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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.
I continue to work through the preface to the second edition of Larry Hurtado’s ONE GOD, ONE LORD.
Regarding precedents for the worship of Jesus in early Christianity . . .
Hurtado appreciated Loren Stuckenbruck’s work on the veneration of angels and the Christology of Revelation (Angel Veneration and Christology, WUNT 2/70 [Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1995]). He found Stuckenbruck’s conclusions largely in line with his own. In his study of Jewish magical texts, angel veneration, and the angelic responses to humans, Stuckenbruck admits there is nothing like an organized cult of angel worship among Jews prior to or during the time of Jesus. So, there is no precedent for the worship of Jesus in the Jewish posture toward angels, even principal angels.
Clinton Arnold’s book (The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae, WUNT 2/77 [Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995) also garnered attention from Hurtado. In particular, devout Jews clearly had an interest in angels, but they did not organize themselves into religious communities gathering to worship or pray to angels as divine, or alongside the God of Israel. What Hurtado and others demonstrated was that Jewish monotheism was elastic enough to allow for divine agents, like prinicipal angels, to be included in close association with God without somehow giving up on their commitment to God’s oneness.
Another criticism leveled toward Hurtado’s work has to do with whether the early Christians’ actions toward and beliefs about Jesus amounted to worship. Hurtado says yes and he details a number of these. We will consider those in a future post. But Jimmy Dunn regards these phenomena as adoration and not worship (see Theology of Paul the Apostle [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 257-60. An analogy I’ve heard Dunn use is this: Catholics and (some) Protestants adore Mary but do not worship her. Early Christians like Paul, Dunn believes, did gather and offer remarkable devotion to Jesus but that did not constitute “worship” as Jews worshiped the God of Israel. This phenomenon does take place, eventually, but it is not as early as Hurtado alleges. You can see my summary and review of Dunn’s arguments here.
Hurtado does conclude that in the first two decades of the Jesus movement there is a “binitarian” pattern of worship that sets Jesus as a rightful recipient of worship along with God. This is not ditheism (belief in and worship of two distinct figures), but a different pattern that includes Jesus within God in some important way. So that to bow the head and bend the knee to Jesus is the will of God and constitutive of proper worship (Phil 2.9-11).
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. 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.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 111.
 Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 598.
 Johnson, 113-4.
 E. Andrews, “Tongues, Gift of,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon), 4:671-2.
 Fee, 571.