Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | March 8, 2008

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 2)

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 2) 

During the first century Judaism was a legal religion under Roman law, which was a significant privilege that we discussed in our last entry.  As a result, during its initial stage Christianity enjoyed the same rights and privileges being viewed as a sect within Judaism just as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were during the first century.  This categorization was not unmerited since it is a factual statement that Christianity did emerge from the Jewish religion.  This reality thus created some challenges for the church during this period as it formed its position on how to deal with the Old Testament.  The New Testament is a perfect example that testifies to the fact that this issue was of concern for the early church.  Especially, when we read the apostle Paul, we see that the concern for Jewish/Christian relations was an issue that had to be worked out.  The apostle Paul, who prior to his conversion was one of the most rigorous practitioners of the Jewish religion, becomes the apostle to the Gentiles with the task of explaining how the church builds on the foundation of the Old Testament faith.  One of the most eloquent places where this issue is discussed is in Ephesians 2:11-22 where Paul indicates that the mission of Jesus was to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile.  When we read this passage with care we find that this argument is parallel with Romans 11 and the way that Jesus carries out the breaking of the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is to engraft Gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel.  Paul is very clearly saying that Gentile’s used to be strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and have been brought into it through the blood of Christ.  Hence Paul communicates a theology of fulfillment as it relates to the relationship between the church and Israel.  This is a fulfillment that was in a more robust way foretold in Psalm 87, which states that Israel’s surrounding Gentile neighbors, will one day say “we are born in Zion”. 

As a result, the church had to wrestle with its position of how Gentile Christians were to live in light of the Mosaic Law.  The New Testament deals with the Gentile Christian’s relationship to dietary laws and the sacrament of circumcision, which were controversial topics during that period.  These controversies were compounded by the fact that Judaism was undergoing a heightened Messianic expectation, which induced a much more rigorous insistence on strict observance of the Mosaic laws.  The Pharisee’s asserted that in order to hasten the advent of Messiah that it was incumbent upon Israel as a nation to ensure a scrupulous observance of the Old Covenant regulations.  Any deviations or omissions to the observance of the law, in their mind, would undermine God’s promised blessing to His people.  Thus, we must realize that during this period the church and Israel were moving in entirely opposite directions theologically.  These conflicting courses would fuel much of the animosity and tension that would develop between these opposing religions during the first century.  

When we look at sources during this century we find that while the leadership is moving in different directions, the people are not.  Thus, it is not entirely unheard of that during this period converts to Judaism and Gentile converts to Christianity would attend synagogue on Saturday and church on Sunday.  The leadership on both sides sought to end this practice through subsequent changes in their respective liturgies.  In the synagogue the Rabbi’s changed the wording of the 18 benedictions, which were a series of prayers that pious Jews recited on a daily basis.  Early in the second century they added a phrase condemning in the 12th benediction as follows:  

“for the apostates let there be no hope and the dominion of arrogance be eradicated in our days and let the Nazarenes be blotted out of the book of the living and let them not be counted with the righteous, blessed art thou o Lord who humblest the arrogant”    

The intent of this language was to make it impossible for Christians to go on worshipping in the synagogue. On the other hand, a Christian response in the early second century to this practice is found in the Epistle of pseudo-Barnabus warning against those who make the statement that the covenant is both their’s (Jews) and ours (Church).  Those who continued to make this statement were indicated to be increasing their sin.  These warnings point to the fact that in the first, second and third century the church and the synagogue are in competition for commitment and loyalty of coverts to their religions.  Surprisingly, the playing field was initially tipped to favor the Jewish side of this competition between the two religions.  These advantages were seen in Judaism being a legal religion and their efforts to convince the Roman’s that Christianity was distinct from them and should be classified as an illegal religion.  By the second century the Romans in a large part were starting to be convinced by this argument and begin to distinguish Christianity as a distinct religion in lieu of a sect within Judaism.  As a result, the privileges that were allotted too Christianity when it was viewed within the realm of Judaism begins to disappear, thus increasing its vulnerability as an illegal religion within the empire.

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  1. […] age restoring the dominance realized under the reign of David and Solomon.  Of course, in order to hasten the advent of Messiah it was believed that their scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Law would induce this […]


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