Theological and Religious Pluralism: Pluralism in the Biblical Context

by Edward C. Hobbs, Graduate Theological Union
prepared for the autumn Pacific Coast Theological Society meeting, 1973 November 16-17

Pluralism as an issue

1.1 The sense in which the matter of pluralism is being discussed by contemporary theologians is the religious and theological counterpart to the sense in which it is discussed by contemporary social scientists, especially political scientists and sociologists. This sense is clearly and concisely expressed in the definition offered as number 4 in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1966):


pluralism: 4a: a state or condition of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization

b: a concept, doctrine, or policy proposing or advocating this state

1.3 While the reality of which this definition speaks (or rather, of which this word speaks, and which this definition clarifies) has certainly been around for a very long time (otherwise there would be nothing to discuss in this essay!), the concept of pluralism is of quite recent vintage. This is easily determined by comparing the definition given above with the definitions in earlier great dictionaries of the English and/or American languages. The Second edition of the New International Dictionary, for example, stops just before it reaches the definition above, which appears in the Third Edition for the first time; thus, between 1934 (Second Edition) and 1966 (Third Edition) this usage of the word "pluralism" came to the attention of America's leading lexicographers for the first time. An examination of other dictionaries will confirm the matter quite readily. The term is well-known to past generations in its application to moonlighting clergymen and to philosophical non-monists and non-dualists, but in this special sense it was not known to our forefathers.

1.4 Why this was so is beyond the scope of this essay; but, like Moses or yore, we may accept the fact that our fathers knew the reality indeed, but the name is only in our day revealed unto us. Perhaps this linguistic revelation will similarly open up for us some deeper grasp of our religious tradition and our community's faith.

1.5 Pluralism (in this new sense) should be seen as genuinely different from, and as an alternative to, either indifferentism on the one hand, or toleration on the other. Indifferentism is the principle that differences of religious belief or practice are essentially unimportant, and is no doubt related to the use of "indifferent" in the sense of "without interest or concern; not caring; apathetic". It may be that there are civilizations where indifferentism permits a form of pluralism, but it becomes a serious question whether in fact those civilizations are merely a congeries of many cultures rather than true "civilizations," possessing some kind of coherent unity. Toleration is the allowance by a government of the exercise of religions other than the religion which is officially established or recognized, or forbearance of what is not actually approved. In this case, there is no doubt the possibility of a situation of pluralism in society; the primary difference between a tolerant society and a pluralist society is the risky character of the tolerated groups within a society which tolerates them.

1.6 Genuine pluralism, it seems to me, differs from either of these other policies which might result in the permission of deviation within a society or civilization, primarily because it implies a positive attitude toward such deviation, a positive valuation of the presence of diverse religious (or other) groups within the society, free to participate in and develop their special interest or culture. Certainly the second definition presented in the Third International Dictionary includes this implication: "a concept, doctrine, or policy proposing or advocating this state."

1.7 It is in terms of this positive attitude toward variety or deviation or diversity that we shall consider the question of pluralism in the Biblical context, rather than considering only toleration or indifferentism. We shall first examine the practice of pluralism, or its presece as a reality, in the Biblical context, and then proceed to examine the possible presence of the doctrine of pluralism, or the use of the concept or policy implied in pluralism, in the context of the Bible. We will conclude with some oservations deriving from this examination.

Pluralism in Practice

2.1 A casual reading of the Old Testament and the New Testament may result in an impression of a religious monolith, both in terms of cultus and in terms of faith and/or belief. But this is only a superficial impression. We tend to be misled by the fearsome denunciations of deviation in cultus or faith by prophets, by law-givers, and by priests, into supposing that except for infidelity to the common religion, all was unity, or was supposed to be, at any rate.

2.2 The actual practice in the community which produces the Bible was quite otherwise: it was pluralistic from its beginnings, and except for periodic show-downs (coming about every tenth generation, or 250-300 years, according to George Mendenhall's latest book[1]) which amounted to intensive efforts by one group within the pluralistic community to destroy the pluralism in favor of their own singular form of tradition, cultus, or belief, this pluralism continued to find expression through the Biblical community's history.

2.3 In the earliest stages of Israel's history, we find a league of diverse tribal groups, with differing traditions, shrines, and even gods. One group preserved the Abraham traditions, while another told the sotries of Jacob; the Joseph tribes brought into the larger community the traditions of Egypt and bondage and Exodus, and perhaps Sinai as well. The later scheme of Jacob with twelve sons, born of two Aramean wives and two Canaanite concubines, no doubt reflects the diverse origins of the league that formed in Shechem, just as the tradition of Joseph's two sons being born of an Egyptian mother (daughter of the Egyptian priest of On!) surely reflects ancient ties with Egypt, another mark of diverse origins. The great shrines at Shechem, Gilgal, Bethel, Hebron, and Beersheba, held their own for centuries, even against powerful efforts to centralize worship at Samaria and Jerusalem, and the ruins of the great shrine at Shiloh were still looked on with deep feeling as late as Jeremiah (7:12-14). The gods who were worshipped in this early phase, and whose names are carried on in the traditions, were several: the family gods or clan deities (the Shield of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac or the Kinsman of Isaac, the Mighty One of Jacob [Gen. 15:1; 31:42; 49:24]), the varios forms of El, such as El Olam (Gen. 21:33), El Shaddai (Gen. 17:1; 49:25), El Elyon (Gen. 14:18), El Bethel (Gen. 31:13), sometimes with El apparently a proper name (as in El Elohe Israel [Gen. 33:20] and El Elohe Abhika [Gen. 46:3]), even sometimes in the early period the various Baals (surviving in the names of Saul's son Ish-Baal and grandson Meri-Baal [II Sam. 2:8-10; 4:4], both of which were editorially altered later to conceal the presence of the name of Baal in the names of Saul's own family; also note Judges 6:32, where the hero Jerub-Baal is identified with Gideon and the name is given an anti-Baal significance!), as well as (of course!) the god from the mountain or the desert, Yahweh, brought in by the Joseph tribes and their Mosaic traditions. (It is interesting to note the type of welding of the traditions where the names of the gods are concerned which appears in Ex. 6:3: Yahweh says that he in fact appeared to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, but that he did not reveal to them his name Yahweh.)

2.4 Political unification under David and under his son Solomon might have posed a threat to the astonishing pluralism exhibited prior to the monarchy; but while centralization of political power in the king and in the city Jerusalem combined with the beginnings of religious centralization in the Temple, a remarkable openness to the diversity must have remained, an openness which we witness in the composition of the great epic we call "J", probably written during the reign of Solomon. Here the diversities of tradition, cultus, gods, and shrines are brought into a complex unity (probably paralleling the political unity under Solomon) which nevertheless allows each tradition its own place and witness. Instead of suppression of variety and diversity, we have appreciation of them, and appropriation of what each strand can offer to the larger, complex whole. The great contribution of J with respect to pluralism (we must sadly pass over his contributions to literature, contributions which show J to have been one of the greatest story-tellers of all time) is that he managed to hold all these diversities together by means of two things alone: the construction of a genealogical scheme which united all the various traditions into one family's heritage, and the claim that Yahweh alone was Israel's God, the other gods being only variant names for his worship and self-revelation. The latter is a stroke of genius if it is hoped to permit pluralism to continue; the commoner course would have been to denounce all the other gods in the tradition as bogus or as alien, and demand allegiance to Yahweh alone. But J arranged for another possibility to predominate: the possibility of creating the unity of the Israelite society in terms of faith in Yahweh as Lord of history, who can permit diversity in names, shrines, cultus, traditions, and all the rest, but who unites his people into one complex whole in terms of their history, a common history under Yahweh's invincible guidance. About the meaning of this unity we shall reflect in the next section; but it should be noted that J is neither tolerant of false gods nor indifferent to them. Rather, he comprehends them, in the main, even absorbing the Els and the Baals into the larger and greater deity of Yahweh, and their worship into the larger unity of the worship of Israel.

2.5 The division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon fractured the unity envisioned by J, and perhaps aggravated the tensions which tend to make pluralism a difficult matter politically and religiously. The activities of Elijah and Elisha testify to the ease with which Yahwism could become exclusivist, and pluralism accused of being mere toleration or indifferentism. But the appearance of the great eighth-century prophets renews the possibility of understanding Israel as a single society under a single god, Yahweh, whose unity is understood not in terms of a single shrine, tradition, cultus, or even name, but rather as an ethical unity. The claim of these prophets that the demand of Yahweh for fidelity to himself meant responsible and moral behavior was a claim that allowed for the development of a variety of cultures and special interests within the one society, so long as none of them were developed at the expense of the others or at the expense of the well-being of persons who live within the society. An Elijah might tear down the altars of the Baals, but an Amos would stand at the altar and demand righteous behavior by the powerful and rich. The Yahwism of the latter, happily, is the one that prevailed in the mainstream of the Old Testament writings.

2.6 The collapse of the two kingdoms in little over a century and the subsequent Exile led to a further development of pluralism. Israel (or, now, Judah) was enabled to survive religiously only because of a practice of toleration on the part of Babylonian authorities (a practice denied four centuries later by the author of Daniel), and then a policy of even more generous toleration by the Persian kings later. The "universalism" of Second-Isaiah is an example of the expansion of the pluralism of J (and subsequent similar pluralism) to embrace even the actions of those who do not know themselves to be part of the one civilization or society under the supreme lordship of Yahweh. The prophet announces that Cyrus is Yahweh's Messiah (45:1), that he is carrying out Yahweh's will, even though he does not know Yahweh. To be sure, this is in the service of the people Israel, but it is not any sort of exclusivism; rather, Israel herself is to be the Servant whose service and suffering accomplish the redemption of the nations, who together will form the one society under Yahweh, despite their many backgrounds and traditions and worships. His healing or salvation will reach to the end of the earth, signalled by the new Exodus which is about to come to pass. Outsiders of all sorts--foreigners, eunuchs, outcasts--will be gathered into the new, greater Israel, according to the school of this great prophet (56:3-8). The unity sought is a unity of righteousness, an ethical unity, not a suppression of dissent to create a unity of all expression (59:1-21, and elsewhere).

2.7 The activities of Nehemiah and Ezra represent an anti-pluralist move, though they surely saw themselves as anti-indifferentist; the hostility to every form of co-operation with neighboring peoples is more reminiscent of Elijah than of Amos or Second-Isaiah. It is here that Judaism begins to take shape, and perhaps its survival in the midst of an alien and more-powerful culture seemed to require the suppression of all deviation and diversity. But the efforts at such suppression did not have permanent results; and within a few centuries we not only witness the rise of much variety within Judaism, but we see the narrowness and anti-pluralism of Nehemiah and Ezra countered by such magnificent writings as Ruth and Jonah, which envision pluralism's practice, whether historical or fictional.

2.8 The New Testament presents a somewhat different situation, primarily because of the far shorter time-span covered; it is not as easy to disentangle the history (and thus the practice) from the literary remains of the situation. Rather than try to move through the literature section by section, it would be wiser to consider the general outlines of the early church's history. And just here we find ourselves facing the problem of a literature which conceals the full character of the diversity in the early church. We tend to read the New Testament in the light of the later church's notion of an unbroken line of "orthodoxy" stretching back to the Apostles, and to see diversity as instances of divergence from that line. In fact, it was probably quite otherwise, as a generation of research growing from the epoch-making work of Walter Bauer has shown.[2]

2.9 Bauer's thesis, examined by him in terms of the first few centuries of the church's life, and tested within the New Testament by the most recent generation of scholars, is that Christianity existed as a religion of great variety in tradition, practice, and belief, from the beginning, and that "heresy" exists earlier than "orthodoxy," or rather that "orthodoxy" is the successful effort of the majority in one community to defeat or suppress the divergence from their tradition, practice, and belief which exist in other communities. Efforts made by the Jerusalem church to suppress the Pauline "deviation" failed, perhaps partly because of the death of its original leaders and perhaps partly because of the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70. But the pluralism represented in the Pauline churches, and so eloquently defended by Paul himself against efforts to require uniformity of practice within the churches, continued to be attacked, and in the end it lost out to the efforts of other churches, especially that of Rome, to establish one standard of belief, practice, and tradition (its own) as "orthodox."

2.10 But long before this happened, the situation was quite fluid. Differences of Christology (i.e., differences in conceptual categories used to understand Jesus, and also differences in the understanding itself) abounded in the early church. The so-called "Christological titles" scarcely conceal the plurality of modes of doing theology, both in the Palestinian church and in the Hellenistic church of the first century. Sometimes the titles in one community simply did not make sense in another (e.g. Messiah or Christ soon became nothing but a proper name in Hellenistic circles), or were understood quite differently (e.g., Kyrios in Jewish circles would probably have conveyed "Yahweh," since it is the LXX translation thereof); but in Hellenistic circles it might simply mean "master," or it could mean the "Lord" of the mystery religion), or underwent a sea-change in meaning (e.g., Son of God in the Old Testament means "Israel," or [as representing Israel] the king of Israel; but in Hellenistic culture it meant at the very least a theios aner, and at most a demi-god begotten by a god of a woman), or perhaps at first lost its meaning only to be revived in a transformed sense (e.g., Son of Man, which was meaningless after the shift to Hellenistic culture, but which was perhaps revived by Mark in the sense of "Suffering Servant," "Crucified One," as a polemic supporting Pauline Christianity against the triumphalist Christology which claimed the Twelve and especially Peter as authority and support).

2.11 Similarly, great differences existed as to the extent to which the new community should understand itself as related to the religion of Judaism. The early Jerusalem community apparently felt itself to be a genuine part of Judaism, and behaved accordingly, and even after this became impossible because of conflict with Jewish leaders, allegiance to the norms of Judaism was deep (e.g., dietary laws, circumcision). The Pauline churches apparently were heavily rooted among the sebomenoi ton theon or foboumenoi ton theon, the Gentile fringe attending the synagogues but declining to become proselytes, and as a result were much freer in their attitudes toward the Jewish connections of Christianity. The more "gnostic" churches not only felt themselves totally free of the Old Testament and Judaism, but felt or came to feel that Judaism and the Old Testament were hostile to (and even antithetical to) the Gospel and Christianity. Paul's churches were subjected to vigorous efforts on the part of both "Jewish" and "gnostic" sympathizers (and missionaries?) to win their adherence, away from Paul's own pluralist position (if we may anticipate in using that term of him).

2.12 The author of Acts was clearly aware of such diversities; but he arranged to play them down, showing all the apostles as preaching the same message, doing the same great works, and, when fundamental divisions could not be ignored by such devices, agreeing on a compromise settlement (the so-called "Apostolic Council"). "Luke" is rightly seen as one of the creators of "early Catholicism." The same sort of thing is visible in his Gospel, where Mark's frequent exposures of the Twelve, and especially Peter, are eliminated (the old formula was, "Luke spares the Twelve") wherever possible. (Cf. Mark 8:27-33 and parallels: Mark has Jesus turn on Peter and call him "Satan," which Matthew retains, but only after having Jesus bless Peter for his confession and give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whereas Luke totally eliminates the condemnation of Peter.) But it would be unfair to picture "Luke" as merely a harmonizer; he clearly intends to retain elements of diversity in the church, and he above the other Evangelists insists on the presence in the church of those considered outsiders and outcasts by many--the poor, women, foreigners, even thieves.

2.13 We should also note that the New Testament contains four Gospels, with quite different thrusts, each of which was apparently authoritative for some early communities; and at least one of them, John, was apparently regarded as heretical by some in its original form. The kind of diversity represented by the four Gospels, each of which was held in high esteem by part of the early church (and all of which supposedly are, today!), is itself a testimony to the practice of pluralism in the early Christian church.

2.14 Of course, there were no doubt from the beginning the attempts to suppress divergence from what was felt to be the "norm," which always means "what our group does and believes"; we can see this in the struggles which have been reconstructed among the Pauline churches with the aid of the Bauer hypothesis, as well as just beneath the surface of Acts. And there are always the Nehemiahs and Ezras: II Peter, for example, indulges in the ancient rhetoric of charging that his opponents in belief are of course wholly immoral and dissolute as well--they are not merely wrong, but they are wicked and sinful (ipso facto!). But this is happily not a dominant trend in the New Testament, even if it has in subsequent generations found more imitators than we might wish.

2.15 The overall picture of the early Christian church, then, is not too different with respect to pluralism from the Old Testament community, once we have allowed for the obvious differences of time-scale and of nation as distinct from non-national religious community. Throughout the Biblical community, Old and New Testaments, Israel, Judaism, and Christianity, we find something very like pluralism in practice, even though from time to time there are opponents of it as indulgence in heresy. We do not find so much toleration or indifferentism (though Judaism profited from toleration after the Exile) as the real permission of "diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups" to "maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common" community ["civilization" is perhaps too grand a term for the Biblical community]. We find pluralism in practice; do we find it in concept and policy?

Pluralism as Policy

3.1 Implicit in much of the preceding discussion is the view that pluralism is not merely present in practice in the history of the Biblical community, but is there in consequence of something quite basic and essential to the faith of that community; in other words, it is intentional, and thus there is at least implicitly a doctrine, concept, or policy of pluralism in its history. Obviously, if the concept of pluralism as such is new in our century, we are not likely to find it spelled out in so many words within the text of the Bible. But surely that sort of hermeneutics has long since died the death, and we may search instead for something that could be seen as finding ancient expression of our modern concept; that is to say, we are to seek a functional equivalent, whatever the conceptual and linguistic apparatus attached to it.

3.2 It must be acknowledged at the outset that, if we had no history beyond the end of the ninth century B.C.E., we could give quite utilitarian explanations for the presence of diversity in early Israel. The league was formed as a means of seizing and holding the land of Canaan, and thus the diversity of the clans and tribes had to be respected in order to maintain any sort of military front. And the united kingdom under David and Solomon would have necessitated a policy of toleration, if not pluralism, in order to hold together a tenuous nation--a unity so tenuous that it collapsed in the third generation of the dynasty. We could then see Elijah and Elisha as representing an authentic protest against such utilitarian policies, and J as being merely the literary-theological justification of the Davidic dynasty and policy, merely an epic of the royal theology. But the history of Israel is much longer than this, and as so often happens, the future shows what the past meant (though it might have meant otherwise, had it issued in a different future!). The real future of Israel lay with the Amoses and Hoseas, not with the Elijahs and Elishas (though the latter could protest injustice as well, the problem being that they identified it as being linked with pluralism, whereas Amos moved in exactly the contrary fashion), as the bulk of our Old Testament shows. It is in this light that we will look through the history once more.

3.3 The great diversity which obtained in the early stages of Israel's history is treated by J, not as an unfortunate rampant growth of heresy, but as a complex unity under the sovereignty of Yahweh. This unity was conceived of historically, rather than simply or primarily as natural; that is, the unity was not one of a grand design whose parts are present at any one time, but it was instead one which was being accomplished historically, in time, as the affairs of men were brought into line with the purposes of Yahweh. All of the various parts of society and various groups contribute to the larger future, which ultimately is the reign of Yahweh in righteousness over all the earth. That reign is implicit in the beginnings of mankind of all races, as shown in the notice of Gen. 4:26: already in the time of Adam's son Seth, men began to worship Yahweh. J's comprehension of complexity into the unity of Yahweh's reign is carried forward by E, two centuries later, who reflects some of the ethical emphasis of his contemporary prophets Amos and Hosea (e.g., note his magnificent conclusion to the Joseph cycle, Gen. 50:20, where even the evil intentions of men are taken up into God's purposes of good). And while J does not see the use of various names of God as a matter of progressive relevation, as P centuries later does (e.g., Ex. 6:3), instead simply combining his traditions as all involving worship of Yahweh, he nonetheless unhesitatingly accepts and approves the diverse traditions and shrines that were affirmed in his time (e.g., J's version of the tradition of Jacob at Bethel, Gen. 28:10, 13-16, 19). The history of Israel continued to be written along such pluralist lines, comprehending diversity under the larger historical purposes of God, as shown by E's version and P's final version. The Deuteronomists in some sense may represent a backward move, in their intolerance of most forms of diversity (note the Josianic reform of 622 B.C.C. and its connection with Deuteronomy, which was both ultra-nationalistic and hyper-orthodox, suppressing "heresy" with a vengeance); in their favor may be observed the humaneness of their version of the laws, no doubt influenced by the ethical prophets during the century preceding their compilation. However, "ethical" is not the same as "pluralist," and it must be conceded that Deuteronomic history represents a rather different concept than the pluralism we have noted in J, E, and P.

3.4 The discussion of Second-Isaiah in the preceding section was already a discussion of "policy" or "concept" or "doctrine," since he was describing the future as Yahweh intended it, rather than as things then stood; and time would fail us to tell of the rest of the Old Testament writers (Heb. 11:32) in detail. Ruth and Jonah, already mentioned, are short enough and obvious enough to testify to the presence even in late post-Exilic Judaism of the kind of pluralism represented in the great histories and in Second-Isaiah.

3.5 The New Testament, as we have seen, exhibits a great diversity in early Christianity with respect to many aspects of belief and practice. Was this diversity merely tolerated, or indeed was it attacked as heretical? Or was it acceptable as a legitimate expression of the Gospel? That diversity was under attack as "heresy" is of course obvious, even without knowing the work of the Bauer school; but did these attacks represent the understanding of the Gospel which came to expression in the New Testament itself?

3.6 My contention is clearly that diversity of "ethnic, racial, religious, and social groups" found approval or at least acceptance by the mainstream of New Testament authors. What Jesus' attitude was is subject to so much dispute about historical methods that it would be foolish to venture my own reconstruction. But we do have such authors as the Evangelists and Paul lying before us in their works, and their position seems rather clear.

3.7 Matthew represents one of the narrower forms of early church theology, much more legalistic and more Judaic than most of the New Testament. And yet we find him identifying the righteous as those who in fact minister to the needs of the needy, without knowing that it is the Christ who encounters them thereby (Matt. 25:31-46), rather than those who believe right doctrine or confess the right Christology (7:21); and he goes so far as to include a tradition that even those who prophesy in Christ's name, who exorcise demons in Christ's name, and who do mighty works in Christ's name will be rejected if they are not doers of the will of the heavenly Father (7:22-23), a sharper form of the tradition han is found elsewhere (cf. Luke 13:26, where it is only applied to those [who] were physically adjacent to Jesus). The "common community" within which diversity may occur is clearly not one of "orthodoxy," but one of behavior, a community which does the will of the Father by loving and caring for the weak and helpless and needy.

3.8 Mark's Gospel as a whole probably represents a Pauline form of Christianity and theology (the case for which has been made by several scholars in various ways); but rather than lean on that conclusion, we might note a few pericopes in which he carries forward the traditions that show Jesus as being disinterested in any kind of uniformity of piety or belief or confession, but instead resolutely concerned with behavior or living. We have earlier noted the famed "confession of Peter" pericope, in which there is no approval of Peter's confession, but only a turning from it to teach about the suffering of the Son of Man; in response to the talk of suffering (the whole point of the Gospel according to Mark!), Peter rebukes Jesus, whereupon Jesus rebukes Peter as Satan, and as being not on God's side but men's (Mark 8:27-33, cf. 34ff.). Similarly, chapter 7 combines two traditions, one about clean and unclean foods and the other about the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter, in order to further the theme that the community cannot be bound by restrictions as to legal traditions, ritual codes, or even race (and religion?). And in the same tradition as the traditions noted in Matthew, Mark early presents us with Jesus' rejection of the idea of a community bound by human ties of relationship: His brother and sister and mother are whoever does the will of God, not those who are blood-relatives (3:31-35).

3.9 Luke's emphasis on the importance of the "outsiders" in the community has already been mentioned. Samaritans, Gentile (Roman) soldiers, men from east and west and north and south, women, the poor, even thieves, will fill Abraham's table in Paradise. When James and John wish to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village where there were not welcome, Jesus rebukes them and goes on to another village (Luke 9:51-56), a passage which rightly follows Luke's transmission of Mark's account of John forbidding an exorcist from casting out demons in Jesus' name "because he does not follow with us," and Jesus in turn overruling the forbidding: "He that is not against you is for you" (9:49-50). The community is not to be limited to those who "follow with us"; and vengeance against those who refuse to welcome Jesus is forbidden, even rebuked. (As already noted, in Acts there is a tendency to offer compromise as a solution to diversities which plague the community overmuch, and to blur distinctions and differences. But even there, Luke sees a possibility of more than one form of piety and cultus, at least a difference between what is laid on Jews and what is laid on Gentiles (put into the mouth of James, in what today would appear a piece of black humor!), a possibility which is worked out at the "Apostolic Council" (Acts 15).)

3.10 The situation in the Fourth Gospel is more complex, and cannot be handled by means of citing traditions he transmits, since the Gospel is constructed dialectically and thus requires that any part be interpreted by what follows after; systematic misinterpretation is easily done. Perhaps it will suffice to point out that on one hand John makes a clear distinction between the community of Jesus and the "world" (here kosmos), as in 15:18-25, but on the other hand he presents God as aiming at the salvation of the "world" through the sending of Jesus (3:16f.). He clearly does not envision any sort of "common community" between the church and the world. Yet he sees the unity of the church to be an organic unity of love, rather than one which requires suppression of diversity in belief and practice. Jesus has other sheep, not of this fold, to be united into one flock under one shephard (10:16), who will become one through the proclamation of the word (17:20f.)--a oneness reflecting the unity of Jesus with the Father, which is a oneness of love (17:22-26). And in the school of John, it is those who have left us who are not of us--for if they were of us, they would not have left! (I John 2:19); notice that it is not a matter of excluding the diverse elements, but a matter of their departing our community. The unity of the community is presented as an organic one, like a vine and branches; and the life of the vine is interpreted as love (15:1-17), not common practice of belief or race or social group. (The crucial question, of course, is whether love is interpreted in such a way as to be equated with agreement in belief, practice, etc. I am persuaded that in John it is not.)

3.11 Paul is so obvious a case that he scarcely requires treatment. The diversities which Paul insists on as permissible within the community are legion. Indeed, he sees the exclusion of diversity as being sinful in the extreme. I Corinthians is devoted almost in toto to this theme. It is schism, not diversity, which is the evil of the church there, and schism is the antithesis of pluralism, for it excludes the diverse group or belief or practice. The unity of the body of Christ, which is the church, is an organic one, like a true body, which has a diversity of members, organs, gifts, practices, responsibilities, and so on. To set one's own group (or self) against the others as superior or even as alone Christian is to fracture the body of Christ. And the way in which the body is knit together is love, described in terms which read like a description of Jesus as Paul perceives him. The other writings of Paul press the same theme. Romans, written to a powerful church Paul did not know first-hand, nonetheless includes discussions of the need for allowance of diversity in cultic practices. Galatians, fulminating against a perversion of Paul's Gospel, is directed against those who would bring every Christian under one set of requirements and practice, a move which Paul sees as the end of the community named by the name of Christ.

3.12 The Pauline school did not abandon the pluralism Paul saw as essential to the community. Both Colossians and Ephesians represent (similarly, but with striking differences as well) the Body of Christ, the true community, as being made up of all mankind, Jew and Gentile, insider and outsider, with all parts being held together in an organic unity like a body, but with diversities being essential to its well-being. Whether the Pastorals should be considered as part of the Pauline school is not settled (I for one cannot see them as connected to the school in any way, unless the school itself was gradually turned into a wholly un-Pauline group), but they do not seem to deal with the issue seriously at all, one way or another.

Some Observations

4.1 The conclusions are probably self-evident at this point. Aside from a few writings, the Biblical history and the Biblical literature tend to present a picture of pluralism in practice, and a policy of pluralism in attitude. The diversities within the community are not merely tolerated, and they are certainly not treated with indifference. They are regarded as being part of a more complex whole, a whole which is finally (in Paul and John) perceived in organic images, a living, growing, historical organism, thus bringing to culmination the historical understanding of the unity seen by J at the beginning of the history of the community.

4.2 where the unity is given any further clarification, it is usually seen as being either ethical or as constituted by love, which are surely intimately related to each other; in each case, it means activity on behalf of the other for the good of the other. Such a unity allows, at least in principle, the notion of the ultimate bringing into one complex unity of the whole of mankind, a notion which frequently find expression in our Biblical texts. And pluralism is essential to such a unity, for without it we engage in exclusionary processes, which by their very nature divide and alienate. The image of the community of mankind as a body is, after all, only an image; but it is in terms of images that we do most of our thinking and most of our acting, and thus it matters whether the image is one which furthers the good we acknowledge or not. The church later was willing to see this diversity-in-unity in the Godhead itself (unless it is there, it cannot be defended among men), by acknowledging that there was ultimately only one understanding (sub-stantia), but what this one understanding, like the actor in the Greek theater, wore three masks (personae). For mankind to do less would be at best error, at worst sin. To express one understanding in several ways would, at the least, be an imitation of the God who has revealed himself in these many times, places, and ways.

[1] George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973).

[2] Walter Bauer, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (BHTh 10; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1934). Eng. Trans.: Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).