Tabor Bookshelf: Did the Early Christians Believe that Jesus was God?

The question of how the earliest followers of Jesus viewed Jesus as well as the “God of Jesus,”–that is the One God so central to most forms of Judaism, is a complex one that has been explored extensively in the field of New Testament and Christian Origins studies. I highly recommend James F. McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (University of Illinois Press, 2000). (Kindle link). as a place to begin a solid study of these issues–usually categorized under the heading of “Christology.”

This little book of 156pp. is one of the most valuable I have read on the all important question of whether and to what extent Christians abandoned the idea of the “One God” of the Hebrew Bible in viewing Jesus as divine (“Son of God” “God in the flesh” or “Exalted Lord in heaven”)–however that was defined. McGrath dives deeply into all the main issues on this question, covering the New Testament writings (Gospels, Paul, Revelation), as well as the Jewish views of monotheism in the late 2nd Temple period. He concludes with the question of whether it was the views of Jesus that his followers held that let to the “parting of the ways” between early Christians and Jews–or whether there were other factors that proved more decisive in the break between these sister faiths. The book is well written, clear, and fully documented with academic source notes and a very complete bibliography. It is a marvelous read, one that everyone interested in how Christianity emerged from its Jewish origins during the first hundred years.

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