In round 3, Burke comes out swinging and swinging. But how much does he connect? In my judgment, somewhat. Here’s an overview of his case, with some critical comments, and at the end I score the round.
First, Burke argues that Jesus’ messianic roles as atoning sin-offering, priest, redeemer, and Davidic king, do not require him to be divine, and further, that the first and last of these require that he is not God. I take it Burke’s point is that they require Jesus to be a human, and that no human is divine. Flag: In this context, the point is question-begging. Bowman no doubt affirms Chalcedon, according to which Jesus has both a divine and a human nature.
Next, Burke has a nice discussion of the Jewish habit, well attested in the NT and in other ancient writings, of talking about what God has predestined as already existing in heaven. This affects what one considers the natural reading of passages like John 17:5 (NIV) “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Burke nicely sketches the line of thought behind this habit – what is predestined is as good as done, so what is future is moved back, as it were, to the past or present – to a time which is “too late” to avoid. He gives a vivid example from Paul of talking about a future event as present: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” (Eph 2:6, NIV)
What is the significance of this? If Burke is right – and this is an interpretive point I’ve seen a number of commenters make, especially outside of polemical contexts – then Bowman can’t simply point to talk of Jesus’ pre-existence, but must also argue that the phenomenon at hand is not in the passage in question. I think Bowman’s best bet would be to concede many examples of this, and retreat to the view that this doesn’t explain all of the pre-existence implying talk in the NT, e.g. Jesus’ statements that he’s come down from heaven, etc.
In the section after this, Burke argues:
Rob has yet to address the Bible’s exclusive emphasis on Jesus’ humanity. He will say he accepts the humanity of Jesus in addition to his alleged deity, but Scripture says nothing of this position.
Flag: begging the question – it is the very matter at issue, whether or not the Bible asserts the divinity of Jesus. Bowman must concede the Bible’s (contra docetism) strong emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, but he need not concede any such “exclusive” emphasis.
And yet, it is striking that the preaching about Jesus in Acts is how it is – it is not what one would expect from a Christian who holds that a crucial point of faith is the “full divinity” of Jesus:
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. …Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2: 22-36, NIV, emphases added)
Bowman’s position here differs from the Catholic one, and it seems to me that they have a principled reply to this, whereas Bowman does not. In his view, the Bible rather obviously implies, or can only be understood as teaching, the divinity of Jesus. Consequently, the apostles all did believe this. It would be surprising, then, to see them preach as above. In contrast, the Catholic holds that Mother Church, as much as the apostles, is an instrument of divine revelation, and the divinity of Jesus simply hadn’t been clearly revealed at this point. So perhaps the apostles held to a “primitive” (adoptionist?) christology, whereas later generations of inspired thinkers – bishops, mostly – came to full belief in the divinity of Jesus. I note in passing that Burke doesn’t address this sort of response. (Fair enough – his debate partner isn’t offering it.)
Next, Burke asks: “Why is Jesus never accused of claiming to be God throughout his trial?” Well, it is murky precisely how his trial went, and precisely what the charges were. There’s a suggestion of “blasphemy” but it is unclear to me what the contemporary Jewish concept of that was. Some insist that it must be a response to claims to divinity, while others hold it to be much broader, and could be raised at anyone as it were treading on God’s territory. Bowman assumes the first view, Burke the second. Myself, I see no easy way forward; what do scholars of NT era Judaism say about this?
Burke is right that apparently, Jesus several times denied some sort of equality with God. Trinitarians acknowledge this. Burke says:
The standard response claims he was “denying equality of rank, not equality of nature.” But Jesus had not been accused of claiming equality with nature. Ontology is not at issue here. The Jews had been outraged by Jesus’ apparent usurpation of God’s divine authority and privileges. His defence makes no sense in any other context. (original emphasis)
Flag: begging the question. We need a reason for thinking that ontology is not an issue here, not a mere assertion. I think this connects with the “blasphemy” issue. If it can be shown that Jews of the period, in particular, the Pharisees, had a habit of throwing a “blasphemy” charge at people who merely claimed divine anointing, inspiration, empowerment, etc., then it may be more plausible to read things as Burke does. (Given the Jewish idea of God, would they have likely entertained that this Jewish man before them was him?) But if a “blasphemer” was normally someone claiming to be God, or to have a divine nature, etc. then the point goes to Bowman.
Burke insists that on his view, Jesus was “literally” the Son of God, but not on Bowman’s traditional (small “c”) catholic christology. Why? If I understand him – Burke doesn’t clearly say why – it is because fathering is being part of the cause for a thing’s coming into existence. So a human mom and dad jointly cause junior to exist. And if mom is a Clampitt, and dad is a Mullet, then junior is a descendant of both the Clampitts and the Mullets. Now Jesus is according to the Bible a descendant of David and of God. And so both Mary and God must be causes of Jesus’ coming into existence.
This is an interesting take on the issue – a development of the point in Luke that Jesus will be called “Son of God” because of the miracle wrought by God in Mary’s body.
The traditional catholic view is that Mary supplied the human nature – rational soul and body – which was united to the divine nature. Given this, I’m not sure why Burke demands that Bowman say what on his view it means to say that Jesus is the “Son of David” and “Son of God”.
What does it take to be the “literal father” of someone? It doesn’t strictly require intercourse, as a sperm donor may be a baby’s father. I take it, one must be the source or cause of the sperm which fertilized the egg. So I guess Burke is presupposing an account of just what happened in Mary – she supplied the egg, the spirit of God supplied the sperm. At first I thought that what Burke really wanted to say was that his view better makes sense of why the metaphor of Fatherhood and Sonship is apt when it comes to God and Jesus. But on reflection, no, I guess he is insisting on literal fatherhood of Jesus by God.
Burke may be presupposing that nothing is human unless it exists in some sense because of Adam. That is – something is a genuine human only if its causes can be traced back through Adam. This is somewhat plausible, but is by no means obvious. Take a subordinationist christology where the pre-existing logos takes the place of the human soul in Jesus. Is it obvious that such a being (ancient soul embodied in normal human body) wouldn’t be a human? I don’t think so – but this may be because I don’t think it is obvious whether dualism or physicalism is true. Does Burke, like some of the older Socinians and some present day biblical unitarians, hold that the Bible teaches physicalism about human beings? If not, what is the origin of the soul? If it is generated, as in Bill Hasker’s “emergent dualism” by the body, that’d fit well with his approach. But why think a human must have a soul generated in that way?
This is also relevant to the issue of Jesus dying. Suppose dualism is true. If so, perhaps when I die, my soul continues to exist while my body ceases to live. Burke holds that on the traditional account Jesus couldn’t die. But why not – the divine nature would still exist, but the human nature – or just the body part of it – ceases to function. What’s the problem? Is he presupposing the controversial premise that dying is ceasing to exist?
The trinitarian can agree with Burke’s account of the virginal and miraculous conception of Jesus. But not with the claim about existence and explanation above. The trinitarian view is that the Son would have existence whether or not there had ever been any humans.
The traditional view is that all it takes to be human is to have a human nature (which amounts to having a body and a rational soul). And Jesus has got one. Burke has a philosophical disagreement with this, not merely a biblical one.
On atonement, Burke agrees with the catholic view that to be a proper sacrifice Jesus had to be human. But he doesn’t agree that the sacrifice victim must also be divine.
A couple of traditional reasons for this latter claim are (1) Jesus had to be divine so he could divinize humanity, and (2) Jesus had to be divine because humans’ sins made an infinite stockpile of guilt, which could only be “paid for” by an infinitely valuable sacrifice, which can only a divine one.
It isn’t clear to me what either Burke or Bowman would say to these.
Burke briefly argues that Bowman’s account is contradictory: Jesus could and couldn’t be tempted. Jesus is seen, and is God, but God is never seen. Jesus dies and is also eternal. (As I remarked above, this last one isn’t obviously inconsistent – the point needs arguing.)
Finally, a methodological point from my last post. Burke falls into the same trap as Bomman – of thinking that we can proof-text our way through this dispute. We cannot. Both catholic and humanitarian christologies explain what the scriptures say about Jesus. The question is: which best explains the evidence. Burke and Bowman both realize this, which is why they are at pains to show that their interpretations are non-arbitrary. But equally, both attempt to deduce their position from the texts. In truth, the texts don’t obviously support either view over the other. But this is not to say that neither theory is better than the other. One theory may be a much better explanation than the other; while it has not been shown which it is, in my view Bowman should be worried that his theory seems to be sporting a fatal wound (inconsistency).
In my last post I said that Bowman was focused on explaining the following:
- Jesus is called “Lord” (Gr. kurios) in the NT, and kurios is the Greek translation (in the widely used ancient Septuagint translation) for YHWH in Hebrew.
- Statements and predictions about about YHWH / God in the OT are repeatedly applied to Jesus in the NT.
- The NT implies that prayer to Jesus is a good thing.
- Paul and the author of Hebrews say that Jesus created “all things”.
- Paul says that Jesus is “equal to” God.
- Paul says that all will confess that Jesus is the kurios.
- Jesus has been “exalted to the same level as” God.
- The Son is described as doing a lot of things God is elsewhere described as doing.
- The NT implies that the Son is properly worshiped.
I think I know what Burke would say to a lot of these – a lot of the answers will have to do with the idea that Jesus is an agent who works on behalf of God. But I think the fourth issue and Philippians 2 are pressing, in part because Bowman has pressed them.
This round is not easy to call, but I’m calling it a draw. Bowman has addressed a broad range of phenomena, and yet has not rebutted the very serious charge that his theory is multiply self-contradictory. Burke has rebutted some of the important pre-existence proof texts, and has properly pointed out the focus of the NT on the humanity of Jesus, and has raised the important issue of atonement. He shows that those holding a humanitarian christology can affirm most of what all sides agree the Bible says about the messiah. But he’s begged the question on some core issues, and seems to rely on some controversial philosophical theses about what is essential to human beings and about death, which may or may not be defensible – and which may arguably be beyond the scope of this debate – they meant, I think, to keep it to the Bible.