Warring States Project
Several early Christian texts imply a version of Christianity in which the Resurrection of Christ plays no part; they look for salvation in a different way. The Resurrection simply does not appear in those texts, even where it might be expected to, like the Eucharist prayers in the Didache, or the hymn in Philippians 2 describing the descent of Jesus to earth and his return to Heaven. Other texts which expound Christian living and Christian practice without mentioning the Resurrection are the Epistle of James, the Two Ways tract, Luke's Sermon on the Plain, and from a later century, the Clementine Homilies. There are too many such texts, over too many centuries, for their omission of the Resurrection to be accidental. It seems that there is something there; a distinctive kind of Christianity. We will call it Alpha, because it can plausibly be related to doctrines (repentance, forgiveness, avoidance of sin) which, the earliest sources tell us, were taught by Jesus in his lifetime. In the nature of things, theories of salvation based on Jesus's death, which focus on the Resurrection (and eventually on the more extreme Atonement doctrine), can have arisen only after Jesus's death, when his death was there as a fact, and as something to be theorized about. We call these Resurrection-based theories Beta.
Once it is recognized that Alpha did exist, as the original form of Christianity and not as a later heretical departure, a fresh view of many longstanding NT enigmas becomes possible. The continuity between John the Baptist and Jesus becomes more evident. The strife within Christianity between the older Alpha theory and the later Beta theory (the latter vigorously championed by Paul) turns out to be one of the main themes of the first Christian century. It first came to a head when Paul's insistence on faith in Jesus's atoning death, rather than works, as the key to salvation (Romans 3:20-24) was countered by the Epistle of James (2:18), which defended works as primary, held Paul's faith-only view up to scorn, and ridiculed Paul's example of Abraham (Romans 4:1-3), who for James (2:20-24) was not an example of faith alone, but an example of deeds. The same in-house quarrel, in which Christians argue with other Christians about the meaning of Jesus, continues in many post-Pauline texts, such as Hebrews and (most conspiciously) in 1 John. The current state of Project work on texts and other topics of importance is available at other pages of the Alpha section of this site:
- First Principles
- Lower Criticism (Scribal Corruption)
- Higher Criticism (Text Growth)
- In Progress
- Topics (Persons and Miscellaneous)
- Gamma (Gnostic) Christianity
- Colleagues in the Past
- Overview of Results
- Chronology of the First Christian Century
The last-mentioned Forum is a single page where papers and abstracts of current Sinological or Alpha interest are posted for discussion on the respective E-lists. We invite others with similar material to make it available for discussion, whether before or after the meeting in question. Linked from that page is our more focused Luke conversation, which is just beginning as of this writing. The current topic, or anyway the current special interest, is the Lukan Sermon on the Way, Lk 9:51-18:14, the interval between the point at which Luke takes leave of Mark and the point where he resumes contact. This is Luke's longest solo appearance as a practical theologian, and has correspondingly great interest for the history of Christian thought.