Early Church History

 

Introduction

 

False concepts:  Originally, Christian scholars thought of early Christianity as mainly an emerging Gentile institution which had quickly come out of Jewish roots, almost within five to six years after the founding of the Church in Jerusalem, with the conversion of Paul and his subsequent spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles.  These scholars had ignored almost completely what the early Church of God in Jerusalem was like, as well as what the Judeo-Christians churches were like later on in Asia Minor.  But following World War II, due to the exposure of the huge Nazi atrocities against the Jews in Europe, Christian leaders and historians began to refocus their attention on the early Christian church and specifically its Jewish roots.  Also following World War II a tremendous revival of spiritual fundamentalism and a complimentary explosion of radio and televised evangelism occurred.  Some labeled this the Sunday morning comedy hour, but much of it was real nonetheless, and fundamental evangelical churches and denominations were springing up all over the place.  A hunger developed for the early history of the Christian church, fueled by a sincere spiritual desire to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered” as Jude admonished.  So people were asking, very sincerely, “What was that ‘Faith’ like?”  Good question.  What was it like?  Honest church and religious scholars, both secular and believing, delved deeper into the past to find answers.  They sought to find out what the early Church of God in Jerusalem had been like, as well as what Judeo-Christianity was like in Asia Minor.  Coupled to this sincere historic research was a virtual knowledge explosion in Middle Eastern archeology, especially as key Middle Eastern countries opened themselves up willingly to outside archeologists.  Even Saddam Hussein welcomed foreign archeological digs in ancient Babylon (Turkey, or ancient Asia Minor was not left out either).  This all contributed to a far more accurate understanding of early Church history, focusing on the early Christian community that subsequently moved out of the Holy Land into Asia Minor during the period between the first and second Jewish wars with Rome (70AD-135AD).  What was the effect of all this new knowledge?  Even in the mid to late 1960s it led to a huge paradigm crash for many Christians.  Why?  Early Christianity was nothing like what they’d been taught or assumed it had been like.  It was Jewish.  Many were stunned.  Close examination of the history showed it was Jewish in Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and then as it spread up into Asia Minor it continued to be Jewish and maintain Jewish days of worship.  Even up into the 300s AD, Asia Minor held in excess of 3 million Judeo-Christians.  Want to learn more? 

 

An Overview

 

  1. Early Christianity during the apostolic age under the 12 apostles was developing into a large Judeo-Christian community focused toward Jerusalem.  Most of its members were Jewish, racially.  With the death of the apostles at the end of the 1st century, due to lack of a somewhat centralized apostolic church government to look to in Jerusalem (and later Ephesus under John), Christianity had separated into hundreds of independent groups, small congregations and house churches, and the like.  Judeo-Christianity doesn’t die out yet though.  Through Polycarp (disciple of the apostle John) and Policrates (disciple of Polycarp), it survives into the 2nd century. 
  2. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries a “different Christianity” arose within the Gentile Greco-Roman churches which dwelt among the pagan population.
  3. It started to call itself “orthodox”, and ended up overpowering the older original Judeo-Christianity, and ultimately crushed Judeo-Christianity out of existence during the 4th century AD.
  4. By the 5th century, this “orthodox” Greco-Roman church had tens millions of adherents, and sought total control of “Christianity”.  It determined to and did almost totally succeed in its quest to eliminate all other forms of Christianity, especially, as we shall see, Judeo-Christianity. 

 

 

 

Definition of the word syncretize: 1. Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.

2. linguistics.  This merging of two or more originally different inflectual forms.

[Greek sunkretismos, union, from sunkretizeain, to unite (in the manner of the Cretan cities)]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Maccabean 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 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 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, 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 Judaism 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 shorts 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 ow 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 was 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 as 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.)

 

The Nazarenes

 

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.  He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect…” (Acts 24:5)  Following are some pretty astounding quotes from the book written by Ray Pritz, titled “Nazarene Jewish Christianity”.  His astute research, and his ability to both speak and write in Greek and Hebrew shed a new light on the first “era” of the Christian church.  First he defines the term Nazarene, and who it applies to.  He also points out that the early church was so Jewish in its practices of worship—days of worship—that the Jews considered it a “sect” of Judaism, and not a separate religion.  He says:

 

“It is important to note that the name Nazarenes was at first applied to all Jewish followers of Jesus.  Until the name Christian became attached to Antiochian non-Jews, this meant that the name signified the entire Church, not just a sect.  So also in Acts 24:5 the reference is not to a sect of Christianity but rather to the entire primitive Church as a sect of Judaism.  Only when the Gentile Church overtook and overshadowed the Jewish one could there be any possibility of sectarian stigma adhering to the name Nazarene within the Church itself.  This should be borne in mind when considering the total absence of the name from extant Christian literature between the composition of Acts and 376[AD], when the panarion was written.  Even after the name Christianoi had been commonly accepted by Christians as the name they called themselves, it would require some passage of time until the earlier name would be forgotten and those who carried it condemned as heretics.” [Ray A. Pritz, p. 15, par. 2, Nazarene Jewish Christianity, 1988, Jerusalem-Lieden, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University]  “To be sure, it is strange (not to say frustrating) that the name is so universally ignored…Of course the lamentable fact that precious few of those Greek fathers would have been able to read a document in a semitic language only decreases the likelihood that the name Nazarene could have been preserved in their writings…So on the one hand it seems likely that the name was preserved somewhere between Acts and Tertullian, but on the other it is equally likely that it was infrequently mentioned in non-Semitic script, which may be accounted for by the predominance of Greek in early Church writing.” [ibid, p.16, par 1, 3, 4]]

          And don’t forget, as Oskar Skarsaune brought out in his masterful work In The Shadow of the Temple, Greek was the language that the economies of the Mediterranean world functioned on, it was the language of commerce and industry, even after Rome conquered the world.  The Gospel being written in Greek was probably a key decision the apostles made early on.  Next, he describes the Nazarenes on into the 2nd century, and how this group divided into two groups, based on doctrinal differences.

 

Nazarenes and Ebionites

 

 

“Suffice it to say at this point that Justin, around the beginning of the second half of the second century, recognizes two kinds of Christians of the Jewish race whom he differentiates on christological grounds.  One group, whom Justin condemns holds doctrines which line up well with what is known to us of Ebionite teaching.  The other group differs from Justin’s orthodoxy only in continued adherence to Mosaic Law.” [ibid, p. 21, par. 1]  Ray Pritz goes on to quote Justin,

 

Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance to Jewish Law,--and these are the twofold sect of the Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that he was begotten like other human beings…

 

“This reference to the two kinds of Ebionites must remind us of the testimony of Justin, and it is not without significance that here again they are to be separated on the basis of Christology, and that one of the two sects holds the orthodox line in the disputed matter while the other denies anything divine in Jesus’ origins. If the more orthodox Jewish Christians (who can only be faulted for keeping the Law) are Nazarenes, then we have an early misuse of the name Ebionite to include all Jewish Christian Law-keepers.” [ibid. p. 21, par. 3-4] [emphasis throughout, mine]

 

early witnesses—two kinds of Jewish Christians

 

“When we come to Origen, however (and return to the East), we again find two classes of Jewish Christians which he calls Ebionites.  From this point on, the name Ebionite becomes a catch-all for Law-keeping Christians of Jewish background…While Eusebius is aware of more than one kind of ‘Ebionite’ in his sources, he has not succeeded very well in distinguishing their traits.” [ibid. p. 27, par. 3]  “In summary we may say that Justin knows of two divisions of Jewish Christians, one of whom held an orthodox Christology with regard to the virgin birth and pre-existence of Jesus.  Origen, who also knows of two groups, identifies the unorthodox group of Justin as Ebionites. While he calls his more orthodox Jewish Christians Ebionites also, he is inconsistent in this, and we may be justified in concluding that the two groups did not carry the same name. Eusebius, in his turn, cannot avoid seeing—in his sources, if not also from hearsay—two distinguishable Jewish Christian groups, but he does not succeed very well in discerning the beliefs which separate them.  For him there is only one name, Ebionite.  This establishes the continued existence, into the third century at least, if not later, of a Jewish Christian entity whose doctrines tend to distinguish it—in the direction of “orthodoxy”—from the Ebionites.  These are the Nazarenes.” [ibid. p. 27, par 4, p. 28, par. 2-3] 

 

Doctrines of the Nazarenes

 

These quotes are from the Panarion 29.

 

“They are succeeded by the Nazarenes.  They lived at the same time, or before them, either with them or after them.  In any case they are contemporaries.  For I cannot determine who are successors of whom.  For, as I said, they were contemporaries and possessed identical ideas.  [1,2]  They did not give themselves the name of Christ, or that of Jesus, but they called themselves Nazarenes.  [1,3]  All Christians were called Nazarenes once.  For a short time they were also given the name Iessaiains, before the disciples in Antioch began to be called Christians [1,4].”  [Pritz, 1988]…”

 

“But they also did not call themselves Nasaraeans, for the heresy of the Nasaraeans existed before Christ and they did not know him.  [6,2]  However, everyone called Christians Nazarenes, as I said before. This appears from the accusation against Paul which was as follows: ‘We discovered that this man is a pest, somebody disturbing the people, the leader of the heresy of the Nazarenes’ [Acts 24:5]  The holy apostle did not deny this name although he was not a follower of the heresy, but he gladly accepted the name which was inspired by the malice of his opponents because it had been borne by Christ. [6,4]  For he said at the tribunal: ‘They did not find me in the temple speaking with somebody or causing a riot.  Nothing of what I am accused of did I do.  I admit to you that I serve God in that way which they call heresy, believing everything which is in the Law and the Prophets.’ [6,5]  For it is no wonder that the Apostle admitted he was a Nazarene because everybody called Christians with that name at that time, because of the city of Nazareth and because at this time there was no other name in use.  Therefore persons were called Nazarenes who came to believe in Christ, of whom it is written that ‘he will be called a Nazarene’ [Matt. 2:23].” [ibid. p. 33, par. 2, taken from the panarion 29]…”When they heard the name Nazarenes from others, they did not reject it, because they saw what was meant by those who called them by this name, viz. that they called them by this name because of Christ, since our Lord himself was also called Jesus the Nazarene, as appears from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. [6,8]  For he grew up in the city of Nazareth, at the time a village, in the house of Joseph after being born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Mary, even virgin, who was betrothed to Joseph.  He moved to that same Nazareth when he settled down in Galilee after his departure from Bethlehem. [7,1] These heresies, just mentioned, of which we are giving a brief sketch, passing over the name of Jesus, did not call themselves Iesaians and did not keep the name Jews; they did not call themselves Christians, but Nazarenes, taking this name from the place Nazareth.  But actually they remained wholly Jewish and nothing else. [7,2] For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old, like the Jews.  For the Legislation and the Prophets and the Scriptures, which are called the Bible by the Jews, are not rejected by them as they are by those mentioned above.  They are not at all mindful of other things but live according to the preaching of the Law as among Jews: there is no fault to find with them apart from the fact that they have come to believe in Christ. [7,3] For they also accept the resurrection of the dead and that everything has its origin in God. They proclaim one God and his Son Jesus Christ. [7,4] They have a good mastery of the Hebrew language. For the entire Law and the Prophets and what is called the Scriptures, I mention the poetical books.  Kings, Chronicles and Esther and all the others, are read by them in Hebrew as is the case with the Jews, of course [7,5] Only in this respect they differ from the Jews and Christians [he must mean Gentile Greco-Roman “Christians”]: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with the Christians [i.e the Greco-Roman “Christians”] because they are trained in the Law, in circumcision, the Sabbath and other things.”  [ibid. pp. 33-34, par’s. 3 & 1]

 

“For thus it is with every heresy, often trying to outdo each other in the matter prescribed concerning keeping of the Sabbath and circumcision and other things.”  [ibid. p. 34, par. 2]

 

“However they a very much hated by the Jews. For not only the Jewish children cherish hate against them but the people also stand up in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, three times a day and they pronounce curses and maledictions over them when they say their prayers in the synagogues.  Three times a day they say: ‘May God curse the Nazarenes.’ [9,3] For they are more hostile against them because they proclaim as Jews that Jesus is the Christ, which runs counter to those who are still Jews who did not accept Jesus. [9,4] They have the entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew.  It is carefully preserved by them in Hebrew letters, as I wrote in the beginning.” [ibid. p. 35, par 1, from the panarion] 

 

“We may include here information found elsewhere in the panarion.

1.     They use both Old and New Testaments (7.2).

2.     They have a good knowledge of Hebrew and read the Old Testament and at least one gospel in that language. (7,4; 9,4).

3.     They believe in the resurrection of the dead (7,3).

4.     They believe that God is creator of all things (7,3).

5.     They believe in one God and his son Jesus Christ (7,3).

6.     The observe the Law of Moses (7,5; 5,5; 8,1ff).

7.     They were joined by Elxai and later adopted his book.

8.     Ebion came out of them (30,2,1).

9.     Earlier they were called Iessaioi (5,1-4).

10.            They had their origin from the Jerusalem congregation which fled to Pella before 70 (7,8).

11.            Geographical location of Pella, Kokoba, and Coele Syria (7,7)

12.            They are hated and cursed by the Jews (9,2-3).”

 

So we see that their beliefs were orthodox, in that they believed Jesus was the Son of God, they believed in his pre-existence as God, Yahweh.  We also see they adhered to the Old Testament Law, especially the observance of the Sabbath and, by extension Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and dietary laws of Leviticus 11.  We see Epiphanius’ attitude toward the Nazarenes, what he’s trying to describe is often hindered because he’s also out to attack them as well, being a Greco-Roman Christian church historian.  Ray Pritz also said about Epiphanius “It would be more accurate to say that Epiphanius is using (or even recalling) Eusebian information and expanding it for his own purposes.”  He also says “Epiphanius wrongly grouped the Nazarenes together with other sects.” 

 

He goes on to say “It is only in pan. 29,7 that he has preserved for us the testimony of a knowledgeable source.” 

 

Panarion 9,7

“The data in this section present us with a body in every way ‘orthodox’ except for its adherence to the Law of Moses.  If we remember that the Jewish Church of Jerusalem also kept the Law through the period covered by the book of Acts, then we have a picture of the earliest Jewish Christian community.   Two items from section 7, the flight to Pella and the geographical data, are dealt with below.

  1. They use both Old and New Testaments.  This implies, though it is not clearly stated, that they make use also of Paul.  We know from Jerome that the Nazarenes respected Pauline writings, a fact which sets them apart from other Jewish Christian groups.  In fact it is generally a characteristic of the heresies [he means “heretics”] that they reject some portion of scripture.  The very fact that Epiphanius can credit them with acceptance of canonical scripture is a strong statement in favor of their ‘orthodoxy’.  The fact that they read the Old Testament ‘and at least one gospel’ in Hebrew, which they know well, only serves to confirm their Jewish background.
  2. Section 7,3 gives us three brief pieces of information about the doctrines of the Nazarenes.  One need make only a quick comparison with the opening chapters of Acts to see that these basic doctrines had a place in the teaching of the earliest Jerusalem Church: the resurrection of the dead (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10); God is creator of all things (4:24); and belief in one God and his child Jesus Christ (3:13,26; 4:27, 30).  To this point we have nothing that would differentiate the Nazarene sect from the primitive Church.  The picture is not full, certainly, but what we are given in every way confirms the identity of the Nazarenes as the heirs of the earliest Jerusalem congregation.  Even Epiphanius has nothing condemnatory to say about the data thus far.” [ibid. p. 44, par. 2-4]
  3. “The parting of the ways is at the Law of Moses. It is their observance of the Law—and this alone—which, for Epiphanius, separates the Nazarenes from the main [emerging Greco-Roman] Church.  ‘Only in this respect they differ from the…Christians.’  It is this one thing which stands out that is essentially the only thing remembered by subsequent Fathers against the sect, starting with the anacephalaiosis.  It makes little difference that the first Jewish believers continued to keep the Law (Acts 15; 21:20-26); it is immaterial that the epistle to the Galatians was addressed to Christians from gentile background or that Paul perhaps never wrote against Jewish Christians keeping the Law. [Proof of this can be seen from a careful reading of Romans 14:1-23.] The significance of all of this has long since been lost to men like Epiphanius.  The Law is taboo [to the Greco-Roman Christians].  To attempt to keep it is to put oneself under a curse [according to Epiphanius, is what Ray Pritz is driving at].  If the Nazarenes want to observe parts of the Law, then they are ‘Jews and nothing else.’  Never mind if the same could be said for James or Peter, or, indeed, Paul.  For our purpose, of course, this matter of the Law only reinforces the conviction that we have a body of Jewish believers who have managed to preserve the very earliest traditions of their forebears.” [ibid. p. 45, par. 1]  [emphasis mine throughout]

 

So, again, we find the very descendants of the first Church of God in Jerusalem, founded by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit on Pentecost 31 or 32AD, still adhering to the customary days of worship commanded in the Old Testament law, just as the early Jerusalem church had.  Nothing has changed.  Even the apostle Paul said the choice for “days of worship”, although optional now under the freedoms of the New Testament, was a matter of individual  Christian conscience.  And this early “era” of the church would not be robbed of that freedom of choice. This fact stands out throughout this research.

 

Possible source of Epiphanius and Jerome

 

We see from this quote that Epiphanius and Jerome were using a credible source for the facts they were passing on in their history of the early Jewish Christians.  It also answers how long the Nazarenes existed in the Middle East.

 

“Schmidtke in his pioneering work…tried to show that both Epiphanius and Jerome were primarily dependent on Apollinaris for their knowledge of the Nazarenes and their writings.  His conclusions are still generally accepted…The important point for our investigation is that Jerome did study under Apollinaris, an extremely learned and informed man who spent his entire long life in the area of Laodicea and Antioch, that is, in the vicinity of Beroea…From the foregoing considerations we may conclude that, while Jerome may or may not have had personal contact with the body of Nazarene Christians, he was certainly well enough situated to have learned much about them from contemporaries who did know them well.  Not the least important corollary to this is that Jerome may be considered a good witness to their continued existence until at least the end of the fourth century.” [ibid. pp. 50-51, par. 3 & 2 resp.]

 

“The Nazarenes, who accept Christ in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old law, explain the two houses as the two families, viz. of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes and Pharisees.  Akiba, who took over their school, is called master of Aquila the proselyte, and after him came Meir who has been succeeded by Joannes the son of Zakkai and after him Eliezer and further Telphon, and next Joseph Galiaeus and Joshua up to the capture of Jerusalem.  [i.e. 135AD]…

“We may first note the complete lack of condemnation of the Nazarenes by Jerome.  They are simply those “who accept Christ in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.”  True, there are places where he castigates them precisely for that, but the only place where he dwells on and attacks it is in his controversy on the whole matter of Law observance with Augustine.” [ibid. p. 58, par.1-2]

 

What we see from the quote above, which Ray Pritz comments on, is that the Nazarenes had an active and ongoing dialogue with rabbinic Judaism.  We will see evidence that this dialogue became heated at times, due especially to Nazarene evangelism, which must have continued to have a powerful impact on the Jews in the land of Israel as well as the whole Middle East and Asia Minor.  Ray Pritz says: “The Nazarenes must have remained on such intimate terms with rabbinic Judaism that they were familiar with the names of its leaders into the second century.”  [ibid. p. 62, par. 4]

 

Nazarene Isaiah Commentary

 

Ray Pritz goes on to comment on the Isaiah commentary of the Nazarenes:  “As we noted at the outset, these passages are very important, perhaps informative as anything we will consider in this study.  We have been able to trace through them an active Nazarene presence well into the third century.  The sect which produced this document was actively engaged in a dialogue—heated, no doubt—with rabbinic Judaism.  It was familiar with the developments within Judaism and rejected the authority of the pharisaic scholars to interpret scripture definitively.  The Nazarenes of this work may themselves have continued to keep the Law of the Pentateuch, but they did not see it binding on those who believed from among the Gentiles.”

 

Let’s interrupt this quote right here and notice something.  We don’t want to miss this, because it is an extremely important distinction.  I can’t over-emphasize the importance of this.  The Nazarenes were basically what we would call non-Torah observant in their attitude that Gentile believers could keep “the law of Christ”, that is, Gentile believers had the freedom in Christ to be Sunday/Christmas/Easter observing, and still be Holy Spirit indwelt believers in Jesus Christ.  But for them, they chose to adhere to the Old Testament Law of God, as magnified by Jesus in Matthew 5:17-48.  i.e. they were non-Torah observant, but leaned toward being Torah observant.  They were quite similar to the early Church of God in Jerusalem before Acts 15 and the book of Romans, chapter 14 was written, but they fully understood the freedoms given in those two passages to believers, freedoms which gave the believer freedom of choice for “days of worship.”  I have had communication with a Torah observant Messianic congregation in Oregon, which adheres to the Old Testament Law in similar fashion, and yet recognizes that some of the Gentile—Sunday/Christmas/Easter Christian churches are truly Holy Spirit inspired and indwelt.  These little distinctions mustn’t be missed, because they help us understand this first “era” of the Christian church.  Ray Pritz continues.

 

“Nor did they accept as binding on themselves (or on any Jews) the Oral Law as embodied in the Mishnah.  These Jewish Christians viewed Paul and his mission favorably and evidently accepted—in theory at least—the unity of the Church as composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ.  Their Christology too called Christ the Son of God.  The document itself displays an active familiarity with the Hebrew language and must have been written in either Hebrew or Aramaic…And finally, this group had not lost hope that the Jewish people might yet turn to accept Jesus as the Messiah.” [ibid. p. 70, par. 2]

 

Look at it this way.  Say you know of a Sabbatarian Church of God or some people in one.  They observe the 7th Day Sabbath, the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and the dietary laws of Leviticus 11.  And yet they recognize that Holy Spirit indwelt people can and do exist in Sunday observing evangelical churches, say like the Calvary Chapel’s whose sermon transcripts grace this site.  Say they even recognize some of these more Holy Spirit inspired churches as being genuine sister-churches in Christ.  This would be a modern-day example of what was just described by Ray Pritz above.  That is the picture of the Nazarenes that existed from 31AD to the early 400s AD.  Does such a Sabbatarian Church of God exist?  Maybe, but Sabbatarians have been so used to being beat up over their observance of the Old Testament Law, just as their early 1st ,  2nd    and 3rd century forebears were, that they are suspicious of the Sunday observing Gentile churches.  And they are suspicious of these other Christians trying to convince them that their Sabbath/Holy Day observance is wrong, which we are learning from this study, and as Romans 14 clearly points out—it is not wrong—it is a matter of freedom of choice, and they are not going to be bullied into giving up something they believe is better.  They are afraid of allowing any syncretization of teaching to cross over into their churches, because they are fully aware of the forced syncretization that took place in 325AD, which essentially destroyed the Nazarene “era” of the Christian church. They are fully aware of the nasty changes that were forced upon believers by Constantine in 325AD.  Finish reading this article before you pass judgment.  Ray Pritz now summarizes his research. 

 

Summary of the facts presented in “NAZARENE JEWISH CHRISTIANITY”

 

“Let us bundle our gleanings.  This purposely limited analysis of five fragments from GH [Gospel of the Hebrews] has yielded a picture of a group distinctive from the Ebionites in its doctrine of the divine sonship of Jesus and its acceptance of the Old Testament prophets.  The Nazarenes who used this gospel clearly affirmed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead but may have had (at least at the time when the gospel was composed) an incomplete doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  The recension of GH which we have examined may have revealed a balance between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, and especially of his own self-awareness of a “dual nature.”…“Along the way (and incidentally) we have perhaps seen that Jerome is not to be trusted in everything he says, but neither is he to be rejected out of hand as unreliable.” [ibid. p. 94, par. 1]

 

“The patristic evidence provides an interesting corollary to Schaffer’s conclusion.  We find references to the synagogue curse in Epiphanius and Jerome. Epiphanius states:

 

However, they are very much hated by the Jews.  For not only the Jewish children cherish hate against them [where do you think they learn if from?], but the people also stand up in the morning, at noon and in the evening, three times a day, and they pronounce curses and maledictions over them when they say their prayers in the synagogues.  Three times a day they say: “May God curse the Nazarenes.”

 

Jerome wrote Augustine (ep. 112,13): “Until now a heresy is to be found in all of the synagogues of the East among the Jews; it is called ‘of the Minaeans’ and is cursed by the Pharisees until now.  Usually they are called Nazarenes.”  In Amos 1.11-12: “until today they blaspheme the Christian people in their synagogues under the name of Nazarenes.”  In Is. 5.18-19: “Three times each day they anathematize the Christian name in every synagogue under the name of Nazarenes.”  In Is. 49.7: “They curse him [Christ] three times a day in their synagogues under the name of Nazarenes.”…[ibid. p. 105, par. 2-3]

 

Let’s stop and examine this last quote.  What would cause the Jews to curse the Nazarenes so powerfully in their synagogues, if indeed this is true?  Wouldn’t it be powerful preaching and witnessing about Jesus being the Messiah from fellow Sabbath, Holy Day observing Jews?  We have to read between the lines a little bit here.  Ask “why?” sometimes.  The Nazarenes were still having a powerful impact on Judaism.  Today, anti-missionaries are ranting and raving in similar fashion because of the powerful witness of Jews for Jesus, a tiny little Messianic Jewish evangelistic organization whose impact is felt worldwide amongst Jews.  Their slogun goes somewhat like this: “To Make the Messiah, Jesus, an unavoidable issue amongst their people, the Jews.”  The Nazarenes were no different.  The gospel was going to the Gentiles very successfully, and they were not going to neglect their own people.  Now we’re somewhat at the end of man’s age, close to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ’s 2nd coming, and God has just recently restored the Jewish branch of the body of Christ, and they in similar fashion are now evangelizing powerfully to their people.  [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/messianicmovement.htm and http://www.jewsforjesus.org]

 

Ray Pritz continues to summarizes his book thus:

 

“There emerges from our considerations an entity, a viable entity of Law-keeping Christians of Jewish background.  These were direct descendants of the first Jewish believers in Jesus.  They survived the destruction of Jerusalem in part because they fled successfully to Pella of the Decapolis, and in part because they had roots also in Galilee.  These Jewish Christians were called Nazarenes after Jesus, and probably received the title on the basis of early Christian interpretation of certain Old Testament passages (e.g. Isa. 11:1) as referring to the Messiah and specifically to Jesus himself.  The Nazarenes were distinct from the Ebionites and prior to them.  In fact, we have found that it is possible that there was a split in Nazarene ranks around the turn of the first century.  This split was either over a matter of christological doctrine or over leadership of the community.  Out of this split came the Ebionites, who can scarcely be separated from the Nazarenes on the basis of geography, but who can be easily distinguished from the standpoint of Christology.

          The continued existence of this Nazarene entity can be traced with reasonable certainty through the fourth century, contingent upon the credence we give to the evidence of Epiphanius and Jerome at the end of that century.  While their corroborating testimonies cannot fairly be dismissed, even without them we must allow for the continuation of the Nazarenes at least to the third century…They were to be found in the Galilee and probably in Jerusalem until 135[AD], when all Jews were expelled from the city.  It would seem that members of the sect moved northward at a somewhat later date and were to be found also in the area of Beroea of Coele Syria near the end of the fourth century.” [ibid. p. 108, par. 1-2]

 

About this “It would seem that members of the sect moved northward”, I have some pretty interesting speculation on where the Nazarenes moved—coming up to, during and following the massive Jewish-Roman War that took place from 132 to 135AD.  Let Ray Pritz continue:

 

“What we have seen of their doctrines lines up well with the developing christological doctrines of the greater catholic Church.  [He does not mean the Roman Catholic Church here, but the “universal church” on the Gentile side.] The sect seems to have been basically Trinitarian.  They accepted the virgin birth and affirmed the deity of Jesus.  They also seem to have had an embryonic, developing doctrine of the Holy Spirit, one which was no more nor indeed less developed than that of the greater Church at a comparable stage.  Contrary to other Jewish Christian groups of the time (and also current to scholarly opinion) they did not reject the apostleship of Paul.  They recognized his commission from God to preach to the gentiles, and they seem fully to have accepted the fruit of his labors: the “Church from the Gentiles.”…The Nazarenes, as Jews, continued to observed certain aspects of Mosaic Law, including circumcision and the Sabbath, [and this would include the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, as well as dietary laws], and it was this which brought about their exclusion from the Church [i.e. the emerging Greco-Roman Church].  This  rejection and exclusion was, however, gradual.” [ibid. p. 109, par. 1]

 

“On the Jewish side, the exclusion of the Nazarenes was not nearly so gradual.  At the end of the first century, the birkat ha-minim was formulated with the sect specifically named.  This recorded in both patristic and Jewish sources.  Nonetheless, we have found it possible that there was some limited synagogue attendance by Nazarenes into the early decades of the second century.  In addition to this, we find continued contact between the two communities in the form of a polemic or dialogue.  Such contact should not surprise us, since the Nazarenes lived in the same geographical areas with predominantly Jewish communities.  However, as the polemic and distrust grew, the separation and isolation from the Jewish community were increased.  Different steps along the way effected this separation: the flight to Pella, the birkat ha-minim, the refusal of the Nazarenes to recognize and support Bar Kochba.  By the middle of the second century, the rift was probably complete.”  [ibid. p. 109, par. 2]

 

“Of particular interest is the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah. This work shows clearly that the rejection was not solely from the Jewish side.  The Nazarenes refused to accept the authority established by the Pharisaic camp after the destruction of Jerusalem, and in so refusing they adjudicated their own isolation from the converging flow of what we call Judaism.  Just as they rejected the Church’s setting aside of the Law of Moses, so also they refused the rabbis’ expansive interpretations of it…From Talmudic sources we have seen that the Nazarenes may have conducted an active program of evangelism among the Jews.  The Isaiah commentary confirms that they never relinquished hope that Jews would one day turn away from tradition and towards Jesus: “O Sons of Israel, who deny the Son of God with such hurtful resolution, return to him and to his apostles.”” [ibid. p. 110, par. 1-2]

 

Geography of the Nazarenes

 

Jerome tells Augustine (ep. 112,13) that the Nazarene sect is to be found among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East.  At the time of writing, this would have been highly unlikely, although it may have been not so far wrong three hundred years earlier…Turning more to specific references, we have the Pella tradition.  Some Nazarenes doubtless remained there, across the Jordan, while others, perhaps led by their aging bishop Simon, returned after 70 or 73 to Jerusalem.  They will not have stayed there past 135, and with the Hadrianic persecution both Jerusalem and Pella Nazarenes may have fled north.” [ibid. p. 120, par. 1-2]  “Our final bit of geographical data revolves around Beroea of Coele Syria.  Epiphanius (pan. 29,7) names this town (modern-day Aleppo) as a home of the Nazarenes.  He does not mention it in connection with the Ebionites.  Jerome, like Epiphanius, states in the present tense that the members of the sect are living in Beroea of Syria.  Black notes that the two presbyters for whom Epiphanius wrote his panarion came from Beroea in Coele Syria (PG 41, 156).  This must greatly strengthen the credibility of what he says about the place, as he would hardly have been likely to tell them something of their own town which they would know to be patently false.  Neither Epiphanius nor Jerome tells us how they got there, and we can only surmise that they may have fled there during the Hadrianic persecution which ended in 138 [AD].  Similarly, we have no data as to the size of the group.  It is here we see the last traces of the Nazarenes.”

 

Now that leaves us in a very interesting spot historically.  We know that Judeo-Christians are very extant in Asia Minor up until 325AD.  Asia Minor is pagan.  Where did these Judeo-Christians come from? 

 

The Bar Kochba Revolt

 

First of all, what was the Bar Kochba Revolt (spelled by some Bar Kokhba’s Revolt)?  Wikipedia defines it thus:  Bar Kokhba’s Revolt (132-135CE) against the Roman Empire, also known as The Second Jewish-Roman War or The Second Jewish Revolt, was a second major rebellion by the Jews of Iudaea and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars.”  Shira Schoenberg writes “When Hadrian first became the Roman emperor in 118 C.E., he was sympathetic to the Jews.  He allowed them to return to Jerusalem [from their expulsion in 70AD—interesting to note, Jewish Christians had been allowed to return and were a presence since 73AD] and granted permission for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The Jews’ expectations rose as they made organizational and financial preparations to rebuild the temple.  Hadrian quickly went back on his word, however, and requested that the site of the Temple be moved from its original location.  He also began deporting Jews to North Africa.”  She goes on to describe the next event.

          “The Jews organized guerilla forces and, in 123 C.E., began launching surprise attacks against the Romans.  From that point on, life only got worse for the Jews.  Hadrian brought an extra army legion, the “Sixth Ferrata,” into Judea to deal with the terrorism.  Hadrian hated “foreign” religions and forbade the Jews to perform circumcisions.  He appointed Tinneius Rufus governor of Judea.  Rufus was a harsh ruler who took advantage of Jewish women.” 

 

Wikipedia picks up with the story in 130AD: “In 130, Emperor Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem.  At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild the city, but the Jews felt betrayed when they found out that his intentions were to rebuild the Jewish holiest city as a pagan metropolis, and a new pagan temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was to be dedicated to Jupiter.”  Shira Schoenberg continues the story. “In approximately 132 C.E., Hadrian began to establish a city in Jerusalem called Aelia Capitolina, the name being a combination of his own name and that of the Roman god Jupiter Capitolinus.  He started to build a temple to Jupiter in the place of the Jewish Holy Temple.  As long as Hadrian remained near Judea, the Jews remained relatively quiet…”  Wikipedia continues: “The Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva (alternatively Akiba) convinced the Sanhedrin to support the impending revolt, and regarded the chosen commander Simon Bar Kokhba to be the Jewish Messiah, according to the verse in Numbers 24:17: “There shall come a star out of Jacob” (“Bar Kokhba” means “son of a star” in the Aramaic language)…Most historians believe that it was this messianic claim in favor of Bar Kokhba that alienated many Christians (including Jewish Christians), who believed that the true messiah was Jesus, and sharply deepened the schism between Jews and Christians.  The Jewish leaders carefully planned the second revolt to avoid mistakes that had plagued the first Great Jewish Revolt sixty years earlier.  In 132, a revolt led by Bar Kokhba quickly spread from Modin across the country.”

 

Shira Schoenberg continues: “When he [Hadrian] left in 132, the Jews began their rebellion on a large scale.  They seized towns and fortified them with walls and subterranean passages.  Under the strong leadership of Simon Bar-Kokhba, the Jews captured approximately 50 strongholds in Palestine and 985 undefended towns and villages, including Jerusalem.  Jews from other countries, and even some gentiles, volunteered to join their crusade.  The Jews minted coins with slogans such as “The freedom of Israel” written in Hebrew.  Hadrian dispatched General Publus Marcellus, governor of Syria, to help Rufus, but the Jews defeated both Roman leaders.  The Jews then invaded the coastal region and the Romans began sea battles against them.” Wikipedia continues.

 

“The Era of the redemption of Israel”

 

“A sovereign Jewish state was restored for two and a half years that followed.  The functional public administration was headed by Simon Bar Kokhba, who took the title Nasi Israel (ruler or prince of Israel).  The “Era of the redemption of Israel” was announced, contracts were signed and coins were minted with corresponding inscriptions (some were overstruck Roman silver coins).  Rabbi Akiva presided over the Sanhedrin.  The religious rituals were observed and the korbanot (i.e. sacrifices) were resumed on the Altar. Some attempts were made to restore the Temple in Jerusalem.”

 

Roman reaction

 

Shira Schoenberg best describes it: “The turning point of the war came when Hadrian sent into Judea one of his best generals from Britain, Julius Severus, along with former governor of Gemania, Hadrianus Quintus Lollius Urbicus.  By that time, there were 12 army legions ]60,000 men approximately] from Egypt, Britain, Syria and other areas in Palestine.  Due to the large number of Jewish rebels, instead of waging open war, Severus besieged Jewish fortresses and held back food until the Jews grew weak.  Only then did his attack escalate into outright war.  The final battle of the war took place in Bethar, Bar-Kokhba’s headquarters, which housed both the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court) and the home of the Nasi (leader). Bethar was a vital military stronghold because of its strategic location on a mountain ridge overlooking the Valley of Sorek and the important Jerusalem-Bet Guvrin Road. Thousands of Jewish refugees fled to Bethar during the war.  In 135 C.E., Hadrian’s army besieged Bethar and on the 9th of Av, the Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, the walls of Bethar fell. After a fierce battle, every Jew in Bethar was killed.  Six days passed before the Romans allowed the Jews to bury their dead.  Following the battle of Bethar, there were a few small skirmishes in the Judean Desert Caves, but the war was essentially over and Judean independence was lost.  The Romans plowed Jerusalem with a yoke of oxen.  Jews were sold into slavery and many were transported to Egypt.  Judean settlements were not rebuilt.  Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and the Jews were forbidden to live there.  They were permitted to enter only on the 9th of Av to mourn losses in the revolt.  Hadrian changed the country’s name from Judea to Syria Palestina.  In the years following the revolt, Hadrian discriminated against all Judeo-Christian sects, but the worst persecution was directed against religious Jews.  He made anti-religious decrees forbidding Torah study, Sabbath observance, circumcision, Jewish courts, meeting in synagogues and other ritual practices.   Many Jews assimilated and many sages and prominent men were martyred including Rabbi Akiva and the rest of the Asara Harugei Malchut (ten martyrs).  This age of persecution lasted throughout the remainder of Hadrian’s reign, until 138 C.E.”

 

“The Romans demolished all 50 Jewish fortresses and 985 villages.  The main conflicts took place in Judea, the Shepula, the mountains and the Judean desert, though fighting spread to Northern Israel.  The Romans suffered heavy casualties as well and Hadrian did not send his usual message to the Senate that “I and my army are well.”

 

Long-term consequences and historic importance

 

Back to Wikipedia: “Modern historians have come to view the Bar-Kokhba Revolt as being of decisive historic importance.  The massive destruction and loss of life occasioned by the revolt has led some scholars to date the beginning of the Jewish diaspora from this date [and not the earlier Babylonian captivity date].  They note that, unlike the aftermath of the First Jewish-Roman War chronicled by Josephus, the majority of the Jewish population was either killed, exiled, or sold into slavery after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, and the Jewish religious and political authority was suppressed far more brutally.  After the revolt the Jewish religious center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars.  Judea would not be a center for Jewish religious, cultural, or political life again until the modern era, though Jews continued to live there and important religious developments still occurred there…Historian Shmuel Katz writes that even after the disaster of the revolt: “Jewish life remained active and productive.  Banished from Jerusalem, it now centred on Galilee.  Refugees returned…”  He lists the communities left in Palestine: “43 Jewish communities in Palestine in the sixth century:  12 on the coast, in the Negev, and east of the Jordan, and 31 villages in Galilee and in the Jordan valley”  Now let’s analyze what Mr. Katz has just said here.  In the 500AD’s—400 years later—there are now 43 Jewish communities, where there were once 985 villages and towns—communities.  In 400 years there are 43 Jewish communities where there were once almost 1,000 communities. 

 

What Can We Learn From All This?  How Does This Show Us Where the Nazarenes Might Have Gone?

 

Wars, especially major ones, are very effective movers of people and populations.  The Nazarenes were a church community, a Jewish-Christian church community.  There are three major things that will move a religious population: economics, religious persecution, and major war.  We find all three conditions being met here during the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, the 2nd Jewish-Roman War.  Remember Ray Pritz said he thought the Nazarenes moved north?  Then he lists a few places where there are records of them being.  But don’t forget, the apostle John, the last apostle, had moved north to Asia Minor and headquartered himself in Ephesus.  The evangelism of Paul, as we have just seen, created a lot of Judeo-Christian congregations in Asia Minor.  Polycarp, the disciple of John is now bishop, ruler over this vast area of Asia Minor and the Judeo-Christians up there.  These are friendly churches, keeping the Passover of the 14th Nisan, and thus they are Sabbath/Holy Day observing Judeo-Christians.  If you were a Jewish Christian living in Israel coming up to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (or say you were foolish enough to remain in Israel during that war)—knowing Polycarp is in Asia Minor ruling over a bunch of friendly Judeo-Christian congregations—where would you move to?  If Stark’s figures are correct, and three million Judeo-Christians were residing in Asia Minor up to 325AD, where do you think they came from?  They all weren’t there to begin with, that’s for sure.  Asia Minor is pagan, it’s population is basically pagan except for the Jewish synagogues that popped up all over the coast of Asia Minor during and after the Diaspora of the Babylonian captivity and then the First Jewish-Roman War in 70AD.  Also, figure a good number of Judeo-Christians would have decided to move north from 66-70AD, moving to Asia Minor where the last remaining apostle, John, was headquartered in Ephesus.  Put yourself in their shoes.  If you had a family where would you go?  I am postulating that there were two movements of Nazarene Jewish Christians that moved north to Asia Minor, one from 66-70AD and the other from 132-135AD.  A remnant stayed behind, and re-formed the Jerusalem congregation, descendents of the original Church of God at Jerusalem.  As you read excerpts from Oskar Skarsaune’s In the Shadow of the Temple, a Jewish-Christian synagogue dating to 73AD was recently found, having been inhabited by these Jewish Christians, descendents of the Nazarenes, up until the time of the Crusades.  Pretty astounding if you ask me.  Remember I said three things would move a religious community, economics, persecution and war?  Those three things moved a religious community to the United States from the Midlands of England in 1620, to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Persecution and resulting economic hardship brought the Separatists from the Midlands of England to Plymouth.  Ten years later the threat of impending civil war in England brought 30,000 Puritans to Boston Harbour to escape persecution and war.  That was only four hundred years ago, a relatively short time-span historically speaking, so we have a well-documented history of the event.  Looking back 1900 years, through the lens of histories written by a group’s detractors can be a little bit more difficult.  There is a very strong suspicion amongst historians and scholars that many of these early histories written by the participants themselves (i.e. the Nazarenes and Judeo-Christians of Asia Minor) have been “lost” or destroyed.  But we can make a very educated guess, and that is what I have done here.

 

Links to two online resources on the Bar Kokhba Revolt:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/revolt1.html

http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_Kokhba’s_revolt 

 

I highly recommend getting “Nazarene Jewish Christianity” by Ray A. Pritz.  It’s a little over 100 pages, but he draws sound conclusions from the historic evidence at hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

II. The Interim Period, 135-381 AD, The Great Separation

 

The term Nazarene now refers to Hebrew-speaking Judeo-Christians in the Middle East.  Ray Pritz says the term applied to the whole Church of God during the days of the apostles. 

 

“It is important to note that the name Nazarenes was at first applied to all Jewish followers of Jesus.   Until the name Christian became attached to Antiochan non-Jews, this meant that the name signified the entire Church, not just a sect. So also in Acts 24:5 the reference is not to a sect of Christianity but rather to the entire primitive Church as a sect of Judaism.  Only when the Gentile church took over and overshadowed the Jewish one could there be any possibility of sectarian stigma adhering to the name Nazarene within the Church itself.  This should be borne in mind when considering the total absence of the name from extant Christian literature between the composition of Acts and 376[AD], when the panarion was written.” [Ray Pritz, 1992]

 

What Eusebius would like people to believe is that Judeo-Christianity left Jerusalem after the Bar Kokhba revolt and war with Rome.  Bagatti begs to differ.

 

“[By] Reading Eusebius one gets the impression that the Judaeo-Christians left the city [of Jerusalem] forever, but such was not the case, because things that happened later, when examined, show us that they were still in their old surroundings.  From which it is established that the Judeao-Christians, after having left the city for a time, returned very quickly.   This is explained by the fact that within the war a distinction was made between the Jews and the Judeao-Christians, and that the decree of expulsion, promulgated by Hadrian, concerned only the Jews.”  [B. Bagatti, 1971]

 

“…the ancient Jewish church, rejected by both Jews and Gentiles, found itself in increasing isolation.  Although by A.D. 135 a number of Jewish Christians returned to Jerusalem, their relationship with the rest of Christianity had been almost completely severed, and leadership had passed to Gentile Christians…When, in later centuries, Gentile Christians deigned to write a few words about that forgotten community, they would speak of its heretics and its strange customs, but they would have little of positive value to say about that church, which faded out of history in the fifth century.”  [Gonzalez, 1984]

 

Initially, right after the Bar Kokhba revolt was brutally suppressed by the Roman Legions under Hadrian, some Greco-Roman Christians moved into occupied Palestine right after 135AD.   Bagatti had this to say about them and the Jewish believers in Jesus:

 

“In fact some gentile Christians could not bear that their coreligionists should perpetuate, more than a century after the death of Christ, those Jewish rites which they, on reading St. Paul, believed had been juridicially abolished.  The Christians of Jewish stock, on the contrary, thought that it was wrong to abandon those rites, which neither Jesus nor the apostles, Paul excepted, had abrogated.”  [B. Bagatti, 1971]

 

And it is interesting, a close reading of Romans 14 shows that the New Testament freedoms Paul was explaining allowed for believers in Jesus to practice the days of worship that their Christian conscience dictated, allowing all others the same freedom of choice.  It would seem that these Gentile Greco-Roman Christians wanted to deny the very freedoms that had allowed them to choose Sunday/Easter/ observance over Sabbath/Passover observance. 

          Some historians feel that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem during the Bar Kokhba revolt marked the end of the Apostolic Era.  John in Ephesus of Asia Minor is dead, Polycarp is alive leading the Hellenized Judeao-Christians in Asia Minor.  But as we have seen, the Jerusalem Church of God continued long after 135AD.  The Bar Kokhba revolt brought about almost the entire annihilation of the Jewish people living in Israel.  55 important outposts, 985 of their most important villages wiped off the face of the map, 580,000 men slain, according to Dio Cassius, Roman History. 

          Judeo-Christians in Asia Minor (and throughout the Empire to a lesser degree) continued to observe the Christian Passover on Nisan 14, the weekly Sabbath, and the Holy Days of Leviticus 23.  The Greco-Roman Christians now observed “the Lord’s Day” (Sunday), Easter, and later on, Christmas.  These changes could have begun in the Greco-Roman churches as early as the late first century to mid 2nd century (between 96 and 150 AD).  As the Greco-Roman church syncretized pagan days of worship and customs into its belief structure this church grew.  Don’t forget, they had access to huge pagan populations in both the eastern and western half of the Roman Empire.  Evangelism in the synagogues amongst the indigenous Jewish population had almost run its course.  As this syncretizing of pagan days of worship was occurring Judeo-Christians separated themselves out of and away from this Greco-Roman movement which they more and more believed to be apostate and outright heretical.  i.e. their days of worship were out of the Bible, whereas the Greco-Roman days had been syncretized out of the pagan cultures and religions of the far east, Greece and Rome, which were, upon close scrutiny, all the same thing—copied from the Babylonian Mystery Religion.  This fact was not lost upon those early Judeo-Christians, whose Old Testament biblical history of God’s anger with Israel over pagan practices had led to two separate total captivities in Jewish history, Assyrian and Babylonian.  What else distinguished the Judeo-Christians from the Greco-Roman churches? 

 

“In second-century Asia Minor and a few neighboring regions, a Christian Passover was kept which naturally placed the thought of the Lord’s passion in the foreground, but also included the idea that this passion leads to the resurrection. In accordance with Jewish custom, 14 Nisan was kept as the date for this Passover, by the Quartodeciman’s of Asia Minor and perhaps generally [by all] at first; it was prepared for by a strict fast and included a homily on Exodus 12 (as did the Jewish Passover).  It was not exclusively a day of mourning nevertheless, and had a joyous conclusion with the agape and celebration of the Eucharist early on Nisan 15.”  [Karl Baus, 1990]

 

This “agape” meal was generally kept at the end of 14th Nisan, sundown, as the 15th was beginning [Jewish days, biblically, begin at sundown].  The Quartodeciman, or Judeo-Christian Passover was observed on the 13th/14th Nisan, at sundown, as the 14th Nisan was beginning.  This agape meal would have corresponded with the Jewish Passover meal, or Seder.  Jesus had kept his Passover meal 24 hours earlier, at the beginning of the 14th Nisan, so he would be crucified during the 14th when all the lambs in the Temple were being slain.  So Judeo-Christians observed the Passover memorial at the same time Jesus did, and then kept their agape meal or feast when the Jews were observing their Passover Seder, 24 hours later.  Even today in the Sabbatarian Churches of God, this Quartodeciman Christian Passover memorial is still observed on the 13th/14th Nisan, and the agape meal, which they call The Night To Be Much Observed, is observed on the 14th/15th Nisan, the same night of the Jewish Seder.  [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/lamb/lastsix.htm to see the significance of why the early Judeo-Christians felt so strongly about 14th Nisan observance of Passover instead of a Sunday Easter service.  This was the original “Holy Communion” observed, once a year, annually on the 14th Nisan by the early Judeo-Christian Church of God in Jerusalem, and then by the Judeo-Christians throughout the Middle East and Asia Minor.]

 

160AD

 

Polycarp, disciple of John, visited the Roman bishop Anicetus in 160AD.  Anicetus tried to convince Polycarp to have the Greek churches give up the 14th Nisan Passover observance and replace it with the resurrection feast (Easter), as the Latin churches from Sixtus I, 115AD, had already done.  Anicetus said he “could not persuade Polycarp not to keep it because he had always observed it with John, the Lord’s apostle, and the other apostles.” [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History.]

Irenaeus (177AD)

 

During the first three hundred years of the Christian Church a pitched battle raged against the heresies of Gnosticism and Adoptionism and those that were spreading them into the congregations.  Many of the early Church leaders after John would start to draw up the battle-lines between the orthodox and heretical.  Polycarp was John’s trained disciple.  He trained a disciple named Irenaeus, another Jewish Christian, who then moved up into the region of Gaul and was a Bishop in what became Lyons in 177-178AD.  He wrote five lengthy books defining the heresies that were attacking the Church.  He was the Christian Church’s first major apologist.  He wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volume On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, normally referred to by the Latin title Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies).  Book I talks about the Valentinian Gnostics and their predecessors, who go as far back as the magician Simon Magus.  Book II provides rational proof that Valentinianism contains no merit in terms of it’s doctrines.  Book III shows that these doctrines are false by providing evidence from the Gospels.  Book IV consists of Jesus’ sayings, and stresses the unity of the Old Testament and the Gospels.  The final volume, Book V, focuses on more sayings of Jesus plus the letters of Paul the Apostle.  Irenaeus recognized the legitimacy of the church in Rome, which at this time had apparently not become an apostate church yet After 325AD this all changed, but at this time the Judeo-Christian congregations and Gentile Christian congregations existed peacefully, side-by-side, recognizing each other and working with each other.  All the genuine Christian churches were busy fighting these heresies and those who brought them into their congregations.  These heresies had torn into the early Judeo-Christian churches, just as John and Paul had warned, noting especially what Paul said, that when he departed, he said grievous wolves would tear into the flock.  The nature of what become the Catholic Church would all change by the 300s AD.  Irenaeus is claimed by the Catholic Church as one of their early “fathers” to this day.  As stated Irenaeus was a Jewish-Christian, and was a student of Polycarp, who was said to have been tutored and discipled by John the Apostle.  It’s interesting, Irenaeus give us in these five volumes a sort of snap-shot picture of what the early Judeo-Christian, and even Gentile Christian churches believed, which modern apologists might label heretical, sort of proving my point that heretical beliefs should only be those that complicate the simple gospel of Christ, and nothing more. 

 

Early eschatological beliefs of the Christian Church as recorded by Irenaeus

 

Irenaeus gives us a vivid snap-shot of early Judeo-Christian eschatological doctrines, which should not surprise ex-members of the Worldwide Church of God.  “Irenaeus identified the Antichrist, another name of the apostate Man of Sin, with Daniel’s Little Horn and John’s Beast of Revelation 13.  He sought to apply other expressions to Antichrist, such as “the abomination of desolation,” mentioned by Christ (Matt. 24:15) and the “king of a most fierce countenance,” in Gabriel’s explanation of the Little Horn of Daniel 8.  But he is not very clear how “the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away” during the “half-week,” or three and one-half years of Antichrist’s reign.”  Small wonder he wouldn’t understand some of this, as these events are due to occur about 2,000 years later.  Irenaeus is at the early end of the Church age, and we now are at the end of it.  “He also understood that Rome, or some form of the Roman system, would be extant at the time of the 2nd coming of Christ.  Like the other early church fathers, Irenaeus interpreted the three and one-half “times” of the Little Horn of Daniel 7 as three and one-half literal years.  Antichrist’s three and a half years of sitting in the temple are placed immediately before the Second Coming of Christ.” 

 

Early beliefs about the Millennium

 

“Irenaeus declares that the Antichrist’s future three-and-a-half-year reign, when he sits in the temple at Jerusalem, will be terminated by the second advent [2nd coming of Christ], with the resurrection of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the millennial reign of the righteous.  The general resurrection and judgment follow the descent of the New Jerusalem at the end of the millennial kingdom.”  Well, he got the order a little mixed up, as Revelation 20:11-13 shows the general resurrection taking place, and Revelation 21:1-17, after that event, shows the descent of the New Jerusalem---after the lake of fire, and the new heavens and earth are created.  “Irenaeus calls those “heretics” who maintain that the saved are immediately glorified in the kingdom to come after death, before their resurrection.”---i.e. he does not believe that the spirit-in-man component within humans remains conscious upon death when they rise to God in heaven, but as Ecclesiastes teaches, the spirit of man rises to God, but is unconscious, which is often called the doctrine of “soul sleep”.”  So Irenaeus and the early Church during his lifetime believed that believers were to be brought back to life and made immortal at the time of the 1st Resurrection, spoken of by Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:49-56.  The doctrine of “the immortal soul” was considered Biblically inaccurate and heretical by the early Christian Church, and don’t forget this is a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.  So what Irenaeus pens in these five books, these beliefs here, were the doctrinal beliefs of John and the other 11 apostles, as well as those of Paul.  “He avers that the millennial kingdom and the resurrection are actualities, not allegories, the first resurrection introducing this promised kingdom in which the risen saints are described as ruling over the renewed earth during the millennium, between the two resurrections.”  “Irenaeus held to the old Jewish tradition that the first six days of creation week were typical of the first six thousand years of human history, with Antichrist manifesting himself in the sixth period.”---Wow!  No wonder his concepts of what the end-time Roman government, or some form of it, were fuzzy.  He knew he was 1800 years away from that event---“And he expected the millennial kingdom to begin with the second coming of Christ to destroy the wicked and inaugurate, for the righteous, the reign of the kingdom of God during the seventh thousand years, the millennial Sabbath, as signified by the Sabbath of creation week…he applies Biblical and traditional ideas to his descriptions of this earth during the millennium….”  i.e. he’s relying on Old Testament prophecies that describe that millennial period, such as found in Isaiah.  He saw the millennial period bounded by the two resurrections.  You know, I learned most of this information when I first became a member of the Worldwide Church of God, which was under the leadership of Herbert Armstrong at the time.  Now isn’t that a kicker?  Most other Christians and apologists like to paint him as being a fringe cook, a cultist (heretic?).  But here is described the eschatological beliefs of the early Church, and undoubtedly the apostles themselves, as recorded by the first and foremost apologist of the Christian Church.  So we see reflected in what Irenaeus wrote in his five books, as he battles heresies John and Paul also battled, the very same beliefs the early Church of God in Jerusalem believed, which are the same beliefs taught and believed by the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong.  So what should we conclude from this?  Secondary beliefs, in such areas as prophecy, soul-sleep verses immortality of the soul, are not to be considered on the list of what makes beliefs orthodox or heretical.  We must go by what Paul taught, and that is simply that anything that complicates the simple gospel of Christ is to be considered heresy.  Personal or denominational beliefs about prophecy or immortal soul verses soul-sleep, even teachings about heaven and hell, all fall within the realm of secondary teachings, and can and do differ amongst the various denominations that make up the body of Christ.  Apologist’s beware, you must not aim your gun-sights on other denominations and groups just because they disagree with you on these secondary items I have just listed.  For years you have hammered at the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong’s leadership, calling him a heretic, and you were wrong in doing that.  [Be sure to click onto the Homepage nav button “Why Orthodoxy?” when it appears on the site.  It will reveal a lot about these early battles against those two major heresies that tried to destroy the early Christian Church.]

            Bishop Victor I (189-199AD) also tried to abolish observance of he Christian Passover on the 14th Nisan and replace it with Easter.  He set up the Counsel of Caesarea in an attempt to push this through.

 

“A half century after Hadrian’s war 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 (196), at which it was established that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday instead of the 14th Nisan, and it can be supposed that when the bishop wished to implement the decision of the Counsel, he met with opposition.  In fact, Judeao-Christians were convinced that the traditional day of Nisan the 14th was not capable of change.”  [B. Bagatti, 1971]

 

“The fact is that the Judeao-Christians did not accept the conciliar decisions for two reasons: first, because they deprived them of a preponderance of authority; secondly, because they considered the date of Easter [14th Nisan Passover] unchangeable.   The various facts relative to the observing of the new moon in which the Minim also in the beginning were taken as witnesses by the Jews, shows us the Judeao-Christians also observed the neomenia and fixed accordingly Easter [Passover] and the feasts that depended on it.”…“deeper reason prompted the Judeao-Christians not to accept the decisions of the gentile churches, and it was this, the common belief among the Jews that the date had been fixed by the Lord and was, therefore, unchangeable.  Many believed that this date was superior even to the Sabbath itself.”  [B. Bagatti, 1971]

 

At this time Policrates, disciple of Polycarp, was ruling the Greek or Asia Minor Churches, and he refused to follow the Latin custom of Easter, refusing to be intimidated by Victor and his threats, saying the churches of Asia Minor (which would have included Judeo-Christian and Hellenized Greco-Roman churches which still observed Passover, Sabbath and Holy Days) would not change their practice.

200AD        At this time the percentage of ethnic Jewish believers in the Roman Empire is 62.9 percent of all Christians—Sabbath, Holy Day, 14th Nisan Passover observing Christians.  Ethnic Gentiles made up 37.1 percent of all Christians. [percentage figures from Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1996]  An estimated 7,000 Gentile Christians were in Rome. There still wasn’t sufficient number of Gentiles to force a change from apostolic days of worship to the syncretized pagan Gentile Greco-Roman days of worship.  This wouldn’t occur for another 100 years.  Even after 300AD the Quartodeciman minority remained faithful to their 14th Nisan Passover, Lord’s Supper (Sabbath, Holy Day observances included).

 

Leading Up To Constantine and the Counsel of Nicea

 

300AD:  Starting with Constantine, the Roman government (whenever these emperors were from the Greco-Roman “orthodox” church) sought to bring the pagan population into the “orthodox” church. 

 

“In the 4th century, when Christianity had already won the victory over paganism, there was a reorganization of the church [i.e. the Greco-Roman “orthodox” church] for Unitarian purposes.  The Jewish usages and doctrines, unknown in great part to the [Gentile] Christian world, in some regions were looked upon as causes of division among the faithful and were therefore fiercely opposed.  Bishops and savants united their efforts on this programme and they acted through the counsels.”  [B. Bagatti, 1971]

 

The orthodox Greco-Roman emperors sought to do this in order to stabilize Roman citizenry under one uniform umbrella system of beliefs.  Their motive was political, not religious or Christian in any way.  This “orthodox” Greco-Roman church now used the power of the Roman Empire to confiscate Judeo-Christian churches, church properties, and criminalize their observance of the Sabbath, Holy Days, and the Christian Passover of 14th Nisan.  Judeo-Christianity was essentially squashed under the military boot of the Roman Empire, now acting upon the orders of the Greco-Roman “orthodox” church.  What had been the Church of God at Rome in Paul’s day had now become something totally new.  The apostle John had remarked in his 1st Epistle how the iniquity of the antichrist is already at work, which could have been a veiled reference to what the Roman bishops were up to at the end of the 1st century.  It certainly does seem to fit, looking back.  Elaine Pagels writes that by 200 AD Greco-Roman Christianity:

 

“…had become an institution headed by a three-rank hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons, who understood themselves to be the guardians of the only “true faith.”  The majority of churches, among which the church of Rome took a leading role, rejected all other viewpoints as heresy.  Deploring the diversity of the earlier movement, Bishop Irenaeus and his followers insisted that there could only be one church, and outside of that church, he declared, “there is no salvation.”  Members of this church alone are orthodox (literally, “straight thinking”) Christians. And, he claimed, this church must be catholic, that is, universal.  Whoever challenged that consensus, arguing instead for other forms of Christian teaching, was declared to be a heretic, and expelled.  When the orthodox gained military support, sometime after the Emperor Constantine became Christian in the fourth century, the penalty for heresy escalated.”  [Elaine Pagels, 1979]

 

300AD:  66 percent of those calling themselves Christian were from the Greco-Roman stock, and only 34 percent were now Judeo-Christian.  That would come to 4.8 million Greco-Roman believers compared to 3 million Judeo-Christian believers. [percentages from Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1996] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III. Development of the proto-Catholic Church

 

Early Catholic Church Fathers

 

Marcion, Rome 120s-130s AD

 

[note:  Whenever the word “Church” with a capital “C” is used in the following quotes, it refers specifically to the Roman Catholic Church and not the Body of Christ in general.]

 

A “wealthy Greek convert from Pontus, Marcion…had come to Rome in the 120s or 130s to take an active part in propagating the faith.  He was from the school of Paul, indeed his greatest theological follower.  He represents two important and permanent strains of Christianity: the cool rationalist approach to the examination of the Church’s documentary proofs, and a plain, unspectacular philosophy of love.  He was, as it were, a preincarnation of a certain type of Renaissance scholar, an adumbration of Erasmus.  Marcion had no doubt that Paul’s essential teachings were sound and he know they were closer to Jesus in date.  His difficulty was how to square them either with the teachings of the Old Testament, or with the post-Pauline Christian writings.  Using historical and critical methods basically similar to those of modern scriptural scholars, he identified only seven Pauline epistles as authentic, rejecting all the later documents which were circulating in the apostle’s name…[obviously he lopped off six authentic epistles of Paul]  Of the so-called evangelists he accepted only portions of Luke (in his gospel and Acts) as inspired, rejecting the rest as later fabrications, rationalizations and muddle.  This stripped the New Testament down to its bare Pauline bones:  indeed, to Marcion, the teaching of Paul was, essentially, the gospel of Jesus.  The Old Testament he rejected in toto since it seemed to him, as it has seemed to many Christians since, to be talking of a quite different God: monstrous, evil-creating, bloody, the patron of ruffians like David.  His textual analysis and the process by which he arrived at the first ‘canon’, thus had a unity: the breach with Judaism, initiated by Paul, had to be complete, and [so-called] Christian texts with Judaizing tendencies or compromises expurgated or scrapped.  No book of Marcion’s has survived.  He quarreled with the Roman Christian authorities in AD 144 and went east.” [“A History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson, p. 46, par. 2-3]  So Marcion was lopping off most of the authentic New Testament, except for Paul, and all of the Old Testament!  He was also introducing an anti-Semitic bias, teachings, and flavour into that church that was at Rome early on.  Although Marcion was kicked out of this early Roman church congregation, which at the time was an orthodox Gentile Christian congregation with both Jewish and Gentile believers within it, a little later on many of his beliefs and focus on Paul to the exclusion of all else, and especially his exclusion of the Old Testament, worked their way into the focus of the proto-Catholic church and then the Catholic church itself.  That is why I include Marcion as one of the important pre-Constantine “fathers” of the Catholic church.  These quotes from Paul Johnson’s exhaustive work are very revealing.  Let’s read on.

 

Tertullian 160-220AD,

 

“Tertullian and Marcion never met: they were quite different generations and Tertullian was attacking an attitude of mind rather than a real personality.  Both had powerful intellects.  Tertullian, in addition, was a master of prose, the prose of the rhetorician and the controversialist.  He was at home in both Latin and Greek but he usually employed Latin---the first Christian theologian to do so.”  [So-called “Christian” in my eyes.  We’ll see why I feel that way soon.]  “Tertullian came from Carthage where, even in the closing decades of the second century, a distinctive regional Church had emerged [the Donatists, considered by the Church in Rome as a schism off the orthodox Church in Rome]:  enthusiastic, immensely courageous, utterly defiant of the secular authorities, much persecuted, narrow-minded, intolerant, venomous and indeed violent in controversy.  There is some evidence that Carthage and other areas of the African littoral were evangelized by Christian Zealots and Essenes and had a very early tradition of militancy and resistance to authority and persecution.  Tertullian embodied this tradition.  To him the Church [the Roman proto-Catholic church, that is] was a precious elite of believers, to be defended against the contamination from whatever quarter; the Devil, he thought, roamed the earth seeking to corrupt.  Christians [of his extraction, that is] should limit their contacts with the state to the minimum: they should refuse to serve in the army, or the civil service, or even in state schools;. They might not earn their living in any trade connected, even indirectly, with pagan religion.  He particularly deplored the attempts of rationalists, like Marcion, to reconcile Christian teaching to Greek philosophy…In his contempt for intellectual inquiry, Tertullian appeared anti-Pauline.  Yet in another sense he sprang from the Pauline tradition.  He stressed the overwhelming power of faith, the precious gift of the elect.  To him Christians were supermen because of the spirit that moved them.  This is Paul’s conception of the Church; a community where the spirit worked through individuals, rather than an organized hierarchy where authority was exercised by office.  Tertullian’s burning faith made him a scourge of heretics and an avid propagandist for the Church – one of the best it ever had.”  [ibid. p. 48, par. 1-2]  “Tertullian, the scourge of heretics, eventually joined it.  He could not continue to endorse an orthodoxy which denied any independent role to the Spirit and insisted that all communication with the deity should be through the regular ecclesiastical channels.”  [ibid. p. 50, par.1]  So we see Tertullian, a very early father of the proto-Catholic church, leaving due to the fact that this church was becoming so structured in a way the denied proper independent Christian communication with God in the Spirit.  A powerful hierarchal structure was beginning to develop in what was to become the proto-Catholic church, and the date was 170AD.

 

Rise of the proto-Catholic Church

 

“But by the time the early Roman sources appear, early in the second century, the matrix of a clerical structure had been forged.  The first epistle of Clement (96-99AD in papacy) stressed the importance of ‘decency and order’ in the Church.  And a part of this order was a hierarchal structure.  Women were subject to men, the young to the old, the ‘multitude’ to the presbyters, or alternately to bishops and deacons selected for this purpose.  A historical theory of episcopacy had already been evolved: ‘Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be contention over the name of bishop.  For this reason, being possessed of complete foreknowledge, they appointed the above-mentioned men, and then made a decree that, when these men died, other reliable men should take over their office.’  By the time Ignatius of Antioch wrote his letter, perhaps twenty years later, the hierarchal order had developed further, and clergy were divided into grades: the bishop, the council of presbyters, and the deacons…By this stage, as we see from the pastoral epistles [within this developing proto-Catholic Church], the primitive democracy of the eschatological period had gone [i.e. the period where the true Church, Judeo-Christian in nature, had been the chief Church extant.]: the congregation had lost its freedom, the bishops taught authorized truth and office was seen as the instrument by which the apostolic tradition was to be preserved.  The authority of the bishop was then buttressed, as we have seen, by the compilation of episcopal lists going back to apostolic foundations [or so they said they went back to apostolic foundations, which was a hoax].  All such churches produced their list, no one Church alone had to bear the burden of proving that its teaching was the one originally given. Thus the Churches [and this would be the churches who were falling more and more under the influence of the proto-Catholic Church in Rome.  Judeo-Christianity, from the apostolic line of John, to Polycarp, to Policrates still resided in Asia Minor, where it was always going through severe persecution at the hands of the Roman empire.] established intercommunion and mutual defense against heresy, on the basis of the monarchical episcopate and its apostolic genealogy.”  [ibid. p.56, par.2, p. 57, par. 1] 

 

where the true apostolic churches were residing

 

As we have seen in the previous sections, Judeo-Christianity, now residing in Asia Minor, is where the true Church was residing.  Those congregations, first under the apostle John’s authority, then his disciple Polycarp, and then Policrates, the true apostolic line of succession in that sense (all the other apostles had been killed off except John) continued on gently ruling over their churches from the 90s AD to around 250AD when Policrates was martyred.  This is in direct contrast to what was developing in the west at Rome, and southeast and south of Rome in Alexandria and Carthage under the influence of the Donatist schism of the proto-Catholic Church.

 

Now let’s continue with the development of the proto-Catholic Church

 

“The idea of succession, originally stressed to safeguard belief in the tradition, was detached from its setting and used to create a doctrine of spiritual office.  Tertullian saw this in legal terms: the bishops were ‘heirs’ to spiritual property.  And part of their property was that their authority was valid everywhere because they became special people by virtue of office.  How did they become heirs?  The answer was shortly supplied by Hippolytus of Rome, writing early in the third century, with the notion of a special sanctifying power in episcopal consecration.  This service, he argued, was the means by which bishops, like the apostles before them, were endowed with the threefold authority of the high priesthood, the teaching, and the office of ‘watchman.’  They could be ordained only by other bishops – thus for the first time a sacral differentiation was made in consecration rites.”  [ibid. p. 57, par.2]  So we see the steady development of a hierarchal structure for this developing proto-Catholic Church, a structure which would divorce forever proper accountability of this structure from lay members, and deny lay members from having any say in how the church was being run, as well as they were more and more cut off from direct communion with God in any spiritual capacity, the very reason Tertullian left.  The proto-Catholic church is getting ready for---being prepared for by some unseen force--- Constantine, as we shall see, but we’re not quite there yet. 

 

Second century growth

 

“The creation of an international Church, moving slowly from doctrinal diversity to the semblence of orthodoxy, based on an agreed canon and underpinned by the institution of the bishops, was essentially the work of the second century.  This was pragmatical work, evolved in response to the collapse of the eschatological hope, and during a fierce and continuous battle against heresy; theory was made up to rationalize and justify change rather than to advance it.  The character of the Church – or rather the increasingly victorious trend within the Church – was acquiring was empirical and inclusive; it tended to reject one-sided ideological interpretations.  Thus Marcion, the ultra-Pauline, and Tertullian, the defender of charismatics, found themselves outside.”  [ibid. p. 57, par.3]  So this Church in Rome and those associated with it was streamlining itself to become a universal Church, all it lacked is universal power, political power, military power.  “In the West, diversity was disappearing fast; in the East, orthodoxy was becoming the largest single tradition by the early decades of the third century.  The Church was now a great and numerous force in the empire, attracting men of wealth and high education…

 

Origen

 

“The effect of Origen’s work was to create a new science, biblical theology, whereby every sentence in the scriptures was systematically explored for any hidden meanings, different layers of meanings, allegory and so forth.  And from the elements of this vast scriptural erudition he constructed, in his book First Principles, a Christian philosophy from which it was possible to interpret every aspect of the world.”  [p. 58, par. 2].  But was this the interpretation of Scripture Jesus gave the apostles and the early true Church?  Far from it, many of Origen’s interpretations were like night compared to day compared to what the apostles taught and wrote.  He allegorized away many Scriptures which had previously been interpreted in a literal sense.  Amillennialism is thought to have originated under him.

 

Cyprian, 208-258AD

 

“Within the broad philosophical system elaborated by Origen there was room for an internal system of regulation and discipline. This was supplied by his younger contemporary, Cyprian of Carthage.  If Origen adumbrated the concept of a Christian universe, Cyprian unveiled the machinery necessary to keep it together and make it work”…Cyprian “had to face the practical problems of persecution, survival and defense against attack.  His solution was to gather together the developing threads of ecclesiastical order and authority and weave them into a tight system of absolute control.  He reasoned as follows.  The Church was a divine institution; the Bride of Christ; Mother Church, the mediatrix of all salvation.  It was one, undivided and catholic. [catholic = universal in that sense]  Only in association with her could Catholics have life.  Outside her holy fellowship there was nothing but error and darkness.  The sacraments, episcopal ordination, the confession of faith, even the Bible itself, lost their meaning if used outside the true Church.  The Church was also a human, viable community, found only in an organized form.  The individual could not be saved by direct contact with God.  The carefully graded hierarchy, without which the organized Church could not exist, was established by Christ and the apostles [so Cyprian taught and had installed in the Catholic Church as dogma].  The laity was allowed to be present at the election of the bishop but the actual choice was made by all the presbyters, especially by other neighboring bishops…Without the office of bishop there could be no Church; and without the Church, no salvation.  The man who determined who was, or was not, a member of the Church, and therefore eligible for salvation, was the bishop…With Cyprian, then, the freedom preached by Paul and based on the power of Christian truth was removed from the ordinary members of the Church; it was retained only by the bishops, through whom the Holy Spirit worked…” [ibid. p. 59, par. 2, p. 60, par.1]  Just look up and read Romans 8, first 16 verses, and see who Paul says the Holy Spirit works through, you will see that the Holy Spirit works in all believers, not just “bishops”.  Can you see how far from Biblical truth this proto-Catholic church has gotten so far?  “With Bishop Cyprian, the analogy with secular government came to seem very close.”  i.e. this proto-Catholic church was beginning to look more like a government in the world than a Christian church.

 

How the Roman church gained influence over what had been true Christian church congregations—buying influence with money

 

“Even before this stage [Cyprian], however, there is evidence that Rome was using its position as the imperial capital to influence the Church in other centres, and thus to build up a case-history of successful intervention…Moreover, Rome had an excellent excuse for such interference.  From the earliest times, it had assisted small and struggling Churches with money.  This was charity, but charity, increasingly, with a purpose.  Money certainly accompanied Clement’s letter to Corinth, where it helped to turn the minority into the majority party…The Rome congregation was rich, and became much richer during the second century…It is easy to project backwards into these developments – the extension of orthodoxy, the rise of monarchical episcopate, the special role of Rome – the operation of a deliberate policy, pursued relentlessly from generation to generation with the object of creating a system of ecclesiastical law, a privileged clerical class and an authoritarian faith.  This, indeed, was what was beginning to emerge by the third century.”  [ibid. p. 61, par. 1, 3, p. 62, par.1, 2]  This is the story of the development of the Roman Catholic Church, not the true struggling and persecuted Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor.

 

Before we move on to Constantine, Tertullian in 170AD, and then emperor Julian looking back in 355, gives us a glimpse of true Christianity in Galilee and Asia Minor

 

“Tertullian quotes them as saying: ‘How these Christians love one another!’  And he adds that the funds which financed their charities were essentially voluntary.  ‘Every man once a month brings some modest coin, or whatever he wishes and only if he does wish, and if he can – for nobody is compelled.’…The Christians had enormously expanded the old charitable trusts of the Jewish diaspora.  They ran a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.  The Emperor Julian [355-360AD, see    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/julian_the_Apostate], seeking to revive paganism in the fourth century, tried to introduce similar charitable funds for the poor.  In a letter ordering imperial clergy to set these up, he noted: ‘Why do we not observe that it is in their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the apparent holiness of their lives that they have done most to increase atheism?’ (i.e. Christianity [Julian was calling Christianity ‘atheism’]).  He thought it, ‘disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans support not only their own poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.’  Julian noted bitterly the important role played by Christian women.  He told leading citizens of Antioch: ‘Each one of you allows his wife to carry out everything from his house to the Galileans.  These wives feed the poor at your expense, and the Galileans get the credit.’  Women played a much bigger part in the Christian charitable trusts than corresponding organizations in the Jewish diaspora; this was one reason why Christianity took over the old proselytizing role of [diaspora] Judaism, which now ceased to expand.  Christianity offered solid advantages to women.  It treated them as equals in the eyes of God.  It told husbands to treat their wives with as much consideration as Christ showed to his ‘bride’, the Church.  And it gave them the protection of Jesus’s unusually definite teaching on the sanctity of marriage.  Women converts began the Christian penetration of the upper-classes and then brought their children up as Christians; sometimes they ended up by converting their husbands.”  [ibid. p.75, par.2]  That’s a historic description that Tertullian and Julian gave of what must have been the true Church, which was still residing in upper Judea, Syria (Antioch) and Asia Minor.  Calling them Galileans identifies those being described by Julian as being distinctly Judeo-Christian, and not of the extraction of the proto-Catholic Church, as evidenced by the following quotes.

 

The proto-Catholic Church continues to develop

 

“The truth is that during the large-scale anti-Christian operations of the second half of the third century [250AD onward to 313AD], the State was obliged to recognize that its enemy had changed and had made itself a potential ally.  In the long struggle to suppress internal division, to codify its doctrine and to expand its frontiers, Christianity [of the proto-Catholic extraction] had become in many striking ways a mirror-image of the empire itself.  [emphasis mine throughout]  It was catholic, universal, ecumenical, orderly, international, multi-racial and increasingly legalistic.  It was administered by a professional class of literates who in some ways functioned like bureaucrats and its bishops, like imperial governors, legates or prefects, had wide discretionary powers to interpret the law.  [that would be a reference to ‘church law’, not Bible law.]  It was becoming the Doppelganger of the empire.  In attacking it, the empire was debilitating itself.  For Christianity had become a secular as well as a spiritual phenomenon: it was a huge force for stability, with its own traditions, property, interests and hierarchy.  Unlike Judaism, it had no national aspirations incompatible with the empire’s security; on the contrary, its ideology fitted neatly into the aims and needs of the universal state.  Christianity [this proto-Catholic ‘Christianity’] had been carried towards the State by the momentum of its own success.  Would it not be prudent for the State to recognize this metamorphosis and contract, as it were, a marriage de convenance with the ‘bride’ of Christ?”  Now let’s analyze what we’ve just read.  How could the true ‘Bride of Christ’ ever become married to a State government, and this one, the Roman Empire, whom the Bridegroom is coming back to defeat and conquer???  What is described here is spiritual adultery on a grand scale, the marriage between a supposed Christian church and a secular State government, and in this case, the Roman Empire.  That ought to be telling us something, all by itself.  Let’s continue with the quote, “Thus it [“it” being the Roman Empire] would relinquish a state religion [paganism] which seemed increasingly forlorn and required public support just to stay alive and replace it by a young and dynamic partner, capable of development and adjustment to underpin the empire with strength and enthusiasm.  Here lay the very mundane logic of Constantine’s edict of toleration: he perceived that Christianity [this brand of it] already possessed many of the characteristics of an imperial state Church.” [ibid. p.76, par.1]  Constantine needs a Church, a supposed Christian Church that will do his bidding, that will help bolster the Roman Empire.  The developing proto-Catholic Church did that, was a perfect match.  The Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor were not a perfect match.  This takes us to a section on Constantine.  But just before we go to Constantine, let’s add a little bit more to the picture of the developing or proto-Catholic Church.  “It was common for the State or private interest groups to push their nominees into key Church posts, irrespective of their status.  St. Ambrose was baptized, went through the various clerical ranks and was consecrated bishop of Milan all within eight days.  Among laymen ordained directly to the presbyterate were St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Origen and Paulinus of Nols.  Fabian was a layman when made Pope in 236; Eusebius was only a catechumen when made bishop of Caesarea in 314; other laymen-bishops were Philogonius of Antioch in 319, Nectarius of Constantinople in 381 and Synesius of Ptolemais in 410.  Eusebius, it should be added, was enthroned by the military, as were Martin of Tours and Philiaster of Brescia.  Gregory of Nazianzus says it was common in the fourth century for bishops to be selected ‘from the army, the navy, the plough, the forge’.  Jerome complained: ‘One who was yesterday a catechumen is today a bishop; another moves overnight from the amphitheatre to the church; a man who spent the evening in the circus stands next morning at the altar, and another who was recently a patron of the stage is now the dedicator of virgins.’  Direct bribery was also common.  John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, found six cases of episcopal simony at the synod he held at Ephesus in 401.  They came clean: ‘We have given bribes – the thing is admitted – so we would be made bishops and exempt from civil duties.’  They asked to be confirmed or, if this were impossible, to have their money back.  They were evidently small men: ‘Some of us have handed over furniture belonging to our wives.’  They got their bribes back and, after Chrysostom’s fall, their bishoprics too, keeping their wives all the time.” [ibid. p. 77, par.4; p. 78, par.1]

 

Progressive destruction of Judeo-Christianity

 

Paul Johnson tells us, “From the second century the Catholic Church, as it increasingly called itself, stressed its universality, its linguistic and cultural uniformity, its geographical and racial transcendance – in short, its identity aims with the empire…”  Emperor Julian in a letter pointed out how under the previous reign of Constantine and the Catholic Church, “Many whole communities of so-called heretics”, he claims, “were actually butchered, as at Samosata, and Cyzicus in Paphlagonia, Bitynia and Galatia, and among many other tribes villages were sacked and destroyed; whereas in my time exile has been ended and property restored.” [ibid. p.86, par.1] Many of those places mentioned above were cities where Judeo-Christian congregations existed in Asia Minor, such as Galatia where Paul had established churches. According to the rising Catholic Church “Christian heresy, on the other hand, was almost by definition anti-authoritarian and it linked in unholy communion men whose notions were otherwise merely tribal, or even criminal, by supplying them with transcendental and dangerous concepts.  For all these reasons the imperial State found itself obliged – it was not unwilling – to become the enforcement agency of Christian orthodoxy.”---of course Judeo-Christianity had become unorthodox in their eyes---“By the time of Theodosius, in the fifth century, there were over 100 active statutes against heresy and heretics.  The first general statute, dating from the 380s, shows the essentially secular nature of the State’s concern: it is attacking heresy now as it once attacked Christianity as a whole because it provoked disorder.  Thus sanctions are laid down against ‘those who contend about religion…’to provoke any agitation against the regulations of Our Tranquility, as authors of sedition and as disturbances of the peace of the church…There shall be no opportunity for any man to go out to the public and to argue about religion, or to discuss it or to give any counsel.’  The law was very severe indeed, as it appears to forbid religious debate of any sort outside, presumably, the authorized channels.  But in some ways it was merely a logical culmination of a train of events set in motion by Constantine’s decision to seek alliance with orthodox Christianity [i.e. the proto-Catholic Church].  Indeed to a great extent Constantine himself may have been aware of the logic at the time of his Milan of Edict…Of course Constantine was not concerned about doctrinal truth.  So far as was possible, he wanted the Church to be universalist and inclusive.  He wrote threateningly to Bishop Athanasius in c. 328: ‘As you know my wishes, pray admit freely any who wish to enter the church.  If I hear you have stopped anyone claiming membership I will immediately send an official to depose you and send you into exile.’”  What Constantine wanted was a universal Church that would bring peace and stability into the Roman Empire, and he basically chose the developing Catholic Church to be the one universal Church to accomplish that.  Any other Church or set of believers who dared be a rival to that would bring the wrath of the Roman Empire down on them.  That is why all but a very few remnants of Judeo-Christianity survived down through the centuries, often in small Torah-observant groups.  What Constantine wanted was, “his Church must reflect the empire at its best – harmony, serenity, multiplicity in unity.  Equally, he disliked doctrinal argument, for which he had no sympathy or understanding.” [ibid. p. 87, par.3]  [This period of time is reflected in a Sabbatarian Church of God history about what they consider to be the Pergamos era of the Judeo-Christian churches.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/revelation2-12-17.html.]  Now let’s examine Constantine and his Edict of Milan a little bit more thoroughly.

 

Constantine, Emperor of the Roman Empire

 

The Emperor Constantine had spent a good part of his career as a soldier-emperor, much as Julius Caesar had, uniting the empire militarily until all was well.  He even reunited the eastern and western divisions of the Roman empire militarily.  But the emperor had a problem.  The Roman Empire was far from united religiously.  Previously the whole Empire had been pagan, essentially.  Now Christianity was growing within the empire by leaps and bounds.  Killing Christians only seems to make their numbers grow.  So now the empire was essentially religiously dividing between pagans and Christians.  He wanted to unite  the empire under the Christian banner for various reasons, but primarily for reasons of political stability within the realm.  Several problems existed.  One, the pagans outnumbered the Christians.  Two, the Christians were going through a number of hotly contested religious schisms within the Greco-Roman churches, Arianism being the biggest issue.  In the midst of the Greco Roman churches factions of differing belief systems were occurring all over the place.  Add to this the 3+ million Judeo-Christians in Asia Minor---whose beliefs were decidedly anti-pagan---and they also obstinately refused to come under the authority of the Greco-Roman church in Rome.  Constantine was in a fine fix.  He decided the only thing he could do was bring all the Greco-Roman bishops from the entire Roman Empire together, both eastern and western, into a massive religious counsel, which ended up being the Counsel of Nicea.  No Judeo-Christian bishops were invited to attend.  He presided over this Counsel, using his Greco-Roman bishops to decide the direction the “orthodox” church would take.  Their purpose was to eliminate all other forms of Christianity that would not conform with the belief systems of the Greco-Roman church at Rome, and Alexandria in Egypt for the eastern half of Rome.  He also promoted the syncretization of pagan holidays, days of worship, into Christianity.  He did this so that  a massive influx of pagans into the Greco-Roman church could be facilitated.  Constantine used the ‘carrot and stick’ method.  He made it real tough to be a pagan, confiscating pagan priests’ property and wealth, temples and all, and giving them to the Greco-Roman churches and their priesthood.  Pagan priests lost their free ride, property and wealth, whilst the Greco-Roman church got the free ride, tax-free status for priests, but for the pagans themselves, the Greco-Roman church’s days of worship were friendly to them.  The day of the Sol, Sunday, was their worship day.  The feast of Saturnalia became Christmas.  Easter, borrowed from the Babylonian religion was the day of Ishtar, or in Egyptian, Isis.  (Ishtar is pronounced the same as our English word Easter.)  Constantine’s motives were entirely political, and not based on any search for religious truth.  As a matter of fact, he was not officially baptized until on his deathbed.  First, the Arian heresy threatened to derail Constantine’s grand master plan for religious stability and homogenization of the Empire. 

          The Arian heresy amongst the Greco-Roman churches was threatening to tear them apart in 319AD.  Arianism basically taught that Jesus was a good person, chosen by God to be messiah, but not equal to God.  It basically denied the pre-existent Deity of Jesus Christ.  The following quotes are from “MacroHistory, Rome’s Christian Emperors to 410 CE” [ http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch24.htm ]:

 

“In addition to having become emperor of the western half of the empire, Constantine took the office as Supreme Pontiff.  And as Supreme Pontiff, he gave recognition to the god that had been his father’s favorite: sol Invictus, the Syrian sun god that had been brought to Rome by the boy-emperor Varius Avituus some sixty years before.  Constantine’s half of the empire was five or more percent Christians.  Constantine, open to belief in a variety of gods, had become sympathetic with the god of the Christians.  And he gave Jesus at least part of the credit for his victory over Maxentius…

          “Constantine became Christianity’s champion and patron…Constantine gave the bishop at Rome imperial property where a new cathedral, the Lateran Basilica, would rise, and he provided for the building of other Christian churches across his part of the empire.  Constantine granted Christian clergy special privileges; he allowed people to will their property to the Church.  He exempted the clergy from taxation, from military service and forced labor---as had been granted to the priests of other recognized religions.  The tax exemptions for the Christian clergy were followed by a number of wealthy men rushing to join the clergy, and in 320 Constantine would correct this by making it illegal for rich pagans to claim tax exemptions as Christian priests…

          “Constantine’s half of the empire remained from five to ten percent Christian, and the city of Rome remained largely pagan, especially the Senate, and so too did the high command of Constantine’s army. Constantine had made no break with paganism [at this point, at least outwardly, but he was positioning himself for this].  The arch dedicated to Constantine’s victory over Maxentius, erected in 315 or 316, described that victory as an “instigation of divinity” without crediting Jesus or Yahweh. Constantine by now obviously favored Christianity, but as the emperor of the west he made an effort at neutrality in what Christians saw as their conflict with demonic paganism.  He appointed pagan aristocrats to high offices in Rome while tolerating from his army the greeting “Constantine, may the immortal gods preserve you for us!”  Then, in 321, in a move to spite the Jews and accommodate Christianity with prevailing pagan ways, Constantine made the day of Sol Invictus a holy day and a day of rest for the Christians---Sunday…”

This was also a move to destroy Judeo-Christianity in the eastern part of the empire---for reasons that were purely for political stability within the empire.

325AD:  “Much to Constantine’s annoyance, God’s harmony continued to elude the Christian Church---as churchmen disagreed over the exact nature of Jesus.  In 325, he called for the Church’s first ecumenical (general) counsel, which was to meet in the city of Nicaea for the purpose of deciding by committee the nature of Jesus Christ and other issues.  Of Christianity’s 1,800 or so bishops [in the Greco-Roman churches, not the Judeo-Christian churches], 318 attended the conference---most of them from the eastern half of the empire.  Constantine presided over the meeting. One group of bishops, led by the bishop Arius, claimed that God and Jesus were separate beings, that because Jesus was God’s son there must have been a time when Jesus did not exist.  Another group of bishops could not accept the notion that Jesus had been created from nothing and insisted that he had to be divine and therefore a part of God.  It was the kind of muddle that came with applying imagination to empirically unverifiable matters, and a great rift was developing that would split Christianity.  Christianity was on its way to become most concerned with doctrine compared to some other faiths, including Judaism…

          “Constantine decided against Arius.  But, for the sake of unity, he decided that Bishop Arius and his supporters would be allowed to remain within the Church and would not be forced to recant.  Constantine held that those bishops who refused to sign the settlement of Nicaea were to be exiled, and to those Christian sects that the Church considered heretical [which included all the Judeo-Christians in Asia Minor, 3+ million of them, roughly] he sent a letter proclaiming that their places of meeting would be confiscated…

          “With the power of the state behind them, the bishops decided to make their authority law.  Cutting off the possibility of common Christians choosing their own bishop, the bishops ruled that in no province was anyone to be made a bishop except by other bishops within that province.  The bishops granted to the bishop of Alexandria papal authority over the eastern half of the empire, and to the bishop of Rome they granted papal authority over the western portion of the empire…”

 

A stick for the pagans

 

“Wishing that his pagan subjects would give up their religious rites, Constantine kept the pagans fearful and cowed as he confiscated from their priests much of the wealth the pagan religions had accumulated, including their sacred icons.   This brought to Constantine much wealth in the form of precious metal, which he gave to the Christian Church…

 

Power, Prestige and Popularity Transform the Church

 

 “The Church had left behind its original communal sharing and its sense of equality among members.  The bishops were growing in wealth and in the splendor of their dress.  Having moved from simple buildings to those that were grand and imposing, the Church also made its rituals more splendid.  In place of a simple table for the rite of Holy Communion---the Eurcharist---the Church now used a massive and ornate altar of marble studded with gems…

          “Christianity was supposed to be a matter of the heart, of conversion, and commitment to Jesus, but it was the increase in grandeur, including the prestige gained from Constantine’s support that helped the Church make great new gains in converts.  Some conversions were accommodations to the belief that the emperor was a Christian---and accommodation to state power.

          “Pagan habits were modified to fit Christianity.  Some evangelists, Gregory the Wonder working among them, facilitated conversions by encouraging Christians to have the feasts of their old gods celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs.  In the western half of the empire, the popular pagan feast day celebrated as the birthday of Sol Invictus and the winter solstice, December 25th, began being celebrated as the day of birth of Jesus Christ.  Christians in the eastern half of the empire disagreed with this and choose instead January 6th –the day of another great pagan festival---the day of Jesus’ birth.  This difference between western and eastern Christian was to continue into modern times…  [emphasis mine]

          “Among the pagan practices adopted by Christians in bringing pagans into the fold were a devotion to relics, the worship of holy objects as an act of reverence, genuflection, and the use of candles and incense…Those who had prayed to pagan gods for rain and for bestowing fertility upon women would now be praying to Christian saints.  Many peasants who had venerated a pagan female guardian of grain would transfer that veneration to a new guardian and creator of their grain: Mary, the mother of Jesus…”  [to read the full article, log onto http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch24.htm.]

 

Those were quotes from a secular article about Constantine and the Counsel of Nicaea.  If you read between the lines, you will see that this was a far different Church in Rome than the one Paul wrote his Epistle to.  The last two paragraphs show this ‘church’ syncretizing with pagan beliefs to bolster the flow of pagans into the church.  A church historian in the 1800s, Alexander Hislop, made a comparative study of these syncretized beliefs, first as they were in the ancient pagan Babylonian religion, and then as they had been syncretized into the Greco-Roman church in Rome.  The book itself has been placed online, and can be read and downloaded from this link: http://www.biblebelievers.com/babylon/ [“The Two Babylons is out of print and probably considered a rare book].  Now back to the development of the early Catholic Church. 

 

Continued development of the Catholic Church:

Pope Damasus 366-384AD

 

“In any case, in these and other respects, Christianity was changing to meet public opinion.  In the second century the Church had acquired the elements of ecclesiastical organization; in the third, it created an intellectual and philosophical structure; and in the fourth, especially the latter half of the century, it built up a dramatic and impressive public persona: it began to think and act like a state Church…during the pontificate of Bishop Damasus of Rome, 366-84…His aim seems to have been quite specific: to present Christianity [his brand of it] as the true and ancient religion of the empire and Rome as its citadel.  Thus he instituted a great annual ceremony in honour of Peter and Paul, making the point that Christianity was already very old and had been associated with Rome and the triumphs of the empire for over three centuries.  The two saints, he argued, not only gave Rome primacy over the East, since it was their adopted city, but they were also more powerful protectors of the city than the gods….Damasus seems to have been a wholly unspiritual man.  His enemies called him the man who tickled ladies’ ears – most of his important converts were society women.  He was singleminded in his efforts to win over the rich to Christianity, no easy task for in his day more than half the senate were still pagan.  Forgeries circulated to boost Christian [proto-Catholic Christian that is] credentials: thus a correspondence between St Paul and Seneca was produced.  [This brand of] Christianity attempted to gain a footing in all the great families of the late empire, in both Rome and Constantinople.”  [“A History of Christianity”, by Paul Johnson, p.99, par.2]…”This was Damasus’ line of reasoning.  Hence he spent a great deal of effort and money integrating Christianity with imperial culture.  Since the time of Constantine, Christian basilicas, which had ordinarily been private houses, had been built on an enlarged scale.  Damasus developed the classic late-Roman type, capable of holding thousands, and covered within with gold and coloured mosaic…He completed the Latinization of the western church which, even in Rome, had originally been Greek speaking.  Latin versions of the gospels had existed for some time; there was also a third-century North African translation of the entire scriptures.  Damasus employed Jerome to make a fresh translation and the result, known as the Vulgate, became the standard until the Reformation.  Damasus also Latinized the mass, which had been conducted in Greek until his time…This Sunday eucharist had become the absolute obligation by Justin’s time and the words of the central prayer became formalized in the next generation or two.  The effect of the process of change introduced by Damasus was to change an essentially simple ceremony into a much lengthier and more formal one, involving an element of grandeur.  The scriptural extracts were made longer and standardized, and prayers inserted at fixed intervals.  This is how the West acquired the kyrie, the sanctus, the Gloria and the creed, most of which were translated into Latin.  Some of the ceremonial aspects were taken over from pagan rites, others from court practice, which became far more elaborate after the transfer to Constantinople.  The impetus in making the liturgy longer, more impressive, less spontaneous and so more hieratic [hierarchal] was essentially Greek but was seized on eagerly by Rome from the time of Damasus onwards…”  [ibid. p.101, par.1, 2]

 

Vestments

 

“Thus from the late fourth century there was a spectacular explosion of colour in the vestments and hangings, the use of gold and silver vessels and elaborate marble piscinae, silver canopies over the altar, a multitude of wax candles (a mark of respect in Roman domestic practice), and elaborate censering with incense.  This was accompanied by a deliberate smartening up of the proceedings at the altar and in procession to and from it, and by an even more elaborate mystification, especially in the East, of the more sensitive parts of the mass.  At the end of the fourth century John Chrysostom spoke of the Lord’s Table as ‘a place of terror and shuddering’, not to be seen by profane eyes, and it became customary to screen it with curtains.  Again, from this period, or shortly after, we find the practice of erecting a screen or iconostasis, whose effect was to hide all the operations on the altar from the congregation as a whole, and to deepen the chasm between clergy and laity.”  [ibid. p.102, par.1]

 

St. Ambrose 337-397AD

 

“By the end of the fourth century, in fact, the Church has not only become the predominant religion in the Roman empire, with a tendency to be regarded as the official one, indeed as the only one.  It had also acquired many of the external characteristics appropriate to its new status:  official rank and privilege, integration with the social and economic hierarchy, splendid and elaborate ceremonial designed to attract the masses and emphasize the separateness of the priestly caste.  It had arrived.  It was well launched on its universalist career.  It had, as it were, responded to Constantine’s gesture, and met the empire half way.  The empire had become Christian.  The Church had become imperial…In Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 373-397, we get the first close-up glimpse of the Christian as an establishment figure and member of the ruling order: the prototype of the medieval prince-bishop…[p. 103, par.2, 3]…”The degree of power exercised by Ambrose during the quarter century he ruled the church in Milan was something to which no churchman had hitherto aspired.  He influenced the policy of successive western emperors, Gratian, Valeninian II, Theodosius…He excommunicated Theodosius for carrying out a mass-reprisal against citizens of Thessalonica, who had murdered a barbarian army commander, and required the emperor to accept public penance before being readmitted to communion…Ambrose was thus instrumental in hastening the process which aligned imperial authority completely behind the orthodox Catholic Church, and also the Church completely behind imperial policy…In his day it began to be commonly assumed that non-membership of the Church was, in effect, an act of disloyalty to the emperor.  [This same logic was used by the kings and queens of England during the 1500s through 1600s for people who refused to hold active membership in the Anglican Church of England.]  State exile of dissenters went back as far as 314.  In the time of Ambrose it became systematic, as a necessary characteristic of an orthodox empire.  Those guilty of religious error became automatically enemies of society, to be excluded from it or reduced to second-class status.  Who was the judge of error?  The Church, naturally.  Therein lay the power…[ibid. p.104, par. 2, 3]

 

anti-Semitism comes in under Ambrose

 

“We see the workings of Ambrose’s mind and method in his attitude to the Jews.  They were now a ‘problem’ within the Christian empire, as they had been a problem in the pagan one – a large and conspicuous element which would not accept the Christian norms.  And they [the Jews] were increasingly unpopular among Christians….Under Theodosius, when Christian uniformity became the official policy of the empire, Christian mob-attacks on synagogues became common”…[ibid. p.104, par.4]  If that were the case, how do you think the poor Judeo-Christians were faring, hiding out in the areas of upper northeastern Asia Minor?  It couldn’t have been good.  Historically, it is believed the Judeo-Christians, descended from John’s, Polycarp’s and Policrates’ churches were hiding out in the region of Lake Van, in the upper northeastern quadrant of Turkey near the Russian border (soon to be driven west toward the Balkans by the Saracens in the 500s AD).  To continue, “In 388 the Jewish synagogue at Callinicum on the Euphrates was burnt down at the instigation of the local bishop.  Theodosius decided to make this a test-case, and ordered it rebuilt at Christian expense.  Ambrose hotly opposed the decision.  His dictum was: ‘The palace concerns the emperor, the churches the bishop.’  Was this not a matter of Christian principle?  No such depredations had hitherto been punished.  To humiliate the bishop and the Christian community would damage the Church’s prestige.  He wrote Theodosius: ‘Which is more important, the parade of discipline or the cause of religion?  The maintenance of civil law is secondary to religious interest.’  He preached a sermon on these lines in the emperor’s presence, and Theodosius lamely withdrew his orders.  The incident was a prelude to the emperor’s humiliation over the Thessalonica massacre.  Indeed, it marked an important stage in the construction of a society in which only orthodox Christianity exercised full civil rights…Perhaps no man played a greater part, in practice, in constructing the apparatus of practical belief, which surrounded the European during the millennium when [his brand of Catholic] Christianity was the environment of society…[ibid. p.105, par.1,2]

 

idols and relics

 

“It was Ambrose, in his fight to defeat the popular challenge of Arianism, who first systematically developed the cult of relics.  Milan was poorly provided in this respect: it had no tutelary martyrs. Rome had the unbeatable combination of St Peter and St Paul; Constantinople acquired Andrew, Luke and Timothy…[But] the government, too, showed some alarm.  It was angered by monks who stole the remains of holy men, and hawked portions of them for money.  Theodosius laid down: ‘No person shall transfer a buried body to another place; no person shall sell the relics of a martyr; no person shall traffic in them.’  But the government permitted the building of churches over the grave of a saint, and it was this that lay at the bottom of the whole theory and practice of relic-worship.  Once that was conceded, the rest automatically followed, whatever the law said.  The world was terrified of demons – now joined by the dethroned pagan gods, and the devils of heretics – and the bones and other attachments of sanctified just men were the best possible protection against the evil swarms.  Any church well endowed with such treasures radiated a powerful circle of protection; and its bishop was a man to have on your side.  So Ambrose pushed the relic-system for all it was worth…” [ibid. p.105, par.3; p.106, par.1,2] 

 

clergy

 

“Ambrose seems to have assumed that the clergy, at least of the higher grades, should normally be drawn from the wealthy and ruling orders, or at least conform to their social behavior; he admitted he did not like presbyters or bishops who were unable to speak correct Latin, or who had provincial accents  [Guess the apostle Peter would have been on the outs, having a ‘provincial hick Galilean’ accent].  Thus another aspect of the medieval pattern falls into place: a clerical career open to the talents but structured to the possessing class.  Ambrose dressed appropriately, as a senator, in chasuble and alb.” [ibid. p.108, par.1]

 

Jerome, 347-420AD

 

“Son of Eusebius…Returning to Antioch in 378 or 379, he was ordained by Bishop Paulinus, apparently unwillingly and on condition that he continue his ascetic life.  Soon afterwards, he went to Constantinople to pursue a study of Scripture under Gregory Nazianzen.  He seems to have spent two years there; the next three (382-385) he was in Rome again, attached to pope Damasus I and the leading Roman Christians…In August 385, he returned to Antioch…[and] in the summer of 388 he was back in Palestine, and spent the remainder of his life in a hermit’s cell near Bethlehem…To these last 34 years of his career belong the most important of his works; his version of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew text [called later The Vulgate], the best of his scriptural commentaries…Amply provided [for] by Paula with the means of livelihood and of increasing his collection of books, he led a life of incessant activity in literary production.  Jerome died near Bethlehem on 30 September 420…His remains, originally buried in Bethlehem, are said to have been later transferred to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, though other places in the West claim some relics – the cathedral at Napi boasting possession of his head…”[see http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome for more details.]  Jerome seems to have been a real scholar, although completely of the Catholic faith.

 

Augustine 354-430AD

 

“Augustine was the dark genius of imperial Christianity, the ideologue of the Church-State alliance, and the fabricator of the medieval mentality.  Next to Paul, [I know, it doesn’t seem right that the apostle Paul is being used in comparison to Augustine, considering what we will read, but Paul Johnson appears to be a secular historian], who supplied the basic theology, he [Augustine] did more to shape [Catholic] Christianity than any other human being.”  [ibid. p.112, par.3]  “…his ideas were steadily changing under the impact of events, cogitation and controversy.  He admitted: ‘I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress by writing.’  The events of his own lifetime were spectacular and somberly provocative of thought.  He was born in Souk Arras in Algeria in 354, in a middle-class family; became a professor of rhetoric at Carthage; pursued his public career in Rome and then in Ambrose’s Milan, where he became a Christian; was raised to the Bishopric of Hippo (near Bone) where he led a struggle against the Donatists; witnessed, from Africa, the sack of Rome in 410; spent years fighting the Pelagians; and then in his old age saw the Vandals overrun North Africa.  Augustine wrote an enormous amount…a great deal of this writing survived in its original form.  For a thousand years Augustine was the most popular of the Fathers; medieval European libraries contained over 500 complete manuscripts of his City of God...Augustine, aged seventeen, took a regular concubine, who bore him a son.  But there is no evidence that he was ever a libertine.  The arrangement was normal at the time; later, Pope Leo used to say that a young man’s desertion of his concubine was the first step to godliness.”  [ibid. p. 113, par.1,2]  “Augustine himself went to Rome, and later Milan, on the Manichee ‘net’, freemasonry which provided him with contacts and jobs.  It is not absolutely clear why he became a Christian convert.  One factor was his health – bouts of psychosomatic asthma which became serious enough to prevent him from pursuing a career demanding public oratory in the courts of law and government service.  Another was clearly the massive personality of Ambrose.  It was the bishop himself who led Augustine into the deep, dark pool of the Milan cathedral baptistery and pushed him under, stark naked, three times, before clothing him in a white robe and handing him a candle.  The service was solemn and portentous, preceded by the first lessons in the catechism, still regarded as secret, at least in part, and highly minatory in tone.  Under Ambrose Augustine felt he was joining a great and awesome organization, with enormous potential…What Augustine absorbed in Ambrosian Milan, what he brought back to Africa, and what he opposed to Donatist particularism, was the new sense of the universality of the Church which the Constantine revolution had made possible.  In Milan Augustine had seen the Church, through the person of a shrewd and magisterial prelate, helping to run the empire.  His creative mind leapt ahead to draw conclusions and outline possibilities.  In Milan the Church was already behaving like an international organization; it would soon be universal.  It was already coextensive with the empire; it would ultimately be coextensive with humanity, and thus impervious to political change and the vicissitudes of fortune…” [ibid. p.114, par 1; p.115, par1]

 

Augustine verses the Donatists

 

The Donatists, as stated before, were a powerful and large schism of the Catholic Church residing mainly in North Africa. Just what kind of Church do we have here under Augustine, this Saint revered by so many Catholic and Reformation Protestants?  We pick up again with Paul Johnson’s quotes which define Augustine’s dark side, a dark side which was to imprint itself upon the Catholic Church from here on out.  “But the idea of a total Christian society necessarily included the idea of a compulsory society.  People could not choose to belong or not to belong.  That included the Donatists.  Augustine did not shrink from the logic of his position.  Indeed, to the problem of coercing the Donatists he brought much of their own steely resolution and certitude, the fanaticism they themselves displayed [and that Donatist fanaticism was military in nature and deed], and the willingness to use violence in a spiritual cause.  To internationalize Africa, he employed African methods – plus, of course, imperial military technology.”  [ibid. p.115, par.2]  “When Augustine became a bishop in the mid-390s, the Donatist church was huge, flourishing, wealthy and deeply rooted.  Even after a long bout of imperial persecution, inspired by Augustine, the Donatists were still able to produce nearly 300 bishops for the final attempt at compromise at Carthage in 411.  Thereafter, in the course of two decades before the Vandals overran the littoral, the back of the Donatist church was broken by force.  Its upper-class supporters joined the establishment.  Many of its rank and file were driven into outlawry and brigandage.  There were many cases of mass suicide.”  Augustine’s response?  “Augustine watched the process dry-eyed…The late empire was a totalitarian state, in some ways an oriental despotism.  Antinomial elements were punished with massive force.  State torture, supposedly used only in serious cases such as treason, was in fact employed whenever the State willed.  Jerome describes horrible tortures inflicted on a woman accused of adultery.  A vestal virgin who broke her vows might be flogged, then buried alive.  The state prisons were equipped with the eculeus, or rack; and a variety of devices including the unci, for laceration, red-hot plates and whips loaded with lead.  Ammianus gives many instances.  And the State, to enforce [religious] uniformity, employed a large and venal force of secret policemen dressed as civilians, and informers, or delators.  Much of the terminology of the late-imperial police system passed into the language of European enforcement, through the Latin phrases of the Inquisition.  Augustine was the conduit from the ancient world.  Why not? he would ask.  If the State used such methods for its own miserable purposes, was not the Church entitled to do the same and for its own far greater ones?  He not only accepted, he became the theorist of, persecution; and his defenses were later to be those on which all defenses of the Inquisition rested…he insisted that the use of force in pursuit of Christian unity, and indeed total religious conformity, was necessary, efficacious, and wholly justified.”  [ibid. p. 116, par.2,3]  “He also had the inquisitorial emphasis: ‘The necessity for harshness is greater in the investigation, than in the infliction of punishment’; and again: ‘…it is generally necessary to use more rigour in making inquisition, so that when the crime has been brought to light, there may be scope for displaying clemency.’  For the first time, too, he used the analogy with the State, indeed appealed to the orthodoxy of the State, in necessary and perpetual alliance with the Church in the extirpation of dissidents.  The Church unearthed, the State castigated.  The key word was disciplina – very frequent in his writings.  If discipline were removed, there would be chaos: ‘Take away the barriers created by the laws, and men’s brazen capacity to do harm, their urge to self-indulgence, would rage to the full.  No king in his kingdom, no general with his troops, no husband with his wife, no father with his son, could attempt to put a stop, by any threats or punishments, to the freedom and the shear, sweet taste of sinning.’…Nor did Augustine operate solely at the intellectual level.  He was the leading bishop, working actively with the State in the enforcement of imperial uniformity.”

 

Winkling out heretics

 

“Spain was already staging pogroms of Jews by the time Augustine became a bishop.  And twenty years later we find him in correspondence with the ferocious Spanish heresy-hunter, Paul Orosius, about the best means of winkling out heretics not only in Spain but at the other end of the Mediterranean in Palestine.  Augustine changed the approach of orthodoxy to divergence in two fundamental ways. The first, with which we have already dealt, was the justification of constructive persecution: the idea that a heretic should not be expelled out but, on the contrary, be compelled to recant and conform, or be destroyed – ‘Compel them to come in.’  His second contribution was in some ways even more sinister because it implied constructive censorship.  Augustine believed that it was the duty of the orthodox intellectual to identify incipient heresy, bring it to the surface and expose it, and so force those responsible either to abandon their line of inquiry altogether or accept heretical status.”  [ibid. p. 117, par.2, 3]  And to accept heretical status meant an automatic death sentence, of course.  “To Augustine, the duty of man was to obey God’s will, as expressed through his Church”, the Catholic Church, that is.  “What Augustine wanted was what he had already obtained in the case of the Donatists, absolute condemnation followed by total submission – monitored by State enforcement.  He did not want discussion.  ‘Far be it from the Christian rulers of the earthly commonwealth that they should harbour any doubt on the ancient Christian faith…certain and firmly-grounded on this faith they should, rather, impose on such men as you are fitting discipline and punishment.’  And again: ‘Those whose wounds are hidden should not for that reason be passed over in the doctor’s treatment….They are to be taught; and in my opinion this can be done with the greatest ease when the teaching of truth is aided by the fear of severity.’  [ibid. p.120, par.1]

 

Augustine’s twisted view of married couples having sex

 

The emperor “Julian argued that sex was a kind of sixth sense, a form of neutral energy which might be used well or ill.  ‘Really?’ replied Augustine, ‘is that your experience?  So you would not have married couples restrain that evil – I refer, of course, to favourite good?  So you would have them jump into bed whenever they like, whenever they felt stirred by desire?  Far be it from them to postpone it till bedtime…if this is the sort of married life you lead, don’t drag up your experience in debate.’…The mentality that he [Augustine] expressed was to become the dominant outlook of Christianity [which was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic from here on out], and so encompass the whole of European society for many centuries…By accepting the Constantinian State, the Church had embarked on the process of coming to terms with a world from which it had hitherto stood apart.”  [ibid. p.121, par.3; p.122, par.2]

 

Augustine’s death

 

“Augustine’s own life ended in darkness.  The Vandals broke into Africa in 429, and Augustine died next year in his episcopal city, already under siege.” [ibid. p.121, par.4, ln.1; all ibid.’s refer to “A History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson.]  So Mr. Johnson has given us a very accurate, if of a bit dark picture of the development of the Catholic Church, starting out in Rome where one of the original true Christian congregations had taken root shortly after the Pentecost in Acts 2, around 31-32AD.  This ‘Church’ that grew out of Rome after 96AD  effectively persecuted the Judeo-Christian churches which had almost completely taken up residence in Asia Minor after 132-135AD.  A small remnant of these Judeo-Christian churches or congregations survived, but that is another story [which can be read at http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm ].

 

A word about the hierarchal structure within a church and ministerial accountability

 

A word about the hierarchal structure developed during the infancy of the Catholic Church, and copied by the Anglican Church of England, and many other Reformation churches to one degree or another.  This form of hierarchal structure created an unBiblical form of church government that never existed within the early first century apostolic Church, or within any of the Judeo-Christian churches thereafter.  The apostles were gentle overseers over all the various congregations, but preferred it when they ran themselves.  The elder who was to preach and minister over a congregation was selected by local members of that congregation.  It was they, the local members, who would judge who was the most qualified, by the standards laid down the apostle Paul in 1st Timothy 3:1-7, which states, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop [Strongs # 1984, episkope, superintendence], he desireth a good work.  A bishop [Strongs # 1985, episkopos, superintendent, overseer, bishop] must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach: not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)  Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”  The King James Version’s use of the word “bishop” is very a poor translation for the word.  There were only three basic ranks within the early Church, possibly four, deacon, pastor, perhaps an evangelist rank, and apostle.  Most if not all the early apostles were traveling evangelists.  A bishop was simply a pastor.  The congregation would see who best matched the qualifications Paul listed here in 1st Timothy 3:1-7 and select that person to be their pastor.  The congregations were all semi-autonomous under the gentle supervision and oversight of the apostles themselves.  A good example of how this selection process worked was recorded in the early history of the Sabbatarian Churches of God in Rhode Island and New Jersey in the early 1700s.  A small Church of God had started up in Piscataway, New Jersey.  The tiny congregation selected an Edward Dunham, one of their members whom they knew fit the qualifications of 1st Timothy 3:1-7.  They then sent him north to the Headquarters church in Newport Rhode Island, where the pastors there anointed him in a simple ordination ceremony, and sent him back to Piscataway to pastor his congregation.  There were built in safeguards and accountability in this simple system, as compared to the system we just read about in the proto-Catholic and Catholic Church.  Some church denominations have gone down the road of establishing hierarchal ministerial structure, to their own hurt and self-destruction, for it allows corruption to come within the ministry, almost unchecked.  It also allows for an ‘Old Boy’ network to entrench itself within that denomination, somewhat like when a bad professor is tenured into a school or university.  Once tenured, you can’t get rid of him.  Jesus never intended such, pastors were to be answerable to their congregations.  One word for pastor which Jesus used in Matthew is the word “minister”, which in the Greek is hupomeno, which translates out as under-oarsman. The position of an under-oarsman in a Greek or Roman galley was both dangerous and undesirable, the lowest of the low as far as crewmembers were concerned, an under-oarsman did the heaviest of the rowing work and ended up with all the crap on him, literally, a real servant.  That’s the word Jesus used for one who wanted to “minister”, the pastor of a church.  Jesus didn’t even want ministers or pastors to have titles, when he stated, “Call no man on earth rabbi…call no man on earth your father, for you have one Father in heaven.”

The Influence of Augustine

 

“Some of the novel teachings he introduced that were unknown to the early church were:

·         War can be holy

·          Some of the practices and teachings of the apostles no longer apply to Christians because the apostles lived in a different age.

·         Unbaptized infants are eternally damned.

·         As a result of Adam’s fall, man is totally depraved.  He is absolutely unable to do anything good or to save himself.  In fact, he’s even unable to believe or have faith in God.

·         Therefore, humans can believe in God or have faith in Him only if by grace God first gives them this faith or belief.  Man has no free will to choose either to believe or not to believe.

·         God’s decision to save one person and condemn another, to give faith to one person and withhold it from another, is totally arbitrary.  There’s nothing we can do to influence God’s choice.  Before the creation of the world God arbitrarily predestined (not simply foreknew) who would be saved and who would be damned.  There’s nothing we can do either in this life or the next to change these matters.  [“Will The Real Heretic Please Stand Up” by David Bercot, p.135, par.3, p. 136, par.1]

 

Martin Luther in Augustine’s Footsteps

[a peek two-thirds the way through the Church Age, my opinion, false side]

 

“Tragically, Luther adopted most of Augustine’s teachings without question…Luther also promoted the doctrine of holy war.  When German peasants rose up in revolt against the inhumane treatment they endured at the hands of the nobility, Luther recognized that their rebellion would be blamed on his teachings.  So he incited the nobility to forcibly suppress the rebellion, goading them on with these words:

  Here then there is no time for sleeping; no place for patience or mercy.  It is the time of the sword, not the day of grace….Any peasant who is killed is lost in body and soul and is eternally the devil’s.  But the rulers have a good conscience and a just cause.  [They] can therefore say to God with all assurance of heart: “Behold, my God, you have appointed me prince or lord; of this I can have no doubt.  And you have committed to me the sword over evildoers….Therefore, I will punish and smite as long as my heart beats.  You will judge and make things right.”  Thus is may be that one who is killed while fighting on the ruler’s side may be a true martyr in the eyes of God….Strange times, these, when a prince can win heaven with bloodshed, better than other men with prayer!...Stab, smite, slay whomever you can!  If you die in doing it, well for you!  A more blessed death can never be yours.

   The nobility followed Luther’s preaching without hesitation, savagely crushing the bands of peasants in a brief conflict marked by horrible atrocities.  Those peasants who weren’t slain in combat were gruesomely tortured and then executed.

   In short, Luther’s Reformation was no return to the spirit and teachings of early Christianity.  To be sure, Luther did eliminate many post-Constantinian practices in the German church, such as masses for the dead in purgatory, forced celibacy for the clergy, sale of indulgences, and religious pilgrimages as a form of “good works.”  By eliminating these practices, Luther did move Christianity [not true Christianity in my eyes, let the evidence speak] several steps closer to early Christianity.  On the other hand, by his wholesale adoption of Augustinian theology, Luther also moved German Christianity a few steps back from early Christianity.”  [ibid. p.136, par. 1, 3-4, p.137, par. 1-3]  In his book “Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up”  David Bercot has delved very deeply into the historic teachings of the early Christian Church, which has also proved to be a paradigm-breaker that has angered many an evangelical believer.  Although I disagree with some of his conclusions, particularly where he says that there was no historic church line from the apostles to present, and as well when he treats some early proto-Catholic fathers as if they were genuine Christians.  But other than that I highly recommend his book, for a pretty accurate glimpse into what the early Christian Church believed doctrinally, which amazingly enough, in many significant areas, we no longer believe.  It’s a wake up call for evangelicals, for sure, as well as the whole Body of Christ.  The book can be found on http://www.amazon.com as well as his A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. 

 

Conclusion

 

So in these three major sections, I through III, we’ve learned what the early Christian Church was like, and now in section III we’ve learned that a second major church was developing side by side with the early Judeo-Christian churches of God in Asia Minor, in the areas of Rome and Italy, Alexandria and North Africa.  So around 325AD, besides the truly heretical groups scattered all over the Roman Empire, there’s only one other group besides Roman Catholicism in existence, and it is the remnants of the Judeo-Christian churches of God---first residing in northeast Asia Minor, then migrating through the Balkans and on into northern Italy and southern and southwestern France.  This westward  migration of the Sabbatarian (Judeo-Christian at first) churches of God started in 325AD or a little bit later, going all the way into the 1200s AD.  During this time-span from 325AD to the early 1200s the only real Sunday observers that are calling themselves “Christians” are Roman Catholics or the few sects of it.  Also, based upon the facts we’ve just read throughout this three part series, the only true Christians at this point in time between 325AD and the early 1200s AD are Sabbatarian Church of God believers.  Didn’t I tell you this study would be a paradigm-breaker?  THEN during the 1200s AD, due to the intense Catholic persecution (via ongoing Catholic Inquisitions in France), the very first Sunday observing believers show up in France and then Germany.  They are the Anabaptists, turning into what we know today as the Baptists.  This is a whole different part of Church history, and I have written a series of short expository sections that deal with it in my commentary going through Revelation chapters 2 and 3.  This commentary section looks at Church history from the perspective of Church era’s, and the studies I direct you to with the following links go to that part of the Sabbatarian (and then Sunday observing) revivals going from that same period of time, from 325AD to the early 1200s AD, and then they go right up to the present day and age, where we are right now.  To read these fascinating church histories log onto are read the material on these three links, consecutively:

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/revelation2-12-17.html

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/revelation2-18-29.html

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/revelation3-1-22.html

 

Although to many it may seem very disconcerting that Sabbatarian (Torah observant at that) Christians were the main, and for a good period of time, the only true Christians extant, it is what the historic facts seem to clearly indicate.  As Romans 14 clearly points out, days of worship for believers is an optional choice for believers (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/romans/romans12-14_2.htm for a good explanation as to why “days of worship” are an optional choice for believers during the Church Age, 31AD to 2nd coming of Christ.  Most Sabbatarian Church of God believers don’t believe what’s presented there, but some of that is most definitely due to how you’ve been treating them, in a most un-Christian, un-brotherly manner).  That most if not all true Christians from 325AD to around 1200AD chose to worship God on the Sabbath and Hebrew Holy Days of Leviticus 23 has not been generally realized up until now.  Sabbatarians have always been viewed by modern Christians as some kind of ancient or archaic form of Christianity, aberrant in belief at best, heretical at worst, often called legalists.  But considering what they had to endure from 325AD onward through the 1200s, the reason for them taking a “hard-shell” view of which days of worship were commanded, and how the Sunday/Christmas/Easter “days of worship” were forced upon all, compliance enforced by death penalties, going “hard shell” in their interpretations of commanded days of worship was their only option for spiritual survival down through the ages.  It would appear that we owe these folks a huge apology for the slander we’ve spoken against them---calling them legalists, even heretical---as well as a huge debt of gratitude for holding onto the true faith of Christianity and passing it on to us.

 

 

Related links:

 

For an interesting subject that seems to mirror what was shown here about church traditions and hierarchal structure, log onto: http://www.unityinchrist.com/mathew/Matthew15-1-20.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter IV

 

A. Days of Worship for the Christian Church during the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.

We have seen what the early Church of God in Jerusalem, and then the Judeo-Christians were like in their worship practices.  This final chapter is contained in three links.  First, what days of worship will the Church keep when Jesus and the resurrected saints return to earth and rule from Jerusalem?  That is a good question, and amazingly enough, one the Bible provides a clear answer to, if you are willing to believe the Bible and what it has to say on this subject.  The answer to that question is provided by the article in this link: http://www.unityinchrist.com/kingdomofgod/mkg5.htm.  This article ties together all the related prophecies on this subject in a clear, honest and concise manner.  This looks forward.  Now a link that looks back.

 

B.  Did A Remnant From These Sabbatarian Churches of God Survive Constantine? 

The answer to that question is contained in a whole Church history subsection on this website.  To read an amazing history, a history put together by this very group of Sabbatarian Churches of God, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm.   Now a link that looks to the present.

 

C. Resources:

“The Feast’s of the Lord” by Kevin Howard & Marvin Rosenthal, $17.95, can be ordered by mailing to:  Zion’s Hope, 1390 N. Hancock Road, Suite 201, Clermont, Florida, 34711.    See http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/Daniel-Neb7.htm.

 

“In The Shadow of The Temple” by Oskar Skarsaune

 

“The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark

 

“A History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson

 

“Nazarene Jewish Christianity” by Ray Pritz

 

[Copyright © UNITYINCHRIST.COM, 2006]

 

D.  Sabbatarian Churches of God:

Sabbatarian Churches of God:  What Are the Doctrinal Distinctives of a Sabbatarian Church of God?

 

This is an article which has been written to help define what the basic Sabbatarian Church of God is.  I was born-again and drawn to Jesus in one, and attended that same Sabbatarian Church of God for over 27 years.  So I know a little bit about them.  First I am going to explain a couple Messianic Jewish terms that defines these groups and how they differ from the rest of Gentile Christianity.  All the Sabbatarian Church of God denominations fit into the first of these two categories, while one did come into the second category, but did not remain a non-Torah observant Sabbatarian Church of God for more than five or six years, before becoming a Sunday observing church.  So here goes with those two Messianic terms or categories:

 

Definitions

 

Torah-observant:  Torah-observant believers in Jesus believe the Ten Commandment Law of God including seventh day Sabbath, Holy Days of Leviticus 23 and dietary laws of Leviticus 11 are in full force for the believer.  They often look at other (Sunday observing) believers as “false Christians” from strictly a doctrinal belief point of view, and not out of any hatred or dislike for Sunday observers.  As such their doctrinal beliefs have separated them out from active joint participation within the rest of the body of Christ.  They still perform an active and important role in witnessing to the carnal world, as the Lord directs them.  Romans 14 warns, “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?  To his own master he standeth or falleth.  Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (vs. 4).  That “man” in “man’s servant” is Jesus Christ, in context with Paul’s epistle here.  Having spent 27 years in one of these Sabbatarian Churches of God, and having fellowshipped with several others from time to time, I have witnessed the indwelling Holy Spirit in many if not most of their membership. 

         

Non-Torah observant:  Non-Torah observant believers in Jesus or Yeshua believe in what they term as the New Testament “Law of Christ” (9 of the 10 Commandments) to be in full force for the believer.  They believe “Days of Worship” have been made an optional choice according to their interpretation of the New Testament (cf. Romans 14 and Acts 15).  That means “days of worship” are an optional choice for them, left up to the believer and the denomination he or she attends.  If one does not agree with the choice of his or her denomination, the individual is free to go to the one that matches his or her choice in days of worship.  Gentile Christian believers for almost 1700 years have chosen Sunday/Christmas/Easter as their primary days of worship.  Messianic Jewish believers who are non-Torah observant choose the Sabbath and Holy Days to worship on, and most also observe the dietary laws of Leviticus 11, mostly out of ethnic cultural choice.  But rest assured, their Messianic Jewish observance almost matches the observance of the Torah observant Sabbatarian Churches of God, those days being previously ingrained into their cultural upbringing for millennia.

          I prefer these Messianic terms over others, as they are totally non-derogatory and lack the slanderous connotation of other terms that have been used to define these two groups of believers. 

 

Torah-observant Sabbatarian Churches of God

 

As you will notice, it is the “Days of Worship” which define the Sabbatarian Churches of God.  In their obedience to the biblical Christian standards Christ gave to the Church (i.e. 9 of the 10 Commandments), they are in total harmony with the rest of Gentile Christianity.  It is in days of worship where they differ.  Their church life revolves around the Sabbath and Holy Days, especially in what these days symbolically represent in Scripture.  We will see that what they believe in this area almost totally matches what the Messianic Jewish believers believe.  And God has just restored the Jewish branch of the body of Christ all just within the past 40 short years, so taking a closer look at our Sabbatarian Church of God brothers wouldn’t be a bad idea.  First they base their belief in the Old Testament Law of God still being in full force on a simple interpretation of Matthew 5:17-19, which states, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled…”  Now here is an important point in their theology.  Have heaven and earth passed?  No they haven’t.  Even though others argue that Christ fulfilled them, it can be pointed out that he expects us to follow his example, which was one of obedience to God’s law.  Also, in Scripture we can see when heaven and earth do pass away, and that is in Revelation 20:14-15 and Revelation 21:1 “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”  Also see 2 Peter 3:10-13 where Peter graphically describes this event.  So “till heaven and earth pass” puts a time element for the law of God remaining intact, a time element which is often ignored by Gentile Christians who try to use only part of this verse to prove their point.  Continuing in verse 19 of Matthew 5, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men to do so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  Then Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to define the spirit of the 10 Commandment Law of God.  So this passage is the bedrock of the Sabbatarian Churches of God’s belief in the Old Testament 10 Commandment Law of God being for Christians.  As I stated before, the major difference is in the days of worship they observe. But it is important to also see what they see in these days.  So let’s take a look.

 

The Sabbath:  A careful reading of Leviticus 23 will show the seventh day Sabbath is also listed as a Holy Day (Leviticus 23:1-3).  Hebrews shows the actual physical Sabbath represents the spiritual rest we have in Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within believers.  This rest is experienced in reality 24/7.  But just because we are living the reality does not make it wrong to observe the shadow of that reality.  Read Hebrews 4:1-11.  Verse 10 is a direct reference to God taking rest in Genesis right after the creation, which created the Sabbath by the very fact that God rested.  The Jews, Messianic believers and Sabbatarian Churches of God feel this is significant in that the Sabbath wasn’t created at the time of Moses, but predates the Law being given to Moses right back in Genesis at the creation of man.  Quoting A History of the True Religion, chapter 20 [obviously a Sabbatarian Church of God history, which reflects their non-recognition of Sunday observing Christians as valid Christians] “Luther himself, while it is said believed in and practiced the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, did not prescribe it in his articles of faith for his followers, in the copies we now have access to.  However, it has been said that in his original thesis, Luther advocated the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, but that his colleagues objected on the grounds that it was an unpopular doctrine, which would have a tendency to repulse supporters of the Reformation who were not as pious as they should have been, but were of great assistance against the usurpations of the papacy.”  And then it gets real interesting.  Luther makes the same point Jews and Messianic believers make, as well as Sabbatarians.  Quoting from his commentary on Exodus 16:4, 22-30, regarding the Sabbath: “Hence you can see that the Sabbath was before the Law of Moses came, and has existed from the beginning of the world.  Especially have the devout, who have preserved the true faith, met together and called upon God on this day.” (Translated from Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Commentary on the Old Testament), in Sammtliche Schriften (Collected Writings), edited by J.G. Walch, Vol. 3, col. 950 [St. Louis edition of Luther’s Works, 1880]).  “Luther said of the Waldenses ‘that among them he had found one thing [in particular] worthy of admiration, a thing unheard of in the popish church, that, laying aside the doctrines of men, they meditated in the law of God day and night, and that they were expert, and even well versed, in the knowledge of the Scriptures’ (Jones’ Church History, p. 263).”  So we see Luther had contact and was influenced by the Sabbatarian Waldensians.  His argument that the Sabbath started in Genesis 2 is both Biblical and a Jewish and Sabbatarian observation.  Each group, Sunday and Sabbath observing see the argument for their practice within this chapter (Hebrews 4).  But the proofs lie elsewhere and are not the subject of this article.  It is just important to see the significance of what they see in the Sabbath.  Another symbolic meaning which some say can be seen in the Bible is that mankind has been allocated 6,000 years for his governments, and that after the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, God rules over mankind for one thousand years of peaceful existence—and that the Sabbath typifies or symbolizes the  last 1,000 years of God’s redemptive plan for mankind in Revelation 20.  This is a viable argument which does have Scriptural backing. According to those within the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, the Sabbath Command has not been abrogated or transferred to Sunday.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/Has%20the%20Sabbath%20Been%20Abrogated.htm to read a good explanation of why they believe this.

 

The Holy Days of Leviticus chapter 23

 

To learn the biblical historic and prophetic significance of God’s Holy Days, believed by both the Sabbatarian Churches of God and all Messianic Jewish believers in Yeshua, log onto the following link and read the whole file:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/Holydayshadows.htm.  The Holy Days and what they represent, when properly understood, appear to have far more significance in explaining the whole of God’s redemptive plan of salvation for mankind than the Gentile Christian days.  Few understand this important point, because few look beyond the actual days and into what they represent.  So be very sure to log onto that link above and read that file before continuing.  There is tremendous meaning in the historic and prophetic symbolism of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 which most of Sunday observing Christianity is almost totally ignorant of.

 

An Example of a Sabbath-keeping Church of God

 

A fairly large and well organized Torah-observant Sabbatarian Church of God is the United Church of God.  In spite of them being Torah-observant, they are fast becoming what I term Agape-Christ centered, and quite friendly.  Check out this link going to the United Church of God’s website:  http://www.ucg.org.

 

Some might be led to think the Torah-observant variety of Sabbatarian Churches of God are sort of dying out after the massive split in the Worldwide Church of God during the 1990s.  Not so.  There are over 375 separate “denominations” of Torah-observant Sabbatarian Churches of God in existence right now.

 

Related links:

 

The Sabbath-keeping Churches of God’s argument for Sabbath-observing:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/Has%20the%20Sabbath%20Been%20Abrogated.htm

 

Biblical symbolic meaning of the Holy Days:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/Holydayshadows.htm

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/lamb/exodus1.html

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/lamb/lastsix.htm

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/Feast%20of%20Weeks.htm

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/E-Mails/June%2014/FallHolyDays-short.htm

 

History of the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/historycog1.htm

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/wwcofgod.html

 

Early Church History:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm

 

Modern Example of a Sabbatarian Church of God:

http://www.ucg.org

 

What brings you to this article? :

http://www.unityinchrist.com/E-Mails/June%2014/What brings you to this article.pdf