Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Recruitment & the Parting of the Ways: Response to Michael Bird

Michael Bird writing in discussed evidence supporting an early demarcation between Jews and Christians. There is considerable evidence demonstrating the fluidity between the communities and blurring of boundaries indicating that the parting of the ways is not easily defined nor fixed in time.

Hans Conzelmann has stated that “. . . the principle difficulty for a mutual understanding between Judaism and Christianity consists precisely in the fact that they have the same fundamental ideas and concepts: there is one God, who . . . has chosen one people. . . .”[i] Conzelmann has noted that J. Geffcken established in 1907 with Zwei griechische Apologeten “the continuity between Jewish and Christian apologetic in their motifs and arguments” recognizing that “Indeed, this continuity derives from the fact that monotheism and the Old Testament are the common denominators between Jews and Christians.”[ii] There would be no continuity in motifs and arguments of their apologetics if there were not a close cultural continuity derived and maintained from ongoing recruitment. Yet it is because they have the “same fundamental ideas and concepts” that cultural continuity exists and that it was so easy to recruit in the preexisting social networks represented by the Jewish communities.

The debate with Judaism did not cease at the end of the first century. Jewish and Christian expounders of the Hebrew Scriptures continued to contemplate and debate the meaning of texts. This mutual engagement with scripture is very much evident in the patristic period among Christian interpreters such as Origen of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Eusebius and Jerome. In addition, the Adversus Judaeos genre of Christian apologetic, as in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, occupies an early place in the history of Jewish-Christian exegetical struggle. Justin is aware of Jewish and Jewish Christian attempts to convince Gentiles Christians to observe the Mosaic law.[iii] Justin seems to assume that some of the attempts were successful.[iv]

Both Celsus and Origen show a firsthand acquaintance with Jewish-Christian communities in their respective works, True Discourse against the Christians and Contra Celsum.[v] Origen has to warn his congregants not to visit Jewish synagogues nor participate in Jewish festivals as did John Chrysostom in the fourth century and others.[vi]

In the fourth century John Chrysostom realized the gravity of the Judaizer's challenge to the church. Chrysostom is aware that many Christians are keeping the Sabbath with the Jews.[vii] In a series of eight sermons delivered to his congregation in 386 C.E. in Antioch he observes, if the Jewish rites are holy, the holy ways of Christianity must be false.[viii] In fact, so many Christians were attracted to Jewish practices that he warns his members not to reveal how many, lest the reputation of the church should suffer.[ix]

Not only did the church leaders issue warnings to their members, they also sought to vindicate Christian scriptural claims against Judaism. Eusebius' exegesis shows that this preoccupation was still strong in the fourth century. Both in his Ecclesiastical History and his Commentary on Isaiah, Eusebius using polemical historiography addressed Christianity's relation to Judaism. Such preoccupation is indicative of the need to demonstrate cultural continuity although admittedly such was not his purpose. Rather Eusebius sought to demonstrate that Christians have been legally constituted as a new people in place of the former people as the Prophet Isaiah had foreseen.[x] Such efforts to provide legitimacy are indicative of the ongoing cultural exchange naturally occurring through preexisting social networks. If such preexisting social networks did not exist both as a source of new members and as a competitor for members, there would be no need in the fourth century to continue to explain one's origins. As noted by Louis Feldman, even after the empire became Christian, “The Jews continued to engage successfully in winning proselytes and especially ‘sympathizers’ to their ranks – a genuine tribute to their inherent vitality.”[xi]

In his Gospel, Luke showed considerable interest in those people who were the religious outcasts of Jewish society. These people although Jewish were excluded from participation in the religious life of the community because of their status. The new Jewish sect targeted the religious outcasts. It also targeted those people whom Luke has identified as 'God-fearers', not without conflicts. Perhaps to the extent that there was a body of people who were not Jewish but who nonetheless attended the synagogues, then Judaism and Christianity in accepting converts from this group each felt the other was stealing their prospects and members. These tensions explain the many passages in Acts where conflict erupted between the Jews and Paul over his proselytizing activities. Evidence of such jealousy appears in Acts 13:45 and 17:5-19.[xii] These tensions also explain the passages in Origen and Chrysostom.

Once the body of Christians of Hellenized Jewish background became a critical mass in the church, then the same principles of cultural continuity and expansion through preexisting social networks explain why Hellenized Gentiles were comfortable in affiliating with the religion. These Hellenized Jews, who became Christians because they were uncomfortable with Judaism, are the cultural bridge to the Hellenized Gentile communities that later dominated the church. What started as a trickle in Acts became a majority perhaps in the third century, but Christians of Jewish background continued to represent a significant portion of the membership and of the results of recruitment into the fifth century. Those who say the mission to the Jews failed made the same mistake in asserting there was a Gentile majority in the first century. They failed to understand the effect of compounding. Just as one could afford to place a penny on a square of a chessboard, two on the second, four on the third, until most of the board is covered but not all of the board, one would not notice the rapid growth of a church in one's lifetime. Stark demonstrated this mathematical concept.[xiii]

The traditional view[xiv] cannot explain the need for the warnings issued by Origen and John Chrysostom. The concepts of cultural continuity and expansion through preexisting social networks explain these phenomena. If Stark is correct, then it is time to re-examine the traditional view regarding the Jewish mission as well as the composition of Luke's audience. It is also necessary to recognize that the so-called “demarcation between Jews and Christians” cannot be defined or set with any certainty. However the discussion about the demarcation can improve our understanding of the parting of the ways.

[i]. Hans Conzelmann, Gentiles - Jews - Christians: Polemics and Apologetics in the Greco-Roman Era, translated by M. Eugene Boring, (Minneapolis 1992), 240-241.
[ii]. Conzelmann, 237.
[iii]. Dial. 47.1-3.
[iv]. Dial. 47.4.
[v]. Alan F. Segal, “Jewish Christianity” in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism edited by Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, (Detroit, 1992), 341.
[vi]. Paul also felt constrained to speak severely against continuance of some Hebraic practices; at the same time he commended the Judean church as a model. Gal. 2; 1 Thes. 2:14.
[vii]. Adv. Jud. 1.5.850; 8.8.940 and Homilies 1.7; 61.623.
[viii]. Adv. Jud. 1.6.85a.
[ix]. Adv. Jud. 8.4.933.
[x]. Comm. Isa. 322, 28-31. Cf. 322, 37 - 323, 3.
[xi]. Louis H. Feldman, “Jewish Proselytism”, in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism edited by Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, (Detroit, 1992), 396.
[xii]. This is understandable in light of Paul's success in Antioch, 13:43; Iconium, 14:1; Thessalonica, 17:4; Beroea, 17:11-12; Corinth, 18:4; Ephesus, 19:8-10; and Rome, 28:24.
[xiii]. Stark, 4-13.
[xiv]. Scholars have often claimed that in Luke-Acts, there is a perjorative use of “Jews” or “the Jews.” However, not often recognized, is that the Greek word for "Jews" is ioudaioi which means, literally, Judean-- i.e., someone who lives in, or is from, Judea. Therefore, we need to recognize that the name was often used as a word that denotes the members of a people or the inhabitants of a place. Those "Jews" are people living in, or from, Judea. I therefore agree with Robert Brawley, Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology and Conciliation, (Atlanta, 1987), 159, that “rather than rejecting the Jews, Luke appeals to them.”

Copyrighted 2005


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