Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review: "Jesus and the God of Israel" by Richard Bauckham

In this fascinating book, Richard Bauckham articulates his view about Jesus and the "unique identity of God."  The book makes up a series of articles that serve as an expanded version of his 1999 work, God Crucified.  In it, Bauckham analyzes a plethora of Jewish background material in establishing who God is.  That is, he drifts from the traditional "Nicene" views of ontology and seeks to focus on identity.  In fact, Bauckham seemed at times to express some level of uneasiness with regards to Trinitarian views of divine ontology.  The reason being, according to Bauckham, the Jews were more concerned with who God is rather than what God is.

The author seeks to establish his case by appealing to a wide range of Jewish texts, both Scriptural and non-scriptural (though some might infer the inspiration of some apocryphal works).  To many who read this work, including me, the non-scriptural analyses might appear to be awkward at first, given that so many monotheistic and Christological works have neglected this important background information.  However, by the end of the book, the reader will likely understand how important these texts are in establishing how the early Christians would have viewed Christ in relation to God's identity.  That is, if we seek to view the Christological texts through the lens of the modern eye, we may very well miss some very important key elements.

Of course, these key elements are in relation to what Bauckham has repetitively inferred as "the unique identity of God."  As stated previous, where many Christological works focus on the ontological aspects of God and Christ, Bauckham builds his case in establishing who God is, as second Temple Jews would have understood him.  Some of these elements of the unique identity of God to which Bauckham focuses on includes:

1. God is the sole sovereign ruler of all things
2. God is the sole Creator of all things
3. God is the sole possessor of the name YHWH 
Though there are several sub-categories to these, Bauckham argues that these are aspects of God's identity which separate Him from all other reality.  In drawing his conclusion on these matters, Bauckham then goes to argue that since Christ possesses these divine attributes of identity, he is to be included in God's unique identity.

In drawing this conclusion, Bauckham is careful to supply qualifications in that Christ isn't added to God's identity, but is included.  Otherwise, he argues, the Jews would have had no basis for which to accept such a ditheistic view.  In supporting his view of the inclusion of Jesus into the unique divine identity, Bauckham offers his exegesis of fair share of Christological texts.  One of the most prominent in his discussion is the early Christian view of Psalm 110:1.  Again, while many Christological works may focus on ontological aspects of Christ, Bauckham argues for this text as a key element in including Jesus into the unique identity of God as the sovereign ruler who sits at God's right hand.  Other texts include 1 Corinthians 8:6, Philippians 2:10, Revelation 5, Hebrews 1, and more.

Jesus and the God of Israel also includes a fair share of interaction with the scholarly community who espouse different views than Bauckham.  These critics range from liberal scholarship to conservative.  One of the more prominent interactions to which Bauckham engages are those who advocate views concerning so-called intermediary divine figures; in particular, those from the Qumran texts.  In interacting with these scholars and texts, Bauckham argues that though there are some interesting implications, they still do not place themselves as a parallel with the Christian texts as they include Jesus in the unique identity of God.

For those looking for a scholarly and insightful work on Christology and Christian monotheism, this work is a goldmine.  Even if one finds disagreement in some of Bauckham's contentions as they relate to identity rather than ontology, the footnotes provide enough information and scholarly references for the student to do his own research and come to his own conclusions.  Arguably, this is an important landmark work on Christology that will serve as a standard for years to come in the scholarly community.  And personally, I could not recommend a better work on Christology and monotheism than what Bauckham has offered here.


Anonymous said...

I find Bauckham's work deeply flawed, and not simply for theological reasons. He often makes large leaps in support of his positions that simply can not be substantiated by the texts in question. I discuss a few of these points at

While not directly addressing Bauckham, the following relates directly to part of his discussion:

The Apologetic Front said...

Dave, what book on Christology would you recommend, besides your own :-)

Anonymous said...

McGrath has a lot of good material, though I would not agree with him on his limited definition of devotion to God as sacrificial worship. I'm currently in Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ, but only early on so I can't comment other than based upon his previous work. My foremost suggestion is just take a reading of early Jewish literature and note the parallels between agency in those texts and the NT description of Christ as God's agent par excellence.