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“God” in the New Testament

May 17, 2016

One of the better kept secrets of the universe (on account of the inept handling of it by the publisher) is my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry here (although the city is Edinburgh, not Edingburgh).  Perhaps Edward Snowden could help in breaking the secrecy.  I’ve mentioned the book previously, and news of its French translation here.

Through some sort of snafu, the publisher never sent it out for reviews, so it hasn’t been noticed much.  Indeed, to my knowledge, it was never reviewed in any of the major journals.  Reviews I’ve found are online here and here.

I’ve been disappointed in this, obviously, for although it’s a small book, I did put a good deal of work into it. As there are so few books on “God” in the NT, whatever its shortcomings, there ain’t a lot of competition out there for it!  So, I shamelessly mention it, reminded to do so in light of a lecture given today here in New College (which shall remain unspecified).

One of the emphases in my little book is that the key factor is the shape of earliest Christian devotion.  In later centuries, Christians (influenced by then-dominant philosophical categories) focused on what is called “ontological” questions/issues.  But I contend that the earlier, and more crucial, factor is the pattern of earliest devotional practice.  For example, the NT texts typically present God as the ultimate recipient of worship; but these texts equally make it requisite that worship of God be done through Jesus.  This introduces a novel “dyadic” devotional pattern, and the NT texts typically make it, not an option, but mandatory.  I submit that in this we have the decisive historical development that helped to generate, even to require, the subsequent history of theological argument about how to integrate Jesus into the developing Christian understanding of “God.”

But it isn’t feasible to deal with the matter adequately in a blog-posting.  So, those seriously interested will have to read the book.  You’ll have to make an effort to do so, however, for the publisher hasn’t made it easy!

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  1. Mike Gantt permalink

    I bought and read the book when it came out. It is like a small, special-purpose tool – perfect for the workman who needs it and knows how to use it, but too specialized for most. For this reason, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for a general-audience publisher.

    I would highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in Christology not because it is a Christologial book but because it helps clarify the NT field for Christological study. I’m not saying this is the only use for the book, or even its most important use, but it was most important – and most helpful – to me for this purpose.

    • Mike: “Too specialized for most”? Most what? I think it’s entirely clear and readable . . . for anyone seriously interested in the subject!

  2. Urban C. von Wahlde permalink

    I cannot find references to Jesus declaration of EGO EIMI in the gospel of John. e.g. 8:24 (So I said to you that you will die in your sins; for, if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.). That would be a very close identification of Jesus with God without distinction, it seems.

    • Urban: Granted. But I had a word-limit, and also the focus was to be on “God-talk” more than all the facets of NT Christology.

  3. Bee D. permalink

    This might even be one of your best books. But it may be that indeed, the rather general title helped cause it to disappear in the great mass of more general books about God. In this case, sometimes a publisher, in later editions, will emphasize a more distinctive part of the subtitle. As in effect, a more “standout” title for the book.

  4. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H.,
    Thanks for the reminder. This will make a perfect Father’s Day gift.


  5. Yes, the NT writers do advocate worship through Jesus, assuming that the Church didn’t insert some of that into the originals, but this wasn’t true of the very early Christians who were Jews. They viewed Jesus as the Messiah, not as God. The Apostles kept going to the temple daily after the Crucifixion. This would never have been allowed by the temple priests had they thought that the Apostles believed and preached that Jesus was God, or even that God had to be worshiped through Jesus. There was no doctrine of the Trinity back then. Had there been, that would have really irked the Temple priests. They would have interpreted the Trinity as 3 gods, a very big no-no in Judaism.

    • David: Try doing some research before sounding off so confidently (and ill-informed). E.g., ponder the evidence and arguments laid out in my book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, esp. the early chapters on Pauline and Judean Christianities.
      In fact: the evidence points to an eruption of Jesus-devotion from the earliest months/weeks (before Paul’s own revelation). The message wasn’t “Jesus is God,” which is hard to find anywhere in the NT. Instead, it was that Jesus had been uniquely vindicated and exalted by God to heavenly status and Lord and Christ and God’s unique Son, and that it was mandatory to recognize this and respond in reverence for Jesus . . . in obedience to God.
      The “Trinity” comes later . . . much later. But already by the earliest period Jesus-followers were generating deadly opposition: Saul of Tarsus’ efforts to “destroy” the young movement (his words).
      But this isn’t the place to argue the matter . . . especially when you obviously haven’t yet studied the data carefully enough.

      • Thank you for your response. Based on the many books by scholars that I have read, I find it hard to believe that the Apostles believed that all worship of God had to be through Jesus. Jesus taught them to pray a prayer that is directly to the Father and does not go through Jesus. I am personally concerned to know what the original followers of Jesus believed because I am a Christian; and I want to get it right on a spiritual level. Did Christians ultimately get it right, or would Jesus not approve of what is believed today? Did Jesus want to found the Church as Christians know it today, or was his intent to reform Judaism without any intent to establish a new religion. I commented because you mentioned the earliest of Christians, which I take to be those at least two decades before Paul’s letters. If this is of no interest of yours, or perhaps off topic since you were commenting on your book, then I am sorry for commenting on your post.

      • My own work has focused particularly on the earliest years of the young Jesus-movement, and in the chapters of my book, Lord Jesus Christ, to which I directed you I deal precisely with this period and questions about what kind of Jesus-devotion erupted, when, etc.
        I suggest, however, that the way you frame the question is very much shaped by 18th century notions. For the earliest believers, what counted most wasn’t what Jesus commanded or expected but what God had done and demanded. And they believed that God had raised Jesus from death and installed him in glory as gerent of the divine programme, and now required Jesus to be given the sort of reverence that is reflected in our earliest evidence.

  6. Thank you for the reminder. I have ordered a copy.

  7. Seems to be easy to buy at Amazon.

  8. Thank you for clarifying the publisher’s issues. I contacted then few months ago letting them know about my blog. The person who replied my inquiry seemed to be very excited about the possibility of sending me books for review and asked me to send her a list with the titles I would like to review. I have not received anything from them.

  9. Thanks, Larry. We’ve got a copy at Durham, and I’m looking forward to reading it, perhaps incorporating some of it into my research here.

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