New Testament History and Literature

New Testament History and Literature

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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    New Testament History and Literature
    Book Description:

    In this engaging introduction to the New Testament, Professor Dale B. Martin presents a historical study of the origins of Christianity by analyzing the literature of the earliest Christian movements. Focusing mainly on the New Testament, he also considers nonbiblical Christian writings of the era.

    Martin begins by making a powerful case for the study of the New Testament. He next sets the Greco-Roman world in historical context and explains the place of Judaism within it. In the discussion of each New Testament book that follows, the author addresses theological themes, then emphasizes the significance of the writings as ancient literature and as sources for historical study. Throughout the volume, Martin introduces various early Christian groups and highlights the surprising variations among their versions of Christianity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18219-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Map
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Why Study the New Testament
    (pp. 1-12)

    The first question people should ask themselves when they are taking up the study of the New Testament is why they want to study it. What is the New Testament, and why should one study it? The first answer many people give—and for many, the most obvious—is, “Because I’m a Christian.” Or perhaps, “I believe the New Testament is scripture.”

    The problem with that answer, at least as it relates to this book on the New Testament, is that the New Testament isn’t “scripture” for everyone. When we say that the New Testament is “scripture,” we have to...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Development of the Canon
      (pp. 15-33)

      What is scripture, and what is canon? These are not necessarily the same thing. The two words are oft en used interchangeably, but it is helpful to distinguish them. “Scripture” may refer to any writing taken by someone as holy and authoritative—any written text that is sacred in itself or that communicates something sacred. Some religions don’t have what we would normally think of as scripture in Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. Some religions have lots of “holy writings,” but they do not have one particular, bounded body of writings called “the scripture” that they cordon off from all other...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Greco-Roman World
      (pp. 34-54)

      Religion cannot be divorced from social, political, and historical contexts and issues. In our world, we find the New Testament in the same book as the Old Testament or, as Jews call it, the Hebrew Bible or the Tanak. Clearly, therefore, early Christianity must be studied in the context of ancient Judaism, and that topic will be addressed in the next chapter. But to understand Judaism of the time of Jesus, Paul, and the development of earliest Christianity, we also need to see Judaism in the context of the larger ancient Mediterranean, which was dominated, at least in the urban...

    • CHAPTER 4 Ancient Judaism
      (pp. 55-66)

      The chronological end of the Old Testament, generally, is the sixth century B.C.E., in the 500s.¹ I say “chronological end” to indicate that that is when the narrative of the history of Israel comes to a close. That is not actually the latest date of the writings of the Old Testament. As we will see, the book of Daniel was composed in the second century B.C.E., and its final form was written only around 164 B.C.E. But Daniel attempts to place itself chronologically centuries earlier: it claims to have been written by a wise man who was Jew living in...

    • CHAPTER 5 The New Testament as a Historical Source: A Comparison of Acts and Paul’s Letters
      (pp. 67-76)

      It is legitimate, of course, to read the New Testament for the purposes of faith. As discussed in Chapter 1, if someone takes the New Testament to be scripture, a theological reading of it is entirely appropriate—in fact, for that person, necessary. But this introduction to the New Testament does not attempt a Christian theological interpretation of the New Testament. Rather, in this book we read the text through the eyes of modern historical criticism, using the text as a source for what we may say about Jesus, early Christian churches, and early Christian beliefs and practices.

      But one...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Gospel of Mark
      (pp. 79-92)

      Popular opinion may think of the Gospels as biographies of Jesus, but they are not—at least not anything like modern biographies. We don’t get a personal portrait of Jesus in the Gospels. We don’t see how he developed over time. We don’t know anything about how he may have changed from teenager to apocalyptic prophet. We are told next to nothing of his relationship with his parents, brothers, or sisters. One of the most important aspects of modern biography is tracing how personality and character develop over time. The main character’s psychology is important. We get none of that...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Gospel of Matthew
      (pp. 93-107)

      The Gospel of Matthew, from the second century on, has been the most popular Gospel, which is probably why it ended up first in our Bibles. It is the Gospel most familiar to both Christians and non-Christians. If there is a story or saying that occurs in Matthew but also in Mark or Luke—and there are many—people usually know the version that appears in Matthew if they know it at all. Matthew’s birth narrative, very different from Luke’s, is one people can oft en recall: an angel appears to Joseph in a dream telling him not to send...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Gospel of Thomas
      (pp. 108-122)

      Perhaps the single most per sis tent theme of this book is the diversity of early Christianity. In fact, scholars now can sometimes be heard talking about “early Christianities” to stress how varied the movement was in its early years, all the way through the second century. An excellent way to illustrate that variety is an examination of Christian documents that did not make it into the canon, that were not considered “orthodox” by later Christians, and that are therefore relatively unknown to modern people. TheGospel According to Thomas(the title borne by the text in the manuscript, although...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Part 1: Structure and Themes
      (pp. 125-136)

      As with the other Gospels, we do not know who wrote Luke and Acts, although most scholars are convinced that the same author wrote both of them as two volumes of one work. I will call him “Luke” for convenience, but we must keep in mind that this was likely not the Luke said to be a physician and companion of Paul (see Philem 24; Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11). We can, though, suggest motivations and interests in his writing and even imagine the sort of early Christian context in which he wrote. We do that, as we have done...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Part 2: Editing the Beginnings of Christianity
      (pp. 137-151)

      How did a ragtag bunch of peasant followers of a crucified Galilean Jewish prophet grow to be a movement that drew the attention of Roman rulers? How did the followers of Jesus, a Jew unnoticed by the rest of the world during his lifetime, end by establishing small cells, “house churches,” in cities and towns around the ancient Mediterranean? How did that band of former fishermen, farmers, tax collectors, and possibly prostitutes come to have representatives in Rome, the capital of the world?

      The actual historical answers to that question are hard to come by; that is, we don’t have...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Gospel of John
      (pp. 152-167)

      “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1– 5). From the very beginning of the Gospel of John, we sense that we are in a different world. This doesn’t sound like the synoptic Gospels. And...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Letters of John and the Spread of Christianity
      (pp. 168-178)

      What kind of teaching about the nature of Jesus, what different “Christologies,” do we find in early Christian texts? According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is certainly the Son of God (Mark 15:39). He is also known in Mark as the Son of Man and by other titles as well. Moreover, in Mark, Jesus is especially the suffering Son of God whose death is understood as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; taken over also by Matt 20:28).

      Whereas Matthew follows Mark in taking the death of Jesus to be a ransom sacrifice, Luke does not. Although we have...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Historical Jesus
      (pp. 179-196)

      We’ve already seen that the New Testament contains contradictory historical accounts of various parts of early Christianity. The geographic and chronological account of Paul’s activities as told in the Acts of the Apostles cannot be respectably harmonized with Paul’s own narration in Galatians. The account of the birth of Jesus and the origins of his family provided by Matthew is totally different from that in Luke, and any harmonization cannot stand up to the standards of modern historiography. The different narratives of his resurrection appearances—who of his disciples claimed they had seen him, when, and where?—in Mark, Matthew,...

    • CHAPTER 14 Paul as Missionary: 1 Thessalonians
      (pp. 199-212)

      Just as one must read the Bible and other texts critically to find the historical Jesus as distinct from the Jesus of Christian faith, so we have to sift our sources to construct the historical Paul. For Paul, admittedly, there is much more to go on. He is a star character in the first “history” of early Christianity, the Acts of the Apostles, although, as we have already seen and will see further below, the Acts account of Paul is not very reliable as history. But we have seven letters from Paul’s own hand and several other letters written by...

    • CHAPTER 15 Paul as Pastor: Philemon and 1 and 2 Corinthians
      (pp. 213-230)

      Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s surviving letters. Paul writes it from prison, although we don’t know from which city. He addresses it to a man, a woman, and another man—Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus—who may be members of one house hold and, indeed, the leaders of a church that meets in their house. What is more curious, as we will see later, is that although Paul is writing to ask a favor of Philemon (probably, since he is named first), Paul also addresses the letter to “the church in your house” (Philem 2). In other words, we can...

    • CHAPTER 16 Paul as Jewish Theologian: Galatians and Romans
      (pp. 231-246)

      Paul founded several house churches, probably small ones, in the area of Galatia. Although there is some uncertainty about exactly what region Paul means by “Galatia,” it is certainly a region in what is now central Turkey, between what is now the modern city of Ancyra and Cappadocia. It was called “Galatia” because at some time the ethnic tribes known as the “Gauls” lived there. At the time Paul was writing, the Gauls occupied western and northern regions of Europe. Julius Caesar, for instance, had fought them in what is now France in the previous century. Ancestors of those Gauls,...

    • CHAPTER 17 Colossians and Ephesians
      (pp. 247-260)

      King Abgar of Edessa in eastern Syria wrote a letter to Jesus of Nazareth. Abgar says that he has heard of the worldwide fame of Jesus, especially his miraculous healings. Abgar himself is ill, he says, and since the Jews are not particularly friendly to Jesus, Abgar invites him to his kingdom in Edessa. He asks Jesus to come heal him, and he promises to provide a better welcome for Jesus than he is receiving among the Jews.

      Happy are you who believe in me without having seen me! For it is written of me that those who have seen...

    • CHAPTER 18 Differing Christians: Christology, Faith, and Works
      (pp. 261-274)

      We have already encountered different forms of early Christian views of Jesus. Who was he? If he was divine, to what extent? If he was human, how so? Was he equal or subordinate to God the Father? It is important for a history of early Christianity—as distinct from, say, a theological account of Christian doctrine—to recognize how Christians disagreed on central aspects of faith and doctrine. To get from the “Jesus movement” during the life of Jesus of Nazareth to what much later became orthodox Christianity required many debates and choices. Why did what later became orthodox Christianity...

    • CHAPTER 19 The Pro-household Paul: The Pastoral Epistles
      (pp. 277-291)

      As mentioned in a previous chapter, the Pastoral Epistles are called “pastoral” because they present Paul as instructing two of his followers, Timothy and Titus, on how to “pastor” a church, and on how to appoint other men to be pastors of churches. Very few scholars consider these letters to have been written by Paul. Many studies have shown that the vocabulary of the letters is very different from that of Paul’s undisputed letters. The theology is different, and as this chapter will show, Paul’s approach to marriage, sex, the household, and women is very different from that promoted here....

    • CHAPTER 20 The Anti-household Paul: The Acts of Paul and Thecla
      (pp. 292-306)

      Religious studies as a discipline focuses on the beliefs, literature, and practices of different religions from a secular point of view. Religious studies grew out of the theological study of, mainly, Christianity and Judaism in the twentieth century. But whereas previous generations, even until the 1960s, had generally studied religious traditions from a confessional point of view—people even in universities studying what were their own religious beliefs and traditions—religious studies departments intentionally set themselves up to study those materials in a comparative and secular manner, not presupposing faith and not concerning themselves with the “truth” of religious claims....

    • CHAPTER 21 Hebrews and Biblical Interpretation
      (pp. 309-321)

      The method of interpretation I have been using throughout this book has been modern historical criticism, in which we imagine an ancient author and ancient readers and attempt to figure out how they would have read these texts. We do not read them like poetry, or allegorically. We imagine them in their original contexts and then guess what they would have meant in those contexts. In the next chapter, I explain in more detail the different assumptions of historical criticism as a method and examine a bit how it developed in the modern world.

      It is already clear, though, that...

    • CHAPTER 22 Premodern Biblical Interpretation
      (pp. 322-338)

      The method of textual interpretation I have been using throughout this book has been some form of modern historical criticism. Most of this chapter will be devoted to showing that there have existed—and do exist—other ways of reading texts, and so other ways of reading the Bible, all of which I believe may be completely appropriate. In fact, I have elsewhere argued that the historical- critical method is inadequate for a Christian theological appropriation of the Bible. I have said that schools educating future ministers should spend much more time and effort teaching their students how to “...

    • CHAPTER 23 Apocalypticism as Resistance
      (pp. 341-359)

      The word “apocalypse” is derived from the Greekapokalypsis, usually translated as “revelation.” The word means any sort of uncovering or unveiling. The Revelation of John is therefore sometimes called the Apocalypse of John. Although people often refer to it as the book of “Revelations,” the proper title is in the singular: it records one great revelation, not several of them. Revelation is not the earliest example of the genre. In fact, the book of Daniel in the Old Testament is one of the earliest examples of the genre and doubtless influenced the author of Revelation. But the entire genre...

    • CHAPTER 24 Apocalypticism as Accommodation
      (pp. 360-376)

      In the last chapter, we encountered a kind of Christian apocalypticism that bitterly opposed Roman rule and power. Although almost all earliest Christianity was apocalyptic in some sense—that is, expecting that the “end” would come soon and that Jesus would return from the heavens as a victorious conqueror to establish the kingdom of God—not all early Christians used that apocalypticism to oppose Rome, or at least not openly and vigorously. Some early Christians tolerated Roman rule, and some early Christian sources teach what later became the more typical stance of most churches: to submit to rulers and governmental...

    • CHAPTER 25 The Development of Ecclesiastical Institutions: Ignatius and the Didache
      (pp. 379-388)

      When Paul was attempting to influence or control the house churches he had founded, he could draw on no official church structures or leaders to reinforce his rhetoric. All he had were his power of persuasion and his personal authority. Even his claim to be an apostle was not an appeal to an “office.” He had never been appointed an apostle by any human institution. He claimed to be one on the basis of a revelation of Jesus that came to him alone. And there were no bishops, or priests, or even deacons in his churches in any official sense....

    • Epilogue: Christianity after the New Testament Period
      (pp. 389-396)

      I have highlighted how different followers of Jesus developed, after his death, different notions of “who he was.” Some doubtless saw him simply as a great prophet of Israel, preaching an apocalyptic message about an imminent “kingdom of God.” Some believed that he was divine in some way, perhaps as an eminently righteous man who was elevated to some kind of semidivine status by God. Others came to believe that he was so divine that the “real” Christ, perhaps as differentiated from the “man” Jesus, was a pure spirit and not “flesh and blood.” Still others came to believe that...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 397-414)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 415-424)
  16. Subject and Author Index
    (pp. 425-442)
  17. Index of Scripture Citations
    (pp. 443-447)