- Published on Amazon.com
I engaged in a discussion with another reviewer criticizing his review, you can call me a “dogmatic” Trinitarian, but I realized my discussion was unfruitful because I had not read the book, and how can I criticize his review?! I deleted my comments on our discussion because I found them to be useless and I rather want to present myself as someone who has seen the evidence as documented in Hurtado’s book since then I have purchased it and here is my review as a reader, and serious disagreement with the other reviewer in regards to its content as a Trinitarian. Enjoy!
Larry Hurtado, is a concise writer concerned with historical accuracy and brings to our attention, a definitive analysis of the biblical data concerning “God” in the New Testament. The book is scholarly yet easy for the layman (which I am!) to engage with and share with others this crucial information. Let’s begin by informing ourselves about God as “the NT texts use that term” (p.6)
In Chapter 1: “God” in/and New Testament Scholarship
Hurtado speaks about the past scholarship studying “God” in the New Testament and he speaks about various attempts and methods in how Paul (and others) understood God in their historical context. He agrees with a particular scholar, Neil Richardson, that it is accurate to portray “Paul’s thought as involving an “overlap” in which Christ shares in some of God’s attributes and actions That is, we may think of Paul as reflecting a unique and remarkable inclusion of Jesus into roles, attributes, and significance otherwise reserved for “God” in biblical/Jewish tradition.”(p.13) He goes over how “God” is understood in the Pauline writings, the Gospels (especially how Matt. And John emphasize God as “Father”!) I love how Hurtado rightly agrees with M. M. Thompson that in “GJohn Jesus’ significance is articulated entirely with reference to God “the Father”, and “God” is identified emphatically with Jesus.” (p.22)
Chapter 2: Who is “God” in the New Testament?
Hurtado shows that our modern usage of God presupposes that everyone means the same thing when the term is used which is definitely not the case! He shows that the NT have a particular deity in mind who is the sole recipient of worship, “something categorically distinguished from the many deities of the Roman environment” (p. 29-30) “God” is the “one transcendent creator and ruler of all things…and can be addressed directly in prayer.”(p. 33) and that we are to have relationship with, not just an “intellectual reflection” (p.37) though of course nothing is wrong with that, but don’t let it hinder your devotion to “God”. He shows that “In the NT, it is first and foremost in relationship to Jesus that God is “Father”. (p. 39) and that Matthew calls God “Father” 44 times while John does 109 times!( I believe this tells us something about God’s identity) and this is leads to “believers also to enter into filial relationship with “God” and so to appeal to “God” as their “Father” as well.”(p. 40) and if you want more information on Jesus Sonship and God’s Fatherhood in Matt and John, see Witherington, Jesus the Sage. Talk of God as Father necessarily presupposes Christ because “addressing “God” as “Father” originates as a profoundly christological statement.”(p.41)
He also notes how God is a living God because He is note a lifeless idol, and also because He is the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead (e.g. Heb. 2: 5-18). He then notes that “God” is so closely linked with Jesus and Jesus so closely linked with “God” that one cannot adequately identify the one without reference to the other” (p. 43) yet that “Jesus never displaces “God” in the NT, and the two are never pictured as in tension or competition with each other.” And that Jesus has a “clear functional subordination to “God the Father” (p. 44) Hurtado then, based on the historical evidence of devotional patterns and biblical data that the NT has “the seeds of and impetus for this process” of using the phrase “three persons, one substance” This comment says it all for me personally:
This “binitarian” devotional pattern (involving two distinguishable but distinct figures) is the earliest expression of and impetus for what became the distinctive view of “God” in Christian tradition. In fact, one could say that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity originated and remained driven and shaped primarily by the need to find a way to accommodate Jesus adequately in the understanding of and reverence for the “one God”…the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is essentially a christologically shaped statement of monotheism…So, if it is a bit anachronistic to speak of “Trinitarian” theology in the NT, it is right to see the roots of this doctrinal development in this body of texts.” (p. 46-47)
Chapter 3: “God” and Jesus in the New Testament
Hurtado let us know from the beginning about those certain groups of Christians who made Jesus imply into “God” without showing his obvious distinction, and subordination (of the functional variety!) to the Father, as He says, “Indeed, this may also be true of a lot of populist and theologically untutored forms of Christian piety across the centuries down into our own time.”(p.50) and this definitely goes for the oneness Pentecostals who believe Jesus is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but Hurtado shows that the biblical data distinguishes Jesus and the Father, in devotion, and he lists 7 key devotional factors which you’ll have to read the book to know what they are my reader but I quote him saying, “Jesus features prominently and uniquely along with God as the cause, content, and even co-recipient of devotion including corporate worship” (p. 52)
I love how Hurtado, to use a later theological phrase, upholds the biblical witness to the monarchy of the Father, that is, God (the Father) “holds the overarching and crucial place” (p. 53) And that “Jesus significance is defined with reference to “God” (p. 54) not that He replaces or becomes God, the Father.
Hurtado speaks that “all Christology in the NT is also, and profoundly, theology” (p. 65) Hurtado is concerned with history and biblical data, and as he rightfully notes “in several NT texts the emphasis on “God” as the creator, which obviously is taken over from the biblical tradition, is adjusted by the inclusion of Jesus as the agent of creation, the one through whom “God” created the whole cosmos (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:4-6; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:1-2)” (p. 65) and he lets us know that various divine attributes(Wisdom and Word) and the “Logos” of Philo were agents of creation yet He says , “it is quite another thing to posit a real human figure of recent history as the one through whom the worlds were created.” (p. 66) which is simply amazing of the highly reverential view these early Jewish Christians had for Jesus. As Hurtado notes, “to ascribe Jesus the role of God’s unique agent in creation represents an unprecedented [never done or known before!], even an audacious, move.” and the highly exalted biblical characters in Second Temple Judaism text who are given preexistence but “none of these figures is said to have been God’s agent in creation.” (p. 66) I love how he notes that:
I contend that the NT writers in question affirm a rather direct personal identity of the human Jesus and the divine agent of creation. So I do not think that we can make these texts as stating only in some looser way that in the figure of Jesus God’s Wisdom and purposes were perceived by early Christians as supremely expressed in personal form. The force of the NT may well include the latter sort of claim, but their import cannot be reduced to it…” (p. 67)
Hurtado notes that “God” must be understood and engaged devotionally in light of Jesus… “God” is inseparably connected to Jesus, and theological reflection on “God” must now reflect the prominence and eschatological centrality of Jesus” (p. 71).
Chapter 4: The Spirit and “God” in the New Testament
Hurtado notes in the beginning “the NT has what we may call a “triadic shape” and that this helped substantially to generate and influence subsequent Christian doctrinal confessions that led to the developed doctrine of the Trinity.” (p. 73) He begins speaking about the Spirit as being poured out, and given, as a “gift” to all who put their trust in Jesus and the Father. He shows the continuity of the Spirit with the old Jewish background but shows that the NT evidence goes beyond it by noting the Spirit as Holy and the “characteristic agency of divine power and presence, especially within and among believers” (p. 79) but “It is particular noteworthy how many of these NT references involve verbs/actions ascribing a personal agency to the Spirit” which he shows that is evident in John 14-16 and says, “I reiterate the point that all these are actions of personal agency, giving the Spirit an intensely personal quality. This frequent use of verbs of agency has the effect of giving the Spirit a considerably more personal character.” (p. 80) and goes on to show that the Spirit enables believers to love and be a community of God’s family!
Of the utmost importance, though Hurtado is doing history and not Christology, notes the amazing relationship of the Spirit to Jesus. “That us, in some NT texts, Jesus appears to exercise the sort of role in connection with the Spirit that is more typically that of “God”. It is not, however, that Jesus is pictured as displacing “God” in this matter. Instead, as with some other divine prerogatives and powers, in the NT discourse Jesus shares in God’s role in sending and conveying the divine Spirit” (p. 88) which is all I will say, but it is an amazing chapter!
Chapter 5: Concluding Reservations
Hurtado ends with a reminder that his purpose was to present the historical documentation and scriptural testimony of “God” in the New Testament. What do the NT texts say about God, and the relation of Jesus and the Spirit, to the one God, Hurtado wants us to judge for ourselves. Hurtado notes “the triadic nature of God-discourse in the NT. That is, NT discourse about “God” typically also includes references to Jesus and the Spirit.” (p. 99) Of course he lets us know the differences in opinion in regards to this phenomena witnessed in the NT. Hurtado tell us it’d be anachronistic to say that this is all evidence of a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity and there is no “substance” or “person” language but that these discussions were unavoidable in light of the “triadic discourse about “God”. Hurtado, rightfully in my view, tells us that some from the early centuries to our present time, have Jesus treated simplistically “as all there is to “God”, effectively overwriting “God the Father”, especially in devotional practice...This is quite different from the more typical devotional pattern reflected in the NT texts of prayer usually addressed to “the Father” through or in the name of Jesus…” and his point is not to judge certain theological stances, “to add that the triadic nature of NT God-discourse also reflects a relatively stable/fixed relationships ascribed to the trio involved.” (p. 101) and he rightfully notes the Son and Spirit’s functional subordination to the Father. The NT witness of God in regards to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity against, what the early church perceived, as grievous errors in regards to salvation. Hurtado shows that:
“God” discourse in the NT is not meant to address metaphysical issues or speculative philosophy but instead, “the triadic contours of discourse about “God” in the NT reflect the “triangular” shape of early Christian religious experience in which “God”, Jesus, and the Spirit feature as linked in the special ways we have observed. I repeat that the triadic discourse about “God” in the NT is not the developed trinitarian doctrine of subsequent centuries, but equally, I contend that the latter would not have developed without the “God” discourse and the devotional pattern that we find attested in the NT…in hindsight, therefore, we should regard the NT discourse about “God” as an embryonic stage of the developed doctrine of the Trinity.” (p. 102-103
Then Hurtado lets us know of those who see that the writers of the NT were aware of a Trinity “problem” (if I can use that word!) The discourse about “God” has in inherent and obvious three-ness. He then speaks about people who have seen the Trinity in the NT and have tried to show that the writers were award of the “problem” (again is that a right word to use!?). Hurtado notes that devotion to Christ was intense and that we should understand that the formulated doctrine is NOT disconnect from the NT witness but has a connection to it, of course, others may disagree. For my Trinitarians, shame on you for viewing the NT witness of the one God, our Father and His Son and Spirit, as some “early and preliminary stage of later and mature developments.” (p. 109) because the NT is rich with information to support our belief system! Don’t view it as “historically or theologically inferior and subordinate to doctrinal expressions.” (p. 110) So what if the divine scriptures don’t say “one substance, three persons” or “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit” Why let the foolish Unitarians push you on what it doesn’t say in the NT, you PUSH them on what it does say about there being one God, and Jesus, the Son, having pretemporal preexistence and being the agent of Creation, which according to the Bible only God/Yahweh creates (Neh. 9:6,Jer. 10:16,Ps. 102:25,Isa. 37:16 and especially Isa. 44:24) or that the Spirit is defined as a personal agent which goes against the view He is just a force like fire or wind. If you teach on the Trinity, don’t start with there is ONE divine being and three distinct centers of consciousness, but try to stick to the historical and biblical terminology and trust me you will get very far to see that what you believe is truthful to biblical revelation! We “may well find resources that enable creative formulation of theological questions and fresh perspectives on them.” (p. 112) Yes indeed!
Response to Gantt:
Grace and peace from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ( as Paul would say!) I am amazed that you believe Jesus is God(which is true, though I would define what you mean by that term as I do!) yet the NT evidence distinguishes Him from God, for He prays to God, loves and knows God, as God loves, knows and responds to Him as the readings of the gospels evidently show for us! Read all of Paul's opening letters and He gives a salutation with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, distinguishing Jesus from the Father, two figures!
You are right to show that Hurtado does not impose his view on the text, which he does not even have to impose it on the text, he is concerned with the biblical data, and the date shows a "three-ness" in discourse about "God" and distinguishes between Jesus and God even after the resurrection! No verse says, "God is a Trinity" who the heck cares! Many do show that this God is know and experienced through and in Jesus and the Spirit! I see no evidence that his book makes it harder for Trinitarians to offer a few proof text(note: to Trinitarians, our belief that Jesus is deity is not based on passages which call him God, there are few!), I see many such as Jesus being pre-existent (as any natural reading of these text will show!), the agent of creation(as I noted only God/Yahweh can do!) and the giver of the Spirit(which is a very unique divine prerogative!) Yes, we have a very great foundation for the Trinity. When you say, "They made no case for a Trinity" now does that mean they didn't have certain phrases, or a developed doctrine, or...anyways who cares, see my paragraph above, this is all they needed! Hurtado is more representative of the text which is the point of this book, it is very anachronistic to look for the terms "three persons, one substance" or whatever when the NT writers did not have to deal with the theological errors that required the church to use these phrases!
The Trinity's validity or truth does not boil down to the statement that "God is one being in three persons" but as Hurtado had shown, there is definitely an 'embryonic" stage and "seeds" for it's further development.
You say "Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh", with no mention of the Father or Spirit while the NT distinguishes him from God the Father repeatedly and consistently, and shows that there are many triadic statements or a three-ness in "God" discourse, As I read whatever little I did on your blog(forgive me if I missed anything!),I got the impression that you emphasize Christ to the exclusion of the Father, you do not mention His relationship to the Father but this is not how the NT evidence presents Jesus to us. As Hurtado, based on the biblical evidence says, "Jesus is linked with God uniquely, not that Jesus replaces God." Blessing, in the one true and living God and His Son, whom I wait for, from Heaven.