Hurtado on God in NT Theology (5): God and Jesus

[I should say here I got my chapters mixed up. Chapter 4 is on ‘God and the Spirit’, not 3 (see two previous posts). I had skipped chapter 2 by mistake)

Chapter 2 Jesus and God in the NT

Hurtado starts this chapter by asking provocatively:

The key distinguishing feature of the presentation of “God” in the NT is the link with Jesus. Indeed, this link is so emphatic and Jesus’ place in the beliefs, claims, and devotional  practices reflected in the NT so prominent, that one might ask if “God” is pushed into the background or perhaps so thoroughly redefined in reference to Jesus as to constitute a new of different deity. (49)

That such a question can be asked is based on the overwhelming prominence of Jesus in the NT. Its constituent books are written primarily to explain and communicate the significance of Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say the pretty well all of the NT is a form of Christology.

I won’t repeat all he says here, save to say that all the gospels are written to proclaim the good news of Jesus; Jesus is proclaimed Messiah and “Lord” (Acts 2:36); Christians are baptised in Jesus’ name (Roms 6:3); Christian worship is shaped by the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26); he is worshipped through hymns of praise; prayer is “through” Jesus; Christians call upon the name of Jesus; Christians are united “in Christ”.

Yet, here’s the fascinating tension. By no means does Jesus ‘replace’ God. Far from it. God remains centre stage – sharing it with Jesus. Hurtado says

‘all the Christological titles and claims of the NT really boil down to one claim that Jesus is truly the unique expression and agent of “God”.’

In other words, Jesus’ identity is always linked with God – he is the Son of God; the wisdom of God; God’s Messiah; God’s servant; God’s Word; in whom the glory of God is seen (2 Cor 4:6); in whom all the fullness of God dwells (Col 1:19-20); the revelation of God (Hebs 1:1-4).

And this intimate link of Jesus and God in the NT is also seen in Jesus’ actions. Jesus is ‘sent from God’ (Gal 4:4-5); he displays the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21-26) where his death atones for sins; he reconciles the world (2 Cor 5:19-21); his resurrection is an act of God (Acts 2:32); he is empowered by God (Acts 10:38) and of course he proclaims the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ entire life and ministry are lived in obedience and fellowship and oneness with God. So while Jesus is the central figure of the entire NT, ‘he is consistently depicted with reference to “God” and as orientated towards divine purposes’ (59).

This all means that while Jesus is included in the devotional pattern of the NT, reverence for Jesus is never disconnected from “God”. Jesus is not a second deity, but has a unique status with and from God. Thus in prayer: to the Father through Jesus (Rom 1:8; 7:25; 16:27; 1 Thes 3:1-11); thanks to God through Jesus (Rom 7:25; 1 Pet 2:5), God is ‘glorified’ through Jesus (1 Pet 4:11).  Examples can be multiplied – the point here is how pervasive, and utterly unparalleled is the link between God and Jesus. See James 1:1 for another example.

The remarkable thing about this is how ‘assumed’ and ‘natural’ it is within the NT, how early it is, and how it is rooted in the first Christians’ experience of Jesus. Jesus is to be reverenced just as the Father (Jn 5:23). The exalted place and role of Jesus is God’s doing.

This, says Hurtado, represents a ‘significant adjustment’ in the theology of God as understood in the OT. For example, it is one thing to say divine wisdom is God’s agent of creation in Proverbs 8 and other Jewish writings, it is quite another to say an embodied human is that agent of creation in Colossians 1:15-20 and John 1:1-18 and Hebrews 1:1-3.

His final point. The NT God is not Marcion’s God. He stands in full continuity with the God of the OT who has now, in Jesus, ‘brought decisively forward fulfilment purposes that were set from the beginning of creation (e.g. Heb 1:1-2).’ (70).

Therefore, from now on, ‘God must now be understood and engaged devotionally in light of Jesus‘ (71)

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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