Sunday, September 18, 2016

The New Community, Part 1

The New Community

The Church up to ~45 AD

Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

After the resurrection, the new community of Jesus’ followers was viewed as a new party within Judaism. The party was known as the Nazarenes, which is still the ordinary name for "Christians" in Hebrew.

The name "Nazarenes" is probably due to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, in Galilee, but that’s not certain. The root of the word means to observe, and some believe the early community may have been know as the observers.

The Nazarenes were not a mainstream party, like the Sadducees who dominated the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), or the Pharisees.

They were a fringe party. In some ways like the Zealots, who also sought the kingdom of God, although the means were very different: The Zealots looked for a violent overthrow of Rome, while the Nazarenes believed that the return of Christ would inaugurate the kingdom.

In ways they resembled the Essenes; both placed great value on personal purity (the Essenes , extreme separatists, a subgroup of which is probably responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, even eschewed temple sacrifice for fear of being defiled) and both practiced, in the early days, a form of communism.

There were, however, substantive differences. The Essenes were extremely diligent about the Sabbath and ceremonial adherence. The also rose daily to practice what appears to some to be borderline idolatrous worship of the sun, rather than the Son. They also practiced soothsaying and magic.

There was some intersection between the Nazarenes and the Zealots. One apostle was a Zealot. And Barabbas, whom the mob before Pilate chose for release over Jesus, was probably a Zealot, part of a failed insurrection at the time of the crucifixion.

A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.  (Mark 15:7)

Although Nazarenes was the party name, the early believers called their movement "the Way", and referred to themselves as saints, brothers, and the poor. When Paul writes:

They only asked us to remember the poor-- the very thing I also was eager to do.  (Gal. 2:10)

"The poor" probably refers to the entire nascent community of believers, not (literally) the financially strapped, although no doubt the early community was heavily biased toward the destitute.

The Sadducees tried, in vain, to suppress the Nazarenes.

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  (Acts 5:17-18)

Yet among some the Pharisees, even some in the Sanhedrin, there developed a tolerance toward the Nazarenes, and some of their number (including Paul) were even destined to join the movement. After all, the Nazarenes, like the Pharisees, tried to obey the law as best they could, and like the Pharisees, but unlike the Sadducees, they believed in bodily resurrection.

True, from the point of view of the Pharisees, they were misguided in their insistence that Jesus fulfilled the biblical prophesies and had himself been resurrected, but the Nazarenes (they assumed) were mostly harmless—quite unlike the Zealots would could bring the wrath of Rome upon the entire citizenry.


Jump to Part 2

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