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

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Social worlds, social sciences and the New Testament

SOCIETY AND GOSPEL

When Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked on an uninhabited island off the coast of America, but having got abundant supplies ashore, sat down to consider his situation, he prepared a list of what he called his ‘miseries’ and ‘comforts’. Three of his six miseries involved his separation from all human company and conversation. He later described his condition as follows:

I seem’d banished from human Society…I was alone, circumscrib’d by the boundless Ocean, cut off from Mankind, and condemn’d to what I call’d silent Life… I was as one who Heaven thought not worthy to be number’d among the Living, or to appear among the rest of His Creatures…to have seen one of my own Species, would have seem’d to me a Raising from Death to Life, and the greatest Blessing that Heaven itself, next to the supreme Blessing of Salvation, could bestow.

(Defoe 1987:156)

His misfortune had brought home to Crusoe most acutely the need which all human beings have for the society of their fellows. He realised that to be cut off from the web of relationships, roles, institutions and values which exist among the men and women who comprise any social group is a form of death.

Why begin a work on New Testament interpretation with Robinson Crusoe? It is not for the reason that Defoe’s classic, with its seven hundred editions since 1719, probably stands second only to the Bible in the number of times it has been reissued. Its interest for my subject hangs upon the way it presents, at least until the arrival of Friday, a mode of living a solitary existence which sharpens, by contrast, our appreciation of life in society.

-1-

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