The most successful interpreters of Paul's letters have, for the most part, been thinkers and writers, theologians and scholars. That Paul should appear to us primarily as a man of deep and profound thought is therefore unsurprising. According to Luke's account of Paul's ministry, however, neither letter-writing nor theological exposition were central to the Apostle's … Continue reading The acts of Paul and the Paul of Acts: a forgotten Apostle
Christians generally regard Jesus' resurrection as a Christological sign, as a marker of his deity. By rising from the dead, Jesus disclosed his true identity, not as some condemned preacher from Nazareth, but as the God of Israel, the only one capable of overwhelming death with life. Now recognized as God, believers turn to this … Continue reading Is the Resurrection a proof of Jesus’ deity?
As the first traditions about Jesus were disseminated through word of mouth and in written documents, they were refracted through a number of interpretive lenses. One such lens was the spiritual experience of the faithful community. Among these first believers, the same Jesus who had been crucified was alive, teaching and working in and as … Continue reading The prophet returns: Jesus as Elijah redivivus
While many are familiar with the ways Christian doctrine has changed over time, few recognize just how novel modern evangelistic practices are. Just as the Christian message developed and evolved, particularly with the blunting of its apocalyptic edge, so too have the ways in which Christians transmit their message to the outside world. This shift … Continue reading How did the first Christians spread the gospel?
God-fearers and idolaters I made the argument last time that Luke's story of Cornelius' conversion is best understood as a narrative apology for Gentile God-fearers. Luke intended to demonstrate that those Gentiles who "do what is right and fear [Israel's] God" by turning from idols have been cleansed of their impurity. Jews therefore need not … Continue reading Did early Christians associate with idolaters?
In Acts 10 the apostle Peter is granted three visions of clean and unclean animals descending from heaven. A heavenly voice tells Peter to kill and eat these beasts. When the apostle objects to this violation of God's Law the heavenly voice responds "what God has cleansed (ἐκαθάρισεν), you must not consider polluted (κοίνου)" (Acts … Continue reading When did God cleanse Cornelius? The possible literary origins of Acts 10
At two particular points in the New Testament narrative the Holy Spirit breaks through the heavenly seal and escapes into the earthly realm. In the first case, the spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. In the second case, the spirit is poured out upon believers as they celebrate the feast of … Continue reading When did Jesus and his followers receive the spirit?
I argued last time that the early Christians placed more significance on the exaltation of Christ to heaven than on his resurrection from the dead. Two observations pointed me in this direction. Some early confessional material managed to tell the story of Christ without an explicit reference to bodily resurrection (Philippians 2:5-6, Hebrews 1:1-4, 1 … Continue reading The significance of Christ’s resurrection in early preaching
Christ's possession, judgement, and reign over the nations (τὰ ἔθνη) constituted a central eschatological hope among the early Christians. They believed God was acting to bring about the obedience of the nations. Across the empire pagan Greeks were "turning from idols to serve the living and true God and await his son from heaven" (1 … Continue reading Which nations are the nations?
John's universal gospel To whom did God send his son? To those of us who have been shaped by the theology of the church, the answer may seem obvious: God sent his son to the whole world. Any casual reader of the Fourth Gospel knows this. John's unexpected Messiah does not come strictly to or … Continue reading To whom did God send his son?