Luke’s Jewish-centric Ecclesiology

Combing through some research on an upcoming presentation on Second Temple clerical Lukan Jewishnessforms in early church ecclesiology, I came across two examples of existing leadership structures that caught me by surprise. As I’ve been working through the four unique ecclesiologies in the New Testament (Pauline, Lukan, Johannine, and Matthean) one of the points of differentiation between Pauline and Lukan, which are close, seems to be Luke’s abiding concern for locating the work of the burgeoning Christian communities within a Jewish context. (There are other points of difference though.)

Perhaps this is why, at the end of Acts we are left with church communities focused around rising presbyteries (though what happens after CE 70 is a mystery.) Yet I was taken aback in noting two forms of leadership structures in the Essene communities of Qumran. Specifically:

1. The necessity of having at least 120 families in a community to allow for it to have its own council which is seen in Mishnah Sanhedrin 1.6. It is peculiar that, in Acts 1:15, Luke points out that 120 people (though the Greek here, ἀδελφῶν, literally means “brothers” indicating households) were present with Peter as the first meeting of the followers of Jesus takes place. Why would Luke use this rather precise number when, only one chapter later, he approximates the number added to the Church to some 3,000?

2. Later on in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas go before the Jerusalem Council (a scene which corresponds to Paul’s retelling in Galatians 1-2.) This council is reported to have three principal leaders by Paul (who cites them as “pillars”) in Galatians 2:9. In Luke’s recording of the events he notes that Peter is present and that James, the brother of Jesus, is occupying a leadership role over the elders. Now, if the council in Jerusalem corresponds to the council regulations laid out in Qumran (1 QS 8:1f) this would indicate an additional connection with the Jewish context out of which the earliest communities arose. If Paul’s observation is correct, that James is included with the other two apostles, perhaps the three apostles were serving alongside twelve elders in a kind of early Christian Council.

It is curious, given the two examples above, that Luke’s ecclesiology wouldn’t have been embedded in a specifically Jewish context. Perhaps more than any other of the above four ecclesiologies, Luke best represents the Jewish context out of which the earliest Christian communities arose. As a result, Luke’s understanding of ecclesiology, which gives more of a leadership role to the twelve disciples, then Apostles, in his Gospel and initial portion of Acts. This describes how the earliest communities considered themselves a natural extension of the Jewish communities in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora.

Of course Luke also is the final historical discussion that places the worship patterns of the earliest communities in the Temple of Jerusalem (and also the Diaspora synagogues.)  Paul only references them as places where the Jews, or historic Israel, conduct their cultic worship.

Just a few thoughts. The developing ecclesiologies that are cast across the New Testament provide a healthy picture of the natural development which was occurring in these diverse communities. Perhaps Luke’s ecclesiology does represent more of a Jewish focus than the others. More studies to follow.

Mar 2014



Was the Early Church of Acts a Communism?

Reading along for some background data concerning the organization and polity of the earliest Christian communities (there are none earlier than Acts) and I came across a wonderful point from Carsten Colpe:

Christian CommunismThis social structure is not a form of “communism” if one means it the communal possession of the means of production, for the private property of the Nazaraeans, from which a profit is realized and distributed, is maintained (in distinction to the Essenes). Also, this social structure is not a form of “egalitarianism,” since everyone received according to need. Finally, this social structure is not a form of “collectivism,” since there was neither communal production nor central administration of communally produced income. If one must use a modern sociological term, one may speak here of a “consumer cooperative” – yet with the absolute restriction that participation was voluntary (5:4) and the relationship between supply and demand was not regulated by contract. It is also possible that the example of important benefactors – only the Cypriot Barnabas and the local Ananias (4:36; 5:1-2) are mentioned by name – has established standards, by which the individual again and again, yet differently from case to case, is oriented towards the members’ mutual obligation to support each other financially.Carston Colpe from “The Oldest Jewish-Christian Community” pg 91 in Christian Beginnings: Word an Community from Jesus to Post-Apostolic Times edited by Jürgen Becker.

I rather agree with his point, and to the secondary point that present day political monikers (-isms) are difficult to ascribe to antiquity with high levels of congruity. Anyways, since there are a bunch of folks getting way too worried about Pope Francis’ “socialism” we should also note that the earliest communities were not inherently capitalistic either. The entire nature of the economy at this point was so mightily different than what we experience it is hard to characterize in present day terminology.

However, we can say that the early communities were voluntary associations of messianic believers who collaborated to promote hospitality among each other and care for the poor and indigent outside their ranks.

This isn’t communism or socialism.

Jan 2014



What Happened to the Apostles?

One of the vexing issues left when you read the post-Pentecost accounts in Acts and other New Testament literature is that most of the 12 Apostles disappear. Though some major figures continue, the rest of the twelve are outside the view of the New Testament.

As I was doing some more (as if it ends) dissertation reading in Streeter’s  The Primitive ChurchI noticed that he points out a third century pseudipigraphal document, The Acts of Thomas, that makes a curious note concerning what happened to the 12 Apostles following Pentecost. Here’s the passage from the Acts of Thomas:

1 At that time all we the apostles were at Jerusalem, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Cananean, and Judas the brother of James: and we divided the regions of the world, that every one of us should go to the region that fell to him and to the nation to which the Lord sent him.  2 According to the lot, therefore, India fell to Judas Thomas, which is also the twin: but he would not go, saying that by reason of the weakness of the flesh he could not travel, and: I am a Hebrew; how can I go among the Indians and preach the truth?

Streeter, after appropriately noting the specious nature of the reference, does make a note about how it is helpful in framing a possible picture of the dispersion that existed following Pentecost. The 12 Apostles, representative of the 12 tribes of Old Testament Israel, went into dispersion to accomplish the Great Commission and charge in Acts 1:8.

The idea that the Apostles remained consolidated in Jerusalem for the next several years is certainly reasonable. Acts 9, perhaps occurring within two years of the resurrection, details Saul’s conversion and entrance into ministry (before being sent off in Acts 9:30.) The dispersion of the earliest Christians into regions beyond Jerusalem and Judea becomes more clear as it seems Saul, who later became Paul, had someone to go to in this distant place.

In the rest of the New Testament, there is a growing sense that the earliest Christian communities are indeed growing outside of Jerusalem as the Apostles, or at least early adherents, are moving away to capture the commission of Christ. While they seem to be around for the Jerusalem in Acts 15:6-21, though it isn’t immediately obvious if this means the original 12 Apostles, there is also the issue that Paul had to, at point after his return from ministry abroad, submitted himself to a council of Apostles per Galatians 1:11-24.

Perhaps here we consider that the Apostles referenced is not always synonymous with the original twelve but that an Apostolic Council, or a collegium of Apostles, would meet regularly to consider new leaders and aid in the direction of the earliest communities. This seems a reasonable point given that Acts 15 mentions the idea of Apostles and elders in some kind of council.

As a result, it would not have been natural for the New Testament to continue to include specific references to the 12 Apostles if they weren’t in view of the authors. For instance, if Thomas did go to India (and was often referred to as Jesus since he was Jesus’ identical twin…or not) it would be outside the normal development of texts primarily written about events in Judea to include him in their narrative. Perhaps, if for no other reason, the exclusion of the Apostles from the rest of the New Testament is a helpful authenticating device to show the truthfulness of the New Testament documents. While many Gnostic and pseudepigraphal texts attempt to draw the Apostles back into the ministry of the early church, the truthful New Testament texts represent an authentic picture.

Other texts indicate that the Apostles did indeed seek out regions for their ministry in the earliest days of Christianity. This would certainly account for the spread of Christianity across the Mediterranean region, Africa and Asia. While the Acts of Thomas is not a definitive text for what actually occurred, it likely has some data to provide for shaping the earliest Christian developments.