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Oskar Skarsaune: From the Jewish Messiah to the Creeds of the Church


Oskar Skarsaune, “From the Jewish Messiah to the Creeds of the Church” Evangelical Review of Theology, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July 2008), pages 224-237.

My interests always peak when encountering a document that traces our Christian faith back to the first century believers, so I was delighted when this article by Oskar Skarsaune, professor of church history at the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo, was brought to my attention.

Skarsaune’s work is a fast-paced, condensed exploration of the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. It is difficult to tell at first if the professor is caustic or sarcastic, as he clearly takes a dim view of what he refers to as Liberal Protestantism from yesteryear to today’s Jesus Seminar. In all fairness however, it may simply be a matter of style between the Norwegian and English syntax.

Yet his point that since very early on there has been a tendency to seclude Jesus from his Israeli context and Jewish practices is well taken. This view divorces him from being the Messiah of the Hebrews and “converts” him into a Messiah for the Gentiles. That of course, creates a very interesting debate which, in this writer’s opinion, merits further exploration.

The professor challenges what has rightly or wrongly become commonplace: that the creeds have become an outgrowth of a Gentile expression of faith and are distant from any Jewish origins. Most of modern Christianity supports this position, but so does most of Judaism, only too happy to divorce Jesus from any hint of Jewishness and certainly separated from the notion that He is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

Skarsaune disagrees with both camps, and takes a markedly different approach, exploring Jewish thought in the second temple period—both biblical and apocryphal—to uncover clear lines of evidence linking the creeds with the faith of Israel. Examining the creeds almost line by line, he helps the reader gain a perspective that is surprisingly refreshing, albeit ancient.

His conclusion? The creeds so common and important in many denominations of the Christian faith owe their origins to the ancient faith of Israel.

Reviewed by Kevin M. Williams


The July 2008 issue of Evangelical Review of Theology:  (includes an article by Jim Harries)

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Category: Church History, Fall 2009

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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