Recensions et comptes rendusThéologie

Matthew E. Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns: Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance. Downers Grove IL, Inter Varsity Press, 2018, 15,2 × 22,8 cm, 263 p., ISBN 978-0-8308-8002-7[Record]

  • John S. Adimula

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  • John S. Adimula
    Graduate Studies - Faculty of Theology, Dominican University College, Ottawa

The book has six chapters devoted to the investigation of Christological hymns in the New Testament. From the first to the second chapters, the author spells out the area of concern of his investigation and explores the background, cultures and traditions of hymnody that might have had an influence on the New Testament hymns. His concern is not to argue for the identification of pre-existing materials in the New Testament hymns, but to recognize hymnic features in some of the passages suspected to be Christological hymns. At the beginning, he notes this challenge: the difficulty of identifying and taking for granted these two distinct issues, i.e. hymnic features in a passage and the identification of pre-existing materials as being linked to the hymnic features. Matthew Gordley notes the efforts of scholarship that have challenged the presence of pre-existing formula or materials in the Christological hymns in the New Testament, explaining that the features that have been identified as criteria for detecting pre-existing materials are speculative, hence, the methodology used is problematic. He seems to accept this position even though he is not laudable in his expression, but holds that the presence of these features do “not necessarily lead to the conclusion that these texts were pre-existing materials” (p. 219). These features or criteria include introductory formula, special beginning, contextual dislocations, uniqueness of language, stylistic abnormalities, special beginning, participles and relative clauses, multiple attestations, etc. The New Testament hymns, as presented in the passages where they are found, are sometimes not complete but fragments and references in which only a part seems to be represented. By identifying some criteria which are very unique in some of the texts, one cannot but be struck by the distinctiveness of the passage in question and from there call for an investigation of the origin of the material in the passage. Although it may appear speculative when one considers only a few of such features within a text and makes such a conclusion, an adequate concentration of these criteria within a passage is a great indication of the presence of pre-existing material. If one is to insist that the effort is speculative in this regard, then it poses the risk of seeing almost all the scholars’ endeavors as speculative just because one does not find explicit evidence of some realities. The shortcoming on the part of the critics is that they do not consider the criteria as a whole but choose some and argue only for them. A scholar like Fowl Stephen, for example, dwells on two criteria, namely, uniqueness of vocabulary and evidence of redaction based on stylistic abnormalities. Other critics include Ralph Brucker, Peppard Michael. But when these criteria are objectively and broadly considered within a text, one must be confronted with a question: how does one explain this unique difference within the context of the passage? The high concentration of these features and the presence of the criterion of multiple attestations within the New Testament writings is a high sign of the presence of pre-existing material. Matthew Gordley does not explicitly show that this could make a passage representing pre-existing material, he is prudent by admitting that the high concentration of these features “that are also shared by a selection of texts across the spectrum of New Testament writings” could make one say that Phil 2, Col 1 and John 1 “were written in such a way that they draw on specific kinds of traditional material” (p. 31). It is obvious that he limited his expression to the three passages he is concerned with. With special attention to the features that make …