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Group-Identity Expressions in Earliest Christian Circles

February 5, 2018

My paper, “Earliest Expressions of a Discrete Group-Formation among Jesus-Believers,” appeared in the most recent issue of the journal, Estudios Biblicos 75.3 (2017): 451-70.  I have now placed a PDF of the pre-publication version on this blog site under the “Selected published essays” tab.  But those who cite the essay should make use of the published article.

One of the highlights of 2017 was the invitation to address the annual meeting of the Asociación Bíblica Española (which met in Málaga in late August), and the invitation included the request to address the topic of the published essay.

Here is the gist of the essay expressed in the opening paragraph:

Already, in the earliest extant evidence (undisputed letters of Paul), we have various expressions of what amounts to a discrete group-formation and group-identity among circles of believers in Jesus.  These expressions include (1) a number of verbal group “self-designations,” (2) key rituals of initiation, worship and fellowship, and (3) distinguishing core beliefs and convictions.  First-century Christian groups were not uniform in these matters, and as historical circumstances changed across the first and second centuries, there were undeniably changes in the Jesus-movement, and a growing sense of being a new religion, “Christianity,” more fully distinct from the Jewish matrix in which the Jesus-movement arose.  But the point I shall argue here is that apart from, and well before, any such “parting of the ways” between “Judaism” and “Christianity,” the dynamics and expressions of a discrete group-consciousness seem to have characterized the Jesus-movement, indeed, from its earliest years


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  1. Matthew G. Zatkalik permalink

    Dr. Hurtado, thank you for making “Earliest Expressions of a Discrete Group-Formation among Jesus-Believers” available to scholars and the interested hoi polloi (with limited financial resources and/or access to institutions where it might be available.

  2. Dr. H.,
    First, thanks for the access to your paper! The pre-publication essays have been extremely helpful and have motivated me to not only seek out your own publications referenced within, but other authors you referenced giving me resources that I never would have found on my own. Second, as usual, this paper is well argued and convincing. The breadth and extent of the various markers listed in this short paper clearly demonstrate a unique, early and wide-spread identity for Jesus followers.


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