The Apocalypse of John and True Worship

A significant motif can be found in nearly every chapter of the Apocalypse of John which does not seem to appear, with the same emphasis, in the other letters of the NT: the theme of worship. False worship is rebuked while true worship is encouraged. A number of scholars have emphasized the extent of the Apocalypse’s stress on this subject (for further reading, see the bibliography at the bottom).   

In the fourth chapter John describes his visionary experience concerning the throne of God. Within this description is a statement concerning the four living creatures and their activity. Revelation 4:8 states that these creatures sing the Holy Holy Holy song, 

“day and night they do not cease”

The Greek phrase here, ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς, struck me as odd when I read it a few month back in preparation for my dissertation. It was interesting when I saw the parallel phrase in the Greek text in another passage, Rev. 14:9-11, 

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 

The phrase here, used to describe the duration of those who pursue false worship (of the beast, his image, and his mark) is οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνάπαυσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς. Both Rev. 4:8 and 14:11 have the same phrase (slightly different order) and these are the only two occurrences in the entire Bible! The rhetorical point would be clear for John’s original audience, many of whom were daily tempted to compromise and join in the pagan worship at the local temple or even of Domitian: worship the true God and don’t worship the beast or his image!  

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My mini-bibliography on the subject of worship in the Apocalypse of John: Otto A. Piper, “The Apocalypse of John and the Liturgy of the Ancient Church,” CH 20 (1951): 10; Lucetta Mowry, “Revelation 4-5 and Early Christian Liturgical Usage,” JBL 71 (1952): 75-84; Massey H. Shepherd, The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (London: Lutterworth Press, 1960) ; John J. O’Rourke, “The Hymns of the Apocalypse,” CBQ 30 (1968): 399-409; Vernon Kooy, “The Apocalypse and Worship – some Preliminary Observations,” Reformed Review 30 (1976): 198-209; Richard L. Jeske, “Spirit and Community in the Johannine Apocalypse,” NTS 31 (1985): 452-66; David L. Barr, “The Apocalypse of John as Oral Enactment,” Int 40 (1986): 243-56; Fred B. Craddock, “Preaching the Book of Revelation,” Int 40 (1986): 270-82; David Aune, “The Influence of the Roman Imperial Cult Ceremonial on the Revelation of John,” BibRes 28 (1983): 5-26; idem, “The Apocalypse of John and Graeco-Roman Revelatory Magic,” NTS 33 (1987): 481-501; David G. Peterson, “Worship in the Revelation to John,” RTR 47 (1988): 67-77; Thompson, Apocalypse and Empire, 53; idem, “Hymns in Early Christian Worship,” ATR 55 (1973): 458-72; Eugene H. Peterson, “Learning to Worship from Saint John’s Revelation,” in Christianity Today, October 28, 1991, 23-5. 

Part 6 – Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus? book review

Dunn’s final chapter contains his concluding thoughts on his study of early Christian worship. I will take the time here to discuss his conclusions and comment with my own.

Potential dangers and problems with a too-narrowly defined worship of Jesus: Dunn is quite nice and diplomatic when he writes this critique, but anyone familiar with American Christianity will soon realize what he is trying to get across. Many Churches, Christian songs, media, and books are worthy of the critique which Dunn calls “Jesus-olatry”- which is the giving of worship to Jesus which falls short of the worship due to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dunn compares this to idolatry, where the idol (in whatever shape or form) takes the place of the one true God. Then he comes out and says it: Jesus has been substituted for God.

This is a rather stunning critique indeed, but upon further reflection (a week after finishing the book) I think that it is well founded. Too many Christians think that Christianity is all about Jesus. Two examples will hopefully get my point across. I overheard a conversation between a young Christian and Jew who were about to eat lunch. The Jew asked the Christian to make the mealtime prayer “non-specific.” The young Christian was puzzled and asked his friend, “Well, I have always prayed to Jesus, who else is there to pray to?” His Jewish friend replied. “You can pray to the Father.” The Christian responded that he has never prayed to the Father, only to Jesus. I personally wonder if this Christian has ever read the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus commanded prayers to be directed to the Father who is in heaven. Dunn makes a similar point that the Father has almost been forgotten by citing another book which makes the same point. My second example comes from a Christian song called ‘One Way’ which I believe is still on the radio. Here is a Youtube link to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lP8fHN53t0 . The chorus lyrics go like this: “One way, Jesus, You’re the only one that I could live for.” These examples, I hope, show that Dunn’s critique is very real and should be heard by all professing Christians.

Dunn’s second point deals with monotheism and the unity involved therein. He states that the evidence is fair enough to remind readers that God’s oneness is not a mathematical unity. God has revealed himself in the past through his Wisdom, Spirit, angels, and his Word, without detracting from him being the one and only God. Dunn does not say that this divides that God into something other than one (like two or three) but his point is that the one God of the Shema is that he has revealed himself in many ways, expressed his purpose and mission in different outlets and opportunities. As John 1:18 states, it was Jesus Christ who ultimately exegetes the Father to the world. Early Christians in the first century never worshipped the Holy Spirit, as he points out in a footnote.

I think I am persuaded by Dunn’s logic here, even though I agreed with his reasoning prior to reading the book. I just never came to the wording of the conclusion he has on my own. I do still see God as one, but understand his way of revealing himself in the terms of agency. Perhaps I need to nuance that and say that when God sends his angel, messenger, Spirit, prophet, king, or even Messiah out on a mission that God not only invests his authority in this agent but also his presence and identity. I think that too often Christians have confused the invested authority and titles given to these agents with the one who sent them. Nobody really thinks that Steve at your front door delivering Papa John’s Pizza really is Papa John. Steve is the agent delivering on behalf of Papa John’s. It is true in some sense to say that, “Papa John’s is at the door.” But we understand that Steve is only representing the business that sent him. Since the Ancient Near Eastern culture was fully a functionally agentival readers of the Bible need to take this area of context seriously.

This realm of agency (if that is the best way to define the concept) is used in Dunn’s closing thoughts. He states that “The only one to be worshipped is the one God.” Yet he goes on to say that hymns and petitions should still be offered to Jesus, but to the glory of God the Father. This is why Christians pray “in Jesus’ name” because prayer is offered to the heavenly Father but through Jesus Christ.

Here the direction is seems to be a vertical one, going up from the congregation to Jesus (as mediator) and then on up to the Father, God. This is not a horizontal rendering.

As for the answer to the question which brings about the title of the book, Dunn admits that it is less relevant, less important, and misleading. I agree. On the whole, early Christians reserved worship for the Father and expressed it in terms of point #3 above.

Of course, what we think of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ is much narrower that it is used in the Scriptures. The point must always be kept in mind when pursuing these topics.

Part 5: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? book review

The fourth chapter of Dunn’s book is where the previous three chapters get incorporated into the New Testament texts. This chapter is, not surprisingly, the longest in the book. I won’t be able to discuss every detail of Dunn’s arguments, but I will try to highlight all of the major points he raises.

In this chapter, Dunn seeks to bring the discussion in ways which will answer these questions:

  1. Was Jesus remembered as a monotheist? Did he restrict worship solely to the God of Israel?
  2. What is the significance of the post-resurrection proclamation “Jesus is Lord?”
  3. In what sense is Jesus the embodiment of God’s Wisdom (and/or Word)? What was meant when Paul described him as the life-giving Spirit?
  4. In what ways did the Book of Revelation offer worship to the Lamb?
  5. How and in what ways did the early Christians call Jesus god/God?
  6. How were the terms “Last Adam,” “mediator,” and “heavenly intercessor” understood?

As to the first question of wondering whether or not Jesus was a monotheist, Dunn acknowledges that this line of inquiry would be shocking to those who suppose that Jesus is to be understood in line with the debates of the fourth and fifth centuries. It is argued that Jesus’ upbringing would have placed him firmly within the educational system of the synagogues of his time. This would have introduced him to the Shema of Israel, the central creed of Judaism which affirms the oneness of God. Jesus was remembered in Mark 12:28-32 as affirming the Shema as the foremost commandment (even above the command to love one’s neighbor). Dunn also recalls the previous discussion in which it was pointed out that Jesus sought out worship for God alone (Matt. 4/Luke 4.), the God who alone was good (Mark 10:17-18). I was actually surprised that Dunn did not talk about the clearest statement of monotheism in John 17:3, but this perhaps comes from his hesitation to attribute the sayings in the Fourth Gospel to the lips of the historical Jesus. Nevertheless, Dunn concludes that Jesus was indeed a monotheist.

The discussion moves onto the subject of Jesus as Lord. Dunn rightly points out that the master Christological text governing this topic, especially in the New Testament, is Psalm 110:1, where YHWH speaks to adoni to sit at his right hand until he makes his enemies his footstool. The title of ‘lord’ is simply a title given to a human master, but it is also used of pagan gods as well as the Roman Emperor. This brings about the issue of the YHWH (LXX kyrios) texts which were used of Jesus. Dunn proposes that this could mean one of two things: that in Paul’s thinking Jesus is Yahweh, or that God has bestowed his unique saving power on the Lord who sits at his right hand via Psalm 110:1. Dunn argues that the second option is more likely. He notes in Phil. 2:5-11, where the YHWH text of Isa. 45 is attributed to Jesus, that the final stanza of the hymn attributes worship ultimately to God the Father. In 1 Cor. 8:6, where Paul speaks of there being one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, Dunn actually seems to have changed his mind on how this passage is to be interpreted. Previously, Dunn saw this verse as an affirmation of the Shema in which Paul split open to include Jesus within the creed of Israel. Dunn now argues, along with his student James McGrath (which he footnotes) that:

“It is quite possible to argue, alternatively, that Paul took up the Shema, already quoted in 8:4 (‘there is no God but one’), only in the first clause of 8:6 (reworded as ‘for us there is one God, the Father’); and to that added the further confession, ‘and one Lord Jesus Christ’…A distinction remains between the one God and the one Lord.”  

He goes on to state that this statement from Paul is the natural outworking of Psalm 110:1. When Dunn gets around to talking about 1 Cor. 15:24-28 he concludes that this passage, which while quoting Psalm 110:1, ends by placing God the Father as the one who will be “all in all” in which Christ will be included.

Dunn moves on to looking at how the NT authors pickup the themes of God’s Wisdom, Word, and Spirit and incorporate them into their discussions of Jesus. The first text (and most controversial in my opinion) is John 1:1-18. The author of the Fourth Evangelist has obviously taken up and developed the metaphor of the Word in ways which are coinciding with how other writers used it as a way to speak of God’s action in creation, revelation, and salvation. Dunn questions whether it is right to attribute to the Word the opening pronoun of ‘he’ (is can be translated as ‘it’). Dunn speaks of the common interpretation of the poem, that which speaks of Jesus’ preexistent life with God. He offers another option which points out that nothing written in the poem which would be strange to a Hellenistic Jew (such as Philo). Dunn makes the comment, “Properly speaking, then, it is only with 1.14 what Jesus comes into the story…Jesus is not the Word; he is the Word become flesh.” Jesus then is the one who personally reveals the character of the Logos, a character which previously was only able to be expressed in terms of personification. In Col. 1:15 where Jesus is said to be the image/eikon of God, this according to Dunn, should be read as Jesus embodying the wisdom which God wisely uses to act in his world. Jesus is God acting and outgoing, expressing the very purpose and character of God himself. Wisdom christology is also found in Heb. 1:1-3 in Dunn’s reading.

Dunn carries the discussion over to include the Apocalypse of John and the honors given to Jesus in it. In this book Jesus is seen in visions which are reminiscent to the Ancient of Days found in Daniel 7. Both God and Jesus share the Alpha and Omega titles. And at times they both share the same throne. Yet Dunn asks whether these descriptions were written to be understood as literal facts or not. He concludes by stating that the hermeneutical rule on interpreting the various apocalypses should not be ignored: to interpret them literally is to misinterpret them.

The title of ‘god/God’ is sometimes given to Jesus in the NT documents, although many of them are disputed for syntactical reasons. Dunn offers his opinion on the debate. Rom. 9:5 he leaves open, although his Romans commentaries state that answer should be negative. Titus 2:13, which Dunn reminds us that the thing which is to be revealed in the glory of our great God and Savior, he attributes to Jesus (but with some qualification). Matt. 1:23 is to be read as symbolical according to Dunn. John 1:1c is qualified with a parallel in Philo who distinguishes theos with the article and theos without it. 1 John 5:20 is left open as ambiguous. Heb. 1:8 is cited as quoting one of the looser elohim texts in the Hebrew Bible where the Davidic king is called ‘god’. The very next verse, Heb. 1:9, says that Jesus has a God. Dunn concludes by saying the following:

“The traditional attempt to capture this fuller portrait has been to emphasize the human as well as the divine in Jesus. But the distinction is too crude, already for the New Testament writers.”

Discussion of the Last Adam comes up with reference to 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Dunn sees this line of thinking as the expressing of Jesus as the beginning of the new creation of God. Both Adam and Jesus are spoken of in ‘image’ terminology. 1 Tim. 2:5 is read as the natural outworking of Paul’s previous statement in 1 Cor. 8:6. The title of the heavenly intercessor is interpreted as one who, as the priest, becomes the intermediary between God and mankind.

Dunn then interacts with Bauckham and asks if it is really helpful to interpret all of this data in terms of ‘divine identity.’ He argues that this terminology runs the risk of actually confusing rather than clarifying. Dunn points out that the NT writers are careful to not identify Jesus with the one God of Israel. He goes on, “He is not the Father. He is not Yahweh.” Dunn suggests that the language of ‘divine agency’ or ‘plenipotentiary’ hold together the data better. Jesus is the one who embodied God’s immanence. The NT writers say that Jesus, as the divine agent, is never the source (‘ek’) of the act of the Creator, to where God the Father is constantly described as such.

Dunn concludes the chapter by stating that the best way to understand Jesus in light of all the evidence is to see that the early Christian writers saw him as God’s extension to the world in his redeeming action. Yet God remained the God and Father of Jesus. Jesus was not worshipped as wholly God. If he was worshipped, worship was offered to God but through Jesus.

The next chapter of the book is the Conclusion where Dunn wraps up all of the evidence surveyed and offers his closing remarks. I will reserve my own until that time. Thanks for reading.

Part 4: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

 In the 3rd chapter, Dunn puts away the toys and brings out the big guns, err, the theological big guns. It is by far the most complex and important chapter up to this point. Since the end of the previous chapter the driving question was forced to be revised. Therefore, Dunn seeks the consideration of the following points:

  1. Generally, what did Israel’s monotheism entail?
  2. How did the mediation of angels small and great reflect the one true God of Israel?
  3. How were God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word understood by Israel?
  4.  In what sense were select human beings spoken in terms of apotheosis?

Monotheism is summarized in the first section. Dunn reminds his readers that the Shema denoted the oneness of Israel’s God. This is similar to what we read in the first of the Ten Commandments. Dunn cites both Philo and Josephus who both report in their writings that Jews understand God to be one, even amidst their pagan neighbors. Only one God was deemed worthy of worship: the God of Israel.

That being said, Dunn points out that the noun ‘god’ does not carry only one meaning within the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Moses, acting as God’s agent, was called ‘god’ in the book of Exodus. The Davidic king (probably Solomon) who ruled on God’s behalf was called ‘god’ in Psalm 45. Even human judges, who judge in place of God, are given the title ‘god’ on a few occasions. Dunn concludes this section that even though the Shema was of central and crucial importance for Jews it was not something which restricted the use of the title ‘god’ in metaphoric or poetic fashion.

The next section deals with angels/messengers who bear messages on God’s behalf. Within the Hebrew Bible there are various accounts of these messengers not only bringing forth the word from the LORD but also carrying his name and very presence. Sometimes the narrator of these accounts seemingly switches back and forth between the voice of the messenger and the LORD himself. Dunn argues that the best way to understand these accounts is to recognize that the angel was not God as such but could be said to be God in his self-revelation. The Hebrew concept of the ‘agent bearing the authority of the one who sent him/her’ seems to be the best piece of context in bringing the meaning of these passages to light. Dunn cites Exodus, various pseudopigraphal texts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls which identify the messenger as ‘the angel of the presence’. The Apocalypse of Abraham bears an account where the angel Yahoel is spoken of having God’s very name in him. Yahoel itself seems to be a combination of YHWH and el, the divine name and the Hebrew word for ‘god’. The level of the divine presence represented by this angelic messenger is at one of the highest levels possible.

Dunn turns next to the complicated subjects of defining God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word within the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, and pseudopigrapha. These terms were used to express God’s interaction and intervention within his creation. The Spirit of God is defined by Dunn as “a way of characterizing God’s presence and power.” It also is used as a synonym for ‘breath’, God’s ‘presence’, and God’s ‘hand’. In the 2nd Temple literature the Spirit of God seems to have taken the role of a semi-independent divine agent. Various passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, Book of Wisdom, Judith, and even 2 Baruch depict the Spirit in ways which are more poetic and independent from God. The evidence, according to Dunn, seems to be describing how the unseen and invisible God can interact in revelation, salvation, and inspiration to his creation. Also, Dunn points out that worship is never ascribed to his Spirit in any text. He concludes from this fact that Israel never understood this poetic way of describing God’s action as something “semi-independent of God.” God reveals himself and is active by means of his personal and powerful Spirit/breath.

The pursuit of wise and honorable living came to be expressed by the personification of divine Wisdom within the literature of the Jews. In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is depicted as a lady sought after by young men. She is also seen as God’s personal companion in the poetic reconstructions of creation. This same theme is picked up in Sirach as well as the Book of Wisdom. Dunn summarizes the available evidence to argue that Wisdom should be understood as metaphorical and poetic in nature, not as an independent being from God. In both Sirach and Baruch it is ‘Torah’ which is the ultimate interpretation of Wisdom.

God’s word is the general way of depicting God in his communication and speech with his creation. The various days in the Genesis creation are opened by with God speaking them into existence. Dunn points out that over 90 percent of the occurrences of ‘the word of the LORD’ refer to inspired prophecy. God’s word also seems to at times take on a personality of its own, such as when God establishes his word, or when the word gets praised, gets trusted in, and even hoped in. Many of the poetic sections of the Bible and the post-biblical literature speak of God’s word being the means of God’s creation, such as Psalm 33:6 where the word is used synonymously with his ‘breath’. Dunn argues that these passages hardly constitute the designation of a semi-independent or hypostatic status to the word itself. He cites Philo who in his most extended discussion of God’s creative activity likens it to an architect who plans the city he is building in a blueprint. For Philo, the Logos (word) is “the archetypal idea, the overall plan that comes to material expression in creation.” In similar fashion to God’s Spirit, the divine Word/Logos of God was never worshipped, even in Philo’s writings.

What might be the most surprising part of this chapter to readers unfamiliar with the subjects and literature would be the next section Dunn tackles: that of the exaltation of select human beings within Israel’s understanding. He points out that “we need to be alert to the fact that the concept of a human person being divinized was not unfamiliar in the world as Jesus’ time.” He cites evidence of Moses, Elijah, and Enoch all being exalted into the heavens. Other literature suggests that even Adam was thought of having been exalted to a heavenly throne. Dunn states that this evidence raises the possibility within monotheistic Judaism of a great human figure being exalted to heaven as permissible.

Dunn’s next chapter will seek to take all the evidence surveyed up to this point and place the New Testament rightly within this very context. As for my own comments, these are my thoughts at the moment:

-It is interesting that within a strict monotheistic religion that human beings appointed by God can rightly be called ‘god’. What is even more interesting is that when the book of Hebrews wishes to call Jesus ‘God/god’ that it cites one of these looser passages (Heb. 1:8-9/Psalm 45:6-7).

-Angels/messengers seem to unambiguously carry the divine presence and even God’s very name in the way which can only intelligently be understood under the principle of agency.

-I’m not sure what to think of the thought of exalted human beings, but it seems that figures of importance within the Israelite religion surely were honored with exaltation and even worship at times.

-Dunn’s assessment of Wisdom, Spirit, and Word need to be taken seriously by anyone looking at this subject in relation to Christology or multiple persons of the Trinity.

-Philo in particular should be read by anyone who wishes to make any definitive statements about the interpretation of John 1:1-18, especially his De Opificio Mundi 16-44.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? part 3 book review

James Dunn gives Chapter 2 the title ‘The practice of worship.’ As we have seen thus far into the book, the act of paying homage to a superior is not quite as simple a subject as one might have previously thought. The terms are complex and at times confusing. This chapter seeks to answer how the early Christians practiced worship. The prologue of the chapter sets out the journey of research and evidence which Dunn plans to cover:

1-   The examination of prayer as the act of adoration, confession, petition, and intercession from an inferior to a superior.

2-   Any/all hymns sung are clearly an expression of worship.

3-   Sacred space which is offered to the deity where worship is given, including the individuals who work/promote this space and the times/appointments for this sacred worship.

4-   The act of animal sacrifice to appease the deity was common among the religious cults as an expression of worship.

Dunn seeks to answer in what ways was cultic devotion, a term with Hurtado utilizes, given to Jesus by the early believers.

The subject of prayer is taken up first. The Gospel accounts are studied together before Dunn moves onto the rest of the NT documents. Within the four Gospels, Jesus is regularly found praying to God. Even the Lord’s Prayer found in Matt. 6/Luke 11 depicts Jesus commanding his followers to pray specifically to the Father. The verb deesthai which is commonly translated ‘to request’ is used with God, Jesus, and the disciples as the object. John’s Gospel uses a completely different set of verbs than the Synoptics. If the disciples ask anything of the Father, albeit in Jesus’ name, it is promised to come to pass. On a few occasions Jesus himself is said to be the one to whom requests can be directed.

 Within the rest of the NT evidence prayer language is specifically directed to God. Within the Epistles, the verb deēsis (‘to pray’) is always used of God. Dunn notes the interesting request of Paul in 2 Cor. 12:8-9 in which he parakalesa (‘appealed’) to the Lord in what seems to be a situation of prayer. Since Lord is most often a designation for Jesus within the Pauline corpus, it would seem that Paul is most likely directing his appeal to him in this passage. Dunn leaves open the question whether the much discussed Aramaic ‘Maranatha’ is a prayer to Jesus or not. He also cites 2 Thes. 2:16 where the Lord is invoked to comfort the Thessalonian believers.

Dunn summarizes his findings by stating that prayer language was most commonly addressed to God. He also reports that prayer language is not usually applied to Jesus, but he was regarded as one to whom appeals and requests could be made.  Dunn asks if this like the later Christian appeals made to dead saints. He concludes that the answer is not as clear cut as we would have hoped for.

The early Christian hymns are focused on next. What seemed interesting to me was the fact that the songs located in the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel, such as the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, the Benedictus, etc. These hymns, Dunn points out, are hymns to God, but about Christ. The most controversial hymns found in Phil. 2 and Col. 1 also depict Christ as the subject. What they were not, Dunn argues, were hymns sung to Jesus, but rather hymns sung about Jesus. This is an important distinction which Dunn wishes to press, especially because he thinks that Hurtado misses this point in his writings.

Hymns (or are they songs of praise?) are clearly offered to the Lamb in the book of Revelation. Dunn admits that these examples found in John’s Apocalypse are the only clear New Testament examples of hymns sung to Christ.

Sacred space/times/meals/people are given the next treatment of study. Sacred space was super important to the Jews living within the 2nd Temple period. The Temple was understood as the place where God’s holy name dwelt upon earth, the axis mundi for the Jewish people. The early Christians began to identify themselves as the new temple of God. They also were designated as a kingdom of priests, and thereby no longer needing the High Priest to intercede on their behalf. Some early Christians, notably Stephen, held negative attitudes towards the Jerusalem Temple. The Book of Hebrews goes the farthest in explicitly saying that the temple, as far as Christians are concerned, has become obsolete.

Sacred times also were a matter of transition from the Jewish faith to the early Christian faith. Jews celebrated the festivals and the weekly Sabbath as part of their religious devotion and identity. The early Christians did not seem to regard the festivals as important any longer. In fact, the first day of the week, which was understood at the day of Jesus’ resurrection, was soon established as the day of Christian celebration.

Communal meals are also discussed by Dunn. While the local pagan cults offered meat to their respected deities in their love feasts, Christians within the Roman world were perceived as celebrating the Lord’s Supper in honor of the risen Christ. This celebration was not merely an act of remembrance but also a time of bonding with Jesus within the sphere of food and drink. Dunn states that this form of devotion is not far from worship.  

Sacrifices were common both to the people of Israel as well as the local pagan cults within the first century. Sacrifice, as a ritual, was considered by many to be the ultimate criterion of deity. Israel understood this and thereby offered sacrifices to God alone. Offering to other gods was considered idolatrous, noting how the Jews refused to give incense to the Emperor on many occasions. Paul’s inherited belief statement found in 1 Cor. 15:3, which can be reasonably dated to around two years after the death of Jesus, regards his death as a sin offering to God. Dunn makes the important connection in identifying that the early Christians understood Christ’s death as meaningful and effective for sacrifice in a way similar to the sacrifices Israel had offered for many centuries. What is significant within the early Christian practices is that Jesus is not once understood or spoken of as the one to whom sacrifice was offered. In fact, Rom. 3:25 states that God put Christ forward as the atonement sacrifice!

Dunn concluded the chapter by gathering up all the evidence surveyed thus far. Prayers and hymns were quite similar to the regular practice in the other religious cults. Yet the early Christian gatherings for worship as well as their shared meals were unique. They had no sacred space offered to their deity. Jesus was often invoked and appealed to. He was likewise given praise within the same breath as praise to God. Dunn then makes a significant point regarding the evidence examined thus far. He writes that his original question, ‘Did the first Christians worship Jesus?’ is too narrow and perhaps misleading. He now asks whether early Christian worship possible apart from Jesus. Without giving a direct answer to this inquiry, he leads on into the next chapter: ‘Monotheism, heavenly mediators and divine agents’.

I have several feelings on this chapter. I will therefore state them in the following bullet points:

-The fact that the verb proseuchesthai (‘to pray’) is never onces used with Jesus as the object is significant. Yes Jesus is appealed to and called upon, but these designations are not as conclusive for unambiguous prayer devotion. Also, if ‘all power on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus,’ then surely he is able to hear prayers as an exalted human being. The latest Gospel, John, seems to depict Jesus as accepting petitions in some way. How much of this language is based on the polemic between late 1st century Judaism and the Johannine Community is still worth pondering…

-Jesus never commanded for his disciples to pray to him.

-Dunn’s question of whether or not the invoking of Jesus is similar to the not-much-later invoking of dead saints by the Catholic Church is an interesting question I would like to sit on for awhile.

-Yes, Jesus is unambiguously praised and sung to in the book of Revelation. Yet why is this possible? Note Rev. 5:9-10;

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Jesus was worthy of song because he purchased humanity with his blood and redeemed them to God. This is a different argument for the reason for worship than what is given to the One sitting on the throne in Rev. 4.

-The fact that sacrifice, which was universally understood as an act of worship to God/a god, was never offered to Jesus is a point I had never considered. This is another thing for me to sit on.

-Dunn’s conclusion of this chapter is proof enough that the subject of worship involving Jesus is not a simple subject which can be settled in a few statements. I am now fully convinced that the issue is indeed complex and worthy of detailed study and consideration.

Part 2- Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? book review

 Chapter 1 is entitled ‘The language of worship.’ Simple enough, one might say. But as I read on, I was amazed at actually how many words used in the Greek text denoted the act of ‘worship.’ Dunn begins by asking the question, ‘If the first Christians did worship Jesus what does that tell us about the status they accorded to him?’ In the 21st century, us western Americans only use the word ‘worship’ in one way: the act of giving reverence to God. But Dunn reminds his readers that the act was used much more widely in the ancient world. He notes how in the British legal system the judges are addressed as ‘Your Worship’.  These examples point to the fact that any act of giving reverence, respect or honor to a superior can be labeled as worship.

Dunn moves on to survey the words within the New Testament. His first subject for study is the verb proskynein, which translates the Hebrew equivalent shachah. This verb is used quite widely, as Dunn cites the prostration of Esau, Joseph, and King David. In 1 Chronicles 29:10 both YHWH and David are worshipped, sharing the same verb. Angels are also objects of worship. In the NT, proskynein is also used widely, of human kings in the parables of Jesus, of the Philadelphian Christians in Rev. 3:9, and of the simple request made of Jesus. BDAG defines proskynein as “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure”. After accounting for the entirety of the NT occurrences, Dunn points out that Jesus is statistically proskyneo’ed surprisingly only a few times.

The word latreuein, which is usually translated ‘to serve,’ is the next word investigated. Dunn points out that in each case, apart from one or two references to false worship, that latreuein is always used of God. Not once is it used of Jesus. In fact, Jesus himself is remembered as saying, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ It would seem that the authors of the NT reserved latreuein for God alone. The accompanying noun latreia, denoting cultic service and worship, is also solely used of God (never Jesus).

Various other less frequent words are surveyed, most of which offer little substance to the argument. Dunn does acknowledge that Jesus is the object of the verb epikaleisthai ‘to call upon’. In four places Jesus is called upon for what seems to be prayer language and formula (even though the verb ‘to pray’ is never used of Jesus). In balance, Dunn lays out eight texts where it seems that the giving of thanks was generally understood as given to God, but through Jesus Christ. Jesus here is acting as the mediator, being a participant in the praising of God for what Christ has done.

The attention is moved into the subject of glory given to another, the act of glorifying. Texts are cited to show that God is glorified in the son of man. Jesus is also glorified in his disciples. Sometimes both God and Jesus are the recipients of glory, especially in the doxologies found at the end of the epistles. Dunn concludes by stating that Jesus is spoken of in ways which indicated that he now shares in God’s personal glory. Yet the act of sharing is as Dunn calls is an embodying of God’s glory, being the agent of God’s purpose to redeem creation.

As Dunn wraps up the chapter, he summarizes his findings by stating that there were rather limited findings as far as the worship of Jesus is concerned. Most terms equivalent to the act of worship are never used of Christ but rather reserved solely for God. Prayer language is likewise rarely invoked of the risen Jesus. Glory is attributed to Jesus, but as a whole Dunn argues that it is God ultimately being glorified for what Christ has accomplished. Jesus, Dunn concludes, is the enabler or medium of effective Christian worship found in the pages of the New Testament.

My own thoughts on this chapter are quite slim. Dunn accomplished a sweeping amount of worship research in only a few pages. I am aware that proskynein , the most common word for worship found in the LXX/NT, is used much more widely used than we use the term today. In the LXX, more than twenty different individuals are the proper object of this sort of worship, without reservation of the subject(s) involved. Therefore, it would be incorrect to state that just because someone is worshipped in the Bible proves that they are divine.

I also knew that latreuein was used solely for God and never of Jesus. This might raise a few eyebrows for those who take the subject of worship of Jesus too casually. I appreciated the discussion of glory and how it was articulated within the relationship between Jesus and God. I think the best example of this is the ending of the Christ-hymn in Phil. 2:5-11, where every tongue will confess that Jesus is kyrios, to the glory of God the Father. It is ultimately the Father who received glory because Jesus is receiving homage. Plus the fact that they hymn bases this all on the obedience Jesus carried out to the point of death.

I also think that the terms ‘agent’ and ‘embodiment’ need to be given their fair day in court. The culture in which the Bible is set in was one where masters commissioned their respected agents quite often. When this occurred, the agent carried the name and authority of the one who sent him. Thus, it would seem fairer to the texts at hand if we understood the relationship of Jesus to God in a vertical fashion rather than a horizontal one. As a whole, this seems to account for the evidence rather satisfactory, in my opinion.

I am hoping to post my review/comments of chapter two tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Book Review – Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? by James D. G. Dunn (part 1)

I have been busy with 9 hours of graduate summer school. Now that I am done, I have (supposedly) much more time to read and get back to working on this quasi-blog I have.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence is a book I have been looking forward to for a long time now. James D. G. Dunn is by far my favorite biblical scholar. He writes well, does top-notch research, documents his positions thoroughly, and attempts to be vigorously honest with the evidence at hand. I was first introduced to him when one of my professors recommended his Christology in the Making back when I was 19 years old (which I have read four times now). Ever since then, I was hooked on Dunn. Not that I agree with everything he says, but I typically find him very convicing with his arguments.

This post and the ones to follow will be a book review with my comments on Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? I will cover the Introduction to the book in this post and work through each subsequent chapter in the following days. Feel free to offer any comments.

Dunn’s introduction to the book aims to explain the title which he gave to the book. Was worship ascribed by the early Christian believers to Jesus? If so, in what form did the prostration take? How was it understood by the worshippers? What did worship constitute in the minds of the early Christians communities? These questions, Dunn states, are not easily answered with a quick sentence or two. The evidence seems much more complex.

He begins by stating that Christianity stands at odds with the Jewish and Muslim faiths, both of whom reject the divine status which most Christians give to the Son of God. This creates a barrier and a tension between the groups. Dunn asks what was it that made the early Christians want to speak of Jesus in these divisive terms, understanding him as divine. What actually led them to worship a Galilean prophet as God?

Some would seek to try to answer the question by quickly citing the confession of Thomas in John 20:28, or the Christ-hymn in Phil. 2:5-11, or even point to the songs sung in the book of Revelation. Yet on the other side of the coin, Dunn reminds his readers that Jesus redirects worship to God during the temptation narratives in Matt 4/Luke 4. When the [rich young] ruler calls him ‘Good Teacher’ Jesus replies, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone’ in Mark 10:17-18. Paul’s letters regularly state the relationship between God and Jesus as ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (where God is the God of Jesus). The evidence, Dunn argues, is not as straight-forward as one might hope.

The book is dedicated to the two other leading scholars in the world who are currently writing on this subject: Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado. Both of these scholars’ works are regularly cited in the book and interacted with. Dunn respectfully and skillfully dialogues with these debate partners throughout the book. Dunn argues that their respected works on the subject of the worship ascribed to Jesus does not take the whole picture into account. He wishes to involve the difficult and complex texts into the argument, even those that butt heads with the respected positions Bauckham and Hurtado profess.

In the Introduction, Dunn outlines his plan of attack which will influence the presentation given throughout the book.

-First, he seeks to define what exactly is ‘worship’ and address whether or not one who was worshipped in antiquity proved that they were God (or a god).

-Second, he desires to know what exactly it means to ‘worship the Lord God and serve only him.’

-Then, Dunn wishes to know the exact relationship between the self-revelation which was perceived within Israel (and within the early Christian communities) and how this was articulated through the response of worship.

-Fourthly, was Jesus as monotheist? Did Jesus affirm the oneness of God?

-Lastly, Dunn seeks to understand how the conviction that Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God influenced the understanding of the (divine?) status of the one they worshipped. Did this understanding alter the character and nature of God? Did it give a different meaning to the status of Jesus?

The study James Dunn has set out to conquer is no small task, it would seem. I am looking forward to digging further into the book. At this point, my feelings/comments are few, other than the excitement to continue reading on.

*Actually, at the writing of this post, I have finished the first two chapters. This book is to be highly recommended for anyone interested in this subject, scholar and lay person alike.