Contours of Christology in the New Testament

Richard N. Longenecker, editor Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids July 6, 2005
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This book, the seventh volume in this series, treats “New Testament christology [sic] in a ‘biblical theology’ fashion” (p. xii). By this the editor means an approach that maintains “sensitivity to the concerns and circumstances within which the authors of the New Testament wrote,” attempts “to use the best critical-historical-literary-exegetical tools available,” allows the New Testament author “to speak in his own way, in line with his own purposes and emphases,” and desires “to be true to the various contingencies present with the materials and to discern what is at the heart of matters” (pp. xii–xiii). This is an ambitious goal, perhaps a bit too much so, given the relatively short space devoted to such an expansive topic. Since, as the editor explains, “Christology, which may generally be defined as theological interpretation of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, was the focus of early Christian proclamation and is at the heart of the New Testament witness” (p. xii), it would seem difficult to address the topic sufficiently in several hundred pages. Yet as an introduction to the vast subject this book makes a valuable contribution to this body of literature.

Thirteen authors’ essays make up the volume, divided into four sections. The first part, “The Setting,” includes an excellent treatment of “Christological Materials in the Early Christian Communities,” by Richard N. Longenecker. His thesis is that “in addition to personal remembrances, eyewitness reports, the communal memory of the early church, and the work of God’s Spirit,” a variety of written and oral Christological materials “circulated within the Christian communities” which “were used by the writers of the New Testament in their portrayals and presentations” (p. 48). Essays by William Horbury on Jewish messianism and Ben Witherington III on Jesus complete this section.

In part two Morna D. Hooker discusses Mark; Terence L. Donaldson, Matthew; and I. Howard Marshall, Luke and Acts. Particularly helpful is Richard Bauckham’s “Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John” in which he argues that John’s “theme is the eschatological revelation of God’s glory to all and his achievement of definitive salvation for all, as foreseen especially in Isaiah 40–55” (p. 165). The only true God is revealed savingly only in the Son, which “redefines Jewish monotheism as christological monotheism. Christological monotheism is a form of monotheism in which the relationship of Jesus the Son to his Father is integral to the definition of who the true God is” (p. 165).

Essays in part three discuss the Christology of the letters of Paul. Douglas J. Moo treats the early Pauline letters, Ralph P. Martin the Prison Epistles, and Paul H. Towner the Pastorals.

The remainder of the New Testament is discussed in the fourth part. Donald A. Hagner, in “The Son of God as Unique High Priest: The Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews,” argues that the heart of this epistle is the identity and work of Christ as High Priest. J. Ramsey Michaels writes on the Christology of the Catholic Epistles, and David E. Aune on the Apocalypse of John. Aune’s excellent essay emphasizes the central role of the Lamb of God in this book. He writes, “The lengthy narrative unit in 4:1–8:1 centers on the figure of the Lamb. Only the Lamb, as depicted in 5:1–6:17; 8:1, is qualified to act as an agent for God—whose intentions for the world apparently cannot be realized without the mediation of the Lamb. The Lamb ‘completes’ or ‘complements’ God, as it were, in his relation to the cosmos. . . . His conquering death entitles him to be the agent of God’s will for the cosmos and so brings about the conquest of the enemies of God” (p. 318; italics his). That the dominant image of Jesus in the Book of Revelation is the Lamb of God (not a Lion) seems to have significant implications for the followers of the Lamb. The Savior conquered His enemies through His sacrificial death, thereby demonstrating the ultimate redemptive power of submissive, meek, self-sacrificial love.

An excellent overview of New Testament Christology, this book would be a worthwhile addition to any pastor’s library.

—Glenn R. Kreider

July 1, 2006
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2006 vol. 163 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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