Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.
Chapter 1: God Crucified
Richard Bauckham is an insightful and well-published New Testament scholar from the United Kingdom. In Jesus and the God of Israel, he expands his shorter 1998 work, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament. Yet, this current volume is still not the detailed work he promised in the preface to his early work. Instead, it is a set “of working papers on the way on the way to that book” (xi). Nevertheless, its contents richly defend and develop the thesis of God Crucified, which states “that the highest possible Christology—the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity—was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them” (19). The rest of the book goes on to explicate this thesis and to prove its truthfulness from many New Testament authors with answers to many contemporary objections. (Today we are only addressing the first chapter).
In chapter 1, Bauckham raises the debated question: How did Jewish monotheism coexist with or evolve into New Testament Christology? To introduce his subject, Bauckham highlights two contemporary approaches to answering this question. The more traditional approach maintains “strict” monotheism, but has minimized the claims of Christ in the New Testament, while revisionist approaches expand divinity to include “intermediary figures” who possess a “semi-divine status” (2). The latter approach affirms Jesus deity, along with a host of other supernatural beings. Bauckham contends against both methods. While agreeing with the notion of strict monotheism, he does not conclude that Jesus is somehow lesser. The goal of the whole book is to show Jesus divine uniqueness.
The first section of the chapter is spent tracing the historic “strict” monotheism of Second Temple Judaism and the way in which intermediaries function. His historic analysis shows its divergence with New Testament Christology, and sets up the second part of his introductory argument. In section two of “God Crucified,” Bauckham advances an approach built on the progressively revealed, mutual identity of YHWH and Jesus Christ. He writes of this approach:
I shall concentrate on illustrating a way of reading the texts which puts the whole question of the character of the New Testament Christology in a new light. In this argument, the understanding of Jewish monotheism which I have propsed will funation as the hermeneutical key to understanding the way I which the New Testament tests relate Jesus Christ to the one God of Jewish monotheism… In this way, they develop a kind of Christological monotheism which is fully continuous with early Jewish monotheism, but distinctive in the way it sees Jesus Christ himself as intrinsic to the identity of the unique God (19).
With this framework in place, Bauckham moves through the second section (and really the rest of the book) showing how Christ takes on the identity of Israel’s God. At the end of the section, after testing biblical texts against his “hermeneutical key,” Bauckham posits “identity” as the way to go forward in Christological formulation. Against functional and ontic Christologies, he contends:
A Christology of divine identity will take us, I suggest, beyond the fundamentally misleading contrast between ‘functional’ and ‘ontic’ Christology as categories for reading the New Testament texts. In my view, these categories have proved inadequate to the task of illuminating the texts, not least because they do not reflect an adequate understanding of the way Jewish monotheism understood God (30).
This appeal to identity leads into Bauckham’s third and final section in chapter 1, where he argues that God’s identity is revealed in Jesus Christ in new and greater ways than the Old Testament. Still, in this new revelation the veracity and consistency of the Old Testament revelation is unquestioned. The God of Israel who revealed himself in the Exodus has now become the God of Jesus Christ, and the God who is Jesus Christ, who is revealed most completely on the cross (52-53). Bauckham calls this kind of divine recapitulation, “consistency and novelty,” and it proves very useful in putting the OT monotheism together with NT Christology and Trinitarian thought.
The rest of the book builds on this opening chapter, thus the reason why so much attention has been given to it here. However, even before moving on, there are two questions that arise from Bauckham’s model. First, how much is his chapter, “God Crucified,” shaped by Moltmann’s book of similar name, The Crucified God? Is it possible that the God that Bauckham describes, while being clearly monotheistic, is yet a panentheistic God (cf. John Cooper, The Other God of the Philosophers)? I am totally supportive of understanding the God of Israel through the full revelation of Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 1:1-3), but when he begins to appeal to theologians like Moltmann who make the cross to be the place where Deity dies and reveals himself, I hesitate.
Second, is his dismissal of functional and ontic Christology necessary and/or helpful? Perhaps for NT exegesis it is helpful to delimit Christology to identification, but for systematic theology, these questions cannot be ignored. Even if at points we admit uncertainty or ineffability, we still are within our epistemic rights to ask questions and make assertions of function and ontology. Overall then, his attention to divine identity is helpful and, as he demonstrates in chapters 2-8, exegetically faithful and theological fruitful…but (and this is the theologian coming out) this YHWH-Christ identification must help us formulate ontological and functional components of Christology as well, not deny them carte blanche.
On the whole, I think Bauckham’s proposal is very helpful. We will pick up the rest of the book tomorrow.
Sola Deo Gloria, dss
 Bauckham goes on to appeal to Luther’s “theology of the cross” and Moltmann’s The Crucified God as representatives of this kind of thought, namely that God has revealed himself most completely in Jesus’ death.