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Larry Hurtado: Lord Jesus Christ

When one is brought up in Christian circles it is easy to take Christian traditions for granted, but Hurtado makes one rethink a number of issues. For example, why is Christian baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 19:5)? We might answer, “Because the Scriptures say so!” Well, yes, but John the Baptist did not baptise into his name. According to Hurtado, Jewish proselyte baptism was not into the name of Moses or “any ‘divine agent’ figure”. But Christian baptism was from the first baptism into the name of Jesus or baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Thus even in this Jesus is given a higher position, a higher status, than Moses, the most revered of Old Testament figures, and, in that last formula, is related to God in a unique way, which is clearly connected to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hurtado also examines a considerable amount of early non-biblical documents about Jesus to present a fuller picture of the subject, including the so-called Gospel of Thomas and the Shepherd of Hermas. The Gospel of Thomas often departs from a biblical understanding of Christ, with what Hurtado calls an “esoteric” and “revisionist” approach. In fact, Thomas is a collection of sayings rather than a Gospel, and is very different from the canonical Gospels. For example, it does not use such key terms of Jesus as “Christ”, “Lord”, “Word” and “Savior”. Yet Hurtado points out that this document contains Coptic equivalents of the “I am” and “I have come” sayings on the lips of Jesus that are common in the Gospel of John. And, as Hurtado notes, in saying 77, Jesus says that “the All came forth” from Him.

As Hurtado shows, the Shepherd of Hermas has a higher view of Jesus than the Gospel of Thomas. One that is much closer to the biblical view. It says that Jesus is “Lord” and “the Son of God” and it has a strong emphasis on the power of His “name”.

Larry Hurtado’s book is not an easy read. It is very detailed and complex. But it is a most rewarding book to grapple with. It clearly demonstrates that from very early on in the Christian era the followers of Jesus of Nazareth greatly revered, even worshipped, Him, and that they described Him in terms that had previously only been used of the one God.

Towards the end of this book Hurtado sums his subject up briefly but accurately. He says, “We have seen that the ‘binitarian’ pattern of devotion in which both God (the ‘Father’) and Jesus are objects of [worship] goes back to the earliest observable stages of the movement that became Christianity.” Thus the Christian worship of Jesus is not a later add on, it is a fundamental and essential part of the Christian faith. Praise His name!

Reviewed by David Malcolm Bennett


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Category: Church History, Spring 2016

About the Author: David Malcolm Bennett, Ph.D., is an Anglo-Australian Christian researcher and writer with over 15 books in print. They include The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage, The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers (companion website:, The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement, and The General: William Booth. He is also the transcriber, editor and publisher of The Letters of William and Catherine Booth and The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth.

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