Barry Newman's Blog

December 8, 2011

The Agape (Feast) {Full Series PDF}

Filed under: Agape meals,Christian Community Meals,Love Feasts — barrynewman @ 8:14 pm

Here is the full series


December 7, 2011

The Agape [Feasts] (part IX)

Filed under: Agape meals,Christian Community Meals,Love Feasts — barrynewman @ 9:12 pm

Concluding Remarks

Whatever conclusions we come to about what Jude intended to mean in v. 12 we should be careful not to claim too much for what seems to have been a fairly regular meal held at some place or another, in which some believers and some others took part.  Appealing to later writings in order to elucidate the character of these meals is not at all helpful.  It is likely only to be misleading.

The temptation however has been to read back into the earlier text, a temptation succumbed to by many. The oddity of Jude using “agapais” without an accompanying noun needs to be recognised as a feature of Jude and attempts to understand what Jude is doing need to be made without appealing to later writings.  While this oddity serves to indicate an historical connection between the “agapais” of Jude and the “love feasts” of post New Testament writings, it needs to be recognised and understood without appeal to that material.

As just one example of where our temptations have lead us, Bauckham, for all that is worthy in his commentary, surely says far too much when he writes with respect to, “en tais agapais humon”, “This is the earliest occurrence of the term “agape” in the sense of Christian fellowship meals”[1].  Jude is obviously making a reference to some meals in which believers and others, for which the term, “believers” seems utterly inappropriate, participated, but to what extent these meals are to be identified as “fellowship” meals is highly problematic.  There is no evidence that at these meals, there was the fellowship (koinonia) spoken of in Acts 2: 42. To the contrary, while “feasting” characterised the meals that Jude refers to, the very early believers simply “broke bread”.[2] Unfortunately, Bauckham compounds the problem as he continues, writing in the same place, “It is equivalent to the … term “the Lord’s Supper”.   “The Lord’s Supper”!?  How extraordinary! But that leads us to another story.  And one already partly told elsewhere.

[1]  ibid., p. 84.

[2] See an earlier blog series, entitled, “They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread”.

December 5, 2011

The Agape [Feasts] (part VIII)

Filed under: Agape meals,Christian Community Meals,Love Feasts — barrynewman @ 8:18 pm

Jude 12 and the Early Christian Writings

The one clear thing that connects this text with the writings of the early Fathers etc. is the use of “agape” on its own rather than “agape” linked with a noun.  For example, Ignatius simply refers to “agapen”. Tertullian contrasts “the Greek name of love” with the Latin, “coena” [dinner].  The Epistle of the Apostles refers to “agape” only.  Clement of Alexandria has only to refer to “agape”.  The use of “agape” in these and other texts, in isolation from another noun seems a reasonably clear indication that the Jude 12 text lies behind what came to be the common way of referring to the love meal/dinner/feast of the Christians.  As Stauffer claims (see above), “agape” (in either singular or plural form), in certain contexts, came to have a technical usage.

What cannot be established is that these “love-feasts” mentioned post New Testament carry the same meaning that Jude intended when he wrote “en tais agapais”.  If the proposition is correct that Jude is using irony or even sarcasm, the writers in many or most instances would surely want to have distanced themselves from what Jude was intending to convey anyway!

What did these later writers and those whom they wrote about understand by the use of the word, “agape” in the technical sense of “agape feasts”?  Was it understood by some as encompassing love for the poor?  There are references in the early christian texts to food being distributed to the poor in association with meals enjoyed by believers. (See the Tertullian text above and its reference to helping the needy).  Of course, there is no hint in Jude 12 that the poor are in mind. Was it love for one another that was dominant in their understanding of “love” in the “agape” meals of the post New Testament era? Was there much love displayed? Was it God’s love for them or their love for God that was uppermost in their thinking?  Or in some instances was the “agape” meal seen as simply an enjoyable social event? Surely the answers to these questions would vary depending on the particular meal.

Whatever was meant by the “agape” meals in the post New Testament writings it is arguable that Jude 12 ostensibly had a focus on the love that believers were to have towards one another, a love arising out of an appreciation of God’s love for them.  The problem was that genuine brotherly love was not the dominant feature of the meals to which Jude referred.

It is simply not possible to ascertain how the the “agape” meals of the early post New Testament christians reflected anything of the meals referred to in Jude.  One small part of the reality may be that while the post New Testament meals seem to have had a certain formality about them, the “agape” meals that Jude refers to may have had little formality or structure to them at all.  We cannot know one way or another.

December 4, 2011

The Agape [Feasts] (part VII)

Filed under: Agape meals,Christian Community Meals,Love Feasts — barrynewman @ 12:53 am

                    The Agape of Jude 12

Thus Jude 12a could be rendered in an expanded paraphrase: “These are the ones, in your so-called loving events, who should be recognised by you as dangerous shoals able to make shipwreck of your faith, feasting with one another, without any regard for you or for God, simply feeding themselves, satisfying their own sensuous desires.”

In this text what type of “agape” does Jude have in mind – the “agape” their meals should have displayed? There are seven uses of an “agape” or related term in the letter.  The recipients are described as loved (agapemenois) by/in God (v. 1).  Three times Jude uses the adjective “agapetos” (vv. 3, 17, 20) in addressing them, either a reference again to God’s love for them or Jude’s loving disposition towards them or both.  Three times the noun “agape” is used (vv. 2, 12, 21).  The first and last references relate to the love of or from God.  With so much emphasis on God’s love for them one might expect that in v 12, the reference again has to be in terms of that same love – God’s love.  Yet such an understanding at first glance, does not seem to fit the context.  Perhaps this is an additional feature that Jude has used to indicate that his reference to “agape” in v. 12 is ironic or even sarcastic.  The love that God has for them is uppermost in his thinking and perhaps his perspective is that the “agape” that is the subject of verse 12 should have been characterised by an appreciation of that love perhaps with the concomitant result that they genuinely deeply loved one another.  To the contrary, each individual member of a significant group, in a corrupt way, “loved” himself or herself immensely. The “agape” events are simply so-called “agape” events but holistically they are not the real thing! Overall, the events do not display an appreciation of God’s love for the participants nor do they display what should have followed – a genuine deep seated love for one another.

December 1, 2011

The Agape [Feasts] (part VI)

Filed under: Agape meals,Christian Community Meals,Love Feasts — barrynewman @ 10:48 pm

                         Translating “Agapais” as Loves?

One supposes that the main reason for not translating “agapais” as “loves” is that as such it would not make sense in English!  Perhaps we need to propose however, that “agapais”, appearing in isolation as it does in the Greek, is an oddity even from a Greek point of view. And if this is so, what are we to make of this oddity?

Perhaps, Jude was simply being subtle. Throughout the letter his language is extravagant in character, verse 12 being no exception. And even if “euochia” or something similar is to be assumed, Jude could be indicating that behind their “loves” there was not all that much love, not the love of which God would approve.  What is being proposed here is that by simply referring to “agape” without explicitly mentioning “feast” or “dinner” or “banquet” Jude is highlighting that their “agape” was a so-called “agape” but not in reality an “agape” event.  It seems to be more faithful to the text to not refer to “agapais” as “love feasts” but to restrict the translation to something akin to simply “loves” or, to make a little more sense, something like “love events”. At least “love events” allows for something more to be said about these events.  The heading for this blog series, “The Agape [Feasts]” acknowledges that the common reference is to “the agape feasts” but it is intended by the use of the parentheses to cast some doubt on the appropriateness of introducing the term “feasts”.  It is arguable that by not introducing the word, “feasts” we are more able to see what Jude is actually trying to do at this point in his letter.

It is suggested here that Jude’s subtlety amounts to his using a form of irony or even sarcasm.  Either the number of people, whose character and behaviour are so scathingly outlined, is not small or if they are few in number their presence and the effect of their presence is quite marked.  It is not that everyone at these meals is behaving improperly it is simply that the improper behaviour is dominant.  Consequently, these “agape” events, as a whole are themselves called into question as to whether they really are “agape”.  “Agape” might be what they these events were supposed to be but overwhelmingly they were not.  They can only be referred to ironically or even sarcastically as “agape”. If the Greek had been written as, “agapais feasts” then there would be no suggestion of irony or sarcasm.  The absence of a noun accompanying “agapais” creates an oddity – an oddity which can be understood as a device for conveying such as irony or sarcasm.

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