Neither Jew nor Greek

A Contested Identity

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James D. G. Dunn
Christianity in the Making
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , December
     960 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


James Dunn completed his fifteen-year magnum opus magnificently with this 824-paged tome. The first installment, Jesus Remembered, was published in 2003. The second, Beginning from Jerusalem, was published six years later in 2009. Now, after another six years, the third arrives, covering the period from the destruction of Jerusalem to the time of Irenaeus in the second century, who “marks a decisive watershed in early Christianity” (5). While easy to read, with its myriad of footnotes and numerous references to other scholars with whom he engages, this is most definitely an academic work and not a popular text. Once read, it will likely become that work that one keeps close at hand and constantly refers back to.

Organized on the same lines as the previous volume, Dunn is not attempting “to write a history of Christianity’s beginnings, but simply to examine the factors and primary influences which gave early Christianity its distinctive character” (182). Dunn uses excerpts from first and second century Jewish and Christian texts that helped to shape early Christianity to trace the influence of James, Peter, Paul, and John on the first generation and those immediately following, examining such aspects as the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism, the loss of a Jewish Christian influence, the emergence of Hellenistic Christianity, and responses to Gnosticism. In addition to the primary texts, Dunn engages a wide range of scholars and secondary literature which support his narrative of the development of Christianity and highlight the controversies that existed in the early period.

Throughout the text, Dunn represents his findings from previous material in summary form when they are pertinent to the current argument.  From the very beginning one finds phrases such as, “as already noted,” followed by a footnote to where he had previously discussed the matter, either in one of the two previous volumes or earlier in the same one. While the summaries of previous arguments are helpful, if one wishes to understand the arguments in more than summary form, one must refer back to the previous two installments.

Dunn works on the assumption that the apostolic period was not an ideal or pure period, showing how there was controversy between Peter and Paul, or Paul and James, and how Peter served as a bridge between the various sides, helping to hold the community together. Throughout Neither Jew nor Greek, Dunn points out that there is “evidence within these documents themselves that their writers had not seen eye to eye on quite a number of controverted issues” (9). In discussing Jewish Christianity, Hellenistic Christianity, and Judaism and how the various groups interacted with and spoke of each other, he notes “there is all the difference in the world between two well-established institutions despising and dismissively rubbishing long-term opponents, and two groups beginning to emerge with the same heritage struggling to clarify their identities in relation to the other” (649). Dunn leans toward the latter interpretation.

Dunn displays his encyclopedic knowledge of both the primary and secondary sources on early Christianity gained over his decades of research. Despite its length, like any work, there is not enough space to engage all the secondary literature. Providing a comprehensive overview of the period, this work will be considered a landmark addition to the field for years to come.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Marie Nuar is adjunct professor of theology at St. John's University, Rome Campus.

Date of Review: 
September 26, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

James D. G. Dunn is Lightfoot professor emeritus of divinity at Durham University and one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world today. His many other books include The Oral Gospel Tradition; Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels; The Theology of Paul the Apostle; and Jesus Remembered and Beginning from Jerusalem, volumes 1 and 2 of Christianity in the Making.


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