Liturgy in Early Jesus Worship

A series of proto-credal or liturgical formulae can be discerned cerned in the text which suggest that it is natural to speak twice or thrice over when speaking of God. On the basis of the claim that the text is authoritative revelation, indeed, this is not just natural, but necessary. The two most obvious are the un-self-conscious doubling of the Shema—the fundamental confession of Old Testament monotheism/monolatry ism/monolatry (Deut. 6:4-5)—in 1 Corinthians 8:6, and the triadic baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19, but we could add many others (to take only a few of the most striking triadic patterns: 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 4:4-6; Rev. 1:4-5). To speak of God in formal confession or in worship seems to need mention of Jesus, and often of the Spirit. This fact makes it even more astonishing that, as far as we can determine, amidst all the variety of primitive Christianity, the worship of Jesus as divine was simply ubiquitous. The evidence is there already in the New Testament, even in the earliest strata, the Pauline letters: prayer is offered to the Father ‘through Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 1:8), and to the Father and Jesus together (1 Thess. 3:11-13); benedictions can be uttered in either name (Rom. 16:20), or in the name of Jesus with no mention of the Father (1 Cor. 16:23).

What evidence we have of more formal worship practices reinforces this. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, a direct appeal to Jesus in Aramaic, marana tha, ‘Our Lord, come!’ is repeated without translation in a letter to a Greek-speaking church. The best understanding would seem to be that this is a piece of Aramaic liturgy so common that it is familiar even in a Greek church, and it is addressed directly to Jesus. When we recall that 1 Corinthians must be dated less than four decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, cifixion, we are presented with evidence that the worship of Jesus in formal liturgy was well established within three decades of his death. I have already mentioned the triadic baptismal formula, to which may be added the witness of Acts that baptism in the name of Jesus alone was also common (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48). Those passages of the New Testament usually considered to be fragments of common Christian hymnody (e.g. John 1:1-18; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:11-15) reinforce this picture of the centrality of worship offered to Jesus, as do the Christological reinterpretations of the Psalms (e.g. in Heb. 1), psalms which would have been sung or chanted in early Christian worship. Larry Hurtado has collected the evidence for this impressively, and notes that in the period he surveys (AD 30-170) Jesus was a central figure for all groups, and that all groups regarded him as divine. Hurtado says:

Amidst the diversity of earliest Christianity, belief in Jesus’ divine status was amazingly common. The ‘heresies’ of earliest Christianity largely presuppose the view that Jesus is divine. That is not the issue. The problematic issue, in fact, was whether a genuinely human Jesus could be accommodated. . . Additionally, in spite of the diversity, it is equally evident that Jesus was central in all forms of earliest Christianity, proto-orthodox or others, that we can describe with any confidence. This centrality of Jesus, and the uniqueness of his status in the various religious convictions of earliest Christians, also demanded, almost unavoidably, a new view of God.

The early Christian community worshipped Jesus, and was committed by those writings which it read in worship and regarded as Scripture to the belief that God could not be named adequately without out speaking of Jesus (and the Holy Spirit).

Holmes, Stephen R. The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History, and Modernity. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. 54-55.

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