Thursday, February 16, 2006

Who were the Hellenistes?

Who were the Hellenists (Acts 6.1; 9.29; 11.20)?

- Gentiles Christians
- Proselytes
- Gentile Christians and Jews who did not follow law
- Diaspora Jews
- More likely is the view of John Chrysostom that it designates Jews who speak Greek as their first language.

Can early Christianity be separated into layers?

- Palestinian Jewish Christianity
- Hellenistic Jewish Christian
- Gentile Christianity

Did Hellenistic and Gentile Christianity have a syncrestic christology and liturgy borrowed from mystery cults and pagan religions - probably not!

1. Such distinctions cannot be made within Judaism (cf. Hengel: all Judaism in the second-temple period is Hellenistic Judaism).
2. Differences between Hebrews/Hellenists was linguistic, cultural and perhaps acculturation to Greek living. But these differences are not absolute and do not mean that two groups were neatly separated theologically.
3. The terminology is used loosely and people who we might call Hellenistis, like Paul, are called Hebrews, 2 Cor. 11.22; Phil. 3.5.
4. The Hellenists, like Barnabas, were equally at home in Jerusalem.

There might have been differences on views of the law and on entrance of Gentiles into the church, but we cannot be sure about radical christological differences. There was a basic unity on the content of the gospel between Greek and Aramaic speaking Jewish-Christians. In 1 Cor 15.11, Paul assumes that the Corinthians could have heard the same Gospel from Peter or James. In Gal 1.6-9, Paul argues against a different gospel, but the different gospel is different to the one that both he and the Jerusalem pillars agreed on!

“Paul assumed that the Jerusalem Christians were Christians, that there was a unity and a consistency to the gospel both they and he preached (Rom. 15:27; Gal. 2:7-10).” Craig Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress, 1994), 174.

See further:

Craig Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress, 1994).

Craig C. Hill, "Hellenists, Hellenistic, and Hellenistic-Jewish Christianity", in DLNTD, 462-69.

Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul (London: SCM, 1983) 1-30.

I. Howard Marshall, The Origins of NT Christology (Leicester: IVP, 1977) 35-41.

Todd Penner, In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography (New York: T&T Clark, 2004).

Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapdis, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 240-47.

Jeffrey Peterson, "The Extent of Christian Theological Diversity: Pauline Evidence", Restoration Quarterly 47 (2005): 1-14.

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