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“God” in the New Testament

November 15, 2010

Today’s postal delivery included the comp copies of my new book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press).  It’s always an author’s pleasure to receive the published results of the many months of researching, writing and editing.

The title was framed by the publisher.  The title I proposed was “‘God’ in the New Testament,” i.e., with quote-marks around “God”.  This is reflected in the text of the book, where “God” is typically enclosed in quote-marks, mainly to register that the word “G-o-d” (and its Greek equivalent) carries no intrinsic meaning but acquires meaning in particular discourses.  My book is really a study of the discourse about “God” in the NT.

The book is organized to address a set of questions.  The first question (Chapter 1) is what have NT scholars made of “God” in the NT.  Surpringly, “God” has been an infrequently discussed subject in NT studies, but things have improved a bit in the last couple of decades.

The second question (Chapter 2) concerns the nature of the deity discoursed about in the NT.  Contrary to a widespread popular assumption, “God” doesn’t carry automatic meaning.  So, for example, to ask “Do you believe in God” doesn’t mean much, unless the inquiry includes a specification of which or what kind of deity it is about which the question is posed.  Chapter 2 deals with the particularity of the deity discoursed about in the NT, emphasizing also the exclusivity of earliest Christian worship (which involved rejecting the many other deities of the Roman religious environment).

Chapter 3 deals with the place of Jesus in NT God-discourse, or the consequences for “God” of the NT emphasis on Jesus.  One of the questions lurking here is whether the NT deity is or is not the OT deity, and the nature of any continuity between NT God-discourse and the OT.

In Chapter 4 the question is what place in NT God-discourse is given to the Spirit, and the effects of NT treatment of the Spirit upon discourse about “God”.  Two things for noting:  (1) There is a greater frequency of reference to the Spirit in the NT in comparison with either the OT or 2nd-temple Jewish literature, and (2) the Spirit is remarkably connected with Jesus as well as “God”.

In the concluding chapter I engage a few other questions, among them how much coherence and diversity there is in NT God-discourse.  I contend that there is much more coherence than diversity.  I also consider how the “triadic” shape of NT God-discourse is related to subsequent developments toward the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

As Nils Dahl noted over 25 years ago, “God” has been neglected surprisingly in NT scholarship.  So, I hope that my modest volume will make a contribution to rectifying that neglect.

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  1. Howard Mazzaferro permalink

    I agree with your remarks concerning the word God. That the word itself does not really carry a meaning or particular identification without the necessary discourses surrounding the subject. That is why I think Moses, Angels, and other men can rightfully be described as gods as they are being depicted as having certain qualities of God/god, but are not being identified as YHWH. I also think that the notion of a false God/god, is not merely anyone who is called god, but one who is depicted as receiving the worship and devotion that is reserved for YHWH alone. I would like to hear how you would define a false god.

    Do you offer this or any of your other books in electronic form?

    • I’d urge more precision in your statement. Thus, e.g., Moses is described as “like a god to Pharoah”, not described as a deity. Melchizedek, however, is identified as the elohim of Psa 82:1 (in the Qumran text, 11QMelch), but it is clear that Melchizedek functions here as YHWH’s viceroy, and has no role as recipient or medium of worship.
      “False” gods in the OT and Jewish texts are typically beings that invalidly claim for themselves worship. I.e., the focus isn’t on whether there are or are not beings behind the “idols”, but on whether they are or are not worthy of worship.
      On these things, see my discussion in the following publication: L. W. Hurtado, “Monotheism, Principal Angels, and the Background of Christology,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 546-64.

      • Howard Mazzaferro permalink

        Sorry for the confusion, I was trying to be brief with my comment. Obviously Moses is not a divine being. But he was used to represent YHWH’s power and authority, the fundamental meaning of the word God. That is why I said he was “described” as a god and not that he was a god. I was merely pointing out that the word God in the Bible is often used as a generic word that can rightfully be applied to a greater or lesser extent to other individuals in certain contexts. As opposed to the usual argument that anything that is called God/god is either a false God/god or the True God.

      • OK. I don’t think I’ve suggested otherwise.

  2. Professor Hurtado, Would it be true to say that Psalm 110:1 is an essential key to the identity of Jesus, since it frames the NT discussion, from Jesus onwards?
    If so why is not more attention paid to the Hebrew here for he second lord, which is expressly the non-Deity title, ADONI? (all 195 times)

    • Psa 110 is the single most frequently cited and alluded to OT text in the NT. See the classic study: David M. Hay, Glory At the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973); William R. G. Loader, “Christ At the Right Hand–Ps. CX.1 in the New Testament,” New Testament Studies 24 (1977): 199-217; Martin Hengel, “‘Sit At My Right Hand!’ The Enthronement of Christ At the Right Hand of God and Psalm 110:1,” in Studies in Early Christology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 119-225.
      The major import in the NT citations is not to claim Jesus’ divinity, but to claim his exalted status, e.g., beyond even David, such that all things are made subservient to him. But in connection with other texts, as in Hebrews 1, NT authors claim Jesus’ exalted status is such as to justify the extraordinary devotion given to him, which extends to including him in their worship activities.

  3. I have already ordered my copy and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. It is always intellectually stimulating to read your books, Prof. Hurtado.

  4. Larry

    Would you agree that “the God and Father” of the lord Jesus Christ in the NT has been completely negated by the later Catholic/Protestant creeds?

    • I can’t account for the many creedal statements, esp. if you take into view all the various Protestant confessions. I’m not a historian of dogma. But the Apostles’ Creed, for example, seems to me to track fairly closely the key emphases in the NT references to God and Jesus.

  5. I received my review copy last week and I am excited to dig in!

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