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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Christian Origins and the Law

I'll get to answering the stuff on secularism in due course (it's been busy) but I felt I should add something on the widely blogged subject of Christian origins and the Law. More summarising previous arguments but nevermind. Michael Bird tempted me to write so how could I not?

1. The historical Jesus never once opposed a biblical commandment and I do not think there is a single verse or passage in the synoptics which contradicts this. Moreover, virtually every teaching of the historical Jesus, perhaps all, is paralleled in early Judaism. I find it interesting that scholars put Jesus beyond anything said in early Judaism without checking to see if there is anything paralleled in early Judaism. There were conflicts but intra-Jewish conflicts over the correct interpretation of the Law are known so this is no surprise. Moreover, I don't know how the 'Christian' hostility to the Pauline movement could have arisen if Jesus had been a law breaker in any serious way.

2. The earliest movement (say first ten years after Jesus' death) continued to be law observant. Whether the first gentiles attracted were circumcised is impossible to say for sure. Some might, some might not. I remain pretty agnostic on that one.

3. More and more gentiles meant more people likely to observe major parts of the Law. Then reactions come. Some say they should observe all the commandments and be circumcised, some parts, some other things.

4. The Antioch incident was a fair reflecton of this. I have serious reservations that it was to do with circumcision. It is not mentioned and to Judaise tends to mean to behave like a Jew with circumcision being something extra. the issue was probably food laws. When table disputes between Jews and gentiles are in early Judaism they tended to be about food and/or libations. We can rule out libations for obvious reasons therefore suggesting food was the issue. I woould argue that the problem those from James had would have been the movement looking suspiciously too gentile and what's more even Peter, irrespective of whether Peter was actually eating pork or whatever (there is no direct serous evidence that he actually ATE such food).

There are some points. I know they sound general but I have argued all of them in detail in print.


Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

I'd agree with that with one or two qualifications. (1) Jesus opposed the halakhah of the Pharisees and not Torah per se, but sometimes text and interpretation were not always so nearly separated. (2) I concur that the incident in Antioch (Gal. 2.11-14) was about food, but I do think that circumcision is the terminus point in judaizing. Check out the usual texts that speak of judaizing. Anyway, judaizing is an implications that Paul drawns from Peter's withdrawal.

March 15, 2006

Blogger J. B. Hood said...

More later probably but I had to comment on this:

"3. More and more gentiles meant more people likely to observe major parts of the Law. Then reactions come. Some say they should observe all the commandments and be circumcised, some parts, some other things."

At first glance it sounded like you were saying "be circumcised in some parts, some other things..." It did lead me to spend about 2 full seconds thinking about what circumcising "some parts, some other things" might mean...

March 15, 2006

Blogger James Crossley said...

Mike: 1. Yes, I agree and have argued along similar lines. This is of course the same of Jews with similar views to Jesus. The benefit of making the distinction is that it can show the importance of perspective. If Jesus or some other Jewish teacher does not contradict a biblical law then it could be argued that they were not doing so even if opponents thought they did. That helps (me at least) distinguish between someone who thinks major commandmens no longer need to be observed and those who think they should.
2. Not sure I understand you here. I'm not sure I would use language of terminus because of different perceptions on conversion.

Jason: Oh dear, I see what you mean!! I only wish I could say I did that deliberately...

March 16, 2006


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