I have been working through Jesus the Messiah over a series of posts: and here we turn to the New Testament section by Darrell Bock and my concluding thoughts on the book as a whole.
Jesus the Messiah in the New Testament
In a surprising turn out of step with the other sections, Bock works backward from Revelation to the Gospels. He does this for several reasons:
- The texts will be in order of least to most controversial.
- This allows the roots of Christology to be unearthed.
- The Gospels rarely use Christ for Jesus.
- [Bock’s explanation of the fourth reason on p334 was completely indecipherable to me!]
- The historical authenticity of Jesus’ own messianic claims can be addressed last.
Bock’s goals are threefold: 1) to trace how Christ is used in the New Testament, 2) to see if this can be traced to Jesus Himself, and 3) to “point out in a few key places how explicit texts from the earlier Testament are used messianically” (p335). To achieve this end, Bock primarily overviews the NT documents and comments on each use of Christ. Unfortunately this was (subjectively) tedious reading.
This “reverse” approach makes good sense with Bock’s above goals, but fits uncomfortably with the overarching goal as stated by Bateman, to “trace the concept of messianism chronologically” (p211). Instead, Bock shifts his aim to a nearby, though very different, goal. He wants to historically establish that Jesus considered Himself to be the Christ. I find this to be a significant weakness in his chapters. After Johnston and Bateman thoroughly traced messianic promises and expectations, Bock’s chapters are naturally expected to explain how the NT presents Jesus as the fulfillment of these ideas. Bock has written elsewhere on how the New Testament uses the Old Testament, and this is a natural place to see this fulfillment in action; but staggeringly, the question of how Jesus fulfils messianic expectations is mostly unaddressed. Instead, Bock turns to questions regarding the historical Jesus. In other words, Bock establishes that Jesus is the Messiah when the reader expects him to establish how. This leaves one with an anticlimactic surprise ending, where the work in the earlier chapters is practically irrelevant. In this way Bock’s chapters were a missed opportunity and better suited for a different book.
Secondly, it was surprising that Bock focused exclusively on Christ in the NT, when this is not the only messianic title, nor even the only kingly messianic title. Johnston and Bateman make clear that messianic expectations revolve around several titles and concepts such as “son of God”, “son of man”, “branch”, and “Lord”. These are picked up in the NT and variously applied to Jesus, but with an exclusive focus on Christ, again, Bock’s chapters leave Johnston and Bateman’s work on the cutting room floor.
There are many positives to Jesus the Messiah, particularly found in the author’s methodology and careful and fair treatment of individual texts. I have detailed some of these strengths in the earlier posts. The proliferation of color maps and diagrams is very welcome. The authors are also to be commended for attempting to allow the texts to speak for themselves. There is much excellent exegetical work on display, particularly in Johnston’s OT chapters.
However, I note two weaknesses to Jesus the Messiah beyond those in Bock’s chapters mentioned above. The first has been hinted at in the reviews of Bock and Bateman’s sections: the authors are not in complete alignment with their intended audience, methods or goals. The benefit of having three specialists devoted to their fields is sadly counterbalanced by the occasional whiplash one experiences when moving from one section to the next. The book would have been strengthened by better harmonizing the flow of the sections and allowing them to interact more with each other.
The second weakness is more foundational to their approach. The authors restrict themselves to “kingship and covenant texts” (p32), which I think is a misstep. First, by only looking at these texts, the authors are putting together the messianic puzzle with too few pieces. Second, despite the authors’ quote above, I see little to no impact of the covenants in their work. Attention to the covenants would have helped frame the puzzle, showing that messianic hope is not merely found in individual texts scattered throughout a long narrative, but rather in a faithful covenant mediator. He would be the second Adam, the Noahic bringer of new creation, the true seed of Abraham, the faithful Israel, and the greater David. The difference in this approach can be seen when we consider that Johnston begins his search of the messianic trajectories in the calling of Abraham. Not only does the promise that kings will come from Abraham (Gen 17:6) seem unexpected when we begin here, it also leads one to expect a small-scale king. But if Adam were recognized as a king (as he should be), then the story begins much earlier and promises for kings through Abraham suddenly have a vastly broader scope! In fact, Genesis 3:15 could be reclaimed from the appendix as a kingly messianic text. So while some of the individual commentary may remain the same, the entire picture would be in a different shade if situated within this covenantal frame.
Though I am ending my review on a critical note, Jesus the Messiah does have much to commend. Much of this can be seen in my other posts. I certainly recommend Jesus the Messiah as a helpful resource for someone who wants to wrestle with the question of Old Testament messianic prophecy and the intertestamental literature. It is also useful for tracing the origins belief in Jesus’ as Christ.
Many thanks to Alban books for providing a review copy of Jesus the Messiah. Their generosity has not affected my opinion of this book.