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Jesus-Devotion and YouTube

July 8, 2016

For those who prefer YouTube to reading books (or at least might want to judge first whether to read them), I note again that on YouTube you can find some videos in which I sketch my findings on the origins of Jesus-devotion, for example, here.

I mention this here again because I occasionally get comments and complaints that actual publishing/professional scholars don’t make enough of an effort to communicate to the wider/general public.  Well, in general it’s a fair charge, I guess.  Professional scholars are expected primarily to do original work and to publish primarily in venues directed to other scholars, for the aim is to contribute to shaping scholarly understanding of their subject.  That means publishing material that is “heavy-weight” enough to justify the serious critical attention of other scholars, and, hopefully, to shape critical opinion.

But a number of us (from various perspectives) do try also to contribute to the wider, “general-audience” understanding of the important matters that we investigate.  The YouTube video I mention above is one of my own attempts at this.  From the comments, however, it looks like viewers remain much more interested in touting their own pre-conceived opinions (of various kinds), rather than considering patiently what I’ve tried to express in carefully measured ways.  I disappoint some who can’t seem to grasp, or don’t like, a historical approach; and I get blow-back from others who hold other pre-conceived views.  But, nevertheless, it’s there for those interested.

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32 Comments
  1. Timothy Lawson permalink

    Dr Hurtado, I recently posted the following comments to some Facebook friends for their thoughts. I’m a Jehovah’s Witnesses and found nothing out of accord with our Christology in your video. Perhaps you may help clear up some of my questions:

    I recently got involved in a discussion on Nerdy Theology Majors (since then a new group has started up with a similar name) about Larry Hurtado’s recent YouTube video about Jesus devotion in early Christianity. I found nothing in his comments in the video that conflicted with my (JW) view of Jesus and I said so. My comments led to a terse discussion on Hurtado’s view of Jesus with one man who has had recent personal contact with him and adamantly asserts that Dr Hurtado is a Trinitarian. While I allowed that this may be true I pointed out that all his comments were in accord with my view of Christ and it was likely due to Hurtado’s historical judgements about Jesus.

    Anyhow, I came across his use of “binitarian” in distinction from “di-theistic” and found his definition of it as seemingly consonant with my JW view. Would it be correct to describe the JW view of Jesus as “binitarian” as per Larry Hurtado’s definition?

    • I confess that I haven’t updated myself recently on what JW theological teaching in the matter is. But in any case, my own work isn’t done with a view to supporting this or that modern theological standpoint, but simply to try to understand what earliest Christians said and did in their own terms (so, I frustrate people of various theological persuasions who want me to engage modern theological categories).

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        …except in your book “At the Origins of Christian Worship” where you argue that the traditional creeds follow naturally from early Christology as you Reconstruct it, and that early Christian worship of Jesus should inform modern practice in the church.

      • Donald: Yet again you oversimplify and so distort what you read. In my “Origins” book I simply note as a matter of historical fact that the issues in 3rd/4th century debates and the sides taken all were heavily prompted by the much earlier central place of Jesus in Christian beliefs and devotional practice. And, yes, I do suggest that modern-day Christians could profit from examining closely the discourse and devotional practices reflected in the NT, instead of simply looking at everything through the lens of later conceptual categories. You clear now??

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Professor Hurtado, you go much further than saying that the debates of the fourth century were prompted by the centrality of Jesus in devotional practice. You take sides theologically most clearly when you state:

        “I think that Athanasius was correct that Christian theology and worship should be required to have some genuinely mutual relationship.” And you argue that if, “Christians are sincere about their monotheistic commitment and yet also feel obliged to continue their historic Christian devotional pattern of according the sort of reverence to Christ that they otherwise reserve for God, then, some kind of profound inclusion of Christ with(in) God such as was articulated in Nicene Christology (though not necessarily the same articulation), seems required, or at the very least reasonable.” At the Origins of Christian Worship, page 102.

        I think those comments supply a very straightforward answer to Timothy’s question above about your theological position.

      • Dear, dear Donald, you must read carefully! Athanasius was correct that theology and worship should have some mutual relationship–that tells you nothing of whether I endorse Athanasius’ own effort to do this. And the second quotation likewise simply affirms that Christians must in some way include Christ in their notions of “God”, and I allow for a variety in how they do so.
        In any case, Donald, my advice to modern Christians is hardly determinative for how I read ancient texts. Or don’t you get the difference? Give me (and yourself) a break!

    • Of course Hurtado’s Christology is different from JWs’ in that the binitarianism talked about is largely devotional. I know for a fact that Jesus is not addressed or included in JW devotional settings, save the ritualistic conclusion in prayers, “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

      • Timothy Lawson permalink

        Jaco “worshippingmind” Van Zyl, what I’ve noticed is that Dr Hurtado’s word choice about the role of Jesus in the worship of God (the father) is very careful, never quite coming to same level of worship that is given to God (the father)…such words as “devotion” and “reverence” which he also seems to qualify by referencing Philippians 2:11.

        Regarding our JW practices of reverence and devotion to Jesus is the baptismal formula and songs of praise to Jesus In addition to invoking the name of Jesus in prayer. Dr Hurtado’s comments have made me aware of just how significant these acts are. However, I’ll point out something you may not be aware of which is sometime in the 1940’s our Watchtower publications began opening each study article with the name Jehovah as a way to give more prominence to God in our worship, however this practice faded within a few decades I believe. The reason I mention that is to show our struggle to balance our devotion/reverence between Jehovah and Jesus. Dr Hurtado’s work has made me personally aware of how significant the devotional practices involving Jesus were in early Christianity and so too for us today. What I’ve come to realize also as consequence of reading Dr Hurtado’s work is that emotionally I have this high reverence for Jesus but intellectually I kept my worship of God (the father) largely disconnected from Jesus when in fact I need not do so as is shown in early Christian practice…and as per Philippians 2:11.

      • Timothy, I’d modify your characterization of my views as follows. I emphasize that the NT texts reflect the view that worship is properly given to “God”, but that to do so aright now requires that worship be offered also to Jesus, and that God be worshipped “through” him. Indeed, in 1 Cor 1:2, Paul characterizes believers simply as “all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To “call upon” here obviously echoes the OT phrase for worship of YHWH. I.e., the cultic invocation of Jesus is constitutive of worship in Paul’s experience. His inclusion of “God the father and our Lord Jesus” typically in letter salutations and his “grace benedictions” that refer to Jesus in letter conclusions are now commonly seen by scholars as his use of liturgical formulae, and so as reflective of the constitutive place of Jesus in worship in early Christian circles.
        Christians were also anxious to avoid any notion of having two gods, however. So, they insisted that the inclusion of Jesus in their worship did not detract from the worship of the one God, but was instead the requisite form for that worship.

    • Donald Jacobs permalink

      In context you are quite clear that Casey’s account of early Christology tends toward an Arian interptation of the fourth century debate. This is contrasted with your own reading of early Christology and Athanasius in the fourth century. I find it puzzling that you would distance yourself from the plain meaning of your own words.

      Being a Trinitarian doesn’t necessitate reading the NT in a Trinitarian manner, of course. James Dunn is perhaps an example of a Trinitarian scholar who interprets the NT in a rather non-Trinitarian way.

      But why obscure a theological position that is supposedly irrelevant anyway?

      • Donald, What “context” are you referring to? I can’t recall identifying Casey’s work with Arianism or mine with Athanasius. On p. 102 (At the Origins of Christian Worship), I wrote that “if, as some urge today, genuine monotheism precludes the deity of Christ, then Christian devotion would have to make a sharp distinction between the reverence given to Christ and that accorded to God,” and in n. 8 I cite Casey’s argument that “monotheism” precludes the divinity of Christ. You’re again misreading, imputing things that aren’t there.
        I’m not “obscuring” anything, Donald. Taking account of the unavoidable issues of that time, I’m both sympathetic to Athanasius, and also critically aware that the categories of that time aren’t ours. So, I appreciate the Nicene Creed, for example, as a historic statement of faith, but I also see it as shaped very much by its time, and have advocated that the continuing theological task should go back to the NT and try working afresh to devise appropriate ways of speaking of God and Jesus today.
        My question: What’s your point in persistently trying to pick, pick, pick at me? Did I insult your dog or something?

  2. Did not Jesus agree to the unitary monotheism of Israel in Mk 12:19. Are not the teachings of Jesus supposed to be the basis of our faith as Christians. Why then do we not take the Shema as our inflexible creed, as based on the clear testimony of Jesus?

    • Yes, Anthony, and all NT texts and most other early Christian texts too agree that there is only one deity worthy of worship. But they also agree that God has now exalted Jesus as Kyrios and demands that he be reverenced as well. Indeed, in NT texts, failure to reverence Jesus with God is to disobey God. What counts most in the NT, Anthony, isn’t what Jesus said but what God has done and said.

      • Dr. Hurtado, I’m curious as to your use of Kyrios when it comes to both God and Christ.

        In your commentary on Mark, back in 1983, you wrote that “the word Lord translates two different words in the Hebrew original of the Psalm quoted here (110:1). The first Lord is the Hebrew name for God [usually pronounced Yahweh]; the second Lord renders Adonai, roughly equivalent to the English ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord,’ and the Greek Kyrios.”

        As we know, Adonai was created to supplant the Divine Name Yahweh, due to the Jews’ own prohibition of the Name. In other words, it’s used for God/Yahweh only.

        But in 2003 in your tome Lord Jesus [p. 183]you wrote that “in pre-Christian Greek manuscripts of the Psalms [LXX/Septuagint], the phrase would have been written, “Yahweh said to my lord [to kyrio mou]” and it would have been QUITE CLEAR that kyrios here WAS NOT USED for God but referred to a figure DISTINGUISHABLE from God.”

        So could you clarify your current stance on the 2 Lords of Ps. 110.1? Is it a reference to one Deity [Yahweh] speaking to another who is also deity [Adonai]? Or is it Deity speaking to non-deity [l’adoni]?

      • I’m afraid that I can’t readily find the statement that you ascribe to me in my 1983 commentary on Mark. Perhaps you could give me the page reference. In any case, the second “lord” in Psalm 110:1 in Hebrew is “adoni”, not “adonai” (which is a special term coined by ancient Jews as a reverential substitute for YHWH). And so the statement in my 2003 book that you cite should be taken as how I understand the matter.

      • Dr. Hurtado your time and expertise is much appreciated.

        I fully agree that what God says is of ultimate importance. This includes what God says through His agent and Messiah in Mark 12.29. If we take those words of Jesus, does not that proposition give us a unitary monotheistic definition of God agreeing, obviously, with the Jew?

        Would you agree then that there is no inclusion of Jesus in the Shema? At least in Mark 12.29.

        If I understand you rightly, you agree that Jesus does not include himself in the Shema in Mark 12.29 but that Paul later does (1 Cor 8)?

        Am I reading you correctly?

        Thanks,

        Anthony F. Buzzard

      • Anthony, First, we have to take note of our sources, in this case Gospels. Their authors were first-century Christians, who (in my view) likely shared the high views of Jesus, his centrality in belief and in worship practice that we see otherwise attested in contemporary Christian texts. Mark 12:29 is the immediate product of the author, not simply a statement of Jesus. So it’s Mark’s representation of Jesus, not simply Jesus.
        But, second, it is unlikely that the Galilean Jesus would have included himself in the Shema. If Paul does so, that would reflect the conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory, and shared with him the divine name, requiring him now to be reverenced with God (as, e.g., in Philippians 2:9-11).
        The Gospels largely preserve the distinction between what people believed about Jesus prior to his death and what they believed after the conviction that God had raised and exalted Jesus.

      • The was from your “Mark (Understanding the Bible Commentary series),” Ebook edition created 2011, first published 1983, rev. 1989. Previewed in Google books as well: https://goo.gl/kmD0Vr

        So just to be clear, the title of the 2nd lord in Ps 110.1 is l’adoni and not Adonai? And is adoni ever used for Deity?

        Thank you.

      • To speak to the specific matter: (1) the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1) is “YHWH said to adni, which is pointed as “adoni” (which = “my lord”); (2) the same word in consonantal form is used as address to YWHW in the Hebrew bible (e.g., Exod 4:10, 13), but the traditional Massoretic vowel-pointing has it pronounced as “adonai”. (I trust that you understand Hebrew well enough to follow this.) “Adonai” is a form created specifically to function which God is referred to as “lord”.

  3. Donald Jacobs permalink

    How many kinds of readers are allowed to exist?

    I understand there are scholars who tend to agree with a lot of what you argue, like Richard Bauckham.

    And there are other scholars who tend to disagree with you on some things, like James Dunn.

    And there are non-scholars who read your work and find it agreeable.

    But the question is, is there any room in this square-shaped taxonomy for readers who are non-scholars, and yet are not convinced about your arguments on early Christology and the eruption of Christ devotion for example?

    Is a lay-person’s opinion always “pre-conceived”? I am not a scholar of early Christianity but I’ve read a fair bit. In fact many dozens of books and articles on Christology,over the years, from Conzelmann to Cullman, Bultmann to Bousset, Hurtado to Haenchen, Marshall to McGrath, Ehrman to Geischen, Crossley to Casey. I could go on but I was running out of initial pairs off the top of my head. Christology was my favourite subject for a long while. Plus the divine name, which is related. Now mostly I like to read about trees. Reading a lot on the subject doesn’t make someome an expert of course. But it doesn’t make me completely ignorant either.

    Just how much do I need to read on the subject before my opinion is elevated slightly above “pre-conceived”? Can a lay person read a work by a scholar, disagree because not convinced, and yet escape being labelled an ignorant twerp?

    • Donald, To speak immediately to your parting shot (and you so often feel it necessary to shoot!), “ignorance” is no crime. Being a jerk is. So, if someone is inadequately informed but recognizes it, that’s no problem. But if someone acts arrogantly like their some sort of expert when they aren’t, that’s downright annoying.
      But of course all kinds have a right to exist! Good heavens, Donald. No extermination policy! And I respect people who respectfully indicate their dissent. I don’t like it when people act as if any opinion is equally valid, and refuse to engage the data.
      None of what I’ve said is intended as direct reference to anyone in particular. Just trying to respond to your curious question.

  4. Yes, I remember first stumbling across this video a few years ago and was delighted to have discovered it. A video such as this adds so much color to texts, yet they convey useful knowledge in their own right.

    As I recall, there are other clips in the St. John’s Nottingham series that are similarly helpful.

    I’m very glad to hear that you wanted to do it, and I hope you will want to do more.

    I’m guessing there are a number of useful comments in that string…somewhere.

  5. Jim permalink

    Your efforts are appreciated by some of us. Thank you.

  6. I took a look at your video and comments. Sad.

    The whole question of the Trinity needs continued debate. To say that Jesus was only man or only God is to denigrate him. To say that he was the Son of Man only adds to the confusion. To say that he existed before creation or was a part of creation is simply guesswork.

    To use the phrase; God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit; is probably the closest we can come.

    Thanks for your efforts at unraveling the truth.

    Mike

  7. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Did you describe yourself as “conservative” from a scholarly perspective in that video? Did I misunderstand?

    • Yes, Donald, I fear that (again) you misunderstood things. In the video I refer to the evidence in Paul’s letters as indicative that a robust Jesus-devotion had developed within the ca. 20 yrs between Jesus and the earliest of Paul’s letters as a “conservative” dating, i.e., a cautious/safe dating. And I myself proposed a more radical view (in the eyes of some) that the treatment of JEsus as sharing in divine glory likely erupted within the first months or weeks after Jesus’ execution. “Conservative” in this context isn’t a theological term, Donald. You’re a bit too spooky.

  8. Jack Irwin permalink

    Larry, I for one, raise an “Amen” to your efforts to distribute your knowledge to those of us who don’t have the opportunity to participate in scholarly circles. Keep up the good work!

  9. Hang in there. Some out here really do want to know and learn. Your one of the best and more interesting to read.

  10. Oliver Achilles permalink

    Next week i will give a view of »Jesus devotion« on an bible week in Austria to an interested audience. It’s a shame, that your books haven’t been translated yet in German.

    • I’ve been told several times by German colleagues that German students are expected to read English, so they don’t need German translation. But I’m not fully convinced. In any case, a few of my essays have been translated, including this one: Larry W. Hurtado, “Jesusverehrung und die Frömmigkeit des Judentums zur Zeit des zweiten Tempels,” Evangelische Theology 68 (2008), 265-86.

      • Patrick Barton permalink

        Larry,

        I want to side with those who appreciate the work you and other honest researchers do. The church needs this regardless of the haters out there.

      • Well, I wouldn’t use the word “haters” myself. There are prejudiced people of various stripes, both self-styled Christians and self-styled anti-Christians, and I get guff from both.

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