Raymond Brown on New Testament Christology

Currently reading Raymond Brown’s Introduction to New Testament Christology and marveling at the difficulty that liberal interpreters of the Bible have with the idea that what was said and taught by Jesus and what is found in the NT Gospels is (GASP!) one and the same thing! Is it so hard to accept this possibility? Apparently so. Brown is what he might call a “scholarly liberal,” and says that one cannot be sure, in many cases, if what is found in the Gospels is actually what Jesus said. But then, to use the same argumentation, one cannot be certain that it is not the same, or at least very similar.

There seems to be this need to see a linear development in Christology from the ministry of Jesus to the writing down of his words and deeds, and then even beyond that, to later doctrinal formulations found in the ancient Christian creeds. Isn’t it just as possible that Jesus taught his disciples and others the truth about himself, and what he came to do, and that this teaching, though perhaps not fully understood at the time it was given, is what the biblical writers are seeking to record? I have no problem with the idea that they had eye-witness sources, as Richard Bauckham argues in Jesus and the Eye-witnesses, and even that they arranged their material theologically, even catechetically. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that the apostolic writers drew upon the Old Testament and other Jewish literature and narratives to answer the question of who Jesus was and what He came to do.

But who’s to say that what is recorded in the Gospels is not only the Jesus of faith, but the Jesus of history as well? Why is there this need to see such a separation between the two? What good does it do to try to look through the text of the Gospels to see something beyond that doesn’t exist? There can be no end to speculation on what sources or traditions lay behind the text of Jesus’ words or deeds.

My theory is that later church dogmaticians were saying the same thing as the biblical writers in speaking about Jesus and his relationship to the Father, his humanity and his divinity but simply using different language. The Nicene Creed speaks of the Son being homoousious with the Father. Perhaps a first century Jewish Christian might understand the oneness of the Father and the Son in terms of a shared identity. Nevertheless, it is interesting and valuable to read a book that is written from a different perspective. Brown is more conservative than some, but one can still detect a pretty strong bias towards the idea of an ‘evolution’ of sorts in Christology.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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