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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 51, 2003

W. R. G. Loader, Jesus and the Fundamentalism of His Day. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).
Pp.Vi+156. $US 14.00.

William Loader, Professor of New Testament and Head of the School of Social Inquiry at Murdoch University in Perth, West Australia, loves the early records of the Church and how Jesus, Paul and first century Christians stood by the best in the scriptures, applied them to their circumstances and made changes of lasting value. Loader states things simply and invites his readers to reflect on the attitudes of Jesus, Paul and early Christians to the scriptures and suggests the precedents they set can help people today adopt the best attitudes to the Bible.

From the pre-Markan tradition he cites the evidence that Jesus was an ‘observant’ Jew: He kept the ‘law’, the Sabbath, the temple festivals and the ritual requirements of purity and priestly observance; and sent his disciples only to the lost/straying sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6). But he differed from those who adopted a literalist stance on the law — the ‘fundamentalists’ of his day: Jesus was not a fundamentalist.

Though Jesus had a very high regard for the Hebrew scriptures as given by God, he also believed that God gave the law and the scriptures because God loves people. So the law should always benefit people: the Law (like the Sabbath) was made ‘for man’. If the application of any law conflicted with the love of God for a person, Jesus like God chose love and care: ‘People matter most, not laws’. Loader contends that the ‘Sayings of Jesus’ (Q) holds much the same position, as do Matthew and Luke — but each has its own emphases. Mark goes further: In the Gentile Church about forty years after Jesus’ time, Mark interprets Jesus’ pithy comment on eating unclean foods as ‘thus making all foods clean’. In this one comment he dismisses the ritual food laws as irrelevant to Christians, as repealed by Jesus and their observance not required by God — thus making it much easier for Gentiles to be Christian. Christianity was now no longer a Jewish sect — thanks also to Paul who had earlier dispensed with circumcision too, as an obstacle to accepting the Jewish-Christian faith and way of life. John treats the Hebrew Scriptures differently again. The law came through Moses as a gift of grace but the grace and truth the world really needs was anticipated in the scriptures and came through the Word of God incarnate in Christ.

Loader’s paperback contains a wealth of warm, wise, scholarly, compassionate and illuminating insights into the attitudes of Jesus and the early church towards the scriptures. One suggestion: the coming of ‘the son of man’ in Mark 13 would appear to originate in the context of Daniel 7 (where it is interpreted) and has nothing to do with any supposed second coming of Jesus but the coming of the kingdom of God through faithful Jewish people.

This book shows ‘fundamentalists’ of today where they depart — most probably unwittingly — from the faith and love of Jesus and the early Christian church.

Review by
Rev. H. Arthur Stamp
6 Garden Street
Ringwood Victoria