Frank Stagg was a Southern Baptist theologian, pastor, and author. He taught New Testament interpretation and Greek at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary from 1945 to 1964. From 1964 to 1978 he taught at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Stagg has been called a “Teaching Prophet,” and commended by many for his eminence in academic theology. Among Stagg’s other publications are The Book of Acts (1955), Exploring the New Testament (1961), The Holy Spirit Today (1973), and The Bible Speaks on Aging (1981).
Stagg begins his New Testament Theology (1962) with the etymology of words like “Bible,” “canon,” and diatheke, the latter he interprets as a unilateral covenant: “The ‘New Testament’ is concerned with the ‘will’ of God or the unilateral covenant, not a contract or agreement, which God has offered man in Christ Jesus.” (2) Inspiration isn’t simply a theory, but a fact. And the New Testament and Old Testament both assume the self-revelation of God. This self-disclosure of God is supremely revealed in Jesus Christ. Stagg defines inspiration as “the impact of God’s Spirit upon man.” (6) It is God who speaks and man who responds to this inspired revelation. While Stagg aligns with Luther in affirming the perspicuity of Scripture, the former NOBTS professor adds, “Interpretation is the scholar’s task.” (10) The author also affirms the universality of sin, giving plenty of Greek words used for the concept. The potential for sin was created with God’s gift of free choice to man.
Therefore the Genesis story of the Fall (Gen. 3) is the story of man’s revolt against his free creature status in order to attempt to be complete in himself. Stagg posits that this tendency toward self-trust is from the beginning – not the result of the Fall but its cause. As a result, man now turns naturally toward evil. Is man able not to sin? Stagg answer with a yes and no. However, Paul rejected a purely intellectualist view of sin: “Man’s problem has a moral and spiritual base.” (23) The New Testament presents a holistic view of man. Therefore the doctrine of sin is bound up with biblical anthropology. Stagg is a trichotomist, but acknowledges that the body, soul, and spirit are all one at the same time. (31)
The New Testament is about one person: Jesus. And Christ interpreted himself and his work in terms of basic Old Testament roles. Contrary to Bultmann’s “demythologizing,” Stagg emphasizes that the Gospel is “one continuing event” that combines a historical narrative with a present reality. Christ’s “filial consciousness” also included servitude. In fact, His favorite self-designation, “Son of Man,” included terms of suffering and service. In turn, the concept of self-denial involves a “radical reversal of Adam’s choice of asserting self in place of God.” (57)
Salvation has its roots in the grace of God, and Stagg defines election as God’s purpose and initiative in man’s salvation. It is God’s choice of man as prior to man’s choice of God. However, His calling is not coercive. New Testament redemption has both present and eschatological aspects. Stagg believes the Reformers went too far in their doctrine of justification, insisting instead that one is “just” or “righteous” when he is brought under the will of God. (96) According to Stagg, the basic idea in the words dikaiosune and dikaioo is the idea of actual righteousness. In his examination of sanctification, Stagg suggests that the underlying NT idea in the word “holy” is separateness. Eternal life is life under the kingdom of God. And the newness of life in this kingdom is described in terms of resurrection. To Jesus, death was an enemy to be overcome. Therefore, “in Jesus the love of God came to full expression in the relentless exposure of sin and in the complete offering of self.” (134) The basic idea of the Greek word for “redemption” is release or liberation.
Stagg seems to reject the classic notion of propitiation as the meaning for hilasmos because he believes that it drives a wedge between the Father and the Son. (141) The love of Jesus on the cross reveals God’s love, power, and wisdom. For Stagg, “the kingdom of God means the kingship or kingly rule of God.” (149) The church is not the kingdom of God, but is rather the fellowship of persons made as one people under kingdom sovereignty. This kingdom is in some sense both present and future. The church, on the other hand, is a new family with closer bonds than biological ones. Stagg contends, “in calling the twelve, Jesus was concerned with the formation of a fellowship, probably of a new Israel.” (176) Salvation is tightly bound to community. The word Ekklesia, for example, designate the people of God in their totality and any local congregation of his people. (183) While the true church is a theocracy, the local body is in some sense a democracy in the sense that all members are equally precious and equally members participating in the life and work of the church. However, the church rule does not belong to the majority.
The NT idea of koinonia describes the life shared in Christ and has vertical and horizontal dimensions. Stagg believes that proselyte baptism was probably pre-Christian and sees similarities with John’s baptism. However, there are distinctions. For example, John’s baptism was public and called for repentance! Christ’s baptism in one sense was to “fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15) He brought together the idea of baptism and that of death: “This baptism was not only his; it was to be the necessary death through which he must bring his own in bringing them into life.” (217) As seen in the book of Acts, the concept of baptism was increasingly associated with the word preached and believed.
The Christian then is a new creation – incorporated into a new Israel or a new humanity. (228) Conversely, Stagg sees the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper as symbolic of what it means to be the body of Christ, a fellowship of redeemed persons. This fellowship is sealed by the Holy Spirit in the new covenant. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is to be a koinonia of sorts as it looks back to a decisive event, to the present reality of Christ’s presence, and to the future hope of Christ’s kingdo fulfilled. For Stagg, “the only true Christian ministry is that of the living Lord continued in his people.” (251) In a real sense, each Christian is thus a minister of the Gospel. Stagg defines evangelism as “the telling of the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.” (268) Every Christian is under orders, according to Stagg, to evangelize and make disciples of all nations. In his examination of the Christian life, the author records sections on prayer, stewardship, the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, marriage, family, and divorce, and the Christian and the state.
Stagg’s last chapter concerns eschatology. He contends that the “entire New Testament is eschatological in that it sees history as being moved under God toward a goal.” (305) It’s a linear view, as opposed to a cyclical one. Stagg makes a distinction between realized and unrealized eschatology. In the end, redemption is universally complete and cosmic: “The counterpart to the resurrection of the body is the redemption of the ‘creation.’” (324) Until then, for us, chronological and historical time is a “one way street.” (329) Judgment is both present and future. Appropriately, Stagg ends his New Testament Theology with a brief word on heaven and the joy to come.
Stagg, Frank. New Testament Theology. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1962.