Volume 44 - Issue 2

Biblical Theology of the New Testament

by Peter Stuhlmacher

With this volume, we are given an English translation of the magnum opus of Peter Stuhlmacher, professor emeritus of New Testament at the University of Tübingen, Germany. A number of his other works are available in English (e.g., Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: A Challenge to the New Perspective [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001]; Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994]), but this work stands as the culmination of his thoughts on the NT and ought to be widely and deeply considered by NT students.

For those familiar with the original German work, there are a few modifications of note to accommodate “the needs of English-speaking theological students” (p. xiii) such as the inclusion of English-language bibliographical material at the end of every chapter, summaries of “recent works of New Testament theology” (p. xiv; e.g., Frank S. Thielman, Theology of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005]; G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011]), and the additional of some supplementary material by Daniel Bailey within the text (not to mention the inclusion of an essay by the same).

Stuhlmacher is writing from a Protestant perspective and, more specifically, one informed by the Lutheran tradition. The latter is evidenced by his relatively frequent (positive) citation of Martin Luther (pp. 314–15; 750–62) as well as his mention of the Augsburg Confession (pp. 313, 857–58). The book is divided into two main parts. The first focuses on what the proclamation of the New Testament and the second, briefer part focuses such areas as the question of canon and the center of Scripture. The first part is further divided into six main sections, namely, the proclamation of (1) Jesus; (2) the Early Church; (3) Paul; (4) after Paul; (5) the Synoptic Gospels; and (6) John and his school.

He sets up the body with a helpful discussion of biblical theology as a discipline coupled with a survey of “the current leading theologies of the New Testament” (p. 15) and current research surrounding the discipline. He argues here that the method employed to elucidate the biblical theology of the New Testament “must correspond to the biblical texts and help them express themselves in their own language.” Therefore, while “the historical-critical method” is the “one established method,” it must be, he argues, a method that “is prepared to enter into serious dialogue with the texts” and agree “as far as possible with their central kerygmatic statements” (p. 12). What this means is that he distances himself from the existential reading of the NT exemplified by Rudolph Bultmann and others of this school (more recently, Hans Hübner), realizing in turn the important and unbreakable connection between “the gospel of Christ” and “the tradition, language, and thought mode of the Old Testament” (p. 44).

Though many positive features can be noted, our attention will first turn to some problematic aspects of the book. Stuhlmacher seems to approximate something like a “canon-within-the-canon” approach to the NT (see Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012], 68–73) by arguing that Paul and the Pauline school (Colossians, Ephesians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus) are in direct conflict with other NT books (James, Hebrews), with 1 Peter serving as “a kind of golden mean between Paulinism” and the more Jewish letters of James and Hebrews (p. 519). This arises from his contention, following W. G. Kümmel, that “the center of Scripture corresponds with the Pauline message of the justification of the ungodly by faith alone” (p. 786; cf. pp. 780–82 for his discussion of Luther in this connection).

Moreover, he favors the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels over against the Gospel of John: “in rendering this tradition [from the time of the earthly Jesus] in the language of their own school, John and his pupils proceeded … recklessly with the historical events as compared to … the synoptic tradition” (p. 58). Thus, while he recognizes the strengths of the “Johannine school” (which includes 1–3 John, Revelation), it is sub-par when compared with the synoptic gospels. (For an account that argues persuasively for the historicity of both the Synoptic Gospels and John, the reader is referred to Craig L. Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007], esp. 196–240). This gives rise to another issue. By evaluating John’s Gospel thus, Stuhlmacher’s discussion of Jesus’s proclamation is marred. Less significant, though arguably still incorrect, is the prominence he places on the Septuagint in the life of the early church as well as in the formation of the NT canon.

Despite these and other areas of difficulty, there is much to commend Stuhlmacher’s book. On many occasions, he departs from the critical consensus, preferring a close and even churchly reading of the text. This is most obvious when one considers his German theological milieu, i.e., Martin Hengel exerts more influence than Bultmann. Further, his constant attention to the Old Testament and Jewish context sheds profound light on the text. In comparison with G. K. Beale’s work, his work is more introductory in content; yet he is a clear improvement on Udo Schnelle’s Theology of the New Testament (trans. M. Eugene Boring [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009]). In conclusion, the magnum opus of this senior German scholar has much to offer the NT student, will indubitably contribute to English-speaking scholarship, and serves as a reliable entry point into the world of German NT studies.

Thomas Haviland-Pabst

Thomas Haviland-Pabst
Asheville, North Carolina, USA

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