Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Poe du Jour. (Or is it?)

John Hagee's new book. This sounds plausible!

The Importance of Stephen Lesson 3: Stephen before the Sanhedrin

The Importance of Stephen 
Biblical text: Acts, Chapters 6 and 7 
Primary extra-biblical source: The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce, Rev. Ed., 1988.

Previous lessons in this series:

10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.(Acts 6:10-14)
Unable to out perform Stephen in a debate, (v. 10) a more insidious line of attack was initiated. Witnesses were coerced into charging Stephen with blasphemy. What they claimed to have heard may in fact have been accurate.

Here we note the evolution of the world blasphemy. Later, in the Mishnah it would be rendered as uttering the name that only the High Priest could speak on the Day of Atonement 1. However, applied at the time of Stephen it could mean a wider range of offenses. The blasphemy indictment of Stephen was twofold. In the first, it was quite similar to the failed charge brought against Jesus-- it was a threat to the temple. Recall the clumsy witness-tampering attempt at the arrest of Jesus: 
“We heard him [Jesus] say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:58) 
(Of course the Sanhedrin then did an end-around to accomplish their "justice" with Jesus.) Secondly, Stephen appears to have spoken about the abrogation of the Law of Moses--at least the ceremonial law. All this would have incensed not just the powers, but also the common people. As previously mentioned, a threat to the temple and its practices was also a threat to the region's economy. This likely emboldened the officials, who had little reason to fear a popular backlash.

The witnesses, though described as false, probably gave accurate testimony. They are described as false either because they were not giving eyewitness accounts, or as F.F. Bruce put it, "anyone who testifies against a spokesman of God is ipso facto a false witness. 2  These witnesses testified that Stephen had threatened the temple ("holy place") and the customs of Moses. Furthermore,  he invoked the name of Jesus as the instrument for this catastrophic prediction, fueling the prosecutorial fire by identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

Stephen was not giving prophecy--he was just paying closer attention than anyone else to what Jesus himself had said.

As F. F. Bruce wrote 3:
The apostles and many of the rank and file of the Jerusalem church might continue to attend the temple services and to be respected as devout and observant Jews; Stephen held that the gospel meant the end of the sacrificial cultus and all the ceremonial law.
It is as if only Stephen paid close attention to some of Jesus' own words, such as I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. (Matt 12:6). Stephen, uniquely as far as we know--with the sole exception of Saul, discerned that the temple worship and the ceremonial law was irreconcilable with the gospel. Stephen's teaching, paraphrased, was that the followers of Christ were not a sect of Judaism, but something else altogether--in appearances an entirely different religion 4. While the prosecution of Jesus on similar charges of threatening the temple failed, the strategy would succeed with Stephen. No doubt he could see the worldly hopelessness of his situation. Yet he did not face the Sanhedrin with any of the range of dispositions that others might have drawn upon. Not sadness, fear, anger, vengeance, indignity, etc.,--rather he presented what must have been the most disarming of appearances, that of an angel, glowing and (we presume) filled with the spirit, in as close proximity to his God and Savior as any living man could be.

1 "The blasphemer is not guilty until he expressly uttered the Name" (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7.5) 
2 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 126. 
3 Ibid., 127.
4 We could argue semantics here about whether the term "new religion" is accurate. From an anthropological standpoint, I think it is. As for theological, it depends on the eyes of the beholder. But (in my opinion) both Stephen and Saul, to use a biological analogy, would agree that Christianity and 1st century Judaism, though sharing a common ancestor, were not distant cousins but two different species.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ouch one and ouch two

  1. It's parody but it makes me wince. I guess that is what good parody does--especially if there is a chance that somewhere it's not parody, but real. Yikes.

  2. I am having a tooth extracted today. A root canal gone bad. I'm calling it the West Virginia Diet. I am looking forward to when it's all over, so I can walk through the waiting room with a big wad of bloody gauze, moaning and mumbling: Run away! Get out while you still can!

Penal Substitutionary Atonement: It's about Holiness, not Justice (modified)

One doctrine that is under attack in liberal circles is the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA).

What PSA teaches is that Christ was punished in our place. That is, upon the cross, Christ actually received our due punishment. Have you (or will you) commit adultery? If so, Christ was punished as an adulterer in your place. PSA, fully developed during the Reformation, doesn't replace but rather incorporates older views that emphasized that Christ was victorious on the cross—victorious over sin and Satan—by adding the concept of how God's wrath against the elect was fully satisfied.

The clarification was that this satisfaction was not as a reward, if you will, for Christ's victory over sin and Satan—but God's satisfaction actually required the suffering Christ endured for the sins of the world. This view of the Atonement forms a pleasing symmetry with the Reformed view of justification—namely that we are justified before God by an alien righteousness, that of Jesus. So we have a two-way imputation. Our sins are imputed to Christ, while his righteousness is imputed to us.

That's a pretty good deal, and if you haven't yet taken advantage of it, I suggest you do. It is, as they say, a limited time offer.

The scriptural support for PSA is impressive. From Isaiah's Messianic prophecy:
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:5)
to Paul's letter to the Romans:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom. 3:23-25)
to many other passages. The message seems clear that Christ received actual punishment on the cross. Since Christ didn't deserve it, it follows that either God is a sadist or it was punishment due to someone else (us.) And since he paid it, we won't have to, lest we accuse God of double billing.

Now an unbeliever can argue (and they often do) that our God, as described in scripture, is indeed a sadist. But remember, this is an in-the-family debate. A believer (like Neufeld) might argue against PSA, but no believer will argue that God is a sadist or that he'll double charge for sin.

The liberal attacks against PSA, at least the more ridiculous ones, follow the formula that most liberal attacks take, the if I were God, I wouldn't do that, therefore God wouldn't do that line of reasoning.† The expression of this formula is typically found in liberal insistency that conservatives spend way too much time on the ideas of sin and wrath and not enough time on the nice passages about love and forgiveness. The most notorious fairly recent "in the family" criticism of the PSA is from Steve Chalke, who, in his book The Lost Message of Jesus (Zondervan 2003) famously characterized it as "Cosmic Child Abuse."

Here  is a reasoned discussion against PSA from the liberal Christian Henry Neufeld. Neufeld argues that God's love and forgiveness, not the PSA, are central to the gospel. I really don't have much to say about that, because I don't have a clear understanding of what he means by "central." God has love. God forgives. The Atonement happened. At the risk of arguing by platitude, it is not that there are bits and pieces here that may be central to the gospel, but instead the gospel in central to all.

But let's examine some specific criticisms. Neufeld, in arguing how PSA proponents address the greatest commandment, writes: "Well, we have at the foundation of PSA, God's essential revulsion at human sin, and even his inability to look at it."

Actually, we have no such thing. This is taken from a very bad Sunday school lesson. There is nothing quite so easy to demonstrate in scripture as God's ability to look at sin with ease. In the garden, after the fall, it was Adam and Eve in apparent distress, not God. In Job, we have Satan involved in a heavenly conference with God, and God doesn't seem to be covering his eyes or in any obvious pain, even in the presence of the very Prince of Lies. If anything, we can demonstrate that it is human sin that abhors and runs from God, not the other way around. For example, recall the famous unclean-lips reaction of Isaiah.

Neufeld then applies this mistake concerning God's supposed weakness in the face of sin: "So how does this evoke my love for God? I am to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul, even while he loathes me, a sinner, with everything in his being."

Friends, there is no lesson from the PSA that would even remotely imply that God loathes Neufeld, who is a believer. On the contrary the lesson is that Neufeld is a believer because God loves him (He first loved you), he doesn't loathe him. We are not taught Jacob I loathed, but Esau I loathed even more, but Jacob I loved. Is there any indication that God loathed David, or Abraham, or Paul? Of course there is none whatsoever. The fact that it is so obvious from scripture that God loves believers should alert the reader that Neufeld is misrepresenting the PSA—because there could never be a doctrine that could achieve any traction at all if it was based on God loathing believers.

Neufeld's entire post, in my opinion, can be summarized by saying the PSA is bad because if focuses on God's loathsomeness for man. But that is simply wrong—the PSA focuses on God's love for believers. Even if the PSA is wrong, it seems a little foolish to deny that as a doctrine it in fact emphasizes God's love—otherwise you are left with no motivation for the suffering it supposes Christ endured. Did he endure suffering the punishment the PSA claims because he loathed mankind? It makes no sense whatsoever.

Neufeld goes on to argue that another problem with the PSA is that it is too man centered. I suppose that's in the eyes of the beholder. It is man centered in Neufeld's view because it allows man to escape punishment. But the punishment escaped is hell—and here I presume that Neufeld also accepts that believers escape hell (even if one's picture of hell is annihilation) by any view of the atonement, including his own—so how "avoiding punishment implies man centeredness" is especially a problem for the PSA is not clear.

PSA proponents argue, correctly I would say, just the opposite. It is God centered in that it affirms that the only thing man can successfully contribute to his own salvation is his sins. Man is not good enough to bring anything meritorious; all must be supplied by God.

Reading between the lines, it seems to me that Neufeld is not so much against the PSA but against a different Reformed doctrine: Total Depravity. There is where we indeed find the language of loathsomeness and wrath that Neufeld so dislikes (and who can blame him.) But Total Depravity reflects God's view of the unregenerate, not his view of believers. And the Atonement reflects God's plan for those he loves, not those he hates. The two doctrines do not overlap much, but Neufeld, it seems to me, conflates them.

As for love and forgiveness, wonderful things to be sure, the plain truth is the only group that can self-consistently claim the centrality, to use Neufeld's language, of God's love and forgiveness are the Universalists. Because if you allow that some are lost—some are not forgiven, and clearly you must unless you just want to toss out the whole bible, then you certainly must conclude God's love and his forgiveness cannot be ultimate. They don't trump other attributes of God. If they did then all would be saved. That would be fine by me, but it doesn't reflect scriptural teaching.

However, of those attributes of God that might trump his love and forgiveness, God's justice isn't one of them. God's love and forgiveness do in fact take precedence over his justice—because some receive mercy rather than justice. It seems to me that the confusion of PSA arises because both sides accept that the pro-PSA side should be argued in terms to God's justice. And once the pro-PSA side argues that the PSA is true because God demands justice, the anti-PSA side argues, rather convincingly, that the PSA represents a rather perverse form of justice.

Perhaps the problem is we focus on the wrong attribute of God. It is not God's justice—which we know he routinely sets aside in the form of mercy—that is relevant. It is a more mysterious attribute: God's holiness. It is God's holiness that trumps all. It is God's holiness that is ultimate. And it is his most mysterious attribute. One can, perhaps by this "trick," sweep the mysteries of the Atonement into a deeper mystery, God's holiness. It may be sleight of hand, but it succeeds in removing from the Atonement the tension that develops when you claim that it is all about the fact that God's justice demands punishment. Why, for example, does the bible tell us that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood, and that the blood of animals or fallen man will not suffice? I really cannot comprehend why God cannot simply forgive everyone (he clearly relaxes justice by giving mercy to some—why not all?) And why must blood be shed? Why not some other form of punishment? The answer, I believe, is found in God's incomprehensible holiness. The reconciliation that must be made is not because God demands justice, and not because God cannot bear the presence of sin, but rather because in his holiness it pleases God to spend eternity in the presence of a people whom he has cleansed. This cleansing, for some reason we cannot hope to fathom, requires the shedding of perfect blood. It is no use to characterize it as barbaric—-it is simply the way it is, and on this side of eternity believers might as well just accept the fact.

† Another form of liberalism, fundamentalism, takes its "liberties" with the bible this way: Well God didn't actually get around to putting that—typically some prohibition—in the bible, but I'm sure he would have if he had thought about it a little more, so we'll add it for him.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The sin of racism

Here's a great list of random thoughts (not so random, I'd say) related to racism and the church.

YMCA Theology

I am fortunate to live within walking distance of a YMCA. (I drive.) My autistic son Luke also goes there, though we don't often go together. There, like everywhere else, I am usually (and proudly) known as "Luke's father." Case in point: Yesterday, while checking in, the woman looked at my name on her computer screen and, as I was walking away from the desk toward the locker room, she chased me down and said, with an expression that bordered on envy: "Are you Luke's dad?" So I replied, as always, with my best Vader voice, "Yes, I am Luke's father."

That has nothing to do with today's post. The shower at the Y has something to do with today's post. It is a typical shower with a rotating control, from 0 to 180 degrees of rotation, that turns the water on and (allegedly) sets the temperature from cold to hot. The actual plot of water temperature vs. rotation angle of the control looks something like this:

You've been there, right? You aim the shower to one side, stand on the other, and try adjusting the control in the milli-degree range to hit the sweet spot.

In doing so, it occurred to me how useful this plot for describing the church at large. For example, for years I have followed internet bread crumbs on the near-and-dear to me theological topic of the Law. After years of exhaustive, unproductive research I have reached but one conclusion. I am convinced that we all have a plot that looks like this:

And another, with the same useful plot, regarding musical instruments in the worship service:

I don't find this particularly troublesome--it's probably more amusing than problematic.

Unless it goes too far. Unless the dreaded H-bomb is dropped:

Now for the gospel itself, the plot above is accurate. And for the Trinity. And for the Deity of Christ. But for many other doctrines, including many I affirm with all my heart and mind, it should, in my opinion, look something more like this, assuming that the H bomb is even applicable:

You want to know what I believe the bullet-proof red-flag is when someone is using the H-Bomb when they shouldn't? It's when they cannot bring to bear a simple biblical argument, but instead employ the logical fallacy of the slippery-slope. AIG YECs (and some who should know better, like Al Mohler--unless he's recently changed his view) are masters of this technique. They will start with an assumed old earth position, and knock down the dominoes until the arrive at the "inevitable" conclusion that Jesus could not atone for our sins.

I learned all this at the YMCA! The Village People were on to something!

Tomorrow I'll explain how the elliptic machine taught me the real story of Paul's thorn in the flesh (all other views are heresy.)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pathways to God

I'm reading God's Universe by Owen Gingerich, a Christian and a scientist. From the Amazon abstract:
We live in a universe with a very long history, a vast cosmos where things are being worked out over unimaginably long ages. Stars and galaxies have formed, and elements come forth from great stellar cauldrons. The necessary elements are present, the environment is fit for life, and slowly life forms have populated the earth. Are the creative forces purposeful, and in fact divine?
Reading this book is a little bit of a surreal experience. First of all, after investing so much energy in previous years, I have recently been avoiding science-faith crossroads books. It is an overcrowded genre, with a great mishmash of poorly written, poorly argued crap--if I may be so blunt. Bucking the trend, Gingerich's book is well written. In terms of clear, concise writing and a knack for pedagogy, Gingerich reminds me of my favorite popularizer of theology, R.C. Sproul. You may agree or you may disagree, but you must acknowledge the author's skill at making his point with few words (but not too few). But the second reason I am introspective regarding God's Universe is that I have yet to find myself disagreeing with anything he has written. It's as if we have exactly the same views on the intersection of science and faith. This is not common for me. I usually disagree with my own posts not long after I write them. Furthermore, I actually prefer to read people with whom I disagree. But here I am, throughly enjoying God's Universe.

Gingerich emphasizes the Aristotelian distinction between essential and final causes. Using an example from another Christian and Scientist, Sir John Polkinghorne (it would be so cool to have the title Sir) about why the water in the tea kettle is boiling, we have:
  • The essential cause is the detailed physics of heating a liquid and coverting it to a gas.
  • The final cause is because we want some tea.
What I write from here is really my own spin, though I'll use an example from Gingerich and make a very similar point. If you want to see it made better, buy his book. My take is free.

The business of science is, primarily,  to investigate the essential cause (the how) of a phenomenon. The business of  theology is, primarily (but not exclusively), to celebrate the final cause (the what). 

However, it you make that clean of a distinction you are back to Gould's well-meaning but sterile Non-overlapping Magisteria.  That's a pleasant place to be, and most secular scientists are satisfied with the non-overlapping world view. It's safe. 

I don't think we need such an absolute delimitation. in fact, I think it is very wrong. However, we have to be careful not to make the mistakes (and they were legion) of the ill-concieved Intelligent Design movement of the first decade of the current century. ID was a theological, pedagogical, scientific, and political disaster.

Let us look an example from God's Universe. Gingerich reminds us that Lecompt du Nouy (1883-1947) computed the odds of a protein assembling from primordial soup at something like 1 in 10243. This means, of course, it would never happen. Not once or twice, somewhere in the vast universe, but never. This would be approximately the same odds as picking a correct proton from all the protons in the entire visible universe (about 1080). And then doing it again, and then a third time. Ain't gonna happen.

No, if you are an IDer, you scream: ergo design. But not so fast. Scientists, looking at those pesky essential causes, have discovered pathways. Chemical potentials, chemical reactions, basic physics, etc. Assembly is not random, it is the consequence of physics. They may not have the full story, but they understand how assembling a protein does not require a random convergence of its components.  If you hitched your wagon to du Nouy's improbability, you have egg on your face (even if you steadfastly refuse to admit it.) 

But (and Gingerich emphasizes this) we, as scientists, don't need to claim design with the seeming impossible (only deceptively) existence of a protein. We can strengthen our faith, with the small 'i' small 'd' intelligent design of the pathways. The essential causes that we might first relegate solely to the scientists also, if we look for it, testify to the glory of God. Because there is no a priori reason to expect that a godless universe will create the necessary pathways. Tweak a few things--say the ratio of the mass of the proton to the electron, and things go to hell in a handbasket.

That is the lesson here. The seemingly cold, godless essential causes that scientists look for are not some non-overlapping magisterium. They are, properly understood, proclaiming the glory of God. So much so that the scientist, above all, is without excuse.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

I like Cheers Church

Confession: I do not like big churches. I actually look down (as I said, this is a confession) on people who attend mega-churches. With no evidence beyond the anecdotal, I assume that they joined for reasons unrelated to solid Gospel preaching. For the accoutrements. For the Starbucks and the Krispy Kreme (yummy) and maybe even for the anonymity and the lack of necessity for service. No nursery or cleaning duty--professionals take care of that. Your money is required of you, that's all. Attend and feel good--and make another installment payment on that staircase to heaven you have in lay-away. I assume that apart from the minor annoyance of bookending traffic jams, attending a mega-church is easy. Too easy.

That is what I imagine. How much truth there is, I don't know. But I'm pretty sure I shouldn't so readily assume that it is true, and especially not when I meet someone who attends a mega-church.

I don't even like modest sized churches. While visiting churches recently, we spent a few Sundays in a church with three services, and about 200 people in each service. The sermons were solid and the body, by all indications, was committed to serving the community. But I thought to myself: I could attend this church for years and the pastor could bump into me in Costco and not even know I was a member of his church.

I thought: there is something wrong in attending a church so big that the pastor and elders may never know your name. Where there are attendants directing you where to park. That can't be the biblical model.

So I did what I always do when I am sure that I am right. Or, more accurately, when I want to be right. I went to the Word to cherry-pick passages that support my position. A tried and true method! Yes, I actually do that all the time. I try to convince myself that, since I'm aware of what I'm doing, I at least make a good faith attempt to be comprehensive, examine context, and follow the bread crumbs. But in reality, I'm usually pretty satisfied if I find a "proof text" for my position. Short of that, given enough time, I'll find a theologian who agrees with me. An argument from authority is still an argument!

In this case I came up empty. I found nothing applicable to the issue of church size. I found nothing that (a ha!) taught that you should only be in a local church where (Norm!) everybody knows your name, and they're always (or at least some of the time) glad you came. And no help whatsoever from theologians... if they have achieved fame then it turns out they are almost certainly leading huge churches.

I still don't like big churches. My only micro-progress is that I also don't like that I don't like them.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Expensive Will

On the BioLogos forum, a participant asked about how one reconciles God's sovereignty with free will. 

<sarcasm>That's such an easy question</sarcasm> that I responded.

Here was my short reply (slightly edited). It is nothing I haven't written about before:

Hmm. If anyone can answer this they will win whatever the equivalent of a Nobel Prize is for theology!

I am partial to the first order solution provided by the some Calvinists (no surprise, since I'm one of 'em) who, contrary to the accusation they they deny the free will, actually have the most libertine view. To wit: you will always choose according to your strongest desire at that moment. They don't deny free will, they deny self-denial. You don't want to pay taxes, but you pay them, because at that moment your desire to pay taxes and avoid prison is stronger than your desire to risk prison.

They often put it in terms of moral ability or moral inability. So before God converts you, you have no desire for God; you have a moral inability to choose God. After he converts you, you have a desire, a moral ability, and you choose God. (Yes we Calvinists do actually claim that the elect choose God-- but only after He gives them a heart of flesh.).

This view of free will is a form of determinism--but not via God the puppet master, rather your will is self-determined. You are a slave, not to any external force, but to your desires.

This view of free will tells us that our moral ability to choose God came at a high cost, hence the title of this post. We are granted this moral ability, by grace, solely on the merit of Christ's finished work and His atoning sacrifice.

Here is a crude example of moral inability. A mother, with no mental illness, and no extraordinary circumstances, is sitting in the kitchen with her infant. She has free will. There nothing stopping her from putting her child into the microwave. But she literally can't do it (even though she has free will) because she is morally incapable.

So in this view sanctification is some sort of bootstrap wherein through prayer and grace your desires are changed, and then your actions follow along lockstep.

This view breaks down in 2nd order, in my opinion, and I don't know how to fix it, but it is still the best I can grasp.

Now, here is a strong opinion that I'm guessing many [on the BioLogos forum] will disagree with. There are three generic views of free will:
A) Deterministic (the universe's differential equation is marching along time step by time step. It's on a path in phase space, and nothing you can do can divert that path.) 
B) Theistic (whatever free will is, it's a supernatural gift.) 
C) Compatibilism (The non-supernatural belief that free will and determinism are compatible.)
In my opinion, which ain't worth much, one of these is dishonest. That would be C. (The answer is always C.) Take a look at what uber-compatibilist, uber-atheist, one of the "four horsemen" of new atheism, Daniel Dennett says:
The model of decision making I am proposing has the following feature: when we are faced with an important decision, a consideration-generator whose output is to some degree undetermined, produces a series of considerations, some of which may of course be immediately rejected as irrelevant by the agent (consciously or unconsciously). Those considerations that are selected by the agent as having a more than negligible bearing on the decision then figure in a reasoning process, and if the agent is in the main reasonable, those considerations ultimately serve as predictors and explicators of the agent's final decision.
This is, in my opinion, utter woo, as much woo as any religious woo. New-agers would would be proud of the wooiness of this explanation.  But it is given a free pass because it sounds a bit sciency. But there is no mechanism presented for how this mythical, magical consideration generator produces nondeterministic considerations.

Those who choose A, while I disagree, are at least honest. Their poster child is biologist William Provine:
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear -- and these are basically Darwin's views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That's the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.
Awesome! (Provine, who died in 2015, is testing his theory.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Importance of Stephen Lesson 2: Stephen Arouses Opposition

The Importance of Stephen 
Biblical text: Acts, Chapters 6 and 7 
Primary extra-biblical source: The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce, Rev. Ed., 1988.

Previous lessons in this series: 

To combat discrimination against the Hellenists is the early church, the apostles installed seven Hellenist men to minister. Today we call these men the first deacons, so I'll use that term. Among them is the spirit-filled Stephen.

At the time the seven were appointed, the Christians viewed themselves as Jews, and their belief that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, was crucified died and buried, and was resurrected--this was merely the next phase of Judaism. As such they went to the Temple and observed the Sabbath, and then met the next day, the first day of the week, for a special meal of fellowship and remembrance.

The view of the Jewish officials, while not favorable, was surprisingly in agreement, in the sense that the Christians were viewed as (yet another) misguided sect of Judaism.

Among the early Christians there were more than a few temple priests, who (there is no indication to the contrary) continued their temple duties. So for this very early period (about to come to a screeching halt) the Christians were providentially protected by their misidentification as Jews. Rogue Jews perhaps, but nonetheless Jews.

To the Jews there was nothing more sacred on this earth than the temple. And no teaching more important than the Mosaic Law. Mess with those, and you are most definitely not a Jew. You are an apostate and a blasphemer.

Stephen is about to step onto that third rail.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (Acts 6:8-10)
At first, Stephen was no doubt a man of all the people, as his wonders and signs likely included healing. This would have afforded him great esteem, no matter how much he assured the people that the power was from God and not of himself.

We have here an intriguing (but impossible to prove) possibility of Stephen's (ordained) tactical error.

Stephen took his message to a synagogue of the those from Cilicia. There was a young student from Celicia, then "in town" studying with a famous Pharisee. The young student's name: Saul of Tarsus, Tarsus being the capital of Celicia. Did Saul hear Stephen's message in this synagogue? Is that possibly what set him off? We have no way of knowing. But somewhere along the way Stephen's message expanded to the point where he incited intense debate.

How did Stephen expand the message? He went beyond claiming that Jesus was the Messiah, which would have, in minds of many, lumped him into a long-line of "nutters" in Jewish history who followed this or that alleged Messiah--whose cults were forgotten as quickly as they arose. He expanded that curious-but-ultimately-harmless message by teaching of the logical ramifications of the finished work of Christ: the end of temple practices and the end of (at least much of if not all) the Mosaic law and customs.

This is not Judaism; it is altogether a new religion. This would not fall on receptive or even tolerant ears. Not with the chief priestly families. Not with the priests who had joined the Christians. And not with the people, for not only was the Temple sacred, it was the "region's biggest employer" so to speak. Many made their livings by supplying the massive needs of the Temple.

I don't think this needs a spoiler alert: This would not end well.