The Expulsion of the Torah

The Jews, and subsequently, the early Christians, were recognized as a People by their observance of certain Torah laws that made them separate from the rest of the world. The Roman world knew that a man was a Jew because he practiced circumcision and kept the Sabbath day holy. He was easy to spot by his tassels on his garments and his long beard. Having firmly established that the Apostles walked in a torah-observant lifestyle, it was not easy for the Roman to distinguish between the Christian and the Jew. During periods of upheaval between Jews and Romans, Christians were caught up in the middle of this persecution. To complicate matters, at the same time, Jews were persecuting Christians because of their belief in Messiah. Many were excluded from the synagogues and the daily prayers of the Jew spoke a curse over Christians. (1) It was in the middle of this mess, that Christianity sought an identity away from its Jewish root in order to establish itself in the Roman world, in an attempt to free itself from persecution. Consequently, torah observance as a lifestyle would be annexed from Christian thought. It is my position that this persecution from without, from the Romans, coupled with the persecution from within, from the Jews, leads the early church fathers to develop allegorical theology that moves Christians away from the Torah observant lifestyle of the first apostles and the scriptures. The evolution of this process begins with the martyrdom of James and ends with the destruction of the Nazarenes under Constantine.

Early Church Fathers and Martyrs

The martyrdom of James, the bother of Jesus, marks the initial movement away from Torah. James, unlike his brother the Messiah, was not killed by the Romans. James was martyred by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. Josephus records the events and tells us how a new High Priest, who had issues with power and control, sought to demonstrate his authority by killing James. He writes, “Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity (to exercise his authority). Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, (or some of his companions); and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned; but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy that the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king (Agrippa), desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified…upon which, king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him.” (2) It appears obvious from the text, that the unbelieving Jews were appalled at the martyrdom of James because he was an upright man, whom was surnamed “the Just.” Furthermore, Eusebius tells us that Josephus felt that the killing of James led to the destruction of Jerusalem. Eusebius quotes Josephus as saying, “These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was the brother of him that is called Christ, and whom the Jews had slain, notwithstanding his pre-eminent justice.” (3) This event highlights the heart of Jewish persecution against the Christians. It planted a huge chasm in the rift that already existed between the Jews and the Christians.

Roman persecution of Christians heightened under Nero as both Paul and Peter were martyred by his policies. Furthermore, Roman policy forbade the circumcision and Sabbath observance as fostering anti-roman sentiment. During this time frame, Christians were being persecuted right alongside of the Jews. It was out of this culture that Christians leaders sought audience with Roman leadership to emphasis that Christians were separate from the Jews. Thus, an anti-nominal position was favored and an allegorical and spiritualized approach to the scriptures justified the drift away from the literal applications of torah observance. This is evident in the writings of Ignatius, Barnabas, and Justin.

Ignatius

Ignatius, was the bishop of Antioch, during the time of Trajan (98-117) During his tenure, he writes several letters to the churches in his area. He encourages them to be aware of those “Judiazing Christians” and the danger of the influences of the synagogue. This suggest to us that the separation from torah was already in progress. In his letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius writes, “For if even unto this day we live after the manner of Judaism, we avow that we have not received grace; for the divine prophets lived after Christ Jesus…If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord‘s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny.” (4) It is evident from this passage that the law was perverted into a vehicle of salvation by the Judiazing Christians, perhaps even the same elements that Paul confronted, but the restoration torah as a lifestyle was being rejected. This restoration would identify Christians to closely to the Jews who were persecuting them and make Christians susceptible to Roman persecution as identifying them to closely with the Jews. Additionally, we see the allegorical theology already being taught that the Lord’s day was changed from Sabbath to Sunday because of the resurrection. This theology is foreign to scripture but was propagated by the early fathers in an attempt to establish a certain Christian identity that was separate from Judaism. Furthermore, it may be relevant that Christians were still practicing torah as a lifestyle and being accused of living after the “manner of the Jews.” Perhaps these were the Ebionites or the Nazarenes that we will discuss later.

Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas is the best ancient example of how Christian theology had developed in order to change customs away from Torah. It exemplifies a distance from persecuting Jews and attempts to establish a Christian identity separate from torah. What will be evident from the text is that torah observant Christians did, in fact, exist and Barnabas is attempting to “win” them away from torah. “In order to persuade these Judaizing Christians to abandon Jewish beliefs and practices, Barnabas launches a twofold attack against the Jews: he defames them as a people and he empties their religious beliefs and practices of any historical validity by allegorizing their meaning. As a people, the Jews are described as “wretched men” (16:1) who were deluded by an evil angel (9:5) and who “were abandoned” by God because of their ancient idolatry (5:14). They drove “his prophets to death” (5:12) and they crucified Christ “setting him at naught and piercing him and spitting upon him” (7:9) As to the fundamental Jewish beliefs (such as sacrificial system, the covenant, the promised land, the circumcision, the levitical laws, the Sabbath and the temple) the writer endeavors to demonstrate that they do not apply literally to the Jews, since they have a deeper allegorical meaning which finds it fulfillment in Christ and in the spiritual experience of the Christians.” (5) If successful, Barnabas establishes as separate Christian identity apart from the Jews. This allows them to tell the Romans that “we are not like them.”

The Epistle of Barnabas also gives us the best example of allegorical and spiritualization of scripture. This is evident in chapter 15 when he writes, “Moreover concerning the Sabbath likewise it is written in the Ten Words, in which He spake to Moses face to face on Mount Sinai; And ye shall hallow the Sabbath of the Lord with pure hands and with a pure heart. And in another place3 He saith; If my sons observe the Sabbath, then I will bestow My mercy upon them. Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God make the work’s of His hands in six days, and He ended on the seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it. Give heed, children that this meaneth; He ended in six days. He meaneth this, that, in six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; for the day with him signify a thousand years; and this he himself beareth me witness saying; Behold the days of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children in six days that is in six thousand years, everything shall come to an end. And He rested on the seventh day. This He meaneth; when His Son shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the starts, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day, yea and furthermore, He saith; Thou shalt hallow it with pure hands and with a pure heart. If therefore a man is able now to hallow the day which God hallowed, though he be pure in heart, we have gone utterly astray. But if after all then and not till then shall we truly rest and hallow it, when we shall ourselves be able to do so after being justified and receiving the promise, when iniwqui9tey is no more and all thing have been made new by the Lord, we shall be able to hallow it then, because we ourselves shall have been hallowed first. Finally he saith to them; Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot away with. Ye see what is His meaning; it is not your present Sabbaths that are acceptable (unto me) but the Sabbath which I have made, in the which, when I have set all things at rest I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world. Wherefore, we also keep the eight day for rejoicing in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens.” (6)

Barnabas attempts to empty the Sabbath of its meaning by using allegorical exegesis. First, he explains that the real Sabbath has not yet arrived but is an end times celebration. Secondly, that men are incapable of keeping the Sabbath because of our fallen states, having not yet achieved perfection. Lastly, the eighth day theology is developed because God has rejected the “new moons and Sabbath” and will establish a new one, presumably, on the eighth day. It is interesting to note that Barnabas gives the resurrection of Jesus as a secondary reason for Sunday worship and not a primary reason. One can presume that Sunday theology was only being birthed at the time of Barnabas. It was still in preliminary stages, as later, the primary reason for the change of the day of worship is the resurrection of Messiah.

Justin

Justin was a Christian philosopher who was from Gentile birth. Therefore, he doesn’t except the moral and ceremonial benefits of torah. His position is that the law was only given to sinful men. It didn‘t exist before the time of Moses, so the men of old, needed not the law to walk in holiness. Hence, the Christian, who walks in purity, needs not the law as its only use is for sinful men. He writes, “We, too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all your festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and your hardness of heart…Therefore, we must conclude that God, who is immutable, ordered these and similar things to be done only because of sinful men”. (7) For Justin, this position is the only safeguard for the Christian. He writes, “If we do no accept this conclusion, then we shall fall into absurd ideas, as the nonsense either that our God is not the same God who existed in the days of Henoch and all the others, who were not circumcised in the flesh, and did not observe the Sabbaths and other rites, since Moses only imposed them later; or that God does not wish each succeeding generation of mankind always to perform the same acts of righteousness. Either supposition is ridiculous and preposterous. Therefore we must conclude that God, who is immutable, ordered these and similar things to be done only because of sinful men.” (8) For Justin, Christianity was a higher religion requiring not the law. Biblical evidence for this position, in light of all we have discussed thus far in this series, is difficult to develop. Nevertheless, Justin was very popular among the Gentiles who wanted a separate identity from Jews to escape persecution from Jews and from the Romans. It is interesting to note, that in his attempt to make distinction between Christians and Jews, the Romans rejected his thesis and he was martyred anyway. Hence, he is referred to as Justin Martyr.

Ebionites and Nazarenes

The tension between Rome and Jerusalem peaked when Vespian sent his son Titus to dispel the rebellion of the Jews. Titus destroys the city and the temple in 70 AD and thus marked the end of biblical Judiaism and the end of torah observant Christians. As the myriads of those who were zealous for the law fled Jerusalem, two groups of torah observant Christians did survive, for a while, in their own little hidden communities. They were the Ebionites and the Nazarenes.

By the time of Eusebius, Christian thinking had already shifted to call torah observant Christians as heretics. The Ebionites are described in this light. The name is derived from the Hebrew word for “poor.” It is either used to describe their lifestyle or their theology. Eusebius writes, “With them the observance of the law was altogether necessary…They also observed the Sabbath and other discipline of the Jews just like them, but on the other hand, they also celebrated the Lord’s days very much lie us I commemoration of his resurrection.” (9) Eusebius paints the Ebionites in a negative light, but his description tells us that these were torah observant Christians who were in a very small minority. Perhaps they were a community that escaped the destruction of Jerusalem and attempted to continue in torah as a lifestyle. It is also evident that the Ebionites didn’t embrace the law as a vehicle of salvation by their belief in Messiah. They understood the observance of torah practice as for edification and devotion. Additionally, the did observe the “Christian” customs as well as the torah. This may have been their way of preserving unity. The lifespan of the Ebionites was short lived. Experiencing the rejection of Gentile Christians, Jews, and Romans, they may have evolved into a heterodox sect adopting the Gnostic views of Messiah. (10)

The Nazarenes also developed after the destruction of Jerusalem. Early church bishop Epiphanius writes, “The sect originated after the flight from Jerusalem, when the disciples were living in Pella, having left the city according to Christ’s word and migrated to the mountains because of its imminent siege. Therefore, in this manner arose when those of whom we spoke were living in Perea. From there the heresy of the Nazarenes first began. ” (11)

This group of believers have been described as “The Nazarenes were not ‘Christians’, believing that the law was nailed to the cross.” Rather, they were a sect of Israel that understood it was not rote observance of the Law that saved you. They understood salvation to be a free gift, yet they still observed the law of Moses as an outward sign of their devotion.” (12) This would appear to be a continuation of the early religion of the apostles. Another assessment of the Nazarenes is given to us by another bishop, M. Simon. He writes, “The Nazarenes do not differ in any essential thing from them (the Jews), since they practice the customs and doctrines prescribed by the Jewish law, except that they believe in Christ. They believe in the resurrection of the dead and that the universe was created by God. They preach that God is one and that Jesus Christ is His Son. They are very learned in the Hebrew language. They read the law…Therefore they differ from the Jews and from the Christians; from the former because they believe in Christ; from the true Christians because they fulfill till now Jewish rites as the circumcision, the Sabbath and others.” (13) This witness demonstrates that the religion of the early church continued outside of Jerusalem but it was subject to persecution from Christians and Romans. It was eventually destroyed under Constantine as being a heretical sect against the true holiness of the Roman church.

After the destruction of the Ebionites and the Nazarenes, the torah observant lifestyle of the first apostles became only a memory that was to be shunned from Christian thought. When Constantine becomes the Emperor of the Roman Empire, he declares Christianity to be the religion of the empire. This causes a huge influx of paganism into the church that, frankly, she was unable to handle. The strongest biblical and spiritual leaders had been martyred in recent years, and this lack of leadership coupled with the influx of paganism led to the development of the Catholic church. Easter replaced Passover, Sunday replaced Sabbath, Christmas become the birthday of Christ instead of the birthday of all the gods, and church authority trumped the authority of scripture. Apostolic succession justified the movement away from the bible and allowed for the establishment of repackaged paganism with Christian themes. Thus had been the condition of the church for the last two thousand years. Perhaps now, God, in His mercy, is restoring and renewing His Church to a return to Torah and biblical practices. May it be so, even in our day, Amen.

Endnotes

2. Whiston, William, The Works of Josephus, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody MA, 1987, page 538.

3. Curse, D.F. Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody MA, 1998, page 61.

4. Lightfoot, J.B. The Apostolic Fathers, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, page 70-71.

5. Bacchiocchi, Samuele, From Sabbath to Sunday, The Pontifical Gregorian University Press, Rome, Italy, 1977, page 219.

6. Lightfoot, J.B. page 151.

7. Bacchiocchi, page 224.

8. Ibid, page 225.

9. Cruse, page 93.

10. Bacchiocchi, page 155.

11. Ibid, page 156.

12. Willis, Norman, Nazarene Israel: The Original Faith of the Apostles., Nazarene Israel Press, Northport, WA, 2003, page, 7.

13. Bacchiocchi, page 157.

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