Jacob Jervell 1925-2014


Jacob Jervell, professor emeritus, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, born May 21, 1925 passed away March 2. He was professor in New Testament studies from 1960 to 1988, when he retired and settled down north of Oslo, on a farm belonging to his wife’s family. Here he continued to work as a scholarly writer, preacher and opinion maker for many years, but relieved from the academic burdens of administration and teaching.

Prof. Jervell is most probably to be remembered today for his works on early Christianity. His dissertation (University of Oslo, 1959), was his magnus opus, a great tome only rarely seen today and not at all as a dissertation work, a study of early exegesis of Genesis 1:26f. His last work was also a great volume in many respects, his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, published in the famous German series Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar uber das Neue Testament (1998).

In his research on the early church, and especially in his works on the Acts of the Apostles, he often went against prevalent opinions, and worked out a coherent view of the early Christians. This he published in several studies (see Luke and the people of God. A new look at Luke-Acts, Minneapolis (USA) 1972; The Unknown Paul. Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History, Minneapolis 1984; The Theology of the Acts of the Apostles, Cambridge  1996), but above all in his great commentary on the Acts of the Apostles.

In the introductory chapters to that commentary he summarizes his own views in seven points, emphasizing the Jewish nature of both the Acts, and early Christianity thus (pp.51-52):

1. No christology in the New Testament is as Jewish as the one of Luke.
2. The ecclesiology of Luke does not find its way of expression in the word ‘church’, but in the term ‘people’ (laos), and this denotes Israel in opposition to all other people, the only People of God.
3. The soteriology of Luke demonstrates that all promises of salvation are given to Israel, and is never abolished.
4. Posing the question about the Torah, the Law of God, Luke emphasizes that it remain still for all Jewish Christians, even the ritual and ceremonial laws. The Law is still the mark of identity of the People of God.
5. The works of Luke are full of Jewish words, terms and usages from Luke 1 to Acts 28.
6. The Acts of the Apostles, does not present to us Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, but as the Apostle to the Jews and the world, that is, the Diaspora.He is the Pharisee, not the ex-Pharisee.
7. Even the Language is important. Most of the times the language is ‘biblizistisch’, obviously influenced by the Septuagint, because he more than any other author in the New Testament proves his sayings from the Scriptures that have their legitimate place in the Synagogue.

This highly condenced presentation of his argumentation does not give full credit to his views, but might serve to point out that to Jervell, it is obvious that the Jewish Christians were a more significant and greater part of early Christianity even after 70 CE,. than often presupposed and presented in New Testament studies and that this aspect has to be even more studied than has been done so far.

Prof. Jervell was also very active as a church politician, or rather, opinion maker, especially in the 1960ies and into the early 1990ies. Some people found his ways of presenting and arguing somewhat hard to cope with; he might be heard or read sometimes as an arrogant ‘besserwisser’ and was not always on good terms with the Norwegian Christian lay movements. This might be said to be partly due to his ways of arguing, but also to some of his viewpoints that many persons found hard to accept, while on the other hand, some found them relieving and refreshing. As a scholar deeply influenced by his years of studies in Germany in the 1950ies, he was in some ways a student of Ernst Kasemann, and as an popularizing writer and lecturer he could find great pleasure in presenting his arguments in a sharp and critical, almost criticizing way.

His influenc was  felt not only through his books, but also through his many sermons and public lectures, and through his participations in radio and TV programs.

In 2000 he was given the honour of being knight of  1. class of  St. Olavs Orden. He was given a Festschrift both in 1985 and in 1995.