Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spirit and the New Testament

I've been reviewing biblical dictionary entries in preparation for writing an article on "Spirit" for a new biblical dictionary. Here's a sentence that is not untypical:-
"All NT writings present the Christian community as a spirit-endowed entity."

Is there one community behind NT documents? Surely not. Communities are hard to detect of course, and one should not presume that each document presupposes a community. But let's say there one in Matthew's gospel and ones reflected in each of the Pauline letters. Are they the same? I don't think so. Different Christologies for a start. Different notions of community, to be sure.

Then there's the question of whether each of these communities have the same ideas about the spirit, namely that each community is endowed with it. Surely not. Just take the gospels. Mark's pneumatology is unlike Luke's and Luke's unlike John's. And its hard, I think, to connect Mark with a specific community.

What makes a community Christian? And how do we give that word Christian content? If we have different ideas about Jesus behind Paul's letters and the gospels, just how elastic does that term Christian have to be?

So what's the point of the sentence? To impose a coherent doctrine of the Christian community as spirit endowed on each NT text. Is this helpful? I don't think so. Its an idea in search of data. So the question of where to begin is my current preoccupation.

3 comments:

Rev Dr Mom said...

"What makes a community Christian? And how do we give that word Christian content? If we have different ideas about Jesus behind Paul's letters and the gospels, just how elastic does that term Christian have to be?"

What a great question. It seems to me that "Christian" must be a very elastic word indeed, especially at the time the NT texts were written. Surely it refers to those who in some way believe in Jesus as the anointed one and/or as divine, but what more? To what extent is being a Jesus-follower equivalent to being a Christian?

If we, as you suggest, believe that different communities of Jesus-followers had different pneumatologies, then does the term spirit also become quite elastic?

Serenity said...

Where did the concept of a Christian community start? Didn't Jesus start out by trying to make us better believers in God? Did he really want us to start a religion and put his name (or more appropriately, his title) on it? Aren't the individual interpretations of Christian community exactly that? Individual interpretations of human experience with the divine?

johnieb said...

Wonderful question indeed; I shall watch eagerly for further results.

Serenity,

and perhaps I am leaping to the wrong conclusion, but, if your father taught theology, greetings from a former student. And when will you find a way to visit the Cathedral in Hartford again?