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What is ‘New Testament Study’? The New Testament and Early Christianity*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2014

Christopher M. Tuckett*
Faculty of Theology, 41 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LW, United Kingdom. email:


The article addresses the question ‘What is “New Testament Study”?’, considering as possible alternatives ‘Theology’ or ‘Religious Studies’. The issue may be critically determined by who is doing the study, and in what context; but in the context of the SNTS, it is argued that a non-confessional approach is more appropriate today. Part of the distinction between the two approaches may lie in one's attitude to non-canonical literature. In the second part of the article the question is raised as to what difference study of non-canonical texts might make in understanding the NT documents. Examples of the passion narrative in Q, and beliefs about the resurrection of the body (by Paul and other early Christians), are examined. Such issues raise questions about the NT canon, which are briefly addressed in a final section.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Presidential Address delivered at the 68th General Meeting of the Society for New Testament Studies held in Perth, Australia, 23–6 July 2013.


1 Meeks, W. A., ‘Why Study the New Testament?’, NTS 51 (2005) 155–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 We are a ‘Society for New Testament Studies’ (given in Latin to provide perhaps added gravitas!).

3 For ‘canonical criticism’, I have in mind the approach of Brevard Childs, who has probably made more impact on studies of the Hebrew Bible/‘Old Testament’ than on NT studies. The closest might perhaps be the approach of those promoting a ‘Biblical Theology’, claiming that a background in Jewish scripture for interpreting the NT writings is primary (even if there might be debate about the precise form of Jewish scripture which is part of this ‘Bible’: is it the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint?), almost on the basis of an a priori theological presumption. Others might of course claim that a ‘biblical’ background should be the primary background for interpreting e.g. Paul, but with this presented logically as a result of an exercise implicitly comparing different possible ‘backgrounds’ and claiming that this is the most plausible in historical terms, not as an a priori assumption. See for example the Presidential Address of Hengel, M., ‘Aufgaben der neutestamentlichen Wissenschaft’, NTS 40 (1994) 321–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar, arguing for the vital importance of the Jewish background, but equally emphasising the importance of studying Judaism from the 4th century bce onwards as the critical background for NT texts (346).

4 When one adds in the complexities of trying to consider the distinction represented by (virtual) transliterations of the words in other languages, the problems are multiplied yet more. Thus a ‘Theology/Religious Studies’ divide in England is perhaps related to (but not quite identical with) the divide involving the same (or similar) words in North America, in Australia, in Scandinavia, and in turn this might be similar to (but again not identical with) the divide between ‘Theologie’ and ‘Religionswissenschaft’ (or ‘Religionsgeschichte’?) in a German-speaking context.

5 Cf. what may have been a chance remark, but nonetheless revealing, by Smart, N., ‘Religion as Discipline’, Concept and Empathy: Essays in the Study of Religion (New York: New York University Press, 1986) 158CrossRefGoogle Scholar (writing about university departments of ‘Theology’): ‘In the very nomenclature – Departments of Theology – it is tacitly implied that studies are devoted to Christian theology.’ Cf. too Galloway, A. D., ‘Theology and Religious Studies – The Unity of our Discipline’, RS 11 (1975) 157–65Google Scholar, at 162: such language is a vestige from past history, but we may be stuck with it.

6 My own Faculty has recently changed its name from ‘Theology’ to ‘Theology and Religion’. And in a public forum recently referring to the change, the chair of the Faculty Board stated (perhaps slightly apologetically) that, although this change had been made, this did not mean that Oxford was relinquishing or changing its commitment to study of ‘core subjects studying the Christian tradition’ (e.g. New Testament, Patristics etc.) The implication was I think clear: ‘Theology’ meant study of Christianity and/or the Christian tradition; ‘Religion’ meant study of things other than Christianity. So too in many school and undergraduate contexts, ‘Theology’ is taken as study of Christianity (alone), whereas ‘Religious Studies’ is taken as study of a wider range of world religions. Hence school leavers in the UK interested in studying a wide range of world religions in an undergraduate degree course would typically be encouraged to look for an institution that offered ‘Religious Studies’ or ‘Religion’, rather than ‘Theology’ or ‘Divinity’.

7 I am very aware that the name varies: ‘Comparative Religion’, ‘History of Religions’, ‘Study of Religion’, ‘Religious Studies’, to name just some of the options in English!

8 See the survey of views presented by Wiebe, D., ‘Religious Studies’, The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion (ed. Hinnells, J. R.; Abingdon: Routledge, 2010) 125–44Google Scholar; for a definition, see pp. 125–7, e.g. citing on p. 127 Alan Olson in the Encyclopaedia of Religious Education (1990): ‘religious studies is meant to identify an objective, scientific, non-biased study of religion as distinct from ‘theological’ and/or ‘confessional’ study for the purpose of increasing the faith, understanding, and institutional commitment of individual degree candidates in a particular religion' (549–50). Cf. too N. Smart, ‘The Exploration of Religion in Education’, Concept and Empathy, 220–1, referring to a ‘phenomenological’ approach, and ‘the suspension of disbelief or belief’; also the programmatic statement of Max Müller, often taken as the ‘founder’ of the discipline, referring to the ‘Science of Religion’ (German ‘Religionswissenschaft’) as ‘an impartial and truly scientific comparison of all … religions of mankind’ (Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873) 34f. (emphasis mine: the issue of what might count as ‘scientific’ is hugely debated!))

It is then in my view unfortunate when, in some contexts in the UK at least, these two very different ideas of what constitutes ‘Theology’ and ‘Religious Studies’ are elided, so that it is presumed that any study of Christianity (‘Theology’ in the first sense above) ipso facto presupposes religious commitment on the part of the student and perhaps teacher (‘Theology’ in the second sense); and hence any phenomenological, or religiously neutral, approach cannot include study of Christianity.

9 Wiebe, D., ‘The Failure of Nerve in the Academic Study of Religion’, SR 13 (1984) 401–22Google Scholar, repr. in Wiebe, D., The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999) 141–62Google Scholar. For Wiebe, only what is physical or observable can be the subject matter of the academic study of religion. For a critical overview of debates about the nature and state of ‘Religious Studies’, see Wiebe, ‘Religious Studies’. More briefly, see Räisänen, H., Neutestamentliche Theologie? (Stuttgart: KBW, 2000) 6773Google Scholar (on the differences between ‘empiricists’ and ‘transcendentalists’); also Sharpe, E. J., Comparative Religion (London: Duckworth, 1986 2) 296, 313Google Scholar.

10 Wiebe's criticisms are directed against the view of those who would encourage, if not almost demand, an element of ‘empathy’ on the part of the Religious Studies practitioner by accepting some idea of the ‘sacred’ in a general sense in the religious beliefs of others.

11 See e.g. Wilken, R. L., ‘Who will Speak for the Religious Tradition?’, JAAR 57 (1989) 699717Google Scholar; also Smart, N., ‘The Principles and Meaning of the Study of Religion’, Concept and Empathy, 195206Google Scholar (see the carefully nuanced discussion on p. 197, emphasising the importance of ‘imaginative participation’ and allowing the importance of an insider's perspective, even if in the end arguing that such is not absolutely necessary in order to understand). Wilken's article represents a Presidential Address to the AAR; Smart's essay is his inaugural address (in 1968) on taking up his post as Professor of Religious Studies in the (then new) Department of Religious Studies in the University of Lancaster.

12 That would certainly be the case in England, and much of the UK. My own university (Oxford), under the rubric of freedom of thought, would regard as unacceptable any making of a specific faith commitment on the part of any student or teacher as a necessary precondition for study or employment.

13 See Flood, G., Beyond Phenomenology: Rethinking the Study of Religion (London: Cassel, 1999), esp. 1828Google Scholar, who distinguishes what he calls a ‘primary theology’ from a ‘secondary theology’. In the former one might investigate one's own committed (often Christian) standpoint from within; in the latter one studies the standpoint of others. For a very similar distinction, see Barr, J., ‘Does Biblical Study still Belong to Theology?’, Explorations in Theology 7 (London: SCM, 1980) 1829, esp. 21–2Google Scholar.

14 Flood, Beyond Phenomenology, 23; he goes on to say that this ‘is a particular form of religionist's “understanding religion”. In the sense of academic disciplines, both theology and religious studies stand outside the narratives upon which they can offer critiques.’

15 See e.g. Stegemann, W., ‘Much Ado about Nothing? Sceptical Inquiries into the Alternatives “Theology” or “Religious Studies”’, Moving beyond New Testament Theology? Essays in Conversation with Heikki Räisänen (ed. Penner, T. and Stichele, C. Vander; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005) 221–42Google Scholar.

16 Stegemann, ‘Much Ado’, 242: ‘Scholarly theology, particularly its historical disciplines (like church history, the Old and New Testaments), can also be viewed as a form of religious studies that focuses on the history of Christianity.’ For others, however, such a use of ‘Theology’ might still be inappropriate to use for such a (potentially) uncommitted stance on the part of the modern scholar.

17 I leave aside here the question of how far a ‘theology’ in this sense (whether of an individual such as Paul, or of the NT as a collection) has to be a coherent, unified system of thought. For example, some might wish to question whether we ever find such a system, or unified coherence, in a figure such as Paul, let alone in the diverse collection of texts which now constitute the NT. Hence some would prefer to talk about the ‘religion’, rather than the ‘theology’, of a figure such as Paul. Certainly in relation to a ‘theology of the NT’, there are large debates about where such a unity might lie, or even whether it exists.

18 Cf. e.g. Morgan, R., ‘Introduction’, in Bultmann, R.'s Theology of the New Testament: With a New Introduction by Robert Morgan (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007)Google Scholar. Confusion can arise in this context where, in a phrase (or book title) such as ‘The Theology of the New Testament’, the words are taken by some as a reference to the subject matter under discussion (the ‘theological’ ideas found in the NT), but also by others as a reference to a ‘discipline’, and a particular stance of the modern author. In a real sense, a number of such books (of which e.g. Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament is a classic example) do serve both functions, since their authors develop their own theological positions in the form of what are (at one level) descriptions of the theologies of others (e.g. Paul): cf. Morgan, ‘Introduction’, xxi: ‘Bultmann is writing contemporary theology in and through his historical account of early Christianity.’

19 K. Stendahl's essay in the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, reprinted in Stendahl, K., Meanings: The Bible as Document and Guide (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 1222Google Scholar, which has been much discussed.

20 See Lash, N., ‘What might Martyrdom Mean?’, Suffering and Martyrdom in the New Testament (ed. Horbury, W. and McNeil, B.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981) 183–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar, repr. (with slight changes) in Lash, N., Theology on the Road to Emmaus (London: SCM, 1986) 7592Google Scholar. For a strongly worded argument about a confessional Christian ‘church’ context as being the primary reading community context for interpreting the NT, see e.g. Watson, F., Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Context (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994)Google Scholar. For those advocating a ‘theological’ interpretation of the NT, see e.g. the essays (and introduction) in Bockmuehl, M., ed., Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008)Google Scholar, and many others.

There are though considerable problems here in making such a claim into a reality: what would count as a ‘church’ context? Given that different people might have different ideas about what is essential and what is peripheral in identifying a ‘religion’ or a ‘religious tradition’, it is not easy to decide whether one is ‘in’ or ‘out’, or indeed what criteria one might use in making such decisions. If one adds to this the issue of chronologically distant phenomena, and the realisation that ‘religions’ may change over the course of time, it is by no means clear what it might mean to claim that one is working from an ‘emic’ perspective in relation to a figure of the past such as Paul. See the discussion of Smart, ‘Principles and Meaning’. For other criticisms of any attempt to tie biblical studies (though focused on OT rather than NT) to a confessional context, see also Barton, J., ‘The Future of Old Testament Study’, The Old Testament: Canon, Literature and Theology (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) 157–68Google Scholar, esp. 165.

21 Classically expressed in Gadamer, H. G., Truth and Method (London: Sheed & Ward, 1989 2)Google Scholar.

22 To be fair, this is explicitly denied by Lash, ‘Martyrdom’, 189.

23 Closer to home, I hope that I could give a lecture course on the letter to the Hebrews (I never have had to do so!) that seeks to be as ‘sympathetic’ as possible, while at the same time not wishing to affirm many of the ideas implied in the text (e.g. about the necessity of sacrifice) myself.

24 Meeks, ‘Why Study the New Testament?’, 169 (referring to Wood, C. M., The Formation of Christian Understanding: An Essay in Theological Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981)Google Scholar: ‘Important as it is to relate understanding and use, it is crucial not to identify them in such a way as to imply that to understand a text is to agree with it …’). Cf. too, from the side of one generally positive about a ‘theological’ (i.e. committed) approach to the NT, Esler, P. F., New Testament Theology: Communion and Community (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) 68Google Scholar: ‘We may well wish to learn from our ancestors in some areas, while maintaining a critical distance in others … Agreement is not a necessary precondition for communion between persons.’ Also p. 42: ‘The existence of cultural distance reminds us that at times we will need to be critical of what our biblical ancestors are saying’ (emphasis original). See too Barr, ‘Does Biblical Study still Belong to Theology?’, 26: ‘Empathy and personal involvement are not to be identified with the acceptance of the theological or ideological position of the matter studied’ (emphasis original).

25 For Bultmann, most things outside Paul and John; for Käsemann, Luke, perhaps John . See e.g. Morgan, Robert, ‘Introduction: The Nature of New Testament Theology’, The Nature of New Testament Theology (London: SCM, 1973), esp. pp. 4652Google Scholar, on ‘Sachkritik’.

26 Morgan has pointed out that so much of so-called ‘New Testament theology’ (in the sense of the discipline of undertaking NT studies with a ‘theological’ agenda in mind) is actually only ‘implicit’, in that the agenda remains slightly hidden behind the surface presentation of the interpretation as a description of what writers in the past have said (with reference to Barrett and Käsemann): this is then accessible to, and can be engaged with, by those who are not ‘theological’. See Morgan, R., ‘Biblical Hermeneutics and Critical Responsibility’, The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics (ed. Porter, S. E. & Malcolm, M. R.; Exeter: Paternoster, forthcoming)Google Scholar. I am grateful to the author for making this available to me in advance of publication.

27 One should also distinguish between those for whom we think we write (our ‘implied’, or intended, readers) and those who actually read what we write. The two may be very different! Hence an interpretation which was never intended to be ‘theological’ (in the sense of coming from a position of broad agreement with what is said in the text) may, quite legitimately, be taken ‘theologically’ by a reader (as expressing something of the nature of God or a ‘gospel’ which the reader then wishes to identify with).

28 Many of ‘us’ occupy more than one context at different times: e.g. we may inhabit both an academic context and an ecclesiastical, or religious, context. Sometimes the two may overlap or even coincide, but not always! Further, our intended readers and our actual readers may be different (see previous note).

29 Cf. above on my own institution of the University of Oxford, which demands freedom of expression and thought by both teachers and students, speakers and hearers.

30 I wonder too if the same is implicit in the extension of the aim of Society, inaugurated in 2004, to refer to the furtherance of NT studies ‘internationally’. It could of course be taken as implying an extension from a (presumed Christian) limited context (in e.g. Europe and North America) to a wider (but still presumed Christian) context globally. But it could (and I would like to suggest should) be taken as implying an awareness that the context(s) in which we seek to ‘further’ NT studies are not confined by geographical areas, national boundaries, or any religious boundaries.

31 I am not aware of Muslim or Buddhist SNTS members, though it would be excellent if there were!

32 Cf. too Meeks, ‘Why Study the New Testament?’, 167–9, on the varied audiences which ‘we’ should now be addressing; also Räisänen, H., Beyond New Testament Theology (London: SCM, 2000 2) 151–6Google Scholar, on the need to look beyond an ecclesial audience. All this is of course not to deny that a substantial number of our actual readers (if there are any!) may well be tied to one particular faith community.

33 Wrede, W., ‘The Tasks and Methods of “New Testament Theology”’ (1897), repr. in English translation in Morgan, Nature of New Testament Theology, 68116Google Scholar. For the broader history of interpretation and context from which Wrede came, see Morgan's Introduction in the same volume; also Hengel, ‘Aufgaben’, 327–8.

34 Räisänen, Beyond New Testament Theology.

35 See Theissen, G., A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion (London: SCM, 1999)Google Scholar; Berger, K., Theologiegeschichte des Urchristentums: Theologie des Neuen Testaments (Tübingen: Francke, 1994)Google Scholar; Zeller, D., ‘Einführung’, in Zeller, D., ed., Christentum (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2002)Google Scholar and also the first two major sections of the work as a whole (on the early stages of the Christian movement within history).

36 Despite some earlier statements which could be read in other ways, Räisänen has claimed that his proposals (to go ‘beyond’ New Testament Theology) are not necessarily a manifesto for all kinds of NT studies, but simply aim to propose an alternative to the writing of synthesising studies specifically entitled ‘New Testament Theology’: cf. Räisänen, Beyond New Testament Theology, xiv; also his ‘What I Meant and What it might Mean: An Attempt at Responding’, in Penner and Vander Stichele, Moving Beyond New Testament Theology?, 404, with reference to his own earlier writings, e.g. Beyond New Testament Theology, 153–4. However, others have made a similar move, slipping quietly from discussions of ‘New Testament Theology’ to ‘New Testament Studies’ or New Testament exegesis (apparently in toto): see e.g. Schröter, J., ‘Religionsgeschichte des Urchristentums statt Theologie des Neuen Testaments? Begründungsprobleme in der neutestamentlichen Wissenschaft’, BTZ 16 (1999) 320Google Scholar, at 18: ‘Eine Theologie des Neuen Testaments kann somit nicht durch eine Religionsgeschichte des Urchristentums ersetzt werden, da es die bleibende Aufgabe der neutestamentlichen Exegese ist, die kanonisch gewordenen Schriften auszulegen, die für das Christentum in aller historischen Relativität Orientierung und bleibender Maβstab sind’ (my emphasis). Schröter had spent most of the earlier part of the essay discussing how one should write a ‘New Testament Theology’, not how to undertake NT exegesis in all contexts (though of course, at one level, Schröter's point – that ‘NT exegesis’ must exegete the NT texts – is self-evidently true).

37 See Wrede, ‘Tasks’, 70–2. Cf. Hengel, ‘Aufgaben’, 327–8, for the debates provoked by F. C. Baur, both for and against, and the way in which these ignored any limits imposed by the NT canon.

38 It is perhaps worth noting that, in one sense, a decision to ignore, or to respect, the limits of the canon is by no means identical with a ‘History of Christian Religion’ vs ‘New Testament Theology’ divide. Perhaps the most ‘theological’ New Testament Theology of recent times, viz. that of R. Bultmann, adopted a stance which also ignored the limits of the canon. While putting Paul (and John) on a theological pedestal, he proceeded to consider (and criticise!) a whole range of other early Christian texts, both inside and outside the canon. For this aspect of Bultmann's work, adopting precisely the approach to the canon recommended by Wrede, see Schröter, ‘Religionsgeschichte’, 7; Morgan, ‘Introduction’, xxi.

39 Compare the amount of space occupied on our library shelves by commentaries or books on e.g. James or 2 Peter, compared with books on the Didache or 2 Clement!

40 Cf. Barr, J., The Bible in the Modern World (London: SCM, 1973) 117, 153Google Scholar, referring to the ‘facticity’ of the status of the Bible as biblical. See Hengel, ‘Aufgaben’, 332; also Meeks, ‘Why Study the New Testament?’, 167: the religious uses of the NT texts in the past, and the influence they have had on societies which have been nominally ‘Christian’, then perhaps justifies the inordinate attention we still devote to them, despite their tiny compass. Moreover, the canonical status of these texts has been a significant factor in the creations of departments and faculties of biblical studies in many of our universities. Hence many of us owe our jobs and livelihoods to the canonical status of these texts!

41 Wrede, ‘Tasks’, 70. Cf. conversely the title of the recent book of Lührmann, D., Die apokryph gewordenen Evangelien (Leiden: Brill, 2004)Google Scholar: non-canonical, or ‘apocryphal’, gospels only became ‘apocryphal’ in the course of subsequent history (though this applies only to the earlier ‘apocryphal’ gospels).

42 Whether the so-called ‘Septuagint’ or the bible in Hebrew.

43 Cf. e.g. Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 7, and his final assertion at the end of this discussion that he claims to have the Spirit of God (cf. v. 40), so that his ‘opinion’ is to be taken with the utmost seriousness; but he does not claim that his writings are ipso facto on a par with the writings of Jewish scripture and as such claim an equivalent authority. The authority Paul claims is that of himself as one who has the Spirit, or (elsewhere) as one whose life reflects the cross-centred gospel he proclaims; he does not claim that his letters are divinely inspired texts.

44 Within the NT, perhaps only the claim made at the end of the book of Revelation not to add to, or take away from, anything written in the book (Rev 22.18–19) comes close to this.

45 Cf. the comments of Dunderberg, I., ‘New Testament Theology and the Challenge of Practice’, Voces Clamantium in Deserto: Essays in Honor of Kari Syreeni (ed. Back, S.-O. and Kamkaammiemi, M.; Åbo: Åbo Akademi, 2012) 1435Google Scholar, at 23–8, on the ways in which the potential value of non-canonical texts is devalued or sidelined by a number of writers on so-called ‘New Testament Theology’; also for claims that the decisions made by early Christians about what to include in the NT canon are theologically highly appropriate since these texts are inherently ‘better’ than possible competitors (in relation to Stuhlmacher, perhaps too Theissen; also Hengel, ‘Aufgaben’, 332).

46 E.g. in relation to study of the historical Jesus, the possible late date of such texts, in comparison with other early texts, might be an important factor.

47 Conversely, for some, attention to the history of influence may act as a guard against claimed new interpretations of NT texts: if a proposed ‘new’ interpretation does not show up at all in the past history of interpretation, this might be taken as an indication that it is unlikely and/or implausible. For the importance of a consideration of Wirkungsgechichte in general, see e.g. Luz, U., ‘The Contribution of Reception History to a Theology of the New Testament’, The Nature of New Testament Theology: Essays in Honour of Robert Morgan (ed. Rowland, C. C. and Tuckett, C. M.; Oxford: Blackwell, 2006) 123–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar; also Luz's own Presidential Address to this Society: ‘Kann die Bibel heute noch die Grundlage für die Kirche sein? Über die Aufgabe der Exegese in einer religiös-pluralistischen Gesellschaft’, NTS 44 (1998) 317–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 331–4.

48 In a number of recent publications, F. Bovon has emphasised that so-called ‘apocryphal’ writings were not necessarily be seen as ‘rejected’ and theologically or spiritually worthless. Many non-canonical texts were still regarded positively and as valuable for piety: they were ‘useful for the soul’. See e.g. his Beyond the Canonical and Apocryphal Books, the Presence of Third Category: The Books Useful for the Soul’, HTR 105 (2012) 125137CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 See the discussion already in Wrede, ‘Tasks’, 101–3. Wrede proposed a rough and ready dividing line in the work of the Apologists, but was fully aware that this may well not be entirely defensible. Bousset, in his study of early Christian Christology, proposed going up to Irenaeus.

50 Cf. especially the Gospel of Thomas. But the same might well apply in relation to the canonical gospels as well!

51 Some of these were evidently regarded as canonical by some by being included within biblical/NT codices: 1 & 2 Clement are included in the texts reproduced in codex A, as are Barnabas and Hermas in א. Whether other texts were considered and explicitly rejected is simply not known. One suspects that some of the reasons given later for not including some texts (in writers such as Origen or Eusebius) are rationalisations after the event.

52 For a comprehensive collection of ‘gospel’ texts from an enormous chronological period, see Markschies, C. and Schröter, J., eds., Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung. I. Band: Evangelien und Verwandtes (2 vols.; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012)Google Scholar. Cf. too Elliott, J. K., The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 An intermediary category would be texts which have survived only in fragmentary form, and hence we often do not have enough evidence to be able to reconstruct their ideas or beliefs with any certainty. Cf. a number of the non-canonical ‘gospel’ texts of which only small fragments survive, e.g. P. Oxy. 840, or P. Egerton 2. See e.g. the texts collected in Markschies and Schröter, Apokryphen, 343–99; also Nicklas, T., Kruger, M., Kraus, T. J., Gospel Fragments (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

54 See below on Q, or Jewish Christian gospels.

55 In one way we do, but normally simply to try to gain insight into Paul; but should perhaps the Corinthian Christians addressed in 1 Corinthians, or the Galatian ‘agitators’, be considered for their own sake and on their own terms?

56 I take ‘Jesus traditions’ to be simply traditions which claim to report things said or done by Jesus.

57 I do not discuss here the vexed question of how one should define a ‘gospel’. But whatever one may decide, it is clear that various writers (or later scribes) claim the term for a number of (variegated) texts.

58 For the former, cf. the so-called ‘Jewish Christian gospels’; for the latter, cf. Q (on which see below), or a possible ‘Cross Gospel’ (lying behind the Gospel of Peter, according to Crossan).

59 For texts apart from the Gospel of Thomas, see Nicklas, T., ‘Traditions about Jesus in Apocryphal Gospels (with the Exception of the Gospel of Thomas)’, Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (ed. Holmén, T. and Porter, S. E.; 4 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 2011) 20812118Google Scholar. (I am fully aware that what is said above is something of a sweeping generalisation: a number of scholars have argued that there might be dominical material in e.g. the Apocryphon of James and other texts. These are discussed fully in Nicklas's essay.) For the Gospel of Thomas, the situation is much debated. For a positive assessment of the possibility of recovering information about Jesus from Thomas, see E. K. Broadhead, ‘The Thomas-Jesus Connection’, in Holmén and Porter, Handbook, 2059–80; for a more negative assessment, see Tuckett, C. M., ‘The Gospel of Thomas: Evidence for Jesus?’, NTT 52 (1998) 1732Google Scholar.

60 Wrede, W., The Messianic Secret in Mark (ET London: Clarke, 1971; German original 1901)Google Scholar.

61 For this, see my Q and the History of Early Christianity (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996)Google Scholar; also Kloppenborg, J. S., Excavating Q (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000)Google Scholar.

62 See my Q and the Historical Jesus’, in Schröter, J. & Brucker, R., eds., Der historische Jesus: Tendenzen und Perspektiven der gegenwärtigen Forschung (BZNW 114; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2002), 213–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar; also Jesus Tradition in non-Markan Material common to Matthew and Luke’, in Holmén and Porter, , Handbook, 1853–74Google Scholar. The theory that one can identify different strata within Q is associated above all with the work of Kloppenborg, John: cf. his seminal The Formation of Q (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987)Google Scholar, and his later Excavating Q. However, whatever one makes of such theories (for a critique, see my Q and the History, 70–3; in more detail in my On the Stratification of Q’, Semeia 55 (1991) 213–22)Google Scholar, one cannot simply equate the earliest stratum in Q with the historical Jesus without remainder, as Kloppenborg himself has repeatedly asserted: see e.g. his Formation, 245.

63 Also in Hebrews, but not e.g. in James. The case of the canonical gospels is perhaps more complex, and these gospels may not present an entirely unified picture in this respect. Mark and John do clearly have a very powerful focus on the death of Jesus (though equally it is not easy to find much direct evidence for explicit (theological) interpretation of the death itself: e.g. in Mark, only 10.45b and 14.24 seem to provide such evidence). For Matthew and Luke, it may be that the focus on Jesus' death itself is less strong, with more emphasis on the resurrection. And it is well known that Luke has little if any reference to any positive evaluation of the cross. (Mark 10.45b is not paralleled; the saying over the cup at the Last Supper in Luke may also lack a reference to any kind of atonement idea (depending on the text chosen), and Acts is notoriously (all but) silent on this.)

64 The saying is about the necessity of followers of Jesus to ‘take up [their] cross’; but such violent verbal imagery is scarcely imaginable without awareness of Jesus' crucifixion.

65 Whether this is the case for the canonical evangelists is also debatable. Sayings in the canonical gospels which give any kind of ‘interpretation’ of Jesus' death are notorious by their rarity: see above.

66 I say ‘appear to show’ in light of the fact that so many of these texts are not extant in full: hence we do not have evidence from a complete text about the ideas they may contain. Further, their very nature as ‘gospel’ texts, i.e. purporting to record things said by a figure of the past (rather than an author giving an account of his/her own views directly), means that any evidence of their ‘ideas’ or ‘interests’ must inevitably be uncertain.

67 Kähler, M., The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964) 80Google Scholar (German original 1892).

68 I am fully aware of the dangers of using the category of ‘G/gnostic’ at all; however, for some attempt at justification for still using the category, see my The Gospel of Mary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 4252CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hereafter, I use here the word Gnostic with a capital G, and without inverted commas, simply for convenience.

69 See Markschies and Schröter, Apokryphen, 1051–1238, there under the rubric of ‘Dialogische Evangelien’, and recognising that texts other than Gnostic ones may come into this category, e.g. the Epistula Apostolorum. Conversely, some Gnostic gospels do not fit this pattern: cf. the Gospel of Judas. Whether the Gospel of Thomas fits into this genre is much debated. However, the fact that the teaching is given by the ‘living Jesus’, whose sayings (almost) all have an introductory ‘Jesus says’ (present tense), may suggest that the speaker is thought of as the risen Jesus speaking in the present, rather than the pre-Easter Jesus speaking in the past. But in any case, the teaching given by Thomas' Jesus scarcely focuses at all on Jesus' death as in any way significant. (The hearers are to lay aside their clothing: but that at most seems to imply a model of Jesus' followers simply dying to escape the present world and its environment). Thomas has often been proposed as a stock example to place alongside Q as a possible ‘gospel’ without a passion narrative. Whether Thomas should be regarded as ‘Gnostic’ or not (a matter of considerable debate), the fact remains that there are a number of ‘gospel’ texts which, like Q and Thomas, present forms of Jesus traditions but without including a passion narrative.

70 One possible exception to this might be the motif which appears in a few Gnostic texts, where the ‘living’ Jesus is taken to be distinct from the ‘fleshly’ one and stands by the cross ‘laughing’ while the other figure is crucified: cf. e.g. Apoc. Pet. (NHC 7.3) 81.4–24. This is then some kind of ‘narrative’ of the passion events. But even that is relatively rare.

71 See Markschies & Schröter, Apokryphen, 884–1050 (‘Kindheitsevangelien’); also Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 46–122. The best-known texts in this category are the Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

72 How much else the text contained, and hence how central the account of the passion was within the wider whole, we clearly do not know. Focus on the passion narrative comes to the fore in later traditions about Pilate: see the Acts of Pilate (and/or the Gospel of Nicodemus): Markschies & Schröter, Apokryphen, 231–79; Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 164–228. It is just possible that some account of a passion ‘narrative’ is witnessed in the tiny fragment P.Vindob. G. 2325 (sometimes called the ‘Fayum Gospel’). This tiny fragment appears to have a version of a text similar to that in Mark 14.27, 29. As such it might then represent a version of the passion narrative. But the fragment is very small and it is impossible to be sure of the wider context. For discussion, see the edition and commentary by Thomas Kraus, in Nicklas, T., Kruger, M. J., Kraus, T. J., eds., Gospel Fragments (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 219–27Google Scholar (more briefly in Markschies & Schröter, Apokryphen, 375–6).

73 See above.

74 On this, see Verheyden, J., ‘Some Reflections on Determining the Purpose of the “Gospel of Peter”’, Das Evangelium nach Petrus: Text, Kontexte, Intertexte (ed. Kraus, T. J. & Nicklas, T.; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007) 281300Google Scholar.

75 Even in the extended passage in Barn. 5–8, where there is a long section on the meaning and significance of Jesus' death, there is virtually no explicit appeal to texts from the passion narratives (at least in the form that we have them in the present canonical gospels): the story is told almost exclusively in terms of citations and allusions to passages in Jewish scripture (e.g. the suffering servant passages in Isa 50, 53, or Ps 22), rather than to versions of the narrative of Jesus' death as such. See the discussion in Allen, E. B., Jesus' Death in Early Christian Memory: The Poetics of the Passion (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004) ch. 3Google Scholar.

76 There is a brief mention, almost in passing, in 2 Clem. 1.2; also Ign. Smyrn. 7.1. Barn. 5–8, as noted above, gives a more extensive treatment.

77 This would then almost certainly include a number of canonical texts as well! In some ways this would be analogous to the treatment of Jesus traditions above.

78 Cf. 2 Pet 3.15–16 for this as evidently a common practice among early Christians.

79 Cf. Wedderburn, A. J. M., Baptism and Resurrection (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987)Google Scholar; Wright, N. T., The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003)Google Scholar.

80 Theories about a possible ‘development’ in Paul's thought have classically focused on his eschatological expectations.

81 The classic essay on this remains Jeremias, J., ‘“Flesh and Blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”’, NTS 2 (1956) 151–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The issue is discussed in all the commentaries.

82 ‘Flesh’ (σάρξ) here thus probably does not have the highly charged negative overtones of passages such as Gal 5.16–21; but then Paul's use of σάρξ, σῶμα etc. can be notoriously variable and imprecise.

83 For myself I am not convinced that he did: see my 2 Clement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 43–5Google Scholar.

84 His argument (perhaps not very persuasive!) is that, as there is this continuity, ethical behaviour involving the present body is vitally important. On the latter point Paul would not disagree! But the part of the argument involving the present ‘flesh’ proceeds quite differently.

85 A verdict often passed, in my view unfairly, on 2 Clement: see my essay ‘2 Clement and Paul’, Paulus ? Werk und Wirkung. Festschrift für Andreas Lindemann zum 70. Geburtstag (ed. P.-G. Klumbies and D. S. Du Toit; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 529–45.

86 See, among others, Bynum, C. W., The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity: 200–1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; the twin articles by Grant, R. M., ‘The Resurrection of the Body’, JR 28 (1948) 120–30, 188–208Google Scholar, are still very valuable, especially for discussion of patristic evidence.

87 See the two articles of Van Unnik, W. C., ‘The Newly Discovered “Epistle to Rheginos” on the Resurrection: i & ii’, JEH 15 (1964) 141–52, 153–67Google Scholar (especially the second). The recent study by Vinzent, M., Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011)Google Scholar, questioning how central resurrection was for early Christians (and arguing that this theme only emerges strongly as a reaction to Marcion), suffers from some weaknesses, not least because of some questionable assumptions and/or circular arguments about the dating of some of the relevant texts: see the full discussion and critique by Paget, J. Carleton, ‘Marcion and the Resurrection: Some Thoughts on a Recent Book’, JSNT 35 (2012) 74102Google Scholar.

88 Justin explicitly affirms that his claims are quite distinct from claims about the immortality of a soul: he writes of other people (Christians?) ‘who say that there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven’ (Dial. 80.4). Cf. too Tatian, Orat. 13; Theophilus, Ad Autol. 1.13 (referring to Autolycus's refusal to believe in resurrection, even though he probably accepted some kind of immortality of the soul), also 1.7 (on the claim that God ‘will raise your flesh immortal with your soul’). Tertullian devotes a whole treatise to the idea (De Res.), arguing that belief in the resurrection is the distinguishing feature of the Christian: ‘the Christian confidence is the resurrection of the dead. By it we are believers’ (ch. 1); later he asserts: ‘In proving that the flesh shall rise again, we prove that no other flesh will partake of the resurrection that that which is in question …’ (ch. 55).

89 See e.g. 1 Clem. 24 (day following night; seed being sown leading to crops); Theophilus, Ad Autol. 1.13 (the seasons of the moon, or human beings recovering from illness); Athenagoras, Res. 16 (sleep and awakening); Justin, 1 Apol. 19 (human beings growing from human ‘seeds’). See further Grant, ‘Resurrection’, 193–4; Bynum, Resurrection, 28–33. At other times, Christian writers claim (perhaps in slight contradiction to what is referred to in the preceding note) that Christian resurrection belief is fully supported by what is found in the teaching(s) of Greek philosopher(s): cf. Justin, 1 Apol. 20; Ps.-Justin, Res. 6; Athenagoras, Plea 36.

90 See Bynum, Resurrection, 24.

91 Already in Ign. Smyrn. 3 (on the resurrection of Jesus); then see further a range of texts including 3 Cor 5, 24–35; Ep. Apost. 21, 24; Tertullian, De Res. 55: ‘In proving that the flesh shall rise again, we prove that no other flesh will partake of the resurrection than that which is in question.’ The evidence from 3 Corinthians is perhaps striking: the author has to use the name of Paul himself effectively to ‘correct’ (or give the correct interpretation of) the canonical Paul. But then perhaps the author of 3 Corinthians is doing no more or less than the author(s) of the Pastorals.

92 ‘Vain are the disciples of Valentinus … they exclude the flesh from salvation and cast aside what God has fashioned’ (AH 5.1.2). ‘Vain are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh and treat with contempt its regeneration’ (5.2.2). ‘Our bodies … shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father who freely gives to this mortal immortality and to this corruptible incorruption’ (5.2.2).

93 Gos. Phil. (NHC 2.3) 56.31ff. See Lindemann, A., Paulus im ältesten Christentum (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1979) 325–6Google Scholar. I have not, however, been able to find much other clear evidence of use of this verse by other Gnostic writers. Lindemann, Paulus, 308 mentions a possible allusion in Hippolytus' description of the Ophites in Ref. 1.30. See also Pagels, E., The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (Philadelphia: TPI, 1992) 85–6Google Scholar, on Gnostic use of 1 Cor 15.50, though with reference primarily to evidence from Tertullian and Irenaeus.

94 See Wilson, R. McL., ‘The New Testament in the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Philip’, NTS 9 (1963) 291–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 294: the use made here of Paul represents ‘a sufficiently faithful reproduction of the Pauline doctrine to explain why in the second century the Church departed from Paul and emphasized, with such writers as Justin and Tertullian, the resurrection of the flesh. Paul's teaching lent itself too readily to adaptation in a Gnostic interest.’

95 Irenaeus argues that ‘flesh (and blood)’ here does not mean all physical flesh, but only flesh without the Spirit which gives life (AH 5.9.2–4); Tertullian appeals to the fact that the verse in 1 Corinthians 15 talks about inheriting the kingdom, and hence (he argues) does not exclude the resurrection of the physical flesh for judgement: only those who (also) have the Spirit will be able to inherit the kingdom (De Res. 50). Such interpretation is surely somewhat forced at best!

96 The nature of possible ‘opponents’ in Ignatius is debated.

97 Cf. Luke 24.39.

98 See Bynum, Resurrection of the Body, 43–51.

99 2 Clement; also perhaps Irenaeus, at least in this context. See too Bynum, Resurrection of the Body, 47–8, for the way in which even Tertullian does not correlate claims about resurrection with exhortations to martyrdom directly.

100 Cf. n. 45 above, for some claiming that the present content of the NT canon is in some way or other justified because of the inherent quality and/or ‘theological’ superiority of the texts included. (For Hengel, ‘Aufgaben’, 332, this is also coupled with claims about their chronological priority over potential alternatives. Hengel though does also suggest that the theological superiority in some sense is what justifies the existence of this Society: others might venture to question this!)

101 We can perhaps say that texts are ‘good’ because they are canonical; but if we want to claim that in some sense texts might be justifiably canonical because they are ‘good’, then we must have some criterion outside that of canonicity itself if the argument is not to become tautologous and/or circular.

102 Cf. Käsemann, E., ed., Das Neue Testament als Kanon (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970)Google Scholar. Theissen, Theory, 271–85 talks of ‘the grammar of primitive Christian faith’ (‘Die Grammatik des urchristlichen Glaubens’) as ‘the inner canon within the canon’ (though Theissen in rather more open to the positive religious value of a number of early non-canonical texts (e.g. some Jewish Christian texts and the Gospel of Thomas), but also claiming that Gnostic texts are excluded because of their failure to hold together the twin ‘rules’ of the ‘grammar’ of early Christian faith, above all the twin axioms of monotheism and belief in the redeemer).

103 I am very grateful to Professors Christopher Rowland, Heikki Räisänen, Ismo Dunderberg and Robert Morgan for reading through earlier drafts of this paper. None of them agreed with all the views expressed here, but I am grateful to them for their challenging questions and comments.

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