Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Larry Hurtado on “Triadic” Beliefs in Earliest Christianity

Larry Hurtado recently put up a blog post in which he discussed earliest Christian devotion and beliefs in the context of another talk given by Anthony Thiselton:

Back from the annual meeting of the British New Testament Society (King’s College London, 6-8 Sept), I want to report on, and engage briefly, the plenary lecture by Professor Anthony Thiselton: “Must We Rest Content with ‘Binitarianism’ in New Testament Studies?” I respect and admire Professor Thiselton greatly, and this is not in any way intended to refute or negate his lecture. But, given that he opened with a reference to some of my own work on early Jesus-devotion and the re-shaping of Jewish “monotheistic” devotion to include the figure of Jesus, I want to attempt briefly some correction and clarification on a couple of matters.

Thistelton, drawing from a forthcoming work, The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, Through the Centuries, and Today, “focused more on how the ‘Holy Spirit’ (or ‘Spirit of God’) features so prominently in the NT and in subsequent early Christian religious thought, and he urged that there is an organic historical connection between the kind of beliefs that we have in the NT writings and subsequent doctrinal development that led to the doctrine of the ‘Trinity’.”

Hurtado notes his own distinction between “binitarian” “devotion” and “triadic” “beliefs”:

In characterizing the “pattern” of earliest Christian devotional practice, I have noted that there are typically two figures identified as recipients of devotion: God and Jesus. My focus in noting this has been that it comprises a remarkable, and to my knowledge singular, “mutation” in what otherwise seems to have been Jewish devotional practice in which a second figure (Jesus) was included in such a programmatic manner with God as rightful recipient of corporate devotion. (I may say that it is now nearly 25 years since I first published this view of matters, and I have yet to note any significant correction or refutation of it. It still appears that the devotional pattern reflected in the NT is, in its time and setting, novel and without real analogy or precedent.) …

I’ve typically responded by underscoring the point that my emphasis has been on the devotional/worship practice of early Christianity, and that in this the Spirit does not really feature as a recipient in the way that God and Jesus do. Of course, the Spirit is prominent in the NT! Of course, the Spirit is integral to the religious outlook of those believers reflected in the NT. Indeed, the Spirit is portrayed as profoundly involved in early Christian worship/devotion, inspiring and empowering it. But the Spirit does not feature as identified recipient of earliest Christian devotion. …

In my own recent book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), I shfited focus to the “God-discourse” that we find in the NT, and noted that this has a “triadic” shape. That is, we have ubiquitous references to “God”, “Jesus” and the “Spirit”. Indeed, I document the greater frquency of references to the Spirit in the NT in comparison with the OT and other Roman-era Jewish texts. This “triadic” shaped discourse obviously helped to drive and shape subsequent doctrinal reflection that led to the doctrine of the “Trinity”, although that subsequent doctrinal reflection also involved the incorporation of issues and conceptual categories additional to those reflected in the NT.

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