WE ARE presented at the start of the book with two “profiles” of faith. First, there is a rural movement that is Aramaic- and Hebrew-speaking, looking towards Jerusalem and sharing in the life and worship of Judaism. This is the Jesus movement as it was in his lifetime, around AD 30. Then there is the urban Church, speaking Greek, looking towards Rome, with its own life and liturgy, separated from Judaism, and now with a new name of Christianity. This is the Church as it was at the time of Ignatius of Antioch, around AD 100. This transformation took place in the course of just seventy years. The book sets out to explain how and why it happened.
It identifies 15 elements of this transformation, beginning with the change from rural to urban, continuing through mission, language, liturgy, and leadership, finishing with the change from using the scroll to the codex or book, a less familiar format: this helped in the development of a set of recognised writings, which, in due course, became the canon of scripture.
There is a wide range of available evidence, which has been researched and discussed in recent scholarship. As well as the books of the New Testament, there are the writings of the early church Fathers, Roman and Jewish historians, and the geographical and historical background.
We are guided through this complex mass of evidence and helped to understand what was happening as the Church took shape and developed its identity. As we explore, we are given fresh insights into scripture — seeing, for example, how the names and places of origin of the companions of Paul who appear in the Acts of the Apostles and epistles show how the missions followed a clear movement leading to its fulfilment in Rome. We are also introduced to the work of recent scholarship, with reference to — and quotation from — writers from Harnack to Hengel and many others.
While the main theme is change, there is also continuity, since the message is the person of Christ or Christology. This is the faith that remains constant throughout a turbulent and volatile century and is the identity of the Church.
By the end of the century, the Church had spread through the Mediterranean world, a literature was taking shape, and the eucharist and holiness of Sunday, the first day of the week, gave a pattern of worship and church life. The Jesus Movement had become Christianity, and has retained the same basic character ever since, through periods of persecution and dominance and through historical changes.
Showing us how it all happened helps us to understand our faith and so make sense of who we are and what and why we believe.
The Revd Dr John Binns is Visiting Professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge.
From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement became the Church in less than a century
James R. Edwards
Baker Academic £20.99
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