Goulder, "A Tale of Two Missions"

a brief review

Valuable insights

Goulder makes a strong case for the seriousness of the dispute between James, Peter et al. on the one hand, and Paul on the other.

Weaknesses

  1. His 25 chapters may be in a logical order, but it is far from clear what that order is.
  2. He writes about a conflict between Peter and Paul. I challenged him on this because it was clearly James who was the leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem, not Peter, as can be seen from e.g. Gal 2:9,12. He replied that he believed we should use the terminology which the group used for itself, quoting "I belong to Cephas" in 1 Cor 1:12. But Paul, who was no impartial observer, was here giving his interpretation of a report he had received from Chloe's people about quarreling in Corinth. Such second-hand testimony cannot be taken as reliable evidence of the name which the Jerusalem Jesus movement used for itself.
  3. Goulder rightly concludes that James and Peter never gave up Judaism. But he follows many commentators in calling them "Jewish Christians". This label is misleading for although they were followers of Jesus, they never accepted Paul's gospel and became Christians. Therefore what Goulder has presented as a dispute among the earliest Christians was in reality a dispute between the followers of Jesus in which one side consisted entirely of loyal Jews, a dispute reflecting nothing less than the birth pangs of a new religion. For within a decade of Paul's death came the publication of Mark's gospel, which shows an articulate member of the other side making a pivotal contribution to the establishment of the new religion we know as "Christianity", which is based on the innovative theology of Paul.

Overall Assessment

This book should be read by everyone who wants to understand the history of the followers of Jesus in the first century. Goulder succeeds in demonstrating the enormous rift between Paul and the very earliest followers of Jesus.