Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Martin Hengel on Unity and Diversity in the Early Church
In a forthcoming memorial volume for Martin Hengel, his essay on "Confessions" is reproduced (and wonderfully translated by Daniel Johansson) and it includes this statement about the unity and diversity of the early church:
“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (15:11). This succinct sentence contradicts the assumption so common today that in early Christianity there was not one fundamental confession of the faith which united all, but all kinds of kerygmas, not one Gospel, but many Christologies contradicting each other, and many churches whose teaching and living were quite disjoined, so that one must speak of a chaos at the beginning of the early Church. The Pauline letters in particular show that the opposite is true. In order to justify itself, modern theological pluralism here project itself onto early Christianity against the clear statements of the texts. There were of course – considerable – differences in the preaching of individual apostles and missionaries, even contradictions and conflicts. I just remind of the struggle at the apostolic council, the later incident at Antioch, and, what I believe, the permanent conflict between Peter and Paul. There are also, for example, considerable theological opposition between Romans and Galatians on the one hand and the Letter of James on the other. Nevertheless, all early Christian writings agree that eschatological salvation is effected through Christ, the Kyrios, his death and his resurrection. Only on this foundation, the attachment to the one Kyrios, was an agreement such as the one Paul depicts in Gal 2:1-10 at all possible, and in Gal 2:15ff. he assumes that Peter too acknowledges justification by faith alone and not through works of the law.