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In Lexham Press’s Snapshots series, one that contains short books on various topics such as the atonement, transformation as the heart of Paul’s gospel, and the church and Israel. Now Lexham has added another volume by the eminent NT scholar Larry Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He has written numerous books on the early church’s devotion to Jesus, such as Why on Earth did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?, Destroyer of the gods, One God, One Lord, and How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? In Honoring the Son, Hurtado distills the last 30 years of research into one small book (82 pages).
After a Foreword by David Capes, Hurtado’s Introduction previews the plan of his book and then briefly reviews 20th century scholarship on how Jesus received cultic (“religious”) devotion. A certain Wilhelm Bousset wrote a book asking whether worship of Jesus originated with Jewish Christians, or, as Bousset argued, “in diaspora settings such as Antioch and Damascus, where he posited believers were more subject to pagan influences in which divinized heroes and multiple deities were more acceptable than in Roman Judea” (6). Basically, Bousset argues that Jews didn’t worship other gods; they worshiped Yahweh alone. So it must be that some Jews further out in Antioch (modern-day Turkey, quite a ways from Rome) were influenced by other pagans to add “divinized heroes” on to their toolbelt of deities to whom to pray. Thus, being influenced by their culture, they ‘divinized’ Jesus and began to worship him. There is more to the history of research, but I’ll let you read the rest of that.
In brief, chapter 2 covers worship in the ancient world. Worship was “the heart of Roman-era religion” (21). They viewed gods as the guardians of homes, towns, nations, and the Roman Empire. While you would have your own god(s), when you went to other towns you would worship and ‘honor’ other gods. To refuse to honor gods “might provoke them to retaliate, or at least to take offense” (22). It was irresponsible (and antisocial) to refuse to worship other gods. Chapter 3 looks at ancient Jewish monotheism, where all people honored each others gods, well, except for the Jews. It’s not that they didn’t think there weren’t other gods or spiritual beings (see Deut 32.8-9, 17; Ps 82; 1 Cor 10.19-21), but they didn’t worship them. They worship only one God, Yahweh.
Chapter 4 brings us to the early Christian “mutation.” Jews died for their belief that they worshiped one God alone. How did Jewish Christians come to incorporate Jesus into their devotional practices? Paul regularly refers to Jesus as “Lord” (Rom 10.9-13 // Joel 2.32; Phil 2.9-11 // Isa 45.23; 1 Cor 8.4-6). Chapter 5: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice presents the different ways in which Jesus was worshiped, honored, and revered not as a second god, nor at God’s expense, but with God as a recipient. Prayers, calling on Jesus’ name, the place of Jesus in baptism and the Lord’s supper, prophecy, and hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs all feature the uniqueness of Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, in the New Testament time. Honoring the Son ends with a Conclusion and an Appendix against Bart Ehrman’s ideas in his How Jesus Became God.
This is a great resource and an excellent distillation of Hurtado’s previous books. I’ve only read one of Hurtado’s books, but I’ve heard a good bit about his thoughts, so it was very helpful to read this thoughtful compression of thoughts. Every chapter was good, and it was especially helpful to have the brief overview of Greco-Roman thought when it came to religious worship. The Jews stood in stark contrast to them, with many being mocked and martyred for their beliefs. For Paul, the other NT authors, and the early churches to view Jesus so highly would be in stark contrast to the Jewish way of life, while still fitting with the Old Testament! The historical context Hurtado presents gives even greater meaning to those of us Christians today who just assume that it was obvious Jesus was divine so there shouldn’t have been a problem worshiping him. As Paul hows from the OT Scriptures, Jesus was closely associated with Yahweh, having received the “name above all names” (see the above references).
It should be said that the writing here is still very academic. It means Hurtado can be as precise as he needs to be to get his point across, but it will be made to less people. One example of the book’s academic nature can be seen in a certain change of terms. Hurtado once described this new devotional pattern (worshiping God the Father and the Son) as “binitarian.” He now describes this Christian development as “dyadic,” but he doesn’t explain what a dyad is. According to Wikipedia, “In sociology, a dyad is a group of two people, the smallest possible social group. As an adjective, ‘dyadic’ describes their interaction.”
Now granted, I could have looked up that word immediately upon seeing it for the first time, and I should neither expect books to explain all complicated words to me (dictionaries are still around for a reason). Nowhere in the book does Hurtado express that this is meant for the person in the pew. I do hope many pastors and teachers will pick this up to show the historical significance of Jewish Christians worshiping Jesus and calling on his name to be saved.
Hurtado’s book helps to affirm the divine position of the Son of God. I hope this book will be read widely.
- Series: Snapshots
- Author: Larry W. Hurtado
- Paperback: 96 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (June 27, 2018)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.