that the Son of God has come [lit., is come, in the present tense] and given us understanding.

Does the use of erchomai with "seed" in Gal 3:19 support the idea of the arrival of revelation/”spirit of the Son” rather than a physical arrival? I can't see it. It is Christ that has come. If that is the case, any use of “come” for the future lends itself to the context of a “return”.

And if by “the seed to come” Paul somehow bizarrely means “revelation” or “spirit of the Son”, has not the Son of God still come, in some sense? Could I not ask, as per Doherty (and perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek), “where is the writer who attempts to convey the sense of "come, but in person this time"?

Conclusion

Doherty finds it hard to go beyond the false dichotomy of “Orthodox Jesus vs mythical Jesus”. Rather than read Paul for Paul, he tries to interpret Paul to fit into his theories, rather than the other way around. While it is clear that Paul believes that it is faith in Jesus' resurrection that saves us, this does not impact on the timing of that event. When we look at the references available in Paul, there are quite a few to suggest that Paul placed the actual event in his recent past.

One final point: Doherty believes that it is faith that was revealed in the present. While the timing of the crucifixion may have been a “meaningless question”, Doherty strongly implies that the “revealing of Christ” was an actual event that occurred at some recent point in time and space. But when and where did this revealing occur? What and where was this primary event? Would not people have wanted to know about this? Doherty will have to admit that Paul, other than giving vague hints ("I know a man who went into the 3rd heaven...") is as coy about this “revealing” event as he is about everything else. I would be interested to know Doherty's view about why Paul doesn't go into this. Wouldn't people have wanted to know about how all this started?


3.3 Paul's gospel

In Galatians, Paul declares that he “neither received, nor was taught” the gospel that he preaches, but he received it “by the revelation of Jesus Christ”. (Gal 1:12) Usually this is taken to mean that Paul received his special mission to the Gentiles -- with its message that the Gentiles are saved also – directly from the Risen Christ.

Doherty believes that Paul received more than this. He writes:

The “gospel you heard me preach” would have encompassed much more than his policy on gentiles being exempt from that aspect of the Law. He is defending the specific issue at hand by defending the integrity of his entire gospel, as one which came directly from heaven and not from other men. Paul would hardly be saying that the gospel the Galatians heard him preach about freedom from circumcision is something he received from heaven, while the rest of his gospel content had in fact been received from men. He would make no such sweeping statement if he did not intend it to apply to the entirety of his preaching message, which included his theology of the death and resurrection of Christ and its derivation from scripture. (Page 45)

Did Paul get the entirety of his preaching message from revelation? Firstly, it should be noted that Paul persecuted the early church (Gal 1), so must have known something about their beliefs. After his conversion, he began preaching the gospel. Throughout his letters, he names various gospels:

  • Gospel of God (Rom 1:1, Rom 15:16, 2 Cor 11:7)

  • Gospel of Christ (Rom 1:16, Rom 15:19, Gal 1:7)

  • My gospel (Rom 16:25, Gal 1:11)

  • Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles (Gal 2:2)

  • Gospel to the circumcised (Gal 2:7)

  • Gospel to the uncircumcised (Gal 2:7)

Often he just uses the word “gospel” alone.

While Paul does imply that gospels other than his own can be acceptable, e.g. “the gospel to the circumcised” given to Peter (Gal 2:7), mostly he warns about accepting a different gospel to the ones being preached (2 Cor 11:4 ), even if given by an angel (Gal 1:8).

When Paul writes about HIS gospel, it is nearly always related to preaching to the gentiles. This, to Paul, is the revelation that he received from Jesus Christ: to spread the word to the other nations (Gal 1:15, Rom 15:16). Thus Paul claims that the “gospel of the uncircumsized” was "committed unto him". If Paul's Gospel was given to him from the Risen Christ, it was the gospel to the uncircumsized, i.e. to the Gentiles.

Paul talks about “the gospel of Christ” which he preached in Jerusalem and elsewhere:

Rom 15:19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

When it comes to his own gospel, Paul goes to Jerusalem to discuss its content with James and Peter. Paul is clear that it is the “gospel which I preach among the Gentiles” that he is there to discuss:

Gal 2:2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.

I think it is obvious that Paul didn't get the entirety of his gospel message from revelation. Paul gives the following sequence in Gal 1:

    1. That “beyond measure” Paul “persecuted the church of God”.

    2. God “revealed his Son” in Paul, that Paul “might preach him among the gentiles”. This came from "no man".

    3. The churches of Judaea which were in Christ claimed that “he which persecuted us in times past now preaches the faith which once he destroyed.”

If Paul had been preaching a gospel message that, in its entirety, came from "no man", then we have the strange situation of Paul preaching a gospel message that had been revealed by "no man" but was actually the same message as those he had been persecuting. There had to have been overlap; the best supported explanation is that Paul received by revelation that Christ had significance to the gentiles.

Doherty believes that "Paul would hardly be saying that the gospel the Galatians heard him preach about freedom from circumcision is something he received from heaven, while the rest of his gospel content had in fact been received from men." But I suggest that the evidence shows something along those lines. Paul's revelation had to do with the gentiles' place in salvation.

Conclusion

I suspect that the good news – the gospel message that Paul personally received and preached – was that salvation had come to the Gentiles, and that Paul had to defend the issues that arose from this. This is why Paul went to Jerusalem, “to communicate to them that gospel” which he “preached among the Gentiles”.

Doherty's view is that Paul's gospel message is the “entirety of his preaching message, which included his theology of the death and resurrection of Christ and its derivation from scripture”. I don't think that the evidence supports this. It wouldn't make sense for Paul to claim he received his gospel from no man, and then preach the same message as other men.

And Paul decided to go to Jerusalem to explain his gospel message to the uncircumsized, as though the apostles in Jerusalem were an authoritative source that could approve its content. There is no doubt that Paul is claiming that he received his own gospel message from revelation – but this relates to his mission to the gentiles. It is not the entirety of his preaching message.


3.4 Sons of God

In Section 1, I briefly discussed “adoptionism”, the idea that Jesus was 'adopted' by God as God's son. It is an idea that Doherty barely addresses. For Doherty, “Son of God” is a divine title. Doherty writes:

Within a handful of years of Jesus' supposed death, we know of Christian communities in many major cities of the empire, all presumably having accepted that a man they had never met or in most cases even previously heard of... had risen from the dead and was in fact the Son of God and redeemer of the world...

Moreover, it was apparently done without any need for justification. There is not a murmur in any Pauline letter, nor in any other epistle, about a Christian need to defend such an outlandish doctrine... [Paul] can admit that to the Greeks and Jews the doctrine of the cross—that is, the idea of a crucified Messiah—is “folly” and “a stumbling block.” But this has nothing to do with turning a man into God, a piece of folly he never discusses or defends, and a stumbling block no traditional Jew could have circumvented. That his opponents, and the Jewish establishment in general, would not challenge him on this fundamental Christian position, forcing him to provide some justification, is inconceivable. (Page 22)

Doherty never asks what the early Christians themselves meant by “Son of God”. He seems unable to look beyond the lens of modern orthodoxy. In Section 1, I referred to how “Son of God” was viewed in its Jewish context. In this section, I will give more examples from the NT:

Phl 2:15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons [teknon] of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Jhn 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons [teknon] of God, [even] to them that believe on his name:

Rom 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God [huios].

Rom 8:19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons [huios] of God.

Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son [huios], today have I begotten thee... 8 Though he were a Son [huios], yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

We need to be careful to view Paul as a product of his time, and not as the divine being who was thought of as God Himself in later Christianity.


3.5 Exalted language and Moses

Doherty finds it “staggering” that a human man could be elevated to the level of the Jesus preached by early Christians. In this section, I briefly discuss discuss the language used to describe “exalted” figures, and then look at how Moses was described.

Exalted” language

Doherty writes:

Those who derive their view of Jesus from the Gospels might be startled to realize the highly elevated nature of the Jesus preached by early Christians. He is a part of the very Godhead itself. His nature is integral with that of the Father. And he has been given all the titles previously reserved for God alone...

This supposed elevation of a human man is quite staggering. To the extent that they are familiar with them, Christians have had almost 2000 years to get used to such lofty ideas. But we lose sight of the fact that if the orthodox picture is correct, someone or some group one day decided to apply all these ideas to a human being for the first time and actually went out and preached them.

Is it possible to conceive of circumstances in which followers of such a main, a humble preacher whose deeds--critical scholars are now agreed--could not possibly have matched those of the Gospel story, would have elevated him to such a cosmic level? (Page 21)

If the orthodox picture is correct...” Again, Doherty looks at the text through the lens of orthodoxy. However, trying to interpret ancient texts in terms of modern orthodoxy is the last place we should start. This is a point Doherty knows well, so why does he continually do it?

James Dunn makes the same point about the dangers of using our 'modern ears' to understand ancient concepts from the First Century CE. Dunn writes:

Our task as once again been the crucial but difficult one of trying to attune our twentieth-century ears to the concepts and overtones of the 50s and 60s of the first century AD in the eastern Mediterranean. What was the context of thought within which Paul would have written and his readers have understood passages like Phil. 2.6-11 and II Cor. 8.9? Unless we can read these texts with a sympathetic sensitivity to the presuppositions of the first readers to guide us we will not enter into the meaning which Paul intended. [2]

Dunn points to the language used in the pre-Pauline hymn of Phil 2:6-11, which has usually been interpreted as describing a pre-existent divinity who descends, takes on the form of a servant, and then reascends. This is Doherty's interpretation as well. (Page 117) However, Dunn points out that in terms of Adam Christology, the hymn may well have a very different meaning. Jesus is not a pre-existent being. He comes in "the form of God" as Adam came in "the image of God". When he comes as a servant, it is not a divinity taking on human likeness but a man who came to serve God, in contrast to Adam. Whereas Jesus was obedient to God "unto death" and thereby appointed as 'Son of God' by the resurrection and given new life, Adam disobeyed God and suffered death. Interpreted this way, Phil 2:6-11 is no longer about a divine man.

Another example of “exalted” language can be found in the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

Taken at face-value, Jesus is claiming that heaven and earth were created for the benefit of James the Just. This is hardly credible. The language is used to high-light the importance of James as the successor to Jesus.

Moses

To repeat an earlier Doherty comment:

Is it possible to conceive of circumstances in which followers of such a main, a humble preacher whose deeds--critical scholars are now agreed--could not possibly have matched those of the Gospel story, would have elevated him to such a cosmic level?

I think the key factor is the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, which was probably confirmed through visions of a Risen Christ. This showed that Jesus was "Son of God", however for the people in Paul's time use of “god” and “Son of God” probably was less theologically charged as an appellation than it is today.

Another highly exalted figure was Moses. While he was thought to have been just a man, nevertheless he was also given the title of "god". Dunn writes:

Josephus twice reports the possibility of speculation that Moses had been taken or had returned to the deity (Ant. III.96f.; IV.326; cf. Philo. Mos. II.288(. Philo expounds Ex. 4.16 and 7.1 in several places and does not scruple to say such things of Moses as 'He (God) appointed him as god' (Sac. 9), or of one as 'no longer man but God' (Prob. 43; see also Som. II.189; Mos. I.158; Qu.Ex. II.29). [4]

Philo of Alexandria implies that Moses left no body behind. Philo writes:

And some time afterwards, when he [Moses] was about to depart from hence to heaven, to take up his abode there, and leaving this mortal life to become immortal, having been summoned by the Father, who now changed him, having previously been a double being, composed of soul and body, into the nature of a single body, transforming him wholly and entirely into a most sun-like mind...

he was buried without any one being present so as to know of his tomb, because in fact he was entombed not by mortal hands, but by immortal powers, so that he was not placed in the tomb of his forefathers, having met with particular grace which no man ever saw...

Philo also describees Moses as being thought worthy of being called by the same appellation of  the Father and Creator, as 'a most beautiful and Godlike work', to be a model for others. He writes

What more shall I say? Has he not also enjoyed an even greater communion with the Father and Creator of the universe, being thought unworthy of being called by the same appellation? For he also was called the god and king of the whole nation, and he is said to have entered into the darkness where God was; that is to say, into the invisible, and shapeless, and incorporeal world, the essence, which is the model of all existing things, where he beheld things invisible to mortal nature; for, having brought himself and his own life into the middle, as an excellently wrought picture, he established himself as a most beautiful and Godlike work, to be a model for all those who were inclined to imitate him.


Such language is highly reminiscent of that used to describe Christ. Rather than trying to read the text through the eyes of modern orthodoxy when it suits him, Doherty needs to look at the wider literature before deciding on what we would expect.



Goto Section 4: World of Myth

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Footnotes:
[1] Ehrman, ibid, page 17
[2] Dunn, James D.G. Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation. (Paperback - 1996), page 125
[3]
Dunn, ibid, page 17

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