Biblical scholars have long recognized the diversity in early Christian writing concerning theology and ethics. This dissertation seeks to show that in the New Testament there is a characteristic ethic that is affirmed throughout. This ethic is one of servanthood before others. Each chapter of the thesis focusses on a particular group of New Testament writings and delineates the content of, motives for and limitations upon, the servant-ethic in each group.
The content of the servant-ethic is characterized by service to others and the surrender of personal rights and selfish ambition. The ethic is motivated primarily by the desire to fulfill the will of God. The ethic's principal limitation is that God's will must not be violated when seeking to fulfill the servant-ethic. The dissertation concludes that the early Christian self-understanding is one of "other-directedness" and "self-forgetfulness," and that such self-understanding is emblematic of primitive Christian ethical thought as represented in the New Testament.
The scope of the thesis is limited to the New Testament primarily for pragmatic reasons. Nevertheless, the conclusion that the servant-ethic pervades this collection of early Christian writing, has implications for scholarship since it maps out some of the ethical territory common to diverse Christian communities in the first century or so of the common era.