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

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Sectarianism and the conflict at Antioch

THE ISSUE

In Chapter 1 I outlined a model of the sectarianism involved in a group separating from an existing church and employed it to pose a number of questions regarding the beginnings of the early Christian communities in Jerusalem. An essential feature of the model was the issue of whether such a depth of division had been reached between the parent church and the new religious movement that joint membership of both was no longer possible. Only at this point was it appropriate to call the new body a ‘sect’. I also suggested that in the context of first-century Judaism one indication of whether a breaking-point of this kind had been reached was whether a particular Christian community practised Jewish-Gentile table-fellowship, especially eucharistic table-fellowship, where those present shared, that is to say, actually passed around from hand to hand, one loaf of bread and one cup of wine, in the manner and with the significance described by Paul:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.

(1 Cor. 10.16-17)

Although there was nothing to stop the members of his congregations engaging in ordinary meals, this form of table-fellowship, where the one loaf and the one cup symbolised, or rather enacted, the oneness of the community in Christ, was the one which mattered to Paul. Other meals could be eaten at home. Paul at one point rebukes the Corinthians in these terms:

-52-

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