Who Is God? Key Moments of Biblical Revelation

Written by Richard Bauckham Reviewed By David A. Larson

The most significant works arise from the most crucial questions, and Richard Bauckham—senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge—takes on a most crucial question in this short volume, Who Is God? The subtitle highlights the source of inquiry: Key Moments in Biblical Revelation. According to Bauckham, “Who is God?” is “the key question” (p. 1), and “we can answer the question … only by attending to who God has revealed himself to be” (p. 1). This revelation we find in Scripture, which “is about the identity of God” (p. 2).

Bauckham analyzes “key moments” where God reveals himself, and these moments in turn shape the story of salvation and drive the content for each chapter of the book (p. 2). Bauckham discusses four moments: Jacob’s dream (Gen 28:10–22), Moses and the burning bush (Exod 3), Moses with God on Mount Sinai (Exod 33:17–34:8), and instances of the Trinity in Mark’s Gospel (p. 2).

Chapter 1 analyzes Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen 28:10–22). Bauckham argues that God is “not … at the top of the stairway” that the angels descend and ascend in his dream; rather, contrary to various translations of Genesis 28:13 (e.g., ESV, NASB, KJV, NET), he is “at the bottom” (p. 8). Hence, “God has … come down the staircase and stands looking at Jacob sleeping beside him” (p. 9). Divine presence permeates the dream, and shapes the rest of the Bible, finding fulfillment in Jesus Christ (pp. 19–23; cf. Matt 1:18–23), who is the “new temple” (pp. 26–28; cf. John 1:14) and who, according to Bauckham’s understanding of John 1:51, is the “ladder” or “the way across the gap between heaven and earth” (p. 26).

Chapters 2–3 consider the Exodus account where God reveals his name at the burning bush and makes known his character at Sinai. Bauckham traces the use and lack of use of the divine name, concluding with a discussion of Jesus as Lord (κύριος) who is honored with the name above all names (pp. 55–58; cf. Phil 2:9–11). He notes that on Mount Sinai, God does not show his face, but gives “the fullest description of God’s character … in the Bible” (p. 62): in his “freedom” (p. 62) God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6). Throughout the canon God acts in this manner not only to Israel, but “to all the nations and even all creation” (p. 79), especially in Jesus Christ who, unlike Moses who could not see God’s face, was in “the bosom of the Father,” and so “has made him known” (p. 83; cf. John 1:18).

Chapter 4 covers three “moments” where the Trinity is revealed in Mark’s Gospel: Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:9–11), his transfiguration (9:2–8), and the confession of the centurion after Jesus’s death (15:37–39). Bauckham points out that Jesus is said to be God’s Son in each event (p. 91). The second event, the “midpoint of Mark’s story” (p. 89), shows Jesus’s pre-eminency, wherein God demands that the hearers listen to Jesus, his Son, even when he says he must die (pp. 99–103). The first and last events highlight God’s presence with the in-breaking of his works: the heavens tear at Jesus’s baptism and the temple curtain tears at Jesus’s death (pp. 91, 105). The Spirit (πνεῦμα) descends on Jesus at his baptism, and when Jesus dies, he “breathed [ἐξέπνευσεν] his last” (Mark 15:37; cf. pp. 91–92). Jesus’s last breath, “symbolize[s] the theological truth that the death of Jesus released the Spirit of God into the world” (p. 103).

Bauckham’s volume packs a heavy punch, but opens itself to a few hits of its own. For example, Bauckham insists that the reason the Spirit is portrayed as a dove at Jesus’s baptism concerns the covenant name of God (pp. 95–96). Instead of discerning creation themes, Bauckham concludes that the Spirit as dove reflects the tetragrammaton because “the Hebrew word for dove is yônāh,” which has “four Hebrew letters (יונה …), like the Divine Name, the Tetragrammaton (יהוה …)” (p. 96), and “three … letters are the same” (p. 96). He concludes, “dove” therefore “resembles the name of the Lord” (p. 96). Bauckham’s lexical connection, “a speculative, new suggestion” he admits (p. 96), might be too far-reaching for less adventurous palates. This critique, however, bears little import on the book’s overall significance and contribution.

Most enjoyable about Bauckham’s book is his interdisciplinary approach that intertwines exegesis and biblical theology with subtle tones of dogmatics. After analyzing a text, he traces its theological content throughout the canon, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those interested in biblical interpretation, biblical theology, dogmatics, and the doctrine of God—whether seasoned academics or beginning students of theology—will receive this book with a warm welcome. Readers will not only enjoy the exegetical and biblical-theological adrenaline this volume provides, but will find much more happiness in the contemplation of what the book ultimately studies: the triune God who is present, merciful, and gracious, and all this preeminently in Jesus Christ.

David A. Larson

David A. Larson
Bethlehem College & Seminary
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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