God’s Equal by Sigurd Grindheim
The subtitle reads, “What Can We Know About Jesus’ Self-Understanding in the Synoptic Gospels?” In God’s Equal, Sigurd Grindeim provides the ambitious thesis of supporting Jesus’ self-understanding as God’s equal. What does it mean to be God’s equal? Unfortunately, we aren’t told. And this is one of the greatest weaknesses of the book. Even though the reader is left guessing, I would assume that this is a functional equality rather than an ontological one.
But even so, the arguments have some weaknesses. For example, Grindheim often claims that Jesus stated and did things on his own authority. But even if this is true (and I think it is, but must be carefully nuanced), you still can’t get away from the fact that Jesus clearly derived his authority and power from God. Even if Jesus didn’t state this in every instance, this is clearly the view of the synoptic writers. For example, even though Grindheim brought this up in passing, I don’t think he considered it strongly enough as evidence of his thesis; namely, Matt. 9:8 has the crowds glorifying God after seeing Jesus heal and forgive, “who had given such authority to men.” While it may be the case that only God can forgive sins in this way, you shouldn’t claim that Jesus simply did these things on his own authority.
When it comes to Jesus’ self-understanding, there are many places that seem to go against Grindheim’s thesis. One of them is Matt. 28:18 where Jesus is given all authority. Therefore, how could Jesus authority be non-derived or truly of His own? I’m sure the author wouldn’t dispute any of this, but I don’t think he gave these the proper weight in his thesis.
Now for the positive! The author offers some very compelling reasons for holding to a high christology in the synoptics, primarily by using the criteria for authenticity. Much liberal scholarship is interacted with (fairly in my view) and the amount of citations and footnotes are quite impressive.
I always find the exalted figures in 2nd temple Judaism to be fascinating. And I thought that Grindheim offered an excellent survey of these figures. These days, I can barely take a work on Christology seriously anymore if it hasn’t tested its thesis against these figures. It separates the strong christology theories from the weak. And even though I thoroughly enjoyed the survey, I didn’t find the author’s defense to be overly compelling. This was the author’s conclusion: “The [exalted figures] also remain unequivocally inferior to God and exercise their divine functions by appointment from him. In contrast, Jesus invests his earthly words and actions with an authority that equals God’s. He does not refer to an appointment by God as a warrant for his authority, and he thereby creates the impression that the authority he claims is inherently his own.” (p. 167, emphasis mine) While I fully agree that these figures are unequivocally inferior to God and can only do what they do because of appointment, I don’t think that’s the greatest distinction between them and Christ. And this clearly goes against Matt. 28:18 since Jesus claims his authority was given to Him by God.
Overall, despite it’s shortcomings, I would still recommend this book because it provides a compelling case for a high early christology in the synoptics. And I look forward to reading the follow up (and more popular level) book, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels.