B311 New Testament Theology


Lecture 1- New Testament Theology or New Testament Theologies?

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird's Introduction, and Chapter 1

The New Testament includes twenty-seven books. Matthew stands alone, as does Mark; Luke's theology can be discovered in Luke and Acts. John's theology is found in John, I-III John, and Revelation. Paul's theology can be discerned in his letters (Romans through Philemon). Hebrews, James, Jude, and Peter consist of other theological perspectives. In other words, the New Testament is a collection of theological documents with differing perspectives.

Yet among the differences there are also similarities. The entirety of the New Testament is concerned with God's activity in Christ. Christ is Himself, then, the center of the New Testament.

Nevertheless the different theological perspectives found in the New Testament cannot be leveled into a univocal word. Rather, their true significance can be found in considering them separately and then, and only then, as a whole.

For example; much more could be learned by the average reader of the Bible if he or she read Mark as though it were the only Gospel. If this were done, then one would know nothing of the virgin birth or events at Bethlehem. Likewise, if one read only the Gospel of John one would not know the name of Jesus' mother! And on it goes. But by reading these documents as individual theological statements, one would become involved in the dialogue that is the New Testament.

Perhaps, then, the most constructive way in which to approach the theological study of the New Testament is to imagine oneself as sitting in a large lecture hall or auditorium; on the stage are several chairs arranged. In the middle chair sits the apostle Paul. Beside him on one side and the other are John and Peter. Then, in sequence towards the sides of stage are Matthew, Luke, John, the author of Hebrews, and Jude (who sits silently during most of the discussion). As we take our seats the moderator (whom we will call the Church- the one who assembled our panel), poses the first question- "Who is Jesus"? Thus the panelists begin their discussion;

Paul's voice is loudest! Then the others share their views; and the colloquium begins!

The New Testament is a book of theologies. We shall begin with the theology of Jesus. It is from this central person that the theologians of the New Testament draw their ideas; he is the source of their thought, and thus it is only fitting that we first examine his theology.

Lecture 2- The Theology of Jesus

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, chapter 9.

Before we can examine the theology of Jesus as it is presented by the individual evangelists, it is necessary for us to gain an overall view of the theology of Jesus. What did Jesus believe and teach about God; man; sin; etc.

The primary teaching of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God has arrived in his person. The rule of God breaks into human history precisely at this point and perfectly in this person. God's law is obeyed and His will is perfectly done. Cf. Lk 10:23-24 and Luke 6:20-21. The evangelists who later incorporated this theological perspective spoke of the coming again of the Son of Man again to bring the Kingdom of God in a physical sense- but there seems to be no doubt that when Jesus spoke of the rule of God he spoke of a spiritual rather than a physical reality. God rules in the hearts and minds of those who align themselves with Jesus. The kingdom of Satan is at an end, cf. Luke 10:18; and the kingdom of God is indeed a spiritual reality which, if one points to a physical location for its existence, must be denied, cf. Luke 17:21-23.

And what is the proof that in Jesus the kingdom is present? His very words and his very acts! Cf. Mt 11:5.

Since the Kingdom is present in Jesus, one must therefore decide whether or not one will hear his call of discipleship and thus become part of the kingdom, or if one will ignore his call and be left out of the kingdom. Cf. Mt 6:19-24; Mk 9:43-47.

The ministry of Jesus, then, is the ongoing effort to make known this fact:

that God's kingdom is present in His person; and those who desire to become participants in the Kingdom of God must align themselves with Jesus. How did he go about spreading this message? By redefining what it meant to be the people of God!

The first step made in this direction by Jesus is that he makes a mighty protest against Jewish legalism. Righteousness is not found in the keeping of minute laws; it is found in relationship to God. Instead of legalism Jesus preached adherence to the will of God, cf. Mt 6:22-23, Lk 17:33.

Because of this revolutionary approach to theology Jesus earned the contempt of the leading Rabbis of Jerusalem. But where did he get this revolutionary theology?

From the Old Testament. In the Old Testament Jesus saw the prophets as central interpreters of the will of God, and God requires mercy and not animal sacrifice. Thus Jesus undermined the very heart of Rabbinic and priestly theology. Cf Mt 23:25-28.

So what is the positive will of God- the commandment to Love! Cf. Mk 12:28-34.

When one loves God and neighbor then one does everything required by God. Jesus is thus an ethical theologian rather than a dogmatic (legalistic) theologian. Those who reject this message of Love are in great danger f rejecting God himself.

Cf. Luke 6:24-26.

We can, with this foundation laid, proceed to list the major themes of Jesus ethical theology:

1. God is Creator. Because God is creator God is near and accessible. God did not abandon creation when he finished the work of making; he remains near at hand.
2. God is Forgiving. And because God forgives humans are required to act likewise. Yet forgiveness requires repentance, or evidence that the sinner desires to act in a way that pleases God and not in a way that displeases him.
3. God is Loving. This is the basis of his creation and forgiveness.

Humans are likewise required to exhibit love when they become adherents of Jesus and thus adherents of his theology.

The theology of Jesus is the source of the theology of the evangelists and the apostolic writers. How they interpreted this theology in all of its richness is the source of the variety of theology found in the New Testament.

Lecture 3- The Theology of Mark

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, chapter 2; and Mark.

Mark was not the first interpreter of Jesus. That honor falls to Paul.

Thus, if we were to approach the theology of the New Testament from a chronological perspective we would have to examine Paul at this point. Yet our approach is more canonical- that is, we are examining the theologies of the New Testament roughly as they occur in their canonical order. Mark, though not the first Gospel of the canon, is the first Gospel that was written. For that reason alone we begin with him.

So what did Mark teach concerning Jesus? The major difference between the theology of Jesus and the theology of Mark (and the rest of the Gospels) is that Jesus, who proclaimed the will of God, now becomes the object of proclamation himself. Or, as one famous New Testament scholar put it, "the proclaimer became the proclaimed".

But how did this happen? Put quite simply, the writers of the New Testament believed that Jesus was the messiah, or Christ, promised by God. They saw him not merely as a prophet or rabbi, but as the very Son of God. Thus it was only right that they interpret his life and words with this understanding, so that they came to proclaim not only what he proclaimed, but he himself as well.

The Gospel of Mark was written for Romans. The purpose of every line in Mark is to demonstrate to Roman citizens that Jesus is their Messiah! Cf. Mk 1:14, 15, 21, 22, 38, 39, 2:2, 4:1-20, 4:33, 8:35, 38. For Mark, Jesus is not merely a teacher (though he is clearly that); he is a doer. The focus, then, of Mark's theology are the deeds of Jesus.

And the focal point of these actions is to demonstrate that the Messiah offers the all-powerful grace of God and freedom from despair.

For their part, the adherents of Jesus thereby become recipients of grace and membership in the community of faith. But this faith is given them by Jesus, and not developed from within themselves.

Mark's theology reaches its high water mark in his suggestion that Jesus is the very Son of God; revealed to be so at His baptism and confessed to be so by the Roman (!) Centurion at the moment of crucifixion. He is Lord! Since the focus of Mark's theology is that Jesus is the Son of God (and not simply the Jewish Messiah) then He is available not only to the Jew but to the gentile as well, and in particular, to the Roman gentile.

The Theology of Mark does not, therefore, contradict the theology of Jesus; it simply applies it to the wider audience of Romans for whom Mark is concerned.

Lecture 4- The Theology of Matthew

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, chapter 3, and Matthew.

As Mark takes his seat the next theologian to approach the podium is Matthew.

He is a rabbi and he will direct his remarks to the Jewish members of the audience. Just as Mark wrote for the Romans; Matthew wrote for the Jews in order to demonstrate to them that Jesus was the Messiah that was promised by the prophets. Just as Jesus is the one who acts in Mark; in Matthew Jesus is the one who teaches- the New Moses. He teaches on the mountain and reminds his hearers that the law is important. He derides the Pharisees and attacks the hypocrites. The theology of Matthew is Jewish-Christian theology that is never again approached in the New Testament until James and Hebrews.

With Old Testament in hand and with a vocabulary rich in allusions and metaphors derived from it, he musters the troops and storms the wall of Judaism and its sometimes legalistic approach to God.

The action in Matthew is fast paced. 5:1-8:17 is one days worth of activity!

8:18-9:9 is the action of the next day; 9:10-9:34 is yet another day, and 12:22-13:52 is another. The stories which Matthew tells from the life of Jesus serve to support his theological perspective. He is Lord, as can be seen from 14:28-31 and 17:24-27. The genealogy of chapter 1 shows that Jesus is the son of David, the Messiah.

And he is called the Son of God, cf. 14:33.

Because Jesus is who he is and because he teaches what he teaches, people stream to him; cf. 4:25-26. He is more popular than the scribes or Pharisees. And because he is more popular his opponents decide to kill him. But he does not remain in the tomb, for the Messiah must live. Thus, the whole of Matthew's theology is aimed at showing that Jesus is the Messiah who lives forever more.

Lecture 5- The Theology of Luke

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, chapter 4, and Luke and Acts.

Luke wrote for the Greeks. His Gospel is summarized when he reports the message of Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum, cf. 4:16-30. Immediately following this event we have the report of the epiphany of Jesus to his disciples, cf. 5:1-11. These two texts, taken together, are an exact summary of the work of Jesus and the work of his disciples.

As in the other Gospels, Jesus is teacher and healer. But an interesting expansion take place in regards to the circle of disciples. Luke speaks of the 12, of course, but he enlarges the circle of Jesus' followers immensely; cf. 6:13, 6:17, and 6:20ff. as well as 10:17. This large group of disciples spend time with Jesus and frequently question and answer him.

The uniqueness of Luke lies in the stress he places on the disciples' frequent fellowship with Jesus; and that is just the point, for if a disciple is to remain faithful, then he must ever cling to Jesus. The book of Acts is simply an extension of this central concept. When the disciples stick to Jesus then though their lives are threatened, and even taken, they can rest in the certainty that Jesus will stick by them. When this is done the Gospel continues to be spread, unhindered by anything (cf. the end of Acts!!!).

Lecture 6- The Theology of John

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, Chapter 5, and the Gospel of John, 1-3 John, and Revelation.

When John approaches the lectern to share his thoughts with the assembled colloquium all realize that, apart from Paul, he has the most to say. His students and disciples make up the second largest segment of the crowd, and they are eager to hear him (or, to put it in another way, John has almost as many researchers as Paul!).

John's works (the Gospel, the three epistles, and the Revelation) make up the second greatest segment of the New Testament (after the Pauline corpus). Note- we shall leave aside here the debate as to whether or not John wrote all of this material, as we shall leave aside the question of Paul's authorship of the letters attributed to him. We will focus on the theology of these writings, which are clearly related regardless of authorship.

As Matthew wrote to the Jews, and Mark to the Romans, and Luke to the Greeks;

John addressed those Christians who either were or who leaned towards gnosticism. His whole corpus is directed towards correcting the errors of the Gnostics. By the way, in Church History we note that John is the writer most often used in opposition to heresy of every shade!

And what is the central message of these writings: Jesus is victorious over every opponent! Thus when one is a follower of Jesus one is on the side which will ultimately be victorious. To summarize the major lines of John's thought I will simply list them:

1. Jesus is the ground of faith
2. Life in Jesus is New Life
3. The Cross is the central event of time and eternity
4. The Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus given to the community for its benefit
5. The Gospel is the only source of Hope

The theology of John is Christocentric and polemical; Christocentric because Jesus is the center, and polemical because nothing is allowed to compete with Jesus as the center.

Lecture 7- The Theology of Paul

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, Chapter 6, and Romans-Philemon.

The most important theologian of the New Testament (after Jesus, of course) is

the apostle Paul. More has been written about Paul than Paul ever wrote

himself. He has been the center of Protestant attention since the Reformation. On my own shelves are hundreds of books either about Paul or about something that Paul wrote. Why is he so important?

Put simply, Paul was able to pull together the great streams of Jewish and Hellenistic religious thought in his exposition of Jesus. That is, Paul used the language of Judaism when he was explaining Jesus to the Jews; and he used the language of the Hellenistic mystery religions when he was explaining Jesus to the Gentiles.

In this way Paul was the one apostle who was at home either in the Jewish or Gentile world. Because of this Paul was able to spread the Gospel in a way that no other New Testament theologian could.

The main lines of Paul's very intensive and profound thought are:

1. Man is a living body. This body, this human, is lost apart from God.
2. Man is a rational being. He is able to choose to be either faithful or unfaithful to God.
3. Man's heart is, however, terribly corrupt.
4. Thus, man is in contradiction to his own being.
5. He is a sinner.
6. His sin results in his just death.
7. The Law of God helps man realize his sinfulness.
8. God, for his part, is righteous, or just.
9. Since man is unrighteous and God is righteous they are at odds.
10. So God applies his grace, his unmerited favor, on those who believe in Jesus.
11. So man can live in faith.
12. And this faith gives man the freedom to abandon sin and serve God, should he so choose.
13. The law, therefore, remains useful for the person of faith; but unnecessary, as now that person lives out of love for God and not fear.
14. Thus Christ redeems us; not from the devil (who doesn't own us at any rate), but from ourselves.

The powerful and deep theology of Paul has proven very useful in helping people realize both their need of God and God's provision for their need. It is a grave understatement to say that Paul has been an influential theologian. One should rather say that Paul is THE New Testament theologian.

So when Paul approaches our imaginary podium, it would be wise for us to listen very carefully to what he says.

Lecture 8- The Theology of Hebrews

ASSIGNMENT; Read Caird, chapter 7, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Church after Paul saw slow but steady progress. By the last quarter of the first century AD the Church had made inroads into every major city of the Roman Empire. But something else was happening at the same time; people were growing impatient. You see, Jesus had said "And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power" (Mk 9:1). No matter how this verse in interpreted today, when Jesus spoke these words they understood him literally. Thus, when the earliest believers began to die the Church began to wonder if the coming was not imminent. Some of them, quite frankly, gave up hope that He would ever come again. Many of those who grew disenchanted with Christianity were Jews who had converted in the hope that the Messiah would quickly return and establish his earthly kingdom. When he did not, they began to leave the Church, evidently in droves.

The Letter to the Hebrews is written to these Jewish Christians in order to encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus, "for it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt" (Hebrews 6).

These believers must hold fast to the faith; for there is no other way by which they can be saved. So the writer of Hebrews makes every effort to prove that Jesus is superior to anything that Judaism has to offer. He is better than the angels, Moses, the law, the Prophets, or anything else.

The central idea of the letter is that Jesus is the ultimate gift and the ultimate giver; that is, he is simultaneously the high priest and the sacrificial victim! Because of his sacrifice the believer can know God and will become a part of God's rule. But they must beware that it is not their faith that is the foundation of this kingdom! NO, it is God's gift that is the ground of their faith! This is made quite clear when the author stresses the death and exaltation of Jesus as he does. Faith in him is the goal of their lives as well as the ground of their faith. If they forget this, then they will fall away from Him.

Higher than Moses and higher than the angels, Jesus remains forever the greatest gift which God has ever given humankind. Cf. 2:17-18, 4:14-16, 5:5-10, 6:20, 7:24-28.

9:11-14, 24-28, 10:12-14, 19-21. Since he is the gift and the giver, his followers must give ear to him; they must listen to him or they will hear nothing! So it is not the law nor an angel they must adhere to- they must listen to the voice of the priest who gave himself for them.

As these things are said by our anonymous writer standing at our imaginary lectern, the crowd begins to disperse. From this point onward in the New Testament the voices we hear are not quite so well heeded as Paul or John. Yet what he has to say is very important; and we should chide our neighbors for leaving before they hear them out!

Lecture 9- The Theology of Peter

ASSIGNMENT: Read Caird, Chapter 8 and 1-2 Peter.

Peter was the leading apostle among those of Jesus' inner circle. His theology reflects this closeness to Christ, for his central theme is "life in Jesus". For Peter, Jesus is the Shepherd (cf. I Pe 2:4, 6-8, 5:4). This means that Jesus is our guide, protector, and provider. To make sure that the Christian can lay hold of these benefits, Peter also stresses that the believer receives the Spirit of God (cf. 1 Pe 1:11, 3:18, 4:14). So, in sum, when one believes in Jesus one has real life (1 Pe 1:3, 3:7, 4:6).

For their part, the believer must pray for and lay hold of these promises and submit him or her self to the Lordship and Glory of God ( 1 Pe 3:22, 2:25, 4:5). They are, after all, the holy people of God- his priests and his servants.

Many theologians believe that Peter wrote his first letter in order to provide instruction for those who were to receive baptism. Apparently even in the earliest church one had to receive a period of instruction before being baptized.

Nevertheless, the major thrust of Peter is to help Christians realize to the fullest the potential for life in the Spirit. His message could be summed up by saying, "be what God has made you and called you to be- the servant of Jesus!"

Lecture 10 - The Theology of James

ASSIGNMENT: read Caird, chapters 9-11, and the book of James

Adolf Schlatter suggested many years ago that James was the earliest Christian book written that has been included in the New Testament, having been penned around the year 40 AD (which makes it at least 11 years earlier than Paul's earliest letter, 30 years earlier than the earliest Gospel - Mark, and 60 years earlier than Revelation and John's other works!!). Perhaps he is right, for when one reads James one can feel oneself in the synagogue as the new Christian majority of that synagogue attempts to persuade the remaining Jews to believe in Jesus.

James was written simply to encourage Jews who believe in Jesus to remain steadfast in the ethics taught by Jesus (as Matthew does in the Sermon on the Mount). If one reads James carefully one will not find any developed doctrine; no mention of the Second Coming; no Trinity is mentioned; it is all ethics. And the ethics maintained by James are mirrored in the 5-7th chapters of Matthew.

James, then, is concerned about behavior. How should we Jews act now that we have accepted Jesus as our Messiah? This is the question which James answers.

SUMMARY

The New Testament is a collection of theological documents; a theological library. When one studies this library one discovers that, though there are varying perspectives there is only one center, and that is the redemption accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth, savior of Jew and Gentile and the savior of us all.