This entry consists of two articles, one on the Old Testament and one on the New Testament. (The term “Old Testament” is appropriate in this context, since biblical theology has been an almost exclusively Christian enterprise. For related discussion see Interpretation, History of, article on Modern biblical Criticism, and Israel, Religion of.
Strictly speaking, Old Testament theology is a Christian discipline, for it presupposes the canon of the Christian Bible, which is divided into two parts, the Old and New Testaments. In this scriptural context, Old Testament theology is part of the larger discipline of biblical theology.
The early Christian community interpreted the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the perspective of the scriptures of Israel (Law, Prophets, Writings). In the New Testament, almost without exception, “scripture(s)” refers to these sacred writings. From time to time, beginning with Marcion in the second century CE, questions have been raised as to whether Israel's scriptures belong in the Christian Bible; but the church has steadfastly maintained that the Old Testament as well as the New bears witness to God's revelation and hence has an indispensable place in Christian life, thought, and worship.
The Nature and Method of Old Testament Theology.
The separation of Old Testament theology as an independent discipline occurred fairly late in the history of biblical interpretation, specifically in the period of the Enlightenment when modern views of historical development emerged. The revival of biblical theology in the twentieth century, which began in the 1920s under the leadership of such theologians as Karl Barth (dogmatic theology) and Walter Eichrodt (Old Testament theology), challenged the view of theological liberalism, in which the relation between the Testaments was understood as a unilinear historical development from lower to higher stages of spiritual evolution. Once again theologians in various ways began to address themselves to the overall theological witness of the bipartite canon of Christian scripture. Nevertheless, the earlier separation between Old Testament and New Testament theology has persisted. In part this separation is justified by the vast expansion of knowledge that requires a division of labor among biblical theologians. More important, the Old Testament has a quasi‐independent role within the Christian Bible, contributing theological dimensions that supplement, enrich, and at points even qualify the witness of the New Testament. The church considers both testaments to be necessary for a full understanding of God's self‐disclosure and human response to the divine initiative.
Since the Old Testament is a vast and diverse body of literature, the question immediately arises: how should one present a theology of the Old Testament? One way is to organize the material according to a structure or principle derived from the outside. This method was dominant in the late medieval and Protestant scholastic periods, when the task of biblical theology was to provide the proof texts (dicta probantia) for the support of the dogmas of the church. The method is still advocated by theologians who structure Old Testament theology according to the topics of systematic theology (God, humanity, salvation, etc.) or who interpret the Bible according to a modern philosophical perspective (evolutionary development, existentialism, Marxist social philosophy, etc.). Another approach is to try to let the Bible set the issues and determine the method, in which case theology of (subjective genitive) the Old Testament refers to what belongs to, and inheres in, the Old Testament itself.
If the latter way is followed, one immediately faces a methodological problem as to whether Old Testament theology should be presented synchronically (structurally) or diachronically (historically). The debate over method is seen in the works of two leading Old Testament theologians of the twentieth century. The Swiss theologian Walter Eichrodt (Theologie des Alten Testaments, issued 1933–1939) attempted to present the “structural unity” of Old Testament belief by using the relational model of covenant. The German theologian Gerhard von Rad (Theologie des Alten Testaments, published 1957–1961) attempted to understand the Old Testament dynamically as a history of traditions, and in this sense a Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”). Probably a combination of both methods is required. On the one hand much of the Old Testament is story/history; indeed it begins with a history that extends from creation to the exile of the Israelite people (Genesis—‐2 Kings). On the other hand, patterns of organization and symbolism are discernible in this historical presentation and elsewhere.
The Relationship between God and People.
The starting point in an exposition of Old Testament theology is the self‐disclosure of the holy God, who chooses to enter into relationship with a particular people, Israel, called to be the means through whom other peoples may know and glorify God, the creator and redeemer. The term Israel, both in biblical times and today, may be used of a political state, (e.g., the kingdoms of Israel and Judah), but basically it is a sacral term which refers to “the people of God.” In its inclusive sense the term is often used in the Old Testament (e.g., Amos 3.1; Hos. 11.1), and in this larger sense Paul could speak of the Christian community as being essentially related to, and indeed part of, Israel, the people of God (Rom. 9—11).
In the scriptures of Israel, primacy is given to the Torah, traditionally called the “five books of Moses.” In the view of the community of faith, God gave torah or instruction to the people, so that they may properly serve (worship) God and live faithfully and obediently in God's presence. This Torah has the form of an overall story or history, which includes within it commandments, or law in the narrower sense of the term. God's self‐disclosure as creator and sovereign established a relation between God and human beings, who are made in the divine image (Gen. 1.26–28), and particularly a relationship with one people, whose election is portrayed in the calling of Abraham and Sarah to respond in faith to the divine promise (Gen. 11.31–12.9) and the choice of Jacob, also called Israel, over his twin brother Esau (Gen. 25.19–28).
The heart of the Torah story, however, is found in the tradition that begins with the book of Exodus. The disclosure of God's name, that is, identity (Exod. 6.2–9), is associated primarily with fundamental root experiences that constitute the fountainhead of the Mosaic tradition, namely Exodus and Sinai. These core traditions, which signify the inseparably related dimensions of divine initiative and human responsibility, of salvation and obligation, are paradigmatic for Israel's knowledge of who God is and how the people are to live faithfully in God's presence. The holy God whom Israel knows and worships is characterized as one, jealous (zealous), righteous, gracious, faithful, and trustworthy, whose judgment falls, however, upon those who betray their religious loyalty and turn to iniquity (Exod. 34.6–8). This knowledge of God is further elaborated in the preaching of prophets, the teaching of priests, and the counsel of sages (cf. Jer. 18.18).
The relationship between God and people, often expressed in the language “your God” and “my people” (e.g., Exod. 6.7; Lev. 26.12; Isa. 40.1; Jer. 31.33), is understood in the Old Testament as that of a covenant. The significance of covenant is far greater than a statistical count of the occurrences of the term would indicate. Eichrodt took this concept, understood in the broad sense of relationship, as the organizing principle in his theology. In the Reformed tradition there is precedent for this, reaching back at least to the federal (covenantal) theology of the Dutch Calvinist, Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669). In the Old Testament, however, covenant is not a univocal term, nor is it a theological umbrella that covers everything. Three major covenantal perspectives or patterns of symbolization are evident. All of these are covenants of grace, for they rest upon the initiative and superior status of the divine covenant maker, but each nuances the relationship between God and people differently.
The Torah gives primacy to the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17; cf. chap. 15). This covenant is based on God's gracious commitment, unconditioned by human performance. Therefore, it is designated an “everlasting covenant,” one that has perpetual validity. Characteristic of this type of covenant is the giving of divine promises, not the imposition of obligations. In the priestly (see P) perspective that governs the Torah in its final form, the Abrahamic covenant belongs to a periodized history that is punctuated with three divine covenants, each of which is termed an everlasting covenant. The first period extends from creation to the covenant with Noah after the flood (Gen. 9), a universal, ecological covenant embracing all human beings, animals and birds, and the earth itself. The second extends from Noah to Abra[ha]m, and includes the divine promises of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, a numerous posterity, and a special relationship between God and the descendants of Abraham and Sarah (“I will be your/their God”). The third period extends from Abraham to Moses, the mediator of the Sinai covenant, also designated as everlasting. These covenants are accompanied by three signs: the rainbow, circumcision, and the Sabbath, respectively, the latter harking back to God's creation (Exod. 31.12–17). In this perspective, the Sinai covenant is regarded as the ratification or fulfillment of the ancestral covenant that God “remembers” (Exod. 2.24; Lev. 26.44–45). The special relationship with God, promised in the Abrahamic covenant, finds expression in the disclosure of the cultic name, Yahweh (see Names of God in the Hebrew Bible), and the “tabernacling presence” of God in the midst of the people (Exod. 29.45–46). The whole cult is regarded as the God‐given means of grace that enables a holy people to live faithfully in the presence of the holy God. Sacrifices are provided (the book of Leviticus) for the expiation of sin and reconciliation to God.
A second covenantal pattern of symbolization, following the sequence of the Hebrew Bible, is associated with Moses. It is set forth classically in the book of Deuteronomy, canonically joined to the priestly Torah discussed above, and provides the dominant theological perspective in the Former Prophets (Joshua through 2 Kings), that is, the Deuteronomic history. In contrast to the Abrahamic covenant, which was based unilaterally on God's gracious commitment and promise, this covenant is more of a two‐way affair, and places greater emphasis on human obligation. The covenantal pattern, on the analogy of ancient suzerainty treaties, includes several characteristic elements: the story of the saving deeds of the covenant initiator, the stipulations that are binding on the covenant recipient, and the sanctions of blessing and curse in case of obedience or disobedience. Like the Abrahamic covenant, this too is a covenant of grace, but it carries within it “the curse of the law” (cf. Gal. 3.10, 13), for the judgment of God could bring severe punishment upon the people or even annul the relationship if the people fail in their covenant responsibilities (Hos. 1.8–10).
A third covenantal pattern of symbolization is also found in the Deuteronomic history, where it is introduced as a theme secondary to the Mosaic covenant. This is the royal covenant theology, according to which Yahweh made an everlasting covenant with David, promising perpetual divine grace (ḥesed) to the throne, even though particular kings performed badly in office and had to be chastised (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89). This Davidic covenant did not supersede the Mosaic covenant; indeed, the ark of the covenant—the sacred symbol of Mosaic tradition—was escorted into Jerusalem and eventually was placed in the holy of holies of the Temple (cf. Pss. 24; 132). This covenant perspective, however, moves beyond the horizon of Israel's sacred history into the cosmic dimension of God's sovereignty as creator of the universe and ruler of history. As in other religions of the ancient Near East, the two salvific institutions are kingship and Temple (Ps. 78.67–72), both of which were alien to the Mosaic tradition. The reigning monarch is Yahweh's anointed (“messiah”) and is elected to the special role of son of God (Ps. 2.7). When the king is gifted with wisdom, divine blessing flows into Israel's society and overflows to other nations (Ps. 72). The Temple, in Davidic theology, also has cosmic significance, for it is founded at the cosmic center—the meeting place of heaven and earth, where God is present in the midst of the people (Ps. 46.4–5). This covenantal perspective is dominant in the books of Chronicles, and is a major factor in the Psalms, which in their final form were issued under the aegis of David, regarded as the type of God's anointed one or messiah.
These three covenants, associated with Abraham, Moses, and David respectively, should not be understood as following one another chronologically but as existing side by side, like overlapping theological circles. In the Torah the Mosaic covenant fulfills the promissory Abrahamic covenant; the Deuteronomic history emphasizes the Mosaic covenant, but also includes the promissory Davidic covenant (1 Kings 8.23–24); and the Chronicler's history gives priority to the Davidic covenant (this historian bypasses the Mosaic period), but also includes elements of the Priestly tradition and the Mosaic torah understood in its halakic or legal sense. Indeed, to express the relationship between God and human beings all three theological perspectives are required. Each nuances in its own way polarities of the divine‐human relationship: God's sovereignty and human freedom, God's transcendence (distance) and immanence (presence), and God's relation to the particular people, Israel, and God's universal sway as cosmic creator and sovereign. All three include promises and obligations, but the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are primarily promissory, while the Mosaic covenant is primarily one of obligation.
Prophecy and Covenant.
The interrelation of these covenant perspectives is evident in the second part of the canon of the Prophets: the so‐called Latter Prophets, namely the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve. The message of the eighth‐century prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem (Isa. 1–39), was based primarily on royal covenant theology. Virtually ignoring Exodus and Sinai, this prophet proclaimed that Yahweh is the cosmic king, whose rule is manifest on earth through the Davidic monarch and whose dwelling place is on Mount Zion. The imminent day of the Lord would manifest divine judgment against all presumptuous claims of earthly powers (2.6–22) and would purge Zion, the city of God, of corruption, so that it would be the center of a social order that corresponds to the order of God's cosmic rule. Later interpreters enriched Isaiah's message with the typology of a new exodus (Isa. 43.14–21) and transferred to the people the promises of grace made to David (55.3–5). This synthesis of covenant traditions provided the theological basis for proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God—a new age, indeed a new creation, in which Israel and all nations would participate.
Two of the prophets of Israel, Hosea and Jeremiah, stood primarily in the Mosaic covenant tradition. Both opposed the allurements of Canaanite culture, particularly the Baal fertility religion. In the case of Hosea, however, who was active in the northern kingdom just before its fall in 722 BCE, the contact with Canaanite culture served to enrich covenant theology. He poetically portrayed the relationship between God and Israel in terms of a sacred marriage, in which the “wife,” after experiencing divine discipline for her infidelity, eventually is reconciled with her “husband” in a new covenant, like the one made in “the days of her youth” (the time of the Exodus). In this restored relationship, the land will become fertile and yield abundant agricultural blessings (Hos. 2.8–15). Shifting to another family metaphor, this poet portrayed God's relationship to the people as that of a parent who disciplines and nurtures a child (Hos. 11.1–9).
Jeremiah, at the time of the collapse of the southern kingdom of Judah, was also an interpreter of the Mosaic covenant. Portrayed as a “prophet like Moses” (Deut. 18.18; cf. Jer. 1.9), he attacked the weaknesses of royal covenant theology, as evident in the exploitative policies of Davidic kings and false confidence in the Temple. Recalling the story of Yahweh's saving action in the Mosaic period (Jer. 2.6–7), he indicted the people for their violation of the covenant commandments (7.1–15, the “Temple sermon”) and summoned them, under the threat of divine judgment, to repent, that is, to turn away from false loyalties and to return to loyalty to Yahweh and the demands of the covenant. The book of Jeremiah also includes conditional promises to Davidic kings (22.1–5) and messianic hope for a coming Davidic ruler (23.5–6). The new covenant, to supersede the Mosaic covenant, which the people broke (31.31–33), would be based on God's forgiving grace and would introduce an everlasting covenant (32.36–41).
The interaction of theological perspectives is especially evident in the message of Ezekiel. Basically this prophet stood in the priestly tradition that provided the overarching theological perspective of the Torah in its final form. This is evident in Ezekiel's sense of the divine holiness that separates God from mortal human beings, the tabernacling presence of God in the Temple, and the cultic and ethical laws designed to insure the holiness of the people. As in the priestly recension of the Torah, the Exodus tradition is important, but is invoked to demonstrate that from the very first Israel had been a sinful people under the judgment of God (Ezek. 20.6–8). The Mosaic covenant, broken by the people, will be superseded by a new covenant which, because it is based on the faithfulness and forgiveness of God and not on the people's behavior, will be an everlasting covenant (16.59–63). Portrayals of the divine restoration beyond the day of judgment include elements of royal covenant theology: the raising up of a Davidic leader who will be a “good shepherd” of the people (34.23–24; 37.24–25).
The Justice of God and the Problem of Evil.
Taken together, the Torah and the Prophets (Former and Latter) portray a temporal movement from creation to final consummation under the governance of God, whose providence is evident in nature and history, and whose will is made known to, and through, Israel, the people of God. The covenantal perspectives described above accompanied Israel's sacred history, as evident in the Psalms that contain the hymns, laments, and thanksgivings of the pilgrim people.
The intensification of Israel's sufferings, owing to the fall of the nation and the exile of the people, called into question the adequacy of covenantal theology, which consistently explained suffering as the deserved consequence of human sin or failure. The third part of the Hebrew canon, the Writings, reflects two major theological shifts of emphasis. One was the movement from torah to wisdom. Wisdom had always been a major ingredient in covenantal theology, as evident in the Mosaic tradition with its appeal to walk in the way that yields blessing (Deuteronomy; cf. Jer. 17.5–8), and was especially at home in royal covenant theology, which sought to align the social order with the righteousness and peace of God's cosmic kingdom. In the postexilic period the shift to the halakhic dimension of the Mosaic torah, evident in the Chronicler's writing, facilitated the identification of torah and prudential wisdom (as in torah and wisdom psalms, e.g., 1, 37, 119; see the book of Proverbs). Facing the question of theodicy, however, some sages maintained that the divine wisdom hidden in creation is beyond human grasp (Ecclesiastes; Job). Wisdom was even accorded a cosmic role as the agent of God in creation (Prov. 8.22–31).
The other major development was the movement from prophecy to apocalyptic, which can be traced within the book of Isaiah. Although human wisdom cannot grasp the divine secret, the mystery of God's kingdom, i.e., the time and manner of its coming, is revealed to a seer (the book of Daniel). In apocalyptic the scene is not restricted to Israel's sacred history but unfolds into a universal drama in which the kingdom of God is triumphant over all powers of evil, including death itself. Apocalyptic writers eclectically drew upon all of Israel's covenantal traditions, as well as extrabiblical motifs, to portray the final consummation.
The Relation between the Testaments.
There is no smooth and easy transition from the Old Testament to the New, as evident from the fact that the very scriptures of Israel that nourished the early Christian community have proved to be problematic. Nevertheless, New Testament writers appropriated Israel's scriptures in various ways to interpret and elaborate the good news about Jesus, who was confessed to be the Messiah or Christ. Viewed in Christian perspective, the sacred history of Israel is part of “the story of our life”; indeed, the whole biblical narrative, extending from creation to consummation, has its center in Jesus Christ.
Accordingly, the early Christian community affirmed that God's covenants with Israel are ratified in Jesus Christ, though preference is usually given to the promissory covenants associated with Abraham and David (cf. “the covenants of promise,” Eph. 2.12). To invoke the typology of Calvin, Jesus Christ is prophet, priest, and king—that is, the eschatological “prophet like Moses” of the Mosaic covenant tradition, the “son of God” of the royal or messianic tradition, and the priestly mediator who effects reconciliation with God (Letter to the Hebrews). Furthermore, in him converge the wisdom movement (cf. the Logos of the prologue to the Fourth Gospel) and the apocalyptic expectation of the heavenly Son of man. Finally, the Old Testament, functioning as Christian scripture, offers to the Christian community supplementary theological dimensions that are vital for a full understanding of Christian faith, such as creation theology, a healthy this‐worldliness, the role of nationhood in God's economy, expostulation with God in times of human distress and perplexity, and the insistence that the command to love God and one another must be informed by God's demand for justice and mercy in political, social, and economic relations (Mic. 6.8).
Bernhard W. Anderson
Strictly speaking there is no theology of the New Testament, but as many theologies as there are authors. Theology is systematized reflection, and only Romans has some claim to be that. All the New Testament books are occasional in character, i.e., written for specific situations, not statements of timeless truths. Nevertheless, underlying all the books of the New Testament there is a coherent center, the proclamation (Grk. kerygma) of Jesus crucified and risen. This coherent center may itself be expressed in different ways, even in the same author (e.g., in Paul, compare 1 Cor. 15.3–5; Rom. 10.9; 14.9). Sometimes only the crucifixion is mentioned (Gal. 3.1; 1 Cor. 1.13; 2.2), sometimes only the resurrection (1 Thess. 1.10). But each always implies the other. Sometimes Paul gives brief statements of the kerygma, sometimes extended confessional formulae. The preaching in Acts (Acts 2; 3; 10; 13) is similarly focused on Jesus' death and resurrection. The four Gospels are structured so as to bring out the centrality of the cross and resurrection (cf. the three passion predictions in Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33–34 par.) and the importance of the “hour” of Jesus' death and glorification throughout the Fourth Gospel.
This death and resurrection of Jesus constitutes the “Christ event,” in which God acted definitively for the salvation (or condemnation) first of Israel, then of the human race, and finally of the whole cosmos. It is a proclamation set in the framework of Jewish apocalyptic hope of a new heaven and a new earth. This consummation has now been inaugurated in the Christ event and will be completed when Christ returns (the parousia).
The Doctrine of God (Theology).
The New Testament offers no new doctrine of *God, but simply proclaims that the Old Testament God has now acted definitively. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is now the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Even the fatherhood of God is not new (Isa. 64.8). Thus all Old Testament theology is implied in the New Testament: God is the creator and Lord of history, the God who acts, who calls Israel into covenant, who promises the redemption of his people. The New Testament proclaims that these promises have now been fulfilled, or rather are now in the process of being fulfilled.
The Earthly Jesus.
Although the coherent center of the New Testament focuses upon the death and resurrection of Jesus, his earthly ministry is an integral part of the Christ event. For the earthly ministry of Jesus gives shape and contours to the cross. There were hundreds of crosses in Palestine in the first‐century CE, but only in this cross did God act for the salvation of humankind. That is not an arbitrary claim, but is legitimated by the fact that the earthly Jesus had preached the in‐breaking of God's kingdom, i.e., God's definitive salvation. Hence the four Gospels, four versions of the Good News, encapsulate the earthly ministry of Jesus in their proclamation of his death and resurrection. And although Paul seldom alludes to the earthly ministry of Jesus—only a few echoes of his sayings (1 Cor. 7.10; 9.14; 11.24–25) and an occasional reference to his character and lifestyle (2 Cor. 8.9; 10.1; Rom. 15.8; Phil. 2.8)—nevertheless Paul's frequent use of the human name “Jesus” in significant contexts is testimony to his conviction of the importance of Jesus' earthly history (see especially 1 Cor. 12.3). Moreover, the resurrection does not relegate the earthly Jesus to the archives; rather it perpetuates him, making the salvation that he offered on earth forever available through the preaching of the kerygma.
The Person of Christ (Christology).
There is no single Christology in the New Testament but a variety of Christologies. But these Christologies do have a coherent center. Jesus is always interpreted christologically in the New Testament; he is always the one in whom God has decisively acted for us and for our salvation: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5.19). This coherent center of Christology is given contingent application by a variety of christological titles, patterns, and, in the Gospels, portraits. Jesus is the final prophet and servant of Yahweh; he is Messiah (Christ, anointed one), Lord, Son of God. In later books he is the incarnation of the preexistent Logos or Word of God. Some early patterns have two foci, looking back to his first coming and forward to his return (Acts 3.20–21). Some patterns depict two stages, his earthly career and his subsequent exaltation (Acts 2.36; Rom. 1.3–4). Some patterns are threefold, speaking of his preexistence, incarnate life, and exaltation (Phil. 2.6–11, though some interpret this as a two‐stage Christology; Col. 1.15–20; Heb. 1.2–3; John 1.1–18, though here the exaltation is implied rather than asserted). Each Gospel has its own portrait of Jesus. Mark emphasizes the messianic secret; Jesus' messiahship is hidden on earth, and can be confessed only after the cross and resurrection. For Matthew Jesus is the new Moses; as such, he gives the definitive interpretation of the Law and founds a church, the true Israel. For Luke Jesus is the end‐time prophet who shows human sympathy and compassion for the poor, for the outcast and the sick, and for women. For John Jesus is the incarnate revealer whose revelation, when received, confers salvation. These various portraits are directed toward the specific situations for which the respective evangelists wrote. Some Christologies emphasize the death and resurrection (paschal Christologies); others (like the sending formula) are focused upon the beginning and purpose of Jesus' career (God sent his son, plus a statement of saving purpose; e.g., Gal. 4.4–5). The infancy stories at the beginning of Matthew and Luke (Matthew 1–2; Luke 1–2) give narrative expression to this type of Christology, and the incarnation pattern is a more developed form of it. These Christologies emphasize the divine initiative in the Christ event, of which the virginal conception is a powerful symbolic expression.
The Work of Christ (Soteriology).
At the outset, it was the total career of Jesus that was interpreted as the saving act of God (so the earliest preaching as recorded in Acts). Very soon the death of Christ was interpreted as the focal point of God's saving act. This was expressed by means of the hyper ‐ (Grk. “for, on behalf of”) formula, which was particularly at home in the tradition of the Lord's Supper, in the bread and cup words (1 Cor. 11.24–25), though it also figures in some forms of the kerygma (1 Cor. 15.3). The hyper ‐formula does not mean that the death of Jesus was vicarious or substitutionary, as though the human Christ were appeasing the wrath of an angry deity and rendering him propitious toward humankind. Rather, in Christ God was acting to liberate humanity from the bondage of sin.
Often, though not invariably, combined with the hyper ‐formula is the language of “giving” or “giving up”: God gave (up) his son to the death on the cross (John 3.16). Often the verb is in the passive: “he was given up,” but this is a so‐called divine passive (Rom. 4.25), a phrase implying that it was God who gave him up. Sometimes too the subject is Jesus himself (“who gave himself for me,” Gal. 2.20). These formulae emphasize the cost of Christ's death, both to the Father and to himself. But whether God or Christ is the subject, the cross is primarily an act of God, initiated by him.
Christ's death was interpreted in earliest tradition as a sacrifice like that of the Day of Atonement (cf. the pre‐Pauline hymn in Rom. 3.25) or that of the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5.7). Subsequent references to blood in connection with the death of Christ echo both of these traditions, and also the cup word in the Supper tradition (e.g., Rom. 5.9; 1 John 1.7). Blood denotes not a material substance, but the event of Christ's death in its saving significance.
Most New Testament writers are content simply to repeat or to echo such traditional formulae. Only Paul and the author of Hebrews reflect further upon the meaning of Christ's death and apply their insights to their churches' situations. Paul reflects particularly on the saving benefits of the cross in response to the judaizing (Galatians; Romans; Phil. 3) and gnosticizing (Corinthian correspondence) controversies.
Paul uses many images to describe the saving effects of Christ's death. They include justification, reconciliation, *redemption, and expiation. These metaphors are derived from various sources. Justification originates in the law courts where it means acquittal. It denotes neither making people ethically righteous nor merely treating them as righteous, but bringing them into a right relationship with God. This sets the believer on the road to obedience. Reconciliation comes from international or personal relations. It presupposes that human beings were in a state of enmity with God and affirms that God in Christ has overcome that enmity and brought the believers into a right relationship with God. Redemption is a metaphor from the manumission of slaves. It also occurs in the Hebrew Bible as a metaphor for salvation in connection with the Exodus and with the powers of evil, including sin, death, and the devil. Expiation is a sacrificial term, not developed by Paul but occurring in the hymn whose imagery is derived from the day of atonement (Rom. 3.25). It denotes that the death of Christ covers or wipes away sin.
The letter to the Hebrews is also a contingent application of the central affirmation of the saving death of Christ. It was written to revive the flagging enthusiasm of second‐ or third‐generation Christians and asserts the once‐and for‐all quality of Christ's saving death. There is no further sacrifice for sin and no return after apostasy. To make this point the author develops a Christology of Christ as eternal high priest (an image based on Ps. 110.4), and his sacrifice as the fulfillment of the Levitical ceremonies of the Day of Atonement with an occasional glance at the daily sacrifice.
The Holy Spirit (Pneumatology).
Although only Acts casts the giving of the Holy Spirit into a story, it is the general belief of the New Testament writers that the Spirit came as a result of the Christ event. The Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition expected an outpouring of the spirit in the last days (Ezek. 36.26; Joel 2.28–29), and the early Christian community saw in its post‐Easter experiences the fulfillment of this promise (Rom. 5.5) and a foretaste of the full endtime salvation. Paul expresses this general conviction when he calls the Spirit the “first fruits” (Rom. 8.23) or “down payment” (2 Cor. 1.22 [NRSV: “first installment”]; 5.5 [NRSV: “guarantee”]) of final redemption. In the early community the presence of the Spirit was seen primarily in ecstatic phenomena, such as miracles and speaking in tongues (see Glossolalia). Paul had problems in this connection at Corinth, where the gifts of the Spirit were allowed to run riot, and he found it necessary to grade the gifts, giving priority to prophecy, and making love (Grk. agapē) the gift which must inform all the other gifts (1 Cor. 12—14; see also Gal. 5.22). The Fourth Gospel developed the doctrine of the Spirit (called “Paraclete”; NRSV: “Advocate”) in a theological rather than ethical direction: the function of the Spirit is to lead the community into truth, not away from the truth revealed in Jesus but to an even deeper apprehension of it (John 14.16–17, 26; 15.26; 16.7, 13–14).
The Church (Ecclesiology)
Jesus' intention was the end‐time renewal of God's people. As a result of his saving deed in the cross and resurrection and the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit there came into being a new community that understood itself to be the saints, the elect, and the ekklēsia (translating Hebr. qāhāl, “assembly”), the church or people of God. Sociologically the church was as yet only a sect within Judaism, but it was conscious of being the true Israel, now definitively renewed. Throughout the apostolic age the word ekklēsia was used primarily for the locally gathered community, especially in house‐churches, but in the subapostolic period, e.g., in the deutero‐Pauline Ephesians, it was used for the universal church. But the universal church was arrived at not by adding the local congregations together; rather, each local congregation was the visible embodiment of the one universal ekklēsia.
Paul developed the image of the church as the body of Christ in order to emphasize the mutual responsibility of the members for one another. The image first occurs in connection with the Eucharist (1 Cor. 10.17)—by partaking of the sacramental body the believers become the ecclesial body. The theme is developed in 1 Corinthians 12.12–31, and summarized in Romans 12.4–8. There was no formalized ministry in the apostolic age; members exercised their various gifts ministerially, though under the control of the apostles. A more institutionalized church order first developed in the Jewish‐Christian communities, beginning at Jerusalem (Acts 11.30; etc.) and in the subapostolic age was taken over in the Pauline churches (Titus, 1 Timothy; see Pastoral Letters, The). At this period (ca. 70–110 CE) the institutional ministry takes over the task of preserving and transmitting the apostolic tradition, encapsulated in creedal forms, together with an incipient canon of apostolic writings (Pastorals; 2 Peter). A reaction occurred in the Johannine community, which saw itself as a loosely gathered society of “friends,” and only later accepted a more formal ministry (cf. the role played by Peter in relation to the beloved disciple in the appendix, John 21). Prior to this (John 15) the Johannine circles developed the image of Christ and the church as a vine and branches, characterized by their mutual indwelling (“I in them and they in me”), a parallel to the Pauline image of the body of Christ.
The foundation members of the community received a direct baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2.1–4). But all others henceforth became members of the community and participants in the Holy Spirit through water baptism (Acts 2.38; etc.). The community believed it had been led to this practice by the risen One, and expressed this conviction in story form by the command to baptize (Matt. 28.19; cf. Mark 16.15–16). Baptism was performed in the name of Jesus, i.e., under his authority. As a result believers were “added” (a divine passive denoting that baptism is the occasion of an act of God, i.e., in later church language a sacrament) and became partakers of the Holy Spirit in the already established Spirit‐filled community (Acts 2.38).
In response to new situations in his Hellenistic communities Paul developed the doctrine of baptism further. The believers were now baptized into Christ, made over to his ownership. For Paul this meant being baptized into Christ's death, with the hope of future resurrection (Rom. 6.3–11). Note too that Paul carefully refrains from saying that they are already participating in his resurrection; that would not come until the end, and was conditional on their walking in newness of life. Paul also speaks of the believers as being baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12.13). Although the texts are not very clear, it appears from some New Testament writings (Acts 19.5–6; Titus 3.5.; Heb. 6.2) that the custom arose of marking the connection of baptism with the gift of the Spirit by adding to water baptism the additional act of the laying on of hands. This was probably not a separate rite, but an attempt to underline part of the rich meaning of water baptism itself.
The Lord's Supper.
The earthly Jesus had regularly celebrated meals with his disciples. These meals were foretastes of the kingdom of God, which was frequently depicted as a banquet. This table fellowship was renewed after Easter and some of the post‐resurrectional appearances are associated with meals (e.g., Luke 24.28–32). Common meals were continued by the early community after the Easter event, and were characterized by exuberant joy (Acts 2.46), the focus being on the risen One's coming in anticipation of his coming at the end (cf. the acclamation Maranatha (“Our Lord, come!”; 1 Cor. 16.22). Another strain in the tradition, perhaps originally associated with Passover, stressed the connection between the Supper and Christ's death (1 Cor. 11.23–26; Luke 22.19–20; Mark 14.22–24 par.). This tradition interpreted the act as a proclamation (Grk. anamnēsis, “memorial” [NRSV: “remembrance”]) of Christ's death. Its effect was to make the benefits of his death presently operative for the participants (koinōnia) in the body and blood of Christ. Paul further develops the ecclesial significance of this act: by partaking of the one loaf the believers become one body. The Johannine tradition emphasizes eternal life already here and now through eating the bread (John 6.35–51a—note the manna typology), while John 6.51b‐58 speaks of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man, an act that nourishes the mutual indwelling of Christ and the believers.
The Last Things (Eschatology).
Throughout the New Testament there is a tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” On the one hand, the end‐time kingdom has come as a result of the Christ event, while on the other hand it awaits final consummation. In Jesus' proclamation the kingdom is already breaking through (Matt. 12.28 par.) in Jesus' activity; yet his disciples are to pray, “Your kingdom come,” and Jesus faces death with the conviction that after it that kingdom will shortly be consummated (Mark 14.25). The Easter event was in a sense an inauguration of the end‐time rule of the kingdom of God (see above), though the final coming of the kingdom and the general resurrection were still outstanding. This expectation was expressed in imaginative language in the hope of Christ's “parousia” or return as judge and savior (1 Thess. 1.10; Mark 14.62 par.), which the early Christians believed would take place shortly. It was the sense of what had happened already in the Christ event that enabled the early communities to weather the storm of the delay of the parousia, while maintaining the tension between the already and the not yet, though the weight placed on either side of the balance varied from writer to writer. Thus in Ephesians and John the emphasis is placed on the already; the future hope practically disappears, though never quite (see, e.g., Eph. 4.13; John 5.25–29; 6.39; etc.). Other writings (such as 2 Thessalonians, Jude, 2 Peter and Revelation) place the primary emphasis on the future coming, though without losing the sense that something of the end has already occurred through the Christ event.
The Normative Character of New Testament Theology.
While the pluralism of New Testament theology appears to undermine its normative character, the coherent center, which we have defined as the kerygma of Christ crucified and risen, provides a criterion for the developments of theology through contingent application within the New Testament, a canon within the canon. The way in which writers like Paul move from coherent center to contingent application provides a pattern for a similar movement in contemporary theology, belief, and practice. Furthermore, the pluralism of the New Testament moves forward on certain trajectories to convergences lying beyond the New Testament period. We see that particularly with the varieties of New Testament Christology that eventually converge in the Christologies of Nicea and Chalcedon, in the doctrines of the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and of Christ as truly divine and truly human, with two natures and one person. The remaining problem is whether earlier Christologies, e.g., the functional Christologies of Jesus as the end‐time prophet, or as the servant who is now enthroned as Christ and Lord, still have any role to play, and whether the later christological definitions represent an impoverishment. Whereas the New Testament Christologies focus upon Jesus' earthly career, his exaltation, and his parousia, and were thus concerned with God's redemptive act in the Christ event, the later definitions concentrated upon the eternal being of the Son of God and the moment of his entry as a human being into the world. The Fourth Gospel perhaps points the way for the solution of the modern dilemma in that it retains earlier christological perspectives, such as the sending of the Son for the purpose of redemption, alongside the later Christologies of preexistence and incarnation.
In short, New Testament theology does not provide a static norm, but a dynamic one, inviting the church and theology to return continually to the coherent center of the New Testament, and to move forward to its contingent application today, using the contingent applications in the New Testament as a model.
Reginald H. Fuller