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Jew Gentile Jew

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The gospel comes to the Jews first. When they resist, Paul turns to the Gentiles. But he hopes to provoke the Jews to jealousy by his ministry among the Gentiles, so that in the end Jews would be saved along with Gentiles. The gospel moves from Jew to Gentile and back to Jew.

The NT canon, arguably, does something similar. The gospels describe Jesus' work in Israel, with the occasional contact with Gentiles. Acts begins in Jerusalem, but ends with Paul turning from the Roman Jews to Gentiles. Turn the page, and Paul is writing to Christians in Rome, a neat epistolary continuation of Acts. His letters are mainly addressed to Christians in Gentile areas, and to what are partly (if not predominantly) Gentile churches. If Hebrews is Pauline, it marks a shift in focus, a canonical replication of Paul's argument in Romans 9-11. (Hebrews makes a neat numerological conclusion to a Pauline corpus - 14 letters.)

The Catholic epistles continue the trend of Hebrews, epistles to Jewish believers. James addresses the "twelve tribes dispersed abroad" (1:1). This does not, I've argued elsewhere, refer to the diaspora of Jews in general, but specifically to the diaspora of Christian Jews following the outbreak of persecution (see Acts 8:1ff, with its diaspora language). Regardless, James is writing to Jews. Peter appears to do the same, addressing the "scattered" ("diaspora") believers who have been scattered from Jerusalem (1 Peter 1:1). If 2 Peter is addressed to the same audience as 1 Peter, which seems clear, then 2 Peter is also addressed to these Jewish Christian aliens (assuming, of course, I'm right about the interpretation of "dispersed").

I've been working with 1-3 John recently on the assumption that he is addressing late Judaizing secessionists. If that is right, it fits the canonical paradigm I'm suggesting. (See more on this in my posts on Cerinthus and Ignatius.)

I'm not sure about Jude.

Revelation is the capstone, a final letter from Jesus to His people in Jerusalem. There is a numerological thing going here too. Seven "Catholic" (or perhaps "General Hebraic") epistles, then the seven letters to the churches of Asia minor, and the "eighth" letter in Revelation, the really big long letter, is sent to the Harlot Jerusalem as a warning of her impending doom. Along the way, thousands of Jews turn to Jesus, and the final vision shows a new creation emerging from the destruction of the great city.

Thus I suggest this narrative and redemptive-historical logic for the organization of the NT canon: Gospel/Jew, to Pauline/Gentile (14?), to General/Jew (7), capped by the letter of Jesus in Revelation.

posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, June 09, 2007 at 09:56 AM

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