Review by Adam Christian
Darrell L. Bock and Benjamin I. Simpson
Jesus the God-Man: The Unity and Diversity of the Gospel Portrayals
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016
xiii + 194 pp. | $12.98.
Both Darrel Bock and Benjamin Simpson are accomplished scholars and authors. Bock serves as senior research professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and has written numerous books about Jesus and the Gospels, specializing primarily in Luke and Acts. Simpson is an assistant professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and has written on Historical Jesus research. This shared experience prepares the authors to write a solid introduction to the Jesus of the Gospels.
In the preface, the authors write that Jesus the God-Man is intended as an expansion of the fourth section in Bock’s 2002 book, Jesus According to Scripture. (ix) Their purpose for doing so is expanded upon in the introduction: “In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each Gospel in its own way makes its case and points to how monotheistically oriented Jews came to affirm a uniquely exalted status for Jesus among all who have trod the earth. The church needs to relearn this way of presenting Jesus. Much of this volume is an effort to explain how this can be done.” (3) The authors accomplish this through a comparative study of different themes in the Gospel accounts, with each chapter addressing a different theme.
The first chapter addresses the introductory material of the Gospels, covering Jesus’s birth, the ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus’s temptation. The authors identify both the promise and tension found in these passages. Jesus is identified as the promised Davidic king and affirmed as God’s son through the baptism narrative. At the same time, tension is introduced into the Gospel story, showing from the beginning that there would be opposition to Jesus’s ministry.
The next two chapters focus on Jesus’s use of the phrase “The Kingdom of God,” and interact with the fact that the phrase is found nowhere in the Old Testament. The authors argue that despite the absence of this phrase, Jesus is drawing on imagery that invokes the sense of messianic hope pervading the Old Testament. While the phrase itself is not found, the hope Jesus appeals to would be familiar to his hearers.
Next, the authors address the titles used throughout the Gospels to refer to Jesus, looking at both how those around Jesus understood him and his ministry, as well as how Jesus understood himself. The titles used throughout the Gospel identify an understanding that Jesus is the Messiah, connected with the kingship of David, and ultimately that he self-identified as God.
More important than what Jesus is called, the authors argue, is what he did. They write: “To truly appreciate Jesus, it is imperative to understand his acts and their scope. Jesus highlighted who he was by showing who he was and discussing what his actions meant.” (89) Jesus’s actions show that he is both Lord and Christ, with his resurrection and ascension functioning as the “ultimate vindication of these claims.” (120)
Next, the authors move to the teachings of Jesus regarding those who would follow him. They show that while much of Jesus’s ministry and teaching was directed towards the Jews, his intention was that Gentiles would be included as well. The community of believers that follow him are called to live a life characterized by love for God and for their neighbors, taking Jesus’s message “to a needy but rejecting world.” (147)
After this, the authors look at Jesus’s role in eschatological judgment. Summarizing this, they write: “The picture of the Son of Man as judge does not detail the timing, other than that judgment comes in association with return and the end of the age. More important for Jesus is the idea that judgment and eschatological hope show that everyone is accountable to God and must be ready to settle accounts with him. (158) This theme is represented throughout the Gospels, and a good deal of Jesus’s teaching on the subject is “designed to challenge Israel to respond to the promise he offers by reversing expectations they had about who would receive the blessing.” (151)
Lastly, the final week of Jesus’s life is examined, showing the escalation of the dispute regarding Jesus’s authority. Ultimately, “The resurrection is seen as a divine vindication of Jesus’s claims that he has the right to sit at God’s side.” If the Gospels ended with the crucifixion, we might be tempted to believe that Jesus’s critics were correct to challenge his claims to divine right and authority. His resurrection, however, proves that his claims were true.
Jesus the God-Man serves as a brief introduction to the study of Jesus as he is found in the Gospels. By moving topically through the Gospels, comparing what each says about the topic in question, the authors provide a succinct, but fairly thorough, treatment of how each Gospel author interacts with Jesus ministry and message. This is a good book to begin a more in depth study of the topic, providing a jumping-off point for deeper study. While introductory in nature, the book is fairly dense, packing a great deal of material into its pages. This is not to say that the book is unreadable, but readers should be prepared to work through a good amount of information, despite the book’s short length.