What do I think about Michael Bird’s book published by Eerdman’s? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I should point out at the start that the copy I am reviewing is an unproofed and unedited review copy sent to me courtesy of Eerdman’s. I thank them for their generosity. This was done in advance so I could interview Dr. Bird as soon as possible on this book.
There are some ideas that are tossed around so often that most of us accept them without going back to check the evidence. Did Christopher Columbus believe that the Earth was round in contrast to people who thought it was flat? Obviously. Did the Spanish Inquisition kill millions of people? Definitely. Many of us heard these ideas growing up so much that it never occurred to us to question them.
It’s not just the man on the street that has this. Scholars can have this as well. There’s often no need to reinvent the wheel after all. There have been landmark works written to argue that the early Christology of Christianity was adoptionist in Jesus, that Jesus was chosen to be the Son of God at His baptism. So the scholars are referred to, it’s an idea set in stone, and we move on.
Fortunately, there are scholars like Michael Bird who think that even old ideas need to be examined and perhaps it could be that the emperor of adoptionism really has no clothes. Dr. Bird has made it his goal to show this in a book that is relatively short, but don’t let the size fool you. What is said in a smaller number of pages should have enormous impact.
Bird looks at the classic texts used and raises powerful questions about them. For the start, these includes Romans 1:3-4 and Acts 2:36. I know the latter is one I have also seen unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses use to argue their viewpoint. It looks sadly like many scholars have the same kind of misunderstanding that these people do.
From there, we go to the book of Mark. How does Mark present Jesus? If one looked at the baptism in isolation, perhaps one could get an adoptionist viewpoint, but then one needs to consider the introduction, the conclusion, everything in between, the Jewishness of the author, the culture it was written in, you know, the little things like that.
Bird takes a look at the way YHWH was seen in Israel along the lines of the creator/creature divide. Then the question has to be how does Jesus fit in. There’s much more than just the pre-existence of Jesus as Mark regularly shows Jesus in a unique position in relation to YHWH. One other such example is the forgiveness of sins in Mark 2. Bird realized that too often he was looking at that and thinking in a post-Christian sense where for instance, in many traditions, including Protestant, a priest can pronounce forgiveness. I attended a Lutheran church in Knoxville. The pronouncement of forgiveness was common.
This might be common for us, but it was not for Jews of the time. Jesus did something incredibly unique in that. Bird goes on to look at other instances like Jesus walking on the water and what the Olivet Discourse means for Jesus and the introduction of Mark. I could go on, but you get the idea.
He then looks at how adoptionism arose looking at key suspects in the second century like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Ebionites. He’s still not convinced either of these is the key. Somehow though, the belief obviously did arise.
Bird’s work is excellent and I must quote the very last paragraph in full.
A Christology that presents us with a mere man who bids us to earn our salvation is an impoverished alternative to the God of grace and mercy who took on our flesh and “became sin” so that we might become the “righteousness of God.” I prefer a Christology where the Son was crucified on the cross for us, was glorified in the resurrection for us, and was exalted to heaven for us—so that on the appointed day, we all would attain adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies in the new creation.
If I had one criticism, it would be this, and I do have an unedited and unproofed version so that could change, but I missed something in this book. Bird usually writes with a lot of his Australian humor thrown in that makes me laugh regularly and I was looking forward to more of that. I do hope a final release will have all of that. It’s become iconic for Bird’s writings and makes his much more of a joy to read than others.