- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 15, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198779240
- ISBN-13: 978-0198779247
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.6 x 6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #806,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Birth of the Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament and Early Christian Interpretations of the Old Testament Reprint Edition
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"It is not every day that one reads a book that makes a distinct contribution to our understanding of how the NT authors interpret the OT, sheds significant light on the reading practices of the NT authors by means of the early church fathers, and uses those results to make a compelling argument for the origins of the doctrine of the Trinity. But this is exactly what Bates does in The Birth of the Trinity...The Birth of the Trinity is a stunning achievement that makes a powerful argument for the origins of the doctrine of the Trinity by means of close attention to the reading practices of the early church and the NT authors."--Themelios
"The Birth of the Trinity is a stunningly important book that defies easy categorization. Is it exegetical? Is it theological? Is it historical? The resounding answer to each of these questions: 'Yes, and much more!' Setting aside widespread and long-held views about Christological development or adoptionism, or about Trinitarian theology as an intrusion into biblical faith from Hellenistic philosophy, Bates urges that early high Christology and Christian understanding of the Trinity itself were cultivated through dramatic reading of Israel's Scriptures. For biblical and theological studies alike, this is a compelling game changer." --Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary
"This is a bold and ambitious book that cuts across disciplinary lines as typically perceived, and will certainly (and reasonably) generate debate on a number of the points argued in it. But Bates makes an important contribution in underscoring how early Christians perceived the voice and person of Jesus in their ('Old Testament') scriptures, and in contending that this constituted an important mode of theological reflection along the route to the doctrine of the Trinity." --Larry W. Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, University of Edinburgh
"In this fascinating new study Matthew W. Bates mines a stream of early Trinitarian thinking that has all too often been forgotten. Of particular importance is his attention to the continuities between the New Testament writers own ways of attending to the divine agents at which Israel's Scriptures already hinted, and also to the modes of Trinitarian exegesis that remained central throughout the early Christian period." --Lewis Ayres, Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology, Durham University
"In this bold and erudite study, Matthew W. Bates argues that it was not least by reading the Scriptures (the 'Old Testament') theodramatically, or prosopologically, that Jesus and his followers came very early on to Trinitarian conclusions. Scholars and students will find here a new and exciting way of investigating Christian origins. A landmark book." --Matthew Levering, Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology, Mundelein Seminary
"On the dust jacket Joel Green calls this book a 'game changer', and it certainly is that." --Heythrop Journal
"Ambitious." --Expository Times
"Whatever the final verdict on Bates's overall claims about the role of prosopological exegesis in the development of Trinitarian theology, his approach opens up beautiful, rich Trinitarian readings." --First Things
"...[A] fresh approach to Christian trinitarian interpretation..." --Euangelion Blog, via Patheos
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Everything Bates writes is thoroughly focused and impressively complete on the topic of divine dialogue between Father and Son, as evidenced in the ancient Jewish Scripture, i.e., the Old Testament.
As he demonstrates the early concept of Trinity, Bates closely examines and dissects biblical passages from the Old Testament that evidence speaker shifts, or dialogue, between the Divine Persons. Then, just as thoroughly, he reviews the literary reception history of these passages that is found in the pages of the New Testament (by Jesus, Peter, Paul, Luke, the author of Hebrews, and others) and in extra-biblical, coeval literature by authors such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen. By these methods, he demonstrates that the Trinitarian God has “an unremitting personal concern for one another” (204) and that “the Christology of our earliest Christian sources is as high as that of our later sources.” (ibid.)
Negatively, Bates falls short on tracing out the presence of the Holy Spirit in the quotations from the ancient Jewish Bible. As a member of the Trinity, his part is downplayed in a book with this title. Also, his discussion of Psalm 102 is not as thorough as it could be, since there is a body of extant literature that recognizes Father/Son dialogue within this psalm. These are relatively small concerns, however, concerning the value of the book as a whole.
As concerns the topic of divine dialogue within Scripture, Bates performs the inestimably valuable service of structuring a framework of analysis, introducing a vocabulary (prosopological exegesis), and proposing a methodology for any reader to recognize and critically test such biblical speech. This book is a scholar’s prayer come true on the topic of divine dialogue in Scripture.
Bates notes that while there have been many attempts to locate the strands that led to the doctrine of the trinity (seeing it as an imposition of Hellenism, as an outgrowth of monotheism, as an encounter with the historical Jesus, etc.), no one has yet taken account of the way in which it was a certain reading strategy that played a crucial role in bringing about the affirmation of the triune nature of God. The Birth of the Trinity is Bates attempt to bring attention to this constitutive element of early Christian theological practice.
The argument goes that when early Christians read the Old Testament, they often made recourse to a kind of interpretive technique called prosopological exegesis. This was a method that was employed throughout the ancient world, and is explicitly forwarded by church theologians like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. It is what Bates calls a "person-centered reading strategy" (27). Essentially, it reads Old Testament passages with an eye toward who is speaking, who is be spoken to, and what is being spoken about. Though there was certainly the human speaker, because of early Christian understandings of prophecy, this human speaker could speak as another "person" (prosopos) or "character." Bates writes, "The earliest Christians believed that ancient prophets, such as David or Isaiah, could speak in the character of God the Father, Christ the Son, and others" (34). While the prophets certainly spoke in their own time, within their own historical horizon, they could "slip into a role . . . and perform a speech or dialogue that has already come to pass, is presently happening, or will occur in the future, whether on earth or in the heavens. The speech is functionally a script authored by the Holy Spirit, as in the final analysis it is the Spirit who supplies the words to the prophet, because these words have been, are, or will become a reality when performed" (Ibid).
So alongside this "prophetic setting" is the setting of what the speech itself is talking about, this is what Bates calls the "theodramatic setting." Finally, there is the "actualized setting" which is "the moment at which the theodrama is truly performed, not by the prophet-actor but by the person(s) the prophet was representing in the theodrama" (35).
Bates argues that many of the New Testament writers and Christian theologians of the first few centuries recognized these three settings (of course not in those terms) and interpreted the Old Testament texts accordingly. Thus, they could find in the words of a Davidic Psalm a conversation between the Father and Christ over the nature of his earthly humiliation and resurrection.
The upshot of all this for the history of trinitarian doctrine is that Bates is able to contend that this was crucial in developing the nature of the intra-divine distinction of persons, across all of history. Indeed, this was likely a a major element that led to recognition of the Son's pre-existence. The burden of the book then is to demonstrate that the New Testament does indeed demonstrate this kind of interpretation toward the ends that Bates suggests. Naturally then, he spends most of his time looking closes at passages throughout the New Testament corpus (chiefly St. Paul), drawing out instance of prosopological exegesis.
He arranges these chapters in terms of the "theodramatic setting." Thus, they range from discussion of the pre-temporal life of God to the determination of the mission of the Son, from the Cross to the Resurrection, and ultimately to the final end of all things.
All in all, Bates makes a persuasive case for the presence of prosopological reading in the New Testament. Which in turn suggests that post-apostolic Christians were in continuity with the New Testament writers themselves when they employed person-centered exegesis in developing trinitarian doctrine. This is not to say that all of Bates' exegetical treatments are equally satisfying, yet it is to say that he has effectively demonstrated that contemporary interpreters need to recognize this approach to the biblical texts as apostolic.
NOTE: This book was provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.