Odd observations for Easter: “God” in the NT

Now would you kindly think nothing odd
About my use of quotes around “God.”

British writer Lynne Truss has aptly proclaimed that “proper punctuation is …  the sign of clear thinking.”  I think I was thinking clearly (this time, at least) when I put quotation marks around “God” in the title of this post.  Here, “God” is a word used as a word, and that usage needs quotation marks, as my father the English teacher taught me.  (I hope that no one clicked out of this post because s/he thought I was going pantheistic or was unsure about whether God figures in prominently in the NT.  Although I will never comprehend God, I don’t think I’m too confused about the referent of the word “God” in the NT.)

Now, to the point and to my higher purpose:  to draw attention to the use of the word “God” in the pages of our New Testaments, following Larry Hurtado, a noted academic and specialist in Christian origins and texts.  Hurtado notes,

The great NT scholar, Nils Dahl, famously wrote an article on “the neglected factor in NT theology,” which was God!  He acutely observed that there were oodles of books on almost every other topic in the NT, but a scant number on “God.”

How interesting that God would be neglected in New Testament theology studies!  In a book of his own, Hurtado attempted to “map the contours” of “God discourse.”  In other words, he inquired how the texts we have appear to refer to God—in the “world full of gods” of the 1st century CE.  As a good biblical and historical scholar, he would attempt to avoid theological presuppositions and worrying about ramifications of anything he might uncover, simply investigating the texts.  In the next excerpt, on one level, Hurtado does deal in theology, but he is primarily making observations based on the textual evidence.

I judge that the discourse about “God” in the NT is “triadic” shaped, with “God” (often further specified as “Father”), Jesus, and the Spirit all prominent.  More specifically, I contend that in the NT writings “God” is so closely linked with Jesus that any adequate discourse about “God” must include adequate reference to Jesus.

I myself don’t find the Spirit nearly as prominent as the other two (see word counts in footnote below¹), or quite as delineated as most find them, although the Spirit is present.  Perhaps Hurtado’s sense of the relative weight of certain passages comes into play here.  The notion that Jesus shares in “divine glory and rule” surely connects to the Kingdom (kingship) of God as well as to the distinctly Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is God.  While the Holy Spirit of God acts in Acts and appears elsewhere, the story are more about Jesus as teacher, deliverer, and risen Lord and King.

Also, remarkably, the divine Spirit “of God” (or “Holy Spirit”) in some texts is now also identified with reference to Jesus (e.g., Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Acts 16:7).  This must surely be a consequence of the NT claim that God has exalted Jesus to share in divine glory and rule.

The discourse about “God” in the NT is triadic in shape, but, interestingly, the worship-pattern (emph. mine  -bc) is dyadic.  That is, “God” and Jesus are invoked, prayed to, reverenced in worship, etc., whereas the Spirit doesn’t figure in the same way.  – L. Hurtado

I’ll bet oodles of evangelical Christians would be surprised at the “dyadic” bit in the last paragraph.  I’m not.  To date, my textual examination in this sphere has not been systematic or in any way scientific, but I’ve found the same absence of examples and suggestions of Spirit-worship.  Years ago, I stopped singing a couple of 3rd stanzas such as “Spirit, We Love You; we worship and adore You.”  I do not seek to downplay the action of God’s Spirit in the world as portrayed in Acts and other places; on the other hand, I do wish to shine a spotlight here on the lack of what we could have been termed a “triadic worship-pattern.”

Find Hurtado’s complete post here, and please feel free to comment here (or there).

Today, tomorrow (Easter Sunday), and beyond, consider Jesus’ willing, intentional, God-ordained sacrifice.  Then consider that God is presented as having raised Jesus, (see Hurtado’s prior post Jesus’ Resurrection: Act of God).  May we worship God the Father and God the Son, all the while seeing such expressions as “Spirit of God,” “Holy Spirit,” and “Spirit of Christ” with new clarity.


¹ Word counts in the NT (based on Greek root-word searches, except where noted):

God—1321
Father—436
Son of God—122
Jesus—911
Christ—536
Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus—224 (Gk. phrase searches)

Total Father/Jesus/Son/Christ references:  >3,200

———–
Spirit (includes other uses of pneuma as breath, wind, etc.)—408
Holy Spirit—23
Spirit of God—3
Spirit of Christ—2
Spirit of His Son—1
Spirit of Jesus (Christ)—2
Spirit of (your) Father—1

Total # of Spirit references:  430 (at least seven of which refer to breath or wind, not deity)

Based on the above, most Christians would assume that there are as many as 415 instances of “Spirit” that refer to a 3rd God-being.  (I do not assume that.)  See for example material presented here:

How would one describe the Indescribable?

Garrett et al on “trinity”

Software will find instances of words near other words.  These stats are interesting, but I don’t suggest that they are the only way to “slice and dice” the verbiage:

  • “Spirit” NEAR (“God” OR “Holy” OR “Jesus” OR “Christ”)—366
  • (“Jesus” OR “Son” OR “Christ”) NEAR “Spirit”—101
  • (“Father” OR “God”) NEAR “Spirit”—150

One must decide for oneself how many different entities are referred to in some passages.  In any event, the “Spirit” references appear far less frequently than Father or Son/Jesus/Christ references.

Please share your thoughts. I read every comment.

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