Academic journal article Theological Studies

Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was

Article excerpt

Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was. By Gerhard Lohfink. Translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2012. Pp. xvi + 391. $39.95.

Lohfink, professor of New Testament at Tubingen from 1973 to 1987, resigned his position to live in the Integrierte Gemeinde after the model of Acts 2:42-47. This volume is the fruit of 50 years of scholarly research and faith-filled living.

Chapter 1 is decisive. Against many "historical Jesus" critics, L. demonstrates what Carl Becker had shown American historians in 1931: there are no uninterpreted facts, and bald facts communicate no meaning. The evangelists did what documentary filmmakers do--cut, recombine, allude, and comment--to interpret the meaning of Jesus for their community. The task is to find not "the facts" but the right interpretation of Jesus' life. For this, faith is indispensable. L. interprets Jesus not against the Gospels, but as a member of a community that has given us the only credible interpretation of the facts.

L.'s 18 chapters follow the usual outline of Jesus books. The first 12 chapters describe what Jesus wanted, under the topics of the proclamation and meaning of the reign of God, the gathering of Israel, and the call to discipleship in many forms: Jesus' parables and his miracles, his warnings about judgment, and his view of the OT and the Torah. The next six chapters describe who he was, living his Father's will unconditionally, his commitment to the reign of God, and the ways his life and death for Israel laid a sovereign claim to which the church responded in faith. In brief, Jesus wanted a response to the reign of God breaking into history through his proclamation, teaching, and healings. His absolute commitment to that reign was both the eschatological fulfillment of Torah and the basis for his scandalous claims to ultimate authority. Those claims ground the church's calling him Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, Lord.

Like Ben F. Meyer, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright, L. finds Jesus not understandable apart from his identity as a first-century Jew. Against those who identify the reign of God as a spiritual realm within individual subjects, Jesus' reign had to be visible as a new society in the experimental field of a small nation, so that it could be apprehended by the whole world. The reign Jesus announced is already powerfully present for those who commit themselves to it in faith. L.'s pervasive emphasis on Jesus' gathering of eschatological Israel corrects the dispensationalism of older exegetes. Jesus' teaching, then, is seen not as a new law but as the interpretation of the center of the Torah. Finally, it was monotheistic Jewish Christian communities, not Greek ones, that made Jesus Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, and Lord. …

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