From Jesus to Christianity

by L. Michael White (2004), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

A fascinating summary of the first four generations of storytellers who created the New Testament and Christian faith, the story of the origins and developments of the Christian movement as told by the people who lived it.  White deals with the story as reflecting four generations (a generation is about forty years).

The first generation runs from the death of Jesus to the end of the first Jewish revolt against Rome (70 CE); the second generation runs from 70-110 CE and deals with the changes that took place within the Jewish movement; tensions between the Jesus sect and other Jews begin to emerge; the third generation (110-150) shows the movement breaking away from its Jewish roots and becoming a separate institution; issues of church leadership, relation to the Roman state and regional diversity make up this period; the fourth generation (150-190) sees the Christian movement coming of age socially and intellectually.

This is the generation that sees the first efforts to shape the New Testament canon.  ‘The New Testament is the source for much of our understanding of the development of early Christianity, but it is also a product of the development.’

White writes a fascinating story of that dialogue, probing the implications of the oral traditions that shaped the written form (p 118).  One example:  Paul’s account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26); the account of the Lord’s Supper is about 30 CE, Paul’s letter is about 53 CE, the written form (the gospels) are 70 CE (or later).  Of real value is White’s summary of non-canonical writings that shaped the developing theology of the community of faith (eg 1st Enoch, Gnostic writings, Acts of Paul and Thecla).

A superb read of the origins of our canon and our faith.