Memphis Belle

History Menu
Early Church History
Church's Birth
Early Church History

Choosing a Church
To log onto UNITYINCHRIST.COM’S BLOG, Click Here
Unity in Christ
Introduction
About the Author
Does God Exist?
Gospels
Epistles
Prayer
Faith
the Prophets & Prophecy

Psalms

OT History
Early Church History
Church History
Sabbatarian Heritage

The Worldwide Church Of God
Messianic Believers
Evangelism


America-Modern Romans


Latin-American Poverty

Topical Studies
Guest Book
Utility Pages
Share on Facebook
Tell a friend:
 

Chapter 1

 

First Stage of the Apostolic Church

 

The early Church of God that was founded in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2 was in the beginning made up of strictly Torah observant Messianic Jews, numbering upwards past 3,000 the very first day of its birth at Pentecost (some say 31AD, some say 32AD).  They held many of the same beliefs and religious worship practices of the Jews in Judea-weekly Sabbath, annual Sabbaths [Holy Days commanded in Leviticus 23], Jewish dietary laws [again commanded in the OT Torah, in Leviticus 11]-and all this was coupled to proclaiming the resurrection of the dead.  In these early times, as well as the times during the apostle Paul's gospel missions, their customs of worship provided a vital link between them and the Jewish population of the land, or the synagogues they visited and preached in throughout the Diaspora (Middle East and Asia Minor).  They appeared to be just another sect of the Jews to the Romans, and even the Jews themselves up to the time of the conversion of Cornelius.  This view of them just being another sect of the Jews actually brought early Christians protection under the religio licita or legal religion status of Rome.  Upwards past 50AD the members of the Jerusalem Church of God continued to ritualistically circumcise their male children on the 8th day, in order to protect the Church from undo persecution from the Jews.  Acts 21:17-26 shows that Paul was indeed teaching Jews (Jewish believers, Judeo-Christians) in the Hellenistic Diaspora that ritual circumcision wasn't necessary anymore.  But the continued observance of seventh day Sabbath [Saturday] and Holy Day observance [Leviticus 23] by Judeo-Christians, both in Judea and the Hellenistic Diaspora is clearly shown in the literature of the Greco-Roman church (i.e. Nicene, Post, and Anti-Nicene Fathers). 

          In 35AD, Acts 10:14 through 11:8 clearly shows the apostle Peter, and thus the whole Church of God in Jerusalem, following the dietary laws of Leviticus 11.  They kept the Sabbath (4th Commandment of Exodus 20), and the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 as well.  During the next 40 years the Church grew rapidly under the apostles.  When God caused Peter and the Church to understand that uncircumcised Gentiles were eligible for salvation as well, this very act in itself drove a huge wedge between Judaism and the early Church of God (around 35AD, Acts 10:1-11 and Acts 11:19-21).  The Pharisees and the Jews, all somewhat Hellenized now, had nothing against seeing Gentiles converted to Judaism.  But to admit uncircumcised, ritualistically "unclean" Gentiles into the early Church (which was still regarded as a sect of Judaism even by the Jews) served only to increase the divide between orthodox and Pharisaic Jews and the early Church of God, and later the Judeo-Christians in Asia Minor.  As time went on (50AD) the early Church of God came to understand that animal sacrifices were no longer necessary because Jesus had been the ultimate sacrifice for sin, the sins of the whole world.  Hebrews 10:1-10, shows this, and Hebrews 8:6-13 shows the Old Covenant had ended for believers with the death of Jesus.  Halley says, "It is more likely that it [Hebrews] must have been written [by Paul] from Rome, A.D. 61-63."  For some reason beyond me (I'm not a theologian) the Old Testament law of God in the Torah is equated as one and the same as the Old Covenant.  So the passing of the Old Covenant with the death of Jesus would have included all the Mosaic laws in the Torah.  Instead, in the New Testament, we find believers commanded to keep the 'Law of Christ', which basically is a command to observe 9 out of the 10 Commandments, brought to their lofty spiritual intent, as Matthew 5:17-48 shows.  Others interpret the new covenant differently, using the Biblically simplistic definition of it in Hebrews 8:6-13 and Jeremiah 31:31-34, that simply, in the new covenant, God promises to write his laws in the believers' heart and mind, no mention of which "set of laws, Old Testament or New", and that the choice of which the believer wished to have God write was up to the believer.  I personally am not sure which definition of the new covenant is more accurate, but I tend to lean to the simple Bible definition of it, which also seems to fit Romans 14.  But under the law of Christ, choice of "days of worship", dietary laws, etc. was an optional matter for the believer.  As history will bear out, the early Church of God and the Judeo-Christians of Asia Minor chose to continue to observe seventh day Sabbath and the Holy Days of Leviticus 23.  Now, naturally in the land of Judea, this choice would be easy, to avoid persecution from the Jews, as we shall see.  But it would not account for the strong Judeo-Christian observance of these days of worship up through the 300s AD in Asia Minor.  The Jerusalem Church of God and those living in Judea continued to circumcise their male children so as to not fall under greater persecution from the Jews than they already were under.  Paul, as Acts 21:17-26 shows, was teaching the Hellenistic Judeo-Christians in the Diaspora that ritualistic circumcision was no longer necessary.  Ritual or physical circumcision was merely a physical symbol for what the Holy Spirit does in believers' hearts.  It even mentions this in the Old Testament. 

          For an in-depth picture of the early Church of God in Jerusalem which faithfully follows the book of Acts, read chapters 7 & 8, pp. 148-178 of Oskar Skarsaune's In the Shadow of the Temple. 

 

Evangelism of Paul,

Let’s Take Another Look

 

Laying of the foundation:  First some background information.  Due to the radical Maccabee conquests and the tone they set, of self-confidence—Judaism took on an aggressive form of becoming evangelistic.  They understood many of the Messianic prophecies (2nd coming of Jesus for us), and they saw Judaism as the soon-to-be central religion of the world.  And that’s not going to be too far from the truth when Jesus returns (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/kingdomofgod/mkg1.htm ).  Jewish evangelism brought a few outright proselytes (Gentiles that actually fully converted to Judaism), but attracted another group called by the Jews “God-fearers”.  These were Gentiles that accepted the One True God of Israel over the multiple gods of the pagans.  They attended the synagogues throughout the Diaspora.  At this time I am unsure what percentage they made up in the average synagogue population, but my guess would be that it wouldn’t have been over 10 percent.  Jews had synagogues all over Asia Minor, especially along the coast, and a good number in Greece, and in the area of Babylon and Syria.  You see, during the Babylonian captivity the Jews were forced to create a temple-less Judaism, and they did this by creating the synagogue, which kind of duplicated two of the three main functions of the temple service, that being a house of prayer and study of God’s Word, the Torah.  Obviously, sacrifices were out, since God’s Law specified they been done in a prescribed manner in the Temple, by the Levitical Priesthood. How did the Diaspora Jews maintain their Jewish identity as they spread and assimilated into the various cultures?  Most races when they migrate end up “melting” into the indigenous population.  The answer lies within the Babylonian captivity.  When the Jews were deported to Babylon their temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.  They had to worship without a temple, without a Levitical Priesthood, without sacrifices and Passover lamb.  In short, they had to develop a temple-less Judaism that maintained their ability to live and worship as Jews, worshipping God without a temple, and all that went with it.  Also, even if the temple were still intact, they were stuck in Babylon, captives.  But after the Diaspora from the Babylonian captivity onward, synagogues spread throughout the region of Mesopotamia (around Babylon), Asia Minor, Greece, and even in Rome.  Only after a while were synagogues built away from Jerusalem, but in Galilee and areas of Judea far from Jerusalem.  Finally some were created in Jerusalem, but in no way did they supplant second  Temple worship and the religious system set up around it. But prior to the destruction of the second Temple in 70AD Judaism already had the system of worship in place that would allow a Temple-less Jewish worship to take place, allowing them to maintain their religion throughout the world.  And don’t forget, aggressive Jewish evangelism during the Maccabean period had perhaps added at least an estimated 10 percent of Gentile “God-fearers” to their synagogue populations.  As Oskar Skarsaune says “the synagogue originated as an answer to the needs of Jews who had no access to the temple.  It is therefore no wonder that after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the synagogue emerged as the institution that could house a temple-less Judaism.  It had done so for some time already…” [In The Shadow Of The Temple, p.79, par. 3]  He goes on to say “The Jews of the Diaspora have been called “the forerunners of Paul.”  The idea is that the mission of the church was prepared for by the evangelistic efforts of Diaspora Jews.” [ibid. p.79, par. 4] Paul going to out to the Gentiles after his encounter with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road would not seem un-Jewish in the light of all the Jewish evangelism going out to the known world during this Maccabean era. During the period of early Christianity Jews were settled in two geographic locations, totally different from each other.  One was Israel, the other the Diaspora.  During the Babylonian exile many of the Jews settled into Babylon and its environs and became wealthy.  After the captivity ended a good many remained, thriving and multiplying.  Another highly populated area of the Diaspora was Alexandria.  Jews fleeing the invading Babylonians moved south into Egypt, which under the Ptolemies was friendly to them.  This group also prospered and multiplied as well.  The Hellenist period saw many, many Jews settling in areas outside of the land of Israel.  At the time of Christ Jews were settled in large and small cities from the Persian Gulf, all around the Mediterranean as far as Spain and Morocco.  The Roman historian Strabo (writing during the time of Augustus) wrote: “This people has already made its way to every city, and it is not easy to find any place in the habitable world which has not received this nation and in which it has not made its power felt.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 14.115]  The two Diaspora’s in Babylon and Alexandria were merely the beginning.  From there, all on their own, the Jewish people spread all over the world—as Strabo observed—into every community—large and small—around the Mediterranean.  And within those communities, they formed their own communities, with their own synagogues.  Asia Minor had many along the coast of the Mediterranean as well as the coast of the Black Sea going inland into north-central Asia Minor [modern Turkey now]. 

 

 

God-fearers, who were they, where did they come from?

 

Enter the Jews and Judaism into this Roman-Hellenic philosophical culture

 

“It is at this point in the argument that we see the crucial relevance of the Jewish impingement on the Roman world.  For the Jews not merely had a god; they had God.  They had been monotheists for at least two millennia.  They had resisted with infinite fortitude and sometimes with grievous suffering, the temptations and ravages of eastern polytheistic systems.  It is true that their god [God, their concept of God] was originally tribal, and more recently national; in fact he was still national, and since he was closely and intimately associated with the Temple in Jerusalem, he was in some way municipal too.  But Judaism was also, and very much so, an interior religion, pressing closely and heavily on the individual, who was burdened with a multitude of injunctions and prohibitions which posed acute problems of interpretation and scruple.  The practicing Jew was essentially homo religioiusus as well as a functionary of a patriotic cult.  The two aspects might even conflict, for Pompey was able to breach the walls of Jerusalem in 65 BC primarily because the stricter elements among the Jewish defenders refused to bear arms on the sabbath.”  [They refused to follow the rules of warfare laid out by their own famous Judas Maccabee, or had forgotten them, that in national emergency, it is permitted to bear arms on the Sabbath.]  “It could be said, in fact, that the power and dynamism of the Jewish faith transcended the military capacity of the Jewish people.  The Jewish state might, and did, succumb to empires, but its religious expression survived, flourished and violently resisted cultural assimilation or change.  Judaism was greater than the sum of its parts.  Its angular will to survive was the key to recent Jewish history…”  [“A History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson, p.9, portions taken from par. 1 and 2]  “The Jews, then, were unanimous in seeing history as a reflection of God’s activity.  The past was not a series of haphazard events but unrolled remorselessly according to a divine plan which was also a blueprint and code of instructions for the future.  But the blueprint was cloudy; the code uncracked…”  Ain’t that the truth.  [ibed, p. 10, par. 1]

 

Diaspora Jewish evangelism and the creation of the racially Gentile group known as “the God-fearers”

 

 “They [the Jews in the diaspora] were also, in notable contrast to the Palestine Jews, anxious to spread their religion.  In general, diaspora Jews were proselytizers, often passionately so.  Throughout this period [Maccabean to time of Christ] some Jews at least had universalist aims, and hoped that Israel would be ‘the light to the gentiles.’  The Greek adaptation of the Old Testament, or Septuagint, which was composed in Alexandria and was widely used in the diaspora communities, has an expansionist and missionary flavour quite alien to the original.  And there were in all probability catechisms and manuals for aspiring converts, reflecting the liberal-mindedness and large heartedness of the diaspora Jew to the gentile.  Philo, too, projected in his philosophy the concept of a gentile mission and wrote joyfully: ‘THERE IS NOT A SINGLE GREEK OR BARBARIAN CITY, NOT A SINGLE PEOPLE, TO WHICH THE CUSTOM OF SABBATH OBSERVANCE HAS NOT SPREAD, OR IN WHICH THE FEAST DAYS, THE KINDLING OF LIGHTS, AND MANY OF OUR PROHIBITIONS ABOUT FOOD ARE NOT HEEDED.’ This claim was generally true.  Though it is impossible to present accurate figures, it is clear that by the time of Christ the diaspora Jews greatly outnumbered the settled Jews in Palestine:  perhaps by as many as 4.5 million to 1 million.  [Rodney Stark backs up these figures.]  Those attached in some way to the Jewish faith formed a significant proportion of the total population of the empire and in Egypt, where they were most strongly entrenched, one in every seven or eight inhabitants was a Jew.  A LARGE PORTION OF THESE PEOPLE WERE NOT JEWISH BY RACE.  NOR WERE THEY FULL JEWS IN THE RELIGIOUS SENSE: THAT IS, FEW OF THEM WERE CIRCUMCISED OR EXPECTED TO OBEY THE LAW IN ALL ITS RIGOR.  MOST OF THEM WERE NOACHIDES, OR GOD-FEARERS.  THEY RECOGNIZED AND WORSHIPPED THE JEWISH GOD AND THEY WERE PERMITTED TO MINGLE WITH SYNAGOGUE WORSHIPERS TO LEARN JEWISH LAW AND CUSTOMS---EXACTLY LIKE THE FUTURE CHRISTIAN CATECHUMENS, THEY WERE NOT GENERALLY EXPECTED TO BECOMME FULL JEWS; THEY HAD INTERMEDIATE STATUS OF VARIOUS KINDS.  ON THE OTHER HAND, THEY SEEMED TO HAVE PLAYED A FULL ROLE IN JEWISH SOCIAL ARRANGEMENTS.  INDEED, THIS WAS A GREAT PART OF THE APPEAL OF DIASPORA JUDAISM.  The Jews, with their long assured tradition of monotheism had much to offer a world looking for a sure, single God, but their ethics were in some way even more attractive than their theology.  The Jews were admired for their stable family life, for their attachment to chastity while avoiding the excesses of celibacy, for the impressive relationships they sustained between children and parents, for the peculiar value they attached to human life, for the abhorrence of theft and their scrupulosity in business.  But even more striking was their communal charity.  They had always been accustomed to remit funds to Jerusalem for the upkeep of the Temple and the relief of the poor.  During the Herodian period they also developed, in the big diaspora cities, elaborate welfare services for the indigent, the poor, the sick, widows and orphans, prisoners and incurables.  These arrangements were much talked about and even imitated; and, of course, they became a leading feature of the earliest Christian communities and a principal reason for the spread of Christianity in the cities.  On the eve of the Christian mission they [these Diaspora Jews] produced converts to Judaism from all classes, including the highest:  Nero’s empress, Poppaea, and her court circle, were almost certainly God-fearers, and King Izates II of Adiabene on the Upper Tigris embraced a form of Judaism with all his house.  There were probably other exalted converts.  Certainly many authors, including Seneca, Tacitus, Suetonius, Horace and Juvenal, testify to successful Jewish missionary activity in the period before the fall of Jerusalem.” [Quotes from taken from  “A History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson, p. 11, par. 2 through p.12, par. 1]  “Was there a real possibility that Judaism might become the world religion in an age which longed for one?  Or, to put it another way, if Christianity had not intervened, capitalized on many of the advantages of Judaism, and taken over its proselytizing role, might Judaism have continued to spread until it captured the empire? THAT WAS THE WAY SOME JEWS IN THE DIASPORA CERTAINLY WISHED TO GO; [IT WAS] THE SAME JEWS, OF COURSE, WHO EMBRACED CHRISTIANITY WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY AROSE.  But plainly Judaism could not become a world religion without agonizing changes in its teaching and organization.”  [“A History of Christianity”, by Paul Johnson, p. 13, par. 1]

 

What was wrong with the Jewish religious system?

 

What was wrong with the Jewish system that needed agonizing changes in its teaching and organization?  Paul Johnson answers that vital question in the next paragraph very clearly, “Then, too, was the obstacle of circumcision, on which no compromise seemed possible within the Judaic framework; and the monstrous ramifications of a legal system which had elaborated itself over many generations.  The Jewish scriptures, formidable in bulk [all on their own] and often of impenetrable obscurity, gave employment in Palestine to a vast cottage industry of scribes and lawyers, both amateur and professional, filling whole libraries with their commentaries, enmeshing the Jewish world in a web of canon law, luxuriant with its internal conflicts and its mutual exclusions, too complex for any one mind to comprehend, bread and butter for a proliferating clergy and an infinite series of traps for the righteous.  The ultimate success of a Gentile mission would depend on the scale and hardihood of the demolition work carried out on this labyrinth of Mosaic jurisprudence.”  [p. 13, par. 1]  “To the unprepared visitor, the dignity and charity of Jewish diaspora life, the thoughtful comments and homilies of the Alexandrian synagogue, was quite lost amid the smoke of the pyres, the bellows of terrified beasts, the sluices of blood, the abattoir stench, the unconcealed and unconcealable machinery of tribal religion inflated by modern wealth to an industrial scale…Diaspora Judaism, liberal and outward-minded, contained the matrix of a universal religion, but only if it could be cut off from its barbarous origins; and how could so thick and sinewy an umbilical cord be severed?”  [p. 13, par. 2 to p. 14, par. 1]  This brings us to the early Judeo-Christian Church, and Paul’s evangelism within the region of the Jewish diaspora, and who his was evangelism was aimed at. 

 

Another glimpse into what made Paul perfect for a mission to ‘the Gentiles’ (which in fact were mixture of God-fears and Jews alike)

 

“But Paul had more than a divine mandate for the gentile mission.  He came from Tarsus, which has been termed ‘the Athens of Asia Minor.’  It was a trading emporium, a centre of cults of every kind, Gnostic, exotic, oriental and Stoic.  It was a focal point of syncretism, a cultural and religious crossroads, a city familiar with weird religious processions outdoors and Hellenic debate within.  Paul was a product of this diversity, and thus can be presented as a Hellenist or a rabbi, a mystic or a chiliast…” [“A History of Christianity”, Johnson, p. 36, par. 2] [Chiliast:  archaic term for a Millenarian, one who believes the 1,000 year reign of the Messiah on earth.]

 

           

 

Paul’s evangelism targets the Jewish synagogues in the Roman Empire

 

Three points:

 1.  The main focus of Paul’s evangelism took place in all the synagogues across Asia Minor and Greece.  He only reached directly out to Gentiles in Athens, when they approached him.  Within the synagogue service, any Jew (which Paul was) had the right to stand up and preach and expound on the Word of God (which back then was the Old Testament).  Paul had a perfect opportunity to witness to the Jews, using the Old Testament prophecies he was very well acquainted with, to prove the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. 

2. The majority of those attending Jewish synagogues were Jews, ethnically, racially.  A smaller percentage were “God-fearers” (my guess, no more than 10 percent).  Maybe one percent were actual proselytes, full Gentile converts to Judaism.

3.  So it stands to reason that most of Paul’s converts were Jewish, not Gentile. If God is no respecter of persons, and God say used Paul’s powerful preaching to draw 10 people in a synagogue of 100 to belief in Jesus, 9 would be Jewish, and 1 a “God-fearer Gentile”.  Don’t forget, Paul’s evangelistic preaching was so powerful that he was kicked out of many, if not all the synagogues. But before that occurred, he may have actually been emptying out the synagogues.  And realize, with no phones, no internet or email, when kicked out of one, in one city, he could travel to the next city before word got out, and preach there.   There is a pattern here that we will explore more thoroughly later.

          Now let me quote from Oskar Skarsaune’s In the Shadow of the Temple.  “…let us visualize a typical Diaspora synagogue, as we meet it, for example, in Acts 13:14-48.  It would have a dual attendance.  First, of course, were the loyal and observant Jews, coming each Sabbath to hear the Word of God and to say their prayers.  They would have built or equipped the synagogue at their own expense, and were naturally very devoted to it.  Their hope was that many outsiders might be attracted to the synagogue and eventually convert to Judaism.

          This hope was embodied in the other group attending the synagogue: Gentiles who had become convinced [through Jewish evangelism] that the God of the Bible was the only true God.  They tried to fulfil his ethical precepts; they had a certain familiarity with the Bible; and many of them were contemplating full conversion to Judaism, though few actually took the step.  In the New Testament and other ancient sources they are called the “God-fearers.”  These groups of Gentile God-fearers, attached to almost every Diaspora synagogue, are essential to our understanding of the mission and expansion of the early church.  When the gospel message was first addressed to Gentiles, it was addressed primarily to these groups, and among them it found a wide hearing.  This would lead us to expect that the geographical spread of Christianity would follow a route populated by Diaspora synagogues.  As we know, the Book of Acts testifies that this was true.” [ibid. p. 82, par. 2-3] 

          On pages 80 and 81 of his book he has two maps.  One is of the Jewish population and community centers in the Roman Empire.  The other is the same projection for Christian churches up through 300 AD.  If you were to mentally overlay the two maps, you would see a heavy concentration of early Christian churches in the same or similar areas of Jewish population and community centers.  But since the second map goes to 300 AD it shows a massive spread of early Christian churches.  He states “As you will observe, the Jewish colonies (and synagogues) are not evenly distributed over the area; there are some heavily populated regions, especially in Asia Minor.  You will notice clusters of Jewish settlements around Alexandria and Rome, and a strong Jewish presence in Syria and Greece. Now turn to figure 3.2 [second map, p. 81], which shows the presence of Christian communities ca. A.D. 100-300.  One is struck by the almost complete overlap; the two maps exhibit essentially the same pattern.  This tells us Paul’s practice was not peculiar to him.” [ibid. p. 83, par. 1]  What Mr. Skarsaune is getting at, is that Paul was following a pattern of Jewish evangelism, but was using it in and on the Jewish synagogues.  My contention is that the ratio of “God-fearer” to actual Jews was not as high as Christian scholars would like to make it out to be.  How many people in a pagan society, laced with pagan sexual practices that mirror the immorality of this world—“Party on, dude”—are actually going to be attracted to the God of Israel and the Jewish synagogue?  Come on now, be realistic.  Why was Paul kicked out of so many synagogues?  He was “stealing” their stalwart members, and some of their “God-fearer” members as well.  That angered them to no end.  Another thing to consider which supports this conclusion I’m drawing, Acts 24:5 shows a powerful Jewish reaction to Paul’s evangelism in the Diaspora.  The Jewish leaders would not have been so stirred up against Paul if his evangelism outside of Israel was mainly going to Gentiles, drawing them to Jesus Christ.  But the wording of Acts 24:5 shows this was a response to someone whose evangelism was threatening the very synagogue system in the Diaspora.  “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes…”  Paul was preaching in all the synagogues he could get to throughout Asia Minor, Greece and the coast of the Mediterranean leading up to Asia Minor.  Some of the major congregations he founded were in Galatia, Ephesus (later the headquarters of the apostle John), Philippi, Colossi and Thessalonica, all in Asia Minor and Greece.  Also the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 were probably founded by Paul--Ephesus (already mentioned), Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodocia).  One of these is mentioned as being almost entirely Gentile (Galatia), but the others probably didn’t have more than a small number of Gentile “God-fearers”, the rest being ethnic Jews.  What else would explain the wrath of the Jewish leaders, bringing a famous Jewish lawyer against Paul before Felix the Roman governor?  The synagogues throughout Asia Minor felt the evangelistic presence of the apostle Paul, reared and trained in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, and a student under Gamaliel.  (Some thought Saul may have been in the process of being groomed to be high priest.)

          Bible scholar-critics have all fallen under the paradigm of believing and then teaching that the Jerusalem church and community of believers soon lost its significance and the church very quickly turned into “a Gentile Christian church”. Mr. Skarsaune says this, “The argument continues over whether the early Jerusalem community of believers in Jesus soon lost its significance, and whether the New Testament writings reflect the beliefs of Hellenized Christians who had only minimal contact with Jerusalem and the first believers.”  That is a long-standing fallacy which is now crumbling under the weight of evidence to the contrary.  He goes on to say “In order to support this theory, the Book of Acts has to be dismissed as a mostly unhistorical record, and this was done by many New Testament scholars of the past.”  This is the trouble with Bible “scholars” who spend their lives trying discredit or tear down parts of the Bible that don’t fit the way they perceive Christianity as having been.  Oskar Skarsaune says about that, “But in recent years the historical credibility of Acts has been re-evaluated, and for good reasons.”  [He cites: C.K. Barret, Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London: Epworth, 1961); Ian Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 2nd ed. (Exeter: Paternoster, 1979); Jacob Jervell, Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972…and the list goes on.  If interested, look at the bottom of p. 88 of In The Shadow of the Temple for more references.]  “The centrality of the Jerusalem community and its position as the “mother church” of all Christianity, as reported in Acts, is also substantiated by important evidence in Paul’s epistles.  The Christian church had its decisive beginning in Jerusalem; its first doctrinal decisions were made there; its first organizational patterns were developed there; its basic self-definition was worked out there…” [ibid. p. 88, par. 1-3]. 

 

Jewish population figures for Israel and the Diaspora

 

Skarsaune gives a “generous estimate” of roughly 2.5 million Jews living in the land of Israel, and 5 million Jews living in the Diaspora.  He points out that the ratio is more important than the actual figures (p. 91).  A good number of those lived in Alexandria and another group in Babylonia.  But major trade and commerce were in Greece and Asia Minor, making it a lucrative place to live and work.  Asia Minor was the eastern half of the Roman Empire, and Greece an important shipping land-bridge between east and west.  Paul’s evangelism was chewing into the Jewish population in Asia Minor, and thus the churches that resulted must have been more Judeo-Christian than anything else. 

An emerging thought, leading to a potential paradigm crash

 

I will quote to you directly from Oskar Skarsaune, since he explains it best.  “In New Testament studies the result was that when Jesus debated with the Pharisees in the Gospels, he was thought to debate with the representatives of Judaism as a whole.  According to this perspective, Jesus himself began the debate between Christianity and Judaism; it was continued by all his followers and disciples.   Right from the beginning, Christianity and Judaism were two clearly distinct entities, the one represented by Jesus and his disciples, the other by the Pharisees.  The impact of this way of looking at first-century Jewish and Christian history has been enormous, and is still felt in New Testament scholarship.  There is no doubt, however, that a basic “change of paradigm” is taking place.  For one thing, Jewish scholars have argued with great conviction that Jesus should not be placed outside Pharisaism, but within it: when Jesus debates with Pharisees, his own positions can be shown to agree with those of other Pharisaic authorities…” [ibid. pp. 105-106, par. 4-5, and 1 resp.]  He continues the thought, “So, what we get in the contemporary first-century sources is a picture of competing religious elites, competing for the position as “teachers of Israel,” none of them having anything like a monopoly, none of them being able to define other Jews as being outside of “Judaism” in a way everyone would recognize.  It seems clear that Jesus and the early community of his believers fit into this very picture; they take part in this contest from within, not from without.  It is meaningless and grossly anachronistic to picture Jesus, Peter or Paul as debating with “Judaism” or its representatives, as if they themselves were outside and represented something else, a non-Jewish position.” [ibid. p. 107, par. 3]  Scary thought, true Judaism was God’s true religion, where his people worshipped the one True God, Yahweh, Elohim, El-Shadai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Christianity is the continuation of that true religion, but where God has revealed himself in, by and through his pre-existent Son, who is also God the Son, part of the ever-living one whom the Hebrew Scriptures name as Elohim.  What Oskar is bringing out is that there should be no separation between the true Judaism of Moses and the Prophets and Christianity, one came from the other and is truly a part of the other, and “will be reunited with the other upon Jesus’ return—when all Israel will look upon the one they’ve pierced,” and mourn in recognition of who the true Messiah is, Jesus of Nazareth (Zechariah 12).  An evil and artificial line of separation has been drawn between Judaism and Christianity, and as we shall read further on, the Greco-Roman church had a lot to do with drawing that line of separation which should never have been drawn.  At the pinnacle of Paul’s evangelism, in 60AD, according to Rodney Stark’s figures, 94 percent of the Christian church was racially Jewish, and only 6 percent were Gentiles (and most of those probably Sabbath observing “God-fearers”).  This goes right along with what I postulated earlier in this article, that the majority of those God called through Paul’s evangelistic preaching within the synagogues were racially Jewish, and a far smaller percentage were the “God-fearers”, Gentiles ethnically, but Jewish in worship practices (i.e. Sabbath and Holy Day observing).  What we see is a Jewish Christian church that was in a very real way, a continuation of Judaism, where Jesus Christ came and built on the foundation of his Old Testament “Church in the Wilderness”, which was none other than Judaism.  In 90AD, an estimated five years before John was given his vision from Jesus which became the book of Revelation, the ratio of Jews to Gentiles within the Christian church was 87 percent Jewish to 13 percent Gentile.  Is our paradigm of the Christian church crashing yet?  I’m not done yet.

 

How was Paul able to walk into a synagogue and preach or teach?

 

The synagogue service:  “The oldest sources speak of the reading and expounding of the Scriptures—some also of prayer—as the central feature of the synagogue service.  It must be stressed that the synagogue was a layman’s institution.  Whereas in the temple everything was done by the priests, in the synagogue everything depended on the lay congregation itself.  The central part of the service, the reading of the Scriptures, was carried out by the members of the congregation in turn.  If a scribe was present, he would be asked to expound the text.  But if none were available, everyone was free to speak, and guests would be asked to step forward and greet the congregation with a “word of exhortation” (Acts 13:15).  If a priest happened to be there, his status was equal to that of the other members of the congregation.  All these features clearly betray the synagogue’s Diaspora origins.” [ibid. p. 124, par. 2]  You can see from the bolded sentence where Paul got his foot in the door to evangelize to the congregations of all the synagogues he visited.  He was a Jew, trained under Gamaliel.  Until they realized what was up, they were all ears.  After he has proved the Messiahship of Yeshua through the Old Testament prophecies, which they probably listened to, enthralled, it was too late.  God drew people to Jesus as a result of Paul’s inspired preaching, and the rest got really angry and kicked him out.  He roved from synagogue to synagogue, obviously, doing this.  Gutsy fellow, if you ask me.  They even stoned him once (some think, to death, and then God resurrected him), and beat him with rods on repeated occasions.  Mr. Skarsaune continues, “Apart from the reading and expounding of the Scriptures, the other main component of the synagogue service was prayer.  Here again it was the congregation who prayed, not a priest or someone appointed to this task.  Before the time of Jesus, fixed patterns had already developed for both these components of the synagogue service.  The Scripture reading consisted of the Torah, read each Sabbath according to a three-year or one-year cycle [reading through a few chapters or more, depending on which cycle was being used, of the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy).  I attended a Messianic Jewish congregation for 2.5 years, going through this cycle twice.]  The reading of the Prophets was called the haftarah (“ending” or “completion”) of the Torah reading.  Typical of the availability of sources about the first century, it is the New Testament that gives us the first reliable accounts of haftarah reading in Israel and the Diaspora:  Luke 4:17 and Acts 13:15.  Some of the main prayers are still used in the synagogue service today already existed in the first century A.D.—and some may even be traced back to the last two centuries B .C.”  [ibid. p. 124, par. 3] As I said, I attended a Messianic congregation for two and a half years, and their service almost totally mirrored this synagogue service detailed here.  The only difference being that during the Torah and  haftarah readings, the rabbi-pastor would include passages that applied from the New Testament.  Their personal daily Bible studies went through the whole Bible, but the synagogue service was heavily weighted to the Old Testament Torah and readings from the Prophets, a weakness that seems to exist in this preaching style, as it does not go through the entire Word of God in the “connective expository” manner of the Calvary Chapels method of preaching (whose sermon transcripts are featured on this site).  They really get the 5 books of the Torah firmly planted in their mind, but the rest of the Scripture is often neglected or de-emphasized in the process of this ancient synagogue “custom” which has been carried over into the Messianic congregations.  But God has chosen to restore the Jewish branch of the body of Christ in an amazingly short span of time—35 short years, 1970 to 2005—where there are now an estimated 500,000 Messianic Jewish believers in “Yeshua haMeshiach” [Hebrew for “Jesus Christ”].  So, again, Paul used the pattern of the synagogue service to heavily evangelize the Jewish synagogue population, along with any “God-fearers” within that group. 

 

“The Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem displays a picture from wartime Germany.  On a fence we read the sign Juden verboten, “Jews no admittance.” Inside the fence we see  Jesus hanging on the cross; a crucifix on an open-air altar.  The terrible irony of the situation is immediately seen by most present-day visitors to the museum, but was probably completely lost on the passers-by in wartime Germany.  The idea probably did not occur to them that they were in fact looking at a Jew in a place where Jews were not allowed.  They quite simply did not think of Jesus as Jewish; to many pious Christians the idea would have been shocking.” p. 135

 

Was Paul the founder of modern Gentile Christianity, the way many scholars think?  Mr. Skarsaune says, “Some scholars speak of Paul as the second, or sometimes even the only founder of Christianity.  They simply imply that Paul represents a Christianity totally different from that of the early community in Jerusalem.  Paul is said to be a product of Hellenistic Judaism and Hellenistic Christianity, having minimal contact with the Aramaic-speaking community in Jerusalem and disregarding its theology and authority.  Acts provides no evidence to substantiate this theory.  Paul is brought to Antioch by a member of the Jerusalem church, and he acts under the authority of Jerusalem and its teaching ministry (Acts 11:22-26).  The pupil of Gamaliel the Elder was no peripheral figure to Judean Jews, whether believers or not.  Paul’s own letters substantiate the evidence in Acts.” [ibid. p. 167, par. 4-5, p. 168, par. 1] 

 

Paul’s mission to the Gentiles explained

 

Again, Oskar Skarsaune does a superb job of explaining Paul’s “mission to the Gentiles”.  It is not what the Bible scholars and critics have taught us.  “On reading Galatians 1:16; 2:7-9, one may get the impression that Paul in his mission went exclusively to Gentiles.  But Romans and Acts clearly prove that such was not the case.  On the contrary, throughout his mission Paul acted on the principles that the Gospel was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).  In every city, Paul went to the synagogue to preach and debate (Acts 9:20-22; 13:5, 14-52; 14:1-43; 16:13; 17:1-5, 10, 17; 18:4).  And more often than not, some, even many, of the Jews attending the synagogues became believers (see Acts 13:43; the Jews and converts mentioned here are probably not included among the Jews mentioned in v. 45; see also Acts 14:1; 17:4, 11-12; 18:4, 8; 19:9.  Only some were “stubborn and disbelieved” [Acts 28:24]).” [ibid. p. 171, par. 2]  What Mr. Skarsaune has told us is what I’ve been saying all along here, that Paul’s preaching in the synagogues was more or less universal wherever he went, whatever city he went into, he visited the synagogue and preached in it.  And more often than not a good crowd of Jews became believers.  That’s what this scholar is saying, and I didn’t put the words in his mouth.    He goes on to explain how we can know Paul’s evangelism was effective, bringing a good number of Jews to Jesus.  Let him explain.  “The normal result of Paul’s preaching was a split among the Jews: some believed, some not.  The sometimes violent measures taken by the latter are proof that they considered Paul a real threat to their community.  It was only after this split had been established that Paul turned to address the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-49; 18:6; 28:28).”  And scholars have assumed when Paul states that he turned now to the Gentiles, that this was a statement that meant he had permanently turned to the Gentiles.  This was not the case, it just meant that in that one situation, that one synagogue he had been preaching in, they kicked him out, so he continued preaching to the God-fearing Gentiles that were still interested in hearing more.  Then when he moved on to the next city, he was back in the synagogue of that new city, preaching up a new storm.  This was a repeated pattern.  “It seems to mean that Paul left the synagogue and ceased to address the synagogue community as such.  But it did not mean that he was no longer willing to proclaim the gospel to the Jews.  Acts 19:8-10 shows he still did preach to Jews, and it is very likely that Jews are included in Acts 18:11 and 28:30.” [ibid. p. 171, par 3.]

          “Next, it is important to notice what kind of Gentiles Paul was addressing.  Acts is very clear on this point: they were not just any Gentiles, but “God-fearers,” that is, Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel, lived according to the moral precepts of the Torah and visited the synagogue.  Very often they are mentioned as being present in the synagogue while Paul was still primarily addressing the Jewish community.  In Acts 13:16 Paul even makes special mention of this group in his opening address in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia: “You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen.”  The same double address appears in Acts 13:48 as having gladly received the gospel.  In several instances, many God-fearing Gentiles are part of the synagogue audience and come to believe before Paul leaves their congregation (Acts 14:1; 17:4, 12; 18:4).  “Turning to the Gentiles” does not therefore indicate a radical change in missionary procedure.  It does not mean that Paul began to address an entirely new audience.  It only means that, from now on, he focused on the God-fearers and established himself somewhere else than in the synagogue for the rest of his stay in that city.  [ibid. p. 172, par.1]  As I said, the term “going now to the Gentiles,” only referred to that one city where his evangelizing had gotten him kicked out of that particular synagogue.  “It is a remarkable fact that almost all Gentile converts whose names are given in Acts belong to this category of God-fearing Gentiles.  Cornelius was “a devout man who…prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2).  He even observed Jewish hours of prayer (Acts 10:3, 30).” [ibid. p. 172, par. 3] 

 

Only twice does Paul preach to Gentiles who are not God-fearers

 

This will be a real eye-opener.  Jews coming into the “church” would still keep the Sabbath and Holy Days, and history proves Judeo-Christians did indeed chose to keep God’s Sabbath and Holy Days as their days of worship.  God-fearing Gentiles, spiritually brought up in the synagogues would be no different.  People assume that Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, was drawing in pagan Gentiles into the church in droves.  Was this the case?  Or was this the exception to the rule in his evangelism?  “Only twice in the whole book of Acts does Paul address Gentiles who do not belong to the God-fearers.  The first time is in Acts 14:8-18, where Paul is forced to address the Gentile crowd to prevent them from sacrificing to Barnabas and himself, and the whole of his speech is concerned with preventing this.  He does not proclaim the gospel to this crowd of “raw” Gentiles!  The second time is in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).  Here Paul seems to have widened his outreach to include philosophically educated Greeks, many of whom were no doubt theoretical monotheists who would agree with Paul’s polemic against [pagan] temples and idols in Acts 17:22-31.  But once again we see that the speech on the Areopagus was not given on Paul’s initiative: “they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’” (Acts 17:19).  [ibid. p. 172, par. 4]  “Thus we find that the two apparent exceptions to the rule stated above substantiate rather than contradict it.  What does this mean?  It means that viewed from the outside, from the standpoint of the Roman authorities or the average person on the street, Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was still an essentially Jewish affair, affecting mainly the Jewish community.  The Gentile God-fearers among whom Paul found such a receptive hearing for his message were probably regarded as half-Jews by their Gentile neighbors…” [ibid. p. 173, par. 1]  Wow! 

 

Did Paul tell the Jewish believers to stop keeping the Torah?

 

“What about the keeping of the commandments by Jewish believers?”  i.e. he means observing the 10 Commandment Law of God, Holy Days, dietary laws of Leviticus 11, the Torah minus the sacrifices.  “The final accusation made against Paul by those in the Jerusalem community who were still skeptical of him does not even mention his mission to the Gentiles.  His accusers are concerned with what he has been teaching Jews throughout the Diaspora.  James tells Paul:

You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.  They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs (Acts 21:20-21).

According to Acts, these are false accusations.  Paul taught no such thing. There is no evidence in Paul’s letters to indicate that Luke portrays Paul as being more Jewish than he really was.  The author of Romans 9:4-5 and 11:1-6, to mention just two relevant passages, could not possibly have told believing Jews to stop being Jews (see also 1 Cor 7:18 and 9:20).  [ibid. p. 173, par. 2-4]  Let’s give one final statement to close this section, a statement from Mr. Skarsaune which sums up this matter very well:

 

“What, then, can we learn from the book of Acts about Paul’s mission?  We meet a very Jewish Paul, who conducted his mission almost entirely within the bounds of the synagogue, and the circle of God-fearing Gentiles attached to it.  This was fundamental to Paul’s understanding of himself as a missionary.  Romans 11:13-14 clearly shows the historical accuracy of the picture of Paul in Acts: in his mission to the Gentiles, Paul never went far from the synagogue.” [ibid. p. 174, par. 3]

 

According to a document dated to the 2nd and 3rd century AD titled The Life of Polycarp,  (that was probably altered in places in the 4th century) the apostle Paul endorsed the observance of Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Pentecost (Shevuot to our Messianic Jewish friends).  And in paragraph 22 we see Polycarp is observing the Sabbath.  What follows is this amazing quote, which if accurate sheds a highly fascinating extra-Biblical light on the early Church under the apostles, and continuing on through the 2nd century.

 

2. In the days of unleavened bread Paul, coming down from Galatia, arrived in Asia, considering the repose among the faithful in Smyrna to be a great refreshment in Christ Jesus after his severe toil, and intending afterwards to depart to Jerusalem.  So in Smyrna he went to visit Strataeas, who had been his hearer in Pamphylia, being a son of Eunice the daughter of Lois.  These are they of whom he makes mention when writing to Timothy, saying; Of the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and in thy mother Eunice; whence we find that Strataeas was a brother of Timothy.  Paul then, entering his house and gathering together the faithful there, speaks to them concerning the Passover and the Pentecost, reminding them of the New Covenant of the offering of bread and the cup; how that they ought most assuredly celebrate it during the days of unleavened bread, but to hold fast the new mystery of the Passion and Resurrection.  For here the Apostle plainly teaches that we ought neither to keep it outside the season of unleavened bread, as the heretics do, especially the Phrygians…but named the days of unleavened bread, the Passover, and the Pentecost, thus ratifying the Gospel.

22. And on the sabbath, when prayer had been made long time on bended knee, he, as was his custom, got up to read…” (Pionius.  Life of Polycarp, Chapter 2.  Translated by J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp. 488-506, par. 2 and par. 22, ln 1.)  [log onto: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/pionius_life_of_polycarp_01_text.htm to see this amazing document for yourself.] 

 

 

And apparently this document shows Paul, as “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), was teaching these same ‘God-fearer’ Gentile Christians in Asia Minor (which the Smyrna church was a part of) to keep the Holy Days which many today consider to be ‘Jewish.’   Paul is showing, if this document be accurate, as I believe it is, that the taking of the ‘bread and wine’, what we term as Communion, should be done once a year, on the 14th Nisan Passover (as Polycarp’s and Policrates letter’s in the Post and Antinicene Fathers attest they were doing in Asia Minor).  He, Paul, here mentions Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Pentecost, which are the two Holy Day seasons occurring in the spring of the year.  This is a significant quote, because it shows harmony between what the apostle John had taught Polycarp, and what Paul was teaching, a total harmony of teaching.  Although these letters are not contained in the Word of God, they have been faithfully preserved in the “Post and Antinicene Fathers” , early Catholic historic writings, where interestingly enough, some true history can be found recorded.  So this document which appears in the Catholic ‘Apostolic Fathers’, where also letters from Polycarp and Policrates reside elsewhere stating that they’re going to continue observing the Passover on the 14th Nisan, as they learned from the Apostle John. In Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarp) we read the paragraph titled Papias, where it states, “According to Irenaeus, Polycarp was a companion of Papias, another “hearer of John”…Irenaeus claims to have been a pupil of Polycarp”…Irenaeus…in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard Polycarp personally in lower Asia” and “in particular, he heard the account of Polycarp’s discussion with “John the Presbyter” and with others who had seen Jesus.  We can read where both Polycarp and Policrates his successor were observers of a Passover service on the 14th Nisan, held at the sundown, as the 13th Nisan was coming to a close.  For during the daylight portion of Passover on the 14th Nisan, Jesus was crucified, and his disciples held their Passover meal with Jesus, where he introduced the Bread and Wine, the evening before he was crucified.  So it’s obvious a 13th/14th Nisan Passover at sundown was held by the apostles Paul, and then by Polycarp, and then Policrates.  In Polycarp’s dispute with Anicetus (from Rome) it is stated:

 

“Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the [Quartodeciman] observance inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to keep it [i.e. the 14th Nisan Passover]…” 

 

This meeting of Polycarp and Anicetus took place in Rome around 155AD.  Then around 190AD the Roman bishop Victor attempted to declare the Nisan 14 practice heretical and excommunicate all who followed it.  Policrates emphatically wrote that he was following the tradition passed down to him:

 

“As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia [Asia Minor, where the Judeo-Christian churches of God dwelt] great luminaries have gone to their rest who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord…[interesting, Policrates believes the “spirit in man,” what some call “the soul” remains unconscious at death]…These all kept the 14th day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal feast, in accordance with the Gospel…Seven of my relatives were bishops, and I am the eighth, and my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.”  [see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartodeciman]

 

So we see a succession of seventh-day Sabbath, the 14th Nisan Passover, and spring Holy Day observance by Paul, John, Polycarp and Policrates.  But most interesting is to actually find evidence going back to the apostle Paul himself.

 

Acts 13 through 20,

Relevant Passages

 

Acts 13:1-5, 14-16, 42-51, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.  Then having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.  So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.  And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.  They also had John as their assistant…”  Now you will notice in verses 14-16, and 16-44 Luke includes one example of what Paul preached when he visited the synagogues as his method of evangelism.  (Look up and read verses 17-41 for yourself.)  Also notice in verse 15 he’s following the pattern for visiting Jews, who are asked to get up and speak on something out of the Scriptures.  Those in the synagogue asked him to speak, as was the custom in synagogues.  In verse 45 you will notice the reaction of the Jews who disbelieved Paul, and Paul’s reaction for this one synagogue.  You will notice this pattern repeating itself all through Acts 13-19.  Verses 14-16, “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.  And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.’  Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God: [i.e. the Jewish synagogue members, and their “God-fearers” membership] ‘The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it…  Paul goes on to give a long sermon which ends up explaining that the Messiah had come, and he was Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and rose from the dead in three days, and from the passages he goes into, which must be a synopsis given by Luke, Paul proves Jesus’ Messiahship by the prophecies in the Old Testament.  After the sermon the Jews were divided, some believing some not, verses 42-43, “So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles [and these would be the God-fearers, who also were attendees of the synagogue] begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.  Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”  Now for the adverse reaction of the disbelieving Jews, who were angry that Paul had essentially broken up the synagogue through his powerful evangelism.  Verses 44-45, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  But when the Jews [obviously not the same Jews who Luke mentions in verse 43, the many believing Jews.  These are the ones who did not believe what Paul said, and were angry at what was happening to the synagogue membership.] saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”  Now Paul makes his famous statement about “now turning to the Gentiles,” which has been misinterpreted by the whole Gentile Christian church for millennia.  We will see, he is only saying this to this one particular synagogue, for he continues going to synagogues, and is heard repeating this statement as he is kicked out of the other synagogues.  Verses 46-51, “Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.  For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’’  Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord.  And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. [And don’t forget, these Gentiles first heard the truth of God in the synagogue, so they were obviously “God-fearers”, who normally attended the synagogue, and not ordinary pagan Gentiles.  There may have been some pagan Gentile with them, who were told about the gospel by their God-fearer Gentile friends, as it says the whole city came together.  But most of the Gentile believers were more than likely God-fearers, who already knew the OT Word of God, and were ready for the gospel.]  And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.  But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.  But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium” (verses 49-51)  Now in Iconium, repeat performance.  Paul isn’t just going off now to preach to the Gentiles, he’s back in the next synagogue, preaching up a storm.  Luke gave us a good picture of the type  sermon Paul preached, out of the Prophets, proving Jesus’ Messiahship, so he doesn’t need to repeat all that, just the highlights.

 

Acts 14:1-2, “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of Jews and of the Greeks believed. [obviously God-fearer Greeks, part of the synagogue again] But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren…”

 

What was Paul’s day of worship?  Get ready for a surprise.

 

Acts 16:11-13, “Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight coarse to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis.  And from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony.  And we were staying in that city for some days.  And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.”  Here is a clear example of Paul using the Sabbath to rest and pray.  But he never passed up an opportunity to preach Christ, as the next verses show he was doing with these ladies.

 

Acts 17:1-5, 16-17, “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ [Messiah].”  And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks [i.e. ‘God-fearers’ is what ‘devout’ means], and not a few of the leading women [probably leading women of the synagogue], joined Paul and Silas.  But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people…”  We’re seeing the same pattern of Paul going into the synagogues to evangelize, both to the Jews of the synagogues, and also to the God-fearing Gentile worshippers in the same synagogue.  There’s a split between believing Jews and non-believing Jews, and God seems to be also calling a majority of the God-fearing Gentiles in each synagogue (which could still have been less than the total number of Jews being called, because they made up a smaller percentage of the synagogue population than that of the Jewish population in the synagogue.  Verses 16-17, “Therefore while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.  Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.”  Notice, he first goes to the synagogue.  But his spirit was so provoked by the open idolatry in the city, that in this one instance he broadens his outreach, which ends up reaching the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who then inquire of him about what he is preaching (verses 18-34). 

 

Acts 18:1-6-8, “After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.  And he found a certain Jew name Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.  So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.  And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.  When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah].  But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’”  And so it goes, this repeated pattern of giving a thorough witness, preaching the gospel, proving the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth in the local synagogue until he is expelled, so he makes this statement, “Now I go to the Gentiles”, that is, until he reaches the next city or town, where he goes back into the synagogue again and repeats his missionary pattern.  We have seen this pattern repeated from Acts 13 through 18 four separate times now as recorded by Luke.  This is historic biblical proof that “Now I go to the Gentiles” was not a firm statement of change of missionary practice.  Rodney Stark shows that ratio of Jews to Gentiles at this time was over 90 percent Jews and under 10 percent Gentile at this time.  Verse 8, “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household.  And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.”  So here we actually have the ruler of the synagogue with his whole family becoming a believer.  I would say it would be a safe bet the whole Corinthian Church of God which was forming right here was a Judeo-Christian church which observed the Sabbath and Holy Days of Leviticus 23 in a non-Torah observant manner, as did all the Churches of God in Asia Minor.

 

Clear evidence the Holy Days were being observed by the apostle Paul

 

Acts 18:19-21, “And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.  When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, but took leave of them, saying, ‘I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.’  And he sailed from Ephesus.”

 

Acts 19:1, 8-10, “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus…And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God, but some were hardened and did not believe, [notice, “some where hardened”, not all] but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.  And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

 

Acts 20:5-6, 16, “These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.”  Now why wait to sail from Philippi?  Why?  They were observing the Days of Unleavened Bread at Philippi (probably with the fledgling congregation at Philippi)!  Paul and the Philippians were observing the Days of Unleavened Bread.  Now verse 16, “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.”  Paul wanted to be at Jerusalem, undoubtedly to observe the Day of Pentecost, another OT Holy Day, with the Church of God in Jerusalem.  So we see recorded in Acts 20 the apostle Paul observing the spring Holy Day season, and this is after Acts 15, when the whole early church became non-Torah observant.

 

The affect of Paul’s evangelism

 

Acts 24:5, “‘For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes…’”  This was an accusation made by Tertullus, an orator the high priest had gotten to bring accusations against Paul before Felix, the Roman governor.  The accusation wasn’t far from the truth.  Paul indeed had wreaked havoc with the Jewish synagogue community throughout Asia Minor and Greece, and he was indeed the chief missionary sent out by the Nazarenes at the behest of the Holy Spirit. 

 

         

 

 

2nd Stage of the Apostolic Era, 70-135AD

In 70AD, the Judeo-Christian Church, the Church of God, also as we have seen, called Nazarenes, and by their detractors, "the sect of the Nazarenes," was 92 percent Jewish and still only 8 percent Gentile.  While a good many believers moved back to Jerusalem after the Temple's destruction in 70AD (as we will see in Oskar Skarsaune's work), many also moved north.  Powerful wars often move people about.  Christians, especially this crowd, born of the Spirit and nurtured under the bold example of the apostles, spread their faith wherever they moved.  John, under whose care Jesus had placed Mary his mother, probably sought a quieter place for her residence, and moved to Ephesus where a thriving congregation had already been planted by the apostle Paul.  John probably had a considerable following that moved with him, as he was one of the last apostles alive.  Polycarp, John's disciple, followed in his teaching, undoubtedly leading the diversified Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor.  After the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jewish-Christian believers feeling that the land of Israel was just a little bit unstable, and knowing John's residence and the Judeo-Christian churches were well established to the north, would have naturally felt comfortable making the trek north to Asia Minor.  In Revelation 2-3 Jesus through John wrote letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.  So we see a picture of a strong Judeo-Christian presence in Asia Minor.  By 135AD (under Polycarp, John's disciple) the percentage of Jews in the Judeo-Christian churches number about 75 percent of all believers, and the percentage of Gentiles is about 25 percent [Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1996].  This is Hellenistic Judeo-Christianity, and is still a powerful force in the eastern province of the Roman Empire (Asia Minor, what is now modern Turkey).  But something unsettling is happening to the west from the time of John's last years onward.  John remarked in his first epistle that the spirit of antichrist was about.  It could have been in reference to what we shall look at next, we just don't know.  But we do know something was bothering John.  Some of the reasons for John's statement could have been the local heresies flying around Asia Minor, Gnosticism, Nicolatans, but something else was afoot as well. 

 

Rise of the Greco-Roman church

 

In the western part of the Roman Empire, Greco-Roman Christianity began to make some radical changes.  I will list five significant things that contributed to these changes.

1.        The western part of the empire (Italy, Rome, Europe) was geographically isolated from the eastern part of the empire. 

2.        Fewer Jews lived in the west, making for fewer Jewish converts and for little knowledge of biblical Judaism in a western pagan-dominated culture and society.

3.        Gentile converts began a slow but steady process of syncretizing pagan customs and days of worship into their Christian belief system.

4.        Due to the rise of many heretical groups and schisms taking place, the church at Rome developed early on a strong centralized hierarchal form of church government, with a presiding "bishop" (later called a "pope"-Italian for Papa, Father) over a group of bishops, who in turn presided over a lower class of priests. 

 

".diverse forms of Christianity flourished in the early years of the Christian movement.  Hundreds of rival teachers all claimed to teach the true doctrine of Christ, and denounced one another as frauds.  Christian churches scattered from Asia Minor to Greece, Jerusalem, and Rome split into factions, arguing over church leadership.  All claimed to represent the authentic tradition."[Elaine Pagels, 1979]  As a result of all the religious confusion going on, another author of early church history says this contributed to the rise of "orthodox" bishops, that it was a reaction to this state of religious chaos and confusion.  ".the emphasis on the authority of bishops and on apostolic succession was a part of the response of the church to the challenge of heresies in the late second and early third centuries.  As the church became increasingly Gentile, the danger of heresies was greater, and this in turn led to a greater stress on episcopal authority." [Gonzalez, 1984]

 

5.        These Greco-Roman churches in the west adopted the cultural      Roman discriminatory attitude of superiority toward all things not Roman (including Jewish customs of worship, even though they were biblical), ignoring the customs of the apostles. 

 

All these differences between the Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor and the western Greco-Roman churches, especially that of Rome, began to surface at the end of the first century and into the beginning of the second century.  After the death of John (many feel 96AD) it would seem by the scant historic records, Judeo-Christianity appears to have disappeared.  Did it?  Their recorded history, as some modern historians feel, "became lost", or even worse, was destroyed by a Greco-Roman Christianity which sought to eliminate all opposing belief systems through what would become "ethnic cleansing" in later years.  That sounds a little harsh, doesn't it?  Elaine Pagels wrote:

 

".efforts of the majority to destroy every trace of heretical 'blasphemy' proved so successful that, until the discoveries at Nag Hammadi, nearly all our information concerning alternative forms of early Christianity came from the massive orthodox attacks upon them." [Elaine Pagels, 1979]

 

Bagatti continues the thought:

 "Even regarding the Nazarenes who had many contacts with the Gentile church we have only a few details, because our historians have completely neglected to hand down the doings of those separated Christians."  [Bagatti, 1971]

 

But was it neglect?  What new details have we been able to learn within the last 40 years about this era of church history that seems to have been missing?

 

 

          Jewish-Christian synagogue discovered in Jerusalem,

 dating to 72 AD

 

"Jerusalem: A Community Center on Mount Zion?  Present-day visitors to the so-called Mount Zion in Jerusalem are shown a two-story building, whose present form dates from the late crusade period, as the gothic pillars and arches show.  On the ground floor tourists are shown "the tomb of David" in the northeastern corner; the upper floor is the "coenaculum," the "room of the [last] supper."  The lower parts of the southern, eastern and northern walls of the building are made of massive Herodian stones in secondary use.  Some unknown builders re-used stones when building the structure sometime during the Roman or Byzantine periods.  The crusaders found this building in ruins, but chose to use some of the ruined walls in their own building.

          But what was the building found in the ruins by the crusaders?  According to the Jewish archaeologist Pinkerfeld it was in fact a Jewish synagogue built before the Byzantine period (= a pre-Constantine building), since the original floor was lying 10cm beneath an early Byzantine mosaic floor. It was a synagogue because a large niche in the north wall was oriented northwards-roughly toward the Temple Mount-and not eastwards, as it would have been in a church.  B. Bagatti accepted that latter argument and agreed it was a synagogue, not a church.  He argued, however, that some 3m of the graffiti found on fragments of plaster from the walls proved that the synagogue was Jewish-Christian rather than simply Jewish.  The graffiti are not extensive and not easy to interpret; but Bargil Pixner has bolstered Bagatti's conclusion with a new argument: the niche in the north wall is in fact not oriented toward the Temple Mount, nor exactly north, but exactly toward the Holy Sepulchre.  What better proof that this synagogue was not Jewish, but Jewish Christian! Pixner assumes that this building was erected soon after A.D. 70 when the early community of Jewish believers returned from Pella, and that this community was able to hang on to their small synagogue-church throughout the entire period until Byzantine times, when they were at last swallowed up by the Gentile church, and their synagogue building made an appendix to a great Byzantine church.  Pixner further assumes that the Jewish Christian synagogue-church was erected in about A.D. 72 on the very spot of the upper room in which Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal (the first Holy Supper) with his disciples, and in which the apostles were assembled on the Day of Pentecost.  This would then also be the first place of worship for the early community in Jerusalem."  (Oskar Skarsaune, In The Shadow of The Temple, p. 185, par. 4, p. 186, par. 1-2)

 

More evidence that the Jerusalem Church of God continued on to 135AD and perhaps further.

 

"Again, the available evidence gives us only a tantalizing glimpse of a chapter of early church history that we should have liked to know a lot more about.  But one very relevant conclusion is inevitable in the light of what we have seen here: it has often been claimed that the Jewish community's flight [Jewish-Christian's flight] to Pella before or during the Jewish-Roman war in A.D. 66-70 served to estrange the Jewish believers from their fellow Jews because they were seen as national traitors.  There is no evidence to support this view, and the presence of a Jewish church in Jerusalem after the war speaks strongly against it.  The Jewish believers were not the only ones to leave Jerusalem during the war (and we do not know that they all left).  Afterwards they seem to have come back in strength.  There is much indirect evidence which suggests that the years A.D. 70-135 were the classic period of Jewish Christianity, in which it continued to influence Gentile Christianity deeply, while at the same time presenting a challenge to Judaism that the rabbis had to take seriously."  (Oskar Skarsaune, In The Shadow of The Temple, p. 196, par. 3, p. 197, par. 1)

 

185-196AD  "A half century after Hadrian's war [135AD, Bar Kokhba revolt] we meet in the community an open dispute between Hellenistic hierarchy and the Judeo-Christian faithful, especially under bishop Narcissus and his successor Alexander.  The first was present at the Counsel of Caesarea (196AD), at which it was established that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday instead of the 14th of Nisan, and it can be supposed that when the bishop wished to implement the decision of the Counsel, he met with opposition.  In fact the Judeo-Christians were convinced that the traditional day of Nisan the 14th was not capable of change." [B. Bagatti, 1971]

 

What was this early Jewish-Christian or Judeo-Christian group called, as even recorded in Acts 24:5?  Ananias with the Jewish elders and a Jewish orator, Tertullus, as recorded in Acts 24:1, descended upon the governor to accuse the apostle Paul.  Tertullus said in verse 5, "For we have found this man [Paul] a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, [Paul's method of evangelism was to enter synagogues wherever he went, and preach Christ and the gospel.  A good percentage of those God called as a result were ethnic Jews, along with proselytes and God-fearing Gentiles] and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes."  What does Oskar Skarsaune have to say about the Nazarenes?

 

".it should not mislead us to think that Jewish Christianity completely disappeared [After Hadrian's decree in 135AD].  In the middle of the second century, some twenty-five years after the Bar Kokhba revolt, Justin knew of Jewish believers who had two characteristics: (1) They believed in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and (2) they continued to observe the law of Moses [i.e. Sabbath and Holy Day observance, dietary laws, etc] without requiring that their Gentile brethren do the same."  [I.e. non-Torah observant Jewish-Christian believers, as most Messianic Jewish believers are today.] 

          In the third and fourth centuries there is still solid evidence for the existence of such Jewish believers.   In the fourth century they were called "the Nazarenes," and from Jerome and Epiphanius we get the following information: 'they are few, mainly to be found in the region of Israel and Syria.  They recognize Jesus as the Son of God, they accept the virgin birth, they recognize the apostleship of Paul and the Gentile missions, and they have a gospel in Hebrew.'  These two church fathers-who were zealous hunters of all heretics-found nothing wrong with the doctrines of the Nazarenes.  But they took offense [that is, the Catholic Jerome and Epiphanius took offense] at another aspect of this Jewish Christian group: they continued to keep the law, that is, circumcision and the Sabbath.  By this time there was no longer any willingness in the [Greco-Roman] Gentile church to accept such Christians; the spirit of brotherly recognition, as seen in Justin, was gone.

          After the fourth century the Nazarenes-very likely direct descendants of some from the early Jerusalem community who fled to Pella in A.D. 70--disappeared from the record of history."  {emphasis mine} [Oskar Skarsaune, In The Shadow of The Temple,  p. 202, par. 1, p. 203, par. 1-2.]

 

There was another sect of Messianic Jewish believers other than the majority who were Nazarenes.  This group was mainly composed of Torah-observant Pharisaic Jewish believers, many of them being Pharisees.  They were heretical in the sense that they believed that Jesus was merely a physical messiah, chosen by God to pay for the sins of mankind, but that he was born of Joseph and Mary, thus denying the virgin birth and pre-existent Divinity of Jesus (cf. John 1:1-11).  After Paul's teaching in Acts 21:17-26 the Ebionites held Paul in contempt. This group may have also been the Pharisaic group that went into the Galatian Churches of God which Paul had raised up, unsettling them with their teachings about circumcision being mandatory for anyone who wanted to be a believer.  This was truly a heretical sect by the doctrines they held.  But one must be careful not to lump all Torah observant Pharisaic believers in Yeshua in with the Ebionites.  We do find another Torah-observant group of Messianic believers in Rome, who weren't condemned by Paul, who was merely explaining to them their spiritual "rights" under the new covenant (cf. Romans 14).

50AD:  According to Rodney Stark, by 50AD the early Church of God was still 97 percent Jewish racially and only 3 percent of Gentile stock.  (In 40AD, it was 100 percent Jewish, except for Cornelius and his family.)

“To read some astounding quotes from Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity” CLICK HERE.”

 

“When did the majority of pagan Gentile believers really come into the Church (before Constantine)?  Log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/LegacyOfLove.htm to find out.”

 

Continue to Chapter 2 Click Here

Click Here to Print

 

Content Editor Peter Benson -- no copyright, except where noted.  Please feel free to use this material for instruction and edification
Questions or problems with the web site contact the WebServant - Hosted and Maintained by CMWH, Located in the Holy Land