Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

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Irish1975
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Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Irish1975 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:04 pm

Discussion in a different thread of the gospel genre led me to research Paul's peculiar, non-genre use of the term to euangelion, which for him is "The Message" that all but defines his distinctive voice and religious genius. I encountered a fascinating article, quoted below, adapted by Steve Mason from his book Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins (https://www.amazon.com/Josephus-Judea-C ... an+origins).
...the singular neuter form euangelion was extremely rare before the NT.... The novelty of Christian usage is unmistakable. The small New Testament library includes 76 occurrences (including the long ending of Mark, at 16:15) of the neuter singular, and nearly all of these (72) include the definite article: to euangelion. Something unusual is happening here, which calls for an explanation. At about the time of the latest New Testament writings (ca. 110 CE), Ignatius of Antioch used the word group 24 times in his very small group of short letters, and 21 of these cases have the distinctive form to euangelion. After Ignatius, Christian authors of the second century continued to use the word group eagerly. Among the Greek fathers Origen, Eusebius, Cyril, Theodoret, John Chrysostom, and the Gregories use euangeli- words hundreds of times each. The pattern is clear. This language is markedly favored by early Christians from the second century and hardly used by anyone else. It was the NT collection that established this usage. The early Christians were not using common language for “good news.”

That in itself is perhaps not surprising, but now we come to the data that really upset the applecart. Within the NT collection, distribution of to euangelion is in no way proportionate. The genuine and disputed letters of Paul, although they occupy somewhat less than a quarter of the NT (about 32,445 of 138,000 words), account for 60 of the 76 occurrences of the neuter singular. Now, Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian writings to have survived, belonging to the first generation after Christ (roughly 30 to 65 CE). The Gospels belong to the next generation, from 35 to 100. Of the non-Pauline material in the NT, Mark is the heaviest user with 8 occurrences (including the long ending), all of these with the article. Thus, Paul (including pseudo-Paul) and Mark together account for fully 67 of 72 occurrences of to euangelion. By contrast Matthew, though most scholars think that its author used Mark as a source, taking over more than 90% of the earlier text and adding about 50%, has only 4 occurrences of this noun. Most surprisingly, although it also used Mark as a source, Luke omits the noun altogether and Acts has it only twice, though this “double work” accounts for nearly half (25) of the NT’s 54 occurrences of the cognate verb euangelizō. John has no trace of the word group in any form, and the hypothetical sayings Gospel Q along with the structurally similar Thomas lack the noun. Hebrews also omits the noun, though it has the verb twice.

In short, then, a triple movement needs explaining: first, why Paul and Mark seized upon the hitherto unused form to euangelion so energetically and programmatically, almost always without qualification; second, why all of the next-generation texts except for Mark drew back and avoided the term (or qualified it if used); finally, why from the third generation onward does to euangelion become a fundamental term of shared Christian discourse?
The entire piece is worth a read (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/mason3.shtml)

Mason goes on to examine some of the features of Paul's proprietary usage of the term. Perhaps his most important observation is that Paul's gospel is not a point of unity, but a point of difference and distinction, between him and other Christian groups at the time, including the James/Peter circle, and the recipients of his Epistle to the Romans. Paul preaches "his gospel of Jesus Christ." Of all the others who write about Jesus--Matthew, Luke, John, Q, Thomas--only Mark shares both Paul's distinctive usage of to euangelion, along with distinctive Pauline themes, including: imminent apocalypse, openness to gentiles, relaxation of purity laws, and a low regard for Peter and James.

The question why the 2nd century church came around to adopt to euangelion as one of the central normative concepts of Christianity, although earlier authors were wary of its Pauline flavor, seems essential if we want to understand the invention of the gospel genre. Is it not the case that the inscription to euangelion kata ___ was simply appended at some late stage by the redactors to the 4 canonical "gospels"? Is this an instance of co-opting Paul's most definitive term in order to distract from his originality in conceiving the Christian idea?

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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:40 pm

Subject: Significance of the Gospel of Thomas if the Canonical Gospels are late?
Irish1975 wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:09 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:34 am
I personally think that Paul's influence has been somewhat overblown, and suspect that at least some gospel texts would/could have been written even if Paul had never existed. In some circles, yes, Paul is paramount. In others, not so much.

ETA: I think that Paul made a big splash in the small pond that was Christianity at the time, but the pond was there both before and after Paul.
Thanks for your observations, especially about the textual evidence. I disagree with you about Paul and the term "gospel," but the issue is large and worth exploring, so I started a new thread.
Irish1975 wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:04 pm
Discussion in a different thread of the gospel genre led me to research Paul's peculiar, non-genre use of the term to euangelion, which for him is "The Message" that all but defines his distinctive voice and religious genius. I encountered a fascinating article, quoted below, adapted by Steve Mason from his book Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins (https://www.amazon.com/Josephus-Judea-C ... an+origins).
...the singular neuter form euangelion was extremely rare before the NT.... The novelty of Christian usage is unmistakable. The small New Testament library includes 76 occurrences (including the long ending of Mark, at 16:15) of the neuter singular, and nearly all of these (72) include the definite article: to euangelion. Something unusual is happening here, which calls for an explanation. At about the time of the latest New Testament writings (ca. 110 CE), Ignatius of Antioch used the word group 24 times in his very small group of short letters, and 21 of these cases have the distinctive form to euangelion. After Ignatius, Christian authors of the second century continued to use the word group eagerly. Among the Greek fathers Origen, Eusebius, Cyril, Theodoret, John Chrysostom, and the Gregories use euangeli- words hundreds of times each. The pattern is clear. This language is markedly favored by early Christians from the second century and hardly used by anyone else. It was the NT collection that established this usage. The early Christians were not using common language for “good news.”

That in itself is perhaps not surprising, but now we come to the data that really upset the applecart. Within the NT collection, distribution of to euangelion is in no way proportionate. The genuine and disputed letters of Paul, although they occupy somewhat less than a quarter of the NT (about 32,445 of 138,000 words), account for 60 of the 76 occurrences of the neuter singular. Now, Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian writings to have survived, belonging to the first generation after Christ (roughly 30 to 65 CE). The Gospels belong to the next generation, from 35 to 100. Of the non-Pauline material in the NT, Mark is the heaviest user with 8 occurrences (including the long ending), all of these with the article. Thus, Paul (including pseudo-Paul) and Mark together account for fully 67 of 72 occurrences of to euangelion. By contrast Matthew, though most scholars think that its author used Mark as a source, taking over more than 90% of the earlier text and adding about 50%, has only 4 occurrences of this noun. Most surprisingly, although it also used Mark as a source, Luke omits the noun altogether and Acts has it only twice, though this “double work” accounts for nearly half (25) of the NT’s 54 occurrences of the cognate verb euangelizō. John has no trace of the word group in any form, and the hypothetical sayings Gospel Q along with the structurally similar Thomas lack the noun. Hebrews also omits the noun, though it has the verb twice.

In short, then, a triple movement needs explaining: first, why Paul and Mark seized upon the hitherto unused form to euangelion so energetically and programmatically, almost always without qualification; second, why all of the next-generation texts except for Mark drew back and avoided the term (or qualified it if used); finally, why from the third generation onward does to euangelion become a fundamental term of shared Christian discourse?
The entire piece is worth a read (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/mason3.shtml)

Mason goes on to examine some of the features of Paul's proprietary usage of the term. Perhaps his most important observation is that Paul's gospel is not a point of unity, but a point of difference and distinction, between him and other Christian groups at the time, including the James/Peter circle, and the recipients of his Epistle to the Romans. Paul preaches "his gospel of Jesus Christ." Of all the others who write about Jesus--Matthew, Luke, John, Q, Thomas--only Mark shares both Paul's distinctive usage of to euangelion, along with distinctive Pauline themes, including: imminent apocalypse, openness to gentiles, relaxation of purity laws, and a low regard for Peter and James.

The question why the 2nd century church came around to adopt to euangelion as one of the central normative concepts of Christianity, although earlier authors were wary of its Pauline flavor, seems essential if we want to understand the invention of the gospel genre. Is it not the case that the inscription to euangelion kata ___ was simply appended at some late stage by the redactors to the 4 canonical "gospels"? Is this an instance of co-opting Paul's most definitive term in order to distract from his originality in conceiving the Christian idea?
I wanted to clarify my point about Paul from that other thread. I was not discussing the origins of the Christian usage of the term "gospel." Rather, I was discussing the origins of the texts (specifically, the genre of those texts) which are now known as gospels, but which may not have been known as gospels right from the start: Papias, for example, called at least one of them logia, while Justin called them memoirs and said that they are also called gospels (if that line is not an interpolation).

In other words, I think it is possible that at least some of the texts which we now know as gospels may have been written even if Paul had never existed. I have no firm opinion on whether they would have been called "gospels" even if Paul had never existed. I acknowledge that the distinctively Christian usage of this term may derive from Paul; that is not the same thing as saying that the gospel genre (no matter what we think of it otherwise) derives from Paul.

It ought to be noted in this connection that "the gospel" both in Mark and in Paul is something that is preached or announced, not something that is written or read. The term does not yet mean a kind of text.
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Irish1975
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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Irish1975 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:36 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:40 pm

I wanted to clarify my point about Paul from that other thread. I was not discussing the origins of the Christian usage of the term "gospel." Rather, I was discussing the origins of the texts (specifically, the genre of those texts) which are now known as gospels, but which may not have been known as gospels right from the start: Papias, for example, called at least one of them logia, while Justin called them memoirs and said that they are also called gospels (if that line is not an interpolation).

In other words, I think it is possible that at least some of the texts which we now know as gospels may have been written even if Paul had never existed. I have no firm opinion on whether they would have been called "gospels" even if Paul had never existed. I acknowledge that the distinctively Christian usage of this term may derive from Paul; that is not the same thing as saying that the gospel genre (no matter what we think of it otherwise) derives from Paul.

It ought to be noted in this connection that "the gospel" both in Mark and in Paul is something that is preached or announced, not something that is written or read. The term does not yet mean a kind of text.
I don't think there was confusion about the two different meanings of "gospel" in the NT. What I still maintain is that there must be a causal story as to why the same word is used to link the two, and why "gospel" becomes so profoundly normative a concept for Christians of all stripes beginning in the 2nd century. The fact that we also have gnostic gospels demonstrates how widespread and multifarious the concept was, well beyond proto-orthodox church circles.

Had Paul never lived, we could perhaps imagine gMark and gThomas (although I do think Mark is a Pauline disciple), but couldn't we imagine gMark as an apocalypse, and gThomas as a Solomonic wisdom treatise? It's really an accident of history that we link these two very different types of texts under the category 'gospel.' A category that I think only makes sense in Paul's wake.

If, as you suggest, the appellation 'gospel' as genre as we know it from the NT comes after both Papias and Justin, then it is late indeed. Much later than the narratives themselves. I find Mason's three questions about the development of the gospel concept to be illuminating.

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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 17, 2018 8:07 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:36 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:40 pm

I wanted to clarify my point about Paul from that other thread. I was not discussing the origins of the Christian usage of the term "gospel." Rather, I was discussing the origins of the texts (specifically, the genre of those texts) which are now known as gospels, but which may not have been known as gospels right from the start: Papias, for example, called at least one of them logia, while Justin called them memoirs and said that they are also called gospels (if that line is not an interpolation).

In other words, I think it is possible that at least some of the texts which we now know as gospels may have been written even if Paul had never existed. I have no firm opinion on whether they would have been called "gospels" even if Paul had never existed. I acknowledge that the distinctively Christian usage of this term may derive from Paul; that is not the same thing as saying that the gospel genre (no matter what we think of it otherwise) derives from Paul.

It ought to be noted in this connection that "the gospel" both in Mark and in Paul is something that is preached or announced, not something that is written or read. The term does not yet mean a kind of text.
I don't think there was confusion about the two different meanings of "gospel" in the NT. What I still maintain is that there must be a causal story as to why the same word is used to link the two, and why "gospel" becomes so profoundly normative a concept for Christians of all stripes beginning in the 2nd century.
I agree these are good questions.
Had Paul never lived, we could perhaps imagine gMark and gThomas (although I do think Mark is a Pauline disciple), but couldn't we imagine gMark as an apocalypse, and gThomas as a Solomonic wisdom treatise? It's really an accident of history that we link these two very different types of texts under the category 'gospel.' A category that I think only makes sense in Paul's wake.
If Paul is directly responsible for the currency of the term "gospel," then perhaps he is also indirectly responsible for both of these works (Thomas and Mark) being brought under the same umbrella. But what if it turns out to be the case that, say, the gospel of Thomas was simply going to be given whatever label Mark (or other previous gospels) had? If Mark was called logia, then people were going to call Thomas logia; if Mark was a memoir, then so too Thomas. It seems to me that something like that has to be the case to some extent, since I doubt anybody would have linked the two writings by type. So they must have been linked by something else, like function.
If, as you suggest, the appellation 'gospel' as genre as we know it from the NT comes after both Papias and Justin, then it is late indeed. Much later than the narratives themselves.
It is logically possible that "gospel" was there just as early as the other names, but was in competition with them, and Papias happened to prefer logia. If "which are called gospels" is not a gloss in Justin, then that seems to be the case for him, at any rate: he himself preferred "memoirs," but he knew of the term "gospels," too. But "gospels" eventually won.

I propose the following trajectory as one to be considered:
  1. Several gospel texts are written (let us say Mark, the Evangelion, and Matthew, at least). They are anonymous and bear no titles (just as the books of the Pentateuch must have originally borne no titles, since their Hebrew titles were/are simply the first words of the book: בראשית = "in the beginning" = Genesis, for example).
  2. People have to have words to describe things, so these texts are soon called different things in different circles: logia and memoirs, for example.
  3. At least one of the texts is called a "gospel," whether earlier or later, and this name catches on, eventually overtaking the other claimants to the point of universality.
  4. By this time, any text which purports to give the words and/or deeds of Jesus, especially as mediated through an apostle or an apostolic figure, is called a gospel by default. Perhaps Thomas was originally called something else. Well, now it is a gospel, end of story.
In this scenario, Paul can be 100% responsible for #3 and retroactively honored by the church with #4 without having any effect whatsoever on #1-2. (I personally tend to think, however, that Mark is based at least partly on Paul.)
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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Jax » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:20 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:40 pm
Subject: Significance of the Gospel of Thomas if the Canonical Gospels are late?
Irish1975 wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:09 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:34 am
I personally think that Paul's influence has been somewhat overblown, and suspect that at least some gospel texts would/could have been written even if Paul had never existed. In some circles, yes, Paul is paramount. In others, not so much.

ETA: I think that Paul made a big splash in the small pond that was Christianity at the time, but the pond was there both before and after Paul.
Thanks for your observations, especially about the textual evidence. I disagree with you about Paul and the term "gospel," but the issue is large and worth exploring, so I started a new thread.
Irish1975 wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:04 pm
Discussion in a different thread of the gospel genre led me to research Paul's peculiar, non-genre use of the term to euangelion, which for him is "The Message" that all but defines his distinctive voice and religious genius. I encountered a fascinating article, quoted below, adapted by Steve Mason from his book Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins (https://www.amazon.com/Josephus-Judea-C ... an+origins).
...the singular neuter form euangelion was extremely rare before the NT.... The novelty of Christian usage is unmistakable. The small New Testament library includes 76 occurrences (including the long ending of Mark, at 16:15) of the neuter singular, and nearly all of these (72) include the definite article: to euangelion. Something unusual is happening here, which calls for an explanation. At about the time of the latest New Testament writings (ca. 110 CE), Ignatius of Antioch used the word group 24 times in his very small group of short letters, and 21 of these cases have the distinctive form to euangelion. After Ignatius, Christian authors of the second century continued to use the word group eagerly. Among the Greek fathers Origen, Eusebius, Cyril, Theodoret, John Chrysostom, and the Gregories use euangeli- words hundreds of times each. The pattern is clear. This language is markedly favored by early Christians from the second century and hardly used by anyone else. It was the NT collection that established this usage. The early Christians were not using common language for “good news.”

That in itself is perhaps not surprising, but now we come to the data that really upset the applecart. Within the NT collection, distribution of to euangelion is in no way proportionate. The genuine and disputed letters of Paul, although they occupy somewhat less than a quarter of the NT (about 32,445 of 138,000 words), account for 60 of the 76 occurrences of the neuter singular. Now, Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian writings to have survived, belonging to the first generation after Christ (roughly 30 to 65 CE). The Gospels belong to the next generation, from 35 to 100. Of the non-Pauline material in the NT, Mark is the heaviest user with 8 occurrences (including the long ending), all of these with the article. Thus, Paul (including pseudo-Paul) and Mark together account for fully 67 of 72 occurrences of to euangelion. By contrast Matthew, though most scholars think that its author used Mark as a source, taking over more than 90% of the earlier text and adding about 50%, has only 4 occurrences of this noun. Most surprisingly, although it also used Mark as a source, Luke omits the noun altogether and Acts has it only twice, though this “double work” accounts for nearly half (25) of the NT’s 54 occurrences of the cognate verb euangelizō. John has no trace of the word group in any form, and the hypothetical sayings Gospel Q along with the structurally similar Thomas lack the noun. Hebrews also omits the noun, though it has the verb twice.

In short, then, a triple movement needs explaining: first, why Paul and Mark seized upon the hitherto unused form to euangelion so energetically and programmatically, almost always without qualification; second, why all of the next-generation texts except for Mark drew back and avoided the term (or qualified it if used); finally, why from the third generation onward does to euangelion become a fundamental term of shared Christian discourse?
The entire piece is worth a read (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/mason3.shtml)

Mason goes on to examine some of the features of Paul's proprietary usage of the term. Perhaps his most important observation is that Paul's gospel is not a point of unity, but a point of difference and distinction, between him and other Christian groups at the time, including the James/Peter circle, and the recipients of his Epistle to the Romans. Paul preaches "his gospel of Jesus Christ." Of all the others who write about Jesus--Matthew, Luke, John, Q, Thomas--only Mark shares both Paul's distinctive usage of to euangelion, along with distinctive Pauline themes, including: imminent apocalypse, openness to gentiles, relaxation of purity laws, and a low regard for Peter and James.

The question why the 2nd century church came around to adopt to euangelion as one of the central normative concepts of Christianity, although earlier authors were wary of its Pauline flavor, seems essential if we want to understand the invention of the gospel genre. Is it not the case that the inscription to euangelion kata ___ was simply appended at some late stage by the redactors to the 4 canonical "gospels"? Is this an instance of co-opting Paul's most definitive term in order to distract from his originality in conceiving the Christian idea?
I wanted to clarify my point about Paul from that other thread. I was not discussing the origins of the Christian usage of the term "gospel." Rather, I was discussing the origins of the texts (specifically, the genre of those texts) which are now known as gospels, but which may not have been known as gospels right from the start: Papias, for example, called at least one of them logia, while Justin called them memoirs and said that they are also called gospels (if that line is not an interpolation).

In other words, I think it is possible that at least some of the texts which we now know as gospels may have been written even if Paul had never existed. I have no firm opinion on whether they would have been called "gospels" even if Paul had never existed. I acknowledge that the distinctively Christian usage of this term may derive from Paul; that is not the same thing as saying that the gospel genre (no matter what we think of it otherwise) derives from Paul.

It ought to be noted in this connection that "the gospel" both in Mark and in Paul is something that is preached or announced, not something that is written or read. The term does not yet mean a kind of text.
Do you then feel that euangelion is better translated as announcement in Paul's letters as the linked article has it?

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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:29 pm

Jax wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:20 pm
Do you then feel that euangelion is better translated as announcement in Paul's letters as the linked article has it?
It probably is, yes. I myself rarely indulge in those kinds of "retranslations," preferring instead to use the traditional terms and adjust the meaning in my mind rather than adjusting the word (there are exceptions, though). But I completely understand the urge to use an English word which better maps with the original Greek word, and "announcement" probably does so better than "gospel," which carries a lot of baggage for many people.
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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Jax » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:56 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:29 pm
Jax wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:20 pm
Do you then feel that euangelion is better translated as announcement in Paul's letters as the linked article has it?
It probably is, yes. I myself rarely indulge in those kinds of "retranslations," preferring instead to use the traditional terms and adjust the meaning in my mind rather than adjusting the word (there are exceptions, though). But I completely understand the urge to use an English word which better maps with the original Greek word, and "announcement" probably does so better than "gospel," which carries a lot of baggage for many people.
Thank you for your response. I really respect your opinion.

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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Jax » Sat Oct 27, 2018 1:00 pm

^ Only have internet on my phone now which is why my conversations are so short and to the point.

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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Oct 27, 2018 1:16 pm

Thanks. No problem. :)
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Re: Paul's proprietary invention of "the gospel"

Post by Jax » Sun Oct 28, 2018 2:51 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 1:16 pm
Thanks. No problem. :)
:thumbup: :)

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