Tag Archives: Did the first christians worship jesus?

Musical Jesus: Jesus is the Answer by Michael W. Smith

So to kick off this post series, I thought I’d start with a campy, crowd favorite! Many (both christian & non-christian) alike mock this song for how unapologetically cheesy it comes across. The charismatic melismas and ad-libs, the piano, the quintessential choir, and the leading “trustworthy-white-male-voice” all combine to make this song sound almost like a joke or a mockery of Christian musical worship. Given all this, however – there’s something strangely comforting about this song, I like it! Maybe I have a penchant for liking corny things? But, I’m not sure I could even say that… after over 3 years of being exposed to some of the corniest white Christian rock songs in the world through campus ministries, I do have an aversion to corny things. In my experience, many of the songs that were selected (by a mostly white) musical worship team featured essentially, exclusively white musicians whose songs tended to be so “poetic” and esoteric that it would come across as pretentious and “hipster” (a la the hipster christianity wave)- I could give countless examples, but for starters , here’s an excerpt  of the lyrics of the song “He is Jealous for Me”: ( David Crowder Band)

“He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me”


Read more: David Crowder [editor’s note: originally written by John Mark McMillan] – How He Loves Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

Now, I’ve heard from a friend of mine who shares in the disdain for this song that it was written at a point of heavy pain and grief over the lost of a loved one and so this was the writer’s prayer/response to that. When thought of in this light, it’s not so bad but when sung as an anthem of discipleship for worship…it’s a bit awkward and I personally don’t feel the strong emotional reaction that I’m sure simply reading the song in context of tragedy might.

 

So, I say all this to say that, even in all of its campy, “corny-ness” ( which just SCREAMS late 80s/ early 90s evangelical revival..) I adore it! It makes me laugh and connects with me on a deep level at the same time. Kind of like the guy who goes out of his way to impress a girl (even if it’s excrutiatingly …corny – for lack of a better word..) , sometimes the girl can’t help but be won over by the guy putting himself out there. That’s essentially what this song reminds me of. The artists are putting themselves out there and when I listen , they’re singing with such shameless conviction that Jesus really is kind of a big deal… He’s the answer! There’s just something about this song that connects me to when I first realized the Good News. So, secretly…(or maybe not so much now..) it’s one of my favorite worship tunes, but what do you think?

(Lyrics in vid)

P.S. there’s also this version…

 

 

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? (ch. 2 – practice of worship)

In his second chapter on “Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?”, Dunn moves from studying the language of worship as applied (or not) to Jesus, and turns to exploring the act of worship in practice. The four categories Dunn explores are Prayer, Hymns and songs, devotion of sacred space/time, and sacrifice. Dunn explains that the actual practice of worship variously included these four, and goes on to check the evidence as to whether or not these were applied to Jesus.

Prayer – briefly, the word most used in the NT for prayer is proseuchesthai. It has the literal meaning of praying, as to God. It is used only of God. It is not used of Jesus. In fact, none of the words that are used exclusively for prayer are ever used to refer to praying to Jesus.

The words that are used in reference to Jesus are the words that mean asking. Many times we find persons in the new testament asking Jesus for things, or being told to.

While praying to Jesus in the strictest sense in not attested to, the scripture speaks much of praying through, or in the name of, Jesus.

Hymns/songs – While Christ is the focus and the subject of many hymns in the NT, he is not ever sung to. With a caveat, discussed in a moment. It is important to note that while Christ is celebrated in song, he is never addressed by them. They are thanking God for God’s work in Christ, not thanking Christ. The exception is in Revelation, where the Lamb is the receiver of the praise. This song alone, however, is dubious evidence, given the context to make a dent in the weight of evidence.

Sacred space/time – this is hard to address. First, the temple and the synagogues were the sacred spaces for YHWH. To what extent would worship of Jesus be differentiated from these? Well, according to Dunn, worship through Jesus, or worship of God in Jesus, transcended place, or rather, made every place the believer was, sacred. This sort of muddies the water of cultic worship, because this is unprecedented and innovative. No conclusive evidence.

Sacrifice – almost all cultic worship in antiquity involved sacrifice of some kind. It is important to note, even if not completely relevant for our discussion, that even animal sacrifice was not wanton killing. The meat was used to feed people, so while the meat was eaten, the spectacle was observed for religious effect.

at any rate, the early Christians had a love/hate relationship with sacrifice. On one hand, Dunn points out that the earliest Christians participated in cultic sacrifices, even after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus himself, while on earth, did as well. Nevertheless, there was an understanding that, even early on, Jesus had somehow replaced and superseded any other sacrifice. In this respect, Jesus was the one sacrificed, not the one sacrificed to.
So what is the evidence in this chapter?

Jesus was not prayed to, but prayed through. Jesus was also entreated and asked.

Jesus was not sung to*, but he was the topic and occasion of hymns.

Jesus did not have a sacred space devoted to him, but he freed the worship of God from time and place.

Jesus did not have anyone sacrifice to him, but instead was the sacrifice to God.
Once again, Dunn, and I find his thought compelling, suggests that Jesus was not worshiped as we think of worship, but to leave it there does huge disservice to the NT evidence. There is more to this Jesus than, “he was not worshiped”. The Ebionites Got Jesus wrong, and it seems likely that Chalcedon might have as well…

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? (ch. 1 – language of worship)

The first chapter of Dunn’s book, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? starts the book off by taking a look at all of the words that the scripture uses in reference to worship. Many will find this to be tedious, but it is here that we can see that this work has obviously been neglected over the last 2 millennia, because even those of us who have been around Christian churches, the Christian academy, and Christian media will note that this line of research is one that is rarely, if ever discussed.

Dunn does a fantastic job of pointing out that the singular word that the english language has for worship does a poor job of communicating the breadth of the multiple terms used for “worship” in NT Greek. The first and most common of these is proskynein. Proskynein carries the idea of bowing down before a superior. Of course, this is used many times for God in the NT, but it is also used many times for being other than God. Examples of those that are bowed down to in this way are Esau, Joseph, King David, and messengers from God. As a result, the use of proskynein is not particularly helpful in discovering whether or not early Christians worshiped Jesus as God.

Dunn lists other words for worship, but the one of most interest is latreuein. Latreuein communicates “cultic” or religious service. Outside of what is clearly false worship, this word is used exclusively to God. It is never used in the NT to refer to Jesus.

Dunn communicates something further however. He notes that Jesus is called upon is some sort of prayer. He is appealed to for help, and is trusted as being able to answer.

The word for “praise” that is exclusive to God in the NT is never used of Jesus.

Jesus seems to never be referred to as the source of glory (God is the source), but is said to share it.

In all of these things, and in the others that Dunn mentions in this chapter, the answer of whether or not Jesus is worshiped is both yes and no. Is Jesus prayed to? Yes. Bowed down to? Yes. Share in God’s glory? Yes. But is Jesus served as God? No. Is Jesus the source of Glory? No. Is Jesus praised as God? No.

It seems to me after the review of this chapter that Jesus is certainly not worshiped as God, but certainly fits into a role that no other human has ever fit into. It appears, as Dunn points out, that Jesus is a vehicle through which, the first Christians worshiped God, and without which, christian worship would have been impossible.

There is more to say on this, and Dunn continues the pursuit of this question, as will we, when we review chapter 2. What do you think so far?