Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, June 12, 2006

What is the Most Important Issue in NT Studies?

If we accept the premise that Jesus was Jewish and that all of the early followers were Jewish, then we can recognize what was the important question faced by followers of Jesus in the Second Temple post resurrection era. Each Jewish follower of Jesus had to answer the question, “What do we do with High Priest?” The unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews provided the ultimate answer. We no longer recognize what a problem this question was to the first followers of Jesus.

Although scholars can debate the details of Pauline chronology, everyone agrees that during the entire ministry of Paul, the Temple stood, the High Priest was in office, the Day of Atonement was being observed and Judaism recognized the followers of Jesus as Jews. Yet little attention has been devoted to the issue. Remarkably the High Priest is not mentioned in Paul’s writings and the Temple, which was the political, economic and religious center, is not prominent. None of Paul’s polemics were directed at the High Priest or the Temple.

We know from Philo that the ceremonial robes of the High Priest repeatedly vaunted in Hellenistic literature and interpreted in terms of cosmic symbolism endowed him with transcendent glory. Furthermore, the religious duties of the High Priest in the cult were viewed as a universal saving event particularly by Jews in the Diaspora. Since the High Priest was viewed as “the captain of their salvation,” even a cynical Jew would want to treat the High Priest with the utmost respect.

As each follower and each community formulated their answer, each NT author following Luke likewise answered the question. Traces of the deliberations can be seen throughout the New Testament. If the relationship between Jesus and Paul lies at the very heart of historical Christianity, then the disposition of the High Priest as “the captain of their salvation” is critical to the understanding of that relationship.

I plan to return to this subject that I have come to realize is an important part of the development of the theology of the new communities of the followers of Jesus.

Copyrighted 2006

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