Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History

Article excerpt

Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. By Joachim Gnilka. Translated by S. S. Schatzmann. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997, xiii + 346 pp., $24.95.

Gnilka, of the University of Munich, is best known to Biblical scholars for his massive German commentaries on Matthew and Mark. Now English speakers can read many of his perspectives in this translation of a special volume for the Herder commentary series, first published in 1993. One may think of this volume as an apt summary of the beat of the second quest of the historical Jesus. Accordingly, Gnilka sees the Gospels as a complex mixture of the words of the exalted Christ and of the earthly Jesus. The standard criteria of authenticity can help us distinguish the two. The results are scarcely evangelical but are an even further cry from Bultmannian skepticism.

The center of Jesus' proclamation was the kingdom of God. The parables disclose "paradigms of an incredible goodness," which in theological terms is called the forgiveness of sins (pp. 101-102). This forgiveness is best illustrated in Jesus' table fellowship with sinners in anticipation of the eschatological banquet to come. Miracles, too, portend the arrival of God's reign. On the one hand, Gnilka appreciates a "renaissance of belief in the miraculous" in our day (p. 114); on the other hand, he explains demons as "objettivized projections of terrible experiences" (p. 120). Faith is one of the most unique features of the Gospels' miracle stories; indeed, faith alone gives access to the salvation Jesus offers. This is an interesting emphasis for a Catholic scholar, given that many Protestants would argue that this summary applies more to Paul than to Jesus.

In light of recent denials, it is refreshing to see Gnilka assert a strong apocalyptic element in the authentic tradition. Judgment cannot be excluded from Jesus' message, but salvation remains primary. Jesus' use of `"Son of Mann harks back to Daniel 7, but explicit parousia passages reflect early Christian adaptation of the traditional belief in God's coming day of judgment. Implicit Christology consistently furnishes the background for the church's later explicit formulations; "Messiah" is the title that best captures Jesus' missional claims, as long as it is interpreted in light of the cross and his unique sonship with God. …

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