Archive for the ‘New Testament Theology’ Category

Gleanings from Stephen’s Faithfulness to the Righteous One

June 18, 2008

The account of Stephen’s trial, speech, and subsequent martyrdom found in Acts 6:8-7:60 always sets before me afresh the gravity and seriousness of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ, a life that consists of both dying and hating one’s life in this world to gain the everlasting joys of presence with the Redeemer (e.g. Mark 8:34-38; John 12:24-26). When I need to observe a genuine Christian, a devoted follower of Jesus and reader/doer of his word, Luke’s portrait of Stephen helps me. There are a few more things I gleaned from this text as I read it this time around and I pray they would be beneficial to your faith also.

First, throughout Stephen’s message he makes numerous references to angels of the Lord mediating God’s words (and/or presence) to Moses and to the people (Acts 7:35, 38, 53; [cf. also Gal 3:19]). The text also notes that Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” in 6:15, and throughout chapter 7 Luke seems to portray him no differently than those very angels mentioned in his speech, at least in the sense of a kind of mediating deliverer/interpreter of God’s word. Surely, this highlights that the message concerning the Righteous One (Acts 7:52), in accord with the whole of Scripture, was something they rejected not only in Stephen’s day, but throughout the time Moses and the Prophets announced him.

Second, it seems rather obvious from his speech that Stephen not only read his Bible (i.e. the “Old” Testament), but also (and crucially) did so from the standpoint of faith (Acts 6:5), filled with the Holy Spirit (6:5, 10), and in light of its focus and aim, namely, the Righteous One (7:52). Ought we not learn from this faith-filled, Spirit-wrought, Christ-focused reading the Old Testament Scripture? Furthermore, do take note that Stephen finds that Scripture interprets Scripture. He sees that the Prophets interpret the Law when he quotes Amos 5:25-27 to better understand the people’s rebellion in Exodus; and notice that he interprets the Former Prophets (Josh-Kings) by the testimony of the Latter (in this case Isaiah 66:1-2 [Acts 7:44-50]). Surely by reading the Old Testament with Stephen, we might behold the Righteous One as he did, as well as letting it expose our own rebellion and unbelief.

Third, Acts 6:5 highlights that Stephen is a man “full of faith and and of the Holy Spirit.” We do know the others are “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” from Acts 6:3, assuming the Twelve were faithful to this criteria (as this is clearly implied in verse 5). Surely then, Luke repeats this only concerning Stephen because it anticipates the two forthcoming scenarios he encounters. The first points out the foolish arguing of those belonging to the synagogue (who have not the Spirit), in contrast to “the wisdom and the Spirit with which [Stephen] was speaking” (6:8-11). The second exposes the rebellion of the same crowd in that they are “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit” (6:51). The connection is straightforward: Stephen speaks filled with the Holy Spirit; the people reject Stephen’s message; the people resist the Holy Spirit. Surely this is highlighted again in 7:55-57. 

Fourth, Stephen’s vision at the end of Luke’s narrative serves to confirm Stephen’s testimony concerning the Righteous One and gives hope to suffering Christians. Stephen just finished bearing witness to the Righteous One whom the people murdered (7:52), and he exposes the fact that in this the people did not heed the Law, nor pay attention to the Prophets. At this crucial point the question becomes, “Who has a correct view and interpretation of the Scripture, Stephen or the synagogue officials?” And, for those readers joining Stephen in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Gospel, the question becomes, “What shall become of this faithfulness of mine?” The vision leaves Luke’s readers with no doubts: Stephen “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, that is, Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (7:55-56).

Fifth, Stephen’s salvation-historical overview with special attention to the people’s rebellion against God’s aim/purpose in the Law and temple, for the most part, contains a similar summary and highlights the same conclusions found in Nehemiah’s overview (cf. Acts 7:2 [Neh 9:7], 4-5 [Neh 9:8], 34-36 [Neh 9:9-10], 38 [Neh 9:13-14], 39-40 [Neh 9:16-17], 41 [Neh 9:18], 42-43 [Neh 9:26-27], 45-46 [Neh 9:24], and 51-53 [Neh 9:30]). Here (again), we find clear evidence of the unity of both Testaments, and thus all of Scripture.

Advertisements

Indeed, They Will Come to the Son!

May 5, 2008

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you, that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35-40).

In these verses we find two great truths. (1) Eternal life is given only to those who meet the condition of coming to, looking upon, and believing in Jesus, the Son of God. (2) The Father guarantees that some will meet this condition; namely, those he gives to the Son in order that (as a result of his mission) he will raise them up on the last day.

What the Father demands in his Gospel by the former, he also supplies in his Gospel by the latter. Here then, does the church not only find hope in their efforts in missions and evangelism (i.e. sinners whom the Father gives the Son will come), but also promise in that it is impossible for the Son of God to fail his Father’s mission in raising every last one of them up on the last day. By the Father’s will they will come to the Son, and he will raise them up on the last day.

Let us preach and pray, therefore, and behold the fruit of the Son’s mission to accomplish all the Father has given him. 

Mark’s Race to the Cross: Immediately!

February 18, 2008

For the past two weeks, I have been reading through the Gospel according to Mark. I have been noticing a particular adverb that is repeated throughout his testimony: “immediately” (Grk. euthus). It seems that everything in Mark happens immediately. He hardly gives any time for transition between his narratives; he moves immediately from one to the next. Jesus took his disciples into Capernaum and “immediately” they went into the synagogues where Jesus taught (1:21). “Immediately” their was a man with an unclean spirit crying out (1:23). News about Jesus spreads throughout the towns and villages “immediately” (1:28). And Mark spares no time before they “immediately” come to the house of Simon and Andrew and “immediately” speak to Simon’s mother-in-law (1:29). Hang on tight folks! That all happened in just ten verses (of the first chapter!). [For more “immediate” transitions between Mark’s narrative accounts see, for example, 6:45, 6:54, 7:25, 8:10, 9:15, 14:43, and 15:1.]

Even the scenes within the narratives occur immediately. For example, when Jesus came up from the water, he “immediately” saw the heavens opened; and after the Spirit descended on him, Jesus was “immediately” impelled to go into the wilderness (Mark 1:10, 12). Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, and “immediately” they drop their nets and follow him (1:18, 20). Later, Jesus gets out of a boat (new scene) and “immediately” a man from the tomb with an unclean spirit meets him (5:2). When Jesus instructs his disciples to go get him the colt (one that he will even return “immediately”), they will find the colt “immediately” as they enter the village (11:2). Following Peter’s denial, and serving to highlight the truth of the Lord’s word spoken in 14:30, the rooster crows the second time–you guessed it–“immediately” (14:72).

When Jesus heals people, time is not given for recuperation; they are healed/revived “immediately”: the leprous man (1:42); the paralytic man (2:12); the woman who had a discharge of blood (for twelve years!) (5:29); the synagogue official’s daughter (5:42); the boy with a spirit that made him mute (9:17-27); the blind man (10:52). Without question this highlights Jesus’ supremacy over life and all it entails, especially with the irruption of God’s kingdom in the coming and ministry of its King. Not only do human bodies respond to Jesus with immediacy, but the universe does as well: “…for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded” (6:50-51).

As I was contemplating this fast-paced testimony, and Mark’s reason for writing in this manner, I arrived at chapter 15. Judas had just betrayed Jesus “immediately” with a kiss (14:45), and Peter had just broke down weeping upon his “immediate” remembrance of the Lord’s words (14:72; cf. 14:30). Both of these events bracket the accusations and charge of blasphemy brought against Jesus (14:53-65). As I expected, now the chief priests held their wicked consulation “immediately” in the morning (15:1). To my surprise, however, everything seemed to come to a halt! Nothing more in Mark’s Gospel happens “immediately”. The word that has been repeated forty-one times(!) throughout his testimony ceases to be used. “Why?”

As I thought to myself, the answer became very clear and spoke very loudly: there is a reason, a purpose, Mark takes his reader through his Gospel so quickly. He is racing to the Cross! Mark wants his readers to behold this Jesus whom he testifies of in light of the cross he also endured (just like the centurion in 15:39). Yes, his coming, healing, teaching, life, and mission reveal that he is the Son of God. Mark nails this. But, what is more, this Jesus, this unique Son of God endures a Roman cross on behalf of sinners, and three days later, rose from the dead (15:1-16:8; cf. 10:45; 14:24). Mark races to the cross of Christ because he desires his readers to race to the cross of Christ, and contemplate all that such a cross-death means. And, furthermore, he wants his readers to reread his entire Gospel testimony in light of the cross, for all of his life and mission is pointed toward such a death.

I pray you, run to the cross with Mark, immediately! And behold the Savior, Jesus Christ. He is alive. God raised him from the dead (16:1-8). Therefore, heed his words: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (4:26-29).

VIII. Conclusion on NT Theology & Its Application

February 10, 2008

This post concludes what we have been looking at concerning the coherent testimony of the NT and its theology. To be sure, I have only scratched the surface of all that this rich discipline entails. Thus, I pray such observations serve not as ends in themselves, but as lenses whereby we, together, might behold the majesty of Jesus Christ all the more clearly from the text of Scripture.

In sum, the observations in the previous posts show that the NT’s historical narrative about God’s revelation in Jesus is indeed a theological one; and despite the critics’ claims, these two are not at odds. “Christ died” (historical fact); and he did so “for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (theological truth) (1 Cor 15:3). Furthermore, all twenty-seven books of the NT, though unique in their own right, do provide its readers with one unified proclamation. Undoubtedly, this is because the main character in their authors’ lives is the one crucified, resurrected, and coming Lord and Christ, Jesus. In this Jesus, NT theology finds its beginning and end, and thus the church her master and head, for whom she lives, about whom she sings.

What, then, does a coherent theology of the NT mean for us and for the world? One of my professors, Dr. Paul Wolfe, answered this quite clearly at the closing of our last class meeting in the Fall. He stated,

“If even only the broad contours of the NT, or the inescapable central points, if you prefer, are correct, then the personal accountability to respond appropriately is a profound reality with which we must all deal. It truly is a matter of life and death, a matter of eternal consequence. Let the reader be warned, the subject at hand has a transforming claim upon your life and destiny from which you may never escape.”

If I may reiterate, the coherent message proclaimed by the writers of the NT means that Jesus Christ does have ultimate claim over all his creation, and none will thwart his purpose to redeem those trusting him, and to damn those rejecting him; to save those abiding in his grace, and to condemn those spurning his grace. There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Therefore, repent of your sin; believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ; and you will be saved. Moreover, church, obey your Master. Submit to him in all things. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Sing and shout for joy. Be devoted to prayer. And come, magnify the Lord.

VII. The Coherence of the NT’s Theology

February 7, 2008

If the NT’s twenty-seven books interrelate with one another in the respective roles mentioned in the previous posts, then theological synthesis becomes possible while simultaneously valuing the uniqueness of each book’s historical situation. From this approach, NT theology honors the historical nature of and theological proclamation in the apostolic word. With respect to the writers’ corporate unity in their individual diversity, the following is an attempt to summarize the theology of the NT using the aforementioned conclusions.

The testimony of the NT did not emerge in a vacuum; in a sense, its authors picked up the pen the Chronicler laid down and continued the Gospel-narrative set forth by the OT. Thus, Matthew opens his Gospel with the intriguing phrase biblos genesews (lit. “book of genesis”), which introduces a genealogy identifying Jesus with the expected Messiah from David’s royal line and Abraham’s progeny. Part of Matthew’s aim, then, is to acknowledge Jesus as the climax of redemptive history-hence his repeated fulfillment motif (Matt 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9) (cf. G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 219). The other Gospels are not shy about such emphases either. They too see Jesus as the fulfillment of, doubtless the one exceeding, Israel’s hopes and longings, and around whom all salvation history revolves (e.g. Mark 1:1-3, 14, 24; 11:10; Luke 2:29-32; 4:21; John 1:41; 4:26; 6:12-14). Furthermore, under such umbrellas all the Gospels tell their readers about Jesus, his life, teachings, ministries, obedience, cross-death, and resurrection. Still more, they explain with unique testimony the theological meaning of these historical events. In unison they proclaim Jesus’ unswerving allegiance to his Father’s will (Matt 11:27; 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 5:17; 8:28-29), his atoning cross-death in light of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isa 53 [cf. Matt 8:17; Mark 9:12; 14:49; Luke 22:37; John 12:38]), his triumph over evil in the ushering in of God’s kingdom (Matt 12:28; Mark 1:1-14; Luke 4:18-19 [Isa 61:1-2]; 10:9; 11:20; John 3:5), his victory over death in the Christ-exalting resurrection (Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21), and the forgiveness and bounty he bestows on his followers (Matt 26:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 1:77; 24:47; John 10:7-18).

Acts of the Apostles shares the Gospels’ testimony. In this book, Luke portrays the extended ministry of Jesus, post-Easter. His and the apostles’ concerns are not with new doctrine, but new emphases of eschatological proportions (cf. Ladd, 353). Jesus is both Christ and Lord by the resurrection and now ministers by the Holy Spirit through his apostles and his rapidly growing church. Furthermore, he shows the promises of the OT and Jesus regarding the Gentile’s soteriological participation in God’s covenant people to be true. By the preached word, “the ends of the earth” become the primary participants in “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:36-48). Therefore, in the apostolic ministry there is a swift unfolding of redemptive history that can only be explained by the supernatural work of Christ’s Gospel and the irruption (not eruption) of the kingdom of God.

With Acts of the Apostles, the missionary journeys have taken their course and communities of believers now gather all over the Mediterranean. Without question, these sinners-turned-saints are in need of great instruction. Without doubt, they know Jesus. Still, they need Jesus (i.e. all that they have received in the Gospel traditions) explained for their varying situations. Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, and the General Epistles, serve these ends with pastoral care and urgency. By interpreting the person and work of Jesus, they all agree that (1) Christ suffered for sinners, was raised from the dead, and is the exalted and reigning king; (2) justification is by faith in his finished work; (3) holiness accompanied by good works should characterize the church; (4) the nature of this age demands perseverance through suffering, yet is promised by God; (5) and the new age has dawned, yet awaits its consummation. In sum, the letters inform their recipients of the present reality and meaning of Christ’s kingdom and further exhort them in how they must live until its consummation.

Revelation, then, asserts to be “the revelation of Jesus Christ“. Its central concern is Jesus, who existed before history, entered history, and will bring history to its designed end (Rev 1:4, 8, 17, 18). He is the slain Lamb (5:6; 13:8), the root of David (22:16), the King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). Essentially, therefore, it is Christological in its focus as are the previous twenty-six (sixty-five!) books. Nevertheless, largely accompanying its testimony about Jesus are also the severe and glorious events he will cause to transpire for the final establishment of God’s kingdom. This apocalypse explains more thoroughly, what was more so implicit in the rest of the NT; that is, redemptive history is not merely a matter of prophecy-fulfillment, but a matter of God’s sovereign control and omniscient guidance of all history. Nothing will thwart his purpose in Christ to set up his reign among his redeemed society in the New Jerusalem forever free from evil (21:1-22:5). With regard to NT theology, therefore, what Gospel-narrative beginnings the Evangelists articulated, Acts of the Apostles continued, and the epistles interpreted, Revelation concludes.

VI. The Role of The Revelation

February 4, 2008

What role does the Revelation play in doing NT theology?

Though this final canonical book is distinct when compared to other NT genres, the Revelation still continues much of the central theological concerns of the NT. It testifies of the same Christ promised in the OT, revealed in the Gospels, and explained in the epistles (e.g. Rev 1:7 [Dan 7:13; Matt 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9-11; Phil 2]; Rev 5:5 [Gen 49:9-10; Isa 11:1-10; Matt 1:1; Rom 15:12; Heb 7:14]; Rev 5:9-10 [Dan 7:18; Isa 53; Mark 10:45; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 2:4-10]; Rev 7:17[Ezek 34:11-31; John 10:1-18]; Rev 20-22[Isa 65-66; 1 Cor 15:20-28]). Yet, it does something more that all of them do not; that is, it brings all of their Gospel-testimony, theological argumentation, and practical application to their appropriate climax in Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It gives the final declaration that the sovereign Lord of history directs all reality of the present age and will bring all things to their proper place under the feet of the slain-though-standing Lamb (Rev 5:6). Whatever major themes one may find the NT carrying on at this point (e.g. Salvation History, New Exodus, Kingdom of God, End of Exile; etc.) the Revelation proves are only means to an end, namely, to magnify the Christ of all of Scripture, not shove him to the peripherals of one’s reconstruction. In a word, such themes become merely episodes in the grand Christocentric narrative of the whole Bible as the Revelation places God in Christ on the throne front-and-center, to whom the universe bows. Therefore, Revelation plays the unique role of wrapping up the NT canon and bringing its theological agenda to its expected consummation.

V. The Role of Hebrews & General Epistles

February 3, 2008

Do the other NT epistles function like Paul’s? Are they in unison with Paul?

The remaining NT epistles, Hebrews and the seven “general” epistles, seem to function in the same manner as Paul’s. Their explicit references to the Jesus traditions are almost nonexistent, with the exception of Peter’s “Transfiguration” experience (2 Pet 1:17-18). This, however, does not mean the traditions were unknown to them or their audiences. Textual evidence supports that they at least presupposed the Jesus traditions in their letters, especially the testimony passed on by the apostles (e.g. Heb 2:3; 13:7; Jam 1:19; 1 Pet 1:12; 2 Pet 1:16-18; 3:2; 1 John 2:24; 3:23; Jude 3, 17). Thus, they too interpreted Jesus for the people in the believing communities spread abroad. For the purposes of theology, then, they function primarily as explanatory or instructive epistles.

The question of whether or not these writers agreed in interpretation of the Gospels’ testimony for their communities should not be a large concern either, considering the noticeable agreement among them and in their teaching. For example, despite their disagreement at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14), Paul still shows that he and Peter (and the other apostles) are “servants of Christ” for the common cause of stewarding the “mysteries of God” (1 Cor 1:10-4:21). Furthermore, Peter readily speaks of Paul as a “beloved brother”, and affirms his writings as Christian Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16). On an even larger scale, Markus Bockmuehl keenly points out that the mere decision of the “implied interpreter” to bind together into a single canon “writings in the name of Paul and the Jerusalem ‘pillars’ Peter, James, and John” surely highlights there was a common subject among them, namely, the Gospel (Seeing the Word, 132). Therefore, not only do these latter letters function like Paul’s, but they also do so in union with him.

Peter and Paul

[I would like to insert a brief parenthesis here, and mention something my wife and I had the opportunity to observe this past weekend at the Kimbell Art Museum. Recently, this museum has been displaying some of the earliest Christian art in their “Picturing the Bible” exhibit. The exhibit contains paintings, sarcophagi, mosaics, sculptures, medallions, etc. dating from the late third century on into the sixth. One room seemed to be devoted particularly to the apostles Peter and Paul. What was fascinating about each piece in this room was the fact that Jesus, Peter, and Paul were in union with one another. In several cases, Jesus was passing on a scroll to Peter while Paul applauded or raised a hand of affirmation. In others, the two of them were embracing one another. They even had a fourth-century belt-buckle with Paul and Peter embracing on the face of it. What a great addition to the wardrobe! 🙂 What made it so meaningful was that these pieces revealed what the early church believed about the apostolic testimony, namely, it was unified. There was no pitting Jesus against Paul, or Paul against Peter, as the critics have done with their hermeneutic of suspicion in the wake of the Enlightenment. Instead, the Church saw all of the apostles and their writings as applauding and explaining the Son of David.]

This leaves us with one more book to consider, the Revelation.

IV. The Role of Paul’s Contribution

February 2, 2008

What is the problem between Paul and Jesus for critical scholars in interpreting the NT?

Even if the previous conclusions regarding Acts of the Apostles are valid, critics have not been so welcoming to Paul following their journey from the Gospels’ picture of Jesus. Since the days of F. C. Baur (1792-1860), who argued that significant variations existed between Paul’s theology and the beliefs of the Jerusalem church, NT scholarship has been rather suspicious of any affirmations of continuity in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Scholars arguing along the same lines as William Wrede (1859-1906) have insisted that Paul’s “innovative” ideas, theological commitments, and pioneering mission work wrecked the original intentions Jesus had for his followers. Consequently, today’s Christianity would be better off without Paul’s emphases. If the critical scholars are right, then the search for theological coherence and synthesis even within the first two-thirds of the NT is vain.

David Wenham’s thorough and very helpful contribution in showing unity between Paul and Jesus.

In his Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), David Wenham finds such claims about Paul’s dissimilarity to Jesus unwarranted. On the contrary, he argues that Paul was not so much an innovator of Christianity as he was a follower of the Christ, who died and rose again on his behalf. Although his epistles make few explicit references to Jesus’ life and ministry, Paul provides plenty of theological connections that bear witness to his own awareness and embrace of the historical traditions of Jesus (11).

Despite the complicated and interrelated issues surrounding the comparative study of Paul and Jesus (e.g. Pauline authorship, the so-called “New Perspective[s]”, the Synoptic problem, various quest(s) for the historical Jesus), Wenham maintains that a survey of the NT material, based on cautious historical and textual-linguistic analyses, produces a much larger, cohesive portrait that is often forfeited for the details. He develops and substantiates his argument with several components.

First, Wenham hones in on the teachings of Paul and Jesus through a wide array of “tradition indicators,” verbal links, and similar-thought connections, paying special attention to the unifying theological elements between the two men (26-29). Both Paul and Jesus taught that (1) Jesus’ incarnation inaugurated the presence of God’s eschatological kingdom on earth, promised by the OT and to reach its consummation at his Parousia; (2) Jesus, God’s Son and the expected Davidic king, suffered “redemptively” on behalf of others through his cross-death; and (3) Jesus’ mission as Israel’s Messiah included the post-Easter celebration of God’s soteriological benefits encompassing the Gentiles, and thus the ingathering of an eschatological community zealous for fulfilling the Law through love wrought by the Spirit (chs. 2-7). Therefore, Wenham finds theological congruity between Paul and Jesus, a synthesis not hindered even by their differing expressions of these great truths.

Second, Wenham sets out to discover whether Paul was familiar with the complete “story” of Jesus, from his birth to his resurrection, or only Jesus’ teachings. The data shows that Paul knew something of Jesus’ birth and Davidic lineage (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4), as Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel traditions portray (338-43). There is a good case he knew of his baptism and connected it with entrance into the Christian community (344-48). Moreover, Paul was well aware of the disciples’ ministry under Jesus, some of Jesus’ miraculous healings, his humble lifestyle, and the nature of the transfiguration event (350-63). Most familiar to Paul from these traditions, however, were the events surrounding the Passion and resurrection narratives, both of which played a large role in shaping Paul’s theology and mission (363-71). Paul’s letters, then, indicate a large dependence on at least a Gospel tradition, if not several. Jesus’ life and ministry, therefore, was for Paul “common knowledge” (371).

Lastly, Wenham summarizes his interconnected findings and draws all-encompassing conclusions in order to answer the question with which he began his quest: Did Paul found Christianity, or follow Jesus? The evidence of the Jesus tradition(s) in Paul’s teachings surely points to the latter. Many differences do remain between Paul and Jesus; and the very few explicit references to Jesus’ life and ministry could cause disbelief in any unity at all. This, however, makes perfect sense for Wenham since Paul ministered post-Easter, following the commencement of the Gentile mission and the birth of many churches struggling to understand and live out Jesus’ teachings (378-80). Paul, therefore, presupposes the Jesus traditions in his letters and writes “to clarify what was unclear or disputed” (405). For Wenham, Paul was faithful to explain the truth of Jesus in new contexts with which he was involved (409). Without question, this identifies Paul as he would like to be remembered, “a slave of Jesus Christ [Gal 1:10-11], not the founder of Christianity” (410).

What does this mean, then, for our understanding between the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s epistles in doing NT theology?

Wenham’s observations allow students of the NT, therefore, to link closely the teachings of Paul with those of Jesus instead of pitting them against one another. The Gospels’ testimony concerning Jesus is primarily foundational and assumed among the believing communities, while Paul’s epistles then become primarily instructive for the outworking of Gospel-truth within those communities. The people need to understand the soteriological and ecclesiological implications of Jesus’ life, cross-death, resurrection, and glorification. The testimony of Jesus, therefore, continues to be passed on within the Christian communities as Paul consciously writes Scripture to expound the Jesus tradition, clarify what may have been disputed, or rebuke those undermining its message. For NT theology, then, Paul’s epistles are explanatory and exhortative.

III. The Role of Acts of the Apostles

January 31, 2008

Now that we know the nature and role of the Gospels, how does Acts of the Apostles fit into the picture of doing NT theology?

Continuing and not contradicting or changing the narrative testimony of the Gospels is Acts of the Apostles. Within this narrative (also penned by the third Gospel writer, Luke), Jesus’ mission carries on. It does so in a manner different from, though doubtlessly expected by the Gospels (See, e.g., Matt 8:11; 28:19-20; Mark 12:9-10; Luke 13:29; 20:16; 24:47-49; John 10:16; 11:52.). This is especially noticable in the apostles’ mission and the fruit of Jesus’ ministry through them, the church. That Luke and Acts were possibly considered one continuing narrative in the early church is also telling of the prevalent continuity they have with the Gospels’ witness (Compare, for instance, Luke 1:1-4 and 24:47-49 with the continuation of his unique message in Acts 1:1-8; or Luke 1:55, 79, 2:32, and 3:6 with the new mission for a regathered ‘Israel’ to be a light to all nations in Acts 1:8, 2:1-39, 11:15-18, and 28:28-31).

If this is the case, with such obvious continuities linking these narratives together, then why the (seemingly) deliberate separation of Luke’s second volume, Acts of the Apostles, from his first, [The Gospel] According to Luke, in the traditional canon? In one sense, this separation is thought to be meaningful. It serves not merely as an introduction to the historical figure of Paul or the post-Easter-empowered disciples, but also as an interpretive bridge between the Gospels and the epistles, especially those included in the Pauline corpus. Acts of the Apostles provides narrative testimony to the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament (e.g. Acts 2:17-18 [Num 11:29; Ezek 36:27; Joel 2:28-32]; Acts 8:14-25 [Ezek 37:15-19]; Acts 13:47 [Isa 42:6; 49:6; cf. Isa 2:2-4=Mic 4:3-4]; Acts 15:13-19 [Amos 9:11-12; cf. Isa 45:21; Jer 12:15-16; Hos 3:5]) and Jesus (e.g. Acts 2:1-36 [Luke 24:47-49]; Acts 10-11 [John 10:16]; Acts 13:46-47 [Luke 13:29]) and sets up an apostolic missionary context in which to read the remainder of the NT (e.g. Paul, Peter, James, or John).

Considering the several centuries that passed before the canon developed its final form, such a reading could arguably be anachronistic; however, for the purpose of NT theology, which seeks to explain the overall unity within the diverse testimonies of the text as we do have it, this observation is astute (cf. Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 108-14). That is, since the Gospels are telling one redemptive story, and Acts of the Apostles undeniably continues the events their narratives (esp. Luke’s) expected, and prepares the NT reader for the Pauline corpus, then let us not miss the grandeur of the theological forest for the individual (though necessary) historical trees. Yes, Luke’s two-volume work should be read as a narrative unit, but this does not hinder the overarching theological message uniting the books of the first third of the NT, and anticipating the second third. Acts of the Apostles, therefore, should serve NT theology as bridge from the Evangelists’ Jesus traditions to Paul’s (and the other apostles’) interpretive epistles.

II. The Nature & Role of the Gospels

January 30, 2008

How shall we approach the Gospels?

Addressing the nature of the Gospels has been no light task for Christian scholars considering the post-Enlightenment embrace of the historical-critical method. This affair triggered decades of NT scholarship that presupposed the Gospels portray the historical Jesus inaccurately, since the Jesus of the Christian faith, as represented by the four Gospel traditions, cloaks him in the theological agendas attributed to anonymous communities separated from the eyewitness accounts by an extensive period of time. Consequently, scholars still find the Gospel writers’ theological message about Jesus antithetical to their historical preservation of him. If correct, such claims reduce the Gospels to a mere collection of facts that have no meaningful proclamation for the world to heed. For the church, then, there is no place for NT theology, only historical reconstructions of what the Gospels may have said.

Richard Bauckham’s very helpful answer.

In his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Richard Bauckham finds these assumptions misguided. He argues the Gospels represent trustworthy historiography based on the authoritative testimony of real eyewitnesses that remained the primary sources for each Gospel writer’s account. Long periods of time filled with the succession of oral traditions did not delay the Gospels’ composition. Instead, their final form is “much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses” testified (6). Accepted and studied on this appropriate and more natural basis, the Gospels not only provide reliable history concerning Jesus, but also grant theological access to the meaning of his life and mission. Bauckham shows the validity of such an argument on several fronts.

He begins with an ancient passage written by Papias, former bishop of Hierapolis, which demonstrates a peculiar preference for a certain kind of authentic, historical practice in his day, namely, history based on oral traditions “attached to named eyewitnesses” (20, emphasis mine). In a word, when doing history, pride of place went to written sources that were compiled while eyewitnesses were present. Naturally, then, Papias trusted the Gospels since they each exhibited this superior historiography-an assertion Bauckham also proves in the remainder of the book.

In accord with Papias’ conclusion, Bauckham then reveals that since the authors based their Gospels on eyewitness testimony, they also named the very eyewitnesses in their accounts. They did so fully aware that these individuals “not only originated the traditions…but also continued to tell the stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions” (39). In other words, the Gospel writers mentioned named persons intentionally to ensure the authenticity of their words. Such named individuals would still have been alive while the Gospels were written and would be able to verify the Evangelists’ words. Examples include the Twelve, the women at the cross and tomb, those healed by Jesus, and those able to testify of Jesus’ story “from the beginning.”

Next, Bauckham considers the eyewitnesses’ role in the nature of the transmission of the Synoptic Gospel traditions. He argues the eyewitnesses were not merely the sources of the Gospels, but also served as the “accessible authoritative guarantors” of them (241). Form critics were wrong to assume that Christian communities were strictly oral, without written texts, and thus free to create traditions to promote their social agendas. Instead, these guarantors used deliberate means of control in the Gospels’ transmission, evidence to which even the Apostle Paul alludes regarding Jesus’ tradition (e.g. 1 Cor 7:10-16; 11:23). Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the result of “formal controlled tradition,” by means of “recollective” memorization, accompanied by written sources and access to authoritative eyewitnesses (264, 324).

The same can be said of the fourth Gospel. What is more, John’s account is not merely based on eyewitness testimony, but is itself written by an eyewitness. According to Bauckham, John employs the idiomatic “‘we’ of eyewitness testimony” (i.e. the first person plural for ‘I’) in order to demonstrate that he himself is both the primary witness for his Gospel and the author who wrote it. John’s basis is not “the official witness of the twelve,” but himself as the beloved disciple (403).

Finally, Bauckham asserts that since the Gospels are testimony, their very nature demands that scholars not criticize their every pericope in order to discover the real Jesus, but to receive them for what they are, testimony. The Evangelists beckon the audience to trust their testimony, one that unites reliable witness to the historical Jesus and provides theological access to him. Jesus, therefore, is the Jesus of testimony, and the Gospels as testimony are “the theologically appropriate, indeed necessary way of access to the history of Jesus, just as testimony is also the historically appropriate, indeed the historically necessary way of access to this ‘uniquely unique’ historical event” (508).

What are the implications of Bauckham’s contribution for the Church and her theological goals in interpreting the Gospels?

The implications of Bauckham’s argument that the Gospels should be accepted as testimony are rather significant for ‘doing’ NT theology. Indeed, they establish the NT theologian on the foundation of four historically reliable Gospels, while simultaneously providing theological access to Jesus, his words, life, and mission. With testimony, historical fact and theological meaning come together. In this way, one is able to construct the beginnings of a NT theology; for the Gospels function as four distinct narratives that open the NT canon with eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, and supply theological interpretation of his unique soteriological/eschatological mission granted him by God the Father for the sake of all nations.