IN the Church of England at the time of writing, the variety obtaining is such that a travelling worshipper, going from Church to Church, will never know what he is in for, but only that it will be most unlikely to be exactly the service as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. Among the Protestant Episcopalians of Ireland, by contrast, uniformity prevails: the visitor can be tolerably certain that the book will be adhered to. In the New Testament Church, before ever there was even a written liturgy – let alone an authorized one – and before there were any generally accepted formularies of doctrine, the Christian on his journeys might expect to meet the very widest varieties. Indeed, one of the problems would be to decide what was the minimum requirement for a community to be a Christian one at all.
A traveller soon after the middle of the first century – say about AD 60 – going from Jerusalem to Ephesus, would encounter a wide range of doctrine and practice among communities who all, nevertheless, claimed some attachment to Jesus of Nazareth. Somewhere in Judaea he might have found the circle of James the Lord's brother still worshipping in a Christian synagogue consisting of practising Jews who also believed in Jesus as God's Messiah, but who may have gone only a very little way towards formulating a doctrine of Jesus as divine: the Ebionite type, entertaining a diminished Christology.In Samaria, who knows what kind of a Christian colony there might be? One, possibly, which highly honoured the name of John the Baptist (whose mission had been vigorous in those parts and whose tomb, perhaps, they boasted), and which treasured traditions many of which are now embodied in the Fourth Gospel. They would see in Jesus the one who had been destined to come – the prophet like Moses. Cosmopolitan Antioch (even to judge from no more than the references to it in the New Testament, let alone its later history) would present within itself a considerable range of different types of community – Gentile, Jewish, Judaizing, Hellenizing – with different shades of Christology; while the Lycus valley, if our traveller followed that route, would present a strange amalgam of oriental astrology, Jewish legalism, and Christian beliefs (see Colossians and commentaries thereon). By journey's end, he would be prepared for the seething diversity of Ephesus where the Pauline churches were to be quickly invaded by antinomianism, Judaizing Christianity, and influences of a Johannine type (see Acts xx. 29 f., ? Eph., Rev. ii. i ff., and the Gospel and Epistles of John). If he then took ship from Miletus to Alexandria, he might there find himself confronted with yet other types of Christian colony – or, if he had already met them at Ephesus or elsewhere, they would here be even more concentrated and more clearly defined (see, perhaps, Heb., and Acts xviii. 24 ff.). Finally, in Rome, all sorts and kinds would jostle one another – Judaizing Christian synagogues, the most liberal of liberal 'gnosticizing' sorts, looking more like a mystery cult than the Israel of God, Petrine congregations, Pauline congregations, and all the rest (cf. Phil, i. 12-17, and the implications of Rom. xv. 20).
What was the minimum constituent of a Christian community? How far away from the apostolic kerygma must one stray to be altogether outside the fold?What are we to make of the 'disciples' at Ephesus who knew only John's Baptism (Acts xix. i ff.)? Or, what should we say (to take an instance from much later and from a remote field) of the account given by the seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci of what a Chinese Jew told him when asked if he had any knowledge of the Christians in the towns from which he came? He did not even recognize them by that name, but when explanations were made by signs he acknowledged that there were certain foreigners who had come to China with their ancestors and worshipped the cross. Why they worshipped the cross neither he, nor, so he believed, they themselves could say; and their only name was 'men who do not eat animals with uncloven hoofs', because 'while the Moors and Jews and the whole of China eat the flesh of horses, mules and other such beasts of burden, they follow the custom of their native land and do not eat it ...' (A. C. Moule, Christians in China ..., 1930, i ff.). To have gone so far from a consciously accepted Christian confession is obviously to have left the essentials far behind; but what is the limit? Is the test nothing more than baptism in the name of Christ?
The answer to which the early Church was feeling its way is reflected in the canon of the New Testament. As will be seen (see Chapter X), the writings ultimately excluded from the canon were mainly those which, even when claiming some apostolic connexion, presented an estimate of Jesus out of accord with the apostolic estimate now reflected in the New Testament collectively. This means that there must have been a commonly recognized norm of Christian confession forming itself on the basis of the apostolic kerygma. Judged by this standard, any estimate of Jesus which did not acknowledge his historical existence and his real death would be out; so would any which did not acknowledge the resurrection and the decisiveness of his fulfilment of God's plan of salvation outlined in the Old Testament. In other words, a gnostic dualism which denied either the historical humanity or the absolute 'transcendence' of Jesus would be disqualified. This test finds explicit expression in 1 and 2 Jn.
But within these limits there is a wide range of emphasis; and the writings of the New Testament help to make it articulate for us. As mountain-tops stand up from the ocean bed to form islands and to be, for the voyager, the only visible expression of the submerged continent beneath, so the writings of the New Testament give us some idea of the range and variety of the less articulate Christianity within the ambit of the apostolic confession. Outside that ambit, the apocryphal New Testamentarticulates the vagaries of belief and speculation standing up in the alien seas into which so many voyaged. But the two submerged continents are more nearly continuous than the distinctions above water might suggest. If apocryphal writings are fairly clearly separated from orthodox, that only indicates the difference between the leaders on either side: the masses beneath them were quite likely found merging.
If we ask what factors helped to shape the variations and to give different and distinctive characters to different colonies of Christians, it may be well to begin from a consideration of social and economic conditions. Not that the New Testament writings can be divided into those for the poor and those for the rich, or even, very satisfactorily, into those for the simple and those for the learned. But such a picture of social structure as can be reconstructed, certainly contributes to our understanding of the range of thought and feeling in our documents. When one is asking about the social and intellectual standing of New Testament Christians, one passage inevitably springs to mind – 1 Cor. i. 26 ff.; 'My brothers, think what sort of people you are, whom God has called. Few of you are men of wisdom, by any human standard; few are powerful or highly born. Yet, to shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts folly, and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts weakness. He has chosen things low and contemptible, mere nothings, to overthrow the existing order. ..." If one adds to this the fact that, in the Pauline Epistles, there are several allusions to slaves as members of the Church, one is tempted at first sight to conclude that, at this stage, there were few Christians drawn from the more educated or more influential and wealthy levels of society.
But such a conclusion requires considerable qualification (cf. W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of the Gentiles, 1939, 125). In the first place, the passage in 1 Cor. i would probably never have been written had there not been educated Christians in that congregation who were contemptuous about the crudities of others. To some extent, then, it bears witness to the very reverse of the conditions it is often used to illustrate. Next, as for slaves, though many may indeed have been uneducated, we are told that they were by no means generally illiterate (see, e.g., A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in New Testament Times, 1953, 161). Then again, the Jewish element is a complicating factor. It seems fair to assume that, broadly speaking, the average Jew was better educated than the average Gentile, if only because Jewish family life was the soundest in the empire, and also the education which Jewish children received in the synagogue school was, within its limits, probably more conscientious and thorough than the teaching given by Gentile schoolmasters who had not necessarily the intensity of vocation belonging to a devout teacher of the Torah.It is far from impossible that, on the whole, the Jewish members also included a high proportion of the reasonably prosperous – such is the notorious diligence, efficiency, and astuteness of their race. On the other hand, they are not likely to have had specially influential connexions, considering how few Jews held office in the Empire. Not' influence', then, but intelligence, literacy, and familiarity with the ways of fair prosperity, even when they were not themselves enjoying it – these qualities might be represented by such as Paul, Apollos, Aquila, and Priscilla, and, indeed, even the original disciples like Peter and John. The latter are, it is true, called 'unlettered', ἀγάμματοι, in Acts iv. 13, but that need only mean that they were not up to rabbinical standards in their knowledge of the exegetical niceties, not that they could not read or write (see p. 183, n. 2 below).
Still considering the Jewish Christian element in the New Testament period, we note that the Epistle of James would be important evidence if only we knew anything about its provenance and purpose. If it really is addressed to Christians, then in their 'synagogue' there were extremes of wealth and poverty (see ii. 1-13, iv. i-v. 6); and, doctrinally, the writer and his readers were 'Ebionite'. But we simply do not know enough to say whether such conditions were representative or exceptional – if, indeed, the Epistle is not basically an address to Jews who were not yet even Christians.
For the rest, it is difficult to find positive evidence of Christianity having, by this period, won any lasting allegiance from the influential or wealthy: Clemens is too common a name for it to be even likely that the one named in Phil. iv. 3 might be otherwise identifiable. That he was 'Clement of Rome' is unlikely enough; as for the attempt to make him into the Flavius Clemens who was a relation of the Emperor Domitian, this labours under vast difficulties, one of the least being the necessity of making Philippians post-Pauline. (See J. B. Lightfoot's demolition of the theory in loc.) The Erastus of Rom. xvi. 23 was 'the oikonomos ' (i.e., perhaps Treasurer) 'of the city' (i.e., probably Corinth); but there is no need for such an officer of a provincial city council to have been a man of more than local eminence, if of eminence at all.It is true there are one or two Christians named in the New Testament who seem at least before their conversion to have had some connexion with the Jewish or semi-Jewish aristocracy of Palestine. Such are Manaen, who had belonged to the court circle of Herod Antipas (Acts xiii. 1), and Joanna whose husband Chuza held responsible office in the household of some Herod, probably, again, Antipas (Lk. viii. 3).
But otherwise, it appears that the most influential Christians were only locally influential while the majority were, in the eyes of the world, nonentities, nobodies, often slaves. On the other hand, it is only fair to add that there is equally no evidence of Christianity having reached the lowest of the low, namely the pathetically degraded land-slaves or condemned criminals who worked in the forced labour gangs on the great estates or in the mines and factories – except, that is, when Christians were themselves condemned to the mines.The New Testament allusions to slaves, where they are sufficiently explicit, imply the household slaves, whose lot, equally intolerable in principle, was generally in fact mitigated by at least some sense of 'belonging' to a small and intimate community and did not necessarily reduce them to a completely mechanical, sub-human condition. At least some of these may have been educated persons.
All this adds up to the conclusion that, if one were compelled to generalize, one would say that the social level of most Christian communities was probably towards the lower end of the scale without touching 'rock bottom'. If the Christian Gospel had never reached down to the bottom it is because the labour-gang type were incapable of being reached: who was there to preach to them, and how could he preach? – unless, indeed, there were one or two who had been converted to the faith before being taken prisoner and forced to join such a labour-gang. But even so, their chances of reaching their fellow slaves would be slender in the extreme.
But, within the social limits just defined, there was, in fact, almost certainly a considerable range of variety, as between one local group and another. The geographical situation and condition of the towns and villages in question no doubt had its effect. Corinth and Athens, Alexandria, Ephesus and Antioch, and, above all, Rome, were commercial centres of great importance. Philippi and Laodicea, on main roads, must have been cosmopolitan towns. On the other hand, little Palestinian communities were on a much more primitive level of culture. The level of intelligence and quickness in Church meetings at a place like Corinth must have differed from that at, say, Samaria in its early Christian days much as a London youth organization might differ in speed of uptake and smartness from a club for village youths in some tiny rural community. And there would be differences in material prosperity also. But the wealth of a particular locality only implies the possibility of wealthy members being enlisted to a community: it of course does not guarantee it. And in fact the Philippian Christians were desperately poor – and (as so often happens in such circumstances) wonderfully generous (2 Cor. viii. 2). At Corinth there may have been some relatively rich Christians (1 Cor. iv. 8?). The Jewish Christian communities in Palestine were poor enough to be in need of alms from the Gentile Churches. In the community addressed by James there were poor being ground down by the wealthy. As for the levels of intellect represented, it would be too much to expect that the more profound parts of the Pauline Epistles were properly understood by all or even many in the communities addressed. If one could be sure that Paul always wrote so as to be generally understood, the conclusion would be that there was a very high level of intellect in, say, Corinth and Colossae: for to catch the full meaning of such a passage as 1 Cor. xv or Col. i at first hearing would imply considerable mental agility, even given an intimacy with the circumstances to which the letters were expressly addressed. But there is no guarantee that great minds always rightly estimate the capacity of others (often the reverse is the case), and the slaves, shopkeepers, and smallholders in Paul's congregations probably admired but at certain points gaped at the apostle's storm of words.
There were, nevertheless, at Corinth certainly, and perhaps elsewhere also, a certain number who prided themselves on their intellect and on their superiority to superstition: so much so that Paul, while understanding and accepting their own position, had to admonish them to consider the conscience of others. And presumably in the Lycus valley churches there were at least a few subtle exponents of the complex doctrines which Paul attacks in Col., while the Johannine Epistles imply some degree of perverse subtlety in the heretics and their converts. Again the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews must have been steeped in the Greek Old Testament and in certain techniques of exposition, if the writer's arguments were to be in any way effective – so much so that commentators rightly observe that they must surely have constituted a smallish group of particularly highly educated persons – a little' clan' of rabbinically trained thinkers. The suggestion has already been made (see p. 75 above) that they may have all at one time belonged to a single synagogue. And if it is right to trace, behind St Matthew's Gospel, a school of Christian exegesis (see p. 74 above), that, too, points to what might be called a kind of Christian higher education, privately developed within the Christian communities: a 'scribal' Christianity.
As for the writers of the New Testament themselves, much could be said about the varieties of style among them.If one were to summarize the facts very briefly, it might be said that Hebrews and James, though in different ways, both show a command of idiomatic Greek; that Luke is versatile – capable now of imitating the self-conscious and rather ornate style of contemporary historians, now of writing biblical (Septuagintal) Greek, and now of accepting distinctly un-Greek, Semitic sources into his scheme; that Matthew seems nearly always to use careful and correct Greek, though he does not indulge in the literary flourishes occasionally displayed by Luke nor attempt to conceal Semitic idioms in his sources; that Mark writes in the idiom of one more familiar with a Semitic tongue than with Greek; that Paul, or his amanuenses, wrote in a variety of styles, sometimes very strongly Semitic, sometimes rather less so, but nearly always tense and brilliant and lively; while the Gospel and Epistles of John are in a peculiar style, mainly correct, superficially simple and unadorned, but in fact com-plicatedly charged with meaning and more Semitic than Greek in essential character. The Apocalypse stands alone as the only New Testament writing containing considerable sections of quite barbarously ungrammatical writing, which, nevertheless, achieve a profoundly moving effect.
But to return to the main theme: given such intellectual activity (even among a minority) as seems evidenced by Hebrews and Matthew and the Pauline Epistles, it is not surprising that rivalry and faction showed themselves also. The locus classicus for this is, of course, 1 Cor. i-iv. J. Munck (Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, Eng. trans., 1959, of Paulus und die Heihgeschichte, 1954) has argued that what is indicated by 1 Corinthians is not necessarily a radical partisanship running right up from the foundation apostles, and that it is possible grossly to exaggerate the cleavage implied. What Paul is castigating, he thinks, is rather the Corinthians' tendency to treat their leaders like Greek sophists and side with one of them against the rest. Whatever one thinks about this in detail, it is true that there is nothing here to prove a conflict between Peter and Paul. But Phil. i. 15 ff, certainly compels us to recognize deliberate partisanship in some quarters. And the a priori likelihood is certainly that there would be a variety of emphases, tendencies, outlook, and approach in different groups of Christians, which would ultimately harden into distinguishable schools of thought.
This consideration of the social and intellectual stratification of the Christian communities has thus led to two conclusions: that the average level was low though not as low as it would have been if the slave gangs had been included; and that correspondingly high must have been the respect accorded to the giants of intellect and of spirituality – the Pauls and the Johns – and the temptation to follow the exciting vagaries of sectarians who exaggerated the respective tendencies of these giants. It is not surprising, therefore, if we find marked differences in emphasis and tone as between the representative writings of different localities and various traditions. The marvel is – and this is the main 'moral' of this chapter – that the basic Christian convictions persist with such remarkable consistency through such diversity.
When Christian thought is traced out beyond the New Testament period, it is well known that certain broad distinctions are found setting in as between such centres as Antioch and Alexandria: Antioch, with its tendency to stress the literal and the historical, and with them the humanity of Jesus; Alexandria, with its tradition of allegory and symbol and its greater stress on the transcendent. It is all too easy to contrast these two emphases in a mechanical manner, without allowing for subtle interchanges and variations. For instance, one of the elementary qualifications that would need to be made, were we attempting to describe this period, would be the recognition that even the Antiochene thinkers did not rest content with the plain, historical sense of scripture. If they differed from the Alexandrines, it was not so much in rejecting other senses as in preferring 'typology', which recognizes the importance of historical events as such, to allegory, which would reduce everything to timeless truths.
But if we look back to the roots of this broad divergence in New Testament times, we can already discern its beginnings. Here, too, however, definition is made difficult by the number of different factors already contributing to the thinking of the New Testament Christians. Suppose we start by a too extreme simplification. Abandoning cautious qualifications for the moment, and attempting a kind of caricature, we might say that Jewish Christianity, with its strongly monotheistic presuppositions and its readiness to welcome earthly rulers and prophets in the name of God, might be expected to hold on to the 'fleshly' – τὸ κατὰ σάρκα – in Jesus and to ignore or belittle his divinity. These were, in fact, the tendencies of what soon came to be called Ebionism (from the Hebrew word for 'poor', used proudly for a Franciscan poverty and simplicity or used derogatorily for a poverty of doctrine, a psilosis or attenuation in Christology), The Ebionites were among the Judaizing types of sub-apostolic Christianity, and their tendency was towards ' adoptionism' – the theory that Jesus, the human prophet, came to be 'adopted' as God's Son in a supernal sense – won his way up, as it were, by outstanding goodness.Caricaturing the opposite wing, one might call it typically pagan, and say that it started from polytheistic presuppositions and was familiar with the ideas of the demi-god and of the pre-existent saviour who descends into the material world to rescue those who respond or who are predestined. When converted to faith in Jesus, such a type will stress Christ's pre-existence and his descent from heaven, and, by concentrating on his supramundane origin, may lose grip upon his real humanity. If the 'Jewish' error leads to adop-tionism, the latter is the road to monophysitism – the obliteration of the human in the transcendent.
But in fact neither of these types ever existed in an unadulterated form. To draw them thus as clearly contrasting shapes is to caricature. We know, more decisively even than previous generations of New Testament students, that already by the time of Christ monotheistic Judaism had been deeply penetrated by an oriental dualism: witness the Qumran sect. Possibly even a measure of western rationalism had also crept into the recesses of Hebrew thought (Ecclesiastes has been accused of Epicurean tendencies!). And thus even the strongholds of Jerusalem rab-binism had already been penetrated by many extraneous ideas. Indeed, it might be nearer the truth to say that the antecedents of Israel, in Egypt and Mesopotamia, had long before sown seeds of this type. Hellenistic ideas are thus not a priori unthinkable in James the Lord's brother; nor 'gnostic' ideas in Paul (though in fact they are hard to find); nor even the idea of a divine hero-king in such comparatively early Hebrew writers as Isaiah or a Psalmist.
We shall not, therefore, expect to find anywhere – least of all in the New Testament – the reflection of 'pure' Ebionism or 'pure' transcendentalism. But tendencies in one direction or another may be looked for and are worth tracing; and it is of real importance to ask to what extent the writings ultimately held within the New Testament canon show a consistent controlling conviction which both includes complementary tendencies and excludes really incompatible elements in such a way as to produce coherence.
The answer to the latter question is that the criterion of 'apostolicity' – faithfulness to the apostolic kerygma – did in fact admit within the canon only those writings which kept sufficiently close to the Christ-event to achieve this coherence. Once begin to speculate and to dogmatize about what must be or may have been, and any extremes may set in; but to keep close to the apostolic witness is necessarily to affirm that the Gospel ' is about [God's] Son: on the human level he was born of David's stock, but on the level of spirit – the Holy Spirit – he was declared God's Son by a mighty act in that he rose from the dead: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord' (Rom. i. 3 f.). The real humanity, and, with it, the inclusive, representative person, such that (as Paul saw) his resurrection is the general resurrection on the Last Day – these are the two elements in the apostolic kerygma which give coherence to all the diversity within the New Testament.
But at the margins it sails dangerously near to the excluded area: the Epistle of James might, for all the signs it shows of Christology, be near-Ebionite; 2 Pet. makes startling concessions to Greek ideas of divine nature: ' ... you may escape the corruption with which lust has infected the world, and come to share in the very being of God' (i. 4); and the Fourth Gospel, if it were the only Gospel, might leave us with an almost mono-physite Christ, and a markedly individualistic religion (see pp. 94, 98 above). It is the central conviction which holds together these diversities and which also draws the circumference where it does.
How much better our understanding of the New Testament would be if we possessed more information about Judaistic Christianity!. James the Lord's brother remains a too little known character. In Acts xv we find him, at the head of Jerusalem Christianity, deciding for the non-circumcision of Gentile converts, and clinching his argument by what seems to be a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew of Amos (Acts xv. 17). In Acts xxi he is counselling Paul to demonstrate his own allegiance to the ritual law. According to Hegesippus (ap. Euseb. H.E. ii. 23) he is so Jewish as to be expected by the Jews to denounce the Nazarene faith, and is martyred for refusing to do so. In apocryphal legend he is visited by the risen Lord himself (Jerome, De vir. ill. 2). Whatever we make of the Epistle of James, it is not out of character with many of these hints. It betrays a considerable acquaintance with the Greek moralists and sophists; it is so Jewish as to stress the Law and almost obscure the Gospel. And although it scarcely mentions Jesus, yet, try as one will, one cannot eliminate from its texture a certain number of phrases which seem to be stubbornly Christian in form. Is it, then, perhaps, an attempt by a Jewish Christian to conciliate non-Christian Jews? But if so, it is by one who still actually belongs within their synagogue, and is that conceivable? Is it not, then, rather the extremest example within the New Testament of Judaistic Christianity, reflecting a community whose members still worshipped in synagogue style, and threw a characteristically Jewish stress on character and conduct, but confessed Jesus as God's 'glory' (ii. i) and believed themselves re-born by the Christian Gospel (i. 18)? Yet, if so, we have to date it, nonetheless, at a period when an antinomian interpretation of Christian liberty had already set in (Jas ii. 14 ff.) – whether through Paul's disciples or not is not clear. Whichever way we turn, the interpretation of the Epistle is beset by problems. But at any rate it reflects a type of Christianity as different as can well be imagined from the Pauline or Johannine, yet one that confesses Jesus as Lord (i. 1, ii. 1), believes in rebirth by God through the Gospel (i. 18), and looks forward to a denouement (v. 7).
At the opposite extreme to the tendencies exhibited in James, there must have been a temptation so to identify Jesus with the Spirit or the Wisdom of God as to minimize his historical particularity. As a matter of fact, however, it is remarkable how difficult it is to illustrate this end of the spectrum from the New Testament itself. The Logos in St John is notoriously (and no doubt to the pagan reader shockingly) portrayed as having become flesh, σάρξ (i. 14); and although the Fourth Gospel does lean sometimes in a docetist direction (Jesus' questions are artificial ones, framed for the sake of the disciples, vi. 6), yet nothing is clearer than the evangelist's determination to stress the reality of the incarnation: the 'scandal of particularity' and of materiality is never avoided but positively embraced (vi. 52). The Epistles to the Colossians (i. 15 ff.) and to the Hebrews (i. 1 ff.) both contain what is a 'logos-doctrine' in all but the actual term; yet they too are as clear as can be about the reality of the earthly life. And although later writers like Justin confuse Word and Spirit, the New Testament very strikingly confines 'Spirit' almost entirely to its account of God's dealings with his People in the 'new creation', using the Logos and Christ, not Spirit, in its allusions to the universe and cosmogony. Christ and Spirit are sometimes interchangeable – or nearly so – within the Church, but never outside it. And all this probably bears witness to the successful avoidance, in the New Testament, of that dualism, so common in the pagan world and in heretical Christianity, which treated matter as evil – essential Manichaeism. The doctrine of matter and of creation is the real touchstone: and, for all its range of diversity, the New Testament does not founder on the Manichaean rock.
Part of the New Testament's diversity is due precisely to the variety of alien positions which are combated: it debates from a single platform, but from different corners of it; and so far as it does lean over towards any extremes, it is because the writers, at those points, recognize particularly clearly what are the positions that are being occupied by error and recoil violently from them. Paul sees especially vividly what principle is involved in the superficially good or harmless stress on Jewish legal rectitude, and therefore goes so far as to say that if Christians get themselves circumcised Christ will be useless to them (Gal. v. 2). James sees the selfish laziness which claims that correct belief is sufficient without corresponding conduct (ii. 14 ff.), and 1 Jn throughout attacks the dangerous position which holds that once baptized the Christian is secure, whatever his morals: and both James and John are led to extreme statements – faith without conduct is dead (Jas ii. 26); a Christian cannot sin (1 Jn iii. 9).
It is not unlikely that Christian congregations originally founded by one or other of these great protagonists would tend (rather like denominations today) to retain and exaggerate or stylize the particular emphases with which the Gospel had originally been presented to them. There may well have been distinctive stamps upon, respectively, Pauline, Petrine, Johannine, and Jacobaean churches. According to the Acts, Philip the evangelist and probably Barnabas (with John Mark) also engaged in independent evangelism (Acts viii. 26 ff.; cf. xxi. 8, xv. 39), and, for all we know, their churches too may have stood for something distinctive. It would be particularly interesting to know more about the Gospel in Samaritan territory: is it not likely that here, too, there were particular characteristics (see p. 154 above, and note 1)? But everywhere there hangs a curtain of obscurity; and all that we can say is that the traditions that accumulated in any given centre must have to some extent been selected, moulded, and applied in accordance with the local tendencies, and that this explains the diversity of emphases in the Gospels – both internally and in relation to one another.
Turning, then, to look more closely at the diversity of emphases within the New Testament, we shall do best to offer a crude, rough-and-ready classification of types, leaving it for further study to break them down and qualify them more precisely. And it will be well to recall frequently how much wider is the gulf that separates the New Testament as a whole from non-canonical writings than the distances between different parts within the New Testament itself. Even the so-called Apostolic Fathers are (with the partial exception of the letters of Ignatius) separated from most of the New Testament by a considerable gap in outlook and approach.
First, then, there is the broad distinction between the Epistle to the Hebrews and, one might almost say, the rest of the New Testament. Hebrews, more than any other part, presses into service the Platonic conception (adopted also by Philo) of a supra-sensible world of absolute reality over against a sensible world which is only its reflection or copy (though even in Paul there is 2 Cor. iv. 18, v. 7, Col. ii. 17); and entertains a conception of Christ as the Hero and Leader – the Pioneer whom Christians are to follow to the heights. Neither idea is consistently carried through: the Christian tradition is too strong to allow it. This shadow-world which is but a copy of the transcendent is not so Platonic but that in it the decisive act of history takes place – the purgation of sins; and Jesus is not really only a Hercules toiling upwards to the stars, for he is already the pre-existent utterance of God. The writer to the Hebrews makes bigger concessions to Greek ways of expression than Paul or John; but there is never a doubt but that, in common with all apostolic Christianity, he takes time seriously and thinks of history as significant and of this world as an important arena of divine action, and that he sees Jesus as infinitely more than a hero winning immortality. Perhaps Paul, and even John, are more firmly on the Hebrew side of the line; but Hebrews, for all its concessions, never surrenders 'the scandal of particularity". Indeed, it is clear enough that throughout the treatise, it is non-Christian Judaism that is being combated by being claimed, absorbed, and transcended; and even if it is a Philonian, Alexandrian Judaism, it is nothing like a genuinely Greek philosophy or a rootless gnosticism.
Then, secondly, there is the broad distinction between, on the one hand, the Pauline emphasis on the essential powerlessness of man – his complete helplessness to save himself– and, on the other hand, the tendency of the Epistle of James to see religion as duty and kindness and to credit man with the ability to resist temptation – a stress by no means alien to the Christ of the Synoptic Gospels, especially Matthew's. Corresponding to this contrast is the Pauline and Johannine conception of Christianity as incorporation or 'abiding' in Christ over against the conception of discipleship, imitating, following, which runs (not unnaturally) through the Synoptic accounts of the ministry of Jesus, but finds a place also in Hebrews. In the New Testament as a whole, Christ is both pattern and power (for this useful terminology, see A. B. D. Alexander, The Ethics of Paul, 1910, 105 ff.); but there is more of pattern and less of power in some of the writings than in others. The Pastoral Epistles (as a whole, though they are probably composite of Pauline and deutero-pauline material) seem to represent a confluence of the two streams – a second-generation Christianity which repeats the Gospel of the free grace of God(' not by works ...', Tit. iii. 5) but which, in a more widely Christianized setting, finds it not unnatural to think of man's ability to keep the law (? 1 Tim. i. 8 ff.).
Thirdly, one may distinguish the apocalyptic tendency – to despair of the present and to look forward breathlessly and count the days to the day of rescue – from the tendency to concentrate on the here and now and to estimate human history positively. At opposite extremes in this respect are the Apocalypse and the Gospel of St Luke. It is not that Luke does not expect a Day of Judgment and a coming of the Lord: about these he is as explicit as anybody. But he is concerned primarily with a positive estimate of the intervening period – and that, a comparatively prolonged one – as a vital part of the working out of the Kingdom of God, and his attention is on that (e.g. Lk. xix. 11 ff.). The Apocalypse, by contrast, is concerned to convey, by symbol and picture, the conviction that it is the end that is decisive and that that end spells victory for the cause of God.
There is an eschatological contrast also, but in a quite different sense, between Luke and the Fourth Gospel. It is Luke, not John, who most definitively represents the non-apocalyptic end of the scale: the Fourth Gospel is not strictly speaking much concerned with either end, for its real focal point is the relation
VARIETY AND UNIFORMITY IN THE CHURCH
of the individual to God – Jesus Christ (see above, p. 94). For the individual who loves God and does his will, who believes in Jesus as the Son of God and abides in the real Vine, eternal life is already realized; and the Gospel scarcely concerns itself with the corporate gathering up of God's purposes or the course of the Church's perfecting: that is the theme, far more, of the Epistle to the Ephesians, which has a very strong forward-looking, futurist hope, although its goal is in terms of maturity and fulness of growth, not in terms of judgment and apocalypse (Eph. iv. 11-16; cf. Rom. viii.). A fourth pair of contrasting tendencies, thus, might be the individualist over against the corporate. In the Johannine Epistles there is a mediating position: they are more corporate, and therefore also more apocalyptic, than the Gospel; but the corporate ideas in 1 Jn are less comprehensive and universal than in Eph. and its apocalyptic ideas are more individual.
A fifth contrast might be found in the intuitive genius of St John (well summed up in the famous story of the dying John simply saying over and over again, 'Little children, love one another' – Jerome, In ep. ad Gal. vi. 10), and the vigorously intellectual genius of Paul. Paul argues, where John affirms; and John simply utters resonant, suggestive, poetic words, where Paul labours to explain.
Sixthly, there are varieties in the interpretation of authority and Church-order. As has already been said, Christians of the New Testament period recognized the revival of the Spirit of prophecy; and their ultimate authority was always God in Jesus through his Spirit in the Church. But there were varieties of mediation. In Paul almost everything is represented, from the rabbinic interpretation of scripture to the authority of vision and audition in prophetic ecstasy. But in the Pastoral Epistles inspired scripture and sound Christian traditions seem to be the main oracles.
Similarly, it is possible to trace, behind the New Testament, the form both of 'charismatic' communities, and constitutional ministries. Some depended upon no clearly defined order of ministry but upon the spontaneous leadership of inspiration; others were organized round an articulated ministry of elder-overseers and assistants (presbyter-episcopi and deacons) – perhaps even a triple ministry of 'apostolic men', overseer-presbyters, and deacons; and there may sometimes have been other constitutionally recognized officers corresponding to Jewish types such as scribes and sages.
It is a familiar fact that the Christian scribe appears in Matt. (xiii. 52; cf. xxiii. 34), and it is possible that this Gospel, in its miscellaneous traditions, also reflects a variety of community ideals, some charismatic, some constitutional, some acceptable to the Evangelist himself, others alien to his outlook. E. Käsemann has pointed outthat Christian theology, in some of its early phases, represents a conflict between opposing schools, all alike appealing to the authority of the Spirit, but in very different ways – 'enthusiasm' (in the technical sense of that word) with miracle-working (reflected perhaps derogatorily in Matt. vii. 22-25), a Jewish and rabbinical type of organization (note Matt, xxiii. 8-10), legalistic Judaism (for which some might quote Matt. v. 17-20, though it can be otherwise interpreted), and, at the opposite extreme, the kind of liberalism and universalism for which perhaps Stephen stood. Different outlooks, embodying different structures of society, criss-cross confusingly in the dim background of the New Testament, within Jewish Christianity as well as in Gentile Churches. In the last analysis, a good deal of it can be expressed in terms of varying eschatologies. Some groups perhaps saw the conversion of the Jews as the first necessity before any further spread of the Gospel; others, led by St Paul, looked for the reverse process: only when the full complement of the Gentiles had come in would all Israel be saved (Rom. xi. 25). Some looked to human labour, others expected a supernatural intervention.To postulate this diversity of organization and of expectation goes some way towards accounting for the diverse traditions that seem to be reflected in such a writing as St Matthew's Gospel.
It would be easy to go on multiplying these rough-and-ready antitheses; but they all need modifying and refining, and these are only mentioned as examples of the type of phenomenon that may be watched for – not as the 'antitheses of what is falsely called knowledge'! If we return, for a moment, to the types of error that are attacked in the New Testament, they will serve as a foil to, and in part, an explanation of, these varying tendencies. But again, they can be treated only in a broad way, as a mere preliminary to proper investigation.
An obvious one, already touched on, is the Judaistic effort after merit, attacked by Paul. It is not true that Paul thought of faith as saving from sin. He is sometimes represented as replacing 'works' by 'faith' – as though, whereas a man cannot save himself by his deeds, his faith (if only he can summon up enough of it) will save him. But what in fact Paul is saying is that nothing at all that comes from man's side can make fellowship with God possible: nothing of man's 'own', that he 'possesses', can qualify him to enter the Presence. It is only when he flings away all attempts to qualify, and accepts what God offers as a free gift (as an act of 'grace' or gracious generosity) that he can be brought into fellowship with God. But fellowship is a personal relationship; and the offer of restored fellowship therefore requires the entire person's trust – his whole-hearted response – if it is to be entered into. Faith is, for Paul, this commitment to God's goodness and faithfulness which is not the ground of, but simply the response to, God's gift. Paul thus radically opposes – rules out altogether – human merit and deserving. In contrast, Judaism (though only at its crudest) did hold that man could make himself deserving of God's favour by performing acceptable deeds such as almsgiving. And it is this conception of deserving and of self-reliance in all its forms that Paul attacks (Rom. ix. 31, x. 3) – whether in the form of reliance upon good conduct, or of reliance upon ritual correctness (such as circumcision), or upon Jewish descent, or upon correct belief. This conflict helps to explain much of Galatians and Romans. Paul, himself a circumcised and well-born Jew, was quite ready to observe Jewish ritual and custom (1 Cor. ix. 20; cf. Acts xxi. 20 ff.); but he is out like a flash against anyone who claims that anything of the sort can be a basis for salvation (Gal. ii. 17 ff., v. 4).
On the other hand, there is another error, which at first sight looks like the opposite of this legalism or reliance on human merit and correctness – the error that came to be called anti-nomianism. If nothing that man can do is of avail, then why trouble about conduct? Why not sin recklessly and offer the more scope to God's generosity? Such blasphemy Paul had actually encountered (Rom. vi. 1) – indeed, he had even himself been accused of holding such a position (Rom. iii. 8). He says tersely that its condemnation is well deserved. It constitutes, of course, a complete failure to recognize the meaning of fellowship with God as involving the whole personality and total response: it is a fatal departmentalizing of human nature. But it took various forms, some of them at least more sophisticated than the formulation derided by Paul, as may be seen from what is attacked in the Epistle of James and the Johannine Epistles. James is attacking people who claim that they are saved because their beliefs about God are orthodox: they are good monotheists. So, replies the writer, are the demons (Jas ii. 19)! What matters is that the belief should issue in a good life: 'the kind of religion that is without stain ... is ... to go to the help of orphans and widows ...' (Jas i. 27). In the Johannine Epistles we witness an attack upon another form of antinomianism. It is fairly clear that it was sharply 'dualistic', regarding matter as evil and spirit as distinct and separable; and from this its exponents seem to have made two deductions. First, they evidently could not accept that 'the Word became flesh' – that was, for them, too crassly material; and secondly they refused to regard conduct as relevant to initiation. They believed themselves, evidently, to have become initiates with the true, saving knowledge. What did it matter that they took no trouble to show practical kindness to others or were loose in their morals? It will be recognized that these antinomians were really as far from the Pauline (indeed the Christian) position as the legalistically minded. The latter tried to win merit by good deeds; the antinomians regarded their knowledge and their initiation as securing them. Both alike were relying on something other than the free and undeserved graciousness of God. And although from time to time Paul had been and has been tarred with the antinomian brush, nothing is in fact less fair to his position.
By now it has become evident that Christians, holding to central, distinctively Christian emphases, were being compelled to walk a tightrope. Beneath were chasms – the disconnecting of Christ from God, the disconnecting of creation from the Creator, the disconnecting of belief from conduct, the disconnecting of the gracious approach of God from the human response. Did they waver or falter? Paul has often been called one-sided and charged with failure to recognize the value of good deeds; but nothing is clearer, in fact, than that he strenuously called for good deeds, but as part of man's response of trust to God's initiative, not as a means of acquiring God's favour. The Pastorals, whatever their origin, look like a compromise, a crystallization of Pauline doctrine in a setting of organized Church life. (Perhaps St Luke compiled them.)1 Pet. does not stress the grace of God over against human effort, but its exhortation to good deeds is no stronger than Paul's. 2 Pet. is much nearer to the recognition of the attainability of salvation by human effort (i. 5 ff.) and the Greek idea of attaining to deification (i. 4), but even so there is the phrase ' to grow in the grace ... of our Lord" (iii. 18). The Apocalypse is simply a call to Christians to hold on and remain loyal. Jude is chiefly occupied with attacking antinomians, but there is his noble and unforgettable doxology:
Now to the One who can keep you from falling and set you in the presence of his glory, jubilant and above reproach, to the only God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, might and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time, now, and for evermore. Amen.
Only James is nearly without allusion to the grace of God in Jesus, and concentrates on the attainment of such a character as will lead to salvation.
All this, if the New Testament were representative of the generality of Christians at that time, would indicate that, if one travelled from centre to centre, one might find varieties of emphasis, but seldom any abandonment of the unique, distinctive Christian Gospel of the undeserved graciousness of God actually effected in history in Jesus Christ. But in fact one suspects that the communis sensus fidelium, expressed in the' summit' pronouncements, which became the New Testament, was more tenacious of the central verities than were the uninstructed and obscure local members. One suspects that in some communities Jesus was looked back to as an example rather than looked up to as Lord – followed as Rabbi rather than dwelt in as limbs dwell in a body,that what we should call purely 'humanistic' ideas of him were cherished; while elsewhere he was thought of as the Saviour of a mystery religion, scarcely historical at all; that in some places sermons on the atonement were seldom heard; that sometimes Baptism and the Eucharist were treated as little more than charms to safeguard the members of the Church, while in others little doctrine was ever heard, only exhortations to good living.
If so, it is the more remarkable that the differentia of the faith did survive and come through; and it is to the Church's pastors and teachers that we must look for part of the explanation. It is their leaders' writings that stand out from the un-differentiated masses, and that help to preserve the faith. For although in respect of organization and of ministry also, there was almost certainly, as we have seen, a considerable variation from congregation to congregation, the leadership of each congregation must usually have included some responsible person called and commissioned and entrusted with the Gospel. It is noteworthy that the Acts more than once alludes to this care: in xiv. 23 and xx. 32 the verb paratithenai is used of' committing' a Christian group to the Lord or to the Gospel; and correlatively in 2 Tim. ii. 2 the same verb is used of entrusting reliable men with the well-authenticated facts of the Gospel – that which, correspondingly, is called paratheke, 'a deposit', 'a trust" in 2 Tim. i. 14. The sense of responsibility for receiving, preserving, and handing on the authentic Christian Gospel is strikingly strong throughout the epistles (1 Cor. xi. 23, xv. 1, Gal. ii. 2, Col. i. 5 f., 1 Thess. ii. 2-4, 1 Tim. ii. 7, 2 Tim. ii. 8, Heb. ii. 3, Jas i. 18, 21, 1 Pet. i. 23-25, 1 Jn ii. 20, 27, Rev. ii. 25). That is presumably why the Pauline lists of functions within the Christian ministry begin with apostles. It is the ministry of witness to the facts which stands first. Without the datum, no deduction. Then come the prophets and teachers – those who, within the community which is built upon the rock of the confession of Christ, are able to discern and expound God's will, and inculcate the facts and conduct attaching to the faith. Once again, although there may have been considerable variation in the manner of worship as between different congregations, the worship (it seems probable) revolved round one and the same narrative of the Last Supper with the breaking of the loaf and the sharing of wine or its equivalent.
Thus, wherever one went throughout the ancient world, the Christian community would be distinguishable as at least having at its head men who preserved a single Gospel, and led the worship of God in the name of the same Lord Jesus. And one further factor in the maintenance of the unity and purity of the faith must have been the inter-communication between one centre and another. A little later we get a picture of the elaborate care taken by Ignatius of Antioch to write to and then meet the Christians at the chief centres on his triumphal progress to martyrdom. But even in Paul's day messengers travelled rapidly between the towns, and it is astonishing to see, from his letters, what close contact was maintained.
Thus, despite all their individuality and distinctiveness, despite the probably alarming vagaries of the 'underworld' of Christian communities from which they sprang, despite the considerable range of variation between the levels of language and style represented in the New Testament, its various writings speak with a remarkably unanimous voice of a single Gospel and of one Lord. One only needs to compare an extra-canonical writing such as 'the Gospel of Thomas' with the New Testament to recognize this. H. E. W. Turner well sums up the contrast when he points out