Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Gospels in Early Christianity

I spent a couple of years looking at the place of the Gospels in early Christianity and in particular testing Richard Bauckham's thesis of the Gospels for All Christians against the actual phenomena of the circulation of the Gospels. One thing I continue to find interesting is how the Gospels represent an integration point or funnel for various Christian traditions. Consider the following:

1. Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark clearly has a Pauline view of the Torah for Gentiles (Mk. 7.19c), a Pauline view of Christ's death (Mk. 10.45), and a similar view of gospel (Mk. 13.10); see Joel Marcus on this. And yet, the biographical material in Mark has a largely Petrine flavour and it elevates Peter among the disciples (so Bauckham et. al.).

2. Gospel of Matthew. Matthew has often been regarded as anti-Pauline (e.g. D.C. Sims) but more recently R.T. France has argued that it represents a synthesis at Pauline and Jewish Christian traditions. It is clearly Jewish Christian on the Law (e.g. Mt 5.17) but essentially a Pauline perspective on the Gentiles (e.g. Mt. 28.19-20).

3. Gospel of Luke. In a previous generation Luke was associated with an "early catholicism" which was where Pauline and Petrine Christianities were reconciled (e.g. Baur to Kasemann). This category is pretty much defunct (despite J.D.G. Dunn's modification of it) and I think it better to see Luke as representing a form of post-Pauline Hellenistic Christianity that wants to remain in continuity with Jewish Christianity whilst maintaning its cosmpolitan vision in the Greco-Roman world and holding out hope that Israel may yet respond positively to the gospel and to the followers of Jesus.

4. Gospel of John. John is pretty much in his own tradition (with the exception that he has probably read Mark or heard it). He stands between an incipient Gnosticism, a post-70 Judaism, and a Hellenistic Jewish Christianity.


theswain said...

Re: Matthew, I'd have to disagree. I see it as in many ways a corrective of Paul's approach. I don't think we can say that the gospel shares Paul's attitude toward the Gentiles, even based on the last verses of the gospel. The reason is that it is clear that inclusion in the Matthean community, even of Gentiles, entails continued observance of the Torah. So, yes, Gentiles are included, even Gentiles who apparently were not God-Fearers before becoming Christian, but not with Paul's anomial approach. I'm not sure on the other side I'd say its necessarily ANTI-Pauline, but certainly is different than Paul.

Re: JOhn, I think he probably had read Luke too, and possibly Matthew, though that's a bit more difficult to see.

Anonymous said...


RE: Matthew. I am writing a response to a soon-to-be published article by Sim in HTS the South African journal out of the University of Petoria. In the article he argues that the Great Commission is a Anti-Pauline polemic. I think his view of Paul is based on a caricture that can be easily deconstructed such that the supposed conflict is all together removed. His reading the Great Commission is also problematic. The response will appear in HTS later in the year.

Richard Fellows said...

I am interested in your observation that Mark is both Pauline and Petrine. This would, I think, be consistent with the following two hypotheses:

1. Mark was written by John Mark, who was associated with both Peter and Paul. The close relationship between Peter and John Mark is not immediately apparent from Acts, but I have argued recently on X-talk that the reason why Peter went to Mark's house after his escape from prison was to get his help to escape from Jerusalem to Antioch. The evidence is two-fold. Firstly, I argue that Gal 2:12 refers to a visit by Peter to Antioch in the appropriate time frame. Secondly, Luke's mentions of John-Mark seem to deliberately obscure his sojourns in Antioch, suggesting that he may have been there secretly with Peter. Intriguingly, Silas, Peter's other associate (1 Peter 5:12-13) also seems to have had a secret mission in Antioch, for he was sent off, but actually stayed in Antioch (Acts 15:33,40). Anyway, if, as I suspect, there was indeed a close association between John Mark and Peter, it would lend some credibility to Papias's statement. So my question is whether we should revive the theory that Mark was written by John Mark, or are the problems unsermountable?

2. That Paul and Peter were in the same camp theologically. If Mark's gospel has a foot in both the Pauline and the Petrine camp, and if John Mark and perhaps Silvanus/Silas also did, perhaps we should question whether there really were two camps. I recently suggested on Joel's series on the Antioch incident and suggested that Paul focussed so much on Peter in Gal 1-2 because the rumour in Galatia was that Paul was preaching his gospel of non-circumcision out of a desire to please Peter (rather than out of conviction). This would mean that Peter was the MOST "Pauline" of apostles, and Acts supports this view, I think.

To bolster the argument I point out the Paul calls Peter "rock" only when discussing his role in the church (Gal 2:7-8). I think this shows that Paul recognized and respected Peter.

Your thoughts?


James Crossley said...

On Mk 7.19, I've asked before if you'd engage with Jewish purity law and its context (as others apart from me now have) but if not let's try something different: a closer reading of the text. Is Mark's Jesus utterly hypocritical if he fires at Pharisees for not observing the commandments then supposedly does exactly what he rebukes the Pharisees for doing? Or is Mk 7.19 an insertion out of sync with the rest of the passage. If either how does this cohere with an evangelical reading of the text? If we take this reading what kind of unfair figure is Jesus?

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

Why not engage with accurate contemporary Jewish explanations of Mark 7.19? 'In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean' is fairly obviously an interpolated later comment related to the editor's extensive attempt to turn the prophet’s issue into one to do with Jewish food laws. Thus the editor finishes up having the prophet make the nonsensical statement “nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him” (7.15) This was clearly untrue, since in contemporary understanding impure spirits entering a person (or already in a person if you accept the two spirits of the DSS) caused uncleanness. I suggest that the editor’s non-descript ‘nothing’ of 7.18, was in fact something, namely ‘the impure spirit’. It was this that could enter a man (or be in a man) and make him unclean. So in 7.19, the prophet no doubt said originally, “For it goes into his heart”, referring to an impure spirit. Thus the prophet’s issue, probably with the priests whose responsibility it was to declare a person clean according to the Law, was concerned with the ineffectiveness of the Jewish Law in general as a way of cleansing a person. The priests were not nullifying the ‘word of God’ (7.13), but Spirit of God which could cleanse a person’s heart.

And incidentally, I believe there are plenty of garbled references to 'the two spirits' in the NT.

Michael F. Bird said...

1. I find your explanation of the debate in Make 7/Matt 15 sound except I want to tweak a few things.
2. I believe the debate is about the status of certain Halakah not about the validity of Torah (as I've always said).
3. Jesus does not abrogate the Law, but he does prioritize morality over purity, but that itself was not unknown in Judaism.
4. Mark's editorial comment 'cleansing all foods' applies only to his Gentile readers - which makes him Pauline.

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

In contemporary ideas, a person's morality, or behaviour was dependent on the person's spirits within. Thus the later Pauline gifts of the Spirit were, for the Jewish prophet, gifts of different spirits - a person could have a spirit or spirits of whatever, from one or two possible sources, God or Satan. What came from men's hearts (the seat of spirits) were not "evil thoughts", but spirits of theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mk.7.22). For the prophet, obedience of the Jewish Law could not cleanse men's hearts from impure spirits.

James Crossley said...

Mike, ok, it seems like I misread you (my humble apologies!). In that case I suppose my follow up question would be how would you then go for gentiles? Presumably because of the section following? The vice list could potentially go in that direction.

But...Syriac versions do not necessarily follow the line. Mk 7.18-19 has significant grammatical problems and is read at least in one Semitic context to follow on more from food passing through the body etc rather than 'all food clean'.

What do you reckon?

Geoff, I have no idea where you get most of your stuff.

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

James, you don't have to look too far for tons of it. I see the prophet of the New Testament as little different from any other prophet that we know from the Old Testament. I thus see the extant text of the NT as 'Paulinized'/ Greacized, and thus changed from its original Jewish prophetic format written for a spirit controlled world. The prophet would have agreed with Joel "I will pour my Spirit on all mankind" (Joel 3:1) - a revolutionary idea that if accepted would inevitably come up against the priests and the temple cult, and this especially so if the Spirit could be regarded as cleansing a person thus: "I will put my Spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees" (Ezekiel 36:27) - another idea that taken to its logical conclusion would dispense with the need for animal sacrifices as a means of cleansing and priests to tell people what to do. So James, it's all there in the Old Testament. To some extent the priestly DSS give support to the spirit world of Jews.

The time of the prophet was crunch time for the priestly and the prophetic ideologies. Josephus' editors described the prophet's Spirit ideology as "an infection which spread" - "a system of philosophy which we were before unacquainted withal."

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

When the Flavian editor obsequiously wrote: "a system of philosophy which we were before unaquainted with", he was being like George Bush senior saying "read my lips". In reality, the Flavian editor was fully aqcuainted with his so-called "fourth philosphy", which was not a philosophy, but an order or school of prophets (his so-called Essenes) in opposition to the order of the priests. Josephus's original text was about the two orders of Jewish governance. The Flavian editor turned this into four philosophies.

Historically, the priests and prophets had been at loggerheads over the way to be right with God for decades, if not centuries.