According to Whom?

Over the ‘naughts’, the original eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life and death aged and died. But even among those original apostles, each had a part of the story, and then told and retold it. Which voices do you tune in, and which do you tune out? That weighting can be called ‘apostolicity’.

Within this first week and first century, we get plenty of hearsay and double hearsay from the original disciples and observers to later communities. Some truth claims weaken, and some data degenerates. Is it possible, however, to build greater truth in the retelling, beyond facticity?

Beyond the evangelists creating gospels, imagine the heretics like us who generated the rest of Christian scriptures, plus some of the earliest non-bible Christian writings. Imagine the behavioural economics of choices we made in our community life and work, let alone our cognitive assents.

Later 20th century hermeneutics grew beyond biblical criticism to cultural study and philosophy of deconstruction with Foucault, Derrida and others blithe confidence in language and enlightened objectivity, and a next bunch rebuild, ‘one stone upon another’ to make webs and nets of plausibility.

What we ask of others, we ask ourselves: what’d my bias, my subjectivity? Who and what should we look for and listen to, which channels should we surf, and which will get more of our time? I don’t silence other heretics, but I weigh my sources, and watch some, not all, channels in this universe.

Social media are contributing to polarizations these days. In a ‘twitterverse’ of infinite access, we are allowing our input to be curated and narrowed. Which voices to you tune in or tune out? Which ‘curating’ do you simply permit to be done for you or to you? How did that work in the ‘naughts’?

We are offered other streaming services from first century Common Era. From a demoralized group with a dead leader, came a vital movement. Opponents and competitors are named, if not objectively described. Allies and coalitions are built, as works in progress. It’s not all written, or kept.

Imagine a ‘Baptist’ sect, perhaps older than Jesus, focused on repentance and resistance of accommodation of Roman rule. Personified by the stories of John the Baptist, its participants merge with emerging ‘Jesus people’ to influence the tone of the new communities.

Imagine a ‘Jerusalem church’, perhaps called ‘Petrine’ after Peter. It did not survive the Roman destruction of the city and temple in 70CE. It might be discerned in Luke and Acts, and was remembered as normative, if no longer statistically relevant to the late century movement.

Imagine a ‘Pauline’ franchise, explosively successful from Greek ports to Balkan centres. Despite internal fights, and tension with ‘Petrine’ norms, the distinctive ‘Gentile’ crowds refocused the faith in relation to Rome around the Mediterranean. What did they need – and find – in Christ?

Imagine a ‘Johannine’ movement, up into Syria, in later decades. Being evicted from synagogues, they are mad at ‘Judeans’. Being tempted to a spiritualized gnostic version of gospel, they insist on flesh and blood. Those are challenging boundaries to preserve with polemics of ‘Logos’.

Imagine ‘Turkish’ transformations, merging Greek culture and Hebrew traditions as outsiders to both, reflected in Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews. The way Jesus fits in a cosmology is new, and the ethical norms of living in a different kind of community are standardized. Are they like us?

If you don’t feel tension with one or more of those streams of the early movement, you’re not paying attention yet. Without assuming academic or ecclesiastical authority, but simply in your parochial context, consider today the rich variety of this ancient movement in the ‘naughts’: heretics like us.