Tag Archives: primitive Christianity

Professor April DeConick On Studying The Transgressors

OK, I freely admit that football season here in the states has slowed down my progress on 1 Timothy.

In one sense, this is good. It takes time to think through the project and come up with more questions to ask and more options to consider.

As an aside, I happened to listen to a video today and just had to post up the quote because it seems to apply to the 1 Timothy study quite well!

Starting at about 8:29  in the video, Professor DeConick states that she likes to study “the transgressors”…those “on the edges” and states that one of her professors told her,
“If you want to understand the really early traditions look at the people on the edges about a hundred years later because as the tradition norms, as it becomes more normal and less radical, those radical people in the beginning are pushed toward the outside and so are their ideas.”
Further, she asks, “Why did they become outsiders? Because at some point they were insiders.”
Very good questions to ask in an examination of a letter that appears to have been a power play to create just such an insider/outsider division.
A little something to tease the mind and consider as we look at the early church, who was in, who was out, etc…
You can peruse her most excellent site direct at:  AprilDeConick.com
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Paul and the Pastorals – J. R. Daniel Kirk Responds

I just saw this today while perusing J. R. Daniel Kirk’s site Storied Theology (one of my favorite blogs by the way) and thought it appropriate to post up since I am in the midst of this topic myself.

His take on it here is brief, but he makes a few really good points on both the rationale and methodology behind even asking such a question – Did Paul write Timothy/Titus? – and the reasons why he came to the conclusion that Paul did not.

This is a much bigger study than I originally anticipated, but has been very insightful and has challenged me in a number of ways.

So, since some of my readers are waiting for more on this from me, I thought this post might get some thoughts flowing.

Cheers!

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God, Gentiles and Grace – On the Essence of the Inclusion Debate

Capernaum synagogue

Image via Wikipedia

I recently heard Alistair Begg give an excellent summary (found here, about 17 minutes into the broadcast) of one of Jesus’ most compelling confrontations.

The text at hand is Luke 4:14-30:

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[f]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

23 Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”

28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

Why were those in the synagogue so angry?

It is here that Alistair gives the following maxim (in a paraphrase):

The salvation which Jesus proclaimed they [the Gentiles] need, but don’t deserve.

and

The salvation which Jesus proclaims we [the Jews] deserve, but do not need.

Brilliant!  I am not sure if this is his own idea or if it has been passed down, but this is the essence of one of the primary early church debates – How do the Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation.

The legalists knew the Gentiles needed the One True God, but could not comprehend them receiving it simply by faith.  Surely, they must conform…look, walk and talk like us.

The legalists also knew that Jesus’ teachings bothered them.  They were just too easy, too open compared to what they knew the religious life to be.

As a result, they believed that they deserved what Jesus was offering, but did not want it as he presented it.

Alistair Begg continues by making the comparison with modern Christians:

Surely those outside the church need Jesus, but they don’t deserve it…just look at how they live.

We Christians deserve salvation, look how obedient we have been!  We just want it to look like something we would design…a nice orderly, religion that can be left at church on Sundays.

I thought this to be quite a good, though basic, summary of one of the earliest debates among the church – that of inclusion of “outsiders” and how that works out in practice.

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How did the church in China grow from 2 million to 120 million in 60 years?

Great new video posted on the Verge Network featuring Alan Hirsch giving a workshop on Organic Systems.

He attributes the growth to the lack of a centralized and defined leadership.  The exponential growth is a direct result of an organic system:

Everyone gets to play…everyone.  And we’ve locked all that up because we’ve professionalized the ministry.

He goes on to discuss the negative effects of ordination and the clergy/laity distinction:

If I were the Devil and I wanted to strike a real blow at the people movement (the exponential growth) one of the best ways to do it would be to create a clergy class and a laity class.

I couldn’t agree more!

On the positive side, he presses into the early church model of everyone serving as they are gifted as found in Ephesians 4:

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it[a] says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]

9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I agree with Hirsch that one cannot find a developed/centralized leadership expressed in the New Testament and that is why there was such success in the beginning years of the church.

Conversely, the church, especially in the West has become almost universally stagnant in its most recognized and accepted form.

It is certainly refreshing to see so many people interested in moving up and out of the current and ill-fated systems of programmatic church for the real life seen not only in the New Testament, but clearly in China, India and many other parts of the world.

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Should Churches Burn Qurans??? (Or Any Books For That Matter!)

fahrenheit burn

Image by mrtwism via Flickr

In a word and quite simply, no.

But just when we thought this rediculousness went away, now there is another (infamous) church vowing to actually carry it out.

My first thoughts on this go back to a quite unhealthy trend that I have seen in many American churches.  A belief that somehow unites church and state to the point where pastors think government should look and act more like a theocracy, as though the government should act as a church itself.

It surfaces here quite well.  For, Pastor Terry Jones’ original intent was to burn Qurans to “send a warning.”

Now, what kind of warning can a small church in Florida send?  Certainly nothing that would have any lasting change for the good.  That is why I say leave the heavy lifting (the “warnings”) to the government and the politicians that represent us as Americans.

What the church is called to do is to love their enemies – unto death if necessary.  This is clearly the model Jesus left.

Now, on a practical level, is there anywhere in the New Testament that we see books being burned by Christians?

Yes, indeed there is!  Acts 19:11-20.

Form here on out, since the content is so good, I will give credit to the STR Blog where they quote Tony Reinke on the subject:

The Bible, as far as I can tell, mentions one account where religious texts are thrown to the flames (Acts 19:11-20). On the heels of the great work of God in Ephesus, the people had come to fear God and to trust in the Savior. As a result, “a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (v. 19). In modern terms they ignited a bonfire using very expensive magic books….

From this account here are six points to ponder:

1. The Ephesian people burned their own books. These new believers renounced their past. This was not an act of Christians barging into homes to ransack libraries for kindling, or weeding out the public library, or buying up all available copies from the local bookshop. They gathered the valuable books from their own houses.

2. No Christian leader encouraged the book burning. At least the text doesn’t say it. Or would have been better for the books to be sold and the money given to the Apostolic ministry? Perish the thought. There there is no indication that Paul advised the people to burn (or sell) their occultist books.

3. The books posed no threat to the gospel. The gospel overcame the magic power of the books. The gospel is like a hurricane and nothing will stop its wind, certainly not a book of demonic spells.

4. God’s display of power convinced the people that their books were worthless. There was no need to address the value of the magic books directly. Once God’s power and his gospel were seen in the city, the matter was settled.

5. The book burning was a display of godly sorrow. The recently converted Christians wanted to confess their sin before “all.” The high value of the books (50,000 days wages worth!) made a strong statement. It was an act of personal sorrow for their own sin.

6. The burning illustrated the victory of the gospel. The magic books were burned because the gospel was spreading like wildfire: “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (v. 20).

These six points should make us very hesitant about burning other people’s religious books.

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Douglas Campbell, Stephen Colbert and Katy Perry – Romans 1:18-32

So, what do Douglas Campbell, Stephen Colbert and Katy Perry have in common?  Read on and find out!

In Douglas Campbell’s book The Deliverance of God, one of the main propositions asserted is that in Romans 1:18-32, Paul is using a rhetorical device called “speech-in-character” or prosopopoeia – προσωποποιία (pgs 532-33) allowing Paul to create an opposing case in order to invalidate it and reveal the veracity of his own teaching.

Since many people, even in academic circles, are unfamiliar with this rhetorical device, Campbell goes to great lengths to explain and inform the reader just how effective this tactic could be when deployed in a New Testament letter.

The ramifications of this are incredibly significant.  In short, if Paul’s teaching is not present in verses 18-32 but it is instead something that Paul is refuting, then false teaching has been passed off as truth.  I will address the myriad of effects that this could cause in later posts.

I believe that Campbell makes a very strong case that Paul was using “speech-in-character” in Romans 1:18-32.  But I had a couple questions and wanted to dig a bit further, so I wrote to him in July of 2010 and asked the following questions.  He was kind enough to reply and also to give me permission to post up his responses here on my blog.

My questions centered around the historical interpretation of Romans.  Why wasn’t the correct interpretation passed down generation to generation in the church?  Why did the shift in interpretation occur?  To that, Campbell answered:

I think the shift happened as soon as the original situation was lost, when all the cues in context were lost. It’s a bit like watching a Stephen Colbert episode without knowing all about the politicians and issues that he’s making fun of. Satirical and ironic texts are very much creatures of the moment, and hence vulnerable to their loss of immediate context.

The church also didn’t generally pay much attention to contingency; this has only been recovered in the modern period.

The church has also, unfortunately, often had a theological viewpoint closer to Paul’s opponents than to Paul. Not all of the church, but a sizable chunk. So they wouldn’t detect a problem beginning with a harsh foundationalism. Sad but true. And this applies to certain Reformation readings as much as to certain Patristic and Catholic readings. The struggle for grace and against conditionality has gone on in every major church tradition right back to the inception of the church I fear. Paul understood grace, like Augustine, because he’d had a very very big involvement with sin. “He who has been forgiven much loves much.”

So, are you saying that the cues for any given document could be lost, yet the practice of προσοποποιια could continue and be recognized in later documents? (ie Origen’s responses to Celsus in The True Discourse)

You should be able to reconstruct prosopopoiia in a later historical critical reading. Also any irony or satire.

But prosopopoiia wouldn’t necessarily be coterminous with a local satirical target. Justin and Origen both wrote more generic texts than a Pauline letter.

It makes good sense to me that very early on the church lost Paul’s intent in Romans 1:18-32.

Consider that the use of the New Testament writings changed soon after their immediate use.  Romans for example was written specifically to the churches in Rome with a specific purpose in mind.  Yet, just a few generations later, that same letter was handled more like a theological reference as the churches began to universalize and solidify their beliefs and teachings, especially in refutation of error.  As such, much of the original intent and purpose was lost and the letter was read straight through as the teachings of Paul, and therefore the inspired Word of God.

The $20,000.00 question, then, is how does Campbell’s suggested reading affect a view of the book of Romans as the Word of God?  I do not see how it would change that in the least.  The only difference is that we would recognize that Romans 1:18-32 is a bad example of preaching, as the context or Romans 2-4 clearly reveals.

To that I say good riddance!  Seriously, take a look at this church billboard.  A modern-day manifestation straight out of Romans 1:18-32!  And we wonder how to be more effective at outreach…but that’s another post entirely.

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Rereading Paul – Romans 1-4

In The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, Douglas Campbell proposes a rereading and thus a new interpretation of Romans 1-4.

In his book, Campbell reveals 56 problems with what he calls “the conventional reading” that essentially define the standard historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith.  He makes more than a plausible case that his reading makes good sense and virtually nullifies the problems encountered in the conventional reading.

In short (very short, as Campbell’s book is 1,218 pages with over 200 of those pages being end notes) he believes that Paul is refuting a false teacher who has possibly already been through Rome or is on the way.  Paul cannot immediately make it to Rome, and as such crafts an incredibly effective letter employing some of the best rhetorical skills available.

As such, after a brief introduction, Paul begins with a parody or “speech-in-character” (Greek  προσωποποιία)of “the Teacher” a well-known and employed rhetorical device.  The Roman church would have recognized the shift in character as the letter was read to them and readily sensed the tension between Paul and the Teacher.  This sets the stage for the Roman Christians, as they have not yet met Paul, and perhaps have not yet met the Teacher soon to arrive.

In beginning Romans this way, Paul can deal with the Teacher on his terms, under his controlled medium of writing, without fear of jeopardizing his own reputation by simply speaking negatively about his opponent.

So, here is a basic outline of Romans 1-4 as proposed by Campbell:

  • Introduction (1:1-15)
  • Transition to body of letter (1:16-17)
  • The Teacher’s Rhetorical opening (1:18-32) (The Teacher speaks in parody)
  • Paul’s universalization (2:1-8) (Paul’s response – Round 1)
  • Awkward implications for the Teacher (2:9-29) (Paul – Round 2)
  • The taming of the Teacher (3:1-20) (Paul – Round 3)
  • Atonement and justification (3:21-26)
  • Reconsider our forefather (3:27-4:25)

In comparison, here is how the conventional reading plays out:

  • Introduction(1:1-15)
  • Description of the solution in thesis (1:16-17)
  • Statement of the problem (1:18-3:20)
  • Description of the solution in thesis (3:21-31)
  • Authoritative scriptural attestation to that solution (4:1-25)
  • Description of the solution in thesis (4:25)

It should be made clear that Paul views the Teacher’s gospel as false and antithetical to the gospel he preaches.  He believes it to be so dangerous that he sends this letter as a preemptive strike to soften the ground among the church in Rome until he can arrive hoping that they not buy into this false teaching.

As such, there is a major paradigm shift in attributing Romans 1:18-32 to the gospel of a false teacher!

Indeed, many in the Protestant or Evangelical camp believe these verses to be some of Paul’s best and most definitive teaching.

There is much more that could be written and discussed on this, and I will have more posts developing these ideas.

I would like to see what your initial thoughts and reactions are to this interpretation.  I ask you to read through Romans in your Bible and consider if it makes sense.

As usual, comments, critiques, concerns and cheers are all anticipated and accepted!

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Early Church In The New Testament And Apostolic Fathers

Just came across a fellow blogger’s interview with Dan Wallace.

In asking Dan what some of the biggest trends in NT studies might be over the next decade or so, I found this quote interesting:

“There are also key areas in NT study that are heating up, issues that need to be honestly examined in the next couple of decades by all sides. Among these are the relation of the Apostolic Fathers to the NT (in terms of quotations from the NT, emerging canon consciousness, ecclesiological developments, the Fathers’ view of grace, and whether the AF and the NT reflect the earliest form of Christianity or just that form that became the dominant one).” (Emphasis mine)

Apparently Dan thinks that there will be/should be an emphasis on the Apostolic Fathers (AF) specifically to ask if their representation of the early church is an accurate reflection.  He also obliquely suggests in this statement that perhaps the New Testament (NT) itself may or may not accurately reflect “the earliest form of Christianity.”

Now, I found this fascinating!  Mostly because it is my personal opinion that most of the writings from Apostolic Fathers do not accurately reflect the earliest forms of Christianity.  I am persuaded that what they do reflect accurately is how the church looked and functioned as it was on an organizational and institutional trajectory. 

To ask this same question of the New Testament is ultimately compelling. 

Could it be that we don’t have an accurate picture of the first Christians and how their communities looked and functioned? 

Is it possible that what we see today is more a picture of how those early churches developed in two, three or four generations? 

How might this have affected our canon? 

Could certain books have been chosen because they were a better representation of the dominant trends among the churches?

I believe that indeed we are missing some of the clearest pictures of the earliest churches in the New Testament.  The Bible simply does not answer the specific questions asked by a Westerner (especially a California native) in the 21st Century, but the essence of it is there.  Frankly, I have always wondered if some of the material in the New Testament reveals more or less of the trends and changes in the earliest church practices and beliefs.  Of course, I would love to have more pointed and specific answers, but I still believe that all that is truly necessary is there in the texts we currently call the New Testament. 

Thoughts???

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Gospel Tradition Formation – Vincent Taylor (Part 2 of 2)

50-65 AD

The second period (50-65 AD) evidences attempts “to gather the scattered elements of the tradition into groups.”  (175)

This early in the development of the church, one must wonder what the main reasons were for beginning to collect and catalog the Jesus stories.  Taylor believes that his was done topically rather than chronologically with a view to Christian instruction and apologetic, with the Pronouncement Stories given the most attention.  (175)  I believe Taylor to be correct in stating that “apologetic” and “instructional” reasons must have been at the forefront.  However, I also believe there to be other reasons as well, Gospel writing for one, and use in the meetings of the church second.  Taylor proposes:

“Could not these stories be arranged in such a way as to promote instruction, and to serve the ends of attack and defence in the face of hostile Jewish criticisms?  In isolation the stories had proved to be valuable; might they not be still more effective in combination?”  (176)

I see his point as plausible, but perhaps this rationale is too aggressive, taking a strong apologetic stance in the face of debate or persecution and minimizing other more practical reasons.

It is the vision of a practical community assemblage of stories into which a Gospel narrative would be formed by a writer among the community that Taylor suggests reveals “like purpose in the pre-Gospel period, the results of which Mark took over and embodied in his work.”  (176)  The focus, then would not be what did the community need that necessitated Mark to write as he did, but how was the community using the Jesus stories that allowed Mark to fashion his literary narrative alongside the use of the oral tradition.  So, Taylor rightly points out that “for all its originality, Mark was not a work begun de novo, but a composition which gathered into itself earlier attempts to serve religious and apologetic needs.”  (180)

Too often, perhaps, we read the gospels with an authorial view similar to that of the epistles, as if Mark sat down to compose the first Gospel on his own much like we see that Paul may have done or like a modern-day author composes a book.  Yet, one of the most important things to take away from a study of the Gospel tradition formation would be that this was a collective work…a communal work.  The Gospel writers had material to use that was both theologically consistent and practically effective because it was maintained by early Christians as they met and shared their faith in Christ and life with Christ with one another.  Perhaps the takeaway hermeneutical principle here is less attention to authorial intent and literary analysis and a more purposeful study of what the early churches held dear and why.

Finally for this period, Taylor believes that the “sayings collections” were the source of Q.

“Although Q was the work of an individual, it was rooted in the life of primitive Christianity, and its fortunes must have reflected the circumstances of its origins: it changed, as it was bound to change, because it was the responsive to the life it fed…The simplest and most natural view is that Q began as a sayings-source pure and simple…Q was an innovation prompted by the needs of catechetical instruction.”  (182)

I find this short collection of quotes problematic on a number of fronts.

  1. How is Q believed to be the work of an individual?
  2. Why do we have no physical evidence for Q?
  3. When did the churches actually begin catechesis,which appears to be later than 50-65 AD, how can we be certain that Q was used?

That said, it does make sense that somewhere among the churches, someone was writing and gathering sayings and stories about Jesus, but I see no legitimate reason to classify them as a single source document.

65-100 AD

According to Taylor, the third period (65-100 AD) consisted of Gospel compilation, during which time “on a much larger scale, the Evangelists carried forward the work of those who first grouped Pronouncement-Stories and expanded Q.”  (185)  Personally, I believe a pre-65 AD date for Mark is most probable.  Whatever Mark’s sources, most likely he had quite a bit of first hand knowledge of material from Peter.  Here, Taylor writes with a more definitive tone:

“The Petrine stories and a knowledge of the progress of events derived from Peter, supplied him with an outline into which he inserted single stories and small collections of primitive material in such a way as to show how Jesus, the Messiah, came to His Passion and His Cross.  The links with earlier stages are unmistakable.  Mark is not a skilled writer; and the developments of his Story is due, not so much to his editorial powers and doctrinal ideas, as to the tradition he knew and the special advantages he enjoyed.”  (187)

So, we see that Taylor supposes that much of Mark’s genius comes from sources outside himself, specifically Petrine material, oral tradition, and perhaps even other written traditions/compilations.  Again, we revisit the idea of a consistent storyline and recall of events sufficient enough to be crafted into a narrative that the church received and confirmed.  While it may be true that Mark pulled from other written documents such as Thomas and Q, one must answer the question that begs an answer: Why was Mark so eagerly received by the church, but other sources such as Thomas were found to be less appealing?  I believe we can easily conclude that perhaps Mark simply provided the most accurate rendition of the historical facts, which resulted in a robust transmission of the Gospel among the churches.  To me, this makes the best sense given the evidence.

Finally, Taylor closes with the following:

“Far from losing the idea of Inspiration, we are led to see that the Spirit of God must have been at work upon a grander scale, not coercing men or using them as blind instruments, but elevating their minds to perceive, to transmit, and to interpret the best elements in the tradition.  Literature has no books which can justly be compared with the Gospels, which indeed come from men, but in the last analysis are the gift of God, seals of His grace and sacraments of His love.”  (189)

Perhaps the simplest and best answer regarding Gospel tradition formation is that God himself was involved in the process to ensure that the truth was preserved.  I would agree with Taylor, the evidence presented only strengthens the idea of divine inspiration and in no way diminishes it.  It is in the formation of the Gospel traditions that I see both a high view of the Gospel accounts (and therefore the scriptures as a whole) as well as a high view of the church dynamically and spiritually preserving the truth about Jesus Christ.

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