Saturday, August 08, 2015

Royalty on ancient heresy

Heresy in Earliest Christianity

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul faces disagreements on a wide range of issues such as factions over leadership according to who baptized whom, women’s leadership in prophecy and prayer, eating meat purchased from temples, the most important spiritual gifts, and the existence and meaning of the resurrection. The divisions in the community are most likely social, between wealthier and better educated members (the “strong”) and those with less education and social status (“the weak). Paul responds in this letter with appeals to unity (homonoia or concordia), often acknowledging differences in belief on these topics. But in Galatians, faced with the schism with Peter and others over circumcision and eating with Gentile believers, he demonizes difference, “a different gospel” (1:6) as part of the sinful sphere of the flesh (5:17–21). Then, in a later response to continuing divisions in Corinth, Paul goes on full heresiological attack against his rivals there, the so-called “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:5). Whereas he had earlier sought homonoia or unity with these opponents (which meant in many ways that they should agree with him, 1 Cor 4:14–21, 15:1–8), here he attacks them as satanic, seducing the Corinthians just as the serpent led Eve astray (2 Cor 11:2–3, 13–15). While not using the word heresy, Paul demonizes his apostolic with two dominant tropes of Christian heresiology, satanic influence and sexual impurity, while building on ideologies of tradition, apostolic witness, and apocalyptic dualism.

See also: Robert M. Royalty, Jr. The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity (Routledge, 2013; pb. 2015).

By Robert M. Royalty, Jr.
Wabash College
July 2015
I noted the book when it came out a few years ago. And Larry Hurtado has commented recently on the book here.