Saturday, March 28, 2009

Church History Lesson 9 (The End of the Apostolic Age)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)
Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)
Church History Lesson 8 (Paul's Second Missionary Journey)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The End of the Apostolic Age

Paul spent the winter of A.D. 56-57 in Corinth (Acts 20:2). While there, he wrote a letter to the church in Rome, to prepare them for his planned visit to Rome on his way to Spain:
I planned many times to come to you, but have been prevented until now. I long to see you, so that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. God is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times. I thank for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. I have seen some fruit as a result of my activity in other parts of the Gentile world, and I should also like to see some among you as well. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome, for I am not ashamed of the gospel. Not that I desire to settle down in Rome, for that would be building on someone else's foundation –the very thing I have avoided doing. From Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. So after I have completed this I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. (Summary of Rom. 1:8-26, 15:14-29)
As we will see, Paul does make it to Rome, but not until three years had passed, and not as he planned. From Rome, we find that he did head west, but most believe that he did not make it to Spain.

Two obvious questions arise from this letter: First, there is already a significant community of believers in Rome. Where did they come from? And second, who is this other man who laid a foundation in Rome?

As he stated, Paul first set out for Jerusalem, his last visit, arriving in May of 57 along with delegates. (This is spite of being warned [Acts 21:10] by the prophet Agabus who told Paul that he would be bound (arrested) by the Jews in Jerusalem. This Agabus had credibility: you may recall that fifteen years earlier predicted the famine in Jerusalem [Acts 11:27-28]].) Together they bore gifts for the church in Jerusalem. James and the elders welcomed Paul, but there was an undercurrent of a problem. A subtle variant of the old Judiazer issue: while it had been decided by the council that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or follow Mosaic Law, James was concerned that Paul was also teaching the Jews of the dispersion likewise, and that was not acceptable:
Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24Take these men, join in their purification rites… (Acts 21:20-24)
Paul, always willing to compromise on all but the gospel, went along with the request to prove that he was a law abiding Jew. As we find in his letter to the Corinthians:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. (1 Cor. 9:20).

The Church at Rome

This is no explicit account of the formation of the church at Rome. What we know must be pieced together. We are aided by the fact that, unlike Jerusalem, there has been no breach in continuity of Rome from apostolic days.

Recall that included in the crowd at the feast of Pentecost in A.D. 30 were pilgrims from Rome (Jews, not Gentiles). Since Romans are the only Europeans listed in the account (Acts 2:10) we feel justified in assuming that some of them believed Peter’s message and carried the gospel back to the Imperial City. Regardless, all roads lead to Rome, and Paul’s missionary journeys had created churches along major arteries which must have resulted in the message being carried to Rome.

The history of Jews in Rome is fascinating. There was a Jewish colony in Rome in the second century B.C. When Pompey (who had battled the rebellious slave Spartacus) captured Palestine for Rome in 62 B.C., he returned with many more Jews who were ultimately set free. Successive Roman emperors safeguarded the rights of the Jews, and at least a handful of synagogues flourished.

Rome, however, had the habit of purging itself of “oriental” incomers, including the Jews. In A.D. 49, Claudius expelled Jews from Rome, and expulsion that included Priscilla and Aquila. Whether it was a literal or an “effective” expulsion is the subject of debate. The historian Dio Cassius (155-?) writes:
As the Jews had again increased in numbers, but could hardly be banished from the city without a tumult because of their great numbers, he [Claudius] did not actually expel them but forbade them to meet in accordance with their ancestral customs.
Another writer, the biographer Suetonius (75-160) wrote that "Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus."

Chrestus was a variant spelling of Christus. Here we may extrapolate that Suetonius, writing seventy years later, mistakenly assumed that this "Chrestus" was a leader of one of the Jewish factions in Rome. In a sense he was right: the rioting was likely between Jews and "Nazarenes". It is probable that Priscilla and Aquila were already Christians when they arrived in Corinth, a theory bolstered by the fact that their conversion is not mentioned in scripture.

Another amazing reference is found a few years after the expulsion, in A.D. 52, when a writer named Thallus describes the preternatural darkness that covered Palestine on the day of Christ’s crucifixion. The darkness was attributed to a solar eclipse. That explanation is impossible, since the Passover season falls at a full moon, at which time a solar eclipse can not occur. Even if Thallus was only referring to Christian "stories" of the darkness, it still points out that details of Christ’s death were being retold in Rome by the middle of the first century.

In the same year Paul wrote to Rome, Pomponia Graecina, wife of the Roman conqueror of Britain, was charged (later acquitted) with having embraced a foreign superstition. This could not have been Judaism: for Judaism was a legally recognized religion. An embrace of Judaism would have been scandalous but not illegal. Accounts of her lifestyle, which included a withdrawal from Roman society and its idolatrous excesses, have caused many to speculate that the foreign superstition was Christianity.

More evidence of the maturity of the community of Rome comes from the end of Paul's letter, where he sends greetings by name to various Roman believers. This includes a couple named Andronicus and Junias, “my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” He also mentions Rufus “chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too”. This Rufus may have been the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). Paul also greets Priscilla and Aquila who had returned to Rome.

Paul's Circuitous Route to Rome

Paul arrived in Rome around February of A.D. 60, in the custody of Roman "federal marshals." How did this come about? As stated, he under went a purification rite to demonstrate his “Jewishness” to the Nazarenes. However, it was the Jews who were the real problem, and his appearance led to a riot in which he was nearly lynched. Paul had been charged by the Jews in Jerusalem of violating the sanctity of the temple. In particular, he was the victim of a rumor claiming he escorted a Gentile into the inner court of the temple, a crime punishable by death. (Notices in Latin and Greek separated the inner and outer courts, announcing that Gentiles were forbidden to proceed any further, under pain of death.) So serious of a crime was the violation of this edict that Rome even authorized the execution of Roman Citizens for this offense.
"Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place." (Acts 21:28)
In 1871 one of the warnings (in Greek) was uncovered in Jersualem. It read:
No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death."
When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14)
the metaphor refers to the temple barrier beyond which no Gentile could pass.

Fortunately the commotion caused by Paul was huge, so huge that his summary execution was prevented by a Roman garrison rushed in to secure order. A lengthy litigation followed. Eventually Paul, fearing that the procurator Felix might be inclined to seek favor of the Sanhedrin, exercised his right as a Roman citizen to be tried in Rome. He would spend two years awaiting trial in Rome, enjoying the company of friends such as Luke, Aristarchus, and John-Mark, with whom Paul reconciled.

How Mark arrived in Rome leads us to the question of who laid a foundation in Rome. Since the time of the rift between Paul and Barnabas, Mark (the cause of the dispute) had become attached to the apostle Peter. At some point in the fifties, Peter appears to have launched his own missionary journey, with Mark serving as his chief of staff. It appears most likely that between 55 and 60 Peter reached Rome (ahead of Paul) . When Peter left, Mark stayed behind and recorded his gospel, essentially transcribing what Peter had told the Romans. When Luke visited Roma with Paul, he probably used Mark's writings to help him draw up his own history of Christianity.

Paul's case probably went before prosecutors at the end of A.D. 61, just before the expiration of the statute of limitations. It is likely that Paul was released and left Rome for a period, for Clement of Rome wrote to the church in Corinth (~A.D. 95) that “Paul reached the furthest bounds of the West”, which may or may not have meant Spain. Playing phone-tag, when Paul leaves Rome, Peter returns, where he pens 1 Peter, writing from "Babylon" as he puts it, and referring to Mark as his "son" (1 Pet. 5:13). In his epistle, Peter refers to a coming "fiery trial" during which Christians would suffer, not for law-breaking but merely for being Christians. The Christians are susceptible because they can no longer protect themselves as a “sect” of Judaism—they are seen by all as a separate religion one that, unlike Judaism, is an illegal religion. The blind eye being cast by the emperor (now Nero) can open wide at his pleasure.

Adding to the peril of the Christians was that, not only was unstable Nero the emperor, the empress Poppaea was a friend of the Jews which meant an enemy (of sorts) of Christians. This information comes to us via Josephus:
But when I was in the twenty-sixth year of my age, it happened that I took a voyage to Rome... At the time when Felix was procurator of Judea there were certain priests of my acquaintance… whom on a small and trifling occasion he had put into bonds, and sent to Rome to plead their cause before Caesar. … Accordingly I came to Rome, though it were through a great number of hazards by sea; for as our ship was drowned in the Adriatic Sea, we that were in it, being about six hundred in number, swam for our lives all the night; when, upon the first appearance of the day, and upon our sight of a ship of Cyrene, I and some others, eighty in all, by God's providence, prevented the rest, and were taken up into the other ship. And when I had thus escaped… I became acquainted with Aliturius, an actor of plays, and much beloved by Nero, but a Jew by birth; and through his interest became known to Poppea, Caesar's wife, and took care, as soon as possible, to entreat her to procure that the priests might be set at liberty. And when, besides this favor, I had obtained many presents from Poppea, I returned home again. (Josephus, Life, 3).

Rome Burns

In A.D. 64, Rome was largely destroyed by fire. The fire was probably accidental, but rumors quickly spread. Nero himself as the culprit was the subject of much consideration. This is probably false, and in fact he actively worked to help those who had been devastated by the fire. Nevertheless, he had to deal with the rumors, which he did by redirecting them onto a scapegoat: the Christians. The historian Tacitus wrote:
To dispel the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and treated with the most extreme punishments, some people, popularly known as Christians, whose disgraceful activities were notorious. The originator of that name, Christus, had been executed when Tiberius was Emperor, by order of the procurator Pontius Pilatus. But the deadly cult, though checked for a time, was now breaking out again not only in Judea, the birthplace of this evil, but even throughout Rome, where all the nasty and disgusting ideas from all over the world pour in and find a ready following. First, then, those who confessed themselves Christians were arrested; next, on their disclosures, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as for hatred of the human race. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open the gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in a chariot. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but glut one man's cruelty, that they were being punished.
Note that Tacitus despised the Christians, but nevertheless acknowledged their innocence in the conflagration, their punishment not stemming from guilt as arsonists but rather for “hatred of the human race.” Among the brutalities: Nero used Christians as human torches to light his gardens. When Saint Peter’s was rebuilt in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a number of bodies wrapped in linen and placed in stone coffins were discovered. Also uncovered were stone chests filled with ashes and burnt bones—presumably the remains of those burned by Nero.

As for a Christian account, we have Clement of Rome:
But, to pass from the examples of ancient days, let us come to those champions who lived very near to our time. Let us set before us the noble examples which belong to our generation. By reason of jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church were persecuted, and contended even unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles. There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one nor two but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves. By reason of jealousy women being persecuted, after that they had suffered cruel and unholy insults as Danaids and Dircae, safely reached the goal in the race of faith, and received a noble reward, feeble though they were in body. (1 Clement 5:2-6)
The "vast multitude" of martyrs referred to by Clement is identified with the "vast multitude" described by Tacitus. Furthermore, it is a natural inference to conclude that both Peter and Paul were martyred at the same time. (Clement’s refrain of jealousy is meant as jealousy toward, not by, the apostles and believers. The dangers of jealousy forms the substance of his letter to the Corinthian church.)

Roman Catholic insistence on the continuity of the Roman church back to Peter’s preaching at Pentecost in A.D. 30 has at times caused some (Eusibus and Jerome) to favor the notion that Peter arrived in Rome as early as A.D. 42 and launched a twenty-five year episcopate lasting to A.D. 67, but this is very difficult to support. At the beginning of that period, he was known to be in Jerusalem and Antioch, and in A.D 57 when Paul wrote his Roman epistle hid did not greet Peter (so one can infer he was not there) nor does it appear that Peter was present when Paul arrived in custody in A.D. 60. Some Catholic scholars acknowledge this, for example the French scholar Jacques Zeiller writing in 1927:
How long had St. Peter lived in Rome before his martyrdom? Here we must confess an almost complete ignorance. The so-called tradition of the twenty-five years of Peter’s episcopate rests on no historic data…of Peter’s life in Rome we know for certain only the last act: His martyrdom.
No, Peter spent those twenty-five years proclaiming the gospel throughout the provinces, only to arrive in Rome after Nero’s ascension to the throne in A.D. 54. Most consistent with the facts is that when Nero became emperor he rescinded the expulsion (five years earlier) of the Jews by his predecessor Claudius and that shortly thereafter Peter arrived (with Mark) and helped reconstitute the Roman church and laying the foundation upon which Paul was hesitant to infringe. The bottom line is that Nero was already the emperor when Peter arrived in Rome.

A Roman presbyter by the name of Gaius wrote (~A.D. 200) that the trophies of Peter and Paul, meaning either the locations of their martyrdom or their tombs, are found on Vatican Hill and the Ostian Road respectively. This is why the emperor Constantine erected the basilica of St. Peter on the slope of Vatican Hill.

Tradition teaches that Peter was crucified and Paul was beheaded. (The tradition that Peter was crucified upside down is probably apocryphal.) The manner of their deaths is consistent: Paul, as a Roman citizen, would have been afforded the less ignominious death.

The death of James, the brother of Jesus

In A.D. 61 the procurator Festus died. In the three months before his successor Albinus arrived in Palestine, the Jewish High Priest Ananus was able to cause trouble. From Josephus:

AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. … this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: (Josephus, Antiquities, XX, 9, 1).

Thus we see that by about the mid sixties of the first century, Peter, Paul, and James had been martyred. In a few years, civil war would break out. The Jews, encouraged by the party of the Zealots, were emboldened by the news of the death of Nero in A.D. 68, only to be crushed and nearly exterminated at the hands of Titus, the son of Vespasian, the successor of Nero. The temple, no longer important to a people who had access through their High Priest Jesus Christ to the heavenly realm, was destroyed in A.D. 70, as had been prophesized by Jesus:
1Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2"Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

34I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matt. 24:1, 34).
From here the next stage of Christianity begins, a stage in which its ties to the temple have been severed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame

I hate petitions. And I hate organized boycotts.

An example of the former is the cowardly weasel Hector Avalos, a cliché of a man who ably demonstrates how public university "Religious Studies" departments are often abysmal dens of iniquity housing intellectually inferior atheists. A few years ago Avalos attempted to influence, publicly, the normally private academic faculty review process by launching a petition against the tenure of ID-friendly Guillermo Gonzalez. I don't know whether Gonzalez deserved tenure or not (he was denied), but I'd take Gonzalez over the pusillanimous Avalos anytime. But that's not the point—the point is that a petition is a brainless form of protest favored by eunuchs. It doesn't rise to the level of honorable civil disobedience because nothing is placed at risk. Did Avalos risk anything? No. The petition was unintellectual and narcissistic. Avalos got a few atta-boys from some chattering types—for the price of his integrity, if he had any to begin with.

Boycotts are a favored (and impotent—but that’s not the point) weapon of politicized Christians. It is common for me to get mailings saying we should boycott McDonalds or Ford or some other corporation, usually because some Christian chucklehead or misguided para-church organization is upset that they are providing health benefits to the partners of gay employees. I always respond by email that a) the incensed should spend his or its energies spreading the gospel and not organizing boycotts (duh) and b) even though I am a conservative, bible-believing Christian I will do my best to frequent the business they want me to boycott, under the biblically supportable theory that an acceptable Christian witness is preferred over acting like a jackass who is endeavoring to remove the health care benefits of a fellow human being. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Now I have received notices about Obama giving the commencement speech at Notre Dame. I am supposed to be outraged about this.

I am not.

Do I agree with Obama on abortion? Of course not.

Would I want to hear Obama give a speech in person? Absolutely.

When did attending a speech imply acquiescence to the speaker’s views? As a rule, I’d rather hear someone I disagree with than someone I agree with.

The only exception to the above rule is that I'd rather hear Christ than Satan. But, nevertheless, if Satan was invited to give our commencement address, I’d be really excited to hear what he had to say.

Articles of Faith

Like most churches, our local church has a doctrinal statement that includes articles of faith. In the section dedicated to "Baptist Distinctives" we find, among others, these two:

E. Individual Soul Liberty

Baptist have always opposed religious coercion and state-controlled or imposed religions. Every individual should have liberty to choose what he believes. No one should be forced by a government, a church, or any other organization of men or individual man to ascribe to any belief against his will. However, this liberty does not free the believer from the commands and teachings of the Word of God, nor from accountability to God Himself.

(Romans 14:5, 12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Titus 1:9)

H. Separation Of Church And State

God established both the church and civil government as institutions, and He gave each its distinct functional realm. The government’s basic purpose is to keep the civil peace at various levels, and to suppress and punish the wrongdoer. The churches’ purposes are to propagate the commands and teachings of Christ, to baptize those brought to faith, to cultivate, in believers, the observance of every command of Christ, and to enjoy His ever-abiding presence. Neither governments nor churches should control the other, nor should there be an alliance between the two. Christians in a free society may properly influence government toward righteousness, which is not the same as a denomination or group of churches directly controlling or administering government.

(Matthew 22:15-22; Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 15:17-29; Romans 13:1-17)

I am a member of a conservative, southern Baptist church that affirms the inerrancy of scripture. Yet, contrary to the stereotype, we affirm, strongly, the separation of church and state.

And we are not alone. Yet somehow most unbelievers think all baptists (especially below the Mason Dixon line) are Moral Majority type political activists. Of course even if they know they are wrong, many don't want to acknowledge they are wrong, because caricatures make easy targets.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Church History Lesson 8 (Paul's Second Missionary Journey)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)
Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

Paul's Second Missionary Journey

After the Jerusalem council, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, along with two others, described as “prophets”, Judas and Silas.

Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over the usefulness of Barnabas’s cousin John-Mark, with Paul arguing that John-Mark had deserted them on their first missionary Journey. The result of this rift is that for Paul’s next journey, he would have Silas as his companion.

The Second Journey

Paul and Silas traveled to Derbe and Lystra, towns in which Paul and Barnabas had previously established communities of believers. In Lystra, Paul and Silas picked up another companion, a young man named Timotheus (Timothy), a member of the Christian community. Timothy's father was Greek, and his mother a Jew. In light of the recent council and its pronouncements, what Paul has Timothy do is surprising:
Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek (Acts 16:3)
The reason would seem to be that Paul, whose plan as always would be to first go to the synagogue, wanted Timothy to be "less" of a Gentile and more of a Jew. This indicates that his practice of going to the synagogue to find "ready" gentiles among the God-fearers included a sincere desire to reach the Jews as well.

From Lystra they made their way to Troas, where they picked up Luke. In the book of Acts, written by Luke, you find the subjects of travel changing from "Paul and his companions" to "we", indicating Luke’s inclusion.

Paul intended to head toward Ephesus, an ancient Greek city and capital of the Roman province of Asia. The Holy Spirit had other plans, and He blocked their way. In Mysia, once again the Sprit blocked their planned route. Finally, the Spirit gave positive direction: Paul had a vision of a Macedonian asking for help. Paul and his three companions (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) agreed that they were being summoned to Macedonia. So the four of them crossed the north Aegean into Macedonia.

Upon landing in the port town of Neapolis, they traveled on a great Roman highway to the town of Philippi. Philippi had been a Roman colony since 42 B.C., when Antony and Octavian settled their veterans there after their victory over Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar.

The missionaries did not, as they usually did, go to the synagogue. The reason is that there were not enough Jews in Philippi to warrant one. (The quorum for a synagogue was and is ten Jewish men.) Instead, the Jews and God-fearers met to pray on the bank of the river Gagites outside the city gate. One of those present was a dealer in purple cloth by the name of Lydia. She and her household were baptized, and she opened her house to Paul and his companions.

Paul and Silas proceeded to get themselves in trouble with the authorities when they exorcized a demon from a slave-girl. This particular girl had a quite interesting method of attacking Paul and Silas: she followed them around singing their praises:
17This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." 18She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:17-18)
Her message was good and true, but she must have been delivering it in some annoying and disruptive manner.

Casting out the demon is of course a good thing, except that it left the girl unable to earn money as a fortune teller, which enraged her owners, who filed a complaint. The chief magistrates heard the complaint, handed Paul and Silas over for a beating and imprisonment. The next day, the magistrates were mortified to discover that the two were Roman citizens. Paul and Silas received an apology but were sent packing, the responsibility of protecting the two unpopular Roman citizens was too great for the local authorities. Paul, Silas, and Timothy left, while Luke remained behind.

Continuing along the highway (the Egnatian Road), the next significant stop for the three was at Thessalonica, capital of the province of Macedonia. Here the familiar pattern is mostly followed: speaking at the synagogue, proclaiming that the ancient prophecies are fulfilled by the risen Christ, establishing a new community comprised of God-fearers and some Jews, and then being run out of town, this time by a professional mob that the Jews had recruited from the market place.

However, there are some variations. This time the message, while appealing, as always, to the common classes, was also received by prominent woman, but not their husbands—who presumably were local leaders of the community.
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (Acts 17:4)
Also, a new friend of Paul's had to put up a monetary guarantee that Paul would not return and cause more commotion:
Then they made Jason [who was housing the missionaries] and the others post bond and let them [Paul and Silas] go. (Acts 17:9)
Although the community they established thrived, it is likely that the husbands of the prominent woman converts denigrated Paul and Silas—perhaps by asking what type of men would stir up trouble only to run away at the first sign of personal risk. This sense that their characters had been assaulted was evident in the letter that Paul wrote to the community at Thessalonica shortly after leaving.
1You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. (1 Thess. 2:1-2)
Paul wanted to return to set the record straight and face his detractors. However, his hands were tied, for in doing so he would cause Jason to lose the bond he had paid to ensure that Paul would stay away. Paul saw his dilemma as being of sinister origin.
17But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18For we wanted to come to you--certainly I, Paul, did, again and again--but Satan stopped us. (1 Thess. 2:17-18)
From Thessalonica the three headed south to Berea. There they enjoyed one of their easiest stops in the sense that they were warmly received at the synagogue by the Berean Jews and God-fearers, who were "nobler" than the Thessalonians and famously studious when it came to the scriptures. Here, for the first time, they might have taught in peace. No, it wasn't to be. Once again a posse of angry Jews rolled into town, this time from Thessalonica. With Timothy and Silas staying behind in Berea, the brothers escorted Paul to Athens. Paul sent word for Timothy and Silas to join him as soon as possible.

Paul at Athens

Athens's glory days were behind her, but she was still regarded as a center of thinking and culture. As in the days of Pericles and Demosthenes, the Athenians gathered at the Agora (marketplace) to engage in public debate.

Paul, brought up with respect for the second commandment, was disgusted by this city full of idols.

At the Agora, Paul debated with followers of at least two of the great schools of philosophy that were flourishing, the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans were borderline ascetic, championing life's "simpler" pleasures and tranquility and freedom from fear through knowledge, friendship, and temperate living. The Epicureans are the presages of the scientific classes, and they denounced superstition and divine intervention and the afterlife. The Stoics were like Star Trek's Mr. Spock: free of the passions of love, hate, fear, pain, and pleasure. Some translations use the word "babbler" to depict how these philosophers described Paul and his arguments, but the actual word was Athenian slang: spermologos, which was used for a sort of pseudo-intellectual charlatan who retailed scraps of learning that he picked up during his travels.

Actually, Athens was a pseudo-intellectual paradise:
(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) (Acts 17:21)
The two predominant terms in Paul's discourse, Jesus and Anastasis (resurrection) were interpreted by the listeners as something along the lines of "healing" and "restoring", and so they thought that these were two new deities (foreign gods) that Paul was commending for their worship, and so they ridiculed him.

But Paul's teaching did intrigue enough of his listeners that he was invited to the Aeropagus. Once the city’s homicide court, by Roman times it was a sort of aristocratic court or council of religious and moral thought with control over public lectures.

For the text of Paul's speech, he used an inscription he found on an altar in the city: Agnosto Theo, "To the unknown God." Elsewhere it is written that once, during pestilence, the Athenians send for the Cretan wise man Epimenides (6th century B.C), who advised them to release some sheep on a hill, and to offer sacrifices at the spot where the sheep rested. As a result, "anonymous altars" were found in the region as late as the third century A.D. It was one of these altars that Paul saw. To the assembly at the Aeropagus, Paul said "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." He continued, telling them of the God who revealed himself in creation, the God of whom all men are offspring. No race could claim superiority, as the Athenians did. This message would have appealed to some, for it describes God in much the same terms that Epimenides used in describing Zeus:
They carved a tomb for thee, O holy and high one! The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies!'For thou dost not die, thou art ever alive and risen For in thee we live and move and have our being.
Paul even quotes this quatrain in his letter to Titus:
Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." (Titus 1:12)
The Cretans were "always liars" because they refused to retract their claim that Zeus's tomb was on Crete.

After connecting with (at least some) of his audience with a description of God, Paul went on to a distinctly Christian message, saying that while God had overlooked their ignorance, that had now ended, for all men have been called to repent, and that God had assigned the day when all would be judged. The man through whom the judgment will occur has been appointed, and "He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." Here, he alienated many of the philosophically oriented, for they viewed the body as a prison that, upon death, the soul was only too glad to cast aside. Immortality was acceptable (except for the Epicureans) but resurrection was utter nonsense. It was represented in their literature that the Greek god Apollo himself had said:
But when the earth has drunk up a man's blood, Once he is dead, there is no anastasis (resurrection)
The anastasis proclaimed by Paul was even more bizarre than they had thought—for it was the ultimate fate of all men. Some were polite and asked Paul to speak again, some scoffed at Paul's strange views, but a few did believe, even a member of the court of the Aeropagus, Dionysius who it believed eventually became Bishop of Athens.

Paul had been in Athens for just a few days when Silas and Timothy arrived. Paul sent them back to Macedonia, for he was interested in how the churches he started were faring, and in particular he was concerned about the believers in Thessalonica.

As for Paul, he went on to Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla, recently arrived from Rome. When Silas and Timothy returned with a good report from Macedonia, Paul had his strongest team yet. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half and built up a large community, which we discussed in Lesson 2.

"Diana" of the Ephesians

Since we have already discussed Paul's work at Corinth, we will move on to Paul's next stop: Ephesus. He arrived in the autumn of A.D. 52 and spent two and a half years there. To say that he left his mark on Asia Minor is an understatement. The Christianity established at Ephesus lasted until 1923 when the Greeks were expelled. While Paul spent most of this time in Ephesus, he sent his colleagues out to the cities of Asia. It is likely, for example, that the seven churches of Revelation were founded at this time. Also the "cold" church at Colossae and the "hot" church at Hierapolis (in addition to the lukewarm church at Laodicea.

It is likely that Christianity reached Ephesus ahead of Paul, but not under apostolic direction (for Paul had a policy of not building on another apostle's foundation.) Christianity probably arrived by "unofficial" word of mouth, not surprising considering the traffic that passed through Ephesus.

One evidence that Christianity had already arrived are encounters such as this:
Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. 4Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6)
Paul's work had an impact on a widespread practice in Ephesus: magic. So common was this practice, that the name used throughout the region for scrolls containing magic instruction was "Ephesian letters." Luke gives us an interesting account of the fate of many of these scrolls:
18Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. (Acts 19:18-19)
One interesting tidbit has been learned about the content of these scrolls: The ineffable name of the God of Israel was blasphemously employed in the most powerful of the magical spells. The arrival of a new name to invoke illegally is behind one of the more humorous accounts exorcism which took place in Ephesus:
13Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (Acts 19:13-16)
If it had been a practice at the time, Luke would have used scare quotes in this passage, i.e., "Jewish chief priest".

Mostly through his epistles, we can surmise that Paul faced many life threatening episodes while in Ephesus. Consider:
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Cor. 15:32)
By the syntax used, many believe this does not refer to a literal occurrence where Paul faced actual lions, but a metaphorical reference to some other life-threatening danger that he faced. At another point, things were so bad that Paul despaired of life itself:
…about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. (2 Cor. 1:8-10)
However, of all these perils, the danger most linked with Paul's stay in Ephesus is the riot of 55 A.D. started by the artisans who made their living supporting the widespread worship of Artemis of Ephesus.

The KJV and NKJV refer to her as Diana. The NIV, ESV, and NASB refer to the goddess as Artemis. Sorry KJV only types: you are wrong in this case. Diana was the name of a Roman goddess whom they identified with the Greek goddess Artemis, and for some reason the KJV made the decision to use the Latin names of Roman counterparts when discussing Greek gods.

Artemis (who was not the Artemis of Greek mythology) was worshiped in Ephesus with a special veneration. An earlier temple had burned down. Its replacement was so magnificent as to be named one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And the image of the goddess enshrined in her temple was not made by man, it fell from the heavens:
After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? (Acts 19:35)
It was, evidently, a meteorite, and there are other instances in ancient times of meteorites becoming objects of worship.

The silversmiths of Ephesus drew the bulk of their income creating miniature Artemis shrines, some of which had survived. With the work of Paul, the supremacy of Artemis began to wane, as former devotees turned to the Way. This was bad for the shrine business. The guild held a meeting under the leadership of Demetrius, in a theater that later excavation revealed to boast of a capacity of 25,000. The demonstration was ostensibly for the goddess Artemis, in reality it was against those who did not worship her: Jews and Christians. The fact that the Jews were not responsible for their loss of business was too fine of a distinction, even though the Jews tried to disassociate themselves from the Christians. It took a clever town clerk, fearful that rioting would bring in the Roman army, to quite and disperse the mob.

This would not be the last time that Christianity was blamed for the hard times of a local business. For example, sixty years later in Bithynia (north-west Asia Minor) the business that catered to the sacrificial system (animals, fodder) would complain—because Christianity had reduced the need for commodities related to animal sacrifice.

And the end of his stay, Paul headed to Jerusalem. After that he had his dream trip on his mind: Spain and Rome.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Church History Lesson 7 (The First Council)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)
Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The First Council

Samaria lies between the regions of Judea, in the south, and Galilee, to the north.

In the eight and seventh centuries B.C, when the elite of Samaria were deported by the Assyrian kings, they were replaced with colonists from other parts of the Assyrian empire. These imported peoples gave up their foreign worship and were assimilated into the Samaritan Israelites, but the Judeans always considered the Samaritans as half-breeds.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, in Luke 10:25-37, many (perhaps) incorrectly assume that the Samaritan was a practitioner of some other religion, but many Samaritans, while holding separate traditions and teachings, were still Jews.

When the Persian kings allowed the exiles to return, the Samaritan Israelites offered to cooperate with the returning Judeans, but their offer was rejected. This caused the Samaritans to build a temple at Mt. Gerizim to rival the temple in Jerusalem. Sometime around 130 B.C. the Hasmomean kings (recall the Maccabean revolt against the mad Macedonian king, Antiochus) conquered the Samaritans and destroyed their temple. Then came the Romans, and the Samaritans exchanged their Jewish yoke for a Roman one.

It was against this backdrop of this long-standing animosity that, after the persecution broke again against the Hellenists, Philip traveled to Samaria and proclaimed the gospel, and it was well received by the Samaritans who, like the "mainstream" Jews, had a Messianic hope, based mostly on
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. (Deut 18:15)
The Samaritans called this Moses-like prophet the "restorer", and Philip identified the restorer as Jesus, whom the Jewish religious leaders had turned over to the Romans for execution. One of those who followed Philip was a famous magician, known throughout Samaria, Simon Magnus.
9Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." 11They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. (Acts 8:9-13)
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles heard of Philip's success in Samaria and sent Peter and John to investigate. They had an interesting encounter with this Simon:
15When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." (Acts 8:15-23)
Tradition teaches that Simon did not repent, and went on to start Gnosticism, which we will be discussing. Simon's attempt to buy spirituality is the basis for the word simony.

This is about the time when Gentiles are being converted in Antioch, and Peter is visiting the home of the Gentile Cornelius (at the council of Jerusalem, Peter claimed to be the first to speak the gospels to the Gentiles.) When Peter returned, as we discussed, he convinced the skeptical apostles that this was God's intent.

Political Intrigue

Here, in A.D. 40, we see some remarkable political developments. Since the time of Augustus, a daily sacrifice had been made in the Jerusalem temple for the Roman emperor. Gaius, better known as Caligula, who had become emperor in A.D. 37, had declared himself to be a divinity and was no longer satisfied with this custom. When a delegation of Jews told Gaius that daily sacrifices and prayers of thanksgiving were offered for him in the temple, he responded: "That is all very well; you have offered sacrifice, but it was to someone else, even if it was on my behalf. What good is that? You have not offered sacrifice to me." In Jamnia, in western Judea, the Gentile population built an altar to Gaius which the Jews, who comprised the majority of citizens in the populace, promptly tore down. Gaius responded to the news of this insult by ordering that a statue of him be erected in the Jerusalem temple. He knew, of course, the Jews would never comply so he ordered Petronius, imperial legate of Syria, to march to Jerusalem with two legions to enforce the command. Petronius marched south, making it as far south as Ptolemais on the Galilean coast. There he was met by a delegation of Jews who told him that the nation would die before allowing such an abomination, but Petronius allowed as to how he had no choice but to follow orders. Still, Petronius hesitated, knowing the consequences of what he had been commanded to do.

In the meantime, King Herod Agrippa, whose kingdom included Galilee (but not Judea) made a plea to Gaius, who was a personal friend. Gaius relented, sending a message to Petronius that if the statue was already erected it must stay, but if it had not been erected no further action would be taken. At the same time, Petronius had already sent a letter to Gaius stating that there was no way to carry out the command short of exterminating the Jews. Even though Gaius had already rescinded, he was not happy with Petronius’s hesitation, and replied with a letter ordering Petronius to commit suicide because of his insubordination. However, before that letter arrived, Petronius received word that Gaius (Caligula) had been assassinated and replaced by Claudius.

Claudius, like Gaius, showed great favor to Herod Agrippa, adding Judea to his kingdom. Agrippa was intent on winning the goodwill of the Judean Jews. The Mishnah relates that when, as required Agrippa read the law of the kingdom:
14When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," 15be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. (Deut 17:14-15)

Agrippa wept, but the Jews called out: “do not weep, you are indeed our brother.”

To summarize, it is ten years since the persecution against the Hellenists. Peter has witnessed to Gentiles, and a Gentile church has been established in Antioch, so the Nazarenes are no longer supported by any school of Jewry. Judea has a new king, one who seems to have found and assiduously seeks to prove his Jewishness. All these work together to precipitate the first persecution against the Hebrew Christians. With the approval of the Judean community, Agrippa moves against the church. In Acts 12, (where Agrippa is referred to as King Herod) James the brother of John was put to death by the sword (beheaded) and Peter was arrested, only to escape miraculously.

The Ascendancy of James, the Brother of Jesus

One of the first signs of the rise of James the brother of Jesus is when Peter escapes Agrippa’s prison, heads to Mary’s (the mother of John-Mark) house, which seems to have been an early meeting place for the community. Upon arriving, we read:
12When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" 15"You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." 16But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place. (Acts 12:12-17)

If this is only suggestive, then confirmation occurs two years later, when Paul and Barnabas arrive, during the famine, with their gift from the church at Antioch. When Paul relates his encounter with the Jerusalem church leaders (in Gal. 2) he refers to the pillars of the church: James, Peter, and John –in that order.

So James had assumed a leadership role, and his wisdom was needed in just a couple of years as the church faced a major crisis.

The Council of Jerusalem

Even after the incorporation of Gentiles in the church, some Jews, especially those with past connections with the Pharisaic school, still believed that Christianity was another Jewish party. They are called "zealous of the law" in Acts 21:20.

Theses "law zealots" did not argue that Gentiles should be excluded. Peter's experience with Cornelius had rendered the mere question of whether Gentiles should be part of the new community as "asked and answered." But they still believed that the Gentile proselytes should be circumcised and required to obey the ceremonial law.

While they accepted the ramifications of Peter's experience with Cornelius, they missed the importance of Peter's vision in which Peter learned that no food should categorically be considered pure or unclean (Acts 10). Moreover, when Paul and Barnabas visited with their gift, they were accompanied by a young Greek convert named Titus (who may have been Luke's brother), and none of the leaders raised the issue of his being uncircumcised.

So the picture is this:
  • The church at Antioch had adopted the liberal view that neither circumcision nor adherence to the ceremonial law was required. The new churches in Asia minor resulting from Paul and Barnabas's missionary journey followed suit.

  • The apostles in Jerusalem, influenced by Peter's vision, accepted this, at least by all the evidence we have. The acceptance may not have been enthusiastic, it may have been resignation, but it was there.

  • There was a rank and file of Jews that accepted the Gentiles, but still pushed for the usual requirements for conversion.

This sort of uneasy alliance came to a head when a delegation of the Jerusalem church visited the church at Antioch and exceeded the terms of their commission. They told the believers there that they must be circumcised in order to be saved:
1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. (Acts 15:1-4)
The conflict went beyond the fundamental question of salvation. The Judiazers also considered the uncircumcised unclean, and would not have fellowship with them. This included the new meal instituted at the Lord's request to commemorate his death. It is easy to see the strain this must have placed on the church at Antioch.

Not only did these visitors introduce an awkward situation into the church at Antioch, they also precipitated one of the more amazing confrontations in the bible. Peter was in Antioch when the visitors arrived. Before their arrival, Peter ate freely with the Gentile Christians. After the arrival of the visitors, he withdrew from the Gentiles, no longer eating with them. This must have exacerbated the despair of the Gentiles in the Antioch church, especially when their beloved leader Barnabas, recently returned from his missionary journey with Paul, was inclined to join Peter.

Paul was clearheaded on this matter. He saw that requiring circumcision for salvation undermined the gospel, in fact it transformed it into a non-gospel.
11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15"We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' 16know that a man is not justified by observing 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 observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:11-16)
Peter appears to have understood Paul's rebuke, for this is the only time that his appeasement to the party of the circumcised is recorded.

The problem was not confined to Antioch. Judiazers went to the new churches on Asia Minor with the same undermining message: you must be circumcised and obey the ceremonial law, initiating what was probably Paul’s first epistle, to the Galatians.
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Gal 1:6-9)
Here those "people" preaching another gospel, people who Paul states should be eternally condemned, are members in good standing of the Jerusalem church!

Something had to give. The church in Jerusalem is now politically vulnerable. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles has publicly rebuked the leader of the original apostles who walked with Jesus during his ministry. Emissaries from the Jerusalem church are visiting the new churches and telling the Gentile converts that they have to do something else to ensure their salvation, and Paul has written that these visitors should be damned.

The internal tension had to be released. The Antioch church charged Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem, and in A.D. 49 the council at Jerusalem convened. The Judiazers had their say, but the contrary arguments won the day. Peter reminded the conferees how God had shown His pleasure at the conversion of Cornelius and his household by His bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas told of the work of the Spirit among the Gentiles they saw converted.

But perhaps the coup de grace was delivered by James, the brother of Jesus. As leader of the church at Jerusalem (by this time, not only was he the leader, but neither Peter nor John were often in residence) it is likely that the Judiazers counted on his backing. If so, they were disappointed, for not only did James back Paul and Peter's position, he quoted the Old Testament (Amos 9:11-12) as if to say, and you ought to know better:
13When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16" 'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things' 18that have been known for ages. 19"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:13-16)
The remaining question was one of practicality—how to deal with the fact that there were Jews and Gentiles worshiping together, and that the two groups had very different customs. The answer was the form of a letter written to the churches, and the tact taken by the letter is the basis for guidelines in the area of Christian liberty: the strong and mature should accommodate the less secure. In this first case, ironically, it was required of the "stronger" Gentiles to make concessions to the "weaker" Jews:
The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul-- 26men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. (Acts 15:23-29)
While all acknowledge that the church at Antioch was delighted with this outcome, some have said that Paul would have been less than pleased with the mild "requirements" of the letter. This is wrongheaded. Not only were they presented as proper living but not salvific, but they were the very archetype of many of Paul's suggestions for proper lifestyle and compromise. He himself would later write that those who were strong but emancipated should curb their liberty in eating habit should it be a stumbling block to less mature believers:
1Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But the man who loves God is known by God. 4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. 7But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Cor. 8:1-9)
What Paul wrote to the Corinthians mirrored what the Jerusalem council wrote to Antioch.

The council at Jerusalem was a major success. It set to rest the false gospel of the Judiazers and gave the church the unity it needed to continue to grow through evangelizing to the Gentiles.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Church History Lesson 6 (The Church at Antioch)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)
Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The Church at Antioch

Let us recap. The time is about ten years after the formation of the church at Jerusalem. Paul is in his native Tarsus, living the period of his evangelical life about which we know the least. He is being prepared, it would seem, for his mission to the Gentiles.

Hellenist Jewish Christians (Nazarenes), against whom there was much discrimination, had scattered as a result of the persecution following the stoning of on of their leaders, Stephen.

The church in Jerusalem was still exclusively Jewish, i.e., no Gentiles. For one inclined to see God's sovereignty at work, we have arrived here because:

The apostles, who were Hebrews, not Hellenists, stayed "Jewish". This, along with their belief in resurrection, their pious lifestyle, and their adherence to the Sabbath and the temple appointments, gained them favor with at least some from the party of the Pharisees, including Gamaliel. This was enough of an impediment for the Sadducees; without the support of the Pharisees they didn't have the clout to persecute the Hebrews.

However, since nobody much liked the Hellenists, there were persecuted and many fled Jerusalem and began preaching the gospel in outlying areas, including, in a twist that would have been condemned by the Jerusalem church, to Gentiles.

At about this time, Peter was in Joppa, when a vision told him to go with some men to Caesarea, where the apostle’s inhibition against witnessing to the Gentiles was breached, in the home of Cornelius the Centurion.

Upon returning to Jerusalem, Peter discovered that the church had heard about what had happened, and was not at all happy about it. But after Peter explained his vision, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles, they had no further objections.

The Nazarenes were ready for the next step. It would be a dangerous one, because now the uncircumcised were welcome, and the myth that they were but an odd yet more-or-less orthodox sect of Judaism was shattered. Now they would have no friends in the Sanhedrin.

Antioch in Syria

In the north of Syria lay the city of Antioch. Founded in 300 B.C. by one of Alexander the Great's generals, it was annexed into the Roman Empire in 64 B.C, declared a free city, and named the capital of the Syrian province.

When the persecuted Hellenists fled Jerusalem, many headed to the centers of Hellenistic Jewry in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They too, at first, preached only to fellow Jews. But, away from Jerusalem, the pressure on them to be exclusively Jewish was less. At Antioch, some enterprising souls began preaching to the Greeks:
20Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks (Gentiles) also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:20-21)

News of this proselytizing reached Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch to investigate. If Peter had not yet had his vision and encounter with the household of Cornelius, Barnabas would probably have been armed with an order to cease and desist. Instead, he went on a fact finding mission and to see if he could help.

Upon arriving, Barnabas was delighted with what he saw, and believed it was the work of Lord. He encouraged his countrymen from Cyprus and the others to continue reaching out to the Gentiles. Things had progressed so rapidly that Barnabas felt that another man of stature was needed to help him organize and to teach. He knew just the man for the job: Paul, who had been in Tarsus for some years, and who probably had some experience there witnessing to Gentiles.

Paul returned with Barnabas to Antioch and spent about a year building up the church there. It is in Syrian Antioch where others began calling the believers Christians. This never could have happened in Jerusalem, where they were the Nazarenes, for the word Christ means Messiah, and for other Jews to call the believers the "Messiah followers", would have been unthinkable because of its tacit acknowledgment that Jesus was the Messiah. But to the Gentiles, Christ was a sort of name, so they had no problem with the label Christian.

About this time, a physician by the name of Luke joined the church at Antioch. He would later write a two volume history of Christianity called Luke to Theophilus, Parts I and II. At the end of the first century, the first volume became the gospel that bears his name, and the second became the book of Acts.

Another leader of the church at Antioch was Simeon called Niger (Acts 13:1), whom some believe is none other the Simon the Cyrenean who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross. (Mark 15:21).

In the early days, the church had a number of prophets who spoke divine utterances. Later, this sort of activity disappeared. One such prophet in Antioch was Agabus of Jerusalem, who declared that there would be a great famine:
27During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul [Paul]. (Acts 11:27-29)

The famine did indeed occur, as Josephus tell us that in about A.D. 46 the Jewish Queen mother of the kingdom of Adiabene bought foodstuffs abroad to relieve the hunger in Palestine:
But as to Helena, the king's mother, when she saw [that her son was a happy man], and admired among all men, and even among foreigners, by the means of God's providence over him, she had a mind to go to the city of Jerusalem, in order to worship at that temple … and to offer her thank-offerings there. So she desired her son to give her leave to go thither; upon which he gave his consent … and gave her a great deal of money, and she went down to the city Jerusalem, her son conducting her on her journey a great way. Now her coming was of very great advantage to the people of Jerusalem; for whereas a famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food withal, queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of corn, and others of them to Cyprus, to bring a cargo of dried figs. (Josephus, Antiquities, XX 2:5)
As a result of Agabus's prophecy, a collection was made for the Palestinian Christians, and Paul and Barnabas were sent to deliver the gift to the church in Jerusalem. In meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem, Peter, John, and James the brother of Jesus, it was agreed, and sealed by a handshake, that Barnabas and Paul had been set aside by God to witness to the Gentiles, while the primary job of the Jerusalem church was to evangelize Jews. (Paul's account is not in the book of Acts, but in Gal. 2.)
James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal 2:9-10)
There are some who believe that the Jerusalem church leader's instruction to "remember the poor" meant that the Gentile Christians should continue to pay a tribute to the Jerusalem church, just like the temple received a tribute from Jews throughout the world. Paul, it would appear, never understood to be a tacit regulation.

At the same time, a persecution ensued against the Hebrew Christians, which scripture tells us pleased the Jews:
1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. (Acts 12:1-3)
Here is a clear sign of the cost of embracing the Gentiles: the church at Jerusalem lost its support among all Jews—now it was viewed, at least by many more than before, as an apostate abomination.

After completing their goals, delivering a gift to the Jerusalem church and having their mission to the Gentiles blessed, they returned with Barnabas's cousin, John-Mark. In a sense Barnabas and Paul are now on standby, but they didn't have to wait long, for one day in Antioch the Holy Spirit spoke through another prophet: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." The two men were released of their local responsibilities, so that they could carry out their global mission.

Paul's First Missionary Journey

Paul and Barnabas were, in effect, ambassadors-at-large with portfolio. They had the blessings of both the leaders in Jerusalem and their home church at Antioch. Off they went, along with John-Mark.

Their first stop would be Cyprus, Barnabas's home.

They had a plan. They should concentrate on cities along the great highways of the Roman Empire, for from there it could spread quickly to the surrounding areas. But where could they find the Gentiles who would listen? Here we see a stroke of genius: for although they are missionaries (and in Paul's case an apostle) to the Gentiles, they should target synagogues. Why? Because the low hanging fruit were the "Godfearers", (uncircumcised) semi-converts to Judaism who went to the synagogues to be taught—accepting Judais'’s monotheism but not its rites and ceremonial law. And, if along the way, Jews were also converted, then all the better. For the most part, the Jews would reject the message, while the Godfearers would be receptive.

The three passed across Cyprus, east to west. On the west coast capital of Paphos, they had an amazing success with the proconsul Lucius Sergius Paullus, at the expense of his false-prophet attendant Bar-Jesus, who was blinded for his apostasy:
8But [Bar-Jesus] opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at [him] and said, 10"You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun." 12Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. (Acts 13:8-12)
From Paphos the three set sail for Perga in Asia Minor. From this point on, it is clear that Barnabas and Paul are no longer equals: Paul is in charge. John-Mark left them at this point, returning to Jerusalem. Some have speculated it may be due to a perceived slight of his older cousin. Paul was certainly disappointed with John-Mark, viewing his departure as a desertion, a view that would eventually cause a rift in his friendship with Barnabas. Ultimately, however, there was reconciliation.

Paul and Barnabas traveled to a different Antioch, Pisidian Antioch, a Roman colony on one of the great Romans roads through Asia Minor—just the kind of place they planned about. In Pisidian Antioch they, again following their plan, visited the synagogue and, after the scriptures were read, they were invited to speak. Luke records what might have been Paul's standard stump speech.

Starting with the Exodus, Paul summarized Jewish history up through King David. Then he announced that, as God had promised, a Savior had arisen from the line of David, the Lord Jesus. His crucifixion, resurrection, and subsequent appearances confirmed Him as the one foretold, and through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed and salvation offered.

This message was eagerly received by the Gentile Godfearers, who invited Paul and Barnabas to return the following Sabbath. This they did, but the numbers of Gentiles they attracted the following week got them into trouble:
42As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. (Acts 13:42-45)
Paul and Barnabas respond forcefully to the Jews, saying in effect that while in their view the gospel was first for the Jew and then for the Gentile, as soon as the Jews rejected it then they would only preach to the Gentiles (in a given region.) This amazed the Gentile Godfearers even more: in their minds Paul and Barnabas treated them as first-class citizens:
46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
48When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-48) (Calvinistic highlighting added.
The Christians formed a church, distinct from the synagogue, and then the Jews initiated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, chasing them from the region. So we see the establishment of a pattern:
  • Visit a city on a main highway
  • Go first to the synagogue and proclaim that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies
  • Receive warm reception from the Godfearers
  • Be rejected by the Jews
  • Form a church comprised of the Godfearers and other converts, separate from the synagogue
  • Get chased out of town by the Jews, who were frustrated that Paul had "stolen their sheep", the Godfearers, men whom they hoped would sometime be circumcised and then become full-fledged Jews.

Leaving Pisidian Antioch, they went next Iconium. Same story, although there it seems that they had a little more success with the Jews. Still, it ended just as in Pisidian Antioch. From there it was to the region of Lycaonia, and the cities of Lystra and Derbe.

In Lystra, another Roman colony, we see something new: Paul healing a lame man, which made great impression on the indigenous, non-Romans, leading to one of the more bizarre experiences of their journey:
8In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. (Acts 14:8-13)
Paul had caused a great revival; unfortunately it was in a false religion. In mythology, the district had once been visited by two Greek deities, Zeus and Hermes. Barnabas was identified as Zeus the king of the immortals, and Paul, since he most of the talking, as Hermes the chief herald. Amongst themselves, in their own language, they discussed all this and decided that the two must be shown great honor. (In part, no doubt, because the elderly couple who, unaware, showed hospitality to Zeus and Hermes were rewarded with great riches.)

Paul and Barnabas did not at first understand what was happening, for neither spoke the language. Perhaps they saw the joy on the faces of the people and were encouraged. But when they discovered the truth, and preparations were made for sacrifices, they were mortified:
14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15"Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." 18Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:14-18)
After calming the mob, just when they must have thought it was safe, things went from bad to worse. For it turned out a posse from their previous two stops was in hot pursuit:
19Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20)
Paul went, in just a moment, from being proclaimed a deity to being nearly lynched.

The two then went to Derbe, which sat at the eastern frontier of the Roman province. There they had much better success, winning a large number of disciples.

Then they backtracked, through Lystra (which personally I would have avoided), Iconium and Antioch. Along the way they worked to strengthen the churches they had established, appointing elders and encouraging them to continue in the faith and endure the hardships. Finally, after some additional stops on the way back, they returned to Syrian Antioch, their home church, and reported on their success.