Discussion Notes for Founders of Christianity (version A)



Paul and Pauline Groups (from ca. 40 CE)

Early Christian portraits of Jesus (c. 66-100 CE)

Developments and themes in the late first century

Online Maps

Interactive Ancient Mediterranean Project (IAM) maps


Christian Origins and the Academic Study of Religion

1. Why study Christian origins and early Christian writings?

  • Life in the ancient world
  • From insignificant Judean sect to Roman imperial religion to world religion
  • Significance for Western history and civilization

2. What is the academic study of religion, or Religious Studies?

  • Background of the discipline
  • Characteristics of the academic study of religion
  • How do we approach the study of the early Jesus movements within this discipline?

3. Ongoing themes and arguments

  • Literature in context: Genres or types of writings (e.g. Letters, Biographies, Apocalypses)
  • What was it like to be a Christian in the first century or so?
  • Contribution of certain authors, leaders or founders
  • Developments and changes over time (e.g. leadership and women)
  • Diversity in Christian belief and practice
  • Judean-Christian relations
  •  Jesus-followers and Greco-Roman culture

Christian sources: Origins, transmission and collection


1. Writing in the ancient world

  • Contrasting the modern and ancient situations (oral culture)
  • Materials: papyrus (pl. papyri); parchment
  • Books: Scroll, codex, parchment versions of Christian writings
  • Scribes and scribal techniques
    • Copying documents: Private (pre-312 CE); scriptoria (post-313 CE); monasteries (Middle Ages)
    • Physical conditions of scribal work

2. Transmission and corruption of early Christian texts

  • Manuscripts of New Testament writings
    • Variations or small changes in the manuscripts
      • Accidental errors: Confusion of letters; Transposing letters (e.g. John 5:39); Misunderstanding abbreviations (1 Tim 3:16); Skipping lines (“I do not pray
        that you keep them from the evil one”, John 17:15); Sound-alikes (Rev 4:3); Marginal notes and the sleepy scribe (2 Cor 8:4)
      • Deliberate changes: Stylistic improvements;
        Harmonization; Correction of biblical citations (e.g. Matt 27:9); Correction of theological “problems” (Matt 24:36)

3. From manuscripts to the “original” Greek to our English translations

  • What does the text critic do?
    • Sorting out all the variant readings of manuscripts and deciding which is the original
    • Key principals of text critics:
      • The reading is most likely to be the original one which can explain all of the other readings, but cannot itself be explained by the others (using knowledge of common scribal errors)
      • Prefer the more problematic reading
      • Early manuscripts usually (though not always) better than later ones
    • The Greek New Testament as reconstructed
  • Translations in English and other languages: Issues of interpretation
  • The overall process

3. The formation of the New Testament canon

  • Judean scriptures (LXX) as the written authority for early Jesus-followers
  • Oral transmission to writing
  • Gradual collection and use by churches
  • Development of canon as response to diversity: Gnostics, Montanists and Marcion
    • The 27 books of the New Testament and other early Christian literature: Genres

Christian Groups in their Contexts: Judean and Greco-Roman Worlds



1. The Greco-Roman world

  • Historical developments
    • Alexander the Greatand the impact of Hellenization (from 331 BCE)
    • Roman Rule and the impact of the pax Romana from Augustus on
  • Greco-Roman societies and cultures
    • Social life and the structures of society
    • Honouring the gods (“religious” life)
      • Embedded within everyday life in antiquity
      • Honouring the gods – Intolerance of failure to do so
      • Various forms of cult: Official and unofficial
    • Philosophical life: Stoics, Platonists, Epicureans, Cynics

2. Second-Temple Judean culture

  • Judean culture and Hellenistic culture: Influence and opposition
  • Characteristics of Second-Temple Judean culture (“Judaism”)
    • Misrepresentations within scholarship
    • Common characteristics – Four common denominators:  1) Monotheism, 2) Election/land, 3) Covenant/Law, 4) Temple-cult


  • Diversity of Judean culture(s):
    • Parties and sects: Saduccees, Pharisees, Essenes (e.g. Josephus, War 2.119, Ant. 18.11-25 on the Judean “philosophies”)
    • Messianic movements (e.g. Ant. 17.269-278 on popular movements and “disorders”;
      Ant. 20.97
      on Theudas the prophet / “magician”)
  • The Jesus-movement’s origins within Judean culture
  • Diaspora Judean groups throughout the empire: Cohabitation and conflict

3.  Jesus Groups in their contexts

  • Devotion to Jesus within the context of Judean culture
  • Where did Jesus groups fit (or not fit) within the Greco-Roman

    • Models from the ancient context: Philosophical school, synagogue, association
  • Jesus-followers through Greco-Roman eyes:
    • Pliny the Younger: A Roman elite perspective (Pliny, Epistles 10.96-97)
    • Popular perceptions:
      • Familiarity: Just another association
      • Peculiarity: Jesus-followers (and Judeans) as “atheists”


Introduction to Paul and his letters



1.  Who is Paul?:

  • A Hellenistic Judean in the diaspora (remember the slides on Paul’s world)
  • Sources and their problems: Priority of Paul’s own information (over the Acts of the Apostles)
  • The “autobiographical” passages
    • Discussion of Philippians 3:1-16; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12:13; Galatians 1-2

2.  Paul’s relations and tensions with the Jesus movement at Jerusalem

  • Paul’s “announcement” (gospel): Focus on the notion of the resurrection and vindication of Christ (very little focus on the earthly life of Jesus and his sayings); Notion of being “one in Christ”; Inclusion of Gentiles (without requiring circumcision and food laws); Paul’s apostleship / “announcement” and Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem meeting according to Paul and the author of Acts (Galatians 1-2; Acts 15; discussion)

3.  Approaches to the study of Paul, his letters, and his communities

  • Epistolary approaches: Paul’s letters as Hellenistic letters
    • Some ancient Greek letters: Family Letters of Paniskos
    • Structural elements in Paul’s letters:  Opening (greetings and thanksgiving); Closing (greetings and benediction); Body: Recurring types of material (autobiographical statements, travel plans, paraenesis); Traditional material (Christian hymns, sayings, vice/virtue lists)
  • Rhetorical approaches: Paul, the rhetorician
    • The three types of rhetoric corresponding to context and purpose:
      • 1) Judicial:  type of speech used in the law courts to convince judges concerning past events: accusation or defence
      • 2) Deliberative:  type of speech used in the civic context (politics) to persuade people to take a certain future course of action: persuasion or dissuasion
      • 3) Demonstrative (epideictic):  type of speech used in ceremonial contexts (e.g. festival gatherings) to provide pleasure for audiences in the present: praise
        or blame
  • Historical and social-historical approaches: Paul and his communities in their contexts
    • The situations in the assemblies and Paul’s responses to those situations


Paul and Jesus-followers at Thessalonica


1. Thessalonica, the capital of the province of Macedonia

2. The history of Paul’s relations with the Thessalonian Jesus-followers

  • Before Paul wrote: Acts and the evidence in Paul’s letter

3. The situation of Jesus-followers at Thessalonica

  • Difficulties in reconstructing the historical situation behind Paul’s letters
  • The composition of the Christian groups:
    • Ethnic background and social-economic status
    • Paul’s identification: Paul’s occupation as a handworker and its significance
  • Issues of concern among Jesus-followers:
    • Afflictions: Social harassment
    • Death of fellow members: Apocalyptic outlook

4. Paul’s response to the situation

  • The Rhetoric of the letters
  • Comforting converts faced with affliction or social dislocation:
    • The tone of 1 Thess: “…like a nurse…”; familial language
    • Paul as example
  • Relations with outsiders
  • The paraenetic section (4:1-12): Paul’s instructions and exhortations
  • Paul’s apocalyptic world-view and Christ’s “coming” (parousia):
    • “…concerning those who are asleep…”
    • Apocalypticism: Discussion of Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Community Rule = 1QS III.15-IV.26)

5. Implications

  • The Hellenistic and Judean sides of Paul
  • Paul, the Thessalonian Jesus-followers and their situation: Typical?

Paul and Jesus-followers at Corinth: 1 Corinthians

1. Corinth, a Roman colony with a Greek past

2. The history of Paul’s relations with the Corinthians

  • Initial visit (cf. Acts 18:1-17) and Paul’s message (1 Cor 15:1-8), Paul’s previous letter (see 1 Cor 5:9 = 2 Cor 6:14-7:1?), Chloe’s report and the letter from some of the Corinthian Jesus-followers, Paul’s second letter (1 Corinthians)
  • After 1 Corinthians: Paul’s third letter (2 Cor 10-13: “super-apostles” and tensions over Paul and financial support/handwork) and fourth letter (2 Cor 1-9: easing of tensions)

3. Situation of Jesus-followers at Corinth

  • The ethnic and social-economic composition of the community
  • Internal divisions and inequalities:  Social, economic, ideological, and other “problems” (in Paul’s eyes)
    • “I belong to Paul” – “I belong to Apollos” (chs. 1-4)
    • Ethical problems (ch. 5): Thou shalt not sleep with thy step-mother
  • The socially “superior” Jesus-followers
    • Court cases (ch. 6)
    • The drunk and the hungry (rich and poor) (11:17-34)
  • The religiously “superior” (spiritual enthusiasts) and their slogans (chs. 7-15)
    • Asceticism: “…it is good not to touch a woman…”
    • Knowledge and wisdom: “…all of us possess knowledge…an idol has no real existence” (the weak and the strong) (chs. 8, 10)
      • Background:  “Idolatry”, sacrificial food and communal meals in Corinthian society (the social context of the religious position); Paul, the Judean, and idolatry
    • Worship and spiritual gifts
    • “…some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead…”

4. Paul’s response: Concord and equality

  • Paul’s deliberative rhetoric and the language of civic discourse
  • The body metaphor and proper order in worship
  • Paul’s defence of his mission: the Corinthians vs. Paul? (chap. 9)

5. Implications

Paul and Jesus-followers at Corinth (2 Corinthians) and Philippi: Benefaction

1. Patronage, benefaction and material (or financial) support among teachers in the Greco-Roman World

  • How should a teacher support his activities?  Options: 1) Live off wealth from land (if you own it); 2) Fees for teaching; 3) Financial support from a patron or benefactor; 4) Handwork; 5) Begging
  • Debates and opinions among philosophers (handout link):  Cicero on gentlemanly and vulgar occupations; Some Epicurean, Cynic, and other opinions; Musonius Rufus (Cynic-Stoic) on the value of farming (Ideals of self-sufficiency among some Stoics and Cynics)
  • Paul’s practice so far: The case of Thessalonica

2. Paul’s rejection of benefaction, the Super-apostles, and the enmity of some Corinthians (2 Cor 10-13)

a) Situation:

  • What has Paul done?:  Poor relations since 1 Corinthians?  The “painful visit” (2:1) and “tearful” letter (2:4; 7:8-9); Handwork and refusal of patronage (“Did I commit a sin…” [11:7]?; compare 1 Cor 9)
  • What is the Corinthians’ position?  1)  Paul’s lack of rhetorical eloquence in person (2 Cor 10:1, 9-10; 11:6); 2)  Paul’s practice regarding support as a source of enmity (2 Cor 11:7-15; 12:13-16)
  • The Super-apostles: Traveling teachers and prophets in the early Jesus movement (Luke 10:7-16; Didache 11-13; 1 Cor 9:13-14 on The “Lord’s command”)

b) Response:

  • Paul’s defense of his gospel and apostleship: Not inferior to the super-apostles and “not being a burden”

3.  Paul’s friendship with the Philippians and their “gift”

a) Situation

  • Background: Roman colony of Philippi; Paul’s initial visit
  • The Philippians’ gifts / benefactions / patronage

b) Response

  • Paul’s tone: Letter of friendship and epideictic rhetoric
  • A series of examples (living a life “worthy of the gospel” with “one mind”): Christ (the hymn), Timothy, Epaphroditos, the dogs and evil-workers, Paul, Euodia and Syntyche


Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus: Ancient Slavery



1. The situation

  • Addressees: Christian group in Colossae?
  • Onesimus the runaway slave

2. The response

  • Paul’s letter of recommendation
  • The rhetoric of the letter
    • Request or social pressure: “Paul…to Philemon…and the church in your house”
  • Discussion:  Paul and slavery (Philemon and 1 Cor 7)

3. Implications

  • Paul and the institutions of Greco-Roman society: a person of his time?


Paul and Jesus-followers in Galatia

1. The province of Galatia in Asia Minor: Celts, Greeks and Romans

2. A history of Paul’s activity pertaining to his letter to the Galatians

  • Northern (ethnic) Galatia or Southern (Phrygian) Galatia?
  • Paul’s journeys in Southern Galatia according to Acts (13:13-14:20; 16:1-6; Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe)
  • The Jerusalem meeting (Gal. 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-35), Judean Jesus-followers and Paul’s collection (see Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:23-32)

3. The situation in the churches

  • Ethnic identity of Jesus-followers (cf. 4:8)
  • The “circumcision party” (opponents/Judaizers) with a “different gospel”
  • The primary issue is circumcision as an entrance requirement into the community of God and sign of favoured status (not salvation after death through works)
    • Avoiding a 16th century interpretation of the situation: A reminder concerning the nature of ancient Judean culture
    • Rationale of the opponents: Circumcision, proselytes and God-fearers in Judean culture

4. Paul’s response

  • Paul’s tone: “O foolish Galatians!”
  • Paul’s methods: Hellenistic rhetoric; Judean biblical interpretation
  • Paul, the Law and the Gentiles: Circumcision is not an entrance requirement
    • Paul’s defence of his circumcision-free gospel
    • The issue of the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God (the mission to the Gentiles) as the guiding principle in Paul’s view
  • God’s primary covenant-promise to Abraham (Gen 15):  The blessing of Abraham – faith (not circumcision = “works of law”) as the true sign of being sons of Abraham
    and members of God’s community
  • The secondary covenant, circumcision (Gen 17) and the Law at Mount Sinai: “the law was our custodian until Christ came”
    • Allegorical interpretation of scripture: Sarah and Hagar

5. Implications

  • Paul and Judean culture/Torah: antithetical?
  • Paul, the Gentiles and Israel (comparison with Romans 9-11)


Paul and Jesus-followers at Rome



1. The city of Rome, capital of the empire

2. The situation at Rome that led Paul to write his letter

  • Traditional views: Romans as a summary of Paul’s theology
  • New view: Romans as a response to a concrete situation

1) Situation among Judeans at Rome

  • Synagogues (about 10-15 attested, some based on district, others on geographical links)
  • Origins of earliest groups of Jesus-followers within Judean gatherings (e.g. Prisca and Aquila)
  • Scholarly theories, including the issue of Roman authorities’ actions or expulsions (see Suetonius and Acts 18:2; Dio Cassius on restriction of meetings; collegia):
    • Wolfgang Wiefel’s thesis: Return of expelled Judeans to predominantly Greek groups of Jesus-followers after expulsion relating to conflicts over “Christ” (of 49
      CE, or 47-50 CE)
    • Philip Esler’s proposal: Whether expulsion or not, still ethnic conflict; Judean synagogues and Jesus-follower house-churches

2) Situation within groups of Jesus-followers

  • Identity of Paul’s addressees  and the house churches at Rome (Romans 16)
    • 26 identified individuals: 7 probably Judeans, Latin names, Greek names
    • Primary addressees as Greeks
  • Divisions and tensions along ethnic lines (Greeks vs. Judeans) as the primary issue
    • Greeks feeling superior to Judeans: Case of the food laws in chapters 14-15 (contrast situation at Galatia)

3. Paul’s response

  • Paul’s purposes in writing (Going west, collection for Jerusalem, address ethnic conflict)
  • Rhetoric and the diatribe (imaginary opponents and hypothetical objections)
  • Paul, the Law and second-Temple Judean culture (again!?)
  • Paul’s response to the divisions and claims of superiority: To the Judean first and also to the Greek” – “God shows no partiality”

1) Gentiles (Greeks) and Judeans equally under the power of sin and in need of reconciliation by faith (ch. 1-8)

  • Gentiles (Greeks) wicked and guilty: Idolatry and sexual immorality (1-2:16)
  • Judeans also under the power of sin (2:17-3:20)
    •  “What is the value of circumcision?  Much in every way.” (3:1)
    •  “Are we Judeans any better off?  No, not at all.” (3:9)
    • “For there is no distinction”: Made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, not by law (3:21-31)
    • Abraham as the “father of us all”, both Judeans and Gentiles (4)
    • Christ as the second Adam in Paul’s typological thinking (5)
    • Dead to sin (6): Baptism in Paul’s view and the context of this ritual (also see 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28)
  • Sin as a power (7)
  • Flesh and spirit: Children of God (8)

2) If Judeans and Gentiles are on equal footing, what is the place of Israel within God’s salvation history (ch. 9-11)

  •   The remnant and Israel’s stumble (9)
  •   “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” (11)
  •   Israel stumbles but does not fall: “all Israel will be saved”
    •   Israel’s stumble is the Gentiles’ gain
      •   The olive tree analogy: “do not become proud” (11:20)
      •   Mercy: “all Israel will be saved” (11:26)

3) Parenesis and moral exhortation (12-13)

  • “I bid everyone . . . not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (12:3)
  • “Be subject to the governing authorities” (13:1): Paul’s civic advice in context
  • Fulfill the law (13:8-10)

4) The “strong” and the “weak”: Gentiles and Judeans respecting one another (ch. 14-15)

4. Implications: Paul and his communities in retrospect

Legacies of Paul, part 1: Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles



1. The legacy of Paul and the Pauline tradition

  • Collection and use of Paul’s letters
  • Importance and use of the figure of Paul in subsequent debates: The “battle” for Paul
  • So many Pauls, so little time
    • The Pauline “school” and the deutero-Pauline writings
    • Pseudonymity in ancient literature
      • Factors in assessing pseudonymity:
        • 1. Language and style; 2. Ideology / theology; 3) Situations, developments, anachronisms (e.g. church order, household codes, etc.)
        • Possible or likely New Testament examples: 2 Thessalonians; Colossians; Ephesians; Pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus)
  • Key developments after Paul:
    • 1. Development of ideas (e.g. Christology) and focus on “sound doctrine”
    • 2. Importance of household structures
    • 3. Institutionalization and leadership structures (church order)

2. Cities of western Asia Minor

  • The civic context
  • Judean groups in the cities
  • Varieties of Jesus devotion in Asia Minor (e.g. Revelation, John’s epistles, 1 Peter, Ignatius’ epistles, Martyrdom of Polycarp)

3. Colossians and Ephesians

  • Colossians
    • Situation: the “philosophy” and practices of the opponents (2:8-23)
      • Early form of gnosticism?
      • Syncretistic rituals and beliefs regarding benevolent and malevolent beings
    • Response: Christ has disarmed the principalities and powers
      • The Christ-hymn of 1:15-20
  • Ephesians
    • Discussion: Post-Pauline Christian groups and the structures of the household (Household codes: Col. 3:18-4:1; Eph. 5:22-6:9; cf. 1 Peter)

  4. Pastoral epistles

  • Discussion:  Leadership structures – The Pastoral epistles as a window into developments in the late first century
  • Situation: Opponents / false teachers –  Myths, knowledge, asceticism and women
  • Response: Sound doctrine, household management and proper church order

5. Implications

Legacies of Paul, part 2: The Acts of Paul and Thecla



1. Legacies of Paul: The “battle” for Paul – “The Acts of Paul and Thecla” vs. the Pastoral epistles

2. The Acts of Paul: Introductory matters

  • Genre: Apocryphal Acts and the ancient novel
  • Date: (c. 160-200 CE), authorship, and use
  • Content of the Acts of Paul:  Paul and Thecla; Lion at Ephesus; Paul’s martyrdom
  • The Thecla episodes:
    • Earlier oral traditions underlying the Acts of Paul and Thecla: The story tellers behind the stories

3.  Women, leadership, and group-society relations: Thecla and the Pastorals

  • Alternate portraits of Paul and realities of women’s lives in the Christian communities
  • Women’s leadership and the relationship between Christian groups and society
  • Greco-Roman perceptions and varying responses (Aelius Aristides and Celsus on women and Jesus groups)
  •  Discussion of key themes in the Thecla episodes:

(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) Women’s roles and leadership

  • Thecla, the leader and teacher: “Go and preach!”
  • Questions of gender: The “manly” Thecla?
  • 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) Church-society relations and conflicts

  • 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)

4. Conclusions:  Would the real Paul please stand up?

  • Comparing Pauls:   Paul’s letters; Pastoral epistles; Canonical Acts; Apocryphal Acts
  • Discussion: Women in groups of Jesus-followers

Introduction to the Gospels


1.  What are the gospels?

  • What kind of writing (genre) are the gospels (Richard Burridge’s synthesis):  Ancient historical-biographies: “Lives” (bioi) of Jesus; focus on stereotyped character and identity; Who is Jesus? as a central question
  • Writings with axes to grind: The historical Jesus vs. the Christ of faith
  • Surviving gospels: Canonical (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and non-canonical (e.g. Gospel of Thomas)
  • Dates, authorship and other introductory issues

2.  How did the gospels come about in the form we have them?

  • The process: Stages in the transmission of traditions used in the gospels
  • The methods of form criticism (esp. since 1919 – R. Bultmann): Identifying types of material originally passed on in oral form and relating this to settings in the life of the early churches

3.  What relationships are there among the gospels?

  • Similarities and differences in content and arrangement of the material in the gospels
  • The methods of source criticism (since late 1700s)
  • The “Synoptic problem”: Hypotheses of literary relationship
    • 1) Griesbach (Two-gospel) hypothesis (Mt first; Lk used Mt; Mk used both Lk and Mt)
    • 2) Markan priority without Q (Mk first; Mt second; Lk used both Mk and Mt)
    • 3) Two-source hypothesis, also known as four-source hypothesis (Mk first; Mt and Lk used Mk and another [hypothetical] sayings-source, called Q)

4.  Gospels as stories and portraits of Jesus

  • Gospels as more or less coherent stories with specific intentions and purposes
  • Redaction criticism (esp. since 1950s): Identifying the purposes and tendencies of specific gospel writers (how did an author revise and re-shape available material)
  • Literary and narrative approaches to the gospels (plots, characters and narrative development — esp. since the 1980s)

5.  Other historical approaches

  • Doing social history: Gospels as windows into community life?
  • Historical Jesus research: Problems in finding the Judean peasant

The Gospel of Mark: Jesus as Suffering Son

1.  Introductory matters: Authorship, date, audience

  • Traditional explanation of the origin of Mark’s gospel: Papias
  • Date (c. 65-80 CE): Internal evidence: Nature of the material; references to the Temple.  External evidence: Literary relation with Mt and Lk
  • Gentile identity of author and audience from internal evidence:  Lack of familiarity with Judean/Judean geography and culture

2.  Mark’s Story of Jesus: The suffering son of Man

  • Distinctive features or central themes of Mark’s gospel:
    • Jesus’ identity (as the son of God and Christ/Messiah)
    • Jesus’ authority; Secrecy (the “messianic secret”)
    • Jesus’ message about the impending rule (“kingdom”) of God
    • Jesus at odds with others – ongoing conflicts between Jesus and other characters in the narrative
  • Settings, characters, and plot:
    • Identity of Jesus; centrality of his death (tragedy and triumph)
    • Unfolding of the plot –  Ongoing conflicts between Jesus and other characters:  1) Non-human forces; 2) Authorities; 3) Disciples/students

–   Outline of the story (see handout)

3.  Locating Mark’s gospel

  • Jesus, the suffering Son of man: Mark’s Christology and the humanity of Jesus
  • Discipleship: Pick up your cross and follow
  • Gentiles and Jesus: Where does Mark fit

The Gospel of Matthew:  Jesus as Davidic Messiah and New Moses


1.  Introductory matters: Authorship, date, audience

  • Traditional attribution: Matthew the tax-collector
  • Internal and external evidence:  Judean Christian author and audience, probably in Syria
    (Antioch), c. 80-90 CE
  • Matthew’s sources: Mk, Q, other oral and written
    material (M)
  • Distinctive features of Matthew’s gospel:
    • Five great discourses (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25)
    • Organizational patterns and doubling motifs
    • Prominence of Peter
    • Jesus explicitly talks about “the assembly/church” as an institution
    • Strong Judean orientation

2.  Matthew’s Story of Jesus: Davidic Messiah and new Moses

  • Central themes and flow of the narrative
  • Key themes in the plot: Presence of God (Jesus is “God with us”); Jesus’ Identity; Jesus’ conflict with the Judean authorities; Rejection of Jesus

        Outline (see handout for more detail)

  • Part I: Presentation of Jesus (1-4:16)
  • Part II
    • a): Teaching and healing activity of Jesus (4:17-11:1)
    • b): Repudiation of Jesus (11:2-16:20)
  • Part III: Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and his passion
    and resurrection (16:21-28:20)

3.  Locating Matthew’s gospel and community

  • Judean author and community
    • Judean forms of following Jesus: Peter and the Judean leaders at Jerusalem
  • The Matthean community in conflict with other Judean groups
    • Emergence of  Rabbinic Judaism in the late first century
    • Interpretation of the law and the prophets (claiming Jesus’ identity as the Judean Messiah; differing interpretations of the Judean law)
  • Portrait of Jesus: Jesus as the Son of God, deserving of “worship” / bowing the knee (higher Christology than Mark, but lower than John’s gospel)

Luke-Acts volume 1: The Gospel of Luke – Jesus as Saviour and Prophet like Elijah

1. Introductory matters: Author, audience, date, genre (historiography)

  • Luke as a 2-volume work: Story of Jesus and the church
  • Traditional authorship: Luke the physician and companion of Paul (Col 4:14)
    • “We” passages (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16)
    • Internal evidence: Well-educated Gentile or Hellenistic Judean
      • Richest vocabulary in the New Testament
      • Communicating across cultural lines to the diverse world of the Roman empire
  • Date (80-90 CE)
  • Luke-Acts as history: Generic and other similarities with Josephus (discussion in tutorial):1) Preface; 2) Speeches; 3) Exciting material; 4) Apologetic history
  • Sources: Material unique to Lk (L) accounts for half of the gospel
  • Distinctive features and main themes of Luke’s gospel:
  • 1) Historical context: Jesus and the church within world history
  • 2) Concern with the outcasts and oppressed of society
  • 3) Centrality of the Holy Spirit
  • 4) Centrality of Jerusalem
  • 5) Continuity of devotion to Jesus with Judean culture (fulfilment)
  • 6) Success of Jesus’ mission through his disciples and the church

2. Luke’s story of Jesus: Jesus the prophet and “saviour” in cross-cultural terms (Judean and Greco-Roman)

  • Judean: Prophet; Messiah; Son of Man; suffering servant of Isaiah (Acts 8:30-35); Elijah (Malachi 4:5); Moses (Deut 18:15; see Acts 3:22; 7:37)
  • Greco-Roman: Saviour and benefactor; travelling philosopher; god-man

Outline of the narrative ( with a focus on the identity of Jesus as prophet and saviour)

1. Jesus’ birth and his relation to John the Baptist (1:1-4:13)

  • Saviour to the poor and “lowly” (1:51-52; 2:8-14)
  • Son of God – the god-man

2. Teaching and healing activity in Galilee (4:14-9:50; includes the “little interpolation”, 6:20-8:3)

  • Anointed prophet to the socially marginalized – the poor, captives, blind, and oppressed (4:16-21; cf. 7:22; Isaiah 61:1-2)
  • Prophet like Elijah and Elisha (4:25-27; see Malachi 4:5)
  • Healings that illustrate this identity as prophet like Elijah
  • Friend of tax-collectors and sinners (socially marginalized)
  • Inaugural sermon: Blessed are the poor and hungry, woe to the rich and full (6:17-26)
  • Following in Elijah‘s footsteps: Healing of the widow’s son (// 1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • “Who are you?”: Prophet of Isaiah 61 and the marginalized again (blind, lame, lepers, deaf, dead are raised, poor)
  • “If this man were a prophet” he would not have anything to do with a sinner-woman (7:39)
  • Elijah or an “ancient prophet” (9:7-8, 16-20) – Prophet and Messiah (anointed)
  • Jesus’ Exodus (“departure”) (prophet like Moses) (9:31)

3. Journey (departure / Exodus) towards Jerusalem (9:51-19:44; “big interpolation”)

  • “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51)
  • Organization of the big interpolation not clear: disciples mission, teachings, parables, healings
  • Women: Mary and Martha (10:38-42)
  • Parable of a rich man (12:13-21)
  • Lament over Jerusalem: “it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem” (13:33)
  • Parable of great dinner redaction: poor, crippled, blind, lame (cf. Isaiah 61)
  • Parable of rich man and poor man (16:19-31)
  • Parable of the tax-collector (18:9-14)
  • Parable of the rich ruler (18:18-25)

4. Teaching and healing activity in Jerusalem (19:45-21:38)

  • Rich people and a poor widow (21:1-4)

5. Passion and resurrection (22:1-24:53)

  • Unique trial before Herod Antipas (23:6-12)
  • Jesus of Nazareth, “who was a prophet” (24:19, 27)
  • Everything must be fulfilled (24:44)
  • Ascension like Elijah (24:50-53)

3. Locating Luke-Acts

  • Luke-Acts and the other canonical gospels: Judean and Greco-Roman cultural terms
  • Luke-Acts in relation to Pauline groups:
    • Pauline connections and themes…yet does not seem to know Paul’s letters!

Luke-Acts volume 2: Acts and the Story of the Church

1. Introductory matters

  • Acts as history

2. Acts’ story of the church:

  • Success of a legitimate movement from Jerusalem to “the end of the earth”
  • Acts’ connections with volume 1
  • Main themes and purposes of Acts (in addition to the themes of volume 1):
    • 1) The Holy Spirit and the success of the church
    • 2) Legitimization/apologetic purposes:
      • a) “Not in a corner” — the Jesus movement as politically innocuous
      • b) Judean roots of following Jesus and, therefore, antiquity/legitimacy
    • 3) The unity of the early church: The Judean-Gentile issue


  • Part 1: The origins and success of the church in Jerusalem under Peter (chs. 1-8)
  • Part 2: The dissemination and success from Jerusalem to the world under Paul (chs. 9-20)
  • Part 3: Paul’s arrest and trials: “proclaiming the kingdom of God” in Rome (chs. 21-28)

The Gospel of John: Jesus as Son and Revelation (Self-Expression) of the Father

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship, audience, date: “Beloved disciple” tradition; Johannine school/community
  • Date (c. 90-100 CE): Expelled from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2)
  • Sources and composition:  Signs source; stages of editing
  • Distinctive features:
  • Widespread use of symbolism and dualism
  • Content and style of Jesus’ teaching: Philosophical discourses about himself (no parables about the kingdom!)
  • Emphasis on the role of the Spirit/Paraclete
  • Jesus’ miracles as “signs” (no exorcisms!)
  • Emphasis on love of one another as the key commandment of Jesus
  • Salvation and life in the present (lack of references to future return of Christ)

2.     John’s story of Jesus: Jesus the Son and self-expression (Word, Truth) of the Father

  • Portrayal of Jesus: Pre-existent Word; One with the Father (Father-Son motif)
  • Jesus as fulfilment of the Judean festivals; Crucifixion = exaltation

Outline (see handout)

3.  Locating John’s gospel

  • Portrayal of Jesus: High Christology
  • Judean and Hellenistic features
  • Johannine forms of following Jesus (community behind 1-3 John)
  • Gnostic use of John

Modern Portraits: The Historical Jesus

1.  Methods and Problems in the study of the peasant Jesus

  • Nature of our sources: Partial; Christ of faith; Disinterest in history in the modern sense; Few external sources
  • Theological interests of modern scholars: A Jesus in one’s own image?
    • E.g. A counter-cultural Jesus with egalitarian principals and a social revolution (a liberation theology Jesus?, a hippy Jesus?)
  • Methods:
    • Multiple attestation; Dissimilarity; Contextual reliability; Embarrassment
    • Sayings or deeds approach?
    • Problems: Scholars’ differences in methods; Identifying layers
    • Key contextual factor: How Judean or Hellenistic was Galilee and Jesus?

2.  Jesus in Context: Comparing Jesus with contemporary leaders, prophets, holy men, and “kings”

  • Discussion of Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, especially passages from Josephus

3.  Some Modern Portraits of Jesus

A) Jesus as a counter-cultural, egalitarian, non-apocalyptic peasant – John Dominic Crossan

  • Crossan’s method and approach:
    • Social sciences and the study of the ancient Mediterranean as the framework
    • Dating the strata of our evidence for Jesus and the place of the Gospel of Thomas and other extra-canonical writings
    • Organizing the sayings material into complexes (based on theme)
    • Multiple attestation as the key criterion of authenticity
    • Issue of interpretation and scholarly choice as deciding factors at many levels -value of transparency in method
  • Crossan’s portrait:
    • Overview: Peasant with counter-cultural values (affinities with Horsley’s “social revolutionary” peasant)
    • Social-economic conditions of first century Palestine as key (draws heavily on work of Richard Horsley) – Bandits, prophets, and messiahs are important here
    • Discontinuity between the programs of John the Baptist (apocalyptic) and Jesus (non-apocalyptic — compare Marcus Borg)
    • The Sapiential (Wisdom) Kingdom or Rule
      • Proclaiming the “kingdom of nobodies” (e.g. G. Thomas 22; 54)
      • Kingdom here and now (e.g. G. Thomas 3; 113)
      • Performing the kingdom: Magic and meal
        • Open commensality: Implications regarding Jesus and Judean cultural ways including ritual laws
        • Itinerancy: Mission speech and Cynic-like activity (G. Thomas 14; Luke 10:4-11)
    • Why was Jesus executed?
      • The Gospel of Peter and the early “Cross gospel” – Biblical interpretation and the passion narrative
      • Symbolic destruction of the temple (compare Sanders), yet only insofar as this action symbolized his overall teaching and program of recreating an egalitarian peasant society (contrast Sanders)


    • Strengths/Weaknesses
      • Strengths: Sophisticated and explicit methodology; Placing Jesus firmly within a social-economic context — Jesus is explained in relation to concrete realities
      • Problems: Debatable aspects of the sketch of social-economic realities; Archeological evidence?; Galilee-specific context? (vs. Mediterranean generalities); Categorization, choice, and interpretation of evidence (selection of what is in the first strata, for instance); Itinerancy theory (including the Cynic hypothesis)

B) Jesus as a Judean apocalyptic prophet – E.P. Sanders (compare John P. Meier / Bart Ehrman)

  • Stress on placing Jesus within the context of Judaism (Judean culture) — Jesus as a Torah observant Jew
    • Jesus’ conflicts with contemporary Jews (e.g. Pharisees) are not the key to understanding his demise
  • The apocalyptic frame: Apocalyptic teacher (John the Baptist) – apocalyptic followers
  • Sanders on importance of deeds or basic “facts”
    • Starting point: Jesus and the temple incident – Symbolic destruction (Mk 11:15-19 and //s)
      • Sayings on, and charges regarding, the temple (Mk 13; Mt 26:60ff; Jn 2:18-22)
      • Reading the rest of our evidence in light of an end-time restoration of Israel
  • Jesus’ teachings on the imminently arriving Kingdom of God
    • Jesus and the renewal or restoration of kingdom of Israel under the twelve tribes (cf. Psalms of Solomon 17 — Mk 14:25; Mt 19:27-29) :
      • Background of the Babylonian exile and the return (in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible)
      • 1. Reassembling the twelve tribes; 2. Gentiles converted or subjugated; 3. Jerusalem’s temple restored; 4. Perfect worship by a righteous people
  • Why was Jesus executed? — Temple actions and sayings
  • Strengths/weaknesses
    • Problems: Lack of attention to the real-life social and economic contexts of Palestine (instead focussed on ideology); Less attention to the “present” aspects of the kingdom
    • Places Jesus solidly into the context of Judean culture; Accounts for the apocalyptic teacher and apocalyptic followers

Hebrews: Jesus as High-priest and Sacrificial Victim


1.  Introductory matters: Date, author, background

  • Date: c. 65-95 CE  (cf. 1 Clem 36)
  • Author: Hellenistic Judean
    • Judean and Hellenistic influences: Saturated in Judean scripture; Platonic ideas
  • Audience: Hellenistic Judeans that follow Jesus as Messiah
  • Background: Destruction of the temple in 70 CE

2.  Situation and Response (key in 13:7-18; cf. 10:19-25; cf. B. Lindars)

  • Situation: Segment of Judean Jesus-followers maintaining close connections with local Judean synagogue –  Danger of “falling away” (apostasy) and continuing in the practices of an “old” covenant (cf. 2:1-2; 3:12; 4:1; 6:4-6; 10:23)
    • Issue of atonement for sins and corresponding practices central
  • Response: “Hold fast” — Followers of Christ are to go to him “outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.” “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent [priests of the “old” order] have no right to eat.”

3.  Response elaborated: Jesus as “superior” high-priest and “once for all” sacrifice

  • Deliberative rhetoric: Dissuasion from a particular action (“falling away”)
  • Series of analogies and comparisons which show that Jesus Christ is the mediator of a “new” and “better” covenant as the ultimate high-priest and sacrificial victim:
    • “Superior” to angels (ch. 1); Pioneer of salvation (2)
    • “Superior” to Moses (3-4:13)
    • “Superior” to Levi as Melchizedek, self-sacrificing high-priest of the “new covenant” (4:14-5:10; 7-10:18)
      • Warning against apostasy and reminder of God’s promise (5:11-6)
      • Background:
        • Melchizedek and the priestly messiah in Judean literature (Gen.14:18-20; Ps. 110:4; Philo; Dead Sea Scrolls)
        • “New covenant” idea: Midrash of Jeremiah 31:31-37 (cf. DSS)
        • The high priest and sacrifice on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus16)
      • Melchizedek as “superior” to Levi (and Abraham) (7:1-20)
      • A “better covenant” with a “once for all sacrifice” (7:20-8:13)
      • Earthly tent (shadow / copy / outer) and true tent (original / ideal) (9:1-10:18)
        • Platonic ideas: Original form and copy / shadow; Dead Sea Scrolls notion of a
          forthcoming perfect temple and cult
        • Earthly cult and “better” heavenly cult: The great high priest “has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26)
          • Followers of Jesus as a new order of priests
    • Dangers of falling away (apostasy) and need for faith (10:19-12)
      • Warning against apostasy (10:19-39)
      • Exhortation to faith and discipline (rather than apostasy) (11-12)
    • Closing (and key hints as to the situation): “outside the camp” (13)

4.  Locating Hebrews

  • Another Judean or Hellenistic-Judean form
  • Complicated nature of relations between Jesus-followers and Judean roots
    • Discussion in tutorial: Development of notions of supercession (Epistle of Barnabas)

1 Peter: The Nature of Persecution and Relations with Outsiders

1.  Introductory matters

  • Context:
    • 1) Asia Minor as a hub of Jesus groups (cf. Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Pastoral Epistles, John’s Apocalypse, Johannine epistles, 1 Peter)
    • 2) Group-society relations: Jesus-followers and outsiders (“pagans”) and the issue of “persecution”
  • Authorship (pseudonymous) and date (late first century) of 1 Peter
  • Recipients:  Ethnic and social identity (“aliens and exiles” – literal or figurative?; see 1:14-16; 4:3)
  • Genre: Diaspora letter (cf. Jeremiah 29:4-23; 2 Baruch 78-87; James)
  • Traditional approaches: 1 Peter as instruction manual for initiates (catechesis)?
    • Baptismal material (e.g. 3:18-22)
    • Baptism as initiation ritual within the Jesus movements: Paul on dying and rising with Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-11); taking off and putting on clothing metaphor (Colossians 3:-9-12)
  • Outline of structure:
    • 1:1-2:10:  Hope through suffering: Spiritual household and holy priesthood (identity)
    • 2:11-3:7:  Household code: Getting along with outsiders (“Gentiles”)
    • 3:8-4:19:  Suffering for righteousness, like Christ
    • 5:1-14:    Church leadership and closing

2.  Situation and Response

  • Situation:
    • “Aliens” facing “suffering” and social harassment
      • Nature of the suffering: “Reviled” and “abused” (3:9, 13-17); “Abused”, “reproached”, and a “fiery ordeal” (4:4, 12-19; 5:9)
      • Roots of the “suffering” (1:14-18; 2:11; 4:3-4)
      • Discussion: The nature of the persecution faced by Jesus-followers in Asia Minor and elsewhere: Official or unofficial (Tacituson Nero, Pliny the Younger on Jesus-followers in Bithynia)
  • Response:
    • Comforting Jesus-followers and strengthening group identity: “holy priesthood” and “spiritual household” (1:1-2:10)
    • Alleviating tensions: Group-society relations (2:11-3:7)
      • Attitudes towards authorities and empire (2:11-17): “Honour the emperor” (contrast Revelation’s call to assail the “beast” = emperor
        and “whore” = Rome)
      • The household code (2:11-3:7) (discussion continued in tutorial)
        • Background: “Family values” in the Greco-Roman world (Aristotle
          and others)
        • Household codes in other Christian writings: Colossians, Ephesians; Pastorals
    • Diversity in early Christian attitudes and practices in relation to outsiders/society
      • Some cases we have seen: Thessalonica vs. Corinth; Pastorals vs. Thecla)
      • Cases to come: John’s Apocalypse and the issue of “idolatry” and “worshipping the beast”

3.  Locating 1 Peter

John’s Apocalypse (Revelation): Futuristic Visions and the Call to Worship God (not the

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)

2.  Situation and Response

  • Situation:
    • 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
    • Opponents in the letters: Followers of “Balaam” and “Jezebel” (Nicolaitans) (see Numbers 22-25; 1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:1-2; 21:25-26)
      • Idol-food and “fornication” (metaphor for participation in “foreign” cultural practices)
  • 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 outline handout)

3.  Visions of Beasts and Babylon: Attitudes toward the Roman empire

  • 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)
  • Group-society issues among early Jesus-followers: Defining community boundaries

4.  Locating John’s Apocalypse

  • Sectarian, Judean forms of devotion to Jesus in Asia Minor

John’s Epistles and the Opponents: A “Gnostic” Trajectory?

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.  Situation and response: Internal struggles in the Johannine churches

  • Schism (“they went out from us”) and identity of the schismatics
    • Docetism and the development of “Gnosticism”: “Anti-christs” or “false prophets” denying the complete humanity of Jesus and emphasizing his divinity (high Christology; cf. John’s gospel); denying his 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)
  • 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.  Locating John’s letters

  • Varying interpretations within the Johannine tradition

Ignatius’ Epistles: Leadership Structures and Concepts of Martyrdom in the Second Century

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. Situation and response

  • Situation: Opponents in the Asian churches (one or two groups?)
    • Docetism (see Ephesians chs. 7-8; Magnesians 11; Trallians 9-10; Smyrnians 1-2, 5,
      7-8 [eucharist])

      • Comparing those who deny the flesh in John’s epistles
    • (Gentile?) Judaizing (see Magn. 8-10; Phil. 6 [Gentiles])
      • Comparing the Judean “myths” in the Pastoral epistles
    • Divided house-churches: Lack of communion
  • 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. Group-society relations: Jesus-followers and outsiders (society) in Ignatius

  • Maintaining peaceable relations (cf. Eph. 10 [“brothers’]; 12; Trall. 3; 8)

4. Locating Ignatius’ letters

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