Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Evolution of Christianity

If, like me, you have an interest in the developmental patterns that structured the Christian religion during the first century, you are probably most familiar with those elements of the patterns that have been popularized in the mass media, elements such as the work of the Jesus Seminar, the publication of various Gnostic texts, and the like. Less familiar to most folk theologians such as myself, I imagine, are the internecine struggles that shaped the earliest Christianity of all, the Church of the Apostolic age. So I was quite interested in an essay published in the July, 2007 issue of New Testament Studies called "Matthew 7.21-23: Further Evidence of its Anti-Pauline Perspective" (53:325-343). Here is the abstract:
The redactional pericope in Matt 7.21-23, in which Jesus the final judge condemns certain false Christians, can and should be viewed as an anti-Pauline text. Those rejected by the Matthean Jesus are none other than Paul and those of his circle. This identification is indicated not only by their description as workers of lawlessness, but also by their defense that they are true Christians because they prophesy, work miracles and perform exorcisms in the name of Jesus. These charismatic activities were clearly associated with Paul and/or his churches.
I am not an expert in this field, so it is beyond the scope of my training to evaluate adequately the evidential claims made in this article, but I must say that the thesis strikes me as very interesting. It seems clear to me that the gospels of Mark and Matthew in particular show evidence of that patchwork composition that can be taken as evidence of having been cobbled together from a variety of sources with a variety of ends, audiences, and methods. That the gospel of Matthew in particular should have anti-Pauline elements does not strike me as implausible at all, given the nature of the various factions at work within the Church at that time.

It would be fascinating to know more about the earliest history of the Church but, as is often pointed out, the history of conflict is mostly written by the victors, so it seems unlikely that we will ever find the sort of evidence that would be necessary for a genuine reconstruction of the period in question.

5 comments:

John Farrell said...

Scott, are you familiar at all with the work of N.T. Wright. I'm in the midst of reading him and E.P. Sanders work now (over the course of several months) and it is indeed fascinating to see how the church evolved.

Henry Chadwick's Early Church was a good book as well.

Scott Carson said...

John

Yes, N. T. Wright is very good, as is Chadwick; I'm not familiar with Sanders' work. Another interesting author is Bart Ehrman, though in the end he lost his faith as a consequence of his own work! I blogged on him at some point last year, when his book on New Testament textual criticism came out and he was interviewed on NPR.

Dim Bulb said...

I think it can be inferred from your post that you are not suggesting that the final text of Matthew is anti-pualine, yet a certain ambiguity is present, at least for me. You are not suggesting an anti-pauline intention in the finished product of Matthew, are you?

Scott Carson said...

Dim

Well, it's the thesis of the article that the text is anti-Pauline; as I note in my post, I'm not in any position to say whether that thesis is proven or not by the article, since I don't think I have the requisite expertise to judge the evidence presented. Offhand I can't think of any a priori reason either for rejecting or accepting it, so I would need to know a lot more about the nature of the evidence and the methodology before I would feel comfortable saying that the article either succeeds or fails. I bring attention to it principally because I find the thesis interesting from a historical point of view.

SpiritMeadow said...

It certainly sounds interesting. Wish I could get a copy of the full text.