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A Theology of the New Testament

A Theology of the New Testament

Автором George Eldon Ladd

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A Theology of the New Testament

Автором George Eldon Ladd

1,272 pages
21 hours
Sep 2, 1993


Ladd's magisterial work on New Testament theology has well served thousands of seminary students since its publication in 1974. Enhanced and updated here by Donald A Hagner, this comprehensive, standard evangelical text now features augmented bibliographies and two completely new chapters on subjects that Ladd himself wanted to treat in a revised edition—the theology of each of the Synoptic Evangelists and the issue of unity and diversity in the New Testament—written, respectively, by R. T. France and David Wenham.
Sep 2, 1993

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George Eldon Ladd (1911–1982) was professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. His numerous books include The New Testament and Criticism, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, and T

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A Theology of the New Testament - George Eldon Ladd

1. Introduction

A. The History of New Testament Theology

Literature: R. Bultmann, The History of NT Theology as a Science, Theology of the NT (1955), 2:241-51; K. Stendahl, Biblical Theology, IDB 1 (1962), 418-32 — see extensive bibliography; O. Betz, History of Biblical Theology, IDB 1 (1962), 432-37; R. C. Dentan, Preface to OT Theology (19632) — valuable for parallel movements in the Old Testament; D. H. Wallace, Biblical Theology: Past and Future, TZ (1963), 88-105; A. Richardson, Present Issues in NT Theology, ET 75 (1964), 109-12; A. M. Hunter, Modern Trends in NT Theology, in The NT in Historical and Contemporary Perspective, ed. H. Anderson and W. Barclay (1965), 133-48; G. E. Ladd, History and Theology in Biblical Exegesis, Int 20 (1966), 54-64; G. E. Ladd, The Problem of History in Contemporary NT Interpretation, StEv 5 (1968), 88-100; H. Conzelmann, History of the Discipline, An Outline of the Theology of the NT (1969), 3-8; M. Dibelius, Biblical Theology and the History of Biblical Religion, in Twentieth Century Theology in the Making, ed. J. Pelikan, 1 (1969), 23-31; B. S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (1970); G. E. Ladd, The Search for Perspective, Int 25 (1971), 41-62 — a defense of Heilsgeschichte; W. J. Harrington, The Path of Biblical Theology (1973); L. Goppelt, Theology of the NT (1981), 1:251-81; S. Neill and T. Wright, The Interpretation of the NT, 1861-1986 (1988). See also the bibliography on pp. 14f.

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, biblical study was completely subordinated to ecclesiastical dogma. The theology of the Bible was used only to reinforce the dogmatic teachings of the church, which were founded upon both the Bible and church tradition. Not the Bible alone, historically understood, but the Bible as interpreted by church tradition was the source of dogmatic theology.

The Reformation

The reformers reacted against the unbiblical character of dogmatic theology and insisted that theology must be founded on the Bible alone. Dogmatics should be the systematic formulation of the teachings of the Bible. This new emphasis led to a study of the original languages of Scripture and to a consciousness of the role of history in biblical theology. The reformers insisted that the Bible should be interpreted literally and not allegorically, and this led to the beginnings of a truly biblical theology. However, the reformers’ sense of history was imperfect, and the Old Testament was often interpreted not in its own historical setting but in terms of New Testament truth. For instance, Calvin writes as though the Jews knew and understood, albeit imperfectly, the New Testament doctrine of Christ (Institutes II, vi, 4).

Orthodox Scholasticism

The gains in the historical study of the Bible made by the reformers were soon lost in the post-Reformation period, and the Bible was once again used uncritically and unhistorically to support orthodox doctrine. The Bible was viewed not only as a book free from error and contradiction but also without development or progress. The entire Bible was looked upon as possessing one level of theological value. History was completely lost in dogma, and philology became a branch of dogmatics.

The Rationalist Reaction

Biblical theology as a distinctive discipline is a product of the impact of the Enlightenment upon biblical studies. A new approach to the study of the Bible emerged in the eighteenth century that gradually freed itself altogether from all ecclesiastical and theological control and interpreted the Bible with complete objectivity, viewing it solely as a product of history. Several interrelated influences produced this movement. The rise of rationalism with its reaction against supernaturalism, the development of the historical method, and the rise of literary criticism led to the treatment of the biblical records viewed no longer as the Word of God, given by the inspiration of the Spirit, but as human historical records like any other ancient literature.

These influences led to the conclusion that scholarship was not to seek a theology in the Bible but only the history of religion. The Bible is a compilation of ancient religious writings that preserves the history of an ancient Semitic people, and is to be studied with the same presuppositions with which one studies other Semitic religions. This conclusion was first clearly articulated by J. P. Gabler, who in an inaugural address in 1787 distinguished sharply between biblical theology and dogmatic theology. The former must be strictly historical and independent of dogmatic theology, tracing the rise of religious ideas in Israel and setting forth what the biblical writers thought about religious matters. Dogmatic theology, on the other hand, makes use of biblical theology, extracting from it what has universal relevance and making use of philosophical concepts. Dogmatic theology is that which a particular theologian decides about divine matters, considered philosophically and rationally in accordance with the outlook and demand of his or her own age, but biblical theology is concerned solely with what people believed long ago.

Gabler was essentially a rationalist, and his approach to biblical theology prevailed for some fifty years. Works on the theology of the Bible were written by Kaiser (1813), De Wette (1813), Baumgarten-Crusius (1828), and von Cölin (1836). Some scholars of this period were extremely rationalistic, finding in the Bible religious ideas that were in accord with the universal laws of reason. Others tried to reconcile Christian theology with the thought forms of the modern period. While rationalism as such is long since passé, it is obvious that this basic approach to the study of the Bible is still used by modern scholarship; and even the evangelical scholar employs the historical method, although with limitations.

The Rise of the Philosophy of Religion

Rationalism was superseded under the influence of the idealist philosophy of Hegel (d. 1831), who saw the Absolute Idea or Absolute Spirit eternally manifesting itself in the universe and in human affairs. Hegel taught that the movement of human thought followed the dialectic pattern from a position (thesis) to an opposite position (antithesis); and from the interaction of these two emerged a new insight or aspect of reality (synthesis). Hegel saw in the history of religion the evolution of Spirit in its dialectical apprehension of the divine, from nature religions, through religions of spiritual individuality, to the Absolute Religion, which is Christianity.

Under the influence of Hegel, F. C. Baur abandoned the rationalistic effort to find timeless truth in the New Testament, but in its stead found in the historical movements in the early church the unfolding of wisdom and spirit. The teaching of Jesus formed the point of departure. Jesus’ teachings were not yet theology but the expression of his religious consciousness. Theological reflection began over the question of the Law. Paul, the first theologian, took the position that the Christian was freed from the Law (thesis). Jewish Christianity, represented particularly by James and Peter, took the opposite position, that the Law was permanently valid and must remain an essential element in the Christian church (antithesis).* Baur interpreted the history of apostolic Christianity in terms of this conflict between Pauline and Judaistic Christianity. Out of the conflict emerged in the second century the Old Catholic Church, which effected a successful harmonization between these two positions (synthesis).

Baur was less concerned with the truth of the Scriptures than with the effort to trace historical development. He has made a lasting contribution, for the principle that biblical theology is inseparably related to history is sound, even though Baur’s application of this principle is not. Baur’s interpretation gave rise to the so-called Tübingen School, which had great influence in German New Testament studies.

The Conservative Reaction

These new approaches to the study of the Bible naturally met with strong resistance in orthodox circles, not only from those who denied the validity of an historical approach but from those who tried to combine the historical approach with a belief in revelation. Influential was E. W. Hengstenberg’s Chris-tology of the OT (1829-35) and History of the Kingdom of God under the OT (1869-71). Hengstenberg saw little progress in revelation and made little distinction between the two testaments, and interpreted the prophets spiritually with little reference to history. A more historical approach was structured by J. C. K. Hofmann in a series of writings beginning in 1841 (Prophecy and Fulfillment). He attempted to vindicate the authority and inspiration of the Bible by historical means, developing his Heilsgeschichte (history of salvation) theology. Hofmann found in the Bible a record of the process of saving or holy history that aims at the redemption of all humanity. This process will not be fully completed until the eschatological consummation. He tried to assign every book of the Bible to its logical place in the scheme of the history of redemption. These scholars, who comprised the so-called Erlangen School, did not regard the Bible primarily as a collection of proof texts or a repository of doctrine but as the witness to what God had done in saving history. They held that the prepositional statements in Scripture were not meant to be an end in themselves nor an object of faith, but were designated to bear witness to the redemptive acts of God (cf. also J. A. Bengel and J. T. Beck).

The Erlangen school had great influence in conservative circles upon such scholars as F. A. G. Tholuck, T. Zahn, and P. Feine, and is represented in the theologies of F. Buchsel (1937), A. Schlatter (1909), and Ethelbert Stauffer (1941).¹ Stauffer rejects the systems of doctrine approach and does not try to trace the development of the Christian understanding of the person and work of Jesus. Rather, he presents a Christocentric theology of history in the New Testament, i.e., the theology of the plan of salvation enacted in New Testament history. The book has the defects of not distinguishing between canonical and noncanonical writings and of ignoring the variety of the several interpretations of the meaning of Christ in the New Testament.

A new form of the Heilsgeschichte theology has emerged in recent years, for there is a widespread recognition that revelation has occurred in redemptive history, and that Heilsgeschichte is the best key to understand the unity of the Bible. This will be developed later.

Liberalism and Historicism in New Testament Theology

Bultmann has pointed out that the logical consequence of Baur’s method would have been a complete relativism,² for the liberal mind could not conceive of absolute truth in the relativities of history (cf. Lessing’s ugly ditch). This was avoided by the influence of romanticism, by which personality is interpreted as a history-forming power. Under the influence of Ritschlian theology, the essence of Christianity was interpreted as a pure spiritual-ethical religion, which was proclaimed by and embodied in the life and mission of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is the highest good, the ethical ideal. The heart of religion is personal fellowship with God as Father.

This theological interpretation was reinforced by the solution of the Synoptic problem with its discovery of the priority of Mark and the hypothetical document, Q. Scholars of this old liberalism believed that in these most primitive documents, historical science had at last discovered the true Jesus, freed from all theological interpretation. Biblical theologians of this school began with this historical picture of the ethical religion of Jesus and then traced the diverse systems of doctrine (Lehrbegriffe) that emerged as the result of later reflection and speculation. The great classic of this school is H. J. Holtzmann’s Lehrbuch der NT Theologie (1896-97, 19112). Paul Wernle’s The Beginning of Our Religion (1903-4) is another illustration. Adolf von Harnack’s What Is Christianity? (1901) is a classic statement of this liberal view.

This old liberal approach influenced even conservative writers. Both B. Weiss (Theology of the NT, 1868, Eng. 1903) and W. Beyschlag (NT Theology, 1891, Eng. 1895) interpreted Jesus primarily in spiritual terms, placing great emphasis upon the centrality of the Fatherhood of God. These men are conservative in that they recognize the reality of revelation and the validity of the canon; but their picture of Jesus shares the features of liberalism. They also employ the systems of doctrine method, Weiss going so far as to discover four different periods of theological development in Paul, which he treats separately. This approach is found in English in the writings of Orello Cone, The Gospel and Its Earliest Interpreters (1893); G. B. Stevens, The Theology of the NT (1899); E. P. Gould, The Biblical Theology of the NT (1900); and A. C. Zenos, The Plastic Age of the Gospel (1927). The same method is used by even more conservative writers in Germany, such as T. Zahn, Grundriss der NT Theologie (1932) and P. Feine, Theologie des NT (1910, 1950).

The Victory of Religion over Theology

Along with liberalism developed the religionsgeschichte Schule (history-of-religions school). Liberalism found the distinctive element in biblical theology in the simple ethical teachings of Jesus. While its representatives paid some attention to the influence of the religious environment of early Christianity (Holtzmann’s theology devoted 120 pages to sketching Jewish and Hellenistic backgrounds), yet the essence of Christianity was treated as something unique. Holtzmann does recognize Hellenistic influences on Paul.

Otto Pfleiderer presaged a new approach. The first edition of Das Urchristentum (1887) took the same position as Harnack and Holtzmann; but in the second edition (1902, Eng. 1906, Primitive Christianity), he interpreted many elements in New Testament theology in terms of their religious environment. The program for this new approach was sounded by W. Wrede in 1897 in a little book entitled Concerning the Task and Method of the So-called NT Theology.³ He attacked the prevailing method of interpreting New Testament theology as a series of doctrinal systems, for the Christian faith is religion, not theology or a system of ideas. New Testament theology has the task, not of formulating timeless truths, whether these be mediated by a supernatural revelation or discovered by rational thought, but of formulating expressions of the living religious experiences of early Christianity understood in the light of the religious environment. Therefore the theology of the New Testament must be displaced by the history of religion in primitive Christianity.

This new approach had distinct centers of interest: the interpretation of New Testament ideas in terms of expressions of religious experience, and the explanation of the rise of these religious experiences and ideas in terms of the religious environment. One of the first to attempt the former task was H. Weinel in his Biblische Theologie des NT (1913, 19284). Weinel had no interest in the value or truth of Christianity but only in its nature in comparison with other religions. He set forth types of religions against which Christianity is to be understood as an ethical religion of redemption. Books in English that reflect this influence are S. J. Case, The Evolution of Early Christianity (1914); E. W. Parsons, The Religion of the NT (1939); and E. F. Scott, The Varieties of NT Religion (1943).

The basic assumptions of this approach led to very different treatments of Jesus and Paul. In 1892, J. Weiss published a slim little booklet of sixty-seven pages on The Preaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God⁴ in which he interpreted Jesus’ message of the Kingdom in terms of the milieu of Jewish apocalyptic. This approach was made famous by Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906, Eng. 1910), which gives a history of the interpretation of Jesus and then in a hundred pages interprets Jesus in terms of Consistent Eschatology, i.e., as a Jewish apocalyptist who belongs to first-century Judaism and has little relevance for the modern person. This preacher of eschatology is diametrically opposed to the ethical teacher of the pure religion of the Fatherhood of God of Harnack and Holtzmann, and it has become clear that the old liberal Jesus was a distinct modernization. Eschatology, instead of being the husk (Harnack), was shown to be the very kernel of Jesus’ message.

If Jesus was interpreted in terms of the milieu of Jewish apocalyptic, Paul was interpreted in terms of Hellenistic Judaism or the Hellenistic cult and mystery religions. Some scholars, like W. Bousset, still interpreted Jesus along the lines of liberalism but applied the religionsgeschichte Methode (history-of-religions method) to Paul. M. Brückner argued that Paul found a ready-made doctrine of a heavenly man in Judaism, which he applied to Jesus. H. Gunkel held that there had sprung up in the Orient a syncretistic religion, gnostic in character, with faith in the resurrection as its central doctrine. This pre-Christian gnosticism had penetrated Judaism, and through this medium influenced Christianity, even before Paul. W. Bousset put this view on a firmer basis by arguing that gnosticism was not an heretical new formation in Christianity, as Harnack had supposed, but was a pre-Christian pagan phenomenon, oriental rather than Greek, and religious and mystical rather than philosophical. In his Kyrios Christos⁵ Bousset traced the history of belief in Jesus in the early church, and sharply distinguished between the religious consciousness of Jesus, the faith of primitive Christianity that held Jesus to be the transcendental Son of Man of Jewish apocalyptic, and the view of the Hellenistic church and Paul, who held Jesus to be a divinity, like the Greek cult lords.

The most important theology embodying this approach is that of Rudolf Bultmann (1951). Bultmann differs from Bousset in that he interprets Jesus in terms of Jewish apocalyptic; but he follows him in his understanding of the Hellenistic church and Paul. However, Bultmann added a new feature in his existential understanding of these New Testament myths that will be discussed below.

The Contemporary Return to Biblical Theology

During the 1920s a new viewpoint began to make itself felt that resulted in a revival of biblical theology. Dentan suggests three factors that contributed to this: a loss of faith in evolutionary naturalism; a reaction against the purely historical method that claimed complete objectivity and believed in the adequacy of bare facts to disclose the truth of history; and the recovery of the idea of revelation.⁶ This led to the conviction that the Bible contained both history and a word concerning the ultimate meaning of history. This new approach to theology has changed the complexion of New Testament studies. The historical assurance of liberalism had been challenged by Martin Kähler in a far-seeing book that was ahead of its times but that has proven to be crucial for the modern debate. Kahler structured the problem in terms of "The So-called Historical (historische) Jesus and the Historic (geschichtliche) Biblical Christ."⁷ The historische Jesus was the picture of Jesus reconstructed by the liberal critical method. Kähler argued that this Jesus never really existed in history but only in the critical reconstruction of scholarship. The only Jesus who possesses reality is the Christ pictured in the Bible, whose character is such that he cannot be reconstructed by the methods of modem scientific historiography. The Gospels are not historical (historische) documents in the scientific sense of the term, but witnesses to the Christ. They are kerygma, not history; and it is impossible to get behind the kerygma. Indeed, the historical Jesus serves only to obscure from us the living biblical Christ. The real geschichtliche Christ is the Christ who is attested in the Gospels and preached by the church.

Another signpost pointing in the same direction was the book by W. Wrede, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels (1901).⁸ Wrede shattered the liberal portrait of the historical Jesus by showing that the Jesus of Mark was not the inspired prophet but a messianic (divine) being. Wrede differed from Kähler in that he did not accept the Markan portrait of Jesus as true but attempted to explain historically how the nonmessianic, historical Jesus became the messianic Christ of the Gospels.

In the years that followed, gospel criticism turned to the study of the oral stage of the gospel tradition (Formgeschichte [history of forms]) to try to discover the laws controlling the tradition that could explain the transformation of the historical Jesus into the kerygmatic (divine) Christ. One outstanding positive result of this study is the admission that form criticism could not find in any stratum of the gospel tradition a purely historical (i.e., human) Jesus. This has issued in two different results. On the one hand is the agnosticism of such form critics as Rudolf Bultmann, who feels that the historical Jesus has been so hidden beyond the Christ of faith that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus. Bultmann sees only discontinuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of the kerygma, and he has excluded Jesus from the subject matter of New Testament theology. R. H. Lightfoot in England has taken a similar position.

On the other hand, E. H. Hoskyns and Noel Davey in The Riddle of the NT (1931) show that all of the evidence of the New Testament converges on a single point: that in Jesus God revealed himself for human salvation. The critical method has revealed most clearly the living unity of the New Testament documents. The historian is compelled to state that both the unity and uniqueness of this claim are historical facts. This claim, while occurring in history, transcends history, for it demands of the historian what an historian may not give: a theological judgment of ultimate significance.

This kerygmatic interpretation of New Testament theology received its greatest impetus through the writings of C. H. Dodd. In his inaugural lecture at Cambridge University, Dodd called for a new emphasis on the unity of New Testament thought in place of the analytic approach that had prevailed throughout the preceding century. In the same year he implemented his own suggestion in The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments. Dodd finds the unity of the New Testament message in the kerygma, the heart of which is the proclamation that the New Age has come in the person and mission of Jesus. Here, for the first time, a single biblical concept was used to relate all the New Testament materials into a unified development. Dodd has enlarged upon this thesis in The Parables of the Kingdom (1935) and The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953), interpreting both the message of Jesus and of the Gospel of John in terms of the inbreaking of the Age to Come. While this approach is sound in principle, Dodd’s work has the defect of understanding the Age to Come in terms of platonic thought rather than biblical eschatology. The Age to Come is the wholly other, the eternal breaking into the temporal, instead of the future age breaking into the present age.

This kerygmatic approach has produced an extensive literature. The outstanding American protagonist has been F. V. Filson. His One Lord, One Faith (1943) defends the unity of the New Testament message, and his Jesus Christ the Risen Lord (1956) argues that New Testament theology must understand New Testament history from the theological point of view, i.e., of the living God who acts in history, the most notable event being the resurrection of Christ. Filson interprets the entire New Testament theology in the light of the resurrection.

A. M. Hunter expounded The Unity of the NT (1944; published in America under the title The Message of the NT) in terms of One Lord, One Church, One Salvation. More recently, in a slim volume Introducing NT Theology (1957), he has interpreted the Fact of Christ, including in this term the totality of what Jesus Christ’s coming involved, his person, work and words, of course, but also the Resurrection, the advent of the Spirit and the creation of the new Israel… (9).

Oscar Cullmann also follows the Heilsgeschichte (history of salvation) interpretation, and provides an excellent corrective for Dodd’s platonic approach. In Christ and Time (1946, Eng. 1950), he argued that the New Testament finds its unity in a common conception of time and history rather than in ideas of essence, nature, eternal or existential truth. Theology is the meaning of the historical in time. In Cullmann’s work, Heilsgeschichte theology has emerged in a new form; and the principle of Heilsgeschichte as the unifying center of New Testament theology has been widely recognized. We can accept the basic validity of Cullmann’s approach without agreeing with him that the New Testament shows no interest in questions of nature and being but only in functional Christology.⁹ Cullmann has published a second volume, Salvation in History (1967), in which he contrasts Heilsgeschichte with existential theology.

Alan Richardson in his Introduction to the Theology of the NT (1958) assumes the kerygmatic approach by accepting the hypothesis that the brilliant re-interpretation of the Old Testament scheme of salvation which is found in the New Testament goes back to Jesus himself and is not the product of the believing community. In an essay on Historical Theology and Biblical Theology, Richardson argues that biblical theology cannot use a purely objective, scientific, neutral approach, but must interpret the biblical history from the standpoint of a biblical faith.¹⁰

W. G. Kümmel’s The Theology of the NT according to Its Major Witnesses (1969, Eng. tr. 1973) may well be characterized within the Heilsgeschichte school. In this first volume he deals only with Jesus, the Primitive Church, Paul, and John, and he is particularly concerned to find the central message of the chief witnesses. He finds this in the saving act of God in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has begun his salvation promised for the end of the world, and in this Christ event, God encounters us to rescue us from imprisonment in this world and free us to love. This divine activity is expressed differently by the several witnesses, but all four in different ways attest to the central redeeming event in the history of Jesus Christ.

The Bultmannian School

The exponents of this kerygmatic approach assume that the Christ proclaimed in the kerygma is continuous with the historical Jesus. The kerygmatic factor is the interpretive element that necessarily accompanies the event. This position has been radically rejected by the most influential twentieth-century German New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann is also a kerygmatic theologian, but he uses the concept of the kerygma and of Geschichte (history) very differently from the scholars discussed above. The Jesus of history, for Bultmann, has been quite obscured behind the layers of believing tradition, which reinterpreted the significance of the Jesus of history in terms of mythology. Historically, Jesus was only a Jewish prophet who proclaimed the imminent apocalyptic end of the world and warned people to prepare for the catastrophe of judgment. He conceived of himself neither as Messiah nor as Son of Man. He did, however, possess an overwhelming sense of the reality of God, and he realized that he was the bearer of the Word of God for the last hour, which placed men and women under the demand for decision. His death was an incomparable tragedy, which was, however, redeemed from meaninglessness by the Christian belief in his resurrection. The early church reinterpreted Jesus, first in terms of the Jewish apocalyptic Son of Man, and then in terms of a conflated apocalyptic Son of Man and gnostic heavenly man. All of this is, however, mythological kerygma by which the early church reinterpreted the meaning of Christ for them. The kerygma, i.e., the early church’s proclamation of Christ, is an historical fact in the life of early Christianity, and therefore there is continuity between the Jesus of history and the kerygma. It was Jesus who gave rise to the kerygma. If there had been no Jesus, there would have been no kerygma. However, the Christ who is proclaimed in the kerygma is purely a mythological construction and had no existence in history, for mythology by definition is nonhistorical. Therefore, there can be no continuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of the kerygma. The kerygma is the expression of the meaning Christ had for the early Christians, formulated in mythological terms.

Bultmann’s interpretation of New Testament theology is controlled by three facts. First, historical reality must be understood in terms of unbroken historical causality. If God is thought to act in history, the action must always be hidden in historical events and evident only to the eye of faith.¹¹ All ideas of supernatural acts — real incarnation, virgin birth, miracles, bodily resurrection, etc. — are ipso facto unhistorical but mythological. Second, the Synoptic Gospels give us such a theological picture of Jesus that they cannot be historical. The historische Jesus is nearly lost from sight behind the geschichtliche Christ of the church’s faith. Third, this is no loss for theology, for faith cannot rest itself upon the security of historical research but must trust only the bare Word of God in the kerygma. However, the kerygma itself is expressed in mythological terms and must therefore be demythologized to yield its existential meaning. Humankind can achieve authentic existence — freedom from the past and openness to the future — only by faith in the demythologized kerygma, not in the Jesus of history. Bultmann sees no continuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith — only between the Jesus of history and the kerygma.

The New Quest for the Historicaljesus

Bultmann’s followers have been disturbed by the extremeness of his position, which divorced the historical Jesus from Christian faith and removed him from Christian theology. They have therefore initiated a new quest for the historical Jesus, who will stand in a measure of continuity with the Christ of the kerygma. This new quest takes its beginning in the 1954 essay of Bultmann’s student Ernst Kasemann (Eng. tr., The Problem of the Historical Jesus [Essays on NT Themes (1964), 15-47]). The new quest proceeds by postulating the same authentic existence in response to the historical Jesus as to the kerygma. The most notable products of this post-Bultmannian school to date have been James Robinson’s A New Quest of the Historical Jesus (1959), G. Bomkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960), and Hans Conzelmann’s An Outline of the Theology of the NT (1969).

Joachim Jeremias represents an independent position. He does not consider himself one of the new questers, for he has never given up the old quest. He thinks that by form criticism he can strip off the layers of accretion in the gospel tradition and discover the ipsissima vox if not the ipsissima verba of the historical Jesus. Here alone is revelation to be found in the message of Jesus. The epistles are not revelation but the response of the believing community to the revelation in Jesus. Jesus possessed unique authority as the Son of God to reveal the Father. In the historical Jesus, we find ourselves confronted by God himself. Jesus proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God and anticipated his own exaltation as the heavenly Son of Man. He saw himself as the Suffering Servant giving his life for the sins of humanity. In the resurrection, his disciples experienced his parousia, which meant his enthronement in heaven and the coming of the eschaton. His most notable works in this connection are The Problem of the Historical Jesus (1964) and NT Theology (1971).

The American Scene

American scholarship has not been noted for its creative contribution to New Testament theology. The last full-scale textbook that treated the discipline in a comprehensive manner was that of George Barker Stevens, The Theology of the NT (1906).

The last twenty-five years have witnessed a debate between a theological approach to New Testament interpretation and a strictly scientific approach that insists that considerations of faith belong to the discipline of systematic theology. New Testament theology must interpret the Scriptures by the thoroughgoing application of the historical-critical method. C. C. McCown argued that history is the result of the complex interaction of natural and social forces and the actions and reactions of men and women. God acts only through human beings (JBL 75 [1956], 12-18; see his book The Search for the Real Jesus [1940]). H. J. Cadbury labeled the theology of history approach as archaizing and therefore unscientific (Int 3 [1949], 331-37). This scientific approach was more interested in religion than in theology.¹² Millar Burrows wrote An Outline of Biblical Theology (1946) in which he defines theology as the elements in biblical religion that are of timeless worth and abiding significance. As we might expect, this school, if it can be called such, has been little interested in trying to produce works in New Testament theology.

Other scholars have espoused a theological approach to the interpretation of the New Testament, insisting that so-called scientific objectivity was neither desirable nor attainable, and maintaining that revelation has truly occurred in history, but is recognizable only by the eyes of faith.¹³ This has been the most notable movement in American New Testament theology, and it has been documented in Connolly Gamble, Jr., The Literature of Biblical Theology, Int 7 (1953), 466-80, and in G. E. Ladd, The Search for Perspective,/«r 25 (1971), 41-43. A. N. Wilder, surveying the scene in New Testament theology, considered Heilsgeschichte or Geschichtstheologie (theology of history) to be the most promising approach to the contemporary task.¹⁴ While this approach is to be found in numerous periodical articles, it has produced only a few books. Among these are Otto Piper’s God in History (1939), which explicitly defends Heilsgeschichte; Floyd V. Filson’s Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord (1956), a brief New Testament theology as seen through the perspective of the resurrection; and John Wick Bowman’s Religion of Maturity (1948) and Prophetic Realism and the Gospel (1955). Bowman strongly defends the position that revelation has occurred on the plane of history, but he appears to go altogether too far in rejecting the religion of the throne, namely, apocalyptic.¹⁵ Even F. C. Grant recognizes the concept of Heilsgeschichte.¹⁶

One of the characteristics of most of these books is that they use the topical or synthetic rather than the historical or analytical approach. W. D. Davies has produced an excellent survey that deals with the Synoptics, Paul, and John,¹⁷ but its level is more for laypeople than for students. Ralph Knudsen and Frank Stagg have both written topical surveys in New Testament theology,¹⁸ but they are both too limited in scope to serve theological students.

Although this movement of biblical theology has recently been pronounced dead,¹⁹ Brevard Childs surveys it in Biblical Theology in Crisis (1970). The crisis, he feels, is due to the fact that the biblical theology movement tried to combine a liberal critical methodology with a normative biblical theology. The movement failed to bridge the gap between exegesis and theology. This can be done, Childs thinks, only by viewing the Bible in its own context, that of canonical literature. The Bible must be recognized as the normative vehicle of revelation, and therefore as inspired.

Gerhard Hasel has given us an excellent survey of Old Testament theology in OT Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (1972) in which he deals with the same issues that confront us in New Testament theology. He insists that there is a transcendent or divine dimension in Biblical history which the historical-critical method is unable to deal with (85). Biblical theology must be done from a starting point that is biblical-historical in orientation. Only this approach can deal adequately with the reality of God and his inbreaking into history. This is the methodology employed by the present writer in the study of New Testament theology.

With the exception of dispensational writers,²⁰ American evangelicals have made little contribution to New Testament theological literature. The only comprehensive work is that of Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (1948), but it breaks off abmptly in the middle of Jesus’ ministry, and is more a long essay on revelation in the Old Testament than a biblical theology. His Self-Disclosure of Jesus (1926), long out of date, has some chapters that are still of great value for the christological problem of the New Testament. A spokesperson for Evangelicalism has said, If evangelical Protestants do not overcome their preoccupation with negative criticism of contemporary theological deviations at the expense of the construction of preferable alternatives to these, they will not be much of a doctrinal force in the decade ahead.²¹ It is to meet this challenge that the present book was written.

Biblical Theology in the Last Twenty Years (D. A. Hagner)

Literature: B. S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia, 1970); N. Perrin, The Challenge of NT Theology Today, in NT Issues, ed. R. Batey (New York, 1970), 15-34; G. E. Ladd, The Search for Perspective, Int 25 (1971), 41-62; J. M. Robinson, Introduction: The Dismantling and Reassembling of the Categories of NT Scholarship and Kerygma and History in the NT, in J. M. Robinson and H. Koester, Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia, 1971), 1-19, 20-70; R. Morgan, The Nature of NT Theology: The Contribution of William Wrede and Adolf Schlatter (London, 1973); R. C. Morgan, A Straussian Question to ‘NT Theology,’ NTS 23 (1977), 243-65; G. Hasel, NT Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, 1978); H. Boers, What is NT Theology? The Rise of Criticism and the Problem of a Theology of the NT (Philadelphia, 1979); J. D. Smart, The Past, Present, and Future of Biblical Theology (Philadelphia, 1979); P. Stuhlmacher, The Gospel of Reconciliation in Christ — Basic Features and Issues of a Biblical Theology of the NT, HorBT 1 (1979), 161-90; R. P. Martin, NT Theology: A Proposal. The Theme of Reconciliation, ET 91 (1980), 364-68; C. K. Barrett, What is NT Theology? Some Reflections, HorBT 3 (1981), 1-22; L. Goppelt, Theology of the NT (Grand Rapids, 1981-82), especially 1:3-11; D. Guthrie, NT Theology: A Thematic Study (Downers Grove, IL, 1981); B. S. Childs, Some Reflections on the Search for a Biblical Theology, HorBT 4 (1982), 1-12; G. F. Hasel, Biblical Theology: Then, Now, and Tomorrow, HorBT 4 (1982), 61-93; W. Zimmer Ii, Biblical Theology, HorBT 4 (1982), 95-130; C. K. Barrett, The Centre of the NT and the Canon, in Die Mitte des NT, ed. U. Luz and H. Weder (Göttingen, 1983), 5-21; P. D. Hanson, The Future of Biblical Theology, HorBT 6 (1984), 13-24; B. C. Ollenburger, Biblical Theology: Situating the Discipline, in Understanding the Word, ed. J. T. Butler, E. W. Conrad, and B. C. Ollenburger (Sheffield, 1985), 37-62; idem, What Krister Stendahl ‘Meant’ — A Normative Critique of ‘Descriptive Biblical Theology,’ HorBT 4 (1986), 61-98; L. Morris, NT Theology (Grand Rapids, 1986); H. G. Reventlow, Problems of Biblical Theology in the Twentieth Century (1986); J. D. G. Dunn, The Task of NT Theology, in J. D. G. Dunn and J. P. Mackey, NT Theology in Dialogue: Christology and Ministry (London, 1987), 1-26; R. Scroggs, Can NT Theology Be Saved? The Threat of Contextualisms, USQR 42 (1988), 17-31; J. R. Donahue, The Changing Shape of NT Theology, HorBT 11 (1989), 1-30; R. H. Fuller, NT Theology, in The NT and Its Modern Interpreters, ed. E. J. Epp and G. W. MacRae (Philadelphia and Atlanta, 1989), 565-84; I. H. Marshall, NT Theology, in Jesus the Saviour (Downers Grove, IL, 1990), 15-34; H. Räisänen, Beyond NT Theology: A Story and a Programme (Philadelphia, 1990); A. K. M. Adam, Biblical Theology and the Problem of Modernity: Von Wredestrasse zu Sackgasse, HorBT 12 (1990), 1-18; J. M. Bassler (ed.), Pauline Theology 1 (Minneapolis, 1991), especially 1-36 (J. P. Sampley, J. C. Beker, and P. J. Achtemeier); J. Reumann (ed.), The Promise and Practice of Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, 1991); C. H. H. Scobie, The Challenge of Biblical Theology, TB 42 (1991), 31-61; idem, The Structure of Biblical Theology, TB 42 (1991), 163-94; B. C. Ollenburger, E. A. Martens, and G. F. Hasel (eds.), The Flowering of OT Theology: A Reader in Twentieth-Century OT Theology, 1930-1990 (Winona Lake, IN, 1992); C. H. H. Scobie, Three Twentieth Biblical Theologies, HorBT 14 (1992), 51-69; B. S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible (Minneapolis, 1993).

This section presents a very brief description of the developments in biblical theology, more specifically New Testament theology, in the two decades since the first edition of this book. Already by the time Ladd wrote, the discipline of biblical theology was in turmoil; indeed, it was said to be in a serious crisis.²² The crisis was not one that Ladd felt, however, for two reasons. First, he had not bought fully into the American form of neoorthodoxy found in the so-called biblical theology movement; second, he was willing to modify the historical-critical method to make it more appropriate to the subject matter of the New Testament (see the remainder of this chapter). Thus Ladd wrote his New Testament theology with what today may look like an astonishing amount of self-confidence.

The prophecies of the death of biblical theology were, fortunately, premature. But apart from recent notable exceptions from Germany and from English-speaking evangelicals (see below), the ongoing work of New Testament theologians has been limited to certain aspects of the subject or to method rather than including the actual production of comprehensive theologies.²³ L. E. Keek’s vivid metaphor can also be applied to New Testament theology when he describes the state of theology in general as being like a state fair without a midway: Everything is going on at the same time and there is no main exhibit.²⁴ The situation of New Testament theology at present, or at least much of it, may be fairly described as one of methodological confusion.

This confusion is caused by the emergence of a great variety of new methods in the study of the New Testament. It is, in fact, astonishing how the field of New Testament studies has developed in the two decades since Ladd wrote. In their quest for better understanding of the New Testament, scholars have turned increasingly to other disciplines. The list has become almost endless: Some, like semantics and semiology, come from linguistics; others, like narra-tology, rhetorical criticism, and reader-response theory derive primarily from what must be called the newer literary criticism.²⁵ The lines are not always clear, however. Some, like structuralism, deconstruction, and newer emphases in hermeneutics, overlap categories; some like canon criticism form their own categories. In addition, some have turned to such disciplines as sociology, anthropology, and even psychology. Also impinging on recent study of the New Testament are what may be called special agendas, such as feminist, black, and two-thirds world hermeneutics.

Precisely how all this ferment will affect New Testament theology remains unclear. Certain of the newer emphases would seem very problematic. We restrict ourselves here to two related areas of concern. First, some advocates of the newer literary-critical approaches insist that the narratives of the New Testament be understood in a strictly nonreferential way. From their point of view the Gospels, for example, should be understood as stories of self-contained meaning altogether apart from any reference to the real world. This means that historical questions are sidestepped as irrelevant. We derive meaning from these narratives in the same way that we do from novels and other works of art. Second, some advocates of reader-response criticism argue that the only significant meaning a text has is that imposed upon it by the reader. All attempts, therefore, to ascertain the intended meaning of the writers of the New Testament are not only unnecessary, but futile. One interpretation — any interpretation, nearly — of the texts is as good as another. It should be obvious how disastrous such conclusions as these are for New Testament theology, at least as traditionally understood.

Fortunately, it is only extremists who want to push these new methods to such lengths. We can still learn many valid insights from the application of these new disciplines to the New Testament. This includes not only those disciplines that can be regarded as refined extensions of what has already been studied as a part of traditional historical-critical exegesis, but even those that treat the text as an object in itself. Thus reader-response criticism rightly calls attention to the unavoidable involvement of the reader in the construal of the meaning of a text. Nonreferential approaches to texts rightly remind us that texts should be considered as whole entities and that analysis of story-like aspects of historical narratives can prove enlightening. What remains vitally important, however, is that these methods be seen as supplementary to, and not as displacing, the historical-critical method. The latter must continue to hold its fundamental place in the interpretation of the biblical documents. It is nothing less than indispensable.²⁶

The newer methods have already begun to impact New Testament theology through specialized studies.²⁷ But we are less likely to see comprehensive New Testament theologies written strictly from the perspective and orientation of any of these new approaches.²⁸ The reason for this is that a comprehensive New Testament theology of necessity must grapple with questions that the newer methods in themselves are not equipped to handle. Much more probable will be an enriching of the standard approaches. In some respects it is easy to see how this might happen — for example, in the use of sociological insights. In others, for example some of the newer literary criticism, it is less easy to envision.

In only one instance thus far has there been an attempt to do a comprehensive theology from the perspective of one of the newer trends. The same Brevard Childs who articulated the crisis of biblical theology in 1970 has now produced a theology of the Bible, i.e., of both testaments, from the perspective of canonical criticism.²⁹ In surprisingly many respects, however, this new work seems traditional, a kind of historical-critical biblical theology done only with special emphasis on the totality of the canon. For all the differences that could be noted, one does not feel that one has moved into a thoroughly different orbit than Ladd’s. Among less substantial treatments we may note the work of H. C. Kee, who under the rubric covenant and social identity has made an approach to New Testament theology that utilizes the results of a sociological approach to the New Testament.³⁰ Narrative analysis has been applied thus far primarily in the area of christology.³¹

The few comprehensive theologies that have appeared in the last twenty years show little signs of the influence of the recent trends in New Testament studies. Two New Testament theologies written in the English language from an evangelical perspective have been published since Ladd’s. The first, and superior of the two, is by the late D. Guthrie (1981). Guthrie proceeds by subject, beginning with God, Man and his world, Christology, etc. To some extent Guthrie alleviates the problems associated with a thematic approach by grouping the material in each section according to source, thus providing some historical perspective. Still, it must be said that Guthrie’s use of the framework of systematic theology does not do full justice to the historical nature of the enterprise of biblical theology.³²

Leon Morris published his much smaller Theology in 1986. He proceeds in the more customary manner of examining the various writers of the New Testament in approximately chronological order, beginning with Paul. While Morris does not deny development in the New Testament writers, he is not optimistic about our ability to trace that development.

Large-scale New Testament theologies continue to come from German scholars. That of L. Goppelt appeared posthumously in 1974 and became available in a two-volume English translation in 1981 and 1982. Ladd’s and Goppelt’s theologies, though completely independent of each other, share basically the same perspective, namely that of salvation history, and the similarity of approach shows that Ladd’s theology still has reason to be considered viable. Two new German multivolume New Testament theologies have begun to appear. Hans Hübner has produced a volume devoted to prolegomena, in which he deals at length with the theological relationship of the Old Testament and New Testament.³³ Peter Stuhlmacher covers Jesus and Paul in his first volume.³⁴ Stuhlmacher’s work is certain to be translated into English and will be of particular interest to evangelical readers. Here again is a major work that in significant ways can be aligned with both Goppelt and Ladd.

Thus it does not seem that Ladd’s theology, although approaching twenty years old, should at all be thought of as outmoded or passe. Indeed, in its basic orientation, Ladd continues to remain appealing. The reason for this is very simply Ladd’s commitment to the historical study of the New Testament, but with an openness to its theological truth. He sees his task as fundamentally a descriptive one, focusing on what the text meant. But since he accepts the Bible as the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world, he therefore accepts the normative character of the New Testament witness and its ongoing relevance for humanity today, i.e., the importance of what it means.³⁵ Ladd thus refuses to regard New Testament theology as merely the history of early Christian experience.³⁶ Ladd employs the historical-critical method, but in a modified form that allows him to remain open to the possibility of the transcendent and thus enables him to do justice to the content of the materials being studied.

It is for these reasons that when J. D. Smart spoke of the future of biblical theology, one place he saw hope was in the Evangelicalism represented by Ladd, whom he names specifically. For Smart the promise lies with scholars who have begun to combine a thorough-going historical scholarship with their deeply rooted devotion to a biblical faith.³⁷ If one looks furthermore at G. Hasel’s basic proposals toward a New Testament theology,³⁸ one must conclude that if Ladd has not succeeded totally, he must certainly be judged as heading in the right direction.

Without question Ladd’s theology reflects the orientation of a specific interpretive community, that known widely as Evangelicalism. It was Ladd who was especially instrumental in helping many fundamentalists to see for the first time not merely the acceptability, but the indispensability, of historical criticism.³⁹ Evangelicals — at least many of them — have become more open to many of the conclusions of critical scholarship (in regard to, for example, the authorship and dating of New Testament writings and the implications for development within the New Testament) in the twenty years since Ladd wrote. They continue, however, to share the basic convictions embodied in Ladd’s approach to biblical theology. For all the actual diversity in the New Testament writings there remains an unforced and genuine unity among them at the same time.⁴⁰ For all the historical particularity of these writings they continue to possess a normative authority for the church. And if, as J. Reumann has recently written, the ultimate test for any biblical theology will be whether it enables faith and obedience to God’s word,⁴¹ that practical concern was close to the heart of Ladd. Ladd’s interpretive community continues to cherish the goals of faith and obedience. At their best, evangelicals will cultivate openness to all that increases faith and leads to a more effective obedience.

B. Biblical Theology, History, and Revelation

Literature: Richardson, History Sacred and Profane (1964); V. A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief (1966); E. Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (1975); P. Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (1977); F. Hahn, Historical Investigation and NT Faith (1983); R. H. Nash, Christian Faith and Historical Understanding (1984); C. Brown, History and Faith (1987); D. A. Hagner, The NT, History, and the Historical-Critical Method, in NT Criticism and Interpretation, ed. D. A. Black and D. S. Dockery (1991), 73-96.

Biblical theology is that discipline which sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting. Biblical theology is primarily a descriptive discipline.⁴² It is not initially concerned with the final meaning of the teachings of the Bible or their relevance for today. This is the task of systematic theology.⁴³ Biblical theology has the task of expounding the theology found in the Bible in its own historical setting, and its own terms, categories, and thought forms. It is the obvious intent of the Bible to tell a story about God and his acts in history for humanity’s salvation. For Bultmann the idea of revelation in history is mythological. He argues that the real intent of the New Testament is to describe humanity’s existential situation. However, this is modernization. Mythology or not, the intent of the Bible is to tell a story about what God has done, which also affects human existence. However, biblical theology cannot be blind to the second question: the truthfulness of the biblical story.

The problem is that presuppositions about the nature of history have continued to interject themselves into the reconstruction of the biblical message. For instance, the Gospels represent Jesus as a divine man and as being conscious of his divine power. Can this be true to history? For scholars who feel bound by a secularistic historical method, history has no room for divine persons. Therefore, behind the Jesus of the Gospels must be hidden an historical Jesus. The New Testament pictures the church as being founded by the resurrection of Christ. Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? In ordinary historical experience, dead people do not rise. Such presuppositions affect the methodology of biblical theologians.

However, since biblical theology is concerned with the self-revelation of God and with the redemption of women and men, the very idea of revelation and redemption involves certain presuppositions that are everywhere implicit and often explicit in the Bible. These presuppositions are God, humanity, and sin. The reality of God is everywhere assumed. The Bible is not concerned to prove God or to discuss theism in a philosophical manner. It assumes a personal, powerful, self-existent being who is creator of the world and of humankind, and who is concerned about humanity. The divine concern is caused by human sin, which has brought humanity into a state of separation from God and carries with it the doom of death. The human plight has affected not only individual existence, but also both the course of history and the world of nature in which humanity is placed. Redemption is the divine activity whose objective is the deliverance of human beings, both as individuals and as a society, from their sinful predicament and their restoration to a position of fellowship and favor with God.

Biblical theology is neither the story of humanity’s search for God, nor is it a description of a history of religious experience. Biblical theology is theology: it is primarily a story about God and his concern for human beings. It exists only because of the divine initiative realizing itself in a series of divine acts whose objective is human redemption. Biblical theology therefore is not exclusively, or even primarily, a system of abstract theological truths. It is basically the description and interpretation of the divine activity within the scene of human history that seeks humanity’s redemption.

Biblical Theology, Revelation, and History

The bond that unites the Old and the New Testaments is this sense of the divine activity in history. Orthodox theology has traditionally undervalued or at least underemphasized the role of the redemptive acts of God in revelation. The classic essay by B. B. Warfield acknowledges the fact of revelation through the instrumentality of historical deeds but subordinates revelation in acts to revelation in words.⁴⁴ Another evangelical has defined revelation, in the biblical sense of the term, [as] the communication of information.⁴⁵ Such a view does not require history, but only communication via thought or speech. It is more accurate to say that revelation moves in the dimension of personal encounter…. This is indeed the end of all revelation, to see the face of God!⁴⁶ What God reveals is not only information about himself and human destiny; he reveals himself, and this revelation has occurred in a series of historical events.

This is why Henry has written, Revelation cannot… be equated simply with the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures; the Bible is a special segment within a larger divine activity of revelation…. Special revelation involves unique historical events of divine deliverance climaxed by the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.⁴⁷

The greatest revelatory act of God in the Old Testament was the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. This was no ordinary event of history like the events that befell other nations. It was not an achievement of the Israelites. It was not attributed to the genius and skillful leadership of Moses. It was an act of God. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings (Exod. 19:4).

This deliverance was not merely an act of God; it was an act through which God made himself known and through which Israel was to know and serve God. "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage … , and you shall know that I am the LORD your God" (Exod. 6:6-7).

In the later history of Israel, the Exodus is recited again and again as the redemptive act by which God made himself known to his people. Hosea appeals to Israel’s historical redemption and subsequent experiences as evidence of the love of God. When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son____I led them with the cords of compassion, with the bands of love (Hos. 11:1,4).

History also reveals God in wrath and judgment. Hosea goes on immediately to say that Israel is about to return to captivity because of her sins. Amos interprets Israel’s impending historical destruction with the words: Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel! (Amos 4:12). The revelation of God as the judge of his people in historical events is sharply reflected in the designation of Israel’s historical defeat by the Assyrians as the Day of the Lord (Amos 5:18).

Israel’s history is different from all other history. While God is the Lord of all history, in one series of events God has revealed himself as he has nowhere else done. German theologians have coined the useful term Heilsgeschichte (history of salvation) to designate this stream of revelatory history. In English we speak of redemptive history or holy history. To be sure, God was superintending the course of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon and Persia. There is a general providence in history, but only in the history of Israel had God communicated to men and women personal knowledge of himself.

The New Testament stands in this stream of holy history. The recital of God’s acts in history is the substance of Christian proclamation. The earliest semblance of a creedal confession is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff., and it is a recital of events: Christ died, he was buried, he was raised, he appeared. The New Testament evidence for God’s love does not rest on reflection on the nature of God but upon recital. God so loved that he gave (Jn. 3:16). God shows his love for us in that Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). The revelation of God in the redemptive history of Israel finds its clearest word in the historical event of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Heb. 1:1-2).⁴⁸

New Testament theology therefore does not consist merely of the teachings of the several strata of the New Testament. It consists primarily of the recital of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the redemptive act of God in Jesus is but the end term in a long series of redemptive acts in Israel. The message of the prophets places great emphasis on hope — what God will yet do in the future. The New Testament constantly sounds the note that what God had promised, he was now doing. Mark summarizes Jesus’ message with the words, The time is fulfilled (Mk. 1:15). Luke strikes this key by citing the words, "Today this prophetic

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