The Novelties of Early Christianity
This chapter traces the trajectory of early Christianity’s eventual embrace of the new, as articulated in the New Testament. Early sections probe the Gospels, illustrating how difficult it is to trace the word “new” back to the sayings of Jesus himself. Clearer evidence emerges in Paul, though he balances assertions of innovation with appeals to a prior covenant of faith. Other gospel traditions—above all, the Sermon on the Mount—seek to establish the novelty of Jesus’s teaching, a claim that sometimes entails denying earlier precedents for Jesus’s instruction. Going one important step further, the Letter to the Hebrews provides the earliest evidence for supersessionism, when the valorization of innovation is undergirded by a condemnation of the old. But an alternate discourse is also in evidence in texts like the Didache, which speak not of an old/new contrast but a timeless duality between good and evil.
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