A New Explanation Of Christological Origins -- By: Crispin Fletcher-Louis

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 60:2 (NA 2009)
Article: A New Explanation Of Christological Origins
Author: Crispin Fletcher-Louis

A New Explanation Of Christological Origins

A Review Of The Work Of Larry W. Hurtado

Crispin Fletcher-Louis


Prof Larry Hurtado ‘s three-volume work on christological origins has advanced understanding in several key respects and his account is simpler than that of his predecessors. However, it remains an evolutionary, multi-stage model and it is historically problematic. He overstates the case for Jewish opposition to Christ-devotion, minimises the ethical particularity of earliest Christianity and the model suffers some serious internal tensions. His claim that religious experiences gave the decisive impetus to Christ-devotion does not reckon adequately with the implications of social-science study, is not supported by the primary texts and conflicts with the important evidence that visionary and mystical practices were frowned upon in some early Christian quarters. Hurtado presents his work as theologically disinterested. However, he endorses Lessing’s radical separation of theology and history and this theologically loaded judgement seems to be reflected in the non-incarnational character of the Christology Hurtado describes.

1. Introduction

Over the last thirty years Prof. Larry Hurtado has worked tirelessly on the nature and origins of early Christology. In the last few years that work has culminated in the publication of two lengthy monographs that develop the thesis first presented in a book published in 1988.1 Each of

Hurtado’s three book-length contributions to this subject has been reviewed by others.2 My purpose here is to offer an appreciative critique of the cumulative case Hurtado has now made for his understanding of christological origins. As I shall indicate, there are some christological issues upon which Hurtado has not yet commented in detail. However, the broad outlines of a comprehensive historical reconstruction are now clear. Although Hurtado has now written a good deal about the development of Christology in the second-century, ‘sub-apostolic’ period,3 I am concerned here with his treatment of the earliest decades and the New Testament material.

2. Hurtado’s Reconstruction Of Christological Origins

The principal proposals of Hurtado’s account of christological origins are straightforward. Most discussion of early Christology in the last century focuses on ideas, texts and titles. Hurtado challenges us to recognise the centrality of cultic behaviour within and behind the tex...

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