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Archive for October, 2012

C. H. Dodd responds with a resounding “yes”:

“Even the most original and individual developments of Christology in the New Testament remain rooted in the primitive body of testimonies from the Old Testament…It is the substructure of all Christian theology and contains already its chief regulative ideas.” (C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of New Testament Theology, pp. 123, 127)

“The common and central tradition [of early Christianity]…appears to have at its core what the New Testament itself calls the kerygma, or proclamation of the Gospel.  In its most summary form the kerygma consists of the announcement of certain historical events in a setting which displays the significance of those events…The significance attached to these events is mainly indicated by references to the Old Testament…The ‘good tidings’ consist primarily in the news of what has happened; to understand how they are ‘good tidings,’ they must be related to what has gone before…Thus the Church was committed, by the very terms of its kerygma, to a formidable task of biblical research, primarily for the purpose of clarifying its own understanding of the momentous events out of which it had emerged, and also for the purpose of making its Gospel intelligible to the outside public.  According to the Acts of the Apostles this task was essayed from the very beginning of the Church’s existence as an organized and active body…According to [Luke’s] view the Christian Gospel could not be adequately or convincingly set forth unless the communication of facts about Jesus was supported by reference to the Old Testament which gave significance to the facts, and that it was a prime concern of Christian missionaries to provide and interpret such references.” (C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of New Testament Theology, pp. 11-16)

 

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“To say ‘Jesus is at the right hand of God’ was therefore akin to saying, ‘Now we’re safe no matter what happens.'” (David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity, p. 103)

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A provocative (yet common sense) hypothesis from the eminent British NT scholar C. H. Dodd:

“[There is] good reason to infer that the first step, at least, had been taken by the Church at a very early stage indeed, often demonstrably earlier than the epistles of Paul.  At the earliest period of Church history to which we can gain access, we find in being the rudiments of an original, coherent and flexible method of biblical exegesis which was already beginning to yield results.

If we ask further questions about the actual beginning of the process, we are on much more uncertain ground, but some degree of controlled conjecture may be allowed.  It must be conceded that we have before us a considerable intellectual feat.  The various scriptures are acutely interpreted along lines already discernible within the Old Testament canon itself or in pre-Christian Judaism–in many cases, I believe, lines which start from their first, historical, intention–and these lines are carried forward to fresh results.  Very diverse scriptures are brought togethre so that they interpret one another in hitherto unsuspected ways.  To have brought together, for example, the Son of Man who is the people of the saints of the Most High, the Man of God’s right hand, who is also the vine of Israel, the Son of Man who after humiliation is crowned with glory and honor, and the victorious priest-king at the right hand of God, is an achievement of interpretative imagination which results in the creation of an entirely new figure.  It involves an original, and far-reaching, resolution of the tension between the individual and the collective aspects of several of these figures, which in turn makes it possible to bring into a single focuse the ‘plot’ of the Servant poems of II Isaiah, of the psalms of the righteous sufferer, and of the prophecies of the fall and recovery (death and resurrection) of the people of God, and finally offers a fresh understanding of the mysterious imagery of apocalyptic eschatology.

This is a piece of genuinely creative thinking.  Who was responsible for it?  The early Church, we are accustomed to say, and perhaps we can saftely say no more.  But creative thinking is rarely done by committees, useful as they may be for systematizing the fresh ideas of individual thinkers, and for stimulating them to further thought.  It is individual minds that originate.  Whose was the originating mind here?

Among Christian thinkers of the first age known to us there are three of genuinely creative power: Paul, the author to the Hebrews, and the Fourth Evangelist.  We are precluded from proposing any one of them for the honor of having originated the process, since even Paul, greatly as he contributed to its development, demonstrably did not originate it.  What forgotten geniuses may lurk in the shadows of those first twenty years of Church history about which we are so scantily informed, it is impossible to say.  But the New Testament itself avers that it was Jesus Christ Himself who first directed the minds of his followers to certain parts of the scriptures as those in which they might find illumination upon the meaning of His mission and destiny…I can see no reasonable ground for rejecting the statements of the Gospels that (for example) He pointed to Psalm 110 as a better guide to the truth about His mission and destiny than the popular beliefs about the Son of David, or that He made that connection of the ‘Lord’ at God’s right hand with the Son of Man in Daniel which proved so momentous for Christian thought; or that He associated with the Son of Man language which had been used for the Servant of the Lord, and employed it to hint at the meaning, and the issue, of his own approaching death.  To account for the beginning of this most original and fruitful process of rethinking the Old Testament we found need to postulate a creative mind.  The Gospels offer us one.  Are we compelled to reject the offer?” (C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of New Testament Theology, pp. 108-110)

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Psalm 110

“Psalm 110 is the top and head of all Scripture. It describes the reign and priesthood of Christ in the most excellent way, saying that Christ is the one who rules all and intercedes for all and has it in his hand.” (Martin Luther, cited in Martin Hengel, Studies in Early Christology, p. 119; thanks to Jelle Zijlstra for translating this from the original Latin and German for me)

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Jesus and Paul

I am increasingly convinced that this is the first piece of advice that should be given to every new would-be reader of the New Testament documents:

“One cannot read one word of the gospels unless one reads in light of Paul…We cannot understand one word of Paul unless it is understood in light of the gospels.” (J. Schniewind, cited in Leonhard Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 2: The Variety and Unity of the Apostolic Witness to Christ, p. 44)

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Here’s a stimulating collection of N. T. Wright passages that helpfully give voice to how Paul thinks about “gospel” and “justification” in relation to each other. Wright isn’t always worth following in what he says about justification, but we have much to learn from here:

“The word ‘gospel,’ like Paul himself, has had a checkered career in the course of Christian history…Many Christians today, when reading the New Testament, never question what the word means, but assume that, since they know from their own context what they mean by ‘the gospel,’ Paul and the others must have meant exactly the same thing…In the present case, I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say ‘the gospel.’ I just don’t think it is what Paul means. In other words, I am not denying that the usual meanings are things that people ought to say, to preach about, to believe. I simply wouldn’t use the word ‘gospel’ to denote those things.” (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, pp. 41-42)

The gospel “is a story—a true story—about a human life, death and resurrection through which the living God becomes king of the world…That is Paul’s shorthand summary of what ‘the gospel’ actually is. It is not, then, a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people being saved…But ‘the gospel’ itself, strictly speaking, is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus…His announcement was that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead; that he was thereby proved to be Israel’s Messiah; that he was thereby installed as Lord of the world. Or, to put it yet more compactly: Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord.” (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, p. 45-46)

“For Paul, ‘the gospel’ is the story of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, seen as King Jesus, the promised Messiah of Israel.” (N. T. Wright,What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, p. 55)

“For Paul, ‘the gospel’ creates the church; ‘justification’ defines it…‘The gospel’ itself is neither a system of thought, nor a set of techniques for making people Christians; it is the personal announcement of the person of Jesus. That is why it creates the church, the people who believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. ‘Justification’ is then the doctrine which declares that whoever believes that gospel, and wherever and whenever they believe it, those people are truly members of his family, no matter where they came from, what color their skin may be, whatever else might distinguish them from each other. The gospel itself creates the church; justification continually reminds the church that it is the people created by the gospel and the gospel alone, and that is must live on that basis.” (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, p. 151)

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Some insightful observations from Peter O’Brien on the centrality of the gospel for Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“Paul was wholly committed to the gospel.  From the time of his conversion onwards it was the dominant and determinative focus of his whole life…The theme of Paul’s total involvment in the gospel runs like a scarlet thread throughout the letter [to the Romans], from the first verse to the concluding doxology.  From the time of his conversion and calling on the Damascus road, when God set him apart for the gospel, it became the dominant and determinative focus of his whole life.” (P. T. O’Brien, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis, pp. 57-58, 75-76)

Gospel preaching was the focus and goal of all his activity (cf. Rom. 1:11-15)…Although this verb [euangelizomai, ‘to preach the gospel’] is often taken to refer only to initial or primary evangelism, Paul employs the word-group to cover the whole range of evangelistic and teaching ministry–from the initial proclamation of the gospel to the building up of believers and grounding them firmly in the faith…Paul did not understand his apostolic separation for the gospel or his service in the gospel solely in terms of its initial proclamation.  The gospel is not simply ‘the initial impulse on the way to salvation.’  It is the message by which men and women are finally saved.  The Christian life is certainly created through the gospel; but it is also lived in the sphere of this dynamic and authoritative message (cf. Phil. 1:27).  It needs therefore to be preached to those who have already received it and have become Christians.  Believers do not leave the gospel behind or progress beyond it as they grow and mature in their faith.  They stand fast in this kerygma and are being saved through it if they hold firmly to it (1 Cor. 15:1-2)…A wide-ranging series of activities [is] subsumed under the notion of preaching the gospel…We conclude that when the apostle states he is ‘eager to preach the gospel to you also in Rome’ he has in mind the whole range of evangelistic and teaching ministry–from the initial proclamation of the gospel to the building up of believers and grounding them firmly in the faith.  His language points to both primary evangelism and a full exposition of the gospel…Accordingly, his apostolic labors will result in edification for the Roman Christians and conversions among others in the capital.” (P. T. O’Brien, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis, pp. 61-64)

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