Myth number three has been a prominent teaching in many evangelistic movements in America for decades. Myth number three could be called Ďthe two movementí concept. In this concept, Christianity from its beginning separated believers in Christ from Jewish culture and Jewish tradition. The concept declares Jews who became Christians abandoned all expressions of Judaism in order to be Christians.
Acts plainly revealed that abandonment did not occur. In Acts 3, two apostles were going to the temple to pray. Peterís plea in his sermon was for the Jews at the temple to allow Godís promised seasons of refreshing to come upon Israel (Acts 3:19-20). To the three thousand converts in Acts 2:41 were added daily additions in Jerusalem. In Acts 4:33 abundant grace expressed itself through the benevolence of the congregation in Jerusalem. In Acts 5:14 Ďmultitudesí of men and women were added to the number of Christians in Jerusalem. Acts 5:42 indicated continued growth with teaching and preaching occurring at numerous sites including the temple. Acts 6:1 declared the disciples were increasing in number. Acts 6:7 declared the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem and included many Jewish priests. By the time of Acts 21:20, Jewish Christians numbered in the thousands [literally, the tens of thousands] and these Christians were very much Jewish in custom, tradition, and temple worship (Acts 21:21). It was their Jewishness that formed the basis of the false accusation against Paul!
Hopefully this study encourages the consideration of scripture from a fresh perspective in order to see two things. One, from the Pentecost in Acts 2, Jewish people converting to Christ saw the fulfillment of Godís promises to Israel in Jesus. They did not see a religious movement opposing Judaism. Two, Jewish Christians did not feel a religious imperative to abandon Jewish culture, tradition, and religious forms [such as temple worship] in order to be Christians.
This WAS NOT the great controversy in the first century church: can Jewish people continue Jewish ways and be Christians? This WAS the great controversy in the first century church: must gentiles adopt Jewish ways in order to be Christians? Godís answer: Jewish Christians can be Jewish, and gentile Christians can be gentile.
The common ground for these groups was Jesus Christ. When both groups placed themselves in Jesus Christ with confidence and trust, God made them one body. In fact, God made them one bodyóeven if they were ignorant of Godís action! In Ephesians 2:11-16, Paul declared God made both groups to be one body before they understood this divine action occurred. Paul informed them that the Ďone bodyí action taken by God already occurred. The recipients of Paulís declaration needed to understand what God already did in Jesus Christ!
The foundation of their oneness was not uniformity. The foundation was allowing Jesus Christ to be the core of (a) who they were as persons, (b) how they behaved in all of life, and (c) how they treated other people. A proper understanding of Godís emphasis in Judaismís laws, prophetic statements, and writings was consistent with Godís emphasis in Jesus Christ. Idolatry was inconsistent with Godís emphasis in Jesus Christ. Both groups had to see Jesus Christ as the revelation of Godís purposes.
Questions Are Easy to Ask; Answers Are Difficult
It is easy to ask questions. What happened to this huge congregation of Christians in Jerusalem? What happened to a significant early Christian movement in Judaism? With earliest Christianity being predominantly Jewish, why did Christianity fade among Jewish people as it grew among gentile people? The bulk of the New Testament is composed of writings to gentile Christians. What happened to the letters written to Jewish congregations outside Palestine?
Though more is understood now than fifty years ago, many questions remain. [Yes, it is okay to ask questions! Enduring faith is the product of understanding.] For example, scripture notes there were at least three types of Christians in Jewish Christianity. (a) There were Jewish Christians who were thoroughly zealous for the law (Acts 15:5; 21:20). (b) There was the Ďparty of the circumcisioní which this writer identifies with Judaizing teachers (Galatians 2:12). [Paul regarded these Christians to be insincere mutilators of the physical body (Galatians 5:12), motivated by self interest rather than concern for gentiles or Godís will (Galatians 6:12-13), and false brethren (Galatians 2:4) who practiced false circumcision [literally, mutilation] (Philippians 3:2).] (c) There were Jewish Christians like Paul, Silas, Barnabas [sometimes], Timothy, Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla who did not impose Jewish lifestyle, customs, and traditions on gentile Christians (Acts 15:1, 2; 18:24-28; Romans 16:4).
It is a mistake to consider all idolatrous gentiles alike or highly similar because they worshipped idols. Some forms of idolatry subscribed to demanding ethics and a notable morality. Some forms of idolatry encouraged indulging physical desires. The gods of idolatrous worship were diverse in individual emphases and concerns. Gentiles who converted to Jesus Christ from different religious backgrounds faced differing adjustments in conversion. Commonly, local forms of idolatry were entwined in every aspect of local life including business and politics. For gentiles, conversion to Christ definitely opposed prevailing local lifestyles and prevailing local customs.
The understandings of Israelís first century world and the understandings of the world in the 21st century United States of America are significantly different. All the first century world [including the nation of Israel] understood the realities of the concept of a kingdom. Most Americans do not understand those realities. The primary form of government in the first century world was a kingdom. Even an empire was composed of kingdoms who gave allegiance to the ruler of the empire. Most Americans never have lived in a kingdom. The only kings or queens they know are likely figureheads rather than persons with governmental control.
For example, a kingdom was governed by a king who had authority over his subjects [the citizens in his kingdom]. In the first century, a kingdom was synonymous with Ďruleí. To ask, ďWho is the king in this area?Ē or ďTo what kingdom does this area belong?Ē was to ask, ďWho rules this area?Ē Consequently, the phrase Ďkingdom of Godí produced a significantly different primary question in the first century world than it does in America. Their primary question: ďOver whom does God rule?Ē Religious Americansí primary question: ďWhat is Ďthe kingdom of Godí?Ē They primarily were concerned about who could be subjects under Godís rule. We primarily are concerned with identifying Godís kingdom. Consequently, we often feel confidence if we make Ďa correct identificationí of Godís kingdom even if we are in rebellion against Godís rule.
For a Jew or proselyte devoted to the nation of Israel, the big issue was this: ďDo you mean uncircumcised gentiles will be under Godís rule?Ē Jesus affirmed Godís rule would extend beyond the nation of Israel. Godís rule would exclude Israelites who rejected Godís rule.
John 10:16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
Matthew 8:11-12 I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Luke 13:29 And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.
Just as promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, Godís vision for those blessed by His rule included the entire earth. Israelites certainly could be part of Godís kingdom [when they accepted Godís rule], but Israelites could not be the entirety of Godís kingdom. It would not be a matter of ancestry, culture, customs, or tradition. It would be a personal matter of yielding to Godís rule.
Again, Israel was Godís vehicle to Godís goal. Godís goal was vastly bigger than the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel was a stepping stone to Godís kingdom. Certainly, Israelites had opportunity to be part of Godís kingdom, but only if they submitted to Godís rule. Paul referred to this understanding in his letters.
Philippians 3:3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
Romans 2:25-26 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abrahamís descendants, but: ďthrough Isaac your descendants will be named.Ē That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
Galatians 6:15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Colossians 2:9-11 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
The basic Christian issue is not, ďWhat is your background?Ē but ďDo you submit to Godís rule?Ē He or she who submits to Godís rule is the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), the Israel composed of citizens of Godís kingdom.
Chapter 14 Chapter Sixteen