Bauckham’s God Crucified – a review

Posted: August 29, 2012 by J in Bible, Book review, Church history, Theology
Tags: , ,

Here’s the punchline of the review: this book sizzles. It’s an important and original book on a central Christian issue, that is also nice to read. God Crucified has heaps of challenge in it for evangelical readers – it makes us ask questions and rethink how we understand and express the gospel. And all in 59 pages. That’s bang for buck!

REVIEW

As usual we’ll start with a summary of the book, and follow it up with an assessment, for those who stick with us!

How did Jesus come to be considered divine? How in particular was this development possible given that Christianity arose within a Jewish monotheistic setting? Why do the NT writers omit to attribute divine nature to Jesus explicitly? When did this issue get clarified in dogmatic history? Big, fat questions. And there’s a lot of debate around this in modern scholarship.

This is where Bauckham weighs in.

In PART 1 he starts by setting the scene of the debate: differences in how Jewish monotheism is understood lead to different views of how the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity developed. There are two main views.

1.     Jewish monotheism was so strict that it could not have allowed Jesus to be divine. A less-than-divine Jesus in the NT documents – the full-blown dogma came later and represented a break from Judaism.

2.     Divinity was understood in Judaism as a graded hierarchy of intermediaries, allowing room for Jesus as a ‘lesser’ divinity.

Baukham charts his own third course. He rejects 2., maintaining that Jewish monotheism was strict and not a graded hierarchy of divinity. However Jewish monotheism had room for a very high Christology (against 1.). In other words, he proposes a distinctive view of 2nd temple Judaism, and this view informs a distinctive reading of the NT texts. On this basis Bauckham will assert the prevalence of a high Christology from the very beginning of the Christian movement. Constructing this chain occupies the first half of his study:

Jewish monotheism → NT texts → early Christology

Bauckham says studies in this area have been hindered by two weaknesses:

1.     a failure to clarify the concept of divinity in Judaism – what exactly is divinity?

2.     the focus on intermediary ‘demi-god’ figures has occurred despite lack of historical evidence

Bauckham clearly aims to rectify this situation. Let’s take a look at how he does that.

Tomorrow: Bauckham’s take on Jewish monotheism.

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