Mike Bird, who is now exiting Scotland and going back to Australia, has really risen in the academic ranks due to his amazing productivity, incisive reading eye, and passion for biblical theology. In recent years, he has done quite a bit of article and book writing on Paul, but in this book, Are You the One Who is to Come? (Baker, ’09), he addresses ‘The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question’ (which happens to be the subtitle).
The essential issue Bird is addressing is whether the disciples and early church understood Jesus as messiah on their own and/or in later reflection on the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, or did Jesus himself actively give them reason to believe this (which could include verbal profession, though it should not be limited to it). It is the supposition of many historical Jesus scholars that Jesus-as-Messiah was a doctrine or attitude developed by his followers without direct linkage to obvious self-profession. Bird sets out to trace the understanding of Jesus as Messiah to….(surprise surprise) Jesus himself!
There is no need to rehearse every aspect of the book. Suffice it to say it is well-designed, well-researched, and once in a while you get Bird’s typical wit and tell-it-like-it-is sass.
Here are some choice or central quotes:
…several sayings and deeds of Jesus suggest that he understood his role and activities in messianic categoires (p. 78)
…messianic ideas, symbols, and scriptural echoes were attached to Jesus’s activities (p. 78)
When we come to messianic hopes, biblical and postbiblical, we see that functions and roles are often more important than a single title. (p. 35).
…Jesus possessed an acute sense of his own authority and purpose that clearly edged into the direction of messianic categories. This is all located in a certain underlying story — a story told in action, word, and symbol– concerning the arrival of God’s kingdom and the transformation of Israel (p. 115).
This is a very impressive piece of scholarship, to say the least. I fear that some may immediately discount Bird out of bias over the topic, but, if given a chance, his arguments are very cogent. Thanks, Mike.