The First Christians in Their Social Worlds: Social-Scientific Approaches to New Testament Interpretation

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview
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Preface

This book represents the revised form of eight public lectures I delivered at St Mary’s College, the University of St Andrews, in the term after my arrival there, during October to December 1992. The lectures were attended by staff and students in the School of Divinity and by other members of the university and the St Andrews populace and I am grateful for the lively discussion which followed each one. Some of my revisions reflect these discussions, although for the most part I have tried not to stray too far from the form of the original.

Although originally delivered as lectures, the eight chapters published here are quite closely interconnected and pursue a common theme. I outline in Chapter 1 my fundamental approach to the interpretation of the New Testament, which is to propose (under the inspiration of the sociology of knowledge) that the various documents which comprise it exhibit a pervasive relationship between kerygma and context, that is, between the religious affirmations of the early Christian communities and the social realities which affected them. This perspective forms the theoretical foundation for the rest of the book, in which other social-scientific perspectives are also developed with respect to particular texts and passages. In presenting this case, I do not suggest for one moment, nor wish to be taken as suggesting, that the faith of the early church was solely the product of its social context or had no transcendental referent.

In Chapter 2 I employ the anthropology of the Mediterranean to set out the primary cultural values and institutions of the first-century Graeco-Roman East which constitute the social script, very different from that of North America or Northern Europe, in which the New Testament texts were written. Chapters 3 to 5 take up the question of sectarianism and cover, first, the mechanism which facilitated the entry of Gentiles into hitherto

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