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Diversity in the New Testament: Clarification and Update

My little graphic has apparently generated a bit of conversation about earliest Christianity and its diversity. Thanks for the link-love, everyone! Perhaps I should state a couple of things that went unstated yesterday.

First, terminology is a swamp. I happily concede that all of the major traditions of early Christianity are properly “Hebraic”: they are all thoroughly grounded in a Jewish milieu (be it apocalyptic, proto-rabbinic, mystical, or what have you). Furthermore, all of these traditions are properly “Hellenistic” as well. As Martin Hengel demonstrated in Judaism and Hellenism (Wipf & Stock, 2003), even Judaism in the Land of Israel was quite hellenized in the first century. We’re talking about a very blurry spectrum, not a binary opposition. That is why I name the Apostle John as one of the “Jerusalem Pillars” (somewhere between my “Hebraic” and “Petrine” traditions and informing them both) and yet place the “Johannine” tradition where I do.

Second, the most significant terms for defining the continuum are those along the left-hand side of the chart, from the “more conservative” to a “more innovative” approach, particularly with respect to Christianity’s Jewish roots. I’m not trying to resurrect Baur’s James–Paul dichotomy leading to Petrine “early catholicism.” But I do think Brown is helpful in pointing out that differing strands of early Christianity had differing theological assessments of Judaism, some more positive (James, Matthew), others somewhat ambivalent (Peter, Paul, the author of Hebrews), and others having experienced what was apparently a bitter fracturing of relationship (the Johannine Community).

Third, all of these traditions grow and develop from a single source, the teachings of Jesus and the community that grew up around him both before and after his death and resurrection. Therefore, I don’t see these groups as necessarily distinct from each other or eager to excommunicate each other—with the exception of those on the extremes. I would define all of these groups as “proto-orthodox,” if you want to use that term. In my view they were certainly within the basic kerygmatic unity of the early church proposed as early as C. H. Dodd (The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments [Hodder & Stoughton, 1936]) and advocated these days by scholars as distinct from one another as Arland Hultgren ((The Rise of Normative Christianity [Fortress, 1994] 53), Eugene Lemcio (The Past of Jesus in the Gospels, [Cambridge, 1991]), James D. G. Dunn (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament [SCM, 1990]), and Robin Lane Fox (Pagans and Christians [HarperCollins, 1986]).

Finally, let me be the first to concede that I have been bested in the attempt to create a graphic to explain the unity and diversity of the NT over at Ari Katz and by James McGrath. Ari has both called attention to a trajectory of NT tradition that I had overlooked. James has provided not one but four alternative graphic proposals, each of which has many strengths that are lacking in my own model.



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