Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | March 22, 2008

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 4)

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 4) 

The concern about the relationship between the church and the synagogue comes to bear in an interesting fashion in the second century writings of Justin_Martyr.  He authored a work entitled “A Dialogue with Trypho the Jew,” which is a response to an earlier work criticizing Christianity and defending Judaism.  He was a gentile who was a philosopher by training and sincerely wanted to reply to this work criticizing the Christian faith.  In his apologetic response an essential element that is emphasized by Justin involves Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  When he has the opportunity to write against the Jewish rejection of Jesus, it incidentally provides us some insight to the relationships between the two religions during the time.  Justin takes the position, which was rightly dominant in the church at that time that insists that one needed to be a Christian in order to be saved as seen in the following statement: 

Those who have persecuted and do persecute Christ, if they do not repent shall not inherit anything on the holy mountain.  

He also appeals to Jewish people in general to abandon their leadership and ignore their advice, which has led them astray from conversion to the Messiah.  “Obey not the pharisaic teachers and scoff not at the king of Israel as the rulers of the synagogues teach you to do in your prayers.” Note the reference to Christ as “the king of Israel”, which denotes a completion theology in Justin.  Incidentally, many Dispensational theologians appeal to Justin as an early advocate of their view, which is certainly not manifested here.      

Justin goes on in this work to give voice to the seriousness of the tension between the church and the synagogue.  This tension is evident in the following statement: 

You slew Christ and do not repent of it.  Beyond that you hate and murder us who have believed through Him in God the Father of all, as often as you can.  You curse Him without ceasing as well as those who side with Him, while all of us pray for you and for all men as our Lord and Christ taught us to do. 

Although, we must admit that in certain respects this is an overstated Christian view of reality, it does present the existing tensions.  He goes onto appeal to Jews to convert to Christianity, “He (God) has now not inflicted judgment nor does inflict it knowing that daily some of you are becoming disciples in the name of Christ in quitting the path of error.”  Here Justin testifies to the fact that Jews are continuing to be seen as converts to Christianity.  Despite the serious tension between the leadership of the two religions there is not such a wall that it prevents conversions from occurring.  Then he reflects on how Jews who converted to Christianity are living as Christians and notes:  

If some through weak mindedness wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the peoples hearts along with there hope in Christ and wish to perform the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety yet choose to live with Christians and the faithful as I said before not inducing them to be circumcised like themselves or to keep the Sabbath or to observe any other such ceremonies.  Then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such and associate with them in all things as kinsman and brethren. 

Notice that he is affirming that there were Christian Jews who still wanted to keep various aspects of the Law of Moses.  He indicates that they are “weak minded” implying that there was not any necessity to observe these laws.  He then goes onto say that if they live as good Christians in other ways not forcing Gentiles to keep the law, then they are brothers in Christ.  Later in the dialogue he goes on to say that even the Judiazers, who insist that Gentiles keep the ceremonial law, will probably still be saved.  This is a complex situation being sketched by Justin of the relationship between the church and the synagogue.  At this point, as we’ve mentioned, the synagogue has the upper hand politically.  However, it is significant to note that Jews still are a large part of the Christian church during this time.

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