Thursday, September 22, 2016

The New Community, Part 3

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2

The Hellenists

Although there were no Gentiles at first, there was more than just Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews. There were the “Hellenists”. Hellenists were Jews whose roots were outside Palestine as a result of the diaspora (the dispersion of Jews from Palestine, beginning with the Babylonian captivity. So vast was this scattering that in the first century there were a dozen synagogues in Rome.)1 Hellenists adopted Greek language and culture, which put them at odds with the Palestinian Jews.
Often overlooked is the critical role played by the Hellenists in spreading the gospel beyond Jerusalem. And the very man who persecutes them, and whom they then seek to kill, takes up their cause as his life’s work.

The first need for administration and the first internal problem in the church is traceable to the tension between “Hebrews” and Hellinists.

One early logistical problem was the distribution of food to the poor. Problems arose:

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. (Acts 6:1)

The twelve apostles (Judas having been replaced by Matthias) appointed seven deacons to attend to lower-level duties. Probably all were Hellenists (all had Greek names, see Acts 6:5), and at least one, Nicolas of Antioch was not even a Jew. (He was, however, a proselyte, meaning he had previously converted to Judaism, was circumcised, and then became a Nazarene—as contrasted with the as yet nonexistent Gentile converts, who did not convert to Judaism but directly to Christianity.) No doubt the selection of the seven was made in part to placate the Hellenists.

Two of the seven, Stephen and Philip, surpassed expectations and became great teachers. In his amazing speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), prior to being martyred, Stephen said:

But it was Solomon who built the house for him. "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. (Acts 7:47-48)

This bold swipe at the temple, which enraged the Sanhedrin, may have been impossible for any of the Hebrews to make.  Some charges against Stephen, although brought by false witnesses, may have accurately reflected his teachings:

They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." (Acts 6:13-14)

Consider the amazing encounter of Paul, in Corinth,  with Priscilla and Aquila. (Acts 18)


Jump to Part 4

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