I’ve been studying the doctrine of the Trinity for two plus years. I’m obsessed with it. Can’t imagine a more engaging subject. It’s a topic that overlaps many disciplines – patristic studies, church history, biblical theology, dogmatics and philosophy. I love it. It’s a challenge.
My pursuit of the Trinity has included authors as diverse as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, GNaz, Dale Tuggy, Fred Sanders, James White, James Anderson, Thomas McCall, Scott Swain, William Hasker, Keith Ward, Luke Stamps, Larry Hurtado, Michael Heiser, Alan Segal, Richard Bauckham, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Michael Rea, Sarah Coakley, George Karamanolis, Kavin Rowe, WLC, and more.
To that end, I recently read an article in the March 2017 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Society. The article is written by Scott Swain, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. The title: “The Bible and the Trinity in Recent Thought: Review, Analysis, and Constructive Proposal”.
In a section dealing with “the mode of the Trinity’s presence in the Bible,” Swain makes this point:
The Trinity does not present himself to us in Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Some, of course, claim this as evidence that the Trinity does not present himself to us in any form in the Bible and that the church’s Trinitarian dogma is the product of later, extrabiblical influences on its thinking, life, and liturgy. Wilhelm Bousset argued that it was only when the church had forgotten its Jewish monotheistic roots that it could, under the influences of its Hellenistic context, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. The church’s Trinitarian dogma, according to this view, is “a work of the Greek Spirit on the soil of the Gospel,” to use Adolf Von Harnack’s famous description. Martin Hengel and others have undermined Bousset’s sharp distinction between an early Palestinian form of Christianity and a later Hellenized form.
Swain then cites scholars Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado as having “further discredited” Bousset’s view:
Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, representatives of what Hengel dubbed the “new history of religions school,” have further discredited Bousset’s theory, demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel.
What concerns me here is Swain’s representation of Larry Hurtado’s work. Along with Bauckham, Swain cites Hurtado as, “demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. (I’m not dealing here with Swain’s larger point about the work of Bousset).
At the time, this representation of Hurtado struck me as wrong. I’ve read a number of his books, scores of his blog posts, and listened to him multiple times on assorted podcasts. I was certain he never endorsed or espoused this “Jesus is God” view in his published work.
But to be sure, I decided to go straight to the source – Hurtado himself. I contacted him with the following question:
I just read in the March issue of JETS a Scott Swain article. He cites you as demonstrating, and I quote, “that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. Now, unless I’m mistaken, I’ve never read or heard you make such a claim. Have you ever claimed this in your writings? If so, where? I need to reread the appropriate sections if I have overlooked this.
Hurtado did not disappoint. His answer to my question was clear and precise:
Corby: I too don’t recall making the claim that the early church identified Jesus “as the one true God of Israel.” I’ve noted that the earliest evidence shows the glorified/risen Jesus treated as uniquely linked with God, and as sharing the divine throne, divine name and glory, but also regularly distinguished from “God”. The application of OT “YHWH texts” to Jesus is remarkable (as David Capes showed in his book on the topic). But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement that you cite.
Hurtado confirmed my suspicions.
But more than that, he actually undercuts the “Jesus as God” point Swain attributes to Hurtado. Hurtado says, “But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement you cite”. What statement? Jesus is identified “as the one true God of Israel”.
Here is my concern: It appears to me that a highly respected scholar in Trinitarian studies misrepresented the work of another scholar in order to give an additional appearance of credibility to his argument. This is a serious problem.
At this point in the story, I decided to contact Scott Swain directly. He was gracious enough to private message with me and hear my concerns. He disagreed with my take on his use of Hurtado. And yes, I sent him Hurtado’s response.
I pressed Swain further on the issue and he ended the conversation. I did have a glimmer of hope, however. He said he would seek the opinion of Hurtado directly. I asked him to keep me in the loop. If I am wrong on this, I want to know. I never heard back from him.
Did Swain misrepresent Hurtado? If you think he did, how would you characterize the severity of Swain’s misrepresentation? If you think he didn’t, where have I gone wrong?