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Saturday, May 13, 2006 

Second Thoughts on Dunn's "Unity and Diversity"

Recently, I gave a brief and very critical review of James Dunn's Unity and Diversity. There I lamented against Dunn's proposal that the person of Jesus was enough to hold together the unity of the New Testament in the midst of its diversity. However, when I gave this review I had not read the appendix which is not found in the first edition of Unity and Diversity. I simply skimmed through it and it seemed just another summary of the arguments in the book so I didn't read it. But for some reason, this morning I decided to read that appendix which is entitled, "Unity and Diversity in the Church: A New Testament Perspective." Strangely, it is in this essay that Dunn clarifies further what is the ground of unity in the New Testament. Here Dunn goes beyond my chief criticism that the person of Jesus is the strand of unity holding together the unity of the NT and declares that the unifying element in earliest Christianity was:

"the unity between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ, that is to say, the conviction that the wandering charismatic preacher from nazareth had ministered, died and been raised from the dead to bring God and man finally together, the recognition that the divine power through which they now worshipped and were encountered and accepted by God was one and the same person, Jesus, the man, the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord, the life-giving spirit." (p. 437)

Dunn summarizes this foundation as Easter and Pentescost. The former being the conviction that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead and the latter being the moment when the Spirit was poured out on the early believers. In regards to the former, Easter, I could not help but smile when I read Dunn saying,

"In short, if anything can claim to run through the NT writings like a golden thread is the conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead." (p. 439, emphasis his)

And in regards to the latter, Pentecost, Dunn says:

"Experience of the Spirit of God, belief that what they were experiencing was God's eschatologically new out pouring of the Spirit is part of the most basic stratum of Christian faith attested by the NT writers." (p. 441, emphasis his)

These were the sort of "checks" I was looking for. Why they come in an appendix and why this appendix was not in the first edition is beyond me. This is much better than Dunn's assertion that the person of Jesus is that solitary thread of unity holding together the diverse perspectives of the NT witnesses.

Moreover in the appendix, Dunn also highlights the fundamental tension within the NT that I've been preoccupied with lately, namely, the problem of the Jew and Christian relationship. Dunn makes a great point when he asserts that:

"The greatest schism in salvation-history is not between Catholic and Protestant or between East and West, but between Judaism and Christianity." (p. 444, emphasis his)

In conclusion, this appendix was the most satisfying of the book for me. And to think, I almost didn't even read it! Why this is an appendix and not the actual conclusion to the book is baffling. At any rate, though there are still some things that I have difficulty accepting in Dunn's book, my attitude is now much more positive and favorable given Dunn's more explicit statements concerning what grounds the unity in the NT among its diversity.

Next blog I am going to (finally) reply to a certain reader's questions concerning some of the implications from my Et Resurrexit series of posts. I apologize to this reader for taking so long to get back to this, but the Jew/Christian issue was on my mind and I felt the need to blog on this first. But next time I promise to have a reply to your questions. For my other readers here are the questions at which I will attempt to answer in the next few posts:

1) Do you think that the empty tomb and any type of subsequent appearances would have been adequate to result in the use of “resurrection.” (i.e. did the appearances also have to have the impression of physicality?) And if you think they had to have the impression of physicality, do you think that this would not be sufficient to account for the use of ‘resurrection’ without the empty tomb? (Not that both could not have occurred for double confirmation).

2) How big of a role do you think Jesus’ more apocalyptic teachings and actions had on the disciples and their subsequent use of “resurrection” for the post-crucifixion appearances?

3) Do you think the disciples’ use of resurrection was similar or the same as Paul’s use of the concept “first fruits of the resurrection”? With this phrase it seems to me that Paul is expanding the concept of resurrection from the view of normative second Temple Judaism. And it’s my impression that he felt comfortable doing this because of the soon to come general resurrection. Doesn’t “first fruits” have a temporal connotation? Wouldn’t he have been less comfortable using this phrase if he knew no general resurrection would occur for the next two millennia?

4) The term resurrection has several connotations for 2nd Temple Judaism. I tend to agree with you and others who say one connotation was something happening to the actual bodies of individuals. How much was the temporal aspect connected and a part of the concept of the general resurrection for 2nd Temple Judaism (i.e. that the resurrection would occur at The End, or right before God’s rule, etc.)?

Like you, I'm a big fan of Dunn's writings. His collection of essays on Jesus, Paul, and the Law was a paradigm-altering read for me.

I don't interpret Unity and Diversity in the New Testament the way that you presented it in this post. You speak of "Dunn's proposal that the person of Jesus was enough to hold together the unity of the New Testament in the midst of its diversity".

It isn't the person of Jesus as such that Dunn is pointing to as the unifying factor of the various New Testament books. It is the affirmation that the historical man, Jesus of Nazareth, is identical to the Christ of faith.

It seems to me that Dunn is reacting to the modernist tendency to split apart the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. He's saying that the New Testament authors unanimously affirm the very thing that modernist scholars deny — and that affirmation is the unifying theme of the New Testament.

Dunn makes that point long before the appendix. (At least, he does so in the second edition of the book; that's the edition I own.) For example, at the beginning of chapter X he writes,

"In each case the unifying factor which has emerged, though not always with the same clarity, has been Christ — in particular, the unity between the exalted Christ and Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified who is also the risen one." (emphasis in original)

That affirmation is still rather thin to serve as the unifying theme of the New Testament. It would be preferable to flesh it out by pointing to the resurrection and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost.

But then we're confronted with the historical problem, did Jesus predict either of those events? They can't serve as unifying elements if they weren't part of Jesus' own proclamation.


Thanks for the comments. I did perhaps overgeneralize a bit in my first review. I too recognized that Dunn was trying to affirm a unifying identify between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ. Apologies. But I still feel that there needs to be more than this and I think, though the resurrection and the spirit-event are implied throughout the book, it does not become explicit until the appendix. I think Dunn should have been clear on this score throughout the entire body of his work.

You also point out that, even with these "unifying elements" we are confronted with the vexing problem of the historical Jesus and his own proclamation, which if it did not include these elements would then fail to unify. I don't necessarily agree because if we're talking about the post-Easter community then these elements can still serve to unify this group even if its message is not in accord with Jesus' proclamation. But for a possible connection between the historical Jesus' proclamation and the post-Easter kerygma be sure to check out Dale C. Allison's "The End of the Ages has Come."

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