The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Dec 29, 2017

My favorite new book of 2016-2017

Although it's my job to read broadly in biblical studies to keep up with theological trends (the good, the bad, and the ugly), every once in a while a book comes along that actually changes how I teach, a book that causes me to focus on something that I had been neglecting before in my own theological reflection

Such is Larry Hurtado's Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016). Hurtado was most recently professor of New Testament Language at the University of Edinburgh (he retired in 2011). Destroyer of the gods is about what made Christianity stand out like a sore thumb and, ultimately, become the recipient of so much hatred in the Greco-Roman world. I highly recommend Destroyer of the gods as my "book of the year" (well, "book of the last two years").

Here, especially, is what Hurtado's book is helping me reflect on and stress more in my teaching:
1. First, Christianity's religious exclusivism was unique in the Greco-Roman world outside of Judaism itself (which got something of a "pass" from the Romans because it was tied to ethnicity). The Romans had no problem with the worship of Jesus, as odd as they might have considered it. The worship and reverence of Jesus alone, however, at the exclusion of all other gods and the Roman Emperor (and, for some, the goddess Roma) was unique, and caused hostility (imagine the Anatolian boy who comes home from a long trip, announces to his parents that he is a Christian and can no longer worship the local gods--the next earthquake that occurs will be blamed on him!). Indeed, this is something missionaries would do well to remember: our job is not tell people simply to trust in Jesus and worship the one true God. Rather, our job is to tell people to trust in/reverence Jesus and worship the one true God at the exclusion of all others (1Thess 1:9), whether they be the emperor, dead ancestors, spirits, or various deities. There can be no "plan B" for either faith or worship. Many young person in Asia even in this modern era has been forced to make that choice and lost their family as a result (but gained Jesus).

2. Secondly, Christianity quickly became a trans-ethnic religion, solidified as such once the Jerusalem Council decreed that the Torah was not a necessary element of Gentile Christianity (Acts 15). This threatened to "create a nation within a nation" (to quote Reinhard Feldmeier) which repulsed the inhabitants of the Roman Empire (thus, for example, Tacitus is able to call Christians "a class hated for their abominations"). To become a Christian was, often, to give up both one's family and one's ethnicity in favor of a "holy nation" linked together not by DNA or nationality but by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2).

Some quick theological reflection. Christianity is an "all-or-nothing" religion. If Jesus Christ cannot save me, I have no "plan B," no Buddha or dead ancestors or good works that might come through in the fourth quarter of my life. There is no back-up quarterback. Every one of us, then, has come to the point where we declare with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Christianity is not "Jesus + whatever" but rather "Jesus alone, without all others."
Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Sound like an interesting and challenging book. The concept of how Jesus is the exclusive "door" to salvation from our sin is a hard thing for many to accept.