In my previous article on this blog, “Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity,” I discussed Anthony Buzzard’s misrepresentations of my statements about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in Putting Jesus in His Place[1], which Buzzard quoted out of context in a recent YouTube video. This was just the first of two subjects on which he took issue with something I had said in that book. In this article, I will discuss his other criticism.

Referring to a comment regarding Luke 1:35 on page 88 of Putting Jesus in His Place, Buzzard made the following statement:

Robert Bowman tries to draw a distinction between being called the Son of God and being the Son of God. That will not work. In the Gospels we have one Gospel saying “Blessed are the meek,” or one of those qualities of Christianity, “they will be the sons of God,” and the parallel says, “they will be called the sons of God.” There’s no difference. I refer to the famous birth narrative book by Raymond Brown where he explicitly says, “There’s no difference. If you’re called the Son of God, that’s what you are.”

Here again, Buzzard ignores the context of the statement in my book. My focus was on responding to the claim that Jesus became the Son of God only at his baptism:

If the Father’s statement at Jesus’ baptism implied that Jesus had become the Son of God at that moment, this subtle implication was missed by both Matthew and Luke. Both of them report the same statement at Jesus’ baptism, yet both agree that Jesus did not become the Son of God at that time. Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 in his infancy narrative, “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” and applies it to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:15). Luke states that Jesus would be called God’s Son because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). (This is not the same thing as saying that he would be God’s Son only as a result of that virginal conception.) Thus, there is no basis in the Synoptics for the idea that Jesus was “sent” at his baptism.[2]

Now, note first that I did not say that Jesus was called God’s Son but wasn’t really God’s Son. Of course, he is called the Son of God because he is the Son of God. That is not in dispute.

Second, I did not deny that Jesus’ virginal conception and birth were a reason why he would be called the Son of God. That is surely one reason why he is known as the Son of God. But Buzzard wants to claim that his conception and birth is the sole reason that he is the Son of God. That claim goes beyond the text.

Third, Buzzard claims to have found some biblical evidence against the distinction between being the Son of God and being called the Son of God, in a pair of parallel statements he claims are in the Gospels. He says, “In the Gospels we have one Gospel saying ‘Blessed are the meek,’ or one of those qualities of Christianity, ‘they will be the sons of God,’ and the parallel says, ‘they will be called the sons of God.’” Obviously, Buzzard is trying to recall something off the top of his head. Unfortunately, in this instance he mangles the texts.

The first verse Buzzard was trying to remember was one of the famous Beatitudes in Matthew, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). The verse that begins “Blessed are the meek” is Matthew 5:4 and says nothing about sons or children of God. There is no parallel verse in any of the other Gospels to either of these verses.

Buzzard presents a supposed quotation from Raymond Brown’s book on the birth narratives, by which he means The Birth of the Messiah. His quotation is not really a quotation, and he gave no page reference, so it took some doing to find Brown’s statement. Here is what Brown wrote (commenting on Luke 1:32):

32. will be called. In this instance, “calling” brings to expression what one is, so that it means no less than “he will be.” Interchangeability of the two phrases is seen by comparing Matt 5:9, “they will be called sons of God,” and Luke 6:35, “you will be sons of the Most High.”[3]

Now we know what the two verses were that Buzzard claimed supported his point. One problem with his argument, and Brown’s, is that the verses are not parallel sayings. Luke 6:35 is parallel to Matthew 5:44-45, not to Matthew 5:9. The fact that Matthew words a particular saying about being “sons of God” in one way and Luke words another saying about being “sons of God” in another way does not show that the two expressions are “interchangeable.” Moreover, this would not be true even if the sayings were genuinely parallel! For example, the sayings in Matthew 7:11, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him,” and Luke 11:13, “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him,” are definitely parallel versions of the same saying of Jesus. However, they do not show that the expressions “good things” and “the Holy Spirit” are interchangeable. Either Matthew (or his source) has broadened the saying to refer to good things in general or Luke (or his source) has narrowed it to refer to the Holy Spirit in particular, but neither is claiming that his expression is interchangeable with the other Gospel writer’s chosen expression.

Buzzard cites Brown’s statement because in Brown he found grist for his argument against the preexistence of Jesus Christ. Brown, a moderate Roman Catholic scholar, argued in his writings that the Synoptic Gospels did not teach the idea that Christ had preexisted his human life. This is why there are more citations of Brown listed in the indices of Buzzard’s two main books critiquing the doctrine of the Trinity than of any other scholar, ancient or modern.[4] What Buzzard ignores is the fact that Brown held that Matthew and Luke contradict other books of the New Testament on this issue. Brown held to an evolutionary view of Christology in which Jesus’ sonship was progressively pushed backward in time. The earliest Christology maintained that Jesus became God’s Son at his resurrection; later the moment of his becoming the Son was moved backward to his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry; still later, as represented in Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ sonship was said to have begun at his conception. Later still, as represented in the Gospel of John and perhaps in Paul, Jesus was viewed as the preexistent divine Son come into the world from heaven in the Incarnation.[5] This is a fairly common view among scholars who do not hold a conservative, high view of Scripture. Bart Ehrman, a well-known agnostic New Testament scholar, holds to a similar view of the evolution of Christology.[6] Brown saw no conflict with this developmental view of Christology and an orthodox belief in Jesus as God incarnate:

Perhaps it is worth reaffirming here that orthodox Christians need have no conflict with such a thesis of a growing retrospective evaluation of Jesus, provided it is understood that the evaluation involves an appreciation of a reality that was already there—Jesus was who he was during his lifetime, even if it took his followers centuries to develop a partially adequate theological vocabulary in which to articulate his greatness.[7]

This explanation is not likely to sit well with Buzzard, whose presuppositions cannot allow for any part of the Bible articulating an incarnational Christology.

In the context of Luke 1:35, the angel Gabriel is announcing to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah. He had already said, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV). Everything about this announcement is focused on Jesus’ messianic role. The title “the Son of the Most High” is associated with the news that Jesus will have the throne of David and reign over Israel forever. In this context, Gabriel’s statement in Luke 1:35 may be comfortably understood as using the designation “Son of God” in its Messianic sense. One may then conclude that Jesus would be called the Son of God because he came as the Messiah was supposed to come, by the Holy Spirit through a virgin.

No doubt Buzzard would agree and go further: that Messianic meaning of the title “Son of God” is the only sense of the term with reference to Jesus that Buzzard recognizes. However, such a claim simply cannot be made to fit the teaching of other parts of the New Testament, including Paul and John’s writings. These other writings make it abundantly clear that Christ existed as a divine person prior to becoming a human being, and they often use the title “Son” or “Son of God” in that context (John 1:1-3; 8:56-59; 8:42; 10:36; 12:39-41; 13:3; 16:28; 17:5; Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 10:4, 9; Gal. 4:4-6; Phil. 2:6-7; Col. 1:16-17).[8] For that matter, there is evidence for the preexistence of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, including in the Gospel of Luke (e.g., Luke 5:32; 12:49, 51; 13:34; 19:10).[9] It is therefore rash to conclude from Luke 1:35 that Jesus did not preexist his human life, a conclusion that goes beyond what Gabriel’s words meant in context.

 
NOTES

Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

[2] Ibid., 88.

[3] Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, new updated ed., Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 289.

[4] Anthony F. Buzzard and and Charles F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound (Lanham, MD: International Scholars Publications, 1998), 60, 71-72, 77-78, 129, 170n, 187-88, 206, 213-15, 217n, 249, 275-76, 280, 283, 321-22; Anthony F. Buzzard, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian: A Call to Return to the Creed of Jesus (Morrow, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2007), 111-12, 192, 202-203, 211n, 268n, 367, 387, 392, 401n, 412. The other scholars whom Buzzard cites often in both books are James D. G. Dunn and John A. T. Robinson. In Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, Buzzard does cite F. F. Bruce a dozen times.

[5] Brown, Birth of the Messiah, 29-31, 134-42.

[6] Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014). See the response book, Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014). Also see my review, “How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response,” Parchment & Pen (blog), March 25, 2014.

[7] Brown, Birth of the Messiah, 134 n. 6.

[8] On the evidence for the preexistence of Christ in Paul, John, and other NT writings, see Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 81-101, 307-314. See also Douglas McCready, He Came Down from Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity; Leicester, England: Apollos, 2005).

[9] Ibid., 85-87, 93-95. See also Simon J. Gathercole, The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

 

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6 comments so far

Mario
 1 

As you cite and quote Raymond Brown, I believe it is you who is misrepresenting his thought re “preexistence” of Christ.

Commenting in detail on Luke 1:35 (“The Holy Spirit will come upon you; the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore [Grk: dio kai] the one to be born will be called holy, Son of God [Grk: to gennômenon agion klêthêsetai yios theou]”), Raymond Brown writes:

“Therefore. Of the nine times dio kai occurs in the New Testament, three are in Luke/Acts. It involves a certain causality and Lyonnet (in his L’Annonciation, 61) points out that this has embarrassed many orthodox theologians since in preexistence Christology a conception by the holy spirit in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him (…)
Will be called holy – Son of God … I cannot follow those theologians who try to avoid the causal connotation in the ‘therefore’ which begins this line, by arguing that for Luke the conception of the child does not bring the Son of God into being.” (Raymond E. Brown, The birth of the Messiah: a commentary on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, [1977], 1979, p. 291)

October 12th, 2014 at 12:47 pm
 2 

Mario, I was responding to Buzzard’s use of Brown’s book. I showed that Buzzard was taking Brown out of context, ignoring Brown’s evolutionary view of NT Christology. You are simply repeating Buzzard’s mistake.

October 14th, 2014 at 10:55 pm
Mario
 3 

No, I am not.

Just forget for a moment about “Brown’s evolutionary view of NT Christology”. The passage that I quoted (and several others that I can provide from the very same book) evidence that Brown affirms that in and on Luke (and in and on Matthew) you can ONLY find and found a ‘conception christology’, NOT a ‘pre-existence christology’.

Now, are you ready and willing to respond to my original objection, or do you want me to provide further relevant quotations from Raymond E. Brown, The birth of the Messiah?

Or do you want to provide your own quotations from Raymond E. Brown, that would prove that he believes that in and on Luke (and in and on Matthew) you can find and found a ‘pre-existence christology’, after all … maybe with some application of “evolutionary NT Christology”?

October 15th, 2014 at 1:19 am
 4 

Mario, perhaps you missed the following sentence in my blog article: “Brown, a moderate Roman Catholic scholar, argued in his writings that the Synoptic Gospels did not teach the idea that Christ had preexisted his human life.” So I already stated what you are arguing. That was Brown’s view of Luke’s Christology. I said so. You keep arguing as though I said otherwise. In doing so, you are simply showing that you failed to read my article carefully.

October 15th, 2014 at 12:31 pm
Mario
 5 

OK, I admit to missing to read with sufficient attention your two key sentences (“Brown, a moderate Roman Catholic scholar, argued in his writings that the Synoptic Gospels did not teach the idea that Christ had preexisted his human life.”; “Brown held to an evolutionary view of Christology in which Jesus’ sonship was progressively pushed backward in time.”).

The problem, then, becomes that you try to win your debate with Buzzard by resorting to your own authority. You say:

“… Paul and John’s writings … make it abundantly clear that Christ existed as a divine person prior to becoming a human being, and they often use the title “Son” or “Son of God” in that context (John 1:1-3; 8:56-59; 8:42; 10:36; 12:39-41; 13:3; 16:28; 17:5; Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 10:4, 9; Gal. 4:4-6; Phil. 2:6-7; Col. 1:16-17).”

That those passages would “make it abundantly clear that Christ existed as a divine person prior to becoming a human being” is precisely what people who do not share your conclusions (or prejudice?) object to.

More, how can you reconcile Paul’s alleged “abundantly clear” passages in favour of Christ’s “preexistence”, with Rom 1:3-4, where the Resurrection is the moment for “appointing” [horizô] Jesus Christ as the “Son of God in power”?

Even more, what about Phil 2:8-9 (immediately following Phil 2:6-7 that you cited), where we read that “God highly exalted [huperupsoô] him [Jesus], and bestowed [charizomai] on him the name which is above every name”?

October 16th, 2014 at 4:38 am
Mario
 6 

P.S. For Rom 1:3-4 and Phil 2:8-9, see also what Raymond E. Brown says, who considers them both as relevant to the “pre-Gospel period”, along with Acts 2:32,36; 5:31; 13:32-33 (see The birth of the Messiah, 1999, p. 30).

October 16th, 2014 at 5:30 am

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