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One God, One Lord (Part 8)

With the death of my friend and mentor, Larry Hurtado, on November 25, 2019, I thought I’d take an occasion to re-read and blog through his classic book, 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.  When I visited Larry in early October, he gave me a copy and signed it “for David, trusted friend, Larry.”  With his passing, it is a hallowed possession. One God One Lord

I have spent seven posts blogging through the preface to the 1998 edition.  You can read those earlier posts beginning in December 2019.   Now I turn my attention to the epilogue of the book, which Larry wrote for the 3rd edition.

Larry’s interest in the questions that eventually became ONE GOD, ONE LORD came together for him not long after he finished his PhD.  He felt it was time for a substantial engagement with and against Wilhelm Bousset’s classic book KYRIOS CHRISTOS.  There were two overarching contentions in Bousset’s book.  First, one of the most significant historical developments of early Christianity was the emergence of the ‘Kyrios-cult,’ that is, the treatment of the risen/exalted Jesus as “the rightful recipient” of worship.  Second, Bousset argued that this development did not take place among the first Jewish followers of Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem; instead it happened in places like Antioch and Damascus under the influence of pagan worship where there were gods-a-plenty to be honored.   Jesus became just another of those gods.  Hurtado agreed with the first conclusion but not the second.

Hurtado thought that advances in knowledge and the availability of many Jewish texts—texts not available to Boussett—had rendered his historical judgments in error.  For example, Boussett thought the title “Son of Man” was a common title in second temple Judaism, and thus available for the earliest followers of Jesus to express his significance; it designated an eschatological figure who would appear to bring judgment and redemption to the world.  Therefore, the earliest Christians confessed Jesus to be the “Son of Man,” not the Lord (kyrios) because that word was too closely allied with the name of God and pagan gods; it could be thought to oblige worship of Jesus.  Kyrios-Christ devotion did develop, of course, at a secondary stage since Christianity eventually moved away from its Jewish moorings.  Further study has demonstrated, however, that Bousset was not correct; the “Son of Man” was not a familiar title in second temple Judaism.  Likewise, it is unlikely to have become a confession: “Jesus is the Son of Man.”  In the NT Jesus himself is the one who uses the expression of himself not his followers.

The Achilles’ heel to Bousset’s argument (that the Kyrios-cult developed at some secondary stage away from Jerusalem and Judea) is 1 Cor 16:22: maranatha (Aramaic expression transliterated into Greek letters; cf. Rev 22:20). Most scholars take that as an acclamation, “Our Lord comes,” or an invocation, “Come, our Lord.”  If Paul is using an Aramaic phrase in a Greek letter to a congregation in Corinth in AD 56, it is likely that the original, “primitive” church in Judea/Jerusalem referred to Jesus (the risen and coming one) as the Mareh (Aramaic for “Lord”)Aramaic was the language of the first Jewish communities/ synagogues.  Research by various scholars delving into Qumran materials confirms that the term Mareh could refer to God as a divine title, in ways similar to kyrios in Greek.  Hurtado took this as evidence that devotion to Jesus begins not in Greek-speaking Antioch but in Aramaic-speaking Jerusalem.

ONE GOD, ONE LORD came out of the impulse that Judaism not Hellenism provided the rich seedbed from which the Jesus movement sprung.  It began in a Jewish context and drew initially from that background to express their beliefs regarding Jesus and his significance.  Rather than examining the worship of Jesus in light of the Greek world with all their gods, Hurtado understood the challenges involved in investigating Christ-devotion in light of Jewish beliefs and practices.  That was the essence of his project.

 

One God, One Lord (Part 5)

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.

Both Maurice Casey and Jimmy Dunn do not think that Jesus is truly reverenced by believers until the later NT period, that is, once the communities left behind the so-called constraints of Jewish monotheism. Perhaps it is first witnessed in the Gospel of John (hereafter GJohn). As evidence they cite the absence (prior to AD 70) of Jews condemning what Hurtado called “Christ-devotion.”  Since there is no condemnation, the reverence accorded Jesus must not have violated the Jewish sensibilities of God’s oneness. Larry Hurtado 3 Therefore, no mutation in Jewish religious practices, as per Hurtado, had taken place.

Hurtado responded that prior to AD 70 there is evidence that some Jews considered Christ devotion a “dangerous development” (xvi).  He has pointed this out in various publications.  In particular, L. W. Hurtado, “Pre-70 c.e. Jewish Opposition to Christ-Devotion,” Journal of Religion 80 (2000), 183-205.  We will take this up in a subsequent post.  We might well ask the question: what did Saul, the Pharisee, find so problematic about the church that he was willing to destroy it prior to his revelation (Galatians 1; Acts 9)?  While he does not say explicitly why he was so aggrieved, his letters might be a source of information for what he found so offensive.  Might it have been the reverence early Jewish Christians were according to Jesus?

Therefore, in historical terms Hurtado argues that it is accurate to say that a mutation in Jewish religious practices had already taken place and was a regular feature of Christian churches prior to AD 70. But clearly by the end of the first century AD–about the time GJohn is written–other developments had taken place.  He regards this as “a more advanced stage of polemical confrontation with the Jewish religious leadership of synagogues in the late first century” (xvi).  It may not be too much to say that Christ devotion caused profound outrage among some Jews; what Christians were saying about Jesus and how they were reverencing him alongside the God of Israel would have been a stumbling-block.

 

Work Out Your Salvation

In this 7 minute podcast I cohosted at Wheaton College . . .

Dr. Douglas Moo, Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament, considers how best to understand and translate the clause often translated as “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).wheaton-magazine_august-2017-103036-200x225

You can cut and paste the following address into your web browser:

http://exegeticallyspeaking.libsyn.com/work-toward-your-salvation-philippians-212?tdest_id=826940

Or click here.

Tongues Speaking in the Early Church (pt. 2)

Here is part two of an article I wrote a few years ago for The Biblical Illustrator.   Make sure you read part one!

Even if the origin and practice of glossolalia in early Christianity remains obscure, Paul’s stance on the matter could hardly be clearer.  He addresses it straight on in 1 Corinthians 12-14 in response to a question raised by the congregation. .  We can read Paul’s “answer.”  The problem is: we don’t know the exact question.  What we do know is that Paul offers a corrective to the abuse and misuse of the gift of tongues in the church.

Above all, the apostle is concerned to order the worship of the community.  Because of its significance worship must be protected.  Disordered worship had led to disunity within the fellowship.  Tongues apparently is at the heart of that disorder for some tongue speakers valued their gift above all others and possessed an elitist attitude which excluded rather than included the otherwise gifted.  For Paul ecstatic experience and what appeared to be inspired speech is no guarantee of spirituality.  Indeed the pagans practice ecstasy and forms of prophecy.  The true test of inspiration is a confession, that is, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:1-3).  For the apostle this meant that Jesus is the God of Israel manifest in human flesh and now exalted to the highest rank in heaven (Phil 2:6-11).

To those who ranked tongues first as the most important spiritual gift, Paul counters by mentioning it last (1 Cor 12:4-11; see also 12:28-31).  In fact it is Paul’s point to highlight the diversity of grace gifts sovereignly distributed on the church by the Holy Spirit and to downplay tongues.  It is also crucial to his argument to point out that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each believer for the common good (1 Cor 12:7).  Although tongues is a legitimate gift which Paul himself used, it is good for the church only when it is practiced decently and when there is an interpretation.  Gordon Fee states it well when he says that for Paul there is an absolute need for intelligibility and order in worship.[5]  Otherwise the church is divided.  Intelligibility is provided when there is an interpreter (1 Cor 14:4-5).  Order is ensured when tongues speakers wait their turn (1 Cor 14:26-33).  Evidently Paul believes that their ecstatic experience and speech is under their control for he writes that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets and God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor 14:32-33).

If any gift should be sought, according to Paul, it should be the gift of prophecy.  Whereas those who speak in tongues speak to God and not to men, those who prophesy speak  to men words of edification, exhortation and consolation (1 Cor 14:1-3).  Whereas the one who speaks in tongues build up only the self, the one who prophesies builds up the entire congregation.  Prophecy therefore is the better gift (1 Cor 14:1, 5) because it is already intelligible to any who hear it.   Though Paul did speak in tongues, he preferred five intelligible, prophetic words to ten thousand unintelligible words in a tongue (1 Cor 14:18-19).  The Corinthians should follow his example.

If prophecy is the greatest gift, love is the surpassing way.  In the midst of Paul’s discussion of spiritual endowments he places a beautiful bit of prose to signify that all the gifts must be practiced in love.  First Corinthians 13 is certainly one of the most memorable chapters in the entire Bible   Paul begins: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal” (13:1).  The rhetoric is unmistakable.  Tongues speaking is nothing but noise when carried  out without.  When it comes to the church and its worship, love for one another will make all the difference.  Paul then celebrates the qualities of love (13:4-8), concluding with the observation that “Love never ends.”  In contrast, prophecy, knowledge and tongues will end “when the perfect comes” (1 Cor 13:10).  The question arises: what is “the perfect”?  Some have concluded erroneously that “the perfect” refers to the Bible, in particular, the full revelation of the New Testament.  They say when it is complete, tongues and prophecy cease.  According to these interpreters, the New Testament was complete around the end of the first century.  Therefore, they conclude, tongues cease with the close of the apostolic age.  The problem is this; no where in Paul’s writings does he anticipate the completion of our New Testament nor would the Corinthians have been able to understand that..  Furthermore, there is no perfection for Paul in this present age.  The “perfect” quite clearly refers to the time when God’s purposes are fulfilled, namely, at the second coming of Christ.  What Paul means is rather straightforward.  The spiritual gifts, including tongues, prophecy and gifts of knowledge, are for the present time.  They edify the church until the second coming of Christ.  When he comes, what we have seen and heard and known “in part” is fully realized.  Prophecy, tongues and gifts of knowledge—to name only a few—become obsolete when we see Christ face to face.  Love, therefore, is of a higher order.  It never ceases.  It is a permanent part of the life of the church on both sides of his appearing.  For Paul the truest manifestation of the Spirit’s work was not inspired speech but love.pentecost 3


[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 111.

[2] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 598.

[3] Johnson,  113-4.

[4] E. Andrews, “Tongues, Gift of,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon), 4:671-2.

[5] Fee, 571.

Tongues Speaking in the Early Church (Pt. 1)

Here is an article I wrote a few years ago for The Biblical Illustrator.   

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul provides the first record of the Christian practice of speaking in tongues, or glossolalia.  Those who study Scripture and early Christianity find the practice a bit baffling for a number of reasons.  First, the earliest, firsthand description of speaking in tongues depicts a church divided over the practice with Paul urging restraint on the part of those who do and tolerance by those who don’t.  In the final analysis to forbid tongues speaking is no better than flaunting it (1 Cor 14:39).  Second, it is not at all clear how pervasive the practice is.  pentecost_crossAlthough Paul wrote thirteen letters in the New Testament, the practice is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians.  Moreover, in the two other places where Paul catalogs spiritual gifts–Romans 12 and Ephesians 4—tongues fails to make the list.  Some have concluded the practice is so widespread it is hardly worth mentioning except when there was a problem (as at Corinth).  Others read the evidence to say there was little or no tongues speaking going on in Paul’s other churches.  Third and perhaps most puzzling, it is also not clear whether Luke’s account in Acts of the disciples speaking in tongues is of the same sort as what we find happening in Corinth.  In Acts 2 Luke recounts the coming of the Spirit on the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem during Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion.  When the Spirit comes, they see visions and begin speaking in tongues.  Those Jewish pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem for the festival hear the disciples praising God in their own languages (Acts 2:1-11).  Some interpreters have understood this not so much a miracle of speaking as it is a miracle of hearing for the pilgrims say: “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (Acts 2:7-8, NASV).[1]  Despite this way of reading the text, it may well be that Luke meant to describe miraculous speech.  Therefore, let the reader understand that Galileans began speaking the native languages of Parthians, Medes, Cappadocians and many others although they had never studied or learned those languages.  The other accounts in Acts which describe speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-48; 19:1-7) occur with the newly converted but no mention is made whether these “gifts of the Spirit” should be understood as real, human languages.  Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 12-14, on the other hand, points to the fact that tongues speaking does not involve a known, human language; rather it is Spirit-inspired speech directed toward God not other people (1 Cor 14:2).[2]  For these and other reasons, the origin and practice of tongues speaking in the early church lays shrouded in mystery.

The situation is complicated to some extent by the fact that similar practices are found in other religions.  The Old Testament records that some early Hebrew prophets experienced episodes of ecstasy and inspired speech which may border on glossolalia (1 Sam 10:5-13; 19:18-24; 2 Sam 6:13-17; 1 Kings 20:35-37) although not all are agreed on this.  Perhaps more to the point is the pagan phenomenon known as mantic prophecy.  In mantic prophecy a divine spirit so possesses a prophet (known as a mantis) that the person falls into a trance-like state and speaks messages from a god.  Evidence suggests the language used was inarticulate and had to have an interpreter to be understood by the one seeking the oracle.[3]  Similar phenomena appear in the ancient cults of the Dionysius and Cybele.[4]  The relationship of early Christian glossolalia to any parallel phenomona is not self-evident.

 

 

pentecost 3


[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 111.

[2] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 598.

[3] Johnson,  113-4.

[4] E. Andrews, “Tongues, Gift of,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon), 4:671-2.

[5] Fee, 571.

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