Re: [Synoptic-L] Re: [GTh] Christological Peculiarities
- To: Synoptic
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
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
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
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
- Jeff Peterson wrote:
> ..... Your "ordinary follower of Jesus" wouldJeff,
> 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
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 aJames and Peter were expecting the kingdom of God to come with power
> 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) .....
(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 toTravel was indeed facilitated by the Pax Romana, and also by the widespread
> 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 16:34; 2 Cor 9:4),
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 agreedBut as I indicated earlier in this thread, I don't think Paul claimed that
> 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?"
the pillars agreed on the gospel.
> ..... Peter and theI don't see 9:9 or 14:9 as indicating eventual enlightenment.
> 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; 13:913; 14:9,
> 2728; 16:7).
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 thatI agree. But my understanding of what transpired is that James, Peter et al.
> ascribed to Peter in 8:2733 becomes untenable .....
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