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Re: [Synoptic-L] Re: [GTh] Christological Peculiarities

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Frank Jacks On: Alpha Christianity Well, anybody who has sat around with Grant and Enslin is already as near to Heaven (to
    Message 1 of 36 , Sep 27, 2010
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Frank Jacks
      On: Alpha Christianity

      Well, anybody who has sat around with Grant and Enslin is already as
      near to Heaven (to use Enslin's own definition) as need be. Envious
      congratulations. On a few other points, since they inevitably arise
      (but not too much, since people tend to have their own more or less
      inevitable thoughts about these things anyway):

      FRANK: . . . such a group as you proposed might well have existed but
      the issue is whether there was any impact on subsequent "history of

      BRUCE: No its's not. The issue for the historian is whether it existed.

      But I'll tell you a secret: the impact of Alpha Christianity on all of
      1c Christianity, and on all of Christianity since then, is profound
      and constitutive. Theologians like to get into questions like the
      Three Natures of Jesus, and are doubtless pleased to think that they
      are baptizing kids in the literal Blood of The Lamb. But for the tots
      on the playground, and their moms anxiously watching them, what counts
      for getting into Heaven is not some long ago agonizing historical
      execution, but you, personally, and nobody else then or now acting on
      your behalf, doing good deeds and not doing evil deeds. Heaven is
      something you earn, and this is how you earn it. Nobody can do it for

      Nobody, including irate Paul, ever wholly does without the need to do
      good and avoid evil. That good is better than evil, in the thinking of
      the early Christians, is obvious to anyone reading the NT. What is
      especially interesting about Alpha (salvation by works, not by
      somebody else's blood) is that whole NT texts preach precisely that
      (James, Jude, the people with whom the author of 1 John is arguing,
      and whose tract is embedded in 1 John itself; in part the hymn in
      Philippians). The content of Apostolic preaching (in the Two Ways
      document embedded in both the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, and
      in the huge apocryphal literature on the Apostolic preaching) is
      overwhelmingly Alpha in character. Look it up. I admit it's tedious,
      but look it up, and see what it is preaching.

      We have Alpha (Epistle of Jacob) arguing faith/works with Beta (Paul)
      early in the century, and late in the century, the orthodox winners in
      1 John are arguing with Alpha schismatics who have left the church,
      and whose views are pure Alpha. If we pay attention to the arguments
      of the period, many of which center around works vs faith, or around
      water vs blood baptism, we stand to learn a lot about the period. I
      warmly recommend devoting some time to this survey.

      Trouble with theologically educated readers, is that they are so
      conditioned to see Beta in everything, that it becomes almost
      impossible to hear any other voices. When they fail, as Luther failed
      with the Epistle of James (or O'Neill with the loser half of 1 John,
      or any number of people with the Two Ways document), they get mad;
      they call it Jewish and not Christian. This is a reaction that might
      well be reconsidered, in a calm and historically sensitive spirit.
      When the texts tell us something we don't expect, maybe they are
      correcting our expectations.

      Jesus was not a Christian, he was a Jew. He preached to Jews, not to
      Gentiles. He had something new and important to offer Jews. Any valid
      reconstruction of Jesus's specific preaching must match that
      situation. To quote myself from an earlier message, Is Jesus REALLY
      likely to have gone house to house in Bethsaida, saying, to the nice
      Jewish lady who answers the door, "Good afternoon, Ma'am, I'm
      preaching a new gospel, which is based on getting into Heaven because
      I am a sinless person and I am presently going to be unjustly executed
      by the Romans."

      You find this plausible? Think it through again. Try it door to door,
      and see how far you get, before some nice Jewish lady calls the cops
      on you.

      FRANK: The first problem is that call them "Christian" is problematic
      at best and I doubt that even "Jewish Christianity" . . . applies for
      they remained simply a group of "believing Jews" (who would have seen
      Jesus as their "prophet" ... not "lord," which seems to have become
      used among the Diaspora Jews which is clearly a later stage),
      believing in the teachings of their prophet Jesus.

      BRUCE: So what's wrong with that description? You are defining
      "Christian" as somebody who believes in the Blood of Christ. There
      were obviously people who were reacted to in their own time as Jesus
      followers, and saw themselves as such, but who followed what Mark
      reports as the initial teachings of Jesus, namely a doctrine of
      "repentance." If someone's act of repentance is what saves him, by
      earning God's forgiveness, then we have an electrifying new teaching:
      you don't have to be sinless (a la Pharisee quiddling definitions of
      sin) to go to Heaven; YOU CAN BE FORGIVEN. Why did Jesus preach by
      preference among the sinful and impure? Did you ever think of asking
      that? Is it because he was a slob and a lowlife? Maybe. But it might
      also have been because the sinful were the ones most in need of, and
      as it turned out, most responsive to, his proclamation of God's mercy.
      (The snobs thought they were already in). God does not only kill and
      roast in hell forever; he also saves and loves.

      Wow. Revolutionary. And my impression, not to mention Mark's
      impression, is that it went over big in the areas where Jesus first
      preached it.

      Including the Diaspora. It seems that Jesus went after
      extraPalestinian Jews from the beginning; the idea was to bring a
      significant number of them back into conformity with God's will, so as
      to promote a national restoration. Jesus's first idea (see above) was
      that God forgives. His second idea was that if God forgives enough
      people, then a critical mass of Israel will be in fact lawful and
      indeed sinless, which brings up a whole new possibility, namely, that
      God will redeem his second promise: to preserve sovereignty in Israel.
      It's hard to read Mark, with a map handy, and not be aware that Jesus
      and company were working well up toward Syria, and not just hunkering
      around in the neighborhood of Capernaum. Bethsaida is already at the
      northern end of things, and beyond that; well, read your Bible, read
      your map, and see what you think.

      FRANK: I find "the gospel" (meaning "the death and resurrection of
      Jesus") the identifying marker that merits using the category of
      "Christian," which is not only what we find in Paul's letters but
      there Paul also claims that on this issue he is "at one"
      with Peter and James and John . . .

      BRUCE: You are defining Gospel in what I call Beta terms. That makes
      for a circular thought process. The question is not what we think, or
      what we define, but how the people of the time defined themselves. See
      above, and especially Mark for some of the primary evidence (and be
      alert for the code term Way for the teaching of Jesus).

      As for Paul's rhetorical strategies, get real. Paul was fond of
      emphasizing his similarities with his various congregations (see my
      previous remark on the Davidic parts of Romans), not that he shared
      their beliefs, but that he wanted a common basis for discussion. He
      also wanted above all else to certify himself as a legitimate Apostle,
      and for that purpose, emphasizing divergences with the recognized
      Apostles would have been counterproductive. Paul by his own account
      was a chameleon, all things to all people, and explicitly for purposes
      of persuasion. You have to be careful with a guy like that. He says
      things for strategic reasons. We can't just copy those things down and
      repeat them on the midterm exam (Question 2: Itemize the theology of
      Paul). We have to weigh them in the light of Paul's avowed larger
      purpose, and his demonstrated rhetorical slipperiness.

      "Before God, I do not lie." That is Paul speaking, angry as usual. But
      any decently savvy person, confronted with somebody who insists and
      even swears that he is not lying, will tend to think, This guy may be
      lying. Same with the Deutero texts; they reveal themselves in part by
      insisting on their authenticity. Paul is a better source for Paul than
      is Acts, but Paul is anything but a neutral observer of Paul. It needs
      care and discrimination. Paul and the guy who wants to blacktop your
      driveway cheap. First check if they are insured, or otherwise
      authenticated . . .

      FRANK: Finally, our problem in understanding earliest Christianity
      rests upon not just a reconstruction of "the real Paul" [discovered
      primarily through his letters] and "the real Jesus" but also "the real
      Peter" (who seems to have been embraced in Antioch as their
      "apostle" and source of their traditions of faith and practice) and
      "the real james" (whom the "heretical" Ebionites claimed as the source
      of their "variant" of Christianity) ... hmmm, which prompts me to
      ponder if the term "Jewish Christianity" is indeed useful, to describe
      those forms of faith and practice which at least tolerated Christians
      who continued to practice Torah as part of their definition of what it
      meant to be "righteous" ... and "Christian Judaism" to describe those
      who were convinced that "doing Torah" was a necessary if not
      sufficient basis for "being saved" (into the New Age ... not into the
      heavens), . . .

      BRUCE: Pete is one of the real enigmas of the situation. I really wish
      I knew about Pete. Jesus I think I understand, and I could forego an
      interview in real time if one were offered, but I would really like 5
      minutes with Pete. In Mark, he is the champion of the old Alpha view
      (including the Caesarea Philippi vision of the deified Jesus), and
      also the one who objects to Jesus's new (Beta) idea, that Jesus has to
      die. As far as that goes, then, Peter is on record as an Alpha
      resister to the new Beta doctrine. So here comes the big question: How
      long did this last? Did Peter eventually convert to Beta? Don't know.
      But the evidence so far does not seem to absolutely require that
      conclusion. In our small group, we are currently seeing how far we can
      get with the idea that Peter remained Alpha, and whether that would
      provide an imaginable common ground for conversation (as well as
      ongoing opposition) between him and Paul. No final answer yet; stay
      tuned; suggestions welcome.

      And anybody with a take on Apollos is also welcome to share it. Lot of
      minnows in the brook, and Apollos is another guy with whom Paul seems
      to have had differences of theology, despite also accepting him as a
      working colleague.

      The large analogue of this Peter/Paul question is, how far could Alpha
      and Beta communities coexist under the same roof, without breaking
      apart? 1 John shows such a community breaking apart, toward the end of
      the 1c. Others may well have reached crisis point before that; these
      small institutional frictions are mostly lost to us. My guess is that
      many mixed groups remained cohesive, on a common ground of veneration
      and even deification of Jesus, up to assigning him a role in judging
      the Final Days, but without insisting that what people would then be
      judged on was exclusively a belief in Jesus's atoning death. This is
      exactly the situation I see reflected in the Philippians hymn: it
      could be interpreted as a Suffering Servant image of Jesus, and by the
      Beta members it would have meant just that, but to Alphas it would be
      cosntruable as admiration for the humility of Jesus, in dedicating
      himself to their welfare in the next world, by telling them how to get
      there. In other words, that hymn could go either way, and probably
      went both ways, at any given meeting.

      These complexities of mixed situations are replicated in our own time,
      when points of doctrine that used to divide not only persons but whole
      militant denominations are tacitly submerged when, for economic
      reasons, the Baptists and the Congregationalists have to sell one
      church and meet together in the other. What hymnbook do you use? What
      doctrinal points are going to get stressed in sermons? What doctrinal
      points are going to get quietly ignored in sermons? The dynamics of
      those situations, the personal equilibrium of whose who constitute
      them and lead them, are full of practical interest. I don't know that
      they have been much explored, but it might be useful if they were.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Ronald Price
      ... Jeff, What I m trying to say here is that one can accept a hero who has minor flaws, such as the earnest but fallible Peter who emerges from a casual
      Message 36 of 36 , Oct 3, 2010
        Jeff Peterson wrote:

        > ..... Your "ordinary follower of Jesus" would
        > have found it just as difficult to believe that while the Pillars didn't
        > understand how followers of Jesus should conduct themselves at table, Paul
        > did;


        What I'm trying to say here is that one can accept a hero who has minor
        flaws, such as the earnest but fallible Peter who emerges from a casual
        reading of the gospel of Mark. But a follower of Jesus can't accept a hero
        who is fundamentally on the wrong track christologically. So Paul could not
        have portrayed Peter in this way without upsetting many of his Galatian

        > I think the reality described by 1:11 is more complex than Paul having had a
        > visionary experience which included a command to "Preach this," with a list
        > of propositions appended. Rather, as persecutor he had already heard what
        > Jesus' followers were proclaiming about him (viz., the crucified Messiah had
        > been raised and enthroned with God, inaugurating the age of deliverance
        > promised in Scripture) .....

        James and Peter were expecting the kingdom of God to come with power
        (Mk 9:1, derived from logia saying C12), i.e. the overthrow of the Roman
        occupiers and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. This clearly
        hadn't happened when Paul came on the scene. Paul's supporter, Mark, had to
        replace the hopes of the original disciples for the establishment of a new
        Israel (saying C21, c.f. Mt 19:28) with a reward in the life to come (Mk
        10:29-30). This echoed Paul's promise of eternal life (e.g. Rom 6:22-23).
        The idea that the kingdom had been inaugurated by the coming of Jesus arose
        after the deaths of the original disciples when it began to look as if the
        return of Jesus was delayed and might be delayed a lot longer.

        > Your last sentence [regarding the ability or otherwise of the Galatians to
        > check Paul's claims] neglects the extent of travel in the early Empire, and
        > the use made of this mobility to connect early Christian communities;
        > ..... We know that Paul organized Corinthians and Macedonians for an
        > embassy to Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:3–4; 2 Cor 9:4),

        Travel was indeed facilitated by the Pax Romana, and also by the widespread
        Roman roads. But it was still slow. Your example above concerns a journey
        which Paul regarded as most important. Travelling several days merely to
        check on the truthfulness or otherwise of Paul's assertions in Galatians
        would have been a lot less palatable.

        > It was very shortsighted of Paul to maintain that he and the Pillars agreed
        > on the gospel if contact with their followers was a real possibility for his
        > converts, and if the reaction of a Jerusalem Christian to an acclamation
        > like "Praise be to the God and Father of our crucified Messiah Jesus, who
        > raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand" would have been,
        > "Come again?"

        But as I indicated earlier in this thread, I don't think Paul claimed that
        the pillars agreed on the gospel.

        > ..... Peter and the
        > other disciples are depicted as uncomprehending regarding Jesus' impending
        > death and resurrection during his ministry, but their eventual enlightenment
        > and proclamation of these events is clearly anticipated (9:9; 13:9–13; 14:9,
        > 27–28; 16:7).

        I don't see 9:9 or 14:9 as indicating eventual enlightenment.
        As for 14:28 and 16:7, I take these verses as early interpolations designed
        to rehabilitate Peter. They are quite inconsistent with the rest of the

        > In historical terms, once Jesus is executed, a Christology like that
        > ascribed to Peter in 8:27–33 becomes untenable .....

        I agree. But my understanding of what transpired is that James, Peter et al.
        changed to a 'Son of Man' christology (see my reconstruction of the logia),
        Paul faced up to the inconsistency by glorying in the crucifixion (e.g. 1
        Cor 1:23 : "we proclaim Christ crucified"), but playing down the belief in
        Jesus as messiah by (for the most part) using "Christ" merely as a sort of

        Ron Price

        Derbyshire, UK

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