A Research Paper on James Dunn’s Christianity in the Making Vol. 3

I am posting a recent paper on volumes two and three of James Dunn’s Christianity in the Making. This paper stems from a class with Dr. John Taylor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (though he has shared that he will be joining Gateway Seminary in California). It has been my great privilege to be his student. Dr. Taylor has been very flexible in allowing me to take specific classes tailored as much for my interests as for my benefit.

Concerning this particular paper, readers should know that the material originates from my first seminar to cover early Christianity critically reconstructed, and as it emerged from Jerusalem and grew to encounter the larger Mediterranean world. Since the class was specifically devoted to James Dunn’s magisterial Christianity in the Making, the reading was significant, and since it covered so much material and an era that I had previously little familiarity with (the sub-apostolic era, second generation Christianity), I am sure more learned readers will find various faults within my paper (though hopefully minor ones).

I share the paper, however, because of the joy it brought me in both researching the topic and writing on it. James Dunn is an immensely talented research writer. His work has been formative on me not only for this reason but for others as well. His notable objectivity in handling the many challenging research questions is impressive. In some ways, reading his work feels almost like looking over his shoulder as he works through the research questions and discussions himself. Dunn seems to limit his own input to the conclusions of vast segments of research within his books, though like a skilled narrator he is carefully building his case all the while. In addition to objectivity, Dunn has a gift for viewing the whole and seeing discordant ideas and material within it. He has a remarkable talent for seeing where diverse ideas come into conflict with the larger picture. In short, he discerns unity within the diversity. Thank you Dr. Dunn for you contributions, and for inspiring me to learn and to dig deeper. And thank you Dr. Taylor for doing the same, and holding me to a high bar of excellence. All mistakes are my own and much of the reflections are raw thoughts checked only against tertiary resources. As always, dear readers, thank you for reading Jesus and Paul and the New Testament Blog!

(My initial paper in the class covered volume one, Jesus Remembered, which is more aligned with my specialized doctoral interests in the historical Jesus, and I am heavily re-working and improving this paper for publication. The following paper, then, deals only with the second and third volumes, though most attention is given to the third.)

The Importance of Jesus Tradition in Understanding Paul

Kathy Ehrensperger writes

I consider it a necessary and fruitful enterprise to explore the significance of such research results that demonstrate Paul’s embeddedness in Judaism when dealing with the issue of the relation between Jesus and Paul, or, to put it another way, of the relation of the Jesus traditions as remembered in the Gospels and the Jesus as remembered by Paul and his team in the Pauline Letters.

So thrilled to read this in her essay “At the Table: Common Ground between Paul and the Historical Jesus.” I have earlier voiced the opinion that Paul’s theology be thought of first and foremost as influenced by and indebted to Jesus traditions (since the Gospels were written after most/all of Paul’s Letters). I think that the recent push to read Paul within Second Temple Judaism broadly will be misguided insofar as it ignores this foundational hermeneutical task in understanding his thought. So in some respects, Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, which sees Pauline theology as a brand of Second Temple Judaism richly rethought around Jesus Messiah, is a step in the right direction. Ehrensperger’s essay in Jesus Research volume two continues by pointing out the rich agreement between Jesus tradition in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians on the subject of table fellowship / meals.