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Re: [XTalk] On contrasting betas with alphas

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  • David Mealand
    I don t think that using 16th C notions of atonement as characteristic of the main current of Pauline and post-Pauline Christianity produces an accurate
    Message 1 of 6 , Dec 12, 2010
      I don't think that using 16th C notions of atonement as
      characteristic of the main current of Pauline and post-Pauline
      Christianity produces an accurate picture of the development.
      Even in second stage NT Christianity there is a huge variety
      of soteriological motifs often loosely co-existing -
      ideas of unprompted divine generosity and mercy, a motif of rescue,
      one of victory over evil powers, various types of sacrificial
      metaphor and allusion, ideas of salvation by the imparting of knowledge
      or by illumination, and ideas of transformation of mental outlook.

      There is no one single dominant motif here.

      Even after the NT period, in the 2nd & 3rd Centuries CE, it is
      not at all clear that sacrificial motifs dominate either the art
      or the writings of what later became regarded as orthodox in the
      Constantinian era.

      Further (though Quakers do not subscribe to such things)
      the creeds and main 4th & 5th C councils were mostly concerned
      with Trinitarian and Christological controversies, and say remarkably
      little about soteriology whether sacrificial or other.

      So, yes, one might agree that there is a serious difference between
      the development which later became regarded as "orthodox",
      and those who continued to follow an earlier and simpler and more
      Jewish version of the movement Jesus instigated. But a good deal of
      what has appeared
      on this here seems to focus the distinction too much on the wrong items
      as argued above.

      Also of course the evidence for the continuing character of the "earlier
      version" is hard to extract from the few surviving texts which seem to
      provide some limited information about it. The attempt should definitely
      be made, but a great deal of the evidence disappeared in circumstances that
      are not too mysterious.

      David M.



      ---------
      David Mealand, University of Edinburgh




      --------

      --
      The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
      Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
    • Thomas Kopecek
      David Mealand wrote on Sunday, December 12, 2010 6:19 PM Subject: Re: [XTalk] On contrasting betas with alphas I don t think that using 16th C notions of
      Message 2 of 6 , Dec 13, 2010
        David Mealand wrote on Sunday, December 12, 2010 6:19 PM

        Subject: Re: [XTalk] On contrasting betas with alphas

        "I don't think that using 16th C notions of atonement as
        characteristic of the main current of Pauline and post-Pauline
        Christianity produces an accurate picture of the development.
        Even in second stage NT Christianity there is a huge variety
        of soteriological motifs often loosely co-existing -
        ideas of unprompted divine generosity and mercy, a motif of rescue,
        one of victory over evil powers, various types of sacrificial
        metaphor and allusion, ideas of salvation by the imparting of knowledge
        or by illumination, and ideas of transformation of mental outlook.

        There is no one single dominant motif here.

        Even after the NT period, in the 2nd & 3rd Centuries CE, it is
        not at all clear that sacrificial motifs dominate either the art
        or the writings of what later became regarded as orthodox in the
        Constantinian era.

        Further (though Quakers do not subscribe to such things)
        the creeds and main 4th & 5th C councils were mostly concerned
        with Trinitarian and Christological controversies, and say remarkably
        little about soteriology whether sacrificial or other."

        ---------
        David Mealand, University of Edinburgh


        In his comments above David has expressed well the framework into which the last three paragraphs of my Saturday, December 11 post fit. I was simply presenting in those paragraphs one of the early churches' soteriological doctrines that was an alternative to what Bruce has called "the atonement doctrine of salvation . . . based on a sacrificial theory of Jesus' death." I fully agree with David that no soteriological doctrine constituted a "root belief" or 'core belief' of what Bruce has termed "Beta Christianity" in the ancient world-or, I might add, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, etc., Christianity. Whereas the sacrificial 'theory' came to be popular in the West (in Christians like Tertullian, Ambrose, and Augustine, though the term 'theory' is surely too strong a one even for these 2nd through 5th centuries persons), the deification view I mentioned in my previous post was more dominant in other early Christian circles-as were other views, such as Jesus 'The Teacher', Gustav Aulen's 'Christus Victor', etc. And sometimes different soteriologies are harmonized by the same persons: in Athanasius' De Incarnatione, for instance, the bishop develops a substitutionary view focused on Jesus' death within the context of a larger deification one.

        Like many a Patristic scholar, I find it extremely difficult to sort out how the 'Patristic churches' of antiquity emerged from the 'shadows' of the period before AD 150, which, BTW, is the main reason I have rejoined XTalk after about a decade: I am hoping that reading the list's posts will help me orient myself, as they tended to do when I exposed myself to the posts at the beginning of XTalk. It is this desire for orientation that drew me to read and to offer a few comments on the five pages of Bruce Brooks' Alpha Christianity. But I confess I became increasingly wary as I read the document's sections titled 'Terms' and 'Some Alpha Documents', finding myself agreeing with David Mealand's conclusion, to wit:

        So, yes, one might agree that there is a serious difference between the development which later became regarded as "orthodox", and those who continued to follow an earlier and simpler and more Jewish version of the movement Jesus instigated. But a good deal of what has appeared on this here seems to focus the distinction too much on the wrong items as argued above.

        If David is right-and, as I've said, I think he is-then the issue that must be faced is what exactly are 'the right items' that need to replace the "wrong" ones Bruce has suggested. Perhaps David will help with this.

        *****

        Let me end this post by adding a few more reactions to Bruce's Sunday, Dec. 11 contribution to the thread titled 'Alpha Christianity: An Invitation'.

        A. I begin by reproducing the background for my first reaction. It is as follows:

        "2. TOM: The second footnote is that offhand I cannot recall any good
        evidence from the Fathers that either the Ebionites or the Nazoreans called
        themselves 'Christians'. Hence using the expression 'Alpha CHRISTIANITY'
        might not be the best way to designate their historical antecedent. The
        evidence suggests that both the Ebionites and the Nazoreans viewed
        themselves as simply Jews--'Jews for Jesus', as it were.

        BRUCE: Limiting evidence to the Fathers draws a line which excludes nearly
        all 1c evidence. It also confines the analysis to sources which explicitly
        regarded Ebionites and others as heretics, and these sources would naturally
        be inclined to deny them the label Christians."

        It is true that I have trouble getting back to "1c evidence". But Bruce's next sentence doesn't quite fit the evidence that I, at least, am willing to use for reconstructing the positions of the Ebionites. I am among those souls who contend that much of the most detailed evidence for Ebionite beliefs is embedded in the Pseudo-Clementina, that is, in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions. The authors of the Pseudo-Clementina presumably did not regard their Ebionite sources as heretical.

        B. Bruce wrote, "The divinization of Jesus proceeded all through the 1c." I'm something of a fan of Larry Hurtado and, thus, am willing to endorse Bruce's view-but not only because of Hurtado's arguments (BTW, it was nice having Larry around on online discussion lists when he taught in Canada, before he became 'high and lifted up' at Edinburgh). On the other hand, my only reason for alluding to the divinization of Jesus and speaking of the related 'doctrine' of incarnation in my 'third footnote' was because they are the presupposition of the ancient Christian soteriology (and continuing Eastern Orthodox soteriology) of the deification or divinization of Christians, a position found in many Fathers of the Church. Of course, there are antecedents of this soteriology in the NT period, most notably in 2 Peter 1:4, which speaks of followers of Jesus becoming "participants in the divine nature" and even in John 10:34, where Jesus is presented as quoting Ps 81:6 LXX, "I said, 'You are gods . . . ' ". This 'trajectory' continued on, it appears, in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho 124 and The Epistle to Diognetus 10 before it was far more massively developed by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon and then Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, etc. I stressed the importance of deification soteriology in my 'third footnote' simply because I am not convinced that one can use a doctrine of the atoning power of Jesus' death as the way to identify or characterize either what Bruce is calling "Beta Christianity" (if, that is, I understand Bruce properly when he employs that label) or later Catholic Christianity.

        C. Finally, let me offer a couple of comments on the following sequence in Bruce's reactions to my prior post:

        "THE CHRISTIANITY OF ALPHA

        Several people, over the years since I first put some of these ideas
        forward, have reacted as Tom does above: how can these Alpha people be
        Christians if they don't believe in the saving death of Christ? The answer,
        I suggest, is given in an early Alpha text, the Didache."

        First of all, I never said that "Alpha people [could not] be Christians if they don't believe in the saving death of Jesus." I was simply making a point about the texts I accept regarding the Ebionites and Nazoreans and raising a tentative question about appropriate terminology based on that point.

        Second of all, in his famous 39th Festal Letter that define a NT of 27 books, Athanasius goes out of his way to identify the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas as "permitted for reading by those newly received into the Church" (or words to the same effect). Thus, I fully endorse the view that undoubted ancient "Christians" employed what Bruce calls "an early Alpha text" without hesitation and, indeed, in Athanasius' case, as nearly if not quite "scriptural". What is especially pertinent about Athanasius' acceptance of the Didache for our present thread is exactly the observation that Bruce makes about Eucharistic prayers: they give "no thanks for the saving death of Jesus." This is relevant to my contention that the dominant view of the way Jesus saves in Athanasius is deification. Whereas, as I said earlier, the bishop does develop a substitutionary or 'exchange' view of salvation that prominently involves the death of Jesus, this view is presented within the context of a more important Athanasian deification perspective on the way Jesus saves.

        Tom

        _____
        Thomas A. Kopecek, Ph.D. (Brown)
        Professor Emeritus of Religion & History
        Central College, Pella, Iowa 50219
        kopecekt@...<mailto:kopecekt@...>

        Home Address:
        1536 Elk Horn Drive
        Otley, Iowa 50214-8513










        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • E Bruce Brooks
        To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG In Response To: Tom Kopecek On: Orthodoxy From: Bruce On reading my Alpha Christianity page, Tom had inter alia the following comment:
        Message 3 of 6 , Dec 16, 2010
          To: Crosstalk
          Cc: GPG
          In Response To: Tom Kopecek
          On: Orthodoxy
          From: Bruce

          On reading my Alpha Christianity page, Tom had inter alia the following
          comment:

          TOM: So, yes, one might agree that there is a serious difference between
          the development which later became regarded as "orthodox", and those who
          continued to follow an earlier and simpler and more Jewish version of the
          movement Jesus instigated.

          BRUCE: Let's leave it at that. The patristic definition of "orthodoxy" tends
          to have its center of gravity in the 2nd through 4th centuries, and that is
          not necessarily constitutive for the 1st century. It is only the 1st century
          with which I am concerned: Jesus and the two or three generations after him.
          I am happy to disuse the term "orthodox," which in any case was prospective
          rather than descriptive, and simply proceed by describing what it seems to
          me are the earliest Christianity (based on the teachings of Jesus in his
          lifetime) and one important later version (based on an interpretation of
          Jesus's death).

          Whether either of these is more "Jewish" than the other could be argued (the
          sacrificial theory of Hebrews is certainly highly involved with Jewish ideas
          of sacrifice), but perhaps not productively. The main points for me are: (1)
          Both are sufficiently distinct from Judaism to have aroused the hostility of
          Judaism, in that they represent an acceptance of Jesus as the authoritative
          teacher, if nothing else; and (2) The two are different from each other, and
          at points hostile to each other.

          E Bruce Brooks
          Warring States Project
          University of Massachusetts at Amherst
        • RSBrenchley@aol.com
          Looking at this debate, I m wondering whether there was really much tension between alpha and beta. The hymn in Philippians 2 (whether Paul wrote it or not
          Message 4 of 6 , Dec 16, 2010
            Looking at this debate, I'm wondering whether there was really much tension
            between alpha and beta. The hymn in Philippians 2 (whether Paul wrote it
            or not isn't particularly relevant; if he's quoting, he's doing so with
            approval) speaks of Jesus' exaltation; surely this implies a resurrection,
            however understood. If he's still dead, there's no exaltation, and no salvation
            either, since it's the exalted Jesus to whom every knee is going to bend.
            I can easily see one as an evolutionary development from the other.

            Another aspect of this is Christological; how would the alphas have
            understood Jesus? Going back to Philippians, Jesus was originally 'in the form of
            God'. It's not the doctrine of the Trinity, since that hadn't been
            invented, so is it possible that we have an angel christology here?


            Regards,

            Robert Brenchley
            Birmingham UK


            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • E Bruce Brooks
            To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG In Response To: Robert Brenchley On: Alpha vs Beta From: Bruce Robert:: Looking at this debate, I m wondering whether there was really
            Message 5 of 6 , Dec 16, 2010
              To: Crosstalk
              Cc: GPG
              In Response To: Robert Brenchley
              On: Alpha vs Beta
              From: Bruce

              Robert:: Looking at this debate, I'm wondering whether there was really much
              tension
              between alpha and beta.

              Bruce: Not always, and when present not always acrimonious. But sometimes
              acrimonious, and for an acrimonious example, see again the Epistle of James
              vs Paul in Romans. They are directly contradicting each other, and calling
              each other fools in the process. Not spiritually edifying for us as modern
              readers, perhaps, but historically valuable.

              Robert: The hymn in Philippians 2 (whether Paul wrote it or not isn't
              particularly relevant; if he's quoting, he's doing so with approval) . . .

              Bruce: On the contrary, it is relevant. The form of it (with Lohmeyer and
              others) suggests a pre-existing piece of liturgical text; the label "hymn"
              will do well enough. And Paul is not necessarily quoting it to affirm it;
              more likely (as with his otherwise strange reference to the Davidic descent
              of Jesus at the beginning of Romans), he is establishing a basis for
              conversation with people he recognizes as fellow Christians (the notion that
              they are unconverted Jews will not wash), but wants to educate
              theologically. Paul speaks elsewhere of the Gospel that all parties accept;
              again, I suggest, to establish (or create?) a common ground of discourse.
              But what Paul does within that discourse is to move to his own more
              specifically Beta conceptions, and advocate them for those who do not begin
              by sharing them. It is this use of common material at the outset of a
              persuasion, in my opinion, that has caused much trouble to the commentators.
              These "common ground" sayings cannot, in several cases, be integrated into
              the generally accepted idea of Paul's beliefs; they are rather tactical
              moves in a conversation with those who at one point or another do not share
              Paul's beliefs. Paul himself explicitly affirms this rhetorical strategy: he
              becomes all things to all people, not in order to reduce tensions with them,
              or to remain with them, but to convert them to his own view. I think this
              exactly describes it.

              Robert: . . . speaks of Jesus' exaltation; surely this implies a
              resurrection, however understood. If he's still dead, there's no
              exaltation, and no salvation either, since it's the exalted Jesus to whom
              every knee is going to bend.

              Bruce: I think not. This is what I meant earlier by noting that Alpha, like
              Beta, evolves; it does not remain at its original primitive position. The
              deification of Jesus, and the replacement of God by Jesus at many points of
              the salvation scenario, is common to all Christians. It is also the most
              natural development in the world, one which is seen in the history of many
              persuasions, both sacred and secular. Suppose our congregation believes
              (having heard it from Jesus) that we will be judged on our merits (or sins,
              if not repented of and forgiven). At first we envision God as the Final
              Judge. Then we remember that Jesus (already in the vision of Peter in Mark)
              has gone straight to Heaven, and is there now. (This is the earliest idea;
              it is visible in the original Passion narrative in Mark and also in the
              remark of Jesus to the Good Thief in Luke, was that he ascended to Heaven
              directly on his death; if we accept the idea that his body rose from the
              dead, when we will envision a later Ascension; anyway, Jesus gets to Heaven
              and is there now). The next step is to envision Jesus, not God, as judge of
              the Last Days. But this does not change the basis ON WHICH we will be
              judged; it just amplifies and magnifies and glorifies the role of Jesus. So
              divinization (and the replacement of God), even to the point of the
              pre-existent Jesus, occurs in both Alpha and Beta strands of Christianity,
              and as we see in the Philippians hymn, it served as a point of union between
              the strands. Alpha Christians and Beta Christians in the same little
              community could have sung that hymn with conviction and in fellowship; it's
              just that some would have read into it (as Robert does, and as Fitzmyer did
              before him) the Atonement scenario, and others would not. No problem, or not
              necessarily any problem. You can get through the service without fistfights
              breaking out among the brethren. Surely a desirable state of affairs.

              Robert: I can easily see one as an evolutionary development from the other.

              Bruce: I can't. I think that Alpha and Beta must have different origins, and
              the idea that they reflect respectively the lifetime teaching of Jesus
              himself and the second thoughts of leading believers on the meaning of his
              death, somewhat later, seems to me not only the easiest scenario, but really
              the only scenario. I think it is obvious on the record that the two
              coexisted in some communities, and shared common further developments (such
              as divinization). But now and then, and widely at the end of the 1c, the two
              beliefs, in the atonement theory (and faith in it) as that which saves, or
              in the power of repentance (and faith in God's forgiveness of the repentant
              person, and his power to raise them to Heaven later on), came into violent
              conflict, as part of the process of hardening up of "the tradition" at that
              time. The Johannine Epistles, and for that matter 1 Peter and some
              contemporary texts, all witness to these increasing tensions; Jude and 2
              Peter take them a step further. This late stuff is also an important
              witness; something we have to figure into our large picture.

              Robert: Another aspect of this is Christological; how would the alphas have
              understood Jesus? Going back to Philippians, Jesus was originally 'in the
              form of God'. It's not the doctrine of the Trinity, since that hadn't been
              invented, so is it possible that we have an angel christology here?

              Bruce: Angelology enters Christian theory more or less in the
              Deuteropaulines, though it certainly does come in then; that climate of mind
              looks to me also very much like the one in which Gamma Christianity (the
              sort of gnosticism seen in the Gospel of Thomas) could easily have arisen,
              and the evidence of canonical Gospel indebtedness in Thomas (Mark, Matthew,
              Luke, but not John) actually tends to date it to that period. I don't see it
              anywhere in the Philippians hymn.

              In Philippians 2, we have a "high" Christology, but as I noted above, not
              necessarily an Atonement soteriology; the two are separable. And once we see
              that they are separable, I think a great many of the bitterly polemical
              passages in the NT texts become clearer to us.

              The first question is the hardest. I think I have answered it before, but
              perhaps in the middle of something else. The question has been asked, on
              this or that E-list, in the years since I first put forward the Alpha/Beta
              distinction; How can you call these Alpha people Christians, if they don't
              focus on the death of Jesus as the basis of their hope of eternity? I think
              the answer is very clearly given in the Alpha literature, which for me
              includes not only the early layers of Mark, and the whole of James, but also
              the Two Ways document and the Didache which incorporated it into an advanced
              Alpha liturgical treatise; the working pastor's handbook of procedures. Here
              then is the question in a textually answerable form. Are the Didache people
              Christians or Jews? And if Christians, are they Alpha of Beta? And if Alpha,
              what is the basis by which they identify themselves with Jesus?

              The Didache formulas for the Eucharist I think give the answer. Given the
              Eucharist, they are Christians. Given the lack of reference to anything
              resembling the Atonement, they are Alphas. And how do they regard Jesus?
              Answer: As the one who distinctively taught them the Way to Heaven (notice
              the term Way for the teaching of Jesus, as early as Mark but also in later
              texts, and don't forget the Two Ways tract, which was incorporated whole
              into the later Didache). Here is how the Didache formulas read (and it is
              God, not Jesus, who is being addressed):

              9:2. We give you thanks, our Father,
              For the holy vine of your servant David
              Which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus
              To you is the glory forever

              9:3. We give you thanks, our Father
              For the life and the KNOWLEDGE
              Which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus
              To you is the glory forever (tr Varney)

              What life? Eternal life. What knowledge? The knowledge of how to be saved.
              What had the hypocrites (see Did 8:1) done? They had cluttered the Way of
              Lawfulness with a lot of quiddling clauses and persnicketing subtexts; they
              had barred the way to salvation; according to their expanded rulebook (and
              remember that the Law is One), you can go to hell for eating shrimp cocktail
              with some business associate at a downtown lunch. Jesus had scraped all that
              away; he had limited the Heaven/Hell operative rules to roughly the second
              table of the Decalogue, and then had summed even that up in just two
              statements: Love God, Love Your Neighbor (to which, as Hillel is said to
              have said, the rest of it, meaning for Jesus the second table of the
              Decalogue, is commentary).

              This was revolutionary. It opened the door to Heaven. That redefinition of
              the Law, plus the assurance that God would forgive the penitent (this was
              John the Baptist's contribution), meant that you could make it to Heaven
              after all. Is that not a sufficient basis for gratitude, for honor, even for
              the exaggerated theological honors that eventually were paid to Jesus, all
              without departing (other than cosmologically) from the original teachings of
              Jesus?

              I think it was, and I think that people who held these beliefs, who sang
              these hymns, who gave thanks to God in these terms, were unmistakably
              Christians. They were also massively rooted in everything the Gospel of Mark
              tells us about Jesus's actual preachings, little and cryptic though that be.
              The Epistle of Jacob (along with some of the later interpolations in Mark)
              is there to spell out some of the consequences of that teaching for daily
              life; the Hymn in Philippians is there to attest how liturgically developed
              that line of tradition became. So does the much more detailed record in the
              Didache, of roughly the same date, and notice that the Didache prescriptions
              for baptism are for water baptism of the penitent, not the blood baptism of
              the Atonement as understood by Paul).

              If we want to understand the Alphas, the only way to do it is to read their
              texts. This I venture to suggest, along with the recommendation that we
              approach them, including the early layers of Mark, as though they were new.

              Which at one point, for their original audience, they undoubtedly were.

              Bruce

              E Bruce Brooks
              Warring States Project
              University of Massachusetts at Amherst
            • Jeff Peterson
              The end of semester affords no time to engage the interesting debate excerpted below properly, but I think Bruce finds more tension between Paul and James than
              Message 6 of 6 , Dec 16, 2010
                The end of semester affords no time to engage the interesting debate
                excerpted below properly, but I think Bruce finds more tension between Paul
                and James than the texts warrant. The treatments of James 2:14 ff. in Luke
                Johnson's commentary and Richard Bauckham's book are especially helpful
                here, though I think they push too hard against the consensus in denying any
                substantive connection at all between James and Paul on this question; the
                best interpretation of James is as pushing back against the libertine
                interpretation of Paul's gospel represented in Rom 3:8 � but Paul agrees
                with James in opposing that!

                On the larger question of alpha vs. beta Christianity, James and Paul on
                faith and works falls far short of the evidence needed to establish the
                thesis; even if one goes all the way with Luther on the depth of the J/P
                cleft, that still represents a difference over the details of soteriology
                within a common faith. The glorified Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 2:1) whose
                advent is awaited (Jas. 5:7) is the same agent of salvation we know from the
                Pauline letters.

                Jeff Peterson
                Austin Graduate School of Theology
                Austin, Texas


                On Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 11:47 AM, E Bruce Brooks
                <brooks@...>wrote:

                >
                > In Response To: Robert Brenchley
                >
                > Robert:: Looking at this debate, I'm wondering whether there was really
                > much tension between alpha and beta.
                > Bruce: Not always, and when present not always acrimonious. But sometimes
                > acrimonious, and for an acrimonious example, see again the Epistle of James
                >
                > vs Paul in Romans. They are directly contradicting each other, and calling
                > each other fools in the process. Not spiritually edifying for us as modern
                > readers, perhaps, but historically valuable.
                >


                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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