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On this page, we will offer multiple recommendations of books that are useful for the reader in understanding the claims of Jesus. Books are in order by author last name.
Richard Bauckham, God Crucified
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Richard Bauckham seems to be making a habit out of subverting the commonly held assumptions of modern biblical criticism (see, for example, The Gospels for All Christians, also reviewed on this site). In God Crucified, Bauckham makes the bold assertion that the earliest Christology was a "high", fully divine Christology in which Jesus was included in the "divine identity". "Divine identity" is the term Bauckham has coined to describe how Second Temple Jews would have thought about God. Bauckham suggests that for the Jews monotheism was a question of who God is rather than what God is. Therefore, to project onto the New Testament Greek philosophical ideas about the nature and essence of God is to be untrue to the context in which the texts arose.
In the first chapter, Bauckham expounds on the distinction in Second Temple Judaism between God and intermediary figures such as principal angels and exalted patriarchs. He does this with a mind to overturn the attempt made in some scholarly circles to see New Testament Christology as developing from these intermediary figures, suggesting that such a development would lead to an Arian Christology rather than an orthodox, divine Christology. His summary argument is that God was completely distinguished from such intermediary figures by the fact that the Jews considered Him to be (among other things) the sole Creator of and Sovereign over all things.
As such, He alone deserved worship, and any attempt to raise the patriarchs or angels to His exalted throne would be seen as a challenge to monotheism. However, there was a second category of intermediary figures in Second Temple Jewish literature, which were seen as hypostatizations or characterizations of God, including the Wisdom, the Word, and the Spirit of God. These intermediary figures were seen as part of YHWH's identity. Bauckham proceeds to argue that it was these intermediaries, particularly Wisdom and Word, that allowed the New Testament authors to see Jesus as integral to the divine identity.
In chapter 2, Bauckham shows how the New Testament writers used "creative exegesis" of the Old Testament to include Jesus in the divine identity. He demonstrates this by highlighting the NT writers' attribution to Jesus of five characteristics or prerogatives normally reserved for God alone: Jesus is given sovereignty over "all things"; He shares God's exaltation over all angelic powers; He is given the divine name; He is accorded worship; and the pre-existent Christ participates in the creation with God.
While the inclusion of Jesus, a man, in the divine identity is unprecedented in Jewish literature, Bauckham argues that it is not impossible within Jewish monotheism. Moreover, he shows that the NT writers, who were almost all Jews, did in fact include Jesus in the divine identity. They were able to do this because they were not concerned so much with what God is as with who God is. In including Jesus in the divine identity, the NT writers were making a new statement about who God is without in any way compromising their monotheism.
In the final chapter, Bauckham gets to the heart of his argument: the implications of his thesis for the identity of God. In an age when many if not most biblical scholars shun theological considerations in favor of the historical-critical method, it is refreshing to read a scholar speculate on how Jesus reveals God to us and what we can learn about Who God is through Jesus.
Bauckham first explores the Christian exegesis of "Deutero-Isaiah" (Isaiah 40-55) in three NT documents--Philippians 2:5-11, the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel of John--and shows how each author used creative exegesis of this pivotal section of Isaiah to define a "Christological monotheism", as well as to demonstrate how the divine identity is revealed in and through the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus.
Particularly insightful and thought provoking is his treatment of John. For example, Bauckham suggests that because of the ambiguity of the "ego eimi" sayings, they could be translated as "I am he" rather than the traditional "I AM". However, this alternative translation would still be a veiled claim to divinity as the phrase occurs seven times in John's Gospel and seven times in the OT, each time in the context of YHWH asserting his singular position as Lord of all. The highlight, though, in my opinion is the discussion about what the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity reveals to us about the character of God, and here only a quotation will do justice:
The divine identity is known in the radical contrast and conjunction of exaltation and humiliation--as the God who is Creator of all things, and no less truly God in the human life of Jesus; as the God who is Sovereign over all things, and no less truly God in Jesus' human obedience and service; as the God of transcendent majesty who is no less truly God in the abject humiliation of the cross. These are not contradictions because God is self-giving love, as much in his creation and rule of all things as in his human incarnation and death. The radical contrast of humiliation and exaltation is precisely the revelation of who God is in his radically self-giving love.
Bauckham draws other insightful conclusions about the new name of God revealed by Jesus, but the reader will have to consult the work to learn more. Also encouraging are the implications the thesis has for interpreting the development of Christology in the early Church. Instead of the common assumption that the decrees of Nicaea and Constantinople were a capitulation to Greek philosophical ideas, Bauckham suggests that "[i]n the context of the Arian controversies, Nicene theology was essentially an attempt to resist the implications of Greek philosophical understandings of divinity and to re-appropriate in a new conceptual context the New Testament's inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity."
Overall, I highly recommend God Crucified. However, the reader should be forewarned--Bauckham states from the outset that this is "not so much a 'popular' as a concise version". Those unfamiliar with current scholarly debate about New Testament Christology may miss the novelty and subversiveness of his argument. In addition, the book being a concise version, the author does not have the space to fully defend his position on the interpretation of the intermediary figures in Second Temple Judaism, among other topics, and he only broadly states his position without a defense.
Those wishing a more detailed analysis will have to wait for the fuller study to be published at a later date. Nevertheless, most readers will come away from this work with a new understanding of the New Testament writers' understanding of Jesus and a greater appreciation for the depth of God's love for us. To see such things expounded in a scholarly work gives me great hope for the future of biblical scholarship.
- Rodrigo Morales
Larry Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship
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Hurtado has released a more detailed version of this book, but at $55 or so for that version (see below), this version may be more the speed of the typical reader's wallet.
As it stands it is a nice treat. Hurtado makes some detail-comparisons to Roman religious practice showing how Christianity did (and did not) fit in well with Roman praxis. Among the interesting trivia is that Christian rejection of the use of images and sacrificial ritual led some opponents to think Christianity was more like a philosophical association than a religious group .
Hurtado also explores in some depth the implications of Christian worship terminology and practice, and concludes with a chapter on the implications of his findings for Christian worship today.
After reading this book, you may not quite recognize your next Sunday service.
Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ
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If you're looking for the final, decisive nail in the coffin of the assertion that Christ's divinity originated in later Gentile circles rather than with Jesus' earliest followers, this is your book. In fact, this is quite possibly the most valuable and most thoroughly documented volume of NT scholarship that I've come across thus far, an absolute "must-have" for the serious student of NT studies.
The author's focus in this volume is the devotion to Jesus of various Christian groups from 30-170 A.D. IOW, how did these early Christians view Jesus? This is not, as Hurtado puts it, "a New Testament Christology, not a history of early Christianity, and not a history of early Christian doctrines. It is a historical analysis of the beliefs and religious practices that constituted devotion to Jesus as a divine figure in earliest Christianity. It is about the role of the figure of Jesus in the religious life and thought of earliest Christians." [pg. xiii] Hurtado explains that one of his main motivations for the penning of this massive work was the highly influential Kyrios Christos, written by William Bousset early in the 20th century.
Bousset argued that the devotion to Jesus as a divine figure originated at a secondary (yet early) stage in "Hellenistic Gentile" communities, and that such a view of Jesus does not have a provenance in the earliest Palestinian Jewish Christian community(ies). Hurtado states that "In combined depth and scope, erudition, and influence, nothing equivalent has appeared in the nearly ninety years now since it was first published." [pg. 19] Hurtado's goal was thus to provide a comprehensive, yet fresh, analysis of this subject.
In the introduction, Hurtado provides a brief critique of Bousset's basic arguments and points out various weaknesses found therein. It is insisted by the author that devotion to Jesus as a divine figure can be traced back to the earliest circles of Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and stresses, in line with the much needed recent wave of "Third Quest" scholarship, that the pertinent issues surrounding Jesus are most properly approached and understood in their JEWISH context.
In the opening chapter, the author takes a look at how exactly "Monotheism" is to be understood within its ancient Jewish context followed up by a brief look at how Jesus should be understood within this paradigm. From that point forward, Hurtado approaches evidence mainly on a "book-by-book" basis. That is, starting from the earliest surviving Christian writings (i.e. Paul's universally accepted letters), and moving forward in (the generally accepted) chronological order, the aspects of Jesus-devotion are considered based on what is found in the New Testament as well as sundry other 1st and 2nd century documents (whether they are commonly accepted to have originated from orthodox or heterodox Christian circles).
In the treatment of the Pauline epistles, the implications of the various titles used for Jesus are considered against their historical *Jewish* backdrop. This includes of course the abundant use of "Christ", Kyrios, as well as the concept of Jesus' divine Sonship. Another very interesting topic considered is that of Christ's pre-existence. Hurtado claims that this idea is one that is widely recognized to be present in the Pauline letters, yet makes the excellent point that often the relevant references are made in such a way that already assumes the recipients' knowledge of this concept-the implications of which indicate that the concept of Jesus' pre-existence was deeply embedded into Christian tradition at a very early stage. Data stemming from early creeds, most particularly Philippians 2:6-11, I Corinthians 11:23-26, and I Corinthians 15:1-8 are also examined.
Up next comes a thorough discussion of the data stemming from Judean Jewish Christianity, the earliest followers of Christ. The author explains that this was considered second to the undisputed Pauline data because, while some New Testament documents preserve important facts regarding the earliest church, we do not have an actual extant document written by those earliest followers (The Gospels of Matthew and John, of course, would be among the NT writings that possibly negate this assertion, but traditional authorship of these books is commonly disputed and Hurtado, as explained above, is working via an approach that is widely accepted by scholars). Hurtado analyzes, among other things, the data regarding the earliest church from creeds that can be traced back to the earliest stages of Christianity, the evidence from Paul's "acquaintance" with Judean Christianity in his epistles, as well as a section dealing with the early material preserved in Acts (particularly the 1st part of the book).
Another excellent point discussed by Hurtado in this section is what he calls a "conspicuous silence" in Paul's letters regarding debate over whether or not Christ should be revered as divine. It is obvious from his epistles that Paul was not shy in challenging his detractors on theological disagreements. The greatest difficulty Paul seemed to face with Jewish Christian opponents was on the issue of whether or not Gentile converts must by necessity keep the Torah.
However, it is pointed out that not a hint is to be found anywhere that there was any dispute between Paul and his opponents regarding the extent to which devotion to Jesus should be carried. Hurtado acknowledges that this is an argument from silence, yet given the very powerful monotheistic bent of Second-Temple Judaism, with the accompanying outrage that would have inevitably resulted should there have been a sudden innovation by the time of Paul's writing from treating Christ as merely human to treating him as divine, this silence at the very least demands consideration.
In the next section Hurtado takes a look at the evidence from Q. Unlike a recent contingent of scholars that are expressing their doubts (to differing degrees) about what can be known about Q (or even if such a document ever existed), Hurtado expresses a high degree of confidence not only that it existed, but also that it can even be basically reconstructed from the sources we have.
He does, however, rightly caution against endeavors to find in Q evidence of an "earliest form" of Christianity that did not revere Jesus as divine. After all, as he points out, even if Q presents a non-divine Jesus, the evidence that would predate the composition of Q, such as that from the very early creedal material found in various points within the NT, would negate any assertion that Q represents some "original form of Christianity" that did not view Jesus as divine.
Nevertheless, Hurtado was able to easily demonstrate that Q does in fact present a very high Christology, in line with the other NT documents. This section also contains a critique of John Kloppenborg's assertions regarding Christology in Q.
The Gospels are examined next, demonstrating the high Christology found within each of the fourfold collection. It is important to remember here that regardless of what one makes of the historicity of this or that saying or event in the respective Gospels, Hurtado's focus was upon the view of Jesus adopted by the various evangelists. The Gospel of John receives a particularly lengthy treatment (76 pages), with brief studies of a number of issues such as the "I am" sayings, Christ's preexistence, Christ's subordination to the Father, etc. The beliefs of the so-called secessionists from the Johannine community are also surveyed (in as much as is possible) from the remarks made particularly in the Johannine epistles.
The rest of the book goes on to examine various other important 1st or 2nd century documents, including (of course) the other (disputed) documents of the Pauline corpus, the hotly debated Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the so-called Secret Mark, the Egerton Manuscript, Protoevangelium of James, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Specific topics covered in the "second century" section of the book include an extended look at both Valentinus and Marcion and their respective "brands" of Christianity (these were chosen because of their substantial influence in the early Christian centuries).
Finally, the book winds up with a look at "proto-orthodox" Christianity in the 2nd century (that is, what we consider to be-for all intents and purposes-evangelical Christianity). Such topics discussed in this final section include the phenomena and implications of the widespread use of the OT by Christians to demonstrate the theological foundations for Christianity found therein, the church's ultimate preference for the fourfold Gospel collection (as opposed to a harmonization like Tatian's Diatessaron), and other revelatory volumes such as Revelation, Ascension of Isaiah, and Shepherd of Hermas.
At the end of the author's extensive and painstaking analyses of various forms of Christianity from the earliest years up to about 170 A.D., Hurtado emphatically concludes:
Christians were proclaiming and worshiping Jesus, indeed, living and dying for his sake, well before the doctrinal/creedal developments of the second century and thereafter that have received so much attention in histories of Christian tradition. The early convictions about Jesus and the corresponding devotion offered to him that became so widespread in earliest Christianity were sufficiently robust to nourish the prolonged and vigorous efforts to articulate Christian faith in persuasive doctrinal formulations.
Moreover, devotion to Jesus as divine erupted suddenly and quickly, not gradually and late, among first-century circles of followers. More specifically, the origins lie in Jewish Christian circles of the earliest years. Only a certain wishful thinking continues to attribute the reverence of Jesus as divine decisively to the influence of pagan religion and the influx of Gentile converts, characterizing it as developing late and incrementally. Furthermore, devotion to Jesus as the "Lord," to whom cultic reverence and total obedience were the appropriate response, was widespread, not confined or attributable to particular circles, such as "Hellenists" or Gentile Christians or a supposed Syrian "Christ cult."
Amid the diversity of earliest Christianity, belief in Jesus' divine status was amazingly common. The "heresies" of earliest Christianity largely presuppose the view that Jesus is divine. That is not the issue. The problematic issue, in fact, was whether a genuinely human Jesus could be accommodated. Especially in the second century, "proto-orthodox" Christianity comprised those circles that regarded Jesus' human life as crucial in making his redemptive work efficacious.
Additionally, in spite of the diversity, it is equally evident that Jesus was central in all the forms of earliest Christianity, proto-orthodox or others, that we can describe with any confidence.[pg. 650, emphasis the author's]
There are so many great sections in this book that my above-attempted summary of what I found to be "highlights" cannot come close to adequately making the point of just how much great stuff can be found within the covers of this volume. The reader should keep in mind that this book is NOT an analysis of what Jesus thought of himself, at least not directly. However, the evidence accumulated by Hurtado, particularly the much more relevant 1st century evidence, conclusively demonstrates that the earliest Christians did indeed attribute a very high Christology to Jesus [to which I'll personally add makes it very highly likely that such beliefs are based on beliefs that Jesus expressed about himself during his ministry].
Another great element to this book worth mentioning is that with virtually every new topic, and even a great many of the subtopics, Hurtado lists a number of helpful references for further study. In fact, I don't think I'm exaggerating by saying that this book would be worth the money just for the bibliography alone! Also, the citations were formatted using footnotes rather than endnotes, making the book much more user-friendly.
To further emphasize the great importance of this volume, it is perhaps appropriate to close this review with the endorsements provided on the back-cover by two highly distinguished NT scholars:
Larry Hurtado's new book is a stunning achievement. It explores with admirable rigor and clarity a central issue all too often ducked or evaded: How, when, and why did devotion to Jesus as a divine figure emerge within earliest Christianity? Hurtado has to negotiate many minefields as he takes his readers across a vast terrain. He is a wise guide whose judgment can be trusted for his scholarship is of the highest order. This book is already on my shortlist of 'books of the decade.' [Graham Stanton, University of Cambridge]
This is a great and necessary book. We have been waiting for it for years, and now it will strongly influence New Testament scholarship, especially in the fields of Christology and early Christian history. By remaining in constant critical discussion with scholars holding differing opinions, Larry Hurtado also shows the progress of research during the last decades. Everybody working in this domain has to take account of his Lord Jesus Christ. Many thanks to Hurtado for this valuable gift![Martin Hengel, University of Tubingen]
Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods
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Review by Nick Peters. Excerpt:
Often, we hear that Christianity is a religion just like any other. When the point is presented that James and Paul were skeptics and became believers as evidence for the resurrection we are told "People convert for many reasons." It’s never usually seen as what a scandal it was that people converted to this religion and what that meant in this society.
For instance, religion wasn’t just a personal private choice that you made. It went through every facet of life. The average home in the Roman Empire that wasn’t Jewish or Christian had gods you were to pay homage to. Your workplace would have gods. Your social gatherings would have gods. Even if they weren’t your gods, you were expected to honor them if you were a guest.
Christians went against all of that. Christians said they could not and would not honor the other gods. By doing so, they made themselves social pariahs. They would be seen as misfits in the world and quite frankly, as threats. How will the gods respond after all when these people are not being honoring of them? How will the gods treat us if we allow these people to not honor these gods?...
J. Ed Komoszewski and Rob Bowman, Putting Jesus in His Place
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This book is a Biblical defense of the divinity of Jesus. What this means is that it isn't addressed to atheists or people who doubt the accuracy of the Bible; it is addressed to those like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses with whom some measure of Biblical authority is something taken for granted. I say that because inevitably critics will object that it assumes or doesn't cover this or that, when it was not meant to.
With that settled, the content: With people like Bauckham, Hurtado, Hengel, and Wallace giving this book props, and prior reviews listing the content, my own two cents' worth really doesn't need to be added, but here it is anyway: This book is a thorough and eminently worthwhile exposition on the Biblical case for Christ as God.
I'll mention my one reservation: I do think the authors could have made use of the Wisdom template, but they reject an identification of Christ with Wisdom in Proverbs 8  and so cannot go that route. The rest of the book, however, offers a wealth of detailed information and exposition about the divine titles used in the NT, and goes so far as to answer some of the wackier ideas in sources like The Aquarian Gospel and the JW apologetics of Greg Stafford. (That's not a bad thing, because someone HAS needed to address these ideas directly and in this format for a long time.)
This one is solid enough to earn a place in your apologetics arsenal.
Robert Morey, Trinity: Evidence and Issues
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The Trinity: Evidence and Issues is a book that aims to show that the historic Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity as expressed in the ecumenical symbols of the Christian Church is indeed clearly based on Scripture, and that the Trinity doctrine as taught today is the same doctrine that has always been a part of the Christian Church. This is the positive presentation of the book. Negative evidence against the claim that the Trinity doctrine was a philosophical abstraction invented by the Fathers or a theological principle that evolved over the first three centuries AD is also provided.
Before getting into specifics, let me personally recommend this book as a fine mixture of completeness and lucidity. The text sticks with Scripture and its presentation of the components of the Trinity doctrine. The text avoids any meaningless speculation about the Trinity that is not attested clearly in Scripture. Overall, anybody who worries about the Trinity doctrine or is rattled by the claims of anti-Trinitarian (i.e., Watchtower Society) or pseudo-Trinitarian (i.e., Mormon Church) groups can find this book to be a trusty companion.
The book first deals with the question "What would a Trinitarian expect to find in Scripture if he wanted to conclude that the doctrine is indeed a clear Scriptural one?'' A reasonable basis for answering this question is given in the first part. The book then deals with the Old Testament presentation of the oneness in being of Yahweh, the plurality of persons in Yahweh, and has a most welcome and necessary chapter on the Angel of Yahweh. The proof-texts are presented in Hebrew, so a working knowledge of Classical Hebrew is necessary. But even if one does not know Hebrew, one can still read the commentary from the Hebrew with great profit. The presentation of the OT evidence for the Trinity is clear and sound.
Dr. Morey also provides the reader with some clear attestations of the components of the Trinity doctrine from the intertestamental literature. This should reassure the reader who is troubled by the liberal claim (which has persisted for at least a century) that the OT Jews never viewed Yahweh as anything but a unitarian-type of God.
The major part of this book is the New Testament evidence for the component doctrines that comprise the Trinity doctrine. As the reader needs Hebrew for the OT discussions, the reader also needs Greek if he or she wants to understand the full impact of what is being presented. But again, even if one does not know Greek, one can still read the discussions with great profit and understand for the most part what is happening. Dr. Morey, as have countless other Christians over the centuries, demonstrates that the NT witness to the components of the Trinity doctrine is unmistakably clear, and not the product of theological evolution or of a synod's philosophical or political bent.
The text then proceeds to provide the reader with quotes and references from the literature of the early Christian Church. To myself it is debatable whether such quotes are really necessary, as the doctrine is so clearly supported in the Scriptures that one doesn't need patristic testimony to strengthen one's case. But as long as one does not retain the idea that we base our Trinity doctrine on the early Church but on the Greek and Hebrew Testaments, then these quotes will be added confirmation to the reader. The patristic citations will also be welcome evidence towards the fact that the early Christians (at least a substantial number of them) viewed the doctrine as we today have it. As an added bonus, Morey provides some references from the Mishnaic and Talmudic writings that provide the proverbial icing on the cake.
Thus, the evidence marshalled by Dr. Morey is complete, thorough, and the Scriptural presentation (which is all one should go by) is clear enough to justify the ecumenical symbols that the Church confesses.
There are a few points of honest criticism that I would like to make concerning this book, but let it be added at once that these criticisms are miniscule when compared to the good points of this text. The first is that Dr. Morey sometimes crosses the line that divides sober sound scholarship from sober sound scholarship with a personal edge to it. He makes a very strong case and does not need to resort to snarling at those who disagree.
The second criticism is that if one wants to present the Greek text, then one should not stop halfway in talking about the underlying grammar. As a case in point, in the treatment of the Granville Sharp rule (which yields Ti 2:13 and 2 Pe 1:1 as proof-texts for the deity of Christ, ascribing the title theos to Jesus Christ), the rule is correctly invoked but incompletely stated. Someone who really wants to get to the bottom of why the rule is true or even to an exact statement of the rule will have to search a comprehensive Greek grammar, say, Daniel Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, or A. T. Robertson's A Greek Grammar in the Light of Historical Research.
A third criticism, which is probably more the publisher's fault than Dr. Morey's, is that there are numerous typographical errors in this work. This of course does not at all detract from the force and clarity of Morey's presentation.
Thus, the text is highly recommended. Of the eight books in my possession on the Trinity, this one is more useful to me than all of the others combined. It is an effective tool for witnessing to non-Trinitarians. Let me also mention that yet another nice feature of the text is a section on anti-Trinitarian logical fallacies. This gives the Christian an idea of what to expect from those who challenge the Trinity doctrine, and it gives the Christian a chance for a more extended dialogue with the challenger.
Overall, Dr. Morey has compiled a treasure-chest of facts for the student of the Trinity doctrine, and he is to be commended for this display of thoroughness and fine scholarship. For this price, you can't get a much better deal.
Chris Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology
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Full review by Nick Peters. Summary quote:
"Tilling relies not on a philosophical idea such as the God of the philosophers, but notes that the identity of God in Jewish thought was based on His covenant relationship with Israel. Only God was said to be in that covenant. If that is the case, then what about seeing if someone else suddenly shows up in this relationship and has a similar relationship to Israel? What if they have a similar relationship to the church, which is pictured as in the covenant of Israel as well. What if we find analogies from the OT that are used of YHWH and Israel and yet when we find their counterparts in the NT, it’s Christ and the church?"