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A Global Introduction

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti

  1. 256 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub


A Global Introduction

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti

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About This Book

In this revised introduction, an internationally respected scholar explores biblical, historical, and contemporary developments in Christology. The book focuses on the global and contextual diversity of contemporary theology, including views of Christ found in the Global South and North and in the Abrahamic and Asian faith traditions. It is ideal for readers who desire to know how the global Christian community understands the person and work of Jesus Christ. This new edition accounts for the significant developments in theology over the past decade.

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Part 1
Christ in Biblical Testimonies

Diversity in Unity
The foundational document for the Christian church is the Bible, the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. Even though it is the task of Christian theology, especially systematic theology, to go beyond the Bible when inquiring into the meaning and significance of Jesus Christ for people living in various contexts in the third millennium—asking many questions the Bible did not ask—the importance of the biblical testimonies should in no way be thereby diminished.
In the Bible there is of course no systematic theological or doctrinal explanation of Jesus the Christ. Instead, there are a number of testimonies, stories, metaphors, and other such accounts. Moreover, Jesus’s own teachings are given through symbols and stories, and the accent is on his deeds. In this sense, we could perhaps describe biblical Christology as a sort of “lived” Christology rather than a schematized doctrine.

The Gospel Silhouettes of Jesus

The Rich Plurality of the Biblical Testimonies
That the New Testament contains various complementary faces of Christ is illustrated most aptly by the existence of four Gospels. Why four Gospels? Why not just one? This fact has been acknowledged and pondered by Christians for centuries. Already in the second century, attempts were made to harmonize the four Gospels into one whole in order to make the story of Christ more coherent. Even the first Bible readers noticed that having four stories not only added to the richness of the overall story but also created problems such as contradictions between various details related to the same story. The church and Christian theology, however, decided in favor of a plurality of testimonies at the expense of harmony in every detail.
How much do we know of the history of Jesus? A dramatic shift happened in theologians’ estimation at the time of the Enlightenment. While until then the Gospel records’ testimonies were taken at face value, after the advent of modernity, skepticism became the default position. That put the historical question at the center.1
The most popular approach to biblical Christology has involved focusing on the various titles given to Jesus Christ. There is an old Latin saying, nomen est omen, which means “name is an omen.” In ancient cultures, as well as many cultures in today’s two-thirds world, the name given to a person reflects either a distinctive personal characteristic or significant events related to that person. Clearly, various titles given to Christ serve that function. Although no longer at the center of New Testament Christology, the theological implications of the titles should be properly considered.
The more recent method of New Testament Christology involves reading each book as it stands without necessarily trying to pull all the differing materials into a coherent whole. In other words, the specific contribution of each of the Gospels is appreciated on its own terms. Thus, there is a Christology of Matthew, of Mark, of Luke, and of John. Before looking at these, however, two preparatory tasks lie ahead of us. First, in order to locate the Jewish Messiah in his own milieu, we take a short look at the Jewish background. Second, in order to orient the reader to the thought forms and ways of naming Jesus in the Gospels, a brief look at the titles of Christ will be provided. Thereafter, the bulk of the chapter is devoted to profiling each Gospel’s distinctive account of the Messiah.
The Jewishness of Jesus the Messiah
Until recently, Christian theology in its discussion of Christology neglected its most obvious background, namely, the Jewish messianic milieu. Although it is true that precritical exegesis often added notes on the Old Testament prophecies and allusions to the Messiah, the implications of Jesus’s Jewishness were not allowed to shape Christian theological understanding. Even worse, more often than not the Jewish religion was conceived in negative, “legalistic” terms as opposed to the religion of “grace.” This development started early and was evident already in much of patristic theology. This misconception divested theology of its messianic dimension.2
Happily, the most contemporary Jesus research as conducted by biblical scholars shows a wide and variegated interest in the Jewishness of Jesus.3 What has hindered the integration of these discoveries into systematic and constructive theologies is that too often biblical and systematic disciplines have not engaged each other in a way that we would hope for.4 This omission, however, is in the process of being slowly corrected even among doctrinal theologians.
Differently from most systematicians, Moltmann begins his major monograph on Christology with a careful investigation of “Jewish messianology.”5 Note that the subtitle of his book is Christology in Messianic Dimensions. Moltmann takes Old Testament messianic hopes and metaphors as the presupposition of Christian theology of Christ as Israel’s Messiah.
The religious categories of the Jewish faith provide the explanatory framework for New Testament Christology. Christian hopes for Christ are based on the development of the hope for the Messiah and the figure of the Son of Man (especially in Dan. 7:14) in the Old Testament.6 It can safely be said that, on the one hand, behind much of Jewish messianic expectations is the distinctive Jewish apocalypticism that, as is routinely mentioned, laid the framework for the Gospels’ presentation of Jesus;7 on the other hand, as current scholarship also knows well, there are a number of types of messianic expectations in Second Temple Judaism, rather than one generally held.8 As a result, it is highly important for Christian theology, both for its proper self-understanding and its relation to the Jewish people, to reflect carefully on the Jewish roots of its faith.
This book seeks to be sensitive to the Jewishness of Jesus in more than one way. First, in discussing the meaning of Jesus’s person and work (as manifested, for example, in the many “titles” stemming from the Old Testament), Jewish and Old Testament background will be carefully noted. Second, when looking at Christology in the context of the contemporary pluralistic world, Jewish interpretations of Jesus Christ will be included as well.
How Jesus Is Named in the Biblical Record
The Message of the Kingdom of God
Before anything else, the student of the Christologies of the Gospels should be reminded of the center and major theme of Jesus’s proclamation—which came mostly in the form of the parables—that is, the kingdom of God. While many historical questions are under dispute among Gospel scholars, no one disputes that talk about the righteous rule of God (which is what the kingdom means) lies at the heart of the Nazarene preacher’s proclamation.9
Although Jesus did not address his Father as “king,” a favorite designation in the Old Testament (particularly in Psalms but also elsewhere), the language of God’s “kingdom” was frequently on Jesus’s lips. Although—as the ensuing historical discussion will reveal—much ink has been wasted among biblical scholars as to the exact meaning of the concept of the kingdom, it is safe to say the following in light of mainstream biblical scholarship: on the one hand, the kingdom had already arrived in the person and ministry of Jesus (Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20, and so forth), and, on the other hand, it was yet to appear in its final eschatological consummation (Mark 1:15; 9:1; Matt. 4:17; Luke 11:2, and so forth). To the proclamation of the advent of God’s rule belongs the summons to repentance and change of mind and behavior. It “was a warning of imminent catastrophe, a summons to an immediate change of heart and direction of life,” first to Israel and then to others.10
If parables were the teaching device to illustrate various facets of the dawning rule of the righteous God, miracles and powerful deeds were another integral way of reference. Just recall this saying: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Matt. 12:28 NRSV). All four Gospels narrate numerous healings and miraculous cures,11 and the Synoptic Gospels add to the picture acts of deliverance and exorcisms. Indeed, “among all the activities ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament gospels, exorcism and healing are among the most prominent.”12
Each of the Synoptic Gospels highlights different aspects of Jesus’s proclamation and embodiment of God’s kingdom. Although in John the concept hardly appears, he speaks of God’s presence and salvation in the world using other terms, such as “life” and “glory.” Although, curiously, kingdom language becomes marginal in Pauline theology, it is safe to say that “the idea of the kingdom of God or kingdom of Christ is certainly foundational to the whole” of his theology.13
One of the most important christological titles is “Christ,” which appears over five hundred times in the New Testament.14 It seems at times almost that “Christ” functions as a proper name in the New Testament. Theologically we may say that it means “‘Jesus is the Christ’ or ‘Jesus is the Messiah.’”15 “Christ” (Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah” (mashiach), which means literally “the anointed one.” Several key persons in the Old Testament were anointed for a task appointed by Yahweh, particularly kings (Saul in 1 Sam. 9–10), prophets (Elisha in 1 Kings 19:16), and priests (Lev. 21:10–12).
In Jesus’s times, there were also a number of self-made messiahs who sought political deliverance or a position in earthly society. Jesus declined that role (see John 6:15). Jesus did not want to identify with this primarily political messianic expectation and wanted to avoid conflict with the political and religious establishment until the time had come for him to die. That context may help us understand a curious aspect of Jesus’s messiahship, what William Wrede, nineteenth-century pioneer of research into the Gospels, called the “messianic secret” in his Messianic Secret in the Gospels (1901). Rather than encouraging his followers to spread the good news of the Messiah who had come, Jesus forbade those he h...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright Page
  4. Contents
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Abbreviations
  7. Introduction
  8. Part 1: Christ in Biblical Testimonies
  9. Part 2: Christ in Christian Tradition
  10. Part 3: Christ in the Contemporary World
  11. Part 4: Jesus Christ among Religions
  12. Epilogue
  13. Subject Index
  14. Scripture Index
  15. Back Cover