On Bauckham’s Argument Concerning Divine Identity

Both Dale Tuggy and Anthony Buzzard left comments recently regarding Richard Bauckham’s argument of divine identity as he lays it out in, e.g., Jesus and the God of Israel. Tuggy said:

I’ve read a ton of Bauckham, and I can’t blame Anthony for not delving much into him. As best I can tell, he’s quite confused on the topic of identity, i.e. personal identity, being the same self as. The same confusions are always mirrored in the people who follow him, e.g. Fee, Bowman. I’m working on a paper on precisely this – what does he mean by “divine identity” and “being included in the divine identity.”

To which I replied:

Bauckham’s case is predicated on an inductive study of what second temple era Jews believed about identity. It’s only confused if he was working according to the categories you suggest, but he wasn’t, so on his own terms his argument is quite cogent.

Buzzard said:

Bauckham is hard to engage because his “sharing the divine identity” is too vague to be interacted with. We all know that “if you have seen me you have seen God.” We all know that Jesus and God are one (thing, cp. John 10.30). We all know that they are not One Person. The Greek for the word “one” in “One Person” is eis, as a disputant in the debate of God in 1849 remarked. “en is one thing and eis is one Person.”

To which I replied:

I’ll just leave with this note about Anthony’s reference to Bauckham being too vague to engage: Nonsense! James McGrath, who strongly disagrees with Bauckham, had no problem critically interacting with him in his book The Only True God. Larry Hurtado, who arrives at the same place as Bauckham, had no problem criticizing Bauckham’s view of divine identity in his Lord Jesus Christ (see p. 47, n. 66). The point is that the concept is quite clear, and whether or not one agrees with it, it can be engaged.

Now here’s why I even bother to reproduce these comments: I don’t wholeheartedly endorse Bauckham’s view so it’s not like I’m defending him on the merits of his view in and of itself. I’ve raised concerns over Bauckham’s insistence that the Enochic Son of Man is the exception that proves his rule (see p. 7 of the following review). I’ve also noted in the same review that I think Bauckham’s criticisms of ontic/functional categories are overstated since he ends up saying the same stuff in different terms (see p. 12). Now for the record, I’m in general agree with Bauckham because I’m quite happy to say the same stuff in those other terms that he rejects, but his project isn’t perfect and it’s not without areas that could use tightening.

Tuggy raised the point about the people who follow Bauckham picking up his confusion. Well, I clearly don’t think Bauckham is confused and I still maintain that he’s not operating according to the categories of analytic philosophy, but there have been some who have argued that Fee misunderstood Bauckham and misused him in his Pauline Christology (sorry folks, you’ll just have to wait for Chris Tilling to publish his dissertation to see this fleshed out; suffice it to say that Tilling makes a compelling argument for this being the case).

As far as Buzzard’s comment is concerned, it makes me question whether or not he’s read Bauckham on the subject. I only say so because Bauckham is very clear in saying what he believes marked out Israel’s God as unique. There’s the lesser explored point about God’s relation to Israel and the divine name, and then there’s the major point about God’s relation to all other reality as Creator and Sovereign Ruler. There’s nothing vague about the concept and Bauckham painstakingly shows just how Jesus is included in the very things that he suggests made God unique.

So that’s that. In the end I find Hurtado to be the one that I’ve hitched my wagon to, although in reality, Tilling is the front runner at the moment. As soon as he published his thesis and I get to review it I’ll explain exactly why that is.



18 thoughts on “On Bauckham’s Argument Concerning Divine Identity

  1. I agree both that Bauckham can be engaged in a scholarly way, and that his notion of “identity” is vague and absolutely must be clarified if it is to be of any use whatsoever. At this point is is not clear what it means as Bauckham uses it, and so it is impossible to even assess whether it makes better sense of the text than any other term.

  2. James: I don’t think it’s all that vague but it’s hard to imagine that he couldn’t clarify it and sharpen it up some. Unfortunately, and I noted this to Dale Tuggy just yesterday, Bauckham doesn’t seem keen to engage his detractors in print, so if he does clean it up it will probably be in his own time and on his own terms.

    CarolJean: Because the Bible won’t allow it.

  3. Let’s see how vague it is. For instance, could the language of “inclusion in the divine identity” be applicable to a human being adopted by God, so as to share God’s name and status? That seems to be one perfectly obvious instance of (in this case family) identity being extended to include an additional person. I don’t think that Bauckham has yet excluded this understanding, although I think that his biggest fans will have a strong aversion to it. Is there any reason why an adoptionist understanding could not fit the terminology Bauckham is using as he has used it and clarified it up until now?

  4. Why doesn’t the Bible allow it? After all, God is capable of doing what it would take millions of human persons to do when he simultaneously listens to and answers the prayers of his people. What prevents Him from manifesting himself simutaneously as Father and Son?

  5. James: No, it couldn’t be applied to a human being adopted by God. Bauckham is quite clear that one of the main features of “uniqueness” is being on the Creator side of the Creator/creature divide.

    Carol: The Bible doesn’t allow it because the Father and the Son are seen engaging each other personally, i.e., as different persons.

  6. Well, Bauckham seems to believe that the human being Jesus is included by New Testament authors in the unique divine identity. And yet the human being Jesus as such did not create the cosmos. And so presumably the options are to understand Jesus’ role solely in relation to new creation, to view identity as something that can be shared without being shared in every aspect, or to view Jesus as the incarnation of a pre-existent divine person/hypostasis. And of course, the latter is precisely what the church came to do. But if that is what one has to add in order to make sense of Bauckham’s language, then surely that means that Bauckham is not adding anything to the discussion, but simply finding a new term to say something that has been said for thousands of years.

  7. Hi Nick,

    Not exactly related to this post, but have you seen OT scholar Mike Heiser’s stuff on the ‘divine council’ and ‘two powers’? It really helped me regain a strong sense of the trinitarian roots in the OT: I reckon it will be highly significant in future days for a high Christology. The minisites for those topics introduce the ideas, but to get the full measure of it you’d need to watch his series on ‘Jesus and the Old Testament’ on vimeo. Well worth checking out.

  8. Nick, the interaction between Father and Son would be a big obstacle for a theology that God is one person except that Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge. God is perfect in wisdom and knowledge so God must have limited himself when he became flesh.

    So why develop a Trinitarian view to explain the interaction between Father and Son when a self-limitation of his omni’s within the incarnation is enough to to explain the interaction and maintain the revelation God gave of himself in the OT as one person?

  9. James: And that was pretty much the conclusion I came to when reviewing his book. I said:

    Bauckham says: “Early Christian interest was primarily in soteriology and eschatology, the concerns of the gospel, and so, in the New Testament, it is primarily as sharing or implementing God’s eschatological lordship that Jesus is understood to belong to the identity of God.” (p. 235 cf. 184) Not much changed from the concerns of those in the NT to the patristic writers of the 3rd to 5th centuries. It’s also more than a bit ironic that immediately after claiming that functional/ontic categories are the wrong categories Bauckham goes on to describe his “Christology of divine identity” in a way that can only be understood according to those categories and sometimes slips into blatant use of the categories themselves (see e.g., p. 240 n. 10)! While Bauckham’s language is fresh and unique, the concepts behind the language are not. This isn’t a reason to abandon the language, but it is a reason to question his reluctance to accept these allegedly un-Jewish categories or describe them as messing up the entire enterprise of interpreting the Bible.

    But one needn’t come up with something new in order to write something fruitful.

    Benjamin; I have seen it. I’ve read most of his online stuff, and I recall watching a powerpoint presentation he did, and I have a copy of his dissertation, but I’ve only skimmed that thus far. Heiser is doing some good work.

    CarolJean: I fail to see how that explains the interaction between Father and Son. Here’s the essential problem with a Oneness doctrine such as you’ve presented it: It treats natures (divine-Father/human-Son) as personal while denying more than one person. That’s Nestorianism and it’s equally heretical. The issue is that natures don’t act and interact; persons do.

    John: Yeah, pretty much. Bauckham’s deal is that he thinks people have relied too heavily on Greek metaphysical categories to explain what the Biblical authors were getting at. He thinks his category of ‘divine identity’ is more Jewish. But when we get down to it, we’re still dealing with functional/ontological categories, just with a new name.

  10. I’m going to let this drop but just so you understand, I’m not a Oneness adherent that treats natures as persons. I understand that God as one divine person who is capable of existing in two distinct modes of existence, man and Spirit, without a split or multiplication of his person in order to do it.

    I also understand that the “person” is equivalent to the soul/spirit and that the characteristics of nature are inherent in the person. My brand of Oneness tends toward that of Jason Dulle and not David K Bernard so your last three sentences in response to me are not what I believe or anything that I would say. You’ve set up a strawman.

    Here’s an article that might help you understand the difference between Bernard and Dulle.

  11. CarolJean: Your first paragraph seems like something Bernard would affirm wholeheartedly. It also seems like what I described. I know you’d never actually say that you think each nature is a person; my point is that when speaking about the interaction between Father and Son, you do it as if both are personal. Swapping out “modes of existence” for “persons” doesn’t change the actual practice of it all. But if I’ve misunderstood you and consequently misrepresented you then you have my sincerest apologies. If I can find some time I’ll take a look at the link you posted.

  12. CarolJean,

    It’s hard to understand what you’re saying here:

    So why develop a Trinitarian view to explain the interaction between Father and Son when a self-limitation of his omni’s within the incarnation is enough to to explain the interaction and maintain the revelation God gave of himself in the OT as one person?

    Of all the Oneness views I have seen no “self-limitation of omnis” is going to explain the Father-Son interaction in Oneness understanding. You’re simply not saying anything substantial here or anything to show how this could be. Your mistaken presupposition that God must be one in person and being in the Old Testament and must therefore be so in the New also shows here.

    Lastly, Nick didn’t create a strawman because you never put forth any position for him to ignore and misrepresent. He mght have been ignorant of your View, but you actually have to state your position clearly and he has to ignore it before he can create a strawman. In the end, his criticism still applies to your brand of Oneness.

  13. JohnDave: Thanks. I’d note that CarolJean’s view seems to be an actual (as opposed to merely apparent) contradiction. If God is one and only one person then how can he limit the omnis as Son while maintaining them as Father? It has God being both omni-whatever and not-omni-whatever at the same time and seemingly in the same sense.

  14. Nick,

    Agreed. The Dulle view and CarolJean’s understanding of it makes more problems and solves hardly any of the Nestorian Bernard problems. Your previous point that “modes of existences” = “persons” in practice stands, if it is denied that God has omnis and not-omnis in the same sense. The Trinitarian doctrine of God is the best way to understand the Father-Son interaction and maintain pre-reactionary-against-Christians Jewish monotheism.

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