Book Review of “God in New Testament Theology” by Larry W. Hurtado

My review of Larry Hurtado’s God in New Testament Theology can be found on its Amazon page…and also below:

Excellent Short Study of
What the New Testament Writers Thought
of What We Call the Trinity

Full disclosure: I am a layman, not a scholar. I am not a Trinitarian, nor am I Modalist. I do believe that Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh, and that He reigns supreme over all creation now and forevermore.

Larry Hurtado writes as an historian rather than a theologian. As a result, his writing is fascinating and enlightening – and theologically edifying.

I presume Hurtado is a Trinitarian but he does not impose that view on the New Testament. He lets it speak for itself. (A reader cannot help but admire his intellectual honesty.) As a result, we see how little the New Testament speaks of, or even directly implies, that God is a Trinity.

To be sure, Hurtado ends the book making clear that he believes the New Testament writers left ample material for two centuries of ruminations to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. His book is therefore not at all anti-Trinitarian. However, his work does make it much harder for Trinitarians to simply trot out a few proof NT texts to make their point.

The book begins to answer (but does not fully answer) the question “How could monotheisic Jews put Jesus almost on a par with God?” More precisely, Hurtado answers the question, “Did monotheistic Jews put Jesus almost on a par with God?” and the answer is “Yes.” On this point, he parts company with his colleague, series editor for this book, and antagonist James D. G. Dunn (see Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence for the contrary view). But, alas, I’ve begun to speak more about Hurtado’s work generally rather than merely this book.

Here in a nutshell is the view Hurtado puts forth in this book: The identity and nature of God carry over into the New Testament from the Old Testament. However, that identity and nature are profoundly and eternally made clearer in His work through Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God also comes to greater light from one testament to the next, through relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

If you are a Trinitarian, you will like that Hurtado has laid a scriptural foundation for you to build your case. If you are not a Trinitarian, you will like that Hurtado reveals that the NT writers themselves made no case for a Trinity.

Here’s the breakdown of the book:

Introduction: Hurtado points out that relatively little scholarly attention has been recently given to the subject of “God” in the New Testament.

Chapter 1: He reviews what scholarly literature has been produced on the subject.

Chapter 2: He surveys the references to “God” in the New Testament.

Chapter 3: He surveys the references to God where Jesus is concerned in the New Testament.

Chapter 4: He surveys the references to God where the Spirit is concerned in the New Testament.

Chapter 5: He concludes that the New Testament gives us the raw material for Trinitarian doctrine that will take a couple more centuries to produce.

This is a fascinating study for those who have been told that “the Bible teaches the Trinity.” It will be clear to anyone familiar with the New Testament that Hurtado’s view is more representative of the text than that statement.

Although Hurtado doesn’t say what I am about to say, at least not in these words, this is a fair conclusion to be drawn from his book: If the Trinity is true (i.e. understood in the formulation that God is three persons in one being), the writers of the New Testament didn’t know it.

For more on how to relate to God, see:

There Is No Trinity; There Is Only Christ

Posts to Date on the Trinity Versus Christ

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