Cultural Conformity And Innovation In Paul: Some Clues From Contemporary Documents -- By: E. A. Judge

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 35:1 (NA 1984)
Article: Cultural Conformity And Innovation In Paul: Some Clues From Contemporary Documents
Author: E. A. Judge

Cultural Conformity And Innovation In Paul: Some Clues From Contemporary Documents*

E. A. Judge

* The British Council, through its Academic Links and Interchange Scheme, supported my visit to Britain to deliver this lecture and to develop the connections formed in recent years between British scholars and the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre at Macquarie University. I am grateful to Professor C. K. Barrett and others for criticism at the Centre’s professional development seminar on 8 April, 1983.


The social attitudes of the first believers in Christ pose a dilemma for Marxism. Marx took over from Feuerbach the explanation of religion as an ideological projection of man’s alienation. It offered an imaginary resolution of the social contradictions experienced in practice. Adopting a conceit from the poets of German romanticism, Marx spoke of religion as the opium of the people. But he later sharpened this slogan to specify that it was opium for the people. It was a device by which property-owners might induce those they exploited not to do anything about it.1

But how did one then explain the first believers in Christ? Since Marxist theory took them all to be ‘proletarians’ practising ‘communism’, why should they have resorted to the illusion that would then be used to reassert the established order over them? Engels eventually saved the theory by abandoning the search for explanation altogether. Jesus had not even existed (nor

the primitive ‘communism’). The gospel was a development from Hellenistic thought in the second century.2

It fell however to Karl Kautsky, who had once been Engels’ secretary, to produce (in 1908) the classic Marxist analysis of the problem. In terms of production the first believers were no true proletarians after all. They were rather consumers, and their ‘communism’ meant sharing in other people’s bounty. You could not therefore expect them to have led the revolution. The practice of charity only created the dictatorship of the benefactors it had raised up as masters within the community.3

The problem of the ‘communism’ of the primitive apostolic community has consequently been discounted by G. E. M. de Ste Croix.4 He claims that his new work is the first in English, or in any other language that he can read, ‘which begins by explaining the central features of Marx’s historical method and defining the concepts and ca...

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