Book Reviews

Book Review: The Paradox of Sonship (R. B. Jamieson)

In the book of Hebrews, the author refers to Jesus as “Son” in a number of places. He is the eternal Son who was incarnated as a human being (1:2). But it also appears that he received the title of “Son” at his enthronement as Messiah (1:3). But which is it? Some (Caird, Hurst) believe Jesus was not the eternal Son, but he did become the less-than-divine “Son.” Some (Bauckham, Lee, Peeler) believe Jesus was the eternal Son, and that sonship is merely reaffirmed (or revealed) at his exaltation. And others (Attridge, Dunn, Moule, Ehrman) believe that the author of Hebrews was either confused or misguided.

Another Way

But there is another way, which some modern scholars have noted and that Jamieson elaborates on: Jesus is the Son who became Son. This makes sense when we factor in the incarnation, “only by saying that God became a man” (19). The way the author of Hebrews uses the title “‘Son’ identifies the Son as God,” and the way he uses the title “Son” also “distinguishes him from the Father and the Spirit” (p. 39, and we see this in chapter two). Throughout his book, Jamieson shows that “Hebrews’ grammar of divinity is implicitly trinitarian” (49).

The Book’s Flow

In chapter one Jamieson looks at six tools—exegetical strategies from the church fathers’ christological writings. The first three are answers to basic questions—who, what, and when?—which declare Christ’s uniqueness. The next three are reading strategies that help us understand “the paradoxical fullness” of what Hebrews says about Jesus. These tools help to keep some options open. Jamieson’s ultimate goal in this book is simple: it “is to read Hebrews” (45). While others believe that Hebrews’ two uses of “Son” are divergent, these classical christological tools can offer relief to the tensions we find in the text of Hebrews.

Rather than using modern practices of exegesis and his reasoning skills alone, Jamieson brings in the church fathers and their understanding of Christ to understand Hebrews better. This was a really help chapter because of that and because throughout the rest of the chapters Jamieson shows you how these tools help you better understand Hebrews and Christ’s salvific work.

Chapter two, mentioned above, looks at texts which tell of the Son’s divinity, like the OT catena in Hebrews 1:5–14, the fact  the this Son “learned obedience” (Heb 5:8), and that the seemingly eternal Melchizedek resembles the Son (7:3). But the Son is also distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Believers can dismiss the word of God, re-crucify the Son, and reject the shared gift of the Spirit. All members of the Trinity speaks Scripture, but the Father and the Son speaks to each other, and the Spirit speaks to God’s people (72).

Chapter three looks at how the divine Son became Son—through the incarnation. This chapter employs and legitimates each of the six classical Christological tools (77). It shows us the Son’s incarnate mission (life, suffering, death, resurrection, etc.) leading up to his heavenly enthronement and appointment as messianic Son.

Chapter four uses the fourth christological tool—the theology-economy distinction, that is, the distinction between Jesus’ divine nature and his human nature. Jamieson looks at how “Son” is also a title, an office that Christ enters into when he is enthroned. He uses most of the chapter to argue that Jesus received the name “Son” at his enthronement (though that sounds strange, as Jamieson admits).

Just as a man and woman vow “I do,” or as a prime minister is sworn in, yet they remain the same people, Jesus was enthroned in heaven, received “all the prerogatives of the office Messiah,” yet he remains the divine Son by nature. The Son was always divine, but in his incarnation he was “made lower than the angels” for a time. Upon his exaction, Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” (101). He inherited a name greater than that of the angels, and according to Hebrews 1:4, it appears that Jesus inherited that name at his enthronement. As Jamieson writes, “The Son’s enthronement enacts a change not in essence but in status. The one who was shamed and scorned is now given universal dominion, a rule no angel could ever claim” (101).

Other scholars have argued that Jesus inherited an “honor… as the Davidic heir,” the title YHWH/LORD, or that the “name” encapsulates all that Jesus is and can do. But Jamieson makes a good case that the title Jesus inherits is in fact “Son.” Jamieson answers the question on if Jesus was not Messiah before his enthronement. In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn was heir to Gondor’s throne by birth, but he would be crowned only after the decisive victory. Likewise, Jesus’ life testified to his being Messiah, but Jesus needed to win the decisive victory and stand before the Father before he could sit at the right hand of the Father as the messianic Son.

Chapter five shows that only the divine Son could truly fulfill the requirements of and become the messianic Son. For Jesus to be our source of salvation, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2), he had to become incarnate. His suffering, death, and resurrection qualified him for his priestly office. Being divine, he was the only one who could offer a perfect sacrifice to save God’s people. Jamieson writes, “The whole aim of Hebrews’ Christology is to explain how the Son became what he needed to be in order to become the Savior we needed“ (138).

Jamieson’s conclusion is the kind I like. Rather than rehashing and summarizing everything he’s already said, he takes the information you just read and… makes conclusions with them. He looks at Hebrew’s christology and its challenge to the way many modern scholars read the New Testament. He then compares Hebrew’s Christology with conciliar Christology* to make explicit this book’s conclusions. He looks how the term “Son” and its two uses in Hebrews are present in Acts 2:36 and Romans 1:3–4. He ends by looking at the role of Jesus through a pastoral lens.

Recommended?

To steal one of Jamiesons chapter introductions, “One of the best things you can say about [books] is that they exceed expectations” (122). This book far exceeded my expectations. Jamieson is clearly knowledgeable about the book of Hebrews, yet his writing isn’t full of obtuse scholarly lingo. When something didn’t make sense, I merely needed to keep reading and Jamieson was sure to further explain what he meant. He has a strong handle on the book itself and made an excellent case for how the Son became Son, how that fits with the ancient creeds, and how it helps make sense of Hebrews. Intelligent and readable. Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

    • Series: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture
    • Author: R. B. Jamieson
    • Paperback: 195 pages
    • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 25, 2021)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

*Fred Sanders wrote that conciliar Christology is “an identifiable, single Christology of the ecumenical councils of the ancient church.”

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