Meals and the Gospel Truth

Meals and the Gospel Truth October 29, 2015

Stephen Turley ends The Ritualized Revelation of the Messianic Age by elaborating the point made in his title: “for early Pauline communities, rituals and beliefs were in fact irreducible to one another. As such, our ritual reading of Paul provides an exegetical corrective to the traditional relation posited between theology and early Christian rituals. Because rituals are inherently informative as well as formative, ritual washings and meals both expressed and generated dialectically the sanctity of early Christian beliefs, ideas, and values.” Sanctity was “generated performatively by proclamation in the context of ritual washing and eating,” since the proclamation of Christ’s Lordship in the context of of ritual washings and meals . . . sacnctified the practices, giving them their distinct identity from all other comparable ritualized gestures not associated with Christian postulates.” Rituals were “both generative of as well as communicative of the sanctity” of the church (173).

Turley draws these conclusions about ritual meals in part from an analysis of Galatians 2, where Paul excoriates Peter for his withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles. He believes both old and new perspectives tend “to abstract what Paul calls the ‘truth of the gospel’ . . . from the Antiochene meal, such that the gospel has a truthfulness apart from its ritualized manifestation” (129). This is just the separation that Paul would not make, since for him the gospel “was nothing less than a radical reorientation of the world around the Christ-event.” Shared meals “provided a new life-context in which Jewish faithfulness was no longer determined by ‘living as a Jew’ but now by embodying practices revelatory of the ‘truth of the gospel’” (130). A turn from this new context, a return to the divided table, was inherently a rejection of the truth of the gospel.

More positively, Turley makes the point this way: “ritual meals were both expressive and generative of the ‘truth of the gospel.’ At Antioch, we witnessed the embodiment of the gospel in the norm-breaking nature of the shared meals where the faithfulness of Jews was reconstituted away from the ‘works of the Law’ and around ‘faith in Christ’ . . . The meals, like baptism in relation to faith, therefore functioned reciprocally in relation to the ‘gospel’: the ritualized bodies of the Antiochenes set apart the ‘gospel,’ ‘justification,’ and ‘faith’ as hierarchically true from all other competing truth claims while reciprocally the ‘gospel,’ ‘justification,’ and ‘faith’ informed their ritualized bodies as distinctly recalibrated around Christ.” The meals of Jews and Gentiles “constituted cosmic indicators that revealed a new age where all things are redefined in relation to the Christ-event” (171).

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