Starting this week I am teaching an undergrad class on the “Jewish Christian Literature.” Essentially, this is a class that covers Hebrews through Revelation. Sometimes this section of the New Testament is called the “catholic epistles” or the “general epistles” since they are perceived as being universal in appeal. Certainly James, 1 Peter and 1 John written as circular letters, but 2 and 3 John and Jude seem to be directed at specific congregations. While Hebrews is less a letter than a sermon, Revelation mentions seven churches with specific situations that are likely to be “real” issues faced by those local congregations.
But as I point out the first day of class, we could probably call these letters the “other letters” or the “Not Paul” collection. This is what is difficult about reading books like Hebrews and James. Christian Theology is almost always focused on Paul (and for good reasons). Yet this literature indicates there were other early church thinkers who attempted to explain Jesus to Jewish people rather than Gentiles. The results are compatible with Pauline theology, but also quite distinct. It is that distinctiveness I am interested.
I personally prefer to call these books the Jewish Christian Literature because most of the books are addressed to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora. I will say more about later, but with the exception of 2 Peter all the letters are “more Jewish” than the average Pauline letters. They appear to me to represent a stream of early Christianity which was ethnically Jewish and continued to practice some (all?) elements of their ancestral faith while believing Jesus was the Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy.
But what does Jewish Christian mean? Paul was Jewish and Christian, and it is not as though Paul writes “Gentile Christian” letters. By giving these letters the title “Jewish Christian” I want to highlight the fact they are all addressed to “more Jewish than not “churches that looked to James, Peter, or John as authorities. In contrast, Paul’s churches are “more Gentile than not” and looked to Paul as the authority (for the most part, anyway).
Is this a fair way to read Hebrews through Revelation? Is it possible to set Pauline Theology to one side and read Hebrews (for example) without thinking in Pauline categories? Is that healthy?