The NT “God” in Historical Perspective
One of the things I emphasize in my new book, God in New Testament Theology, is the significance of the NT discourse about, and devotion to, “God” in the first-century context. Here are some sentences from my concluding chapter that reflect this.
(from pp. 110-11): “I would go so far as to claim that in the NT we have what amounts to a historically significant critique of popular ideas of the time about ‘gods’ and a notable innovation in religious belief and practice. . . . . It is all the more interesting that this represents a critique of religion and the gods from a religious standpoint. That is , in the name of what they believed is the true deity they leveled a radical critique against almost the entire religious outlook of their day. In fact, so radical was their stance in the eyes of many contemporaries that Christians came to be accused of ‘atheism,’ an impious rejection of the gods.”
“Granted . . . . even among some pagan philosophers there were critiques of animal sacrifice and a more transcendent view of the ultimate deity. But . . . there is little evidence that these philosophical musings had any significant impact on popular religious practice (or that there was any such intention). It is one thing to bandy about an idea in the dining circles of self-styled sophisticates; it is quite another to set out to change belief and behavior at large. . . . Indeed, I propose that early Christianity constituted the first popularly based critique of the gods and religion in the ancient Roman world (and remained the only one until the rise of Islam several centuries later).”