Barry Newman's Blog

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.

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