Andreas Köstenberger’s Review of BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, by Peter Stuhlmacher

Published on June 20, 2021 by Andreas Kostenberger

Eerdmans, 2018 | 950 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

By Andreas Köstenberger

Disclaimer: This is not a new book. It was originally published in German in two volumes in 1992 and 1999, respectively. This translation was prepared on the basis of the third edition of volume 1 (2005) and the second edition of volume 2 (2012; though the content is essentially unchanged from the 1999 edition). So, the first edition of volume 1 originally appeared almost 30 years ago, and the first edition of volume 2 over 20 years ago. A lot has happened in the field of Biblical Theology since then! As Stuhlmacher himself notes in his preface to the English edition, “The publication of my Biblical Theology of the New Testament is a risky venture. I wrote it twenty years ago, and it reflects the prevailing discussion in Germany at the time” (xix). He expresses regret that he was unable to revise his original work “because much progress has been made in work on the theology of the New Testament” (xix; he cites Ulrich Wilckens, Donald Hagner, and N. T. Wright).

This is the first time the book is available in English translation, however. In view of the limitations under which many English-speaking scholars are working regarding the grasp of German, it is easy to see that the lack of English translation has significantly lessened the potential impact of Stuhlmacher’s work on the field overall. This English translation, albeit rather delayed, may possibly give this work a new lease on life.

The translation was assiduously prepared as a labor of love by Stuhlmacher’s former student Daniel Bailey, who previously translated The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources, edited by Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher (2004). Stuhlmacher is a long-time professor at Tübingen University in Germany, best known for the “Tübingen School” founded by Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792–1860), the pioneer of the “historical-critical method.” While falling broadly under this umbrella, Stuhlmacher’s theological instincts are generally on the conservative side. Years ago, he famously sparred with the even more conservative German scholar Gerhard Maier who had written a book with the provocative title The End of the Historical-Critical Method (1975). Stuhlmacher is primarily a New Testament scholar; with regard to Old Testament studies, he typically relies on his Old Testament colleague Hartmut Gese.

An assessment of Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology is provided by G. K. Beale in his Foreword to the volume. As might be expected, Beale is generally appreciative of Stuhlmacher’s emphasis on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Also, Thomas Schreiner has provided a rather thorough and favorable (even glowing) review of the present work on the Gospel Coalition website. At the time of writing this review, this work has 5 customer reviews on Amazon and is listed as #660,630 in Books, which may attest to its limited resonance on a popular level.

It is hard to see how this work could rival the impact of the work of, say, N. T. Wright or even the TIS (Theological Interpretation of Scripture) movement, which includes authors such as Craig Bartholomew, Kevin Vanhoozer, and many others. Stuhlmacher himself writes, “Since the theological discussion in the United States and the United Kingdom is accepted differently than in Germany, it remains to be seen whether and how my presentation fits into this other conversation.” Nevertheless, it will be helpful to provide a brief synopsis and evaluation of Stuhlmacher’s Biblical Theology.

At the outset, it should be noted that efforts were made by those producing this translation to bring the volume up to date. This was done by including English-language supplemental bibliographies (typically running through 2010, thus also now over a decade old; see also the list of New Testament theologies at xxxiii). Also, the New Testament theologies by Frank Thielman, Frank Matera, Thomas Schreiner, and G. K. Beale are summarized, as is Udo Schnelle’s work (2007; English translation 2009). In addition, the translator supplemented chapter 40 on the canon and Josephus. Also, at James Dunn’s request, chapter 17 was expanded to include interaction with his work on Paul and the law. In addition, in “Die Tübinger Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments: Ein Rückblick,” Theologische Beiträge 48 (2017): 76–91, Stuhlmacher reminisces about his relationships with Hartmut Gese and Martin Hengel (the two scholars to whom this work is dedicated), and others and laments that the current faculty at the University of Tübingen has turned back to the Bultmannian School rather than following his lead (as noted at xvii, n. 9).

Also, it is worthy of note that Stuhlmacher has elsewhere interacted with N. T. Wright in an essay, “N. T. Wright’s Understanding of Justification and Redemption,” in God and the Faithfulness of Paul: A Critical Examination of the Pauline Theology of N. T. Wright (ed. M. F. Bird, C. Heilig, and J. T. Hewitt; WUNT 2/413; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 359–74; and has reviewed Wilckens’s work in Theologische Beiträge 47 (2016): 224–29 (a longer version is available online at http://theologische-beiträ Finally, the translator has included a work of his own, “Biblical and Greco-Roman Uses of Hilastērion in Romans 3:25 and 4 Maccabees 17:22 (Codex S),” based on his unpublished dissertation. In this article, he contends that hilastērion is best understood as “propitiatory offering” and argues against renderings such as “expiation” or “atoning sacrifice.”


Chapter 1, “The Task and Structure of a Biblical Theology of the New Testament,” begins by enunciating the following “first principle”: “A theology of the New Testament must allow the New Testament itself to dictate its theme and presentation” (3, emphasis original). He adds that New Testament theology “is oriented to the church canon and therefore differs from a history of the early Christian religion” (4). Starting with the canon, in turn, raises the question of the relationship between the Old and the New Testament. Stuhlmacher’s “second principle” is this: “The theology of the New Testament must do justice to both the historical claims to revelation and the ecclesiastical significance of the New Testament canon” (5, emphasis original). Jesus and the apostles “read Israel’s Bible as the word of God, which remained equally valid for them” (6). From this follows the “third principle”: “To the extent that a theology of the New Testament takes its orientation and task from the New Testament itself, it must respect and work through the special rooting of the New Testament message of faith in the Old Testament” (6, emphasis original).

It follows, in turn, that “The theology of the New Testament must be developed as a biblical theology of the New Testament that is open to the Old Testament, as a subdiscipline of a whole-Bible biblical theology encompassing both Testaments” (6, emphasis original). Conversely, we should strive for “a theology of the Old Testament that is open to the New Testament” (6). The New Testament authors focus primarily on the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Prophets (esp. Isaiah), and generally rely on the Septuagint (e.g., Paul and John; 9). Stuhlmacher affirms the “historical-critical method” as “currently [the] only one established method” for understanding a text historically. At the same time, Stuhlmacher affirms that the “New Testament attests the revelation of the one God in the mission, work, and resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (the kerygma; 12, emphasis original). “The gospel of God concerning Jesus Christ is the decisive center of the New Testament” (12).

Thus, in keeping with Stuhlmacher’s hermeneutic of Einverständnis (“consent,” “agreement,” or “empathy”), historical criticism must be “prepared to enter into a serious dialogue with the texts by agreeing as far as possible with their central kerygmatic statements” (12; emphasis original; note that it is not entirely clear what Stuhlmacher means by “as far as possible”). Note that this is different from affirming inerrancy; Stuhlmacher actually believes there are errors and contradictions in Scripture. As I cite Stuhlmacher in my article “Diversity and Unity in the New Testament,” in Biblical Theology: Retrospect & Prospect (ed. Scott J. Hafemann; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 144, Stuhlmacher wrote that “the Bible contains diverse voices that do not merely complement but also contradict each other” (“Der Kanon und seine Auslegung,” in Jesus Christus als die Mitte der Schrift: Studien zur Hermeneutik des Evangeliums [ed. Christof Landmesser et al.; BZNW 86; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1997), 287: “vielfältige Stimmen, … die sich nicht nur gegenseitig ergänzen, sondern auch widersprechen”).

According to Stuhlmacher, four corollary criteria are that the method must be (1) historically appropriate, (2) open to revelation, (3) related to the church’s faith, and (4) rationally transparent and controllable (13). Because of his commitment to the text rather than tradition, Stuhlmacher contends that what is needed is neither a dogmatic nor a thematic outline but rather one that is historical (13). He posits the following outline which will provide the framework for his Biblical Theology in both volumes (reproduced from 15):

Book 1: The Origin and Character of the New Testament Proclamation

Part 1: The Proclamation of Jesus

Part 2: The Proclamation of the Early Church

Part 3: The Proclamation of Paul

Part 4: The Proclamation in the Period after Paul

Part 5: The Proclamation of the Synoptic Gospels

Part 6: The Proclamation of John and His School

Book 2: The Problem of the Canon and the Center of Scripture

Stuhlmacher defends this outline in interaction with Rudolf Bultmann’s New Testament Theology, which he calls a “masterpiece” (21) but which, he contends, is in need of “supplementation and correction” (19; see his important critique of Bultmann at 19–21). In particular, he faults Bultmann for his existentialism and demythologization program, his dichotomy between Judaism and Hellenism, and his neglect of the Old Testament. Most importantly, Stuhlmacher contends, against Bultmann, that Jesus’s own proclamation is not merely the presupposition of New Testament theology (as Bultmann famously contended) but the proper “historical foundation of the theology of the New Testament” (20).

Stuhlmacher proceeds to review and assess the contributions by Hans Conzelmann (1967), Joachim Jeremias (1971), Werner Kümmel (1969), Eduard Lohse (1974), Leonhard Goppelt (1975–76), Georg Strecker (1996), Ferdinand Hahn (2002), Ulrich Wilckens (2002–2017), and Udo Schnelle (2007). After dealing with objections to the feasibility of Biblical Theology, Stuhlmacher surveys the work of Hans Hübner (1990, 1993, 1995), who argues that “working through the theological treatment of the Old Testament by the New Testament authors is the primary and fundamental task of a biblical theology” (1:28, cited at 41; emphasis original). The concluding paragraph of chapter 1 is worth quoting in full:

The newness and uniqueness of the gospel of Christ show up precisely in the fact that the gospel takes up the Old Testament testimony to the uniqueness of God and then proclaims Jesus of Nazareth to be the only-begotten Son of this one and only God. The New Testament’s testimony to Christ remains incomprehensible without the Old Testament’s testimony to God. Christian faith atrophies where it tries to separate itself from its rootedness in the Old Testament. Since the Holy Scriptures belong to Jews and Christians together, these facts imply a theological obligation never to exclude Israel and its traditions from reflection on the truth of the gospel. (44)

Following these Foundations, Stuhlmacher organizes the remainder of his Biblical Theology in two “books”: Book One: The Origin and Character of the New Testament Proclamation (close to 700 pp.); and Book Two: The Problem of the Canon and the Center of Scripture (about 80 pp.). Dividing the material into two “Books” seems unnecessary and perhaps a bit pompous, not to mention the massive disparity in length between these two units. While Book Two is not divided into parts, Book One is subdivided into six parts:

Part 1: The Proclamation of Jesus (about 135 pp.)

Part 2: The Proclamation of the Early Church (about 65 pp.)

Part 3: The Proclamation of Paul (about 180 pp.)

Part 4: The Proclamation in the Period after Paul (about 120 pp.)

Part 5: The Proclamation of the Synoptic Gospels (about 90 pp.)

Part 6: The Proclamation of John and His School (about 100 pp.)

The length of these parts seems roughly proportionate. One wonders as to the legitimacy of treating Jesus first and then discussing the proclamation of the Synoptics and John later again in the last two sections. This seems to suggest, erroneously, that we have significant access to Jesus apart from what we know from the biblical Gospels. Also, one wonders if it is legitimate to put the Synoptics and John last, subsequent to the early church, Paul, and proclamation in the period after Paul. Also, Paul is part of the early church and its proclamation, so it is tenuous to separate the two.

It is, of course, difficult to find the right manner of sequencing and presentation of such a complex subject. All this is to say that Stuhlmacher’s chosen grid is subject to various concerns and critiques and could possibly be improved. One also notes that he is perhaps focused more on history (Jesus, early church, Paul, putting John last) and proportionately less on literature (the canonical ordering of New Testament texts). This strikes one as a bit antiquated in light of the past several decades of biblical scholarship which have witnessed increasing attention being given to matters of canon and literary matters.

Part 1: The Proclamation of Jesus

­­In Chapter 2, “The Problem and Necessity of the Quest for the Earthly Jesus,” Stuhlmacher acknowledges at the outset that the history of Jesus research since the nineteenth century, which resulted in numerous “Lives of Jesus,” was doomed to failure. The primary sources for Jesus are the four Gospels. Yet no full biography can be derived from them, but only “a historically plausible picture of Jesus’s messianic mission” (53). Stuhlmacher notes that critical Jesus research inevitably “involves a certain amount of circular reasoning” (54). An understanding of the Gospel tradition is vital for distinguishing between pre- and post-Easter elements.

After surveying form-critical proposals, Stuhlmacher concludes that we should approach the Gospels with “critical sympathy” rather than wholesale skepticism and presuppose the historical reliability of the Gospels. He thus opts for the approach taken by scholars such as Joachim Jeremias, Birger Gerhardsson, and Rainer Riesner, all of whom put primary weight on Jesus’s proclamation. In this regard, he urges that the Synoptic and Johannine presentations be considered each in their own right. He also urges a study of the historical emergence of the messianic hope in first-century Judaism. At the same time, Stuhlmacher advocates continuing the quest for Jesus “with the post-Easter Christian confession and kerygma” (59). He affirms that “the person and history of Jesus are the central content of the gospel” (59). Remarkably, he calls “the historical Jesus” “an artificial scholarly construct whose profile changes with the personality of the individual researchers, their methods, and the reigning Zeitgeist” (60).

Stuhlmacher is emphatic that “one and the same Jesus was both believed in as Messiah in the light of the Scriptures and executed as a seducer of Israel into false faith” (61). Thus critical scholars cannot legitimately appeal to Martin Kähler’s famous distinction between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” to opt out of Jesus research. Rather, passages such as Acts 10:34–43 should serve as a proper starting point for exploring the life and mission of Jesus.

Chapter 3 deals with the chronology of Jesus’s ministry. Stuhlmacher opts for the traditional date of 4 BC for Herod’s death; more recently scholars have increasingly favored 1 BC. He also opts for a co-regency between Tiberius and Augustus AD 12–14 (for which there is limited evidence) and dates the beginning of Jesus’s ministry to AD 26–27 (AD 29 is more likely). Stuhlmacher argues that the Synoptics place Jesus’s death on April 11, 27, while John places it on April 7, 30 (p. 70). More likely, both place Jesus’s death on April 3, 33 (see my article available here).

Chapter 4 then starts with Jesus and John the Baptist (title, though chapter flow is in reverse order, John the Baptist and Jesus). Chapter 5 deals with Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom of God. Stuhlmacher highlights Jesus’s “special mission consciousness” (87) which is evident both in his proclamation of God’s kingdom and his title “Son of God.” Chapter 6 deals with characteristic forms of Jesus’s proclamation, such as his kingdom parables, various wisdom sayings, aphorisms, and riddles. He also discusses Jesus’s healing miracles, his table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, his gathering of the circle of the Twelve, and symbolic actions such as the temple cleansing. Chapter 7 continues with a discussion of God’s uniqueness and saving power in Jesus’s proclamation. Here, Stuhlmacher treats primarily the Lord’s prayer and Jesus’s address of God as “Father.” He also covers various parables (such as the parable of the prodigal son) and other sayings and actions of Jesus (there is some repetition between Chapters 6 and 7).

In subsequent chapters in Part One, Stuhlmacher discusses God’s will in Jesus’s proclamation (Chap. 8), Jesus’s self-designation as the “Son of Man” and its implicit claim to deity (Chap. 9), Jesus’s preparedness to suffer and his understanding of his death (Chap. 10), and his passion and crucifixion (Chap. 11). Part One ends with a summary chapter entitled, “Who Was Jesus of Nazareth?” (Chap. 12). Stuhlmacher offers the following conclusions: (1) the presentation of Acts 10:34–43 is historically well-founded (he cites Adolf Schlatter: “The earthly Jesus was none other than the Christ of faith,” 180); (2) Jesus’s mission and work are to be placed at the crossroads of the OT and early Jewish messianic expectation; (3) the coming of God’s kingdom stood at the center of Jesus’s proclamation; (4) Jesus’s work was that of an “atoner” (Versühner) and “reconciler” (Versöhner). And perhaps most astonishingly for someone who stands in the tradition of the Tübingen School, (5) “Early Christianity gained its astonishing historical strength only by experiencing that Jesus had been raised by God and exalted to his right hand” (184). This experience of the resurrected Jesus undergirded the early Christians’ proclamation of Jesus as the “Lord and Christ” (cf. Acts 2:36).

Part 2: The Proclamation of the Early Church

At the outset, Stuhlmacher notes that already in Jerusalem, the early church saw a need for a “thoughtful penetration of the faith with a view to its essential contents and goal, that is, of theological reflection and the formation of Christian teaching” (185). He presents the early church’s proclamation in three chapters: Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (Chap. 13), the development of the confession of Christ (Chap. 14), and the formation, structure, and mission of the first churches (Chap. 15). At the outset of Chapter 13, Stuhlmacher restates his foundational passage, Acts 10:34–43, especially verses 39b–43. He notes three primary categories of the early church’s proclamation of Jesus’s resurrection: (1) confessional formulas; (2) reports of the discovery of the empty tomb; and (3) reports of Jesus’s resurrection appearances.

Stuhlmacher notes that the early church linked its proclamation of Jesus’s resurrection with the Creator and covenant God of Israel: “It calls the one God who created the world and chose Israel as his own people the God ‘who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead’” (192). Special consideration is given to the “oldest preserved Easter text,” 1 Corinthians 15:3b–5. In this regard, he also discusses why this text does not mention any of Jesus’s resurrection appearances to women (note that the NRSV, NIV2011, and CEB translate adelphoi in 1 Cor. 15:6 as “brothers and sisters”). Stuhlmacher surmises that these women are not included because they were not recipients of Jesus’s revelation “from heaven in divine glory” (198). More likely, the reason may be that women were not given the status of legal witnesses in the first century.

In his discussion of the empty tomb, Stuhlmacher notes that the location of the tomb was known, and that the “tomb was found empty on Easter morning” (200). He notes that the actual resurrection best accounts for the fact that the tomb was empty and that the Jews circulated rumors that Jesus’s disciples had stolen the body. What is more, the proclamation of Jesus’s resurrection was more than the mere detached reporting of a historical fact; it was borne out by the personal involvement of Jesus’s followers with him and thus has an implicit “missionary structure” (203).

Chapter 14 takes up the question of “The Development of the Confession of Christ.” Stuhlmacher notes that the first confessions of Jesus as “Lord and Christ” in the earliest churches were grounded in the Old Testament and memory of Jesus’s own confession. He concludes that “the formulation of disparate, competing Christologies in these churches is historically unimaginable” (206). This strongly refutes the thesis by Walter Bauer that first-century Christianity was diverse and only coalesced in the second and subsequent centuries under the Roman church’s dominance.

According to Stuhlmacher, “The old christological confessions are formulated in the language of the Old Testament and related early Jewish hymns, psalms, and prayers” (207). Stuhlmacher notes formulations such as Maranatha (1 Cor. 16:22; cf. Rev. 22:20) and the appellation of Jesus as “Lord” (which he roots in Psalm 110:1) and “Christ” (Acts 2:36; 1 Cor. 15:3; rooted in Jesus’s own confession, cf., e.g., Mark 14:61–62). Regarding the crucifixion, Stuhlmacher contends that “In the faith formulation of 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 and Romans 4:25, the pre-Pauline church took up Jesus’s own understanding of his death, conditioned by Isaiah 43:3–4 and 52:13–53:12, and made the idea of vicarious atonement a basic element of Christology” (216). To say that Jesus understood his own death in terms of Isaiah 53 is remarkable, to say the least.

Chapter 15 is devoted to a discussion of “The Formation, Structure, and Mission of the First Churches.” This chapter takes up three questions: “(1) What circumstances led to the formation of the first Christian churches? (2) What did their worship and community life look like? (3) What motivated their mission and what were its fundamental principles?” (225). In this regard, Stuhlmacher discusses passages such as Acts 2:42. He also deals with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which he describes as “neither simply a Christian version of the Passover meal, nor a straightforward development from Jesus’s pre-Easter table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners. It is rather the sacrificial meal of thanksgiving of the [Lord Jesus Christ], celebrated under the sign of his resurrection” (236 ). With regard to mission, after an early mission to the Jews, the Gentile mission can be accounted for on the basis of both Scripture and Christology (241). Post-Easter Christian baptism of believers was performed in correspondence to the baptism of John the Baptist (244).

Part 3: The Proclamation of Paul

Stuhlmacher aptly observes that “Paul’s mission theology is … of great moment for any biblical theology that takes its subject matter from the New Testament itself” (252). In this part of his work, Stuhlmacher discusses Sources, Chronology and Nature of Paul’s Career (Chap. 16), The Origin and Starting Point of Paul’s Theology (Chap. 17), Paul and the Law (Chap. 18), The World, Humanity, and Sin (Chap. 19), Christ, the End of the Law (Chap. 20), The Gospel, Justification, and Faith (Chap. 21), The Sacraments, the Spirit, and the Church (Chap. 22), and Life and Obedience by Grace: The Pauline Paraclesis (Chap. 23).

Among our sources (ch. 16), Stuhlmacher lists Acts and the Pauline corpus, but immediately notes that some of the letters attributed to Paul were actually written by his students (what he calls “the deutero-Pauline letters,” 253). He also notes that we don’t have all the letters Paul wrote (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 2:4; Col. 4:16). Letters Stuhlmacher classifies as deutero-Pauline (i.e., not written by Paul) are 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, and possibly Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. This is very similar (or even identical) to James D. G. Dunn in his Theology of Paul the Apostle, who only accepts seven letters as genuinely Pauline, which indicates that accepting only seven of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament represents somewhat of a critical consensus in mainstream New Testament scholarship. Therefore, Stuhlmacher’s presentation of Paul’s theology is based only on the following: 1 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, and Romans, all of which he considers to have been written within about eight years after the Jerusalem Council (which he dates to AD 48; he dates 1 Thessalonians to AD 50 and Romans to AD 56).

As to Galatians, he follows the southern Galatian theory and dates the letter to between 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, which means that the doctrine of justification is “a distinguishing mark of the Pauline gospel from early on” rather than emerging only later (256). With regard to Acts, Stuhlmacher takes Luke’s role as historian seriously, but nonetheless urges a critical reading of Luke’s account “because Luke reports about Paul not as a Paulinist but rather as an Antiochene teacher and historiographer” who “makes no use of Paul’s letters … and even withholds from Paul the title of apostle, for which Paul fought all his life” (257). He also places the writing of Acts after Paul’s martyrdom under Nero and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (257–58): “Consequently, Lukan reports must always be used with caution” (258; emphasis original). Stuhlmacher proceeds to provide a Pauline chronology based on a critical reading of “genuine Pauline, deutero-Pauline, and Lukan reports” (258).

Stuhlmacher’s discussion of the origin and starting point of Pauline theology (Chap. 17) commences with a helpful review of German scholarship since Rudolf Bultmann up until E. P. Sanders and James D. G. Dunn (264–73). He calls for a surmounting of the Bultmann-Käsemann divide and posits “the necessity of renewed reflection about Paul” (273, emphasis removed). According to Stuhlmacher, “It must be asked once again how Paul’s life and thought, his existence as a Jew called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, his Pharisaic faithfulness to the Torah, and his apostolic obligation to the gospel of God about Jesus Christ are all related, and what theological consequences their relationship has” (273). In what follows, he scours the New Testament evidence toward such an end (273–82) and concludes that “Paul’s call to be an apostle of Jesus Christ caused a complete reversal of his religious experience, changing both his thought and his life. Paul’s mission theology can therefore best be understood by placing the law of God … and the gospel of God … alongside one another as well as over against one another in his thought” (282).

Chapter 18 is devoted to Paul and the Law. Stuhlmacher first sets out to explore how the law was first understood in the Old Testament and early Judaism. In this regard, he sets out to remove the negative stereotype surrounding the law. According to the Pharisees, the law set Israel apart from the other nations and encoded God’s holy will for his people. As enshrining the order of the universe, the law was understood to be equivalent to preexistent wisdom and thus already known to the patriarchs. The scribes claimed the Torah consisted of 613 individual commandments, 248 positive and 365 negative (289). The law is also the standard by which people will be assessed at the final judgment (291). While a Pharisee by background, Paul reassessed the Law in light of his encounter with Christ. While pronouncing a curse and condemnation on sinners since the fall, the law itself is holy and good. Jesus lived under the law and fulfilled it perfectly. In this way, Paul thought of the law differently as an apostle than he did as a Pharisee (298).

The world, humanity, and sin are the subjects in chapter 19. Under this heading, Stuhlmacher discusses references to creation (ktisis), the world (kosmos), all things (ta panta), and the present age (aiōn). The fall subjected the world to sin, decay, and death. Paul’s anthropology encompasses the body (sōma), the flesh (sarx) in contrast to the human or God’s Spirit (pneuma), as well as the human conscience (syneidēsis), the soul (psychē), the mind (nous or noēma), and the heart (kardia). Sinners stand over against God their judge as the enemy and are generally referred to as unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. Believers, while still weak, susceptible to temptation, and engaged in spiritual warfare, are no longer under the power of sin and thus able to resist temptation in the power of the Spirit.

Chapter 20 is devoted to a discussion of Christ, the end of the law. Christology lies at the heart of Paul’s theology, and Paul’s view of Christ is rooted in his encounter with the exalted Christ on the road to Damascus. Salvation is the work of God in Christ for Jews, Gentiles, and creation as a whole. Stuhlmacher points to three liturgical texts, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15–20, and Philippians 2:6–11, all of which stress Christ’s preexistence and his mediatorial role in creation (see also 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1–4; John 1:1–18; Rev. 5:9–10; 321). Paul continued this liturgical tradition and spoke of Jesus’s sending by God in “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4–5; cf. Rom. 8:3–4). Philippians 2:6–8 stresses Christ’s exemplary obedience. First Corinthians 15:44–49 and Romans 5:12–21 stress Christ’s role as the obedient “new Adam.” Both Mark 10:45 and John 3:16 also speak of the Son’s “vicarious surrender of life” (327).

Stuhlmacher also discusses the primary passage on justification, Romans 3:24–26, with special emphasis on Jesus taking his place on the “mercy seat” (hilastērion; 330–31). The reference to Christ as “the end of the law” in Romans 10:4 is interpreted as meaning that “after Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection, people can no longer establish their own righteousness before God by means of the Torah and thereby work for their own acquittal in the final judgment” (333). As the exalted Lord, Jesus, through the Spirit, ensures the accomplishment of God’s will in the life of New Testament believers. Here, Stuhlmacher also takes up the question why references to Jesus are relatively rare in Paul’s writings (334–38). Stuhlmacher essentially asserts that Paul was aware of Jesus’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–25) and the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–11). Stuhlmacher also explores various aspects of Christ’s lordship (339–44).

Chapter 21, then, takes up more fully the topics of the gospel, justification, and faith, which according to Stuhlmacher constitute the heart of Paul’s ministry and message. Foundational for this gospel is Paul’s apostolic calling and the fact that Christ is the end of the law (see the previous chapter). The gospel lends expression to God’s saving will in Christ. The gospel has an important salvation-historical dimension (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3) while also being “election-historical” in nature (349). The content of the gospel is Christ sent, crucified, and risen.

Stuhlmacher also discusses New Testament references to the “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–21) and “the word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18–25). Romans 1:16–17, in conjunction with 3:21–26, speaks of the gospel as the message of the justification of the ungodly Stuhlmacher also points out that in the Old Testament, “righteousness” typically refers to properly ordered relationships between people or between God and people and is contrasted with God’s wrath (360). The chapter on justification, faith, and the righteousness of God is one of the strongest and most thorough in this book and sets forth a more conventional, non-“New Perspective” reading of the relevant passages.

Chapter 22 takes up the topics of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the Spirit, and the church. Stuhlmacher points out that baptism entails a change of lordship. In a curious formulation that seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too, Stuhlmacher calls baptism “a symbolic-real consummation of the gospel of Christ on the baptized” (388). Later, he calls it “a sacrament and a divine word-sign” (388, citing 1535 formulation). Baptism is also an initiation rite into the church (1 Cor. 12:13). Stuhlmacher sums up the role of the Spirit in four ways: (1) as the power of Christ “received in obedient hearing of the gospel and in baptism” (?); (2) as the one who “carries and determines the spiritual life” of believers; (3) as “the power and norm of the new life”; and (4) as the one who “animates the church” (390–91).

Stuhlmacher also discusses various terms for the church, such as “the church of God,” “the people of God,” “the temple of God,” “the Israel of God,” or “the body of Christ” (393–94). He notes that there is no hierarchy among the Pauline churches and no organization of all the different churches into one ecclesiastical whole. Interestingly, the vital Pauline phrase “in Christ” is discussed in barely half a page (398). In discussing the Lord’s Supper, Stuhlmacher attributes the similarity between Paul’s and Luke’s accounts in Antiochene liturgy (399). The roots of the phrase “in remembrance of me” are found in the Jewish Passover. Like baptism, Stuhlmacher contends, the Lord’s Supper is also a “sacrament and divine word-sign” (405). But unlike baptism, which is a one-time act, the Lord’s Supper “always freshly actualizes the gospel” (405).

In the final chapter on Paul (Chap. 23), Stuhlmacher goes on to discuss life and obedience by grace (the Pauline paraclesis). In essence, this is a discussion of Pauline ethics on the basis of his exhortations. Following Bultmann, the author contends that Paul’s ethic is grounded in baptism and justification (410). Stuhlmacher asserts that for Paul, sanctification “does not mean anything additional to justification” but rather “describes its inward dimension from the perspective of atonement theology” (411). This surely would require greater justification, however (pun intended!). Love provides the framework for Paul’s ethic, and the Pauline paraclesis is eschatologically oriented (416).

Stuhlmacher goes on to discuss various other parts of Paul’s ethic, such as his teaching on those strong or weak in the faith, his teaching on marriage and sexuality (espousing “nuanced positions”; 423), and a Christian view of the governing authorities (which he summarizes as “distance and tolerance”; 425). He contends that Paul viewed marriage “as a creation order sanctified by God in and through Christ that portrays on earth the exclusive relationship of Christ to his saved community of Gentiles and Jews” (424). Personally, I think this view is anachronistic and has things backward, but others may disagree.

Part 4: The Proclamation in the Period after Paul

This includes “The Proclamation of Christ in the Pauline School,” which according to Stuhlmacher includes Colossians, Ephesians, and the “Pastoral Letters” (i.e., 1-2 Timothy and Titus; Chap. 24). Chapter 25 presents “The Understanding of the Church in the Pauline School,” discussing the ecclesiology of these same letters. Chapter 26 is devoted to “Paraclesis and Eschatology in the Pauline School.” According to Stuhlmacher, the “deutero-Pauline letters” are not “a substitute for Paul, but only … a rounding out of his unique proclamation and teaching” (486). This is followed by a brief excursus on eschatology and apostleship in 2 Thessalonians, which Stuhlmacher likewise considers to be pseudonymous. Subsequent chapters treat in relatively succinct form the letters of James (Chap. 27), 1 Peter (Chap. 28), Hebrews (Chap. 29), Jude, and 2 Peter (Chap. 30).

Part 5: The Synoptic Gospels

It should be noted here that it is of doubtful value to save a treatment of the Gospels until the very end of one’s biblical theology. Canonically, the Gospels serve as the foundation of the New Testament, and while likely written after many (if not most) of the New Testament letters, both theologically and canonically the Gospels occupy a place of priority. Thus, it is questionable whether the decision to relegate the Gospels almost to an afterthought after an extensive treatment of Paul’s writings and also of the remaining New Testament letters, does justice to the function of the four-Gospel canon had in the early church.

In other words, while possibly written later historically, the Gospels are foundational for the New Testament in its entirety (including the letters) theologically. Rather than fitting the Gospels into Paul’s proclamation (and that of the other New Testament letter writers), it would therefore seem preferable to ground Paul’s proclamation in the New Testament Gospels. That said, it should be acknowledged that Stuhlmacher starts out with a discussion of the teaching of Jesus (which, of course, is found in the Gospels), but here I would contend that it is artificial to separate Jesus’s teaching from the Gospels as if it were possible to discuss the former apart from the latter.

At the outset, Stuhlmacher contends that each of the Synoptic Gospels is based on Jesus tradition from three respective individuals or regions: Mark from Peter; Matthew from the Jerusalem pillar apostles Peter, James, and John; and Luke from Jerusalem and Antioch. John, for his part, was written for readers already familiar with the Synoptic tradition. In what follows, Stuhlmacher discusses the origin of the Synoptic Gospels (Chap. 31), followed by Mark (Chap. 32), Matthew (Chap. 33), and Luke-Acts (Chap. 34), based on the assumption of Markan priority. As to the Gospel genre, Stuhlmacher states that Udo Schnelle, like his teacher Georg Strecker, believes its origins lie in the Hellenistic ruler cult. However, first-century Jews would rather have seen its roots in prophetic salvation oracles such as Isaiah 53:1 (cf. Isa. 52:7).

In terms of the narrative scheme used in the New Testament Gospels for telling the story of Jesus, Stuhlmacher assigns great significance to Luke’s account of Peter’s use of a narrative format in Acts 10:36–43 (561). Remarkably, Stuhlmacher concurs with Martin Hengel that the superscriptions “The Gospel according to, etc.” were likely added at the time the Gospels were written. What is more, he says the phrase “according to” likely implies an indication of authorship, as well as an acknowledgment that there could be other Gospel accounts (561). As to the “Synoptic Problem,” Stuhlmacher points to the wide consensus in favor of the two-source theory that Mark wrote first and was subsequently used independently by both Matthew and Luke, though he notes that the hypothesis is “meaningful only within certain limits and still has a number of problems” (565). Stuhlmacher also concurs with Richard Bauckham and the other contributors to The Gospels for All Christians (Eerdmans, 1998) that the Gospels were intended for a universal (rather than merely local) readership.

Chapter 32 takes up the Gospel of Mark. Stuhlmacher affirms authorship by John Mark, Peter’s associate and “interpreter,” as “the best attested view historically” and also the one that is “perfectly comprehensible in its details” (573). He places the date after Peter’s martyrdom under Nero (AD 64) and the destruction of the temple (AD 70) (574). The problem with such a relatively late date of Mark, of course, is that on the assumption of Markan priority (to which Stuhlmacher holds) there is hardly any time for Matthew and Luke to use Mark as one of their sources if these two Gospels, too, were written prior to the temple’s destruction, as seems likely, since neither of them makes any reference to this important event.

The structure is laid out in three parts, with 8:26/27 as pivot and 11:1 commencing the passion narrative (575). He also discusses Mark’s usage of the Old Testament as the first instance of messianic fulfillment in Jesus Christ, prior to Matthew and Luke (576–77). The “Son of God” title is central to Mark’s Gospel and Christology, and closely linked to the titles “Son of Man” and “Messiah.” Jesus is presented as a divine miracle worker, yet not due to a “divine man” (theios anēr) Christology but because of the messianic expectation fulfilled in Jesus.

In his chapter on Matthew (Chap. 33), Stuhlmacher notes that virtually all of Mark’s Gospel has been incorporated into Matthew, assuming Markan priority. He goes on to discuss how Matthew expanded Mark’s presentation in various ways, including Matthew’s introduction and conclusion and various materials from the alleged “sayings source” Q. On the whole, Stuhlmacher characterizes Matthew’s Gospel as “a textbook of doctrine and life for … world mission” (italics removed; 596). He also notes Matthew’s function as a Christian “scribe” and points out that “it is not sufficient to attribute the tradition about Matthew the tax collector as author of the Gospel simply to the ancient church’s desire to give the Gospel of Matthew an ‘apostolic’ seal of approval” (599). Stuhlmacher contends that Matthew was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, in part because of the phrase, “and burned the city,” at Matthew 22:7 and also because the main opponents in Matthew’s Gospel are the scribes and Pharisees (600). Stuhlmacher also discusses Matthew’s presentation of “the way of righteousness,” his view of the church, his treatment of the mission to the nations, and his view of Israel.

Chapter 34 covers both Luke and Acts. Stuhlmacher starts with an extensive discussion of Luke’s prologue and an affirmation of Luke’s historical knowledge. In keeping with his late dating of Mark and Matthew, Stuhlmacher, as do many of his more critically inclined German colleagues in mainstream scholarship, dates Luke after the year 70 and Acts after 80. This has the effect of making Mark the preeminent witness (as “interpreter” of Peter), as his would be the only Gospel dated prior to the year 70, while at the same time somewhat marginalizing Matthew and Luke due to their considerably later dates. Stuhlmacher also provides discussions of Luke’s focus on salvation history, his picture of Christ and of the church, and his presentation of Paul in comparison (or contrast) to Paul’s own writings.

Part 6: The Proclamation of John and His School

Under this rubric, Stuhlmacher discusses “The Tradition of the Johannine School” (Chap. 35), Johannine Christology (Chap. 36), “Life in Faith and Love” (Chap. 37), the Johannine view of the church (Chap. 38), and “The Significance of the Tradition of the Johannine School” (Chap. 39). On the whole, this unit seems to be a bit dated, as the notion of a “Johannine school, community, or circle” was at a peak when Stuhlmacher wrote the German original but has since crested and is now in considerable decline. As can be seen by several of his chapter titles, the assumption of a “Johannine school or community” is foundational to Stuhlmacher’s understanding of John’s Gospel and other canonical writings, and to the extent that such a hypothesis is unwarranted, his interpretation of the documents in question is likewise going to be skewed, at least to a certain extent.

Stuhlmacher considers the “elder” mentioned in 2 and 3 John and by Papias the putative founder of the “Johannine school” (648). He surmises that the “elder” established his school and surrounded himself with students similar to ancient philosophers, Jewish teachers of wisdom, or even Paul (citing Acts 19:9) (648). He essentially follows Martin Hengel’s theory of a Johannine Doppelantlitz (“dual face”), by which Hengel meant that the author writes the Gospel in such a way that it appears the author is the son of Zebedee when in fact he isn’t.

Stuhlmacher’s monumental work closes with a discussion of “The Problem of the Canon and the Center of Scripture.” Here, he discusses the formation of the Christian canon in two parts, Old and New Testament, as well as the significance of the Septuagint. He opposes the idea that the New Testament authors already possessed a closed Hebrew canon (748). Rather, the process of canon formation continued into the fourth century AD. The formation of the New Testament is attributed to the needs of Christian mission (753). The development of a Bible comprised of two Testaments was further expedited by opposition from without (Christian heresies, non-messianic Judaism, Roman authorities) as well as the need for teaching within the church (755). Stuhlmacher’s survey extends to the Reformation and even today (e.g., he mentions the ESV).

Next, Stuhlmacher provides a discussion of the center of Scripture (Chap. 41). He refers to H. Graf Reventlow, who sums up three possible positions: (1) an independent Old Testament center (covenant, revelation; Zimmerli, Childs); (2) no center in the Old Testament (von Rad, Gese); and (3) the view that the only possible center in the Old Testament is the God of Israel (Reventlow himself; 772). With regard to the New Testament, and Scripture as a whole, Stuhlmacher discusses the Synoptic, Johannine, and Pauline witness regarding the God who revealed himself in his Son, through whom he also accomplished the world’s salvation (775). First Corinthians 15 also testifies to the one gospel of Christ crucified, buried, and risen.

Stuhlmacher then pivots to the second-century “Rule of Faith” and subsequently the Reformation (both Luther and Calvin). Luther famously used the criterion of “that which promotes Christ,” while Calvin focused on covenant. For his part, Stuhlmacher opts to follow the lead of Werner Georg Kümmel, who advocates following the main New Testament traditions, resulting in Paul’s gospel of justification by faith as the biblical center. As Stuhlmacher contends, “Paul thought soteriologically deeper and clearer than James, Peter, and other apostles” (786). And while John’s testimony is not to be neglected, Paul’s doctrine of justification is “incomparably more detailed than the Johannine teachings” (788).

Stuhlmacher closes with an 11-line-long summary of the center of Scripture (!) that due to its length cannot be reproduced here (788). Commendably, he closes with a call, not only to biblical exegesis and dogmatics but also to “participation in the life of the church” (789). The book closes with chapters on the canon and its interpretation (Chap. 42) and recent work (until Charles Scobie’s The Ways of Our God [2003]) and future prospects (Chap. 43), plus, as a bonus feature, Daniel Bailey’s essay on hilastērion in Romans 3:25 and elsewhere.

Final Assessment

At 868 pages plus indices, this is a very substantive contribution to biblical theology. We can be grateful to Dan Bailey and Eerdmans for their labor of love in producing this volume, about 20 years after its publication in the original German. As Stuhlmacher’s magnum opus, this work gathers a vast amount of knowledge in the primary and secondary literature and is particularly useful for those who are not very familiar with German critical scholarship. While Stuhlmacher is not always as conservative as might be wished (such as on deutero-Pauline letters or his adherence to the Johannine community hypothesis), there are many other places where his stance is astonishingly, refreshingly, and commendably conservative. As one working on biblical theology myself, I have greatly benefited from Stuhlmacher’s detailed and well-informed discussions of a vast plethora of biblical-theological issues. While the work is not easy reading (a lot of small print instead of footnotes, no final bibliography, etc.), those who commit to wading through this hefty volume will be greatly rewarded.

Andreas J. Köstenberger

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Eerdmans, 2018 | 950 pages

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