Formation and success of movements

People in societies or sub-societies sometimes want change, and groups may band together to begin “movements.”  In music history, the Renaissance, the thought and work of the Florentine Camerata, Romanticism, Impressionism, and Neoclassicism are examples of movements.  Others could be identified, such as the educational band music quasi-movement of the 70s and 80s.

In religious history, many movements have been observed, including the the various stripes of Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation, and the movement of Anglicans that became Wesleyan Methodism.  The religious movement with which I am most familiar, the frontier American Restoration Movement, was at one point truly a movement, manifesting both distinctive features and corporate energy.

None of those movements identified above are movements anymore.  Loosely speaking—and expanding on how I’ve heard it—the train of thought goes something like this:

  1. Some idea-germs can blossom into vital, vibrant movements.
  2. Most (if not all) movements eventually become sects.
  3. Most (if not all) sects eventually become denominations.

How to keep a good idea and a good movement alive before it crystallizes or ossifies . . . that is the question.

I’ve read with interest a recent discussion between high-profile scholar-authors Ben Witherington and Larry Hurtado about the latter’s new book which treats aspects of the formation and distinctiveness of early Christianity.  (In one sense, early Christianity was a movement within first-century Jewish religion, and it serves well for us to keep this reality in mind.)  About a third of the way through the interview, Witherington makes the following comment, and I appreciate the thoughtful analysis:

Reading your review of Stark’s 10 factors on why a religious movement succeeds, you point to the fact that the movement on the one hand must maintain some continuity with its cultural setting so it is not seen as totally alien and incomprehensible, but at the same time it must have some distinguishing features, presumably appealing distinguishing features, that set it apart from its setting, including certain behavioral demands made on insiders.  The boundaries between insider and outsider must be porous enough to readily allow outsiders in, but at the same time the identity formation must be clear enough that the difference between between insiders and outsiders is reasonable clear.

A movement, then, may “succeed” by being

  • attractive to and connected with people (appealing within a culture)
  • distinctive and demanding—worth joining because it has (1) something unique to offer to prospective adherents and (2) something to ask of them

Speaking on a practical level, a movement will also need to provide a way for people to join up.

Tomorrow:  being in the world but not of it (whatever that means)—and joining in the Way in various ways


Applying Acts 15: James as judge?

You don’t even have to be a good test-taker to get this question!

See?  That wasn’t difficult.  You got it right, didn’t you?

This much is plain to me:  whatever we can apply from Acts 15, it can’t be identical to that which the 1st-century believers applied.

Moreover, the letter/message written at the time and circulated to gentile churches is like many other NT letters in at least this respect:  the letter was written because of, and into, a specific set of circumstances.  Because of the situational nature of a letter, a hermeneutical misfire often occurs when one tries to make out of it a prescriptive example for all time.  The happenings related in Acts 15 are not to be construed as constituting a grand example for all time.

I noticed tonight that in many English versions, Acts 15:19 has James almost banging a gavel and pontificating, stating his verdict, i.e., “I have determined that . . .”  But the tense of the verb is not the perfect.  Here, James’s grammar doesn’t denote a process that emphasizes the end result.  It is a simple present tense, and synonyms for “judge” might be “discern,” “determine,” or “consider.”

I do, however, find that the word “judge,” (κρινώ | krinō) is a term

  • with legal connotations
  • that can involve a process of cognition, of “taking into account”
  • that can mean considering, making a selection, and deciding

I also note that, in Acts 16:4, the perfect tense of this same verb is used:

Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. (16:4, NASB)

Initially I’d staked a claim on Acts 15:19’s not implying a legal stance taken by James.  The situation, which includes the fact that the Jerusalem/Jewish establishment was intent on including and encouraging gentiles, would seem to conflict with seeing the Jewish James as a pre-pope pope who speaks ex cathedra.  Yet I must admit that some quasi-legal aspect may be present in this text.  That possibility may be supported by the presence in the chapter 15 event of rhetorical devices such as exordium, narratio, and probatio,¹ which might be roughly translated “opening argument,” “narration,” and “proving of the point,” respectively.  

After class, a man to whom I was introduced was talking about a recent, African safari hunt.  One in his group had some connections to South African Dutch ancestry—I’m not sure how strong a connection.  Apparently, the S. African man asked an honest question of another believer, earnestly seeking an opinion on whether or not black-skinned people would be in heaven.  I kid you not.

Now there’s a closer parallel than anything else I’d considered in a long time:

  1. Jews in 1st-century Israel were being caused to consider whether non-Jews were to be included along with them in the church.
  2. Some South African descendants of apartheid-ists apparently also have real difficulty with whether or not today’s blacks are to be included along with them.

The so-called “Jerusalem conference” was not about trivial issues like church carpet color or mundane differences of opinion held by “separate but equal” churches.  The matter then at hand amounted to a cataclysmic shift from Jew-centered faith to all-are-welcome faith.

B. Casey, 10/7/15

P.S.  For more on the matter(s) of Acts 15, see this prior post.

¹ Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 456-7.

Laying down the Law (2)

The following, additional excerpts are from Ben Witherington, “Excursus:  Laying Down the Law,” in Grace in Galatia (Eerdmans, 1998).  I think they are of the utmost significance and am closing this series on Galatians with them — and a bit of personal commentary.

The actual problem with the Law as a means of Christian living is at least sixfold:

  1. [The actual effect of the Law] is to imprison those who are under it in a form of slavery, the Law acting as a rather strict guardian.
  2. It involves God’s elementary principles which the believer, as he or she grows up, needs to get beyond.
  3. The Law is a temporary expedient … to go back to it is not only to be anachronistic, but is tantamount to a denial of the efficacy of the work of Christ and the Spirit.
  4. The Law is quite incapable of giving what Christ and the Spirit give – life, freedom, fruit, gifts, etc.  The Law is not bad; it is simply impotent.
  5. The Mosaic Law was intended for Jews, separating them specifically in social practice (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws, etc.), but also to make them stand apart in moral behavior and theological belief (contra immorality and idolatry). . . .  Although the Shema and Ten Commandments were at the heart of the Law, Paul was willing to place the Law in the categories of “ministry of death” and “form of fleeting and fading glory” while talking about those very ten commandments (2Cor 3)
  6. Paul opposes the mandatory observation of the Law by any Christians whether Jews … or Gentiles.  No doubt the reason he does so is because if some choose to be consistently and permanently Torah true, this will divide the community … into clean and unclean, sinner and holy one, first- and second-class citizens. . . .  In the Christian community the basis of association is simply being in Christ in whom there is no Jew or Gentile.

~ ~ ~

We may sum up by saying that for the Christian Paul, the Mosaic Law was a good thing, something that came from God … but that it was limited — limited in what it was a) intended to accomplish and b) could accomplish, c) limited in time-space, and d) limited in terms of the group it was meant to be applied to. . . .  The people of God were no longer to be under the Guardian, given the advent of the eschatological age.  Those in Christ could then be new creatures, walking in the Spirit.

My regurgitation of Witherington’s most forceful comparison of Old to New could at first seem to be aimed at certain teaching, teachers, or denominations.  It’s true that personal conversations and relationships pass before my eyes sometimes!  I’m concerned, for example, with an emphasis on modern, geopolitical Israel, which I believe has only a historical, relative place in Christian theology, and which I suspect has no place at all in Christian eschatology.  I do suppose that some, more than others, tend to place greater trust in the Old, but a strong and anything-but-silent majority appear to elevate the Jewish Law to a place of all-encompassing, lasting oversight, and I find this elevation ill-advised.  The Old was, and is, fulfilled in the New.

I rather think it is all Christian believers who need to hear the message of Galatians, and hear it well.


This entire Galatians series, which includes text-based and devotionally oriented posts, may be accessed through this link.  If you don’t like heady or detailed material, try this post for starters.

The ultimate Galatians: laying down the Law (1)

The following excerpts are from Ben Witherington, “Excursus:  Laying Down the Law,” in Grace in Galatia (Eerdmans, 1998).  I think they are of the utmost significance.

For Paul, the encounter on Damascus Road led to a drastic re-evaluation of the Mosaic Law.

By what rule or standard will the Christian community live and be shaped?  Paul’s answer:  cruciform and Christological … it is to follow his example and the pattern of Christ and walk in and by the Spirit.  It is, in short, to follow the Law of Christ which is not identical with the Law of Moses.

Paul does not think the Law is against God’s promises, he just does not think that Law-keeping is the means through which those promises come to fulfillment. . . .  The effect and the purpose and intent of the Law are not one and the same.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is neither antinomian nor an attack on legalism per se.  It is a historical argument on salvation, recognizing what time it is, and what covenant God’s people are (and are not) now under.

Some Scriptural continuity should not be confused, however, with what we may anachronistically call “ecclesial” continuity between “Israel” then and now.  Paul’s view is that the way to obtain the benefits of the promise to Abraham is through Abraham’s true and ultimate seed Christ, not through continuing to keep the Mosaic Law.  It is Jew and Gentile united in Christ (emph mine  -bc) that are viewed by Paul as the people of God.  In short, Paul is arguing that the people of God were narrowed down to the elect one, Christ, the [S]eed—after which those who are “in the [S]eed” … are “in” the people of God.

More to come in two days, in the final post on Galatians.  This entire series, which includes text-based and devotional posts as well, may be accessed through this link.

Galatians words and notes (2)

[This is the 4th in a text-based series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The entire series, which includes other types of posts as well, may be accessed through this link.]  wpid-2013-02-19_17-22-52_366.jpg

Below are some additional, selected textual notes on Galatians, following up on yesterday’s first list.  These are representative of my  notes made from consultation of works of Robertson, Fay, Witherington, and others, and from personal study.

  • 4:13-15 — it must be a visible flesh-ailment — likely the eyes (or possibly head, neck, hands, lower legs/feet, which would have been typically visible in this age).  If eyes, it speaks of a Galatian act of supreme kindness:  the eyes were considered most valuable of all organs. cf. 5:11 “large letters.”  Whether eyes or not, it is a “weakness of the flesh,” i.e., not a fever or demon or some internal condition.
  • 4:14
    • nor rejected (ουδε εξεπτυσατ). First aorist active indicative (basic, single-action past tense) of ekptuw, an old word meaning “to spit out” (Homer), to spurn, to loathe.  Found here only in the NT.   Clemen (Primitive Christianity, p. 342) thinks it should be taken literally here since people spat, as a prophylactic custom, at the mere sight of invalids, especially epileptics.  But Plutarch uses the word of mere rejection.
    • “As an angel of God” (ως αγγελον θεου), as Christ Jesus. In spite of his illness and repulsive appearance, whatever it was.  Not a mere, generic “messenger” of God here, but a very angel, even as Christ Jesus.  Cf. Acts 14:12, Lystra — Paul at first welcomed as Hermes, god of oratory.  However, that narrative is hardly conceptually applicable here in Gal (due to antagonism from Jews from Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium).  -Robertson
    • Possible word-play with αγγελον (angel) — possibly refers to famous story of Phrygian hill country in which there were consequences of not welcoming (or alternately welcoming) the gods when they came incognito (Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8:626ff)
    • Acts 13-14 “welcomed as a messenger of God” “More to the fore perhaps is the fact that Paul has just exhorted them to become as he is, namely Christlike, and now he is reminding them of how they treated him ‘as Christ Jesus’ when he first visited. In short, these remarks are meant to strengthen the appeal for imitation.” – B. Witherington
  • 4:19
    •  I am in travail (ωδινω). I am in birth pangs. Old word for this powerful picture of pain. In N.T. only 3x:  here, 4:27 and Revelation 12:2.
    • “Until Christ be formed in you” (μέχρις οὗ μορφωθῇ Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν) — future temporal clause with mexri ou (until which time) and the first aorist passive subjunctive of morpow, late and rare verb, in Plutarch, not in LXX, not in papyri, only here in N.T. This figure is the embryo developing into the child. Paul boldly represents himself as again the mother with birth pangs over them. This is better than to suppose that the Galatians are pregnant mothers (Burton) by a reversal of the picture as in 1 Thess. 2:7.  – Robertson
  • 4:28 — “but you, brothers, according to Isaac of promise children (tekna) are” — cf. the wording of 3:29
  • 4:30 — Cast out (ekbale).  Second aorist active imperative (basic past tense without focus on results of the action) of ekballw.  Quotation from Genesis 21:10 (Sarah to Abraham) and confirmed in Genesis 21:12. Strong negative (ou me with future indicative). “The law and the gospel cannot co-exist.”
  • 5:1-12
    • 1-6 sets out declaration of liberty
    • 7-12 are a more free, “collection of pointed remarks, rhetorical questions, proverbial expressions, threats, irony, and a joke of stark sarcasm” (-Witherington)
  • 5:1
    • 5:1b is either the end of a section, transitional, or beginning of new section. No transitional particle to connect it to preceding and (probably) uses dative case unusually.  Many textual variants.  Possible English readings include these:
      • For freedom Christ has set us free. (NET)
      • It was for freedom that Christ set us free; (NASB)
      • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (NIV)
      • Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, (KJV)
      • We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. (NCV)
      • Christ has set us free to live a free life. (MSG)
    • The expression “for freedom” is a “dative of goal, destiny or purpose” — e.g., C.K. Barrett.  In other words, our freedom is the goal/purpose of Christ’s having set us free.
    • This grammatical construction also found in “sacral manumission procedures” of Ancient East
    • Be not entangled again (μη παλιν ζυγω). “Stop being held in by a yoke of bondage.” Common word for ensnare by trap. The Judaizers were trying to lasso the Galatians for the old yoke of Judaism.  “Yoke of slavery” strongly implies the “different gospel.”
  • 5:7 — Compare 5:12 imagery “cut in on” — see also 1Thess 2:17 — “late verb” but possibly early, intentional uses by Paul — both very negative.  Wigram has “incision” as a secondary meaning. “Cut or strike in, hence, to impede, interrupt, hinder; incision, e.g., a trench cut in the way of an enemy.”
  • 5:10 — Subjunctive (tense of possibility/contingency/uncertainty).  It seems unlikely that Paul knew precisely who the leader of the Judaizers was.
  • 5:12 — Phillips and others have another possibility, based on Jewish law that excludes the castrated eunuch–that the Judaizers (doubly ironically! -bc) would be completely cut off from the Galatian Christians.  In other words, the ones who want to require cutting to be part of the church would, Paul says, “cut themselves off” from the whole organic church, and in doing so, would be doubly cut.  In other words, they would be cut off metaphorically from the church and also castrated symbolically, thereby cutting themselves off from Judaizers, too.
  • 5:16
    • peripateite — walk in step (also a key term in 1Thess — another early letter).
    • ου μη τελεσητε — strong double negative — you will really not fulfill the flesh
  • 6:1 — trespass (paraptwmati).  Literally, a falling aside, a slip or lapse in ancient papyri (rather than a willful sin).  Koine word, also in Polybius and Diodorus.
  • 6:2 a) “Keep on bearing” — present active imperative of bastazw, old word, used of Jesus bearing his Cross in John 19:17.  Or b) fulfill — Some MSS have future indicative (anaplhrwsete) — this variant reading is very uncertain.  Others have first aorist active imperative.
  • 6:7-8 Longenecker says the hortatory unit is self-contained in 6:7-8.  1) introductory formula, 2) proverb, 3) maxim, 4) Paul’s explanation – flesh-spirit dichotomy.  The import of this oft-quoted (and often generalized, perhaps falsely) passage may be that God’s just, covenantal plan must not be mocked: Spirit/Promise/Faith must be the course. 
  • 6:15 — καινη κτισις — query:  what might this expression “new creation” mean here, considering the book-level context?
  • 6:16 — What is the Israel of God”?  I have long thought it was obvious that this expression had nothing to do with old Israel, but could there be a duality here?  Could the expression refer jointly to those Gentile believers who “line up” (stoichesousin) in thinking no circumcision matters, and also the Jewish believers, i.e., if they are really of God  in following promise, spirit, new covenant?
  • 6:17 — old word from stizw, to prick, to stick, to sting.  Slaves had the names or stamp of their owners on their bodies. It was sometimes also done for soldiers. There were devotees also who stamped upon their bodies the names of the gods whom they worshipped. In a round-up, cattle are given the owner’s mark. Paul gloried in being the slave of Jesus Christ. This is probably the image in Paul’s mind since he bore in his body brandmarks of suffering for Christ received in many places ( 2 Corinthians 6:4-6 ; 2 Corinthians 11:23 ), probably actual scars from the scourgings (thirty-nine lashes at a time). If for no other reason, listen to me by reason of these scars for Christ and “let no one keep on furnishing trouble to me.”


Coming next:  Mini-structural elements (chiasmus and more) in the Galatians text.  

For more detailed insight into the minutiae of Galatians words, try Robertson’s Word Pictures, available free on the WWW.

Galatians overview and macro-structuring

[This is the 2nd in a series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.]

One means of getting a handle on the content of an ancient letter is examination in terms of recurring themes and words.  Many believe that freedom is the underlying key concept in the Galatian letter, although the word itself is not seen as frequently as law or faith.  The next post in this series will contain a chart of recurring words in the letter.

As the letter is seen as a whole, one key thematic area is the relating of the Old and New Covenants.  The conclusion of this blog series will present some high-impact material from Ben Witherington III on this relationship.

Witherington emphatically highlights that Galatians is not primarily about how to begin, or even about how to remain; rather, it’s about how to move forward.  (On this point, immersion in 3:27 is not an emphatic point in the letter, but may rather be assumed, i.e., Paul would have found no need to instruct about it, as he would today; believers in Jesus as Christ were clearly being immersed as a habituated matter of practice, clothing themselves with Christ.)

For Aristotle (who lived and taught some 350 years before Paul), philosophy was concerned with the how and what of things.  He gave some major headings for aspects of persuasive rhetoric, all of which Paul appears to have used in communicating with the Galatians:

  • ethos (asserts speaker’s personal character, credibility)
  • pathos (puts the audience in a frame of mind based on emotional appeal)
  • logic (offers argument, proof)

Galatians also appears to employ quite a few discrete rhetorical devices (not only chiasm or epistle form).  Ben Witherington III and many others agree on a rhetorically based outline of the document, though, and it runs something like this:

  • Epistolary prescript 1:1-5
  • Exordium 1:6-10 (11) (intro)
  • Narratio 1:11(12)-2:14 (statement of facts that relate to issues)
    • Gospel 1:11-12
    • “Narrative of surprising developments”) 1:13-2:14
  • Propositio 2:15-21 (statement of points of agreement/disagreement, issues to be proven)
    • succinct, in keeping with general practice
    • relatively complete
    • looks both backward and forward
    • smooth transition in and out of (note the “we” beginnings, followed by “I” statements)
    • the question, for Witherington:  Who are the people of God, and what constitutes them?
  • Probatio 3:1-4:31 (confirmation, [proof], develops arguments — “explanation” that it’s about faith, not law or works; and that faith preceded Law)
  • Exhortatio 5:1-6:10 (the “so what” or “therefore” — the “application” — how to use freedom)
  • Epistolary Postscript (with peroratio/conclusion included, 12-17):  6:11-18

The Word commentary affirms that a) 1:6-10 and b) 5:1-12 establish an inclusio for all the arguments and persuasions of the letter.  Note the “sustained severity” of these “bookend” passages.

The following chiastic or inclusio-type structure is given by John Bligh (as quoted in Word Bib Commentary, cxiii).  This outlines the entire letter:

A Prologue 1:1-12

  B Autobio 1:13-2:10

    C Justification by faith 2:11-3:4

     D Arguments from scripture 3:5-3:29

         E Central chiasm 4:1-10

     D’ Arguments from scripture 4:11-4:31

    C’ Justification by faith 5:1-10

  B’ Moral section 5:11-6:11

A’ Epilogue 6:12-18

To the extent that the above is on target, the “central chiasm” of chapter 4, verses 1-10, would be seen as a focal point of the whole.

Form in Galatians

In coming to understand many things, form and structure are important.  I know this because I’ve been confronted with my own lack of understanding so many times, and often, my understanding grows a tad bit when some aspect of structure that I hadn’t previously been aware of is spotlighted before my eyes.

Q:  Why was this meeting held with those people?
(Oh — it’s because of this way of viewing the structure of the organization.)

Q:  What does that piece of art, or that musical composition, “mean”?
(I can get closer to understanding something about it if I learn about its component parts, its makeup.)

Q:  How does the form of this architecture relate to its function?  How does it “work”?
(Just think how many more disasters we’d have if architects didn’t understand form.)

I am not equal to the task of writing much commentary about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but in studying the letter more deeply than ever before, I’m coming to understand more by delineating some component parts.  It’s not always possible to do this without preconceived ideas, and the delineation sometimes seems to be more art than science.  Still, knowing the following general sections helps to understand what Paul is saying by the guidance of the Spirit of God:

  • Epistolary prescript 1:1-5
  • Introduction 1:6-10 (11)
  • Statement of facts that relate to issues to be addressed 1:11(12)-2:14
    • Gospel 1:11-12
    • Narrative of Surprising Developments 1:13-2:14
  • Key summary section:  statement of points of agreement/disagreement, issues to be proven 2:15-21
  • Confirmation, proof, development of arguments just summarized 3:1-4:31(5:1)
  • Exhortation (the “so what” or “therefore”) 5:1-6:10
  • Epistolary postscript (with conclusion included)  6:11-18

For much of the above, thanks are due to Ben Witherington III and his commentary Grace in Galatia.  Other scholars I’ve contacted have laid things out similarly.

For me, the key help has been the labels affixed to 2:15-21 and 3:1-5:1.  Understanding the summary, introductory nature of 2:15-21 brings new light to the meaty middle of Galatians.  And some of the confusing argumentation in chapters 3 and 4 appears more lucid in light of the various rhetorical means Paul employs in attempts to persuade the Galatians.

As our group moves into the final two chapters — a section more devoted to “how to live, how to move on” — I’m feeling more confident, although not as confident as I yet may be, about any applications we might make to our current lives in the 21st century.

God, give us all the mind of Paul, inasmuch as he had Your Spirit, in coming to understand more deeply

integral arguments about Christian identity
key word-concepts (e.g., faith, justification, law, freedom, promise)
persuasive, overarching themes seen in rhetorical structures

And may all of this result in the infusion of even more of You in our hearts, crying, “Abba!”

Mark wrap-up (1)

Our Bible study group has “completed” its study of Mark.  Although Bible study is never finished, there comes a point when one says, “We’ve gotten about all we can from Mark, given our limited intellects.”  That point came a week or so ago; as part of the wrap-up, I prepared a summary document for our fellow studyers.  Below are some highlights from the highlights, for which I give credit to Greg Fay, Ben Witherington III, N.T. Wright, and Kenneth Wuest.

Literary traits of Mark

  • Mark likes a quick pace and “action” (commonly observed, but even more noted when one reads the entire gospel in a sitting!)
  • Mark’s style
    • Not carefully wrought
    • “Punchy,” Vivid word pictures
    • Jesus’ “looks of inquiry”
    • Hunger, sleep
    • Jesus’ attitudes toward people:  pity, wonder, sighing, grieving
  • Non-chronological nature
    • aspects of the structure of Mark give clues as to which pericopes–literary sections–appear to be in chronological sequence and/or proximity
    • the assumption by scholars is frequently that Mark pays little attention to chronology in painting a picture of our Jesus
  • Mark is fond of
    • Gk. historic present tense
      • “When they had come near to Jerusalem”
      • He sends two of His disciples
      • While He was still speaking, Judas comes
    • Aramaic expressions as an evidence of Peter’s eyewitness—according to one author, “There were times when Peter could hear again the very sound of Jesus’ voice and apparently could not help relaying things to Mark in the very words Jesus spoke.”
    • Picturesque and/or human, vivid details:  “Sat down in 100s and 50s,” “Took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them,” “asleep on a pillow”
  • Few (but meaty!) teaching sections, e.g., parables
  • “Triptych” or “sandwich” structures, chiastic structures
    • this element of Mark’s literary structure continues to inspire me and instruct me — it’s quite compelling!
    • Ex.: 2:1-12

To be continued …