I continue to work through the preface of Larry Hurtado’s classic, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. It has been published in its 3rd edition recently by Bloomsbury T. & T. Clark, as a part of its Cornerstones Series.
Hurtado contended that divine agents, or better principal agents, provided a conceptual category whereby earliest Christians were able to understand how a second figure (like Jesus) could be closely associated with God in creation and sustaining the world, in redemption and future judgment. For Hurtado, a good deal of early Christians’ assessment of Jesus and his significance owed its substance to this category. But he never contended that divine agency (principal agency) was sufficient in and of itself to account for the rise of Christ-devotion in the early decades of the Christian movement. What is unparalleled in second temple Judaism vis-à-vis the principal agent figure is the kind of cultic devotion that arose with Jesus as the rightful (God willed) recipient. This is truly a “novel development,” that represented what he called a binitarian pattern of devotion.
One factor Hurtado noted was the powerful religious experiences that convinced Jesus followers that it was right and good to reverence the Lord Jesus as Jews were reverencing God. Moreover, that to reverence Jesus did not distract in any way from one’s devotion to God. The experiences had to be so forceful and compelling as to persuade scrupulous Jews to consider it God’s will that they reverence Jesus.
Some scholars have questioned whether religious experience could have the kind of generative effect as Hurtado argued. But he made the point in various articles that sociologists and anthropologists increasingly were recognizing that religious experience, particular “revelations,” did lead to significance innovations. Any religious experience and language used to express it were culturally and religiously determined. But there are novel interpretations of religious phenomena that led to structural changes in communities, new beliefs and practices.
The New Testament demonstrates that believers like Paul, a significant minor founder figure, had revelatory experiences that shaped and determined their lives (Galatians 1; 2 Corinthians 13; Acts 9). These revelations caused Saul/Paul to rethink the concepts, beliefs, and practices that had previously characterized his life. Whatever value he found in his previous life is now recast in light of knowing Christ (Philippians 3). As a result of his “conversion” or “call,” he joined a new group, the ecclesia of Christ, and found himself at odds with his previous community. The role of “revelation” is significant in early Christianity. Hurtado sensed this from the earliest sources and knew that it had sculpted what early Christianity was becoming in its first century.