The earliest confessions

A quite common misunderstanding among some Protestant Christians is that first there was a New Testament, then, after a few hundred years doctrine was construed to meet resistance against the truth. However, the opposite seems to be the case. Early Christianity read the Jewish Bible as its own, and I am fascinated by Birger Gerhardsson’s suggestion that the Apostles in Jerusalem were ‘working on the Word of the Lord’, forming its own Christological and Pneumatological readings of the OT (see Gerhardsson, Birger. 1998. Memory and Manuscript. Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity with Tradition and Transmission in Early Christianity. Ed Astrid B. Beck and David Noel Freedman. The Biblical Resource Series. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), the third edition with foreword by Jacob Neusner – and interesting story in itself since Neusner belonged to the fierce critics when it was first published.

When  in 1 Cor 15 Paul presents the summary of faith as he has received it (paralambanō) and transmitted it (paredōka) as the first he gave to the Corinthians, he also says something about himself. What did Paul receive when he was converted? Probably a similar teaching, perhaps even a baptismal catechesis, giving the main truths in the faith in the Messiah. These were that he was crucified, buried and resurrected, all according to the Scriptures. And that his death was for the remission of sins.

Such a confession was a ‘canon’ before there was any New Testament canon. From 150 we have several fairly similar creedal formulas. What Ireneus calls the Regula Veritatis or Faith Rule (perhaps more a list on the main points of faith) was early developed into a text. Creedal texts found with Justin Martyr from the so-called Palestine (then a name given by Hadrian), the Roman church order of Hippolytos, the Egyptian (or Asia Minor) Epistola Apostolorum have very similar wordings. This may point to even earlier sources, if we apply the principles we use in textual criticism. And this supports the existence of very early creedal formulas, which belonged to the stabilising factors in earliest Christianity. And to the measuring rods which were used when evaluating the Scriptures which made or not made their way into the canon.

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  1. From Eighth Day Books, come a new book that I would like to recommend to you.
    There is also an excellent review of the book, here;

    Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology

    by Andrew Louth

    Published: 2007
    150p, paper

    Published twenty-five years ago, this book is still the finest critique of the Enlightenment’s ways of knowing, coupled with a winsome description of a distinctly Christian alternative. Responding to what he sees as a “division and fragmentation” both in theology and the larger culture due to “the one-sided way we have come to seek and recognize truth…manifest in the way in which all concern with truth has been relinquished to the sciences,” Louth sets out to describe the source of that fragmentation and to challenge the notion that we must “accept the lot bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment.” He carefully reviews central themes of several precursors who have already forged a critique of the epistemological imperialism of the Enlightenment, principally Giambattista Vico, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, who in distinct ways demonstrated the legitimacy of the humanities’ unique apprehension of truth. Further relativizing Enlightenment claims, Michael Polanyi proposed that science itself depends on non-empirical elements of investigation for its method to function, what he termed “the tacit dimension.” It is here that Louth sees a “pattern underlying the apprehension of truth” that is strikingly similar to that of the Fathers of the Church, who set forth an approach to knowing and experiencing truth that ultimately can be “seen and heard and handled” (1 John 1:1-3), but only by those who reside in the bosom of the Church’s (Orthodox) tradition and avail themselves of ways of knowing unique to it. Louth’s rather brilliant rehabilitation of the Fathers’ use of allegory in scriptural interpretation, which interweaves Scripture and tradition seamlessly, illustrates this approach. The matrix of allegory requires and manifests the “tacit dimension” of the guidance of the Spirit, and underlines the theologian’s need to hear Him. Or as Evagrios of Pontus might put it, “Knowledge of God—the breast of the Lord. To recline there—the making of a theologian.”

    Price: $25.00

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