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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God's Law (Part 11)

Contrary to what many of the most ardent Legalists teach, the available evidence suggests that Sabbath observance was the practice of a small minority of the Christian community by the close of the First Century. In fact, it is very probable that the vast majority of Gentile Christians continued to meet together on the day that most of them were accustomed to meeting together for worship: Sunday. The author of the book of Acts wrote: "And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." (Acts 20:6-7) Notice also Paul's instructions to the Corinthian church concerning the collection of an offering for the saints in Jerusalem: "Now regarding your question about the money being collected for God's people in Jerusalem. You should follow the same procedure I gave to the churches in Galatia. On the first day of each week, you should put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don't wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once." (I Corinthians 16:1-2, NLT) Did you catch that? This was something that applied to many Gentile churches. Why do a collection on the first day of the week if everyone wasn't gathered together in one place? Do you think that someone went from door to door to collect the offering?

The strongest evidence in the New Testament canon that Sabbath observance was not the practice of most Christians comes from the book of Hebrews. In the third chapter, the author points out that the Promised Land was regarded as a type of rest in the Old Testament. He also reminds his readers that most of the Israelites of the exodus generation were not allowed to enter that rest (same chapter). Continuing, we read: "God's promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it...For only we who believe can enter his rest...We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: 'On the seventh day God rested from all his work'...Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them (the Israelites) this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a Sabbath rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God's rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall." (Hebrews 4:1-11) This passage strongly implies that the New Testament Sabbath is a symbolic thing for Christians - not a literal day or place as in the Old Testament.

Remember too, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 CE. Following those events, there was a huge incentive for Christians not to be associated with anything Jewish (and following the tenets of the Mosaic Law would certainly have done just that). Indeed, the writings of the men who followed the apostles in the Second Century support this interpretation of history.

In his letter to the Magnesian Christians, Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0105.htm) Likewise, in his epistle to the Christians at Philadelphia, he wrote: "But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchers of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm) Ignatius would have written these letters late in the First Century or early in the Second Century - after the Roman suppression of the Jewish Rebellion.

Scholars estimate that The Didache was written around 100 CE. We read in that document: "But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm) Once again, notice that both the letters of Ignatius and The Didache were written in the period immediately following the era of Christ's apostles.

In his First Apology, Justin Martyr described a Christian worship service in this manner: "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm) This document was written about the middle of the Second Century. Notice that the observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship is a given less than one hundred years after Paul concluded his ministry!

Thus we can see that the documentary evidence supports the thesis that the majority of the Gentiles never adopted the precepts of the Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, the question remains: Did this resolve the question of Christian responsibility relative to God's Law? All one has to do is look around the modern Christian community to see that the answer to that question is an emphatic NO. The debate between the Antinomians and Legalists continues to the present day.

Nevertheless, I believe that the evidence that we have reviewed as a part of this series demonstrates the following: 1) Christ taught that the Jews had embellished, twisted and ignored some elements of the Mosaic Law, 2) Christ completely fulfilled the expectations of the Mosaic Law on our behalf, 3) Christ taught that God's Law could be distilled into two basic components: Love of God and Love of Neighbor, 4) Christ taught that Christians have an obligation to adhere to the spirit of the Law. In this respect, I think the Apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote: "But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit." (Romans 7:6)

In advocating this thesis regarding Christian responsibility toward God's Law, I realize that I will anger many people on both sides of this age old debate. I will probably be labeled by both sides - depending on their perspective of the question. Nevertheless, I think that both the Scriptural and historical evidence support this view of the subject. What do you think?

4 comments:

  1. REVERSE ANGLE:
    A Jew analyzes Christian claims - about the Messiah/Torah
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UZeR3yV_Z8
    He addresses Jerusalem Council @ 31 min point & Christian Origins @ 1 hr
    point.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link - very interesting. I agree with Rabbi Skobac's thesis that the Christian Church began as a Torah observant group of Jews (as I hopefully demonstrated in this series). However, although he is correct in his assessment of Jesus as a strict adherent of the Torah, I think he has ignored or missed the many indications within Christ's teachings that point to the fact that Jesus did not believe all of it to be of Divine origin or universally applicable to mankind. Christ didn't do away with the Law - He fulfilled it and distilled it into its purest essence. Likewise, he seems to dismiss or ignore the fact that Paul was Jewish and had an extensive background within the Pharisaic sect of Judaism. The rabbi also seems to view the Mosaic Law as a work of perfection. I didn't catch any criticism within his talk of the Law's endorsement of genocide, misogyny, homophobia, slavery, prejudice, genital mutilation, etc. (maybe I missed it). Finally, I believe that Rabbi Skobac's treatment of the history of anti-Semitism within the Christian Church is spot-on and conveys a truth about our collective past of which we (Christians) should all be ashamed.

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    2. He teaches with great clarity. His documentation of NT & early church fathers' anti-Semitism is chilling. Christendom has some bad Kama coming its way and it's happening - especially since 1840 (as he said) as Christians themselves (scholars mainly) started taking apart & debunking their own religion - this has accelerated since the 1990s! His blind spot, as you say, is the many problems with Judaism itself.

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