Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 8 – “Son of God” in Matthew)

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I have been thoroughly enjoying Daniel Kirk’ssaintmatthew.JPG newest book, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Overall his thesis is proving to be extremely persuasive as well as a welcome addition to the many scholarly voices on Christology these days. Today I will discuss the section entitled “Son of God in Matthew,” which is the final section in the second chapter. As per my custom, I will summarize and review Kirk’s arguments in bullet points while adding a few comments and observations of my own in italics.

  • Son of God for Matthew’s implied readers – Kirk rightly notes that those who read and obey the teachings of Jesus contained within Matthew’ Gospel may authentically regard God as their heavenly Father, thus making them sons (and daughters) of God. In other words, the father-son terminology is not reserved for Jesus alone but is used of the Church which seeks to follow the words of Jesus as outlined by Matthew. How can the title “son of God” be a persuasive reference for divinity or even the divine side of the later doctrine of the two natures?
  • Hosea 11:1 – The first reference to Jesus’ sonship is in a citation from Hosea 11:1 used in reference to Jesus leaving Egypt as a child. The phrase “Out of Egypt I have called my son” originally referred to God’s election and rescue of the nation of Israel during the Exodus event. In Matthew, however, Jesus is the fulfilment (dare I say, embodiment) of Israel, and Exod 4:22-23 clearly regards Israel is son of God. Jesus is thus regarded typologically as the new Israel (son of God), a nod to Exodus’s title used of the nation in regard to their election.
  • Baptism – Matthew, like Mark and Luke, places heavy emphasis on Jesus’ baptism where he is identified (and anointed) as the messianic son of God. Jesus submits himself to John’s baptism in solidarity with the rest of Israel. Kirk sees in this narrative hints that Matthew may even by pointing to Jesus as the new Isaac, drawing attention particularly to the language of “my beloved son” from Gen 22:2, 12. I still think more can be made out of the baptism/anointing of Jesus as the messianic son of God, an event alluded to later in the Gospel (21:25) in order to answer a question about Jesus’ self-understood authority to enact prophetic signs of judgment in the temple. If son of God is a messianic (kingly) title then the baptism allowed others to hear the voice from heaven designate Jesus as the kingly son of God, one who because he is the king possesses legitimate authority over the temple (cf 2 Sam 7:13).
  • Johannine bolt from the sky – The reference in 10:22 to Jesus full knowledge of the Father is not due to, according to Kirk, ontological unity with the Father or Jesus’ supposed preexistence in heaven. Nothing in the text indicates a coequal or omniscient relationship between the Father and Jesus ( esp. 24:36 discussed below). Rather, it is best understood in light of Israel’s kings and prophets sometimes regarded to possess exclusive divine knowledge. Kirk helpfully notes that there is a major narrative emphasis in Matthew regarding the people’s ability to recognize God’s authorized agents. He offers examples drawn from his research in the first chapter of the book regarding idealized human figures who were admitted into heavenly/sacred space: Moses (Heb 8:5), Isaiah (Isa 6), and Zechariah (Zech 3). This further indicates that Matthew regards Jesus as the authentic revealer of the Father, thereby making the words of Jesus important for Matthew’s readers to faithfully observe and retain.
  • Peter’s confession – The chief apostle gets an A+ for correctly answering the question regarding Jesus’ identity as revealed in Matthew. Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (redacting and further clarifying the remark made in Mark’s Gospel). Again, both “Christ” and “son of God” are parallel titles (cf Psa 2:2, 7). Jesus further notes that the Father in heaven has revealed this information to Peter. If the Father revealed this information to Peter, it should be sufficient christological information. No further revelatory data is required, such as Jesus being the second member of the so-called triune godhead.
  • Jesus walks on water – It is often suggested that Jesus walking on water, claiming ego eimi, and receiving worship as the son of God points to a divine status. Kirk rightly notes that Psa 89:25 regards the Davidic king as genuinely empowered by God to calm the seas of chaos (just as Moses and Joshua split the waters). Kirk also notes that Peter also walked on water, and this does not make him divine. The claim by Jesus to ego eimi is a simple affirmative phrase “it is I” and nothing more in the text of Matthew indicates that it should be read any other way. As for Jesus being worshipped, this is reminiscent of David the human king being given prostration from the people in 1 Chron 29:20. I also suspect that Jesus possessing authority over the created realm makes him out to be an Adam figure, as Adam was given authority and kingship over the created realm in Gen 1:27-28. This authority is explicitly mentioned at the end of the Gospel, where God gives authority to Jesus (28:18). Admittedly, Adam is not a key figure in Mathew as he is in Luke, but he seems to be an example of Kirk’s idealized human figures relevant for this particular account.
  • No one knows the day nor the hour – Kirk also notes the important passage in Matt 24:36 where Jesus admits that he does not possess knowledge of the moment of his second coming. Even as the empowered and authorized revealer of the Father, Jesus nevertheless bears limitations to what he knows. The Father clearly possesses knowledge and understanding above the son of God. It should also be noted that Matthew redacts Mark and adds the adjective “alone” to the Greek text, further clarifying that only the Father possesses this knowledge.

After summarizing the data presented by Matthew, Kirk offers a quotable observation worthy of sharing:

Even where we might see Matthew’s Jesus pushing us to recognize aspects of idealized human Christology not fully enunciated or depicted in Mark, we nevertheless find ourselves dealing with a human Jesus and not, yet, incarnate God” (p. 258)

Tomorrow I will begin to work through chapter 3 wherein the “Son of Man” is the focus in the three Synoptic Gospels. Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of “Son of God” in the Gospel of Matthew. Thanks for stopping by!

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 7 – “Son of God” in Luke’s Gospel)

saintlukeHappy Labor Day and welcome to my seventh post containing my reviews and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Having taken a few days off to enjoy a wild weekend of college football and to observe my religious duties, I will today present on the section entitled “Son of God, Son of David, Son of Adam in Luke.” As per my custom, I will summarize his arguments in bullet points while adding a few comments of my own in italics.

  • Starting point – Luke redacts Mark, thereby using Mark’s christology as a foundation. Kirk suggests that Luke “takes the opportunity to clarify and/or reaffirm that son of God connotes messiah.” Luke does not redact Mark in any manner which indicates that he disagreed or desired to elevate the christological identity of Jesus.
  • Announcement of Jesus’ birth – Gabriel declares to Mary that Jesus will be the son of the Most High and that the Lord God would bestow upon him the throne of his ancestor David (in fulfillment of 2 Sam 7:12-16). Thus, Jesus is the human descendant of King David while also being declared to be son of God. In other words, Jesus is a lineal descendant of David, and Yahweh is not the son of David.
  • Luke 1:35 – God is the actual father of Jesus in a manner which, according to Kirk, is “creational rather than incarnational.” The act of the spirit hovering over Mary is akin to the original Genesis creation where the spirit hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). In this way, a new being is being formed at this birth and is to be understood as an act of new creation. This makes the spirit of God the creative force enabling the coming into existence of Jesus in the womb of Mary (and if the Son of God came into existence, then he did not personally preexist).
  • Baptism – The voice from heaven declares that Jesus is the anointed son of God (or as Kirk puts it, “God’s human agent”).
  • Genealogy – After the account of the baptism Luke strategically places the genealogical record of Jesus, tracing his lineage back to Adam. Adam is called explicitly the “son of God” and Kirk takes this reference subsequent to the baptismal announcement that Jesus is God’s son as a clear indicator that Luke possesses an Adam christology. Son of God, in reference to Jesus, is therefore both Adamic and Davidic.
  • Temptation narrative – Satan tempts Jesus in three different attempts (“If you are the son of God…”) in a manner which sheds insight on the nature of this important title. The temptations are not out to get Jesus to question if he actually possessed some preexistent, divine ontology with God. Rather, they clarify for the reader that son of God is the title for the office of Israel’s messiah, the one who represents and typifies Israel. Jesus demonstrates himself faithful to the messianic vocation, succeeding where Israel as a nation failed. Furthermore, God cannot be tempted, but Jesus was indeed tempted. Why would the Devil tempt Jesus if Jesus was the Creator of the Devil?
  • Demons – The demons possess supernatural understanding that Jesus is both the son of God and the agent of the coming judgment. Jesus silences them “because they knew that he was the Christ” – Luke 4:41. Therefore, Jesus’ encounter with the demons again clarifies that “son of God” means “messiah” for Luke.
  • Transfiguration – Kirk notes that Luke goes out of his way to portray this event in light of a Moses/Exodus framework. Note the following parallels:
    • Luke changes Mark’s six days of waiting to eight days, likely to portray Jesus in light of the Israelite firstborn sons dedicated on the eighth day (according to Exodus 13 and 22)
    • Luke also changes Mark’s glowing and luminous Jesus by adding the fact that Jesus’ face also glowed, a clear allusion to Moses’ face shining the glory of God (Exodus 34)
    • Luke 9:31 speaks of Jesus’ exodus (τὴν ἔξοδον), rendered as “departure” in most translations
    • The voice from the cloud declares that Jesus is God’s “elect one” – indicating that he is chosen by God likely along the lines of corporate representation of Israel’s chosen human beings (like David)
  • The Johannine bolt from the sky – Luke 10:21-24 speaks of the intimate knowing between the Father and Jesus the son. Kirk rightly notes that this needs to be read in light of Luke’s theology, wholly detached from influence of the Fourth Gospel. The passage does not demand that the messianic secret, brought over from Mark’s Gospel, entails that Jesus is identified as Israel’s God. Rather, Jesus is the one who discloses and reveals the Father. In other words, Jesus reveals the Father to whomever he desires (reminiscent of Moses and the Israelite prophets).
  • The trial of Jesus – When Jesus is placed before the priests on Thursday night before his crucifixion the questions all regard the identification of the messianic office. The titles “Christ” and “Son of God” are parallel queries (just as they are in Psa 2:2, 7).

In sum, Kirk skillfully and persuasive demonstrates that Luke regards Jesus as the idealized human messiah, plump with Adamic, Davidic, and Israelite echoes of the title “Son of God.” In regard to Luke’s christology, Kirk aptly states that:

“the high Christology of Luke fits well within the paradigm of Jesus as an idealized human figure who takes up the primordial call to rule the entirety of the created order on God’s behalf.” (p.236)


Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of “Son of God” in the Gospel of Luke.

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 6 – “Son of God” in Mark)

saintmark.JPGThis is post number six in my ongoing series containing my reviews and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will start your Labor Day weekend examining Kirk’s second chapter – “Son of God as Human King.” In particular, I will focus on the Gospel of Mark, the first document Kirk discusses in this chapter. As has been my custom in these reviews, I offer a few bullet points covering his arguments along with a few comments of my own in italics.

  • The Christology of Mark needs to be read on its own terms, particularly outside of the lens of the Fourth Gospel. I would be interested in testing Kirk’s idealized human figure hypothesis on the christological claims and statements within the Gospel of John, but that will likely require another 600+ page book from him (here’s hoping).
  • Kirk builds a overall persuasive argument noting the internal structure of Mark in which Jesus is proclaimed as “Son of God” in three key moments of the narrative: at his baptism, at the Transfiguration, and upon the cross by the Gentile centurion. Thematically, these three episodes share, broadly, many elements, actions, and phrases, suggesting that the writer deliberately placed them there for structural and theological reasons. Each of these episodes contain:
    • a voice claiming that Jesus is the Son of God
    • a reference to Elijah
    • the act of ripping (heavens, cloud, temple curtain)
    • a reference to the Spirit/spirit
    • an associated meaning with Jesus’ death
    • a key linking with Jesus’ kingship
  • Mark’s Gospel opens with a YHWH quotation from Isaiah seemingly used with Jesus as “Lord” instead. However, Kirk has already demonstrated in the previous chapter that this manner of using texts from the Hebrew Bible also appears at Qumran without any hint that those persons were claiming to be YHWH himself.
  • Jesus is empowered with the Spirit at his baptism. Many other human figures in the Hebrew Bible were similarly empowered. Furthermore, the voice from heaven proclaiming the sonship of Jesus, if indeed echoing language from Psalm 2, makes Jesus out to be an anointed king distinguished from and wholly subordinate unto YHWH.
  • Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God as gospel and performs deeds/miracles, such as healings and exorcisms, which verify the preaching of God’s rule.
  • Mark places considerable stress in regarding Jesus as the royal king of God’s kingdom, but a king whose path to kingship first involves rejection, suffering, and death. This emphasis, of course, is not initially understood by the disciples. That is why they are called the “duh-sciples” because they just dont get it. =)
  • Jesus is said to one day return “in the glory of his Father” (8:38), indicating a measure of an agent invested in the glory of the one who sends him. This glory, not surprisingly, appears in the following episode’s vision of the Transfiguration. Kirk rightly notes that Dan 12:2-3 regards those who are bodily resurrected to the life of the age to come as shining in luminous glory, and this image is the appropriate way in which to understand the glowing Jesus at the Transfiguration (cf also Moses’ veiled face from God’s glory). Kirk suggests the appearance of Moses and Elijah at this event is indicative that they had been exalted to heaven. I prefer to see the Transfiguration as a vision of the resurrected (per Dan 12:2-3) glory of Jesus accompanied by Moses and Elijah, both bodily resurrected from the grave. Matthew redacts this account and has Jesus clearly stating that it is a “vision” (Matt 17:9) and the fact that the episode subsequently follows a statement about a few disciples witnessing the kingdom of God further points me in this interpretive direction. But I digress…
  • Kirk draws attention to some nice parallels between Jesus at the Transfiguration and Moses ascending to the mountain:
    • Both encountered God on the mountain
    • Both brought three witnesses (Peter, James, John with Jesus; Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu with Moses)
    • Both waited six days before ascending to the mountain
    • Both come into contact with God in a cloud
    • Both appear to be glorified or bearing a piece of God’s glory
  • The titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man” appear to overlap and offer similar roles of rejection before exalted kingship. Furthermore, these are not thinly veiled indicators of divinity and humanity (in the sense of the later doctrine of the two natures of Christ).
  • Plutarch recounts how Caesar’s death resulted in cosmic signs, particularly the sun being blocked. Since Caesar (and his successors) were widely regarded and worshiped by the imperial cult as “Son of God,” Mark’s insistence that Jesus’ death resulted in “darkness falling over the land at the sixth hour” of Good Friday indicates that Jesus is also to be regarded as “Son of God” (perhaps, in my opinion, polemically against the claims of Rome and the imperial cult).
  • Fallen spirits/demons worship Jesus. Yet Kirk has already demonstrated that angels worship Adam in contemporary Jewish literature. Being worshiped does not prove that one is identified as YHWH. See also 1 Chron 29:20.
  • Jesus, far from being the omniscient God of Israel, admits he does not know the day or the hour of his second coming (13:32). In stating this, Jesus differentiates himself from the angels and from the Father, the one who alone knows this information. Mark does not say that Jesus’ humanity didn’t know but that his divine side did know. No, rather only the Father knows (even the Holy Spirit is unaware, if it is to be regarded as a person distinct from the Father, which I doubt).
  • “Abba” does not mean “Daddy” (cf. Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6). It only further points to Jesus as the authentic Son of God.
  • When Jesus heals the paralytic earlier in the Gospel he is met with opposers who state, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” God has given authority to the Son of Man to forgive sins, and Jesus later gives that very same authority to the disciples (11:25). If the disciples can truly forgive sins, then they are certainly not divine (and neither is Jesus for that matter).


Mark checks out to fit the working hypothesis that Jesus of Nazareth is best understood as a Jewish idealized human figure (rather than a preexisting divine person or angel). Let me know in the comments below what you think of Kirk’s reconstruction of the Gospel of Mark. Tomorrow I plan to post on Kirk’s arguments in the Gospel of Luke regarding how he depicts Jesus as “Son of God,” so stay tuned!

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 5 – the Son of Man)

Here is post number five containing my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will examine Kirk’s arguments regarding the noteworthy Son of Man in Daniel 7 and later extrabiblical sources. I will also comment briefly on his conclusions for the first chapter. Here are a few bullet points covering his arguments along with a few comments from me in italics.

  • The Son of Man in Daniel – I am happy to say that Kirk came to the same conclusion that I have in the past regarding the function of Daniel 7, a vision which deals with sonofmanthrones.JPGthe problem nations by moving from chaotic animals back to the idealized role of humanity in Genesis 1 (where humans rule over the animals). Just as the beasts represents nations, so too does the Son of Man represent Israel as a nation/people, albeit as a single figure. Much discussion and conversation with John Collins regarding the interpretation of the “holy ones” (angels or humans). Here Kirk sees the Son of Man as one enthroned alongside God in heaven and receiving universal worship, although still existing as a human figure (rather than angelic). He also notes that the Son of Man, having suffered persecution from the “little horn” in Daniel 7, is vindicated precisely as a suffering figure. It will be interesting to see where Kirk ends up going with this line of argumentation, as I can already see the dialogue with Jesus and the priest in Mark 14 as a strong candidate for this evidence.
  • Son of Man in 1 Enoch – The Son of Man here is reckoned quite clearly as the “messiah” and is the recipient of universal worship. He also possesses glory, might, and the authority to judge secret things. This Son of Man even judges the angels, suggesting that he is categorically distinct from them. Kirk notes that even Hurtado regards 1 Enochs Son of Man as “God’s chief agent.” Kirk correctly points out that the Son of Man is openly identified with Enoch. Of no small importance is Kirk’s suggestion that Enoch is better understood as a human translated to heaven before returning to judge as messiah rather than preexisting in heaven before his earthly life. Furthermore, the supposed reference to preexistence might better be explained as a development of Psa 72:17 where the messiah’s name was before the sun. Matters are complicated because it is difficult to know for certain if chapter 71 of 1 Enoch, where the reference to Enoch appears, is original to the Similitudes. In a footnote Kirk argues that concluding that the Son of Man in 1 Enoch possesses personal preexistence is debatable. It would clearly seem that this issue of whether 1 Enoch teaches literal preexistence of a messiah figure has been reopened by Kirk’s analysis, and this interpreted move will be welcomed by many readers.
  • Son of Man in 3 Enoch – Enoch is again identified as a heavenly figure. This time, however, he is described by Rabbi Ishmael as greater than all the princes, more exalted than the angels, more honored than all the hosts, and elevated over all in sovereignty, greatness, and glory. This is surely a lot to say about a human being and is therefore pertinent evidence for Kirk’s “idealized human figure” thesis.
  • Prayer of Enosh (4Q369) – This passage does not specifically deal with Daniel’s Son of Man, but it does piggyback on Enoch’s exalted status (and 1 Enoch was a highly cherished textual tradition at Qumran). This document described Enoch as God’s firstborn son, prince, and ruler over the world. In fact, the father-son relationship is precisely what enables Enoch to possess this role of rulership. The same could be said about the implications of 2 Sam 7:14 and Psa 2:7.
  • Son of Man in 4 Ezra – Although this text clearly comes after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, it shows how the traditions developed from what is articulated back in Daniel 7. The Son of Man in 4 Ezra is none other than the messiah, the son of God. This messiah figure suffers death after a 400 year reign, and so is not an eternal figure. He plays the role of judge and deliverer, both in a manner which mediates God’s initial initiative. Kirk considers these configurations ample examples of participation in the divine identity (re: Bauckham) in a manner which does not equate the Son of Man with God but instead acts as one standing in for and act on behalf of God. Kirk rightly notes that the Son of Man in 4 Ezra is a preexisting figure and does not debate this as he does in regard to 1 Enoch.

It is interesting to see how the Son of Man tradition develops over a period of 250 years. Granted, 250 years is no short span of time, as America has been an independent nation for around that much time and a lot has taken place during that period.

Kirk concludes his massively important (and what I regard as highly persuasive) survey of Jewish literature with some noteworthy quotes. I thought this one best represented the fruit of his argumentation thus far in the book:

…being identified with God is not the same as being identified as God…we find in early Jewish literature wide-ranging claims for various human figures sharing in the divine identity, without any sense that this puts pressure on the inherent identity of God, demanding its reconfiguration. (p.174)

My take on this first chapter is that it could have been an entire book itself, one which would have (indeed it does have) massive implications for understanding Jesus’ relationship with God in all of the NT documents, not just the Synoptics. 



Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 4 – Priests as Idealized Human Figures)

This is my fourth post containing my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will look at the significantly important section on Priests as “idealized human beings” in Judaism, data upon which the Synoptic evangelists drew in order to articulate their christological conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. Kirk covers a lot of complicated ground, so as usual I will use bullet points and put my own thoughts in italics.

  • Melchizedek in Scripture– This enigmatic figure developed in tradition by combining priest.JPGthe priestly image in Genesis 14 and the kingly role in Psalm 110. Since King David and his sons, on rare occasions, functioned as both kings and priests (2 Sam 8:18) this allows Psalm 110 to promote a human lord as the idealized priestly king. Furthermore, Psa 110:1 envisages this human lord as exalted to God’s right hand, followed by an appointment of priesthood forever (110:4). Yet this figure is distinct from YHWH in both Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.
  • Melchizedek in Qumran – The Temple scroll (11Q13) identifies Melchizedek as “god” of Psalm 82, which is generally understood to be referring to human judges. Kirk rightly notes that this is in line with previous attributions of elohim to the human king (Psa 45:6; Isa 9:6). As priest, this figure represents both sides, human and divine. Therefore, Melchizedek becomes an intense figure crossing the boundaries between God and humans without compromising strict monotheism.
  • Priest in Sirach – Written in a period when Israel only possessed priest and no kings, Sirach highlights Simon ben Onias as an idealized human figure echoing divine images drawn from the vision in Ezek 1:28. He may even be intended to be understood as one reflecting the “glory of Adam” (which appears in both Qumran and Paul). Of no small significance is that Sirach 24 describes Lady Wisdom as the personification of God’s wise ordering in creation, only to take those traits and give them to the high priest Simon in Sirach 50 (thus making Simon the poetic incarnation of Wisdom nearly three hundred years before the Gospel of John was completed). The same chapter takes images of the idealized Davidic ruler from Psalm 89 and reinterprets them for Simon the priest.
  • Testament of Levi – An eschatological priest evokes God’s glory reminiscent of Moses’ face in Exodus. Furthermore, he is gifted with the heavenly spirit of understanding and sanctification, allowing him to bound Belial and the ability to grant authority to others over wicked spirits. There is a lot of food for thought regarding depictions of Jesus along these very lines of thinking.
  • Jubilees – More priests are depicted as possessors of the divine glory. These priest perform functions on earth likened unto angelic functions taking place in heaven.
  • Priests in Qumran – 1Q28b ushers in a blessing for the community’s priest so that they may shine with heavenly angelic light, thus illuminating the congregation. This draws upon Moses’ face and the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6, but goes further than the picture of Moses and states that these priests will indeed allow their glorious faces to shine upon their people. These priests are nevertheless still human figures, albeit while possessing luminous glory of their God. 4Q400 depicts the priests who serve in the holy temple as ascending into the heavenly throne room. They also are agents through whom God’s sanctification is carried to the holy people. 4Q418 notes how the addressee (either a king, priest, or ruler) is described as a “holy of holies over all the earth.” This make the inner room of the Jerusalem temple into a person, one who bears in himself the very presence of Israel’s God (or as I call it, “poetic incarnation”). The Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q471b, 4Q491c) depicts a singer, who is a “friend of the king” who is exalted to heaven, seated, and sharing in the lot of the angels. Yet this person is a human member of the Qumran community, albeit a highly exalted human figure. My favorite citation made by Kirk is 4QApocryphon of Levi wherein the human eschatological high priest is described as sharing in the creative word of God which made the Genesis creation. Kirk summarizes the scroll’s contribution by noting that the “priest is identified with God through the recapitulation of God’s role in creation…without any indication that the priest is being identified as God or as some other divine being.”


Kirk also has an interesting section noting that at least habpeshertwo times in the DSS the authors replaced the divine name (YHWH) with the name of a human priest (just as the NT does with Jesus in Rom 10:13 and Acts 2:21). In particular, the moreh hatzadik (“Teacher of Righteousness”) in the Habakkuk Pesher puts the reference to the teacher in for the divine name. This also occurs in 4Q167 where the “last priest” replaces the first person reference to Yahweh’s “I” in Hosea 5:14. This observation is hugely significant, noting that the NT authors were not going rogue in their high claims made of Jesus. They were only doing what other Jews were practicing before them.

Although one might not think that a study on priests bears any significant relevance on the development of Christology, this section of Kirk’s book argues persuasively to the contrary. I feel a growing excitement reading this book, attempting to process all of the small changes this makes for some of the more popular arguments regarding the divinity of Jesus which now are shown to have a broken foundation. It might be a little premature for me to state this, but Daniel Kirk’s contribution here might be as noteworthy as James Dunn’s Christology in the Making published some thirty years ago.

Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” (part 3 – Kings in Worship and Rule)

godtomanIn this third post wherein I provide my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels I will focus on the section entitled “Kings in Worship and Rule.” In this part of the book Kirk lays out the evidence demonstrating that the Israelite king was regularly represented as the idealized human being, one who embodies God’s rule upon the earth.

Many texts are discussed in this section, so I will offer a brief summary of his arguments and accompany them with a few thoughts of my own:

  • David in Historical Texts (Scripture) – The Davidic dynasty is understood as kingdavid God’s son on earth per 2 Sam 7:14 (cf. Psa 2:7). 2 Samuel’s reworking in 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 signifies that the Davidic kingdom is also the kingdom of God, indicating that the human ruler is the one through whom God is/will be enacting his sovereignty.
  • Psalm 45 – The Davidic king here (likely Solomon in my opinion) is called “God,” although there is another God above him (“your God has anointed you”). Both Yahweh and the Israelite king can rightfully be called “God.” This language evoke the similar terms used of Moses, the prophet who functioned as God to Pharaoh. Psalm 45 is significant because this is the text which the author of Hebrews uses to call Jesus “God” (Heb 1:8), and this author includes in his citation the part of the human king having a God above him.
  • Psalm 72 – Kirk notes that the tsi’im in 72:9 (71:9 MT) are better rendered as animal desert dwellers, therefore indicating that animals will bow down in prostration to this idealized human king. This recalls the language of Adam in Gen 1:26-28 where the idealized human ruled over the animals as God’s viceroy. Kirk also notes that the name of this idealized king is petitioned to flourish “before the sun” (72:17), a statement used to describe the notional preexistence of the Messiah’s name in Rabbinic Judaism. Since the phrase “before” (liphnai) can be temporal as well as spatial, this very well may be a reference to preexistence of God’s idealized king’s name before the sun was created.
  • Psalm 89 – Another major psalm echoing the promised of 2 Samuel 7’s Davidic covenant. Particularly of interest is that the anointed Davidic king will possess the ability to control the sea and the waves, and the waters in Judaic thought are usually regarded as personifications of the chaotic evil. God, who generally reserves the ability to control nature, extends this function unto the Davidic king, the son of God.
  • Solomon’s Throne and Worship in 1 Chronicles – Both David and Yahweh are kingsolomonworshiped, being the recipients of a single verb in 1 Chron 29:20. In 1 Chron 29:23 Solomon sits on the throne of Yahweh, indicating that Yahweh has invested his personal rule and throne upon the earth so that the human king can function as his embodied representative. The Israelite king, therefore, is the visible presence of Yahweh.
  • Isaiah 9:6-7 – The idealized king, likely originally referring to Hezekiah, is called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.” He will also function as the human embodiment of Yahweh, the divine warrior ushering in the peaceful reign of God. Elijah was a “father” to Elisha (2 Kings 2:12).
  • Ezekiel 34 – Long after King David has died, the restoration of the kingdom envisions the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. This idealized king will function as the shepherd of the people (34:23), sharing in the responsibilities of shepherding which Yahweh himself will perform (34:11-16). In other words, the restored Davidic king will share in the functions of Yahweh as the idealized human ruler.
  • Micah 5 – This promised ruler, whose origins extend “from days of old” (miyamai olam), reach back to the ancient Davidic family (not back to eternity). God will bestow upon this ruler his strength and glory. More striking is the indication that God’s own name will be shared with this promised Davidic king (Micah 5:4; 5:3 MT). This is no different from Yahweh extending his throne down to earth upon which Solomon was to rule as the human king in 1 Chronicles.
  • Zechariah 12 – Yahweh, functioning as the divine warrior, is spoken of in conjunction with the idealized human king. Zechariah 12:8 importantly notes that the house (dynasty) of David will be “like God” (c’elohim), further overlapping the functions of the idealized human ruler and Israel’s God.
  • Psalms of Solomon – Chapter 17 of this work regards the idealized Davidic king playing the role of God on earth, particularly over Israel. Kirk quotes John Collins who remarks that, “The kingship of God… is implemented though human kingship.” There are other echoes in the Psalms of Solomon where the idealized king’s mission to rule over the Gentiles seems to be deliberately drawing upon Psa 2:7-9, where the human Son of God will smash the nations with a rod of iron. Furthermore, Kirk points out that while Isa 66:18 says that Yahweh knows the thoughts of the people, Psalms of Solomon 17:25 says that the human Davidic king is the one who now possesses this prerogative. The fact that the promised Messiah could be spoken of as possessing the ability to know the thoughts of humans has massive implications upon similar texts in John’s Gospel and Rev 2:23.
  • Animal Visions of 1 Enoch – In the midst of a vision of sheep, a champion arises to sit on the throne for the Lord (90:9). This enthroned ruler is thus playing the role of God as both king and judge of the people (90:20).
  • Qumran References to the Idealized King – 4Q246 notes how God will wage war on behalf of the human king (who is called “son of God”). 4QFlor states that the idealized king will function as the agent of deliverance for God, drawing upon the prophecy of Amos 9:11, itself a promised of the restored Davidic dynasty. 4Q521, which has precipitated a 4q521plethora of interpretations by scholars (about which Kirk shows awareness), notes how the God’s anointed one will be obeyed/listened to by the heavens and the earth. This recalls the primordial Adam image who functioned as the crowning achievement of the original creation, ruling over everything God had created.

Kirk has demonstrated that the images describing the Israelite kings (primarily David and Solomon) as idealized rulers in whom God embodies his attributes and sovereignty can abundantly be observed in both the Hebrew Bible and in a variety of texts in Second Temple Judaism. Combined with the case which Kirk has already established regarding the images of Adam, Moses, and prophets like Elijah, these Israelite kings provide fertile soil out of which the Synoptic evangelists can grow their depiction of Jesus as the idealized human being. This first chapter of the book is proving to be a solid reconstruction of how Judaism’s strict monotheism could incorporate these human figures as mortal “embodiments” of Israel’s God, carrying out his rule and purposes.

Stay tuned for further updates on A Man Attested by God.


Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 2 – Adam, Moses, and the Prophets)

This is the second installment of my review and thoughts of Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic GospelsI will take the time now to begin working through the contents of Chapter 1 – Idealized Human Figures in Early Judaism.


Adam as Past and Future

In Kirk’s search of the Synoptic evangelists’ sources for shaping Jesus of Nazareth as an idealized human being, being neither personally preexistent nor angelic, the primordial figure of Adam is discussed at length. Here is a summary of the texts which Kirk covers:

  • Genesis – Adam is placed by the Priestly writer not simply as God’s representative but adamevean actual living representation who points creation to the true God in heaven. Adam is made in God’s image and likeness and rules as God’s viceroy. Rulership over creation is a divine prerogative given to Adam. This makes Adam an idealized human figure. I would like to add to Kirk’s analysis that the P source of Genesis 2 tells of God letting Adam name the individual animals (another divine prerogative as observed in P’s record of God himself naming the day, night, sun, moon, etc.). 
  • Psalm 8:6 – Human beings (initially Adam) are crowned with glory, honor, and majesty. These traits are divine qualities shared with Adam (as depicted in Genesis 1). These attributes are not merely expressed by the psalmist as Adam representing God but more likely regarding the human as the embodiment of elohim’s power and presence here on earth.
  • Ezekiel 28 – The King of Tyre (not Satan) is poetically described as the initial human being in Eden, the garden of God. This king is described as formerly possessing divine glory (now lost due to his transgression) in a manner reminiscent of the Adam story in Genesis 1-3.
  • Wisdom of Solomon – The unknown author of this document puts into the mouth of Solomon words which equate the role of the Israelite king with the initial vocation given to humanity, thus indicating that Solomon reckons that he is taking upon himself the role of Adam in all of his idealized human glory. This suggests that the author of Wisdom of Solomon used Gen 1:26-28 as the lens through which to understand the role of Israel’s kings.
  • Dead Sea Scrolls – Kirk surveys the pertinent scrolls mentioning the “glory of Adam” as an inheritance promised to the Qumran covenant community. These texts indicate that the authors of the scrolls regarded themselves as the ones who will one day receive the role given originally to Adam, namely rulership on God’s behalf. These roles make better sense as relating to humanity rather than to angels, Kirk persuasively notes. It would be interesting to know of 4Q381 originally read that the remnant of Israel would rule with God over the “heavens and the earth” (although I cannot imagine what the text could say other than shamayim there in the decayed part of the scroll). Either way, part of the nation of Israel looked forward to regaining the idealized human function given to King Adam by God.
  • Philo – The famous Alexandrian Jew notes in De opificio mundi that the animals of the original creation were to worship the human being Adam as their natural ruler and despot. Worship, as an act, is therefore not limited to the Creator alone. Humanity is described as functioning as God’s sovereign ruler, acting as God’s delegated viceroy. Even Noah, the head of the creation after the flood, is understood by Philo as the ruler likened unto Adam, embodying divine rule upon the earth.
  • The Animal Visions of 1 Enoch – Images of Adam and the Davidic king are depicted as the earthly embodiment of God. These figures appear to exercise judgment precisely as the judge, a prerogative initially belonging to God alone.
  • Life of Adam and Eve – Humans are distinct creatures from the angels. Adam is promised to sit on a divine throne in the restoration of humanity. Kirk notes that angels do not share in God’s throne nor do they receive worship. It is rightly noted that this text probably has been influenced by early Christians and therefore needs to be bracketed out of possible influences on the New Testament Christologies.
  • Testament of Abraham – Adam is again depicted upon a divine throne. This time, however, Adam shines in heavenly glory, appearing like the Lord. This suggests that humans appearing with heavenly glory are not to be taken as direct indicators of being angelic in nature or existing as divine persons.

It is clear that the Apostle Paul was influenced by these depictions of Adam as the idealized human figure. Romans in particular notes how all persons, sharing in Adam’s likeness, suffer from his sin and loss of initial glory (Rom 3:23). However, the redeemed people of God hope and boast/celebrate in the glory of God (Rom 5:2), namely a restoration to the image and position of rulership of Adam. Christ himself is the type of Adam as clearly described in Rom 5:12-21. Christians are therefore co-heirs with Christ in the restoration of the idealized human vocation (Rom 8:17). 


Moses and the Prophets

Kirk also sees in the Jewish depictions of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha further representation of his “idealized human being” category:

  • Moses in the Bible – Moses is called “god” precisely as the agent/representative of Yahweh. Kirk sees in Moses the one who brings God’s rule to earth just as the vocation was given to Adam. Throughout the Exodus narratives Yahweh speaks and performs miracles in and through Moses. The same God who conquered the chaos in Genesis 1 divides the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14, yet this feat is performed through the prophet Moses.  God’s glory is even reflected off of Moses’ face. The famous passage in Deut 18:15 further indicates that Moses was regarded as the ideal figure and prophet (and the NT clearly regards Jesus as the “prophet like Moses”).
  • Philo’s Moses – Philo continues the line of thinking exhibited in the Pentateuch by regarding Moses as God and as the one who shares in God’s sovereign rule over humanity. Moses is both theos and King according to Philo. It might even be the case that Philo prays to Moses in Somm. 164-65. More work could be done on this passage, for sure.
  • Moses in The Exagogue – In a vision, a nobleman summons Moses so as to give up his Charlton-Heston-as-Moses-001throne unto Moses. As Moses looks over the created order, some of the stars bow down before him. If these stars are a reference to angels them Kirk has a good argument against Bauckham and even Fletcher-Louis regarding how humans can be given roles which are regularly reserved for God alone. This reminds me of the Apocalypse of John in the NT where human beings are to be worshiped but angels refuse the very same action. 
  • Moses at Qumran – Moses is again depicted as reflecting the glory of God upon his face. If the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6 wishes that the face of Yahweh shine upon the Israelites, then the fact that Moses already possesses this glory indicates that he is embodying God in some measure as his representative. This further contributes to the notion that Moses was understood as in idealized human being
  • Elijah in the Scriptures – The deuteronomistic author of 1 Kings regards elijah Elijah the Tishbite as controlling aspects of nature in ways which are generally reserved for God alone. In fact, the awesome episode upon Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 17 indicates that it is the human Elijah, and not Baal the storm god, who controls the storms. Yet no one honestly thinks that Elijah is divine. Rather, everyone knows that he is a faithful prophet of God empowered to do miracles and wonders. Kirk notes the many ways in which the deuteronomist sees Elijah as the parallel figure to Moses, noting where both persons do the same miracles and feats. If Moses was an idealized human figure then certainly Elijah is depicted in Scripture to be similarly understood!
  • Elisha – Elisha the prophet begins his career by receiving upon him the power and blessing of Elijah. Therefore, Elisha shares in Elijah’s ministry as the idealized human prophet. I thought it was great for Kirk to point out that the same sort of passing the torch from master to disciple can be observed in the Moses narratives, perhaps even from John the Baptist unto Jesus, and certainly with Jesus unto his disciples. One of my favorite parts of this discussion was the point where Kirk noted that Elisha was able to extend his personal presence in places where he was not physically present (just as Paul did in 1 Cor 5:3-4). Excellent insight here.
  • Elijah in Sirach – There are many Jewish traditions which regard Elijah as physically taken to heaven without dying. Sirach works this material and suggests that the heavenly Elijah as the instrument of God who controls the natural world with “glory.”
  • Elijah in Qumran – Kirk again surveys the various scrolls referring to “the prophet” (i.e., Elijah the expected one). Perhaps a prophetic figure will share in the eschatological role of raising the dead in 4Q521. That there were traditions steaming from the biblical book of Malachi regarding the expectation of Elijah returning can be observed in 4Q558, perhaps hinting that this unnamed figure will share in the coming judgment of God. Personally, I didn’t find the Qumran arguments regarding Elijah as sharing in the coming judgment of God very persuasive, although I admit that Jesus and John the Baptist are aware of such expectations and interpret them for their own purposes (so Kirk’s thesis still stands on the NT evidence).

It is fairly clear in my mind that Adam, Moses, and Elijah are significant examples meeting the criteria for Kirk’s idealized human being. The case for Elisha is not as strong, but he certainly deserves to be included in the discussion. I had formerly been pointed to these figures by reading John Collins and James Dunn, but no one has worked the material as exhaustively as Kirk has demonstrated in this chapter.

I look forward to continuing through this first chapter as it is proving to lay the groundwork for his reading of the Synoptic Gospels in their understandings of who Jesus actually was.

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.

Book Review (part 20 of 20: Conclusions of Research) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

coverneitherHaving finished the book and given myself a few hours to let the data ‘sink in’ I am now ready to offer my final recap/response. What is likely the final publication of James Dunn’s career of ground-breaking scholarship and scriptural insights shows that he is at the top of his game, both mentally and theologically. Chapter fifty of Nether Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity gives Dunn the opportunity to synthesize his historical findings and offer up some concluding thoughts.

The inquiry which he set out to examine regards tracing the trajectories of Jesus traditions from the year 70 CE on into the middle of the second century. He highlights the striking find (which needs serious pondering among modern theologians and preachers alike) that the gospel message “came to include the story of Jesus’ mission and teachings, and not just the account of his death and resurrection and their corollaries.” He also notes the observation that the Jesus traditions as exhibited within the Synoptic Gospels tell the same story with different details and emphases. Even John’s Gospel, which followed Mark’s structure of a written Gospel without actually possessing literary dependence, confirms the transmission of the Jesus material. Thomas chose instead to divorce Jesus’ teachings from his death/resurrection in addition to setting them forth in a non-narrative format (thus calling into question its label as a ‘Gospel’). Dunn also reminds his readers that the second-century sources continued to demonstrate that the Jesus traditions were spreading orally, despite many Apologists acknowledging the four written Gospels. As the second century progressed so did the shift from using the oral teachings of Jesus toward relying upon the four written Gospels. Although other ‘Gospels’ were in circulation there is little evidence that they were revered at the level of the four canonical Gospels.

Dunn has reopened the question regarding how interpreters assess James the Just, arguing that he was the most direct line to the Jewish Jesus. Although the apostle Paul is largely responsible for the massive expansion of the Jewish sect of Jesus-followers into the Gentile world he is perhaps to blame for many awkward and embarrassing questions regarding the incorporation of these two social and religious spheres. Peter too is to be further appreciated as the leader of Jesus’ disciples, as a witness of the resurrection, and Matthew’s insistence that Jesus would build his church upon this ‘rock.’ John’s influence upon early Christianity hardly needs to be argued for, but his Logos theology provided a way for Christians to insist on a line of continuity between the creator and the created order in the face of Gnostic voices which sought to distance the two.

Dunn observes that the contest over Christianity’s identity proved to be much more complex then Eusebius was willing to admit. While Eusebius focused on the pillars of the ecclesiastical system, a New Testament defined by apostles, and a definitive rule of faith Dunn challenges these three in light of his research. Instead, he argues that ‘Jesus as the Christ risen from the dead’ was clearly the defining center of the movement and the one from whom the traditions sprung. Furthermore, he stresses that the ecclesiology is not uniform throughout the NT, pointing to Paul as one who never appointed elders or leaders, the Pastorals which came in with a qualified list for overseers, and the teaching of the ‘priesthood of believers’ in 1 Peter and Revelation. This gives Dunn the opportunity to stress a point which he has already published on previously: the unity in diversity within early Christianity. In fact, the fact that these diverse forms (and others) were canonized should have disturbed the catholic Christianity which itself stressed the religion’s uniformity.

In regard to a rule of faith Dunn rightly observes that christology became a much strong and more emphasized driving force than Jesus’ death and resurrection  for salvation and forgiveness of sins. These led to the seemingly unavoidable path of the developed creeds defined in Nicaea and Chalcedon. On this point, Dunn boldly suggests that,

the NT canon invites those who find the developed creeds as confusing as definitive (that is, not at all clear as to what the definition affirms), to return to the basic insights of the first century: that God is invisible, but Jesus has made visible the invisible God.

The rule of faith which was intended by many early Christians to hold together both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus was never achieved with any long-term success. Dunn chalks this up to the overall loss of regard for Christianity’s Jewishness, and this absence “remains a feature of Christianity to this day.” His closing words urge readers, theologians, and historians alike to take seriously the undeniable feat that Jesus was a Jew and that the God he revealed was the God of Israel, and that the one God whom Jesus affirmed was also the Creator of all things.

dunnMy overall impressions of this book is that it presents a lot of persuasive data in a very organized manner. Dunn’s overarching inquiry is clearly examined with every source available without sounding like you are reading a dry dictionary. He is regularly succinct in his writing while balancing his thorough approach. Readers may quibble with a detail here and there, but it is hard to not be moved and impressed with the conclusions drawn from such a grand scope of study, especially if you have read the previous two volumes (Jesus Remembered and Beginning from Jerusalem). This current volume will easily become a classic staple for those interested in the development of Christianity on into the second century and for historians of the oral Jesus traditions alike. I personally am currently considering how I can incorporate parts of this volume into required readings for college undergraduates in biblical studies. James D.G. Dunn is one of the world’s finest NT scholars alive and should be emulated in his thorough approach to the text, historical data, and methodology.


Book Review (part 19: The Christology of the Gospel of John) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

John-AugustIt cannot go without saying that the apostle John’s lasting influence for the development of Christianity was utterly significant, despite his seemingly minor role depicted within the Gospel narratives. In this nineteenth post of my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will sketch out the argument which depicts what many feel is the most controversial christology in the New Testament Gospels and how it affected the developing Jesus traditions within the second century CE (sections 49.1-3). Indeed, Dunn admits that the role of ‘John’ proved to be one of the most powerful influences in the making of Christianity, particularly when compared to James, Paul, and Peter.

The discussion begins by noting that the Gospel of John can surely be traced back to Jesus’ mission, notably to eyewitness and ear-witness testimony. John was able to draw upon personal knowledge of such features as the initial mission of John the Baptist, the early recruitment of the Baptist’s disciples, and the Judaean mission. These are traditions which possess a high degree of historicity which the Synoptics evangelists, who understandably wanted to mark the distinction between the Baptist and Jesus rather than the overlap, chose not to employ. For Dunn, the Gospel of John utilizes traditions which were authentic rather than legendary in character.

Mislabeling-the-Word-of-GodThe ‘Jewishness’ of John is subsequently argued at length. Dunn notes that the claim in John 20:31, “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” is central to the claim of John’s Gospel. Jesus’ messiahship was rooted in the Jewish expectation of the messiah and built upon distinctive Jewish themes. The title ‘Son of God’ culminated from the typical commissioning of a prophet and the ‘Son of Man’ was reminiscent of Jewish reflections of the human figure in Dan. 7:13-14. Furthermore, the portrayal of Jesus in terms of Wisdom and Word was used with language which would resonate meaningfully and favorably in Jewish ears. On this point Dunn cites John Ashton who observes that Jesus’ claims “are made from within the Jewish tradition and cannot be explained in any other way.” All of these points indicate that there exists within the Gospel of John a sustained strategy to present Jesus as the one who fulfilled Israel’s hopes which surpassed the alternatives like Moses, the Torah, and the prophet.

Unfortunately, John’s evangelistic strategy was not very successful in winning his fellow Jews. Many of the Jewish authorities in his region had put believers in Jesus out of the synagogues. John had hoped that there would be persons similar to Nicodemus (John 3) and the blind man (John 9) who believed secretly and needed to step out in faith and confess their belief. Dunn rightly points out that the dispute between John’s use of Logos theology and Judaism is a dispute, in effect, is still not finally resolved. However, since John was firmly rooted in the Judaism of his time, he “would have denied that he was ignoring or breaching the boundaries which defined Israel’s heritage” (p. 762).

John is to be viewed, in a sense, as a distinctive contributor. The methodological reminder to ‘Let John be John’ is stated from the beginning as a reminder to approach John on his own terms (despite the evidence that it intends to be in continuity with Jewish theology). Four particular subheadings are given: The Incarnate Word, The Son Sent and the Son of Man Descended, The Revealer, and John’s Christology in Gnostic Perspective.


1. The Incarnate Word

Dunn begins this section by declaring that it is not enough to point out the Wisdom and Logos language upon which John drew. What needs to be insisted upon is that the Logos/Wisdom had ‘become flesh.’ In order to drive home his point, Dunn contrasts this assertion from what he regards are less-qualified answers to the significance of John 1:14. For the Logos/Wisdom was not:

  • simply manifest in poetic metaphor to describe divine action;
  • as symbolized in the character of Israel’s heroes and heroines (as in Philo);
  • just as a casual visitor like an angelic character in human appearance.

Rather, the Logos/Wisdom became flesh, i.e., a human being who had lived a full life from birth to death. Although John regards the Logos as having been with God from the beginning and which was God (John 1:1) he did not attempt to downplay what the Logos had become: “that which is born of flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). The ‘Logos becoming flesh’ is not predicated upon the  extrabiblical Prayer of Joseph, a work which Dunn notes is describing a way of glorifying Israel in the person of its eponymous patriarch (p. 765 n.29). While the later Gnostics attempted to explain the gap between the creator and the creation with a lengthy series of aeons John instead chose to bridge the gap with the single step of the ‘Word becoming flesh.’


2. The Son Sent and the Son of Man Descended

The incarnate Logos had become the Son of God, a son who is the Father’s only begotten son (1:14). John 1:18 furthermore indicates that this only-begotten one, who is in the Father’s close embrace, has made him known. This, for Dunn, indicates that the incarnate Word is a revelatory figure of the Father. In other words, ‘Son of God’ in John is not simply a person who is favored by God, but is the one who acted as the Father’s plenipotentiary in the fullest sense. For Dunn, the repeated assertion that the Son has descended from heaven is an indicator of a commissioning (cf. John the Baptist being sent from God – John 1:6). Therefore, the verses describing ‘descending’ and ‘ascending’ (3:13; 6:62) seems to be directed against the characterization of the patriarch and prophets as those who in effect ascended into heaven to hear what God said. The opening of heavenly reality gives an opportunity for Jesus to communicate to those on earth who are ready to receive it.


3. The Revealer

Dunn notes that which had already been observed by Bultman that in John’s Gospel Jesus is the revealer, “but all that he reveals is that he is the revealer!” For John Jesus has revealed God, the Son has revealed the Father, and the uttered Word has revealed the one who uttered the word. In all of this, Dunn rightly reminds us that,

Jesus as the incarnate Word and Wisdom fulfills that role previously filled in Second Temple reflection on Word and Wisdom — not least their role as revealers (p. 768).

The Fourth Gospel presents the theme that Jesus is the closely-related revealer of the Father (in the fullest sense of the words):

  • No one has seen God, but Jesus has made God known (1:18);
  • “Whoever sees me seed him who sent me” (12:45)
  • “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9)
  • Jesus and the Father are one (10:30)

Dunn note the corollaries with the statuses of such figures as Moses and Mohammed, but insists that Jesus as the one who fully reveals God is at the heart of John’s Gospel. Along the same lines, Dunn makes sure that his readers are still ‘Letting John be John’ by remarking that,

it should not be assumed that in his talk of the Son’s dependence of the Father (as in 5.19), John was already caught up in the later debates about the relationships of the two persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Son (p. 768).

This insistence was a needed stress in light of many readers of John reading post-biblical ideas back into the Fourth Gospel’s distinctively Jewish presentation of Jesus as the revelatory expression of God’s Logos/Wisdom.


4. John’s Christology in Gnostic Perspective

In a stroke of bad luck, the presentation of Jesus as the Son sent from the Father had striking parallels with the later Gnostic Redeemer myth. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls helped scholars in the twentieth century to observe that the dualism of light and darkness in the Gospel of John possessed contemporary Jewish parallels rather than owing its origin to a so-called pre-Christian Gnostic Redeemer myth. Nevertheless, John was well on its way to being portrayed in Gnostic terms, as confirmed by its popularity with the Valentinians. Many of the Nag Hammadi documents were strongly influenced by John’s Gospel (and its distinctive prologue).

However, Dunn rightly points out that the Valentinian exegesis of John, expressed by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus, recoils from taking seriously the Logos ‘becoming flesh.’ “Rather they bring to their reading of the prologue the assumption that the divine realm is much more complex than Jewish monotheism allowed…” After citing many of the specific examples of Gnostic interpretations, Dunn concludes that Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria were right to claim that the Gnostics abused John’s Gospel.


cross_mosaicIn his concluding thoughts Dunn traces the trajectory of the Johannine writings on into the second century, noting that its christology provided “the basis for the Logos christology which the Apologists took up in their own philosophical way” (p. 799). Two of the big take-aways from Dunn’s sustained argument are that: (1) John needs to be properly situated in its Jewish context (with all the attached messianic expectations), and (2) the christology of John began to be abused and confused from an early period in the second century. It is not altogether surprising how these two points are related to each other.

Be sure to ‘like,’ share, and subscribe for further posts!





Book Review (part 18: The Development of Paul’s Christology by Ignatius) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Good news, everyone. I am almost finished with the book (less than 100 pages to go). I will probably have about five more posts before I pursue something else (a new book on Christology perhaps). Anyways, this is the eighteenth post on my recap/review of James Dunn’s volume Neither Jew nor Greek.

I wanted in this post to draw upon an interesting section in Dunn’s chapter about the lasting impact of Paul within the NT and the second century believers (Apologists, Church Fathers, Marcion, and Gnostics). Being such a pivotal figure in the expansion of the Gentile mission Paul certainly made an impact, attracting both friends and critics alike. Very often students of church history look upon how Paul was interpreted by his earliest readers in order to find clues as to what Paul might have meant in his letters, especially in some of the more cryptic and difficult-to-understand passages (even 2 Peter 3:16 states that Paul is difficult). Perhaps Paul’s earliest interpreters possess some insight which has been lost over the last 2,000 years.

iconHowever, it is also plausible that some of the earliest interpreters either misrepresent, misunderstand, or develop Paul beyond what was originally intended. No one doubts that the Gnostics misunderstood (and very likely abused) Paul’s teachings to further their own docetic doctrines and agendas. After examining how the apostle Paul was taught by Ignatius, the Bishop of Syria who was martyred during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117), Dunn concludes that a considerable shift has taken place which makes Ignatius uniquely stand out among this contemporaries (Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Aristides, Odes of Solomon). Dunn argues in particular that:

it can quite readily be argued that Ignatius’s emphases represent understandable developments from Paul’s theology…particularly in regard to christology (p. 691)

Dunn notes that Ignatius polemizes an emerging docetic teaching and suggests that this best explains the shift from Paul’s own teachings. Note how Ignatius responds to his theological opponents in his letter to the church in Tralles:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer… then why am I in bonds?…But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer…I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality…God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb (Trall. 10, trans. Roberts-Donaldson)

This allows Ignatius the personal justification to describe Jesus as the one “who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible” (Eph. 7.2, trans. Roberts-Donaldson).

What is especially interesting is that Ignatius’s stress on the ‘flesh’ of Jesus brings him to actually argue that Jesus rose from the dead in the flesh. The particular quote comes from Smyrn. 3.1,

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now.

This goes against the lengthy argument of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:35-50 where the apostle differentiates the mortal body of flesh from the resurrection body of spirit. Dunn notes that Ignatius is well aware of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, noting thirteen places where it is cited or echoed within the Ignatian corpus. Therefore, it seems that Ignatius has taken Paul’s arguments regarding the body of Jesus beyond what was originally intended. Dunn even notes a development in Paul’s ecclesiology in the writings of Ignatius, further contributing to the above conclusion.

In sum, Dunn observes that Ignatius has taken the arguments of Paul’s views of Christ and significantly developed them within polemical discussions with docetic Christians in the early decades of the second century CE.


Book Review (part 17: How the Gospel of John Contributed to the Parting of the Ways) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In the seventeenth post regarding my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek  I will draw out a particularly fascinating discussion on how the Fourth Gospel contributed (and in what sense) to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between Judaism and Christianity (section 46).

The-Breakup_0Dunn outlines this chapter by first discussing how the terms ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity are unhelpful terms because they are not defined and distinguished entities during this period of inquiry. He moves on to note some of the early strains between the followers of Jesus and their Jewish counterparts, such as the death of the Messiah, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, and the lynching of Stephen in Acts 7. Furthermore, Rome’s involvement certainly caused ripples between the two groups with the destruction of the temple (70 CE), the fiscus Judaicus, and the revolts in 115-117 and 132-135 CE. During this time Judaism was being refined with the slow emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and the fading away of other sects (Essenes, Sadducees, etc.).  Four NT documents (Matthew, Acts, John, and Hebrews) are likewise examined to see in what sense do they depict the conflicts between Jews and early Christians. Finally, Dunn notes the writings of the second century Apologists, Church Fathers, and others to observe how the tone has changed during their time periods. This entire chapter is a gold mine of excellent historical data and should be required reading for Church History students (who rarely get exposed to the developments between the first and second centuries CE).

I will now move to interacting with Dunn’s section on how the Gospel of John contributed to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between what eventually came to be known as Judaism and Christianity. The section (46.5c) notes how the GJohn apparently goes out of its way to argue how traditional Jewish icons are now passé in light of the coming of Christ (temple to body, purification water into wine, Jacob’s well into living water, manna from heaven to bread of life, etc.). These themes seem to indicate that GJohn invites its readers (especially the Jews of its time) to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and visions.

It is in GJohn that ‘the Jews’ are the designated antagonists, regularly hostile to Jesus. In John 8:39-44 Jesus defines them as “children of the devil” rather than children of Abraham. This sharply distinguishes ‘the Jews’ from Jesus and his followers (who are also Jewish). It seems, after a closer examination, that ‘the Jews’ most likely refers to the Jewish authorities, in contrast to even the neutral crowds and common folk observing the dialogues of Jesus and his opponents.

IMG_1352Of particular interest is the phrase coined by GJohn aposynagogos, “expelled from the synagogue.” In John 9:22 the parents of the blind man refuse to stand up for their own son in fear of ‘the Jews’ who threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah. The next reference is in 12:42 where many of the rulers believed in Jesus, but did not publicly confess him for fear of the Pharisees, lest they be put out of the synagogue. The third and final reference is in 16:2 where Jesus warns that his disciples should expect to be kicked out of the synagogue. It has been common in Gospel of John scholarship to suggest that the blessing against the heretics (known as the birat ha-minim) had already been pronounced by the post-70 rabbinical authorities and that this pronouncement in synagogues explains the social situation exhibited in John 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2. Dunn argues that this suggestion is problematic and unable to be sustained historically principally because the reference to the Christians within this blessing  was likely a later addition. Dunn concludes, nevertheless, that the three references to synagogue-expulsion indicate that the pressures towards the parting of the ways was instigated on the side of Judaism rather than Christians.

The other relevant feature in GJohn is the objection on the side of Judaism that claims being made of Jesus by his followers were a threat to God’s unity. Dunn cites John 5:18 (‘the Jews’ seek to kill Jesus because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God) and 10:30-31 (‘the Jews’ pick up stones to stone Jesus in response to the statement, “I and the Father are one”). In the Synoptic Gospels there appears to be no fierce reaction from the Jewish authorities quite like John 5:18 and 10:31. Dunn notes that the question of why these claims about Jesus were not made prior to the year 70 CE has not been sufficiently asked. The solution seems to be that John’s understanding of Jesus is best explained through the lens of God sending an authorized agent who bears the name and privileges of God himself.  Or, in the words of Dunn,

…much of John’s christology can be best seen in the context of late Second Temple Jewish reflection on divine epiphanies and divine agency.

Dunn goes on to note some of the particular christological points in GJohn. Of interest are these bullet points:

  • The Wisdom/Logos christology of John 1:1-18 is essentially a part of the Wisdom theology of Lady Wisdom traditions exhibited in Prov. 8; Sirach 24; and Baruch 3-4. Philo’s Logos theology is also influential;
  • John 3:13 seems to be a direct rebuttal of other Jewish claims to heavenly journeys and apocalyptic visions (only Jesus is the designated revealer of God);
  • The Son of Man ascending/descending in 3:13 and 6:62 is an extension of reflection on Dan. 7:13-14, a reflection in which 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra also were taking part;
  • The motif of Jesus as the one whom God “sent” sounds like the theme of God sending a prophet, but transcends both the prophet and the kingly figures;
  • The “I am” statements and other claims like John 8:58 “would not ring oddly to anyone familiar with the ‘I’ claims of Wisdom.”

John’s christology was not foreign to the Judaism of the period, argues Dunn. It seems that it was the claim that Jesus was God’s authorized agent, likened to God’s Wisdom, which was the factor provoking the post-70 CE rabbis to regard these Christ-followers as heretics (the minim). Dunn notes that the Gospel of John did not finalize this split, pointing to the second-century christological controversies which continued to bring definition to Christianity and Judaism which were both attempting to define each other over and against the other.

In sum, the Gospel of John indicates that the rabbis expelling Christians from the synagogue in a disagreement as to whether Jesus really was God’s authorized and empowered Messiah, and that the Johannine community indicates that this schism was well under way at the end of the first century CE.

What do you think of Dunn’s reconstruction? Be sure to ‘like,’ share, and subscribe for further updates!


Book Review (part 16: How Jewish were the Writings of the New Testament?) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Christians-vs-jewsAs we continue through my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek we turn to the chapter entitled ‘Jewish Christianity.’ This section attempts to survey the manner in which early expressions of Christ-devotion were either characterized as Jewish or self-identified as a continuation of the Judaic heritage. Although this chapter has a lot of weighty arguments regarding how more emphasis needs to be placed upon the influence of James the Just in the Jerusalem Church and the various Jewish-Christian ‘sects’ existing in the second century CE, I wanted to highlight in particular Dunn’s inquiry into determining in what sense the NT documents themselves stressed their ‘Jewishness’ (section 45.4). Since the following chapter in the book deals with the ‘Parting of the Ways,’ it is significant to lay the groundwork regarding in what sense Judaism and Christianity were intertwined prior to their unfortunate divorce. Furthermore, it is common stock in some of the more popular discussions about the Christian faith to regard Judaism and its scriptures (the Hebrew Bible/OT) as passe or old hat. It is therefore prudent to examine in what sense did the NT documents regard themselves as Jewish.


The New Testament Gospels

Mark Dunn regards the Gospel as Mark as the least Jewish of the four canonical Gospels. However, it opens up with pivotal quotations from Exod. 23:20 and Isa. 40:3. It focuses on the Judaean region and Galilee in particular. The climax of Jesus’ ministry is depicted as Peter’s confession regarding the Messiah of Israel’s hopes. Furthermore, Jesus is regarded as the Son of David and the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus honors the Shema of Deut. 6:4-5 as the greatest commandment and selects Lev. 19:18 as the next most important priority. Overall, Mark does not attempt to exonerate Jesus from his context or deny the Jewish character of his mission.

Luke –  The Gentile orientation of Luke-Acts is readily visible. Nevertheless, Luke makes a considerable effort to ensure that the Jewishness of Jesus’ mission and purpose is evident. The opening songs in Luke chs. 1-2 depict the Jewish hope now fulfilled in the respective births of John and Jesus. Luke alone mentions how the young Jesus was circumcised and how the offering for purification was given in accordance with the Law. Jesus himself regards his ministry as a fulfillment of Isa. 61:1-2. He promises his disciples that they will rule over the twelve tribes of Israel. Even after his resurrection Jesus claims that everything written about him in the Law and the Prophets was to be fulfilled in him. In sum, Luke takes for granted the Jewish character of Jesus’ ministry.

Matthew – It should go without saying that Matthew’s Gospel is thoroughly Jewish. It commences with its argument that Jesus is born as the climax of the promises to David and Abraham, tracing his genealogy with some forty Israelite/Jewish persons. Jesus himself insists that he came to preach to the lost sheep of Israel. In the famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus regards the nature of his teachings to be raised higher than those of the Pharisees. It is almost certain that Matthew depicts Jesus as the ‘new Moses’ and the one who reorganizes Israel around himself. Principally, Matthew is deeply-rooted and interested in depicting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

John – Although it is common to regard John as something theologically less-Jewish that its Synoptic counterparts, even it expresses a commitment to Israel’s heritage. John’s Gospel is, in fact, the only of the four to call Jesus “Messiah” (1:41; 4:25-26). Along the same lines, it is also the only Gospel to regard Jesus as the [Passover] lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world. It makes reference to Jewish imagery, such as Moses’ bronze serpent and the water from Jacob’s well, and interprets Jesus through the lens of these Jewish symbols. Jesus states that Moses wrote about him, thus arguing for continuity between the Torah and the climactic ministry of Jesus. Although John expresses a deep schism between the local Ephesian synagogue and the Johannine community, it nevertheless regards the Jesus-movement to be the proper fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and dreams.


The ‘Paulines’

The Undisputed Seven Letters – Dunn chose to not deal with these documents in this section, presumably because the scope of his book is limited to the period between 70 and the middle of the second century CE.

Ephesians – Some might be surprised that Ephesians is steeped in Jewish characteristics. It highlights the need to take the Jewish gospel to non-Jews. Its recipients, whomever they were, are regarded twice as “saints” in the opening few verses. In fact, Ephesians regards its audience with the title “saints” more times than any other Pauline epistle. Regular Jewish phrases like, “Blessed are you,” “chosen,” “the beloved,” “the mystery of his will,” and “God’s possession” appear within Ephesians. Although the citations are from the LXX there exist over twenty quotes from the Torah, Prophets, and the Writings. Its audience is comforted by regarding them, not as aliens and strangers, but as fellow-citizens and heirs of the kingdom of God and Christ.

The Pastoral Epistles – In contrast to Ephesians the Pastoral epistles exhibit a lesser degree of Jewish material. The focus seems to be primarily on Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles. The Jewish Law is still regarded as “good,” “the Law for the lawless,” etc. 1 Timothy speaks of Adam and Eve as common characters familiar with the audience in Ephesus, alludes to Genesis (1:31 and 9:3), and cites explicitly from Deuteronomy (19:15 and 25:4). 2 Timothy in particular regards the Jewish scriptures as inspired/God-breathed and authoritative for life and practice. Titus shows some conflict with Jewish themes (“Jewish myths,” “quarrels relating to the Law,” “those of the circumcision”). However, Dunn suggests that a conflict between Titus’ community and the local synagogue might be the best explanation for these markers.


The Rest of the New Testament

Hebrews – It is hardly necessary to argue for the Jewish character in Hebrew, as it is plainly obvious with its nearly forty references and quotations from the OT/LXX. It arguably regards Jesus as the expression of Lady Wisdom in its opening verses. It depicts Jesus as one who is superior to the angels with an argument built on Jewish references. It possessed an clear interest in the priesthood, sacrifices, the Sabbath rest, the holy of holies, the sanctuary, and the elusive Melchizedek. Chapter 11 of Hebrews paints many of the famous figures from the Old Testament (and come from the intertestimental period) as heroes of faith. Hebrews, overall, is arguably one of the most Jewish text in the NT.

James – Dunn summarizes his arguments from Beginning from Jerusalem where James is depicted as an anthology of Jewish wisdom tradition. Particularly, the Book of Proverbs serves as the foundation for the thought and theme of James. A positive attitude towards the Jewish Law is maintained throughout James. Those who cherished the Book of James certainly valued its Jewish heritage.

1 Peter – Although 1 Peter is written to Gentile believers in the eastern part of the Roman empire, it nevertheless regards the identity of its recipients as ‘Jewish identity.’ It makes a strong claim that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies (1:10-11) and scatters  a variety of allusions to the Torah, Prophets, and Writings in all five of its chapters.

Jude – All of Jude’s warnings are based upon the foundation of particular Jewish warnings, with over a dozen examples cited by Dunn. Furthermore, Jude was certainly influenced by 1 Enoch (seven references noted by Dunn). Jude also makes the claim that he is the brother of James, the former head of the Jerusalem Church.

2 Peter – Dunn follows the majority of scholars in seeing 2 Peter as dependent upon Jude. This means that it carries with it Jude’s Jewish character. Furthermore, 2 Peter chapter three exhibits a thoroughly-Jewish farewell speech, drawing upon Isa. 65. It is also, apart from the Synoptics, the only reference to Jesus’ transfiguration vision.

Johannine Writings – The stress on Jewish themes is quieter in these three documents. There is an insistence on confessing Jesus as ‘the Christ.’ Christ, as a title, is still expressed in these late documents. Jesus is also remembered as “the righteous one.”

Revelation – Like Matthew and Hebrews, the Book of Revelation hardly needs to be argued for its Jewish character. It draws heavily on Ezekiel and Daniel, particularly for its christological expressions of the risen and exalted Jesus.  Jesus is further described as the Lion from the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, and the Lamb. Dunn interestingly regards Revelation as “a new Ezekiel” in light of its indebtedness to its visions and symbols.


After reading Dunn’s summary I was surprised at the measure of continuity between the Jewish/Hebrew Bible and the NT writings. I always had a strong feeling of connection between the testaments, but Dunn demonstrates that it is stronger than I had originally appreciated. Dunn offers the following summary of his inquiry into the Jewishness of the NT documents:

The core founding documents of what became catholic Christianity were also Jewish through and through, deeply rooted in Jewish scriptures, faith and ethics, so much so that it is not inaccurate to describe mainstream Christianity as directly continuous with Second Temple Judaism, and catholic Christianity itself as Jewish Christianity, since the Jewish character of Christianity in integral to its identity.

What do you think of Dunn’s assessment regarding how Jewish the NT documents were? Be sure to ‘Like,’ share, and subscribe for further updates. Have a safe and happy New Years.

Book Review (part 15: The Oral Jesus Traditions within the Second Century CE) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In this fifteenth post regarding my recap/review of James Dunn’s volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to summarize his 100+ page (!) research regarding how the second century Christians sources handled the oral traditions about Jesus. Needless to say, many of the finer details will have to pass in favor of a more general overview of what each writer had at their disposal, whether it be written documents, sayings committed to memory, or shorthand summaries of memorized verses. If you want the summary, scroll down to the TL;DR section.

churchfathersOne thing which I found interesting in this chapter was Dunn’s insistence that readers not immediately assume that just because a second century CE Christians uses Scripture (as we understand ‘Scripture’ today) that we too quickly assume that they had a document at their disposal. As we witnessed with the second century document Gospel of Thomas, the traditions of Jesus continued to be passed on orally even after the writing of the four NT Gospels. Could it be that even second century Christians continued to value oral transmissions of Jesus traditions? At what point did the written documents (Gospels) take priority over orally transmitted data regarding Jesus? Dunn seeks to answer these questions with a massive study which includes the Apostolic Fathers, early Apologists, and Gnostic writings.


The Apostolic Fathers

1 Clement – Two passages in particular (13.2 and 46.8) contain quotes of Jesus’ words, both with introductions, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he said…”. After comparing the seven saying of Jesus in 13.2 Dunn notes that there is hardly any hard evidence which indicates literary dependence upon Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Rather, these sayings were collected and adapted for a particular teaching emphasis/theme. The same can be said of 46.8, where the variations of 1 Clement’s words when compared to the Greek text of the Synoptics indicates that no direct literary dependence is taking place. Rather, Clement is drawing from a range of teachings available to him to serve his paraenetic purposes (Clement never refers to a written Gospel and likely does not possess a copy of any of the four NT versions).

Ignatius – Within the seven letters of Ignatius we can observe a few allusions to Jesus material (Dunn examines six examples). Each of the examples sampled from among Ignatius’s letters are attributed to quotations from memory rather than to copying from a written text. It could be that the various quotes were from certain Jesus sayings which were circulating orally. We should, however, remember that these documents were written on the road to Ignatius’s martyrdom, and it is hardly likely that he would have had in his possession the actual copies of the four Gospels during his Roman custody.

Polycarp – Dunn focuses on Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians which introduces Jesus tradition with the formulaic “the Lord said when he taught.” Polycarp seems to have had access to the Lord’s Prayer, although the nature of this saying indicates that it would have likely been transmitted orally in liturgical settings. So when Polycarp seems to cite this prayer or parts of it) in Phil. 6.2 it seems that there is no literary dependence, per se. Chapter 7.1-2 seems to demonstrate an awareness of the Johannine corpus, but in the end it does not seem like Polycarp drew these references upon his own reading of John’s Gospel. In sum, Dunn suggests that the strong influence of Matthaean and Johannine traditions within the letters of Polycarp are most likely to be attributed to the influence of these Evangelists within Asia Minor, but not necessarily indicating that the actual literary documents were being cited.

Didache – The author of this document owes a great deal of its material to Matthew’s Gospel, as it easily observed with simply a casual reading. More specifically, Dunn notes that the Q material is particularly parallel (both in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain). The sequence of the citations, which do not follow Matthew’s own ordering, suggests a lack of close literary dependence. Some of the Jesus traditions seem to have undergone an expansion (Did. 1.4-6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:11). It is often noted that the longer baptismal formula, which includes the reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is included in the Didache. Nevertheless, the nature of this saying, being one certainly used in some circle of liturgical practice, strongly suggests that it was communicated to the Didachist received it orally rather than from his reading of Matthew’s Gospel. In the end, Dunn argues that the oral Jesus traditions contained within Matthew’s Gospel were an extremely strong influence upon the author of the Didache, particularly based upon the Gospel’s overall popularity with the churches of the eastern Mediterranean.

Barnabas – Sadly, the Epistle of Barnabas cites very few traditions of Jesus. In Barn. 5.9 there is a reference to Jesus not coming “to call the righteous but the sinners,” but Dunn notes that this saying can be observed within a wider spectrum (cf. Gal. 2:14-17 and 1 Tim. 1:15). Chapter 5.12 cites the “When they smite their own shepherd, then the sheep of the flock will perish,” which sounds like Matt. 26:31 and Mark 14:27. However, both of these Evangelists are themselves citing Zech. 13:7, and Dunn suggests that this is most likely what the author of Barnabas is doing. Similarly, Psa. 110:1 is alluded to, but the frequency in which early Christians utilized this passage (being the most cited OT passage in the NT) indicates the likelihood that it was known orally in wider Christian circles. Overall, Dunn summarizes his findings by stating that the story of Jesus’ passion were widely told and retold, and these best explain the Jesus traditions encountered within Barnabas (rather than his dependence upon literary documents).

The Shepherd of Hermas – Somewhat disappointing, The Shepherd makes no explicit reference to any of the NT Gospels (or any of Paul’s letters for that matter). Within the Similitudes and the Mandates are some allusions to Jesus traditions, but Dunn suggests that these are best explained as examples of how language and themes have become a part of the regular vocabulary and motifs used by early Christian teachers.

2 Clement – This document, written by a pseudonymous author, regularly begins citations of Jesus traditions with introductory phrases like, “The scripture says,” or, “The Lord says.” Dunn analyzes nine references to Jesus material found within the Synoptic Gospels and notes that there are significant variances which warrant an assessment of the author utilizing orally transmitted sayings and teachings. 2 Clement 12.2 even cites the Gospel of Thomas 22.1-5, although this too is attributed to an oral allusion rather than to literary dependence. Dunn wonders if the pseudonymous author is attempting to rescue (what he felt were) the saying in Thomas from its Gnostic context and interpretation. Dunn notes that 2 Clement 9:5, which argues that Jesus was first spirit and then became flesh, is hardly a citation from John 1:14 in literary form. Rather, it seems that it was the author’s own reflection on what that passage said to him.

Papias  – Papias is an interesting subject. His writings only survive in fragments recorded by Eusebius. However, Dunn was able to draw out of the Papias material a lot of interesting observations which helped his initial inquiry. First of all, Papias mentions oral traditions of Jesus which continued to circulate, calling them “unwritten tradition.” Secondly, Papias himself mentions that “he received the words of the apostles from those who had associated with them,” indicating a three-stage link of apostles, companions, and then Papias. Thirdly, Dunn notes the subtle but important difference between how Papias mentions that the apostles “said” (aorist active) and how Ariston and the elder John “were saying” (present active). This indicates that Papias never met or heard the apostles. Fourthly, Papias names seven of the twelve apostles as those from whom authentic Jesus material had been transmitted (including the lesser-known Andrew, Philip, and Thomas). Fifthly, Papias distinguishes between “what came from the books” and “what came from a living and abiding voice.” Dunn also notes that Papias was surely aware of other teachings, i.e., competitors to what he felt were authentic teachings of Jesus. After surveying all of the data, Dunn suggests that Papias was aware of all four of the NT Gospels and regarded them as providing authentic records of Jesus’ teachings.


The Apologists

Aristides – Aristides’s apology to the emperor Hadrian alludes to the “writings of the Christians” (16.1), but sadly says very little of value for Dunn’s inquiry. Echoes of Matt. 13:44 and John 19:37 can be discerned from the document, but these are likely due to the influence of Matthew and John rather than to literary dependence.

Justin Martyr –  Justin clearly is aware of the Gospel in written form. All three of the Synoptic Gospels are clearly alluded to, with strong ties with Matthew and Luke in particular. Of interesting note, Dunn observes that Justin nowhere quotes explicitly from the Gospel of John. One of the most interesting allusions appears in 1 Apol. 61.4 which draws upon John 3:3, 5. Here Justin writes, “Unless you have been born again you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” while John’s Gospel uses “kingdom of God” instead. This seems to indicate a loose level of quoting significant Jesus material, rather than positing that John 3:3 possesses a significant textual variant upon which Justin is citing.

Tatian – In his Address to the Greeks Tatian alludes to a few of the Jesus traditions. He seems to be aware of passages from John’s Gospel and perhaps a small allusion to Matt. 13:44. More helpful is Tatian’s Diatessaron which weaves together all four of the NT Gospels accounts (including material from John chapter 21). This document indicates that by the middle of the second century (in Rome at least) the four Gospels were well-known and understood as authoritative documents for faith and practice. Obviously, Tatian demonstrates literary dependence upon all four documents.

Athenagoras – Dunn cites four examples within the Plea to demonstrate that Athenagoras drew upon the Synoptic Gospels in a manner which indicates direct literary influence. Furthermore, the treatise On the Resurrection bears resemblance of much of the christological teachings contained within the Gospel of John. These, however, are not quotations but rather strongly influential allusions from oral teachings. Dunn makes a comment noting how this apologist was regarded as a mainstream teacher of second-century Christianity (despite not possessing an actual copy of John’s Gospel).

Theophilus of Antioch – Theophilus clearly demonstrates literary dependence upon Matthew and John. In particular, he introduces teachings of Jesus about ‘chastity’ and ‘responses to persecution’ with introductions such as, “the voice of the Gospel,” and, “the Gospel says…” etc. Of further interest is Jerome’s report that Theophilus composed his own version of a harmony of the Gospels, described as “one work…the words of the four Evangelists” (Ep. 121.6.15). This indicates that he possessed all four Gospels and regarded only those four as authoritative.

Melito of Sardis – Unfortunately, Melito does not say much in regard to the teachings of Jesus. His few faint allusions to Matthew, Mark, and John are best described as shared teachings rather than evidence of any sort of literary dependence. Melito is, however, aware of the passion narrative of Jesus and a few of Jesus’ miracles.

Irenaeus – By the end of the second century CE there seems to be a significant shift with the works of Irenaeus. He committed himself to the four NT Gospels and no other Gospel. His exegesis indicates his awareness and careful study of the documents, strongly suggesting that he possessed them personally. He not only quotes them but expounds upon them (particularly Matthew’s Gospel). He furthermore indicates how the Valentinians “gather their views from other sources than the scriptures” (Adv. Haer. 1.8.1).

In his summary of the Apologists, Dunn notes the trend from oral teachings of Jesus to written sources possessed by the writers. He also notes that the Gospel of Thomas plays little to no role in their theologies. There seemed to be a stress upon four numerical Gospels as both the correct number of documents for Jesus tradition and as authoritative ‘scripture’ for the Church’s use.


Gnostic Gospels

The Dialogue of the Savior – This Gnostic work shows no familiarity with the Synoptic Gospels. It does, however, draw heavily upon the Gospel and John and the Gospel of Thomas. The influence from Thomas, which is considerable, shift the line of thought into a Gnostic-like narrative. Interestingly, Dial. Sav. 57 regards 1 Cor. 2:9 as a saying of Jesus (just as Gospel of Thomas 17 does). This document represents a shift away from the earlier traditions of Jesus (or at least a lack of awareness of them).

Apocryphon of James – This document is interesting. It shows influence from all four Gospels and even the Epistle to the Galatians. None of these allusions can be demonstrated to prove that there was any literary dependence however. They are too remote and are not even cited with any sense of authoritativeness. It does regard itself as a “secret book” which claims to remember what Jesus taught during the 550 days (!) of his resurrection appearances (Apoc. Ja. 1.8-10; 2.8-21). In effect, the unknown writer is admitting openly that his presentation was remote, arguing that its teaching was given secretly to James and Peter (1.10-12).

Gospel of Philip – This document is best characterized as an anthology of miscellaneous sayings, similar to Thomas. It presents an awareness of all four Gospels, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. However, these documents are used to further Philip’s own theological agenda, which is Gnostic in character. In fact, Dunn observes a Valentinian form of Gnosticism taught by the Gospel of Philip. This document fails to value the teachings of Jesus as important and does not climax in the death/resurrection of Jesus. Both Dunn and I regard these qualities as means to dismiss this document as a correct representative of the ‘Gospel’ label of genre.

Gospel of Truth – This document echoes the Christian gospel message and even draws upon earlier Jesus traditions of Matthew, Luke, and John. However, the repeated emphasis on knowledge, its talk about enlightening those within a fog, the intended recipients as described as lost in ignorance, and the desire to bring them to a resting-place with the Father all point to a Gnostic theology foreign to the earliest Gospels. In other words, the ‘good news’ presented in the Gospel of Truth is provided as an answer to a “very different analysis of the human condition…”

Gospel of Mary – The embarrassment that a female was the first to witness the resurrected Jesus in John’s Gospel (20:1-18) seems to be the driving force in this document. It attributes the salvation process to this Mary rather than to Andrew and Peter (representatives of early Jerusalem leadership). Gospel of Mary shows knowledge of Jesus traditions within all four Gospels, but its aim is to draw attention away from the ‘good news’ as described by patriarchal mainstream Christian teachings.

Gospel of the Savior – This document demonstrates awareness of Matthew, John, and even the Book of Revelation. In regard to the inquiry regarding the transmission of Jesus traditions this document is quite unhelpful. Its primary aim seems to be the personification of the cross, to which Jesus speaks (“O cross”) with similarities to the Gospel of Peter.

Gospel of Judas – This highly Gnostic work offers little value for the development and transmission of oral Jesus traditions. The Synoptic account of Peter’s confession is alluded to, but is mocked with a parody (making the disciples make the confession instead). The document shows evidence of an elaborate cosmology exhibited from a later stage of Gnostic theology which reveal the true nature to the recipients of Jesus’ teachings (as observed in Gospel of Thomas and Dialogue of the Savior).

Secret Mark –  Although the debate continues in regard to the date and authenticity of this document, it does demonstrate an awareness of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. However, it is of little value for Dunn’s inquiry because it provides little information about the Jesus traditions.



  1. The Jesus traditions continued to be transmitted orally during the second century, despite the fact that all four Gospels were written in the first century. The written Gospels did not bring the oral Jesus traditions to an end.
  2. The traditions of Matthew’s and John’s Gospels were particularly valued in catechetical, liturgical, and apologetic settings (even without the actual literary documents present).
  3. By the end of the second century CE the oral traditions of Jesus became used less often and were replaced by the testimony of the four written Gospels.
  4. The Gnostic documents relied less on the earliest Jesus traditions and instead valued other sources for their teachings (i.e. Thomas).
  5. Irenaeus regarded the four Gospels as both authoritative and the standards against which other perversions of authentic Jesus traditions were to be measured. Any and all other teachings were deemed as threats (or odd curiosities) to the majority of Christians.

Thanks for reading this far. Please subscribe for further updates and share if you enjoyed this post!

Book Review (part 14: Gospel of Thomas) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Fourteen posts on Neither Jew nor Greek? Great googly moogly. Actually, I have been receiving a lot of positive feedback from readers and critics alike. In this post I will summarize/recap the arguments of James Dunn regarding the  so-called Gospel of Thomas found within section 43.2, which followed his lengthy treatment on the Jesus traditions in the Gospel of John.

thomasgospelJust to bring everyone up to speed, Thomas was a document uncovered with the Nag Hammadi cache of Gnostic works in 1945. Thomas in particular contains 114 saying of Jesus, gathered in a seemingly random order. Within the document there is no overarching story like the four NT Gospels, no discussion of miracles/healings, no passion narrative, and no reference to Jesus’ resurrection. Some of the most extreme scholars have posited that Thomas is to be dated earlier than the Synoptics, but this theory has not won over many within the guild.

Dunn begins by noting that some of the sayings (logia) within Thomas sound a lot like the sayings located within Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In fact, it is fascinating that John, which sounds so different from the Synoptics, made it into the NT canon while Thomas, which parallels some of the Synoptic traditions of Jesus, was not included. Dunn turns to answer the question as to whether or not Thomas possesses literary dependence upon one of the previous documents (even the Q document is included into the inquiry). Here is some of the data collected from the book:




Based upon these three examples (Dunn provides seventeen total) it seems that Thomas sounds an awful lot like the Synoptic sayings of Jesus. It even appears that the closeness rivals the approximate similarities between the three different Synoptic Gospels, where Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark and redacted the sayings for their own literary and theological purposes. However, Dunn argues (against S. Gathercole and M. Goodacre) that the variations between Thomas and the Synoptics is best explained as variations of “diverse oral performances of what is basically the same tradition.” He counts 56.2% of the Thomas material as actually paralleling Synoptic traditions. Most of these parallels come from material in Matthew and Luke, suggesting that it was the Q material which strongly influenced the writer of Thomas. 

On the flip side, if 56.2 % of the words in Thomas parallel the Synoptic material then 43.8% of the material sounds nothing like that Jesus exhibited in our earliest accounts. Dunn does observe a handful (eleven) of parallels with John’s Gospel, but in the end he notes that there is no evidence of literary dependence in these examples. Many of the ‘other’ sayings in Thomas deal with Jewish concerns (particularly logia 27.2; 43.2; 52.1-2; 53; 60). There is even a striking reference to James the Just in logia 12, where it notes that “heaven and earth came into existence” for his sake!

thomas-nag-hammadiIn regard to christology in Thomas it seems that Jesus secretly tells Thomas (rather than Peter the leader) that he shares the divine name (logia 13). This statement seems to be marginalizing the leadership and influence of the Petrine traditions (and documents) in favor of those within the ‘Thomas’ collection. Further statements indicate that Jesus is revered in this document not because of his death and resurrection but because he represents the Father completely. On the issue of salvation Thomas regards the realization of one’s true nature as the true redeeming act rather than a change of status involving repentance or accepting Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom of God.  In fact, the overall message one gets from reading Thomas is that the good news is that Jesus descended from the Father’s kingdom to bring secret wisdom which reveals one’s true inner being, and upon acknowledging that ‘truth’ one can ensure a return to that kingdom. This may or may not be understood as a Gnostic teaching, but since it is difficult to summarize Gnosticism based on the many (sometimes conflicting) tenets exhibited in their writings this has caused some scholars to abandon the ‘Thomas = Gnostic’ label. Dunn, however, states that,

if ‘Gnostic’ can properly be used for a widespread spirituality which assumed a basic dualism between spirit and matter, which felt itself to be not at home in and at odds with the world, and which looked for an answer which resolved the paradox of human existence…then Thomas can be described as ‘Gnostic’.

What do you think of Dunn’s analysis of Thomas? Let me know in the comments below. And be sure to subscribe for further updates!


Book Review (part 13: The Christology of John’s Prologue) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

the-born-of-jesus-christ-art-2We have finally arrived to what many readers have been eagerly expecting. In this post I will summarize Dunn’s reading of John’s Prologue in regard to its christological contribution (as argued in his newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek). I figured today is as good a day as any to discuss logos theology. Much of what Dunn articulates in this section (ch. 43.1) is an expansion of his explanation in his Christology in the MakingI was pleased that he was able to gather further evidence to clarify and expand upon his initial argument.

Dunn begins by noting that ‘the word of God’ within the minds of religious Jews would have called to mind a variety of nuances. It would have drawn attention to the creative word used in the Genesis creation (Gen. 1:3, 6-7, etc.). The Psalmist picks this up and expressed it in Ps. 33:6. This very word also accomplishes all that God purposes according to Isa. 55:11. In the mind of Greeks the logos denotes the divine reasons permeating the created order. It also was an achievable measure of ‘reason’ to which each person could assent. With this in mind, Dunn correctly notes how both Jews and Greeks would have initially understood the first few verses of John 1:

when John continued, ‘The logos was with God and was God, both sets of listeners would find this unexceptional. For the logos was God’s own thought and utterance. And John’s further claim that ‘All things came into being through (the logos)’ would similarly accord with the presuppositions of most of his audiences.

For Dunn, the logos is not a preexistent Son of God, but rather the very utterance of God with all of its creative and reasonable echoes.

When it comes to John 1:18 Dunn argues that the theme that ‘Jesus reveals the God whom no one has seen’ is further observed in the Father-Son statements like, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9; cf. 8:19 and 12:45). In other words,

Jesus is the self-expression of God.

Additionally, the disputed textual part of John 1:18 regarding the “unique God/Son” is given a lengthy footnote where C.K. Barrett stated in his commentary on John that although monogenes means ‘only of its kind’ when paired with the relationship of the Father then it can hardly mean anything other than only begotten son (and one who is begotten is one who has come into existence).

Dunn’s argument continues by insisting that the Johannine prologue could be more accurately described as Wisdom christology. He cites these parallels and echoes upon which the prologue drew:

  • 1:1 – Wisd. 9:9; Prov. 8:23, 27, 30
  • 1:3 – Prov. 3:19
  • 1:4 – Prov. 8:35; Bar. 4:2
  • 1:5 –  Wisd. 7:29-30
  • 1:11 – Wisd. 9:10; Bar. 3:37; 1 Enoch 42:2
  • 1:14 – Sir. 24:8

To further demonstrate the link between the poetic word and wisdom, Dunn cites Wisd. 9:1-2, “O God…who made all things by your word and by your wisdom you founded humankind.” Furthermore, it is noted that in Jesus,

the creative, revelatory, redemptive Word had come to humankind, that the divine Wisdom had made God known…

The depiction of Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom is not limited to the prologue, as Dunn notes the links between poetic passages describing lady Wisdom (in Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Proverbs, and Job) and many other passages in John’s Gospel. In particular, he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of a variety of wisdom sayings in John 1:38-39; 2:6-10; 3:13; 3:16-17; 4:10, 14; 6:30-58; 7:25-36; 8:12-30; 8:58; 10:1-18; 11:17-44; 12:44-50.

Finally, Dunn takes a swipe at those who read the christology of John through the lens of Nicea. This quote deserves to be cited in full,

It is only when the early church’s Logos christology is supplanted by the Son christology of Nicaea, and the Son christology becomes detached from the Logos christology that the issue of personal relationships within the Godhead arises and talk of ‘subordination’ becomes necessary to maintain balance within the by then much-refined monotheism of the Fathers.

Let me know what you think of Dunn’s view of the christology exhibited in John’s Gospel. Subscribe for further updates.



Book Review (part 12: Matthew’s Five Sources?) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Festivus greetings to you all. In today’s post I will continue my ongoing recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek by offering what I felt were the highlights of chapter forty-two (entitled “Retelling the Story of Jesus: Mark, Matthew and Luke). This chapter, which is nearly 100 pages in and of itself, contains Dunn’s analysis on how the three Synoptic evangelists used and interpreted the Jesus traditions available to them. What I am going to suggest is that this chapter offers a significant contribution to scholarship pertaining to the (so-called) ‘Synoptic Problem’, which deals with the questions regarding the literary relationships between Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

RS57MiwDuring the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the dominant answer to the Synoptic Problem has been to suggest that Matthew and Luke used Q and Mark as their sources (along with their own source material often labeled ‘M’ and ‘L’ respectively). This is generally called the Two-Source hypothesis (sometimes called the Four-Source hypothesis, which admittedly could be confusing). Dunn offers what I feel is a more nuanced answer to this hypothesis based upon careful observation and almost scrupulous research of even the most minuscule pieces of data.  In this post, I want to point out and comment on Dunn’s proposal regarding the fives sources/collections of Jesus tradition available to Matthew.

In regard to Matthew, Dunn suggests these five categories:

  1. Mark’s Gospel – This is an obvious place to start, as Matthew clearly demonstrates literary dependence upon Mark, often polishing up and redacting Mark for his own literary and theological purposes.
  2. Tradition which Mark had transcribed but which Matthew seems to have known in an independent and somewhat different oral form – This means that Matthew had Mark in front of him for various stories, but Matthew was also aware of the same story in another oral form, and it was this alternative which Matthew chose to put into his Gospel instead of copying Mark (cf. Mark 9:43 and Matt. 5:30).
  3. Written Q tradition – Q is the Greek document containing stories and saying of Jesus which both Matt. and Luke utilized (and this can be observed through literary analysis [cf. the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in Matt. 4/Luke 4]).
  4. Q material which circulated in oral form – Dunn suggests this option as the most plausible explanation for the divergences between Matthean and Lukan versions (best explained through understandable differences occurred through oral transmissions [cf. both collections of Beatitudes]). 
  5. Tradition unique to Matthew aka ‘M’ – The birth narratives (chs. 1-2) belonging to Matthew come from his own source.

When Dunn comes to describing Luke’s sources, he offers the same five categories of Jesus traditions (replacing ‘Matthew/M’ with Luke/L’, obviously).

I find this argument to be convincing and very exciting for one interested in the composition of the Synoptic traditions. It also is fascinating because it demonstrates that there was a plethora of Jesus traditions being circulated upon which the Evangelists drew upon to bring about their literary documents exhibited in the pages of the New Testament.

What do you all think? Do you find Dunn’s assessment convincing or a load of rubbish? Leave your comments and subscribe for further updates!



Book Review (part 11: From gospel to Gospel) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

This is the eleventh segment of my recap/review of Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor GreekHaving been distracted with responding to some of the early reviews of my own new book in addition to having to grade final exams/submit grades has placed myblogging on the back burner for awhile, so I apologize about the delays in regard to this ongoing series.

4gospels_writersI have chosen to recap much larger sections of the book (otherwise this will be a two year endeavor).  In this segment I will cover chapter forty-one, which is entitled ‘From gospel to Gospel.’ Dunn begins by reviewing the conclusions established in the first volume of these three-part series, Jesus Remembered. In particular, Dunn notes how it was the impact that Jesus left upon his earliest followers which is the oft-neglected piece of data in explaining the origins of early Christianity. He notes that gospel message preached by the apostles eventually transitioned into the creation and composition of Gospels, i.e., the literary documents recounting the life, teachings, deed, and passion of Jesus Christ.

Dunn observes that the origin of the noun euangelion was derived from the LXX of Isa. 52:7 and 61:1. Paul himself draws upon Isa. 52:7 in Rom. 10.15, and additionally uses the noun to refer to Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom. 1:1-3; cf. 2 Tim. 2:8), his glory (2 Cor. 4:4), and his death and resurrection. Other evidence, such as Luke’s insistence that Isaiah 61 was used by Jesus to describe his own mission and the natural question which would be posed by those baptized into Christ strongly suggests that the life, teachings, and deeds of Jesus would have been discussed in early Christian circles from an very early stage. Dunn argues that even Paul would have regarded certain aspects of Jesus’ life and mission as integral to the gospel message itself.

The Gospel of Mark seems to be structured around what many scholars have described as a ‘passion narrative with an extended introduction,’ as there are many pointers throughout the story which point forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, Mark 1:1 indicates that the entire message contained within his document is gospel. One note by Dunn is worth citing at this point,

[t]he gospel of Jesus’ passion was the central but not only part of the Gospel of the mission of the Galilean who proclaimed and lived out his message of the kingdom of God.

Matthew and Luke both draw upon Mark for not only his content but also the structure of a passion narrative with an extended introduction. Within the communities associated with Matthew and Luke it seems that Jesus’ teachings was valued as itself ‘gospel’ (and part of their Gospel). Furthermore, the incorporation of Q demonstrates that these teachings of Jesus were valued to the point of assimilating them into the structure already established by Mark (and his depiction of the gospel).

John, which shows no dependence upon any of its Synoptic counterparts, nevertheless appears as a similar passion narrative with an extended introduction. Furthermore, John uses pointers within his narrative to look forward and anticipate Jesus’ passion. Dunn notes that John could have placed the emphasis on aspects such as Jesus’ ability to reveal God and the mysteries of heaven or Jesus bringing the secret meaning of human existence. Others took that approach to John, but he himself chose to stress primarily the execution and resurrection of Jesus (and regularly uses the term “glory” to denotes these two emphases.

By the second century, Justin Martyr and others had already begun to regard the term ‘Gospel’ with the four canonical documents. With this understanding, Justin would be strongly suspicious of any other claims to the title ‘Gospel’ which did not line up with what Mark and co. had established. How this played out in the early church’s rejection of other documents is a question with Dunn plans on returning to address later in the book.

Be sure to subscribe for further updates and share if you enjoyed his post! Have a great day.


Book Review (part 10: Noncanonical Gospels) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

scroll-tagsIn this tenth post regarding my summary/recap on James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to convey his argument regarding the plethora of noncanonical Gospels (section 40.4). These sources could potentially serve as valuable pieces of data for the nature of trajectories within second century Christianity. Before beginning, I want to offer a few reflections on this section and the materials within it.

First of all, it is somewhat anachronistic to group each and every one of the following documents under the label ‘Gospels.’ For one, a ‘Gospel’ is a literary document which modern scholars have identified as resembling ancient Greco-Roman biographies (albeit the Christian biographies attest to the resurrection of Jesus as a distinctive feature not observed in other ancient biographies for obvious reasons). Therefore, documents which do not fit the mold of the established literary genre of Greco-Roman biographies should not be labeled as ‘Gospels,’ strictly speaking. However, since they are already labeled as such by scholars, I will continue to use that terminology, having raised my concerns with the nomenclature. I only raise this concern because there is often an assumption floating around assuming that certain Gospels should have made it into the NT canon, when in fact those documents are not even technically ‘Gospels’ themselves.

Secondly, it is almost impossible to say anything certain regarding issues of authorship, date, and place of origin for most of these documents, other than the fact that we almost certainly do not know the answers to these issues!

Thirdly, it should be recognized that groups of Christians (as they considered themselves) did produce, copy, and use many of these documents within their religious settings. This should be ample evidence to demonstrate that there was never a single line of unaltered theology and praxis passed down unscathed from the apostles to someone like Eusebius or Constantine. As with most history, life was messy and unorganized. An interesting conversation can be had regarding in what ways have modern forms of Christianity reflect Gnostic tendencies, but that is for another time and another post.

With those points on the table, I will begin to recap the various noncanonical Gospels presented within section 40.4:


Three (?) Jewish-Christian Gospels (Gospel According to the Hebrews, Nazareans, and Ebionites

-Dunn asks whether these documents were actually three separate works or perhaps different ways of indicating one or two Gospels

-We only know about these works due to judgmental labels and a few quotations from the Church Fathers, all of whom disregarded these works

-Likely appeared in the first half or middle of the second century

-Likely one or more of these works drew upon Matthew’s Gospel


Gospel of Thomas

-Discovered with the rest of the Gnostic Nag Hammadi collection in 1945-46

-This document is a collection of 114 saying, having no narrative like the four canonical Gospels

-The copy extracted from the Nag Hammadi library was written in Coptic, but shows signs of being translated from Greek

-Likely written in eastern Syria, perhaps in Edessa

-Dunn argues that Thomas might have originally been penned in Syriac before moving to a Greek form

-Dunn also does not discount the likelihood that many of these sayings were transmitted orally in a variety of wordings


Gospel of Truth

-The title is taken from its opening line (“the gospel of truth is joy”)

-GoT was also found among the Nag Hammadi cache

-Its contents reflect Valentinian theology, with some arguing that Valentinius himself was the author

-If this is the same GoT spoken of by Irenaeus then it can be dated between 150-180 CE, having originated from Rome


Gospel of Philip

-Another Gnostic work from the Nag Hammadi collection

-Also reflection Valentinian influence

-Was named after Philip because his name is the only named apostle within the document

-Perhaps dated to the third century, but likely drawing upon earlier sources


Gospel of the Egyptians

-Cited twice by Clement of Alexandria

-Clement’s knowledge suggests that GoE was circulating in Egypt in the late second century CE

-Likely of limited historical value


Gospel of Mary

-This Mary is Mary Magdalene

-A Coptic version was discovered in 1896 with two further fragments discovered later

-These later two versions can be dated to the early third century CE, suggesting that the GoM was penned in Greek sometime in the second century

-No distinct Gnostic tendencies


Gospel of Judas

-Not included among the Nag Hammadi library

-Mentioned by Irenaeus and Epiphanius

-The text was not discovered until the 1970s and ultimately published in 2006 (with more hype that Michael Jordan’s return to basketball)

No Captions Received

I’ll offer a continuation of my recap on Dunn’s section regarding noncanonical Gospels in the following blog post. Stay tuned or subscribe for more updates!



Book Review (part 9: From Christian Apologists to Heresiologists) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

heresiologistThis is the ninth installment of my continuing recap/summary over James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek. In this section I will cover his section entitled ‘Eusebius and the Heresiologists’ (40.3). Dunn offers this section in part due to the fact that the Christian movement begins to see a change from a plethora of apologists to a group of heresiologists (‘heresy scribes/hunters’). This particular time period is “a decisive tipping point in Christianity’s history and the point at which this study concludes.” Dunn also carefully notes that the relaibility of historical information on these six figures is shaky and often uncertain at points, but they do shed some light on what was taking place during the second century CE. In this post I will follow Dunn’s order of the six figured covered, which also follow a chronological ordering.



-Eusebius notes that Hegesippus belongs in the generation after the apostles (HE 2.23.3)

-A Jewish convert

-Wrote five treatises

-Discusses a variety of heresies, some of which he attributes to arguments over the successors in the Jerusalem church after the death of James (HE 4.22.3-6)



-Dunn indicates that Irenaeus could be categorized as the last of the apologists, but his most significant literary contribution was the five books Against Heresies

-Lived fully within the second century CE (c. 130-200)

-Bridged the gap between the east and the west, having grown up in Smyrna but eventually serving as bishop of Lyons in 178 CE

-Argued against a variety of forms of Gnosticism, particularly belonging to Valentinius

-Argued that there should only be four Gospels



-Born around 160 and raised in Carthage

-Converted to Christianity some time before 197 CE

-Polemizes all heresy

-Regards the true church as evidently the result of successions of episcopal leaders who alone possess the authority to interpret Scripture

-Penned five books against Marcion

-Leaned toward Montanism, resulting in a hit to his reputation



-Lived from around 170-236 CE

-Was an active teacher in Rome in the early third century CE

-His primary writing was Refutatio Omnium Haeresium (‘Refutation of All Heresies’)



-Served as bishop of Caesarea from c. 260-340 CE

-Was a supporter of Arius (the primary opponent of Nicene christology)

-Likely gave an “unwilling assent” to the Nicene Creed

-His ten volume Ecclesiastical History is significantly faulted by its perspective of the ‘winners’ in the Constantinian settlement



-Served as bishop of Salamis (c. 315-403)

-Noted as an uncritical upholder of the Nicene Creed

-His principle writing Adversus Haereses describes and attempts to refute some eighty religious sects, beginning from Adam on down into his own time

-Argues that Judaism itself is a heresy

-Makes note of the Gospel of the Ebionites and the Gospel according to the Hebrews



Subscribe for further installments of my recap/summery of James Dunn’s Neither Jew nor Greek.