NT Wright, page 28:
“What, then, is our target, and what arrows can we use to shoot at it? Our target is to investigate the claim of the earliest Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.”
Gary: How can we investigate the views of the “earliest” Christians when we have zero documents that detail their beliefs? The truth is that a great “black hole” exists in the history of the Early Christian Church. We have no record of the beliefs of any early Christian until the Apostle Paul begins writing his epistles in the mid 50’s.
For 20-25 years immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus in circa 33 AD, we have not one contemporaneous document telling us what even one Christian believed! That is one entire generation! Were the anonymous Gospels, which began appearing circa 65-70 AD, truly written by eyewitnesses or companions of eyewitnesses? We don’t know. Hearsay from Papias, a known unreliable source, writing in the first half of the second century, and Irenaeus, writing at the end of the second century, is all we have to go by.
The “circumcision” controversy of the early church demonstrates to me that the Apostles and their Jewish Christian followers in Jerusalem held to a very different version of Christianity than did Paul and his Gentile Christians. Jewish Christians believed that the followers of Jesus should be good Jews…circumcised Jews. How is it that “johnnie-come-later” Paul knows more about Jesus’ teachings and plan of salvation than do the original Eleven??
Again, we Christians in the pews just assume that Paul was right and Peter and the other Apostles in Jerusalem were wrong. Why? Answer: Because GOD says so! And where does God say that Peter et al were wrong? In the inerrant Holy Bible…in PAUL’S epistles!
Nowhere does Jesus tell his followers that they do not need to be circumcised, the very sign of promise to God’s chosen people, commanded to be observed “forever”. Is it possible, that Paul sincerely believed that his new views were the will of God and with the victory of the more numerous Gentile Christians in the decades and centuries to come, Jewish Christianity…the original Christianity…simple lost out?? Maybe Peter, James, Thomas, Andrew, and the others would be shocked at the “pagan-ness” of the eventual winning version of Christianity!
Read part 5 here.