Monday, February 26, 2007

assumptions & arguments: early Christian beliefs in 1 Corinthians

Sometimes it takes being sick to help us realize what is truly important, like blogging. Okay, that's a bunch of crud, but I since I've called out of work (or called in, which do you say?) I have the time to write something. In fact, I may write two somethings if I have time. Anyway, it's been over 3 weeks since I last blogged, even my own mother was making fun of me the other day for it.

I'm just beginning to teach 1 Corinthians in a class for my church and I'm really excited. One thing I notice about this letter of Paul is how it gives us a clue into the life of the early church that we might not otherwise have if the Corinthians weren't so screwed up. For instance, there is no other book in the NT where it clearly states that the earliest Christians regularly observed the Lord's Supper. True, we have mentioning of breaking bread in homes in Acts 2:46 which may well refer to this, "tasting the heavenly gift" in Hebrews 6 is another possibility; there may be more, these were just off the top of my head. But I'm not sure we would have strong NT evidence without 1 Corinthians (side note: take a moment and read 1 Cor 11:17-34 and note in what ways most of us do not observe the Lord's Supper in the manner Paul instructs here).

What I find more interesting, however, is not the controversial points, but those points which Paul assumes he and his readers agree to. The common ground they share gives us a great clue as to what the earliest Christians believed and practiced. For instance, even with a largely Gentile congregation Paul refers to the OT Scriptures in a way that assumes they know what he's talking about. Even if they don't have the background Paul does, they know enough that Paul feels comfortable using them (I'm assuming, of course, that Paul is knowledgable of their Scriptural comprehension and not overshooting).

You'll also see how Paul, in 8:6, weaves Jesus into the Shema (from Deuteronomy 6:4-5), which is quite a strong statement of Jesus' divinity coming from the pen of a Jew. Again, he doesn't argue this point, he assumes the readers accept it already. In fact, he so strongly assumes its acceptance he uses as a building block for his argument. This indicates that the divinity of Jesus was already considered standard doctrine very early (scholars Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham have argued this at length).

One last thing I noticed is the reference to Jesus' earthly life that Paul makes in 1 Cor 11:23-25. It is a common criticism of more liberal scholars to claim that Paul really didn't know much, if anything, about Jesus' life on earth, otherwise Paul would refer to it more often. Here, Paul, while discussing the Lord's Supper, quotes from Jesus. He even puts it within a context- "on the night he was betrayed" (v23). Paul is clearly aware of the tradition of Jesus' betrayal and feasting with His disciples and assumes the Corinthians are as well. Is it unreasonable to imagine that Paul discussed these things with them when he was present and preaching the gospel? These are the foundational aspects of Pauline Christianity, we are reading the problems that arise in living out the gospel (this goes for 1 Corinthians, Galatians and most other Pauline letters).

My point is this: if you want to get an accurate look at the earliest Christian beliefs and practices, sometimes the best thing you can do is read what is assumed rather than what is argued. Since these letters were written to address specific situations at specific times we ought to excuse Paul for not writing a systematic theology textbook (no, not even Romans counts). Like a good pastor he is trying to right the ship where it has gone off course. He uses the gospel, the Jesus tradition and his previous teachings to lay the foundation, but spends most of his time arguing the implications of these things in the life of his churches.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

dealing with writer's block

Well, it's been a while since I've posted anything, even longer since I've posted anything of any substance. Instead, I will direct you to what is now my favorite comic strip. My sister e-mailed me a link a while back to Dinosaur Comics, a comic strip where only the text changes, never the pictures. I find it hilarious, though it is certainly not for everyone. Case in point, read this and decide if you like it or not (this is the particular comic my sister sent to me). If not, Dinosaur Comics might not be for you, though I think you should check out more of them.

While I'm here, check out Elijah Teague's first report card, given to him by his father, Bruce. I think he did pretty well for a newbie. And for more baby stuff, see Matt & Pam's latest post (better check it out, they only come about twice a year) about their baby. This is what happens when your friends are pregnant or new parents, you end up filling your blog with baby stuff. I need a life.