Christianity Began With…

The Jesus Seminar is evidently still at it. On the Crosstalk mailing list, Gordon Raynal mentions the group’s upcoming agenda.

“In the next year the group wants to assess the arguments for and against the following statements:

1. Christianity began with Pentecost.
2. Christianity began with the Resurrection.
3. Christianity began with Jesus.
4. Christianity began with Paul.”

There should be another option acknowledging Acts 11:26, where Luke reports that “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

People have been tackling this question forever, and the answer naturally depends on what is meant by the term “Christianity”. If by it we mean simply a sectarian group, then I actually have no problems saying that Christianity began with Jesus himself. But for historical purposes I’m inclined to take the ancient perceptions of this matter more seriously, such as the tradition preserved in Acts 11:26. By this time (mid-40s? a decade or two after Jesus?) the sectarian nature of the movement was evidently extending into territory radical enough to call forth a new label. It was probably mixed table-fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles (a practice predating Paul, in my view, perhaps the reason for which he persecuted the sect so mercilessly) which precipitated the special name: christianoí. Christianity essentially began with Jesus, but more officially began years later with unidentified followers who began incorporating the Gentile peoples in a manner for which Paul would become renowned as the originator.

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8 thoughts on “Christianity Began With…

  1. I agree with Mike. Interesting post, LRIII. The contrarian in me would say that Paul seems to think it began with Abram, at least in seminal form. The NT writers certainly believe something new has happened; but I don’t think they ever radically separate this from God’s plan–rather, they see it as the outworking of what He was doing all along. I guess I would say the way we typically approach that question as scholars is sociological, not theological or biblical theology. It is important to remember at least that Paul et al did not share our sociological perspective, and would have been either confused or repulsed by it.

  2. <> The NT writers certainly believe something new has happened; but I don’t think they ever radically separate this from God’s plan–rather, they see it as the outworking of what He was doing all along.<>That’s really the point, isn’t it? All sectarians see themselves as “truly” continuous with their parent faith, however much in the minority they are.<>I guess I would say the way we typically approach that question as scholars is sociological, not theological or biblical theology. It is important to remember at least that Paul et al did not share our sociological perspective, and would have been either confused or repulsed by it.<>Well, yes. They weren’t trying to understand themselves neutrally and would have been repulsed by the reality that most contemporaries found their interpretation of things impossible to take seriously.

  3. Going along with J B Hood’s points, I can only wonder if the question isn’t driven by a sort of pervasive anacronistic line of thought, i.e. that there are these things called religions which humans must choose amongst.Certainly religious movements and leaders attracted adherents, but wouldn’t that just make the question far too simple for modern scholars? “When did people start following Jesus?” Oh, perhaps around 30 AD or so.

  4. I think there is much missing the point in all this. The JS questions listed (they may have others I’m unaware of) are simplistic and I would add largely irrelevant. There is, as with the discipline as a whole, the stress on this or that individual or this or that event. This, as I always bitch about I know, is very unusual in terms of historical explanation. No social or economic trends? What about environmental changes? I find it very hard to believe that something simply starts because someone comes along andis a bit charismatic. As with all other periods of history there are much deeper things at work (and I don’t mean the divine before anyone starts!).

  5. There are problems about Acts 11:26 “Christian” is never used by Paul and is a Latin influenced way of forming a group’s name from its founder. IMHO it is more likely to arise in Rome in the 60’s than Antioch in the 40’s

  6. Yip I agree absolutely with James. Where are the social environmental historical possibilities for the beginning of Xtianity?

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