Thursday, April 14, 2011

3 New Testament scholars who make me want to study the Old Testament

N.T. Wright
R.T. France
Richard Bauckham

All three of these men are brilliant thinkers, clear communicators, and committed Christians.  They also share in common piercing insights that come from reading the New Testament in light of the Old Testament.  I'm so thankful for their work.  All three have opened the Scriptures for me in life-changing ways.

I just read through Richard Bauckham's 60-page essay entitled "God Crucified," which can be found in the volume I mentioned yesterday (Jesus and the God of Israel). There is so much I'd love to share from his work, but I'll choose just one example.  His big idea is that Jews during the first century had a concept of God that allowed them to include Jesus in the "divine identity" without compromising what they already believed about God.  They did not view Jesus as an exalted angelic being or a remarkable man, but as somehow one with Yahweh himself.  Their view of "one God" (which we call monotheism, a somewhat misleading term) had room for personifications of aspects of God, such as His Wisdom or His Word (Prov 8) that were in a sense distinct from him, but not altogether separate. This made it less of a stretch to worship Jesus as God. The line between who God is and who He is not included at the very least His identity as the Creator and the Ruler of all.  When Jesus was identified as present and involved at the time of creation and all things were said to be under his authority this was a clear indication that the NT writers saw him as included in the divine identity (see Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10 for two early expressions of this).

One particularly cogent example of why we simply must read the NT in light of the OT is found in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Ironically, this was one of the few passages that the Jehovah's Witnesses showed me just yesterday.  They saw it as proof that Jesus was not God, while I took it the other way.  Unfortunately, I had not yet read Bauckham's explanation of this verse, which is far more compelling than my feeble attempt to explain it yesterday.  There it reads:

"But for us [there is] one God, the Father
     from whom [are]all things and we for him,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
     through whom [are] all things and we through him."

Bauckham points out that this is an allusion to the Shema' of Deut 6:4, which reads:

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD is one." 

This sentence is arguably the most important one in the entire OT. Jews would have repeated it twice daily, seeing it as the central expression of their faith. The word LORD, which appears in all caps, is a translation of God's personal name, Yahweh.  When the Hebrew Bible was first translated into Greek, the translators used the Greek word kurios ("lord") to represent both LORD (Yahweh, God's personal name) and Lord (adonai, the generic word for a lord).  For Hebrew-speaking Jews, there was no confusion. Yahweh was the one, true God who deserved their worship and devotion.  He was the creator of all things and the one who sustained the universe and ruled over all.  In the NT, however, the only way to refer to Yahweh is by using the Greek word kurios, which is not a personal name but nevertheless the only option they had.  It is remarkable how often the NT authors make a point of telling us that Jesus is kurios.

Paul, in the example above, uses the identical language from the Greek translation of Deut 6:4 and divides it between God the Father and Jesus Christ.  As Bauckham insists, "Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema' a 'Lord' the Shema' does not mention.  He is identifying Jesus as the 'Lord' whom the Shema' affirms to be one." (28) The "one God" and "one Lord" created the universe.  Yahweh has now revealed Himself in His fullness in the coming of Jesus.

This is why I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to focus on the Old Testament at Wheaton.  The New Testament is very, very important to our faith and we just cannot afford to get it wrong!  With the OT clearly in view, we have a much better chance of understanding the NT in the ways that the writers (and Writer) intended.

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