11. Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John

testimony.jpgBauckham, Richard.

The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John

Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Pp. 313. Paper. $29.99.

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In this chapter (originally published in Contours of Christology in the New Testament, ed. R. N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 148-66.) Bauckham makes the case for his celebrated “Christology of divine identity” in the Fourth Gospel.  He begins by noting that one of the foundational tenets of monotheism was YHWH as Creator of all things, indeed, it was this distinction between Creator/created that differentiated YHWH from the idols of the nations.  He turns immediately to John’s prologue and notes the obvious echoes and allusions to the creation account of Genesis 1.  Here the Word is identified with God as the creator of all things, yet distinct from the God he is with, while the whole time being differentiated from the creation, standing above it.  He notes the common Jewish background within which the Word would be understood and says:

We should not, with many scholars writing on the Johanine Prologue, use the term Logos, as though John’s Greek word means more than simply “word.” It carries no particular metaphysical baggage. It refers simply to God’s word as portrayed in Jewish creation accounts, and this is why it does not appear in John’s Gospel after the prologue. In the prologue he uses the term to identify the preexistent Christ within the Genesis creation narrative, and so within the unique identity of God as already understood by Jewish monotheism. [p. 241]

From here Bauckham goes on to briefly examine John 5:17ff and make an argument for Jesus being included in the divine identity by his exercising divine prerogatives.  He says that: “[i]n his radical dependence on God, he is not equal to God in the sense that the Jewish leaders intend, but he is equal to God in the sense that what the Father gives him to do are the uniquely divine prerogatives.” [p. 242]  He also argues that Jesus does not simply act as a mere agent, someone standing in for God, but rather he acts as God doing only the things that God himself can do.  In quoting John 5:23, Bauckham equates Jesus’ mention of honoring the Son as one honors the Father as a reference to worship, and in the Jewish tradition, the only true God is to be worshipped.

The main part of this chapter focuses on Jesus’ “I Am” sayings in which Bauckham outlines two sets of seven such sayings.  The first set are those with a predicate and the second set are those without.  He briefly treats each, and focuses in mainly on the Isainic parallels scattered throughout Isaiah 40-55.  These sayings in Isaiah are some of the most emphatic in declaring the absolute and unique identity of YHWH as the only true God. Bauckham concludes saying:

One series, the “I am sayings with predicates, focus on Jesus as the only Savior in a variety of images instancing the inexhaustible fullness of what salvation means. In these sayings, as in the signs, it is implicit that Jesus can be the only Savior only because he is identified with the only God. To reveal the glory of God’s unique identity, to give the eternal life that God alone has in himself, Jesus must himself belong to God’s own unique identity. This is what the absolute “I am” sayings make fully explicit, in a sevenfold series of progressive clarity, in which Jesus utters the most concise and comprehensive expression of all that it means for God to be uniquely and truly God. [p. 250]

The chapter is closed out with a short discussion of the oneness of Jesus and the Father, in which Bauckham focuses mainly on John 10:30 with reference to John 17.  He sees a connection between Jesus’ statement in John 10:30 and the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, noting that the LXX use of the masculine heis (one) in the Shema and John’s use of the neuter hen (one) here was a “necessary adaptation of language [because] Jesus is not saying that he and the Father are a single person, but that together they are one God.” [p. 251]  I quite agree with this proposition, but I don’t agree with what follows it.

Bauckham goes on to claim that the oneness of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 is the same oneness he mentions in John 10:30.  I have long argued against this very proposition on the basis of the differing contexts.  In John 10:30 we have Jesus claiming oneness with the Father in salvation.  He’s the Good Shepherd who brings about the salvation of the sheep, while in John 17 he prays for a oneness of agreement between believers as exists between him and the Father.  But all is not lost, Bauckham goes on to clarify his position saying:

This Jewish topos, of course, in no way implies that God is a unity in the same sense that his people are, only that the divine singularity draws the singular people of God together into a relational unity. Similarly Jesus prays that his disciples will be a single community corresponding to the uniqueness of the one God in which he and his Father are united (see also 10:16). [p. 251]

While I’m much more comfortable with this clarification, I’m not convinced that Bauckham has made his case for equating the two passages.  In closing, Bauckham makes some of the simplest, yet most profound statements in the entire chapter when he turns his attention to Jesus’ statements concerning his and the Father’s mutual indwelling and the Jewish reaction to this.  He says:

Evidently, this reciprocal indwelling–the closest conceivable intimacy of relationship–is the inner reality of the oneness of Father and Son. Their unity does not erase their difference, but differentiates them in and inseparable relationship. We should also notice that the terms “Father” and “Son” entail each other. The Father is called Father only because Jesus is his Son, and Jesus is called Son only because he is the Son of his divine Father. Each essential to the identity of the other. [p. 251]

I think Bauckham’s overall case for a “Christology of divine identity” is compelling, and it was represented nicely, although much too briefly in this essay.  The interested reader will want to get their hands on Bauckham’s God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament or the forthcoming Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity which includes and expands on the former work.  And in the meantime, allow me to commend to your attention Bauckham’s online essay “Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity.”


4 thoughts on “11. Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John

  1. A great book, and I thought this was the best chapter in the whole thing…with the possible exception of the wide-raning introductory chapter. Can’t wait for Bauckham’s big book to come out on this.

  2. This may be the first theology book I ever purchase. Your reviews have been great and I think I’m going to need something to read when I need to take a break from studying grammar.

  3. Nick: I agree 100%.

    Nathan: Thanks. You won’t be disappointed with this one. Like Nick, I can’t wait for his big book to come out. Sadly, it’s published by Eerdmans and I don’t have any review book pull over there, but I’m working on something.

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