Monday, August 12, 2013

Earliest Christians: “What did they know, and when did they know it?”

Larry Hurtado has posted a link to his article “Interactive Diversity: A Proposed Model of Christian Origins”:

Although the ‘trajectories’ model of early Christian developments introduced by James Robinson and Helmut Koester has been influential in some circles, and particularly emphasizes diversity in early Christianity, the image of a trajectory may oversimplify matters and may in some cases impose an artificial connection of texts and phenomena. The undeniable diversity of early Christianity also involved a rich and varied interaction and a complexity that is not adequately captured in a ‘trajectory’ approach. A model of ‘interactive diversity’ more adequately reflects the complex nature of early Christianity.

Here is his own summary of the piece:

In the article, I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the “trajectories” model of early Christianity proposed influentially by James Robinson & Helmut Koester, and propose what I consider a superior model: “Interactive Diversity”. The core problem with the trajectory-model is that it does not adequately reflect the complexity and interaction of various forces and versions/voices of earliest Christianity, oversimpl[if]ying things. It rightly represents a recognition that there was significant diversity and also development, but I don’t think the model sufficiently reflects the complexity involved.

Moreover, I think examples of its application show that it can work mischief, later supposed stages of a trajectory used to interpret supposedly earlier stages. Whereas, the question begged is whether the phenomena in question really are part of some connected, essentially uni-linear development at all. And is it methodologically sound to construct such a hypothetical trajectory and then interpret earlier phenomena through later ones?

The “trajectories” model (and Robinson and Koester) is a kind of “scholarly appropriation” of the largely discredited (but still hanging around) view of “earliest Christianity” known as “the Bauer Thesis”.

Hurtado’s article largely supports the work of Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger in their work “The Heresy of Orthodoxy”.

Köstenberger and Kruger write that “Koester’s and Robinson’s argument, of course, assumed that earliest Christianity did not espouse orthodox beliefs from which later heresies diverged. In this belief these authors concurred entirely with Bauer, who had likewise argued that earliest Christianity was characterized by diversity and that the phenomenon of orthodoxy emerged only later (“The Heresy of Orthodoxy”, pg 29).

One of the key weaknesses of “the Bauer Thesis” is that Bauer “unduly neglected the New Testament evidence and anachronistically used second-century data to describe the nature of “earliest (first-century) Christianity”. Bauer’s weakness is that he discounts early references to canonical books “on the grounds that they had not yet become Scripture” (124).

Köstenberger and Kruger note that Bauer’s failure here “is especially ironic since the subject of his investigation was the earliest form of Christianity. The authors here argue extensively for the notion that those who study earliest Christianity “start our studies of the canon with the New Testament itself and then move forward to the time of the early [second-century] church” (124). As Michael Kruger has argued elsewhere, the writings of the New Testament were regarded as Scripture before the ink was dry on the manuscripts.

In other words, the place to start in understanding “earliest Christianity” is to ask “what did they know, and when did they know it” in an historical, “start-at-the-beginning” nature. (It’s simple, I know, but for some reason, some people want to look at later times and make those later times normative for Christianity).

Hurtado’s model of “interactive diversity” supports the view that Köstenberger and Kruger have argued for.

No comments:

Post a Comment