J. R. Daniel Kirk, Interview, Jesus the man

J. R. Daniel Kirk, Interview, Jesus The Man



The man Jesus lived amongst us, walking the dusty streets of Galilee, in the midst of a power hungry empire, Rome. He was weaving stories for his listeners, teaching God's reign on earth, demonstrating in both word and deed that he was the messiah (anointed by God). Jesus healed the sick and lame, confronting religious hypocrisy with harsh critiques and warnings about changing their minds about what it truly means to be Israel. The man Jesus angered the scribes, ultimately leading to his death by Roman crucifixion. The NT writers have many things to say about the man Jesus. Christology consists of the humanness of Jesus but too often we only hear about the divine Jesus, though they go side by side. In this post we had the privilege of interviewing J.R. Daniel Kirk on Jesus the man. Kirk is a NT professor and teaches at Fuller seminary  for more information check out his blog Jrdkirk.com.              - Casey Dayton, Dan Marino

1) Was Jesus fully man?

YES! I think that this is one of the most important things that we as Christians have to say about Jesus. Popular theology has sometimes taught us that the most important thing we have to say about Jesus is that he is God. But we have to remember that Jesus comes into a story that was already unfolding.

In that story, God has a purpose for people. Adam and Eve were to rule the world and tend the garden. Israel was to put God's greatness on display for its neighbors. The king was to demonstrate what righteous rule looks like. God has decided not to ever be at work in this world without the help of humans.

To put it differently: if there could never be a human who faithfully rules the world on God's behalf and thereby becomes the means for making God's greatness known among all nations, then God's plan fails, and evil's power to thwart God's plans is stronger than God's power to bring them to fruition.

2) What does Messiah mean when applied to Jesus?

First, it means what Jewish people always thought it meant: an eschatological messenger who would be entrusted to rule the world on God's behalf at the turn of the ages.

Second, the term comes with a surprising twist. In the NT Jesus comes into his royal throne only through suffering and death. His enthronement, then, is not in Jerusalem by way of a war against Rome. It is in heaven by means of his murder at the hands of the Roman military apparatus.

Jesus is the anointed Messiah, the man chosen by God to rule the world on God's behalf. And, Jesus executes that rule from God's right hand where he sits enthroned, having been installed to execute the rule that he exercised in a preliminary fashion during his life on earth.

3) What does the term "Son of God" mean in the NT witness?

For the most part, son of God in the NT means the human being(s) specially chosen to be God's agent in rule over the world and in defining the identity of the family of God.

This applies first and foremost to Jesus, of course. In the Synoptic Gospels and Paul "son of God" means what it meant in Pss 2 and 89 and 2 Sam 7, i.e., "king of Israel."

It is important to recognize that Jesus is son of God, first and foremost, as human messiah. Why is this important? Because it shows us that our status as God's daughters and sons is sharing in the sonship of Jesus. This is what Paul says in Rom 8: God's plan is for us to be conformed to the image of his son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. "Son of God" is new creation language, in which God is remaking humanity, with Jesus as the first of a new, large family.

In John there is an added layer of meaning, as Jesus's divine sonship extends back into his heavenly pre-history and colors our understanding of him as a divine-human.

4) What does the "Son of Man" mean in the NT witness?

This is a thoroughly complicated question in the history of NT research! But I think that the Common English Bible gets it right when it translate this as "the Human One."

I will argue in my forthcoming book that all of the "son of man" sayings have Dan 7 in their background. There, "one like a human being" is given authority over the earth. Jesus says, "I am the human being to whom God has given this royal authority and kingship."

The son of man sayings show us what Jesus's particular vocation is as suffering messiah: he must suffer and be raised, but he also has a unique authority on earth as the Human One. Put this all together, and I think that what you get is a picture of Jesus recapturing the primal calling of humanity: he rules for God upon the earth, and will rule for God over heaven and earth after his resurrection. This is the eschatological destiny of humanity, fulfilling its original purpose as laid out at creation. And, the only way to get from "God's faithful servant" on earth to "enthroned son of man" above is the way of the cross.

5) Do the synoptics teach Jesus was God?

In my research, I have found that there is a great deal that Jewish people could say about an idealized human figure without making that person out to be God in the sense of "the God of Israel as such." I think that such depictions of idealized humans fit Jesus as he is portrayed in the Gospels. Because I take the humanity of Jesus so seriously, and because I take the place of humans in the biblical storyline so seriously, I think it is important to be able to say that everything Jesus does in the Gospels he does as and because he is the first human to fully live into his humanity.

I would say that there might be a couple of nods toward a divine Christology in Matthew, but that generally speaking what we find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is that the writers identify Jesus with God without identifying Jesus as God. Jesus is the embodiment of God's will and purpose and action and adoration on the earth. But he does all these things as God's anointed messiah rather than being God as such.

6) Does Paul teach a high Christology in His letters?

Paul definitely teaches a high Christology in his letters. I would say that the Synoptic Gospels have an extraordinarily high Christology as well!

The interesting thing about Paul's letters is that he rarely if ever makes any sort of preexistence Christology or divine Christology the crux of an argument. Most often, what matters is Jesus functioning as a human, in ways that we are called to live into as well. For Paul, "Adam Christology" forms the presupposition of his argument much more regularly than does any sort of divine Christology. Once again, then, the question of what kind of human Jesus is becomes much more important for understanding the NT than the more esoteric question of Jesus's ontological divinity.

It is also important to realize that for Paul, no less than for the Synoptic Gospels and even John, "God" and "Jesus" are two separate characters in the Christian story. "God" is the Father, while Jesus is the resurrected and enthroned "Lord." So while I won't say that there is no divine Christology in Paul, I will say that coming to grips with the human Christology is, by and large, more important for understanding the theological logic of Paul's letters--and of the NT in general.

Check out his books below

Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God

Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?: A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity

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