Faith of the Apostles 10

CHAPTER TEN

Paradise Lost

Jesus never left Judaism. Never did he forsake the Law, nor did he fail to remind others of it and demand that they follow it. His teachings fell within that of the Rabbinical schools of his day, and his beliefs stood firmly within the doctrine of the orthodox. We have no reason to believe that the Apostles would fail to follow his example.

Whether they were ready or not, Jesus’ ministry had ended and he was gone. They alone were witness to his work, and they were left alone to carry it on. Within the context of what we know as, The Jerusalem Church, eleven men remained to preach the good news.

But where was their master? The only event left to examine, and that very briefly, is the ascension. Very little of this purely spiritual event is attested to in the New Testament, and we are forced to view the works of theologians who offer a confusing mixture of statements on the subject.

If, the ascension is a product of the churches doctrine, and is not originally biblical, the Gospels themselves will reveal the truth to us. We have strong evidence that in the first century church, there was no ascension tradition, as there was no doctrine concerning a virgin birth, a ‘holy trinity’, and a Christmas birth narrative.

Acts 1:2 presents another dilemma filled theological question, this time concerning Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

“The text of the opening sentence of Acts circulated in several different forms in the early church. The ordinary text, witnessed by all extant ancient Greek manuscripts with the exception of codex Bezae, can be rendered, with the RSV, as follows:

“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen.”

“Another form of Western text, which does not involve the difficulties exhibited by the Bezan text, is preserved in several old Latin witnesses, particularly in codex Gigas and in the quotations of Augustine and Vigilius… Blass, followed by Clark and, in most respects, by Ropes, reconstructed the following Greek text.” “(In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,) on the day when he chose the Apostles through the Holy Spirit and commanded them to proclaim the Gospel.”

In criticism over the deletion, or, addition of the ascension statement, Metzger makes the following comment.

Metzger is quick to point out that (1) there is no mention of the ascension, (2) the ‘day’ which is specified is the occasion during Jesus’ public ministry when he chose the Apostles.

Ropes and Clark, whose text-critical views usually differ from each other, agree in this case that this form of the Western text must be regarded as original, and the Alexandrian as corrupt.

However intellectuals may debate over the ‘fact’ of the ascension, this is an act that faith alone can accept or deny. No human pen can ever form an argument that will decide the issue one way or another. Metzger is quick to point out the following.

“If, however, for the sake of the argument it be assumed that a Greek text once existed which lacked reference to the ascension, its origin can be explained on the basis of either doctrinal or stylistic reasons.”

If one accepts traditions’ dictates, then the ascension is vital to their faith. If one accepts the ‘saved’ Jesus, then the ‘resurrection’ becomes his return to the table of his Apostles and there is no immediate ascension. In speaking for the latter, a Gospel story that thousands of martyrs have given their lives to protect, the ascension still remains the accepted doctrine of all those who believe that Jesus is the light, the life, and the way.

One must also understand that for hundreds of millions of the faithful, the ascension is totally unnecessary in knowing that Jesus is just that, the beacon leading to the path of redemption.

“Call to mind when the angels said to Mary: Allah through his word, gives thee glad tidings of a son named Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the next, and of those who are granted nearness to Allah.”

“Indeed, the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was but a Messenger of Allah…”

In the end, Jesus is lifted up into heaven by God. It is expressed in a manner in which only the Holy Qur’an could assert the beauty of it.

“…and We made the son of Mary and his mother a Sign, and gave them shelter on a pleasant plateau with springs of running water.”

The ascension is accomplished even though the time and circumstances are not as doctrine would have them. Though the manner of our understanding may seem different due to our cultures and our histories, we accomplish the same confession.

Only now does the process of future events begin to unfold. One had indeed come into the world who would change the course of the church from the faith of the apostles to the intellectualism and mysticism of the Hellenistic world. Our understanding of this period in biblical history must begin with the Jerusalem Church, the body of faith that lay with Jesus’ chosen disciples.

“The early part of his (Paul’s) apostolic mission was marked by serious and persistent opposition from a section of Jewish Christians… To these “Judiazers” Christianity appeared as an extension of Judaism. The church had taken over the Old Testament as a Christian sacred book. These men no doubt regulated their attitude toward the Jewish moral and ceremonial law by the teaching and example of Jesus. “He did not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

“The first believers were not neophytes in religion. Belonging, many of them, to the ‘pious of the land’, they were not only acquainted with synagogal forms, but had precedents for the organization of their life in various groups of dedicated people within Judaism, who had drawn up rules for their life together.”

Being Jews, the Apostles continued to be fervent for the law, observed the normal holidays and festivals of Judaism, which included Pentecost, and never considered themselves anything other than Jews. Their difference lay in the knowledge that Jesus was Messiah, and to this knowledge they constantly pointed.

“They took no interest in any mission to Samaritans or Gentiles, since they considered that the Messiah was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'”

And they believed in an instantaneous judgment would take place when Jesus returned.

“Similarly, although the first day of the week, Sunday, soon came to be celebrated as the Lord’s Day, this was not, at first, in any opposition to the Sabbath, which continued to be observed along with it.”

“Nothing was required of the orthodox Jew but to conform to the ordinances of the law, and in matters of opinion he was left free… Whatever might be their beliefs, they were faithful in their observance of the law, and the religious authorities could take no measures against them… Their views might be erroneous but it was clear that in religious practice they did nothing contrary to the law.”

“The position was changed when the Hellenists in growing numbers attached themselves to the church.”

On the other hand, the Hellenists, especially Stephen, were insistent that the role of Judaism was over and that the religion was dead. Such preaching within the Jewish community could do nothing but cause serious trouble.

“To Stephen Israel had been apostate throughout her history; her rejection of Jesus is merely the culmination of a series of misdeeds. Christianity must break with Judaism because the two are incompatible.”

Stephen left the community with no choice. The revolutionary temper of his words and actions brought down a torrent of reprisal, and resulted with his death. With this act, the Hellenists were forced to leave Jerusalem under the burden of persecution, but this did not effect Peter and the Apostles, those of the Judo-Christian assemblage.

“The persecution that broke out probably touched the Hellenists only. Acts merely states that the apostles remained in the city, and they are unlikely to have remained there unless there were other Christians around them. And had the persecution been general they themselves would hardly have escaped it.”

The break seems to have come early, without Paul’s help. And from Jerusalem, the Hellenistic religion that was to be called, Christianity, traveled on to Antioch. It is very probable that when Paul began his journeys, he found an established Christian community already there, a fellowship which was deeply involved with the gentiles.

“The church had been founded by fugitives from the stoning of Stephen. At first they preached only to Jews, but then came men from Cyprus and Cyrene preaching to the Greeks also. Soon the church made such an impact that “in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.”

“But, within the city itself, the departure of the Hellenists opened the way for the increasing Jewish ness of the Church… Through losses and through its gains the entrenchment of the Church in Jerusalem within Judaism deepened.”

This ‘calm’ period seems to have lasted for some eleven to twelve years before the growing tension between Jew and Gentile resulted in the death of James, the son of Zebedee, and the imprisonment of Peter in 44 A.D. At that point it is believed that James, Jesus’ brother became the head of the Church, but very little is known about the Jerusalem Church between 44 and 70 A.D.

Here, a word of caution is advised. If the Bible lacks one great quality, it is in properly advising us as to the passage of time. Events would appear to take place one right after the other, without deference to the intervals of time that lapsed between them. Even when spans of time are discussed, they are confusing at best.

After the death of Stephen, little is known of Saul of Tarsus. In fact, his conversion experience is widely debated, for it is understood that it did not take place immediately but anywhere from two to ten years after Jesus’ crucifixion.

In fact, it is not for some twenty to thirty years before Paul actually begins his missionary journeys. By that point in time, many Christian communities had been established throughout the area, including Rome.

“His life for thirteen or fourteen years after his conversion must be a matter of conjecture. After his conversion he went off alone to Arabia (the Nabataen kingdom). That he preached to the gentiles, we cannot know… Not til three years after his conversion did he go up to Jerusalem to see Cephas… After this first visit Paul retired to Tarsus, and for fourteen years worked in Cilicia and Syria, on his native hearth as it were (Ac. 9:30; Gal. 1:21, 2:1). Of these years we know nothing.”

“…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.”

“Paul does not say whether he is counting the three years from his conversion or from his return from Damascus. Since it was customary to reckon parts of years as full years, the whole period may be somewhat less.”

What is interesting about this period of time is that Paul ends up in trouble with Aretas IV, king of the Nabataens. The king actually posted a guard at the city gates of Damascus to have him arrested. Apparently, Paul incurred everyone’s wrath no matter where he went. Such arrogance, fostered by an enormous ego, can certainly be recognized by his ‘self-acclaimed’ apostleship.

“Since Paul was never in any place very long before getting into trouble with the authorities, it is likely that his stay in Arabia was short.”

“Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”

Once again, we are faced with contradictions between this writing and the documents attributed to Luke.

“Acts tells the story so differently that no attempt to reconcile the two accounts has been successful (Acts 9:28-30; 11:19-26…) Paul does not say where he went in Syria, nor how the fourteen years between the visit to Jerusalem mentioned in vs. 18 and that of 2:1 were divided between Syria and Cilicia…”

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas…” From this point on, whatever had transpired before, Paul departs from the faith of the Apostles and strikes out on a mission of his own.

His Apostleship was self-proclaimed, not of an original choosing by the Lord.

“And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles….”

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”

Paul is never chosen by the living Jesus, or by those that he appointed. Yet, Saul of Tarsus claims for himself, that very title.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…”

In Romans 11:13, Paul announces that he is, “…an apostle to the gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:1, sees him referring to himself again as an apostle, however, he is forced to defend this proclamation in other writings.

“Am, I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”

“Paul, an apostle- not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…”

In the end, he is forced to fall back on an unseen, spiritual selection rather than an appointment through those who were originally chosen, or the living Jesus. But the author of the following scripture speaks for himself in regard to those who are apostles in fact and in deed. Obviously the evangelist had no consideration for Paul.

“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

With the argument of circumcision evoked because of his fellowship and communion with the gentiles, Paul departs from the Jerusalem Church, his fellow Jews, and the Law of Moses. Paul asserts that all men are saved by grace alone, and that the Law was inconsequential in seeking salvation.

“To preserve his gospel and achieve the unity of the church, he had to demolish the barriers between Jew and Gentile and get the Jewish Christians to see and admit that they too were being saved by grace alone.”

It was never Jesus’ intention nor was it ever his mission to do away with the Law. We have proof of this from his own mouth. Yet Paul, without witness, claims an extraordinary vision that causes his conversion; claims for himself an apostleship equal to, if not exceeding, that of the original apostles who were chosen by Jesus; and claims that a new ‘law’ and a new concept of Jesus’ ministry and mission are now to be broadcast to the world even though it contradicts everything we know of Jesus’ calling and God’s purpose in him.

“To insist on circumcision and the Law was a denial of the nature of the Church as a community founded in the grace of God towards the ungodly… But on the issue that the Law was necessary to salvation he could not compromise.”

To this mind then, Paul was insinuating that man was saved by grace alone. Yet Jesus taught that every man, in that last day, would be judged for their actions. What we do under the Law is specifically tied to our salvation, but not with Paul.

“…yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…”

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…”

“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”

It is apparent that Paul was absolute on this theology, a dogma that completely denied Jewish thought and teaching. It would have denied the instruction of Gamaliel and contradicted the teachings and practice of Jesus.

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, til heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

“…and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith.”

“But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void.”

In the end of it all, I give you a theology of law that saves. If it does not, then all things are worthy of condemnation. Since Christianity today insists that even the Holy Scriptures as revealed to Judaism speak of Jesus, let us openly pursue that reference in denial of Paul’s Hellenistic theology.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. ‘”

“Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Not only does the evangelist of John contradict his own opening statement as to Jesus’ sonship, here indicating the he is the, “…son of Joseph…”, but he insists that it is the law through which Jesus comes to us. Jesus himself indicates that the law and the prophets give us a knowledge of him.

Therefore I remark that if the law gives us a knowledge and understanding of the Christ, then how can the law be denied? To deny the law is to deny him. And if he comes to us through the law, who is to be our salvation, then how can the law be corrupt? For if the law is corrupt, so is Messiah, and there is no redemption.

In truth, the way of our salvation is through the law, and in the words of scripture which men consider ‘holy’, those things on which we will be judged are of the law. Does not James, Jesus’ brother, agree with this logic?

“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith… Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?… You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone… For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; and from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, and by what they had done… Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.”

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to pay every one for what he has done.”

Everywhere, historians and Christian theologians, evangelists, indicate to us that the most necessary of all evils was that Jewish and gentile Christianity eventually had to separate one from the other. Many reasons can be offered to explain the eventual transition between the Jerusalem Church, and the Gentile Church. Basically those who headed the Jewish religion saw fit to use every peaceful means at their disposal to keep other Jews from joining the Judaizers.

“The Rabbis who gathered at Jamnia after A.D. 70, and who assumed the leadership of Jewry, took active steps to prevent the inroads of Christianity.

Eventually, the Judiazers and the Hellenists went their separate ways, one to leave the world the very essence of Jesus’ life and teachings, the other to lead the world in a path that belies the very principals of the man they worship. Slowly, the Palestinian Church faded away as Paul’s mission spread through the centuries into, ‘all the world’.

There were the Jewish Christians who came to be known as the Nazareans, “…whom we find as late as the fourth century flourishing in the neighborhood of Beroea.”

But for all intents and purposes, the faith of the apostles, as carried on in a Jewish Christian community, fades away into obscurity. With it went the last of those who knew the Jesus of history, those who stood breath-to-breath with the living Nazarene and delighted in the day of his coming. And if it be pleasing, I would close this treatise with the words of one far more worthy than myself, one who captured the essence of Jesus for all mankind.

“Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

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