"The First Christian: Universal Truth in the Teaching of Jesus" by Paul F.M. Zahl

John J. Bombaro
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Nov/Dec 2004

From the pen of Paul F. M. Zahl, formerly Dean of Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal) in Birmingham, Alabama and now dean of Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, comes a provocative, yet timely, Christological meditation. Zahl argues for a Jesus of Nazareth who was essentially dis-continuous with Second Temple Judaism and who inaugurated in his person and work a new covenant religion of grace, namely, Christianity. Hence the title: The First Christian. One immediately senses the relevance and potential explosiveness of Zahl's concise but theologically mature paperback upon a moment's reflection on the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, particularly the tirelessly repeated accusation of anti-Semitism.

With Holocaust-guilt pricking the conscience and the dictates of philosophical pluralism setting the cultural agenda, many Christians are falling over themselves to underscore early Christianity's continuity with Second Temple Judaism and to re-Judaize a de-Christianized Jesus. But Zahl courageously says what others fear to say: Christianity is not a form of Judaism for non-Jews. It is not Jewish monotheism without specific ethnic boundary markers. It is not a Torah-based Gentile covenant with the Father. Rather, the religion Jesus inaugurated climaxed its antecedent by way of a type/antitype fulfillment of a metanarrative concretely illustrated by national Israel. The result: Israel has been reconstituted and redefined and Yahweh has been consummately revealed in and through Jesus the Son's representation, supremely on the cross. That which separates Christianity from Judaism is implicit in the man Jesus himself (8).

Quite conscious of the disquieting implications of his thesis, Zahl achieves an important but sensitive corrective that is altogether accessible to the nontechnician. A catalyst for orthodox theologizing about the Christ, the church, and biblical anthropology, The First Christian should not be omitted from any thinking Christian's reading list.

Photo of John J. Bombaro
John J. Bombaro
Rev. John J. Bombaro (PhD, King’s College London) is senior pastor of St. James Lutheran Church, Lafayette, Indiana, and special projects supervisor at the US Naval Chaplaincy School, Newport, Rhode Island.
Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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