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Sanders Explains Sanders

Not Bernie, but Ed. Here’s a great summary of what E. P. Sanders considered the gist of his monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Astute Bible readers—and students from my CHR 150 classes—will know that this book was a watershed in the history of Pauline research: a study with which one must be acquainted.

I shall now give a summary of the principal arguments, beginning with a negative point:

(1) The book is not about the sources of Paul’s thought. I granted that many or most topics in Paul could be paralleled in Jewish literature, but I was not pursuing an argument about where Paul got his ideas. Failure to note this point has misled several readers, some of whom have criticized me for using Jewish material later than Paul, while some have even imagined that in proposing that Paul had a different “pattern of religion” I meant that he had no connection with Judaism.

(2) In most of Palestinian literature, the “pattern” of “getting in and staying in” is simple: one is in by virtue of the election (or covenant); one stays in by remaining loyal to the Jewish law. These two basic convictions gave rise to the term covenantal nomism.”

(3) In Paul, all are “out” of the people of God and may enter only by faith in Christ.

(4) The two sets of terminology summarized by the phrases “being justified [righteoused] by faith” and “becom ing one person with Christ” essentially mean the same thing: these are the terms that indicate entry into the people of God: one “dies” with Christ or is righteoused by faith and thus transfers into the in-group.

(5) Once in, the member of the body of Christ should behave appropriately. In detail, this usually means the adoption of Jewish rules of ethics and other forms of behavior.

(6) In both Judaism and Paul, people in the in-group are punished rewarded depending on how well they adhere to the standards. Punishment and reward, however, are not “salvation”; people are saved, rather, by being in the in-group, and punishment is construed as keeping them in (as in 1 Cor 11:27-32).

(7) Paul does not accept the adequacy of the Jewish election for getting in; he begins the process of a theological rupture with Judaism by requiring faith in Christ.

(8) Formally, Paul sometimes accepts the whole law,” but it turns out that his Gentile converts do not actually have to keep all parts of the Jewish law, and that sometimes even Jewish Christians should depart from Jewish practice (as in the case of Peter in Antioch).

(9) Consequently, Paul’s “pattern” of religion is not the same as “covenantal nomism.” The efficacy of the election is rejected, and the law is accepted with qualifications.

(10) Paul’s pattern is, however, like covenantal nomism in that admission depends on the grace of God, while behavior is the responsibility of the individual—who, of course, is supported in his or her efforts by God’s love and mercy.

(11) Since one gets in by dying with Christ, and since Pauls outlook is strongly eschatological, I dubbed his pattern “participationist eschatology,” though “eschatological participationism” might have been better.

(H/T: Jesus Creed)

October 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival

Posted for your reading pleasure at Reading Acts. Enjoy!

Beauty and the Beast and the Workers in the Vineyard

Wisdom from Damaris Zehner regarding Matthew 20:1-16:

Why is it that we identify ourselves with the hard workers and not with the latecomers?  Do we really think we have achieved enough through our efforts to dictate to God how he should reward everyone?  I wonder why it takes so long to occur to most of us that we are really the ones who deserve nothing and are rewarded with grace.

She then goes on to apply this same insight to a certain Disney movie.

Early Christianity (not “Christianities”)

Another gem from Larry Hurtado on early Christian diversity:

From our earliest Christian texts (e.g., Paul’s letters and other writings) we have candid references to diversity in the young Jesus-movement, even sharp conflicts and mutual condemnation.  Maybe Eusebius could convince himself that everything was sweet agreement initially and that diversity and division only came later, but that’s not what the earliest sources actually show.

This early Christian diversity, however, was not a number of totally separate communities or forms (hence, my dissatisfaction with “early Christianities”).  As I contend in a recent article, the diverse expressions of early Christianity seem to have been in vibrant contact with one another, sometimes conflicting, at other times seeming to agree to overlook differences, at other times seeking to persuade others of their own views/emphases….

Nevertheless, in that swirling diversity we also see from a very early point strong efforts to establish trans-local and trans-ethnic commonality.  That’s an obvious major aim reflected in Paul’s Gentile Mission, reflected, for example, in his extended effort in the collection for Jerusalem.  And note Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, that Jerusalem leaders and he proclaim a broadly shared message focused on Jesus.  Of course, Paul also refers to “false brethren,” “false apostles,” etc., indicative of the real diversity and division as well.  But the effort to try to form a broadly connected and cooperative trans-local religious movement didn’t start with Eusebius or Constantine.  The impulse was there from very early (however it may have fared from time to time).

Early Christianity: Not a Religion?

Food for thought from Larry Hurtado:

In the Roman era, “religion” (our term, not theirs) was typically a set of cultic performances, mainly sacrifice/gifts to gods.  People liked the gods to do things for them, and the gods liked gifts.  So, it was a convenient exchange.  You could offer a god a gift to ask for a boon, or in thanks for one.  There were also regular sacrificial rites, at periodic times, essentially to keep the god in a positive relationship with you, your city, nation, etc.

This produced physical evidence of “religion.”  There were sacred places, and shrines or temples built.  There were altars, and images of the gods.  There were “ex voto” objects purchased and given to the temple/god in thanks for answered prayers.  Substantial gifts would often also involve an inscription (just so the god and other people didn’t overlook who gave the gift).  These “dedicatory” inscriptions form the main part of the data that Collar studies on the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, for example.

But early Christianity (in the first three centuries CE) didn’t have shrines or temples, or altars, or cult-images, and no sacrifice was involved.  So, no dedicatory inscriptions or ex voto objects, or whatever.  (The earliest church structure thus far identified firmly is the famous Dura Europos one dated in the 3rd century CE.  But it didn’t include an altar or image or such.)

Instead, early Christianity was heavily the propagation of teaching about the Christian God’s purposes and will for human life, which included the formation of responsive groups (“ekklesias”) called to exhibit the way of life demanded by the God.  There were, to be sure, cultic/worship actions and rites, e.g., baptism invoking Jesus’ name as the entrance rite, and the sacred shared meal.  But early Christianity didn’t generate the kinds of physical objects generated/used by other religious groups of the time.

Indeed, some scholars (e.g., Edwin Judge) even urge that early Christianity can’t be called a “religion” in the terms applicable in the Roman world, and should be classified as a peculiar “philosophy” instead.  For my part, I still prefer to classify early Christianity as a peculiar kind of Roman-era “religion,” although I grant that it exhibits a number of features that are more commonly found among some philosophical groups of that time.

September 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival

This month’s roundup of the best of biblical studies blogging is hosted by William Brown at his blog, The Biblical Review.

Jesus Our Brother

I don’t know what Oprah said, and I don’t especially care. But I do appreciate Scot McKnight’s defense of the propriety (theologically, biblically, and pastorally) of conceiving of Jesus as “Brother.”

But I would like to defend the importance of seeing Jesus as Brother, even if “Brother” is not a sufficient or adequate christology.

First, she was a young child when she said this and was coming to terms with relations and faith. Children think things like this. I found her sentiments entirely appropriate for a child and the way we would want our children to think.

Second, she thought like this because she didn’t have a father in her life and that’s where pastoral theology enters. We should see in her statements something about how God steps in our lives, in part, to fill up what is lacking.

Third, in the Bible and in the history of the church many have found a theological anchor in Brother-hood with Jesus as a place from which we can pursue some themes. To call Jesus brother is to acknowledge his humanity not to deny his deity; if one think he’s only a brother, then brother is inadequate. But his fellowship with us, his “friendship” with us (Luke 12:4), can be legitimately called brotherhood at some level.


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