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Mainstream or Marginal?

The Matthean Community in Early Christianity


Friedbert Ninow

This book constructs a profile of the Matthean Community by using insights from sociology and studies of oral and chirographic cultures, together with a careful investigation of the material unique to the Gospel of Matthew. A picture emerges of a self-regulating, independent community with the kind of strong self-definition and tension with its surrounding society characteristic of a sect. It had a high regard for law and practiced Sabbath-observance, as well as observing the distinction between clean and unclean foods. The community viewed its members as saved sinners who should conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to those who await the soon return of their Lord. Somewhat provocatively, this book argues that the Matthean Community was likely to be mainstream in early Christianity, not marginal.


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As it has been just over 20 years since the presentation of my PhD dissertation on the Matthean Community,1 it was with some curiosity and no little trepidation that I have returned to this topic. That a great deal of relevant material had been published on the Gospel of Matthew in the meantime was something that I already knew, but it came as a surprise to me that I myself had developed as much as I have in my thinking, writing style and research methodology. As I have been re- researching and rewriting my arguments and presenting them in a new structure, my thinking has developed in some areas, and in one crucial matter I have become convinced that my earlier confidence was misplaced. Yet the conviction remains that there is still a great need for a new methodological model with which to approach the Matthean Community, and that its place in early Christianity is usually misjudged. These considerations have encouraged me in the hope that some might find this book to be a helpful contribution to the on-going scholarly debate as to how to determine the shape of the Matthean Community and where that community might fit within early Christianity. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the many institutions and individuals that have helped support the research underlying this book. Generous financial support has been provided by a number of institutions. These include the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, that sponsored my...

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