Book Review: Keith Warrington, Discovering the Jesus in the New Testament

Warrington, Keith. Discovering the Jesus in the New Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2009. 226 pages, pb. $24  Link to Hendrickson   Link to Logos

Keith Harrington is the Vice-Principal and Director of Doctoral Studies at Regents Theological College. This book is a follow up to his Discovering the Holy Spirit in the New Testament (Hendricksen, 2005) and follows the same pattern. His goal is to highlight common threads as well as unique contributions from each of the authors of the New Testament.

WarringtonNo New Testament writer said everything there is to be said about Jesus as a person or his mission. In fact, they rarely address theological questions such as Trinity or the Virgin Birth in a way that is theologically satisfying from a modern perspective. The writers of the NT had two main ambitions, according to Warrington’s. First, “they wanted to reveal who Jesus truly was and to explore his mission” and second, “they wanted to relate these facts to their audiences” (3). His method is text-driven, observing what each book says about Jesus. As such, he avoids historical Jesus questions as well as second order theological problems that trouble later readings of the New Testament. In addition, there is minimal interaction with other scholarship. Each section is rich with scripture references as Warrington pays close attention to the voice of the author.

The books of the NT are taken in canonical order, beginning with the Synoptic Gospels. The first chapter takes Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a whole, but does contain a brief section of the Christology of each author. Since John is next, follows by Romans, there is some chronological disorientation. Paul would be the earliest witness, the Synoptic Gospels. In fact, virtually every other book of the NT was written before John (Revelation is the only exception). I would have preferred the chapters to be laid out chronologically so that is trajectory of Christological development could be traced from the earliest books to the last. This method also separates Luke from Acts and John’s Gospel from his Epistles and Revelation. In the case on the Pauline letters, taking them chronologically may have yielded additional insights as the apostle’s view of Jesus develops over the years. (In fairness, there is a single, brief overview of Paul’s letters before his chapter on Romans.) But this criticism is on the order of “this is not the book I would have written”  and should not distract from Warrington’s otherwise fine presentation in this book.

In general, Warrington divides his chapters into units headed by Christological titles (Lord, messiah, foundation, etc.) or actives of Jesus (redeemer, savior, etc.) Some of these are often repeated in many chapters, since there is continuity throughout the New Testament.  Occasionally there are parts of chapters that do not strike me as on topic. For example, in Acts there is a short comment on the shipwreck in chapter 27 that seems extraneous. In Ephesians there is a short note on being sealed with the Spirit which does not strike me as an activity of Christ despite Warrington’s statement that “Jesus has authorized the sealing of believers with the Spirit” (119). That is not exactly what Eph 1:13 says.

Most of the chapters are brief; Titus and Philemon can be read in a few minutes. Again, in my view most of the Pauline letters could have been drawn together to create a more substantial overview of Paul’s understanding of Jesus.  An entire chapter on the Christology of James is ambitious at best! Some books, however, have a great deal more to say about Jesus, such as the Gospels, Hebrews and Revelation. In fact, Warrington’s chapter on Hebrews is one of the highlights of the book.

Conclusion.  This is a very easy to read introduction to what the New Testament says about Jesus. While there is a great deal of theology in the book, some more theologically minded readers may find the brevity of the book dissatisfying. The book is simply not intended to be a theologically nuanced Christology. Yet for the busy pastor or lay person, this book offers insights into how the New Testament presents Jesus.

NB: I read this book on my iPad using the Logos Bible Software app. The book is available as a part of the Baker Jesus Studies collection from Logos. (This book is one of the many Baker acquired from Hendrickson a few years ago.) The Logos version includes real page numbers and the reader can take advantage of the note-taking and highlighting tools in Logos.

NB: Thanks to Logos for kindly providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Keith and Hurtado, Jesus among Friends and Enemies (Part 1)

Keith, Chris and Larry W. Hurtado. Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2011. 352 pages, pb. $27.00. Link to Baker  Link to Logos

Jesus among Friends and Enemies is a unique idea for a Historical Jesus book. Strictly speaking, this is not a book on Jesus, but rather the characters who encounter Jesus in the Gospels. Some react favorably and are “friends” while others reject Jesus and are labeled “enemies” of Jesus. Each chapter offers a historical sketch about the character from history and tradition, then a brief overview of their role in the Gospels. Sidebars appear throughout the text explaining technical terms or offering a closer look at something mentioned in the chapter. In the Logos version, these sidebars appear as grey boxes interrupting the flow of the chapter (as they do in the paper version). There are also a few photographs which are faithfully reproduced in the Logos version. The sidebars expose a flaw in the way Logos handle footnotes in the iOS app since some sidebars have notes that do not correspond to the rest of the notes on the page. Each chapter ends with a “for further reading” section.

Friends and EnemiesI found this a fascinating book and ended up writing far more than a normal book review. I will therefore dived the review into two installments, covering the introduction and “friends” here, and the “enemies” and conclusion in the next post.

Chris Keith offers an introduction in which he surveys what can be known about Jesus. He begins with agrapha, the sayings of Jesus which appear outside the canonical Gospel. These sayings were preserved because Jesus was seen as a wise man by many ancient sources. Josephus, for example, calls Jesus a wise man. Both Tacitus and Suetonius considered Jesus a rather foolish character who founded and equally foolish band of followers. Keith briefly reviews the apocryphal gospels, including the infancy gospels and the gospels of Peter and Thomas. After sampling this widely diverse literature, Keith compares it to the portrait of Jesus in each of the four canonical gospels. His emphasis in this section is the narrative first of Mark then Matthew and Luke and finally John. For each gospel he answers the question “Who was (or is) Jesus?” and tries to highlight the way each gospel is distinctive from and similar to other canonical Gospels. This very brief survey indicates that the Gospels offer a multifaceted view of Jesus.

Edith Humphreys covers “God and Angels” in the first chapter, neither of which I would have considered as a “friend” of Jesus. Nevertheless, this chapter is a survey of second temple literature on the rather broad topic of God and monotheism. In addition Humphreys surveys this literature on the topic of angels. Here she is able to bring a great deal of information from such books as 1 Enoch. The “earliest Christian writers were informed by this lore of angels and expected their readers to understand such tantalizing details” (45). Turning to a narrative of the Gospels, Humphreys points out that the main character in each of the Gospels is God. Although angels figure significantly in each of the Gospels, the focus of the writers is squarely on Jesus.

In Chapter 2 Michael Bird introduces John the Baptist. Perhaps more than any of the other characters in this book, John the Baptist has generate the largest secondary literature. This is perhaps due to his ongoing legacy as well as the tantalizing possibility that John’s ministry was somehow connected to Qumran. (Bird deal with this possibility in a sidebar, although it is not clear if the sidebars come for the article authors or not.). He begins this chapter with the lone statement in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities that mentions John the Baptist. Bird creates a list of seven items that can be known from Josephus. These resonate with the Gospel narrative but the canonical Gospels go beyond these things in the service of their theology. In fact, “They also interweave traditions about the Baptizer into their own narratives in order to present him as a crucial figure in God’s revelation of his Son to Israel” (74). Bird traces the development from Mark to Matthew and Luke, who adopt material from Q to present John as “an apocalyptic preacher of repentance and judgment” (78).

In Chapter 3 Warren Carter begins with the discussion of disciples in general. He compares the four lists of the disciples, and wonders if there was even a fixed roster of 12. The number 12 seem stable but the lists vary. In addition sometimes others are included in the term disciples, such as Jesus is female followers in Luke 6:30-36. Carter concludes that “there is good historical reason to conclude that Jesus gathered disciples,” although the later traditions of their activities remains dubious at best (87). Turning to the gospels, Carter describes the disciples in Mark as “sustained failure” because they consistently misunderstood Who Jesus was what he was trying to teach them. But is it the case, as Carter suggests, that Mark has a “frequently negative presentation of the disciples” (92)? This is possible since there is a contrast between the disciples and the demons or the Gentiles. In fact, Matthew and Luke are far more positive then marking his presentation of the disciples.

Two features of this chapter stand out. First, the chapter seems the most connected to the methods of historical Jesus research. Carter deals with the criteria of authenticity to determine whether Jesus disciples. For some both conservative and less, the use of these criteria is problematic. I personally not that bothered by the use of criteria (especially since in this case I happen to agree with the results). Second, Carter makes use of the Gospel of John, which is normally not used much in a Historical Jesus study. He points out that disciples mentioned 70 times even though the Twelve are only mention four times.

Richard J. Bauckham’s essay on “The Family of Jesus” is one of the more fascinating in this book, probably because so little is known about Jesus’s family. Unlike the prior essays in this collection, Bauckham begins with the biblical material because there is simply very little material outside of The Gospels for him to use.  He does cite the testimony of Hegesippus to the effect that Jesus’ family waned property in Nazareth, but there is no more extra-biblical material on the family of Jesus. Bauckham does deal with the well-known problem of Jesus his brothers in the New Testament. First how are they related to Jesus? Bauckham concludes that they were children of Joseph and Mary born after Jesus. Second, he deals with the fact that all of Jesus’s brothers he came significant leaders in the early church. He cites here the Gospel of Thomas which describes James as “the righteous.” Bauckham describes James as a leader in Jerusalem, but “the other brothers of Jesus worked as traveling missionaries” (111) based on 1 Cor 9:5 (the brothers Jesus had taken wives). My first impression was that this verse referred simply to Christians rather than the literal brothers of Jesus. But Bauckham cites Julius Africanus as evidence that Jesus’ Brothers participated in missionary activity (111).

Dieter T. Roth’s chapter on “Mary Magdalene, the Bethany Family, and the Beloved Disciple” studies some of the most enigmatic characters in the Gospels. While Mary Magdalene has been made famous by The Da Vinci Code, the others characters in this chapter are less well-known. Roth begins with the face that there are two women named Mary and an unnamed sinful woman in Luke 7:37–38 who are often conflated in church history. After showing that he was dealing with different women here, Roth examines apocryphal evidence concerning Mary Magdalene. Most of this evidence he dismisses, and rightly so. The picture from Scripture is that Mary Magdalene was an important disciple of Jesus but not his secret wife, etc. less is known about the Bethany family Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus only appears and John but Mary and Martha appear in Luke10:38-42. The enigmatic beloved disciple appears only in John and there are a bewildering number of suggestions in the literature for his identity. Roth does not solve this problem nor does he even give his preference for the identity of the beloved disciple. Rather, he describes the role of the beloved disciple in John’s Gospel.

David M. Allen discusses two “Secret Disciples” of Jesus, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. These two friends appeared in John’s account of the burial of Jesus (John 19:38-42). Nicodemus also appears in John 3 as a skeptical yet friendly questioner and again in John 7:45-53 as a defender of Jesus. There is little historical data for Nicodemus although there is an apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which Allen briefly discusses. Following the suggestion of Richard Bauckham, Allen observes that there was a wealthy priest by the name of Naqdimon ben Gurion (b. Giṭ. 56a) who may represent a later member of Nicodemus’s family. Even less can be known about Joseph of Arimathea. Other than his role in Holy Grail myth, he rarely appears in apocryphal Gospels. Unlike Nicodemus, Joseph appears in Mark 15:43 and parallels where he requests permission to bury Jesus. Mark describes him as “waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God,” a phrase Allen understands as a reference to being a pious Jew, like Tobit. Matthew adds that Joseph was a wealthy man and Luke comments that he was a member of the council who did not agree with the verdict to execute Jesus.

[This review continues in the next post, the “enemies.”]