THE AUTHORITY OF THE SPIRIT
“Spirit” in antiquity was seen as the uncontrollable, dynamic, and numinous presence of divine power. It has no relation to rationality, nor were human beings masters of this spirit. On the contrary, it was thoroughly irrational and entirely the agent of the gods. When the spirit was present in human beings, its manifestations were poetry, prophecy, visions, ecstasy, and speaking in tongues. 1
The early Christian communities began as churches of this divine spirit. The story of Pentecost in its present form, as it is presented in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-13), does not describe the ecstatic phenomenon of speaking in tongues but reports a speaking in different languages. This description, however, is the result of much later rationalistic interpretation.2 The older tradition of this story leaves no doubt that Pentecost was an experience of overwhelming divine presence-so overwhelming that those who were thus inspired knew that the end of the ages had come. This experience resulted in irrational glossolalia and inspired prophecy. Acts 2:17-21 appropriately quotes the prophecy of the Book of Joel that seemed to be fulfilled in this event:
HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
That I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh,
And your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
And on my menservants and my maidservants in those days
I will pour out my spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
And signs on the earth beneath (Joel 2:28-30 = Acts 2:17-19).
The experience of the gift of the spirit became closely related to the rite of entrance into the new eschatological community. Baptism conveyed the spirit to every new member. “For by one spirit,” says the apostle Paul, “we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and all were made to drink of one spirit" (1 Cor 12:13).
According to the letters of Paul, all activities in these new communities were seen as gifts of the spirit:
To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. To one is given through the spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:7-10).
This same passage clarifies another important aspect: since the spirit was understood as a common possession of all members of the community, hierarchical structures of community organization were no longer possible. Possession of the spirit could not be claimed as the privilege of a special class of priests or prophets. That everyone experienced the gift of the spirit implied that the spirit functioned as a principle of democratization.
SPIRIT AND ECCLESLASTICAL OFFICE
It has often been argued that the development of the ecclesiastical offices namely, those of bishops, presbyters, and deacons- in the postapostolic period signified the end of the spirit-empowered democratic understanding of the Christian communities. Furthermore, this development initiated an age in which the authority of the institutional office holder took precedent over the inspired activities of members of the communities. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in the beginning of the second century, is the person who is primarily cited for having developed the concept of a hierarchy of ecclesiastical offices opposed to the free activity of the divine spirit. This interpretation, however, cannot be substantiated from the letters off Ignatius. 3 Ignatius never makes recourse to ordination through an ecclesiastical agency, nor does he ever refer to any written authority. On the contrary, his authority rests in his familiarity with spiritual things: “not because I am in bonds and am able to know heavenly things, both the angelic locations and the archontic formations, things both visible and invisible, am I already a disciple.” 4 His regular self-designation is “Theophoros"(o tovopos), “the one who be”ars God," 5 never bishop," nor does he call Polycarp a “bishop."Rather, he refers to Polycarp's "godly mind" (il ev 0eep Wci ) and to the “[divine] grace (xapts), in which he is dressed." 6 When Ignatius wants to emphasize his authority, he refers to his inspired speech:
Yet the spirit, which is from God, is not deceived; for it knows whence it comes and where it goes, and it exposes hidden things. I cried out while among you, I spoke with a voice, the voice of God.... I did not learn it from a human being. It was the spirit who made proclamation. 7
Only in the course of the developments of the second and third centuries did the understanding of the authority of the bishop find new foundations in the doctrine of the apostolic succession, the claim to the possession of the power of the keys for the forgiving of sins, and the concept of the unity of the church. 8 However, these nonspiritual justifications for ecclesiastical authority cannot be understood without the instrument that enabled these foundations to function in the actual practice of the life of the ancient Christian churches, that is, the use of the medium of writing, especially the letter.
THE LETTER AS RATIONAL POLITICAL INSTRUMENT
Writing plays a negligible role in the organization and practice of all the vibrant propaganda religions of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. To be sure, there are occasional inscriptions that record the rules of some religious association, or the decrees by which the establishment of a religion is recognized and regulated, or a miraculous event that confirmed the legitimacy of a new cult. There are also occasional references to the use of written materials in the ritual itself. The wall paintings of the Villa dei Misteri in Pompeii depict a boy reading from a scroll. It is no accident, however, that we do not possess extensive records of either authoritative scriptures or correspondence by which these religions legitimized and regulated their affairs. Judaism and Christianity are noteworthy exceptions.
The Writing of letters characterizes the activities of Christian communities from the very beginning.9 In the Roman period, two types of letters were common, and both were of a distinctly secular character. 10 The private letter was written by members of a family who were absent from home, by business associates, or by friends who had been separated. Hundreds of such letters have been discovered among the papyri from Egypt.11 In the published correspondence of educated writers like Cicero, the private letter appears as a highly developed from a literary art.12 An extension of this private letter is its use for the dissemination to a wider audience of philosophical teachings, such as the letters of Epicurus13 and the Cynic Epistles of Pseudo-Heraclitus.14
The other type is the official letter. The Hellenistic rulers as well as the Roman emperors corresponded extensively with their local governors and other officials. Excellent examples are preserved among the published letters of the younger Pliny. Among these is the famous letter that reports to the emperor Trajan the measures that the author had taken in order to control the dangerous expansion of the sect of the Christians, as well as the rescript from the emperor to Pliny.15 In the context of the Roman imperial administration, correspondence was the most important instrument for the regulation and adjudication of the affairs of the vast and often distant provinces. The secretary ab epistulis (“for correspondence”) was one of the three or four most important cabinet officials in the Roman imperial administration. Without this correspondence, unity would not have been possible in the Roman realm.
The oldest Christian documents that are preserved are letters, namely, the letters of the apostle Paul, which were written in the first generation of the Christian missionary activity of the spirit, as is especially evident in the 1 Corinthians. These letters, however, are not witnesses of inspired communication and edification; rather, they are political instruments designed to organize and maintain the social fabric and financial affairs of these communities. It is not difficult to classify these letters within the traditional categories of ancient epistolography. These early Christian letters are neither private correspondence nor writings in which the letter format is used for the dissemination of philosophical or theological ideas to a wider public. Their format reveals that they belong to the genre of the administrative and official letter, that is, the most secular genre of the epistolary literature.
Paul, as the writer of these letters, often identifies himself not only byhis name but also by the title of his office, “apostle.”16 The addressee is normally a community, and that community is called t1c1cklloia, 17 that is, the political assembly of all voting members. 18 The proem of the letter does not simply deal with personal matters but relates the personal situation of the sender to the affairs of the addressed community as a whole. Greetings are not designed to confirm purely personal relationships but to bind certain explicitly named functionaries in the communities to their assigned or chosen tasks and duties.
The content of these letters confirms their political character. They address such matters as the legitimacy of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the new Israel, 19 the relationship of various groups in a Christian community.20 the question of authority which was raised by the arrival and activity of other Christian missionaries, 21 the regulation of affairs relating to the procedures during the actual meeting of the members,22 and the financial transactions regarding the collection for Jerusalem-1 topic to which large portions of these letters are devoted.23 Indeed, it has been observed that no ancient author talks as much about money as the apostle Paul. 24
These issues are not, of course, presented in the form of authoritarian instruction, but often with elaborate justifications and theological arguments. Paul was not in a position that would have given him the means to enforce commands. Furthermore, the idea that the apostle could rule as an authoritarian leader would have been contrary to Paul’s understanding of the apostle’s role and his concept of the church, which excluded a hierarchical structure. The building of the community remained the responsibility of the community itself. The apostle could influence this process only through argument and persuasion. The theological arguments of Paul’s letters do not intent to serve any explicit spiritual or religious purposes but to bolster the persuasive undergirding of the advice communicated in the letters. It is therefore characteristic that in his letters Paul uses the established methods of ancient rhetoric that were developed in the political arena of the Greco-Roman world.25 The so-called theology of Paul’s letters must therefore be understood as secondary when compared to the political intent of the letter.
One other element makes these letters eminently political: although Paul does not urge uniformity in all his churches, he has a vital interest in the continuing coherence and unanimity of the churches he had founded. The £KKXlloia, that is, the assembly of the people in one particular city, is always seen as part of a universal commonwealth of the faithful that also includes the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.26 The collection of Jerusalem was specifically designed to establish concretely that members of all churches, Gentile Christians as well as Jewish Christians, are bound into one and same universal new people or nation “in Christ,” in which the past distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, and slave and free no longer apply. No central organization or administration held together the proliferating Christian movement. In addition to travels, the sending of messengers, and personal visits, the letter was the primary political instrument that enabled the building and maintenance of this universal community.
FROM THE LETTERS OF PAUL TO LETTERS OF BISHOPS
The first step in the utilization of the letter was the collection of the Pauline correspondence, which must have happened well before the end of the first century. The question has been asked repeatedly: Why were the letters of Paul collected and distributed, not only among the churches that Paul had founded, but also elsewhere? The purpose was certainly not the creation of the theological authority. In fact, there is little evidence that the theology of the apostle Paul had much influence after his death. New letters written in his name, Perhaps in the context of the collecting and editing of his letters, show at best a modified use of his theological insights, but demonstrate that Paul’s letters were seen as instruments of the organization of the churches. Church order, the refutation of controversial practice (such as the observation of circumcision, the Jewish calendar and ritual),27 and interest in the unity of the churches were the predominant factors. The latest set of letters in Paul’s name, the Pastoral Epistles (1, 2 Timothy and Titus) were written in the first half of the second century and consist primarily of church order materials, while their theology is quite different from that of the genuine Pauline letters.
In the postapostolic and later periods of Christianity, the writing of letters continued to serve as the primary vehicle of communication not only regulating the life of individual churches but also creating the unity of the universal church. A famous example is the First Epistle of Clement, written by the scribe of the church of Rome to the church at Corinth at the end of the first century. The rather lengthy epistle directs the church in the Corinth to settle a dispute between younger members of the community and the elders of the church. Its themes are entirely practical: obedience to the laws of God, respect for the chosen leaders, honor to the elders. In this context a multitude of Christian virtues are remembered and explained in order to establish the entire framework in which the well-being of the community can be maintained. It is interesting to observe that 1 clement appeals to many of the virtues that were traditionally considered necessary for the building of the ideal commonwealth of the city.28 As in the letters of Paul, theological arguments serve to make the church order persuasive
The letters of Ignatius, written by the imprisoned bishop of Antioch at the very beginning of the second century to five different churches in western Asia Minor, to bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, and to Rome, are concerned primarily with the strengthening of the authority of the bishop in each of these churches. However, this is only one aspect of a political program. The presupposition for the unity of the church universal under Christ is the unity of the local congregation, and this unity is guaranteed only by a central organization in each city, held together by the bishop who presides over the eucharist:
Let no one do anything apart from the bishop that has to do with the church. Let that be regarded as valid eucharist which is held under the bishop or to whomever he entrusts it. Whenever the bishop appears, there let the congregation (XBrlOos) be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the whole church (il lcaOokl £lclckllcsia).29
The unity of the local congregation is here paralleled by the unity of the universal church under Christ.30 Christianity does not appear as a new religion but as a political utopia, the building of a new empire that was, like the Roman empire, understood as an alliance of cities. Constitutive were the assemblies of the people of each city, the local £KKXlloia, each held together by one local bishop and one eucharist. The office of the one bishop in each city guarantees the integrity of the local assembly, and the church universal is thus seens as an alliance of the £KKXllesi of these cities-a concept analogous to that of the Toman empire as an alliance of cities. Dissensions in the local church threatened the very constitution of the church universal.
In this new empire no human being takes the place of the supreme ruler, the emperor. Rather, the universal ruler is none other than Christ himself. This implies that the unity of the church universal had to rely upon the communication of the local congregations with each other. The primary instrument was the letter. While in the Roman Empire the edicts issued by the central and superior authority of the emperor guaranteed unity, the exchange of letters among Christian congregations was a non-authoritarian but no less effective way for the building of unity. While controversies and disagreements were unavoidable, practical questions dominated. That a leader of one church would write to a congregation in another city was not rare. Polycarp of Smyrna dispatched a letter to Philippi giving advice with respect to a presbyter who seems to have embezzled funds.31 Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to bishop Victor of Rome, who was about to excommunicate the churches of Asia Minor in the Quartodeciman Controversy, advising him that the churches should be able to live in the agreement of faith although they might disagree about the days of the Easter fast.32
Typical is the apparently extensive correspondence of Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (middle of the second century CE) of which some fragments are preserved.33 The correspondence ranged over a wide geographical area; Eusebius mentions in his Historia ecclesiastica letters not only to the nearby communities of Sparta and Athens but also to Nicomedia and Amastis In northern Asia Minor, to Gortyna and Cnossos on Crete, and to Rome. That such letters were at times critically received can be seen in the summary of one of these letters:
To this list has been added another epistle to Cnossus in which he exhorts Pinytus, the bishop of the diocese, not to put on the brothers and sisters a heavy compulsory burden concerning chastity and to consider the weakness of the many. To this Pinytus replied that he admired and welcomed Dionysius, but exhorted him in turn to provide at some time more solid food, and to nourish the people under him with another more advanced letter, so that they might not be fed continually on milky words, and be caught unaware by old age while still treated as children.34
Here, as also in the following report of Eusebius, the practical orientation of such correspondence is clear:
He also wrote to the church sojourning in Amastris..... He gave them many exhortations about marriage and chastity, and orders them to receive those who are converted from any backsliding, whether of conduct or heretical error.35
A quotation from Dionysius’s letter to the Romans shows that mutual financial support continued to be an important bond of the church universal:
This has been your custom from the beginning, to do good in manifold ways to all Christians, and to send contributions to the many churches in every city, in some places relieving the poverty of the needy, and ministering to the Christians in the mines, by the contribution which you have sent from the beginning, preserving the ancestral custom of the Romans, true Romans as you are.36
It is quite possible that the mention of “the ancestral custom of the Romans” implies that the contributions to other churches from the church of Rome parallel the benefactions of the Roman emperor to the cities of the empire.
There is ample evidence from the third century for the continuing use of the letter as a political instrument for the organization and unification of the Christian churches. This is most clearly visible in the well-preserved correspondence of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage ( 249-258 CE).37 His contemporary, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria( 248-265 CE), also developed a truly ecumenical correspondence. Unfortunately, almost all these letters have been lost.38 Concerning the letters that Dionysius wrote about the question of repentance and readmission of those who had lapsed in the persecution, Eusebius, who had access to a collection of Dionysius's correspondence, writes as follows:
He wrote also to the Egyptians a letter On Repentance, in which he set forth his opinions with reference to those who had fallen, outlining degrees of failures. And to Colon (he was bishop of the community of the Hermoupolitans 39) a personal letter of his is extant On Repentance, and another in the nature of a rebuke to his flock in Alexandria. Among these there is also a letter written to Origen On Martyrdom, and to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea40 over whom Telymidres presided as bishop; and he wrote to those in Armenia, likewise On Repentance, whose bishop was Meruzanes. In addition to all these he wrote also to Cornelius of Rome.... Next to this there is also another extant, a "diaconic" letter of Dionysius to those in Rome through Hippolytus.41
In all instances, the practical purpose of the letters is evident. There is little appeal to inspiration, and theological themes are secondary.
While Christian letters from the apostolic and postapostolic period were widely used and indeed preserved to be read again even after many decades,42 they did not claim either inspiration or canonical status. At the same time, the spiritual prophetic authority of the early Christian church began to claim the written medium for its own purposes. The oldest witness is the Book of the Revelation of John. The author introduces his vision saying "I was in the spirit"( £7£VOV £V n£DRans Rev 1:10),43 and the book begins with letters to the seven churches, each letter concluding with the phrase, "The one who has ears should listen to what the spirit says to the churches"( n xo 1cv£DRa Y£1 Xal5 £KKnOlal5).44 Thus these letters are products of the spirit and stand in contradistinction to the correspondence of Paul and to episcopal letters like those of Ignatius, Polycarp, and others. Such prophetic writing under the authority of the spirit continues in the second century45 and finds its culmination in the literary productions of the Montanist movement. Inspired activity was not immediately rejected by the organized churches. Even Irenaeus at the end of the second century does not reject the Montanist movement as heretical. Tertullian welcomes the renewal of the early Christian prophetic spirit that is documented in these writings. The dissemination of such literature, however, increased skepticism with respect to the criterion of inspiration in the process of the formation of a Christian canon of holy scripture. As a result, inspired prophetic books such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocalypse of Peter did not become part of the New Testament canon, and even the Revelation of John was not easily accepted in the developing canon of the New Testament.
CHRISTIAN WRITINGS AS HOLY SCRIPTURE
The impulse for the creation of a Christian book of holy scripture came from a different quarter. Throughout the first hundred years of early Christian history, the recognized holy scripture was the Bible of Israel, the law of Moses and the books of the prophets as they were collected in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint.46 Jewish authors had already claimed that this translation in to Greek was inspired.47 Christian writers assumed that either "the Lord," that is, Christ, or the spirit spoke in these writings. Justin Martyr designates the entire Bible of Israel as oracles of "the prophetic spirit" (o spo¢navov svezFa).48 At the same time, the moral legislation of the books of Moses and the ethical instructions of the Hellenistic-Jewish synagogue had become very influential in Christian attempts to establish rules for a Christian life and for the organization of the churches.49 Moreover, an interpretation that viewed these scriptures as inspired had become an important factor in the development of Christian theology.
The Protest against this development came from a scholar and church leader who rejected such Judaizing tendencies and despised spiritual interpretation of anything, most of all the scriptures of Israel: the wealthy merchant and ship owner Marcion of Pontus, who came to Rome sometime around 130 CE. 50 Marcion had grown up in the tradition of the Pauline churches; and he was, first of all, a scholar. Rejecting the holy scriptures of Israel as the work of an inferior deity who was just but not merciful, Marcion wanted to use exclusively scholarly principles for the establishment of a new book of Christian Scriptures. The starting point for his work was the collections of the letters of Paul. He set out according to scholarly principles to purify these letters of all secondary Jewish additions. Marcion found the “gospel” that Paul had used in his teachings in the Gospel of Luke. From this he excluded whatever appeared to him as secondary Judaizing Contamination. This gospel of Jesus had authority because it contradicted in every pint the inferior legislation of Moses. Thus the first collection of authoritative Christian writings came into existence.
The Church rejected Marcion’s experiment; Marcion was excommunicated by the Roman church and organized his own churches, which survived for several centuries. However, Marcion’s attack upon the authority of what was later called the Old Testament left the church in Rome rather perplexed. The apologist Justin, Marcion’s Roman contemporary, made a threefold response: he asserted once more the authority of the scriptures of Israel as inspired prophetic writings; he avoided any reference to the corpus of the Pauline writings; he sought to establish a new understanding of the writings that later became known as the Gospels.
Until then, the events of the Christ’s coming, suffering, death, and resurrection had been understood as the fulfilment of prophecy. These events constituted the life-giving proclamation of the Christian churches. No evidence was required to prove the legitimacy of the oral or written story about these events. The belief of the hearers was their verification. Justin made a decisive step in a new direction. He introduced written documents, which he usually called the “remembrances of the apostles” and sometimes also “gospels,” as the proof for the truth of the Christian Kerygma. For Justin, these writings were reliable because they presented a historical record that was written by firsthand witnesses. These books recorded the exact fulfilment of the prophecies of the books of Moses and of the prophets of Israel. Indeed, as these writings were taking the place of the Christian Proclamation, they could themselves be called “gospels.” He may have learned this designation from Marcion. That these gospels could be inspired writings never occurred to Justin. Inspiration properly characterized prophetic books. The gospels were historical records, not inspired writings.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE GOSPELS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
These Gospels of the New Testament have been acclaimed in the later Christian churches as inspired documents. This claim, however, has no basis in their actual origin, composition, and usage. The status and usage of these gospel writings in the time before Marcion and Justin Martyr is unclear. It seems that they were used and read, and that they, like early Christian letters, served as instruments for the organization of the early Christian communities. It is unlikely, however, that these writings were called “gospels” before the time of Justin Marty, that is, in the middle of the second century.51 The Christian churches did not equate these writings with the “gospel.” the saving message that created and sustained Christian faith.
The history and development of this literature has become clear in modern scholarship. All Gospels of the New Testament are composite documents. The employ in their composition various and often contradictory sources and traditions about Jesus that had been used in the propaganda and instruction of the early churches. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are the most striking examples. Both writings combined two very different sources: the Gospel of Mark which proclaimed Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord, and the Synoptic Sayings Source which made no reference to Jesus’ death but announced Jesus as the teacher of wisdom and as the eschatological prophet. These are two very different Christological concepts, the first based on the Pauline Kerygma of Christ’s resurrection as the turning point of the ages, the second oriented to the interpretation of the sayings tradition that eventually resulted in a heretical Gnostic understanding of the salvation through Jesus’ words.52 How could these two different Christological concepts be combined into one single writing? This combination cannot be viewed primarily as a successful theological experiment; rather, it is an accomplishment of ecclesiastical politics. By incorporating the traditions of two very different Christian communities into one single document, both traditions were recognized as legitimate in spite of their theological disagreements. Such gospel writings were useful, not because they dispensed information about doctrine and theology, but because they provided a hand book for the order of the church and the conduct of the life of the members of the community. This is most clearly evident in Matthew, whose “speeches” of Jesus are essentially catechisms and church orders.
This argument, however, does not explain why these four gospels eventually became the first part of the canon of the New Testament. The Christian churches had their inspired holy scriptures, namely the Greek Bible that was later called the Old Testament. They also possessed a still growing and as yet undefined collection of apostolic letters. But why should these writings about Jesus become the fundamental core of a new scripture? Only the Gnostics thought that books with the records of the words of Jesus were inspired. When Marcion had elevated one of these writings, the Gospel of Luke, to a kind of canonical status, Justin Martyr had answered Marcion's challenge by exploiting the usefulness of three of these writings, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as reliable historical records which were capable of proving the fulfilment of prophecy. This rationalist apologetic argument, however, hardly qualifies as the cause for the eventual canonization of such literature.
The arguments of ancient church theologians for the acceptance of all four of these gospels were not based upon artificial proofs for their theological unity, nor upon the evidence of their historical reliability, nor upon tradition of their early usage in the process through which churches were maintained and developed. The building of the churches is again a political rather than a spiritual argument. In this respect, the development of the gospel literature was a process that is analogous to the establishment of the authority of Christian epistolary literature.
With respect to the Gospels, however, it is necessary to explore further the argument of early usage insofar as it is related to the political process of the building of community. At this point, I can suggest no more than the outline for a model that may be helpful but still needs to be documented and argued in more detail.53 The oldest Gospels are built around the narratives of the passion and death of Jesus.54 The formation of this story in the first decades of Christian history must be located in the reenactment of the memory of this event, which had three important components: first, the resumption of the ritual meal consisting of bread and wine or, more accurately, the bread that was broken and shared and the cup; second, recitation55 of scriptural passages about the suffering righteous and prophets; third, the telling of the story of Jesus' passion and death in analogy to the traditional story of the suffering righteous.56 Literary fixation of these stories must have been casual at first. There may have been different sets of stories, just as there were different developing liturgies of the eucharist meal. These are still visible in the differences between the Markan and the Johannine chronology of the passion narrative, the latter related to the Quartodeciman practice of Asia Minor, the former connected to the more common" Roman" calendar of Easter.
The written passion narratives that were circulated, as well as later the writings that became Gospels, reveal a political interest, namely, to disseminate a narrative that would unite different communities that shared the same Eucharistic liturgy. The increasing intercommunication of Christian communities, also visible in the development of the epistolary literature, called for the creation of both a common ritual and a common story.57 I suggest that one should call this the development of Panchristianity58 and discard the prejudiced terms "(early) catholicism" and "orthodoxy." The uniting of the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels into one commonly accepted record of the Panchristian narrative is a major political achievement and was not accomplished without considerable controversy.59 What was ultimately at stake was the unity of the Asian and western churches. This unity had already been threatened by the controversy about the Easter date, known as the Quartodeciman Controversy.60 When Irenaeus, an Asian who had become bishop of a church in Gaul, accepted the difference in the date for the Easter fast but argued for the inclusion of the Gospel of John, he assigned the highest priority to the creation of a Panchristian narrative. Those who shared neither the common rite nor the common story-Gnostic sects and the Jewish-Christian churches remained on the margins and were eventually excluded as heretics.
Common ritual and story were formative political and social forces. As early as 1 Corinthians 10-12, the "body" of Christ in the eucharist is the "body" of the church, a commonwealth with obligations of mutual support and respect regardless of social status. The line of development from here to the establishment of the canon of the four Gospels at the end of the second century is continuous. What Irenaeus says in defence of the four Gospel canon is merely a rationalization of the reenactment o f ritual and the recitation of a story that together had already become the central para-digm of Panchristianity. One might argue that his contemporary Tatian accomplished the creation of the written canon of this story even more radically in his composition of the Gospel harmony known as the Diatessaron, while Irenaeus created the less perfect "Four Gospel Canon" which was one narrative in four versions. In any case, the latter became the literary fixation of the Panchristian narrative for the "sacrament"(p MXnplOV) of the new political entity of the ecumenical church (vaOoBlan tavXlloia).
CRITERIA FOR THE CANONIZATION
The success of the canon can be understood only if seen against this background. Artificial arguments, such as authorship by one of the twelve original apostles, are evidently secondary. Paul did not belong to this group anyway, and of the four Gospels of the New Testament neither Mark nor Luke could claim apostolic authorship. In fact, the authority of this canon had to be defended against the claim to both spiritual authority and apostolic authorship that was put forward by heretical groups in order to establish the legitimacy of their own literature. The production of a large number of such writings testifies to the prominence that authority in written form of whatever kind had achieved in the early Christian movement. In circles that were later excluded as heretical, the claim that their literature was either inspired or apostolic or both became common. These writings claimed that they were based upon a direct revelation, that they were based upon a spiritual interpretation of Jesus’ words, or that they transmitted a secret tradition handed down from the apostles. However, according to the defenders of the ritual and narrative of the churches that shared in the Panchristian intercommunication, they could not prove that their literature had been effective in the building and organization of communities from the beginning. This became the ultimate criterion in the development of what later appread as the “canon of New Testament writings.”
THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE SPIRIT
At the end of the second century, most of the Christian churches in East and West had accepted the letters of the Pauline corpus and a selection from the literature under the title “gospel” because these were found to be approved resources for the organization of religious ritual and social and individual morality in the circle of developing Panchristianity. Marcion’s attack upon the validity of the scriptures of Israel and been rejected. These scriptures had been reinstated as the inspired prophetic holy scripture of the church. Parallel to this inspired ancient corpus of literature, now increasingly called the Old Testament, stood a New Testament, 61 the record of the history of salvation that was at the same time the Panchristian narrative. Because there was no need for it, a clearly delimited “canon” of the New Testament had not yet developed. Whatever attested the events of salvation and told the shared story and whatever proved to be useful for the building of communities was acceptable. Apart from the four Gospels (or the Diatessaron in the eastern churches) and the corpus of the Pauling writings, it was not clear which writings should be included and which rejected. Nor was there any attempt to draw up definitive lists of canonical and rejected literature.62 In the Corinthian church of Bishop Dionysius, the letter of the Romans, Written by Clement, was read in the Sunday assembly of the congregation. That it was not written by an apostle did not matter. The Letter was not inspired, but it was useful.
Why then did there come to be a clearly delimited canon of Christian writings? No later then in the beginning of the second century, and perhaps even earlier, the Gospel of Thomas presented the “secret Words of Jesus” as a writing that could claim apostolic authority and would give life to those who could find its hidden meaning. Here was new concept: a writing whose interpretation would accomplish the same task as the proclamation of the Kerygma that was preached by Christian missionaries. In order that writing could function in this way what was needed at this point was the application of a sophisticated method of inspired interpretation to Christian writings. “Inspiration” no longer implied that the writing in question was prophetic but that it contained deep wisdom that could be unlocked and thus convey a significant saving message.
Philo of Alexandria had learned the allegorical method from the Stoic interpretation of Homer and had applied it to the books of Moses. Clement of Alexandria had adopted this Philonic method and used it with respect to all sorts of writings, including the writings of the Greek philosophers, whom he could also call prophetic and inspired.63 Clement, however, did not see any reason to restrict this allegorical method to the definition of a Christian canon, Only on occasion, as in his letter concerning the Secret Gospel of Mark that was used by the Carpocratians, did he make a distinction.64
The shift that was taking place with Clement of Alexandria and, subsequently, with the great Alexandrian theologian Origen is most significant. Until then, only the Old Testament, as an inspired and prophetic document, called for a spiritual and allegorical interpretation that was capable of uncovering its hidden truths insofar as they referred to the events of salvation. Only Gnostic circles had found that the sayings of Jesus were also secret revelations that required an interpretation accessible exclusively to those who were initiated into the circle of the truly elect. The Alexandrian theologians, especially Origen, adopted this Gnostic principle and extended the concept of inspiration to the Gospels and to the letters of Paul, that is, to the literature that formed the nucleus of the Christian canon developed by Irenaeus and Tertullian.65 All these writings now became the bearers of religious truths that were mysteriously hidden in the words of these writings and accessible only to the inspired interpreter. This implied that the apostles who had produced these writings were themselves inspired; they were no longer witnesses of the most important moment in the history of salvation but communicators of deep religious wisdom and doctrine. This provided “the rational basis for regarding the Canon (comprising both the Old and the New Testament) as unified, infallible, and inexhaustible.”66 Because deep meaning could be found in even the smallest word of scripture, the doctrine of verbal inspiration of the entire scripture came into existence.
As a consequence, the limits of the canon needed to be defined more precisely. If these writings were to become the infallible source for all doctrine of the church and for its theology, other writings that could be used for the falsification of this truth had to be excluded. Hitherto, the formation of a body of authoritative Christian writings had been guided by the principle of inclusiveness: all writings that had contributed to the creation of Panchristianity were considered worthy of inclusion, whether or not they had been written by the apostle. On the basis of Origen’s new view of the Christian canonical writings as inspired, however, exclusivity became the standard for the definition of the canon.
The most radical shift is evident in the relocation of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the church. The spirit was no bound into a canon of Christian writings, written by inspired apostles, and was no longer seen as the miraculous power of the continuing divine action in the world. Christianity became a religion of a sacred and inspired book, and its doctrine and teaching had to be justified in the interpretation of this holy scripture. Moreover, the interpretation of these holy scriptures eventually became a function that could be controlled by ecclesiastical authority. Liberation of the early Christian writing from their usage as inspired sources of doctrine and authoritarian control is the most dignified task of scriptural scholarship. Critical interpretation of these writings must recognize their original function: they are bearers of a story of salvation and witnesses to a political vision of a new ecumenical community.
1 The classic work on this subject remains Hermann Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes nach der populadren Anschauung der apostolischen Zeit und der Lehre des Apostels Paulus (3d ed.; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1909). For the entire discussion and bibliography, see Hermann Kleinknecht, "lCV£1)a, XV£DFaX1KOs," TDNT 6 (1968) 339-52.
2 Luke used a report of a mass ecstasy, which he interpreted as the miracle of speaking in different languages; see Eduard Lohse, "X£VX£KOOXj," TDNT 6 (1968) 50-52. For the discussion of other interpretations, see Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 15-17.
3 For discussion of this question, see Hans von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries (trans. J. A. Baker; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969) 97-106; William R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).
4 Ignatius Trall. 5.2. See also the reference to the bishop of the Magnesians, whose "reckoning is not with flesh, but with God, who knows the secret things" (Magn. 3.2).
5 For the explanation of this self-designation, see Schoedel, Ignatius, 36.
6 Ignatius Poly. 1.1-2. Even Polycarph imself (Phil. inscr.) does not call himself "bishop." The sender is simply identified as "Polycarp and the Elders with him."
7 Ignatius Phld. 7.1-2 (trans. Schoedel, Ignatius, 204).
8For these developments see von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority, 163-69 and passion.
9Whether the writing of letters played a significant role in the organization of Jewish diaspora communities is not clear.
10Some basic works on the writing of letters in antiquity are Francis Xavier J. Exler, The Form of the Ancient Letter: A Study in Greek Epistolography (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1923); Heikki Koskenniemi, Studien zur Idee und Phraseologie des griechischen Briefes bis 400 n. Chr. (Annales Academia Scientiarum Fennica B , 102,2; Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1956); John Lee White, The Form and Function of the Body of the Greek Letter: A Study of the Letter-Body in the Non-Literary Papyri and in Paul the Apostle (SBLDS 2; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1972).
11 Excellent examples of such letters and a discussion of the way in which they were "mailed" were most recently presented by Eldon Jay Epp, "New Testament Papyrus Manu-scripts and Letter Carrying in Greco-Roman Times, "in Birger A . Pearson, ed., The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 35-56.
12 I shall not discuss in this context the pseudepigraphical school letter. The writing of such letters under the name of famous ancient philosophers or other historical figures belonged to the fundamentals of rhetorical education.
13 P. van der Mthll, ed., Epicurus: Epistulae tres et Ratae sententiae a Laertio Diogene servatae (Teubner: Stuttgart, 1922).
14 Harold W. Attridge, ed., First-Century Cynicism in the Epistles of Heraclitus (HTS 29; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976).
15 Pliny the Younger, Letters and Panegyricus (2 vols.; LCL; trans. Betty Radice; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: Heinemann, 1969) 10.96, 97.
16Exceptions are 1 Thessalonians, the oldest letter of the Pauline corpust hat was jointly written by Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus; Philippians, which names as the senders "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus"; and Philemon, a private letter written to an individual. On 1 Thessalonians, see my article "1 Thessalonians-Experiment in Christian Writing," in F. Forrester Church and Timothy George, eds., Continuity and Discontinuity in Church History: Essays presented to George Hunston Williams (Leiden: Brill, 1979) 33-44.
17 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians; Philemon names "the £1clckTIvIa in your house" together with Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus. The Epistle to the Romans is addressed "to all the beloved of God who are in Rome, called saints" (Rom 1:7), Philippians "to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi" (Phil 1:1).
18 Erik Peterson (Die Kirche [Munchen: Beck, 1929] 19) had once argued that the term eKKAlloia should be understood in analogy to the Greek political usage: "that the kaoS of the Christian eKKAlloia is the successor of the ancient 6ilFoS" (quoted from Karl Ludwig Schmidt, 44KaeXs KX., EKKnOia," TDNT 3  513 n. 27; the original was not accessible). However, the rejection of this interpretation by the influential article of Karl Ludwig Schmidt (44KaeXs KX., EKKnOia," 506-36) has resulted in a general acceptance of the derivation of the term from the LXX, where b ;np is usually translated by eKKAlloia. It must be noted, however, that ancient Judaism preferred the term oDvaRy^yTj, and that in the Greek world the term eKKAlloia is used exclusively in the political realm. It never occurs as a designation for a religious association; see Schmidt, 4sKaeXs KX., EKKnOia," 513-17.
20 1 Corinthians 1-4.
21 Especially 2 Corinthians 10-13; see also Philippians 3.
22 1 Corinthians 11; 14.
23 Gal 2:10; 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians8 and 9; Rom 15:25-30.
24 Professor Dieter Georgi, conversation. See also the discussion of financial matters in 1 Cor 9:I3-18; Phil 4:10-20; 2 Cor 12:13-18.
25 This has been demonstrated most persuasively with respect to the Epistle to the Galatians by Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), see esp. 14-25.
26 The singular of the word eKKAlloia is never used for the "church universal," but always designates the Christian assembly in one city.
27 This is evident in the earliest of the deutero-Pauline letters, the Epistle to the Colossians.
28 Barbara Ellen Bowe, A Church in Crisis: Ecclesiology and Paraenesis in Clement of Rome (HDR 23; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1988).
29 Ignatius Smyrn. 8.1-2 (trans. Schoedel, Ignatius, 238); the term ^ Ka0OlKh EKKnOia appears for the first time in this letter of Ignatius. Schoedel (Ignatius, 243-44) has argued persuasively that the term KaOoktKfi cannot be understood as meaning "orthodox." Rather, because of references to unauthorized assemblies in the context of the quoted passage, the term "carries with it an idea of organic unity or completeness" (p. 243).
30 "The local congregation ( XB0os) for Ignatius is an organic unity under the bishop just as the universal church is an organic unity under Christ" (Schoedel, Ignatius, 244).
3I Polycarp Phil. 11. Note also the reference to the letters that Paul had once written to the Philippians (Phil. 3.2).
32 Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 5.24.11-17) has preserved portions of this letter in which Irenaeus also mentions the earlier visit of bishop Polycarp of Smyrna with Anicetus of Rome, reporting that Anicetus yielded the celebration of the eucharist to Polycarp although they continued to disagree.
33 In Eusebius Hist. eccl. 4.23.1-13.
34 Ibid., 4.23.7-8 (this and the following translations are from Kirsopp Lake, Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History [2 vols.; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959]).
35 Ibid., 4-23-6-
37 The collection of his preserved correspondence comprises a total of eighty-one letters. Of these sixty-five are written by Cyprian, and sixteen are addressed to him or to the church in Carthage. For an English translation, see Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 51 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1964).
38In addition to several fragments, only three letters are more fully preserved by Eusebius: his letter to Novatian of Rome (Hist. eccl. 6.45); his letter to Hierax (Hist. eccl. 7.21); and a letter about the persecution and the plague that followed upon it (Hist. eccl. 7.22-23).
39Hermoupolis is a city in Upper E gypt.
40There are several cities of this name; the seaport in northern Syria is probably mean there.
4I Eusebius Hist. eccl. 6.46.1-3, 5 (trans. Kirsopp Lake, LCL, modified). Later( Hist. eccl. 7.26.1-2) Eusebius says: "in addition to these letters of Dionysius there are extant also many others, as for example those against Sabellius to Ammon bishop of the church at Bernice, and that to Telesphorus, and that to Euphranor and Ammon again and Euporos.... And we have many letters of his besides these."
42 See the remark of Dionysius of Corinth in his letter to Rome, that the letter sent to Corinth from Rome through Clement half a century earlier was still being read.
43 The phrase occurs again in Rev 4:2; and compare Rev 17:3.
44 Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.
45 Hermas (Vis. 1.1.3) begins with the report that the prophet was transported by the spirit to another place (Kai svevFa e tBa,BevK ai asflvevRyKeve ); see also Herm. Vis. 2.1.1
46Hans von Campenhausen, "Das Alte Testament als Bibel der Kirche vom Ausgang des Urchristentums bis zur Entstehung des Neuen Testaments," in idem, Aus der Fruhzeit des Christentums: Studien zur Kirchengeschichte des ersten und zweiten Jahrhunderts (Tabingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1963) 152-96. A brief survey can be found in Lee Martin McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988) 48-68.
47 0n this question see Naomi Janowitz," The Rhetoric of Translation: Three Early Perspectives on Translating Torah," HTR 84 (1991) 129o0.
48 Justinl Apol. 31. 1. In this context, Justin repeats the story of the translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek under King Ptolemy; however, he does not ascribe inspiration to the translation (l Apol. 31.2-5).
49 The most important evidence is the acceptance of the Jewish teachings of the "Two Ways" in the Didache and Barnabas.
50 The basic monograph on Marcion remains Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom fremden Gott (TU 45; 2d ed.; 1924; reprinted Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1960). Also important is John Knox, Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay on the Early History of the Canon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942); see further the treatment of Marcion in Hans von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972) 147-68.
51 For this question as well as the following, see Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990).
52 Such interpretation of Jesus' sayings appeared very early. It must be presupposed for the development of the Johannine discourses and dialogues, is perhaps visible in 1 Corinthians 1S, and is clearly evident in the Gospel of Thomas.
53 I want to acknowledge my inbedtedness to Gregory Nagy, Pindar’s Homer : The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). In this book, Gregory Nagy has constructed a model for the textual fixation of Homeric poetry in the context of Panhellenism and the Greek "polis"; see especially pp. 52-53. I am aware of the hazards involved in the construction of an analogous model that could explain what is known as the process of the canonization of the Christian Gospels. However, several analogies exist.
54 That the oldest Gospel, Mark, is a passion narrative with an extended biographical introduction has become a commonplace in New Testament scholarship.
55 I am using the term “recitation” to include both the reading, telling, and singing of Psalms and passages from the prophets.
56 It is important to distinguish this earliest process of the formation of narratives in analogy to the Psalms and the stories of the suffering prophet or servant of God (especially from Deutero-Isaiah) from the later attempts to provide scriptural proof (Visible in Matthew and Justin Martyr); see Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, 220-40. It is my opinion that there was never anything that could be called a historical report or memory which was independent of the recitation of the fate of the suffering righteous in the scriptures of Israel.
57 See above the discussion of the function of the Christian letter. See also Nagy, Pindar's Homer, 52, concerning the intensified intercommunication of the city-states of Hellas.
58 Nagy (Pindar's Homer, 52) uses the term Panhellenism for the analogous process in the preclassical period of Greece.
59 See von Campenhausen, Formation of the Christian Bible, 237-43.
60 See above on Irenaeus's letter to Victor of Rome.
6l Or sometimes, as in Tertullian's writings, called the Vetus instrumentum and Novum instrumentum.
62 The Canon Muratori must be dated in the fourth century, not ca. 200 CE as is often argued; -> see Albert Sundberg," Canon Muratori: A Fourth-Century List," HTR6 6 (1973) 1-41.
63 On Clement's concepts of inspiration and allegorical interpretation, see von Campenhausen, Formation of the Christian Bible, 296-300.
64 See Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, 293-95.
65 However, for Clement of Alexandria, only the four Gospels form a clearly defined corpus, while it is not clear what other Christian writings can claim a similar status; see von Campenhausen, Formation of the Christian Bible, 294-96.
66 Ibid., 324.