Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Questions And Answers About The Early Church

Question: Can we say that the form of Christianity promoted by Peter was defeated by the Christianity promoted by Paul? 

AP: If you ask me, absolutely. No questions about it. Petrine Christianity was defeated by that of Paul. Nevertheless, the Pauline church that developed rescued Peter, just like we see in the Synoptic Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament, which contains two supposed letters written by Peter. Those two letters were really written by disciples of Paul!!!!

TWH: I don't think we can say that. Paul and Peter were not without their issues, as we can see for example in Galatians 2. But what we see there is a record of close association between the two men. Paul was able to confront Peter, which resulted in Peter's repentance and deepened commitment to the work of the gospel in God's diverse redemptive plan. Peter even attests to the value of Paul ("our dear brother") and his letters ("wrote with wisdom given to him by God") (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

Question: Could everyone in the early church read? We read in Paul that he told the churches to not stop reading. Is it possible that this applied to all new Christians?

AP: Not necessarily. The literacy rate among middle-class males was somewhere around ten or fifteen percent.  Among women, it was somewhere around five percent. Paul's letters were read aloud in liturgical meetings. Generally speaking, all reading in the ancient world, including reading in private, was out-loud.

TWH: Claude E. Cox has a contribution in the Festschrift for Everett Ferguson. It is titled, "The Reading of the Personal Letter as the Background for the Reading of the Scriptures in the Early Church" (74-91). In it he makes an interesting statement. I'll share it with you here to give you some food for thought:
"In the house church at Corinth, there is not yet any public reading of Scripture. When they come together, Paul says, 'each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation' (ἕκαστος ψαλμὸν ἔχει, διδαχὴν ἔχει, ἀποκάλυψιν ἔχει, γλῶσσαν ἔχει, ἑρμηνείαν ἔχει, 1 Cor 14:26). No one has 'a reading.' Further, one may note that reading, public or private, is not among the διαιρέσεις χαρισμάτων, 'varieties of service,' that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 12. The gift of the Spirit does not enable one to read: a gift of the Spirit does not replace an education! And that is an important point: the educated, that is, literate, person had a significant role to play in the worship of the early church as soon as there were texts to read. The enthusiasts might have a revelation or a 'tongue,' but only the educated person could read" (The Early Church in Its Context: Essays in Honor of Everett Ferguson, 81). 
Literacy was not a prerequisite for Christian service. But literate individuals were valued members of each congregation; they were not more valuable than anyone else, but important like everyone else. Different skills, same power from God that energized it in Great-Commission work. And literacy in Christian communities was not solely found in the larger cities of the Empire where Christianity had spread. Every letter that Paul wrote had to be read. In other words, if Paul sent a letter, he either had to send it through a literate messenger, who could read its content upon arriving at its intended destination, or someone needed to be there who could read the letter. There would be no problem in Rome, nor in Corinth. But we see, for example, in Col. 4:16 that the Colossians were to read both the letter intended specifically for them as well as the lost letter to the Laodiceans; and the Laodiceans were instructed to do the same thing. We know that Colossae was a relatively small town in the Empire. And the community of Christians was probably relatively small as well. Still, there were people there that could read. He doesn't tell them to listen to the letter that is going to be read, but instructs them to read it and the one coming from Laodicea when it arrives. If this was a task to be performed by the messenger, it seems more likely that he would tell them to listen to it, not read it.

Question: Do the famous Dead Sea Scrolls contain reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth? 

AP: There is no information about Jesus or the early church in the Qumran scrolls. Why? First, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Jesus' public ministry. Second, Jesus was not an Essene, nor were his followers. In any event, the alleged Essenes at Qumran might not have been interested in the Christian movement until after the destruction of their community in A.D. 68 by Roman troops as they advanced towards Jerusalem. Moreover, during the early stages of the Christian movement, some Essenes in Israel's cities–few or many–probably moved over to the side of the Judeo-Christians.  That's very likely.

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