Smith addressed numerous phrases often used in an attempt to buttress Jesus as having been an incarnated deity, such as “the word [logos] became flesh” and “come into the world” p. 39, 136, 137-9, 168-9.
He also analyzed the Synoptic emphasis on begetting, “the moment he came into existence” p. 139. This language is frequently accompanied by the reader’s presupposition, as if the gospel writers intended only Jesus’ human nature came into existence, thus communicating Jesus is somehow more than human. He goes on to say,
“the Synoptics call Jesus an anthrōpos a total of eleven times (three times in Matthew 3; two times in Mark; six times in Luke). What may be surprising to some is the increased persistence regarding Jesus’ humanity within the Fourth Gospel, which calls him an anthrōpos fifteen times – more than Matthew, Mark, and Luke combined!” p. 139.
Irons was adamant that the
“historic, orthodox interpretation of the birth narratives…is superior to Smith’s psilanthropic interpretation because it is consistent with the New Testament’s preexistence-incarnation teaching.”
Irons made the claim that
“by focusing on the virgin birth, they teach that Jesus is the divine Son of God who took true human nature into personal union with himself by being born of the virgin” p. 154.
Apart from being entirely outside the scope of Synoptic data and relevance, this is also wholly an eisegetical and anachronistic perspective. The Gospel writers make no such claim.
While Irons foundationally objected to Smith’s “methodology” on the grounds of a perceived reliance on Jewish literature, Irons exemplified somewhat of a double-standard, being completely dependent on later views forced upon the Jesus narratives, all the while claiming his paradigm to be derivative from the biblical text.
Smith covered a great deal of Christological ground in short order, as to the New Testament’s identity of Jesus. He examined the title “Son of God” within biblical context and use, rather than a Nicene and ontological one:
“It should come as no surprise that Jesus frequently spoke about his identity. Within the Gospels, Jesus refers to himself most often as the Son of Man, the messianic human agent of judgment from Daniel 7:13…No less than forty times does Jesus address God as ‘My Father.’ As a good Jewish monotheist who without hesitation affirmed Judaism’s Shema (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus identified the Father as ‘My God’ ten times (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; John 20:17; Rev 3:2, 20). Since the Father was Jesus’ God, he regularly claimed his unreserved subordination to Him by saying things like ‘the Father is greater than all,’ ‘the Father is greater than I,’ and so forth (John 10:29; 14:28; 20:17” p. 141-142.
The statements made by the Gospel narratives concerning Jesus’ identity were not taken as stated by Smith’s interlocutor Irons, but were coupled with an interpretation of Phil 2 and divine self-emptying (meaning an ontologically divine self) p.148. This interpretation finds its way into Irons’s perspective of what the Gospel writers intended, i.e. only the human aspect of the divine Son of God.
There are of course multitudinous details that could continue to be examined regarding this discussion, but it’s high time to close the cover (I don’t like to keep too many Irons in the fire). In my opinion, while arguing with class and clarity, both Irons and Dixon failed to provide any conclusive evidence to substantiate their views (whether historically Orthodox or not), and I failed to be convinced.
Out of all three essays and subsequent interaction, Smith stuck to the core of biblical evidence, and I found his premises to be derived from solid historical and cultural contexts without imposing anachronistic arguments or extraneous issues.
Throughout the discourse, while a mutual consensus of Jesus’ identity between the three interlocutors was not reached, nor were there hailed “victors,” the goal of a gentlemanly, coherent and scholarly dialogue accessible for non-academics most certainly was.
I want to commend Lee Irons, Danny Dixon and Dustin Smith for their contributions resulting in a valuable work that will no doubt become an asset for people in years to come, as there are those seeking to educate themselves on basic arguments from multiple sides of this ancient conversation. Upon completing the last segment of the dialogue, the reader is left with a framework and comprehensive bibliography to further examine any of the issues discussed.
It is my hope – as I am sure is also true of the authors – that many individuals as a result, will do just that. Don’t be afraid, dig in.
- My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (Hos 4:6; Isa 5:13)