Sunday, 18 March 2012

Biblical Authorship: Challenging Anti-Conservative Presuppositions (Part 2 of 4)

Duccio di Buon insegna, Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles
Assumption # 2: "The earliest stages of the Christian movement were necessarily simplistic and unsophisticated, requiring several decades for Christian theology and church organization to gradually develop."

     This assumption is rooted in modern evolutionary thinking that arbitrarily identifies teachings and practices that seem more "developed" as later, and equates "simpler" with earlier. Since, for example, the epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus describe the established position of overseers (elders) and thus exhibit a refined form of church organization, the authorship references cannot be taken at face value if the documents are seen as having been composed during a later period in the development of the church, after the lifetime of Paul.
     Long before the Christian era, the intellectual and technological genius of the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and many other ancient civilizations is demonstrated in their remarkable advances in engineering, mathematics, physics, astronomy, agriculture, metalworking, architecture, navigation, and a host of other complex disciplines. But when the multinational Christian movement appeared on the scene in the first-century Greco-Roman world, we are expected to believe that it consisted of a bunch of ragtag imbeciles void of intellect and competence. In reality, the ancient church across the Roman empire included highly educated people, skilled writers, government officials, military leaders, theologians, doctors, businesspeople, and those among society’s elite (cf., e.g., Pliny the Younger, Ep. 10.96). Is it realistic to conclude that these early believers were incapable of resourcefulness and proficiency, at least until a greatly extended period of time had elapsed?
     The bottom line is that Christianity professes to be a divinely revealed religion. Granted, the complete revelation did not come all at once and special gifts and duties were necessary in the formative years to grow the church from infancy to maturity (cf. Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Ephesians 4:11-16). Nevertheless, within the first three decades of the Christian movement, during the lifetimes of all the conventional New Testament authors, "advanced" theological insights and organizational structure were already evident in the undisputed writings of Paul (Romans 1:16–11:36; Philippians 1:1; 2:5-11; et al.). Thus, on the basis of doctrinal matters, with the probable exception of the Johannine writings, there is no convincing reason to insist that other New Testament documents, whose authorship is challenged, must have been written considerably later.
     The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that early on in the history of the church a developed organizational structure was in place (11:30; 14:23; 15:6; 20:17). If the historical integrity of Acts is then called into question or the book is dated much later to accommodate this information, biased assumptions have given place to circular reasoning.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsBiblical Authorship Part 1Biblical Authorship Part 3Biblical Authorship Part 4, Authorship of NT GospelsAuthorship of Luke-Acts

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