Feature Article: Did the first Christians worship Jesus? The New Testament evidence.


Most Christians (not all) believe that Jesus is God and worship him as part of the Trinity. But what did the New Testament writers say about worshipping Jesus. Did they view him as God, as someone whom we should worship?

James Dunn is a leading Christian New Testament scholar who personally believes in the Trinity. His groundbreaking work fearlessly faces the historical questions about the Bible and 1st century Christianity.

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His 151 page survey of the historical and textual evidence comes to the following conclusion in the final chapter: “The answer”. On page 147 he describes the danger in Christian worship,

“if it is defined too simply as worship of Jesus. For, if what has emerged in this inquiry is taken seriously, it soon becomes evident that Christian worship can deteriorate into what may be called Jesus-olatry. That is, not simply the worship of Jesus, but worship that falls short of the worship due to the one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I use the term ‘Jesus-olary’ as in an important sense parallel or even close to ‘idolatry’. As Israel’s prophets pointed out on several occasions, the calamity of idolatry is that the idol is in effect taken to be the god to be worshiped. So the idol substitutes for the god, takes the place of God.  The worship due to God is absorbed by the idol. The danger of Jesus-olatry is similar: that Jesus has been substituted for God, has taken the place of the one creator God; Jesus is absorbing the worship due to God alone.”

On the penultimate page he concludes,

“No, by and large the first Christians did not worship Jesus as such.”

He goes on to say on the last page (151) “that Jesus is the place and means of worship”  and

“Jesus cannot fail to feature in Christian worship, in their hymns of praise, their petitions to God. But such worship is always, should always be offered to the glory of God the Father.”

Here Dunn surely has in mind Philippians 2:11.

If Dunn’s analysis is correct, and I believe it is, then most Christians today are guilty of the egregious sin of idolatry or Jesus-olatry. Islam, of course, came as a reforming movement to call those Christians who have gone astray back on the path of pure monotheism. The first six verses of the Qur’an are pertinent:

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful:

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Universe

The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Owner of the Day of Judgement.

You alone do we worship, and You alone we turn to for help

Guide us to the straight path;

The path of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray [ie the Christians].

 

 

 

 

 

 



Categories: Bible, Christianity, Christology, God, New Testament scholarship

40 replies

  1. The Christian’s are losing followers and there casting hooks or books out. The bait is a persons natural disposition that there is one god. That a man is not a suitable person to be god. So pray to the father in heaven the creator, sounds lovley, yeah?
    I agree with all that but what now is a Christian to think when its sunday and he hears “G’HE-SUS is your savior!” The blood of G’HE-SUS purge your sin…He DIED for YOU! Screaming Gggg-Heee-SuSssss… jumping up and down smacking the podium. Wait, wasnt i hear to worship the creator, the father? Thats when they tell you jesus and the father are one…Worshipping jesus is worshipping the father…
    To me this an elaborate scheme to trick people because you me and everyone else knows at church this book gets THROWN INTO THE AIR and gets replaced with TRINITY!
    All praise is to Allah, the creator of mankind. The sustainer of everything between the heavens and earth

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Is Dunn a scholar that ‘Conservative’ Christian believers will take seriously?

    I ask this as you know their reaction to Ehrman who they’d dismiss as ‘heretical’ or ‘radical’ – i.e. ‘Way off the mark’ regardless of credentials and his actual studies.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with you of course.

    So am I right in thinking that you’re implying that Dunn, therefore, might not be a ‘conservatively-acceptable’ scholar?

    (I note this only as I’m aware how Shabir Ally distinguishes between ‘Modern’ scholars of Biblical studies and ‘Conservative’ scholars – and he sometimes indicates how such and such a scholar is a conservative scholar who might admit, for instance, that Mark was the earliest of the four gospels, or that some errors have crept into the Bible via copyists etc. By flagging that he has ‘conservative’ leanings has the benefit of preventing evangelicals from knee-jerking with “Oh, well he’s a modern Liberal scholar so what do you expect…” Such a reaction, I sense, is commonplace amongst evangelicals – and the lay amongst them being uninformed will resort to ad hominems – as will the unscrupulous knowledgeable ones who [strategically and cynically) use the ad hominems to keep such Truths from the lay.)

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  4. I think we are lucky that Ken Temple did not comment on this article. He would have refuted James Dunn with his preaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Matthew 14:28-33—Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”

    John 9:35-39—Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”

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    • Worship can mean more than considering a person God, the term itself refers to ‘paying homage’ or ‘giving due honour’ the examples you gave don’t demonstrate that the worship described confirms Christ’s deity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Revelation 5:11-14 (the end/climax of all of Revelation chapters 4 and 5 – worship to the Father (the one who sits on the throne, etc.) and the Son (the lamb who was slain)

        11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,
        12 saying with a loud voice,

        “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

        13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,

        “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

        14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

        and

        Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9
        “don’t do that” – the angel says do not do “proskuneo” to me, an angel. Don’t do that! Don’t give homage, veneration, honor, etc. – so it must mean worship that is only reserved for God. Worship God! (means, worship God alone)

        8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. 9 But he *said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who [f]heed the words of this book. Worship God.”
        Revelation 22:8-9

        But the same book gives that worship (proskuneo, προσκυνεω ) to God the Father, and to the lamb. Revelation 5:11-14

        Notice the same phrases of worship and praise given to the one who sits on the throne in Revelation chapter 4 = God, the Father

        is also given to the lamb (Jesus, the Word, the eternal Son, the lamb who was slain, the one who was dead and is now alive forevermore – Revelation 1:18)

        9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

        11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
        Revelation 4:9-11

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      • Who wrote the Book of Revelation? Who is this John?

        Not the apostle.

        Liked by 2 people

      • “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

        Can a god receive anything when He is the perfection and fulfillment of all things?

        For to receive implies one is lacking in some quality or possession, and one who lacks cannot be self-sufficient.

        Is it not fair to assume that the Giver is greater in their giving and possession from the one who receives. The Giver does not need but already has what he needs and enough to give it out without suffering for doing so.

        The scholar in the article demonstrates Christ was integral to Christian worship but not its source; that is the Father, God, the One who gave Power and Wisdom to him and through him are those gifts distributed to human beings.

        The Prophet once said to tribes of Medina ‘Do you wish for something better?’ His offer was God without intermediary or tribal ownership; a gift without measure nor limitation. An apt proposal wouldn’t you agree?

        Liked by 4 people

      • Beautifully put patrobin.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You wrote: For to receive implies one is lacking in some quality or possession, and one who lacks cannot be self-sufficient.

        Does this apply to the Father (Revelation 4:11)?

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  6. Yes, it is the apostle John.
    The evidence is on our side for this.

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    • LOL hardly.

      The author names himself as “John”, but modern scholars consider it unlikely that the author of Revelation also wrote the Gospel of John. Pope Dionysius of Alexandria set out some of the evidence for this view as early as the second half of the third century, noting that the gospel and the epistles attributed to John, unlike Revelation, do not name their author, and that the Greek of the gospel is stylistically correct and elegant while that of Revelation is neither; some later scholars believe that the two books also have radical differences in theological perspective.

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      • Justin Martyr (died, 165 AD), Irenaeus (writings around 180- 202 AD), Melito of Sardis(writing around 165-180), and the Muratorian Canon (160-170 AD) are all earlier than Dionysius of Alexandria. (died in 264 AD)

        They, and many others testified that it was written by the apostle John.

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      • by diverting the subject to who wrote the book of Revelation, you, Paul Williams, are admitting that according to the verses I provided from the book of Revelation, the lamb (Jesus, the eternal Word and eternal Son, who died for sins and was raised ) and the Father are worshipped as God.

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      • The book was probably written by someone high on drugs. It does not claim apostolic authorship and many in the early church thought it unworthy to be included in the canon of Scripture.

        Their instincts were right.

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  7. Also, Papias (died, 130 AD) seems to; Tertullian (writing, around 190-220 AD), Hippolytus (215 AD), and Origen(250 AD), indicate it was the apostle John.

    “No New Testament book, concludes Gerhard Maier, has a stronger or earlier tradition about its authorship than does Revelation.”

    Gerhard Maier, Die Johannesoffenbarung und die Kirche, WUNT 25 (Tubigen: Mohr-Siebek, 1981, 107. (cited in Carson and Moo, Introduction to the NT, page 701)

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  8. Can a god receive anything when He is the perfection and fulfillment of all things?

    For to receive implies one is lacking in some quality or possession, and one who lacks cannot be self-sufficient.

    So, why does Allah also receive worship and demands it and salaat prayers 5 times a day, etc. ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • nice diversion Ken.

      Liked by 1 person

    • @ Ken

      Using that poor logic why did He need sacrifices in particular ways or the abundance of other rituals throughout the Pentateuch? Man, this is REALLY bad. You and Erasmus have both basically questioned why does God want us to show gratitude.

      Liked by 3 people

    • How pathetic, Ken!
      At least follow this logic in your bible
      “But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God.
      And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed ” Hebrews 7:6-7

      Liked by 2 people

    • People don’t worship Him with the idea of God gaining anything from it, we worship out of gratitude, love, and willful submission. It is we who gain, whether we worship or not, with life, health, sustenance from the ground and the sky.

      We human beings, therefore, need God to sustain us as well as to guide us toward how to best lead our lives. God, on the other hand, needs nothing:

      “Say: “Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) dominion: Nor (needs) He any to protect Him from humiliation: yea, magnify Him for His greatness and glory!” – 17:11

      Jesus, while being a great Prophet and Messiah, an exalted being by God still needed sustenance, life, and good health in order to complete his ministry. It is wrong to worship him in the place of the One who sustains him for he is not the greatest power but the Father who gave power and wisdom to him.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “People don’t worship Him with the idea of God gaining anything from it, we worship out of gratitude, love, and willful submission. It is we who gain, whether we worship or not, with life, health, sustenance from the ground and the sky.”
        Believe me, Ken knows this, but he just cannot accept the truth, so he tried desperately to avoid the implication of his nonsensical belief.

        Like

  9. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 81 (written around 150-160 AD)- “Revelation was ascribed to John, “one of the apostles of Christ”

    “And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.” (obvious reference to Revelation chapter 20)

    Like

  10. James Dunn: at the time of Jesus…prayers of adoration, of penitence and confession, of petition and intercession, all indicating the dependence of the inferior (creature) upon the all-powerful Creator, Saviour and Lord (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, page 30).

    Is James Dunn correct in the above affirmation?

    Like

  11. Ok. Thank you for your clarification. Since prayer at the time of Jesus was properly due unto the Creator (no one else) then all it would take is just one example from this era where the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of prayer to demonstrate that He is the Creator.

    Correct?

    Like

    • @ Marc

      No, one can easily just say (as we do) people had heretical beliefs about Jesus(as) and this spread like wildfire while people in Jerusalem (i.e the place he himself preached) did not believe he was God. No one denies people worshipped him but the point is there is a clear theological progression as the heretical beliefs won out. An example given by Paul of the blog is where “Mark” Jesus(as) clearly differentiates himself from God and so the story is altered by “Matt”:

      Mark
      17As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up and knelt before Him. “Good Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

      18“Why do you call Me good?” Jesus replied. “No one is good EXCEPT God alone…

      https://biblehub.com/bsb/mark/10.htm

      Matt
      16Just then, a man came up to Jesus and inquired, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain eternal life?”

      17“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” Jesus replied, “There is only One who is good…

      https://biblehub.com/bsb/matthew/19.htm

      This is one of the many examples in which later people exalted the prophet Jesus(as) above his station and made him God. So there’s no doubt that former pagans turned Christians worshipped Jesus(as), but that does not mean they were right or that’s what he taught.

      The blog post
      https://bloggingtheology.com/2019/11/20/marks-embarrassing-verse-about-jesus-that-matthew-felt-he-had-to-change/

      Like

      • Asking doesn’t necessitate a denial. If am in another country and a man meets me and claims that I am an American and if ask why he believes so it doesn’t have to mean I am denying it.
        From what I see in the NT, every author believed the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of worship so this does demonstrate that He is God.

        Like

    • @ Marc

      So I will breakdown your replies:

      1. One line of tradition
      Your entire argument is based first off based on one entire line of tradition. Paul or Paul’s students. The only possible book out of this is James and the theology is different. Bringing me to the next point.

      2. The authors of the NT books have different beliefs and NONE believed in the Trinity.
      Pretty obvious. The main text where you can pull any explicit divinity of Jesus(as) is the unknown author(s)of John. Even then he believes Jesus is a pre-existent divine being that is subservient to God.

      3. People worship something, therefore, a person taught this

      I’ve seen you in several post keep trying to argue people “worshipping” Jesus. Using your same reasoning why do you not say “lord” Barnabas or “lord” Paul as well? These people worshipped any and everything:

      11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices in the Lycaonian language: “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates, hoping to offer a sacrifice along with the crowds.

      14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul found out about this, they tore their clothes and rushed into the crowd, shouting, 15“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16In past generations, He let all nations go their own way. 17Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.”

      18Even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could hardly stop the crowds from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:11-18)

      So pause. You have a person who performs a miracle and so people start declaring them “god in human form”. This person straight up says “I am not God worship God” and these people reject that and continue trying to worship him. Oh but all of a sudden with Jesus(as) they got it…right…

      4. Mark

      I’m sorry you must not have understood what I meant with Mark let’s break it down:

      Mark
      17As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up and knelt before Him. “Good Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

      18“Why do you call ME good?” Jesus replied. “No one is good EXCEPT God alone…

      https://biblehub.com/bsb/mark/10.htm

      Jesus said why do you call me good when no one is good but God meaning he is not God. Your analogy has nothing to do with Jesus’s (as) reply.

      5. The people of Jerusalem

      Again significantly the place where Jesus(as) preached and where the Disciples were DID NOT BELIEVE he was God. That is huge. Worship the One who Jesus(as) worshipped.

      Like

  12. The difference with Jesus and the others you mentioned, Jesus is the proper recipient of worship. Every NT author agrees.
    When the Lord Jesus said no one is good but God He meant by calling me good or you calling me God? – He is not denying being good (that is your assumption). He is asking and asking does not necessitate a denial. Only God is good. In fact, the goodness of God is expressed in that He is absolutely holy (Revelation 15:4). Notice His holiness is linked with the worship that He alone deserves. Since the Lord Jesus is properly worshiped this demonstrates that He is absolutely holy (= God).

    Like

    • @ Marc

      Allow me to post my reply from the one blog post:

      “Jesus(as) denied being God. Saying: “Why do you call ME (i.e. Jesus) good? No ONE is good BUT (i.e except) God alone?

      Meaning:

      1. I am not “good” (i.e perfect)
      2. I am not God.

      Again common sense reading, if I said:

      “Atlas, why do you call me a scholar the only scholar here is QB”

      This means:

      1. I am denying being a scholar
      2. QB is the only scholar in the room and we are not the same level.

      No amount of verbal gymnastics will change a statement of Tawheed into Shirk.”

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Again, you are failing to take into account the fact that there is no denial taking place. This is something you are trying to impose on the text, but it won’t work.
    Only God is good = only God is absolutely holy.
    Revelation 15:4 links God’s absolute holiness to Him being worshiped. No one else should be worshiped because no one else is absolutely holy (= God).

    The Lord Jesus is properly worshiped, so therefore the Lord Jesus is absolutely holy (= God).

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    • @ Marc

      Are you serious right now? Read the text (emphasis mine)

      17As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up and knelt before Him. “GOOD Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

      18“Why do you call ME good?” Jesus replied. “No one is good EXCEPT God ALONE…

      The man said “GOOD teacher” (That’s Jesus)
      Jesus replied “Why do you call ME (that’s Jesus) good? No one is good but God alone”

      That is a denial of being good (and by extension being God) This is a basic 5th-grade sentence. “Matt” understood that which is why they changed it. On top of that, the PLACE he preached along with his brother denied him being God.

      Like

    • “Again, you are failing to take into account the fact that there is no denial taking place. This is something you are trying to impose on the text, but it won’t work.
      Only God is good = only God is absolutely holy.”

      and where does jesus say in the gospel of mark that he is “absolutely holy” ? you are making the man jesus into a unholy pagan

      Like

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