Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Do We Continue to Give Special Treatment to Evangelical Scholars

There are various possibilities. First, Justin may not have known of Paul or have had very little knowledge of him. If this were correct, then there would be significant implication for the status of Paul in certain Christian circles in the first half of the second century. This may also imply that a collection of Pauline letters may not have been readily available to Justin. In regard to the collection of Paul's writings, Justin's contemporary Marcion appears to be aware of and to use a collection of ten Pauline letters as the basis to his Apostolikon. It may be the case that Justin is reacting against Marcion and his ultra-Pauline version of Christianity. If so, his solution might have been simply to avoid drawing upon Pauline material, not so much as a critique of Paul but of Marcion, who had created a negative impact on the Roman church. [Michael Bird, Paul in the Second Century p. 124]

What the hell does 'ultra-Pauline' mean?  Does Bird really believe that the apostle meant his writings to be taken lightly?  Bird has stumbled upon a major difficulty - what does the lack of Pauline references in Justin's writings mean for the state of Christianity in the mid-second century?  There were the so-called Marcionites who wholly devoted to the apostle and Justin who ignored him.  There is so little for us to go on here to develop an understanding of this strange set of affairs.  Having Bird throw around a meaningless term like 'ultra-Pauline' is an unnecessary distraction.

Yet the idea that the Marcionites were 'ultra-Pauline' isn't Bird's invention.  It goes back at least as far as Neander in the early 19th century.  The idea here is that being exclusively devoted to Paul was somehow 'strange' and 'extremist.'  But how do we know that this isn't the kind of devotion the apostle wanted from his devotees?  Jesus seems to have demanded such devotion (or at least Paul seems to have argued for it especially when he speaks of his initiates entering into an exclusive marriage arrangement with Christ).  How do we continue to work from the Catholic tradition - which is clearly a later attempt at ecumenism between the polar distinctions of Justin (= Paul is not an apostle) and Marcion (Paul is the only apostle).

Why do we continue to pimp the orthodox compromise as pre-dating the things it was seeking to harmonize?

Someone inevitably whispers at this point - Bird is an evangelical scholar.  What does that have to do with anything?  Is that supposed to mean that the rules of logic don't apply for him?  That I am not to expect him to have basic common sense?  I am tired of the political correctness that abounds in this field.  Either someone is being truthful or someone is deceiving themselves and other people.  You can't throw around a term like 'ultra-Pauiline' when comparing Marcion to someone who never cites Paul at all and get away with it.

Maybe the earliest period of Christianity was characterize by these stark choices.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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