Inventing Christian Identity: Paul, Ignatius, Theodosius I (dr. Anders Runesson, Mcmaster University)

Since you are reading this blog carefully, you are most probably a thoughtful and well-read Christian interested in Jewish Background of New Testament and multitude of related issues. If that is the case, I know that you will enjoy this article by my friend Dr. Anders Runesson. It explores the dynamic of early Apostolic Judaism among other issues, setting forward some crucial and critical terminological trajectories that are necessary to grasp how it all began, as well as how and why Christianity developed as it did into a religion that defined itself as being outside Judaism. So, get ready to engage in some significant historical and theological reflection. Click here to start – Inventing Christian Identity. If you want to read more go to Dr. Runesson’s website. It can be found here.

The following is Dr. Anders Runesson bio written by him.

I was born in the coastal town of Åhus in Sweden in 1968. Between high school and university I enrolled in a one-year program on the economies of the two-thirds world and global trade, politics, and culture at Jämshögs folkhögskola, including travel and study in India. Among other things, I also worked one year as a teaching assistant in the village of Kidugala in south-western Tanzania (1987-1988).

At Lund University, where I began my undergraduate education in 1989, I earned a B.A. (Jewish Studies, 1995), an M.Div. (1995), an M.A. (Religious Studies, 1996), a Licentiate (New Testament Exegesis, 1997; thesis: The Judgment According to Matthew), and a Ph.D. (New Testament Exegesis, 2001; thesis: The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study).

My undergraduate and graduate studies focused on the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible and early Judaism (including rabbinics), with special attention to intra- and inter religious relations. I have worked with theological themes as well as with socio-historical analysis, and my research on the ancient synagogue also led me to archaeology and the study of inscriptions and papyri.

Obviously, such academic interests relate closely to the Middle East and, especially, Jerusalem. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to spend some time there studying, teaching, and researching. In 1990 I took part in the excavations at Tel Yisreel, and my undergraduate years also included one semester of study at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem (1993). I returned to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 1999 for work related to my doctoral thesis on ancient synagogues.

Later, in 2003, I co-taught a course on religious dialogue (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) at Lund University, which included a field trip to Jerusalem and the Swedish Theological institute. In 2009-2010 I was a visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University during a research leave from McMaster University.

I have always been interested in learning about life from cultures around the globe. In addition to academic historical and theological studies, I have travelled (independently) in more than 40 countries in Asia, Africa, North and Central America, the Middle East, and Europe. This has meant encounters with a wide variety of religious traditions, which have influenced my understanding of inter-religious relations as well as deepened my reflection on the relationship between society and academia. I am an ordained pastor in the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), which means I also have an active interest in relating what I have encountered and learned to church life and (contextual) theology, as well as to contemporary religious dialogue and theologies of religion.

Many of my journeys around the globe I have made together with my wife Anna, and some of them also with our three children. In 2003 I was appointed to the faculty at McMaster University, the Department of Religious Studies, and we moved to Canada the same year.

I specialize in New Testament studies and early Judaism, and supervise students on all levels within these fields: from 4th-year undergraduate honours theses to M.A. and Ph.D. theses. My teaching on both undergraduate and graduate levels include a range of traditional topics, such as the historical Jesus, the Gospels, and Paul and Christian Origins, as well as more specialized courses on, e.g., inter-religious relations in antiquity, and the synagogue as the birthplace of two world religions.

I currently work on several projects, including a book on the Gospel of Matthew entitled Judgment as Good News: Rethinking Divine Wrath in Matthew’s Gospel (with Fortress, scheduled for 2013) as well as a book on Paul as a first-century Jew who never revoked his Jewish identity (co-authored with Mark Nanos, Rockhurst University).

On a private note, I enjoy long-distance running (Marathons, half-Marathons, and, especially, the oldest road race in North America: the annual 30K Around the Bay in Hamilton) and, more generally, the great outdoors: everything from the sandy beaches where I was born and grew up, to mountains, deserts, and forests, from the Rockies to the Middle East, from the Himalayas to Dundas Conservation Area and the Hamilton Waterfront Trail.


About the author

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  1. Kat

    Again the articles on this site have been extremely helpful. The language discussions I have heard in the West on Judaism is similar to discussions I hear on “defining a person” — the position is opposite however. Many Western churches use words like “born again” Christ, church, believe to define a spiritual person. This makes me “born again” without a fertilized seed (parable of the seeds) 🙂

  2. Chris Haven

    I really enjoyed and learned much from the monograph. However, after reading it I am still left with uncertainty as to what it all means for the Christianity that exists today and those of us who, for better or worse, are part of it. Apostolic Judaism is gone. The “Christianoi” are gone. Proto-Christianity is gone. So we are now 4 steps removed from, for lack of a better term, the “pure religion” of the first century. I am not sure what to make of that as a Western, 21 century, gentile follower of the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the nations.

  3. RamonAntonio

    I adhere to his analysis process completely and am most surprised by his extremely tacit stance that Rabbinic Judaism developed almost 150 years AFTER Jesus lived and Christianity was more organized as a religious organization or creed. That’s precisely what I have been trying to tell my fellow Catholic brothers for years specially to priests and preachers.
    I applaud the vision of this article and truly expect more to come. Only by carefully rendering a space time presentation of Christianity and Judaism we will be able to reconstruct the original process that constitutes the foundation of these what we deem religions now.
    I recommend the author to expand his search in recent studies in the areas of Origin of Stories by Boyd, The First Word, and Rabby James Kohn. All of these point in some way or other to a rather complex development of the structures of cognition that support the structure of those religions.
    But then all comes to Jesus Himself and to His direct causation of events directly by Him and by the Holy Spirit. Somewhere along the line, we will have to start talking of an objective posibility that gives real presence to a supernatural insertion and causation within this historical developments. Then, when we are prepared to sustain a scholar position based in the actuations of God within history of the human creature, we will then begin to sense the extraordinary complexity of trying to explain that God is in fact responsible for the construction of his own religions and that He somehow intended that to happen that way. Only this extraordinary proposal explains the inconsistencies that evolution and cultural developments and crisis can’t explain.
    A joy to read, a pleasure to ponder and an immense expectancy of what’s to come…

  4. Michael Strauss

    I have found over many years of study that when I am perplexed by scripture obtaining from NT books other than the Gospels, that the Gospels are always clarifying. The pure information ascribed to Jesus (Son of God) is the source, and other NT books are the application (socialization) of what others (humans) thought Jesus taught.

    1. PF

      I agree that our spirituality should center on the Gospels, however the Gospel writers themselves were selective about what they included. The other books of the NT are no less Divinely-inspired.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Thanks, Paul for your comment and welcome to our study group! Dr. Eli

  5. David W

    Thanks, the article helped me to understand how they identified themselves. However, Jewish followers of Jesus even in Apostolic times must’ve considered themselves quite different than ordinary Jews. They probably felt more like outcasts or missionaries though living in their homeland – just my opinion. I would like to know more about how practices changed very early on even in the 1st century – like Passover becoming Easter and the Lord’s Supper – they purposely threw out all Jewish reference and character.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think the opposite :-). I think they were like the prophets of the Old Testament no less Israelite, and in that sense no less Jewish.

  6. Janet Henriksen

    Though long, it is well researched. I note his finding that, “Historically, however, the Apostolic Jewish “religion” of that Gospel displays few or no connections with what later developed into proto-Christianity, even less so with
    modern Christianity.”

    As to Ignatius it’s possible he was one of the ones the Apostles (including Paul) warned of, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;” (2Timothy 4:1-3) And Peter, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” (2Peter 2:1-2)

    But John’s warning is most sobering,”Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1John 4:1-3)

    If, as Anders Runesson writes, Ignatious was not wholly apostolic (his belief having nothing to do with Judaism) and Theodosius’ “edict.. that Nicene Christianity was to be the religion of the empire to the exclusion of all other forms of “religion,” including other forms of Christianity, was indeed a crucial step in the development of Christian social and political identity”,
    then, where does that leave sincere followers of the Jew who was called Christ? Historically it left a few to be persecuted. The political emergence of “Nicean Christianity” had huge consequences, but the servants of Christ were warned about where it would go and also the consequent persecution in Revelation (ch 12).

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      For a scholarly article his piece is not long at all :-).

  7. Kat Hobaugh

    This was a lot for me to take in, but I know somehow I have experienced an identity problem. I committed to keeping The Ten Commandments (nothing more) as a child. I prayed to God. I didn’t go to church. The problem I have, or image to have, are words to describe God’s hand in my life from the time I prayed “save me” until the time I heard the gospel. I can’t start as a believer and look forward to all God has done in my life. I have to look back, before Jesus, to know God didn’t mess up and I accidently stumbled upon salvation.

  8. Michael Strauss

    Dr. Runneson’s explanation of Ignatius as a bridge from Paul to Theodosius is well done. Also, his explanation that Rabbinic Judaism’s development was a [defense] to Imperial Christianity in the 4th century is very enlightening, and underscores Dr. Eli’s position that Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity are both children of ancient Judaism. Very interesting read.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Michael, many people before me have suggested the same, I am but their humble pupil. Prof. Boyarin points out that from Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, Christianity is the older of the siblings, Judaism being the younger.