week 1
week 2
week 3
week 4
week 5

Week 5.

  1. The Quest for the Kerygmatic church. 341
    1. Introduction
    2. Tasks and Methods
    3. Fixed points: History and Geography 346
    4. Filling in the gaps: Literature in search of Meaning. 357
  2. Praxis, Symbol and Questions: Inside early Christian Worldviews. 359
    1. Introduction
    2. Praxis.
    3. Symbols. 365
    4. Questions
  3. Stories in Early Christianity, pt 1. 371
    1. Introduction.
    2. Luke and his stories.
    3. Matthew's Story 384
    4. Mark's Story. 390
    5. Synoptic Gospels: Conclusion.
    6. Paul: From Adam to Christ. 403
    7. The Narrative World of the Letter to Hebrews.
    8. The Story of John.
  4. Stories in Early Christianity pt. 2. 418
    1. Introduction: Form Cristicism
    2. Towards a Revised form cristicism. 427.
      • Introduction
      • Prophetic Acts
      • Controversies
      • Parables
      • Longer understandings
      • Conclustion
    3. Stories but no Story? Q and Thomas 435
  5. The Early Christians: A Preliminary Sketch 444
    1. Introduction
    2. Aims
    3. Community and Definition 447
    4. Development and Variety 452
    5. Theology 456
    6. Hope
    7. Conclusion
  6. The New Testament and the Question of God 467
    1. Introduction 467
    2. Jesus
    3. The New Testament 469
    4. The Question of God

The Quest for the Kerygmatic church. 341


We know far less about the history of the church from AD 35-135 than we do about second-temple Judaism. Yet, it was in the first generation or so that the crucial moves were made which determined the direction that Christianity would take from then on.

It is actually possible to know a good deal more about Jesus than about most of the early church.

A good deal has been made, this century, of the idea that the earliest and most Jewish Christian confidently expected the imminent end of the space-time universe, and that the development of Christianity was marked by the fading of this expectation.

Some of the previous paths of study have said the essence of early Christianity was only marginally or tangentally Jewish. The main lines run, rather, through the Hellenistic world. The Jewish expectation of the kingdom has provided some of the language of early christianity, but its substance is of a different order altogether (343)

Many scholars are now of the opinion that the main problem in describing the origin of Christianity is to account both fully for the thorough Jewishness of the new movement, and for the break with Judaism that had toc ome about at least by the middle of the second century.

Tasks and Methods 345

The reconstruction of the history of early Christianity must attempt to make sense of certain data within a coherent framework. It must put together the historical jigsaw of Judaism within its Greco Roman world, of John the Baptist, and Jesus as closely related to that complex world, and of the early church as starting within that world and quickly moving into the non-Jewish world of late antiquity.

One of the main things that such hypothesis must do is to plot the definition and development of different groups within early Christianity. Our earliest sources indicate quite clearly that there were sharply divergent groups within the new movement (346)

Fixed points: History and Geography 346

Somewhat after the end of the first hundred years of Christianity, there took place an event so striking that it is worth quoting the earliest account of it: (p347)

There was a great uproar of those who heard that Polycarp had been arrested. Therefore when he was brought forward the Pro-Consul asked him if he were Polycarp, and when he admitted it he tried to persuade him to deny (his Christian faith], saying: 'Respect your age,' and so forth, as they are accustomed to say: 'Swear by the genius of Caesar, repent, say: "Away with the Atheists"'; but Polycarp, with a stern countenance looked on all the crowd of lawless heathen in the arena, and waving his hand at them, he groaned and looked up to heaven and said: 'Away with the Atheists.' But when the Pro-Consul pressed him and said: 'Take the oath and I let you go, revile Christ,' Polycarp said: 'For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can i blaspheme my King who saved me?'

The martyrdom of Polycarm took place in 155/156. This makes clear a few things:

The trial and death of Christians was already an established form. He refers to his 86 years. Assuming this is accurate, this puts his date of birth, to an already Christian family, at 69/70AD. This isn't really controversial, but it provides us with a remarkably solid fixed point. Pliny the Elder was known for charging many Christians that were brought before him. He recounts to Trajan, then the emperor, the action he was taking:

I considered that I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and had made offerings of wine and incense to your statue.. and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ (349)

The Christians examined by Pliny reveal their practics as follows:

They had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery, to commit no breach of trust and not to deny a deposit when called upon to restore it. After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary, harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your (i.e. Trajan's] instructions, which banned all political societies. This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.

A great meany individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being bourght to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which ar infected through contact with this wretched cult.

This tells us that it is clear that Christianity was already widespread in Asia minor, beyond the area evangelized by Paul in the early days.

The litmus test for conviction as a christian was, as in Polycarp's case, ritual actions and declarations which, small in themselves, carried enormous socio-cultural significance.

I, Luke, think these quotes are fascinating, so I want to include another:

They...met to bind themselves by oath...to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery... I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths. This school agrees in all other respects and opinions with the Pharisees, except that they could have a passion for liberty that is almost unconquerable, since they are convinced that God alone is their leader and master. (p 350)

The Christians in Bithynia in 110 and in Smyrna in 155 shares some salient characteristics with the Jews of the pre-70 era. In particular, their worldview look suspiciously as though it included Jewish style adherence to the kingdom of god.

Ignatius of Antioch is the third fixed point. It is certain that he travelled from Antioch to Rome to face Martyrdom in the latter years of the reign of Trajan, and that the seven letters ascribed to him were written during this journey. He exhorts the Roman church not to plead on his behalf, since he views his martyrdom as a great power to announce the gospel:

For neither shall I ever have such an opportunity of attaining to God, nor can you, if you be but silent i.e. and do not speak up on my behalf, have any better deed ascribed to you. For if you are silent concerning me, l am a word for perhaps the word] of God; but if you love my flesh fi.e. if you act to prevent my martyrdom], I shall again be only a cry. Grant me nothing more than that I be poured out to God, while an altar is still ready, that forming yourselves into a chorus of love, you may sing to the Father in Christ Jesus, that God has vouchsafed that the bishop of Syria shall be found at the setting of the sun, having fetched him from the sun's rising. It is good to set the world towards God, that I may rise to him. (351)

Another fixed point is the incident in the second-century church, from Eusebius' History. It took place under Domitian, who succeeded Titus, and reigned from 81 to 96. Certain men were brought before Domitian accused of being bloood relatives of Jesus. They were under suspicion of being members of a royal house, a potentially subversive society.

The Christian 'movement' had all the overtones of Jewish Messianism on the one hand, but without the nationalist and military overtones on the other; a movement looking back to Jesus as Messiah in a sense which could easily be misunderstoof ina human dynasitc sens; a movement which flouted the Roman emperor's claim to be the ultimate object of allegiance.

Continuing to work backwards, we can note the fall of Jerusalem in 70 as a mahor event not only for Judaism, but also for early Christianity.

Next, we meet the famous passage in Tacitus, in which Nero attempts to shift on to the Christians in Rome the blame for the great fire of AD 64:

To suppress this rumour (of arson], Nero fabricated scapegoats— and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital. First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned-not so much for incendiarism as for their anti-social tendencies lodio humani generis, because of their hatred of the human race]. Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals' skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight ... Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt that they were being sacrificed to one man's brutality rather than to the national interest.

Filling in the gaps: Literature in search of Meaning. 357

Praxis, Symbol and Questions: Inside early Christian Worldviews. 359



Symbols. 365


Stories in Early Christianity, pt 1. 371


Luke and his stories.

Matthew's Story 384

Mark's Story. 390

Synoptic Gospels: Conclusion.

Paul: From Adam to Christ. 403

The Narrative World of the Letter to Hebrews.

The Story of John.

Stories in Early Christianity pt. 2. 418

Introduction: Form Cristicism

Towards a Revised form cristicism. 427.


Prophetic Acts



Longer understandings


Stories but no Story? Q and Thomas 435

The Early Christians: A Preliminary Sketch 444



Community and Definition 447

Development and Variety 452

Theology 456



The New Testament and the Question of God 467

Introduction 467


The New Testament 469

The Question of God