When did Christianity become a Gentile Religion

     Recently, I read an article in Biblical archeological review entitled, “When Non-Jews Became Jesus’ Followers”.   The article is very good and describes the lifestyle of the earliest Judeo-Christians.  It states, “How did the original Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem compare their Jewish neighbors?  In some essential ways they did not differ from them at all.  The Judeo-Christians considered themselves Jews, and their outward behavior and dietary customs were Jewish.  In fact, they faithfully observed all the rules and regulations of the Mosaic Law.  In particular, the apostles and their followers continued to frequent the religious center of Judaism, the Temple of Jerusalem, for private and public worship; it was there that they performed charismatic healings.  (Acts 3:1-10; 5:12, 20, 25, 42).  According to Acts, the entire Jesus party assembled for prayer in the sanctuary ever day (Acts 2:46)  Even Paul, the chief opponent of the obligatory performance of Jewish customs in his churches, turned out to be a Temple-goer on his occasional visits to Jerusalem.  He once fell into a trance in the course of his prayer in the House of God (Acts 22:17) and on a later occasion he underwent the prescribed purification rituals before commissioning the priest to offer sacrifice on his behalf (Acts 21:24-26). (1)  With the exception of Paul being a chief opponent of the law (it has long been my position that Paul observed torah from an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one), this is an excellent summary of the first century church.  The author then delineates that worship began on the “first day of the week” and the “Lord’s Day” which he believes is Sunday.  If these two references refer to Sabbath, then, the first church was very observant of the Torah.  It is my position to demonstrate that these two references refer to Sabbath.  (The other issue of Paul’s Torah observance is too lengthy to tackle here and should be the topic of another article.  If the reader will grant me a certain freedom with this, then my supposition will stand).  If this day is the observance of the Sabbath, then we can reach the conclusion that the author reaches when he writes, “So prior to the admission of the gentile candidates, the affiliates of the Jesus party appeared to ordinary people in Jerusalem as representative of a Jewish movement or sect.  They were comparable to the Essenes in number and they exhibited similar customs such as the daily solemn meal and subsistence from a common kitty.  Indeed, the followers of Jesus were referred to in the late 50’s of the first century as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5,140.)  In the patristic literature the Judeo-Christians were designated as the Ebionites or “the Poor”.  The church historians Eusebius (260-339CE) reports that up to the Bar-Kokhba war (the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome {132-135] all of the 13 bishops of Jerusalem, starting with James the brother of Jesus, came for the “circumcision”. (Ecclesiastical history 4.3.5.) (2) Hence, the establishment of the” first day of the week” and “Lord’s Day” as the Sabbath is essential to support this conclusion.

 

     The interpretation of Sunday instead of Saturday worship comes from two passages in scripture.  One being Acts 20:7, and the other being 1 Cr 16:2.  Yet, in light of the many scripture passages that speak so clearly to Sabbath keeping and gathering, I do not see how we can say that ‘The First Day of the Week” was changed to “Sunday” instead of “Saturday” based on two passages that are somewhat obscure in their reference to a supposed Sunday worship service, compared to seven passages that specifically state the Sabbath was being observed.  (Acts 13:14; 13:27; 13:42; 13:44; 15:21; 17:2; 18:4).  Nevertheless, it is beneficial to look at these references to a supposed Sunday worship service….

 

 

 

Acts 20:7:  [7] And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

 

 

 

Here we see that the disciples came together to “break bread” on the “first day of the week,” which would obviously mean Sunday.  But what is not obvious is when (I.e. what time) on Sunday they were gathered together.  According to the Jewish calendar (and this would be the calendar they were using) , days run from Sundown to Sundown.  Sabbath starts on Friday night and ends on Saturday night.  Sunday (the first day of the week) starts at Sundown on what we would typically call Saturday.  I would like to suggest that perhaps our interpretation of this event is somewhat skewed.  Acts is filled with references to meetings where they gathered together on Sabbath (Acts 13:14; 13:27; 13:42; 13:44; 15:21; 17:2; 18:4), which would be Saturday (during the day.)  I would like to suggest that in the above passage, they are not meeting on Sunday morning but on Saturday night – just after the Sabbath had ended.  Verse 8 goes on to say:  [8] And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. Lights would obviously infer candles during those times and what were candles doing all over the upper chamber on a Sunday morning?  Furthermore, verse 7 tells us “he continued his speech until midnight” and verse 9 tells us that Eutychus fell asleep during the meeting.  Verse 11 tells us they continued to talk until the “break of day” and then they departed.  All of these things point to the fact that the meeting was held during the night (Saturday night, in our time, the beginning of Sunday morning, and “the first day of the week,” for the Jews.)  So even if this passage could be said to bring about a Sunday worship service, it would mean that they gathered together Saturday night and not Sunday morning.  However, I believe that this was a special gathering together to bid Paul and his companions farewell.  There is nothing here to infer that this was a worship service – we can see from the above mentioned scriptures that those happened on Saturday – but was more likely a last gathering to spend a little while longer with Paul and his companions.  Dr. David Stern also writes, “But what is meant by the first day of the week? (Or to make the question’s relevance to Messianic Judaism clearer were the believers meeting on Saturday night or on Sunday night?  It is clear from the verse that the meeting was n the evening.  A Saturday night meeting would fit more naturally with the Hewish Shabbat observance; wherein the restful spirit of the Shabbat is often preserved into Saturday evening, after the official end of Shabbat itself, which occurs after sunset when it gets dark enough to see three starts.  It would be natural for Jewish believers who had rested on Shabbat with the rest of the Jewish community to assemble afterwards to celebrate their common faith In Yeshua the Messiah.  The Gentile believers who came along later would join in on the already established practice, especially since many of them would have been ”God-fearers” (10:2) already accustomed to following the lead of the Jews in whose company they had chosen to place themselves.  And since by Jewish reckoning days commence after sunset, the sense of the Greek text seems best rendered by “Motz’ ei Shabbat”, not Sunday.” (3)  Dr. Stern’s point is well taken. Why would the Jewish Christians observe all other aspects of Mosaic Law only to disregard Shabbat?  His explanation is much more plausible than a supposed Sunday worship.

1 Cor 16:2:  “Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

This, in my opinion, is the weakest argument for Sunday Sabbath/worship.  Paul is telling them to “lay by in store” on the first day of the week.  This passage doesn’t even give a hint of this being during a worship service or a gathering, unless we read into the scriptures what is not there.  It seems much more likely that he was telling them to lay by what they made on the first day of the week – it is possible that this was the day they got paid. 

While we could certainly read into this verse to advocate Sunday worship, we cannot infer such from the text itself.  And in light of the fact that there is not a single scripture verse that will back up this inference in clearly stated language, I believe that to use this verse to advocate Sunday worship is an error.

The common reason given for changing Sabbath worship to Sunday is as follows, written by The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

“Christians chose the first day of the week for worship undoubtedly because Christ rose on that day and met with the gathered disciples at the time of the evening meal.  Hence, Lord’s Day worship is the Christian festival of the Resurrection.” (4)

But here we have a very grave problem.  “Christians chose the first day of the week for worship.”  But who makes up the rules?  Christians or Christ?  Do Christians have authority from Jesus to negate God’s rules and to make their own rules?  If they did, it would be written in the New Testament somewhere.  It’s not.  Are we under God’s Authority or do we usurp that Authority and declare it null and void and create our own?  When did Jesus Christ tell us that the Holy Sabbath should be changed to Sunday?  When did the Apostles say this?  If Sunday were the day of assembly, for whatever reason, wouldn’t it be at least mentioned once in the New Testament (that it was the day of assembly)?  But it is nowhere to be found. 

The Lord’s Day

     Since both the Didache and the New Testament use the phrase “Lord’s Day.” It is something that we need to address.  When is the Lord’s Day.  I would suggest that since we have already established that the Christian church in its beginning was observing the Shabbat, according to the New Testament, it is a foregone conclusion that any designation of the “Lord’s Day” would not refer to Sunday since Sunday worship itself would not be institutes until well after the end of the first apostolic period.  Since the Didache and the New Testament were both written well before the establishment of Sunday worship, any reference to a particular day belonging to the Lord would have to refer to Shabbat.

The Jerusalem Council

    The writer of the article comes to a conclusion that Gentile Christianity was established as being separate from Judeo-Christianity as the Jerusalem council.  His point is that the Gentiles were excused from the Mosaic Law while the Jews were to continue in it.  It is my opinion that this is one of the most common misperceptions in Christian history and I believe that it is an erroneous position.  Consider the following:

   Acts 15:1-21:  [1] And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 

Keep in mind as you read this what the dispute is over.  It is regarding how the Gentiles must be saved.)

[2] When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. [3] And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. [4] And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. [5] But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses.

(These are a group of Pharisees who believe in Christ.  Their position is that the Gentiles need to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  This is the essence of the council.  The question is how the Gentiles can be saved.  One camp says they must have faith and keep Torah and the other camp states it is simply a matter of faith.  Let’s keep reading.) 

[6] And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. [7] And when there had been much disputing,

Why was there so much disputing?  Does it make any sense that if the Law had been “done away with” as is so commonly taught, someone here would have said so, and the dispute would have been resolved quickly and easily?  If the believers in Christ were not obligated to follow the Law, why didn’t they just say “well, this is awfully silly.  None of us have to follow the law!  Don’t you know that it’s been done away with?”  But no one says this.  Instead they are trying to figure out the laws the Gentile believer must follow in order to be saved ([see verse 1])

[8] Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. [8] And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [he did] unto us; [9] And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. [10] Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 

(The yoke on the neck mentioned here is not the yoke of the Law, for the Bible clearly tells us the Law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:14, 7:12, 2 Tim 3:14-17)… and that it is freeing for those who follow it (Psalm 119, Romans 7:22) Instead it is talking about the yoke of the Law as a requirement for Salvation.  The Law was never given as a vehicle of salvation.  The jews ere saved out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover Lamb and then they were given Torah.  Torah was given to a people already saved to demonstrate and model holiness as a nation.  The next verse really sums up this position…)

[11] But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

(This sentence and the one above it are partners.  “Why would you put a yoke on the disciples that none of us are able to bear?  It through grace that we will be saved… [Not by the Law].”)

12] Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

(They give examples that testify to the fact that the Gentiles have already been saved, even though they have not yet learned all of the Law, making it clear that Salvation does not hinge on circumcision or any other adherence to Mosaic Law.)

[13] And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me: [14] Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. [15] And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, [16] After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: [17] That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. [18] Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

[19] Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: [20] But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] fornication, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood.

 

 

 

A wonderful book on the Jerusalem council can be found at http://www.seedofabraham.net/smpf.html.   In this book, Avram Yehoshua will define exactly the extent of these laws.   For now we will just say that we believe they all have to do with the worship of idols.   It is most important to remember that we are talking about the salvation of the Gentiles, and what they must do in order to be saved, or remain saved [verse 1].  It must be remembered that while those of us in modern day America have a hard time understanding why anyone would need laws against worshipping other gods, the world in those times was steeped in idolatry.  Everywhere there were temples devoted to sacrifice of pagan gods, and polytheism was the norm.  It was of little importance to the new Gentile converts, who already worshipped many gods, to keep the worship of Yahveh separate and distinct and exclusive of any worshipping of other gods.  They would have thought nothing of adding Yahveh to their list of gods and worshipping Him along side Zeus.  This is why they had to be taught – immediately – that they could no longer continue this practice.  Later, they would learn the other aspects of the Law needed for a Godly life inside of His will.  [Verse 21.]

 

Furthermore, common sense tells us that these can’t be the only four things of the Law that are required of Gentiles, because then Gentiles would be free to murder or to lie or to steal or to hate their neighbors, or to practice homosexuality, or witchcraft – all of which come directly from the Torah but are not mentioned here as the “necessary things” (vs. 28)  These four laws have something distinctive about them that sets them apart from other Laws which we believe to be the worship of idols.

 

 

 

[21] For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.

 

 

 

This is probably the most interesting sentence in this passage.  “For Moses of old time has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.”  What does Moses being taught in the synagogues have to do with anything?  We believe that verse 21 is the logical extension of verse 20 and verse 11 (that the Gentile is saved in the same way as the Jew.)  The Gentile didn’t need to be circumcised in order to be saved.  But the Gentile did need to be told what would disqualify him from membership in the kingdom of God. (v. 20) then he was directed to the synagogue to learn all of the rules of the Kingdom that pertained to him (v. 21).  Not every law of God pertained or applied to the Gentile, just as every law of God didn’t apply to Jesus.  He didn’t need to keep the laws pertaining to offering up the daily sacrifice (Exodus. 29:38-42) because He wasn’t the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple.  But Jesus kept all the laws that applied to Him.  The Gentile would learn Torah as they walked with Jesus.  No one, least of all James, expected the Gentile to learn Torah overnight.  The Gentile would assemble in the synagogue on the Sabbath (see Acts 13:42; 13:44; 18:4) to learn the Torah of Moses, gradually.  This verse tells us that James assumed or understood that the Gentile was to go to the synagogue to learn the Law of Moses.  In declaring to everyone at the council that the Gentiles were to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath Day to learn Christ’s commandments, we see that James was thinking about Torah specifically in relation to the Gentile.  They would learn it every Sabbath.  With that, he shows us today that Torah should be a part of every believer’s life.  James was establishing the place of the Law for those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:31).  He was presenting Torah as a lifestyle of sanctification for the Gentile just as it is for the Jew (e.g. Peter, Paul, etc).

 

 

 

     We believe that this is the correct interpretation of the Jerusalem council and that this interpretation brings unity among believers rather than the division that is projected by the author.

 

 

 

Concluding Remarks

   Back to the original question of when did the Christianity cease to be Jewish and become a Gentile religion, I don’t really know the answer but I can speculate. By the writing of the epistle of Barnabas, Christians were rapidly departing from the Judiac root.  It is my opinion that this can be summed up in a word:  persecution.

 

 

 

     With the Jewish uprisings against Rome, it became patriotic in the Empire to persecute Jews.  The average everyday roman would have looked at Christianity as only a mere extension of Judaism and they would have persecuted them along with the Jews.  Additionally, the Jews were also persecuting the Christians as heretics and expelling them from the synagogues and the social circles from which it sprang.  In short, Christianity found itself without a home and without a separate identity.  Thus, the early church father began to establish these.  This identity had to be separate from that of the Jews.  It was at this juncture that Christianity became a Gentile religion. 

 

 

 

Endnotes

 

  1. 1.       Vermes, Geza, From Jewish to Gentile, How the Jesus Movement became Christianity, Biblical Archaeology Review, vol38, no.6, www.biblicalarchaeology.com.
  2. 2.      Ibid
  3. 3.      Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, page 297-298.
  4. 4.      Bromiley, Geoffrey, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, W. Erdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979.

 

 

A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews through an eternal versus temporal paradigm

Introduction – the link between commandments and love

At the outset of any work, it is important for the writer to define his terms. What is meant, for example, by the word eternal? What is meant by the word temporal? How can we use these definitions to examine the book of Hebrews? The first priority, therefore, will be to define our language.

Eternal: The things that will last forever. The realm of heaven, the throne and the heavenly dwelling place of God the Father (Daniel 7), the councils of heaven and the heavenly court (Job 1), the Kingdom of God (Luke 17:20-21), the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). This is what we mean when we say Eternal. Synonymous words that we will use for eternal will be: Heaven, The Kingdom and The Love of God.

Temporal: The physical realm. The earthly dwelling places of humans. The realm that is experienced by the five senses of men. This is a temporal dwelling, meaning that it will not last forever. In short, the world that we live in.

Paradigm: Noah Webster defines paradigm as: “An example or a model.”

We will examine the book of Hebrews through this model: Comparing the eternal with the temporal and drawing conclusions from these comparisons.

The writer of Hebrews had extensive knowledge of the law and the spiritual principles of Jesus’ teachings. He would have understood the link between the (temporal) commandments and the (eternal) love of God. As we will see, his writings are a commentary on both of these. Therefore, an understanding of this link between commandments and love is essential in order to understand the writer’s intention. To negate this would be to miss the point of all that is revealed in both the Old and the New Testament. We must examine the book of Hebrews with this in mind.

At the outset, we must understand some points that will be developed later. First, we must understand that the commandments have been given to us in order to point us toward heaven, which is permeated with love.

Jesus, and most new testament writers, sum up the law and the prophets with the concept of love (Matt 22:40, Gal 5:14, James 2:8). Why? The eternal realm is permeated with love. It is the very atmosphere, the air that is breathed. Every commandment that God has given us is designed to point us toward that love. It’s designed to point us toward heaven. When Moses went up to the mountain, he was shown the pattern of a heavenly temple and instructed to model the earthly tabernacle according to it. Moses made a temporal (earthly) representative of what was in the eternal. He constructed a temporary structure in the temporal realm that was designed to point the children of Israel to the eternal. Colossians 2:17 tells us that the commandments (temporal) are a “shadow of things to come” (eternal.) Every commandment God has given us serves to point us toward an eternal (heavenly) principle. The intention behind every commandment is the expression of love into this temporal realm.

The mere observation of rites, rules, and doctrines does not release love. The Pharisees and Sadducees observed the temporal rites, rules, and doctrines yet they missed the eternal premise behind the commandments they obeyed. Much of the dialogue between Jesus and these two parties centers on this theme. Mainly, they were missing the point. If they had known the Father, they would have recognized Jesus (John 8:19). Why? Because Jesus acted according to heavenly principles. He did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19). He did only what He saw His Father doing because the actions of the eternal realm are united and of one purpose. So Jesus can say to the disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). He was the reflection of the eternal realm and responded as such (Hebrews 1:3). The observation of the law is the same. Much of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus expounding upon this principle. He says, “You have heard it said do not commit adultery. But I say to you…” the commandment touches something deeper than the physical act of adultery and lands squarely on the condition of our hearts in relation to the heart of God. Lust doesn’t exist in heaven so neither should it exist in the heart of the believer. The commandment to not murder is not solely about murder, it’s about a heavenly principle – love and the absence of love – a hateful heart. So, Messiah tells us “do not murder” and so on. Each commandment is designed to be a temporal representative of an eternal principle that reflects the heavenly realm.

This understanding also explains why there are times when God seems to set aside His own commandments. For example, David ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat (I Sam 21:6, Matt 12:4). Hezekiah is another example. While celebrating the Passover, many people came to keep the feast who were not clean according to the commandments. Yet, after Hezekiah prayed, they were allowed to keep the feast (2 Chronicles 30:18-20). We see this played out in the New Testament as well with Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). There are times when the expression of love (an eternal manifestation) in a situation is at odds with the temporal adherence to the principle, and requires the “setting aside” of the temporal representative. The eternal always wins out.

The commandments are a temporal reflection of the eternal principles of heaven and serve to point us toward God. This understanding is of paramount importance as we move into the book of Hebrews. The writer is basically giving us a commentary upon this principle to the Jewish believers of Messiah. May the Lord bless your reading of this and may the Spirit give you understanding and revelation.