With a special thanks to John C. Poirier for this review:
Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), reviewed by John C. Poirier.
Christopher Bryan’s The Resurrection of the Messiah is structured in three parts, not counting the extensive (= eight) “additional notes”. The first part (“The Setting”) presents background historical information pertaining to the doctrine of the resurrection – less thoroughly, of course, than some recent studies – but in proper proportion to the rest of the book. The second part (“Witnesses”) discusses the resurrection passages in the New Testament, devoting a separate chapter to Paul and to each of the gospels. This section borrows the format of a running commentary, and reads in a way very similar to some of the less detailed, narrativally focused commentaries (Harper’s, etc.). The effect of having five chapters deal with separate writings in this way is interesting – it’s almost as though someone took parts of five commentaries and put them together. This undoubtedly was an easier way for Bryan to deal with the topic, but it also presents the discussion in a way that serves well for future reference. The third part of the book (“Questioning the Witnesses”) provides a synthesis and theological commentary on the second part. The “Additional Notes” engage topics that might have been discussed in parts one and three.
The Resurrection of the Messiah has as one of its objects a measured response to various scholarly attempts to dismiss the resurrection, or to re-theologize it in potentially docetic ways. In the face of these challenges, Bryan does a good job of keeping the reader’s construal of the New Testament’s claims tied to the apostles’ presentation of the gospel. He could have said more along these lines – that is, he could have engaged a few more challenges on this front – but what he does he does well. One of the enjoyable aspects of this book is that its author knows when he has dealt sufficiently with a given point.
Although the book engages other scholars, it seems to be aimed at a somewhat beginning level of academic reader. It seldom breaks new ground. It does, however, present its arguments well, in a modest tone, and with a good sense of the reader’s needs. One could, of course, imagine a more rigorous engagement of many of this book’s points, but that seems not to be this book’s purpose. The style of the commentary section within this book establishes its limited range of engagement with the facts of historical context, philology, etc. The author’s goal, it seems, is never to let incidental details get in the way of a simple argument. The book’s theological burden, I believe, justifies this approach.
This is a good book for anyone considering the place of Jesus’ resurrection in NT theology.