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Bible Literature

성서문학

IX. New Testament literature

 

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPELS

1) Meaning of the term gospel.

2) Form criticism.

 

2. THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM

1) Early theories about the Synoptic problem.

2) The two- and four-source hypotheses.

 

3. THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS

1) The Gospel According to Mark: Background and overview.

2) The Gospel According to Mark: unique structure.

3) The Gospel According to Matthew.

4) The Gospel According to Luke.

 

4. THE FOURTH GOSPEL: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN

1) Uniqueness of John.

2) Form and content of John.

 

5. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

1) The purpose and style of Acts.

2) The content of Acts.

 

6. THE PAULINE LETTERS

1) Background and overview.

2) The Letter of Paul to the Romans.

3) The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

4) The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

5) The Letter of Paul to the Galatians.

6) The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians.

7) The Letter of Paul to the Philippians.

8) The Letter of Paul to the Colossians.

9) The First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians.

10) The Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians.

 

7. THE PASTORAL LETTERS: I AND II TIMOTHY AND TITUS

1) The Pastoral Letters as a unit.

2) Content and problems.

3) The Letter of Paul to Philemon.

 

8. THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

1) Textual ambiguities.

2) Christology in Hebrews.

 

9. THE CATHOLIC LETTERS

1) The Letter of James.

2) The First Letter of Peter.

3) The Second Letter of Peter.

4) The Johannine Letters: I, II, and III John.

i) The First Letter of John.

ii) The Second Letter of John.

iii) The Third Letter of John.

5) The Letter of Jude.

 

10. THE REVELATION TO JOHN

1) Purpose and theme.

2) Authorship and style.

 

IX. New Testament literature

 

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPELS

 

1) Meaning of the term gospel.

From the late AD 40s and until his martyrdom in the 60s, Paul wrote letters to the churches that he founded or guided. These are the earliest Christian writings that the church has, and in them he refers to "the gospel" (euangelion). In Romans, chapter 1, verse 1, he says: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God . . ." and goes on to describe this "gospel" in what was already by that time traditional language, such as: "promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended . . . our Lord" (Rom. 1:1-4). This gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith ". . . for in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith . . ." (1:17). In I Corinthians Paul had reminded his congregation in stylized terms of "the gospel" he had brought to them. It consisted of the announcement that Jesus had died and risen according to the Scriptures.

Thus, the "gospel" was an authoritative proclamation (as announced by a herald, keryx), or the kerygma (that which is proclaimed, kerygma). The earthly life of Jesus is hardly noted or missed, because something more glorious--the ascended Lord who sent the Spirit upon the church--is what matters.

In the speeches of Peter in Acts, the transition from kerygma to creed or vice versa is almost interchangeable. In Acts 2 Jesus is viewed as resurrected and exalted at the right hand of God and made both Lord and Christ. In Acts 3 Peter's speech proclaims Jesus as the Christ having been received in heaven to be sent at the end of time as judge for the vindication and salvation of those who believe in him. Here the proclaimed message, the gospel, is more basic than an overview of Jesus' earthly life, which in Acts is referred to only briefly as "his acting with power, going about doing good, and healing and exorcising" (10:38ff.). Such an extended kergyma can be seen as a transition from the original meaning of gospel as the "message" to gospel meaning an account of the life of Jesus.

The term gospel has connotations of the traditions of Jesus' earthly ministry and Passion that were remembered and then written in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written from the post-Resurrection perspective and they contain an extensive and common Passion narrative as they deal with the earthly ministry of Jesus from hindsight. And so the use of the term gospel for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John has taken the place of the original creedal-kerygmatic use in early Christianity. It is also to be noted that, in the Evangelists' accounts, their theological presuppositions and the situations of their addressees molded the formation of the four canonical Gospels written after the Pauline Letters. The primary affirmations--of Jesus as the Christ, his message of the Kingdom, and his Resurrection--preceded the Evangelists' accounts. Some of these affirmations were extrapolated backward (much as the Exodus event central in the Old Testament was extrapolated backward and was the theological presupposition for the patriarchal narratives in Genesis). These stories were shaped by the purpose for their telling: religious propaganda or preaching to inspire belief. The kerygmatic, or creedal, beginning was expanded with material about the life and teaching of Jesus, which a reverence for and a preoccupation with the holy figure of Jesus demanded out of loving curiosity about his earthly ministry and life.

The English word gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon godspell ("good story"). The classical Greek word euangelion means "a reward for bringing of good news" or the "good news" itself. In the emperor cult particularly, in which the Roman emperor was venerated as the spirit and protector of the empire, the term took on a religious meaning: the announcement of the appearance or accession to the throne of the ruler. In contemporary Greek it denoted a weighty, authoritative, royal, and official message.

In the New Testament, no stress can be placed on the etymological (root) meaning of eu ("good"); in Luke, chapter 3, verse 18 (as in other places), the word means simply authoritative news concerning impending judgment.

 

2) Form criticism.

In the Pauline writings, as noted above, gospel, kerygma, and creed come close together from oral to written formulas that were transmitted about the Christ event: Jesus' death and Resurrection. In the apostolic Fathers (early 2nd century), the transition was made from oral to written tradition; the translation of the presumed Aramaic traditions had taken place before the Gospel material had been committed to writing. By the time of Justin Martyr (c. 155), these writings were called Gospels and referred to in the plural; they contain the words, deeds, and Passion narratives--i.e., the present four Gospels compiled and edited by the Evangelists according to their various needs and theological emphases. Justin also referred to these as "memoirs of the Apostles."

Such a Gospel began with a missionary announcement concerning a cosmic divine figure, a man with divine characteristics who would bring salvation and hope to the world. The earthly historical Jesus, however, was the criterion of the proclamation--being both the content of the church's proclamation and the object of its faith.

The identification of basic patterns in the history of oral and written traditions--the stage of tradition prior to any literary form and particularly as the traditions passed from an oral to a written form--and the determination of their creative milieu, or their situations and functions in various places and under various circumstances, are tasks of form criticism. Through such study, small independent units may be isolated in a postulated more primitive form than they were before being incorporated into more extended accounts. The term Sitz-im-Leben refers to the "Sitz im Leben der Kirche"--i.e., the situation in the life of the church in which the material was shaped and adjusted to the needs at hand. Only through such studies is it possible to progress tentatively to an assessment of a "Sitz im Leben Jesu."

Both Jews and Gentiles could use "biographies," often for propaganda purposes. Philo and Josephus recounted the wonderful lives and deeds of Old Testament heroes such as Moses; and there are miraculous tales of the prophets Elijah and Elisha told in order that faith might be inspired or justified. A miracle worker (theios aner, "divine man") and stories about him comprised an aretalogy (from arete, "virtue"; also manifestation of divine power, miracle). Aretalogies were frequently used to represent the essential creed and belief of a religious or philosophical movement. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a Neo-Pythagorean philosopher and wonder-worker (transmitted by the Greek writer Philostratus), was widely read. He was depicted as having performed miracles and as being possessed of divine cosmic power not as an exception but as an example to men who have the possibility of sharing such power (cf. Matt. 9:8). There were tales of Heracles, the Greek hero, and a whole literature of Alexander the Great as wonder-workers, divine men.

Though the pericopes (small units) of which the Gospels are constituted include many forms, or genres, they are mainly divided into narratives (including legends, miracle stories, exorcisms, healings, and tales) and sayings (prophetic and apocalyptic sayings, proverbs and wisdom sayings, parables, church discipline and rules for the community, Christological sayings, such as the socalled "I am" sayings [e.g., "I am the bread of life"] in John, revelations, and legal sayings). Some stories may simply be the background for a pithy saying; these latter are sometimes called paradigmatic sayings, and the pronouncement stories are their vehicles of transmission. The forms have many different names, but form criticism started with Homeric form analysis (taking oral tradition into account), which was applied to Old Testament studies by Hermann Gunkel, a German biblical scholar, and applied to the New Testament, on the basis of the German classical philologist Eduard Norden's stylistic studies, by such biblical scholars as Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius.

Form criticism asks and answers questions about what shaped the preliterary tradition and the earliest written traditions into blocks as they are found in the Gospels. This may be a historical context (as a missionary situation), a need for admonition (as church-discipline sections), or for the transmission of teaching in a faithful way (as in a "school," be it Matthean, Pauline, or Johannine). One large block of the material, however, is to all intents and purposes the same (although differing in details) in all four canonical Gospels: the Passion narrative. In the Synoptic Gospels there is also a basic nucleus in the sayings about Jesus that are mysterious, prophetic, and apocalyptic and that point to the significance of Jesus as the Christ who has come in history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Such form-critical studies were centred on the smaller units of tradition (pericopes) that make up the Gospels, and their intention was partly to assess relative age and authenticity of such traditions. In more recent times the tools of form criticism have been applied to a more synthetic method that could be used to determine the relation between a genre of literature and the Christological and theological perspectives that made such genres natural. A presentation of Jesus material in the form of more or less disconnected sayings (as in the so-called Q Source, composed of independent sayings, behind Matthew and Luke, and in the Gospel of Thomas; see below The two- and four-source hypotheses ) tends to fit a Christology in which Jesus is viewed as a teacher of Wisdom, an envoy of Wisdom, or as Wisdom herself. The collections of wonder stories (aretalogies) grew out of a Christology of Jesus as the divine man. Another type of Jesus material with independent existence seems to have been "revelations," or "apocalypses," in which Jesus Christ speaks to his followers. This is seen, for example, in Mark 13, I Thessalonians, chapter 4, the canonical book of Revelation to John, and the noncanonical Didache 16.

These genres of material now represented in the canonical Gospels are amply represented also in the noncanonical writings from the first Christian centuries. The discovery of a Gnostic library of Coptic writings at Naj' Hammadi, in Egypt, in the 1940s gave scholars a new opportunity to compare the canonical Gospels with the Jesus material of these various types, some of them having been called and used as gospels (such as the Gospel of Thomas). In the light of such a wider spectrum of material, it appears that the gospel form for which Mark is the earliest witness became a criterion for the orthodox transmission of the Christian message about Jesus. By making the confession of Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord (the earliest kerygma and "gospel" as found in Paul and Acts) the form of an extensive Passion account prefaced by a limited amount of narrative and teaching, Mark set the stage for a faith that anchored faith in Jesus Christ in the events of the earthly life of Jesus. This form of the "gospel" became the standard within which the other commonly accepted Gospels grew. It became the criterion for later creedal statements concerning Jesus Christ as true God and true man. By such a criterion, gospels that seemed to disregard his humanity (e.g., Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter) were judged heretical.

 

2. THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM

 

1) Early theories about the Synoptic problem.

Since the 1780s, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have been referred to as the Synoptic Gospels (from synoptikos, "seen together"). The extensive parallels in structure, content, and wording of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make it even possible to arrange them side by side so that corresponding sections can be seen in parallel columns. John Calvin, the 16th-century Reformer, wrote a commentary on these Gospels as a harmony. Such an arrangement is called a "synopsis," or Gospel harmony, and, by careful comparison of their construction, compilation, and actual agreement or disagreement in wording or content, literary- or source-critical relationships can be seen. Augustine, the great 4th-5th-century Western theologian, considered Mark to be an abridged Matthew, and, until the 19th century, some variation of this solution to literary dependency dominated the scene. It still recurs from time to time.

The Synoptic problem is one of literary or of source criticism and deals with the written sources after compilation and redaction. Matthew was the Gospel most used for the selections read in the liturgy of the church, and other Gospels were used to fill in the picture. One attempted solution to the problem of priority was the proposed existence of an Aramaic primitive gospel, which is now lost, as the first Gospel from which a later Mark in Greek was translated and arranged. The Greek Mark would thus be first based on a prior Semitic Matthew, and later both Mark and Matthew would be translations dependent on Matthew, and Luke dependent on both. The preservation of an ecclesiastical priority of Matthew breaks down because of the literary word-for-word agreement in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This agreement occurs to far too great an extent to be accounted for in translations and revisions, not to mention the agreement in the order of the various pericopes as they are viewed in a synoptic parallel arrangement.

For similar reasons, a fragment theory holding that the Gospels were constructed of small written collections brought together in varying sequences cannot stand the test of actual structure--but it has the merit of stressing compilation of sources.

In 1789 J.J. Griesbach, a German biblical scholar, hypothesized that the Synoptics had not developed independently, but in his "usage-hypothesis" he recognized that there must be literary dependency. He thought that Mark used Matthew as well as Luke, but this could not account for the close relationship of Matthew and Luke. His basic concept of literary dependency, however, paved the way for K. Lachmann, who observed in 1835 that Matthew and Luke agree only when they also agree with Mark and that, where material is introduced that is not in Mark, it is inserted in different places. This, it is held, can only be explained on the basis of the priority of Mark and its use as the patterning form of Matthew and Luke. This insight led to a so-called two-source hypothesis (by two German biblical scholars, Heinrich Holtzmann in 1863, and Bernhard Weiss in 1887-88), which, with various modifications and refinements of other scholars, is the generally accepted solution to the Synoptic problem.

 

2) The two- and four-source hypotheses.

The two-source hypothesis is predicated upon the following observations: Matthew and Luke used Mark, both for its narrative material as well as for the basic structural outline of chronology of Jesus' life. Matthew and Luke use a second source, which is called Q (from German Quelle, "source"), not extant, for the sayings (logia) found in common in both of them. Thus, Mark and Q are the main components of Matthew and Luke. In both Matthew and Luke there is material that is peculiar to each of their Gospels; this material is probably drawn from some other sources, which may be designated M (material found only in Matthew's special source) and L (material found only in Luke's special source). This is known as the four-document hypothesis, which was elaborated in 1925 by B.H. Streeter, an English biblical scholar. The placement of Q material in Luke and Matthew disagrees at certain points according to the needs and theologies of the addressees of the gospels, but in Matthew the Marcan chronology is the basic scheme into which Q is put. Mark's order is kept, on the whole, by Matthew and Luke, but, where it differs, at least one agrees with Mark. After chapter 4 in Matthew and Luke, not a single passage from Q is in the same place. Q was a source written in Greek as was Mark, which can be demonstrated by word agreement (not possible, for example, with a translation from Aramaic, although perhaps the Greek has vestiges of Semitic structure form). A diagram might thus be:

In approximate figures, Mark's text has 661 verses, more than 600 of which appear in Matthew and 350 in Luke. Only c. 31 verses of Mark are found nowhere in Matthew or Luke. In the material common to all three Synoptics, there is very seldom verbatim agreement of Matthew and Luke against Mark, though such agreement is common between Matthew and Mark or Luke and Mark or where all three concur.

The postulated common saying source of Matthew and Luke, Q, would account for much verbatim agreement of Matthew and Luke when they include sayings absent from Mark. The fact that the sayings are used in different ways or different contexts in Matthew and Luke is an indication of a somewhat free way in which the editors could take material and mold it to their given situations and needs. An example of this is the parable in Matthew and Luke about the lost sheep (Matt. 18:10-14, Luke 15:3-7). The basic material has been used in different ways. In Matthew, the context is church discipline--how a brother in Christ who has lapsed or who is in danger of doing so is to be gently and graciously dealt with--and Matthew shapes it accordingly (the sheep has "gone astray"). In Luke, the parable exemplifies Jesus' attitude toward sinners and is directed against the critical Pharisees and scribes who object to Jesus' contact with sinners and outsiders (the sheep is "lost").

Another example of two passages used verbatim in Luke and Matthew is Jesus' lament over Jerusalem. In Luke (13:34-35; the lament over Jerusalem) Jesus refers to how they will cry "Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord" when he enters Jerusalem (Lk. 19:38). In Luke, the passage is structured into the life of Jesus and refers to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord"). In Matthew (23:37-39) this same lament is placed after the entry into the city (21:9) and thus refers to the fall of Jerusalem and the Last Judgment. Apparently, Luke has historicized a primarily eschatological saying.

Since the 1930s, scholars have increasingly refined sources, postulated sources behind sources, and many stages of their formation. The premise of the two- (or four-) source hypothesis is basic and provides information as to literary sources; further refinement is of interest only to the specialist. Another movement in synoptic research--and also research including John--is that which concentrates rather on the treatment of gospels as a whole, formally and theologically, with patterns or cycles to be investigated. It may be significant that the latest and best regarded Greek synopsis is that of the German scholar Kurt Aland, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (1964; Synopsis of the Four Gospels, 1972), which includes the Gospel According to John and, as an appendix, the Gospel of Thomas, as well as ample quotations from noncanonical gospels and Jesus' sayings preserved in the Church Fathers.

 

3. THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS

 

1) The Gospel According to Mark: Background and overview.

The Gospel According to Mark is the second in canonical order of the Gospels and is both the earliest gospel that survived and the shortest. Probably contemporaneous with Q, it has no direct connection with it. The Passion narrative comprises 40 percent of Mark, and, from chapter 8, verse 27, onward, there is heavy reference forward to the Passion.

Though the author of Mark is probably unknown, authority is traditionally derived from a supposed connection with the Apostle Peter, who had transmitted the traditions before his martyr death under Nero's persecution (c. 64-65). Papias, a 2nd-century bishop in Asia Minor, is quoted as saying that Mark had been Peter's amanuensis (secretary) who wrote as he remembered (after Peter's death), though not in the right order. Because Papias was from the East, perhaps the Johannine order would have priority, as is the case in the structure of the Syrian scholar Tatian's Diatesseron (harmony of the Gospels).

Attempts have been made to identify Mark as the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12 or as the disciple who fled naked in the garden (Mark 14). A reference to "my son, Mark," in I Peter is part of the same tradition by which Mark was related to Peter; thus the Evangelist's apostolic guarantor was Peter.

The setting is a Gentile church. There is no special interest in problems with Jews and little precision in stating Jewish views, arguments, or terminology. Full validity is given the worship of the Gentiles. In further support of a Gentile setting and Roman provenance is the argument that Mark uses a high percentage of so-called Latinisms--i.e., Latin loanwords in Greek for military officers, money, and other such terms. Similar translations and transliterations, however, have been found in the Jerusalem Talmud, a compendium of Jewish law, lore, and commentary, which certainly was not of Roman provenance. The argument from Latinisms must be weighed against the fact that Latin could be used anywhere in the widespread Roman Empire. In addition, for the first three centuries the language of the church of Rome was Greek--so the Gentile addressees might just as well have been Syrian as Roman. The Latinisms--as well as the Aramaisms--are rather an indication of the vernacular style of Mark, which was "improved" by the other Evangelists.

Mark is written in rather crude and plain Greek, with great realism. Jesus' healing of a blind man is done in two stages: first the blind man sees men, but they look like trees walking, and only after further healing activity on Jesus' part is he restored to see everything clearly. This concrete element was lost in the rest of the tradition. It is also perhaps possible that this two-stage healing is a good analogy for understanding Mark theologically: first, through enigmatic miracles and parables in secret, and only later, after recognition of Jesus as the Christ, is there a gradual clarification leading to the empty tomb. In chapter 3, verse 21, those closest to Jesus call him insane ("he is beside himself"), a statement without parallel in the other Gospels.

In Mark, some Aramaic is retained, transliterated into Greek, and then translated--e.g., in the raising of Jairus' daughter (5:41) and in the healing of the deaf mute (7:34). The well-known abba, Father, is retained in Mark's account of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane. In the two miracle stories, the Aramaic may have been retained to enhance the miracle by the technique of preserving Jesus' actual words. And a cry of Jesus on the Cross is given in Aramaized Hebrew. (see also Index: Aramaic language)

The stories in Mark are woven together with simple stereotyped connectives, such as the use of kai euthus ("and immediately," "straightway"), which may be thought of as a Semitic style (as a typical simple connective in the Old Testament narrative style). More likely, however, this abruptness indicated that the compiler-redactor of Mark has used geography and people simply as props or scenes to be used as needed to connect the events in the service of the narrative.

Except for the Passion narrative, there is little chronological information. References in chapters 13 and 14 appear to presuppose that the Jerusalem Temple (destroyed in AD 70) still stood (in Matthew and Luke this is no longer the case); but the context of chapter 13, the "Little Apocalypse," is so interwoven with eschatological traditions of both the Jewish and Christian expectations in the 1st century that it cannot serve with certainty as a historical reference. To some extent, however, chapter 13 does help to date Mark--the priority of which has already been established from literary criticism--because it is in good agreement with the traditions that Mark was written after the martyrdom of Peter. Mark may thus be dated somewhere after 64 and before 70, when the Jewish war ended.

 

2) The Gospel According to Mark: unique structure.

The organization and schematizing of Mark reveals its special thrust. It may be roughly divided into three parts: (1) 1:1-8:26--the Galilean ministry--an account of mighty deeds (an aretalogy); (2) 8:27-10:52--discussions with his disciples centred on suffering; and (3) 11:1-16:8--controversies, Passion, death, the empty tomb, and the expected Parousia in Galilee.

"The beginning of the Gospel" in the first words of Mark apparently refers to John the Baptist, who is clearly described as a forerunner of the Messiah who calls the people to repentance. Jesus never calls himself the Messiah (Christ). After Jesus' Baptism by John, the heavens open, the Spirit descends, and a heavenly voice proclaims Jesus as God's beloved son with whom He is well pleased. Already in this account there is a certain secrecy, because it is not clear whether the onlookers or only Jesus witnessed or heard. Jesus was then driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, the place of demons and struggle, to be tempted by Satan, surrounded by wild beasts (the symbols of the power of evil and persecution) and ministered to by angels. Here again he is in secret, alone. The opening of the struggle with Satan is depicted, and the attendance by angels is a sign of Jesus' success in the test.

Many references to persecution in Mark point toward Roman oppression and a martyr church that was preoccupied with a confrontation with the Satanic power behind the world's hostility to Jesus and his message. There was stress on the underlying fact that the church must witness before the authorities in a hostile world. Much of the martyrological aspect of Mark's account is grounded in his interpretation of the basic function of Jesus' Passion and death and its implication that the Christian life is a life of suffering witness.

What Jesus preached in Galilee at the beginning of his ministry was that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is "at hand"; i.e., very very near--therefore repent! (1:15). In Matthew this same message is that of both John the Baptist (3:2) and Jesus (4:17). This sets the stage; and the miraculous ministry in Galilee about which the followers are enjoined to secrecy points not so much to Jesus as the wonder-worker as to the great scheme of pushing back the frontier of Satan. Toward the end of this first section, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, and he answers in no uncertain terms that no sign will be given (8:12). In the Synoptic Gospels the miracles are never called "signs" (as in John); and no sign is to be given prior to the cosmological, eschatological signs from heaven that belong to the end: darkening of the Sun and Moon and extreme tribulations that in postbiblical Jewish eschatology--the mood of the first Christian century--is a sign of the coming of the heavenly Son of man to judge the world.

Parables are a revelatory mode of expression; they are not just illustrations of ideas or principles. Jesus, the revealer, tells his disciples that the secret of the Kingdom of God is given to them but that to the outsider everything is in parables (or riddles) in order that they may not hear and understand lest they repent and be forgiven (4:10-12). This mystery and hiddenness is particularly related to the parables about the coming of the kingdom. Yet, even Jesus' disciples did not recognize him as the Messiah, although his miracles were such that only a messianic figure could perform them: forgiving sins on earth, casting out demons, raising the dead, making the deaf hear and the stammerer (the dumb) speak, and the blind to see--all fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. Only the demons, supranatural beings, recognize Jesus. There is a constant campaign against Satan from the temptation after Jesus' Baptism until his death on the Cross, and, in each act of healing or exorcism, there is anticipated the ultimate defeat of Satan and the manifestation of the power of the new age. In all this Mark stresses the need for secrecy and Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ (8:29) is told in Mark as the opportunity to motivate an acceptance of the admonition "not to tell" by reference to the necessity of suffering. (see also Index: New Testament)

This strong emphasis on the necessity of suffering--in the life of Jesus and in the life of the disciples--before the hour of victory gives the best explanation to what scholars have called the secrecy motif in Mark--i.e., the constant stress on not telling the world about Jesus' messianic power. (see also Index: messiah)

According to William Wrede, a German scholar, the messianic secret motif was a literary and apologetic device by which the Christological faith of the early church could be reconciled with the fact that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. According to Wrede, Mark's solution was: Jesus always knew it but kept it a secret for the inner group. After Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began to speak of a suffering Son of man. The Son of man in Jewish apocalyptic was a glorious, transcendent, heavenly figure who would come victorious on clouds of glory to judge the world at the end of time. Suffering was not part of this picture. E. Sjöberg (1955) has interpreted the messianic secret not as a literary invention but as an understanding both that the Messiah would appear without recognition except by those who are chosen and to whom he reveals himself and that he must suffer. For outsiders, then, he remains a mystery until the age to come. Even his disciples did not understand the necessity of suffering. Only in the light of Resurrection faith--the hope of the Parousia and final victory over Satan--could they understand that he had to suffer and die to fulfill his mission and how they, too, must suffer.

Martyrological aspects in Mark can be noted from the beginning. Already according to 2:20 Jesus' disciples are not to fast until "when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast . . . ." In Mark 8 to 10, there is great concentration on discussions with the disciples. The theme is suffering, and repeatedly they are reminded that there is no way of coming to glory except through suffering. Three Passion predictions meet either with rejection, fear, or confusion. In the Transfiguration (9:2-13; in which three disciples--Peter, James, and John--see Jesus become brighter and Elijah and Moses, two Old Testament prophets, appear) there is the same emphasis. The tension between future glory and prior suffering is the more striking when the Transfiguration is recognized as a Resurrection appearance, placed here in an anticipatory manner. The disciples are reminded of an association of Elijah with John the Baptist and his fate. This is also a hidden epiphany (manifestation)--the triumphal enthroned king closely juxtaposed with suffering and death.

After the third Passion prediction, in chapter 10, two of the disciples ask for places of honour when Jesus is glorified. He reminds them that suffering must precede glory for "The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." It is worth noting that this is the only reference to the death of Christ as a ransom or sacrifice but that Mark does not dwell on the Christological implications, but uses the saying for ethical purposes. Even so, the Marcan text gives one of the important building blocks for Christological growth and reflection on the suffering Son of man.

Just as Jesus' public ministry in Mark started with the calling of disciples, so the central part of the Gospel calls them to participate through suffering in his own confrontation with the power of Satan.

In the last section of the Gospel, the scene is shifted to Jerusalem, where Jesus is going to die. His entry is described as triumphal and openly messianic and is accompanied by acted-out parables in a judgment of a barren fig tree, casting money changers out of the Temple, and in a parable of a vineyard in which the beloved son of the owner is killed. There is an increasing conflict and alienation of the authorities. Chapter 13, the "Little Apocalypse," made up of a complex arrangement of apocalyptic traditions, serves as instruction to the disciples and thence to the church that they must endure through tribulation and persecution until the end time. Thus, although the setting is Jerusalem, the orientation is toward Galilee, the place where the Parousia is expected. The Holy Spirit will come to those who must witness in the situation of trial before governors and authorities (13:11); in the final eschatological trials only by God's intervention can anyone endure unless the time be shortened for the elect. Because this chapter is shaped as a discourse that precedes the Passion narrative, it serves as a farewell address, a type of testament including apocalyptic sayings and warnings to the messianic community at the end of the "narrative" before the Passion--as do most testament forms (admonitions given before death to those beloved who will remain behind).

The Cross is both the high point of the Gospel and its lowest level of abject humiliation and suffering. A cry of dereliction and agony and the cosmic sign of the rending of the Temple veil bring from a Gentile centurion acknowledgment of Jesus as Son of God. The disciples reacted to the scandal of the Cross with discouragement, although already the scene is set for a meeting in Galilee. There are no visions of the risen Lord, however, in the best manuscripts (verses 9-20 are commonly held to be later additions), and Mark thus remains an open-ended Gospel. The Resurrection is neither described nor interpreted. Not exultation but rather involvement in the battle with Satan is the inheritance until the victorious coming in glory of the Lord--a continual process with the empty tomb pointing to hope of the final victory and glory, the Parousia in Galilee. The Gospel ends on the note of expectation. The mood from the last words of Jesus to the disciples remains: What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!

 

3) The Gospel According to Matthew.

Matthew is the first in order of the four canonical Gospels and is often called the "ecclesiastical" Gospel, both because it was much used for selections for pericopes for the church year and because it deals to a great extent with the life and conduct of the church and its members. Matthew gave the frame, the basic shape and colour, to the early church's picture of Jesus. Matthew used almost all of Mark, upon which it is to a large extent structured, some material peculiar only to Matthew, and sayings from Q as they serve the needs of the church. This Gospel expands and enhances the stark description of Jesus from Mark. The fall of Jerusalem (AD 70) had occurred, and this dates Matthew later than Mark, c. 70-80.

Although there is a Matthew named among the various lists of Jesus' disciples, more telling is the fact that the name of Levi, the tax collector who in Mark became a follower of Jesus, in Matthew is changed to Matthew. It would appear from this that Matthew was claiming apostolic authority for his Gospel through this device but that the writer of Matthew is probably anonymous.

The Gospel grew out of a "school" led by a man with considerable knowledge of Jewish ways of teaching and interpretation. This is suggested by the many ways in which Matthew is related to Judaism. It is in some ways the most "Jewish" Gospel. Striking are 11 "formula quotations" ("This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet . . .") claiming the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies.

The outstanding feature of Matthew is its division into five discourses, or sermons, following narrative sections with episodes and vignettes that precede and feed into them: (1) chapters 5-7--the Sermon on the Mount--a sharpened ethic for the Kingdom and a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees; (2) chapter 10--a discourse on mission, witness, and martyrological potential for disciples with an eschatological context (including material from Mark 13); (3) chapter 13--parables about the coming of the Kingdom; (4) chapter 18--on church discipline, harshness toward leaders who lead their flock astray and more gentleness toward sinning members; and (5) chapters 23-25--concerned with the end time (the Parousia) and watchful waiting for it, and firmness in faith in God and his Holy Spirit. Each sermon is preceded by a didactic use of narratives, events, and miracles leading up to them, many from the Marcan outline. Each of the five sections of narrative and discourse ends with a similar formula: "now when Jesus had finished these sayings. . . ." The style suggests a catechism for Christian behaviour based on the example of Jesus: a handbook for teaching and administration of the church. This presupposes a teaching and acting community, a church, in which the Gospel functions. The Greek word ekklesia, ("church") is used in the Gospels only in Matthew (16:18 and 18:17).

The discourses are preceded by etiological (sources or origins) material of chapters 1-2, in which the birth narrative relates Jesus' descent (by adoption according to the will of God) through Joseph into the Davidic royal line. Though a virgin birth is mentioned, it is not capitalized upon theologically in Matthew. The story includes a flight into Egypt (recalling a Mosaic tradition). Some "Semitisms" add to the Jewish flavour, such as calling the Kingdom of God the Kingdom of the Heaven(s). The name Jesus (Saviour) is theologically meaningful to Matthew (1:21). Chapter 2 reflects on the geographical framework of the Messiah's birth and tells how the messianic baby born in Bethlehem came to dwell in Nazareth. (see also Index: infancy narrative)

After the five narrative and discourse units, Matthew continues from chapter 26 on with the Passion narrative, burial, a Resurrection account, and the appearance of the risen Lord in Galilee, where he gives the final "great commission," with which Matthew ends.

Matthew is not only an original Greek document, but its addressees are Greek-speaking Gentile Christians. By the time of the Gospel According to Matthew, there had been a relatively smooth and mild transition into a Gentile Christian milieu. The setting could be Syria, but hardly Antioch, where the Pauline mission had sharpened the theological issues far beyond what seems to be the case in Matthew. Matthew has no need to argue against the Law, or Torah, as divisive for the church (as had been the case earlier with Paul in Romans and Galatians, in which the Law was divisive among Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians), and, indeed, the Law is upheld in Matthew (5:17-19). For Matthew, there had already been a separation of Christianity from its Jewish matrix. When he speaks about the "scribes and the Pharisees," he thinks of the synagogue "across the street" from the now primarily Gentile church. Christianity is presented as superior to Judaism even in regard to the Law and its ethical demands.

The Matthean church is conscious of its Jewish origins but also of a great difference in that it is permeated with an eschatological perspective, seeing itself not only as participating in the suffering of Christ (as in Mark) but also as functioning even in the face of persecution while patiently--but eagerly--awaiting the Parousia. The questions of the mission of the church and the degree of the "coming" of the Kingdom with the person and coming of Jesus are handled by the Evangelist by a "timetable" device. The Gospel is arranged so that only after the Resurrection is the power of the Lord fully manifest as universal and continuing. Before the Resurrection the disciples are sent nowhere among the Gentiles but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and the end time is expected before the mission will have gone through the towns of Israel. Even in his earthly ministry, however, Jesus proleptically, with a sort of holy impatience, heals the son of a believing Roman centurion and responds to the persistent faith of a Canaanite woman--whose heathen background is stressed even more than her geographical designation, Syro-Phoenician, given in the parallel in Mark--by healing her daughter. The Jewish origins of Jesus' teaching and the way the Evangelist presents them do not deny but push beyond them. The prophecies are fulfilled, the Law is kept, and the church's mission is finally universal, partly because the unbelief of the pious Jewish leaders left the gospel message to the poor, the sick, the sinner, the outcast, and the Gentile.

In Matthew, because of the use of Q and Matthew's theological organization, there is stress on Jesus as teacher, his sharpening or radicalizing of the Law in an eschatological context; and Jesus is presented not in secret but as an openly proclaimed Messiah, King, and Judge. In the temptation narrative Jesus refuses Satan's temptations because they are of the devil, but he himself later in the Gospel does feed the multitude, and after the Resurrection he claims all authority in heaven and on earth. By overcoming Satan, Jesus gave example to his church to stand firm in persecution. Messianic titles are more used in Matthew than in Mark. In the exorcism of demoniacs, the demons cry out, calling him Son of God and rebuking him for having come "before the time" (8:29). Again, this shows that Jesus in his earthly ministry had power over demons, power belonging only to the Messiah and the age to come; and he pushed this timetable ahead. Yet, as in Mark, the miracles are not to be interpreted as signs. When asked for a sign, the Matthean account gives only the sign of Jonah, an Old Testament prophet--i.e., the preaching of the gospel--which in later tradition took on an added interpretation as presaging the Son of man (Jesus) being three days and nights in the tomb (12:40, a later addition to Matthew).

Even the antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount are not new but demonstrate a higher ethic--one that is sharpened, strict, more immediate because the end time is perceived as coming soon. People who took this intensification of the Law upon themselves dared to do it as an example of "messianic license"--i.e., to use the ethics of the Kingdom in the present in a church still under historical ambiguity and in constant struggle with Satan.

At such points the peculiar nature of Matthew comes into focus. The sharpening of the Law and the messianic license for the disciples are clearly there. At the same time Matthew presents the maxims of Jesus as attractive to a wider audience with Hellenistic tastes: Jesus is the teacher of a superior ethic, beyond casuistry and particularism. Similarly, in chapter 15, he renders maxims about food laws as an example of enlightened attitudes, not as rules for actual behaviour.

According to Matthew, the "professionally" pious were blind and unhearing, and these traits led to their replacement by those who are called in Matthew the "little ones"; in Final Judgment the King-Messiah will judge according to their response to him who is himself represented as one of "the least of these." The depiction of Jesus as Lord, King, Judge, Saviour, Messiah, Son of man, and Son of God (all messianic titles) is made in a highly pitched eschatological tone. The Lord's Prayer is presented in this context, and, for example, the "temptation" (trial, test) of "Lead us not into temptation" is no ordinary sin but the ordeal before the end time, the coming of the Kingdom for which the Matthean church prays. Martyrdom, though not to be pursued, can be endured through the help of the Spirit and the example of Jesus.

The Passion narrative is forceful and direct. Pilate's part in sentencing Jesus to be crucified is somewhat modified, and the guilt of the Jews increased in comparison with the Marcan account. In Matthew the Resurrection is properly witnessed by more than one male witness so that there can be no ambiguity as to the meaning of the empty tomb. The risen Lord directs his disciples to go to Galilee, and the Gospel According to Matthew ends with a glorious epiphany there and with Jesus' commission to the disciples--the church--to go to the Gentiles, because the risen Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth for all time.

 

4) The Gospel According to Luke.

Luke is the third in order of the canonical gospels, which, together with Acts, its continuation, is dedicated by Luke to the same patron, "most excellent" Theophilus. Theophilus may have been a Roman called by a title of high degree because he is an official or out of respect; or he may have been an exemplification of the Gentile Christian addressees of the Lucan Gospel. The account in Luke-Acts is for the purpose of instruction and for establishing reliability by going back to the apostolic age. The very style of this preface follows the pattern of Greek historiography, and thus Luke is called the "historical" Gospel. Historically reliable information cannot be expected, however, because Luke's sources were not historical; they rather were embedded in tradition and proclamation. Luke is, however, a historian in structuring his sources, especially in structuring his chronology into periods to show how God's plan of salvation was unfolded in world history. That he uses events and names is secondary to his intention, and their historical accuracy is of less importance than the schematization by which he shows Jesus to be the Saviour of the world and the church in its mission (Acts) to be part of an orderly progress according to God's plan.

The sources of the Gospel are arranged in the service of its theological thrust with definite periodization of the narrative. Approximately one-third of Luke is from Mark (about 60 percent of Mark); 20 percent of Luke is derived from Q (sometimes arranged with parts of L). Almost 50 percent is from Luke's special source (L), especially the infancy narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus, and parables peculiar to Luke (e.g., the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the rich fool). L material is also interwoven into the Passion narrative. While Matthew structured similar teaching materials in his five discourses, Luke places them in an extensive travel account that takes Jesus from Galilee to Judaea via Jericho to Jerusalem. This is similar to the ways in which Acts is structured on the principle of bringing the word from Jerusalem to Rome (see below).

The author has been identified with Luke, "the beloved physician," Paul's companion on his journeys, presumably a Gentile (Col. 4:14 and 11; cf. II Tim. 4:11, Philem. 24). There is no Papias fragment concerning Luke, and only late-2nd-century traditions claim (somewhat ambiguously) that Paul was the guarantor of Luke's Gospel traditions. The Muratorian Canon refers to Luke, the physician, Paul's companion; Irenaeus depicts Luke as a follower of Paul's gospel. Eusebius has Luke as an Antiochene physician who was with Paul in order to give the Gospel apostolic authority. References are often made to Luke's medical language, but there is no evidence of such language beyond that to which any educated Greek might have been exposed. Of more import is the fact that in the writings of Luke specifically Pauline ideas are significantly missing; while Paul speaks of the death of Christ, Luke speaks rather of the suffering, and there are other differing and discrepant ideas on Law and eschatology. In short, the author of this gospel remains unknown.

Luke can be dated c. 80. There is no conjecture about its place of writing, except that it probably was outside of Palestine because the writer had no accurate idea of its geography. Luke uses a good literary style of the Hellenistic Age in terms of syntax. His language has a "biblical" ring already in its own time because of his use of the Septuagint style; he is a Greek familiar with the Septuagint, which was written for Greeks; he seldom uses loanwords and repeatedly improves Mark's wording. The hymns of chapters 1 and 2 (the Magnificat, beginning "My soul magnifies the Lord"; the Benedictus, beginning "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel"; the Nunc Dimittis, beginning "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace") and the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus either came from some early oral tradition or were consciously modelled on the basis of the language of the Septuagint. These sections provide insight into the early Christian community, and the hymns in particular reflect the Old Testament psalms or the Thanksgiving Psalms from Qumran. Though on the whole Matthew is the Gospel most used for the lectionaries, the Christmas story comes from Luke. The "old age" motif of the birth of John to Elizabeth also recalls the Old Testament birth of Samuel, the judge. All the material about John the Baptist, however, is deliberately placed prior to that of Jesus. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, visits Elizabeth, Jesus' superiority to John is already established. The Davidic royal tradition is thus depicted as superior to the priestly tradition.

Writing out of the cultural tradition of Hellenism and that of Jewish 'anawim piety--i.e., the piety of the poor and the humble entertaining messianic expectations--Luke has "humanized" the portrait of Jesus. Piety and prayer (his own and that of others) are stressed. Love and compassion for the poor and despised and hatred of the rich are emphasized, as is Jesus' attitude toward women, children, and sinners. In the Crucifixion scene, the discussion between the robbers and Jesus' assurance that one of them would be with him in Paradise, as well as the words, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!"--which are in contrast to the cry of dereliction in Mark and Matthew--all point toward the paradigm of the truly pious man. Parables peculiar to Luke--among which are those of the good Samaritan, the importunate friend, the lost coin, and the prodigal son--have an element of warmth and tenderness. Thus, Luke "civilizes" the more stark eschatological emphasis of Mark (and Matthew), leading the way, perhaps, to a lessening of eschatological hopes in a time in which the imminent Parousia was not expected but pushed into the distant future.

The interplay between Luke and Acts reveals Luke's answer to the coming of the Kingdom. Once the church has the Holy Spirit, the delay of the Parousia has been answered for a time. Thus, Luke divides history into three periods: (1) the end of the prophetic era of Israel as a preparation for revelation, with John the Baptist as the end of the old dispensation; (2) the revelation of Jesus' ministry as the centre of time--with Satan having departed after the temptation and, until he once again appears, entering into Judas to betray Jesus; and (3) the beginning of the period of the church after Jesus' Passion and Resurrection.

Consistent with this schematization, John the Baptist's arrest occurs before Jesus' Baptism, though it is placed later in Mark and Matthew. From the beginning, the rule of the Spirit is a central theme, important in healing, the ministry, the message, and the promise of the continued guidance of the Spirit in the age of the church, pointing toward part two of Luke's work, the book of Acts of the Apostles, in which Pentecost (the receiving of the Holy Spirit by 120 disciples gathered together the 50th day after Easter) is a decisive event.

Just as Luke arranges his Gospel to show the divine plan of salvation in historical periodization, so he orders its structure in accordance with a geographical scheme. Chapter 1 (verse 8) of Acts provides the framework: after the coming of the Spirit, the church will witness in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and then to the end of the inhabited world. These places foreshadow the church's mission. The end of the old dispensation takes place in Jerusalem and its environs. The Resurrection appearances in Luke are placed in Jerusalem (Mark, Matthew, and John point toward Galilee). Jerusalem is also the place of the beginning of the church, and the old holy place thus becomes the centre of the new holy community. The necessity of suffering was made clear and interpreted as the fulfillment of prophecy. Rejection by people from his old home, Nazareth, and by Jewish religious leaders corresponds to the beginning of the ministry to the Gentiles--to the end of the earth.

Luke's account of the Crucifixion heightens the guilt of the Jews, adding a trial and mockery by Herod Antipas. The Crucifixion in Luke is interpreted as an anticipatory event: that the Christ must suffer by means of death before entering into glory. Jesus' death, therefore, is not interpreted in terms of an expiatory redemptive act. The centurion who saw the event praised God and called Jesus a righteous man, thus describing his fate as that of a martyr, but with no special meaning for salvation. The link between past salvation history and the period of the church is through the Spirit; salvation history continues in Acts.

 

4. THE FOURTH GOSPEL: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN

 

1) Uniqueness of John.

John is the last Gospel and, in many ways, different from the Synoptic Gospels. The question in the Synoptic Gospels concerns the extent to which the divine reality broke into history in Jesus' coming, and the answers are given in terms of the closeness of the new age. John, from the very beginning, presents Jesus in terms of glory: the Christ, the exalted Lord, mighty from the beginning and throughout his ministry, pointing to the Cross as his glorification and a revelation of the glory of the Father. The Resurrection, together with Jesus' promise to send the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) as witness, spokesman, and helper for the church, is a continuation of the glorious revelation and manifestation (Greek epiphaneia).

Irenaeus calls John the beloved disciple who wrote the Gospel in Ephesus. Papias mentions John the son of Zebedee, the disciple, as well as another John, the presbyter, who might have been at Ephesus. From internal evidence the Gospel was written by a beloved disciple whose name is unknown. Because both external and internal evidence are doubtful, a working hypothesis is that John and the Johannine letters were written and edited somewhere in the East (perhaps Ephesus) as the product of a "school," or Johannine circle, at the end of the 1st century. The addressees were Gentile Christians, but there is accurate knowledge and much reference to Palestine, which might be a reflection of early Gospel tradition. The Jews are equated with the opponents of Jesus, and the separation of church and synagogue is complete, also pointing to a late-1st-century dating. The author of John knows part of the tradition behind the Synoptic Gospels, but it is unlikely that he knew them as literary sources. His use of common tradition is molded to his own style and theology, differing markedly with the Synoptics in many ways. Yet, John is a significant source of Jesus' life and ministry, and it does not stand as a "foreign body" among the Gospels. Confidence in some apostolic traditions behind John is an organic link with the apostolic witness, and, from beginning to end, the confidence is anchored in Jesus' words and the disciples' experience--although much has been changed in redaction. Traces of eyewitness accounts occur in John's unified Gospel narrative, but they are interpreted, as is also the case with the other Gospels. Clement of Alexandria, a late-2nd-century theologian, calls John the "spiritual gospel" that complements and supplements the Synoptics. Although the Greek of John is relatively simple, the power behind it (and its "poetic" translation especially in the King James Version) makes it a most beautiful writing. Various backgrounds for John have been suggested: Greek philosophy (especially the Stoic concept of the logos, or "word," as immanent reason); the works of Philo of Alexandria, in which there is an impersonal logos concept that can not be the object of faith and love; Hermetic writings, comprising esoteric, magical works from Egypt (2nd-3rd centuries AD) that contain both Greek and Oriental speculations on monotheistic religion and the revelation of God; Gnosticism, a 2nd-century religious movement that emphasized salvation through knowledge and a metaphysical dualism; Mandaeanism, a form of Gnosticism based on Iranian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Jewish sources; and Palestinian Judaism, from which both Hellenistic and Jewish ideas came. In the last source there is a Wisdom component and some ideas that possibly come from Qumran, such as a dualism of good versus evil, truth versus falsehood, and light versus darkness. Of these backgrounds, perhaps, all have played a part, but the last appears to fit John best. In the thought world of Jewish Gnosticism, there is a mythological descending and ascending envoy of God. In the prologue of John, there is embedded what is proclaimed as a historical fact: The Logos (Word) took on new meaning in Christ. The Creator of the world entered anew with creative power. But history and interpretation are always so inextricably bound together that one cannot be separated from the other.

 

2) Form and content of John.

In John there is a mixture of long meditational discourses on definite themes and concrete events recalling the structure of Matthew (with events plus discourses); and, although the source problem is complex and research is still grappling with it, there can be little doubt that John depended on a distinct source for his seven miracles (the sign [or semeia] source): (1) turning water to wine at the marriage at Cana; (2) the healing of an official's son; (3) the healing of a paralytic at the pool at Bethzatha; (4) the feeding of the multitude; (5) Jesus walking on water; (6) the cure of one blind from birth; and (7) the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In chapter 20, verse 30, the purpose of the signs is stated: "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name."

A major part of John is in the form of self-revelatory discourses by Jesus. Some would assign these to a distinct source, but they may rather be the work of the author.

Jesus' coming "hour"--the hour of his glorification--could not come about at any bidding but only according to a divine plan, and Jesus is obedient to it. The Paraclete is promised to come to the disciples, and it is necessary that Jesus go away in order that the Paraclete may come to the church. In John, Christ is depicted as belonging to a higher world, and his kingship is not of this world. He is said to have come into this world to his own people, and they rejected him, but this is but another example of the church's mission having passed both historically and theologically to the Gentile milieu.

The Christology in John is heightened: though the Synoptics have Jesus speaking about the Kingdom, in John, Jesus speaks about himself. This heightened Christology can be seen in many of the "I am" sayings of Jesus (e.g., "I am the bread of life") in the context of their discourses and accompanying signs. This type of discourse is a concentration in terms and titles of the way in which the Messiah openly reveals his identity by a striking phenomenon: in the Old Testament the association with "I am" is the revelation of the name of God in the theophany (manifestation of God) to Moses (Exodus), and this theophanic interpretation carries over in John. Jesus says "I am" with regard to his function as Messiah, as divine. These sayings are self-revelatory pronouncements: (1) bread of life, (2) light of the world, (3) door of the sheepfold, (4) good shepherd, (5) resurrection and life, (6) way, truth, and life, and (7) true vine. Such theophanic expressions are heightened in other sayings: "I and the Father are one"; "Before Abraham was, I am"; "He who has seen me has seen the Father"; and Thomas' cry after the Resurrection "My Lord and my God."

John 14 is a farewell speech, one of a series, before the Passion. In testament form, it is the bidding of farewell by one who is dying and giving comfort to those he loves. In John, however, the eons (ages) overlap. The significance of the farewell address, thus, is in the teaching that Jesus is God's representative. The fact that he must go to the Father means that the eschatological era already started in Jesus' presence as the Christ and will be intensified at his death and manifested further in the coming of the Spirit to the church. The times shift; the eschatology--here and still to come--also shifts but remains on the whole realized in John, although there is still a tension between the "already" and the "not yet."

John's allegorical thought is shown by his ending of the miracle of Jesus' walking on the sea. The frightened disciples took him into their boat, "and immediately the boat was at the land." This fits the pattern of John's Gospel, namely that, when Jesus is with his church, the new era has already arrived, and, where Jesus is, there is the Kingdom fulfilled. Similarly, the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11 is to demonstrate that the power of the Resurrection, of the fulfilled "eschaton" (last times), is already present in Jesus as Christ now, not only in some future time. Thus, there would appear to be a "realized eschatology" in John; i.e., the last times are realized in the person and work of Jesus. The coming of the Spirit, the Paraclete, however, is still to come, so, even in this most eschatological Gospel, there is a building up, a crescendo, of glorification. In chapter 12, verse 32, Jesus is depicted as saying, "I, when I am lifted up . . . will draw all men to myself"--again an exaltation and glorification that points to the Cross. At the point of death on the Cross, Jesus' words "It is finished" are interpreted to mean that part of the "eschaton" is consummated, fulfilled. After the finding of the empty tomb, there is a Resurrection appearance to the disciples. This includes the "doubting Thomas" pericope, which teaches that those who have to depend on the witness of the Gospel are at no disadvantage.

In an appended chapter, 21, there is a touching story of the Apostle Peter, who, having denied his Lord thrice, is three times asked by Jesus if he loves him. Peter affirms his knowledge that Jesus knows what love is in his heart and is given the care of the church and a prediction that he himself will be persecuted and crucified.

The numerous differences between the Synoptics and John can be summed up thus: in John eternal life is already present for the believer, while in the Synoptics there is a waiting for the Parousia for the fulfillment of eschatological expectations. This Johannine theology and piety has great similarities to the views that Paul criticizes in I Cor. 15 (see below). The contrast between Paul and John is even more striking if one accepts the most plausible theory that John as we have it includes passages (added later) by which the realized eschatology has been corrected so as to fit better into the more futuristic eschatology that was stressed in defense against the Gnostics. John 5:25-28 is such a striking correction.

The Johannine chronology also differs from the Synoptic. John starts the public ministry with the casting out of the money changers: the Synoptics have this as the last event of the earthly ministry leading to Jesus' apprehension. The public ministry in John occupies two or three years, but the Synoptics telescope it into one. In John Jesus is crucified on 14 Nisan, the same day that the Jewish Passover lamb is sacrificed; in the Synoptics Jesus is crucified on 15 Nisan. The difference in the chronologies of the Passion between John and the Synoptics may be because of the use of a solar calendar in John and a lunar calendar in the Synoptics. Nevertheless, the actual dating is of less importance than the fact that John places the Crucifixion at the time of the Passover sacrifice to emphasize Jesus as the Paschal lamb. There is no celebration of the Last Supper in John, but the feeding of the multitude in chapter 6 gives the opportunity for a eucharistic discourse. Because Jesus is regarded as the Christ from the very beginning of John, there is no baptism story-- John the Baptist bears witness to Jesus as the Lamb of God--no temptation, and no demon exorcisms. Satan is vanquished in the presence of Christ. Each of the four Gospels presents a different facet of the picture, a different theology. Although in all the Gospels there is warning about persecution and the danger of discipleship, each has the retrospective comfort of having knowledge of the risen Lord who will send the Spirit. In John, however, there is a triumphant, glorious confidence: "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

 

5. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

As indicated by both its introduction and its theological plan (see The Gospel According to Luke ), Acts is the second of a two-volume work compiled by the author of Luke. Both volumes are dedicated to Theophilus (presumably an imperial official), and its contents are divided into periods. In the Gospel, Luke describes first the end of the old dispensation and then the earthly life of Jesus. Near the end of the Gospel, the stage is set for the next period: the "new dispensation" of the church as presented in Acts. After the Ascension of the risen Lord in Jerusalem (Acts 1), there is Pentecost, called Shavuot in Hebrew (i.e., "the 50th day" after Passover). This Jewish festival of the revelation of the Law on Mt. Sinai becomes the day when the Spirit is poured out. For Acts this event marks the beginning of a new era (Acts 2): as in Luke, Jesus, endowed by the Spirit, was led from Nazareth to Jerusalem, so in Acts, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost leads the church from Jerusalem to Rome.

 

1) The purpose and style of Acts.

Although the title, Acts of the Apostles, suggests that the aim of Acts is to give an account of the deeds of the Apostles, the title actually was a later addition to the work (about the end of the 2nd century). Acts depicts the shift from Jewish Christianity to Gentile Christianity as relatively smooth and portrays the Roman government as regarding the Christian doctrine as harmless. This book is the earliest "church history," viewing the church as guided by the Spirit until a future Parousia (coming of the Lord).

Probably written shortly after Luke (c. 85) as a companion volume, in no manuscripts or canonical lists is Acts attached to the Gospel.

Luke edited his history as a series of accounts, and thus Acts is not history in the sense of accurate chronology or of continuity of events but in the ancient sense of rhetoric with an apologetic aim. The author weaves strands of varying traditions and sources into patterns loosely clustered around a nucleus of past events viewed from the vantage point of later development.

The structuring of the material by time and geography may account for the unique way in which both the Ascension of Christ to heaven (40 days after the Resurrection) and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (50 days after the Resurrection) became fixed and dated events.

The redactor (editor) of Acts composed speeches with primary primitive material within them; about one-fifth of Acts is composed in this way. This manner of using speeches was part of the style and purpose of the work and was not unlike that of other ancient historians such as Josephus, Plutarch, and Tacitus.

In the latter part of Acts are several sections known as the "we-passages" (e.g., 16:10, 20:5, 21:1,8, 27:1, 28:16) that appear to be extracts from a travel diary, or narrative. These do not, however, necessarily point to Luke as a companion of Paul--as has been commonly assumed--but are rather a stylistic device, such as that noted particularly in itinerary accounts in other ancient historical works (e.g., Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana). Though the pronoun changes from "they" to "we," the style, subject matter, and theology do not differ. That an actual companion of Paul writing about his mission journeys could be in so much disagreement with Paul (whose theology is evidenced in his letters) about fundamental issues such as the Law, his apostleship, and his relationship to the Jerusalem church is hardly conceivable.

Acts was written in relatively good literary Greek (especially where it addresses the Gentiles), but it is not consistent, and the Koine (vernacular) Greek of the 1st century was apparently more natural to the writer. There are some Semitisms, especially when stressing Jewish backgrounds; thus, Paul is called Saul in accounts of his conversion experience on Damascus road. In chapter 17, Paul's speech on the Areopagus, a hill in Athens that traditionally was the meeting place of the city's council, for an intellectual Athenian audience is in good Greek, assimilating Gentile thought patterns, but is expressed in Old Testament universalistic terms.

 

2) The content of Acts.

The outline of Acts can be roughly divided into two parts: the mission under Peter, centred in Jerusalem (chapters 1-12); and the missions to the Gentiles all the way to Rome (cf. chapter 1, verse 8), under the leadership of Paul (chapters 13-28). The earlier sections deal with the Jerusalem church under Peter and the gradual spread of the gospel beyond Jewish limits (in chapters 10-11, for example, Peter is led by the Spirit to baptize the Roman centurion, Cornelius). References to Peter are abruptly ended in chapter 12; James, the brother of the Lord, has become the head of the Jerusalem church, and Philip, a Greek-speaking missionary, is commanded by the Spirit to baptize an Ethiopian eunuch.

Paul's missionary journeys are traditionally separated into three: (1) 13:1-14:28; followed by the Council of Jerusalem c. AD 49 (15:1-35); (2) 15:36-18:22 with a stop at Antioch; and (3) 18:23-21:14. After that, Paul is imprisoned and sent to Rome where Acts leaves him witnessing openly and unhindered in the capital of the Empire. These journeys may be seen as a part of the writer's "theological geography," because they form one continuous circuit--with stops on the way--between the geographical poles of Jerusalem and Rome. After the Council of Jerusalem c. AD 49, the situation was changed, and Paul became the spokesman for the whole Christian mission.

The earliest chapters of Acts contain some primitive traditions important both for any study of the early church and its preaching and for the church's own development of its understanding of itself and of Jesus. After Peter healed a lame man, he made a speech, in chapter 3, in which Jesus is proclaimed as the one appointed but who is now in heaven and who will come as the Christ at the Parousia (Second Coming). In his Pentecost speech in chapter 2, Peter preached that God made Jesus Lord and Christ at his Resurrection.

The titles used for Jesus show both a preservation of primitive tradition and theology and a clear differentiation made by the writer between Jesus in his earthly life (in Luke) and reflection on him in Acts. Christ (Messiah) is consciously used as the title of Jesus; the title Son of man, used frequently in Luke, is used only once in Acts, at the death of the martyr Stephen, when he is granted a vision of the Lord in glory. Early titles, "servant" and "righteous one," reflect the Old Testament background of God's "suffering servant." The Hellenistic term saviour (soter) is used in Acts in chapters 5 and 13. The more primitive Christologies and titles show not only a flexibility of traditions but also the functional nature of New Testament Christology.

Acts presents a picture of Paul that differs from his own description of himself in many of his letters, both factually and theologically. In Acts, Paul, on his way to Damascus to persecute the church, is dramatically stopped by a visionary experience of Jesus and is later instructed. In his letters, however, Paul stated that he was called by direct revelation of the risen Lord and given a vocation for which he had been born (recalling the call of an Old Testament prophet, such as Jeremiah) and was instructed by no man.

The account of Paul's relation to Judaism in Acts also differs from that in his letters. In Acts, Paul is presented as having received from the Jerusalem apostolic council the authority for his mission to the Gentiles as well as their decision--the so-called apostolic decree (15:20; cf. 15:29)--as to the minimal basis upon which a Gentile could be accepted into fellowship with Jewish Christians. According to this decree, Gentile converts to Christianity were to abstain from pollutions of idols (pagan cults), unchastity, from what is strangled, and from blood (referring to the Jewish cultic food laws as showing continuity with the old Israel). Circumcision, however, was not required, an important concession on the part of the Jewish Christians.

In Acts Paul is not called an Apostle except in passing, and the impression is given, contrary to Paul's letters, that he is subordinate to and dependent upon the twelve Apostles. When Paul entered a new city, he went first to the synagogue. If his message of the gospel was rejected, he turned to the Gentiles. According to Paul's missionary practice and theology, the message had first to be spoken to the Jews as a reminder that Christianity is grounded in redemptive history; this prevents the connection with the old Israel from being forgotten. Because most Jews rejected Paul's message, the author proclaimed that salvation thus passed to the Gentiles.

Roman authorities are depicted as treating Paul (and other Christians) in a just manner. The author repeatedly stressed that the Roman authorities did not find fault with the Christians but rather viewed Christian-Jewish antagonisms merely as one problem among Jewish factions. While in Corinth, during a conflict with the Jews, the Roman proconsul of Achaea in Greece, Gallio, refused to hear the charges brought against Paul because, according to Roman law, they were extralegal. On a later occasion in Ephesus, during a conflict with the silversmiths who derived their income from selling statuettes of the goddess Diana, Paul was protected from local antagonisms and a riot by Roman authorities. Toward the end of his career, after having been in the protective custody of the Judaean procurator Felix, Paul was heard by Felix's successor, Festus, and the Jewish king Agrippa II, and, had he not appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen, he could have been set free. He thus had to go to Rome to be tried, and that is the last that is heard about him in Acts.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a dominant theme in Acts, as it is in the Gospel According to Luke. Just as Jesus started his public ministry in Luke by reading from the Book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . ." so also in Acts the new age of the Spirit began at Pentecost, which is viewed as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel that in the new age the Spirit would be poured out on all men. That persons from many nations heard in their own tongues the mighty works of God has been viewed as a reversal of the Tower of Babel narrative, with languages no more confused and people no longer scattered.

Although Peter, Stephen, and Paul are central figures in Acts, the piety of the humbler members of the church also permeates the book. Church structure and organization, with apostles, disciples, elders, prophets, and teachers, exhibits great fluidity. Paul, in bidding farewell at Miletus to the elders from Ephesus, exhorted them to "take heed . . . to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit made you guardians (bishops) to feed the church. . . ." Offices may be conveyed by prayer and laying on of hands but there is little stress on distinction of office or succession, thus indicating a very early period in the life of the church.

Because Peter "departs and goes to another place" and Paul is left under house arrest awaiting trial, the readers appear to be left in suspense concerning the fates of these two leaders. The readers, however, probably knew what had happened to them--i.e., that these Apostles had eventually been martyred sometime in the 60s before Acts was written. What is more, the interest in Acts is not in the fates of Peter and Paul; the gospel has finally reached Rome, the center of the oikoumene ("the inhabited world"), and thus the ending is suitable to the book--Paul is left "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered."

 

6. THE PAULINE LETTERS

 

1) Background and overview.

In the New Testament canon of 27 books, 21 are called "letters," and even the Revelation to John starts and ends in letter form. Of the 21, 13 belong to the Pauline corpus; the Letter to the Hebrews is included in the Pauline corpus in the East but not, however, in the West. Three letters of this corpus, the Pastoral Letters, are pseudonymous and thus are not considered here. Of the remaining 10, the Letters to the Colossians and Ephesians are from the hand of a later Pauline follower and II Thessalonians is spurious. How this Pauline corpus was collected and published remains obscure, but letters as part of Holy Scripture were an early established phenomenon of Christianity.

The church was poor and widespread, and, in the early stages, expected an imminent Parousia. More formal sacred writings were thus superseded in importance by letters (e.g., those of bishop Ignatius of Antioch) that answered practical questions of the early churches.

The letters of Paul, written only about 20-30 years after the crucifixion, were preserved, collected, and eventually "published." In general, they answered questions of churches that he had founded. When all the Pauline Letters as a corpus were first known is difficult to determine. Because Pauline theology and some quotations and allusions were certainly known at the end of the 1st century, the Pauline Letters probably were collected and circulated for general church use by the end of the 1st century or soon thereafter. A disciple of Paul, possibly Onesimus, may have used Ephesians as a covering letter for the whole collection.

The letters Galatians and Romans both contain an extensive discussion about the Law (Torah) and justification (in language not found in the other letters) to solve the problem of the relation of Christianity to Judaism and of the relationship of Jewish Christians with Gentile Christians. Galatians is older and differs from Romans in that it deals with Judaizers--i.e., Gentile Christians who were infatuated with Jewish ways and championed Jewish ceremonial law for Gentile Christians. On the other hand, Romans speaks to the question of the Jews and the Christian faith and church in God's plan of salvation.

In I and II Corinthians (which may include fragments of much Corinthian correspondence preserved in a somewhat haphazard order), there is no preoccupation with either Jews or Judaizing practices. They deal with a church of Gentile Christians and are therefore the best evidence of how Paul operated on Gentile territory.

The earliest book in the New Testament is I Thessalonians, which is concerned with the problem of eschatology. Though II Thessalonians is obvious in its imitation of the style of I Thessalonians, it reflects a later time, elaborates on I Thessalonians, and is thus not viewed as genuine.

Philippians may be a composite letter in which various themes of Pauline teaching are held together by a testament form. Thus, it is a compendium without too specific a focus on the Philippian situation. Philemon, although addressed to a house church, is uniquely concerned with the fate of a slave being returned to his master, with the hope that he will be forgiven and be sent back to help Paul in prison, an example of manumission in Paul's name.

Ephesians appears to be dependent on Colossians, and both, although using the Pauline style, reflect a time and imagery sometimes different from and later than Paul's genuine letters. Ephesians covers the content of Colossians in more compact form and may be a covering letter for the entire Pauline corpus by a disciple or other later Paulinist.

The style of Paul's letters is an admixture of Greek and Jewish form, combining Paul's personal concern with his official status as Apostle. After his own name, Paul names the addressees or congregation being addressed and adds "grace and peace." This is often followed by thanksgivings and intercession that are significantly adapted to the content and purpose of the letter. Doctrinal material usually precedes advice or exhortation (parenesis), and the letters conclude with personal news or admonition and a blessing: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." Paul's letters were probably dictated to an amanuensis (who might be named, for example, Sosthenes, I Cor. 1:2), and some greetings were written at the end of the letters in his own hand. They were obviously meant to be read aloud in the church, however, and thus their style is different from that of purely personal letters.

 

2) The Letter of Paul to the Romans.

Romans differs from all the other Pauline letters in that it was written to a congregation over which Paul did not claim apostolic authority. He stressed that he was merely going to Rome in transit, because it was his principle not to evangelize where others had worked. Because his apostolic ministry appeared to be completed in Asia Minor and Greece, Paul planned to go to Spain via Rome, a city that he had never visited. Before going westward, however, he first had to go to Jerusalem to deliver to the church there a collection of money.

Because Paul was going to a church he had not founded, his writing to the Roman Christians offered him an opportunity to present his theological views in a systematic way, which he had not done in other letters. Paul reflected on how his special mission fitted into God's plan for the salvation of mankind, of both Jews and Gentiles--a theme that reached its climax in chapters 9-11. Chapters 1-8 unfold with great specificity how the coming of Jesus the Messiah has made it possible for the Gentiles to become heirs to God's promises. His argument is at first negative, stating that neither Gentile nor Jew could effect his own salvation. He then shows a new way in which eventually both can be delivered from the bondage of sin by being justified--i.e., made "right with God"--not through acceptance of the Law but by faith in the crucified Lord.

The theological section (chapters 1-11) is followed (as is often the case in Pauline letters) by ethical instructions. There is little doubt about the integrity of Romans 1-15; the letter was written from Corinth c. 56. Chapter 16, however, seems to be a later addition. It contains numerous salutations to individuals (which is unusual in that Paul had never been to Rome) and an antinomian (antilegalistic) tone that would be more appropriate to the situation in Asia Minor. The doxology (16:25-27) is rhetorical and its vocabulary is not in keeping with that of Paul's usual thought. Because the doxology occurs in different manuscripts in varying positions in the course of textual transmission, it is probably secondary. Chapter 16 may thus preserve portions of a letter or letters from some other time or to some place other than Rome, possibly Ephesus.

In chapter 1, verses 1-17, there are greetings and thanksgivings leading to the main theme of the letter: the gospel is

the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith (i.e., that Jesus is the Messiah), to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

Paul took this sentence from the Old Testament Book of Habakkuk, chapter 2, verse 4, not as a principle but as a prophecy now fulfilled. Thus, the translation should read "will live" rather than "shall live." This does not refer to God's faithfulness but rather to the believer's trust. Justification by faith is not, however, the answer to the question of man, plagued by conscience, about his salvation nor is it deep theology. It is rather an argument totally grounded in the problem of the relationship of Jews and Gentiles--i.e., how it will be possible for the Gentiles to be fellow heirs with Jews and how both Jews and Gentiles can be members of the church. In chapters 2-3 both Gentiles and Jews are demonstrated to have fallen short of the glory of God and to be under condemnation. A turning point, however, is emphasized in chapter 3: "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law. . . ." Justification is a gift through Jesus Christ and his expiating death for the salvation and vindication of all who believe in him. Because all this is through Christ and not by works of the Law, salvation is equally available to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. For both, the means is the same: faith in Jesus the Christ.

The central problem after chapter 8, which describes the glory of the new dispensation in Christ and the Spirit (presented in chapters 9-11), centres on the mystery revealed to Paul, namely, that the Gentiles should be incorporated and be fellow heirs with the Jews. This is what Paul yearned for with respect to his fellow Jews. What makes it equally possible for Jew or Gentile to come to Christ is justification by faith, with the Law viewed as obsolete because Christ is the end of the Law (chapter 10, verse 4). Thus, there are, in effect, no distinctions between Gentile and Jew. Paul viewed his ministry as having made possible the inclusion of the Gentiles; as an apostle to the Gentiles he never urged them to carry on a mission to the Jews. He envisaged the Jewish acceptance of Christ as a mystery beyond human planning and effort, a divine event that will be the climax of history.

The ethical section (12:1-15:13) has no special reference to a situation in Rome. A close analysis shows that Paul here repeats thoughts and admonitions that are more specific in other letters. A metaphor of the church as a body (12:5), for example, is stylized and compressed as compared with the fuller use of the same in I Corinthians, chapter 12, and the pattern of weakness and strength in matters of food is best understood in the light of the fuller exposition in I Corinthians, chapters 8 and 10.

 

3) The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

This letter is part of Paul's correspondence with the Corinthian congregation founded by him and composed of Gentile Christians. The problems of Galatians and Romans, written to Christians with Jewish and Roman legal concepts, are different from those of I Corinthians, and, thus, the justification language is absent.

Except for the brief communication with Philemon (see below), I Corinthians is the most specifically practical, situation-oriented of Paul's letters. No other Pauline letter is so directly devoted to the consideration of practical and theological problems, many of them apparently communicated by the congregation through correspondence or by delegations. The letter, therefore, does not tend to stand as a unit and it is not uniform in its treatment of the varying situations.

Literary criticism--or redaction--has traditionally split the letter into several fragments with a presumed historical development within a relatively short period in the Corinthian church. Paul's reference to a previous letter of his in chapter 5, verse 9, has been the object of scholarly efforts to restore the earlier letter. The fragmentary and not-too-uniform nature of both I and II Corinthians, however, precludes much probability of success in such searches.

Writing from Ephesus c. 53 or 54 upon hearing from a certain Chloe's people that the church was rent by party factions, Paul tried to bring unity to the congregation. Whether these factions actually represented outside interference (e.g., Cephas [Peter], Apollos, or others) or were factions of the congregation under the influence of a widespread heresy of the time is a question perhaps best answered by the fact that the factions do not come up again after I Corinthians, chapter 1, and that I Corinthians, chapter 3, reduces the factions to Apollos and Paul, who claims he is head of no party. The Christ "party"--i.e., those who claim no party at all--(1:12; cf. 3:23) may be the only "party" Paul advocated because Christ is not divided. Paul warned that Christians should not fashion themselves into parties under various leaders, because all these leaders are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God through whom Christians come to belief. The church is not a society with competitive philosophical schools.

The letter is a response to difficulties caused or increased by a relatively strong group in Corinth that may be described as "enthusiasts." This group of enthusiasts may have been proto-Gnostics (early religious dualists not yet organized into definite sects). The Corinthian enthusiasts did, however, have some characteristics that would later be found in 2nd-3rd-century Gnosticism: a belief in salvation through spiritual knowledge or wisdom communicated by a revealer (not a redeemer); an otherworldliness that could lead either to licentiousness (scorn) or asceticism (withdrawal); and a basically dualist and deliberately syncretistic system of beliefs using the mythical speculations and magical ideas of their time.

The Corinthian problems might well be traced to such enthusiasts. Their gnosis ("esoteric knowledge") was a religious knowledge that gave them the feeling of superiority over more pedestrian Christians. This gnosis Paul identified as false wisdom. In chapter 14 Paul describes the views and related practices of those maintaining that they have spiritual gifts of inspiration, especially speaking in tongues (glossolalia) and gnosis. Such enthusiasts prized eloquent or secret wisdom; they sought a revealer who had come into the world hidden from the evil powers and known only to those, the pneumatikoi, or the spiritual elite, who recognize him; and they tolerated gross immorality by claiming anything to be lawful for them (especially their slogan quoted by Paul: "for me all things are lawful"). These enthusiasts also rejected marriage because it furthered the propagation of the present evil world; they claimed to possess knowledge that made them indifferent to the world; and they believed that their salvation was guaranteed by ritual and rites. Though they prized spiritual gifts, they scorned the ordinary Christian services for the community; and they did not believe in a future resurrection of the dead, which in their system had no place or was nonsense.

The main Pauline answer (e.g., as emphasized in chapter 13) was that love, namely concern for the building up of the community, surpasses all knowledge or spiritual gifts and that love is a corrective because it demands service, edification (i.e., building up) of the church, and involves Christians with one another. Those Corinthians whom Paul viewed as opponents emphasized gnosis over against love. The discussion of the resurrection in chapter 15 sheds further light on this. The opponents did not deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ about which there was common agreement, but rather they debated about the future resurrection of Christians from the dead. Their view was perhaps similar to that reported as heresy in II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 18--i.e., the believer already had eternal life and that a future resurrection of the body was meaningless. In holding such a view, Paul's opponents claimed they were faithful to the received kerygma (proclamation).

Another indication that some Corinthians had no disagreement with tradition but interpreted it too enthusiastically is found in I Corinthians, chapter 11. The liturgical formula pertaining to the Lord's Supper is sound:

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." (11:23-25.)

In a discussion of the sacraments in chapter 10, however, the enthusiasts probably believed in a rather magical efficacy of Baptism and the Eucharist, though Paul qualified such an interpretation and took exception to it. The misunderstanding of the enthusiasts points to a special reinterpretation of Scripture and tradition (which resembles that of the 1st-century Jewish philosopher Philo and also the later Gnostics)--taking Scripture, tradition, and liturgical practices as effectively bringing about an otherworldly, spiritual reality immediately for those who really understand (i.e., those who have gnosis). Paul also criticized these spiritualists for their disregard of the poor members of the congregation, who found no food left when they came from their work.

Discussions about Christian and apostolic freedom (in chapters 5, 6, 7, 9, and 11) and also a discussion about being free to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols and leftovers of pagan sacrifices sold in the marketplace were caused by conflicts with the enthusiasts who paraded their spiritual freedom, strength, and superiority at the expense of their weaker brothers in the faith, who were not ready for this freedom. A shift in the discussion in chapter 12 (the body and its members are equal in Christ)--from a very speculative idea of the body of Christ to a more metaphorical one that is reminiscent of Stoic philosophical ideas about society as an organism--can best be understood if it is assumed that the enthusiasts actually pressed for a mythical understanding of Christianity, in which one became literally incorporated into Christ, otherworldly, and divine. Paul added some qualifications that brought the church into concrete everyday life and even provided a source of political reality. A somewhat drastic understanding of spiritual gifts that was presupposed and criticized by Paul in chapters 12-14 fits well into such a pattern.

Permeating all the discussion of individual topics in I Corinthians is the theme of Christian unity and edification, a topic introduced and underscored in the preface and thanksgiving of this letter and in its introduction. Such unity is defended as being very inclusive, real, and concrete--as over against the enthusiastic attempt to speak in terms of spiritual reality and achievement, in which the true life of the spirit is only for the few (i.e., the Gnostic elitists). (see also Index: ecumenism)

Paul viewed the necessity of unity in the wisdom of God as it is evinced in the scandal of the cross. In order to deflate the exalted and to make foolish the destructive (speculative) wisdom established by men, God showed his wisdom in the "foolishness" of Jesus' crucifixion. Here, although hidden, is God's true wisdom. The opponents hailed their ideal teachers as bringers of hidden wisdom. To this Paul said that it is Christ who is the Wisdom.

In chapters 5 and 6 Paul dealt with certain ethical scandals and difficulties in the congregation: incest and fornication; the use of pagan courts for settling disputes among Christians; traffic with prostitutes--all for the demonstration of Christian "freedom." These wrongs might have been the direct or indirect consequences of the spiritual "powers" of the enthusiasts. According to Paul, however, such immorality was impossible for the Christian because of the concreteness of his allegiance to Christ and of inspiration (with the idea of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit).

Because Paul expected an imminent Parousia (Second Coming of Christ), he suggested (chapter 7) the unmarried state as the preferable one, but conceded that marriage can prevent fornication. Paul even advised against breaking up mixed marriages between baptized Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) and unbaptized Gentiles. He advocated the practice of ascetics living together as "virgins," male and female, although he took this as a strain that is hard to bear and thus suggested marriage in unbearable cases. Not only the imminence of the Parousia but also radical change ("the form of this world is passing away") caused Paul, on the whole, to affirm the social status quo--whether it concern circumcision, slavery, or other matters. Everybody is advised to remain--for the short time ahead--in the state in which he finds himself. Such eschatological fervour caused Paul to argue against any worldly anxiety, fear, or worries stemming from them. This is reflected in the ethical criterion of possessing things as though one did not have them.

In chapter 9, Paul used his own conduct, in contrast to that of the enthusiasts who flaunted their freedom in such a way that it often had destructive influences, as a paradigm for an understanding of responsible freedom. Here he showed by various examples from his own life-style that he had never made use of his rightful privileges to the fullest, that he has, rather, been guided by what serves the weaker brothers and sisters. It is in this sense that he subdued his body and that he urged the spiritual "snobs" to imitate him.

In chapters 11-14, Paul turned to problems of corporate worship. Paul did not question the right and ability of prophetically gifted women to make inspired statements in Christian worship, but he pointed out that women need protection. Arguments about a veil or long hair for a woman are in the context of the church's worship before God himself, in which the congregation worships in the presence of the angels. Paul stressed the subordination of women in chapters 11 and 14; they are forbidden to speak in worship. In chapter 14 Paul stated (perhaps) a general principle that would allow for exceptions in cases of clear prophetic inspiration of women (cf. however, Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28).

In discussion of proper restraint and mutual regard in celebrating the Lord's Supper, Paul seemed to presuppose a prior common meal (possibly an agape meal) as part of the eucharistic celebration. This common meal, however, had apparently been devalued because of the interest of the enthusiasts in the sacrament itself. As a result, the communal aspect showed up social differences in the community; and some brought ample food, whereas others, of lower station, had nothing. In view of this, Paul again used the criterion of love and suggested that people eat their meal at home and then come together, being sensitive to each other's needs. The Lord's Supper would then be what it is, a proclamation of the death of Christ in anticipation of his return; mutual and corporate concern and responsibility thus become a part of the Eucharist.

Similarly, mutual edification and love are linked in chapter 13 as the appropriate centre of the discussion of spiritual gifts, manifested particularly in public worship (chapter 14).

The emphasis on the communal aspect of the church is continued in chapter 15. Paul did not dwell on his own vision of Christ nor on his role in founding the church at Corinth but rather argued for the resurrection of all as a future experience, not as though each person had already had this experience. Paul viewed the resurrection as a collective phenomenon in the expectation of an end-time resurrection from the dead, with Christ as the first fruits of those who have died.

That love is to extend beyond the immediate community and be shared with all the saints (members of the church) is demonstrated in chapter 16, the closing chapter, by the collection for the Jerusalem church. The keynote might be: "Let all that you do be done in love." The final passage--including the cry: "Our Lord, come!"--may reflect or repeat a eucharistic formula or setting. (see also Index: Christianity)

 

4) The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

This letter, as is I Corinthians, is composed of a collection of fragments of Paul's correspondence with the Corinthians about a year later (i.e., c. 55) from Macedonia. The diversity of I Corinthians was caused by the variety of problems discussed, but the diversity of II Corinthians was the result of a reflection of the underlying, rather turbulent history of Paul and his congregation. A pattern of fragments that make up II Corinthians can be understood in terms of a development that can be reconstructed. Gaps and editorial seams in this pattern are more recognizable and abrupt than those in I Corinthians, and a more original order for II Corinthians can be restored by fitting together blocks of material that obviously belong with one another in terms of context and unity of thought.

Though historical settings can be reconstructed with a high degree of validity to account for the fragments of II Corinthians, later editorial processes account for the order in which the fragments appear in the letter as it is now written. Based on both internal and external evidence, II Corinthians probably was later than I Corinthians, which was written after Paul's first trip to Corinth. Not long before the composition of II Corinthians, Paul was in mortal danger in Asia and travelled to Macedonia, where he remained.

New apostles and heresies had apparently invaded the Corinthian congregation and Paul sent his companion Timothy to try to bring them back to the true gospel as Paul had preached it. This mission was apparently unsuccessful, and Paul, in chapters 2 to 7, wrote to the church with a defense of his apostolic office, still counting on the loyalty of the Corinthians. His letter apparently did not change things, and there is some dispute as to whether Paul himself made an intermediate second visit to Corinth that was abruptly cut short by conflict with a member of the Corinthian church who violently opposed him. He considered such a second visit, but, according to chapter 2, verse 4, and chapters 10 to 13, he sent Titus to Corinth with a strongly polemical "letter of tears" and anxiously awaited his return, going from Troas to Macedonia to meet him.

Paul had almost been in despair over the Corinthians, but Titus and the letter seemed to have restored the Corinthian church to order. Titus and some of his companions were then sent to take up the collection for the church at Jerusalem, a sign of Christian mutual love and unity. He took with him Paul's "letter of reconciliation," which was written from Macedonia and which can be noted in chapter 1, verse 1, to chapter 2, verse 3; chapter 7, verses 5 and 6; and chapter 8. In chapter 8 the Macedonians are held up as an example of generosity. A similar section regarding the collection is in chapter 9, and the Achaeans (and probably their capital city, Corinth) were cited as an example to the Macedonians for generous giving. This was probably sent shortly before Paul's third (and last) visit to Corinth. From Corinth Paul wrote to the Roman church a letter that shows no sign of difficulties with the Corinthians and that presumed the conveying of the collection to Jerusalem.

If the Corinthian controversy had been smoothed out, a question is raised as to why II Corinthians ends in the "letter of tears" rather than in the "letter of reconciliation." This may be understood if the literary order of the several sections was arranged by a redactor who collected the fragments probably in the last decade of the 1st century. The redactor may have used a "form" amply illustrated in Christian writings of the late 1st and early 2nd century; one of the end-time expectations was that "false prophets would show signs and wonders to lead the elect astray," and chapters 10-13 deal with "false prophets" and "servants of Satan." Such warnings were placed at the end of writings of that time.

Several abrupt editorial seams that resulted from an arrangement of a letter of reconciliation, an apology on the nature of Paul's apostolic authority, a polemic against opponents, two letters concerning the collection, and a possible non-Pauline insertion (in chapter 6, verse 14, to chapter 7, verse 1) can thus be understood. The reconciliation of chapters 1 and 7 is hardly in agreement with Paul's elaborate defense of his ministry in chapter 2. Even more jarring to such a reconciliation is the polemic of chapters 10-13. These latter chapters are viewed as a substantial fragment of Paul's "letter of tears," after which the Corinthians disengaged themselves from outside agitators and caused them to leave. Such opponents, who are mentioned in chapter 11, verse 4, and who tried to attract the congregation away from Paul's ideas, were probably Hellenized Jewish Christians from Palestine.

The outside agitators (who provoked the response of chapters 10-13) probably were Christians who imitated the Hellenistic-Jewish missionaries and had developed an elaborate propagandizing missionary theology and practices analogous to the missionary movements in the pagan world. Their goal was to prove the spiritual power of their own religion in conscious and aggressive competition with other religions, thus hoping to attract others and convert them to Christianity.

The major criteria for successful competition were affinity or identity with the ancient Mosaic traditions and objective manifestations of the current power of that tradition in the form of miraculous demonstrations. The link between the ancient traditions and the current careers of the itinerant missionaries was the record of Jesus as understood from the miracle stories of the Gospels--a demonstrated epiphany of the powers of the Spirit. These missionaries were seen as "divine men," as were the heroes of old. Their miracles were to be imitated. Such traditions about Jesus as a wonder-worker might have been used by Paul's opponents, with over-emphasis on such works as criteria of power.

That which Paul attacks as "bragging" or "boasting," particularly the preaching of the so-called "super-apostles," in chapter 11, verse 5, was probably understood by his opponents as no more than faithful testimony to, and a demonstration of, the spiritual powers of tradition as they perceived it in their own experiences. To them faithfulness to Jesus was primarily the acknowledgment of Jesus' being the most powerful "divine man" and, secondarily, their establishment and maintenance of relationship to him through imitation in their powerful demonstrations and wondrous acts.

Paul (who in I Corinthians, chapter 1, had advocated the dialectic of the cross) would thus be discredited by miracle-working men like the opponents in II Corinthians. Paul's credibility and validity as an Apostle came into question along with his Christology, which was a "theology of the cross." Confronted with the challenge of the powerful "super-apostles," Paul's message could be distorted as hiding his own inability or incapacity--an apostle who dared not take money because, being an ineffective speaker and a weak person, he had nothing for which to ask payment. His defense was Paul's first attempt to deal with these new problems caused by invading opponents who had undercut his authority.

Paul centred his defense around the issue most debated; true apostleship and his own sufficiency. Because he derived his ministry from God himself as a servant preaching not himself but Jesus Christ as Lord, no "peddler of God's word or selling or recommendation is called for, but only the living record--i.e., the people brought to believe in Christ. Paul quickly alluded to his own weakness and "carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested . . ." (chapter 4, verse 10). Paul found his weakness one of the things that made him one with the Lord and that made his ministry a true ministry of Jesus Christ, who was crucified through weakness but lives by the power of God--as does his true apostle. This weakness seems to refer to a physical handicap of Paul's (epilepsy?), the "thorn in the flesh" that interfered with his travel plans.

Paul placed his own apparent weakness, in which he proclaimed that God had manifested himself, against the boastings of the "super-apostles." Unlike them, he strikes a non-heroic note. It is confidence in the power of Jesus' Resurrection that produces glory for the Gospel message and final (eschatological) reward and recognition for the Apostle.

Though Paul may himself sound "enthusiastic," his statements are made with a realistic assessment of the world, as demonstrated not least in the sufferings of Paul himself. Emphasis on God's act of grace, however, makes Paul urge the Corinthians to accept him and to reach out to the promise of God's salvation even in the present.

Paul's defense of his apostleship and a following visit did not succeed. Agitation from outside opponents apparently increased and solidified. The "letter of tears" reflects this situation. Paul revealed himself personally, coming close to autobiographical statements. Paul spoke of himself only with theological purpose and as part of his tactical argument with his opponents concerning attitudes and conduct. His point was that a style of life is a reflection of an underlying theology. He demonstrated to his opponents that his work for the church is constructive, and that though he boasted of his ministry, he boasted only "of the Lord," of the work Christ had done through him.

In his so-called fool's speech, in which he blatantly asked the Corinthians to "bear with me in a little foolishness," Paul adopted the technique of the mime of the street theatres of his times, consciously drawing on the laughter and mockery of his audience, but then he successfully reversed the scene and made his audience realize that in laughing at him they mocked themselves, thus revealing the perversion of their criteria of superiority. Paul used metaphorical images, identifying the congregation with the bride, Jesus as the bridegroom, himself as the best man, and Satan (the opponents) as the adulterer. The plot assumed a successful seduction, and the best man who recommended the bride stands disproven. Paul then pretended to try to shift this balance by bragging about himself and scolding both seducers and the seduced. He accepted no inferiority to the opponents--the seducers ("super-apostles")--and claimed that they preached another Christ than the true Christ and brought another spirit and that he would accept no support from the church that was led astray.

In chapter 11, Paul continued to boast "as a fool," claiming to have all the qualifications of his opponents, but that he was more truly a representative of Christ. This he explained ever more intensely in an ironic and almost sarcastic trend in the dialectic of the so-called fool's speech. He boasted not of strength but of weakness--though he could boast of ecstatic experience as his opponents had--and that he had learned through bitter experience (possibly a chronic illness) that he must not exalt himself, but rather that he has been told through a word of Christ that his power is made perfect in weakness. In the enumeration of his qualifications, Paul has jested "as a fool" concerning his suffering, visions, miraculous heavenly travels, and oracles. Yet, it is clear that through Christ these modes of experience and communication have been transformed. Thus, Paul establishes that he is a true apostle and not inferior to the "super-apostles."

Paul expressed his intention of visiting the congregation and told them that he desired to come not as a judge but as a father. Neither he nor Titus had or would deceive or take advantage of them. At this, the end of the "letter of tears," Paul announced his possible third visit and revealed a definite fear that he might be forced to act as a judge of the congregation, which was increasingly falling away from the apostolic gospel. Paul, however, still hoped that reconciliation might be accomplished, that truth would prevail, and that his authority could be used for building up rather than destruction. He exhorted the community to keep peace and blessed them.

The "letter of reconciliation," found in chapters 1, 2, and 7, assumed that Titus had returned with good news of the Corinthians, their eagerness to prove that they had amended their ways. Paul responded with a report of the consolation this had brought him and of the grave danger he had escaped (in prison in Ephesus). He exhorted the church at Corinth to remember the Christian message in love--of Paul for them and of the congregation for him. The shadow between Paul and the Corinthians had been dispersed, and Paul reaffirmed his constant and continuous concern for them and God's love in Christ manifest in Baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Paul interceded for a man who had offended him and forgave him. Paul then told the Corinthians of his eagerness for Titus' news of them that occasioned his special trip to Macedonia. This news brought joy and consolation; therefore, Paul urged the Corinthians again to forgive the man who had offended him.

Fragments of two letters concerning the collection for Jerusalem, a sign of unity of the church (chapter 8 especially being close to the "letter of reconciliation" and chapter 9, a fragment probably later than chapter 8), are signs that Paul's relation to the Corinthians again became close and joyful. The collection was a bond of mutual and reciprocal relationship that reached its climax in thanksgiving and praise of God. For the whole church he exclaimed: "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!"

 

5) The Letter of Paul to the Galatians.

Paul's Letter to the Galatians is a forceful and passionate letter dealing with a very specific question: the relation of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the church, the problem of justification through faith not works of the Law, and freedom in Christ. Paul probably wrote from Ephesus c. 53-54 to a church he had founded in the territory of Galatia in Asia Minor.

This congregation had been "unsettled" since his last visit to Galatia. Gentile Christians, Judaizers who were fascinated with Jewish customs and festivals and who asserted that Gentiles must adhere to the Law, the Torah, had attempted to undermine Paul's message and effectiveness. The Judaizers believed that Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the Jewish food laws. There were probably some Jewish Christians in this church, but the majority were Gentile Christians. Paul attacked the Judaizers vigorously by defending his own call and the independence of the revelations of his personal apostolate. This is supported by reports of agreement between him and the Jerusalem church and by argument from Scripture. In these, he proved that the Law was given only a limited role in the total history of salvation. The letter ends with Paul pointing out that through the Spirit the Christian in faith is admonished to good behaviour and brotherly love. He admonishes faith in the cross of Christ, wishes peace upon his followers, and prays for mercy on Israel.

This Pauline letter is the only one without either kindly ingression, thanksgiving, or personal greetings appended to the final blessing. It is very specific in dealing with the problems concerned. In chapter 1, an account of Paul's call, he defended his apostolic office, having received it directly from God in the revelation of Christ. He provided autobiographical data concerning his former persecution of the church and zeal in his Jewish tradition. He referred to his call on the model of that of the Old Testament prophets called by God in order that they may serve him and said that his mission had been revealed to him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul viewed himself as being chosen to be an instrument to take the message of God and Christ to the Gentiles, a call rather than a "conversion experience." Handpicked as God's servant (slave), he received a revelation--not from men but by secret knowledge from God--that the Gentiles will come to the Christian faith without the Law, the Torah of the Jews. He himself could bear the Law, but he was told that the Gentiles do not need the Law in order to be accounted righteous. The conviction that the Gentiles stand equal before God was reinforced by his visit to James, Cephas (Peter), and John in Jerusalem, who confirmed his mission, enjoining him only to remember the poor (probably reference to the Jerusalem collection). Faith in Christ has thus superseded righteousness of works, and the Law is no longer needed.

The freedom of the gospel is the theme developed in chapters 3-4 in a series of allegorical-typological interpretations based on the Law. Paul first recalled the covenant promise to Abraham: that he "believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" and that through Abraham all nations would be blessed.

In chapter 3 there is a complex line of thought: Christ has redeemed men from the curse of the Law by becoming a "curse" for men; Christ has taken away this curse by accepting it himself in order that all men by faith might receive the Spirit that was promised. But the promise had already been made to Abraham and his seed (singular), the Messiah, Christ; the Law had come only 430 years later, a sign that it is not eternal. In this chapter, Paul constructed arguments against the Law. First, the Law was added because of transgressions committed first by the people who caused Moses to shatter the first tablets of the Law and was thus not ultimate but rather time-bound, limited, and tainted by the evil reality it had to counteract; secondly, the Law was given only for a restricted time, from Moses "till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made" (i.e., Christ); thirdly, the Law came "ordained by angels through an intermediary," who is not God and thus is neither something glorious in itself nor the absolute manifestation of the salvation of God. Paul expanded on the Law in the image of a paidagogos (instructor or custodian). Such a custodian is now not needed and served only as a restraint so that in God's timetable of salvation the Gentiles could be delivered after the Law has been "outgrown." Paul then showed the reasoning behind his statement that the Law was obsolete: in Christ (i.e., in the church) there are no divisions between Greek and Jew, slave or free, male or female--all divisions or partitions are broken down.

Paul's arguments are bold. He even claimed that, as heirs through Christ, men were no longer bound under the elemental powers of the universe, which were apprehended as negative, as was the Law, in Paul's mind. In chapter 4 the Judaizers are said to keep themselves, like many Greeks, under astrological powers--not unlike the Jewish calendar of feasts--which kept man, according to Paul, enslaved by cosmic order. But to those free from the Law and possessing the Spirit, sonship and inheritance can come by adoption. Thus, Paul was negative in Galatians concerning the Law, and taught that freedom from it brings unity and the fruits of the Spirit.

In chapters 5-6 Paul listed catalogs of virtues and vices, fruits of the Spirit or the flesh, and stressed mutual forgiveness in the church. This is an exhortatory section that leads to the closing of the letter in Paul's own hand and to his stress on seeing his only glory in the cross of Christ.

 

6) The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians.

The authenticity of Ephesians as a genuinely Pauline epistle has been doubted since the time of the Dutch Humanist Erasmus in the 16th century. It is most reasonable to consider it as "deutero-Pauline"--i.e., in the tradition of Paul but not written by him. The problem of Ephesians cannot be solved apart from that of Colossians, because many similarities are noted in the style and development of Pauline thought into cosmic imagery; yet they treat different problems. In both, the heritage of Paul is preserved by a "Paulinist," and it is on this basis that Ephesians and Colossians were accepted into the canon. Both are "captivity epistles," ostensibly written by Paul from prison. Of the 155 verses in Ephesians, 73 have verbal parallels with Colossians; and when parallels to genuine Pauline letters are added, 85 percent of Ephesians is duplicated elsewhere. It would appear that Ephesians is dependent on an earlier, more specifically oriented Colossians, and it may be that Ephesians uses, combines, and condenses the material of Colossians for its own needs.

Though Colossians is directed explicitly and strongly against a particular Judaizing proto-Gnostic heresy--i.e., an incipient form of a religious dualistic system that emerged as a very attractive heretical movement in the 2nd century--Ephesians is not polemically oriented and is not clearly connected to a particular congregation, its problem, or its individuals. Though Ephesians uses a letter style with an introduction, greeting, and closing benediction, the only person mentioned in it is Tychicus, already mentioned in the same context in Colossians. The doctrinal section shows that the whole world--not only the Jews--is in a cosmic sense subjected to Christ, and Jew and Gentile are reconciled and united through him. This is the mystery of God's plan revealed to the church through Paul but expanded in scope. All are saved and reconciled through Christ, who has made both Jew and Gentile one and has "broken down the dividing wall of hostility," bringing peace and unity. The author of Ephesians continues Pauline language and makes it more Pauline than Paul himself.

After the address--which, according to the best manuscripts, lacks a reference to Ephesus--there is a hymn of praise to God in terms of a cosmic plan of redemption. Through the ascended Christ, salvation is for all, and he is the head of the body, his church. Because the address and thanksgiving are to the church in general (the place name, Ephesus, being an early gloss), it is possible that Ephesians was meant as an encyclical, to be distributed, perhaps, as a covering letter for the whole Pauline collection. The "mystery of God's will" (chapter 1, verse 9) is spelled out in chapter 2 as the reconciling act of Christ for both Gentile and Jew. In chapter 3 Paul's role in giving knowledge of this mystery in his ministry leads to a doxology. After this semi-epistolary form, the general admonitions follow in terms of gifts of grace with stress on unity: one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God for all. A warning against a heathen way of life is given in contrast with the Christian's old nature as opposed to his new being in Christ. In chapter 6, verses 10-20, the Christian is enjoined "to put on the whole armor of God" as defense against evil and Ephesians ends as a letter, with a blessing.

The Christology and ecclesiology imply a background of a Christianized, mythological proto-Gnosticism, or a strongly Hellenized Judaism. Perhaps one of the best clues to the lateness and pseudonymity of Ephesians in comparison with the genuine Pauline letters, however, is the phrase "revealed to his (Christ's) holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." Such an expression is certainly later than Paul and looks back on the apostolic age as a time in the past.

A possible date is shortly after Colossians, in the early 2nd century. Because there are so many similarities to Colossians, Asia Minor might be the place of composition, but this is merely conjecture. The non-Pauline use of the term mystery to denote that Gentiles are fellow heirs with Jews, the uniting of all in Christ, and an analogy between marriage and Christ's relation to the church, all point to a different and later time than that of Paul. The style of Ephesians builds up long, almost unmanageable, unpunctuated, excited, and abundant sentences, even longer than those of Paul when he is most provoked or, perhaps, absentminded and does not finish sentences that he begins. A comparison of the table of duties of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 and 6 also shows a strong development in the direction of making the relationship of Christ and his church the basis for all other relationships.

The eschatology of Ephesians is attenuated, if not far in the background, and a continuation of the church is implied. In chapter 1, verse 13, the writer sees the Spirit as the guarantee (down payment) of the Christian's inheritance--a present indication through the Spirit that the Christian can live in faith in the world looking for the Kingdom but already sure he can draw on the powers thereof without an imminent expectation of the end-time. Ephesians gives hope for universal salvation, grace as a gift of God, strength in patience, and an example of unity for the church as well as freedom in the Spirit to attain maturity as a Christian.

 

7) The Letter of Paul to the Philippians.

In its present canonical form Philippians is, according to several scholars, a later collection of fragments of the correspondence of Paul with the congregation in Philippi that was founded by Paul himself. The first of the two major difficulties leading to this conclusion concerning redaction of the letter is created by a discrepancy between chapters 2 and 3--i.e., an entirely unexpected polemic in chapter 3 after a calm second chapter. Another major difficulty is the relationship of chapter 4, verses 10 and following, with Paul's joyful acceptance of his suffering, and the remainder of the present letter that deals with the collection the Philippians had made and sent to Paul in prison. The place of the expression of Paul's gratitude at the end of the letter is odd, particularly because Epaphroditus, the Philippian delegate conveying the gift, is thanked as though he had just arrived; yet he has already been described as ill when he was with Paul (who apologized in chapter 2 for not having told about Epaphroditus' illness sooner and the delay in sending him back). Yet, Epaphroditus is obviously back and the sequence of events is, indeed, confusing.

The following rearrangement of the parts of the letter is probably acceptable. Chapter 4, verses 10-20, shows Paul reacting to the gift of the Philippians and the arrival of its bearer, Epaphroditus, and seems to be the earliest fragment, written probably during Paul's imprisonment (c. 53-54). The portions of the letter that treat of the theme of mutual joy (1:1-3, 4:4-7, and probably 4:21-23 that refers back to chapter 1) are best taken together as fragments of a second and somewhat later letter. The third section is 3:2-4:3 and possibly 4:8-9, which addresses the danger caused by outsiders and opponents who had started to penetrate the Philippian congregation with a theology Paul considered heretical and against which he aimed his polemic. Because this is an entirely new situation, it is probably a third letter, of which only the preface is missing. This arrangement also attempts properly to account for the fact that chapter 4 actually comprises endings of several letters. Thus, chapter 3, verse 1, which is itself a summation and ending, fits in.

The reference to frequent visits between Paul and the Philippians referred to in the correspondence makes its origin in Rome unlikely and points rather toward Ephesus as the place of imprisonment. Paul's reaction to the gift of the Philippians is almost rude (although he accepted gifts from no other congregation but preferred to support himself during his apostolic mission). He actually avoided expressing direct gratitude and attempted to divert the significance of the gift from its material side to its spiritual meaning. He emphasized the sympathy proven by the Philippians, the importance of the value of the gift for them as a spiritual sacrifice for God.

The "letter of joy" section describes Paul's enthusiasm in his mission efforts--and their success--and his joy in the energy and growth of the mission in Philippi, which Paul shared with his congregation. Paul's address to "bishops and deacons," terms unique in Paul's letters except here, are, perhaps, circumlocutions for missionaries active in Philippi, a congregation that had become a strong and stable Christian community. Paul had traditionally remained there about one week and, in chapters 1 and 2, encouraged and praised the Philippians for continuing in their faith in his absence. This is part of the thanksgiving in Philippians--an emphasis on the participation, cooperation, collaboration, and empathy of the Philippians with respect to the preaching of the gospel. Thus, the terms bishop and deacon may belong to the language of a self-supporting mission church with its own overseers (bishops) and workers (deacons) and does not carry the connotations of later ecclesiastical structures. Paul expressed his confidence in the fine beginning of this young church that sought "to become pure and blameless for the day of Christ," the final judgment.

Paul then turned to his own experience of imprisonment, which he viewed as advancing the gospel. Though he considered that not all preachers of Christ preach on the basis of selfless motives, the fact that Christ is proclaimed is a most important cause for rejoicing. Paul then exhorted the Philippians to work hard for the sake of the gospel, not minding any opposition, and to do this in a sense of unity and mutual support.

This exhortation toward a strong and active sense of community was reinforced by quoting an early Christian hymn that described the humiliation (kenosis) and exaltation of Jesus who is made the Lord of the universe and confessed by all cosmic powers. A part of Jesus' humiliation, his death on the cross, can be taken as part of his manifest glorification. The verses following the hymn make clear that the incorporation of the hymn with its triumphal ending also has a missionary purpose, because Paul emphasized again the need to responsibly act out one's own calling even before non-Christians. Thus, active responsibility continuously exercised in the perspective of the approaching Parousia merges with Paul's own readiness to sacrifice himself.

In chapters 3-4 the situation may be totally different. Paul reacted to the threat of the appearance of Jewish-Christian missionaries who are rather close in theology to the Galatian Judaizers. Paul's polemic indicates that in addition to Jewish tradition, they must have emphasized the Law in particular. Reference is made to circumcision, and Paul emphatically claimed that he could compete with heretics boasting of their Jewish tradition and, in elaborating on that, emphasized his former pious righteousness under the Law, in which he was blameless. He then stressed categorically that for him the experience of Christ has terminated his former piety completely and that he has left it behind as of no value. Such a polemic implies that for his opponents such was not the case. Paul also argued against libertinistic tendencies, which indicates that his opponents were not legalists in an ordinary sense but combined faithfulness to the Law with a strong and fanatical enthusiasm that could lead toward "mysticism" and easily be misinterpreted as libertinism. Paul's emphasis on true Christian experience as not being completed but rather still being in the state of expectation might be a further polemic against overenthusiasm. In chapter 4, verse 8, Paul reaffirms his own example, making it, in imitation of the teaching of popular philosophy, the epitome of all positive ethical values and virtues, and thus the pattern to be imitated. This tendency toward the paradigmatic, together with warnings and autobiographical material in chapter 3, verse 2, to chapter 4, verse 3, can be seen as a "testament" of Paul, consciously written with an awareness of impending death or martyrdom. Thus Paul presents himself--his life, ideas, admonitions, and an eschatological section--as his heritage and as an incorporation of the message he preached and its value.

 

8) The Letter of Paul to the Colossians.

Colossians presents the problem of having, on the one hand, numerous (though superficial) affinities with the circumstances of the Letter of Paul to Philemon while, on the other hand, being addressed mainly to a different situation. In this new situation he uses ideas and expressions that seem to be rather a development of Pauline ideas about the cosmic realm than genuinely Pauline argumentation. In this latter aspect, Colossians and Ephesians share the heritage of Paul, but a later "Paulinist" changed details to meet different situations.

Colossians was written ostensibly by Paul from prison (in Ephesus) to a predominantly Gentile Christian congregation founded by his co-worker, Epaphras, at Colossae. The Colossian congregation was endangered by a heresy involving a "philosophy" that was connected with the elemental spirits of the universe to which men seemed to be bound, with circumcision, feast days and food laws, visions, and an asceticism that was not only false in its piety but foreign to the Christian faith.

To combat these proto-Gnostic, syncretistic, and Judaizing tendencies, the Paulinist appealed to the authority of Paul's apostolate and his thought but accented his theology in a new way, enlarging Paul's theological dimensions, so that they included the whole universe, the fate of the entire cosmos. This whole world is depicted as subject to Christ and has its meaning, aim, and goal in the church, which is Christ's body and over which he is the head. This transformation of Paul's theology would appear to be somewhat later than Paul, yet not so much later than Philemon, and its import has been forgotten. Colossians cannot be dated or placed with certainty, but the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the 2nd century has been suggested.

In a first edition, before the Paulinist changed or added to it, Colossians seems close to the situation of Philemon. In both letters Paul is in prison. Onesimus appears in Colossians, chapter 4, and the readers of Colossians are asked to transmit a special injunction through the church of the Laodiceans to Archippus--possibly that the former slave, Onesimus, now referred to as a "beloved brother," be freed for service of the gospel. The same five names appear in Philemon and Colossians (Col. 4:10 ff.; cf. Philem. 23), which is unusual because the church at Colossae is strange to Paul. The lost letter to the Laodiceans may possibly be the Letter to Philemon, and the request to the slave owner would, by being read aloud in a neighbouring large church (Colossae), reinforce Paul's request that the slave be freed.

Later substantial redaction has obviously taken place, however, and it is the heresy at Colossae rather than the situation of Philemon that is mainly addressed in Colossians. Though Paul asserted that he did not preach and exhort where another has founded a church, here the Paulinist, using and amplifying Pauline theology, taught, gave thanks, and interceded for a church that he did not found and that was in danger of accepting heretical Judaizing teachings, thus falling away from Christ. The doctrinal section of Colossians sets forth in a hymn Christ's preeminence over the whole cosmos, all principalities and powers, to bring redemption through the cross and to be the head of the body, the church.

From this cosmological beginning, the style and imagery differ from the authentic Pauline letters. Colossians is wider and broader in scope, with long, almost breathless sentences. There is a hierarchy in Christ being head of the body, his church, which differs from the Pauline expression of equality of all the members, although with differing functions (cf. I Corinthians, chapter 12, and Romans, chapter 12).

The Christology is applied to the situation of the church and Paul's role in behalf of the church--his suffering with Christ and knowledge of God's mystery, Christ--is used to bolster his defense against heresy. This polemic is based first on tradition and then proceeds to specific warnings against false teaching, cult, or practice. An admonition "to set your minds on the things that are above," because in Baptism the Christian has died and been raised with Christ, is followed by the conclusion that the Christian's conduct should be ruled by love and be thus free from all wrongdoing.

Another difference from the genuine Pauline letters can be noted in this latter section. When Paul referred to the resurrection of Christians he used the future tense in most cases, but Colossians, chapter 2, verse 12, and chapter 3, verse 1, presuppose that because the Christian is risen with Christ, ethical demands can be made.

In Colossae, such Christian ethics apparently were lacking, thus the inclusion of a table of duties--i.e., a list of household duties and of relations between members of a household. General exhortations to prayer and right conduct are followed by the conclusion of the letter with its list of greetings. There are some similarities in Colossians to Paul's polemic against Judaizers in Galatians, but Colossians seems to reflect a later time and a more developed "cosmic" theology of a later deutero-Pauline writer.

 

9) The First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians.

In all probability I Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul's letters, particularly because the memory of the events that led to the founding of that congregation are still fresh in the mind of the Apostle. The letter was written from Corinth. According to I Thessalonians, chapter 3, verse 2, Paul had sent Timothy to Thessalonica from Athens during his brief stay there, had just experienced the delegate's return, and had received reports about the congregation to which he is reacting in this letter. I Thessalonians gives expression to Paul's surprise over the rapid growth of the Christian mission at Thessalonica, which was achieved despite immediate persecutions from pagan contemporaries. Paul acknowledged that the successful development had been wrought in the Thessalonians by their own acceptance, fully recognizing the human frailty of the Apostle, their founder (2:1-12), and not by a mistaken understanding that he himself was divine.

Paul's surprise results, therefore, in overwhelming gratitude, and the customary Pauline thanksgivings here exceed the usual limits. A second reason for this unusually long thanksgiving--which actually makes thanksgiving the theme of the letter--is Paul's intent to undergird the encouragement he gives in 4:13-5:11. After having dwelt so extensively on his being moved by the change in the Thessalonians, Paul continues to state that therefore they have no reason for giving up faith in the face of the death of some fellow Christians, who had died between their conversion and the expected imminent Parousia of Christ. Apparently, they had expected the Parousia and final salvation as the promise of the Christian message. Paul encouraged his congregation that he had a "word of the Lord" that the dead and the living in Christ will rise together. "Word of the Lord" could refer to a word of Jesus known to Paul but could instead be a direct revelation to Paul.

In chapter 5 there is further thanksgiving, emphasizing the present gift and power of Christian faith and corporate Christian life. This emphasis is linked with ethical applications, with stress on brotherhood, diligence in keeping the faith, and religious industriousness. The difficulties of balancing the expectation of the Christian with God's timetable is outweighed by the hope and joy in what has already been experienced and what is hoped for. Paul's real emphasis is more on the actual description of Christian life in the face of coming salvation and vindication than on the preceding discussion of the fate of those who had died or on the actual circumstances of Christ's appearance from heaven.

The encouragement of the Thessalonians was introduced in chapter 4 by a genuinely ethical exhortation to proceed properly on the way to holiness and sanctification already begun. The brevity of this rather traditional exhortation is most unusual in Paul's letters and supports the observation that it was written in joy and confidence for a new congregation well begun in order to support it against attacks and doubts as it matured in the faith.

 

10) The Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians.

A feature of II Thessalonians that resembles the otherwise most unusual feature of I Thessalonians is its excessively long thanksgiving. Within this thanksgiving there is an excursus dealing with the timing of the Parousia, but in II Thessalonians Paul aggressively argues against any expectation of an imminent coming of Christ that might be expected from the things he wrote in I Thessalonians. II Thessalonians perhaps presupposes I Thessalonians and intimates that believers had a false understanding of that communication of Paul. In II Thessalonians, much to the surprise of the reader of both letters, the statement is made that a letter "purporting to be from us" is "to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." II Thessalonians then presents a problem as to whether it was a self-correction of Paul or directed to the situation of a later time and thus the writing of a later author in a "Pauline" tradition. II Thessalonians does have more apocalyptically catastrophic language than I Thessalonians. Such a description not only underestimates the positive work of God and Christ for the believer but also says little about the Parousia. II Thessalonians claims that not all the events preceding the Parousia have yet occurred. The "mystery of lawlessness," opposed to the "mystery of godliness," is still at work in the world, and the full activity of Satan has not yet unfolded itself. Emphasis in II Thessalonians is on steadfastness as God's gift and promise in the days of tribulation, which makes the apostle ask for support in prayer. Criticism of people leading disorderly and idle lives follows. The perhaps casual admonition to work is thus elaborated into a major point.

Salvation seems to be sought almost exclusively in futuristic terms. Incipient or actual Gnosticism in the church could account both for the assertion that the fulfillment has already come and for the depiction of disorderly lives (because in "proto-Gnostic" terms the world is evil and provokes a response either of total renunciation or libertinism). II Thessalonians may thus reflect these problems and fit into the late 1st century. Verbal agreements between the two letters may be evidence of deliberate spurious writing, as also the suggestion in II Thessalonians that false letters may be circulating. A later author saw Paul's heritage threatened by too enthusiastic an understanding of Paul in Thessalonians and composed this letter to preserve Paul's meaning.

 

7. THE PASTORAL LETTERS: I AND II TIMOTHY AND TITUS

 

1) The Pastoral Letters as a unit.

The First and Second Letters of Paul to Timothy and the Letter of Paul to Titus, three small epistles traditionally part of the Pauline corpus, are written not to churches nor to an individual concerning a special problem but to two individual addressees in their capacity as pastors, or leaders of their local churches. The purpose of the letters is to instruct, admonish, and direct the recipients in their pastoral office. Since the 18th century they have been referred to as a unit, the Pastoral Letters, and they contain common injunctions to guard the faith, to appoint qualified officials, to conduct worship, and to maintain discipline both personally and in the churches. Their similar peculiarities of style and vocabulary as well as the similarity of the heresies and other problems they faced place them in a common time and allow them to be dealt with as a unit. Their content presents a picture of the post-apostolic church when pastoral offices and tradition came to the fore and the formerly high apocalyptic tension appears attenuated.

The Muratorian Canon (a list of biblical books from c. 180) includes references to the Pastoral Letters and notes that they were written "for the sake of affection and love." They have a place in the canon because "they have been sanctified by an ordination of the ecclesiastical discipline." These letters, however, do not appear among the Pauline letters in P 46, an early-3rd-century manuscript, and there is no clear external attestation in the primitive church concerning them until the end of the 2nd century. Not until the 19th century were doubts expressed about the Pastorals as being authentically Pauline, when German scholars and others noted discrepancies in style and vocabulary, church organization, heresies, biographical and historical situations, and theology from those found in the Pauline letters. The problems of authorship, authenticity, and dating almost paralyze investigation of the Pastorals unless discussion of these problems is seen as connected also with the literary character of the material.

Attempts have been made to apply the tools of statistical analysis in comparing these disputed letters to the rest of the New Testament (particularly to the Pauline corpus) for the purpose of establishing authorship. The studies, utilizing computer technology, point toward non-Pauline authorship with affinities to language and style of a later, possibly 2nd-century, date. More refined and complex analyses, however, are still needed.

Linguistic facts--such as short connectives, particles, and other syntactical peculiarities; use of different words for the same things; and repeated unusual phrases otherwise not used in Paul--offer fairly conclusive evidence against Pauline authorship and authenticity.

 

2) Content and problems.

Church offices are more developed in the Pastoral Letters than in Paul's time. There are presbyters and bishops, but these are sometimes used interchangeably and the monarchical episcopate is not yet depicted, although church offices appear to be heading in that direction. Requirements for office are strict and leaders are chosen and ordained by laying on of hands. Such leaders must be able to teach true and sound doctrine and guard what has been entrusted to them, the paratheke--i.e., the deposit of teaching or the message to be carried on. They must also be able to stand firm and argue against heresy. Such offices and aims suggest an expectation of future generations of faithful witnesses to carry on the traditions, perhaps particularly necessary as some may be killed for the witness they make.

The heresies referred to appear to be Gnostic and the arguments are rather mild and reasonable, unlike Paul's urgency in combatting heresy with strenuous argumentation. The heresies taught by false teachers are an early partly Encratitic (abstaining) Gnosticism, with "higher knowledge" that emphasizes "godless and silly myth," or are statements that the resurrection has already taken place, which is a denial of future resurrection and a glorification and spiritualizing of resurrection as a rebirth, as, for example, in Baptism.

Biographical notes about Paul's journeys and situations contradict his own letters as well as the accounts in Acts. The Pauline sense of living in a time close to the end of the age is missing in these descriptions of churches; they are viewed as settling down with a succession of tradition with Hellenized expressions of salvation and a replacement of enthusiasm with bourgeois ethics. This indicates a period of de-emphasized eschatology and an expectation of a long community life in which people must live out their lives in Christian responsibility and moral behaviour.

I Timothy and Titus are more similar to each other than to II Timothy, but all three exhort to lives of exemplary conduct and give rules of conduct for church order and discipline for the group as a whole and for individual parts of it--sometimes in terms of catalogs of virtues and vices recalling the Jewish two-way orders: the way of life being good, the way of death including a list of sins. Each concludes with a final blessing or salutation. They are all pseudonymous, using Paul as an epistolary model and using pseudonymous devices, such as naming individuals known to be Paul's co-workers. Paul's authority is invoked to lend credence to the teachings contained in the letters: the avoidance of heresy, holding to sound doctrine, and piety of life. The author is anonymous, the place of writing and the addressees are unknown, but they probably are later spiritual children of Pauline teaching. The date of the letters is about the turn of the 2nd century.

II Timothy uses the background of Pauline imagery most fully. It is cast at least in part in the testament form to Timothy as his spiritual heir because Paul is depicted as suffering, fettered in prison, and awaiting the martyr's crown. He exhorts Timothy and through him the church to share in these sufferings as they will eventually share in glory. II Timothy, chapter 2, verses 1-13, is an exhortation to martyrdom with a faith that Christ, triumphant over death, will save his faithful witnesses. Recollection of the creed is followed by a direct application to bearing suffering and its meaning in God's plan of salvation. The words "faithful is the word" occur in 2:11. This "word," unlike Paul or any Christian, cannot be bound. It both confirms salvation described in the preceding verses and introduces a hymn that may represent liturgical usage in that it is poetic and balanced.

Faithful is the word:

If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;

if we endure, we shall also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny

himself

(II Tim. 2:11-13)

The hymn preserves within itself a reflection of sayings of Jesus that those who endure and persevere will reign with the Lord and that even to those who deny him (as did Peter) God will remain faithful because Christ cannot deny his own faithfulness. Even in this hymn there is allusion to a "testament" form, with Paul already martyred, as a pseudonymous device to spur the Christian on to endurance and faithfulness as a member of the redeemed community.

Another small poetic hymnic section serves to demonstrate that the church of the Pastorals, albeit somewhat de-eschatologized, retains the "mystery" in God's household, the church--i.e., the gospel and creed alive in the liturgy in the mystery of piety and worship.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:

He who was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the Spirit,

seen by angels;

who was proclaimed among the nations,

believed in throughout the world,

glorified in high heaven

(I Tim. 3:16)

Here, in miniature form, are creed and gospel that are somewhat reminiscent of the Gospel According to Matthew.

 

3) The Letter of Paul to Philemon.

From Ephesus, where he was imprisoned (c. 53-54), Paul wrote his shortest and most personal letter to a Phrygian Christian (probably from Colossae or nearby Laodicea) whose slave Onesimus had run away, after possibly having stolen money from his master. The slave apparently had met Paul in prison, was converted, and was being returned to his master with a letter from Paul appealing not on the basis of his apostolic authority but according to the accepted practices within the system of slavery and the right of an owner over a slave. He requested that Onesimus be accepted "as a beloved brother" and that he be released voluntarily by his master to return and serve Paul and help in Christian work. Paul appealed to the owner that Onesimus (whose name in Greek means "useful") is no longer useless because of his conversion and claimed that the owner owed Paul a debt (as he probably was also instrumental in his conversion) and that any debt or penalty incurred by the slave would be paid by Paul. Such manumission is part of Paul's concept of being an ambassador to further the mission of Christianity, rather than a judgment on the social framework of slavery, because in the Lord such social order is transcended.

Philemon, however, is not a purely personal letter, because it is addressed to a house church (a small Christian community that usually met in a room of a person's home), and it ends with salutations and a benediction in the plural form of address. The body of the letter, however, uses "you" (singular) and is addressed to the slave's owner, a man whom Paul himself has not met. Philemon, the first name in the address, is called a "beloved fellow worker," which implies that he knew Paul, and it has been convincingly argued that the slave's owner was Archippus (see above The letter of Paul to the Colossians ), perhaps Philemon's son, who was called a "fellow soldier," a term usual in business accounts and suitable for a document on the manumission of a slave. The thanksgiving contains the main theme of the whole letter: sharing of faith for the work of promoting knowledge of Christ.

The letter was written from prison, and Paul apparently expected a release in the near future, because he requested a guest room, a suggestion that he was not very far from Colossae or Laodicea, which would be true of Ephesus. Colossae would be reached from Ephesus via Laodicea, and the letter could be addressed to a house church there.

In a letter to the Ephesians (c. 112) by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, the language is very reminiscent of Philemon, and the name of the bishop of Ephesus (c. 107-117) was Onesimus. It has been suggested that the slave was released to help Paul, that in his later years he might have become bishop of Ephesus, and that his "ministry" or "service" was the collection of the Pauline corpus. This is based not simply on the identity of name, but on similarities to Philemon found in Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians, as well as two possible plays on words in chapter 2, verse 2 (cf. Philemon, verse 20), and chapter 4, verse 2 (cf. Philemon 11), relating to the bishop and unity of the church. Such a prominent position and role for one of Paul's followers might shed further light on why Philemon, apparently a very personal plea, became a part of the canon and Pauline corpus. Even if this suggestion cannot be proved, Philemon still shows Paul in his apostolic ministry, furthering the message of Christ and seeing beyond the limitations of the social order of his day, in which both slaves and freemen are servants of God.

 

8. THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

 

1) Textual ambiguities.

The writing called the Letter to the Hebrews, which was known and accepted in the Eastern church by the 2nd century, was included also by the Western church as the 14th Pauline epistle when the canon of East and West was assimilated and fixed in 367. Hebrews has no salutation giving the name of either the writer or the addressees, although it does have a doxology and greeting at the end, which suggest that at some point the writing was sent as a letter to a community known to the author. There are also numerous admonitions in the text that appear to be directed to a definite circle of addressees and some admonitions to the church at large. In chapter 6, verses 4-8, is a severe warning against the sin of apostasy, for which there is no second repentance. Even so, Hebrews is essentially more a theological treatise than a letter. It is homiletical in style and calls itself a paraklesis, which has many meanings: consolation, exhortation, sermon, advocacy, and even intercession.

The thoughts, metaphors, and ideas of Hebrews are distinct from the rest of the New Testament, with closest affinities to Stephen's speech in Acts, chapter 7. It attempts to prove the superiority and ultimacy of the revelation in Christ and the perfection of his offering of himself once and for all supersedes and makes obsolete any other revelation. Hebrews gives strength to its readers through the example of Christ and the hope and promise of free access to God and to eternal rest, an access in which Christ is High Priest and mediator forever. Such promise, on the basis of Christological developments and new covenant hopes, enables endurance in persecution, but its vocabulary is that of the sacrificial language of the Old Testament. Another theme is a typological analogy with the wilderness wanderings of Israel in which, despite their murmurings of unbelief and the hardening of their hearts in their trials, they persevered. Thus, the church, as the pilgrim people of God, travels toward the future place of Sabbath rest with Christ as their pioneer and perfector of faith.

A "word of consolation" is needed to strengthen faith in time of trouble. Actual persecution leading to martyrdom is seen as not yet come, but the church is sharply warned against apostasy, the sin of all sins. Hope during persecution and trial is expressed in the image of Christ as the perfect everlasting high priest, one of whose functions is to stand as intercessor and protector.

Hebrews was considered a Pauline letter in the early Eastern church. Clement of Alexandria, a theologian of the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, held that Paul had written it in Hebrew for the Hebrews and that Luke had translated it into Greek. Origen, Clement's successor as leader in the catechetical school at Alexandria, commented that its thoughts reflected Paul but that it was written at a later time with a totally different style and phraseology, and he stated "who wrote the epistle, God knows." Paul, for example, uses the term mediator only once and in a negative sense, in Galatians, chapter 3, verse 19, but Hebrews uses it several times of Christ as mediator of the new covenant. In the West, Tertullian, a North African theologian of the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, suggested Barnabas as the author, because Hebrews, called a "word of consolation," might have been written by Barnabas, whose name is translated by Luke as "son of consolation" in Acts, chapter 4, verse 36. After Hebrews' acceptance into the canon in the mid-4th century, it was considered Pauline, but doubts persisted; and because of basically different content and style in contradiction to Paul, various authors have been suggested for Hebrews--e.g., Apollos (a Jewish Christian Alexandrian), or a follower of Stephen and the Hellenists, who had come into conflict with those not sharing his universalistic ideas. Hebrews, however, remains anonymous. The title "To the Hebrews" is secondary and may reflect either an idea as to its addressees or that it was influenced by its extensive Old Testament material.

According to internal evidence, Hebrews was written in a second or later generation of Christians. Persecution references suggest a time after Nero's persecution and about the time of the emperor Domitian but early enough to be quoted or alluded to in the First Letter of Clement (c. 96), thus suggesting a date of c. 80-90.

The place of the addressees may be Italy, because 13:24 is understood as a greeting sent home from one writing from abroad, but this is not certain. The addressees were probably Gentile Christians who needed instruction in "the elementary doctrines of Christ" and concerning faith in God.

Hebrews constitutes the first Christian example of a thoroughly allegorical, typological exegesis (critical interpretation) of the Old Testament. There were precursors of such a methodology in Jewish Alexandrian biblical exegesis (e.g., Philo), and Platonic tendencies found in Hebrews can also be found in Jewish-Alexandrian methods of interpretation of the Old Testament. The language of Hebrews is extremely polished, elegant, and cultured Greek, the best in the New Testament. Linguistically and stylistically, it shows only a slight influence of the Koine (common Greek). The Attic style is broken only in passages in which Hebrews quotes the Septuagint. Plays on words and synonyms with similar beginnings for emphasis show the author's literary craftsmanship.

There are more Old Testament citations in Hebrews than in any other New Testament book. They are drawn mainly from the Pentateuch and some psalms.

 

2) Christology in Hebrews.

The church is viewed as being in danger of discouragement in the face of persecution and possible apostasy. If faithless, church members risk total loss, for no second repentance is possible. Through his special Christology, the author seeks to help the readers by showing that Christ is the saviour superior to any other and that as Saviour, Son of God, High Priest, pioneer, guide, and forerunner, he who has already suffered and been glorified will lead the wandering people of God to their eternal Sabbath rest, an eschatological future state of peace and renewal.

This high type of Christology is combined with much stress on Jesus' humanity. He partook of man's nature and overcame death to destroy the power of the devil in order to deliver man. Thus, having been made like his brethren he has become a faithful High Priest to make expiation for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered and was tested, he can help those who are tested and tempted. Through suffering, tears, and obedience Jesus was made perfect and thus the source of help and salvation, being designated by God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High in Abraham's time.

Christ and his once for all (ephapax) sacrifice has superseded and made all Old Testament sacrifices and cultic practices obsolete. Christ is superior to the prophets because he is a son, superior to the angels because they worship him, and (in the light of his cosmic role as apostle and High Priest) superior to Moses, who brought God's Law to Israel, because Moses was a servant in God's house and Christ a son. Christ is also superior to Moses' successor Joshua, because Joshua did not bring the wandering people into a perfect rest; superior to the Old Testament priesthood of Aaron, because Christ, the true High Priest, has sacrificed himself once for all and is without sin; and superior to the patriarch Abraham, because Abraham paid tithes to the priest of Salem, Melchizedek, who as the prototype of Christ had no human antecedents. Christ, High Priest forever by obedient suffering and perfection in that he lives up to the demand, has become the source of salvation. He is High Priest in the heavenly tabernacle and mediator for the new covenant. On the basis of this Christology and ecclesiology, the rest of Hebrews is composed of injunctions to faithful life in all situations, spiritual or temporal. In chapter 11, verse 1, Hebrews gives a programmatic statement that should be translated: "Faith is the Reality [rather than "assurance," as in the usual translation] of what is hoped for and the Proof concerning what is invisible." In Hebrews, Jesus is that Reality and that Proof, and everything else is unreal or at best an earthly copy or a shadow. The heroes and martyrs of old were looking toward his coming (chapter 11) and those now under persecution look toward him and find strength (chapter 12) as they leave the ultimately unreal structures of this world, seeking the "coming city" and going out to him who was executed outside the walls of the city made with hands. Thus, the message of Hebrews is: Reality versus sham and shadow, Christ's sacrifice (priest and victim in one) versus the cult of temples, and the real heavenly rest and heavenly city versus the sabbath and Jerusalem.

 

9. THE CATHOLIC LETTERS

As the history of the New Testament canon shows, the seven so-called Catholic Letters (i.e., James, I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, and Jude) were among the last of the literature to be settled on before the agreement of East and West in 367. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, only I John and I Peter were universally recognized and, even after acceptance of all seven, their varying positions in Greek manuscripts and early versions revealed some conflict concerning their inclusion. The designation Catholic Letters was already known and used by the church historian Eusebius in the 4th century for a group of seven letters, among which he especially mentions James and Jude. The word catholic meant general--i.e., addressed to the whole, universal church as distinguished, for example, from Pauline letters addressed to particular communities or individuals. The earliest known occurrence of the adjective "catholic" referring to a letter is in the account of an anti-Montanist, Apollonius (c. 197) in his rebuke of a Montanist writer who "dared, in imitation of the Apostle [probably John] to compose a catholic epistle" for general instruction. In the time of Origen (c. 230), the term catholic was also applied to the Letter of Barnabas as well as to I John, I Peter, and Jude.

In the West, however, "catholic" took on the meaning in Christian usage as implying a value judgment as to orthodoxy or general acceptance. Thus, the West used it for all the New Testament letters that were in the canon along with the four gospels and Acts. All letters considered authoritative and of equal standing with those of Paul were therefore termed canonical in the West. Not until the Middle Ages did both East and West designate the seven as "catholic epistles" in the sense of being addressed to the whole Christian Church, in order to distinguish them from letters with more particular addresses. Had not the main tradition placed Hebrews in the Pauline corpus, it would perhaps rather have been counted among the Catholic Letters. Hebrews, however, looked "Pauline" rather than "Catholic" in that it presented an extensive theological argument to which the parenesis (advice or counsel) was applied at the end.

These seven letters are grouped together despite their disparate authorship and dates because of a number of characteristics common to all of them. Though the three Johannine letters, and especially I John, are distinctly Johannine in character, the four other Catholic Letters are of special interest precisely because they lack strong personal or peculiar traits both in their theological and in their ethical statements. This characteristic makes them a good source for understanding the piety and life-style of the majority of early Christians. These letters differ from the Pauline letters in that they seem to have been written for general circulation throughout the church, rather than for specific congregations. Though Paul wrote as a missionary responsible for his recent Gentile converts, these letters address established congregations in more general terms. It is interesting to note, for example, that in I Pet. 2:12 the word Gentiles refers to "non-Christians" without any awareness of its older and Pauline meaning of "non-Jews."

The purpose of the Catholic Letters is to meet ordinary problems encountered by the whole church: refuting false doctrines, strengthening the ethical implications of the Gospel message, sharing in the common catechetical and moral materials, and giving encouragement in the face of the delay of the Parousia and strength in the face of possible martyrdom under Roman persecution. They guide the ordinary Christian in his day-to-day life in the church.

The Catholic Letters preserve a considerable common legacy of ethical themes and quotations. Such themes and quotations (from the Old Testament) were handed down traditionally, though the writers interpreted them independently for their situations. For example, Proverbs, chapter 3, verse 34, showing God's scorn to scorners and favour to the humble, is used in James, chapter 4, verse 6, as a warning against involvement in the world and an exhortation to submission and humility, but in I Peter, chapter 5, verse 5, it exhorts Christians to humility and submission in relation to one another in the church and brotherhood. Because the Catholic Letters represent a common pool of Christian teaching, there are overlapping points, but these come from shared tradition rather than literary dependency. The virtues extolled in the early church are not particularly Christian but often coincide with those cultivated in Hellenistic culture, sometimes with a Jewish Hellenistic emphasis. An act of mercy and virtue valued in both Jewish and Hellenistic tradition is epitomized in hospitality (e.g., I Peter 4:9). Similarly, Hellenistic lists of virtues and vices occur as needed from the general body of early Gentile Hellenistic tradition applied to the Christian communities. In these epistles, theological and credal statements are woven in and used for immediate ethical application. Thus, they differ from the Pauline style of extensive theological sections coupled with ethical applications that follow at the end of the epistle. (see also Index: Hellenistic Age)

In the Catholic Letters, to be a Christian was to be in opposition to the world, a member of a minority church and thus at any time liable to be called as witness to the faith and perhaps to suffer and die for it. Eschatological trials are coming (e.g., I Pet. 1:6f., 4:12-19; II Pet. 3:2-10; I John 2:18 ff., 4:1-4; Jude 17 ff.), and the Christian views false prophecy and heresy as well as hostile encounter with the world as part of the trials. The theme of joy in persecution, suffering, and the final trial or ultimate "testing" is based on Christ's victory over these events and the sense of being a member of his community. Thus, the Christian should show submission, nonretaliation, humility and patience, good conduct, and obedience to authorities, because his witness must be blameless when his faith is tested in the world, in the courtroom, and in martyrdom.

 

1) The Letter of James.

The Letter of James, though often criticized as having nothing specifically Christian in its content apart from its use of the phrase the "Lord Jesus Christ" and its salutation to a general audience depicted as the twelve tribes in the dispersion (the Diaspora), is actually a letter most representative of early Christian piety. It depicts the teachings of the early church not in a missionary vein but to a church living dispersed in the world knowing the essentials of the faith but needing instruction in everyday ethical and communal matters with traditional critiques on wealth and status. In matters of church discipline and the practice of healing, there is stress on prayer, anointing, and confession of sin in order that the healing of the sick may be effected. Steadfastness, even joy, in persecution is based on pure religion with strong ethical demands, as noted in chapter 1, verses 2-4 and 19-27.

A debate as to how James' statement that "faith apart from works is dead" compares with Paul's "justification by faith without works" in Romans has a long history. The debate, central to the history of Christianity, has usually overlooked the simple fact that Paul speaks about "works of the Law" and does so with reference to those "works" that divide Jews and Gentiles--e.g., circumcision and food laws. James, on the other hand, refers to works of mercy. Thus, the two statements are not only reconcilable but address themselves to quite distinct and different issues. Even Paul referred to mutual support of the brethren by the glorious phrase "the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2) and this is the same as James' "royal law" (James 2:8). The Pauline language presumably was not in James' mind. In James, chapter 2, the example of Abraham's faith is used to show justification by works. It is to be noted that Paul also used Abraham as the paradigm of righteousness to demonstrate justification by faith in Romans, chapter 4, again showing the difference in purpose and setting of the two epistles.

In view of the post-apostolic situation depicted, James, the son of Zebedee, who died as a martyr before AD 44, could not have been the author. From the content, neither could James, a brother of the Lord and the leader of the Jerusalem church; his martyrdom is reported as c. AD 62. Thus, James is pseudepigraphical, with the purpose of gaining apostolic authority for its needed message. The date of writing is probably at the turn of the 1st century, and its addressees are the whole church.

Of James' 108 verses, 54 contain imperatives--an obvious proof that advice is stressed. Such admonitions are expressed in the form of general ethical wisdom sayings, Hellenistic Jewish lists of virtues and vices, and Christian as well as pagan aphorisms sometimes related to popular preaching of the Stoic Cynic style.

In chapter 5 the community is enjoined to patience, steadfastness, and good behaviour. The Old Testament prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, are used as examples of suffering and endurance as they awaited the Judge. Thus, reference to the Parousia of Christ may have been conflated by the Christian writer to the coming of the Lord in judgment, an interpretation with "the day of the Lord" in mind. "Behold, the Judge is standing at the doors" is accompanied by the admonition, "You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand," (chapter 5, verses 8 and 9).

 

2) The First Letter of Peter.

The purpose of the First Letter of Peter is exhortation directed to "the exiles of the Dispersion" in Asia Minor in order that they "stand fast" in God's grace in the face of persecution. On the one hand, such persecution is viewed as part of the trials of the end-time that the community must undergo before the coming of the new age. On the other, persecution is viewed as a simple fact of Christian community life in the world. In imitation of Christ, tribulations and testing can be a basis for joy.

In the address, the author calls himself "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ," and in chapter 5, verse 1, a "fellow-elder and witness of the suffering of Christ." Any Christian, not just a fellow eyewitness, however, might be such a witness and hope to partake in the future "glory that is to be revealed." The writer or the redactor of I Peter used Pauline and gospel theology and terminology both in quotations and in allusions and, if literary dependency cannot always be demonstrated, there is dependence on the catechetical traditions known in the post-apostolic church.

The milieu of the letter seems to reflect the time and temper of the correspondence of the emperor Trajan with Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia (c. 117). Pliny requested clarification as to the punishment of Christians "for the name itself" or for crimes supposedly associated with being a Christian. I Peter, chapter 4, verse 15, appears to reflect this situation: that a Christian be blameless of all crime and, if punished, be persecuted only "as a Christian." Pliny continued that denounced Christians are executed if they persevere in their belief but that whatever their creed "contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved punishment"; Trajan's response was that those denounced as Christians be punished. The warning in I Peter, chapter 3, on a Christian's manner of defense and submissiveness to authorities points to a date in the first quarter of the 2nd century. Such a date does not preclude reflection on earlier persecutions, such as those under Domitian.

The Greek style is hardly in keeping with a Galilean Peter--described as illiterate or uneducated in Acts, chapter 4, verse 13. The Greek is fluid, and the Old Testament citations are from the Septuagint. The addressees appear to be Gentile Christians portrayed as the new Israel dispersed among the (heathen) Gentiles, based on the analogy of the old Israel, a diaspora among the nations.

The work is thus pseudonymous, attributed to Peter through Silvanus, whose name constitutes a part of the pseudepigraphic device that strengthens the authority of the epistle. I Peter is an excellent example of the testament form modelled on the traditions of an Apostle and the message of his martyrdom. Peter, whose death and traditions concerning him were known to the readers of the time of I Peter, gives weight and authority to the letter that is formed in many ways as a farewell and admonition to those who follow, in order that they may stand firm.

Warnings are given from the Apostle's own example along with counter-virtues for vices. Such testament forms have a mixture of wisdom material, advice, exhortation, hymns for ethical admonition, and apocalyptic elements with accounts of trials to come. This mixture is found in strange arrangements, but is perhaps solved if read as a testament form. Peter had denied that Christ must suffer and in I Peter suffering is the way of discipleship and even of joy. In Luke, chapter 22, Peter's denial was prophesied, and Jesus interceded for him in order that he might repent and strengthen his brethren (cf. I Peter, chapter 5, verses 10 and 12). In Mark and Matthew the defection of the Apostles was foretold in terms of the scattering of the sheep when the shepherd was stricken, and Peter does deny his Lord. In John, chapter 21, the risen Lord paralleled Peter's threefold denial with a threefold question as to Peter's love. At each affirmation the Lord responds with the forgiving command to feed the sheep--to care for the community. This is a central motif in I Peter. Immediately following the charge to Peter in John is the prediction of his own martyr death, and in I Peter the church is urgently admonished to accept trials as nothing strange, because they are a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter in particular was rebuked because he did not watch, and in I Peter the church is admonished to watch and be vigilant against the Devil. Prayer against temptation is also stressed.

In the Matthean account, Peter is delegated to build the church, and in I Peter it is the chief Apostle (Peter) who points to Christ as Shepherd and Bishop, who through his suffering collected the wandering sheep to himself. In like manner--on the model of Christ or perhaps Peter--the elders are exhorted to feed their flocks humbly and faithfully. Thus, there is a typical testament form: Peter has failed and repented; and the church is warned, admonished, and strengthened as by the Apostle, who, on the analogy of Jesus' Passion and death in innocence, exhorts the church to share in the vocation of innocent suffering and to do good in innocence. Finally, I Peter, viewed as a "testament," is in itself an apocalyptic "witness," and with its admixture of advice, example, and general address to the faithful living in the Diaspora as sojourners, with the authority of its martyred "author," it constitutes authority and strength for the church that faces the persecution of the world. References in chapter 5 to Rome (called Babylon) and to Mark are then also part of the pseudepigraphic testament form, as they presuppose the common tradition of Peter's martyrdom in Rome and his connection with Mark.

There are three Christological hymnic fragments in I Peter: 1:18-21, ransom by Christ; 2:21-25, with reference to the Book of Isaiah, chapter 53, used as ethical admonition; and 3:18-20, Christ's descent into hell. The last is in the context of Christ's going and preaching to the spirits in prison (a reference to the apocryphal First Book of Enoch with Satan chained under the earth but his descendants at work in the world until the end-time) in order to show that Christ, through his descent, has overcome the powers that underlie and engender persecution of the Christians. This is reaffirmed in chapter 5 by encouraging Christians in their fight against the Devil, for, though suffering will be a part of this resistance, there will be victory at the end. Imitation of Christ is a basis for joy even in suffering. The end is viewed as near, and final salvation can thus be anticipated.

 

3) The Second Letter of Peter.

The Second Letter of Peter was written as a letter to the whole church purporting to be similar in testament form to that of I Peter. It deals with the problems of the delay of the Parousia and accounts for it in terms of God's time being different from that of man and God's patience in waiting for all men to be better ethically. This letter, the latest of the New Testament, shows how Christendom dealt with the delay of the Parousia, discarded older Jewish apocalyptic ideas by substituting those with Hellenistic emphases, and is clearly in its content and exposition a methodically worked out artistic product, fictionalizing the older beliefs, in order to bring them into some agreement with traditional Christian terminology.

II Peter names Simon Peter as its author and declares his position by setting down rules for true faith as he sees it. His work is different in meaning and interpretation from the earlier tradition and understanding of the church. He regards the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain as the first Parousia and urges patient waiting for the final coming of the Lord. Although he refers to his letter as a second letter of Peter, his Hellenistic concepts and rhetoric could hardly be attributed even to the author of I Peter. II Peter speaks of "partakers of divine nature," a term from the mystery religions, and mixes proverbs with familiar quotations from Hellenistic tradition. Thus, not only is this letter pseudepigraphic, but it is an even later fiction, probably nearer to AD 150 than the end of the 1st century.

Almost all of Jude is used in II Peter, but II Peter drops out a quotation from I Enoch in Jude 14 ff., possibly demonstrating some fear of using apocryphal writings. Heresies are attacked by criticism of their interpretation of scripture and misuse of set tradition, another evidence of the late date of II Peter. Reference is made to "all the epistles of Paul which contain things hard to understand" and to "other scriptures," evidence of a New Testament canon well on its way to being delineated over against the Old Testament. Though skillfully composed, II Peter cannot hide the Gnosticism included in its view and much misinterpretation of the traditional body of faith of the early church. Thus, II Peter is an example of the church at a relatively late period, de-eschatologized for the most part and brought near to early institutionalized religion with a ministry but depending on ideas and a theology so changed that it is almost unrecognizable.

The eschatology of II Peter awaits a new heaven and a new earth after the dissolution by fire of the old, evil earth with its unrepentant people. The Parousia no longer is Christological in nature but anthropologically oriented, with a vindication of the good and a punishment of the wicked. II Peter presents a picture of the church at the latest point in the canon and illustrates the necessity to reevaluate and recall more normative Christian traditions.

 

4) The Johannine Letters: I, II, and III John.

The three epistles gathered under the name of John were written to guide and strengthen the post-apostolic church as it faced both attacks from heresies and an ever increasing need for community solidarity--along with the concomitant love and ethics necessary to such unity.

I John, though lacking any formal epistolary salutation or ending, directs itself to a circle of readers with whom the writer is acquainted. Taking the form of an anonymous "homily" for admonition against heresy and instruction in faith and love, it was directed to a wide audience or was to be circulated beyond a particular congregation. II and III John are brief letters from an author described only as "the elder," implying a position of some authority. II John, chapter 1, is addressed to an "elect lady and her children," probably a designation of a church with difficulties similar to those found in I John. III John is the most personal, being addressed by the elder "to the beloved Gaius," who has been praised particularly for his hospitality (probably to missionaries) and his brotherly love. The presbyter (elder), probably the author of II and III John, apparently was a man who was authoritative enough to influence and direct mission activities. All three letters, despite their differences of address, appear to have been accepted among the Catholic Letters as having been circulated for the church at large.

I, II, and III John share much common terminology, style, and general situation. They are all called Johannine because they are loosely related to the Gospel According to John in style and terminology and could be the outcome of its theology.

The early church attributed I, II, and III John to John, the Apostle, the son of Zebedee. Although II and III John may possibly have been written by the same presbyter, this "elder" is not necessarily the author of I John, although it is commonly accepted that the three Johannine letters came from a "Johannine" inner circle. The earliest reference to the Johannine letters is in the Letter to the Philippians by Polycarp of Smyrna (7:1). Papias, who was a 2nd-century bishop of Hierapolis, mentions I John and quotes it several times, but he distinguishes between John, the Apostle, and John, the presbyter. Polycarp, Papias, and internal evidence point to the region of Asia Minor as the probable sources of the Johannine literature. These references and the organization of the churches indicated in the letters, as well as the lack of signs of persecution, suggest a date for the letters at around the beginning of the 2nd century.

 

i) The First Letter of John.

I John assumes a knowledge of the Johannine Gospel (the author of I John may be the ecclesiastical redactor of the Gospel According to John) and adds ethical admonition and instruction regarding the well-being of the church as it confronts heresy and stresses the lack of moral concern that springs from it. There is strong defense against the threat of a type of Gnosticism called Docetism that denied the reality of Jesus' earthly life and thus the meaning of the cross. Possessing special spiritual knowledge, the Docetic Gnostics had no need of the earthly Jesus and the humanity of Christ. This Docetic heresy led them to reject the Lord's Supper, but not Baptism. Their special possession of the Spirit had led them erroneously to consider themselves sinless and to deny the fellowship that has the cleansing of sins. Because the heresy may have led to libertinism, the ethics of Christians must accord with their faith and find expression in the love of the brethren in the church. "He who hears my word and . . . believes has passed from death to life" (John 5:24) is continued in I John 3:14, "We have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." The Gnostics separated themselves from the church in schism and have thereby committed the "sin unto death." They are false prophets and deceivers described by the term Antichrist. The true Christians, the "children of God," hold the true faith evidenced by their loyalty to the church and their charity toward its members.

A constant theme in I John is that of God's love, which makes Christians the children of God. As children of God they keep the new commandment of love, which is of light--that of brotherly love--and resist the world, evil, and false teaching. Because Christ gave his life for man, the Christian's response is also to be self-giving. Through obedience and faith, God forgives even when man's heart condemns him, "for God is greater than his heart." It is of interest to note that in I John 2:1-2, Jesus is referred to as paraclete (advocate), but in the Gospel According to John, such references are to the Spirit. John 14:16, however, refers to "another Counselor." This discrepancy can be resolved by interpreting Jesus with his disciples as their advocate with another to come (the Spirit), and, in I John 2:1-2, the risen Lord becomes the advocate for the expiation of all sin. Righteousness and faith are emphasized in chapters 4-5, and again these characteristics are those of the children of God, who will finally in the end-time be like him who gave the promise, the commandment, and the joy of love. (see also Index: Christianity)

 

ii) The Second Letter of John.

II John warns a specific church (or perhaps churches), designated as "the elect lady and her children," against the influence of the Docetic heresy combatted in I John, whose proponents lured Christians from "following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father." In II John, as in the Gospel According to John and I John, the light-darkness images are similar to those of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To "walk in the truth" in II John is to reject heresy and follow the doctrine of Christ.

 

iii) The Third Letter of John.

III John, addressed to Gaius, shows that the writer is concerned about and has responsibility as presbyter for the missionaries of the church. It is somewhat of a short note concerned with church discipline, encouraging hospitality to true missionaries, and thus not unconnected with true doctrine and the command of love.

 

5) The Letter of Jude.

The Letter of Jude, after a salutation that attributes it to Jude, the brother of James, and addresses itself to the church as a whole, develops the theme of the short letter--a polemic against heretics who have abandoned the transmitted traditional faith and who will thus be judged by the Lord. They deny Christ, and punishment similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament for such a denial is threatened. Heretical beliefs have led to various sins and libertinism, and the judgment that will come upon them is cited from Enoch 1:9, demonstrating that this short letter reflects the postbiblical Jewish apocalyptic train of thought in the early Christian era.

"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James" is probably meant pseudepigraphically to relate this Jude to James the brother of the Lord so that this Jude is also a brother of the Lord. This, however, is impossible because the letter reflects a later time. Verse 17 refers to "the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ" concerning mockers and sinners. Thus, the author is recalling a former time that was prophesied regarding the heresies and trials of the end-time. Such a bearer of apostolic tradition is violently attacking heresy in the interest of transmitted traditional faith. Again, it would appear that the letter is pseudepigraphic and may have originated in Syria or Asia Minor.

The author struggles forcefully against heretics who deny God and Christ and attempts to strengthen his readers in their fight against such heresy that leads to wickedness and disorder. Libertinism is a characteristic of such heresy, and the punishment of the heretics will be similar to that which befell the unfaithful in the Old Testament patriarchal times. Only steadfastness in faith, true doctrine, and prayer can lead to mercy, forgiveness, restoration, and final salvation. An attempt to bring the erring to repentance may save them. The letter concludes with a typical doxology.

The form is less a catholic letter than a declared position that lays down general rules. The date is probably near the end of the 1st century and before II Peter, which draws upon it.

 

10. THE REVELATION TO JOHN

 

1) Purpose and theme.

The Revelation (i.e., Apocalypse) to John is an answer in apocalyptic terms to the needs of the church in time of persecution, as it awaits the end-time expected in the near future. The purpose of the book is to encourage and admonish the church to be steadfast and endure. The form of an apocalypse shows affinities with contemporary Jewish, Oriental, and Hellenistic writings in which problems of the end of the world and of history are linked both with prophecy of an eschatological nature and with "sealed" secret mysteries. Such revelations are traditionally received in trances, characterized by strange symbols, numbers, images, and parables or allegories that represent people and historical situations. Apocalypticism is essentially dualistic, presenting the present eon as evil and the future as good, with an ultimate battle between the divine and the demonic to be won only after one or more cosmic catastrophes. The aim of apocalyptic literature is to depict in the age of present tribulation a knowledge of a future glorious victory and vindication, thus giving hope and assurance.

In Revelation it is God who gives the revelation to Jesus Christ to be shown by Christ through an angel to his servant John, in exile on the island of Patmos, in order that John become his seer and prophet to the church. John is to write down what he has seen, what is, and what is to come. In contradistinction to most Jewish apocalyptic works, Revelation is not pseudonymous and John is to give finally unsealed, clear prophecy related to the present and to the end-time.

As in the rest of the New Testament, the starting point of eschatological hope is the saving act of God in Jesus, a historical centre pointing toward historical developments that will bring about the establishment of God's kingdom and vindication of his people, ransomed by the blood of Christ, the Lamb who was slain. It provides certainty and encouragement with the example of the faithfulness of those who have already witnessed unto death (martyrs) and their reward--special inheritance in the eternal kingdom.

After the introduction, Revelation continues first as a series of seven letters to seven churches in the province of Asia, thence to the whole church with an epistolary introduction and, after the apocalypse proper, an epistolary blessing as the last verse. The letters sent from the heavenly Christ through John (chapters 2 and 3) exhort, comfort, or censure the churches according to their condition under persecution or danger of heresy. From chapters 4-22 there are series of visions in three main cycles, each recapitulating but expanding the former in greater and clearer detail with groups of seven symbols predominating in each (seals, chapters 6-7; trumpets, chapters 8-10; and bowls, chapters 15-16). This material is interspersed with visions of God in his heavenly council, various visions of catastrophe and of Satan, the destroyer, the appearance of two witnesses and other martyr examples to spur the church to endurance, the victory of the archangel Michael over the dragon (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb (Christ), and the representation of the powers of emperor cult and false prophecy as beasts who bring destruction to the unfaithful in God's judgment. A heavenly woman who bears a messianic son is threatened by a dragon. Her child is carried up to heaven by God, and she escapes by hiding in a place prepared for her by God. The beasts who appear persecute the Christians and the "number" signifying the first beast is that of a man, "666" (or, in a variant reading, "616") probably indicating the emperor Nero. God's triumph in history is depicted in his judgment on the harlot Babylon (Rome), and the final consummation portrays the victory of Christ over the Antichrist and his followers. In chapter 20 the thousand-year reign of Christ with those who witnessed unto death is depicted. Satan, again loosed, is vanquished by fire from heaven with the beasts (imperial power and false prophet), and the last judgment leads to a new heaven and a new earth, the new Jerusalem. This writing is, thus, a prophetic-apocalyptic work.

In summary, the seer reminds the reader that the words, because they are of God, are trustworthy and true. The motif that the Lord is coming soon is again repeated. This reflection of the early Christian watchword suggests a sacred liturgical style. The last verse is the closing benediction--perhaps not only of the letters in the beginning of Revelation but of the whole of Revelation, which was to be read aloud in a worship setting.

 

2) Authorship and style.

Apocalypticism was introduced into Asia Minor after AD 70 (the fall of Jerusalem), and c. 80-90 a prophetic circle was formed near Ephesus. Its leader was John, a prophet, who might well have been the author of Revelation, which is deeply steeped in apocalyptic traditions. The "Johannine circle" bearing the tradition of John, the Apostle of the Lord, and from which emerged the Gospel and letters bearing his name, might have been a continuation of the prophetic conventicle of Ephesus in which John was prominent. The various writings do not have to be consistent except in their basic faith in Jesus Christ; and, as the situations to which they addressed themselves were different, different styles and content were required. The seer was probably involved in an actual historical situation in the late 80s under Domitian, a time when there was open conflict between the church and the Roman state. There is a tradition supported by Irenaeus, a 2nd-century bishop of Lyons, that in this persecution punishment was death or banishment. John's prominence might have led to banishment to Patmos, an isle off the coast of Asia Minor, from his homeland in or around Ephesus. From Patmos he wrote a circular letter to the churches in Asia.

Though the style of Revelation is certainly eclectic in form and content, containing elements of a heavenly epistle and with more than three-fourths of the rest made up of prophetic-apocalyptic forms from varied sources, it reflects a systematic and careful plan. Even the apocalyptic, however, is "anti-apocalyptic" in that the seer's message is open and the mysteries serve not to conceal but to heighten what is seen and to be expected. Apocalyptic schemata and motifs are, however, used toward this purpose, and allegorical incorporation of sources is more a demonstration of the true, ultimate message than a literary device. Blurred images (e.g., God, Christ, and angels; chiliastic [1,000-year] eras and temporal duplications; as well as interpretations) are part of the apocalyptic style, but a current concrete historical situation is the foundation. Revelation is written in fantastic imagery, blending Jewish apocalypticism, Babylonian mythology, and astrological speculation. It is pictorial, dramatic, and poetic.

Revelation contains long sections characterized by Greek that is grammatically and stylistically crude, strangely Hebraized to give a unique, almost Oriental, colour. This may have been deliberate. Although Revelation is replete with Old Testament allusions, there are no direct quotations, and this may reflect the seer's conviction that the work is a direct revelation from God. In other sections the poetry of Revelation might stem from the seer's experience in the heavenly throne room of God, from hearing the hymns of the angelic host, or from his recollection on Patmos of the liturgical practice of the church. The image of the Bride and wedding feast together with the "Come, Lord Jesus!" have associations with the eucharistic liturgy of the early church.

The recapitulations of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls may be deliberate schematization. The purpose of such repetition and increasing revelation can be a way of heightening enthusiasm to encourage the church.

Mysterious numbers and divisions (such as 7, 3, 12) recur and are part of the theme of assurance, because God has numbers in their order as a sign of his plan of salvation, turning chaos to orderly cosmos. The mysterious name of the first beast, 666, in 13:18, can be calculated by "gematria," assigning their numerical values to letters of the word and summing them up. The most adequate solution is Nero (the numerical value of the Hebrew letters for Caesar Neron equals 666), a demonic Nero redivivus (revived), who returns from the dead as Antichrist. Astronomy and astrology have also been applied to Revelation in terms of the signs of the zodiac or a calendar of feasts and seasons as keys to understanding its structure, because it is God who orders the times and seasons.

Two witnesses described in chapter 11 have been assumed to be Elijah and Moses, Peter and Paul, or simply two examples of martyrs through whom God shows his punishment of the wicked and vindication of the righteous to his glory. There are strong martyrological themes throughout Revelation, and it seems to stand on the border line of the point at which the word witness (martys) became a technical term for a witness unto death, or martyr. The cosmic battle in heaven is fought by those willing to give their lives, who mix their blood with the blood of the Lamb, whose blood "ransomed men for God." The writer of Revelation based his hope for the church on perseverance, on endurance even to death, and on what the future will bring when the church will live with the glorified Christ, slain as a lamb. The harlot of Babylon will be destroyed and the church will endure; Babylon falls and the new Jerusalem, the city of God that is to come, is depicted in all its glory. These are the hopes to strengthen the persecuted church, assurance that God will soon triumph. With trumpet call and heavenly voices there is the joyful promise that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever."



 ] 위로 ] 성서 개관 ] 신약성서 개관 ] 구약성서 개관 ] 성서 문학 ] I. 문학 서론 ] II.영향과 중요성 ] III. 구약 정경/본문/판 ] IV. 구약 역사 ] V. 구약 문학 ] VI. 구/신약 중간 문학 ] VII. 신약 정경/본문/판 ] VIII. 신약 역사 ] [ IX. 신약 문학 ] X. 신약 외경 ] XI. 예배식 ] XII. 해석과 해석학 ] XIII. 참고 문헌 ]


 
 

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