The Unifying Kerygma of the New Testament

Topics: New Testament, Jesus, Early Christianity Pages: 8 (2216 words) Published: March 1, 2013
fJSNT 33 (1988) 3-17]


Eugene E. Lemcio
Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA 98119, USA


The purpose of this article is to offer evidence J}lat, co~trary to the prevailing view, there is a central, discrete kerygmatic core that integrates the manifold plurality of the New Testament. Without denying the diversity that may be found therein, I hope to initiate a return to the largely neglected task of identifying the nature of its unity. My motivation to do so comes &om the existence of data that suggest the ne-ed to fill a rather sizeable gap in the scenarios currently available for describing the character of early Christianity. Earlier Efforts

The static and kinetic inertia that has to be overcome is considerable, . given the history of previous attempts. to do so. Perhaps the most famous effort was conducted by C.H. 'Dodd just over half a century ago.l He identified a seven-point outline of primitive preaching by collecting fragments of tradition .from pauline literature2 that corresponded in all but three items to the pattern ofproclamation in the early sermons of Acts. 3 He then tried to show that, within the variety and development, this kerygmatic outline could be detected among the major representatives of the New Testament. 4 While many Anglo-American scholars initially responded favourably to

Dodd's proposal, subsequent studies criticized what seemed to be an artificial harmonizing of pauline material and an insufficiently critical reliance uJKln the speeches of Acts as accurate representations of apostolic preaching. S


Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 (1988)


The Unifying Kerygma of the NT


The inability of Dodd's argument to elicit a broad enough consensus was complemented by what appeared to be a more satisfYing alternative. A quarter of a century earlier, Wilhelm Heitmfiller set in motion the prevailing tendency to speak of the kerygmata ofthe New Testament.6 Its most comprehensive exposition lies in RudolfBultmann's Theology ofthe New Testament, as anyone can readily see by comparing the table of contents with the major headings of Heitmfiller's article? Redaction criticism, with its avowed intent to determine the unique message(s) of each Gospel,8 belongs to this stream of thinking. And applying the term 'kerygma' to the distinctive theme of a New (and even Old) Testament document can be seen in the series of articles that appeared in Interpretation during the 60s.9 A Current Option

Rather than a unifYing statement or tradition, Dunn appeals to a supra-literary or trans-textual set of convictions. At another level, this time supremely christological, he asserts that unity lies in the spare but non-negotiable 'affirmation of the identity of the man Jesus with the risen Lord'.14 An Alternative

While one cannot take lightly Professor Dunn's warning and the argument on which it rests, I must nevertheless beg to differ substantially. There is in fact evidence for a kerygma that is concrete, not abstract or reductionist, and wide-ranging enough to be regarded as a core running throughout the New Testament. Describing its components and setting forth the corroborating data will constitute the burden of what follows. Procedure

Perhaps the fullest flowering of this critical legacy is J.n.G. Dunn's Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. 1o Despite the promise of the title, the accent falls heavily on diversity. Yet Dunn tries to keep faith by setting forth, with proper qualifications, the 'core kerygma'. Its three components are 'the proclamation of the risen, exalted Jesus', the 'call for faith' in response to the proclamation, and 'the promise held out to faith' (i.e. the benefits that come when the proclamation is appropriated by faith in Christ).l1 Dunn then issues important disclaimers: This is the unity of the post-Easter kerygma. But beside it stands the considerable diversity...
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