Tag Archives: new testament

Luke Social Network on Terra Biblica

I’m excited to announce that my social network of the Gospel of Luke, which I created as part of my dissertation research, is now online within Terra Biblica, part of the Big Ancient Mediterranean project.

BAM is headed by Paul Dilley, Sarah E. Bond (both of the University of Iowa), and Ryan Horne (UNC-Chapel Hill). You can find out more about the project here.

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Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd ed., 1998)

John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998)

Chapter 1, “The Apocalyptic Genre”: Collins begins by setting forth his definition of “apocalyptic”; he adopts the Semeia definition without much revision (unsurprisingly, since he edited Semeia 14), then briefly surveys other scholars’ views on the subject.1 Ne notes that, while apocalyptic has affinities with some Babylonian prophetic material, and it developed after contact with Persian thought, it flourished and became a cohesive genre during the Hellenistic period, after contact with otherworldly journeys and eschatological prophecies in Greek literature. Apocalypses were written by élite scribes, but were meant to be disseminated; many (though not all) were meant to console a group facing a crisis.

Chapter 2, “The Early Enoch Literature”: Collins argues that the Enochic apocalypses mythologize their message, making it applicable outside their own contexts. They also represent “the ideology of a movement” (70), rather than that of an individual. The group behind 1 Enoch identified themselves as “the righteous,” who were struggling against “the wicked.” The movement had its roots in the third century and was fully formed by the Maccabean revolt in the second. The Qumran community was an offshoot of the Enoch group. Collins also notes that Jubilees inherited 1 Enoch and reworked it within the Mosaic tradition—Moses, for example, receives the revelations in Jubilees, not Enoch—portraying history as a series of Jubilees, leading up to the eschatological vindication of the righteous, which it predicts rather than portrays.

Ch. 3, “Daniel”: Collins begins by reminding the reader that the apocalypses in Daniel (chs. 7–12) were written during the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, continuing the traditions of the tales (chs. 1–6). He then discusses the different revelations in Daniel. The four kingdoms (Dan 2) is a Persian image that the author adapted to express his own point that God would set up an eschatological kingdom and rule the whole world. The visions in Daniel 7 adapt the traditions from Daniel 2 and the Canaanite myths of El, Ba’al, and Yamm to the situation under Antiochus IV. Daniel 9 is concerned with offering “an assurance that the predetermined period of Gentile sovereignty is coming to an end” (109). Daniel 10–12 is an apocalyptic review of the history of Hellenistic Palestine up through Antiochus IV, predicting Antiochus’ defeat—though it disparages the Maccabees—and the resurrection of the people who died fighting Antiochus.

Ch. 4, “Related Genres: Oracles and Testaments”: This chapter consists of two parts: oracles and testaments, as the title suggests. In the first part, Collins only treats Sibylline Oracle 3, which was a Jewish compilation of two centuries’ worth of oracles; it went on to “[inaugurate] a tradition of sibylline prophecy in Egyptian Judaism” (126). In the second part, he covers the Testament of Moses, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and, briefly, the Psalms of Solomon. The Testament of Moses was composed in two parts; it was first written in the second century BCE, in response to the crisis of Antiochus IV, and it was redacted in the early first century CE. As an apocalypse, it is most closely related to Daniel. It is not certain whether the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs were written by Jews or Christians, but they make extensive use of Jewish traditions nonetheless. They are not apocalypses per se, but they do contain eschatological sections; they also expect two messiahs: one kingly and one priestly. The Psalms of Solomon also expect two messiahs.

Ch. 5, “Qumran”: This chapter does not examine texts from Qumran directly; instead, it synthesizes them to give an overview of the apocalyptic strains of the Qumran community’s thought. They believed that nothing happened outside of God’s mandate, that there was a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil in which they were participants, that two messiahs (one priestly and one kingly) would come to restore Israel at the “end of days.” and that the community enjoyed the fellowship of angels on earth.

Ch. 6, “The Similitudes of Enoch”: The Similitudes were composed for a (perhaps persecuted) community that called themselves the “community of the righteous,” to assure them “that their destiny is secure in the hands of ‘that Son of Man’” (191), their heavenly representative, and that God will rescue them from the wicked.

Ch. 7, “After the Fall: 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham”: These apocalypses date after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Fourth Ezra is a cathartic book; the Ezra here is “a reluctant apocalyptist” (211) and questions God’s justice, “bring[ing] to expression the fears and frustrations of a sensitive and perceptive Jew in the wake of the catastrophe of 70 CE” (210). Second Baruch, written between the two Jewish revolts, argues that Jerusalem fell because the Jews did not study the Torah; not surprisingly, the book is linked to the nascent rabbinic Judaism of its day. The Apocalypse of Abraham deals with the origin of evil and the role of God’s people in the world; like 4 Ezra, it does not provide any definite answers to its questions

Ch. 8, “Apocalyptic Literature from the Diaspora in the Roman Period”: This chapter surveys the Sibyllines (except for Sib. Or. 3, which was covered in ch. 4), 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham. Sibylline Oracle 5 was composed in Egypt and is anti-Rome. Sibylline Oracles 1–2 and 4 were originally Jewish compositions, possibly from Phrygia; both divide history into 10 periods. 2 Enoch is hortatory literature, but it is also concerned with eschatology; the righteous become angels after death, and the cosmos is sharply divided “between the present world of normal human experience and the ‘other’ transcendent world revealed to Enoch” (247). 3 Baruch was written in Egypt after 70 CE; it describes a realized eschatology with individual judgment. The Testament of Abraham is intended to console people in the face of death.

Ch. 9, “Apocalypticism in Early Christianity”: Jesus’ message was (at least partially) apocalyptic, and the earliest Christians “had an eschatological orientation” (260), though they were not an apocalyptic group. Paul expected an imminent eschaton, because he believed that the Messiah had already come. Revelation is different from other contemporaneous apocalypses in that it takes the form of a circular letter, it is not pseudonymous, and it does not review the history of the world up through the eschaton, but it does employ traditional apocalyptic images, like the Son of Man and Ancient of Days from Daniel 7.

1 The Semeia definition: apocalyptic is “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” See John J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre (Semeia 14; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979).

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Engberg-Pederson, Paul and the Stoics (2000)

Troels Engberg-Pederson, Paul and the Stoics (2000)

Thesis: The Stoic worldview (a movement from individual (I), through a higher power (X), to community (S), as represented in the image below) underlies Paul’s anthropology and ethics.

 

Engberg-Pederson’s I-X-S model. (Image credit: vridar.org)

Pederson’s I-X-S model. Image credit: vridar.org

 

Ch. 1, “An Essay in Interpretation”: In this chapter, Engberg-Pederson situates his study among the rest of Pauline scholarship. He explicitly rejects theological readings of Paul. He sees his study as a work of social history, but one that discusses Paul’s ideas, rather than the activities of early Pauline Christians (as pursued, for example, by Wayne Meeks’ The First Urban Christians). He also has the explicit goal of presenting Paul’s anthropological and ethical thought in a manner that is applicable to the present (Western) world.

Ch. 2, “The Model” sets forth the I-X-S model depicted above, which, Engberg-Pederson argues, is a quintessentially Stoic line of thought that underlies all of Paul’s letters. Engberg-Pederson also pre-emptively argues that this model does not “saddle Paul with a form of individualism which either could not be his or is unlikely to have been it, nor does it imply any return to the naive, directly (auto)biographical and psychological readings of an earlier age” (43).

Ch. 3, “The Stoics” traces the I-X-S model through Stoic thought, using as its base book III of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum, “which is the best systematic statement of Stoic ethics that we have” (46). In Stoic thought, the move from I to X (i.e., individual to Reason) is a change in viewpoint from subjectivity to objectivity, leading one to wisdom. The change from X to S is taking the wisdom one has gained from Reason and using it altruistically.

Chs. 4-5 (“Philippians I: The Problem and Beginning of a Solution” and “Philippians II: The Solution Developed”): Chapter 4 analyzes three of the themes in Philippians (“the call, joy and suffering, and self-sufficiency”) and finds that they “fit completely into an I->X line of the I->X->S model on its Stoic interpretation” (102); that is, because they show how Paul has turned his back on the world (I) and moved on to Christ (X). Engberg-Pederson also discusses how Paul’s use of the I-X-S model is different from the Stoics’, namely how Paul places Christ at the X pole, whereas the Stoics placed Reason there. Chapter 5 argues that Paul acts toward the Philippians in the same way that Stoic teachers acted toward their pupils: he positions himself as the model to follow as they try to live like Christ. When they “acquire the full normative knowledge (at X) that set [Paul] going in his dealings with them . . . they will no longer have a special relationship with him but will be able to practice their new knowledge (as expressed in Paul’s maxim and prefigured for them in the Christ event) in relation to everybody (within the group)” (119; emphasis added)—that is, at the S pole.

Chs. 6-7 (“Galatians I: The Problem and the Beginning of a Solution” and “Galatians II: The Solution Developed”): In these chapters, Engberg-Pederson frames Pauline theology and ethics in terms of the I-X-S model. For Engberg-Pederson, theology reflects the X-I relationship, while ethics comes from the S-S relationship (i.e., relationships among members of the community). Moreover, because theology and ethics are different parts of the same worldview, they are intimately connected—a thought most clearly expressed when Paul bases his ethical arguments to the Galatians in terms of a particular set of beliefs about God, Christ, and the Law. Engberg-Pederson also adds a few layers to his I-X-S model: the A relationship (= X-I) is God’s relationship with humanity, Ba is the human relationship with God (I-X), Bb is human relationships with each other, and C is “actual practice [that] does not stand for any special relationship” (137).

Chs. 8-10 (“Romans I: The Problem,” “Romans II: The Solution,” and “Romans III: The Solution Developed”): These chapters have the same basic argument as chapters 6-7—namely, that proper faith (the I-X relationship) is the basis for right actions (the S-S relationship). Engberg-Pederson sees three basic themes in Romans related to his model: “(a) the theme of total directedness towards God (Ba: I->X), (b) the consequent removal of the I-pole that stands in the way of the proper inter-human relationship (Bb) and the proper practice (C), (c) and the resulting total openness towards others (Bb: S->S)” (199-200; emphasis original).

Ch. 11, the conclusion: Engberg-Pederson summarizes his argument in the form of four theses:

  1. “A historical thesis: that there is a fundamental similarity in the basic model that structures both Stoic ethics and Paul’s comprehensive parenesis in his letters as a whole.”
  2. “An exegetical thesis: that a reading that draws on Stoic ideas helps to solve a number of problems that have traditionally engaged interpreters of Paul’s letters,” like the relationship between “the descriptive and the prescriptive parts” of Paul’s letters.
  3. “A hermeneutical thesis: that a kind of reading that draws on Stoicism to emphasize and develop those ideas of a cognitive type that are in fact there in Paul is positively required for an exegesis of his letters to have fulfilled its task.”
  4. “A theological thesis: that Paul must be read directly, philosophically, even naturalistically as a person who is speaking of the world as it is available to all partners in the dialogue, in exactly the same way as this was done by his fellow Jews (like Philo) and Greeks (like Plato or the Stoics)” (301-304; emphasis original).

For an extensive, critical review of this book, see J. Louis Martyn, “De-apocalypticizing Paul: An Essay Focused on Paul and the Stoics by Troels Engberg-Pederson,” JSNT 24 (2002): 61-102.

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Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach (1988)

Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach (1988)

Thesis: In Roman Palestine, the Pharisees and scribes were low-level bureaucrats (members of the retainer class, not the middle class, which did not exist in antiquity), and the Sadducees were members of the governing class (though not all members of the governing class were Sadducees).

Chapter 1, “The Problem of Jewish Groups in Palestine,” situates Saldarini’s work among other scholarly reconstructions of the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. He argues that previous work has been misled by the assumption that people in antiquity saw religion and politics as two separate spheres of life (they did not) and that ancient societies had an upper, middle, and lower class like modern industrial societies (they had an upper class and a lower class; most people lived within the lower classes).

Chapter 2, “A Sociological Approach,” outlines Saldarini’s methodology. He uses social functionalism as his theoretical framework, though he acknowledges its faults. He then examines the nature of class and power in ancient society, adapting Weber’s triad of class, status, and power to Roman society, where classes were “legally defined categor[ies] which possessed clearly defined privileges and disabilities and which stood in hierarchical relationship to other orders” (27), though they declined in importance over time.

Chapter 3, “Social Classes in Palestinian Jewish Society and the Roman Empire,” summarizes Gerhard Lenski’s model of the social classes of agrarian empires (like the Roman Empire). Lenski sees nine classes in agrarian imperial societies, which Saldarini uses as a guide to Palestinian society under the Romans:

  1. The ruler, who “had far reaching power and was sometimes considered to be the owner of all the land” (40).
  2. The governing class: 1-2% of the population; “made up of both hereditary aristocrats and appointed bureaucrats” (40). The Sadducees were members of this group.
  3. The retainer class: “perhaps 5% of the population” (41) who served the elites but were not elites themselves. The Pharisees and scribes belonged to this class, as did low-level officials like tax collectors.
  4. The merchant class, which was somewhat liminal; merchants were not landowners (and, thus, were not elites), but were not under the direct authority of the elites, like peasants were.
  5. The priestly class, which was landless, but which controlled significant wealth and had power independently of the governing class.
  6. The peasants: “the bulk of the population” (43), who were very strictly controlled by the governing class. Their main role was to produce food for the high-ranked members of society, who taxed their food production “typically at the rate of 30-70% of the crop” (43).
  7. The artisan class, about 3-7% of the population, were not a middle class (as in industrial societies), but rather earned low wages and enjoyed very little power. Jesus, Paul, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were from this class.
  8. The unclean class: essentially artisans who performed “noxious but necessary tasks” (44) like tanning or mining.
  9. The expandable class (5-10% of the population): people who had been forced off their land and who lived as outlaws on the fringes of society. Most messianic claimants and their followers were from this class.

Chapter 4, “Social Relations and Groups in Palestine,” examines the nature and origins of social groups in Hellenistic/Roman Palestine. Saldarini gleans from social network theory to show how honor-shame and patron-client relationships were at work both within and between social groups. He also argues that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes probably formed in the same way as Hellenistic voluntary associations—though, after they formed, they also had sectarian features. Saldarini explains Palestinian groups via Bryan Wilson’s typology of sects:

  1. The conversionist seeks emotional transformation now, with salvation presumed to follow in the future after evil has been endured. Because of alienation from society a new community is formed. Early Christians fit this type.
  2. The revolutionist awaits the destruction of the social order by divine forces. Apocalyptic groups fit this type.
  3. The introversionist withdraws from the world into a purified community. The Essenes fit this type.
  4. The manipulationist seeks happiness by a transformed subjective orientation which will control evil. The gnostics fit this type.
  5. The thaumaturgical response seeks relief from specific ills by special, not general dispensation. Magicians and healers with their followers fit this type.
  6. The reformist seeks gradual, divinely revealed alterations in society. The Pharisees and Jesus with his disciples probably fit this type.
  7. The utopian seeks to reconstruct the world according to divine principles without revolution (72; emphasis original; list formatted for readability).

Chapter 5, “The Pharisees and Sadducees as Political Interest Groups in Josephus”: Saldarini begins with Josephus’ biography, before surveying Josephus’ treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the War, Antiquities, and Life. He concludes that the Pharisees and Sadducees were both small political interest groups, and that the Pharisees belonged to the retainer class, while the Saducees were from the governing class. Not all retainers were Pharisees, however, nor were all governors Sadducees.

Chapter 6, “Josephus’ Descriptions of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” builds off of the previous chapter’s argument, giving further information about the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ roles as political action groups. This chapter also argues, contra Neusner, that Josephus did not have a pro-Pharisaic bias in the Antiquities.

Chapter 7, “Paul the Pharisee”: This brief (10-page) chapter complements the picture of the Pharisees drawn from Josephus. Paul’s identity as a Pharisee shows that Pharisaism was present in the Diaspora, whereas Josephus only places the Pharisees in Jerusalem. Paul also mentions Pharisaism in conjunction with disputes about purity laws, showing that the Pharisees probably made purity regulations one of their defining boundary markers. Paul’s letters show him to be a decently well-educated member of the artisan class with some connections to the upper classes; Acts moves him up to the retainer class.

Chapter 8, “The Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Mark and Matthew”: In Mark, the Pharisees are located almost exclusively in Galilee (as opposed to Josephus’ portrait of them living exclusively in Jerusalem) and have connections with other groups, like the Herodians. They are a politically active group, and are concerned with purity regulations. The scribes appear both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, but are more often located in Jerusalem; they were teachers who were known and esteemed among the people in both places, and their disputes with Jesus mostly concerned Jesus’ authority to teach. The Sadducees appear once, as members of a controversy over the doctrine of resurrection. In Matthew, the Pharisees are present both in Judea and the Galilee. The scribes, as in Mark, are teachers who are concerned with Jesus’ authority to teach; however, as “spokesmen for Judaism” (160) rather than for specific Jewish groups, the scribes are less politically active than in Mark.

Chapter 9, “The Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Luke-Acts and John”: In Luke, the Pharisees are a Galilean group that is disconnected from other Jewish political groups; the scribes have no clearly defined role; and he introduces a new Jewish group, the lawyers. In Acts, Pharisees appear as members of the Sanhedrin, where they argue with Sadducees over the concept of resurrection. The scribes again have no clearly defined role other than opposing the apostles. The Sadducees are leaders in Jerusalem. In John, “the Pharisees function both as government officials and as the learned doctors of the law who are interested in Jesus’ teaching and dispute its truth” (188). They are located in both Jerusalem and Galilee. The scribes and Sadducees do not appear in John.

Chapter 10, “The Pharisees and Sadducees in Rabbinic Literature,” critiques using rabbinic sources to describe the historical Pharisees and Sadducees, because the rabbinic authors use those groups for their own polemical purposes. Nevertheless, some information can be gleaned from these texts, for instance that Pharisaic leaders, like Hillel and Gamaliel, very probably existed, though they did not have the wide-reaching power that has been ascribed to them. Next, Saldarini discusses the origins and meanings of the names Pharisee and Sadducee, arguing that the typical etymologies do not sufficiently explain how the groups got their names. He also briefly discusses the Boethusians, who were probably a priestly group.

Chapter 11, “The Social Roles of Scribes in Jewish Society,” gives a history of scribes in Egypt and Israel, as well as how scribal activity shaped the Hebrew Bible. Scribes appear throughout Jewish literature filling various roles and occupying different social positions. Saldarini argues that, in Roman Palestine, a “scribe” was not a member of a unified political group, but was simply a literate individual in the service of a community leader. In the gospels, most scribes belong to the retainer class.

Chapter 12, “The Place of the Pharisees in Jewish Society,” argues that the Pharisees filled many social roles in Roman Palestine, including:

  • A political action group.
  • A reform movement.
  • A network of people mostly from the retainer class, struggling for power and influence.
  • A religious sect focused on ritual purity, using written texts and oral traditions as the basis of their beliefs.
  • A Greek-style philosophical school.

As a whole, they held beliefs that were distinct from other Jewish groups of the time, like the Sadducees and Essenes. However, they were also divided into factions—for example, the houses of Hillel and Shammai. It is also likely, contra Josephus, that some Pharisees lived in Galilee.

Chapter 13, “The Sadducees and Jewish Leadership,” argues that “the Sadducees were an established and well recognized group of first century Jews” (302) who were members of the governing class. However, not all governors were Sadducees. The Sadducees held to tradition more tightly than the Pharisees, using only the Torah as their sacred text and rejecting doctrinal innovations from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, like the doctrine of resurrection. The Sadducees’ history is “obscure” (305), and the sources available do not permit definite conclusions about the group’s origins.

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Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah, 2nd ed. (2005)

George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction (2nd ed.)

This book is a textbook on (mostly) non-canonical Jewish writings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (i.e., the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and the DSS). The Introduction sets forth his interpretive paradigm (he wants to explicate the texts’ internal stories and logic) and contains a brief overview of the problems with the terms apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. The Prologue is a brief overview of Israelite and Judahite history from the sack of Samaria under Shalmaneser V in 722 BCE and the sack of Jerusalem in 586, through Cyrus’ decree in 538, the return from exile, and the establishment of the Jewish diaspora.

Chapter 1, “Tales of the Dispersion,” covers texts written by Jews in the Babylonian and Assyrian diaspora. It includes Daniel 1-6, the additions to Daniel (Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men), 1 Esdras 3-4 (the Story of Darius’ Bodyguards), Tobit, and the Epistle of Jeremiah.

Chapter 2, “Palestine in the Wake of Alexander the Great,” gives a summary of the foreign powers who ruled over Palestine from the Persian period through the Hellenistic period. The chapter then examines the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries (1 Enoch 72-82), the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), and Sirach. This chapter also discusses apocalypticism in 1 Enoch.

Chapter 3, “Reform—Repression—Revolt,” summarizes the events in Palestine from 198 BCE (when Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemies) through the end of the Hasmonean revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164. In his survey of texts from the period, Nickelsburg discusses the apocalyptic responses to Antiochus IV and the war in Palestine: Jubilees, the Testament of Moses, Daniel 7-12, and 1 Enoch 83-90 (the Animal Vision).

Chapter 4, “The Hasmoneans and Their Opponents,” covers the rulership of the Hasmonean period and the Hasmoneans’ relations with the Seleucids and Romans. The texts from this period are Baruch, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, and the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 92-105). Nickelsburg also outlines the literary development of 1 Enoch as it stands today.

Chapter 5, “The People at Qumran and Their Predecessors,” covers the major works among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the Damascus Document; the pesharim to Habakkuk, Psalms, Nahum, and Isaiah; “three thematic exegetical texts” (132), viz. 1QFlorilegium, 11QMelchizedek, and 4QTestimonia; the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHab and 4QH); the Community Rule; the War Scroll; 4QMMT; the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa); the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; the Temple Scroll; Aramaic Levi; the non-canonical psalms in 11QPsa; 4QInstruction; the Genesis Apocryphon; and The New Jerusalem. This chapter is by far the longest in the book.

Chapter 6, “Israel in Egypt,” starts with a brief discussion of the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt, then covers the major Jewish texts from Hellenistic Egypt: the LXX, book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles, the Letter of Aristeas, 3 Maccabees, the Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo’s writings, and 2 Enoch.

Chapter 7, “The Romans and the House of Herod,” gives a significant amount of space to the leadership of Judea under Roman rule, namely Herod the Great and his heirs. The texts from this period are the Psalms of Solomon, the revisions of the Testament of Moses, 1 Enoch 37-71 (the Similitudes of Enoch), and 4 Maccabees.

Chapter 8, “Revolt—Destruction—Reconstruction,” deals with the period between the death of Herod Agrippa I (44 CE) and the end of the Jewish War in 70 CE. Reactions to the events of 70 are the Book of Biblical Antiquities (Pseudo-Philo) and the apocalypses 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham. The chapter also covers the life and writings of Josephus.

Chapter 9, “Texts of Disputed Provenance,” examines the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job, the Testament of Abraham, the Greek and Latin Lives of Adam and Eve, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Prayer of Manasseh. Each of these text have only been preserved in Christian editions, and so it is difficult to date them and to determine which parts of the texts are Christian in origin and which are Jewish.

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Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (2006)

Stephen D. Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (2006)

This book is a brief guide to, and example of, postcolonial biblical interpretation. In five chapters, Moore offers an overview of postcolonial theory as it intersects with biblical studies, as well as examining three NT books—Mark, John, and Revelation—to see if they support the weight that postcolonial interpreters have laid upon them. In the end, he concludes that Mark, John, and Revelation are ultimately ambivalent to the question of imperialism/colonialism, critiquing imperialism in some places while adopting it as a conceptual model in others.

In the first chapter of his book, Moore traces the intellectual genealogy of postcolonial biblical studies. He begins with three seminal works in postcolonial studies—Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1985), and Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994)—showing how they have structuralism/poststructuralism as their conceptual cores. Next, he traces the influence that postcolonial theory has had on biblical interpretation. Moore organizes works of postcolonial biblical criticism into three subgroups:

  1. Those that are influenced by liberation theology. These works typically engage only lightly extra-biblical postcolonial studies.
  2. Those that “focus on the theme of empire as an exegetical lens through which to reframe and reread selected New Testament texts” (18). These works usually do not engage with extra-biblical postcolonial studies at all.
  3. Those that are deeply engaged with extra-biblical postcolonial studies.

Finally, Moore forecasts the future of postcolonial biblical studies, the fortunes of which he sees lying with his third, theory-savvy subgroup.

In chapter 2, Moore examines the Gospel of Mark through a postcolonial lens. He begins with a short, verse-by-verse exegesis of Mark 5:1-9 (the healing of the Gerasene demoniac), interpreting it as a critique of Roman imperial power. However, he rejects that such a view is programmatic for Mark, noting that “Mark altogether lacks the snarling, fang-bearing hostility toward the Roman state” (32) that characterizes Revelation. Instead, Mark is both attracted to and repulsed by Roman imperialism—for instance, he rejects Roman leadership as oppressive, but still adopts the concept of empire, redeploying it in favor of Jesus, whom he sees as the authority figure in the divine empire. Likewise, Mark has Jesus praising two poor women who nonetheless give extravagant gifts without expectation of reciprocity (a critique of imperialist economics), while simultaneously upholding the notion of empire through his announcement of the parousia. Therefore, Moore concludes that Mark is not a thoroughgoing anti-imperialist text, but simultaneously critiques and upholds the notion of empire.

Chapter 3 treats the Gospel of John’s views of empire. Moore finds John to be “at once the most—and the least—political of the canonical gospels” (50). That is, John lauds Jesus as a political figure—he has the people try forcefully to make Jesus king, for instance—while also depoliticizing Jesus in the face of the Roman Empire. The Romans are the unquestioned political authority in John. Pilate—the face of the Roman Empire in John’s Gospel—exercises Roman political might when he has Jesus scourged in the middle of the passion narrative, an event that John portrays negatively. However, John has Caiaphas prophecy Jesus’ death, which serves not only to propitiate God, but also to propitiate Caesar. In addition, John implicitly predicts the eventual identification of Christianity with Rome. Therefore, though John critiques Roman authority, he by no means rejects it in toto.

Chapter 4 is an interlude from the exegetical chapters of the book. In this chapter, Moore situates postcolonialism within postmodernity, which Moore identifies as neocolonialism, as it continues the oppressive economic practices of the capitalist age. He notes the irony that the most successful postcolonial thinkers are rewarded with prestigious positions in Western universities, thus participating in the very system they critique so harshly. Moore latches onto Homi Bhabha, whose work he has seen empower students who come from colonialist situations. Therefore, he offers an extended overview of Bhabha’s views of colonialist evangelism in the 19th century, from which Bhabha devised several theories. Moore highlights several of Bhabha’s ideas:

  • ambivalence—the idea that the colonized vacillates between outright mimicry of the colonizer, on the one hand, and hybridizing of the colonizing and colonized cultures, on the other
  • deconstruction—the cultural tools of the colonizer, rather than changing the culture of the colonized to match that of the colonizer, instead mold themselves to, and are shaped by, the culture of the colonized.
  • agency—the colonized are actively engaged in subverting the colonizer’s cultural discourse.

Bhabha’s ideas are important to Moore’s exegeses, so it is curious that Moore placed this chapter here, in the middle of his exegeses, rather than placing it alongside the first chapter. At any rate, it provides a nice glimpse into the theory that lies at the heart of Moore’s book.

Chapter 5 examines the book of Revelation. Moore first gives a topical introduction to Roman imperial ideology, interspersed with modern theoretical readings of the same concepts. Next, Moore reads Revelation through a Bhabhan lens, showing how Revelation is ambivalent, in a Bhabhan sense, to Rome; Revelation both espouses (mimics) Roman imperial ideology in its theology, while also harshly rejecting those Christians who collaborated with (hybridized with) Rome. Therefore, Revelation is far from being an outright rejection of empire; instead, like Mark and John, it both critiques and accepts imperialism.

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Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

This book is an introductory textbook on the New Testament, most suitable for a seminary-level introductory course. Since it is an introductory text, the book does not have any real thesis; its goal is to present the material that has already been produced, rather than to argue anything new. It is organized into four parts with two appendices. Part I deals with “Preliminaries for Understanding the New Testament”; Part II is an overview of the Gospels and NT books related to the Gospels (Acts and the Johannine Epistles); Part III covers the Pauline epistles (including the deutero-Paulines); Part IV deals with “the other New Testament writings” (Hebrews, the Petrine Epistles, Jude, and Revelation). Appendix 1 is an overview of historical Jesus research from 1780 to the present; Appendix 2 is a survey of “Jewish and Christian Writings Pertinent to the NT.”

Part I consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 contains a brief description of what the term “New Testament” implies (it implies that the NT literature is the sequel to, and fulfillment of, the literature in the Hebrew Bible), followed by an overview of early Christian book production and dissemination, and the history of the development of the canon.

Chapter 2 deals with “How to Read the New Testament.” The first part of the chapter is a sprint through eleven different ways that scholars have approached the text of the NT, from textual criticism (also the subject of the very brief chapter 3) to historical criticism, to narrative criticism, to advocacy criticism (e.g. Liberationist or Feminist hermeneutics); Brown concludes by emphasizing how the true meaning of the text cannot be derived through just one hermeneutic, but must come from the results of several kinds of hermeneutics operating together. The chapter also discusses issues of biblical inspiration, divine revelation, and deriving meaning from the NT (whether looking for authorial intent, the meaning to the original audience, and/or the meaning within the canon).

Chapters 4 and 5 are useful chapters on the political, social, and ideological environments in which the NT was composed. In terms of politics, Brown covers the period from Alexander the Great on through the Bar Kokhba revolt. For the social environment, he focuses on what life was like for Jews and Christians in pagan cities, Greco-Roman class structure and social hierarchy, and education in the Greco-Roman world. Regarding Jewish religious thought, Brown first discusses the importance of the Maccabean revolt; next, he introduces the Essenes, Sadducees, and—more in depth—the Pharisees, discussing how Jesus related to each of these groups; then, finally, giving brief mention to the Jewish literature composed after the 1st century (namely the Mishnah, Tosefta, Targumim, and Talmudim—sources that, he argues, are problematic when used in the study of the NT, because they were composed later—sometimes much later—than anything in the NT). Next, Brown surveys non-Jewish religious thought (namely, classical myth, emperor worship, mystery cults, and cults deriving from the religions of countries east of Rome), then non-Jewish philosophies (e.g., Cynicism, Epicureanism) and the interesting cases of Philo and of Gnostic thought, which combined Jewish and Hellenistic religio-philosophical categories.

Part II covers the Gospels and related literature, namely Acts and the Johannine Epistles. This part begins (chapter 6) with an overview of what “Gospels” are, including a discussion of the semantic range of euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”) and its usage among 1st– and 2nd-century Christian authors. Next, Brown chronicles the development of “Gospel” as a literary genre, showing that it has parallels to biographies in the Hebrew Bible and to Greco-Roman biographies, combined with a healthy amount of creativity on the parts of the Gospel authors. Here Brown distinguishes between the actual Jesus (the man Jesus, a religious figure who lived in Palestine in the 1st century CE, of whom we have no contemporary accounts), the historical Jesus (a scholarly construct based on critical analysis of the Gospels) and the Gospel Jesus (the literary figure[s] of Jesus, as portrayed by the authors of the Gospels). Brown cautions that, even though the presentation of a Gospel Jesus is shaped by the Gospel author’s rhetorical goals, the Gospels contain at least some eyewitness testimony of the actual Jesus, and so are more useful for talking about the actual Jesus than are reconstructions of the historical Jesus. Next, this chapter sets forth “three stages of Gospel formation” (107): 1) The ministry of the actual Jesus during the first third of the 1st century; 2) The apostles’ preaching about Jesus (the kerygma) during the second third of the 1st century; 3) The written Gospels, which were composed during the last third of the 1st century. Finally, a decent amount of the chapter is devoted to the Synoptic Problem and the existence of Q.

The discussion of the books of the NT begins with chapter 7, which covers the Gospel of Mark. The chapters that discuss the NT books directly (as opposed to informational chapters, like the above) more or less follow the same outline: an introductory paragraph, followed by a “General Analysis of the Message” (ranging from a few pages in the shorter Epistles to a miniature commentary for the Gospels); then discussions of authorship, composition, the community in which the book was composed/to which it was addressed, and the date of writing; then “Issues and Problems for Reflection” (dealing mostly with interpretive problems and ways to apply the text to the modern world—a section that would be useful as part of a seminary-level introductory course on the NT); and finally a brief bibliography for the book.

Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11 cover the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, respectively). The majority of each chapter is devoted to the “General Analysis of the Message”—which, Brown notes, “almost constitute a minicommentary” (126) on each book. Brown’s conclusions are thoroughly centrist; he places Mark between 68-73 CE, possibly at Rome; Matthew he places around 80-90 CE, probably around Antioch; Luke-Acts at around 85 CE, either in Greece or in Syria; and John to churches in Asia Minor between 80-110 CE. The chapter on John is somewhat expanded compared to the chapters on the other Gospels, owing to Brown’s extensive work on that Gospel; not surprisingly, it is in this chapter that his conclusions differ most from the scholarly norm, though they are still strongly centrist (he argues that the bulk of John was composed somewhere around 80-90 CE by the same person/group that wrote 1 John, with an epilogue added around 100-110 CE by the person/group that wrote 2-3 John).

Chapters 10 and 12-14 deal with Acts and the Johannine Epistles, respectively, showing how they fit with their related books (Luke and John). For Acts, Brown explores whether the book qualifies as “history,” whether by ancient or modern definitions, concluding that it fits suitably within the ancient genre of history. For the Johannine Epistles, Brown reconstructs the community and theological situations in which they were written; 1 John was written after the Gospel of John, when “a division among Johannine Christians had occurred, sparked by different views of Jesus” (383), with one group saying that only belief in Jesus mattered, while another group (the group behind 1 John) said that good deeds were required, in addition to right belief. Second and Third John were also written in the context of schism, though a decade or so after 1 John.

Part III deals with the Pauline corpus, including the deutero-Pauline Epistles. The part begins with three prefatory chapters, covering ancient letter-writing practices (chapter 15; including the typical formal elements of Greco-Roman letters), a brief overview of Paul’s biography and theology (chapter 16), and “An Appreciation of Paul” (chapter 17; designed to help students retain an appreciation of Paul’s life and work even while they study the minutiae of each letter). Next, Brown examines the authentic Pauline Epistles in the order they were written (1 Thess, Gal, Phil, Philmn, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom; chapters 18-24), examining the contexts in which they were written, the situations they address, how they were composed, and where they stand in the development of Paul’s theology. Along the way, he addresses various important topics when they are relevant to the letter at hand (e.g., a discussion of early Christian hymnody in relation to Phil 2:5-11).

The next section (chapters 25-31) deal with the pseudonymous Pauline Epistles. Chapter 25 is a very brief overview of pseudonymity in the ancient world, showing that pseudonymous authorship was fairly common in the ancient world, but acknowledging that it presents problems for interpretation in the NT. In fact, Brown analyzes each of the pseudonymous letters in the NT, including the deutero-Paulines, as if the author named actually wrote the work, since “even if that person did not write the respective work, the claim to his authorization suggests that the emphasis in the writing is related to his image” (706). Chapters 26-28 cover 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, examining evidence for and against Pauline authorship—and being honest when the evidence is more or less inconclusive, as with Colossians—and providing interpretations both as if Paul wrote the letter and as if it was pseudonymous. Chapters 29-31 cover the Pastorals in the order they were written (Titus, 1 Tim, 2 Tim), discussing the church structure present in the letters, the authorship of the Pastorals, and the implications of pseudonymity on interpreting the letters.

Part IV deals with “The Other New Testament Writings” that have not been covered thus far in the book. He examines the remaining epistles in the order that they were written (Heb, 1 Pet, Jas, Jude, 2 Pet; chapters 32-36), and saves Revelation for last (chapter 37). For Hebrews, Brown discusses the genre and “Thought Milieu” (691) of the book, finding that clear answers are not available for either question. In discussing 1 Peter, Brown gives an overview of the life of the historical Peter—since it is relevant to the author’s perception of the letter—and places the letter in the context of unsystematic but imperially sanctioned persecution of Christians. In treating James, as with 1 Peter, Brown discusses the life of the historical James, then discusses the oft-debated relationship between James and the Pauline Epistles (specifically, because of the relationship between “faith” and “works” in each writer’s thought); Brown also covers the relationship between the books of James and Matthew, and places James between genres, as a combination of Hebrew wisdom literature, Stoic diatribe, and epistle. With Jude, Brown gives the life of the historical Jude and discusses the implications of Jude’s use of non-canonical Scriptures. Interestingly, and slightly problematically, the chapter on Jude is the only chapter on an NT book that does not conclude with discussion topics—Brown remarks, “Jude, however, is a very short work; and today most would not appreciate or find germane its argumentation from Israelite tradition about angels who sinned with women, [etc.] We owe Jude reverence as a book of Sacred Scripture, but its applicability to ordinary life remains a formidable difficulty” (760). Be that as it may, there is much fodder in Jude for reflection on everyday life (such as being modest, not arrogant, in disputes; Jude 9-10). Next, Brown analyzes 2 Peter in terms of the “early Catholic” features that Käsemann saw in the book (769), finding that Käsemann’s analysis is too simplistic. Finally, in discussing Revelation, Brown gives an overview of the genre of apocalyptic, examines the structure and theology of the book, and situates it within Domitian’s persecution of 96 CE.

The book concludes with two appendices. Appendix 1 is a history of the quests for the historical Jesus—a task towards which Brown is highly critical. Appendix 2 is a short catalogue of Jewish and Christian books that are useful for studying the NT; it is functionally a very short version of Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies.

References

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible 29; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Anchor Bible 29a; New York: Doubleday, 1970).

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005).

Howard Clark Kee, review of Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, JBL 118 (1999): 144-147.

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (4th ed.;  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

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Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament (2005)

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005)

This book is a textbook on “both the science and the art of textual criticism as applied to the New Testament” (xv). It is organized in three parts. Part I, “The Materials for the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” presents an overview of ancient bookmaking practices and gives a narrative catalogue of the chief witnesses to the text of the New Testament. Part II, “The History of New Testament Textual Criticism as Reflected in Printed Editions of the Greek Testament,” surveys the textual character of printed Greek New Testaments from the Textus Receptus to the NA27 and UBS4. Part III, “The Application of Textual Criticism to the Text of the New Testament,” describes the development of scientific text criticism from Hellenistic Alexandria to the digital age, lists the types of textual errors found in the witnesses to the NT, describes some scholarly uses of textual variants outside the realm of text criticism, and closes with worked examples of the text criticism of several NT passages.

Part I begins in chapter 1 with a brief overview of ancient bookmaking practices, highlighting various parts of the process that produced variants among the textual witnesses to the NT, namely:

  • types of handwriting
  • reusing the parchment a text is written on (palimpsests)
  • abbreviations and nomina sacra
  • the διορθωτής correcting manuscripts after they were produced
  • fatigue brought on by the typical scribe’s working conditions

This chapter also catalogues the various “helps for readers” (33) found in manuscripts of the NT, like chapter divisions (κεφάλαια), titles of chapters (τίτλοι), and introductory material appended to the beginnings of texts.

Chapter 2 describes the various witnesses to the NT’s text. For each of the Greek manuscripts (arranged from oldest type to youngest—papyri first, then majuscules, then minuscules), Metzger and Ehrman give the date it was copied, its current contents (and, sometimes, its original contents and pagination), its text-type (Western, Alexandrian, Byzantine, Caesarean, or an mixture of the above), and any special features of the manuscript worth noting. Next, they list and briefly describe the ancient versions (i.e., translations) of the NT, giving the dates of composition, text-type affinities, and significant manuscripts for each. Finally, they very briefly mention how patristic quotations of the NT are useful for text criticism.

Part II narrates the history of the rise of the Textus Receptus (TR), its reign as the most commonly used Greek NT (chapter 3), and its demise at the hands of the Greek New Testaments produced through scientific text criticism (chapter 4).

The first printed Greek NT was produced in Spain in 1514 as part of a multivolume Hebrew-Aramaic-Greek-Latin polyglot bible (the Complutensian Polyglot) that was completed in 1520 and began circulating in 1522. However, even though this was the first printed edition of the Greek NT, it was not the first edition to circulate publicly; Erasmus’ edition claimed this honor in 1516, though because Erasmus rushed his edition to press so that it would be published before the Complutensian Polyglot, he did not have time to consult good textual witnesses, so his text is faulty in a great many places.

Erasmus’ edition quickly became the most popular edition of the Greek NT, and it was widely accepted as the only authoritative edition of the Greek NT. Over the subsequent few centuries, many scholars produced editions of the Greek NT that differed from the TR in various readings; however, they all faced severe opposition, including excommunication or being forced from ecclesiastical positions.

In the late 1700s, Johann Jakob Griesbach, a German scholar, laid the groundwork for modern text criticism; he set forth 15 canons of text criticism, which he used to produce a Greek NT that differed quite substantially from the TR. Over the next half-century, many new manuscripts came to light, and several scholars produced critical editions of the Greek NT, culminating, roughly 60 years after Griesbach’s edition, with Karl Lachmann’s critical edition of the Greek NT. Lachmann’s edition broke totally with the TR; instead, it depended solely on the results of text criticism, and, although his edition itself is not very good—since it depends on a very small number of manuscripts—it is important for inaugurating the age of scientific text criticism of the Greek NT.

In addition to Griesbach and Lachmann, Westcott and Hort are two very important figures in the history of NT text criticism. In the second volume of their New Testament in the Original Greek, Hort details the methodology that he and Westcott followed in producing their edition of the text, and he discusses the different text-types into which he and Westcott categorized the various manuscript witnesses (Syrian [the latest and least reliable], Western, Alexandrian, and Neutral [the most reliable].

Finally, the fruits of modern text criticism may be found in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (UBS4) and in the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (NA26; now actually in a 27th and 28th edition [NA27 and NA28, respectively]). These texts were produced by committees of scholars working with all the available textual witnesses, from papyri on through the patristic citations.

Part III outlines the process of modern text criticism of the Greek NT. It begins with chapter 5, a brief overview of how the practice of text criticism developed, tracing it from Hellenistic Alexandria through Renaissance Europe—material that seems more at home at the beginning of Part II than Part III.

Next, in chapter 6, Metzger and Ehrman give an overview of different approaches to text criticism: the “classical method,” which follows Lachmann’s methodology (i.e., eclecticism, with readings weighted by the manuscript’s text-type), and reactions against Lachmannian text criticism from Joseph Bédier (who argued for pure eclecticism rather than using manuscript genealogies) and Albert C. Clark (who argued that scribal omissions were far more common than scribal interpolations); Streeter’s theory of “local texts” as the source of manuscript variation; diplomatic text criticism, using the Majority Text (which is Byzantine) as a base text; thoroughgoing eclecticism, which judges variant readings based not on text-type but on the book’s content and the author’s style; and, finally, conjectural emendation, which “classical” text criticism regularly employed when all of the readings of a text were equally bad. Chapter 6 ends with an overview of modern (= computer-based, mostly) tools for NT text criticism, and several ongoing projects (as of 2005), which make/made use of those tools. As with chapter 5, chapter 6 seems much better suited to Part II, since it largely covers the history of NT text criticism.

Chapter 7 is a partial catalogue of “the causes of error in the transmission of the text of the New Testament” (250), which I have condensed here.

Chapter 8 recounts the how the text of the NT was transmitted, tracing the development of the Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine text-types and placing that process in the context of how other early Christian literature was disseminated. (Strangely, though the book makes frequent reference to the Caesarean text-type, it does not discuss the Caesarean along with the others, but instead discusses it on three pages in the next chapter.) Next, this chapter gives six ways in which textual data is useful for historians of early Christianity: 1) It gives information about early Christian doctrinal debates; 2) It provides data about Jewish-Christian relations; 3) It gives us information about gender roles in early Christianity; 4) It provides evidence of Christian apologia; 5) It provides information about early Christian asceticism; and 6) It provides data about the place of magic and fortune-telling in early Christianity.

The last chapter, chapter 9, gives an overview and several worked examples of how to perform text criticism on a particular NT text, the principles of which I have condensed here.

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Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 4: Conclusions

Note: This is the final part of my discussion of Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity. For context, see parts 12, and 3. I apologize that this post is long, but I wanted to be precise in my treatment of the subject and in my conclusions.

The Task at Hand

My goal in this discussion has been to find a creed/confession that all true Christians can wholeheartedly give assent to. I am not interested in finding a formula that non-Christians cannot affirm, because such a creed will, I believe, be used by some Christians to exclude other Christians who simply believe differently in certain inessential areas. In the same way, I am not interested in constructing a rule of faith, but rather in formulating universal Christian beliefs; think of this task more as descriptive theology than prescriptive theology. My goal is to have a formula that every Christian can say without reservation, thus providing a tool to unify the Church. To that end, I will survey the confessions of the first 350 or so years of the Church, establish some criteria by which to judge them, and come to a conclusion about what I think should be the universal Christian Creed.

Survey of Ancient Confessions Through the Fourth Century CE

I begin my survey of ancient Christian confessions with what is, according to Oscar Cullmann, the oldest Christian confession: [1]

“Christ is Lord.”

Second, a sample of confessional material from the 50’s and 60’s CE, as collected from Paul. (For the complete list of Paul’s — and others’ — citations, see part 3 of this series.)

“Who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:3b-4)

“[We] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:24-26)

“That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3b-5)

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (Gal 3:13)

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28)

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal 4:4-5)

The confessions that Paul cites, it is worth noting, originally come from a devotional/liturgical setting and have Jesus, rather than the Father, as their primary focus. They were not meant to convey precise truths about Jesus, but instead were meant to inspire devotion to him. Two prime examples of this phenomenon are Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20, both of which are quite florid but imprecise. [2]

By the late second century CE, the Apostles’ Creed was formulated:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Whereas Paul’s confessions were pre-biblical, the Apostles’ Creed is (obviously enough) post-Biblical. That is to say, while the confessions that Paul cites had their basis in the earliest Christian tradition, the Apostles’ Creed has its basis in what is now known as the NT canon. For instance, it incorporates “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate” from the Gospels and “he descended into hell” from Paul.

In 325 CE, the Nicene Creed was written…

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father; the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made, both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost.

…followed shortly thereafter, in 381, by the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (what the Book of Common Prayer and the Lutheran Book of Worshiphave listed as “the Nicene Creed”).

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Notice how much more theological flourish is in the latter creed when compared with the former. [3] Most interestingly, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed goes into much more detail about the nature of the Holy Spirit than any of the other creeds, and it includes an affirmation of Christ’s eternal generation. It is also interesting that, while the teaching about the Spirit is expanded quite significantly through the Apostles’, Nicene, and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds, the teaching about the Father remains more or less identical through them.

Having surveyed the development of the first few creeds of ancient Christendom, I will now make an assessment of the validity of each of them for assessing true Christianity today.

Assessment of the Ancient Confessions

I propose three different criteria for assessing these ancient confessions for use today. First, I give priority to the older formulations, because the older confessions are not as tainted by theological struggle. Second, non-devotional creeds are better than devotional ones, because a non-devotional creed will be more precise in its wording (cf. my discussion of the Pauline confessions above). Finally, the better creeds are those that are accurate in their treatment of the whole Bible and that do not include inessential doctrine. [4]

To begin, let’s examine the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed according to these criteria. While it is certainly very specific in its language, gaining it points under criterion (2), that precision comes from it being written during a profound ecclesiastical struggle, which inherently mars its ability to unify the Church. It also includes inaccuracies like the Virgin Birth (see Andrew T. Lincoln, “Contested Paternity and Contested Readings: Jesus’ Conception in Matthew 1.18-25,” JSNT 34: 211-231) and inessentials like the homoousion, the eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit. It was, to say it simply, written as a wedge to cleave off “false” believers from the true Church; it was designed as a weapon. Thus, as it stands, this creed is not useful for the task of unifying the Church.

The Nicene Creed is slightly older than  the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed is older still. However, they, like the Niceno-Constantinopolitan, declare inaccurate and non-essential doctrine to be essential for true Christianity. Namely, the Nicene Creed includes the homoousion, and the Apostles’ Creed includes Jesus’ being divinely conceived and the Virgin Birth. Thus, it too must be rejected in their traditional form; however, I will re-visit these two creeds shortly to see if they can be salvaged.

Finally, the Pauline confessions and the earliest confession, “Christ is Lord,” though they are old and though they are accurate in their treatment of the whole of Scripture, are not precise enough to function in themselves as true markers of Christianity today. Even when synthesized into a single confession, it still leaves much to be desired, especially in teaching about the Father and the Spirit. Thus, they must be rejected as possibilities for establishing a universal Christian creed, too.

Conclusion: My Proposal

After thinking through this idea for a while, I have decided to abandon my original proposal for a creed (“Christ, the Lord, is risen”) for the reasons I have just rejected the original confession and the Pauline confessions: it is not precise enough. It is more suited for a devotional setting rather than as a statement of beliefs. In its place, I propose a modified version of the Apostles’ Creed, with inessential doctrine removed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of a woman, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

I have change the line “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” to the Pauline “born of a woman,” and I have removed the references to the descent into Hell, to bodily resurrection, and to “life everlasting.” [5] I have also made the section about Jesus into its own paragraph, for the sake of style and formatting, but that does not impact any content.

A disclaimer on this proposal: I must make it very clear that this creed is only a means of describing Christianity, not a means of prescribing things to be believed. Accepting the doctrines in this creed is not the same as faith. As Rudolf Bultmann, discussing one of his teachers, warns, “He thought that the old Apostles’ Creed should continue to be confessed serenely in the worship service, because scarcely anyone considers it obligatory to take all its assertions as literally true. But if a new confession were to be formulated, it would consist of sentences that the listeners — or speakers — would think were sentences that they must accept as true, and therefore faith would once again be confused with accepting sentences as true.” [6] That is a pitfall which must be avoided at all costs.

All things considered, I think this confession, or something along the same lines, is the happiest medium between something as inclusive as “Christ is Lord” and as exclusive as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. It has all the essentials for basic Christian belief, it allows room for one to be captive to his/her conscience, and it isn’t unnecessarily exclusive. Moreover — and this is the important part — it provides a core of teaching that would allow Christians from different traditions and backgrounds to recognize each other for what they both really are: members of the body of Christ. It is, in sum, a tool for unity, rather than division.

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1. Oscar Cullmann, Les premières confessions de foi chrétiennes (1943). Cited in Richard N. Longenecker, New Wine into Fresh Wineskins: Contextualizing the Early Christian Confessions (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999), 14.

2. Longenecker, New Wine, 28-29. Longenecker notes nine major, interdependent themes of the confessions cited by the NT authors (New Wine, 34-44):

  1. “God is the initiator, sustainer, and ultimate agent of redemption.”
  2. “Jesus is Israel’s Messiah (the Christ)”
  3. “The eschatological age of redemption has been inaugurated.”
  4. “Jesus is God’s obedient son.”
  5. “Jesus is humanity’s redemptive Lord.”
  6. “The true humanity of Jesus.”
  7. “Christ’s redemptive death on a cross.”
  8. “Christ’s resurrection/exaltation to new life.”
  9. “New relationships established through the work of Christ.”

3. According to Wikipedia, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was originally a separate creed, perhaps a confession a candidate for baptism would have to recite before being baptized, that was modified to look like the original Nicene Creed. It seems to be that this unnamed baptismal creed looks an awful lot like the Apostles’ Creed.

4. This third point is inspired by the Church’s treatment of Galileo. Galileo, of course, was found by the Inquisition to be “vehemently suspect of heresy” and lived the rest of his life in house arrest. The reason? He dared to suggest, contrary to a plain reading of 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 104:5, and Ecclesiastes 1:5, that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than vice versa. The Catholic Church did not formally apologize until 2000.

5. Note very well: my deletion of any phrase (except for references to the Virgin Birth) does not therefore imply that I do not believe that phrase to be true. Remember, I’m making a universal Christian creed, and not all Christians believe in, say, a literal bodily resurrection or eternal life post mortem.

6. Walter Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (trans. James H. Burtness; London, Macmillan, 1970), 238. Emphasis added.

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A “New Testament Confession” (Median vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 3)

This post continues my discussion of Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity (parts 1, 2). Last time, I proposed “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen” as the only creed that should be required in order to prove true Christianity. Here, I provide a list of the major confessional material in the New Testament (drawn from Richard N. Longenecker, New Wine into Fresh Wineskins). I also distill this material and synthesize it into a single confession. On Monday, I’ll compare this NT-based confession with my proposal and see what changes need to be made where, and why.

Here’s the raw NT material:

“Who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:3b-4)

“[We] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:24-26)

“Who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)

“That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3b-5)

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19)

“Who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Gal 1:4-5)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'” (Gal 3:13)

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Gal 3:26)

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28)

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal 4:4-5)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

“We believe that Jesus died and rose again.” (1 Thess 4:14a)

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb 1:3)

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8-9)

Other NT confessional material includes calling Jesus “Christ” (Mk 8:29b, par.; John 1:15–27, 41; 7:41; 9:22; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 9:22; 17:3; 1 Jn 2:22; 5:1), calling him “Son of God” (Mk 15:39; 16:16; Jn 1:34, 49; 11:27; 20:31; Acts 9:20; 1 Jn 4:15; 5:5), and calling him “Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Cor 4:5; Phil 2:11; Col 2:6).

In this collection, it is far to say, we have some of the confessional material that the NT authors granted imprimatur. (If only we had more! Our lives would be much easier then.) Let us begin by distilling all of Paul’s confessions into one single confession:

Jesus Christ, the Lord,
Born to a woman, under the Law, in the line of David,
Died to redeem us from sin and Law,
Was raised and declared Son of God,
Appeared to Cephas and the Twelve,
Secured justification for us,
Made us God’s children,
Unifies the Church.

(Note that this Pauline confession also includes the single-word confessions from the Gospels et al. — that is, “Christ,” “Lord,” and “Son of God.” Also note that, in Paul’s confessions, Jesus is not “Son of God” until his resurrection.)

Now, let’s distill Colossians and Hebrews and add it to Paul:

Jesus Christ, the Lord,
The invisible God made visible,
The reflection of God’s glory.

He was born to a woman, under the Law, in the line of David,
Submitted himself to God,
Learned obedience through suffering,
Was made perfect and became our source of salvation.

He died to redeem us from sin and Law,
Was raised and declared Son of God,
Appeared to Cephas and the Twelve,
Ascended to sit at God’s right hand.

He created and sustains all things,
Secured justification for us,
Made us God’s children,
Unifies the Church, over which he is head.

With this, I think, we have something we could reasonably call a “New Testament confession.” On Monday, I’ll compare this confession with my proposal, “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen,” and see what changes need to be made to which confession, and why.

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