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Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Extent of Theological Diversity

I’m fortunate to be affiliated with a group of scholars at the Society of Biblical Literature.  It is a program unit entitled: The Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity.  Here’s a description of its purpose:

The Extent of Theological Diversity in Earliest Christianity Group explores the origin, nature, and extent of theological diversity within Christian communities from the beginnings until approximately 180 CE. Focusing on the evidence for Jesus’ death and resurrection as a narrative used to shape the identity of emergent communities, as well as on the alternatives to this narrative preserved in early Christian sources, the unit seeks to clarify the historical origins and relationship of these diverse forms of Christianity and bring greater precision to the study of “orthodoxy and heresy in early Christianity.”

Although  it is not quite up-to-date, the web address below will take you to some of the papers and activities of the group since its inception in 2008.  There are papers there by Richard Bauckham, Birger Pearson, Todd Still, James Ware, Mark Goodacre and many others.  More recently we have hosted sessions with Larry Hurtado, Bart Ehrman, and Judith Lieu. I’ll post the upcoming schedule for SBL 2016 in San Antonio.



Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian?


I recently received a book by my friend, colleague, and co-conspirator in the Early High Christology Club, Larry Hurtado. The book is entitled Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Marquette University Press, 2016).  It is the published version of his Marquette Lecture in Theology in 2016.  As with everything Hurtado does, the book is well researched and well written steering clear of claiming too much or too little from the evidence he cites.  He is a sober and careful historian of early Christianity.larry-hurtado1

The driving question or “big idea” of the book comes down to this question: given the serious social and political consequences of choosing to identify with the Jesus movement, why did anyone make that choice in the first three centuries (AD or CE, if you prefer)?  Now this question is distinct from the one posed by Rodney Stark (The Rise of Christianity, [Princeton University Press, 1996]): How did an insignificant, mustard-seed-sized movement from the fringes of the empire grow to eventually displace the dominant religions in the Roman and Mediterranean world?  While Stark’s question is important on a macro-level, Hurtado drills deeper into the personal and individual choices a person made in order to become a Christian in those early centuries.

Hurtado begins with a brief analysis of the kinds of diversity expressed in early Christianity.  Evidence for this is seen throughout the New Testament and extra-canonical Christian and pagan texts.  Then he turns his attention to the growth of the Christian movement from its Judean and Galilean origins throughout the Roman empire east and west.  The largest section of the book deals with the “Costs and Consequences” to individuals of what it meant to join the Christian movement.  People lost a great deal (socially, economically, relationally, politically) for choosing to throw their lot in with the Jesus believers and Hurtado asks the question: Why?

In the end Hurtado does not think he answers the question sufficiently in this little book (133 pages), but he argues persuasively that it is a question worth posing.  I have little doubt he will inspire others to think, research and write on the topic.  It conjures up for me a variety of questions which could be the topic of papers and further study.

The book is  worth buying and reading if you have interest in Christian origins.  Hurtado’s academic career has been given to understanding various aspects of early Christianity: its devotion to Jesus, its book culture, its distinctive features, among other things.



Gathercole at Lanier Theological Library

University of Cambridge professor, Simon Gathercole, is soon to give his second lecture at Lanier Theological Library.  On May 7, 2016 from 7.00 to 9.00 pm Simon will offer a lecture entitled:

“The Journeys of Jesus and Jewish Geography”

The Gospels in the New Testament contain a remarkable amount of geographical information, especially in the quantity of references to areas, towns and villages that Jesus (and John the Baptist) visited. Are these genuine or fictitious?  Some Jesus skeptics have doubted the existence of places like Nazareth and Capernaum.  Even many New Testament scholars are unaware of the evidence for Gospel sites. Strikingly, however, a huge proportion of the place-names in the Gospels are paralleled in Jewish literature outside the New Testament, even down to some of the small villages.  This illustrated lecture will examine the historical evidence, some already known, some presented for the first time, for the places in the Gospel.  It will show how this evidence has clear implications for the reliability of the Gospel narratives.Simon Gathercole

The lecture is free and open to the public.  Click here for more information and to register.

If you have never been to the Lanier Theological Library or the Stone Chapel, you are in for a treat.  Mike Bird calls it “DisneyLand” for scholars.  Mark and Becky Lanier have done a wonderful job building these classic structures , collecting some of the world’s best books and artifacts, staffing the library, presenting lectures, and hosting events.  Scholars, teachers, and leaders come from all around the world to see this place. Charles Mickey is director of the library and coordinates all these events. He has a cracker-jack staff who do everything you can imagine to make these events successful.

The Earliest Christologies


I received a copy of James L. Papandrea’s book, The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age (InterVarsity Press, 2016).  I had read and reviewed the book prior to publication so this is my “thank you” copy from the publisher. Earliest Christologies by Papandrea

Papandrea is an associate professor of church history at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University.  He has written other books on the Church Fathers and Trinitarian theology.

The second century (AD or CE, if you prefer) was a crucial period for what would become the Christian Church.  A great deal is thought out, worked out, argued out about key issues like: What books do we read as Scripture?  How do we relate to the Jews and other religions?  How do we live out our distinctive calling?  Who was Jesus  . . . really?

It is this last question which occupies Papandrea’s attention for 127 pages.  Was the Christ a man who was temporarily inhabited by the divine?  Was he a spirit that only appeared to be flesh?  Was he the enfleshing of the divine Logos?  Was he a righteous man adopted by God for a special purpose?

In short, Papandrea has taken a complex and daunting set of texts from long ago and helped his readers sort out the language, concepts, and images.   By its length and scope it is an introduction so it is on a shelf everyone can reach.  Papandrea describes five views of Jesus in this period: Angel adoptionism, Spirit adoptionism, Docetism, Hybrid Gnosticism, and Logos Christology.  Each idea was current among a sizeable group of Jesus people in the second century and, in some cases, beyond.  But ultimately the Church would land on one option to answer the perennial question: “Who do you say that I [Jesus] am?”  The only reason you haven’t probably heard some of these other options is because they were deemed insufficient, wrong, and heretical.  So, over time, they died out.  Ironically, vestiges of these approaches to Jesus remain in “orthodox” Christianity, but that’s another post.

The next time I teach this period and topic, I will be using The Earliest Christologies by James Papandrea.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon: The Earliest Christologies. 

Paul as Human . . . as Missionary

I’m thinking and writing about Paul again.  I can’t seem to get away from that fellow.  I came across a great post by my friend, Mike Bird.  Here is a link:

Ed Sanders on Paul as Human and Missionary


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