Here is my interview with Josh Jipp about his brand new book The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020).
MB: Josh, you’re previous research has been Luke-Acts and the theme of hospitality. What made you want to explore the topic of a messianic theology of the New Testament?
JJ: I cannot write anymore about hospitality so I needed a new topic! 🙂 But actually this book extends and draws upon some of my prior writing, most notably by book Christ is King which focuses on Paul’s letters. So the first real reason is that as I worked on messianism in Paul’s letters, I was frequently thinking about the importance of Jesus’s messianic identity for other NT compositions. It seemed that what I saw and argued for Paul’s messianic christology was true for most of the other NT texts: e.g., the same honorifics (Messiah, Son of David, Branch, shepherd, Lion of Judah), messianic scriptural texts (Gen 49; 2 Sam. 7; Pss. 2, 89, 110; Isa. 11; Ezek. 34), and messianic scenarios (military battles, justice and righteousness, judicial protection). I wanted to explore, then, to what extent the NT writings could be seen as creative theological and literary expansions upon the conviction that Jesus is the singular messianic king. Second, it seemed to me that many of the most important Christian convictions are derived from or at least very closely related to the confession Jesus is Messiah, and I wanted to engage in some synthesis which showed how Jesus’s messianic identity is theologically generative.
MB: How has the relevance of “messianism” waxed and waned in recent years when it comes to christology?
JJ: My response to this could be long! Let me just say that I think the history of NT scholarship has had some paradigms for understanding Christian origins and the rise of early Christology that have not always been helpful here. Whether this be a non-messianic historical Jesus or an evolutionary view of Christology that sees Jesus’s Davidic ancestry as unimportant and even “too Jewish” there are powerful paradigms in NT scholarship that have minimized Jesus’s messianic identity. Even if certain texts, say the Gospel of John or the Letter to the Hebrews, do not draw upon Jesus’s messiahship as their primary way of understanding Jesus, almost all of them agree in calling Jesus the Messiah and in expanding this claim in creative ways. There are also understandable concerns with notions of monarchy and kingship as theological categories, and some find these images and metaphors to be problematic for how one speaks about God in today’s world.
But there have always been outliers who have argued for Jesus’s messiahship as critical for understanding NT Christology. I should also say that my scholarship (and all of ours, of course!) is built on what has come before, and I’m grateful that there are others who have helped me make the argument that Jesus’s messianic identity is central to the NT. I list some of these figures in the Introduction to the book. But Richard Hays and Douglas Campbell were helpful for me here, both in their writings and in my own studies at Duke Divinity School. N.T. Wright, Matt Novenson, and William Horbury stand out as premier here as well. Haley Jacob’s recent book and your smaller work on the Gospels were also very helpful.
MB: Most people can understand how Jesus is the Messiah in Matthew, he’s the “Son of David” and all that, but what is precisely messianic about the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Doesn’t the prophetic category dominate Luke’s two-volume work?
JJ: Good question! First, absolutely it is the case that running through Luke-Acts is a literary thread that portrays Jesus as the promised “prophet-like Moses.” I am not arguing that everything in the NT is “messianic theology” or that we should minimize and subordinate the other important christological images, categories, and titles. The NT texts draw upon an abundance of rich resources to articulate their understanding of Jesus’s identity and work. I do think, however, that the claim “Jesus is the Messiah” has the broadest purchase on all 27 texts and that it forms the structure of NTT.
But onward to Luke-Acts! Luke portrays Jesus as the promised Davidic Messiah with an abundance of allusions to the OT in the infancy narrative. Luke is emphatic that Jesus is the one who will finally sit on David’s throne forever (see Luke 1:31-35; 2 Sam. 7:12-16). Luke’s passion narrative is dominated by quotations and allusions to Davidic Psalms which mark him out as the suffering righteous king who suffers and dies as the righteous Son in obedience to his Father. And Acts shows us that God’s resurrection of Jesus from the dead and heavenly enthronement to the right hand of the Father is how he inaugurates and expands the kingdom of God (Acts 2:22-36). The resurrection/enthronement is how God fulfills the promise from 2 Sam. 7 and reaffirmed by Gabriel in Luke 1 that a Davidic king would rule eternally over Go/d’s people.
MB: I get the impression from some scholars that Paul wouldn’t know a Messiah even if it hit him over the head with a Menorah, how does messianism manifest itself in Paul’s letters.
JJ: There are close to 270 references to “Christos” in the canonical letters of Paul. Some, a bit strangely I think, see this as evidence for the insignificance of Jesus’s messiahship to Paul. I see it in exactly the opposite way. This does not mean that every occurrence of “Christos” contains a full-blown messianic theological argument, but I do think it indicates that Paul’s use of the honorific in combination with messianic OT texts, scenarios, and motifs demonstrate that Jesus’s messiahship is critical to Paul’s theology.
How does messianism manifest itself in Paul’s letters?
Romans begins and ends with an inclusio that articulates Jesus’s Davidic messiahship is a critical component to the gospel (Rom. 1:1-5; 15:7-12). Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to explore all of Romans asking how Jesus’s messiahship informs Paul’s arguments?
Jesus speaks and prays the Davidic psalms, and Paul draws upon these Psalms to explain the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus.
Paul argues that the Davidic Messiah is the seed of Abraham, and this combination of Abrahamic and Davidic promises in the person of Jesus, is what enables Paul to argue that gentiles are included in Abraham’s family (Gen. 3:14-19; see also Rom. 4:13-25).
Time will fail me! But maybe most importantly for my argument on Paul’s Christology is my claim that Paul frequently conceptualizes union with Christ/participatory soteriology along the lines of sharing in the rule of Christ the Messiah. The narrative of the Messiah, who he is and what he does is messianic theology: election to sonship, defeat of one’s enemies, resurrection, enthronement/exaltation, the creation of a harmonious people, giving gifts to his people, etc. But Paul argues that the Messiah’s people not only benefit from the Messiah’s rule, they share in his rule through their union with Christ.
MB: I like the two parts of the book, first, teasing out the messianic motifs of each corpus; second, looking at messianic synthesis around the topics of Scripture, christology, soteriology, sanctification/ecclesiology, and then politics/power/eschatology. How does messianism represent a unifying point for NT Theology?
JJ: Part of the reason I wrote this book in the genre of an NTT is because the earliest Christian confessions “Jesus is the Messiah” and “Jesus is the Lord” make for excellent building blocks for NTT. And, as earlier noted, while the NT texts say many diverse and different things, they are agreed in all seeing Jesus as the Messiah. So I see Jesus’s messianic kingship as something of a root metaphor, a driving image for making sense of NT Christology — the identity and acts of Jesus — and its implications for Christ’s people. This also allows one to explore unity and diversity in the NT. Diversity in that the major NT compositions are examined for their particular creative literary and theological expansion of the confession “Jesus is the Messiah,” but some level of unity in their agreement with said confession.
I’ll also briefly add, since you mention the second part of the book where I engage in synthesis, that this part of the book is explicitly theological as I try to tease out both some of the dogmatic and contemporary ethical significance of Jesus’s messianic identity.
MB: What kind of political ethic does the NT’s messianic vision created for followers of Christ the king?
One of the underappreciated aspects of God’s expectation for the kings of Israel is that they would be devoted to justice and righteousness. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 72 which contains the prayer that God’s king would act with justice for the poor and that this would lead to flourishing for the people. So the NT frequently portrays Jesus as establishing his people in righteousness and shepherding his people with mercy. As a result, the NT texts also often depict Christ’s rule as exposing the fraudulent and counterfeit rule of human kings and kingdoms. It gives us a very different depiction of what power is and how it is to be used. In doing my research and writing, I was struck by how frequently petty tyrants, kings, and rulers are exposed as counterfeits of Christ’s kingship. I argue that citizens of God’s kingdom will be devoted to a particular way of life in service to their king and that this includes, at minimum, a new set of economic practices, forgiveness/peacemaking/rejection of violence, and solidarity with the weak and vulnerable. It also entails clear thinking when it comes to the ability to distinguish and not confuse or blend Christ’s kingship with any human government or rule.