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Craig Keener asks an intriguing question in his section on the arrest of Stephen. The crowds at the Temple held Peter and the Twelve in “high esteem” as they taught daily at Solomon’s Porticio (Acts 5:13). When the High Priest sends guards to arrest them in Acts 5:26, they “were afraid of being stoned by the people” so they did not use force to bring Peter and John to the Sanhedrin. But where is the crowd when Stephen is arrested?

Keener suggests the content of Stephen’s reaching is the reason people do not support him quite the way they supported Peter. Peter directly confronted the High Priest, but did not condemn the Temple or worship at the Temple. Luke is clear these are false charges (μάρτυρας ψευδεῖς), but it is possible Stephen preached something which could have been taken as blasphemy “against the temple and the Law.” He offers an example another prophetic voice who attacked the Temple during the First Jewish Revolt. Jesus ben Annanias publically declared the Temple would be destroyed and was arrested and flogged (Josephus, J.W. 6.300-309, Keener 2:1322). Later Paul is under threat for challenging the authority of Artemis in Ephesus (Acts 19). To attack a central cultural symbol like the Temple will result in violent reprisals.

By way of analogy, a political commentator might offer a scathing critique of the President or Congress. They might question policies and decisions, accuse them (often falsely) of all sorts of “crimes and misdemeanors” in op-ed pieces or the daily talk shows. Most of the time Americans will tenaciously defend their right to free speech, even if they disagree with the content of the speech. But if a political commentator attacks the idea of America or burns a flag on TV, or crosses some politically correct line in the sand, their support will erode rapidly.

This appears to be the issue with Stephen. Everyone in Second Temple Judaism could complain about the High Priest, everyone thought the aristocracy is corrupt. But Stephen is saying the worship in the Temple is not acceptable to God (and perhaps has not been acceptable for a very long time). This is an attack at the most important cultural symbol in first century Judaism—the Temple.

the-stoning-of-st-stephen-1604The non-reaction of the crowds might reflect their belief that Stephen too far in his prophetic condemnation and they simply ignored him. (This is often the best strategy when a political commentator “goes too far,” just ignore him!) Another factor that should not be overlooked is the location of Stephen’s ministry, the Synagogue of the Freedmen. He is not teaching this in the Temple courts, standing with Peter in Solomon’s Portico and declaring the Temple is no longer a valid place to worship God. He is in a Hellenistic Synagogue.

I suggested earlier the Diaspora, Hellenistic Jews who worshiped in this synagogue may have been “more conservative” than those worshiping in the Temple Courts. At the very least, they appear to be far more sensitive to attacks on the Temple. Stephen does not have the tacit support of the Pharisees and priests in the Temple not the popular support of the crowds who may have enjoyed Peter’s jabs at the High Priest and his cronies. He is attacking a central symbol of Judaism in front of the people most likely to violently defend those symbols.

To what extent is Stephen’s speech a kind of prophetic condemnation of the Temple? But does he actually speak out against the Law or Moses? It is hard not to read later Paul into this sermon, but we have to keep Galatians out of Acts 7. Just how far does Stephen push the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

In the years after Paul, factionalism increased.  Since the churches in Rome were isolated, there was little control on doctrine.  Individual teachers were free to interpret whatever scripture they had in whatever way they saw fit.  The factionalism we discussed in a previous post could result in creative theology, for good or bad.

Divided Church 2A positive example is Justin, who held meetings in a room above a bathhouse. Justin is well known from Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, and the Acts of Justin’s Martyrdom. He was a philosopher, although his education was not excellent – he began with a Stoic teacher, followed a peripatetic teacher until he demanded pay, then he failed an exam to be a student of a Pythagorian.  He has a general, eclectic education, cites various poets and philosophers, but has some geographical and historical problems.  Literary style is good, but not great.  He seems to have had philosophical lectures rather than rhetorical lessons. He arrived in Rome in 135 and converted to Christianity.  His Dialogue claims to take place during the Bar Kohkba rebellion in 135.  He had rooms above a bathhouse where he instructed students, and maintained the pallium, “mantle of a philosopher” until his martyrdom.

Justin tried to present Christianity as a philosophy, “Christians worship God with their intellects” (Di. 1.6.2, 12.8, etc.) That Christianity was a philosophy was accepted by no less that Galen, although Celsus refused to use the word for Christianity (it was sofiva to Celsus, and Christians were sophists, usually a pejorative use of the word.)   For the most part Justin was treated as a philosopher by Romans, but few (if any) philosophers investigated the claims of Christianity.

Justin’s influence was to encourage a philosophical strain in the theology of the second century, Tatian and Euelpistus both were (neo) platonic in perspective.  While present day theologians debate whether this is a good thing, in the second century it had the positive effect of making Christianity more acceptable to the educated and higher social classes.

A negative example are the Valentinians. Valentinus (c100-c160) was in Rome for 15 years, (as early as 136, as late as 166) and was considered for the position of bishop about 143 (according to Tertullian, Ad. Val iv).  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria; he died on Cyprus after having left Rome.  He was a highly educated man with a brilliant mind; we wrote in a beautiful poetic language.  Lampe (295) finds his style parallel to Plato.  His philosophy is generally platonic.  He seems to know Timaeus well, and interprets this work in the style of the neo-paltonists.

Two inscriptions found in Via Latina indicate that there was at least one Valentinain congregation in this affluent suburb.  This indicates (for Lampe) that there was a house church in Via Lampe which was Valentinian in orientation; no other traces of Valentinian house churches appear elsewhere in the city.  The marble inscription uses imagery which must be Christian (praising the father and son) and likely Valentinian (entry into the bridal chamber, a sacred meal, baptism, etc.)   A gravestone inscription was also found in Via Latina which also uses Valentinain imagery (again, the bridal chamber, washings, the “angel the great counsel”)

Valentinian theology was quite esoteric and obviously gnostic.  Highly dualistic, they saw the world as evil, the believer was by nature alienated from the world.   This sort of early gnosticism is an attempt to support Christianity with a philosophical foundation, but in doing so, Valentinus moved away from scripture.  Marcion, on the other hand, represents a sort of “back to the Bible” movement — in an extremely negative sense!  More on Marcion next time.

In the years after Paul, factionalism increased.  Since the churches in Rome were isolated, there was little control on doctrine.  Individual teachers were free to interpret whatever scripture they had in whatever way they saw fit.  The factionalism we discussed in a previous post could result in creative theology, for good or bad.

A positive example is Justin, who held meetings in a room above a bathhouse. Justin is well known from Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, and the Acts of Justin’s Martyrdom. He was a philosopher, although his education was not excellent – he began with a Stoic teacher, followed a peripatetic teacher until he demanded pay, then he failed an exam to be a student of a Pythagorian.  He has a general, eclectic education, cites various poets and philosophers, but has some geographical and historical problems.  Literary style is good, but not great.  He seems to have had philosophical lectures rather than rhetorical lessons. He arrived in Rome in 135 and converted to Christianity.  His Dialogue claims to take place during the Bar Kohkba rebellion in 135.  He had rooms above a bathhouse where he instructed students, and maintained the pallium, “mantle of a philosopher” until his martyrdom.

Justin tried to present Christianity as a philosophy, “Christians worship God with their intellects” (Di. 1.6.2, 12.8, etc.) That Christianity was a philosophy was accepted by no less that Galen, although Celsus refused to use the word for Christianity (it was sofiva to Celsus, and Christians were sophists, usually a pejorative use of the word.)   For the most part Justin was treated as a philosopher by Romans, but few (if any) philosophers investigated the claims of Christianity.

Justin’s influence was to encourage a philosophical strain in the theology of the second century, Tatian and Euelpistus both were (neo) platonic in perspective.  While present day theologians debate whether this is a good thing, in the second century it had the positive effect of making Christianity more acceptable to the educated and higher social classes.

A negative example are the Valentinians. Valentinus (c100-c160) was in Rome for 15 years, (as early as 136, as late as 166) and was considered for the position of bishop about 143 (according to Tertullian, Ad. Val iv).  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria; he died on Cyprus after having left Rome.  He was a highly educated man with a brilliant mind; we wrote in a beautiful poetic language.  Lampe (295) finds his style parallel to Plato.  His philosophy is generally platonic.  He seems to know Timaeus well, and interprets this work in the style of the neo-paltonists.

Two inscriptions found in Via Latina indicate that there was at least one Valentinain congregation in this affluent suburb.  This indicates (for Lampe) that there was a house church in Via Lampe which was Valentinian in orientation; no other traces of Valentinian house churches appear elsewhere in the city.  The marble inscription uses imagery which must be Christian (praising the father and son) and likely Valentinian (entry into the bridal chamber, a sacred meal, baptism, etc.)   A gravestone inscription was also found in Via Latina which also uses Valentinain imagery (again, the bridal chamber, washings, the “angel the great counsel”)

Valentinian theology was quite esoteric and obviously gnostic.  Highly dualistic, they saw the world as evil, the believer was by nature alienated from the world.   This sort of early gnosticism is an attempt to support Christianity with a philosophical foundation, but in doing so, Valentinus moved away from scripture.  Marcion, on the other hand, represents a sort of “back to the Bible” movement — in an extremely negative sense!  More on Marcion next time.

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Christian Theology

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