Richard Bauckham defends the divinity of Jesus against James Crossley

Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!
Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!

Richard is very thorough and works only with minimal facts that skeptical scholars will agree with. James Crossley is an excellent atheist, knowledgeable and respectful.

The debate goes for 80 minutes. I wrote a summary so you can follow along as you listen. This summary is rated “N” for Not Snarky.


Main topic:
– was belief in Jesus’ divinity develop late, or was it there from the beginning?
– how did the early Jewish community reconcile the idea of Jesus’ divinity with monotheism?

– was the the worship of Jesus as God a late development in history
– was it accepted by converts from the Jewish community

– high Christology was not a result of pagan influences
– Jews reconciled Jesus’ divinity with their Jewish monotheism

– is the degree of Christology a historian is willing to accept just the result of bias?

– bias is always a factor in what individual people think
– but in a public discussion, what matters is the evidence

– High-Christology is used by Christians as an argument for the resurrection
– Christians ask: what cause could account for the effect of early high Christology?

– we agree that the first Christians witnessed something after Jesus’ death
– what they witnessed had a role in their forming their high opinion of Jesus
– the high opinion was because they believed he had been resurrected (1 Cor 15)
– whether he was or not is a separate question

– is a high Christology a good argument for inferring the resurrection?

– the resurrection makes people think Jesus is unique, but not necessarily divine
– it was really the belief in the exaltation of Jesus to God’s right hand that did it
– what God does in Judaism is to create the universe and rule over the universe
– if Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, then is participating in ruling creation
– so Jesus is being identified with God very early
– the exaltation might have been caused by post-mortem visions of Jesus, e.g. – Stephen

– how were early monotheistic Jews able to reconcile the divinity of Jesus with monotheism?

– the high Christology may not be early because disputes about it are going on in John
– there were other figures in Judaism like the Word of God and Wisdom that were very high
– maybe Paul’s Christology is not as high and he is thinking something high but not deity
– and in John the Christology is being pushed higher to deity, and then there are disputes

– Phillipians and 1 Corinthians are the first evidences of what people thought about Jesus
– John is actually much later

– it may be that Paul’s Christology is high and that he just never got into any disputes

– in Phillipians, Paul incorporates Jesus into the shema, the core of Jewish monotheism
– in 1 Corinthians, he does the same thing

– is this evidence consistent with the idea that Jesus is more like Wisdom or the Word of God

– in Paul’s letters, there are no conflicts about Jesus’ divinity, they appear later in John
– if Paul’s letters taught a divine Jesus, there would be conflicts in the letters
– so there is possibly an evolving Christology from very high to divine

– the Word and Wisdom of God are different from exalted figures – they are separate
– the Word and Wisdom of God are intrinsic to God’s own identity
– and so Word and Wisdom are divine in the sense that they below to God’s identity

– is Jesus an exalted human figure or someone identified with God?
– is the identification of Jesus with divinity compatible with Jewish monotheism?
– or was this concept developed later in a pagan context where one more God would not matter?

– NT scholars typically separate functional Christology and ontic Christology
– but I say that there is no such disctinction
– if Jesus does the functions of God (like ruling), then it means he is identified with God
– there is a distinction between who God is (identity) and what God is (nature)
– Jews were not as concerned with the identification of a man with the God
– Jews were disturbed by the idea that THIS shamed and crucified man would be identified with God

– is this high Christology too much of a sharp break with Jewish monotheism to have been early?

– the Phillipians passage is a strong early passage for Richard’s view
– definitely the crucifixion is a major problem for the early Jewish monotheists
– but the deification of a human being is also a strong problem in spite of what Richard says
– both Jews and Muslims will have objections to identifying Jesus with the divine

– How can Paul write something like this when he was such a high-ranking Jew?

– Jewish monotheism could accomodate something surprising like this without surrendering anything
– John starts his gospel at the creation of the universe to say Jesus was there as “the Word”

– was the early church thinking of Jesus the same way that the church today does?

– it’s hard to say because the language today reflects a lot of development
– in the early church people were still thinking about what to make of Jesus

– what about in the other gospels, do they indicate a strong notion of Jesus as divine?

– nothing as strong as Paul’s letters and John, especiall the disputes with the Jews

– so did the writers of the other gospels have different views of Jesus’ divinity than Paul and John?

– well the same claims are not there in the text, the claims are not as grand as in Paul and John

– but in Mark, the earliest gospel, Jesus forgives sins and calms storm – acting as God acts
– Jesus also asks “why do call me good, only God is good”
– the “seated at the right hand of God” and “coming on the clouds” passages

– I don’t think those claims are as high as John, because Moses controls nature as well
– the other actions may be more that Jesus has authority to do these things

– but the author of Mark writes that the disciples are catching on that Jesus was more than a man

– Jews were not as concerned with the unitary nature of God, but there is only one God (being)
– there can’t really be any evolution from Jesus as a created being to Jesus as divine
– in paganism, there are lower divinities, but that is not the case in Jewish monotheism

– the fact that Jesus was worshiped by Jews means he was already viewed as divine

– that point is debatable, but can be sustained with a careful exegesis like Richard does
– there is some room there for an evolving Christology – the gap may not be as big as Richard says

– do you think that the worship of Jesus was the result of increasing Christology over time?

– it may not have been conscious, but John is the clearest statement and it is the latest gospel
– it may be that a dispute with Jews was required to spell it out even if it was present before

– what about idea that the early church worshiped him because they just though it was a new revelation?

– the early Christians worshiped as Jews and then met separately afterward to worship Jesus
– worship is about distinguishing God from the created world
– you wouldn’t worship Jesus without some idea of what you were doing

– other things that set Jesus apart were the exorcisms and the vision to Paul that converted him

4 thoughts on “Richard Bauckham defends the divinity of Jesus against James Crossley”

  1. Crossley is confused about the gospels (he believes that the book of john is ‘hopelessly inaccurate’, even though most NT scholars and textual critics like Dan Wallace have proof that the Gospel of John is not only very historically accurate, but also a reliable account of Jesus & His Followers). He concedes to the 4 minimal facts about Jesus’ Resurrection, but believe there is a more plausible explanation than a resurrection. Crossley’s answer: socioeconomical, historical, and/or cultural influences of the time, for Jews, caused Jesus’ followers to see visions or ghostly appearances of Jesus! Therefore, the followers of Jesus, misinterpreted these visions or ghostly appearances as Jesus’ bodily resurrection (which, according to Crossley, never happened: Jesus’ resurrection). According to Crossley, the Jews welcomed martyrdom, because they knew that they would be bodily resurrected later on (he then quotes the 2nd book of Maccabees as his source for this). This ‘could’ explain, according to Crossley, the resurrection, and why Jesus’ followers continued to believe even unto the point of death, beatings, ostracisms, and/or imprisonment.

    Crossley’ view is so ridiculous that none of the top NT scholars even accepts or entertains his view of the Resurrection (I am surprised that WK even mentions Crossley….LOL!)!

    You can read more on Crossley’ views from his co-authored book with Christian scholar Mike F. Bird entitled, ‘How Did Christianity Begin? A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence’, 2008 ed.

    I read parts of the book online at:

    After reading about the views of Jesus’ Resurrection from people like Crossley, Bart Ehrman, and other atheist NT critics/’scholars’ (why study the Gospels, NT, etc., and then become a expert critic at distorting its’ meaning and historical accuracy, even though you can’t seem to hold a debate with the likes of William Lane Craig?), I am thinking about using the older theory of the ontological view of God, in my defense of Christianity, as posited by ‘ Anselm of Canterbury in his 1078 work Proslogion. Anselm defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, and argued that this being must exist in the mind; even in the mind of the person who denies the existence of God. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it only exists in the mind, then an even greater being must be possible — one which exists both in the mind and in reality. Therefore, this greatest possible being must exist in reality.’ (

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