Hurtado: God in NT Theology (2)

Continuing our discussion of Christology around God in New Testament Theology by Larry Hurtado

Chapter 2 asks “WHO IS GOD IN THE NT?”

Big theme – I can only sketch some key points here. And I’m focusing on Jesus. More on the Spirit later.

So often we assume that the word “GOD” has an obvious and universally understood meaning within wider culture. “I do/don’t believe in God” thus assumes a generic idea of who God is.

Hurtado reminds us that in the polytheistic Ancient world it was a radical and dangerous thing to believe in one God. Given the public nature of religion, to believe in one God, was to not only ‘believe’ differently, it was to act differently. The robust  faith of the early Christians in the one true God led to charges of “atheism” and eventually persecution.

The pervasive theme about God in the NT is that he is the same God as in the OT. Christians stand in continuity of worship and faith in Israel’s God and Israel’s story. The identity of Jesus is understood only in relation to the God of the OT. He (Jesus) is the fulfilment of God’s promises of eschatological deliverance for his people and the world (Jew and Gentile).

“God” in the NT is undeniably quite a specific deity, whose record of revelatory and salvific actions is known in the OT and in the gospel message and who is historically connected to very specific times, places and people. [34]

And this God is only known in and through his actions. There is virtually no metaphysical speculation about God in the NT, he is known through his actions to establish relationship with his people, most remarkably that he “loves” humans.

GOD and JESUS

And this ties in with how “God” and “Jesus” become so inseparable in the NT. “God” is known through his actions in Christ.

The NT presents Jesus as God’s greatest act of redemption and revelation. [37]

This is seen everywhere in the NT. Jesus is sent by God, empowered by God, proclaims God’s kingdom, announces God’s judgement, does God’s will, is raised from the dead by God’s Spirit, is vindicated by God and glorified by God. Jesus-Father language emphasises how Jesus is God’s unique son. Paul talks of the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Gospel writers, to differing degrees, stress the Father-Son relationship. The outflow being that, although Jesus has a unique status as son,  disciples can enter into a filial relationship as well – think the Lord’s prayer, Gal 4:67; Rom. 8:15-16.

Hurtado’s point here is this:

“God” is presented as “Father” of believers primarily and directly on account of Jesus. It is Jesus relationship to “God” as his own “Father” that is the paradigm and basis for believers to speak of and approach “God” using this epithet … In short the Christian practice of addressing “God” as “Father” originates as a profoundly christological statement. [41]

Similarly for thinking of “God” as life-giver. His raising of Jesus from the dead, exalting him to glory and vindicating him as Lord [Phil. 2:9-11] leads to a reconfigured and deepened theology of God himself. To smuggle in N T Wright here, it is in Jesus that the victory of God is most supremely displayed.

All this is to say that Hurtado sees a “new” theology of God in the NT. One that is shaped and framed in light of Jesus. In the NT you can’t talk of Jesus without talking of God and vice versa. Each is defined in light of the other. Jesus does not ‘displace’ God, far from it, he is functionally subordinate to his Father. Yet he is integrally involved in God’s attributes and actions – even creation itself.

And this inclusion of Jesus within “God” led to a new form of worship by the first Christians; worship of God in and through Jesus Christ.

Comments, as ever, welcome.


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