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Diversity in the New Testament

The topic of the weekend seems to be the unity and diversity of the New Testament. See posts over the past couple of days by Michael Bird, James McGrath, and Ari Katz. Since I’m currently re-thinking my New Testament intro syllabus (although I’ve always wanted to emphasize the issues of diversity and unity in the NT), I thought I’d add my $0.02 in the form of the following “genealogical” table of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers.

You can also download the PDF if you like. The chart is mostly based on Raymond Brown’s The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist, 1984), although I’ve adjusted some of the dates to reflect my personal opinions on such matters. My dating conforms to Richard Bauckham’s conclusions in “Pseudo-Apostolic Letters” (JBL 107/3 [1988] 469–94) about the possible pseudonymous nature of certain NT writings, based on literary rather than linguistic criteria. I would also recommend anyone interested in the unity and diversity of the New Testament to get hold of Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul (Fortress, 1983). See especially the first two essays in this volume, “Between Jesus and Paul: The ‘Hellenists,’ the ‘Seven,’ and Stephen (Acts 6.1-15; 7.54–8.3)” and “Christology and New Testament Chronology: A Problem in the History of Earliest Christianity,” for a compelling argument that many of the key features of Pauline theology can be dated to within only a very few years of the death of Jesus.



  1. […] In comparison, resources on June 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm Darrell Pursiful put together a diagram of the diversities of New Testament traditions, based on Raymond Brown’s The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist, […]


  2. […] does exist for diversity, especially in the NT texts themselves. In keeping with this, Darrell Pursiful has now posted a very helpful diagram (also available as a .pdf) of how he understands diversity […]


  3. […] diversity has gone around the blogosphere with discussions from Michael Bird, Darrell Pursiful, James McGrath, Ari (here, here, here, here).  Now I agree there was an early unity that centered […]


  4. […] early church was discussed by Michael Bird here, James McGrath here, Ari here, and Darrell Pursiful here and so forth. Last Seminary has listed several article on the subject as well which can be found […]


  5. John P. Shea says:

    First, let me commend you for an excellent diagrammatic summation of New Testament Christianity. I agree with the comment that John, whether religious “seeker,” “Beloved Disciple,” apostle, elder or revelator, is more Jewish than the diagram implies, though he would probably have been considered pretty heterodox by contemporary normative Pharasaic Jews. (However I must disagree with Raymond Brown’s cardinal thesis that the “Beloved Disciple” could not have been John, son of Zebedee, and one of the Twelve. In a city like Jerusalem, dependent on regular deliveries of salted and dried fish from the Sea of Galilee for its protein supply, the son of a successful fishing entepreneur would be welcome to sojourn–and spend some of his money–hobnobbing with the religious elite. Eventually he would have found his way to John the Baptist’s group, then, perhaps to the new sensation, Yeshua haNazoret.

    I also agree that there was within the Jesus movement at least a generalized notion that there should be agreement on some basic tenets, such as the special status of Jesus as having been sent by God. Most also held that he had been unjustly condemned to crucifixion, had in fact died, and had, at least in some sense, been raised from the dead by God. There does seem to have been a progression of belief from Jesus being taken up to heaven in body and/or soul, being seated at God’s right hand as prime operant, being adopted as natural “Son of God” either at his resurrection or at his baptism by John, being humanly born as a divine progeny, and, finally, the view of the Prologue of the fourth gospel, Divine Sonship co-eternal with the Father, which is now the orthodox teaching.

    To be honest, I would like to have seen more explicit diagramming of the Galilean utopian community, which I think formed the earliest Jesus movement. The “Our Father” seems to be characteristic of this group. There’s no anticipation of anything really nasty, like crucifixion, happening either to Jesus or his followers. Well, maybe a little “close questioning” in the local synagogue by Torah lawyers (“Lead us not into the trial”). And no, I don’t think they were cynics–quite the contrary, more like idealists. A lot of them were probably in the “500” to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection “though some doubted.” They may well have persisted as Jesus people in the type of halcyon rural community suggested in the Didache. Indeed there is historical data (quoted by Gibbon) that some of Jesus’s relatives (perhaps nephews) returned to Nazareth and took up farming. When brought before the Roman emperor Trajan during his progress through Palestine as possible claimants to Davidic kingship, their rustic simplicity convinced the emperor that they were no threat to his rule. So he released them with small donatives for their trouble.

    I would also have liked to see more detailed treatment of the Ebionites. They seem to have been the remnant, deemed by the Orthodox Apostolic Church as hopelessly heretical, of the Jerusalem Christians–mostly followers of James and Simon, his brother and successor–who evacuated Jerusalem for the Transjordan during a hiatus in the siege of Titus in the summer of 70 AD. After the destruction of the Holy City and the Temple, many of these returned, apparently under the protection of the Tenth Legion (Fretensis) since they had not taken part in the Jewish revolt but were still Jewish enough to not come under the proscription against Gentile Christians. Based on archaeological and later historical evidence (Bargil Pixner, a Franciscan, is one source) it’s thought that they rebuilt the “Upper Room” using stones salvaged from the destroyed Temple and named it the synagogue (later church) of St. James. If the “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus” ossuary is the real deal, there’s some reason to think that the “Brother of Jesus” clarification was added by this group at this time.

    It’s less clear to me what happened during the Second Jewish Revolt. The Jerusalem “Christian” community would have been considered collaborators and traitors by the Bar Kochba forces, who controlled Jerusalem for a time. Therefore, they would have had to flee when the Romans temporarily evacuated the city. After this revolt was put down, the Jerusalem Christians appear to have split into three groups. One returned to the city, now renamed Aelia Capitolina by the victorious emperor Hadrian, under a culturally Greco-Roman bishop named Marcus. They pretty much accepted normative proto-Orthodox culturally Gentile Christianity and formed the basis for the later Byzantine Christian Church of Jerusalem, subject for a time to coastal Caesarea Maritima. Another group appears to have returned to and refurbished the Church of St. James, retaining at least some of their Jewish cultural identity. They were brought into communion with the Orthodox Catholic Church in the fourth century AD, though at the cost of most of their uniquely Jewish Christian identity. The third group did not return to Jerusalem, retaining both Jewish cultural identity, their own gospel (possibly the truncated Matthew discovered by Jerome) and their own version of Christian doctrine, including a rejection of the Virgin Birth. They were called Ebionites, a pejorative term, by other Christians. It’s likely that they were persecuted into extinction by the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian, who abhorred dissent, in the mid-sixth century AD at the same time as he persecuted the remaining Samaritans into near extinction (only two Samaritan villages remain to this day in the West Bank).


  6. […] does exist for diversity, especially in the NT texts themselves. In keeping with this, Darrell Pursiful has now posted a very helpful diagram (also available as a .pdf) of how he understands diversity […]


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