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Jesus and God, encore.

July 20, 2016

Several comments to my posting yesterday, “Jesus and God,” exhibit the fallacious assumption that I posted about a couple of years ago here.  That assumption is that, for purposes of Christian theology, the sayings of Jesus trump everything.  Well, so far as NT authors are concerned, it’s clear that it is God who is the ultimate “reliable voice,” and it is God’s action that is the basis for everything.  Jesus’ significance, in short, is declared by God, and is defined with reference to God.  Indeed, one could say that all Christological claims are, at their basis, actually/also theo-logical claims, i.e., claims about what God is supposed to have done with reference to Jesus.

So, e.g., in the NT generally, the key basis for all other theological claims about Jesus is God’s action of raising him from death and exalting him to heavenly glory.  Prior to God doing so (in the outlook of NT writings), it was inappropriate for anyone to treat Jesus as rightful recipient of worship, for example, in the way that believers treated Jesus in the “post-Easter” period.  So, surprise! surprise!, the Jesus of the Gospels doesn’t receive worship, doesn’t demand it, etc.

The “mutation” in Jewish devotional practice that I underscored in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (3rd ed, London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015) took place in the aftermath of the conviction that God had exalted Jesus “to the right hand,” and now required him to be reverenced.  In is in light of God’s action that discourse about God and worship of God was re-drawn to include reference to Jesus programmatically.  (By the way, the 3rd edition of the book includes a new 20,000 word Epilogue in which I engage key works that appeared subsequent to the 1998 edition.)

So, for example, playing off Jesus’ saying in Mark 12:29 in which he cites the traditional wording of the Jewish confession, the Shema, for theological purposes against such passages as Philippians 2:9-11 or 1 Cor 8:4-6 or others is simply fallacy prompted, ironically, by 18th-century Deist thinkers (as I note in the 2014 posting cited above).

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  1. Andrew C permalink

    Hi Prof. Hurtado. One statement you made jumped out at me: ‘So, surprise! surprise!, the Jesus of the Gospels doesn’t receive worship, doesn’t demand it, etc.’ In general this seems to be the case, though I can think of one possible counter-example. In Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water, after Jesus gets in the boat, it says, ‘And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”’ (Matt. 14:33, NRSV) This would seem to be a case of a Gospel depicting the pre-resurrection Jesus receiving worship. I wondered how this fitted in with your overall thesis? Thank you for your time. Best, Andrew.

    • The use of the Greek verb “proskynein in the Gospel of Matthew is noteworthy. Matthew uses the term much more frequently than any of the other Evangelists, and prefers it at a number of points where Mark or Luke use terms meaning simply “bend the knee” or such. It seems to me that Matthew deliberately uses proskynein because it has a double-connotation range. It can connote simply prostration-in-obeisance, or it can connote “worship” as to a deity. The actions depicted are clearly the former type in the Gospels. But by using this term, I think Matthew makes these scenes prefigure the sort of more intense devotion to Jesus practiced by those for whom he wrote. See my discussion of this and related matters in my chapter, ” Homage to the Historical Jesus and Early Christian Devotion,” in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, pp. 134-51.

  2. Chris permalink

    I plead ignorance and hope these questions are clear.

    If what was written in GJohn (and possibly other gospels) is not a collection of direct quotations from Jesus, how can early NT writers claim Jesus pre-existed or participated in creation? Because God raised him from the dead and gave him the divine name? It would seem that they would need to be directly told this information somehow, because a clear theme through the gospels is that the disciples don’t grasp things quickly.

    The earliest NT writings are from Paul who states in Acts 26:22-23 that “…I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

    I fail to understand how Paul states that he teaches nothing new (only what is already taught in the OT), yet makes massive new claims about the Messiah (pre-existence, participation in creation). How can Paul know with certainty that he can make these claims if Jesus never made them himself?

    • Chris: Paul and other early adherents of the Jesus-movement were prompted to their astonishingly high claims about Jesus on the basis of several factors, prominent among them the revelatory experiences that convinced them that Jesus had been exalted to glory and identified as the eschatological redeemer. As they searched their scriptures, they found resources for understanding how this could be. This involved, obviously, an innovative interpretation of these scriptures, but they believed that they were divinely guided in doing so. They were in short sincerely convinced that they were simply unpacking the true, and deep meaning of those texts.

      • Chris permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        Thank you for the reply.

        I understand how early Christians recognized the command to worship Jesus via revelatory experience. The writer of Revelation shared a very clear and powerful example of such an experience when he witnessed the Lamb worshipped alongside God in chapter 5.

        What remains murky at best to me is how Christians came to recognize that the man Jesus who walked alongside them was their preexistent creator. I mentioned Paul because we have several accounts of his personal revelatory/conversion experience, but none of these accounts include a declaration of Jesus’ preexistence or participation in creation. So how did Paul come to write a text like Philippians 2? What verses from the OT did he interpret in revolutionary ways to make the claim that the Christ preexisted?

        Are you stating that because Paul applied OT YHWH texts to Jesus (e.g. Phil. 2:10 quoting Isaiah 45:23), he then felt comfortable (convinced?) with stating that Jesus was “there” before creation? What am I missing that allows him to make this claim?

        You make it clear that you do not believe Paul (or any other NT writer) claimed that Jesus simply was YHWH – there is always a distinction. If there is a distinction and YHWH alone created the earth, how can Paul claim someone came alongside YHWH to assist in creation?

      • First, the notion that God used an agent-figure in creating the world is reflected in Proverbs (8:22-31), and is reflected also in Philo of Alexandria’s musings about the divine Logos. These are, to be sure, ways of speaking of God and not really distinct beings; but they reflect a notion that seems to have been drawn upon and “hardened” by identifying the pre-existent Christ as the agent of creation (as, e.g., in 1 Cor 8:4-6; John 1:1-5; Heb 1:1-2). The logic behind this seems to me to be Jewish apocalyptic thought, in which final things are first things. So, if Jesus is the divinely-approved eschatological Lord, then he must have been at least so designated from the beginning. And as early believers read their scriptures (OT) looking for hints of God’s designation of Jesus, they found them in various places, including texts such as Psalm 33:2. It is a remarkable phenomenon, how early and robustly early Jesus-followers identified him as the agent of creation. They didn’t leave us notes! So we can only try to speculate intelligently about how they came to such views.

  3. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H.,
    I am fully convinced that the resurrection and exaltation are the basis for the unique place of Jesus as worthy of worship along with God. However, Jesus himself as recorded in the Gospels appears to be aware of his unique status during his lifetime. Passages where he claims he and the father are one, the I AM statements and his prayer in John 17:5, where Jesus prays that the Father return him to the Glory Jesus had before creation. If one gives veracity to the historical accuracy of the Gospels, as I do, it appears, at least to me, that Jesus resurrection and exaltation was the key element in the recognition of his followers that Jesus was worthy of worship along with God. Additionally, it is also clear to me that Jesus’ status was changed/enhanced by these same events, Phil 2. Yet, as noted above, Jesus’ does indeed claim and is aware of the fact that he already had a unique relationship with God before the crucifixion and that this relationship existed prior to his birth.
    In all of this, there can be no doubt that all the claims made by Jesus or his followers, post resurrection, are made in relation to God and his actions in making Jesus a co-receipeint of worship.


    • Timothy, with respect, you should know that your views reflect what I think most NT scholars would regard as a naïve use of Gospel texts. This is especially the case in your citation of sayings on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of John. (For my own discussion of the special character of the Gospel of John, see the essay posted here in pre-publication form.) But to engage that topic would take us far afield from the topic of my posting, which was that in the NT it is the actions of God that are typically cited as the basis for reverencing Christ.

      • The Gospel of John aside…one of your own students, Daniel Johansson (sp?), wrote an excellent thesis on Christology in the Gospel of Mark and its grounding in Isaiah.

        The million dollar question is, “are we reading in Mark (and the other Gospels) a post resurrection/exaltation understanding of Jesus?”. I think we most certainly are – and this appears to me what you (Dr. Hurtado) are saying.

        If I understand you correctly, your take is that much of the Christology contained in the NT arises from the belief that God raised and exalted Jesus? So, in Johansson’s case, Mark chapter 1 would have made the connection between Jesus in the wilderness with the language in Isaiah that attributes that scene to YHWH primarily – if not solely – due to the fact that God raised and exalted Jesus?

        If this is correct…I don’t see this as a problem for orthodox Christianity. However, as I have commented before, it is equally as useful for Unitarians like Dale Tuggy.

      • Your summary is essentially accurate. As to whether it is or isn’t a “problem” or “useful” for this or that theological preference, that’s not my main concern. Instead, I’m simply trying to capture accurately what NT texts reflect and the likely historical forces at work in them.

      • Timothy Joseph permalink

        Dr. H.,

        With equal respect, my naivety, as you put it, just assumes that the writers of the Gospels, wrote what Jesus said. While it is certainly true that most scholars would see this view as naive, there are some, Kruger, Porter who acknowledge sources have been used for the Gospels who would also affirm my views.
        While acknowledging your expertise, which is awesome by the way, I believe historical research and theology do not have to be separate endeavors.

        I have no intention to be snarky! I have great admiration for you and learn from you continually.


      • Timothy: It’s not as simple as you say. The Gospels are not actual citations of Jesus’ words, but at the very least translations (into Greek from Aramaic), and actually much more like adaptations of Jesus’ words for the various aims of the authors. Don’t take my word. Simply read them, in close comparison. It’s handy to use a Gospel “synopsis” for this: e.g., Gospel Parallels by B.H. Throckmorton, which lines up comparisons among the Synoptic Gospels. The four Gospels have clear family resemblances, but they are also clearly individuals. To change the metaphor, I’ve proposed that we can think of the Gospels as like four musical renditions of a shared composition. Perhaps the Gospel of John is like a jazz rendition! Very different from the others. But, as I say, form your own view, but on the basis of a close study of the texts, not someone else’s view.

  4. Dear Professor Hurtado, I was not criticizing what you had written. I just wanted to know what you meant when you wrote something about Christ receiving the divine name. I want to know what you mean by that. Do you mean the diving name of Yahweh? Thank you, Julie Pruitt

    • I didn’t see offence in your query. I simply pointed to the NT texts that I had in mind. More specifically, the divine name given/shared with the exalted Jesus seems to have been the Greek term, Kyrios, which was also the standard Greek oral substitute for YHWH.

  5. I think the objections to your historical understanding of Christology are usually based solely on one thing…I will put it in the form of a question: “Where is an affirmation of the ecumenical councils Trinitarian theology?”.

    The problem, of course, is that you won’t find it in your work because it isn’t in the NT. Why this is such a problem, I don’t know. This is no more a problem for the Trinity than, say, an affirmation of a Divine Council and the presence of “elohim” are for ancient Jewish Monotheism.

  6. Dr. Hurtado,

    How do you account for the grammatical fact that the Greek of the Shema only serves to confirm what the Hebrew states, that the LORD (YHWH/Kyrios) God is One Person?

    That is, the “our God” (ho theos)…is one Lord (kyrios heis hestin)” of the Shema is One Person.

    As you may well know, the word hestin is a present, indicative active, 3rd person singular form of the verb; equivalent to our “He is.” In the Greek NT (as in English for that matter) “He is” always refers to a single individual. So, however we wish to translate, it must connote “one person.”

    Note also that the kyrios of the Shema is always referred to as a “Who,” a non-human “Person” of course, and not a “What” (as the doctrine of the Trinity dictates, “3 Whos in 1 What”).

    Hence, the scribe agreeing with Jesus in v. 32:
    “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than He.’”

    I know this is to labour the point but I’m curious to see your response in light of you siding with others who believe Paul has “split the Shema” at 1Cor 8.4-6 (Dunn, Wright, et al.).

    • Carlos, the Hebrew of Deut 6:4 has no verb, as you may know, and is subject to more than one translation: e.g., “YHWH our God, YHWH alone” is also possible. The LXX translation is also feasible: “Kyrios our God, Kyrios is one” (as you may know, the “anarthrous” Kyrios often was used as the verbal substitute for YHWH and so acquired in Greek-Jewish usage the function of God’s name).
      As to 1 Cor 8:4-6, I can’t recall saying that Paul “split the Shema”. Paul does appear to use the terminology of the Shema in acclaiming “one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ,” and in substance does exhibit the “dyadic” “mutation” in Jewish confession and devotion that I’ve written about for 30 yrs. However you slice it, and whatever you do with it subsequently, there is this novel “two-ishness” to earliest Christian belief and devotional practice.

      • Thank you Dr.

        Could you briefly spare one more moment…

        Why is the 2nd “lord” of the critically important Ps. 110.1 explicitly a non-Deity title (adoni)?

      • Carlos: By common scholarly opinion, the “lord” invited to sit at the right hand of YHWH in Psalm 110:1 is the Judaean king. It is an enthronement psalm originally. It does not figure in second-temple Jewish messianic speculations, but early on became a very important biblical text in the Jesus-movement. The “lord” addressed in Psalm 110:1 was seen as Jesus, and the seating was interpreted predictive of his heavenly exaltation. And that exaltation was seen as conveying a share in divine glory, rule and worship. So, in earliest Christian usage, the “lord” of Psalm 110:1 was taken in an enhanced sense.

  7. mpzrd permalink

    If Jesus was the Christ from before the Creation, it would seem He was worthy of worship at any time. At any rate the work of revealing the Kingdom was done during his lifetime, although it was not understood even by the close disciples like Peter until some time after the Crucifixion. The Resurrection was historically compelling but it would seem a piece of “essentialism” to make the climax or capstone to be the whole of the story. In my mind, the miracle was the Incarnation or descent of the spirit: from there, given Jesus’ faithfulness, the Crucifixion was inevitable. Or maybe a choice by the rulers et all. -Marshall

    • “MPZRD” (by the way, we use real names on this site, please): I appreciate your effort at theological reasoning, but my point is that in the NT Jesus’ resurrection is described as him being installed in a seat/office/status that he didn’t occupy/exercise previously. So, e.g., Philip 2:6-11 has him “in the form of God (or perhaps in “god-form”)”, then becoming a man, and suffering death, and then “hyper-exalted” by God and given the name Kyrios, with the requirement now that he be universally reverenced. The notion of Jesus “incarnation” seems to have been an aftermath of the experience and conviction of Jesus’ exaltation. In the NT, Jesus’ resurrection has an unrivalled importance.

      • I apologize for the pseudonym, WordPress insists on using the existing association with my email. I don’t know how to change it. I’m Marshall,, of coastal Oregon.

        Surely the resurrection has a unique importance, but focusing on it as “the” moment when history turned seems to me like watching the Olympic medal ceremony while ignoring the competitive event. I know I’m very isolated and I’m distressed about that … If you can steer me someplace I would appreciate. Not eg the Homebrew or Progressive crowd, who emphasize humanism while basically carving around the “supernatural”. Can we not have a doctrine of a human Jesus who lived in the same world that we (moderns) do, and who, through his ideal falthfulness was granted the Judgement Seat? After all, the NT Acts and Epistles are also filled with how to live faithfully in a God-infused world.


      • Marshall, I don’t mean to say the whole she-bang commenced with Jesus’ resurrection. If you read my discussion of the “Forces and Factors” that shaped earliest Jesus-devotion (in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, 27-78) you’ll get what I hope is a fuller sense of my stance.

  8. Gareth permalink

    Mr Hurtado,
    Notwithstanding the change in Jewish devotional practice after Jesus’ exaltation, can we not still recognise that Jesus of Nazareth implicitly claimed the right to be worshipped even before his death? I don’t mean liturgical worship but treating him practically as your ultimate thing in life. For example, he invited people to rely on him to relieve their burdened souls (Matthew 11:28ff.) and to look to him as the source of their meaning, purpose, and fulfilment (“I am the bread of life”). Jesus seemed to encourage people to elevate him to a god-like role even before his exaltation.
    I welcome having my views shot down in flames if appropriate – I am hungry to learn.
    Thank you.

    • No, Gareth, I don’t agree. Although Jesus did apparently act as one uniquely endowed by God with authority and exercising a distinctive mission, there is no indication that he demanded worship or was given it during his historical life. Instead, the NT makes God’s resurrection/exaltation crucial. See my discussion, “Homage to the Historical Jesus and Early Christian Devotion,” in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, pp. 134-51.

  9. This little post makes this old man feel good.
    “it’s clear that it is God who is the ultimate “reliable voice,” and it is God’s action that is the basis for everything. ”

    We sit on this side of our resurrected and exalted LORD with tinted glass’s, that seem to prevent us from seeing how God and his Son got us here.

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