Bauckham’s Jesus and The God of Israel (pt. 2): Other Studies in NT Christology

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.

Chapters 2-8

Chapter 2 was first published in Out of Egypt, volume 5 in the Scripture and Hermeneutics series, and addresses the “problems of monotheism” in recent interpretation. Bauckham spends over twenty pages addressing current opponents of biblical monotheism (i.e. Nathan McDonald: monotheism as an organizing principle (Enlightenment); Robert Gnuse: monotheism as evolutionary model (history of religions)), and then appeals to early sources and the biblical canon to show how monotheism is understood biblically. Scripture reserves unique and unparalleled language for God. Moving from Old to New, Bauckham shows how NT texts like Rom. 28-30; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; John 10:30 use monotheistic texts from the OT in ways that preserve the singular nature of God and yet expand the application to include the identity of Jesus.

Chapters 3-5 consider three biblical concepts or themes that relate to the topic of monotheism and Jesus identity. Chapter 3 makes the case that El Elyon is not akin to the gods of Greek mythology, who exist in some kind of pantheon or divine council. Rather in the biblical witness, El Elyon refers to the God who is utterly transcendent, unique, and solely Divine. Bauckham distinguishes between ‘exclusive’ and ‘inclusive’ monotheism (108), and proves from texts like Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and other Jewish literature that the God of Israel is exclusively God. Moving from uniqueness in name and identity to uniqueness in worship, Bauckham considers the worship of Jesus in chapter 4. Since worship is absolutely reserved for God alone (cf. Ex. 20:1-3), it would be forbidden for Jesus to receive worship unless he was God. Bauckham points this out and then describes the historical records to prove how the early church unanimously worshiped Christ, proving again the mutual identification of Jesus and God. Finally, in chapter 5, Bauckham considers the “throne of God and the worship of Jesus.” Like in the last chapter, worship of Jesus proves his identification with God, but now Bauckham goes a step further highlighting the way Jesus shares in God’s throne. Speaking of Daniel 7, he writes, “the Son of Man participates in God’s unique sovereignty, and accordingly portrays him seated on the divine throne” (170). This OT vision is corroborated by the New Testament’s unique use of Psalm 110 and John’s apocalypse, where both indicate a kind of shared throne. Bauckham’s conclusion is that this again proves his thesis.

Finally, chapters 6-8 each look at a different NT author and the way they worked out Jesus divine identity. Chapter 6 looks at the apostle Paul; chapter 7 examines Hebrews; and chapter 8 finishes with a study of Mark. With Paul, Bauckham finds that his interpretations are unique and unprecedented in antecedent Jewish literature. Therefore, the kind of exegetical method he employed is not appropriated from his culture, but was revealed to him—probably on the road to Damascus, certainly by the Spirit of Christ. This interpretive novelty resulted in theological formulations of Christ’s divine Sonship that transcend Jewish contemporaries. The book of Hebrews is no different. From the “full divinity of the Lord” described in the opening chapters, to the heavenly mediation of his priesthood, to the simple ascription of Jesus unchanging nature (13:8), all of Hebrews points to Jesus identity as God. In chapter 8, Bauckham concludes with a brief exegetical consideration of Mark’s portrayal of the passion. He concludes once more that Jesus is identified with God in the book and that this theme reaches its zenith at the cross, where ironically as God fades in view, God’s son is revealing the very heart of God—“self-giving love.”[1]

In the end, there are points where Bauckham overstates his case and the steady drum he beats becomes drone-like.  Yet, this weakness only complements his greatest strength, which is convincingly proving his point and expounding his thesis—“the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity” (19).  The reader, this one at least, comes away from the book feeling very compelled by his argument–Jesus shares the Divine Identity with the Father.  (I must insert here that Andrew Chester, in his book Messiah and Exaltation, is less convinced than this reader by some of Bauckham’s handling of Jewish literature–no doubt because he knows this material much better than I.  See Jim Hamilton’s book review, especially his notes on chapter 2, for a synopsis–or take out a loan and buy the book, $200+).

In all his biblical research, his arguments touch on many systematic doctrines—Christology, Theology Proper, and Theological Hermeneutics, being a few—yet, staying in his field of expertise, he has not interfaced his conclusions with doctrinal formulation. In this way, his conclusions seem to be most directed toward the biblical exegete. Therefore, there is much that can and should be done with this data to integrate it with other more philosophical and theoretical Christologies. Applications for Trinitarian research and theological method are only two possibilities. Moreover, how does the Holy Spirit fit into the paradigm?  And, how does this Christology of identity interface or improve functional and ontic Christologies?  Bauckham wants to dismiss these categories, I would prefer to reform/inform with more biblical data.

On the whole, Bauckham’s book is a fine work. He is a meticulous scholar, whose biblical theological insights are well-researched and spiritually-enriching. I look forward to the completion of his project on this subject.

[1] Here again, I hesitate, because I am not sure what Bauckham is saying about God (i.e. Theology Proper). Much of his language does not distinguish God the Father and God the Son; it only speaks of God and Jesus. This kind of generic language for the cross is unhelpful, because it was God the Son, alone, who died on the cross. Ironically, while Bauckham, in his whole presentation, is comparing Jesus to God, I recall little Trinitarian notions of Son and Father. It is primarily Jesus (the man) and God (the divine).  But I will not fault him greatly, because his work is intentionally exegetical, not systematic.

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