Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 6 - Ripping down the scaffolding
Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 6. See part one, two, three, four, and five to catch up.
Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism. Since the last post was technical, I will try to keep this simple if not short, Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts.
It certainly is a good thing that the apostles agreed that baptism would be the initiation rite into the church instead of circumcision. This story is developed in the church history crafted by St. Luke. But let's back up a little.
In the gospels Jesus says the law is summed up in two verses from Deuteronomy, Love God with your all and love your neighbor as yourself. The other 600+ laws that involve ritual purity, sacrificial methods and occasions, land use, proper warfare, property rights including land, animals and people, and anything else that has nothing to do with the big two are done. It's easy to see why the religious establishment considered Jesus a blasphemer. He had little respect for the system they were gaming and profiting from.
Jesus is eventually lynched. But three days he comes back to life. He teaches the apostles a little more and convinces them they are not having a month long hallucination. Then he teleports back to heaven. Luke picks up the story at the teleportation scene. In chapter 1, two verses in the Psalms are used for guidance. In chapter 2, Peter starts unveiling Jesus and his mission from the Old Testament:
- obtuse apocalyptic poetry in Joel, explained by the resurrection of Jesus
- weird zombie poetry by David, explained by the resurrection of Jesus
As a result, thousands of Jews join the new kingdom of love instituted by Jesus.
In chapter 3 Peter alludes to Isaiah 53 and quotes Deuteronomy and Genesis, but makes sure to mention Moses, Abraham, and Samuel, as well as all the prophets to say they predicted the Jesus event.
In chapter 4, Jesus is the key to understand a couple Psalms, 118 and 2. For what it's worth, observant Jews, sing through the Psalms every year. So these guys were very familiar with them, even the cursing ones. Now they understood these Psalms through the lens of Jesus.
In chapter 6, one of the first deacons, and the first martyr Steven is accused of two things, "14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." Yes, Jesus did warn of the destruction of the temple and he did change the customs of Moses. However, the apostles has yet to realize either of these things.
In chapter 7, Stephen reviews Israel's history through Genesis and Exodus, then goes on the attack, referencing Amos (using the Greek translation which is different from the Hebrew) and Isaiah.
Next in chapter 8, the Gentiles start believing in large numbers. Together the Apostle Philip and the Ethiopian read Isaiah 53 (using the Greek translation which is different from the Hebrew).
In chapter 9, the former persecutor Saul, converts on the Damascus Road and becomes an enthusiastic apostle.
In chapter 10, the customs of Moses in the church begin to collapse. A Roman soldier converts and exhibits the same supernatural stuff the church did in Acts 2.
In chapter 11, Peter defends himself for not just associating, but fellowshipping with uncircumcised Gentiles. Peter says, hey, the Holy Spirit of God was on these people, and God told me in a dream this was cool, so let's rejoice together.
In Chapter 13, Paul uses a bunch of prophecies from the Psalms, Isaiah and Habbakuk to show that Jesus is the long waited for Jewish Messiah predicted by these prophets. The final prophecy he mentions is a mashup, cut and pasted from a couple places in Isaiah.
We finally get to the confrontation in chapter 15, where the customs of Moses finally start to collapse. Some of the Jewish Christians visit a mixed race church in Syria and freak out when they go to restroom and realize their fellow Gentile believers still have their foreskins attached. They run down to Jerusalem to complain to the apostles there. In the midst of debate, Peter speaks up for a doctrine based on experience.
8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.Jesus' brother James pulls a quote from Amos (using the Greek translation which is different from the Hebrew) and offers a compromise proposal that does not involve delicate surgery.
9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.
10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:I imagine when Jews read this prophecy of Amos they believed that one result of Gentile men seeking after God would be eager circumcisions. James, Peter and Paul point out the text here does not say that. Curiously, they add a couple rules, that served a short term purpose, but were negated by the time Paul wrote the church in Corinth.
16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’—
18 things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
What's left of the customs of Moses after the Jerusalem council? Not much officially. We learn from Paul's letter to the Galatians that he confronted Peter about keeping kosher around believing Gentiles when other Jews show up. Paul writes in Galatians 2:15-16 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." This kernel of theology about the abolishment of the Old Testament laws in the life of the Christian is developed much more in his letter to the Roman church.
The apostles finish what Jesus started. The accusation against Stephen was correct. The customs of Moses ended with Jesus. They were like the external scaffolding around the building while it was being built, but once the building was finished, the scaffold was no longer needed. The church, the bride of Christ, is the final product and the early church tore down all that Old Testament scaffolding, finishing what Jesus started, because not everything Biblical is Christian.