Gods and the One G-d

Robert Grant, Westminster, 1986, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        I find this older book continually useful in my current seminary teaching as we look at biblical themes in the 21st century. Grant sketches early Christianity and provides historical data about other religions and their theological ideas. This results in a lively summary of what the concept of G-d was in the first two centuries of the church, the concept of G-d and of Jesus as the early church sought to articulate the defining elements of G-d and of the nature of Jesus.

        Acts provides a wide geographical range of the material and the process that throughout the eastern Mediterranean world dealt with the picture of paganism in conflict with Christianity. (Grant could have given a little more detail of the conversation of faith in terms of the content of the sermons.)

        Grant writes clearly of the attraction Paul’s readers have of the gods of paganism, and sketches what ordinary people thought the gods did to humans (p 57). Gods had specialized functions (Athena taught the arts, Apollo taught divination (in fact, divination) predicting the future, was a key characteristic of the gods.

        Two chapters are given to the philosophical doctrines of G-d (in the pagan and in the Jewish-Christian writings). And Grant looks at early Christian theology (the questions), at the beginnings of Christology, at the contributions of Paul, at the contribution of other early theologians. One chapter treats the Holy Spirit.

        Other religions had no creeds, no councils with debates over philosophical theology. Christianity took the faith traditional in the second century and then the ’logical implications of philosophy were worked out on the basis of the leading philosophers’ (p 174).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.