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RE: [XTalk] XTalk on Peter: Originating Proclamation

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  • Matson, Mark (Academic)
    Bruce Brooks wrote, responding to me: MARK: 1. At root, a basic issue is what was the major impetus for the rise of the early church? According to Acts, . . .
    Message 1 of 2 , May 7, 2009
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      Bruce Brooks wrote, responding to me:

      MARK: 1. At root, a basic issue is what was the major impetus for the rise
      of the early church? According to Acts, . . .

      BRUCE: Hold it right there. Acts is a highly schematic History of
      Christianity. It is not a primary document. If we want to understand Roman
      history, we have roughly two choices: (1) read Gibbon, or (2) read Roman
      documents. I favor the latter. Everyone will be aware that in some current
      scholarly opinions, Acts dates from well into the 2nd century.

      Mark in response: Well, I would disagree on two counts: 1), this issue was not discussing Roman history. In fact I'm not sure where you jumped to that. I wouldn't use Acts for that. But... I don't think Luke's second volume is inherently out of bounds. It does, after all, deal with the church's growth (which was, by the way, the issue -- whether Acts' speeches contained a summary of Peter's or the early church's early proclamations in any way useful for our consideration). Granted, it is Luke's interpretation. But every history is interpretation.. so that doesn't rule out Acts as possibly useful. 2) I would disagree on your dating of Acts. Granted, some argue for 2nd century. I would argue that Luke and Acts are the last of our written canonical gospels. But I would still put Luke and Acts in latter first century. Besides, lateness doesn't inherently mean inaccurate. But those who suggest very late Acts usually have a tendentious point.

      MARK: . . . it was primarily the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that
      this singular event interpreted all of
      Jesus' previous teaching, and also interpreted the entire Old Testament.

      BRUCE: That is the Acts take on it. But there is widespread and early
      evidence that at least some segments of the early Church (and I think it is
      methodologically risky to regard that as a singular noun) were not
      Resurrection centered, but were otherwise centered. The OT was cited, as far
      as I can make out, by most of these groups, but not always in the same
      sense. This I would call the Risk of the Unitary Assumption. Standard
      historical methodology deprecates Unitary or any other assumptions; it
      advises looking at the evidence before forming any assumptions. I recommend
      standard historical methodology.

      Mark in response: Well I would be most interested in very many examples of the early Church (or churches) that did not focus on the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly Paul, being the earliest example we have (and you do like early) focuses on Jesus as having been crucified and died and risen as an essential feature of the gospel. Just look at 1st Thessalonians right off the bat in his initial blessings. And Galatians, which engages disagreements reemphasizes Jesus as crucified, and 1 Corinthians, also engaging disagreements, keeps coming back to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

      We might look to gnostic gospels, but it is unclear that these are indeed early documents or point to early expressions of the church.

      Even if the specific language is missing (eg Didache), the emphasis on Jesus' lordship, the baptism in Jesus, incipient either binitarian or trinitarian language, etc., nonetheless point not to maintaining some early preaching of Jesus, but rather preaching about Jesus.

      I am not suggesting any simplistic unitary view (heavens, my recent paper on the Chronology of the passion should put that unitary view to rest). But I am not assuming a variety of views of the church's early preaching. Something happened that awakaned people to begin a new religious movement that grew very rapidly. One has to explain that. I think it was the belief that Jesus, although killed by crucifixion, was nonetheless raised and thus "alive" in a real if not fleshly sense.

      MARK: . . . It was preaching first about Jesus, and secondly contained the
      content of Jesus' own preaching.

      BRUCE: Surely not yet proved. If we are to guess, I would think that the
      least risky guess is that Jesus preached his own view of things, and the
      Church (churches) preached their view (views) of Jesus. And I would think it
      methodologically wise to reserve judgement about the extent to which the
      early preaching of the churches coincided with the lifetime preaching of
      Jesus. ...

      Mark in response: I have no doubt that there was great continuity in much of the teaching of the church with Jesus' own teaching and preaching. But Jesus did not preach about his death as a primary issue (even if you think his predictions of his death are indeed prophetic)... he preached the kingdom of God and the way that people should think of both God and people in this kingdom. Still, (again following Paul.... and Acts) the centrality of Jesus' death and resurrection, and what that meant as a cosmic reordering event... well I stand by my own assessment that the early church was blown away by their understanding of who Jesus was based on his resurrection (and probably other connections that led quickly to his being conceived of as "divine".... or at least worshipped in some way (see Hurtado here on this...))

      Mark A. Matson
      Academic Dean
      Milligan College

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