Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The New Community, Part 5

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 New Community, Part 3
The New Community, Part 4

Saul of Tarsus

In the late twenties AD, Gamaliel, the  revered Pharisee, accepted a young student from Tarsus, in modern day Turkey, named Saul. He came from a distinguished Jewish family, and Saul's father was a Roman citizen, an honor which he inherited and valued.
Interestingly, Saul’s family did not consider themselves to be Hellenists, as you might expect, Tarsus being a great Greek city at that time, but Hebrews, which is why He went by the Hebrew name Saul. Paul affirms this in his own writing, when speaking of himself he writes "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee" (Phil 3:5).
He also shows great civic pride in his hometown, writing:

Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people." (Acts 21:39)

Saul comes into his own around A.D. 30-33, as the Nazarene movement is flourishing. In the debate over the danger of the Christians, Saul crosses party lines, agreeing with the Sadducees, rather than his Pharisaical mentor, Gamaliel. It was precisely because the Pharisees were somewhat taken by the Nazarenes that concerned Saul. Indeed, not just uneducated Galileans (the learned held little respect of the Galileans, see John 7:52) were being duped, quite a few of his own party had joined the movement.
Saul did not see the Nazarenes as an amusing yet harmless fringe group, but as a blasphemous cult who claimed the Messiah had died a death designated for the accursed, not the favored by God. He (correctly) worried that this movement would ultimate split Judaism, and so with passion he sought to destroy it.

It is interesting that Saul used because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse (Deut. 21:23) to point out the blasphemy of the Nazarenes. It wasn’t until he himself joined the movement that Paul saw the incredible redemptive significance of the passage, later using it like this:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13)

Amazing! In computer software terms, the same line of code that was viewed as a bug by Saul was viewed as a feature by Paul.

Saul believed (again, correctly) that the two religions were incompatible. An opportunity for action arose when he encountered a stout member of the Nazarenes who, ironically, agreed him. Not one the apostles; they surely viewed “the Way” as the next stage of Judaism, and continued with their temple worship. It was the Hellenist Stephen, who saw Jesus “not only” as the risen savior, but also as the terminus for the existing age. The temple and its system would be replaced. Judaism wasn’t being upgraded, it was being supplanted.
Stephen epitomized what concerned Saul: a radical, and, far from an uneducated Galilean bumpkin, he was an eloquent and persuasive Hellenist. He presided at Stephen’s execution, showing his approval by guarding the clothes of the witnesses as they stoned the saint (Acts 7:57).


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