Thursday, November 8, 2012

What's the Difference Between Evangelic and Apostolic?

It is difficult for most people to see beyond themselves let alone their own religion. The adjective ἀποστολικός is normally understood to mean something like 'accordance with the apostles, or historically connected to the apostles. In this latter sense it is especially applied to churches founded directly by apostles, or to persons associated with and taught by apostles.  Yet for the Marcionites we are certain there was only one Apostle and he also wrote the evangelion.  The puzzling thing as we have already demonstrated in previous posts in this series, is that the two parts of the Marcionite New Testament canon - and indeed likely all early Christian canons - were the Evangelikon (the 'evangelic') and the Apostolikon (the 'apostolic').  In what sense was the evangelion 'evangelic' and the apostolic letters 'apostolic'?

With respect to the gospel its 'evangelic' nature is quite obvious.  It is the good news so the narrative takes on the quality of being 'evangelic.'  We can see Philo the first century Jewish writer use the verb εὐαγγελίζομαι - to bring glad tidings - throughout his writings. For instance the rising of the seven stars of the Pleiades are said to 'bring glad tidings' of the harvest (Opif Mundi 115). The drowning of the Egyptians in the sea is said by Philo to 'bring glad tidings' in three ways to the ancient Israelites (Somn 2.281).  The 'good news' of discovering that Joseph is not dead is twice so described (Ios 245, 250).

In some sense then we can understand why the words of the gospel are described as 'evangelic' by the Marcionite organization of the canon.  But what exactly does 'apostolic' mean?  Our first instinct is to identify ἀποστολικός or ὰποστολικών to mean ‘of one apostle,' ‘of the apostle’, ‘of the apostles.’ But the Marcionite division of the New Testament would deny that understanding.  After all, both the gospel and the letters derive from the same individual and this one individual was the one and only 'apostle.'

Peter van Deun has actually published an article on the range of uses for the term.  He notes that ἀποστολικός indeed has a previous history in pagan literature. The use of the word is very rare in pagan texts (about 5 passages) and all these record date from late antiquity; we find the oldest pagan example in the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus, an author who worked in the early third century CE, and this is — as he demonstrates — younger than the oldest Christian records. He also points out that the pagan ἀποστολικός is used in a very specific literary meaning: it is a kind of song (i.e. μέλη), sung upon the departure of a diplomatic delegation or written by someone abroad who sent his poem afterwards.

At last we have stumbled on the Marcionite context for dividing the New Testament into 'evangelic' and 'apostolic.'  On the one hand the 'evangelic' - i.e. the gospel - precedes the coming of the apostle while the 'apostolic' - i.e. the letter(s) - immediately followed his departure.  This must have been the Marcionite justification for the organization of the canon.  It also suggests very strongly that the apostle must have been secretly identified as Mark given the fact that the Muratorian canon explicitly references an 'epistle to the Alexandrians.'  I can find absolutely no reference whatsoever to a visit by Paul to Alexandria.

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