Reviews of

Origin of Divine Christology

In Andrew Ter Ern Loke, Cambridge University Press, Christology, Gospels, Historical Jesus, History of Religions School, Kai Akagi, New Testament on June 12, 2018 at 5:00 pm


2018.06.08 | Andrew Ter Ern Loke. The Origin of Divine Christology. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 169. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 249 pp.

Reviewed by Kai Akagi, Japan Bible Academy.

Andrew Loke’s The Origin of Divine Christology continues the stream of works on early high Christology of the neue religionsgeschichtliche Schule by arguing that divine christology originated in Jesus’ own teaching as his first followers understood it. Loke presents his book as an interdisciplinary piece of historical-critical research in that he uses methods of historical research to argue what, in theological categories, the earliest Christians believed Jesus to have taught. While many of the supporting points of his arguments and responses to alternative positions are not new, Loke brings them together in an original way to make his own contribution. He explains his method as applying the “critical realism” of N. T. Wright and Alistair McGrath for interdisciplinary historical criticism.

After an opening chapter on previous literature and method, the second through fourth chapters establish that some of the earliest Christians adhered to a divine christology. The second chapter offers the two sections of the book devoted to individual scriptural texts (1 Cor 8:6 and Phil 2:6–11) and sections on “evidence from devotional practices” and “evidence from expressions of spiritual desire for Christ.” Its discussion of 1 Corinthians 8:6 largely follows Richard Bauckham’s christology of divine identity. Its treatment of Philippians 2:6–11 similarly recalls the interpretive work of Bauckham, R. Hoover, M. Martin and B. Nash, and Wright, on the one hand, while dismissing Ehrman and S. Vollenweider on the other. The third and fourth chapters rehearse objections to alternative views of christology and offer responses. In Chapter 3, Loke appeals to the creator-creature divide to distinguish Jesus from exalted figures in Second Temple Judaism with which other interpreters have compared him, while Chapter 4 responds to a series of interpretations of earliest Christianity having a christology lower than Loke proposes, such as those of Dunn, Ehrman, Dale Martin, Lionel North, and Geza Vermès.

The fifth chapter addresses the question of how widespread divine christology was among the earliest Christians. Loke reasons that the absence of indications in early New Testament texts that early Christians disagreed concerning high christology shows that divine christology was widespread. Loke reasons in dialogue with Hurtado that religious experiences such as visions and inspired utterances would not have been adequate to result in widespread adherence to divine christology since the number of people having these experiences would have been small in each instance.

The sixth and seventh chapters mark a shift in the book where Loke presents his concluding proposal: the earliest Christians believed Jesus himself to have claimed divinity. First, the earliest Christians show a concern about transmitting Jesus’ teachings. Second, Loke states—appealing to Matthew 11:2–6, Luke 7:18–23, Luke 3:15–16, and John 1:19–28—that the earliest Christians display a concern with what Jesus thought of himself (136). Loke reasons that, if Jesus had not believed himself to be divine, the attempt to advance this idea would have received sharp opposition among Christians not attributing divinity to him, and that attributing divinity to him would have been both “very difficult and very dangerous” (145). The widespread adherence to divine christology and place of worship in the practice of early Christians indicates to Loke that Jesus was not “misheard, misunderstood, or misremembered” (146). Loke anticipates the objection that his proposal is Christocentric rather than theocentric, focusing on Jesus’ teaching about himself rather than on worship of Jesus being in accordance with God’s will. Loke’s response is that early Christians believed that Jesus revealed God’s will, and therefore to believe in Jesus’ view concerning himself and therefore worship him as divine would be to follow God’s will.

While many of the points of Loke’s argument are not new, his presentation combines them in an original way, and, unlike many writers of the neue religionsgeschichtliche Schule, he argues not only concerning the christology of early Christians but also concerning what Jesus himself taught. Loke’s work thus has similarities to historical Jesus research in that it seeks to establish one element of Jesus’ teaching, divine christology, as authentic, although Loke does not use the sets of historical Jesus criteria systematically.

The volume does not include several features that a reader may expect from a work on the “origin of divine christology.” These are not necessarily shortcomings of the work, but they deserve mention. The volume contains no extended exegesis of scriptural texts, for example, and does little to place early Christian divine christology in the context of mediator figures in Judaism nor divine or exalted figures in Greco-Roman cult and thought. This sometimes results in over-simplification, as when Loke devotes a single paragraph, much of which consists of a block quote, to the phrase “Son of God,” explaining it as “a metaphorical term used by the biblical authors to convey the idea that certain persons had an intimate relationship with God the Father” (70).

At times Loke’s support for his arguments lacks precision. For example, concerning the phrase “worshipped him” in Luke 24:52, Loke only states that “a few manuscripts” do not include the phrase and that “there is strong attestation for this phrase in the other manuscripts” (79n1). While in this case most would agree that the phrase likely was an original part of Luke, Loke does not mention any manuscripts, and he cites Bock for his single sentence on the question. Again, he states in another place that “it is arguable that all the Gospels (including Mark) treat Jesus as divine even if this divinity is expressed in different ways” (154), citing Brown and Grindheim. While true that this is “arguable” in that the authors Loke cites have argued this point, some readers may desire more interaction with alternative interpretation, such as those in J. R. Daniel Kirk’sA Man Attested by God (Eerdmans, 2016). For those who do not agree with some of the assumptions or lightly supported points Loke offers as support for his main points, the argument is at times incomplete.

Part of the value of Loke’s work is that it may draw attention to two larger questions for research to address. The first concerns early Christian response to Jesus’ teaching. Loke argues that early Christians believed that Jesus revealed God’s will. Therefore, they believed Jesus to be divine since they understood Jesus’ teaching to reflect Jesus’ view of his own divinity, and they understood worshipping Jesus as divine to be following God’s will. This raises the question of why the earliest Christians had this regard for Jesus’ teaching. If they understood Jesus to be divine, they would regard his teaching as reflecting God’s will. If they did not, why would they regard his teaching in such a way as to affirm a human as divine? Research to answer this question may need to consider the role of scriptural texts in the teaching of Jesus and how the Gospels present Jesus, and how Acts presents the apostles and Paul, as using scripture as God’s testimony concerning Jesus.

The second question concerns the degree to which authenticity of some sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, particularly post-resurrection, determine how researchers evaluate christology in early Christianity. Loke says that he assumes the “historical reliability” of the New Testament Gospels as historical sources (11–12). Readers will react differently to Loke’s argument as a result of how they evaluate certain sayings and actions of Jesus in the Gospels. To make the historical argument that Loke would like to make, the relevant sayings and actions of Jesus, such as Matthew 28:19 and John 20:28–29, must be authentic. For readers who accept them as authentic, Loke’s conclusion may follow, so long as they accept his interpretation of them. Many readers in this category may already accept Loke’s conclusion as true. For those who do not accept these sayings and actions of Jesus as authentic, Loke’s conclusion will not follow. Thus, those who disagree with Loke concerning the authenticity of certain teaching and activity of Jesus in the Gospel may dismiss Loke’s argument as insufficiently supported and unconvincing, while those who agree with Loke may already affirm his conclusion. By noting this, I do not mean to criticize Loke’s assumption (I for one affirm the authenticity of the sayings in question), but rather to draw attention to the significance of authenticity of sayings and actions of Jesus in the Gospel for study of early christology. Conversely, what might research on early Christology contribute to demonstrating authenticity of sayings and actions of Jesus in the Gospels?

Kai Akagi
Japan Bible Academy
kakagi [at]

  1. I am very grateful to Professor Kai Akagi for his review of my book, which makes a number of helpful points.

    I would like to make the following clarifications:

    First, Akagi states in his review that ‘Loke says that he assumes the “historical reliability” of the New Testament Gospels as historical sources (11–12).’

    I would like to clarify that this is not what I say. What I write on p.12 is

    ‘Rather, I shall argue that the earliest Christian documents contain evidences of widespread conviction of the earliest Christian leaders concerning the divinity of Jesus, and I shall demonstrate that the origination of this widespread conviction is best explained by my proposal. I shall also show that, regardless of whether the details in the Gospels are distorted or not, there are good reasons for thinking that the historical roots of certain details contain the earliest Christians’ perceptions that Jesus gave a clear indication that he regarded himself as truly divine.’

    Second, Akagi states that ‘To make the historical argument that Loke would like to make, the relevant sayings and actions of Jesus, such as Matthew 28:19 and John 20:28–29, must be authentic.’

    I would like to clarify that my historical argument is not based on the authenticity of Matthew 28:19 and John 20:28–29. Rather, my argument is based on the 14 historical considerations summarized on pages 200-201. None of these considerations is based on the authenticity of Matthew 28:19 and John 20:28–29.

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