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Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Early Followers

By Christopher Tuckett
WJKP. 2001. 256 pp. Pb. $24.95.
ISBN 0-664-22431-8

Reviewed by John Barksdale of Madison, Va.

Christopher Tuckett, a lecturer in New Testament studies at the University of Oxford, has written a very readable and useful summary of what the New Testament writers thought about the significance of Jesus.

While the book’s focus is on Christology, it is also a helpful introduction to other New Testament issues, such as the mutual relationship of the Synoptic Gospels to one another and to John, the historical Jesus, matters of authorship and setting, and overall messages of the various books.

At the outset the author states that “for the most part no attempt will be made here to provide any answer to the question [of who Jesus is] from the standpoint of contemporary theology. . . . Rather the aim will be to answer the more historical question, ‘Who did other people think Jesus was?,’ as well as raising the further question, ‘Who did Jesus think he was?'” In answering this question the writer summarizes and gives considered judgments concerning the range of meanings of the various titles ascribed to Jesus, such as Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah, etc.

Tuckett then proceeds to examine the Christology of the various strata of the New Testament in roughly the order in which they were written: the Epistles, the Synoptic Gospels, the Johannine literature, etc., followed by a chapter on the Sayings Source ‘Q’. (Regrettably, due to space constraints, he omits 1-2 Peter, James and Jude.)

There follows a very balanced and lucid consideration of what was most probably Jesus’ own self-understanding, though the difficulties of knowing this are noted. Tuckett finds an implicit Christology in Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God. In disagreement with the Jesus Seminar, he concludes that Jesus’ teaching has a strong eschatological dimension, but the kingdom is not only future; it is beginning to happen in Jesus’ own ministry.

Next, he examines the more explicit Christology of Jesus’ use of, or acceptance of, various titles for himself: Messiah, prophet, Son of Man, Son of God. The four-page discussion of Jesus’ use of the “Son of Man” designation, sifting through the enormous bulk of scholarship on this question, is especially helpful, ending in the conclusion that Jesus was indeed most likely influenced here by Daniel 7:13.

Tuckett concludes: “In some sense Jesus seems to have regarded himself as a prophet with a mission that would arouse hostility and suspicion against himself. He was willing to accept that violence, convinced that he would be vindicated by God . . . . He may have had some idea of ‘messiahship,’ . . . though it would seem that many aspects often associated with messiahship were probably not part of a program which he would accept as his own. In all of this he claimed a close relationship with God, expressed through an idea of sonship, but which he hoped that others would share with him” (p.222).

A short postscript discusses how much gap there may be between the New Testament understandings of Jesus and Chalcedon orthodoxy, and whether such a gap matters. I recommend ii for its clarity and balance, as I do the entire book.