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.


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

6 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.)


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


  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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