Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods– Part Eight


BEN: In your second chapter you say at one juncture (p. 73) that Jesus is treated in ways that liken him to God. Wouldn’t be better just to say, as Bauckham does, that in ways we don’t full grasp Jesus was considered part of God’s very identity, meaning of course that God was complex, involving more than one personal entity. This latter view seems to me to do better justice to the fact that: 1) while the term theos in the NT almost always means the one Christians call God the Father, nevertheless, even in our earliest source, Paul; 2) Jesus is called God in Rom. 9.5, as Metzger long ago showed, and in a text like Phil. 2.5-11 as well (not to mention in five other places in the NT— see Silva’s book). In other words, even in the earliest part of the NT era, there was beginning to be a reformulation of the meaning of the word theos among even some Jewish Jesus followers. Jesus is not merely likened to God he has begun to be included in what we call the Godhead. How do you respond? I must add as an addendum, that I find the tap dance done by Jimmy Dunn on this very matter unconvincing when it comes to Paul’s beliefs and expressions.

LARRY: I understand the desire to explore the relation between first-century Christological claims and subsequent formulations, but I also think that we should be cautious in respecting the differences, and cautious also about reading earlier formulations too much with regard to how they line up with subsequent ones. In my book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon, 2010), I discuss how Jesus is programmatically included in early Christian discourse about “God”, and also in the worship directed to “God.” Sure, at least in John 1:1 and 20:28, “theos” is applied to Jesus. But Jesus’ divine status is rather consistently defined with reference to “God” (“the Father” in Pauline and Johannine terms). Later (as I judge it), Christians took up questions about “ontology”, using Greek categories of “being”, and this entailed controversies such as the “Arian crisis” of the fourth century. But I try to confine my discussion of NT discourse to the categories in that discourse, and I don’t think it helpful to impute the later (albeit, perfectly reasonable) terms such as “Godhead,” divine “persons,” divine “substance” etc., into these texts. I’d rest with simply saying that the NT makes Jesus integral to any adequate discourse about “God” and to any adequate worship of “God.” Christian theology must do more than simply echo NT formulations, of course. But that’s a theological task, whereas my work is more concerned with historical analysis.