Hengel: Origins of the Christian Mission (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 3)

The third essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul addresses the origins of the Christian mission. In doing so, he makes 5 main points, though I would question the sequence in which he chooses to tackle them:

1) The first secular Roman historians to mention Christianity (i.e., Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius) give the impression of a rapidly expanding religious movement (superstitio).

2) The Pauline mission was an unprecedented event in scope, both in terms of the history of religion and subsequent church history. Two questions are raised: i) Did Paul have his “world-wide” view of mission from the time of his Damascus Road experience, or did he develop it only later?; and ii) What were the basic motives of his mission?

Regarding the first matter, Hengel concludes that it developed only later. This is evident by the fact that Paul spent the first 14 years of his “Christian” life in the regions of Cilicia and Syria, and he operated under the authority of the Antioch church. It was only after the Jerusalem Council and his break with Barnabas and the Antioch church (cf. Gal 2:11-14) that he came to see his mission in “world-wide” terms.

On the second question, Paul was driven largely by his eschatological convictions and his view of salvation history (cf. Rom 9-11): the full number of Gentiles must convert before God’s eschatological purposes could be fully actualized.

3) The initial impulse towards a mission to non-Jews came from the “Hellenists” (i.e., Greek-speaking Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem, who were led in this direction by connecting Jesus’ critique of Torah and his activity helping outcasts with their own situation in the Diaspora. This happened upon their flight from Jerusalem in the aftermath of Stephen’s stoning.

4) The earliest Christian community in Palestine was a missionary community from its inception, the foundation of which is found in the commissioning given to them in their experience of the risen Christ. Jerusalem, as the eschatological center of Judaism, thus became the headquarters of the movement. That the first Christians were focused on missions, albeit to their fellow Jews only, is also evidenced by the office of “apostle” (one who is sent), which pre-dated Paul.

5) The ultimate basis of the Christian mission lies in the messianic activity of Jesus himself, whose own mission was the starting point for that of his followers.

Hengel: Christology & NT Chronology (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 2)

The second essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul is “Christology and New Testament Chronology: A Problem in the History of Earliest Christianity.” Even more than in the first article, Hengel avoids extended defenses of his claims. This will leave some readers frustrated or simply unconvinced. It’s interesting to note that while reading this piece, I occasionally was reminded of Larry Hurtado’s work on early christology, especially his Lord Jesus Christ. I’m sure that Hengel was appreciative of Hurtado’s contributions, and vice versa.

Hengel opens with a key claim: all the essential features of Paul’s christology were already fully developed by the late 40s C.E., before the apostle embarked on his first extended missionary journey to Asia Minor. This leaves the historian with three questions to address:

1) What kind of picture of the Messiah might the newly-converted Pharisee, Paul, have had in the aftermath of his Damascus Road experience ca. 33 C.E.?

2) Do we have any reason to suppose that Paul’s christology changed in essential points during the years following his conversion (say, from 33-48 C.E.)?

3) Which earliest Christians, if any, influenced Paul’s theological thinking and shaped his christological ideas?

Hengel rejects the idea that there was an exclusive “Gentile Christian” formative influence on earliest christology. Instead, these theological developments took place in communities where Jewish Christians were the predominant group. At best, there were mixed “Jew/Gentile” communities where the Jewish element was still theologically dominant. In this regard, he offers reasons for rejecting the claims of scholars such as Bousset, Bultmann, Hahn, and others, who contended that much of the earliest “high” christology originated among Gentile Christians. According to Hengel, more christological development occurred in the first 18 years of the church than in the subsequent 700 years. This development took place primarily in the Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian communities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Caesarea, and elsewhere in Syria and Palestine. Since there is no evidence of Paul’s christology being a point of contention in his relationship with the Jerusalem apostles, it is safe to assume that it did not differ significantly from theirs.

Hengel concludes by outlining the development of earliest christology, though he cautions against getting more specific than this (e.g., one cannot ascertain the precise sequence in which the christological titles were ascribed to Jesus during this earliest period):

1) The activity and preaching of Jesus contained an implicit christology – Jesus fashioned himself in the mold of a messianic prophet, his followers regarded him as such, and he was executed as a “pseudo-Messiah.”

2) The disciples’ resurrection experiences came to be understood as the exaltation and enthronement of Jesus.

3) A series of titles were quickly ascribed to Jesus in accordance with his various “functions” (e.g., Christ, Son of David, Son of God).

4) Jesus’ call to his followers to evangelize represented a special stimulus toward christological reflection – who was/is Jesus?

5) This missionary task set in motion the argument from Scripture – Christology and Scripture interpretation were inextricably linked from the beginning.

6) Even before Paul’s conversion, the basic christological elements were in place, with the exception of pre-existence christology and the concept of the sending of the Son.

Preview Doug Campbell’s “Framing Paul”

A significant portion of Douglas Campbell’s upcoming book, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography (Eerdmans, 2014), is available for preview – look for the Google Preview icon just below the image of the book cover on the linked page.

I’ve skimmed about 50 pages and it is certainly on my must-read list when it’s released next month. Campbell concludes that 10 Pauline letters are genuine (i.e., all but the Pastorals), but his chronology is unique in some aspects.

Hengel – Hellenists (Between Jesus and Paul: Part 1)

I am making my way through Martin Hengel’s classic work, Between Jesus and Paul, a collection of six essays on the earliest years of the Christian movement. I’ll offer a summary of each essay in the coming days, along with a few of my own thoughts.

The opening article is “Between Jesus and Paul: The ‘Hellenists’, the ‘Seven’ and Stephen (Acts 6.1-15; 7.54-8.3),” in which Hengel examines the role played by the first Greek-speaking Jewish Christians. His primary conclusion is that this largely unknown group, originally based in Jerusalem and led by Stephen, was the “real bridge” between Jesus and Paul. They were the “needle’s eye” through which the earliest Christian message would’ve passed as it spread from a tiny Jewish sect in Jerusalem to the wider Greco-Roman world.

Hengel offers reasons for following the traditional understanding of Acts 6:1—the terms “Hebrews” and “Hellenists” refer to two groups of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, one of which spoke Hebrew/Aramaic and the other Greek. It is suggested that, while the “Hebrews” included the Twelve, the “Hellenists” may not have included any who knew Jesus personally. Hengel, though, still thinks that this group originated in the first weeks after Jesus’ death, perhaps comprised of Diaspora Jews who had been in the city during Passover. While the Hebrews were led by the Twelve, the Hellenists were led by the Seven (cf. Acts 6:3). The language differences amongst the first Christians required separate worship, but this in itself would not have led to tension between the two groups.

As the leader of the Hellenists, Stephen was their primary spokesperson. In attempting to discern the “theology” of the Hellenists, Hengel acknowledges that Stephen’s speech is unhelpful in this regard due to its shaping by Luke. Instead, he suggests looking at the accusation against Stephen and his trial. This leads to the conclusion that the Hellenists in general, and Stephen in particular, claimed to be making a “spirit-inspired interpretation of the message of Jesus,” an interpretation that depicts Jesus usurping the role played by both Torah and temple (24). This is where the charge of “blasphemy against Moses and God” originates.

In the aftermath of Stephen’s death the Hellenists are scattered and travel around preaching, before eventually settling in Antioch. It was perhaps Stephen’s death that was the “first stimulus” for directing their mission toward “the marginal settlers of Israel, the heretical Samaritans, and the pagan godfearers” (24). However, at the time of Paul’s conversion soon after this, a law-free mission to Gentiles could have only been in its infancy stage. It was undertaken in a comprehensive way a short time later by the Antioch community (cf. Acts 11:19-20).

Aramaic-speaking Christians in Jerusalem avoided persecution mainly because they did not share the Hellenists’ “spiritual freedom towards the temple and the ritual law” (25). It is this difference, Hengel suggests, that might have been the basis for the divisions that eventually led to the Jerusalem Council.

The Jesus tradition would’ve been known to these earliest Greek-speaking Christians from their time in Jerusalem and, as such, Hengel is convinced that it is because of their role that a fair amount of authentic sayings of Jesus made their way into the gospels. They were the first to translate the Jesus tradition into Greek, while also preparing the way for Paul’s eventual preaching of a law-free gospel. As such, they are the true bridge between Jesus and Paul.

Five Upcoming Books Worth Reading

There are far too many books published that I’d like to read. Here are five in particular that I’m especially looking forward to, along with the publishers’ blurbs:

A novel, rigorous solution to the long-contested puzzle regarding the composition of Paul’s letters

All historical work on Paul presupposes a story concerning the composition of his letters — which ones he actually wrote, how many pieces they might originally have consisted of, when he wrote them, where from, and why. But the answers given to these questions are often derived in dubious ways.

In Framing Paul Douglas Campbell reappraises all these issues in rigorous fashion, appealing only to Paul’s own epistolary data in order to derive a basic “frame” for the letters on which all subsequent interpretation can be built. Though figuring out the authorship and order of Paul’s letters has been thought to be impossible, Campbell’s Framing Paul presents a cogent solution to the puzzle.

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth continues to fascinate. From antiquity onwards countless people have found meaning for their lives through Jesus’ teaching. His life led to the establishment of a community that subsequently grew into what is today the world’s largest religion. At the center of the Christian faith stands the confession that this Jesus is both “true human being and true God.”

In Jesus of Nazareth, noted German New Testament scholar Jens Schröter directly addresses the connection between Jesus’ humanity and divinity—how the historical Jesus can also be the Christ of confession. Schröter begins by looking at the modern quest for the “historical Jesus” from its beginnings down to the present. In the process Schröter isolates key questions of historical method—how can we reconstruct the past? What is the relationship between these reconstructions and past reality itself? Schröter then examines the words and deeds of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, in their Galilean and Greco-Roman contexts. Schröter finally measures the impact that Jesus has had in literature, film, music, and the fine arts. Jesus of Nazareth thus narrates the remarkable story of how a Jew from Galilee became the savior of the world, how Jesus can be said to be both God and human, and how this Jesus continues to exert influence.

In Reading Backwards Richard B. Hays maps the shocking ways the four Gospel writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture to craft their literary witnesses to the Church’s one Christ. The Gospels’ scriptural imagination discovered inside the long tradition of a resilient Jewish monotheism a novel and revolutionary Christology.

Modernity’s incredulity toward the Christian faith partly rests upon the characterization of early Christian preaching as a tendentious misreading of the Hebrew Scriptures. Christianity, modernity claims, twisted the Bible they inherited to fit its message about a mythological divine Savior. The Gospels, for many modern critics, are thus more about Christian doctrine in the second and third century than they are about Jesus in the first.

Amid conflicting ideas about what the church should be and do in a post-Christian climate, the missing voice is that of Paul. The New Testament’s most prolific church planter, Paul faced diverse challenges as he worked to form congregations. Leading biblical scholar James Thompson examines Paul’s ministry of planting and nurturing churches in the pre-Christian world to offer guidance for the contemporary church. The church today, as then, must define itself and its mission among people who have been shaped by other experiences of community. Thompson shows that Paul offers an unprecedented vision of the community that is being conformed to the image of Christ. He also addresses contemporary (mis)understandings of words like missional, megachurch, and formation.

The controversial Bible scholar and author of The Evolution of Adam recounts his transformative spiritual journey in which he discovered a new, more honest way to love and appreciate God’s Word.

Trained as an evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Enns loved the Scriptures and shared his devotion, teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the further he studied the Bible, the more he found himself confronted by questions that could neither be answered within the rigid framework of his religious instruction or accepted among the conservative evangelical community.

Rejecting the increasingly complicated intellectual games used by conservative Christians to “protect” the Bible, Enns was conflicted. Is this what God really requires? How could God’s plan for divine inspiration mean ignoring what is really written in the Bible? These questions eventually cost Enns his job—but they also opened a new spiritual path for him to follow.

The Bible Tells Me So chronicles Enns’s spiritual odyssey, how he came to see beyond restrictive doctrine and learned to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written. As he explores questions progressive evangelical readers of Scripture commonly face yet fear voicing, Enns reveals that they are the very questions that God wants us to consider—the essence of our spiritual study.

Which other books are you most anticipating this year?

Green Scholars Initiative: Papyrus Series (Brill Publishing)

Most people know that Brill Publishing announced in 2012 that they would be handling the publication of the manuscripts acquired and studied by the Green Scholars Initiative. At that time, it was expected that the first volume would appear in early 2013. However, this has yet to take place. Many also are aware that the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and other NT manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries are part of this same collection that will eventually be published in Brill’s series.

In correspondence with one of Brill’s editors, I was informed that they are currently planning to publish the first volume of the “Papyrus Series” by the end of this year, “hopefully” by the annual SBL meeting in November. It was not indicated to me which manuscripts would be appearing in this first volume, though the initial Brill announcement from 2012 indicated that the (then) planned initial volume would feature a 3rd-century BCE papyrus of a previously undocumented work of Aristotle.

So it appears that those of us waiting for the publication of the Mark fragment (and others) will be waiting quite a bit longer. Nothing appears to be imminent, unless they decide to release details in anticipation of publication.