Alpha Christianity


Beta is our general term for the forms of Christian theory which were centered on the death, rather than the teachings, of Jesus. The unexpected death of Jesus was of course shocking to his followers. Their responses took several forms, the earliest of which is almost lost in the Christian literature. The first two responses are within the limits of what we call Alpha; the last two define Beta.

The Alpha Position

The Beta Transition

Like the Gospel of Matthew in several senses, the doctrine of the Atonement represents a further drift back toward Judaism. It is so thoroughly incorporated into the Gospel of John that the death of Jesus in that text takes place for symbolic reasons on the same day as the sacrifice of the lambs for the Passover feast, and not (as in earlier tradition) after Jesus had eaten the Passover with his disciples. All this pushed the Alpha Christians even further toward the edge of new theoretical developments. The early Christians did not need this additional complication, to add to their other woes, but they got it anyway. One strong feature of the post-Pauline writings is a manifest wish to damp down this particular difference, which was proving damaging and divisive, by incorporating into the genuine Pauline epistles passages expressing Alpha doctrine. This lead was also followed in some, though not all, of the deutero-Pauline literature. That the breach was not permanently healed can be seen in the later Johannine correspondence, which is all about splits within the Christian community. It was this drift toward Judaism which led Marcion, whose heritage was Alpha, to attempt to purge Christianity of its dependence on the truth and relevance of the Jewish Scriptures.

Though Mark knew, and in a few passages in his Gospel acknowledged, the germ of the Atonement theory, it is possible that, though it produced an electric response in Paul, Mark personally continued not to make very much of it. Some firm upholders of early ideas of Jesus, among them Arius, continued to arise from the north African Christianity on which, according to local tradition, the teaching of Mark had an enduring effect.

The later history of Beta is essentially the history of the later Church, which is sufficiently well known not to require exposition here. The following are essentially footnotes, mostly cross-references to pages elsewhere in this site.


These notes are provided in part to summarize present opinion, but also to indicate possibilities for future research. Suggestions for, or contributions to, that research will be most welcome. Those interested may contact the Project via the mail link at the bottom of this page.

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12 Jan 2012 / Contact The Project / Exit to Home Page