The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology

By Yarbrough, Robert W. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology


Yarbrough, Robert W., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology. By Adolf Schlatter. Translated by Andreas Kostenberger. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999, 453 pp., $39.99.

This is the second of a two-volume NT theology. The first was published in English in 1997 as The History of the Christ: The Foundation of New Testament Theology. The German editions from which Kostenberger has rendered these translations originally appeared in the early 1920s. Because Schlatter focused on history and the text itself rather than academic fads that spring up and then fade away, his NT theology retains value despite the passage of time.

Schlatter begins vol. 2 by taking stock of "The Disciples' Vantage Point at the Beginning of Their Work" (pp. 27-50). This section attempts to describe the theological convictions of Jesus' followers in the immediate wake of the Easter events. Schlatter is convinced that "in the movement leading from Jesus to the Gentile church the leading role belongs to the men who had received Jesus' commission and produced Jewish Christianity" (p. 50). As a result, in the next section ("The Convictions Upheld by Jesus' Followers," pp. 51-185) Schlatter examines in sequence 1 Peter, the Gospel of Matthew, the epistle of James, the epistle of Jude, and the writings from John's hand (the Gospel, epistles, and Revelation, in Schlatter's view).

The third section is "The Calling of the Nations through Paul" (pp. 187-321). Like other sections, this one consists of concentrated discussion that mediates the fruit of Schlatter's acute historical and theological observation. It is not a methodical treatment of Paul in the sense of a chronological unfolding of his views or an inventory of the teaching of each Pauline letter. Rather, Schlatter walks the reader through a series of topics that, taken together, comprise a synthetic cross-section of Paul's doctrine. Schlatter thinks that Paul's writings were not written to furnish a system, nor do they lend themselves to tidy systematic explication. If he is correct in this, then the somewhat random-sounding topical focuses of this section may be justified: "Paul's Task," "Christ's Gift," "God's Presence in Christ," "The Church," "Conditions Affecting Pauline Teaching." The blandness of these subheadings conceals the intensely analytical and insightful content that each section contains. For example, under "Christ's Gift" there are thoughtful accounts of justification, liberation from the law, reconciliation, sanctification, calling, and election. The general nature of the subheadings also conceals the unpredictable and often fascinating tack that Schlatter takes on a given topic. For example, under "Conditions Affecting Pauline Teaching" Schlatter treats "Jesus and Paul," "The Relationships between Paul's Convictions and His Conversion," "Internal Struggles in Christianity," and "Stages in the Formation of Pauline Teaching." And to illustrate how specific Schlatter's analysis is, under "Stages in the Formation of Pauline Teaching" one finds these five sub-subheadings: "The Similarity between the Thessalonian Correspondence and the Major Epistles," "Jesus' Divinity in Colossians and Ephesians," "The Church in the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians," "The Office in the Pastoral Epistles," and "The Boundary between Authentic and Gnostic Christianity according to the Pastoral Epistles."

It was probably a misjudgment not to print a comprehensive table of contents so that all levels of subheadings could have been surveyed at once. As it is, not until actually wading through the book does the reader realize the riches that are on hand.

Following the Paul division, two others conclude the book. First is "The Share of Apostolic Associates in Doctrinal Formulation" (pp. 323-59). …

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