Jesus and the God of Israel (1)

JGI.jpgBauckham, Richard.

Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity

Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 2008. Pp. xii + 285. Paper. $34.00.

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With thanks to Lara Sissell at Eerdmans for this review copy!

There are three names that immediately come to mind when thinking about the top Anglo-American scholars of early Christology: (1) James D. G. Dunn, (2) Larry Hurtado, and (3) Richard Bauckham, so it is no surprise to see that Bauckham has dedicated this work to his two esteemed colleagues.  Jesus and the God of Israel is a collection of previously published or soon-to-be published essays from Bauckham on early Christology and as such it is not necessary to read each chapter in order but I would recommend beginning with chapter 1 which is the full text of his groundbreaking monograph God Crucified.  Everything that follows is largely building off of that work in some way, shape, or form.  In this review I shall focus on this chapter alone.

Bauckham’s main thesis is that for too long the understanding of early Christology with regard to Second Temple Jewish monotheism has been improperly framed with scholars starting from and working within improper conceptual categories; categories that would have been foreign to early Jewish believers.  For example, contra what Bauckham represents as the patristic focus on the nature or being of God, he argues that early Jewish monotheistic belief wasn’t concerned so much with what divinity was but rather who their God YHWH was.  Bauckham prefers to work from within the category of the “unique divine identity” as opposed to “functional” (what God does) or “ontic/ontological” (what God is) categories.

He contends that to properly understand Second Temple Jewish monotheism we need to focus our attention on those things that marked Israel’s God out as unique, specifically in his relationship to all other reality:

  1. His being the Creator of all things.
  2. His being sovereign Ruler over all things.

These are the two main characteristics that comprise the unique divine identity of YHWH and it is the NT writers’ attribution of these characteristics to Jesus that Bauckham contends is what shows that they included Jesus within the unique divine identity of Israel’s God.  It is also by these criteria that he sees focus on intermediary figures such as exalted patriarchs or angels in Second Temple Jewish literature to be largely irrelevant.  In short, these beings were on the creature side of the Creator/creature divide, no matter how exalted they were.  He also focuses on worship (or monolatry) but against those (e.g., Hurtado) who see sole worship of God as a defining factor of his uniqueness, Bauckham contends that it is the recognition of YHWH’s uniqueness that causes the response of worship.

Bauckham spends a good deal of space looking at three significant NT texts and the early Christian reading of Deutero-Isaiah (Is. 40-55).  He skillfully shows how Philippians 2:6-111, the Gospel of John, and the book of Revelation all employ various sections of Deutero-Isaiah in order to depict Jesus as being included in the unique identity of God.  For Philippians there are verbal connections with Isaiah 52-53; 45 while the Gospel of John employs seven (or nine) absolute “I Am” sayings from Jesus that correspond to the seven (or nine) “I Am” sayings of YHWH in Deutero-Isaiah.  He also draws attention to the “lifted up” parallels between the two bodies of writing showing an interesting connection between abasement and exaltation that lends itself to Paul’s major point in Philippians 2:6-11.  In the book of Revelation it is the depiction of the Lamb slain that corresponds to the Isaianic Suffering Servant.

In the end Bauckham’s contention is that the earliest Christology was the highest Christology and against those who argue that only the seeds of a full blown divine Christology are present in the NT and didn’t come to fruition until the fourth century patristic period, he claims that the NT writers were in a “deliberate and sophisticated way expressing a fully divine Christology.” [p. 58]  So much of his presentation is to be commended but there was one thing that left me less than satisfied.

Bauckham perhaps unfairly critiques patristic conceptions God and Christ by broad brushing them as being concerned mainly (perhaps only?) with ontology.  In point of fact the fathers’ initial concern was salvation which caused them to ask what kind of savior the Son had to be in order to save us.  They were also concerned with who God was, specifically with who the Son was in relation to the Father and vice versa.

Also, as Jason Vickers convincingly argues in his recent monograph Invocation and Assent (Eerdmans, 2008), the origins of confessional or creedal Trinitarianism lie more in the invocation of the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in baptism, as well as the name of Jesus in prayer, demon exorcism, and declarations of lordship than anything else.  In other words, the early patristic testimony and conception of the Father and the Son was more about practical matters than it was ontology even if these categories were to become commonplace in Nicene terminology.

To be continued…



1 Against a good majority of NT scholars Bauckham believes that this ‘hymn’ is original to Paul rather than simply being appropriated by him. I’m quite sympathetic to this position and was pleased to see Bauckham espouse it. Also refreshing was Bauckham’s outright denial that an Adam Christology is anywhere present in this passage (contra Dunn who is quite frustrating to read on this point); he declares: “In my view, Adam has proved a red herring in the study of this passage.” [p. 41]   Amen!

13 thoughts on “Jesus and the God of Israel (1)

  1. Nick in what respect does Bauckham touch upon Alan Segal`s work such as `Two Powers in Heaven` or Barker`s `The Great Angel`. Both these works suggest a plurality of beings in relation to God`s work in Early Judean Religion.

  2. Andrew: There’s not a lot of direct interaction with any scholars in God Crucified (chapter 1). Besides in a few footnotes Segal and Barker aren’t named, but his overall argument with regard to Barker’s work would be that an intermediary figure no matter how exalted is still a creature and therefore in a class wholly other than YHWH. With regard to Segal’s work Bauckham would say something like Jesus wouldn’t constitute a second power in heaven because he is intrinsic (as is God’s Word or Wisdom) to the unique divine identity. We’ll see if he interacts with them more directly in other chapters.

  3. Gordon Fee, who carries no small amount of exegetical weight, is also critical of Pauline “hymns”. I believe he sees them as thoroughly Pauline and related to no other extant literature we know of. Apparently, Fee would fit in this (rightly understood) minority camp with Bauckham on the Pauline “hymns”, I do believe, but I cannot speak for him (which I am of course doing…).

    Fee is top notch and when he’s in the minority camp the minority position looks a lot less mistaken.

    Fee bumps heads quite a bit with Dunn in his Pauline Christology. So much so, and on all the great Christologically critical passages, that my desire to read Dunn is almost extinguished.

    Norelli, I’ve noticed you discuss Dunn frequently, or maybe I’m just thinking that because of your book photos, lol, idk (btw what happened to the monkey?). I’d encourage you to balance Dunn’s Christology with someone like Schreiner or Fee (not that I’d put these two in the same category). It’s hard for me to comment here, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Dunn’s work concerns me, although I have not read him much.

    I’ve said more than I should here.

    God bless,

  4. Michael: Yeah, both Fee and N. T. Wright are in the same camp as Bauckham on this one although Bacukham is critical of Wright trying to have his cake and eat it too here. I would highly recommend reading Dunn (even though he can be very frustrating at times) for the simple fact that so much has been written in response to him. Obviously he’s said something important enough to acknowledge no matter how disagreeable. There are also times when he’s quite brilliant, e.g., in his exegesis of Romans 1.

    As far as balancing Dunn’s Christology in the Making I try to read everything/one I possibly can on the subject (e.g., Hurtado; Bauckham; Hamerton-Kelly; Casey; Barker; Fee; et al. — the current header pick which has replaced the monkey shows some of this).

    Brian: I think the whole NPP fad has little to do with Dunn’s Christology which is a good thing, even if I disagree with so much of what he says.

  5. Nick, please keep this book review updated as you go through it. It sounds like a great work. What will it be selling for?

  6. Drew: I’ll be posting at least one more part to this review (probably two more parts if the next one seems too long to me). And it is a great work! The price of the volume varies depending on where you get it but the Westminster Bookstore has it for $22.10 and Amazon is selling it for $22.44.

    If you want a taste of what the book has to offer than check out this paper which Bauckham revised for the book.

  7. Hurtado is a name I’ll be buying. He comes up often in my books and always in a positive light. Wright is a one-of-a-kind page-turner I’ve read among historical and theological books; he’s quite an accomplished author. However, when he’s writing on something I would disagree with it causes for some humorous episodes at my desk.

    I have a few of Bauckham’s titles, mostly apocalyptic. Now that I think of it, reading a NT Theology by him sounds very compelling, especially in light of so many authors (Wright possibly fitting into this category) de-apocalypticizing a non-eschatological Christ. Although outdated, and the prima donna Carson sees his work as “eclipsed”, Ladd’s work is very helpful in maintaining a balance.

    I think Schreiner’s work is excellent too. I noticed one of your recent posts had some critical links to his NT Theology—Witherington, curiously critical, being one of them. Witherington actually endorsed the book by Baker. That God is ultimately concerned with his glory is unmistakable to me as I read the Scriptures. Maybe Schreiner is giving too much weight to this but I do not think so. The Ben Meyers post doesn’t merit comment, which is customary of much of his blog.

    Solomon was right to say there is no end of books and reading. I’d better get back to reading.

  8. Michael: Hurtado is indispensible! For a good introductiont to his scholarship I’d start with How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? This is partly composed of some lectures he gave and partly of previously published essays. After this then go straight for the big book Lord Jesus Christ.

    Did BW3 endorse the book? That’s peculiar. And as for Ben Myers post, I enjoyed the comments immensely, especially when the Edwards scholar jumped into the mix.

  9. I added the Hurtado titles to my Wishlist.

    Here’s the link to Witherington’s endorsement of Schreiner’s book. Witherington does defend his criticism in light of his endorsement on the link you provided in one of your posts.

    Read Schreiner though! He is excellent, and he doesn’t have the “pricetag” that some other authors make you pay (i.e. he doesn’t waste time or conjecture if he doesn’t know; he is always pointing the reader to the text).

    As for my comment earlier on Carson, Carson is the man. I hope I didn’t sound critical of him.

  10. Michael: You won’t be disappointed with Hurtado. If you’re interested I’ll send you a couple of articles by him once I get my new computer (hopefully by Friday if not sooner).

  11. Matthew: I look forward to writing it. Hopefully I’ll be able to post part 2 before the end of the week. The reading is done, I just have to write it up (which isn’t always so easy being away from my desk).

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