Book Review – “A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels” (part 1)

My copy of Daniel Kirk’s highly anticipated contribution to the christologies in the Synoptic accounts, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, arrived today. I have been looking forward to this tome for some time now, primarily because I have been convinced for over a decade now that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were teaching that Jesus is the human Messiah of God who began his physical existence at his birth. These next several posts will contain my thoughts and review of Kirk’s arguments located in this book.

IMG_2073In the opening chapter, which is really the important introduction to the book, Kirk cites Acts 2:22 as a sufficient declaration of Jesus’ identity articulated in the three Synoptic Gospels. Since Acts is the second volume of Luke’s two contributions to the New Testament, citing Peter’s christology which regards Jesus as “a man attested to you by God through miracles, wonders, and signs” makes sense.  Kirk begins by clearly defining his term “idealized human figure” as referring to a non-angelic, non-preexistent human being who plays a unique role in representing God unto creation (or vice versa). Kirk furthermore suggests that this terminology is a reasonable third alternative to the more commonly (at least in modern christological discourse) expressed terms of a “low Christology” and a “high Christology.” So far so good.

I get the impression loud and clear from this initial introduction that Kirk is not out to actively disprove other christologies (although it is clear that he regards his own reconstruction of the Synoptics as more persuasive than that of the “early high christology” club card holders). The tone is not one of polemic. Put differently, Kirk is not jumping into the UFC ring with Bauckham, Hurtado, Fletcher-Louis, and the like in attempts to go to war. Rather, he seems to want to respectfully present his argument regarding Jesus as an idealized human figure as an honest reading of the text which makes better sense of the theologies of the three Synoptic evangelists. Although I know some readers were looking for a more combative approach in this book, we will simply have to wait and see for ourselves through the unfolding chapters how Kirk maneuvers through the arguments of his opponents.

Kirk rightly notes that one of the significant issues when it comes to articulating an early, high, divine Christology is to “articulate clearly what the evidence has shown” (p.37). Since the New Testament both fails to make clear equations of Jesus precisely as the God of Israel and because the text repeatedly distinguishes God and Jesus, this creates a problem for those enrolled in the early high Christology club. Kirk takes the time to examine the kirkprimary arguments of the modern contributors of early high Christology and indicates their weaknesses (or what these scholars fail to state). Richard Bauckham, for example, argues that Jesus is “identified with God,” but Bauckham does not come out and say that Jesus is identified as God. Another example is made out of Larry Hurtado who regards the cultic worship given to the exalted Jesus as appropriate for the Creator, but Hurtado refuses to come out and say that Jesus is in fact the Creator. Similarly, Darrell Bock regards Jesus as one possessing “more than human authority,” but never fleshes out what this exalted status actually is or entails. I personally have noticed that these scholars (and others articulating an early high Christology) never come out and openly say that the NT authors unambiguously teach Nicene or Chalcedonian understandings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They regularly throw around the word “divine” in regard to Jesus’ identity, almost always without ever defining what that term actually means. Kirk respectfully suggests that viewing Jesus as an idealized human being is a more natural explanation of what Matthew, Mark, and Luke actually believed and taught. In this manner, Kirk is offering an alternative reading similar to the theology of James Dunn, James McGrath, and others.

I was keenly interested to examine Kirk’s methodology regarding how his arguments were to unfold in the book. The first chapter seeks to examine how the Bible and early Judaism depicts the concept of the idealized human being. Afterwards, the next five chapters will deal precisely with the Synoptic Gospels to see if the “idealized human being” hypothesis is a sufficient category, working through different aspects such as Jesus’ titles, his birth, and relationship to the rest of creation. I will be eagerly blogging through these chapters in the next couple of days.

This volume looks to be an exciting and engaging contribution to the studies of Christology which continue to flood the literary market (including my own work, The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus). Jesus of Nazareth is still a controversial figure, some two thousand years after his earthly ministry. The Church Councils did not offer satisfactory or convincing conclusions for all readers, as new scholarly works continue to challenge our thinking and push us to reexamine our presuppositions in regard to how we engage Scripture.

Stay tuned for further updates and reviews of Daniel Kirk’s newest volume – A Man Attested by God.

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