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Jesus Didn’t Teach What the NT Says about Him—But So What?

Interesting thought from Larry Hurtado about unexplored premises in Historical Jesus study:

[B]oth sides have subscribed to a common premise, which goes something like this:  If a serious difference can be shown between what Jesus himself taught (especially what he taught about himself) and what early Christians believed (especially what they believed about him), then this would comprise a major theological problem for the validity of traditional Christian faith.  The one side seeks (with intent!) to establish such a major difference, and the other side seeks energetically to minimize it, both sides working on the same premise.

My own response is:  Says who?  What is the justification for the premise I’ve described?  Why should a difference between what Jesus taught about himself and what believers subsequently came to assert about him be a problem?  NT texts don’t say that the reason people should accept the christological claims that they advance is that Jesus taught them.  Instead, NT texts typically assert that their christological claims are based in the actions of God, and the greater realization/revelation of Jesus’ significance that came thereby.

Indeed, NT texts quite candidly say that Jesus now bears a status and significance that was conferred by God (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11, et alia), and that it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that his full significance was apprehended (e.g., Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49).  Even the Gospel of John, in which we have the most direct christological claims on the lips of Jesus, tells us that these claims were revealed by the Spirit of God (“Paraclete”) after Jesus was “glorified” (e.g., John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15).  Indeed, the Gospel of John should probably be read as an account of Jesus programmatically written in light of what the author regarded as the revelation of Jesus’ significance by the Spirit in the “post-Easter” setting.

In sum, the basis for the christological claims of NT texts was never that Jesus taught and commanded them, but, instead, rested in what God had done, in raising Jesus from death and exalting him to unique heavenly glory.

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