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The First Theologians:
A Study in Early Christian Prophecy
by Thomas W. Gillespie
List Price: $26.00

Sigler Price: $15.00 

Cloth - 286 pp
ISBN 0-8028-3721-2


The First Theologians represents an important contribution to the scholarly investigation of the nature and function of early Christian prophecy.

This topic, occasioned by Harnack's publication of The Didache text in 1884, is one that continues to vex New Testament scholars, who have been unable to reach widespread assent on certain pressing questions: What were the function and location of the prophets in early Christianity?  What were the nature and authority of their prophesying?  What were the forms and content of their prophecy?  Such questions point up the issues involved in the inquiry as it has developed, but the question of just what early Christian prophets were doing when they were prophesying remains open.

Thomas Gillespie refocuses the issue by looking at the apostle Paul's own description of the prophetic phenomenon in 1 Corinthians.  From a careful exegesis of Paul's arguments in chapters 12 and 14 and 2:6-16, Gillespie puts forth the idea that Paul understood Christian prophecy 'as Spirit-inspired interpretation of the theological and ethical implications of the apostolic kerygma.'  Because prophecy represents primary reflection on the implications of the gospel, its yield may be termed theology.  Therefore Gillespie is able to call the early Christian prophets the first true theologians of the church.

Editorial Comments

Thomas Gillespie concentrates on the Pauline texts -- 1 Corinthians in particular - that deal with early Christian prophecy.  He engages other writers on the subject with verve as he exegetically tests their contentions, always maintaining a narrow, sharp focus on the texts themselves.  His own proposal, made boldly and pursued relentlessly, is that the kerygma of the crucified Christ was the ground and subject of the gospel in the life-situation of the church.  In arguing this thesis, Gillespie is at once sensible and provocative.  This book is sure to stimulate further discussion.

Abraham J. Malherbe
Yale Divinity School

The First Theologians is a bold attempt to redefine both early Christian prophecy and the beginnings of early Christian theology.  The author places his thesis in clear relation to earlier scholarship on these issues in a very helpful way.  This book is an excellent example of how the regrettable gap between New Testament scholarship and theology may be bridged.

Adela Yarbro Collins
Chicago Divinity School

Gillespie uses clear structural articulations, anticipatory observations, and conclusions to illuminate the many-faceted interconnections of 'the prophetic' with the gospel, confession, the Spirit and the activity of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, wisdom, and the kerygma . . . Between the Scylla of reductionistic generalizations and trivializations and the Charybdis of unresolved ambiguity and withheld judgment, Gillespie steers toward the coast of a 'typology of early Christian proclamation.'  This book does theology as exegesis carried through to its logical conclusions.  But it also speaks to practical and systematic theologians concerning the issues of their disciplines.

Michael Welker
from the Foreword

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