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Richard Bauckham

ABSTRACT: "THE THRONE OF GOD AND THE WORSHIP OF JESUS"

Richard Bauckham

Second Temple Judaism was self-consciously monotheistic and understood the unique identity of God in terms of uniquely divine characteristics. The most important were that God is the sole Creator and the sole Ruler of all things. The properly divine worship which was restricted to the one God was recognition of and response to this unique divine identity. Since the unique divine identity was defined in terms of sole lordship and the right to exclusive worship, not in terms of unitary being, Jewish monotheism was open to distinctions within the divine identity. When the criteria of divinity which the Jewish texts themselves provide are applied to so-called intermediary figures, it becomes clear that some (personified or hypostatized divine aspects) belong to the unique divine identity, while others (principal angels and exalted patriarchs) do not (the only exception being the Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch). The texts insist on the absolute distinction between God and all other reality, and the recent scholarly trend to blur or to relativize this distinction is mistaken.

The heavenly throne of God symbolizes God's unique sovereignty. In the heavenly throne-room only God sits, the angels stand (the posture of servants). The only figures distinguished from God who sit on his throne are Wisdom and (in the future) the Enochic Son of Man. The latter therefore receives (rather limited) worship.

Ps 110:1 (interpreted to mean that Jesus is now seated on God's heavenly throne) was the foundational text for post-Easter Christology. Not used in Jewish speculation about intermediary figures, it was used more than any other in early Christianity. This exegetical novelty is explained by the christological novelty. Christians wanted to say about Jesus what no Jewish writers wanted to say about any exalted human or angelic figure: that he participates in God's unique sovereignty over all things, seated on God's heavenly throne. In the terms in which monotheism was defined by the Jewish texts we have, this meant, unambiguously, Jesus' inclusion in the unique divine identity.

Seated on the divine throne, Jesus receives divine worship. Such worship is recognition of the unique divine sovereignty in which Jesus participates, and so the worship of Jesus is included in (not additional to) the exclusive worship of the one God. By portraying the enthroned Jesus receiving the worship of all the heavenly beings and of the whole creation, the early Christian texts place Jesus unambiguously, in Jewish monotheistic terms, on the divine side of the absolute distinction between God and all other reality. (The participation of Jesus in other features of the unique divine identity, especially creation, follows logically.) Texts about human worship of Jesus confirm its connexion with Jesus' exercise of the unique divine sovereignty. This was not a mere 'function' which God can delegate to someone else (as in the standard distinction between 'functional' and 'ontic' Christology). It is intrinsic to *who God is.* So I propose a Christology of divine identity in which the worship of Jesus is an integral aspect of Jesus' belonging to the unique divine identity.


Summary of response by Adela Yarbro Collins:

The definition of God or divinity and worship are central to Baukham's paper, but it is unclear that "unique identity" and "divine identity" are synonymous, since identity and nature are not the same thing. Polemical passages in Philo, Josephus, the _Apocalypse of Abraham_, etc., argue against the worship of the gods of other peoples and the idea that creation was a joint effort of the gods (e.g., in the Babylonian Creation Epic), rather than denying that God had help from beings emanated or created by him. The issue of monotheism for second temple Jews was one of loyalty rather than a metaphysical or philosophical issue, so divine hypostases and personifications (such as the Logos, Philo's "second god") are not simply identical with God, but are subordinate and generated entities God uses to interact with creation. They are acceptable because they are not identified with the pagan gods.

Regarding the divine throne, Bauckham underestimates the significance of 4Q491 frag. 11, which shows that the Qumran community entertained the idea of the enthronement, exaltation, and even divinization of a human being. Likewise, the enthroned Son of Man in the Similitudes of Enoch "participates in God's unique sovereignty" rather than sharing in God's "identity." He, like Jesus, is worshiped as God's agent, not God per se.

Although the followers of Jesus did not simply adopt a ready-made model to interpret him, they probably were aware of and influenced by current Jewish ideas about intermediary and saving figures. (JRD)


(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the authors.

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