on May 13, 2000
i guess this will be just another five star review for father brown! raymond brown (now deceased) was a catholic priest and a moderately critical new testament theologian PAR EXCELLENCE. this, like his other works, is well-reasoned, thorough, and essentially impartial. probably the best overall introduction to Christology (which one might define as the study of not only of Jesus, but of His relationship to His surroundings). father brown concentrates on subjects such as Jesus' preception of Himself and His purpose, the probable reaction of His comtemporaries to His teachings, and the overall picture we get from the gospels. this is tremendous scholarship distilled into a brief readable capsule! you will respect this work whether you are fundamentalist or pagan!
on January 19, 2004
The book does not presume to be an exhaustive study, but hopes to relate a simplified (not simplistic) account of NT Christology. There are four reasons why Father Brown has achieved his purpose:
First, he is clear. The book does not leave the reader wondering what Christological options are among contemporary and outdated scholarship nor where he himself falls in that spectrum. Throughout the book he italizes the point he intends to communicate, and closes each chapter and section with the salient features communicated therein. Furthermore, Brown does not burden the reader with overly technical language, but writes with simplicity for the layperson. If he does use the language of scholarship, he always explains its meaning and import.
Second, he is thoroughly organized, which provides the Christological neophyte with logical categories by which the information may be easily assimilated. There are points and subpoints, but never does he lose the reader in the minutae or become opaque.
Third, he is brief. However, he is so without doing injustice to an admittedly complex and highly technical subject. He continually keeps in mind his introductory ambition, and consequently allows the recommended reading list at the close of the book to elucidate the subject.
Fourth, R. Brown takes a moderately conservative approach, which allows him to moderate the subject to fundamentalists and liberals alike. Each will be challenged by his perspective.
He accomplishes majestically his purpose, thereby offering a substantial work for the beginner.
on July 28, 1999
This little book is remarkable. I spent a month with it. It is a compact, scholarly, and informative introduction to a very important and complex subject. Father Brown apologizes neither for his faith nor for the generally unblinking, critical scholarship he applies to to his subject. This book is a treasure for Christians who seek to love the Lord their God with all their minds.
on June 4, 1997
I used this text as a primary text in a high school course in Christology successfully by helping the students along in their comprehension of some concepts. It is a good text for those who are serious about their studies. Generally I'd recommend it for college level readers or beyond, but with the right mix it works at senior high level
on January 18, 2005
Raymond Brown (1928-1998) was probably the best-known Catholic biblical scholar in the U.S. He was controversial because his views on the Bible were center to left, yet nonetheless his books earned the imprimatur of the Catholic Church and he even was appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. While Fr. Brown appeared to support most of the Church's teaching, it's hard to imagine that his "critical" approach ever did much to increase the faith of Catholics.
AN INTRODUCTION TO NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTOLOGY (1994) is an excellent introduction to Christology from the "centrist" perspective. Brown hits on many of the standard topics in Christology such as the "titles" of Jesus, the resurrection, the messianic expectations of the Jews, and the like. (It is an introduction and therefore does not cover topics that are found in longer works.)
What is most frustrating is that while Brown discusses other views, he generally limits the options to the center/left perspective. For example, the synoptic gospels report that on at least three occasions Jesus predicted his death (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 & par). What does Fr. Brown say about these? Well, "it is difficult to decide about Jesus' foreknowledge of his passion, crucifixion, and resurrection." [P. 49.] Now, if these predictions were simply "retrojected" by the early church, it is at least interesting to note that: (1) Jesus refers to himself as the "Son of man" in these passages - an expression which does not appear in the early church; and (2) there is no mention of the crucifixion or the atonement in Mark, which one might expect if they were later theological reflections put in the mouth of Jesus. Considering that Mark was probably the first gospel written, such arguments should carry some weight. They might not persuade non-believers, but if Brown is going to mention the findings of skeptics such as Todt and Higgins, at least he could find space for a paragraph or two to discuss the arguments I just mentioned (which, of course, aren't original to me.)
on May 29, 2011
I wonder if the Catholic Church fully understands what a loss to ecumenical scripture scholarship
Raymond E. Brown's death means. Raymond E.Brown was a very holy man and priest and one of the greatest
biblical scholars the Catholic Church has had. His contributions have not been universally praised,however,
by bishops who fail to understand his christological insights and fear they are "dangerous" to the faithful.
Surely Raymond E. Brown is widely read and admired by readers across religious boundaries, and even by
thoughtful atheists,and Eastern religious. As with astrophysics, our concept of the cosmos expands to the inconceivable
and interiority (spirituality) becomes the mode of communication.
Practicing reading the New Testament "chronologically" as Brown indicates, forces one to realize that the first telling of the "good news" recorded in Mark (1:15) has Jesus saying:
"Change the way you think about reality, for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you. Believe THIS good news."
on April 22, 2012
Fr. Raymond Brown is one of the master biblical scholars of the twentieth century, in any language. For an introduction to New Testament Christology, this is the first book I always recommend to friend or students. Why? It is not only his erudition that marks him out as unique, but also his ability to clearly and concisely present scholarly analysis of the Scriptures in a way that is neither fundamentalist, which denies the notion of studying the texts as texts to be studied apart from devotion, often treating them in an ahistorical vacuum, nor as the dismissive Jesus Seminar brand of pseudo-scholarship, which begins with the presupposition that if God even exists, miracles are de jure impossible, and therefore the bible is a bunch of neat myths "to produce social and moral coherence". Rather, Brown takes the middle path, which he also argues convincingly is the historical path. Historical in two senses: Treating history as something that is revealed to us in the texts, and historical in the sense that it is what is mist true the Church's reflection upon the experience of said history. If you take a moment to read his introduction available with the "look inside" function you can see how he sets his course for the book.
While this is only meant to be an introduction to beginners, and not a text for deeper study, Brown covers all the bases in a preliminary fashion that gives the reader real reasons for the various schools of thought in current biblical study on Jesus, while always interacting with the texts themselves to present his view that the Church is actually correct in what it teaches about Jesus Christ and God on the basis of Scripture. That said, he is not willy-nilly in his treatment of those with whom he disagrees. He gives space for their views as well, and discusses their pros and cons. He notes that it is not correct to bring to the text your own views without also bringing the idea that you may be wrong- let the texts speak for themselves IF we are discussing what the texts actually say.
This book is also ideal for study groups and classrooms, with useful summaries being given throughout. His indexes are highly helpful, dealing with the NT claims of Jesus being the Christ, being divine, being God, being resurrected from the dead, the Christolgy of John, and a very detailed, although dated to 1994, bibliography.
Others books and authors that you may find useful in regards to Jesus/God questions are: Hengel's Cross of the Son of God (which is three of Hengel's books of the incarnation and atomement combined into one volume), Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ by Collins, What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible,Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (all of Wright's books are seminal), Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (one of the benchmark studies), The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (on why so much publishing tends toward hypothetical history and not history when dealing with Jesus and Scripture), The God of the Gospel of John (on HOW Jesus can be worshipped as God and yet not devolve into bitheism), Behr's The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death,The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by Johnson and lastly, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus, also by hurtado.
After two decades of study on this topic I have become more and more convinced that what the earliest Christians claimed about their experience of Jesus is the most accurate account of what really did happen based upon history, scripture and reason. A true source of deep joy, hope and intellectual nourishment.
on December 9, 2014
The works of Raymond Brown never fail to be insightful. Here, as always, he manages to shed light on early understandings of Jesus, and he even hazards a shot at suggesting what Jesus may have believed about himself. Brown introduces the work by claiming, “I am not writing a contribution to be read primarily by scholars.” This may have been his goal at the time, but rest assured, this small book is very scholarly; it is well-organized, methodological in its approach, and thoroughly reasoned as Brown meticulously cross-compares the texts of the NT.
Brown begins by surveying, in brief, the different conservative and liberal views on popular Christology. By the end of the work, the reader will notice that he completely undercuts one of these in particular, namely the ever-fashionable Nonscholarly Liberal view on Christ. This is the view that claims Jesus was “just an ethical instructor or social reformer who was mistakenly proclaimed to be divine by overenthusiastic or confused followers” (10). As Brown goes on to detail in the 200 pages that follow, Jesus’s own deeds, and his words about his role and authority, point to an identity that goes far beyond this one.
Brown spends a considerable portion of the book addressing Jesus’s foreknowledge (or lack thereof) of future events, and explaining how the answer to what or how much Jesus knew does not necessarily correlate to whether he was divine. He also discusses the meanings and applicability of the various titles assigned to Jesus, such as messiah (the background of which is expanded upon in a helpful appendix), Son of God, and Son of Man. With respect to the last of these, the Son of Man designation, I believe Brown is overly cautious in refusing to admit the considerable impact of the pre-NT development of this title that can be found in the noncanonical Book of Parables. Brown does afford a fair amount of space to consider the Enochic conception of the Son of Man but, strangely, he fails to commit to the probability that this theology pollinated the theology of the gospels.
Finally, Brown traces the development of Christology over time, from early conceptions of Jesus “becoming” the Christ to more developed understandings of Jesus “manifesting” his (eternal) identity as the Christ. These he subdivides into christologies centering upon the Second Coming, the resurrection, the ministry, the virginal conception, and the preexistent Word. Afterward, in the last chapter, he briefly reflects upon the post-biblical stage of our unfolding appreciation of who Christ was, as reflected in the definitions that were formulated in the Church Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. The content of Brown’s scholarly book barely betrays the title “Fr.” before his name, but in this final chapter he does offer, by appeal to our faith, a suggestion as to why the identity of Christ should matter to Christians today, and to why we should care about who he is.
My one criticism would be that Brown gives overwhelming attention to the gospel narratives, especially the Synoptics. A more detailed examination of the christologies of the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistles would have been a welcome addition to round out his analysis.
on February 6, 2000
My personal theology is considerably more liberal than Dr. Brown's. Nevertheless, I think that he does a good job of explaining what many Christians believe about the divinity of Jesus and why. I also believe that his scholarship is thourough and honest, albeit not always impartial. But then again, I doubt that anyone's scholarship is totally impartial.
on August 12, 2014
When Father Brown died (too soon!) in 1998 at the age of 70, his NY Times obituary appreciatively noted that his "scholarly career spanned four decades... [and that he was] the author of nearly 40 books, many of them commentaries on the New Testament... In the contentious field of biblical studies, which ranges from biblical literalists to those who have tried to strip down the New Testament texts to seek out a historical figure of Jesus, Father Brown was regarded as a centrist, with a reputation as a man of the church and a rigorous, exacting scholar whose work had to be reckoned with."
The book under review, written several years, before his death, displays his customary clarity and execution of purpose. And his purpose is straightforward. "Christian believers..., if they have not wrestled in some mature way with the identity of Jesus, are in danger of constructing a fictional Jesus and attempting to get guidance from him... They should be offered the opportunity to see that a nonliteral approach to the NT does not necessarily destroy or undermine classic Christian beliefs." (p. vi)
Pope Francis has said: "I don't have all the answers. I don't even have all the questions. I always think of new questions, and there are always new questions coming forward." Father Brown raises many of the important 20th-century Christological questions and supplies well-thought-out and pellucid answers. For instance: "How then can one be divine and human at the same time?" (p. 25) The astute answer: "Realistically, it may well be that most Christians tolerate [that word is emphasized in the original] only as much humanity as they deem consonant with their view of the divinity... There are believers,,, [who] cannot visualize [Jesus] as sometimes tired, testy, indistinguishable in a crowd, treated as a fanatic and a rabble-rouser." (p. 27) So where does one go with questions about what Jesus as a human knew and when and to what degree he knew it? Father Brown sums up the matter: "Actually the theological climate has changed and very prominent Roman Catholic theologians [including Joseph Ratzinger] now allow for limitations in Jesus' knowledge." (p. 29)
Ronald Witherup was provincial of the Society of St. Sulpice, a fellowship of priests who teach in seminaries, of which Father Brown was a member. His assessment, which follows, remains true today and is likely to stand for some time. "His impact is still going to be widely felt, but his presence will be missed." Father Brown's reputation is cemented as a premier figure of 20th-century Scriptural scholarship.