Markus Vinzent's Blog

Friday, 2 March 2012

Frederik Mulder, Review of M. Vinzent, Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament

In the recent issue of Theology 115 (2012), 123-4 Frederik Mulder (PhD Candidate under Prof. Jan G. van der Watt at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands. Previously, he studied in Pretoria and Durham. Currently, he lives in Cambridge, UK), kindly wrote and published a review on my book on Christ's Resurrection which you can find here.

First of all let me thank the reviewer for taking his time and effort reading and reviewing my book for Theology. To continue the discussion, I have published my thoughts below. It always sounds a bit more formal when something is printed on paper or published here on the web - but I believe, it is a wonderful way to keep a scholarly debate going, and I feel way back in the times, when people like Lietzmann, Holl and Harnack did not spare ink and time to mutually criticize their work, with the best aims in the world in mind - such as I feel has also come through in the review above:
After a concise summary of my main thesis in the book - with one notable point that is missed (see below), Frederik Mulder who himself works on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians and 1 Clement, hence best equipped, concentrates on the discussion of 3 or 4 texts,to then summarize: 'Vinzent accuses others of reading into texts (particularly those prior to Marcion!) Jesus' resurrection, making them guilty of speculation and hermeneutics'. It always surprises me when, as a Patristic scholar, I am reading New Testament scholarly contributions - and I now have to do this on a daily basis, preparing my new book on Dating the Gospels - how beligerent the terminology is. Instead of making accusations, I am only stating what I am trying to do: 'to read as little as possible into the sources ...' (24). My approach to stay out of battlefields and, instead, engage with the primary texts, is confirmed by the reviewer that 'there is virtually no interaction with significant scholars who find Christ's resurrection in early texts' - and one could think of colleagues like N.T. Wright and others. Let us check, however, if I have not followed my intention to read the texts as closely as possible, but, instead, started off 'with an a priori presupposition' that Christ's resurrection was absent after Paul and before Marcion.
Frederik Mulder concentrates on three/four set of texts that I discuss in the book, 1Clement, Barnabas, 1Peter and Ignatius where he thinks, I do not 'take these texts seriously enough when Christ's resurrection is clearly stated'.
Before we look again at these texts, let me first mention that a strong emphasis on the Resurrection in these would not undermine my theory that the reviewer outlined before - as all three/four, whenever we have to date them - are part of the Pauline tradition. And this is the point which is missing in the above summary of my thesis and should have been pointed out more precisely by myself in the book: The Resurrection of Christ which was so central to Paul is, where at all, present only in the Pauline tradition to which these texts clearly belong: Ignatius who quotes Paul's letters extensively, 1Clement mentions Paul twice, Barnabas 'indicated by the pseudonymous name' (57) and 1Peter which resonates Paul in many respects. And yet - and here we have to look at these texts again - even within this tradition, a comparison between these texts and Paul with regards to the theological relevance which they attribute to Christ's Resurrection is revealing:
1Clement: The problem with the reviewer begins with the dating. When he gives 'AD c.95' - he follows a longstanding assumption, but scholarly traditions have no weight in themselves, unless they are founded on arguments. And, as I state (66), there is no such evidence for the dating of this text: 'The dating before 100 AD is based only on the analysis of the church order and by the fact that the letter does not mention ‘any persecution’; the first to ascribe this letter to ‘Clement’ is bishop Dionysios of Corinth (ca. 170-4) (who also wrote against Marcion!), in: Euseb., Hist. eccl. IV 23,11, where he reports that this letter is being read in the Sunday gathering. O. Zwierlein, GFA 140-5 suggests the years 120-5', but even this latter dating is not ascertained. Quite often the dating is also based on the fact that 1Clement does not quote the canonical Gospels, and because these are dated to the first century AD, the dating of 1Clement is not pushed too late into the 2nd century. But such arguments are circular, as we have no terminus ante quem (with the exception of Marcion, again) for the canonical Gospels. Even, if 1Clement were written in the year 95 AD - the letter testifies for Paul being known, read and quoted, but how was he understood? The reviewer picks out the two single references to Christ's resurrection, but I believe that it is important to read these in the context of the letter. And this letter bases 'our salvation' on Christ's sacrifice (7:3), not on the Resurrection as we would read it in Paul. Instead, the author comes to speak about Christ's Resurrection, following, as the reviewer quotes me, 'Paul's timeline in 1 Corinthians 15.20' - as part of an eschatological outlook (68). When the reviewer writes that I find the first reference in 1Clement (24.1) a 'depressive, almost marginal mention of the resurrection of Christ' - one should add that this statement is made of two quotes: The first ('depressive') made by the famous New Testament scholar Kurt Aland, the second ('almost marginal mention of the Resurrection of Christ') by the Patristic scholar Reinhard Staats. Why I believe that these colleagues are right in their opinion? Kurt Aland hits the nail on its head: 'No word [do we read in 1Clement] from the Resurrection narratives of the Gospels resp. no mention of them, neither quote nor even a reference nor even a hint to one of the related terms or stories'. Clement's statement that the 'the Lord has been made the first-fruit, when God raised Him from the dead' is used as one of four testimonies for the eschatological resurrection of men, together with the coming of daybreak, the sowing of fruits and the phoenix. Theologically, the pauline topic of Christ's Resurrection has, as I mention in the book (44), become a testimonie, but is no longer as in Paul a steriological argument. Similar in 1Clement 42.1-2 where the text 'speaks about the Apostles having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ', I cannot see why by simply reading this text, one has to concentrate on anything else than 'the institutionalizing tendency', as Christ's Resurrection is used (through) as assurance of Apostleship. That's what the text says and that's what I am pointing out. It is, indeed, a 'passing' reference (69).
Given these two instances - and these are the only ones in 1Clement - I cannot see, how one can come to any other conclusion as the one which I draw from it: 1Clement is markedly different from Paul. While in Paul, Christ's Resurrection secures his own authority, here in 1Clement it is used not to assure Paul's, but to assure the Apostles' (in the Plural, where Paul is no longer mentioned) authority. Moreover, the Resurrection is no more than a testimonie.
Let's move on to the next text: Barnabas. It all starts again with dating of a text which we simply cannot date. The suggestions range, as I mention (57) between 70 to the end of the second century. To give it as c. 90-c.110 shows the same kind of a priori assumption as with 1Clement, a tendency which even New Testament scholars are calling into question, namely to date undatable documents early. In his Redating the New Testament of 1976, J.A.T. Robinson is therefore cautioning his colleagues from circular arguments: ‘It is sobering too to discover how little basis there is for many of the dates confidently assigned by modern experts to the New Testament documents … Much more than is generally recognized’, and he draws the conclusion: ‘The chronology of the New Testament rests on presuppositions rather than facts … What seemed to be firm datings based on scientific evidence are revealed to rest on deductions from deductions. The pattern is self-consistent but circular.’[1] More drastically than Robinson, the New Testament scholar Ernst Käsemann remarked that ‘Introductions into the New Testament’ may give themselves as sound and sober in style and content, but are to a large extent ‘fairy tales’.[2]
But let us come back to Barnabas - again, it is immaterial to my thesis when this text was written, as the fact alone that only in Pauline literature we find the Resurrection of Christ in these early days, proves my case. The nuance, however, as in 1Clement is important: how does the text speak about the Resurrection. And here, similar to 1Clement, we can find that in the theological argument of this text, Christ's Resurrection has NO place. As I expound in my book, the soteriology of Barnabas is entirely based on Christ's death. And, as in 1Clement, the Lord's Resurrection is only or simply a testimonie for the eschaton. The reviewer is absolutely right that the sole reference to Christ's Resurrection only occurs 'in a liturgical allusion' (Barn. 15.8). Why I call this a 'rather recent innovation' or a 'gloss' is, because it is not reflected at all in the theology of Barnabas. The 'if' shows that I am happy to assume otherwise, but then we have to explain - what scholars that I mention have pointed to - why the text says that 'we keep the eighth day as a day of joy, on which also Jesus from the dead, and after he had appeared ascended unto heaven'. Why 'also'? Others have, therefore, stumbled about this and indicated, what I mention - it is a rather awkward addition which has not left one trace elsewhere in Barnabas. Here, again, I cannot see why one would not agree with S. Bacchiocchi, Sabbath (1977), 79 that 1Clement, Barnabas (and he adds Ignatius) are 'the first timid references to the resurrection, which is presented as an added or secondary reason for Sunday worship'. And, one has to add - we do not even know whether either of the two discussed texts was written prior to or post Marcion.
Let us turn to the third text: 1Peter. In my comment on this text, I start from the fact that 'with its insistence upon the salvific function of the Resurrection, [the text] sounds at first like Paul. Indeed, the first of the letters that goes under Peter’s name is written by a presbyter (5:1) who names himself ‘Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ’ (1:1) and seems deeply influenced by Pauline thinking – more so, as we will see, than the author of 2Peter, although the latter makes explicit reference to Paul' (47). So, similar in one way like 1Clement and Barnabas, we are in a Pauline tradition and, therefore, also find the Resurrection. But different to the other two texts, here we are, indeed, dealing with a text that grasps Paul's intention of linking salvation to Christ's Resurrection. The riddle of the dating is given again. In the book I state (47): 'Unfortunately, we have no clear indications when 1Peter was written. Recently the suggestion was renewed that places this text between 110/3' and point to O. Zwierlein, Petrus (2010), 315. Yet, we cannot date this text with certainty. Some elements ('the just for the unjust') may point to the text being post-Marcionite, but I left this question open, and concluded: 'If the letter was written, as scholars today suggest, then it provides evidence for a Pauline milieu out of which Marcion ... could easily grow' (48). Again, I cannot see, how and what I have read into this text what the text did not state and why the reviewer thinks that 'one could easily [my ital.] accuse Vinzent of exactly that which he accuses others of doing [which I hopefully have not]. In my opinion he doesn't take these texts seriously enough when Christ's resurrection is clearly stated'.
The reviewer than adds a section on 'Ignatius' letters (AD 95-107': That he omits in the dating any 'c.' or question mark is more than an indication: Over the past hundreds of years (and more), specifically in the past decade there has been an enormous scholarship about the question of Ignatius' dating. As indicated in the book (105), the dating ranges between ca. 110 to 180, or even between 95 and 180 - a range of over 8 decades! And again, as stated ibid. 'the dating has no impact on our overall thesis' - the unquestioned assumption of such early dating to 95-107 is hardly defensible. Irrespective of the dating,  the reviewer states that with regards to Ignatius' letters, I tried 'to minimize their substantial focus on Jesus' resurrection (cf. p. 104 n. 190)' while the quoted footnote reads: 'The Resurrection is a central topic in Ignatius'. That I chose to deal with Ignatius' letters in the post-Marcion section is due to my dating of these letters, where I find company in a growing number of scholars (Joly, Hübner, Barnes a.o.). Yet, there, again I add: 'In all of Ignatius' letters to Christian communities, the Resurrection has an important place', and point to A. Hamman's view (Resurrection, 1975) that Ignatius' message is 'conditioned by the polemics' which cannot be denied. In his debate, 'the Resurrection becomes a key topic, as do the writings of Paul and the Gospel(s)' (154).
With regards to the alleged conservativism ('more conservative than many conservatives'), I would not mind this category, as any such categorisations have never interested me, the claim, however, that I argue 'for the resurrection of the flesh in Paul and 1 Clement' is surprising. There is no hint in my text where I would say what 'no New Testament scholar ... holds', on the contrary, I wrote that in 1Clement 'we encounter the earliest testimony for a corporeal resurrection of the dead in Christian literature' (69) (something H.E. Lona, Auferstehung, 1993, 23-4 has already seen), and yet, no New Testament scholar can deny that Paul in 1Cor. 15 speaks of a bodily or fleshly resurrection where sarx and soma is synonymous (1Cor. 15:38f.), from where it is clear that Paul can have a differentiated understanding of 'flesh'. But here, the reviewer is correct with his criticism, I should have pointed out more clearly in which sense Marcion and 1Peter go beyond Paul, as we have him today. While Paul did not think of an uncorruptible body of flesh and blood, he believed, however, in a spiritual body/flesh. Marcion, here, goes only one step further in radicalising this view and removing flesh and blood altogether from the Saviour - while, with Paul, maintaining that the Saviour (prior and after his Resurrection) is not without body/flesh. On reflection, however, I do agree with the reviewer that the difference in this respect between Paul, 1Peter and Marcion may not exist.
The final paragraph of the review amuses me. Why would one not recommend my book to 'laypersons and ministers', but only to 'scholars who would obviously measure Vinzent's claims against others' - I remember a time when books were forbidden for the public, but I thought those times were gone. My opinion of laypersons and ministers are such that I believe that any critical reader of early Christian texts and scholarship on such texts will be able to make up their own minds. As I have tried to show both in the book and in this reading of the review - there is much to gain from a close reading of texts. Scholarship is not a set of 'claims against others', but a line of argument that needs to stack up. So far with regards to the question of Christ's Resurrection (as well as with regards to the dating of canonical and non-canonical texts), I have come across a pile of claims, the basis of which it is worth studying.
No book is a final word, it is only the beginning of a discussion. I have learned from this review that 1Peter, Marcion and Paul may be closer than I thought, while the counter-arguments to my thesis have not (at least not yet) convinced me.

[2] E. Käsemann, Jesu letzter Wille (31971), 12 (own trans.).

[1] J.A.T. Robinson, Redating (1976), 341,  2-3.


  1. Clement of Alexandria sometimes cites 1 Peter as if it was written by Paul. Indeed I know it sounds crazy when I say this but how couldn't 1 Peter not be Pauline:

    O taste and see that the Lord is sweet (Psalm 34)

    You just have to attend any service and realize how ancient this association is between Chrestos and the Eucharist. How couldn't this be Marcionite?

  2. And that wasn't a rhetorical question. I am seriously challenging people to imagine a scenario where the Marcionites DIDN'T use a reference to Chrestos and the Catholics DID.

  3. First on 1Peter: As I said in my Resurrection book and as most colleagues agree on - yes, 1Peter is, indeed, a Pauline writing, although there are quite number of differences too.
    On Chrestos - it is, indeed, a suggestion worth checking. It seems that the Chrestos-name already appears in the first century, and may have influenced Marcion and informed his understanding of Christ.