In Appreciation of Larry Hurtado

I was saddened to hear the news of Larry Hurtado’s leukemia reactivating after having been in remission for 9 months. I pray his strength in the Lord as he explores whatever options for care that he has, but I wanted to take a moment to note my appreciation for him and his work.

It’s no secret that I’m a lover of books and that I have a decent sized personal library. But there was a time when my library consisted of a single KJV Bible, an NIV Bible, and a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. This was what I had for the first 3.5–4 years of my salvation. And then in 2006 I purchased Brenton’s Septuagint, a New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, and Simon Gathercole’s The Preexistent Son.

Letham and Gathercole were both springboards into various streams of scholarship in trinitarian theology and early Christology. I had been studying these doctrines in Scripture, researching them on the internet, and debating them with detractors in chatrooms but I hadn’t really been exposed to academic books on these subjects. And then on July 21, 2006 I printed out an article from a website called For an Answer by L. W. Hurtado. This article was entitled “What Do We Mean by ‘First-Century Jewish Monotheism’?.”

I gleaned a lot from this article while having no idea who its author was. And then in my reading of Letham and Gathercole I saw the name Larry Hurtado referenced several times throughout their books. I looked at their bibliographies and then took to Amazon. I purchased Larry W. Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity and gave it a careful and slow reading. This book would change the way I thought about, argued in favor of, and defended early Christology.

I proceeded to spend years getting my hands on all of the Hurtado resources that I could find. I have a folder on several hard drives (in the even that any one of them crashes) filled with articles that he has written and most of the books that he has authored (save a few of his more recent volumes) and have read them all with great profit.

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On three separate occasions I have emailed Professor Hurtado and three times he graciously responded. The first time was a question concerning a claim about Matthew 28:19 not being original. At the time he was preparing for a 3 week lecture trip to Australia and Singapore and passed my question along to Paul Foster who replied promptly. The second time was a note of appreciation, which I will reproduce along with his response below. The final time was to run a few of my disagreements with James McGrath’s The Only True God by him and see if they held weight (he thought that they did). But I’ve said all this to say that even being as big a name in the field as he was, he always took the time to offer a response to a nobody like me.

And while I don’t find Hurtado’s arguments as substantial now as I once did I still have the greatest appreciation for his work and the paths it led me down. My library grew by leaps and bounds from reading his footnotes and bibliographies. My thinking about the importance of actual real life worship practices wouldn’t be what it is without him. I’d take a lot more issue with his work these days than I did in those days but I’d still argue that it’s necessary reading and has to be dealt with by anyone talking about early Christology and Christian origins.

I will be praying for him and his family as he deals with his health issues and I invite you to join me in doing so.

– – –

Below is my email in appreciation of Prof. Hurtado and his response. I’ll note that he responded to me on July 4, which is my birthday.

July 3, 2009, 1:59 PM

Hi Prof. Hurtado,

My name is Nick Norelli and I’ve emailed you a couple of times in the past to ask questions and you’ve always graciously responded; for that I am thankful.  I was writing now, not to ask any questions, but rather to express my appreciation for your work.

Having come to Christ in mid-2002 in a small Pentecostal church in New Jersey I wasn’t immediately exposed to works of scholarship.  I was of the ilk who thought that the best that Christianity had to offer could be found on the Trinity Broadcastng Network with the likes of Benny Hinn and T. D. Jakes.  It wasn’t until I really got interested in learning more about the doctrine of the Trinity that I was exposed to what I’d consider ‘real’ scholarship.  I noticed your works One God, One Lord and Lord Jesus Christ cited in the footnotes and bibliographies to the books I had been reading so I dutifully got a copy of LJC.  It was life changing in terms of the way I argued for a divine Christology and understood the New Testament.  It’s also the book that got me interested in Biblical studies as much as I was interested in theology.  And I also credit LJC with giving me an appreciation for historical inquiry into Christian origins.

Since then I’ve tried to get my hands on everything that you’ve written (articles and books) and I can’t tell you how encouraged I’ve been by your work.  I consider you the top scholar in the field, and I do so after having read the work of many of your peers.  I just wanted to write this note to let you know how appreciative I am for all that you’ve done for me without even knowing it.  May God continue to bless you and your work.

All the best,

Nick Norelli
https://rdtwot.wordpress.com

– – –

July 4, 2009, 7:41 AM

Dear Mr. Norelli,

I’m very grateful for your taking the effort to send me your  encouraging words.  It is very heartening for a scholar to be read at all, and for me especially so by readers beyond one’s circle of fellow academics.  It is even more encouraging that my works communicate clearly and effectively to you and others.

So, thank you again for your encouragement.  It is really appreciated.

Best wishes,
Larry Hurtado

9 thoughts on “In Appreciation of Larry Hurtado

  1. Geoff: I was never on board with his acceptance of the Community Hypothesis for the Gospels. I’ve also come to view his overall argument as anemic in the sense that it doesn’t really get us anything other than an exalted man. By focusing on cultic devotion we see that Jesus was the recipient of cultic devotion but this was done only because the early Church believed that God had directed them to worship Jesus in this way. It’s a “mutation” to use one of his older phrases. But that doesn’t get us to a divine Christ. It gets us an exalted man and really nothing more.

    Also, by calling this a “mutation” it suggests that the worship Jesus received wasn’t the same worship that God received. In the end, I’ve seen Unitarians appropriate his work to bolster their arguments and I can’t really fault them for doing so since it can be used in support of some of their beliefs.

    I’d also note that I think cultic devotion is one piece of a larger puzzle. Hurtado has never been keen to explore this larger puzzle and was critical of Tilling when he did. I found his critique to be lacking in substance.

    Derek: Amen!

  2. That all makes sense. I felt that the main takeaway from his big book was basically that the literary forms in the NT contain exactly what you said, some form of cultic devotion to an exalted man (which it does and then some!) and I found devotion to Jesus as an exalted man a useful way to understand how to worship the God-man himself in his sacred humanity.
    In other words, Hurtado didn’t help me see the divinity of Christ in Scripture, w.

  3. But the narrative of Jesus being exalted as the second Adam and the object of kingly allegiance. So I think his work helped me see the narrative of humanity of Christ more. So it was spiritually rather than academically formative.

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