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Chapter 4 is on the worship of Jesus in Early Christianity. In this chapter, Bauckham discusses the significance of Jesus worship, which he sees as continuous from the New Testament to the great ecumenical councils, particularly Nicaea and Chalcedon. He does not, however, as clearly delineate what constitutes worship as McGrath does. In short, he does not compare and contrast worship of God in second temple Judaism with worship of Jesus in the New Testament in terms of the range from simple honor and reverence to full sacrificial cult.
B note that the origins of Jesus worship are shrouded in mystery, but evidence points toward the earliest Palestinian Jewish Christianity. Jesus is already considered risen, exalted, and continuously active in the community through the Spirit, and coming in the future as ruler and judge.
What points to this early worship is (1) Jesus as God’s eschatological agent is the focus of the “experience of eschatological salvation and the enthusiasm of the Spirit which characterized Christian gatherings for worship, and he was the focus of all Christian relationship, through him, to God” (128). McGrath might appreciate the language of agency and the idea that people worship God through Jesus, through the agent. But might this imply that the ultimate recipient of worship is God rather than Jesus? Or not? (2) B also sees psalms and hymns celebrating Jesus’ exaltation “from earliest of times” (128), as well as (3) acclamations and prayers—e.g., Maranatha (1 Cor. 16:22; Did. 10:6; cf. Rev. 22:20), Aramaic preservations in early documents indicating it’s early origin. (4) Personal prayer, which he thinks is underestimated, citing Paul and Acts (2 Cor. 12:8; 1 Thess. 3:11-13; 2 Thess. 2:16-7; 3:5, 16; cf. Rom 16:20b; 1 Cor. 16:23; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess 5:28; 2 Thess 3:18; Philemon 25; Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 13:2; cf. further 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim 1:16-18; 4:22). Bauckham admits that the dominant practice of the early Christians was prayer to God, but because Jesus was the mediator of grace, prayer was addressed to him. This is worth further reflecting upon: when thinking of praying “in the name of Jesus,” it does have this sense of mediator, but is it addressed “to” Jesus or “to” God “by means of” Jesus? Are both being addressed in the same way and, if not, how does that affect our ideas of worship? There is a nice structural inversion here as well: like Jesus is an agent of creation (by means of), he is also an agent of prayer (by means of), just moving in the other direction.
Indeed, B admits that petitionary prayer is not necessarily constitutive of worship, but he cites two phrases to show Jesus as an object of devotion. One means is Acts 13:2, in which the Antiochene church “worships” the Lord, using the verb λειτουργούντων, which is a typical cultic term (it is where we get the word “liturgy”). On the one hand, this might be an ambiguous example to adumbrate, but, on the other, Jesus is called Lord throughout the New Testament writings, including Acts. Worshiping the Lord could be a reference to worship of Jesus beyond simple reverence.
More prevalently is “calling on the name of the Lord,” a phrase drawn from Joel 2:32 and used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to worship of God (e.g., Gen. 4:26; 12:8; 13:4; Ps. 105:1), but in the NT applied to Jesus. It is the cultic confession of Jesus as Lord that defined the early Christians, and Hurtado connects it to practices of baptism, healings, and exorcisms. By applying the divine name to Jesus (LORD), or, using B’s terms, by “including” Jesus “in” the divine name (it is really the opposite, the divine name would be “in” him), Jesus also receives worship proper to YHWH.
B suggests that Jesus could have been accorded worship from the beginning or perhaps just reverence at first, but there is no evidence of resistance in a smooth transition to worship.
Therefore, the old view that transition to worship coincided with transition to pagan Hellenistic environment (basically, Bousset’s view) cannot be maintained. Matthew and Revelation, which show Jewish formulations and perspectives most clearly, also show worship of Jesus most clearly:
“That the worship of Jesus did not result from Gentile neglect of Jewish monotheism, but originated within, and had to be accommodated within, a Jewish monotheistic faith, which passed into Gentile Christianity along with it, is of the greatest importance for the course of later Christological development” (130).
In Matthew, B discusses προσκύνησις, which he recognizes has a wide range of meaning from obeisance, prostration in an expression of reverence, and/or worship. Matthew uses the term ten times with Jesus as object (Mark twice; Luke once). He concludes that Matthew uses it as a semi-technical term for obeisance due to Jesus. But is this worship? Or reverence? Indeed, Matt. 18:26, itself, uses it toward human beings without any sense of idolatry. LXX usage is primarily for God (or falsely for idols). He argues that it is a context-sensitive term, in which it is a gesture avoided in contexts where worship of a human being or exalted angel might be construed by it, but in contexts where such false construals do not occur, it is used:
“whereas in Mark and Luke the gesture of obeisance to Jesus is probably no more than a mark of respect for an honoured teacher, Matthew’s consistent use of the word proskunein and his emphasis on the point, show that he intends a kind of reverence which, paid to any other human being, he would have regarded as idolatrous” (131).
The term also tends to occur in epiphanic contexts (2:2, 8, 11; 14:33; 28:9, 17)
But what about Matt 18:26? This passage’s usage is not yet explained.
He concludes with Hurtado that this was a significantly new but internal development within Jewish monotheistic tradition.
The next post will explore further Bauckham's discussion of Jesus worship in terms of doxologies and hymns.