Jesus, Gnosis and Dogma
In Jesus, Gnosis and Dogma Riemer Roukema sets out to investigate and assess the various views of Jesus in early Christianity, basing his approach on a distinction between historical and theological statements about Jesus. Historical statements about Jesus can be arrived at through a careful and critical study of the earliest records, but Roukema recognizes that scholars differ widely here, their views ranging from the extremely sceptical to the very optimistic. Theological statements about Jesus are to do with His relationship to God and what has been and is believed about Jesus not only then but today; and it is often the case that these statements reflect more the convictions of their authors.
After surveying the approaches of scholars such as Rudolf Bultmann, John P.Meier, James D.G.Dunn and Elaine Pagels with detailed examples of their approaches to set the scene, Roukema begins his own study. He first investigates in detail the views of Jesus which occur in the New Testament and other early Christian writings, often Gnostic. In the New Testament pride of place is given to the authentic letters of Paul, then the Gospels, always beginning with Mark, and then Acts. Among the Gnostic writings the Gospel of Thomas has the most prominent place, followed by a variety of other works and extracts from Gnostic writers quoted by church fathers. Roukema then turns his attention to the Old Testament and early Jewish background to the belief in Jesus as the son of God, the Word, and even as the LORD, Yahweh. He investigates the views of Jesus relating to God the Father which were developed in catholic Christianity up to and including the Council of Nicaea. The final chapter evaluates the diversity of views of Jesus in the early centuries.
However, for all his emphasis on diversity, Roukema’s main concern is to bring out the continuity of the development of views of Jesus. Roukema's conclusions are that the Gnostic traditions mostly derive from the earlier traditions preserved in the New Testament writings and do not give a more accurate view of the historical Jesus. He shows that the view of Jesus as the divine Lord and Son of God is inspired by an early Jewish pattern that was exploited by the very first Christians. In spite of some later dogmatic precisions, there is more continuity between the New Testament picture of Jesus and the Nicene creed than between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of early Gnosticism. Even the essence of the Trinitarian dogma originated very early, since it appears to have Jewish roots. In a sense this makes his book conservative in a liberal kind of way (because it underplays the importance of the Gnostic material), and will make it particularly appealing to those involved in Catholic and conservative courses.