Gospel Studies exists as a relatively neglected filed which has long taken a back seat to the study of the Historical Jesus or perspectives on Paul. Yet—argues Michael F. Bird—this realm of study stands ripe with opportunities for research and theological growth. To begin addressing the historical problem of how the life and teachings of Jesus became the four-fold gospel accounts of the New Testament, Bird offers The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014. 394 pp). Driven by four guiding questions—Why pass on Jesus stories? How was the Jesus tradition transmitted? What is the gospel and what are the sources behind the gospels? Why four gospels and why the four gospels that we have?—this historical, literary, and theological study provides offers readers rich perspective into some of the most pressing questions of this important area of Early Christian Studies. Continue reading
Over the past several months, I have been running a series entitled “The Marcion Problem,” where I have been examining Marcion of Sinope’s influence on the development of the New Testament canon. In light of yesterday’s final post in this particular series, I felt it worthwhile to post my select bibliography from this project. As I am currently revising a version of this series for a paper, any additional resources on Marcion would be appreciated. Continue reading
By way of closing both our section on modern perspectives on Marcion as well as this series as a whole, I offer the following conclusions. First, upon the review of the various schools of thought concerning Marcion’s impact on the development of Christian views on scripture, canon, and authority, we may conclude that the Canon Refinement School appears to make the best sense of textual evidence and offer the most satisfying overall explanation of Marcion’s theology. This school argues that Marcion’s canon, while the first closed specifically Christian canon, neither formed the Christian ideas of scripture, canon, and authority, as in the view of the Canon Formation School, nor did he influence a major redaction of scriptural literature, as in the view of the Canon and Literature Formation School. Continue reading
When examining Marcion, one must be careful to note his long and varied history of interpretation. For centuries Marcion, his writings, and his followers were generally conceived of in terms of their theological content, which was declared by the early Fathers of the Church to be heretical. It has only been in the past few centuries that Marcion perspective has become understood as a contributor to the early Christian context of diversity. Understandably then, this shift from polemic to scholastic interest has uncovered some problems, most notably that we no longer have extant copies of Marcion’s works, either his Antithesis or his canonical collection of writings. Modern reconstructions of ancient sources tend to focus on extant copied materials from that source. However, the few references to Marcion’s perspectives and works may only be found in the polemical writings of the early Christian apologists. Several modern scholars have attempted a detailed reconstruction of Marcion’s work. However, the highly speculative nature of these works and their heavily reliance upon the writings of Tertullian for our purposes makes the value of such reconstructions questionable.
In this series, I take a two-fold approach to the examination of Marcion’s perspective. First, I engage historical sources in an examination and reconstruction his perspective on scripture, canon, and authority, drawing up the anti-Marcion sources of proto-orthodox writers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian of Carthage. This allows us to closely examine original source materials claiming to accurately represent Marcion’s perspective. Second, I engage modern scholars of Early Christianity and canonical development as they attempt to interpret Marcion’s position on scripture, canon, and authority, drawing on scholars ranging from Adolph Harnack and Hans Von Campenhausen to John Barton and Lee Martin McDonald. This enables us to grasp the questions that the major Marcion scholars have asked over the years, as well as draw several probable conclusions concerning Marcion’s views on scripture, canon, and authority. As a result of this two-fold method of study, we see that for Marcion the work and words of Jesus of Nazareth were understood to uniquely reveal the purposes of the supreme God of the universe in such a way that any hermeneutical position denigrating that uniqueness, be they writings or traditions, were argued to be unauthoritative for followers of Jesus.
For the previous post in this series, click here.
See Harnack (Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God) and Price (The Pre-Nicene New Testament).
For many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” Continue reading
The New Testament (NT) writings were read in churches early on (Col 4:16), but were not generally called “scripture” until the end of the second century C.E., despite being used that way earlier. Ancient texts always functioned as scripture before they were called scripture. Only one New Testament author makes the claim that what he wrote was equivalent to sacred scripture (Rev 22:18-19; compare with Deut 4:2).
By the middle of the second century C.E., Justin Martyr (1 Apology 64-67) noted that the Gospels were read alongside of and occasionally instead of the “prophets” (Old Testament books). When New Testament writings were read in church worship, or served as an authority in matters of faith and conduct this was a first step in acknowledging the sacredness of the NT writings. The first writings acknowledged as scripture included the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John and some Pauline letters. Not all New Testament writings were called scripture at the same time or place. Irenaeus of Lyon was among the first to make explicit statements about the scriptural status of the canonical Gospels; however several others took much longer to be recognized, notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
Initially, early Christians also appear to have accepted other Christian writings as scripture. Some of the most popular Christian writings not included in the canon include Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache, and others that were read in churches well into the fourth and fifth centuries and in some cases even later.
Finally, decisions made about the sacredness of the church’s scriptures did not take place universally at the same time or location. One church father’s decision does not mean that all church leaders came to the same conclusions at the same time. By the fourth century C.E., most Christians had accepted most of the NT writings, but canon lists varied well into the eighth or ninth centuries.