Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Unsuccessful Mutations

"Unwrapping" my digital birthday gift of Larry Hurtado's most substantial work on early Christian devotion to Christ, I searched for his use of "mutation" as a way to understand how Christianity grew in the first century from within Judaism. Of course, I know what his thesis is in general terms, but it is important to understand in more detail the evidence arising out of first-century sources for how Jesus was reverenced religiously and from the offset.

A couple of initial surprises. One of the practices in modern evangelical church of confusing Jesus and the Father was apparently a first-century struggle as well in some areas. I've yet to cover Hurtado's development there.

Secondly, very intriguingly, Hurtado also uses mutation language to describe unsuccessful early forms of Christian thought and practice. In responding to (and grilling) scholar Burton Mack, Hurtado points out that Mack's Jesus had to be a Jesus closely associated with a Sayings Jesus, such as the one found in the Gospel of Thomas. And that brand of Christianity didn't make it.

A question instantly popped into my mind: why? What can we identify about Christianity streams that were successful? As usual, I referred back to my Triune Hub model, which builds on three major developments within successful Judeo-Christianity that mainstream scholars have described as mutations (the combination of these three (along with other data) points to the mutation of faith itself into a trinitarian shape). Let's state them again:

1. The future hope of restoration of judgement and salvation has tangibly begun in the resurrection of the Messiah - nobody saw that coming.

2. Jesus is worshipped alongside God (Hurtado - although I might suggest that Jesus mediates worship back to the Father) - nobody saw the ascension of the Messiah coming.

3. The collaborative/participative kingdom mutation - nobody expected God's people to be directly involved and empowered to achieve God's Divine Cleanup of the world.

Not only do these three central mutations seem to require some kind of trinitarian articulation to faith (in place of "unitarian"), but they might provide the response to unsuccessful mutations. The Sayings Jesus seems to fail on 2 or 3 of these counts, the docetic Jesus on at least the resurrection count I would think, the Marcian Jesus rejects the notion of mutation entirely (i.e. rejects Judaism). The later Arian and subordinationist Jesuses were also unsuccessful but were seated on a couple of centuries of successful mutations. This probably indicates why they may not have denied any of the above.

But this is where it gets really interesting. Unlike some Christian apologetics that may try to squash these three centuries of debates into a small and even contemporary timeframe, we need to see the subordinationist movement as very close indeed to orthodoxy. All the really whacky stuff had already been done away with. In the fourth century we are not asking "was Jesus a man" or "did the resurrection matter". Successful Christianity acknowledged the mutations and had, by and large, left Judaism by now with its trinitarian shape. The question was now to decide how Christ and the Holy Spirit the hub of Christian religious thought and activity. The question is ontological. But my recent discovery via Paul Ricoeur is that the question may not be ultimately ontological (I have yet to decide), but is certainly not uniquely ontological. What I am proposing is that because the church zoomed in further on their trinitarian faith, because there was a strong sense of loyalty to the biblical texts (the canonisation of which was in some interaction with the doctrine), which assert that "the Father is greater than I", a paradox ensued. Was the Father really greater than the Son? By bringing in Platonic thought, metaphysics and ontology into the discussion, a metaphysical answer to this question was necessary that would not upset the balanced trinitarian faith inherited from the earliest mutations described above, yet would still satisfy the faithfulness issue.

An Arian or subordinationist view, despite the negative characterisations we receive from successful Christian historians, could still have rejoiced in the resurrection of the Christ as an anticipation of their own future bodily resurrection, could still have worshipped Jesus religiously and still be acting to lovingly advance God and Christ's Kingdom. But by asserting, for the first time perhaps from within the successful adaptation framework, that one aspect may be lesser or greater than another, may have just been too upsetting to the foundational Triune Hub mutation.

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