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.
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:
His being the Creator of all things.
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!