Thinking about Salvation in Early Christianity (Part II)

Byzantine JesusMost early Christians seem to have lived with a fairly basic understanding of soteriology. Beginning with Tertullian of Carthage, however, deeper investigation into specific aspects of soteriological doctrine began to circulate within the Church.[14] Philosophical language and concepts began to find more frequent use among the Fathers, and soon after the Fathers began teaching that “Christ suffered for our sins, healing our wounds and destroying death by His blood, and that we have been restored to life and our sins purged by it.”[15] In the East, theologians such as Origen and Methodius debated the effect of Adam’s fall and its impact on human freewill, death, and the new Adam of Christ.[16] This eventually coalesced into statements indicating that, “sin called for a propitiation, and Christ stepped forward as ‘a victim spotless and innocent,’ propitiating the Father to men by His generous self-oblation.”[17] The developments in thought, influx of philosophical language, and challenges of geographic distance eventually led to different Christian centers processing different (at least slightly) beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ in human salvation.[18] Continue reading

Thinking about Salvation in Early Christianity (Part I)

diamaid-macculloch-christianityBy the early fourth century, the Christianity had spread across the Roman world with surprising speed, tenacity, and relative uniformity of belief. While the early Church was by no means completely uniform in doctrine, belief, or practice, the vast majority of Christians professed what has become known as Christian Orthodoxy.[1] Heresies such as Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, while threatening the fledgling Church, were never serious threats in the way that the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries were. Chief among the divisions in the fourth century was the question of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth:[2] was the founder of the Church human? Was He divine? Was He somehow both? The answer to this question was important for historical reasons, but was even more important for its soteriological implications. Continue reading

Book Review: Life and Works (Gregory Thaumaturgus)

Icon-St-Gregory-ThaumaturgusGregory Thaumaturgus—the Wonderworker—remains a scantly studied figure of the late antique Christian Church. This is neither because he lacked pizzazz—he once moved an immovable boulder through prayer to convert a pagan priest—nor for his lax literary output. In all likelihood, Gregory (c. 210-270/5 ce) remains relatively neglected because he lived in a time when his theologizing about the nature of God took a back seat to surviving Roman persecution. Although Gregory lived through the Decian torments, he did so by leaving both his post as bishop of Neocaesarea in Pontus and the fervent example of his teacher Origen. Yet Gregory has much to offer for today, as Michael Slusser makes clear in his Fathers of the Church compendium on Gregory’s life and works. Continue reading

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Resurrection

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.

ResurrectionWhile thus far in this series Crossan and Wright have differed on their reconstructions of the Historical Jesus, it is the resurrection that truly demonstrates the divergent perspectives of these two scholars.[1] Crossan writes concerning historicity of the canonical resurrection appearance accounts that, “Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fiction and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals… Resurrection is but one way, not the only way, of expressing Christian faith…. Apparition… Is one way, not the only way, of expressing Christian experience…. Christian faith experiences the continuation of divine empowerment through Jesus, but that continuation began only after his death and burial.”[2] Crossan understands the Pauline message of the importance of the typological resurrection of Christ[3] as one way that the message of Christianity could be interpreted and preached in the early first century Greco-Roman context, and that such an understanding should not be taken as normative for the entirety of the early Jesus movement.[4] Continue reading

Early Christian Soteriology

The Light Giver IconBy the early fourth century, the Christianity had spread across the Roman world with surprising speed, tenacity, and relative uniformity of belief. While the early Church was by no means completely uniform in doctrine, belief, or practice, the vast majority of Christians professed what has become known as Christian Orthodoxy.[1] Heresies such as Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, while threatening the fledgling Church, were never serious threats in the way that the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries were. Chief among the divisions in the fourth century was the question of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth:[2] was the founder of the Church human? Was He divine? Was He somehow both? The answer to this question was important for historical reasons, but was even more important for its soteriological implications.

Soteriology is quite literally “the doctrine of salvation.”[3] But by the fourth century, there were many doctrines of salvation. Some Christians, such as Paul of Samosata, denied that Jesus was fully divine; the Gnostics denied that Jesus was actually human; Arius proclaimed that while Jesus was God, He was created and not eternal. Within this debate about the divinity of Christ, salvation became a very important concern, as the various sides of the debate used soteriology to provide support for their respective positions.[4] The kerygma (proclamation) of Christianity had always centered on Jesus Christ as the source of the good news of the true God and salvation for all who believed in Him.[5] It is not surprising, therefore, to see that in the midst of even the most technical and philosophical debates, the early Church was greatly concerned with understanding the soteriological implications of orthodox Christian Christology.[6] Since each competing Christological claim appealed to the words of scripture for support, the Church looked to their history in order to answer the question of what salvation mean for earlier followers of Jesus. Continue reading