Monday, September 24, 2007

God Crucified, by Richard Bauckham

God Crucified: Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament,1998, Eerdmans, 79pp, by Richard Bauckham
In this gem of a book, Bauckham sketches out his proposal that New Testament Christology is best understood using the Hebrew concept of the divine identity rather than Greek notions of person, essence and nature. It is sometimes assumed that the sub-apostolic church developed a higher Christology than we find in the New Testament, because it is only from from Nicaea onwards that Christ was confessed as fully God - a divine person who was homoousion with the Father. Bauckham questions this assumption saying,
"I shall be arguing what will seem to anyone familiar with the study of New Testament Christology a surprising thesis: 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." (p. 27).
The writer shows that when we set the New Testament's witness to Christ against background of Hebrew theological understanding, he was incorporated in the divine identify from the very beginning .
In the opening chapter, Understanding Early Jewish Monotheism, Bauckham lays the groundwork for the book's central argument. He notes that for Jewish monotheists, God had two defining attributes that set him apart from the false gods of the nations. Israel's God, YHWH was the creator and sovereign ruler of the universe. These characteristics separated God even from "intermediary figures" like angels or the great patriarchs. Unlike some, Bauckham does not see these "intermediary figures" as precedents for including Jesus in the divine identity. However, he notes that in both the Old Testament and Second Temple literature, God's Word and Wisdom are personified as part of the unique divine identity. These distinctions within the one God in Jewish theology made it possible for the church to include Jesus within the identity of YHWH without compromising strict, monotheistic beliefs.
In the next chapter, Christological Monotheism in the New Testament, Bauckham demonstrates how the early church included Jesus in YHWH's divine identity. First, by virtue of his exaltation, Jesus shares in God's sovereign rule. The New Testament writers creatively used Old Testament texts such as Psalm 110:1 to assert Jesus' sovereignty over all things. The exalted Jesus is even given 'the name above every name', (Philippians 2:9), which Bauckham argues is the very Tetragrammaton - YHWH. As the exalted Lord, Jesus is worthy of the worship and praise that belongs to God alone. Second, Jesus was included in the divine identity because he is described as the pre-existent creator. The writer draws particular attention to 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 at this point. In this text, Paul reworks the Jewish Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), to include Jesus in the identity of the one creator God. This "Christology of divine identity" takes us beyond the traditional distinctions between functional and ontic Christology. It is misleading to suggest that Christ could have shared in the "functions" of God's lordship and creative activity without being "ontically" divine. Creation and sovereignty are part of God's defining identity - he is Creator and Lord. Jesus is therefore "intrinsic to the unique identity of God." (p. 41).
Finally we come to God Crucified: The Divine Identity Revealed in Jesus. In this chapter, Bauckham attempts to demonstrate that it was not only as the pre-existent Creator, and exalted Lord that Jesus shared in the identity of God. Christ crucified also reveals who God is. The writer reflects on the New Testament's use of Isaiah 40-55 in relation to Jesus. Bauckham calls these chapters "Deutero-Isaiah" while recognising that early Christians would not have seen the middle section of Isaiah in that way. (I don't much care for the critical theories that question the unity of Isaiah, but I don't want to get into all that now). Bauckham is on surer ground when it comes to New Testament exegesis. His insight into the different nuances of Pauline and Johannine teaching is outstanding. He devotes special attention to the way in which Philippians 2:6-11, Revelation and John's Gospel draw upon themes and ideas in Isaiah 40-55. With great theological sensitivity, Bauckham teases out the Christological significance of the New Testament's use of these texts. Here, the God of Israel is revealed in the degradation and death of the Suffering Servant. In Jesus, God is identified as the crucified one.
There is both continuity and novelty in the New Testament's account of Israel's God,
"The radical novelty in Philippians 2 lies in the way in which God in Jesus Christ dwells in the depths, not only with but as the lowest of the low. God's characteristic exaltation of the lowest becomes a pattern in which he participates himself." (p. 74).
Bauckham reflects on the trinitarian aspects of his Christology of divine identity. The God of Israel is no unipersonal being. The divine identity is revealed in the intra-divine relationships between Father, Son and Spirit.
"The transition from the God of the patriarchs to YHWH the God of Israel is a kind of precedent for the transition from the latter to the God of Jesus Christ. Once again a new name identifies a newly disclosed identity, although this clearly only occurs in one New Testament text: Matthew 28:19."
"As the God who includes the humiliated and the exalted Jesus in his identity he is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that is the Father of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Spirit of the Father given to the Son" (p. 76).
Where does all this this leave classic Nicean/Chaledonican orthodoxy? According to Bauckham, the Fathers did not so much develop New Testament Christology, but transpose it into the concepts of Greek philosophical categories of essence and nature. The purpose of homoousion was to safeguard Jesus' place within the divine identity. I think that the Nicean/Chaledonican tradition comes into its own is in providing precise answers to question such as, "What is the relationship between the three and the one within the divine identity?" and "What is the relationship between the divine and human in the incarnate Son of God?" The writer argues that the tradition was less successful when it comes to engaging with the New Testament's revelation of God's identity in the sufferings of Christ. It is not until Luther's theologia crucis that the church really began to seriously reflect on God crucified.
Bauckham acknowledges that he has but sketched an outline of his "Christology of divine identity" in this little book. But his constructive proposal has helped to throw fresh light on the New Testament's understanding on Jesus. His findings deserve to be taken into account by others working in the fields of Christology and the doctrine of the trinity. But more than that, Bauckham enables us to see anew that the glory is God is displayed most fully in the self-giving of the Son at Calvary.
In his highest work, redemption,
See His glory in a blaze;
Nor can angels ever mention
Aught that more of God displays.
(O What matchless condescension by William Gadsby)


Nick Norelli said...

Bauckham has another paper called Paul's Christology of Divine Identity in which he builds on the foundation laid in God Crucified. I don't know if you've come across it yet but if not it is certainly worth the read. I'm sure some of your readers will find it very helpful.


Guy Davies said...

Thanks for the link Nick. Looks like an excellent paper.

Gary Brady said...

Guy, that's one of those unfortunate headings one gets now and again. If you look again you'll see what I mean. Nice to see a blog with substance. Hopefully there's room for others too ;-)

Guy Davies said...

Yes, I did wonder about the title. It is open to misunderstanding! Maybe I should have put,

"God Crucified, a review of Richard Bauckham's book"

But I don't like double lined headings.