Exploring the Complexity of Identities and Boundaries within the New Testament World

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Theologies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2023) | Viewed by 10582

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department New Testament Studies, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven, 3001 Leuven, Belgium
Interests: memory; intertextuality; Jewish background; Corinthian letters; Pauline studies; imitation; Ignatius of Antioch

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Guest Editor
Department New Testament Studies, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven, 3001 Leuven, Belgium
Interests: Social Scientific Biblical Exegesis; Social Identity in the New Testament; Hermeneutics; John’s Gospel; Pauline Studies

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

It is with great pleasure that we invite you to contribute a paper to this Special Issue focused on exploring the complexity of identity and boundaries in the New Testament against the background of the Graeco-Roman world.

In recent years, several volumes have appeared that make use of Social Identity Theory (from hereon, SIT) as a heuristic lens to explain in new ways how early Christians constructed their social identity and also the boundaries of their group. In this regard, one can point to the original work of Philip Esler, who in the mid-1990s presented a paper at the British New Testament Society making use of SIT applied to Matthew. As a heuristic lens, it opened up a whole array of fresh questions and new insights. In 2014, Brian J. Tucker led an edited book project which culminated in the T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament, in which all books of the New Testament were treated from a specific thematic or exegetical angle, making use of SIT. Some years later (2019), another comprehensive volume appeared under the editorship of Brian J. Tucker and Aaron Kuecker under the title The T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament, published with Bloomsbury. In this book, different specialists conducted detailed commentary on each New Testament book and made use of SIT. Currently, several scholars are writing full commentaries on each Bible book making use of SIT. In this context, the exploration of social identity theory is an ongoing and highly relevant field of research.

Over time, certain challenging themes and questions started to emerge. One such theme deals with the complexity of ancient identity. For instance, how does one explain what Brian Tucker described as “the continuation of existing identities” and “the nested social dilemma” (see Tucker 2014:407ff). In the past, scholars have spoken of early Christian identity as simply superseding previous identities. The reality is not so simple, however, and is much more complex in nature. Identities mostly continue and are nested. Thus, this problem needs to be further investigated, namely, how ancient Christian identities intersect, dominate, merge, or are compartmentalized. In this regard, J. Kok (2014) expanded the theory used in New Testament Studies by pointing to Roccas and Brewer’s Social Identity Complexity Theory (henceforth, SICT) to better explain on a sound theoretical level how early Christian authors might have envisioned such layered, nested, or compartmentalized identities (see J. Kok, Social Identity Complexity Theory as heuristic tool in New Testament Studies).

In this Special Issue, we want to reflect further on the complexity of early Christian identity against the background of the Graeco-Roman world, and also make use of the aforementioned approaches in new and innovative ways. In the works of Tucker et al. mentioned above, the reader will find the theoretical basis needed for a submission to this journal. Furthermore, these works also show how the continuation of an existing identity constitutes a current gap in the research, which we want to identify and investigate further by engaging with Roccas and Brewer’s SICT (e.g., via Kok’s article in dialogue with the work of Tucker et al). We also welcome approaches that draw on other social theories such as ethnicity theory, memory theory, ritual theory, etc. For those wanting to make contributions to the overall theoretical approach to such studies, we ask you to consult the T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament and the T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament. Please see the chapters by Aaron Kuecker and A. Sue Russell, especially, in the Social Identity Handbook and SIT Commentary on the New Testament.

The aim of this volume can be described as “reflecting on the complexity of the continuation of existing identity(s) and boundaries in the New Testament against the Graeco-Roman world, drawing on insights from Social Identity Theory and related theoretical approaches.” The scope is the New Testament and related literature up to the second century A.D.

In this Special Issue, original research articles and reviews are both welcome. All articles should relate to texts within the New Testament, but may include other related texts from antiquity that help us to better understand the New Testament.

We request that, prior to submitting a manuscript, interested authors initially submit a proposed title and an abstract of 400–600 words summarizing their intended contribution and their most prominent sources. Please send it to the Guest Editors (drake.williams@etf.edu and kobus.kok@etf.edu) and also to the Religions editorial office (religions@mdpi.com). Abstracts will be reviewed by the Guest Editors for the purposes of ensuring proper fit within the scope of the Special Issue. Full manuscripts will undergo a double-blind peer review process.

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

Dr. H. H. Drake Williams III
Prof. Dr. Jacobus (Kobus) Kok
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Insiders
  • Outsiders
  • Identity
  • Boundaries
  • Social Identity Theory
  • Self-Categorization Theory
  • Social Identity Complexity Theory
  • New Testament
  • Early Church
  • Paragon
  • Prototype

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

21 pages, 548 KiB  
Article
Negotiating Complexity within the Dialectical and Cosmopolitan Johannine Situation
by Paul N. Anderson
Religions 2024, 15(6), 633; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15060633 - 21 May 2024
Viewed by 602
Abstract
While understandings of Johannine Christianity have been many and varied, single-issue analyses no longer suffice. Things were more complex than simply inferring that synagogue-Johannine tensions, pneumatizing Gnostics, heretical secessionists, or Petrine ecclesiasts was the lone issue. Nor is a two-level reading of the [...] Read more.
While understandings of Johannine Christianity have been many and varied, single-issue analyses no longer suffice. Things were more complex than simply inferring that synagogue-Johannine tensions, pneumatizing Gnostics, heretical secessionists, or Petrine ecclesiasts was the lone issue. Nor is a two-level reading of the Johannine narrative plausible, as there is no evidence of alien material underlying John’s story of Jesus. Thus, the early, middle, and later phases of the Johannine tradition must be taken into consideration, as an autonomous memory of Jesus is best seen as developing in a first edition, which was finalized later by the Johannine Elder after writing the Epistles. Within that perspective, Social Identity Complexity Theory is well applied as a means of understanding a number of partners in dialogue within the Johannine Situation, including the stances of Jesus remembered by the Fourth Evangelist and Johannine Elder, who addressed no fewer than seven crises over seven decades within the cosmopolitan Johannine Situation. Full article
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12 pages, 2570 KiB  
Article
Group Formative Processes in 2 Cor 6:14–7:1
by Gijsbert van Appeldoorn
Religions 2024, 15(5), 538; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15050538 - 26 Apr 2024
Viewed by 620
Abstract
This article offers a fresh interpretation of the intended impact of 2 Cor 6:14–7:1 on the group formation of the Corinthian Christ community. To achieve this interpretation, it will first determine the most likely social reference of the term οἱ ἄπιστοι. Secondly, it [...] Read more.
This article offers a fresh interpretation of the intended impact of 2 Cor 6:14–7:1 on the group formation of the Corinthian Christ community. To achieve this interpretation, it will first determine the most likely social reference of the term οἱ ἄπιστοι. Secondly, it will describe a methodological tool from the Social Identity Approach that will help to visualise how groups are formed and reformed when the context changes. Finally, it will apply this tool to determine how 2 Cor 6:14–7:1 affected the boundaries of the Christ community in Corinth. Full article
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8 pages, 3580 KiB  
Article
Space and Sonship: Paul’s Familial Metaphors in Rom 8
by Annette Potgieter
Religions 2024, 15(3), 378; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030378 - 21 Mar 2024
Viewed by 604
Abstract
Paul often uses metaphors as a method of persuasion. In Rom 8, Paul’s use of kinship metaphors such as “sonship” and being “heirs” is particularly ubiquitous. Paul writes to an audience situated in Rome where they would have been well aware of kinship [...] Read more.
Paul often uses metaphors as a method of persuasion. In Rom 8, Paul’s use of kinship metaphors such as “sonship” and being “heirs” is particularly ubiquitous. Paul writes to an audience situated in Rome where they would have been well aware of kinship metaphors as this inter alia formed part of the Julio-Claudio Caesars’ vocabulary and legitimation of their rule. Paul’s familial metaphors would have resonated with an audience in Rome au fait with the notion of adoption and its implications. The use of the images of “sonship” and “heir” also function as spatial metaphors indicating a vertical and horizontal understanding which the audience would have picked up on. The spatial metaphors contribute to an understanding of “in” and “out”, underscoring an alternative family identity found in Christ. These metaphors play a role in the formation and construction of what is later to be called early Christianity. Full article
17 pages, 347 KiB  
Article
Recalibrating Christian Ethics at Corinth: Paul’s Use of Jesus the Prototype and Collective Remembrance to Provide Spiritual Guidance on Weaker Brothers and Food Offered to Idols
by H. H. Drake Williams III
Religions 2024, 15(3), 316; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030316 - 4 Mar 2024
Viewed by 832
Abstract
Social identity theory has provided a fresh lens that can be used to look at Paul’s letters. Prototypes provide a helpful means to examine social identity and ethics in communities, as suggested by Warren Carter. In 1 Corinthians, Jesus Christ is presented as [...] Read more.
Social identity theory has provided a fresh lens that can be used to look at Paul’s letters. Prototypes provide a helpful means to examine social identity and ethics in communities, as suggested by Warren Carter. In 1 Corinthians, Jesus Christ is presented as a prototype, although the Corinthians did not meet him. Collective memory theory has also provided a means to look at recollections of the person of Jesus recorded in the New Testament. While the number of recollections of Jesus that his recipients had is still open to question, this study finds Bauckham’s approach to the memory of Jesus in Paul to be the most sustainable. Studies by Dale Alison and Richard Burridge provide a general picture of ideas in the Synoptic tradition. When the fruits of prototype studies are combined with the collective memory of Jesus, it provides fresh insight into Paul’s commandment to imitate Jesus Christ, which was issued in 1 Cor 11:1. The fruits of these combined methods reveal the influence of the life of Jesus in the commands to look after the weak brother, abstain from idol feasts, and to do everything to God’s glory. Through the recollection of the lifestyle of Jesus, Paul recalibrates the Corinthian behavior so that it agrees with the prototype. Full article
18 pages, 2060 KiB  
Article
Codex and Contest: What an Early Christian Manuscript Reveals about Social Identity Formation Amid Persecution and Competing Christianities
by Nycholas Lawrence David Oliveira and Jacobus (Kobus) Kok
Religions 2024, 15(1), 44; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15010044 - 27 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1149
Abstract
Recent scholarship on the Bodmer Miscellaneous Codex (BMC) has analysed various features of the manuscript, mostly attempting to answer questions like “Why was this codex created?” and “What purpose did it serve?” Some have given more specific answers, while others believe the document [...] Read more.
Recent scholarship on the Bodmer Miscellaneous Codex (BMC) has analysed various features of the manuscript, mostly attempting to answer questions like “Why was this codex created?” and “What purpose did it serve?” Some have given more specific answers, while others believe the document to be largely enigmatic. To further the academy’s understanding of this ancient codex, this paper will examine the BMC, which comprises 11 different writings, for evidence of early Christian social identity formation. More specifically, it will heuristically apply Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Social Identity Complexity Theory (SICT) to reflect on identity and boundary construction in the BMC. It will be argued that various features of this ancient codex reveal a process of social identity formation, specifically an emerging orthodox Christian identity that is seeking positive distinctiveness and striving to reinforce the boundaries between an ingroup and various other outgroups. Furthermore, it is argued that the evidence of these features, in the context of persecution and competing Christianities, denotes a lower level of social identity complexity. Full article
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18 pages, 416 KiB  
Article
Scriptural Re-Interpretation and Social Identity Negotiation in the Corinthian Letters
by Darlene M. Seal
Religions 2023, 14(10), 1219; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14101219 - 22 Sep 2023
Viewed by 816
Abstract
This article describes the socially formative function of the Corinthian letters and the role that Paul’s reinterpretation of scripture plays in shaping the Corinthians’ social identity. Paul’s sustained engagement with scriptural texts in 1 Cor 10:1–22 and 2 Cor 3:1–4:6 provide the focus [...] Read more.
This article describes the socially formative function of the Corinthian letters and the role that Paul’s reinterpretation of scripture plays in shaping the Corinthians’ social identity. Paul’s sustained engagement with scriptural texts in 1 Cor 10:1–22 and 2 Cor 3:1–4:6 provide the focus for analysis as two different interactions with exodus and wilderness narratives in two different social situations within the same correspondence. Like others in Second Temple Judaism, Paul uses the exodus and wilderness narratives of Israel’s paradigmatic rebellion to interpret a social situation, define group identity, and increase intergroup differentiation from outsiders and intragroup cohesiveness. Social Identity Theory (SIT) provides the conceptual framework for a robust interpretive model that identifies specific textual features that realize each aspect of social identity. This approach shows that in 1 Cor 10:1–22, Paul addresses the idol food issue by establishing shared experiences with the wilderness generation to interpret the Corinthians’ situation as parallel with the deviant idolatrous behavior of their forebears. In 2 Cor 3:1–4:6, Paul addresses tensions with the Corinthians using the veiling language of Exod 34 to differentiate the ingroup from outgroups according to their sight or blindness, respectively, which correlate to response to his ministry. Full article
12 pages, 4414 KiB  
Article
A Foreign People: Towards a Holistic Identity Theory within a Christian Context
by Philip La Grange Du Toit
Religions 2023, 14(9), 1167; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14091167 - 13 Sep 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1079
Abstract
In this contribution, the identity theory is reconsidered in respect to its epistemology. The social identity theory (SIT) and social identity complexity theory (SICT) are both instruments of social sciences based on naturalistic assumptions. The question is asked if social identity theories can [...] Read more.
In this contribution, the identity theory is reconsidered in respect to its epistemology. The social identity theory (SIT) and social identity complexity theory (SICT) are both instruments of social sciences based on naturalistic assumptions. The question is asked if social identity theories can fully account for the Christian identity, especially in respect to being confined to the natural, social domain. In light of the way that identity is presented in the New Testament, and especially the way in which the Christian identity is presented as a socially foreign identity in texts such as 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11; Philippians 3:20 and Ephesians 2:19, a more holistic approach to identity that includes aspects of a supernaturalistic epistemology is considered. In other words, a holistic theory of identity is considered, in which the Christian identity is described in terms of one’s relationship to other people (sociological), as well as one’s relationship to God (theological). Full article
19 pages, 755 KiB  
Article
Samaritan Israelites and Jews under the Shadow of Rome: Reading John 4:4–45 in Ephesus
by Laura J. Hunt
Religions 2023, 14(9), 1149; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14091149 - 8 Sep 2023
Viewed by 1542
Abstract
Genealogies, knowledge, and purity all can provide separate identities with the means for competing self-definition. This article assumes a social location near Ephesus with Samaritan Israelites and Judeans in a Jesus-believing network. Rather than providing an analysis in which divisions are transcended, this [...] Read more.
Genealogies, knowledge, and purity all can provide separate identities with the means for competing self-definition. This article assumes a social location near Ephesus with Samaritan Israelites and Judeans in a Jesus-believing network. Rather than providing an analysis in which divisions are transcended, this reading suggests that a negotiation in John 4:4–45 of these three characteristics navigates divisions to create a complex, merged superordinate identity. Full article
10 pages, 794 KiB  
Article
The Devil in the Details: Beelzebul and Social Identity Complexity in Mark 3:20–35
by Jeremy D. Otten
Religions 2023, 14(8), 1070; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14081070 - 20 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1285
Abstract
While the origin and etymology of the name Beelzebul have received some scholarly attention, very little attention has been given to the more basic question of why the scribes would choose this particular name for their accusations, or why Jesus would shift discussion [...] Read more.
While the origin and etymology of the name Beelzebul have received some scholarly attention, very little attention has been given to the more basic question of why the scribes would choose this particular name for their accusations, or why Jesus would shift discussion to speak of Satan. This study examines Mark 3:20–35 through the lens of Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Social Identity Complexity Theory (SIC) to reveal the underlying values and motivations behind the use of the two different names in the challenge and riposte between Jesus and the scribes. The scribes speak of “Beelzebul” as part of their attempt to discredit and even prosecute Jesus according to Deut 13, whereas Jesus’s reference to “Satan” reframes the discussion in light of the cosmic battle between those who do God’s will and the one who opposes it. In so reframing the discussion, he redraws the lines of ingroup and outgroup identity for his hearers and for Mark’s audience. Full article
9 pages, 543 KiB  
Article
Defining Boundaries with a Vengeance: Identity Formation and the Motif of Divine Vengeance as Boundary Control in the Epistle to the Hebrews
by Arjan Van den Os
Religions 2023, 14(8), 1050; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14081050 - 17 Aug 2023
Viewed by 917
Abstract
The Epistle to the Hebrews contains several so-called “warning passages”. In these texts, the author of Hebrews warns the addressees that they may not tarnish their Christ-given identity through apostasy and leaving the Christ-believing community. One of the literary motifs the author uses [...] Read more.
The Epistle to the Hebrews contains several so-called “warning passages”. In these texts, the author of Hebrews warns the addressees that they may not tarnish their Christ-given identity through apostasy and leaving the Christ-believing community. One of the literary motifs the author uses is the motif of divine vengeance in Hebrews 10:30. This paper will show how the author uses this motif as a way to prevent the addressees, as children of God’s household, from apostatizing, while at the same time defining the boundaries and the consequences when boundaries are crossed. Social-scientific insights into the mechanisms of honor and reciprocity will be used to clarify why the author of Hebrews employs the motif of divine vengeance. The addressees of Hebrews, in fact, will slight the honor of God and reject the gift that God has given in Christ through their apostasy. Divine vengeance is portrayed as the reaction of God to this slight and rejection. In that way, the addressees of Hebrews are deterred from becoming outsiders and urged to remain insiders, merging their particular identity with their given theological identity. Full article
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