Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ten Common Mistakes about the NT

I did a PowerPoint presentation yesterday at the theological research seminar on the first chapter of a book I have coming out probably first of next year with Fortress, A New Perspective on Hebrews.  The presentation  gave background on "New Perspectives on Christian Judaism."  I went through 1) new perspectives on Paul, 2) the third quest for the historical Jesus, and 3) the partings of the ways.  These are all part of the late twentieth century re-examination of early Christianity in the light of Judaism.  The reappraisal of Judaism was inspired by the Holocaust and discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here are what I consider 10 fairly clear insights that have not fully trickled down to the popular level:

1. The Jews were not trying to earn their salvation by good works.

2. Paul did not struggle with a guilty conscience, either before or after he believed in Jesus as Christ.

3. Paul saw works as an element in final salvation. What he did not believe were required for justification were "works of Law," especially those aspects of the Law that separated Jew from Gentile (e.g., circumcision).

4. Romans is not primarily about how to get saved but about how the Gentiles can be included alongside the Jews in the people of God.

5. The Law in Romans is the Jewish Law, not some abstract moral law.

6. Paul did not change religions when he believed on Christ.  He probably changed Jewish sects. All the early Christians saw themselves as Jews. The Gentile converts saw themselves as converting to a form of Judaism. It would be more accurate to speak of Christian Jews than of Jewish Christians in the earliest church.

7. The Pharisees were all strict but they were not all legalists in the sense of only caring about rules for their own sake. Jesus puts them in the "healthy" and "righteous" category, at least initially, in several parables. Some of them became believers without leaving Pharisaism.

8. New Testament theology is theo-centric (God the Father centered) rather than Christocentric.

9. The best approach to understanding the historical Jesus locates him within first century Judaisms on a trajectory to the early church (double similarity).

10. The earliest Christians did not see ethnic Israel as replaced but in a temporary state of unbelief.


Unknown said...

I believe I grasp the gist of what you mean in #9, but the parenthetical note regarding "double similarity" throws me--can you clarify this phrase?

Unknown said...

What a great post! Thanks, Dr. Schenck!

We so frequently villainize the Pharisees that #7 was especially good to see.

#'s 4 & 5 made me think of our discussion about historical/literary context in the seminary. Romans is used for our salvation so much (Romans Road), that this truly might be the first time I have seen these two points in all of my theological education and church raising.

Thanks for this. Quite refreshing, and lots to think about!!

Especially cogent for Lent.

Ken Schenck said...

There was a rule in the "new quest" period of the 50s to 70s that was called "double dissimilarity," if a Jesus saying is dissimilar from Judaism and Christianity, Jesus probably said it. Double similarity is the idea that if you can fit a saying on a trajectory from Judaism to Christianity through Jesus, it is plausibly historical.

Martin LaBar said...

No, these insights haven't trickled down to the popular level. Thanks.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

This post sparked a reply. I wanted to comment in more depth than would really work in a comment box. If nothing else, I hope that it will give some idea why the average Christian takes the academics with a grain of salt (no offense intended).

I've commented here:


Btw I found your piece through a link on Dr Pursiful's blog. But he might well disagree with my comments so don't blame him. :) Just wanted to acknowledge his referral there.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for the push-back, WF. Your comments on your blog say two things to me: 1) you are not someone I would include in "have not trickled down" and 2) you agreed on some of the points where pastors continue to preach business as usual without any sense of the genuine insights of the last 50 years.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. (Btw Martin LaBar tipped me off that I misspelled your name. Sorry about that, & all fixed now I hope.)

I wonder a little if I might refocus the conversation on the one follow-up point that is of interest to me, which is about the pastors. And the question I'd ask is a little beyond our current scope so feel free to leave it unresponded as rhetorical if you like, though I hope you entertain the question at least in your mind. Given how pastors spend their days and their assigned responsibilities, what insight of the last 50 years do you think would be most valuable to them specifically as pastors, in their roles as such? It doesn't have to be one from this list.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Ken Schenck said...

Of this list, I think the main one is the importance of faithfulness (or "works" in the list) to God's expectations of us, that it's not enough simply to believe, that "all sin is [not] sin."

Thanks for your engagement. I knew not all of these were as slam dunk as others, but I was going for a list of 10 :-) No worries on the name...