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Early Christian Worship: The Cinderella Topic?

January 10, 2012

Having written frequently on the significance of earliest Christian worship practices, it continues to puzzle me that NT scholars generally seem to give inadequate attention to the topic.  Here’s an example of why I’m curious.  I published a modest volume back in 1999, At the Origins of Christian Worship (Paternoster in the UK, Eerdmans in the USA), and, so far as I can tell, although receiving basically positive reviews where it was reviewed, it was never noted in most of the mainline journals in NT/Biblical Studies.  Did the book review editors look at the title and say “Hmm. Worship.  What does that have to do with NT Studies?”?   So it seems to me that “worship” (I mean a historical approach to the worship of earliest Christianity) is a Cinderella topic in biblical studies, insufficiently noted in comparison to its history-of-religions significance.

I’ve just uploaded in PDF format the pre-publication versions of a couple of my published articles from an excellent multi-volume reference work:  The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2006-2009).   (Click on the “Essays, etc.” tab to see these and other uploaded items.) 

One of them is my piece, “Worship, NT Christian,” in which I attempt a wide-ranging overview of the matter.  I think that this essay could serve well as an introduction to the subject for those curious about it.

The other uploaded PDF is my other big article in the NIDB, “Christology,” in which I give an overview/introduction to the christological beliefs and related practices that we have reflected in the NT.

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  1. Donald Jacobs permalink

    I have to say my initial impression of your At the Origins of Christian Worship title was coloured by the first time I saw it, which was in Wesley Owen, and it was categoried among the devotional literature.

    • Hmm. Well, as readers of the book will know, it’s primarily a historical description/analysis of the circumstances and character of earliest Christian worship gatherings.

  2. Thank you for this, I have a copy of your book that I’m very much looking forward to reading. I wonder if neglect of this topic is partially due to our tendency to read backwards into early worship history our own narrowed definition of the word? We’ve come to think of “worship” as a very specific set of (modern) actions, and this limits even the ability of NT scholars to view it as a significant topic. I am by no means an NT scholar, but have been studying and working in the area of “theology of worship” for a number of years now. Interestingly, I have found the same neglect on the “praxis” side of worship. Many of our “worship leaders” and pastors see little, if any, value in serious biblical study of worship. I’d be interested in your thoughts on my own blog ( should you have a moment to drop by.

  3. Looks interesting!

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