The Early Jesus Movement and Its Parties
What have generations of New Testament scholars been hiding from us over all the ages?
Harry and Paul Eberts have produced a book that challenges readers to rethink how they approach the New Testament. Most scholars have presumed a reasonably unified movement among the Christian churches led by Peter, Paul, James, and Philip during the period immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection. This book suggests that at least four parties—one led by Peter and the other eleven disciples; one by James the brother of Jesus and as many as 500 “brethren;” one by Stephen, Philip, and Apollos who were Greek-speaking Jews having Alexandria as their base; and one by Paul and Barnabas (among other apostles) “who did not know Jesus in the flesh” vied with each other to portray Jesus as the Son of God.
Up to now, most scholars have presumed the Gospels to be at least somewhat “additive” in developing the character of Jesus. The Eberts’ suggest that each Gospel represents the viewpoint of one of the four parties, thus presenting differing views of the meaning of Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection. For a long time, scholars have presumed the “Jesus movement” was unified in its evangelizing, but the Eberts’ posit that the four parties went among different ethnic groups initially, but came to compete for the same converts while undercutting each other, as they did in Ephesus and Corinth, in seeking to convert Jews and Gentiles to Christianity.
Scholars have believed that small differences in churches’ governance and worship were “options” chosen by each congregation. But the Eberts’ suggest that each party developed its own patterns of church governance, worship, and practices. There has been the regular presumption that St. Paul’s letters were unified statements of his views of beliefs, behaviors, and practices in the early churches. The Eberts’ instead suggest a shifting over time that is shown by his letters, in Paul’s theology and ethics as the apostles struggled with the other Christian parties and with the Gentiles to convert nonbelievers to Christianity.
The book speaks directly to these and other controversies as it carefully documents directly from New Testament writings how, where, and why these four parties emerged to struggle with each other and thereby generate what are now considered the major sacred writings about that historical figure identified first as Jesus of Nazareth and later known as Jesus the Christ.