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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.
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.