The Synoptic Problem: Early vs. Late High Christology (For the New Sharon Sun paper)
By Pastor Eric
As believers, some of us may have noticed that many of Jesus’ claims to divinity seem curiously concentrated within the Gospel of John (John 10:30, John 16:28, etc), while Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t mention the same kinds of claims to being God in the flesh. This is what’s referred to in theological circles as the ‘synoptic problem’ and it’s typically responded to by looking at more external means (interdependencies amongst the gospel source materials and overall coherence in the New Testament church’s beliefs). No doubt skeptics like to pounce on this, saying the later dating of the Gospel of John, with all of its divine claims, means Jesus didn’t think Himself to be God or the church invented this idea over time. However, there are two internal things (directly within Scripture itself) that I think get missed by those who take that route (called late high Christology).
First, Mark 14:62 has Jesus responding to accusations by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, saying, “‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Outraged, the high priest tears his clothes, a symbol of great grief. Why was he so upset? Because Jesus is identifying Himself with the majestic figure in Daniel 7:13, someone understood by Jewish teaching to be divine. The second source that points towards an early high Christology (the idea that Jesus thought Himself on par with God and that the early church believed this as well) comes from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Noted by scholars as being a ‘pre-Pauline’ (prior to the Apostle Paul) creed, it is almost universally accepted that this early, handed-down creed, full of supporting facts around Jesus’ resurrection, lends further support to the idea that not only the church, but Jesus as well, thought of Himself as being something a bit more than a prophet or mere human being. While estimates of the dating of this creed vary, most agree that the creed dates to within five years of Jesus’ death, with some estimates down to no later than six months. Simply put, this, coupled with Jesus’ allusion to the Daniel 7 figure, is not time enough for the disciples, or anyone else, to make up false beliefs about Jesus' divinity over time since they already believed He was a risen savior.
We serve an amazing Lord we serve! He is risen indeed; God with us!