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Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity
Christianity has often understood the death of Jesus on the cross as the sole means for forgiveness of sin. Despite this tradition, David Downs traces the early and sustained presence of yet another means by which Christians imagined atonement for sin: merciful care for the poor. In Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity, Downs begins by considering the economic context of almsgiving in the Greco-Roman world, a context in which the overwhelming reality of poverty cultivated the formation of relationships of reciprocity and solidarity. Downs then provides detailed examinations of almsgiving and the rewards associated with it in the Old Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and the New Testament. He then attends to early Christian texts and authors in which a theology of atoning almsgiving is developed—2 Clement, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian. In this historical and theological reconstruction, Downs outlines the emergence of a model for the atonement of sin in Christian literature of the first three centuries of the Common Era, namely, atoning almsgiving, or the notion that providing material assistance to the needy cleanses or covers sin. Downs shows that early Christian advocacy of almsgiving’s atoning power is located in an ancient economic context in which fiscal and social relationships were deeply interconnected. Within this context, the concept of atoning almsgiving developed in large part as a result of nascent Christian engagement with scriptural traditions that present care for the poor as having the potential to secure future reward, including heavenly merit and even the cleansing of sin, for those who practice mercy. Downs thus reveals how sin and its solution were socially and ecclesiologically embodied, a vision that frequently contrasted with disregard for the social body, and the bodies of the poor, in Docetic and Gnostic Christianity. Alms, in the end, illuminates the challenge of reading Scripture with the early church, for numerous patristic witnesses held together the conviction that salvation and atonement for sin come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the affirmation that the practice of mercifully caring for the needy cleanses or covers sin. Perhaps the ancient Christian integration of charity, reward, and atonement has the potential to reshape contemporary Christian traditions in which those spheres are separated.
This broadly adopted textbook weds literary and historical approaches to focus on the New Testament’s structure and meaning. Anatomy of the New Testament is systematic, critical, and reliable in its scope and content.
This seventh edition has been revised throughout, to take account of current trends in scholarship and to discuss important interpretative issues, such as the Gospel of Thomas. Each chapter includes two new features, Have You Learned It? offering questions for analysis and synthesis What Do They Mean? presenting definitions of key terms to enhance student comprehension and critical thinking. The text is augmented by numerous sidebars to stimulate discussion of matters “Behind,” “Within,” and “Beyond the New Testament.”
Volume 1: Paul and the Gospels
The period since the close of World War II has been agonizingly introspective—not least because of the pain of reassessing Christianity’s attitude to Judaism. The early Christian materials have often been examined to assess their role in the long-standing negative attitude of Christians to Jews. The motivation for the early church’s sometimes harsh attitude was partly theological—it needed to define itself over against its parent—and partly sociological—it needed to make clear the line that divided the fledgling group of Christian believers fromt he group with which it was most likely to be confused. This collection of studies emphasizes the context and history of early Christianity in reconsidering many of the classic passages that have contributed to the development of anti-Judaism in Christianity. The volume opens with an essay that clearly delineates the state of the question of anti-Judaism in early Christianity. Then follow discussions of specific passages in the writings of Paul as well as the Gospels.
Biblical scholars have often contrasted the exegesis of the early church fathers from the eastern region and “school” of Syrian Antioch against that of the school of Alexandria. The Antiochenes have often been described as strictly historical-literal exegetes in contrast to the allegorical exegesis of the Alexandrians. Patristic scholars now challenge those stereotypes, some even arguing that few differences existed between the two groups.
This work agrees that both schools were concerned with a literal and spiritual reading. But, it also tries to show, through analysis of Theodore and Theodoret’s exegesis and use of the term theoria, that how they integrated the literal-theological readings often remained quite distinct from the Alexandrians. For the Antiochenes, the term theoria did not mean allegory, but instead stood for a range of perceptions—prophetic, christological, and contemporary. It is in these insights that we find the deep wisdom to help modern readers interpret Scripture theologically.
Apocalyptic Currents through History
Apocalypses in Context is designed for just such a classroom, bringing together the insights of scholars in various fields and using different methods to discuss the manifestations of apocalyptic enthusiasm in different ages (Part I: Ancient Apocalyptic Literature; Part II: Apocalypticism through the Ages; Part III: Apocalypticism in the Contemporary World). This approach enables the instructor to make connections and students to recognize continuities and contrasts across history. Apocalypses in Context features illustrations, graphs, study questions, and suggestions for further reading after each chapter, as well as recommended media and artwork to support the college classroom.
Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8
Romans 5-8 revolve around God’s dramatic cosmic activity and its implications for humanity and all of creation. Apocalyptic Paul measures the power of Paul’s rhetoric about the relationship of cosmic power to the Law, interpretations of righteousness and the self, and the link between grace and obedience. A revealing study of Paul’s understanding of humanity in light of God’s apocalyptic action through Jesus Christ, Apocalyptic Paul illuminates Romans 5-8 and shows how critical this neglected part of Romans was to Paul’s literary project.
Fortress Commentary on the Bible Study Edition
This concise commentary on the Apocrypha, excerpted from the Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The Old Testament and Apocrypha, engages readers in the work of biblical interpretation. Contributors from a rich diversity of perspectives connect historical-critical analysis with sensitivity to current theological, cultural, and interpretive issues.
Introductory articles describe the challenges of reading the Old Testament in ancient and contemporary contexts, relating the biblical theme of “the people of God” to our complex, multicultural world, and reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, followed by an “Introduction to the Apocrypha.” Each chapter (Tobit through 4 Maccabees) includes an introduction and commentary on the text through the lenses of three critical questions: The Text in Its Ancient Context; The Text in the Interpretive Tradition and The Text in Contemporary Discussion.
The Apocypha introduces fresh perspectives and draws students, as well as preachers and interested readers, into the challenging work of interpretation.
Beyond Divine Maturity
In Portraits of a Mature God, Mark McEntire traced the narrative development of the divine character in the Old Testament, placing the God portrayed at the end of that long story at the center of theological discussion. He showed that Israel’s understanding of God had developed into a complex, multipurpose being who could work within a new reality, a world that included a semiautonomous province of Yehud and a burgeoning Mesopotamian-Mediterranean world in which the Jewish people lived and moved in a growing diversity of ways. Now, McEntire continues that story beyond the narrative end of the Hebrew Bible as Israel and Israel’s God moved into the Hellenistic world. The “narrative” McEntire perceives in the apocryphal literature describes a God protecting and guiding the scattered and persecuted, a God responding to suffering in revolt, and a God disclosing mysteries, yet also hidden in the symbolism of dreams and visions. McEntire here provides a coherent and compelling account of theological perspectives in the apocryphal writings and beyond.
"The anonymous early church order that became known as the Apostolic Tradition and conventionally attributed to Hippolytus of Rome has generated enormous scholarly discussion since its discovery in the nineteenth century. Surprisingly, however, there has never before been a comprehensive commentary on it such as there is for other patristic works. We have here attempted to remedy this defect, and at the same time we have offered the first full synoptic presentation in English of the various witnesses to its text. We have also taken the opportunity to develop our argument that it is neither the work of Hippolytus nor of any other individual. Instead, we believe that it is a composite document made up of a number of layers and strands of diverse provenance and compiled over a period of time, and therefore not representing the practice of any one Christian community." — from the Preface