FOR the study of Christian beginnings there is value in that architectural metaphor which distinguishes the foundation from the superstructure. It is this which has attached the word 'edification' to a certain type of Christian activity; and although that word has unhappily been spoilt (like too many good words) by association with what the rebellious call 'trying to do them good', it stands for an important distinction within Christian procedure – the distinction between foundation and superstructure. 'I am like a skilled master-builder', wrote Paul (1 Cor. iii. 10), 'who by God's grace laid the foundation.' That foundation, he immediately goes on to say, can be nothing other than Jesus Christ. No structure is a Christian structure which is not so founded. The Christian community is not reared on exhortation but on declaration: not on fine ideals, but on witness to a Person. When, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter declared that Jesus was the King of Israel, he was bearing witness to what he had thus far observed in Jesus. It was only a preliminary finding; it was, as directly appeared, a distorted estimate; but it was the start of an estimate which was corrected and deepened by the resurrection, and which constituted the foundation of the Christian faith. It turned out that the apostles'witness to what they had seen and discovered to have been done by God in and through Jesus was the rock upon which the whole edifice was reared.
Evangelism is thus the laying of the foundation. But what follows upon it is of course the rearing of the superstructure – the work of 'edifying', and consolidating, both the individual convert and the community corporately. And this prolonged task was the cause of much that has come to form part of the New Testament – indeed, of far more than was produced by evangelism, which has left less written deposit. Literature was not then a primary propaganda-medium. The initial 'propaganda' was mostly spoken. But much that followed came to be written. It is therefore to the words, the phrases, and the whole sections that reflect the work of upbuilding and (to change the metaphor) 'pastoral care' – shepherding – that we now direct our attention.
If the work of evangelism, in some form, must needs be always the beginning, the mode of that evangelism and the nature, scope, and time-scale of the response vary widely. In Acts ii the response to Peter's preaching at Pentecost is represented as immediate, and we are told that large numbers were baptized forthwith. As for the gaoler at Philippi, so far as the narrative goes it sounds as though he and his household were baptized there and then, in the night, on no more secure a basis than the desire for 'rescue' from peril and the assurance that to be 'rescued' he need only believe on Jesus (Acts xvi. 30 f.). Such sudden conversions, without background, training, or instruction may sound alarmingly precarious. But it would be arbitrary to say that there can never be situations in which it is right to receive into the Church first and give detailed instructions and 'edification' afterwards.
In other words, we are here confronted with the perennial tension between two ideals: on the one hand, there is the ideal of what later came to be called ' the gathered church' – that is, a Church composed only of ' converted' individuals, gathered out of their setting by the election of God and the careful sifting of the evangelist. On the other hand, there is the 'mass-movement' type of ideal, in which whole clans, whole populations, are swept in collectively. The rights and wrongs of these conceptions of evangelism depend very largely upon the social structure and other conditions prevailing in any given instance. The 'gathered church" ideal is primarily applicable in a context where the individual is already accustomed to act independently – that is, in a society where some degree of sophistication obtains, and where some measure of individualism has resulted: still more obviously, in areas which are already nominally Christian. The opposite extreme is presented by societies which are still essentially tribal in structure. A well-documented study of such conditions some years ago is to be found in J. W. Pickett's Christian Mass Movements in India (Abingdon Press, U.S.A., 1933). There he writes (p. 22):
The distinguishing features of Christian mass movements are a group decision favourable to Christianity and the consequent preservation of the converts' social integration. Whenever a group, larger than the family, accustomed to exercise a measure of control over the social and religious life of the individuals that compose it, accepts the Christian religion (or a large proportion accepts it with the encouragement of the group), the essential principle of the mass movements is manifest.
More recently, D. A. McGavran, in How Churches Grow (World Dominion Press, 1959), writes (p. 23):
Except in individualized, urbanized, homogeneous populations, men and women exist in social organisms such as tribes, castes, and kindreds. They have an intense people-consciousness and tribal loyalty. Churchmen holding Gathered Church convictions proclaim a universal Gospel to them and invite them as individuals, regardless of what others do, to choose Christ. To them this sounds like being urged to leave their own and join the Christian
Now, curiously enough, in the New Testament we hear scarcely anything of prolonged, individual catechumenates; yet, on the other hand, neither is there direct evidence of any collective, corporate units larger than the household. We are confronted, therefore, with a delicately balanced situation. There is no clear evidence within the New Testament that Christianity advanced into any primitive tribal areas, unless it be Galatia; and even 'Galatians' – so far as Paul's converts went – need only mean the town-dwellers of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium – vernacular-speaking, admittedly, but worshippers of Zeus, not primitive animists (Acts xiv. 11 ff.). Apart from these – even assuming these to be in any way exceptional – Paul's work seems to have lain in the Hellenized cities and to have reached no lower in the scale of education and intelligence than the household slave. There is no evidence for the penetration of Christianity into the labour-slave-gangs of the great estates, or the mines.1 Cor. i. 26-29, whatever its stress upon the ignorance and obscurity of the majority of converts in Corinth, certainly need not be read so as to imply the completely inarticulate and illiterate.
Thus we are led to conclude that, for the New Testament, the household is generally the largest unit. It is possible, as has been suggested, that the recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews may have been a group (J. Moffatt called them a 'clan') which had originally formed a synagogue or a section of a synagogue. But it seems to have been the household (including, no doubt, slaves and servants as well as blood relations) that formed the largest evangelized group, and the 'house-church' that represented the normal manner of such a unit's growth and expansion.
Not that there is extensive direct evidence even for this assertion. All that can be said is that, while we hear in the New Testament of the conversion of individuals (and that in large numbers, on the day of Pentecost and shortly afterwards), we also hear of the conversion of the households of the 'official' in John iv. 53, of Cornelius (Acts xi. 14; cf. x. 2), of Lydia at Philippi (Acts xvi. 15), of the gaoler (Acts xvi. 31 ff.), of Crispus, the Corinthian synagogue-official (Acts xviii. 8), and of Stephanas (1 Cor. i. 16; cf. xvi. 15); while Onesiphorus' household is alluded to, evidently as a Christian group, in 2 Tim. i. 16, iv. 19, and in Tit. i. 11 false teachers are described as upsetting whole households, and there is evidence for the existence of house-churches (Rom. xvi. 5, 1 Cor. xvi. 19, Col. iv. 15; Philem. 2). As a matter of fact, even in Pickett's study of the Indian mass movements, one of the most arresting conversion-stories is that of Ditt, the Chuhra hide-dealer in the Punjab, who, on being individually converted, returned to his village and converted first his wife, his daughter, and two neighbours, and later four other men. It was only then that the movement in his area gained momentum (see op. cit. 43-45. This was in about A.D. 1900).
New Testament evangelism, then, represents neither the typical mass movement type of primitive tribalism nor the purely individual, 'gathered church' ideal. Its background was the family life and synagogue group of Judaism or of a near-Judaic pattern, unless there were cases when, in the relatively atomized, sophisticated life of the Levantine city, it took the form purely of house-churches, 'gathered' from an amorphous society. And it is in such a setting that we have to place the process of edification which is the subject of our enquiry. As has already been remarked, we hear almost nothing of a prolonged catechumenate. Apollos is scarcely an instance. He was already himself an evangelist when he was taken and further instructed by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts xviii. 24-28); it does not appear whether, in the end, he was given specifically Christian baptism, like the 'disciples' (perhaps Apollos' converts) found by Paul at Ephesus (Acts xix. 1-7). Apart from this, there are indications, indeed, that there were recognized courses of 'training for beginners'; but whether, as in the later Church, baptism was the climax to which such courses led; or whether the New Testament practice was first to baptize and then to instruct, is harder to establish. The only direct evidence, as we have already seen, points to the latter. In Gal. vi. 6 the catechumen is bidden share his goods with his catechist, which seems to imply a substantial period of instruction; but we are still not told whether or not baptism had already taken place.
In three passages in the New Testament, the metaphor of 'milk' as the diet of the immature is used. In 1 Cor. iii. 1-3 the metaphor is applied, first to the Corinthians' condition – a natural one – when they were first evangelized, and then, by way of reproof, to their unnatural continuance in a state of spiritually arrested development (evidenced by selfish rivalry and partisanship). This yields no evidence as to the nature and place of catechetical teaching. In Heb. v. 11-14 the milk metaphor is applied, again by way of reproof, to the failure of those who are addressed to grow up, beyond their elementary grounding, into maturity in the Christian faith; and in vi. 1 f. there follows a very interesting definition of what this grounding consisted of: it was 'elementary Christian teaching' (ὁ τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ λόγος); it was a 'foundation' (θεμέλιος) 'consisting of (? or, less probably, 'upon which was to be built') 'repentance from dead (i.e. useless or fatal?) deeds; faith in God; teaching about lustrations (βαπτισμοί), (? and about) the imposition of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment'. Fairly clearly, this is catechesis. But again, whether it in fact wholly preceded or in part followed baptism (? and the imposition of hands), who can say? Finally, 1 Pet. ii. 2 urges the hearers to long for the unadulterated spiritual milk (λογικὸν γάλα) that will enable them to grow into salvation. For those who believe that this represents an address to baptizands on the verge of baptism, it will mean, no doubt, the further training which will follow baptism and might also contain an allusion to the ritual administration of literal milk at baptism as a symbol of the milk and honey of the promised land they were now entering (cf. Heb. vi. 4). But if it be interpreted rather as a recall of Christians who are facing persecution to the great basic experience of their baptism in the past, it will be a reminder of and a recall to their essential nourishment, and will imply neither reproof for immaturity nor the actual imminence of baptism itself (see above, pp. 27 f).
So we are left unable to be certain whether or not, before the end of the New Testament period, the later system of a prolonged catechumenate before baptism had developed. It seems entirely possible that an individual was often baptized as a member of an entire household, after a single hearing of the very minimum of 'Gospel', and only subsequently given detailed instruction. But about the content of the instruction, whenever it was given, there is fortunately more evidence. Even without specific evidence, it would go without saying that, sooner or later, after baptism if not before, the initial evangelism must be followed by a process of detailed instruction – of 'edification'. And this rearing of the superstructure, this up-building, would, according to the stage at which it occurred, comprise more or less of the basic proclamation, the foundation Gospel. In other words, if we maintain the familiar distinction between kerygma and didache too rigidly, we shall not do justice to the real nature of all Christian edification, which builds, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always at least some of the foundation material into the walls and floors.
In the main it is, of course, true that the foundation is laid by the proclamation of what God has done in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (' There can be no other foundation beyond that which is already laid; I mean Jesus Christ himself, 1 Cor. iii. 11), and the challenge to acknowledge Jesus as Lord; and that there then follows detailed instruction about the implications of this, both for doctrine and conduct.
But, to illustrate how subtly foundation and superstructure interlock, it may be observed – however paradoxical it may seem at first sight – that in the New Testament it is in the Epistles that one may hear more echoes of the work of evangelism than in the Gospels – or, at least, than in the Synoptic Gospels. For the Synoptic Gospels, at any rate, contain virtually no post-resurrection, evangelistic 'appeal': they do no more (essentially) than state the facts; they do not embody the 'Believe, repent, and be baptized' of the pentecostal appeal (Acts ii. 36, 38). The epistles, by contrast, although all addressed to the already evangelized, and, to that extent, speaking retrospectively, nevertheless contain a great deal more reference to the meaning and the means of becoming a Christian – hearing, believing, becoming incorporate in the Body of Christ (e.g. Rom. i. 2-4, 1 Cor. xv. 1 ff., Gal. iii. 1-5, Eph. ii. 8, 13, Col. i. 7, 13 f., 21 f., ii. 6 ff., 1 Thess. i. 9 f.). Thus, in a sense, the roles are reversed: it is the epistles which echo the initial challenge (albeit as a recollection of what happened to the Christians originally); whereas the Synoptic Gospels, viewed from this angle, embody rather that filling out of the initial challenge which was bound to follow. Even when the evangelistic appeal had been accepted and the convert baptized, there followed the stage when the catechumen (for he was still such) must be given some conception of the character of the God to whom, in Christ, he had yielded his life: bare kerygma, without personal content, would lack the power to stir and move, which the Gospels, by bringing the character of Jesus to life, do possess.The contents of the Gospels are thus necessary, if the convert's faith is to be concrete and his love glowing. The Fourth Gospel to some extent combines both functions, for it alone of the four Gospels both presents a narrative 'portrait' of Jesus and also answers the question 'What must I do to be saved?' But even so, its reply is strangely lacking in corporate and ecclesiastical content. The Johannine Epistles go a little further; but it is Paul who alone provides an adequate answer, though, as has just been said, it needs reinforcing by the living portrait of Jesus' character.
Paul speaks in terms of hearing and responding with trust; of divestiture of the old humanity and investiture with the new; of coming to be incorporated in Christ; of receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. And all this is for him clearly 'focussed' in Baptism and Holy Communion (Rom. vi. i ff., 1 Cor. x, xi. 17 ff.). Only on such conditions may a Christian look to receive the moral fibre and stamina to become what in reality he now is: it is to the Holy Spirit that he owes his life; it is by the Holy Spirit that he must now let his conduct be shaped (Gal. v. 25). Only on such conditions, perhaps, can the Sermon on the Mount be faced. J. Jeremias has proposed (The Sermon on the Mount (1961), Eng. vers. of Die Bergpredigt), to see in the Sermon on the Mount in its present form in Matthew a body of teaching intended only for the already baptized.
We have, then, to recognize an interlocking of foundation and superstructure something like this:
(A) Initial proclamation: Jesus, approved by miracles and deeds of goodness, was handed over by the Jews to Pilate and killed; but God raised him from among the dead and made him Lord and Messiah. All this was according to the scriptures.
(B) Initial appeal: therefore repent, be baptized, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
(a) Extension of proclamation: Jesus' life and miracles and deeds of goodness were such as the following (extended examples). His clash with the Jews, his sentence and execution followed the following pattern (details). The resurrection was manifested like this (narratives). The relevant scriptures are appropriately inserted throughout.
(b) Extension of appeal: repentance, baptism, and the coming of the Spirit mean (a new life, a transfiguring of outlook, the wearing of the new humanity, etc., etc.); they involve (details of character and conduct); they are related to Judaism and pagan religions as follows (discussion of the relevant issues).
Thus, into foundation (A) and ground-floor (B) alike are introduced materials of character (a) and (b). In any case, again and again the initial impact must, in actual life, have come neither from the hearing of 'Gospel' material nor from the direct 'appeal', but from the quality of the Christian community, as family or as house-church, into which an outsider would begin to be drawn by friendship, and only then would hear the explanations.In such cases, (Aa) and (Bb) may occur in any or in no order. In 1 Tim. iv. 13, Timothy is bidden to give his attention to (public) reading (? of the Jewish scriptures), to exhortation, and to teaching: all three, side by side. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that standard instruction for enquirers – newly baptized or preparing for baptism – did, like the proclamation, the kerygma, settle into a certain more or less regular pattern. Instruction, didache, both as the 'repent-and-be-baptized' appeal and also as instruction in the meaning and morals of the Christian life, found for itself its own sequences and chapters; and it is possible to reconstruct something of its appearance from the material scattered about the New Testament. It is true that the New Testament contains no elementary handbook of instruction (such as the Didache of the XII Apostles may be). But it does contain a good deal of instruction addressed to the already Christian communities, and it seems probable that much of this, with only minor differences, represents what had already been given to them at the beginning. At any rate, this instructional and edificatory material often looks like a reminder, a recall to what they already knew: sometimes, indeed, it is explicitly so described – just as, correspondingly, the celebrated little summary kerygma in 1 Cor. xv. 1 ff. is, in so many words, a reminder of what they had heard at the beginning:
And now, my brothers, I must remind you of the gospel that I preached to you; the gospel which you received, on which you have taken your stand, and which is now bringing you salvation. Do you still hold fast the Gospel as I preached it to you? If not, your conversion was in vain.
First and foremost, I handed on to you the facts which had been imparted to me: that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised to life on the third day, according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, and afterwards to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred of our brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterwards to all the apostles.
In the end, he appeared even to me.
There is sufficient literature on the tables of household ethics – the Haustafeln, to use the convenient German term – to make it unnecessary here to go into much detail about these.In Acts xx, in his moving farewell to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul is represented as committing them to the Lord and to the message about his graciousness which can build them up and give them a share in the promised land with all God's people (v. 32). That is a striking description of just that merged kerygma-and-didache which we have been considering; and we may assume that much the same is intended in the allusion in Rom. vi. 17 to the τύπος διδαχῦς, the typical teaching or outline of teaching, to which the Romans had been 'entrusted' by their evangelist, whoever he may have been. And precisely this kind of τύπος seems to be exemplified both by the brief summaries of the Gospel in 1 Cor. xv. 1 ff. and 2 Tim. ii. 8, and by the rules for domestic and family life (the Haustafeln) of the epistles, which contain injunctions to each member of the household springing directly from the baptismal fact of incorporation in Christ. That there seems to be a certain uniformity in the 'headings' relating to baptismal divestiture and investiture, and the resulting conduct, not only as between the Pauline Epistles but also when 1 Pet. and Jas are brought in, argues for a widely recognized τύπος. And the fact that parallels to some of the ethical material can be found, not only within Judaism but also in Stoic and other pagan writers, is only natural. Christianity began within Judaism and quickly spread in Graeco-Roman society; and borrowings from both were to be expected. What is striking is the degree to which the distinctiveness of the ἐν κυρίω, 'in the Lord', permeates and sets its stamp upon the Christian ethical instruction. It is against membership in the Christian community that conduct is tested. The measure of what is right becomes 'that which is fitting' (ὡς ἀνῆκεν) 'for one who is incorporate in the Lord' (ἐν κυρίω), Col. iii. 18; cf. 1 Cor. vii. 39 ('provided the marriage is within the Lord's fellowship').
But one feature of far-reaching importance, which is common to all the ethical teaching of the New Testament and to that of the immediately succeeding period also, must here be mentioned – namely, that, with very rare exceptions, none of the Christians had direct civic responsibilities, because few were Roman citizens and few, if any, had any effective voice in public affairs.This means not only that what we call Christian 'sociology' was unknown as a study but also that the thing itself was not there to be studied. This does not mean that the Christian ethic was individualistic. On the contrary, New Testament Christianity is nothing if not social: the Semitic traditions on which it arose are themselves strong in corporate sense; and, still more, it was quickly found to be impossible to describe Christ himself otherwise than as an inclusive, a corporate personality. To become a Christian, therefore, was ipso facto to become an organ or limb of that Body, and the Christian Church is essentially the household of God (see Gal. vi. 10, Eph. ii. 19, 1 Tim. iii. 15, Heb. iii. 5 f., x. 21). Indeed, for all its corporeity in the Old Testament, Israel was never so fully organic a concept as in God's Israel, the Church. But, for all this, it remains true that, strong as the corporate sense was within the fellowship of the Church, the kind of activity in society at large which, in our day, is known as Christian socialism, leading to 'Christian action', was simply not a possibility.
The question of slavery is a signal instance. Everyone knows what a battle had to be fought in Parliament by Wilberforce and others in the nineteenth century to secure the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. For Christians in the first century to take any direct action for the abolition of what was part of the very structure of society was plain impossibility: there was no machinery except bloody rebellion – and that was not the Christian way. Besides, this weapon had in fact failed when, periodically, it had been tried by pagan slave-heroes such as Spartacus. Stoicism had influential members; and although it may too often have been content to proclaim ideals in general, it did sometimes practise them on the individual scale, and it did influence the imperial legislation.But for Christians the only way of advance, apart from purchasing the freedom of individual slaves (cf. e.g., Ignatius, Ad Polyc. iv. 3), was to change the relations between individuals. This they did, and nowhere is it more remarkably reflected than in the New Testament Epistles (see especially Philemon). And the same principle applies, mutatis mutandis, to all New Testament ethics. The Sermon on the Mount is essentially concerned with individual character and action. The sex-ethics of the Epistles and Gospels are related entirely to individual action within the framework of already existing law and custom. Nothing else would have been realistic.
The result is not only that present-day readers look in vain to the New Testament for directions in social ethics, but also – paradoxically enough – that, in the New Testament period itself, Christianity seemed, to outside observers, to be cut off from religion. For paganism, religion was emphatically an integral part of civic life. For Jews, religion was nationalism and was partly expressed in external ways that symbolized a national allegiance. But Christians, refusing to join in the pagan imperial cult and yet possessing no tangible sacrifices, no priesthood, no place of worship of their own, seemed to be atheists. They could show none of the recognizable badges of a religion. Their political community (πολίτευμα), as Paul put it, was in heaven (Phil. iii. 20), and it was not available for demonstration (cf. above, p. 97).
Thus in two directions this deeply corporate way of life appeared to be something individualistic – or, if corporate, then at any rate withdrawn from public life: it took no part in civic action, and it possessed nothing that the ancient world could recognize as a cultic system. Elsewhere there were religious confraternities – Greek ἑταιρεῖαι and Semitic haburoth – within a larger cultus; here, although there were fellowship meals, they seemed to lack the visible background of cultus. But the outsider was mistaken. Within its own communities, the Church was not only aware of the organic unity of limb with limb in the Body of Christ, but was extremely active in 'social welfare'; and, for those who had eyes to see, it had both altar and Priest (see, especially, the Epistle to the Hebrews; cf. pp. 75 f. above).
Further, it needs to be strongly emphasized that what has just been said about the Christians' inability to participate actively in politics does not necessarily mean that they showed a lack of concern for them.On the contrary, in many cases they took a very lively interest in all that went on. A Jehovah's Witness today may watch the Gadarene stampede of the nations without dismay, because he believes that they are irretrievably doomed and that their downfall must bring in the new age. An extreme sectarian today may renounce membership in all societies except that of Christ, citing 2 Cor. vi. 14-vii. 1 (' Do not unite yourselves with unbelievers; they are no fit mates for you ...') and seeming to forget 1 Cor. v. 9-13 which explains that when St Paul said (perhaps in this very passage, 2 Cor. vi. 14 ff., if that is a fragment from an earlier letter) that the Christians were not to mix with the immoral, he meant immoral professing Christians, not the immoral among non-Christians: to avoid the latter they would have had to leave the very world! But, in contrast to such attitudes, most New Testament Christians seem to have believed that the Kingdom of God must show itself in connexion with and not independently of the kingdoms of this age. The outlook of Revelation, admittedly, is more detached; but for Paul, the rule of the Emperor was part of the divine system of law and order (Rom. xiii. 1), and the Kingdom of God could not be conceived of in a vacuum, independently of the events of history. But the Church's role was not yet to take overt political or social action. It was still to grow within the body politic as a (usually unrecognized) revolutionary force. It was leaven, like the Kingdom of God of which it was the agent. The only point, within the New Testament period, where it inevitably came out into the open was in relation to idolatry, and so to Emperor worship. Here, 'passive resistance', even, if need be, to the length of martyrdom, was the only course for the loyal. But until the Roman authority demanded something that the Christian could not conscientiously give, because it conflicted with his ultimate loyalty, it was his duty, as an obedient member of society, to promote that law and order which, in principle, belonged to the God of peace whose very act of creation was itself a triumph over anarchy (cf. 1 Cor. xiv. 32 f. and Rom. xvi. 20). God is a God of 'cosmos', orderliness; the principle of authority, and ordered society, is part of the divine structure of things (cf. 1 Cor. xi. 3). Human authority therefore goes wrong only when it assumes the supreme authority which belongs to God alone: 'pay Caesar what is due to Caesar', but also, 'pay God what is due to God'. New Testament Christianity thus proved itself to be revolutionary but not anarchical. Revolutionary, because the recognition of a divine, ultimate authority always, in the last analysis, must overturn the secular lust for absolute power; but not anarchical, because it renounced violence, and, when its ultimate loyalty clashed with the secular demand, it still accepted the principle of authority and submitted to the penalties imposed by the secular authority even when they were irresponsibly imposed. Its weapon, in other words – when it was true to itself – was not the sword but the cross.
Here, then, was the focus of extremely vital instruction for the new convert. Having renounced Satan and made Jesus his Lord, was he not to refuse to pay taxes, was he not to reject all civic authority? Might it not be his positive duty to join revolutionary bodies like the Zealots, and use force to overthrow the secular power – the arm of Satan? No, said the Christian catechist. God's whole creation owes its coherence to the principle of orderly, stratified, authority: God-Christ-Man-Woman; God-the Powers-the Subjects;and if sin and disobedience have introduced dislocation and chaos, it will not be mended by anarchy, but by costly, suffering obedience. This is the very principle of the incarnation. Therefore, although 'the children of the kingdom' are indeed free (in the sense that to them belongs the true citizenship and that they are not a subject people), yet they pay taxes as their contribution to the principle of orderliness (Matt. xvii. 24 ff.); they obey civic authority, not for fear of the sanctions, but as a positive contribution to the same principle (Rom. xiii. 5, 1 Pet. ii. 13-15); and if they should be forced to disobey because of a head-on collision of loyalties, then they will without, question accept the cost. Above all, they must never make themselves liable to penalty for immoral conduct: ethically they must be exemplary.
This brings us to the situations reflected more than once in the New Testament – the situations in which pagan standards in sexual conduct conflict with Christian. Was a convert to make a clean break with his past by renouncing his pagan partner? If he did, might he marry again, within the Christian community? Or was sex itself evil, and must the Christian renounce it totally? One can see these questions being dealt with tentatively, sometimes inadequately, by Christian pastors; and there is clear enough evidence of gross moral failure within the Church, necessitating severe disciplinary action. (See especially 1 Cor. v, vi. 12 ff., vii and the Pastoral Epistles.)
Another problem, that of the right attitude for Christians to the participation with pagans in eating meat that had been consecrated to idols, bulks large in 1 Cor. viii-x; but whether instruction along these lines formed a regular part of catechesis it is impossible to say. That it was, according to Acts xv, dealt with in general terms by the Jerusalem council, only adds to the uncertainty: what had become of this decree when Paul wrote 1 Cor.? Why does not the question figure at all in the other Paulines (unless it be in Rom. xiv) and in 1 Pet.? It is difficult to imagine a Gentile-Christian community in which it would not be a problem; yet Acts xv (generally) and 1 Cor. viii-x (in great detail) are the only clear allusions to it. The parallel food-problem – whether Gentile Christians were to be expected to observe Jewish tabus in their common meals with Jewish Christians – is also dealt with in Acts xv and is perhaps hinted at here and there (Gal. ii. 11 ff., Rom. xiv, Col. ii. 16?), but otherwise it is not mentioned – not even in Rev. ii. 24, which in some other respects recalls the decree of Acts xv. One may readily imagine that, as the Christians became progressively distinct from Judaism and more and more Gentile in membership, this soon ceased to be a live issue: table-fellowship with someone possessing a sensitively Jewish conscience ceased to arise.
In addition to the ethical problems confronting the Christian, about which instruction was offered in the catechetical tradition, there were what may be called the matters concerning quality of character. Strictly speaking, there are no 'cardinal' virtues in Christianity, for Christian character does not 'hinge' round the disciplined practice of virtue: it is a spontaneous growth, it is a crop of qualities springing from the seed of new life divinely sown (see Gal. v. 22, Eph. v. 9, Phil. i. 11, Heb. xii. 11, Jas iii. 18); or – more characteristically described – it is life in the new age, resulting from incorporation in the new humanity which is Christ (see Rom. xiii. 14, 2 Cor. v. 17, Gal. iii. 27, Eph. iv. 20-24, Col. ii. 11 f., iii. 9 ff.). Agape is not a virtue among other virtues so much as a totally new impulse, divinely implanted: it is God's love for us in Christ, reflected and responded to. And what in other systems might be called virtues are the shape spontaneously taken by agape in the Christian community (1 Cor. xii. 31-xiii. 7).Therefore, although in fact many Christian qualities seem to coincide with those on the Stoic list, the difference is a radical one. The Stoic virtues are the proud struggle of the human spirit to conform to nature and to gain the mastery over weakness; the Christian virtues emerge after the recognition of sin and the confession of human helplessness: they are the result of committal to God and dependence upon him. It is not by chance that ἀνδρεία, 'courage', so prominent in pagan ethical systems, is a word never occurring in the New Testament (the verb ἀνδρίζεσθαι occurs once, 1 Cor. xvi. 13). The courage of the Christian martyr is not the result of the steeling of the soul to endure; it is the by-product of self-forgetfulness and abandoned loyalty – sheer dependence upon the Lord. By the same token, the Christian character is notable for just that warmth and graciousness of which the Stoa might actually have felt ashamed. Catechetical teaching about character accordingly consists largely of a recall to baptism, and only derivatively of an enumeration of those qualities of graciousness, forbearance, and sympathy which are the crop springing from the baptismal seed of the Spirit (e.g. 1 Pet. i. 23-ii. 3). It contains, however, plentiful warnings against a relapse into the indiscipline and immorality of pagan days.
One of the most impressive features of the new life, for the recent convert, must have been the deliverance from fear – fear of witchcraft and evil spirits and the forces of evil. The typical exhortation therefore speaks in terms of the realm of darkness from which the Christian has been rescued into glorious light, of the conquest of the powers of darkness and of this age, of the slavery from which Christ releases into the freedom of the new creation (Rom. viii. 35 ff., xii. 2, xiii. 12-14, xvi. 20, 1 Cor. viii. 5 f., xii. 2, Gal. iv. 8 ff., Eph. passim, Col. i. 13, 1 Thess. i. 9, 1 Pet. ii. 9, etc.). The hag-ridden world of superstition looms up very clearly behind the catechumen. Yet, now that he is released from fear, he finds that among the chief dangers of the new life are rivalry, partisanship, disunity; and much catechesis is concerned with meeting these, as may be seen towards the end of Rom., Gal., Eph., Col., and throughout 1 Cor. and Phil.
Thus the New Testament material reflecting primitive Christian catechismsranges from the repetition of the Gospel foundations, through specific ethical problems, to the building up of character in the common life in the Body of Christ. And there is no reason to be surprised if similar material was used again and again even in the later stages. Every Christian, however mature, profits from a recall to his baptismal vows and his earliest instruction in the Christian way. And this brings us back to the subject of the Christian homily. This has already been mentioned in the chapter on worship (pp. 30 f.). It need only be repeated here that catechetical instruction on the meaning of baptism and the conduct springing from incorporation in Christ are so integral to the whole Christian life that one is not surprised if it is impossible to be sure whether, for instance, material in i Pet. represents a baptismal homily, or epistolary instruction for the already baptized. Both alike have the same content.
Much more specific are the passages relating to false teaching. These are prominent in many of the New Testament writings, and, while some are evidently addressed to a single, given situation, there are others which may well represent recurrent difficulties. The various types of error attacked may be fairly succinctly catalogued. There is the Judaistic tendency to rely upon human action as meritorious, instead of constantly casting oneself on the mercy of God alone – one of the chief dangers attacked by Paul (see especially Rom., Gal., and Phil. iii). At the opposite extreme is antinomianism – the assumption that the mercy of God condones licentious living or a selfish unwillingness to act charitably – also attacked by Paul (e.g. Rom. iii. 5 ff., vi. 1 ff.), but taken up with special vigour in James (ii. 14 ff.). Behind both this antinomianism and the opposite extreme of legalism stands a false doctrinal position often combatted in the New Testament – the dualism which regards the material world, as such, as evil; and this, in its turn, naturally fraternizes with a false Christology which does not allow for a real incarnation but either places Jesus in the (Arian) position of a demi-god, or reduces him to the wholly human level, or splits him into two not really united aspects.
With this kind of error goes, indeed, a generally weak grip upon the historical. As G. Stählin points out in his article μῦθος in T.W.N.T., the New Testament uses this word 'myth' in a pejorative sense: it signifies a divorce from the reality which had been historically, manifested, and most of all in the incarnation (1 Tim. i. 4, iv. 7, 2 Tim. iv. 4, Tit. i. 14, 2 Pet. i. 16). For the New Testament, 'truth' is not abstract: it is in Jesus. Thus the myth-mongers are vigorously assailed in the Pastoral Epistles and 2 Pet.
Christological error bound up with moral laxity receives its classic refutation in 1 and 2 Jn. Another agitating problem, which assumed larger proportions in the sub-apostolic era, is the question of sin after baptism, and of perfectionism.The Epistle to the Hebrews is the New Testament writing that seems to exhibit the clearest signs of this (see vi. 4 ff., x. 26 ff.; but also 1 Jn v. 16 ff.).
Thus individual instruction for catechumens, homilies addressed to groups of worshippers, and special admonitions in the face of particularly critical situations can all be seen to have contributed content and form to different parts of the New Testament. And whereas in certain communities and in some conditions an outward looking concern for evangelism seems to override the concentration upon internal difficulties, in others (see especially 1 Jn) the struggle for purity of doctrine has driven them in upon themselves as a closed community.
It remains now to enquire into the use made by the New Testament Church of the parables of Jesus, for these present important material for the investigation of' edificatory' teaching. The work of form criticism in general, and, in particular, the researches of modern scholars, especially C. H. Dodd (The Parables of the Kingdom (1935)) and J. Jeremias (Die Gleichnisse Jesu (3 1954), Eng. trans. The Parables of Jesus (1954)), into the transmission of the parables, have established beyond reasonable doubt that, by the time the Gospels were written, the parables as originally told by Jesus had undergone considerable alteration in the process of telling and re-telling. In particular, it is clear enough that the early Church had applied and adapted them to their own circumstances. If confirmation of this tendency were needed, the so-called Gospel of Thomas, recently discovered in Coptic,provides an extensive gallery of parables, almost all recognizable as the parables we know, but freely and still further adapted to the doctrinal interests of this writer or group; and although it is outside the canon whereas the four Gospels are inside, there is no reason why the canonical Gospels should have been immune. Yet, although an irresistibly strong case has been made for the existence of moulding and adapting processes in the transmission of the parables, the extent of it in any given instance always needs careful testing, and current criticism sometimes tends to be over mechanical in its techniques.
But before we examine some specimens, it is worth while to observe that material both from the parables and from other parts of the Gospel tradition seems here and there to have left its mark on the epistles. If this is a correct reading of the facts, it suggests that long before the canonical Gospels were universally recognized, teachers and preachers were using the Gospel tradition to illustrate or drive home their lessons. The language of 1 Cor. vii. 35, 'I am thinking ... of your freedom to wait upon the Lord without distraction ' (πρὸς τὸ εὐπάρεδρον τῶ κυρίω ἀπερισπάστως), is so strongly reminiscent of the Lucan narrative of Martha and Mary (Lk. x. 39 f., 'Mary, who seated herself at the Lord's feet ... Martha was distracted ...', Μαριάμ, ἣ καὶ παρακαθεῖσα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας τοῦ κυρίου ... ἡ δὲ Μάρθα περιεσπᾶτο ...) that one cannot help wondering whether Paul was not holding this picture in his mind as he chose his words, knowing that his Corinthian friends also had it in theirs. If there is any truth in the idea, it would mean that he may actually have illustrated a desirable attitude by recounting the anecdote. Again, the parables of growth seem to be in mind, not only in the embryo parable of 2 Cor. ix. 10 (God gives growth to grain: he will also make almsgiving produce fruit) but in the phrases in Col. i. 6, 10 (yielding fruit and growing), so naturally fitting a background consisting of the parable of the sower.In Acts xx. 35, Paul is represented as actually appealing to an otherwise unknown saying of Jesus (' Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving'). In 1 Thess. v. 21 occurs a parabolic saying which returns in more explicit form in Clement of Alexandria, Strom, i. 28. 177, 'be good bankers, rejecting some things but retaining what is good' (ἡ γραφὴ ... παραινεῖ γίνεσθε δὲ δόκιμοι τραπεζῖται, τὰ μὲν (?) ἀποδοκιμάζοντες, τὸ δὲ καλὸν κατέχοντες), which may well be a genuine saying of Jesus; and the identification of the metaphor by Clement as a metallurgic one lends plausibility to the interpretation of what follows in 1 Thess. v. 22 in the same vein: ' have nothing to do with anything counterfeit' (ἀπὸ παντὸς εἴδους πονηροῦ ἀπέχεσθε ? = bad types of coin). It is actually appropriated in this sense by Basil, Hom. xii. 6, '. . . and like an approved banker, he will retain what is approved but will keep clear of every bad type' (καὶ ὡς δόκιμος τραπεζίτης, τὸ μὲν δόκιμον καθέξει, ἀπὸ δὲ παντὸς εἴδους πονηροῦ ἀφέξεται, cf. id. In Isa. 47). Thus the complete metaphor may be a dominical parable in embryo. Again, in 1 Tim. vi there are not a few echoes of Gospel sayings and settings. It must be emphasized that these are only straws in the wind, impressive only for their individual slenderness and fragility. Thus, to take one example of the great lacunae in the evidence, 2 Tim. i. 12,' I know who it is in whom I have trusted, and am confident of his power to keep safe what he has put into my charge', which seems to clamour for an allusion to the parable of the money in trust, offers no evidence for any awareness of it whatever. Conversely, we are at a loss to know what picture lies behind such a metaphor as 'cutting straight' in 2 Tim. ii. 15 (ὀρθοτομοῦντα – is it ploughing, stone-masonry, or what?). But collectively and cumulatively there is enough, all the same, to leave us in little doubt that evangelists used material, such as eventually came into the Gospels, to illustrate and drive home their points – material both from the sayings of Jesus and from his life and work.
Now, when the parables were used for this purpose, what would be the result? It goes without saying that the morals drawn from them would be contemporary: otherwise, they would have significance only in the setting of Jesus' own life, and would not have been taken out of it in the first place. Correspondingly, the parables themselves would suffer some degree of adjustment and re-touching so as to fit the intended lessons. It is difficult to resist the impression that Lk. xvi. 8 ff. represents a whole series of morals, attached, at one time or another, to the parable of the dishonest bailiff:
... For the worldly are more astute than the other-worldly in dealing with their own kind.
So I say to you, use your worldly wealth to win friends for yourselves, so that when money is a thing of the past you may be received into an eternal home.
The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted also in great; and the man who is dishonest in little things is dishonest also in great things. If, then, you have not proved trustworthy with the wealth of this world, who will trust you with the wealth that is real? And if you have proved untrustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
No servant can be the slave of two masters; for either he will hate the first and love the second, or he will be devoted to the first and think nothing of the second. You cannot serve God and Money.
It is equally hard to avoid the impression that the two stories of the great feast, in Matt. xxii. 2 ff. and Lk. xiv. 16 ff., have both been adapted, in different ways, to situations obtaining after the beginning of the apostolic Church's mission. Again, the allegorical interpretation of the tares among the wheat (Matt. xiii. 36 ff.) seems better suited to the apostolic age, when 'Church' and 'world', true Christian and spurious Christian, were contrasting but confused elements, than to the ministry of Jesus himself when the antithesis might rather have been disciple over against antagonist, with very little danger of mixture or confusion.
But criticism ceases to be scientific if, on the basis merely of such clear examples as these, it jumps to the conclusion that no allegory can have been dominical, that all the attack and reproof in the original parabolic teaching of Jesus was directed to his opponents, and that Jesus never told parables having reference to the ultimate 'end of the age' or directed to his own disciples' condition. The fact is that a far greater bulk of parabolic teaching, as it stands in the Gospels now, can be fitted quite naturally into a setting within the ministry of Jesus, than modern critical scholarship sometimes allows; and that we must not too lightly assume the marks of 'edificatory adaptation' everywhere. Take a seldom noticed instance from Matt. xxiv. 45, Lk. xii. 42.
In these two parallel passages there is a saying of Jesus beginning, in both cases, with τίς ἄρα; 'Who, then ... ?' and continuing, with only small divergences of vocabulary and style through a full-length parable. (The ἄρα is not translated in the N.E.B. of Matt. xxiv. 45; in Lk. xii. 42 it appears as 'Well ...') The only substantial difference between the Matthean and Lucan versions is that Matthew's 'Who, then ... ?' is absolutely unheralded, whereas Luke's is introduced by (v. 41) 'Peter said, "Lord, do you intend this parable specially for us or is it for everyone?"'. But this small difference is a most remarkable one. In the first place, one is familiar with the idea that it is Matthew, not Luke, who multiplies allusions to Peter. Yet here it is Luke who mentions Peter. Secondly, the direct question about the intended recipients of the preceding saying – are they the disciples or everyone generally? – is arresting and unparalleled. And thirdly, it is this question alone that lends logic to the ἄρα, 'then', which, in Matt., without this antecedent cause, is practically pointless. It is true that there is one other instance of such an unintroduced ἄρα in Matt., namely Matt, xviii. 1, where the disciples ask 'Who, then, is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?' But this may at least be explained as meaning something like the English 'after all', and as implying antecedent discussion among the disciples.
These considerations together add up to a case for regarding the Lucan version as the closer to the original; or, to put it otherwise, a case against the assumption that Lk. xii. 41, the Peter-clause, is a mere editorial invention. If this is a' Q '-passage, then Luke's fuller text has perhaps reproduced it more faithfully. The Matthean hanging apa, 'then', is hanging precisely because it is torn from its context.
If this be conceded, then the very setting of the parable goes back to an early source; and the assumption that the question, or even the whole passage (in either Gospel) is a later (and so post-dominical) accommodation to an ecclesiastical situation and to the delay of the parousia is to that extent weakened. And yet, if one adopts the opposite assumption – that it is substantially a dominical dialogue from within the ministry – does it yield a conceivable sense? It appears to say: 'This summons to alert readiness (Matt. xxiv. 44, Lk. xii. 40) is directed not to all and sundry but to you, the specially chosen Twelve. You are to be faithful in dispensing whatever it is that you are commissioned to dispense; otherwise you will be caught off your guard." Is there any conceivable Sitz im Leben Jesu, any setting within the ministry, for such a summons?
Perhaps there is. It is notoriously difficult (see p. 90 above) to 'place' Matt. x. 23 (the famous saying – central in Albert Schweitzer's theory of a disillusionment in Jesus himself – about the Son of Man's coming before the cities of Israel had all been visited); but the very fact that it so ill suits a post-resurrection setting with the beginnings of the Gentile mission gives some plausibility to finding some place within the ministry of Jesus for the prediction of a limited (though only a limited) delay of the Son of Man. And in Lk. xix. 11 ff. the parable of the minas is introduced by the preface:' ... He went on to tell them a parable, because he was now close to Jerusalem and they thought the reign of God might dawn at any moment'. Why this very circumstantial linking of the parable with the approach to Jerusalem, if in fact the purpose of the evangelist was to detach it from the ministry and apply it to a permanent situation?
Is it possible, then, after all, that the parable of the unfaithful servant has been too hastily assumed to have been shaped to the needs of ecclesiastical office-holders? Is the hanging ἄρα, 'then', pointing to the genuineness of the Petrine exordium (preserved by Luke, not by Matthew with his Petrine interests!), a possible clue to the historicity of injunctions given by Jesus during his ministry to the Twelve to be faithful in their dispensing of the message of the Kingdom? It is far from a demonstration of the case, but it is perhaps enough to demonstrate the insecurity of the opposite assumption if it be based only on such arguments as are here called in question.
Another example of the questionable wisdom of assuming the adaptation principle too readily is the parable of the sower in Mk iv.It is often said that the parable proper (vv. 3-9) is, more or less, original and authentic, but that the allegorizing interpretation (vv. 14-20) represents an addition and adaptation by early Christian teachers and preachers – not to mention the further reflections in vv. 21-25. Furthermore, it is either held that the difficult vv. 10-13 are not dominical, but reflect a rather later predestinarian attitude regarding unbelieving Jews (and appeal is made to the vocabulary of these sections to support the hypothesis of their alien character); or else that the verses, though dominical, are misplaced, and belong in a different context.
But there are weaknesses in such assumptions. First of all, what did the original parable mean, if not what it is made to mean in w. 14-20? The answer offered by C. H. Dodd is that it meant:' Can you not see that the long history of God's dealings with His people has reached its climax? After the work of the Baptist only one thing remains: "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe"' (Parables, p. 180). J. Jeremias' answer is similar: 'In spite of every failure the Kingdom of God comes at last" (Parables, p. 92). But this brief message is better conveyed by such parables as that of the leaven and the mustard seed. Why all this circumstantial detail – path, rock, thorns, good ground (all, moreover, perfectly natural, unforced features) – if that is all that was intended? Surely it is actually more scientific to recognize the simple fact that this realistic picture of a sower at work presents, without the slightest forcing or squeezing (how different from the frigid, laboured allegory of, e.g., Hermas, Similitudes, ix. 17 ff.!), a vivid analogy to the varied response with which the teaching of Jesus was met. In other words, here is a parable about the reception of Jesus' own parabolic teaching – a parable so circumstantial that it happens also to be a ready-made allegory.
'Parable', as it is commonly distinguished from 'allegory' by writers on this subject, presents a genuine, straight analogy – say, from the realm of physical life to that of human character. But this particular parable chances to be also an unforced allegory: there are good, natural analogies in its details as well as in its broad effect. Is that unthinkable for the original teaching of Jesus?
Then, next, even the difficulty of the bridge-passage, vv. 10-13, has been exaggerated. First, it is quite gratuitous to assume that the categories of 'those outside' and 'those inside'are meant to be rigid and 'predestined'. What about Mk viii. 18, where the disciples themselves are clearly being classed as deaf and unseeing? Surely the simplest view is that men are 'outside' or 'inside' according to their response. It is impossible to convert or persuade by mere dogmatizing or ranting. No amount of mere statement, no 'spoon-feeding' (as every teacher knows) will achieve this end. There is nothing for it but to sow 'seed-thoughts' – to set something germinating in the hearers. If they respond, they begin to be 'inside', they 'come for more'; if they pay no heed – or for as long as they pay no heed – they are self-excluded. Hence the use of parables. We are being perversely literalistic if we imagine that the free quotation from Isa. vi ('that they may look and look without seeing . . . lest they turn ...') is really intended to mean that parables are used in order to exclude, deliberately to make the message difficult for all except the favoured few. As in its original setting in the Book of Isaiah, so here, it is most naturally taken as an arresting, hyperbolical, oriental way of saying 'Alas! many will be obdurate'. (Even the most rugged of prophets might justly lose his faith, were he really summoned to preach in order to fail!) And secondly, the linguistic difficulties of this bridge-passage almost disappear if vv. 10-12 are recognized as a generalization (like vv. 33 f., and, like them, using the imperfect tense): to those who did ask for explanation, Jesus used always to say, 'To you is granted the secret, which is hidden from the rest as long as they stay outside'. This is a grammatically sound interpretation, and it accounts for the generalizing plural, 'parables' (v. 10), as contrasted with the particularizing singular which follows (v. 13) when 'this parable' is considered.
This leads straight into the 'allegory' (vv. 14-20), where it is, after all, not really surprising to find several words which are seldom or never used elsewhere in the Gospels and which remind us more of Paul's vocabulary. This phenomenon need only mean that the themes in question happen not to recur. The words are perfectly suitable to the theme; the theme fits the parable naturally; and neither seems to be incompatible with the actual ministry of Jesus.
This is perhaps enough to warn us that the recovery of the precise use made of the parables of Jesus by Christian evangelists and teachers of the apostolic age is no easy task, and that the critical scalpel, invaluable and indispensable though it is, cannot by itself ever decide for us when the authentic ' lowest layer' has been reached. What we can reiterate, with conviction, is that the parables were undoubtedly used and adapted freely, and that the Christian Church was much too confident of the living presence of the Spirit of prophecy to attempt to abide by a rigid authoritarianism in its attitude to the traditions. The very reshaping and adaptation of a parable might be the work of the Spirit of Jesus in them: the test of authenticity was adherence not to the original words, but to the truth of the message as a whole. It is possible that the Gospel of Thomas, for all its manifestly doctrinaire adaptations, may also preserve traces of an ancient stream of tradition (possibly from the Gospel according to the Hebrews)which had run parallel to those which flowed into the canonical Gospels; and H. Köster's re-examination of evangelic matter in the Apostolic Fathers points (even if one does not accept the extremes of his position) to independent channels of tradition. Evangelists and teachers were using and adapting freely and uncritically, with an eye chiefly upon their main task of edification.
Thus, the parables and parabolic material in the New Testament, as well as passages containing direct admonition about character and conduct, reflect the edificatory work of evangelists, catechists, and pastors, and help us to draw for ourselves a mental picture of the setting in which such material was preserved. Among other things, this investigation will serve as a reminder that such clearly distinguishable types of New Testament literature as Gospels and Epistles both alike drew upon a common fund of tradition, and equally that they both contributed their own modes of adaptation and application to the contemporary situations.