God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament
Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament. Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. x + 79 pp. $12.00 Pap. ISBN 0-8028-4642-4
This very short book is far more significant than its size would suggest. A published version of the 1996 Didsbury Lectures at the British Nazarene College in Manchester, it anticipates a full-length study by Bauckham on the same topic. This professor of New Testament Studies in St. Andrews has already demosntrated himself to be a prodigious and creative evangelical scholar not only in his current field but in areas that span systematic theology and church history as well.
Here Bauckham tackles head on two of the prevailing approaches to understanding early Christian history in its first-century milieu. On the one hand, many liberal scholars still see a slow evolutionary development of Christology so that the equation of Jesus with God could have taken place only in a late, Hellenistic context. On the other hand, increasingly more conservative and centrist scholars have appealed to intermediary figures in Judaism such as exalted angels, Melchizedek and even Moses as evidence that intertestamental Judaism came to blur the distinctions between God and man. These precedents, it has been argued, then allowed early Jewish Christians to predicate divinity of Jesus in a way that the unrelenting monotheism of other periods of Jewish history (including current ones) would not have permitted.
Against both of these views Bauckham argues that (1) early first-century Judaism preserved strong boundaries between God and humanity so that intermediary figures do not provide adequate precedent for explaining what Jewish Christians said about Jesus, yet (2) from the earliest stages of Christological development onward, Jesus was equated with those very characteristics of God--esp. his creation and providence--that most defined Jewish monotheism. Thus believers were not calling Jesus a second god or a demi-god but ascribing to him the very identity of Yahweh.
Strikingly, these equations often come in texts that allude to Old Testament passages that are talking about God the Father, with these very defining characteristics of his identity, such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 (alluding to the Shema of Deut. 6:4). In several key instances, the texts allude to passages from Isaiah 40-55, especially Philippians 2:6-11, the Alpha and Omega passages of Revelation, and the Johannine texts concerning Christ’s being “lifted up” and “exalted” (cf., respectively, Isa. 45:22-23; 44:6 and 48:12; and the various “I am he” sayings). But this is also the section of Isaiah that is permeated with the “suffering servant” texts, esp. Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which further reveal the one God, Yahweh, promising that his Servant would suffer, die and atone for the sins of the world. At the same time, the same New Testament texts that link Jesus with God also contain allusions to his role as Servant. So not only do the New Testament writers ascribe to Jesus divine identity, they simultaneously further define God as one who will be crucified (hence Bauckham’s title).
Thus, not only must much New Testament history be rewritten, but two striking conclusions follow for the study of historical theology. First, the developing Christology of the early church and its creeds is not only a legitimate development of what is implicit in the New Testament; it rephrases for its context what is at times quite explicit in Scripture. Second, trends in modern theology (against many ancient theologians) to speak directly of God suffering and dying are vindicated (cf. esp. Barth and Moltmann, both building on important precedents set by Martin Luther).
I can find no flaws in Bauckham’s arguments thus far. We await the full defense and documentation of his theses with great anticipation. Meanwhile this volume deserves wide circulation indeed. It may turn out to be revolutionary!