Hurtado and God (6): God reconfigured?

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

Here are some of Hurtado’s conclusions towards the end of the book – and these are worth reading carefully.

As we have seen, on the one hand, the NT texts are consistent in claiming that it is the God of the OT, the God of Jewish tradition, who sent Jesus, raised him from death, and exalted him to heavenly glory, and now demands that Jesus be reverenced. On the other hand, these same texts emphasise that in view of these things it is now no longer possible to speak adequately of “God” without confessing Jesus’ significance and, equally important, that an adequate obedience  and devotion to “God” now requires the inclusion of Jesus as recipient of reverence and devotion with “God”. So, the NT texts express a major reconfiguring of God-discourse, and a major reconfiguring of devotion to “God” as well.

These important developments took place within a remarkably brief time span, so brief that the NT texts already presuppose them. As noted, a number of times already, in subsequent centuries the beliefs and religious practices reflected in the NT generated further developments in Christian doctrine and devotional life. But, simply as the remarkable developments in the history of religions that they are, the NT expressions of beliefs about “God” deserve attention.

This is quite a way from J D G Dunn’s conclusions in his book Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? (also published in 2010). There Dunn, to my mind, draws ambiguous and somewhat contradictory conclusions – but I’ll come back to them another time.

Hurtado is very close to Richard Bauckham, even if he does not use the idea of Jesus being included in the ‘divine identity’. Hurtado prefers to stress how Jesus is included in what God does – in divine actions. And he is more explicitly trinitarian than Dunn in what he says here:

If, as the NT texts seem to insist, discourse about “God” now must include reference to Jesus, then this marks a significant alteration from the way that “God” was understood previously. In particular, Jesus’ resurrection constitutes the emphatic reaffirmation of Jesus (and precisely as the embodied human figure) as thereafter uniquely to be included in the understanding of divine purposes and even (per traditional trinitarian faith) in what is meant by “God”. To use trinitarian language, “God the Son” is eternal, without beginning or end. But in the incarnation, “the Son” became genuinely an embodied human, and in Jesus’ resurrection this incarnate move was irrevocably reaffirmed by “God”. In short, from Jesus’ resurrection onward, “God” in some profound way now includes a glorified human. That I believe, represents quite a significant alteration!

In other words, the very ‘make-up’ and experience of God himself is irrevocably changed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Comments, as ever, welcome.


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