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Larry W. Hurtado Lord Jesus Christ Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity 2003

Larry W. Hurtado Lord Jesus Christ Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity 2003

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This kind of close association of Jesus with the glory and name of God in turn
helps to explain another notable Johannine emphasis: the significance and effi
cacy of Jesus' own name.88

It is as if, through the intimate relationship of Jesus
with "the Father," Jesus' own name is irradiated with divine significance and
potency. Those who saw Jesus as given God's name and glory (John 17:11-12),
and exalted by God to unique heavenly status as "Lord," regarded Jesus' own
name as itself powerful; consequently, Jesus' name was used ritually.

As we noted previously, the use of Jesus' own name in healings, exorcisms,
baptisms, and corporate liturgical invocations seems to go back to the earliest

87. L. H. Hurtado, "Jesus as Lordly Example in Philippians 2:5-11," in From Jesus to Paul:

Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare, ed. P. Richardson and J. C. Hurd (Waterloo, Ontario:

Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984), 113-26.

88. See recently Ruck-Schroder, 203-19.




observable Christian circles. It is taken for granted in the earliest extant evi
dence of Christian devotion reflecting both Pauline churches and Jewish Chris
tian settings. In GJohn, therefore, it should not be surprising that Jesus' name is
thematized as powerful, and is promoted as a conventional feature of the devo
tional practices of Johannine believers. But the extent of emphasis on Jesus'
name in GJohn justifies taking note of it here.
There is a repeated insistence that belief must be directed specifically to
Jesus/Jesus' name. All who believe in/on Jesus' name (eis to onoma autou) are
given authority to become (genesthai) children of God (John 1:12). In John 3:18,
believing in Jesus and believing "in the name of the unique Son of God" are
synonymous; such belief makes all the difference for divine judgment (cf., e.g.,
6:40). The same sort of equation seems to be reflected in 2:23, referring to those

who saw his signs and "believed in his name." And of course, the climactic pur
pose statement in 20:31 calls for belief in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, of
fering "life in his name" to all who so believe.
This repeated assertion of the significance of Jesus and his name does not,
however, reduce the significance of "the Father" in GJohn. Instead, belief in Jesus

is the will of the Father (6:40), just as it is the Father's intention "that all may
honor the Son just as they honor the Father" (5:22-23). The close duality of Jesus
and God is reflected everywhere in GJohn, as in the statement that eternal life
comes through knowing "the only true God, and Jesus Christ" who has been
sent by God (17:3). To repeat an observation made earlier, Jesus' significance is
always expressed with reference to God "the Father" in GJohn. At the same time,
GJohn insists that proper obedience to, and reverence of, God now requires that
Jesus be explicitly included with God as recipient of faith and devotion. This
means that "the Father" is now defined with reference to Jesus, through whom in
a uniquely full and authoritative measure the Father is revealed.

In the distinctive body of teaching in John 14-16, there is an emphasis on
the efficacy of invoking Jesus' name in prayer. The promise that the Spirit will
be sent to Jesus' disciples after his departure explicitly makes the teaching here
applicable to the life of Christian circles in the post-Jesus period. Repeatedly Je

sus' followers are told to make their petitions in Jesus' name (en to onomati
14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). In 14:13-14 Jesus himself promises to respond
to petitions offered in his name, whereas in 15:16 and 16:23-27 "the Father" will
answer them. These statements call for the actual invocation of Jesus' name as a
feature of the prayer practice advocated here. Although there is some textual
uncertainty in 14:13-14, the dominant impression is that prayer is to be directed
to "the Father."89

But the explicit use of Jesus' name in prayer marks off those

89. The textual variants in John 14:13-14 and 15:16 show scribes reflecting the influence of

Jesus in the Gospel of John

who recognize Jesus as sent from God; it also signifies that, as divinely sent and
authorized, Jesus' very name is now efficacious.

Of course this is not some "magical" conception, as if merely pronounc
ing the syllables of Jesus' name had automatic efficacy. The context makes it
clear that the efficacy of the petitions rests on Jesus' disciples believing Jesus

was sent from God and is one with the Father (14:11-12), loving Jesus and keep
ing his commandments (14:15, 21, 23-24), and remaining in close relationship
with Jesus (i5:i-io).90

But it is also undeniable that these Johannine passages do
attribute a powerful efficacy to Jesus' name when used by those who are faithful
believers in Jesus.

Additionally, these passages show Jesus' name being explicitly invoked as

a feature of the prayer practice promoted and observed in Johannine circles. That

is, in these references we have a glimpse of the actual devotional customs advo
cated and followed by Johannine Christians. This ritual use of Jesus' name has
no known parallel in Jewish tradition of the time, and it amounts to "Jesus" be
ing treated in devotional practice as itself carrying and representing divine effi
cacy and significance. Given that ancient Jewish tradition widely regarded
God's name as uniquely sacred, this practice of invoking Jesus' name in prayer

is momentous; Jewish opponents would likely have seen it as an unwarranted
and dangerous innovation. The references to Christians being hated because of
Jesus' name
(Mark 13:13; Matt. 10:22; Luke 21:12) likely reflect the outraged re
sponse of those outside the Christian circles to their astonishing readiness to
treat Jesus' name as worthy of such devotion.

But the Johannine emphasis on Jesus' name seems only to thematize a
conviction and devotional practice involving Jesus' name that is attested al
ready in Paul's letters (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:10). The other canonical Gospels confirm
how widespread the practice was of treating Jesus' name as efficacious in ex
orcisms and healings (Mark 9:38-39; Matt. 7:22; Luke 10:17). In fact, in earlier
chapters we noted that "calling upon" Jesus ritually, in worship and baptism

devotional practices, and also perhaps occasionally seeking to harmonize the directions given in
14-16 about prayer. E.g., 14:14, which promises that Jesus will answer petitions, is omitted
in some witnesses (X, fam
1,565, and some Latin and Syriac witnesses), probably to avoid a con
flict with
15:16 and 16:23-27, which promises that the Father will respond. The variation in 14:14
between "if you ask/ask me" may have arisen from scribes similarly deleting an offending "me"

(the view favored by most commentators), but it is also just possible that the "me" was inserted

and became the more popular reading because it reflected the early Christian practice of offer

ing prayer to Jesus as well as to "the Father."

90. Emphasized, e.g., by Schnackenburg, St. John, 3:73. The humorous scene in Acts 19:11-

20, where (non-Christian) exorcists attempt to use Jesus' name magically, has the serious inten

tion of disassociating the early Christian practice from magic, while at the same time claiming
that Christian practice was much more efficacious.




as well, is attested in the earliest extant layers of evidence of Christian devo
tional practice.

The early origin of ritual use of Jesus' name in Jewish Christian circles
raises the intriguing question of whether the suggestive etymology of the Se
mitic form of the name may have been a factor. "Jesus" (Gk. Iesous) derives from
the Hebrew name Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua (the name given to the
trusty aide of Moses). The name is a compound from the Hebrew verb meaning
"to deliver/save" (yasha) and a shortened form of the divine name Yahweh.91
Hence, etymologically "Jesus" means something like "God (Yahweh) saves";
Matthew 1:21 confirms that in some early Christian circles with strong Jewish
Christian influences this etymology was known and seen as highly meaningful.

So, did the earliest circles in which Jesus' name was ritually invoked per
ceive this "theophoric" quality? If so, did this quality confirm for them that Je
sus himself was the expression of God's name and presence, and did it also help
promote the ritual invocation of "Jesus" and its use in prayer? We do not have
an adequate basis for an indisputable answer one way or the other. But I suspect
that the Semitic etymology of the name Jesus was meaningful and influential at
an early stage. This is certainly consistent with the Johannine emphasis on the
religious significance and devotional efficacy of Jesus' name.
In any case, GJohn associates Jesus with the glory and name of God, and
presents Jesus as the uniquely direct expression of God's purposes, so that to
encounter Jesus amounts to an encounter with God. Moreover, the Jesus of
GJohn demonstrates a full self-awareness of his premundane glory and heav
enly origins, and he explicitly summons people to faith in him as the heaven
sent redeemer. All this amounts to a distinctively Johannine portrait of Jesus in
which his divine significance is programmatically presented. I turn now to
other aspects of the Johannine Jesus that are often believed difficult to reconcile
with this emphasis on Jesus' divinity.

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