The Group Orientation of the New Testament

joelThe Bible was written to people who naturally gravitated toward community. Jesus and all the New Testament writers would not have understood modern individualism. For them, the individual was always a part of a larger social world and this social world was primary. To become a follower of Jesus by necessity meant joining a community, becoming part of a new spiritual family.

Bruce J. Malina writes in Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, “Some 80 percent of the people on our planet are collectivist [group oriented]. The significant fact for those individualists who read the Bible is that biblical writers and the people they depict were also collectivists, including Jesus.” Malina goes on to say, “Individualist cultures are a rather recent phenomenon.They didn’t exist before the 16 or 17th century” (p. 18).

Sadly, in many cultures today, we have removed from the gospel what the Bible views as central to the sanctification process, namely, commitment to God’s group. When we do this, we set ourselves up to be relational shipwrecks (Sunday attendees who focus on individual satisfaction over loyalty to God’s group). The mentality of so many today is, ‘I can leave my church and my personal savior will go with me wherever I go.”

God, in contrast, desires to make disciples who are growing in their relationships with others. He wants to grow disciples who love one another, are growing in the one-anothers of the Bible, and are committed to the group. God, the Trinity, wants to conform us to his community nature, rather than to the pattern of the world, which exalts individualism, materialism, and self-aggrandizement.

Moving from a life of individualism toward one of community requires a powerful inner transformation. The good news is that God can do it through us, and it will then flow out to others.



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El Grupo de Orientación de la Iglesia del Nuevo Testamento

Por Joel Comiskey

La Biblia fue escrita a las personas que naturalmente gravitaron hacia la comunidad. Jesús y todos los escritores del Nuevo Testamento no habran entendido individualismo moderno. Para ellos, el individuo fue siempre una parte de un mundo social más amplio y este mundo social era primario. Para convertirse en un seguidor de Jesús por necesidad esto significaba unirse a una comunidad, pasando a formar parte de una nueva familia espiritual.

Bruce J. Molina escribe entendiendo el mundo social del Nuevo Testamento, “Alrededor del 80 por ciento de las personas en nuestro planeta son colectivista [grupo orientado]”. El hecho significativo para los individualistas que leen la Biblia es que los escritores bblicos y las personas que representan también los colectivistas, incluyendo a Jesús. “Molina continúa diciendo, las culturas individualistas son un fenómeno bastante reciente”. No exista antes del siglo 16 o 17″ (p. 18).

Lamentablemente, en muchas culturas hoy en da, hemos eliminado el evangelio y las opiniones de la Biblia como fundamento para el proceso de santificación, es decir, el compromiso con el grupo de Dios. Cuando hacemos esto, nos preparamos para los naufragios relacionales (los asistentes dominicales se centran en la satisfacción individual por sobre la lealtad al grupo de Dios). La mentalidad de hoy para muchos es, ‘Yo puedo salir de mi iglesia y mi salvador personal irá conmigo a donde quiera que vaya. ”

Dios, por el contrario, desea hacer discpulos que están creciendo en sus relaciones con los demás. Él quiere crecer discpulos que se aman, están creciendo los Unos a Otros en la Biblia, y estamos comprometidos con el grupo. Dios, la Trinidad, quiere conformarnos a su naturaleza de comunidad, en lugar de con el patrón del mundo, que exalta el individualismo, el materialismo y el auto-engrandecimiento.

Pasar de una vida de individualismo hacia uno de la comunidad requiere una transformación interna de gran alcance. La buena noticia es que Dios puede hacerlo a través de nosotros, y entonces fluye hacia los demás.



8 thoughts on “The Group Orientation of the New Testament

  • Sorry to note that you’ve spelt Malina wrong, which prevents us from tracking down his 15 excellent books on the social gospel.

    Otherwise, I totally agree with this point; very appropriate, and a good corrective to modern practices.

  • “God, the Trinity, wants to conform us to his community nature, rather than to the pattern of the world, which exalts individualism, materialism, and self-aggrandizement.” Powerful! Thanks for sharing. There’s a chance this might sneak it’s way into one of my sermons : )

  • Dr. Joel, I agree with your statement, “we have removed from the gospel what the Bible views as central to the sanctification process, namely, commitment to God’s group.” Do any scripture verses in particular come to your mind that reinforce this concept?

  • Hebrews 10:25 comes to mind. In reality, all New Testament letters are written to a house church. in other words, they were written to people who would have heard Paul’s exhortations read to them. The first application would have been to the group–the church. Because each individual comprises the whole, there is a secondary application but the primary one is to the church. What do you think?

  • Hebrews 10:25 is a great one. That’s a good point about interpreting the scriptures through that context. I was asking because I’m preaching on community life on the 29th and I like some of the points posted in this article. Another verse I found after asking was Eph 4:16 which basically expresses the idea of our connection in the body causing growth for each person. Thanks for the response, very helpful!

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