Discussion Notes for Diversity in Early Christianity (2020 edition)

Contents (2020 edition)



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Unity, Duality and Plurality in the Historiography of Early Jesus Groups

1. Unity: Traditional view of Acts, Hegesippus, Eusebius, and others

  • Acts of the Apostles (NT) on unity
  • Notions of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” – when did they emerge and are they anachronisms?
  • Hegesippus (ca. 110-180 CE) and Eusebius (early 300s CE)
    • Discussion of Eusebius 3.32 and 4.7: What image of Christian origins does this rhetoric project?  When does the author imagine that “heresies” or problematic views or practices emerged?  How does this portray disagreement and unity?  What sort of language, analogies, and images are used to describe the situation?  What value judgements are evident?

2. Duality: F. C. Baur’s theory of the 1800s (Peter vs. Paul / Jew vs. Gentile)

  • Early Christianity in Hegelian terms as a two-sided battle (thesis and antithesis) and a winner (synthesis)
  • Value judgements involved: Particularist “Judaism” and universal Pauline Christianity
  • Monolithic characterization of “Judaism” – reality of the great diversity of Judean and Galilean culture in the first century – diversity of Judean culture leads to diversity of Jesus movements

3. Plurality / Diversity: Walter Bauer’s theory of 1934 and continuing legacies

  • Flipping the traditional view: Heresy before orthodoxy
  • Diversity in Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities

4. Introducing diversity in Asia Minor and approaches to opponents

  • Method of looking at opponents in literature pertaining to Asia Minor


Introducing the Study of Opponents in Asia Minor: Galatia

1.  Judean (Jewish) culture, Judean custom, and the origins of the Jesus movements

  • Diversity of Judean groups
  • Common demoninators of Judean culture
  • Gentiles (Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, etc.) and Judean culture

2.  Asia Minor as a hub of activity for Judean and Jesus groups

  • Geographical bearings (map)
  • Judean diaspora
  • Jesus groups: John’s Apocalypse; Ignatius’ letters; 1-3 John; 1 Peter; Ephesians, Colossians, etc.

3.  Method in the study of opponents in the literature: Discussion of Barclay

  • What are some of the problems and pitfalls in studying opponents in the literature?  What lessons can we learn from these pitfalls?  What is the nature of our sources?  What sort of approach should we take to these sources (What does Barclay suggest)?  Does historical method seek certainty?  If not, then what is historical method able to do (Barclay’s “sliding scale”)?

4.  Understanding Paul’s opponents in Galatia

  • 1) Paul: Brief introduction to Paul’s identities, Paul’s letters, and Paul’s mission to Gentiles (especially discuss Galatians 1:11-2:14)
  • 2) The Galatian addressees: What has happened in Galatia?  Who (ethnically) are the addressees of the letter in Galatia?  What is the history of Paul’s relation with them?  What have they done?
  • 3) Finding the opponents in Paul’s response: Who are the opponents and what is their position?  What ideas and practices do they advocate and why?  How might they explain or justify their position? (cf. Genesis 17)  What do Paul and his opponents have in common?
  • Key passages: 1:6-9; 4:17; 5:7-12; 6:12-13.  Possible indirect allusions to opponents: 4:8-11; 4:21; 5:1-6


Opponents of John the Elder: A “Docetic” or “Gnostic” Trajectory in the Johannine Epistles?

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship, date, location, recipients of each letter (“elect lady” and Gaius)
  • Johannine community (probably in western Asia Minor)
  • Relationship between John’s gospel and the epistles
  • Common themes and view of Jesus: Son-Father-Spirit, word, life, truth, knowledge, light/darkness, “new commandment” of love

2.  Internal struggles in the Johannine groups

  • Analysis of the evidence in 1-3 John: Schism (“they went out from us”) and identity of the schismatics
    • “Anti-christs” or “false prophets” downplaying (or denying?) complete humanity of Jesus and emphasizing his divinity (high Christology; cf. John’s gospel)
    • Questioning Jesus death’s significance for human sin?: “we have no sin” (cf. 1 Jn 1:8-10; 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:6-8; 2 Jn 1:7-11)
    • Ethics and the “commandments
    • Discussion of Brown’s theory (opponents downplaying but not denying Jesus’ humanity): Sources of authority for the positions (John Gospel)


  • “Docetists” and the development of “Gnosticism”?: Philosophical background of docetism or downplaying of the importance of Jesus’ or human flesh (cf. 1 Corinthians 15 on bodily resurrection)
  • Relation with opponents of Ignatius in Asia Minor
  • Hospitality (3 Jn 1:5-10): Opponents (Diotrephes) and refusal of hospitality for follows of John the elder; John’s letter of recommendation (cf. 3 Jn 1:12)

3.  Plotting out different Jesus groups

  • Variety of sub-groups even within a common tradition or community (Johannine community and Brown’s argument concerning the centrality of John’s Gospel)
  • Review previous week’s discussion of Galatians


Opponents of Ignatius: Docetics and Judaizers or Judaizing Docetics?

1. Introductory matters

  • Ignatius’ identity (bishop of Antioch; hope of martyrdom; Romans 4; Philadelphians 10)
    • Concepts of martyrdom
  • Genre, date and audience: Letters to churches in western Asia Minor

2. The Opponents and Ignatius’ response

  • Opponents in the Asian churches (one or two groups?)
    • Situation at Smyrna: Docetism – discussion of Smyrnians 1-8 (see also Ephesians chs. 7-8; Magnesians 11; Trallians 9-10)
      • Comparing those who deny the flesh in John’s epistles
    • Situation at Philadelphia: (Gentile?) Judaizing – discussion of Philadelphians (see also Magn. 8-10)
      • Comparing the Galatian situation
      • Comparing the Judean “myths” in the Pastoral epistles
    • Discussion of Magnesians: Combining the opponents?
  • Jerry Sumney’s theory of multiple opponent groups (discussion of Sumney’s method
  • John Marshall’s theory of one opponent group: Jesus as an angelic figure
  • Response: Church leadership as monarchy
    • Unity under the bishop (cf. Eph. 4; Trall. 2; Smyrn. 8)
    • Defining “proper” belief: The move toward creeds
    • Common meetings/communion (Eph. 5.3; 20.2; Magn. 4; Phil. 4; Smyrn. 7-8)

3.  Plotting out different Jesus groups

  • Pauline, Johannine, and Ignatian forms and sub-forms


Debates Over Women, Marriage, and Societal Values, part 1: The Perspective of the Acts of Paul

1. Legacies of Paul and the “battle” for Paul among Jesus groups

  • Test case: The Acts of Paul and Thecla vs. The Pastoral epistles

2. The Acts of Paul: Introductory matters

  • Date (c. 160-200 CE), authorship and provenance (Asia Minor): The controversy mentioned by Tertullian, Concerning Baptism 17 (link with text and discussion)
  • Genre: Apocryphal Acts, the Acts of the Apostles (in NT), and the ancient novel
  • Manuscripts and the shape of the story

3. Stories in the Acts of Paul: Discussion of the episodes and plot

  • Paul’s adventures in Asia Minor and Syria
  • Thecla episodes at Iconium and Antioch
  • The Lion at Ephesos
  • 3 Corinthians
  • Martyrdom of Paul
  • What forms or styles of following Jesus are reflected in these stories?  What sort of ideology and practice do we find?

4. Discussion of MacDonald’s The Legend and the Apostle (chapters 1-2)

  • What is MacDonald’s main argument?  What strengths and weaknesses do you detect?  Do you agree or disagree?
  • What role do oral stories and folklore play in his approach?  Who were the story tellers, according to MacDonald? What were the central principles taught within the stories contained in the Acts of Paul?
  • How do the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Pastoral epistles make use of an image of Paul to counter other perspectives?  How does all of this relate to battles between different styles of following Jesus (and Paul)?  What value judgements or biases do you detect in the book?  How do these affect the overall approach and argument?

5. Women, gender, the household and society (the city)

  • Alternate portraits of Paul and realities of women’s lives in Jesus groups (Acts of Paul vs. Pastorals) – Women’s leadership and the relationship between Jesus groups and Greco-Roman society
  • Greco-Roman perspectives on the city and the household (e.g. household codes)
  • Greco-Roman perceptions of Jesus groups and varying responses (Aelius Aristides and Celsus on women and Jesus groups)
  •  Discussion of key themes in the Thecla episodes (with help from Melissa Aubin’s “Reversing Romance”):

(1) Sexuality, marriage, and asceticism

  • “Blessed are those who have kept the flesh chaste. . .“
  • Turning the novel’s love theme on its head: Kissing Paul’s bonds
  • Chastity and society: “Overturning the city”
  • Pastoral epistles: Domestic women (1 Tim 2:15; 4:1-5; Titus 2:3-5)

(2) Gender and women’s roles or leadership

  • Thecla, the leader and teacher: “Go and preach!”
  • Questions of gender: The “manly” Thecla and the “womanly” Paul?
  • Historical context: The Phrygian (Montanist) movement and women prophets in Asia Minor
  • Pastorals:
    • Subverting the “old wives’ tales” (1 Tim 4:7-8; 5:13-16; 2 Tim 3:4-9)
    • Silent and domestic women: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men” (1 Tim 2:11-15)

(3) Relations and conflicts between the Jesus groups and Greco-Roman society

  • Thecla: Overturning Greco-Roman society
  • Pastorals: Greco-Roman values and alleviation of group-society tensions (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 3:7; Titus 3:1)

6.  Implications for Diversity: Variety among Pauline groups


Debates Over Women, Marriage, and Societal Values, part 2: The Perspective of the Pastoral Epistles

1.  The Pastoral Epistles: Introductory matters

  • Pseudonymity (or pseudepigraphy) and the battle for Paul’s memory
  • Date and genre of the epistles: leadership structures, sound “doctrine”, less apocalyptic (?)

2.  Discussion of MacDonald’s The Legend and the Apostle (chapters 3-4)

  • What does MacDonald argue concerning the relation between the opponents addressed by the Pastor, on the one hand, and the Acts of Paul, on the other?  What passages in the Pastorals seem to align with the perspective of the Acts of Paul and Thecla?  Beyond the issue of women, what similarities are there between the Pastorals and the Acts of Paul?  How does MacDonald explain the origin of these similarities between the Pastorals and the Acts of Paul?
  • What picture of “Paul” do the Pastoral epistles create and how does this relate to the picture of Paul in the Acts of Paul?  What importance do Greco-Roman values of marriage, the household, and societal structures play in the “Paul” of the Pastorals? How do the “widows” of the Pastoral epistles relate to the Acts of Paul and Thecla?
  • What social and cultural context does MacDonald see as the main context for understanding the “Paul” of the Acts of Paul?  What does he argue about the “victory” of the Pastoral epistles?

3.  Opponents in the Pastoral epistles: One or many?

  • Towner’s article on the opponents and 1 Corinthians: Realized eschatology as the main factor, in his view (contrast MacDonald’s principal focus on women and asceticism)
  • Judaizing opponents? → connection with those who “know”?
    • E.g. 1 Tim 1:3-11 [“genealogies”,”myths”, “law”, “vain discussion”]; 2 Tim 4:3-5 [“myths”]; Titus 1:9-16 [“Judean myths”]; Titus 3:8-11 [genealogies and “the law”)
  • “Knowledge” and “realized eschatology” among philosophically-minded opponents? → connection with asceticism?
    • E.g. 1 Tim 6:3-5 [“knows”]; 6:20-21 [“knowledge” and “godless chatter”]; 2 Tim 2:15-26 [Hymenaeus and Philetus, “godless chatter” and resurrection already passed]; cf. 1 Cor 15 and Acts of Paul
  • Ascetic opponents? → connection with women?
    • E.g. 1 Tim 4:1-5 [vs. chastity and abstinence from foods]
  • Active and teaching women? → connection with “knowledge”? → connection with asceticism?
    • 1 Tim 2:8-15 [“silence”]; 4:6-10 [“old wives’ tales”]; 5:3-16 [“widows”, “idlers”, “gossips”]; 2 Tim 3:4-9 [“weak women” who can never arrive at “knowledge”; Titus 2:1-5 [older women to teach domesticity and submissiveness)
  • Named opponents → realized eschatology
    • Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:19-20); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17); Alexander (2 Tim 4:14); Demas (2 Tim 4:10)
  • Relationship between these different factors and parallels we have seen elsewhere
  • The overall stance of the author towards societal structures (marriage, household, authorities) and Greco-Roman society


Local and Imperial Opponents of John’s Apocalypse (Revelation)

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship and audience
  • Date and context: Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (compare other Judean apocalypses)
  • What is an Apocalypse?
  • Apocalypticism (world-view), Millenial movements (social groups), and the genre of Apocalypse (writing)
  • The overall situation and response (discussion of deSilva’s article):
    • Traditional explanations: Domitian’s persecution
    • Revised view: Futuristic visions that build upon some current or past incidents in order to convince followers of Jesus to maintain distance from “pagan”
      society and imperialism
    • Response: Sectarian perspective of John’s Apocalypse
      • Call to endurance and worship of God and the Lamb (not the beast)
      • Distance from surrounding society: “Come out of her, my people…”(18:4-8)


    • Overview of the visions: See the outline

2. Local opponents in the letters (discussion of Harland article)

  • Followers of “Balaam,” “Jezebel”, and the Nicolaitans at Pergamon and Thyatira: see Numbers 22-25; 1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:1-2; 21:25-26)
    • Typological thinking and biblical interpretation in the ancient world
    • Interpreting idol-food and “fornication” (metaphor for participation in “foreign” cultural practices)
  • The “synagogue of Satan” at Smyrna and Philadelphia – rivalries over who are the true “Judeans” (Jews)

3.  Imperial opponents and attitudes towards the Roman empire: Beasts and the Whore

  • The military and religious critique of empire: Worship of the beast (ch. 13)
  • The economic critique of empire: Babylon the whore and the “fornicators” (chs. 17-18)
    • Links with the opponents in the letters (“fornication”)?
  • Comparison with other Christian attitudes towards Roman imperial society (see 1 Peter 2:11-17)
  • Diversity in group-society issues among early Christians: Defining community boundaries

The Marcionites and their Critics (esp. Tertullian)

1. Reconstructing Marcionite Christianity

  • The nature of our sources: Problems in reconstructing Marcionite belief and practice
    • Patristic authors and other materials:
      • Justin (ca. 155 CE), Irenaeus (ca. 190s CE), Hippolytus (early 200s CE)
      • Tertullian (ca. 207-208 CE) as the principal source (will return to his attack and strategies further on)
      • Anti-Marcionite elements in Gospel manuscripts and in other places
    • Attacks from other sides: The Pseudo-Clementines on “Simon Magus” (Judean perspectives on Marcion)
  • Marcion’s background and history:
    • Problems in getting at the truth: The “barbaric” Marcion according to Tertullian
    • Survey of what we think we know of his life
      • Born around 100 CE, perhaps son of a church leader there
      • Shipper from Pontus (Sinope)
      • Activity in Rome around 139-140s CE: Donation, calling of a council, excommunication
    • The demography of his movement: Marcionite Christianity on the map
  • Marcion’s worldview (read various passages from Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus)
    • The legalistic god of this world (creator in the Old Testament) and the loving unknown god (Father) that sent Jesus to save humans from the god of this world
      • Contrasting character of these two gods: Marcion’s read of the Old Testament
      • Use of the tree and fruit metaphor (Lk 6:43-44; see Tertullian 1.2)
      • Distinctions from some Nag Hammadi (gnostic) authors: Creator god not evil (just legalistic and just in his legalism); no sophisticated middle platonic notions of emanations; death of Jesus for sin is central; literal interpretation of Judean scriptures
    • Law (judgement) and Gospel (love)
    • Views on Jesus
      • Jesus not the Judean messiah of the creator god
      • Paying the penalty for sin owed to the creator god (alternate ranson theory)
      • Jesus as only apparently human – Docetism


  • Marcion’s writings and canon
    • The Anti-theses (contrasts): Showing the contrasting characters of the Creator god and the God who sent Jesus
    • Authoritative collection of writings:
      • No Hebrew Bible / Old Testament
      • Centrality of Paul – other disciples misunderstood Jesus and continued to worship the creator god
      • Paul’s letters (10, except Pastorals) and Luke – Excising the bad parts
      • Marcion’s influence and the move towards a canon of scripture
  • Marcionite practices
    • Marriage and asceticism (Tertullian, 1.29)

2. Marcion’s opponents: Basis and nature of the attack in Tertullian’s Against Marcion

  • Tertullian’s Against Marcion
    • Genre and judicial rhetoric: Marcion on trial
    • Structure:
      • Book 1: Debunking Marcion’s Stranger god – non-existent
      • Book 2: Debunking Marcion’s characterization of the Creator God of the Old Testament (Creator God is good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, not sinful, angry, hostile, proud, capricious, petty, weak)
      • Book 3: Debunking Marcion’s view that Jesus came from the unknown god rather than the Creator God (one Christ, not two)
      • Books 4-5: Detailed critique of specific elements in Marcion’s Antitheses


  • Tertullian’s critical strategies, arguments, and techniques in the attack
    • Logic and “common sense” (e.g. 1.3, 1.26)
    • Analogies or examples (e.g. 2.16 on the surgeon’s equipment)
    • Negative view of “philosophy” (e.g. 1.13)
    • New / unknown = inferior; old / known = superior (e.g. 1.8, 1.10, 3.1 on heresy late)
    • Interpretation of authoritative writings:
      • Scripture interpretation (Old Testament) (e.g. book 2, 3.5 ff.)
      • Gospels, Paul’s writings, etc (e.g. 1.20 on Galatians 1-2, 3.8 on the docetism of the opponents of John the elder)
    • Name-calling and guilt by association (e.g. 1.5, 1.9)
    • Apostolic authority and the “rule of faith” (3.1)


  • Tertullian as evidence for Marcionite views and practices

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