MHT: Pre-Modern Historical Consciousness

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine

While labels are always problematic in some sense, for the sake of this analysis perspectives on history are designated as broadly pre-Modern, Modern, or Postmodern.[2] Admittedly, this schema privileges somewhat the Modern narrative of superiority over the pre-Modern and employs conceptions of Modernity as the fulcrum point for our engagement with the rise of historical consciousness.[3] However, the application of these labels is meant neither to reify these categories nor to affirm the Modernist narrative. Instead, these terms are employed as terminological tools intended to assist in highlighting the different emphases of the broad movements of historians throughout time. Continue reading

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Book Review: After Acts (Liftin)

After Acts (Liftin)Many readers of the New Testament are both fascinated and perplexed by the book of Acts, the earliest “history of Christianity” put to papyrus. Acts begins to tell the story of the church, following the miracles, lives, and journeys of Peter, the Jerusalem Church, and the Apostle Paul. But Acts also ends abruptly—with Paul under house arrest in Rome—and often raises a number of questions about the early Church. Thus, readers find themselves wondering, “What really happened after Acts?” In answer to this question, Bryan Liftin has written After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015), a book dedicated to introducing and exploring the traditions of the Apostles following the end of “church history” in the New Testament canon. Continue reading

Book Review: Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Allen)

Luke Authorship of HebrewsFew queries surrounding the New Testament are as well known as the question regarding the authorship of Hebrews. Since the early centuries of Christianity—indeed, long before the New Testament canon was finalized—inquisitive readers have investigated who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Eusebius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Harnack (to name but a few) have theorized and argued about the identity of Hebrew’s author. No less a list than Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Silas, Peter, Clement of Rome, Priscilla and Aqulia, Ariston, Philip, Jude, Epaphras, John the Apostle, Timothy, and Mary (the Mother of Jesus) has been suggested as to whom this figure might be. In recent decades, those studying Paul have increasingly problematized claims that the Apostle’s authored Hebrews, making it less likely that the long-assumed writer of Hebrews actually penned the work. And despite the copious number of theories concerning other potential authors of Hebrews, rather little has been offered by way of solid conclusions. To address this noteworthy issue, a couple of years ago came David L. Allen’s Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010. 416 pgs). Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian of Carthage

From Tertullian’s writings emerge several implications for Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority. First, from his Prescription against Heresies it seems that Marcion in some way undermined the existing authority structures of the Catholic Church by appealing to sources of authority outside those which were typically employed. These sources at least appear to be sources imbued with philosophical thought that moves away from what Tertullian references the teachings of Christ and ‘rule of faith.’ Second and also from Prescriptions, Marcion appears to have used and distorted existing Christian scriptures. This could mean a number of things, but from Tertullian’s claims that Marcion rejected the apostolic and Jewish roots of Christian faith it seems to indicate that Marcion had rejected some writings and manipulated others in an attempt to present a unified authoritative corpus of some sort. Continue reading

Book Review: Decoding Nicea (Pavao)

Decoding NiceaThe history of Christianity can be a complex, confusing subject, full of competing claims and interpretations. Perhaps no single event in the life of the Church gathers as much contemplation and controversy as the Council of Nicea. Held in 325 CE outside of the newly established capital city of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), this gathering of Christians from around the Roman Empire has been called everything from the paragon of authentic Christian orthodoxy to the great corrupting moment in the history of the Church. In recent decades, Nicea has taken on a new place of prominence in the mind of the average American Christian, as both popular culture (i.e., Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) and historical scholarship (i.e., Gnostic gospels) have cast the council as an important redefining moment for the Christian Church. Addressing this vital historical event comes the latest edition of Paul F. Pavao’s Decoding Nicea: Constantine Changed Christianity and Christianity Changed the World (Selmer, TN: Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2014. viii+442 pgs.). Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Hippolytus and Eusebius

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Saint Hippolytus

Saint Hippolytus

Hippolytus, who incidentally was the first anti-pope in the Roman church, wrote against Marcion in his Refutation of All Heresies sometime after the year 200 CE.[29] Hippolytus argued that Marcion relied upon Greek philosophy for the basis of his theology,[30] especially his belief in two deities.[31] He also noted that Marcion followed the tradition of Cerdo, though the style of this reference appears similar enough to Irenaeus’ claim that Hippolytus here appears to be reflecting the claim of the Bishop of Lyon.[32] More notable is his reference to Marcion’s use of the phrase “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,” a reference to material now found in Luke 6:43.[33] Marcion’s reflections upon Christology appear to have led him to the conclusion that Christ could not have been the son of the creator of the world and that, when on earth, Christ was not actually a human, but a phantom.[34] It seems that Hippolytus found Marcion’s views to be relying on extra-Christian sources of authority, and that such reliance placed his conceptions of God and Christ outside the realm of acceptable proto-orthodox belief. Further, Marcion’s reference to the Gospel According to Luke appears to further solidify Irenaeus’ claim that Marcion employed parts of Luke’s Gospel as written sources, here used authoritatively. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Irenaeus

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
The Early Church Fathers

The Early Church Fathers

In some ways Marcion was a rather popular figure among Christians during the mid to late second century, as numerous writers and apologists made reference to his beliefs and churches. These treatments of Marcion, however, were far from positive in their understandings of his theological system. We are fortunate to have extant several major writings of the Early Church Fathers concerning Marcion. Of these, Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies appears to have been the earliest written, sometime around 180 CE.[12] This was followed later by Tertullian of Carthage’s anti-Marcionite writings, of which at least six books are extant.[13] Also available to us are the writings of Hippolytus of Rome[14] and several references by Eusebius of Casarea to works of Marcion and his followers, as well as several references to works against Marcion that are no longer extant.[15]  As is often the case concerning sources in antiquity, it remains unfortunate that the writings of one of Marcion’s direct contemporaries, Justin Martyr (d. 165),[16] have not survived the perils of time although numerous ancient authors reference his work.[17] Continue reading

Origins of the New Testament

New TestamentThe two most common questions that I am asked are some variation of “Where did we get the New Testament?” or “Why are these specific books included in the New Testament?”1 Obviously complete answers to these questions are long, nuanced, and complex (i.e., scholarly discussions of dissertation length answer). But there are also relatively straight-forward and easy-to-understand answers to these questions. Today, I want to tackle the first of these queries: Where did we get the New Testament? Continue reading

ECA: Shepherd of Hermas

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.

Shepherd of HermasEven after nearly 2000 years, the Shepherd of Hermas remains an intriguing set of apocalyptic writings from the early Church. The central concern of Hermas revolves around post-baptismal sin: What can Christians do if they have fallen into sin after their baptism? In answering this question, Hermas writes down five visions, twelve commandments, and ten parables, many of which he recounts in terms of divine visions and conversations with an angelic figure called the Shepherd (hence the title of the book). The Shepherd remains the longest extant text of early Christianity, much longer than a number of New Testament books, and was included in many early canonical lists and codices, including Codex Sinaiticus and some contemporaries of Eusebius and Athanasius. Ultimately, the Shepherd was rejected as canonical, due at least in part to its not being written by an apostle (as argued in the Muratorian Canon). Hermas may have been the brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome from around 140 to 154, and Origen argues that he was the Hermas mentioned in Romans 16.14. Additionally, Hermas mentions someone named Clement in V8.2, which may be a reference to Clement of Rome. Most scholars agree that the Shepherd was likely written between 110-140 CE, perhaps over a period of time. Such as early date fits the writings widespread use in both East and West, as well as the claims to usefulness by the Church Fathers despite its ultimate non-canonical status. Continue reading

ECA: Ignatius of Antioch

This post is part of our ongoing series on Early Christian Authority.
Ignatius of Antioch

Icon of Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch and the letters he wrote on way to his martyrdom in Rome have long fascinated those studying early Christianity. Killed around 117 CE by the Emperor Trajan, Ignaitus’s tale reads like a drama: the bishop of Antioch (one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and home to one of the most important centers of early Christianity) Ignatius is arrested and set with a group of Roman soldiers across Asia Minor and Greece for execution in Rome. Along the way, he receives fellow Christians for encouragement and sends them back to their churches with letters for the edification of other Christian communities. Ignatius meets his end in Rome, but his letters live on and continue to influence Christians nearly two thousand years after their hasty composure. Continue reading