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A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels Hardcover – September 1, 2016
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"In this important and timely study of the Synoptic Gospels, Daniel Kirk attacks the popular 'divine Christology' advocated in many recent studies, insisting, with ruthless logic, that the Synoptic evangelists consistently portray Jesus in ways reminiscent of Jewish traditions as an idealized human figure. He demonstrates how they pick up the language used of Adam, Moses, David, and the 'one like a son of man,' and present Jesus as God's human representative on earth. Kirk's study is not just negative, however, since the alternative 'high' Christology he advocates reminds us of the importance of Jesus's humanity. Everyone concerned with the origins of Christian belief needs to take note of this work." Morna D. Hooker -- University of Cambridge
"This may well be the most important book about New Testament Christology to appear in recent years. Written in an era when it has become increasingly popular to insist that Jesus is already depicted as a preexistent figure in the Synoptic Gospels -- one who is absorbed into the 'divine identity' and thus at least hinted to be 'fully God' -- Daniel Kirk makes a persuasive case for viewing the depiction of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as one of an idealized human figure. His argument is likely to stand the test of time and become a focal point for ongoing debates and new research in the years and decades to come." James McGrath -- Butler University
"In this book Kirk presents a timely challenge to the advocates of the emerging consensus that there was an early high and divine Christology, especially to those of us who think that Matthew, Mark, and Luke (not just John) have a preexistent and incarnational Christology. Kirk ably demonstrates the wealth of Jewish material focused on an ideal, glorious humanity and its significance for the Gospels' portrayal of Jesus. Anyone working on the Gospels and New Testament Christology will now have to reckon with these arguments." Crispin Fletcher-Louis -- author of Jesus Monotheism
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Were anyone to criticize Kirk for too low a Christology, he or she needs to remember that Kirk is not claiming in the work a scope beyond the synoptics, much less a desire or need to square his research with an understanding of Jesus that was arrived at as a result of the debates of Nicaea and Chalcedon, and or the struggles that took place prior to these councils. It would both be anachronistic and ethnocentric as the understanding of the human in a Hellenistic philosophical sense is very different than understanding the model of the human that our Semitic Jesus, and his first followers held. It is their understanding that Kirk keeps his eye upon. And, because of his talents and mastery of the material Kirk is able to keep the focus there where it belongs.
John’s gospel for example is commonly assumed to posit a pre-existent and divine Jesus, but even here we need to go slow as with this subject matter we are speaking in metaphors and analogies, as we ourselves have no direct experience of that type of experience. I make this point prior to the usual arguments of whether the metaphors used here are substantive or functional. The same points are to a lesser extent applicable to Paul too, dependent upon how you frame him. This is simply the terrain of NT material. The tensions inherent within it need to be respected and honored. To do less is to dishonor our ancestors. Kirk honors our ancestors well. The only area where I had a problem with Kirk’s treatment of material was when he addressed the issue of the messianic secret motif. My perceived lack of his sensitivity to the role of secrecy in the social system within which the gospels were authored became apparent to me because secrecy/deception was and still is a means value in the MENA culture. It was/is a strategy for establishing and protecting ones honor and as such secrecy and deception was to be expected as a given in that culture. While Americans think (believe) everyone has the right to the truth, our ancestors in the faith lived in a world where the truth was only owed to the insiders of a group. Hence when an outsider asked a question to which he had no right to expect an honest answer, to expect an honest answer would have meant he was a fool. Meaning he should have expected to be lied to. Bruce J. Malina and John Pilch address the many issues of the biblical social system if you are interested. In short, this is a book well worth the effort. But given its size it is not for the faint of heart. But the rewards are plentiful and worth the effort.
In A Man Attested By God J.R. Daniel Kirk goes to great lengths to show that the Jesus of the synoptic gospels is not presented as a divine figure, but rather calls us to discern a "lower christology" from the synoptic gospels. Jesus in the synoptics according to Kirk's line of thought is rather "A man attested by God" taking a quote from the book of Acts. Christians today often times want to read into the synoptics the highest view of Jesus possible, and attribute divinity to almost every action that Jesus takes. Kirk draws our attention to the fact that in Jewish literature Jesus is not alone in the ability to perform miracles, or to promise that God is at work in our midst.
Kirk starts the book with a thorough and excellent overview of the relevant literature on the subject. This chapter represents a thorough overview of the issue, and is excellent background reading for understanding the NT. Kirk then proceeds to work through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (with special emphasis given to the gospel of Mark) showing how Jesus is not presented as a divine figure but rather as a man attested by God to represent God in his work on earth. There is a lot of resonance here with some other theologians work, especially as it involves Jesus as the true Israel living out the story of the OT. Instead of God dropping a divine Jesus in our midst, God is working through the human Jesus to bring about his kingdom on this earth.
This book is especially written for seminary students, theology professors, and theology nerds (like me). In the book you will find excellent research, and clear exposition of some of the passages in the synoptics that seem to present Jesus as divine. Kirk does not deny the divinity of Jesus, but rather wants to correct some long held assumptions that the correct route to understanding Jesus is first through his humanity (and what that humanity means for us today).
As I read through the book a few things stood out to me. First I found passages in the Scriptures to make more sense when read through the lens of divine representatives. Kirk's rubric for understanding Jesus helps make sense of the other characters in Scripture who also perform "divine like" activities (miracles, speaking for God, etc.). The exposition of the synoptics is also well thought out and extremely thorough. I found myself at times wanting more explanation of relevant passages because new pathways to understanding were being opened up for me all the time.
I also wanted a bit more discussion of the "so what" portion of the book. Students of Scripture may immediately protest that the books of John and Paul certainly present Jesus as pre-existent and divine, how does that square with the Synoptics version of the human Jesus? I think part of the answer is that both sides need to be given careful consideration when talking about christology, but that might be the topic for a future book, holding both views together to make sense of each one.
I think this book is one that needs to be read by serious students of the Scriptures. Kirk has done expansive research into the topic, and presents a thesis that should lead to further study on how we present the Jesus of the synoptics. At 600+ pages it is a hefty book, but the time spent working through it is rewarding. I can see this book as the first stepping stone to further study into the issue, and a possible re-thinking of how we read the synoptics.
A challenging, important, and thought provoking read!
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