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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Friday, May 31, 2024

You Aren't Really A Christian!

I was listening to NPR this morning, and the Trump verdict in New York was the focus of the news. One of the things that stood out to me was the loyalty test which Trump has devised for his supporters. If you don't support me, you're not really a Republican - you're a RINO (Republican In Name Only). That got me to thinking about how Armstrongites do the exact same thing in the religious realm.

They say that traditional Christians aren't really Christians. They say that only those who have accepted their teachings (what they call "THE TRUTH") are "TRUE" Christians. All of those other folks are just pretending to be Christian! In other words, such a person is a Christian in name only! Hmmm, that seems like an interesting parallel to me - What do you think?

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Psalm 103 in the English Standard Version: The Poetry of the New Covenant

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and all that is within me,

    bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity,

    who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit,

    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good

    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The Lord works righteousness

    and justice for all who are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,

    his acts to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide,

    nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,

    nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,

    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14 For he knows our frame;

    he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;

    he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

    and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,

    and his righteousness to children's children,

18 to those who keep his covenant

 and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,

    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,

    you mighty ones who do his word,

    obeying the voice of his word!

21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,

    his ministers, who do his will!

22 Bless the Lord, all his works,

    in all places of his dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I Don't Want to Read, Hear or Entertain Anything That Might Lead Me Away from the Truth!

In the past, I have commented about the self-reinforcing straitjacket which Herbert Armstrong devised for his followers. The psychology is simple, but it is also very powerful. It goes something like this: 1) Convince your followers that the majority of Christians are deceived, and that you alone have discovered the TRUE version of that faith. 2) Spoon feed them the cherry-picked Scriptural reasoning you employed to arrive at your system and convince them that they have proven these "truths" from their own Bible. 3) Convince them that their new understanding is the evidence that they have God's Holy Spirit. 4) Instill in them the fear that it is possible to lose some or all of that understanding and/or lose the "inspiration" of the Holy Spirit. This clever, yet subtle, conditioning of his followers allowed Armstrong to imprison his followers in a perpetual state of circular reasoning! "God has revealed his TRUTH to me, and I must hold on to it with all my might and strength." Research, questioning, and testing are no longer necessary - We've arrived at destination TRUTH. Hence, there is no longer any need to investigate or explore! Add to all of this being immersed in a culture of folks who think the same way, and the fact that they are all led by ministers who were trained to periodically remind them about the danger of losing this "treasure," and "abracadabra" you have a closed mind!

Of course, this all brings to mind Christ's Parable of the Talents. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read:

"'For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents,[a large amount of money] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV) Question: What did Christ do to the servant who had protected his one talent (the one who had failed to increase what had been entrusted to him)? Answer: He took away what he had been given!

Moreover, these followers of Herbert Armstrong are WRONG about the evidence that someone has God's Holy Spirit. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ once said: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, ESV) Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Galatia that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV) Notice something missing in that list? Understanding isn't in the list! Indeed, Paul told the saints at Corinth that they could have prophetic powers, understand ALL mysteries, and enough faith to move mountains and still be NOTHING. (I Corinthians 13:2) He went on to say that "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (I Corinthians 13:12, NLT) Did you catch that? In the present, WE (Christians) see things IMPERFECTLY! Likewise, in the second epistle of Peter, we read: "you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (II Peter 3:18, NLT) Doesn't that mean that we will always have MORE to learn? What do you think? Is the Armstrong template regarding understanding really consistent with Scripture?

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Why is one abomination singled out for condemnation while others are ignored?

All too often, unfortunately, religious folks turn out to be hypocrites. It is my contention that this phenomenon is so widespread because too many people haven't given enough thought to the things which they believe, and it is much easier to find fault with someone else's behavior than to spend time reflecting on the relative merits or failures of one's own behavior! An excellent example of this phenomenon is the absolute joy which some folks derive from pointing out that homosexual behavior is an abomination to God. To be clear, the purpose of this post is NOT to debate whether or not homosexual behavior is abominable to God. It is, rather, to explore why so many other behaviors which are labeled as abominable are basically ignored!

The Hebrew word is "toeba", and it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to things which are disgusting or abominable, unclean, or wicked. In Leviticus 18, for instance, there are a number of sexual behaviors which are listed as being abominable to the Lord (incest, sex with a mother and her daughter, marrying two sisters, sex with menstruating women, adultery, sacrificing children to Molech, and bestiality). Even so, the one that is most often quoted by religious folks is "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." (Verse 22) This, despite the fact that the passage makes clear that all of the behaviors listed were considered abominable by the Lord. Indeed, the chapter concludes: "Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 18:24-30, ESV) Interestingly, you don't see many religious folks pointing out that adultery is clearly considered an abomination in God's sight according to this passage.

Likewise, the same folks are quick to underscore this passage from the twentieth chapter: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." (Leviticus 20:13, ESV) Once again, however, no mention of the verses which immediately precede it: "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. If a man lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them." (Leviticus 20:10-12, ESV) Why this disparity? Is it intentional or unintentional? Is there some reason why one passage is quoted, and the others are ignored?

Similarly, in the book of Deuteronomy, the sin of idolatry is said to be an abomination (same Hebrew word) to God (Deuteronomy 7:25, 12:31, 20:18, 27:15, 32:16). Also, the same book reveals that eating unclean food is an abomination (Deuteronomy 14:3), and that sacrificing an animal with a blemish or imperfection is an abomination to God (Deuteronomy 17:1).

Moreover, in the book of Proverbs, we read: "for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence." (Proverbs 3:32, ESV) A little later, in the same book, we read: "There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." (Proverbs 6:16-19, ESV) Cheating someone in weights and measures is also called an abomination (Provers 11:1). And, just in case anyone missed it the first time, telling lies is again singled out as an abomination (Proverbs 12:22), and a lack of humility is also reiterated as an abomination (Proverbs 16:5). Are these other abominations ignored because most of us have been guilty of one or more of them in the course of our lifetimes? In other words, is singling out homosexual behavior for special attention as an abomination a means of scapegoating? Is it a way to shift attention away from our own failures to someone else?

It is my thesis that the folks who cite this passage to condemn homosexual behavior as an abomination are doing so to make themselves feel better/superior. It is a phenomenon that Christ once commented on in another context. In the Gospel of Luke, we read: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14, ESV) What do you think? 

You/They Are Wicked, and I/We Am/Are Righteous!

Unfortunately, too many Christians have adopted and "us against them" worldview. My/Our ideology is righteous and good, but your ideology is wicked and evil. In this worldview, the other side isn't just wrong or deceived, they are agents of evil - the enemies of all that is good and holy! For these folks, there is an active war raging between good and evil, and they are on God's team and are defending righteousness. For them, everyone else is on Satan's team and is participating in open rebellion against Almighty God. From a Scriptural perspective, however, we are ALL sinners in need of forgiveness and reconciliation, and there is no contest.

In his epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul wrote: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:11-12, NIV) He then went on to say: "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24, NIV) Later, he wrote to Timothy that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." (I Timothy 1:15, NIV) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was a sinner too? That's what he said!

Later, in that same epistle to the Romans, Paul spoke of his own CURRENT relationship to sin. He wrote: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:14-25, NIV) Clearly, Paul regarded himself as just another sinner who had been rescued from his sins by Jesus Christ! In other words, he did NOT see himself as being superior to the unconverted Gentiles who were the focus of his missionary efforts.

Indeed, in the first epistle of John, we see that Christians (those who have accepted Christ and in whom the Holy Spirit currently resides) are also sinners! He wrote: "If we <Christians> claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us." (I John 1:8-10, NIV) Hence, from a Scriptural perspective, we see that we are ALL sinners, Christians and non-Christians. Thus, we see that the only difference between us and those sinners on the outside of the Church is that we have accepted Christ's righteousness and sacrifice and have been forgiven of our sins!

What's more, the old "your sins are worse than mine" doesn't work either! This was demonstrated in the way that Christ handled the situation where the woman who had been taken in the act of adultery was about to be stoned by a Jewish mob (see John 8:1-11). This concept is also reinforced by some remarks that James made in his epistle to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. He wrote: "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' also said, 'You shall not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:8-13, NIV)

In short, it isn't our job to make ourselves superior to other folks as Christians. It is our job to tell others about what Christ has done for us, and what he can do for them. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matthew 9:10-13, NIV) In other words, you and I were not called to preach to the choir!

Finally, Christ has already triumphed over Satan, sin. and death (see John 16:33, I Corinthians 15:57, Colossians 2:15, Romans 8:31-39, Ephesians 6:12-18, James 4:7, I John 4:4, etc.). From a Scriptural perspective, the "war" has already been won. Any "contest" was over long ago. God's purpose will stand. We can decide to get on that train or remain standing beside the tracks. That is our choice, and it is the same choice that everyone who has ever lived has made (or will make) someday. So, for Christians, we see that there is no room for an "us against them" mentality. Such a worldview is clearly excluded by Scripture.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

It’s All About the Presentation!

Why does the leadership of the Church of God International (Vance Stinson, Mike James, and Jeff Reed) continue to lose the battle over messaging with the Bill Watson-Adrian Davis wing of that organization? I believe that the reason is that this contest has reflected some of the same dynamics which have characterized the contest between Biden and Trump for the Presidency of the United States. How so?

Chauncey DeVega recently penned an article for Salon entitled Trump is all dominance, all the time. In the article, we read: “Political scientist M. Steven Fish believes that the Democratic Party’s inability, despite their many policy successes, to conclusively defeat the Republicans and the larger ‘conservative’ movement and American neofascists, is rooted in much bigger and systematic failings.” Continuing: “Fish warns that Donald Trump and the other Republican leaders use a high-dominance approach to politics and communication that allows them to set the agenda, which in turn puts the Democrats, who tend to be more passive and consensus-oriented, in a consistently weak position of reaction and defense.” In other words, it’s Trump’s style which makes him so attractive to white, working class voters.

Like their political hero, Watson and Davis use the same high-dominance approach to their messaging. They confidently assert (without real evidence) that God is on their side, and that the other guys are tools of Satan. Also like their mentor, they claim that things like Marxism, Globalism, abortion, homosexuals, and immigration are not only destroying the nation they claim to love, but that they are all part of a coordinated attack on Christianity. They warn that the other side is actively trying to pervert, deceive, and destroy. They argue in favor of authoritarianism and paternalism without blinking an eye, and their message is well-received in MAGA world and among the traditionalists within CGI.

Never mind that Stinson, James, Reed, and Skelton are absolutely right about mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and carrying a message about Christ and his Kingdom to the world! Like Biden and the Democrats, the impulse of CGI’s leadership to try to build consensus and accommodate other viewpoints is swept away before the aggressive and assertive messaging of the rebels. The leadership of CGI says that overt politics from the pulpit is inappropriate, and the rebels double-down on their endorsement of Trump’s worldview. CGI leadership says that ministers shouldn’t be wading into the debate over public health measures relative to Covid, and the rebels insist that masking, social distancing, and vaccinations are infringing on their freedom and are pure evil! In short, CGI’s leadership is trying to hold things together and keep from offending those who hold different opinions - while Waston and his allies are busy flame-throwing. Watson and company are convinced that they are right, and they are determined to prevail.

I recall the old axiom: “Might makes right!” Although there is overwhelming evidence that authoritarianism and paternalism have failed to produce good results, and cooperation and compromise have an equally good track record of actually producing good results, my hunch is that yet another old axiom comes into play: To the victor goes the spoils. In other words, I’m fairly certain that, at least in the short term, the “good guys” are NOT going to win this one! Indeed, the “good guys” in this instance, are actively providing a platform for their enemies! (Check out CGI’s website sometime) What do you think?

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Real and Better Sabbath

Herbert Armstrong (and others) taught that Christians were obligated to keep God's Sabbath. He also taught that the vast majority of Christians had rejected or abandoned God's Sabbath and had substituted a day of their own choosing (Sunday). Was he right? Have the vast majority of folks who claim to be Christian refused to obey God's commandment to keep the Sabbath holy? Why and how did God give the Sabbath to the Israelites? What was the Sabbath? Was the Sabbath part of God's covenant with the Israelites? And/or was it intended for all of humankind? Is it a part of the New Covenant through Jesus Christ? Did Christ and his original disciples keep the Sabbath? If so, doesn't that suggest that we should be following their example?

To answer these questions, we must employ the whole Bible - from beginning to end! Hence, in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, we are informed that God created the earth and its life in six days. Then, immediately following that event, we read: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." (Genesis 2:1-3, ESV) Thus, in this first scriptural reference to the Sabbath, we are told: 1. That God had finished his creative work and rested on the seventh day, and 2. That he pronounced a special blessing on the day and made it holy. So, these two points are the foundation of our attempt to understand the concept of the Sabbath and answer our questions.

Even so, this immediately brings to mind another question: Did God need a rest? The prophet Isaiah once stated that the Lord does NOT faint or grow weary (Isaiah 40:28). So, if God didn't need a rest, why did he take one? In other words, God must have had some other purpose in mind when he created this day. Does Scripture reveal what that purpose was?

Within the context of his disciples eating some grain as they walked through a field one Sabbath, Jesus Christ revealed that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27-28, ESV) According to Christ, the Sabbath was created for humankind, and that he was consequently the Lord of the Sabbath! Indeed, in his own observance of the day, Christ revealed that it was appropriate to perform good works on that day - to do things which benefited people! (See Matthew 12:1-12, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:1-11, 13:10-17, 14:1-6, and John 5:1-17) In another place, we are also informed that Jesus once said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:18, ESV) He went on to say that all of the Law and the Prophets would remain relevant until he had completed his task of fulfilling them (Matthew 5:18-19).

On yet another occasion, Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders of his day: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:39-47, ESV) Likewise, in the Gospel of Luke, we are informed that after he was resurrected, Christ told his disciples: "These are my words that 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." (Luke 24:22, ESV) So, according to Jesus, the Hebrew Scriptures (including the Sabbath) pointed to HIM!

We know too that Paul preached Jesus from the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14 and 28:23). Moreover, in his letter to the saints at Colosse, Paul told them that festivals, new moons, and sabbaths were shadows of the reality found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). This all provokes yet another question: Exactly how did the Sabbath point to Jesus?

Let's go back to Torah and see if it is plausible to see Christ in the Sabbath. The Sabbath was introduced to the children of Israel in the midst of God sending them manna - bread from heaven. In the book of Exodus, we read: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.'" (Exodus 16:4-5, ESV) Continuing in the account, we are informed that the Israelites eventually learned to follow God's instruction regarding the collection of manna relative to the Sabbath - that they eventually learned to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:22-35)

In this connection, it is instructive to read of some remarks attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John. We read there that he said: "'Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:27-35, ESV) So, according to Christ, he was the real bread from heaven, and the work required of his followers was to believe in the one whom God had sent to them! Also, of interest in this regard, is the fact that Christ later instituted the symbols of the Eucharist - the bread and the wine (which his followers would be required to ingest - see Matthew 26:26-29).

Returning again to Torah, we know that God later incorporated the Sabbath into one of the Ten Commandments he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. We read there: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV) Once again, God made very clear that the Sabbath was celebrated by NOT WORKING! He reminded them that he had finished his own work in six days and had rested on the seventh one. Now, how does that relate to Jesus Christ?

Before leaving Torah, let's return to a passage which I quoted in the post which immediately preceded this one. You remember, the one where God instructed the Israelites to "seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go." (Deuteronomy 12:5, ESV) Notice also in this same passage: "You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you. But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you." (Deuteronomy 12:8-11, ESV) So, we see that God clearly told the Israelites that a day was coming when God would make his choice clear to them, after he had given them REST and their inheritance, and that they would be required to attend him there - ONLY there!

In this connection, the New Testament makes very plain that a Christians inheritance is in and through Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Galatians 3:29, Romans 8:16-17, I Peter 1:3-5, Hebrews 9:15, etc.). Also, it is interesting to note in this regard what Christ is reported to have said in the Gospel of Matthew. We read there that he said: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV) Christ invited all who were working and loaded down with burdens to seek him, and he promised to give them REST!

Likewise, in the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.' Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3:7-14, ESV) Continuing in the account, the author made clear exactly who God had declared would NOT enter his rest: "who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:16-19, ESV)

According to the author of this epistle, the children of Israel were not allowed to enter God's true rest! He continued: "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest," (Hebrews 4:1-3, ESV) Don't think this has anything to do with the Sabbath? Continuing with the account, we read: "as he has said, 'As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,' although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.' And again in this passage he said, 'They shall not enter my rest.' Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:3-10, ESV) Then the writer goes on to warn Christians not to follow the example of those rebellious Israelites - to fail to enter God's rest (verse 11). Hence, the message is clear: Jesus is that ultimate rest!

This is, of course, in harmony with what Paul wrote to the saints at Rome. He said: "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:20-26, ESV) It is NOT through keeping the Sabbath that we will stand clean before God. It is clearly through Jesus Christ that we will do so, as Paul also made clear to the saints of Galatia. He wrote: "we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16, ESV) Hence, for Christians, it is clear that Christ is the Sabbath which we celebrate!

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The New and Better Way to God

Under the terms of the Old Covenant outlined in Torah, the Israelites were commanded to seek God at the place which he had designated for worship. Indeed, in the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

"These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things.

But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes— for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the Lord. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the Lord chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you." (Deuteronomy 12:1-14, NKJV)

Students of the Bible refer to this as the Law of the Central Sanctuary and know that God eventually designated Jerusalem to be that place. It was there that David established his capital city, and Solomon built God's Temple (I Kings 6 and I Chronicles 28). However, we also know that God became very disenchanted with the Israelites and eventually allowed the Assyrians and Babylonians to conquer them and destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (II Kings 25 and II Chronicles 36). Nevertheless, the same Hebrew Scriptures later inform us that the Jews were eventually permitted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (II Chronicles 36, 37 and Ezra). This was the Temple (refurbished and expanded by Herod the Great) which Jesus often attended at Jerusalem.

For the Jews of the First Century, the Temple at Jerusalem represented God's presence on earth. For them, the Hebrew Scriptures (especially Torah) outlined the way to God - representing his instructions about the proper way to worship him. They were God's people, and the Gentiles which surrounded them were NOT. This was the world into which Jesus was born. This was the reality which he confronted with his message.

Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, we find an account of Jesus coming face to face with a Samaritan woman (a Gentile), and a very interesting conversation ensued. We read:

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give Me a drink.' For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, 'How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?' For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?' Jesus answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.'" (John 4:7-15, NKJV)

Continuing in the account, Jesus tells the woman that she has had five husbands in the course of her life, and that the man whom she was currently living with was not her husband (John 4:16-18). The conversation continued: "The woman said to Him, 'Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.'

Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'" (John 4:19-24, NKJV)

In the following chapter, we have an account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and telling the Jews that God was his /Father. All of which enraged the Jews (John 5:1-18). Jesus, however, did not retreat. Instead, he told them: "I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:36-40, NKJV) Knowing his audience and what was important to them, he continued: "Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:45-47, NKJV)

Later, in the very same Gospel, Christ told his disciples: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6, NKJV) Jesus revealed to them that he represented the Father and his will - that HE, not the Scriptures was the way to God. Just as he had earlier told the Jews, their Scriptures pointed to HIM! He continued: "'If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.' Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, 'Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.'" (John 14:15-24, NKJV) Clearly, under the terms of the New Covenant, the way to God was NOT to be found in Torah - it was to be found in Jesus of Nazareth and paying attention to his message and commandments.

Finally, in addition to predicting his own death and resurrection, the Gospel of Matthew informs us that Christ predicted the physical destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We read there: "Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'" (Matthew 24:1-2, NKJV) Now, from the writing of the Jewish historian, Josephus, we know that Christ's prediction was fulfilled in the year 70 CE. The occupying Romans completely destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem - the focal point of Torah observance and the Jewish religion. Coincidence? Why would Christ predict the Temple's destruction if it didn't have any relevance to his Father's plans? Remember, Jesus had already promised his disciples that he and the Father would make their home within the disciples through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! In other words, after Christ had completed his mission and fulfilled Torah, the Temple was superfluous. It no longer represented God's presence or the way to God! Through Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, there was now a new and better way to God!

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Alienated and Reconciled

As all serious students of the Bible know, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were ejected from God's presence. In the third chapter of Genesis, we read: "So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." (Genesis 3:23-24, NLT) Also, in the book of Isaiah, we read: "Listen! The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore." (Isaiah 59:1-2, NLT)

Likewise, in Paul's letter to the Christians at Rome, we read: "But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26, NLT)

Later, in the same epistle, we read: "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God." (Romans 5:6-10, NLT)

Also, in Paul's second epistle to the saints at Corinth, after talking about a Christian's new life in Christ, we read: "And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So, we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!' For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." (II Corinthians 5:18-21, NLT) Likewise, in his letter to the saints at Colosse, we read: "For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault." (Colossians 1:19-22, NLT)

Monday, May 13, 2024

Why Did Early Christians Choose Sunday?

According to my Bing Copilot:

Theological Significance of Sunday: Why did the early Christians choose Sunday for worship? Three theological factors played a role:

Resurrection: Sunday commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the grave, making it the Lord’s Day.

New Creation: As believers are identified as new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), the first day after the Sabbath symbolized a day of new creation.

Eighth Day: Sunday also represents the eighth day, associated with both circumcision and the final day of eternal rest and joy.

In addition to these, I would add that the Church began on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2). Also, I would add the fact that there was some impetus to distinguish themselves from the Jews (who continued to meet and worship on the Sabbath).

Are there any references in the New Testament to Christians meeting and/or practicing their faith on the First Day of the week?

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7, ESV)

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (I Corinthians 16:1-2, ESV)

Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Lord's Day in Revelation 1:10

In his infamous booklet, The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last!, Herbert Armstrong wrote: "And so here is the very KEYNOTE verse, sounding the THEME of the whole Revelation! And it is here that most people begin to stumble, and to misunderstand! The theme is THE DAY OF THE LORD. Let us read it: 'I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet' (verse 10). As this is not understood, endless controversy and strife and confusion have come from arguing as to whether the day of the WEEK on which John WROTE this message was Saturday or Sunday. John was NOT referring to any day of the week. The day of the week on which this happened to be written - IF it could have been all written within one day - is not important, and that is not what this verse means at all. It does NOT refer to any day of the week - but to that prophetic period referred to in more than 30 prophecies as 'The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.'" Armstrong made clear which of the three ways which various Christians have interpreted this passage that he subscribed to - the prophetic "Day of the Lord." So, the question is: Was Herbert Armstrong right? OR Does the reference refer to the day on which John received the Revelation? AND If so, can we know if he was referring to Saturday or Sunday?

In the first of six answers to the question "What is 'the Lord's Day' in Revelation 1:10?" on Biblical Hermeneutics, we read:

"It's unlikely that John intended the phrase to refer to the 'day of the Lord' as found in the prophets.

While the phrase found in Revelation 1:10 isn't found elsewhere in the New Testament, the phrase "day of the Lord" is found in several places. When the phrase is used elsewhere in the New Testament, the grammar matches that found in the prophets. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2, for instance, the phrase 'day of the Lord' is ἡμέρα κυρίου, where κυρίου (Lord) is in the genitive case. The same is true in 2 Peter 3:10. In the LXX, the phrase 'day of the Lord' always appears with the genitive case.

In Revelation 1:10, the phrase used is κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ, where κυριακῇ is in the dative case and is being used as an adjective. This doesn't rule out the possibility of it referring to the same thing, but it does make it highly unlikely and puts the proof of burden on those who would claim otherwise. Authors tend to retain phraseology when it carries a heavy theological weight.

The context also suggests that John does not intend to refer to the eschatological 'day of the Lord' found in the prophets. The phrase in the prophets is accompanied by a dread of expectation and judgement. Yet John's experience, while disturbing, is not shaped after the day of the Lord but after Daniel's experiences with his visions."

This answer is also reinforced by references to the "Day of the Lord" in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the book of Isaiah, we read: "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!" (Isaiah 13:6, ESV) And, in the ninth verse of the same chapter, "Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it." (Isaiah 13:9, ESV) Likewise, in the book of Jeremiah, we read: "That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes. The sword shall devour and be sated and drink its fill of their blood. For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates." (Jeremiah 46:10, ESV) Also, in the prophet Joel, we read: "Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes." (Joel 1:15, ESV) Likewise, in the book of Amos, we read: "Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light..." (Amos 5:18, ESV) In the prophet Zephaniah, we read: "The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there." (Zephaniah 1:14, ESV) And, finally, in the prophet Zechariah, we read: "Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city." (Zechariah 14:1-2, ESV)

Hence, we see that the "Day of the Lord" referred to a particular event in the Hebrew Scriptures - a terrible time at the end of the age of humankind. Now, while the book of Revelation includes this event within the context of the many predictions that are made there, we can clearly discern that it is NOT the theme of the entire book! In other words, there is a great deal more contained in those pages than the story of the "Day of the Lord."

In one of the supplemental answers on the same website referenced above, we read:

"kuriakē(i) (LSJ) (from κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ) is an adjectival form of kurios, 'lord', which could be rendered 'lordly' (on analogy of 'royal' = 'kingly', roughly!). As the adjective "royal" indicates something belonging to the monarch ("the royal palace"), so kuriakos indicates something belonging to the 'lord'...

...Some other early Christian writings use the Rev 1:10 phrase. In Didache 14:1, for example:

'On the Lord's Day of the Lord come together, break bread and hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may be pure'

Which precise day is in mind of these options (first day? Sabbath day? Easter Day?) is not specified. However, one or two of the early Christian apocryphal writings are explicit about which day this is, e.g. Acts of Peter, in the prologue [scroll down to second line of I. THE COPTIC FRAGMENT]:

'On the first day of the week, that is, on the Lord's day...'"

Moreover, as the word "sabbaton" (Sabbath) appears sixty-eight times in the Greek New Testament, it seems very unlikely that John would use the "Lord's Day" to describe the Sabbath. Hence, the notion that this revelation was given to John on a Sunday seems the most plausible and likely conclusion about its usage in Revelation 1:10.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Bob Thiel's Preoccupation With My Posts About the Paleochristian Church

Although "Dr." Bob Thiel has written two posts and produced one video challenging my narrative about the First Century Church, he claims that Banned by HWA has mischaracterized his reaction as a "meltdown." Nevertheless, I am quite content to let my readers decide whether or not the Grand Poobah of the Continuing Church of God is obsessed with trying to disprove the alternative which I've offered to the Armstrong Churches of God's narrative about the Paleochristian Church. It does seem to me, however, that Bob's interest in attempting to refute my claims are related to a realization on his part that their narrative about the transition from Sabbath to Sunday is the foundation of the whole house of cards that is their theology. In other words, I suspect that Bob is smart enough to realize that the house of cards collapses when this particular card is removed.

Many years ago, Herbert Armstrong speculated that there had been a Grand Conspiracy engineered by Simon Magus and the Roman Catholic Church to hoodwink Christians into abandoning the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ and his apostles. According to this speculative narrative (which had no basis in Scripture or history), one of the chief means of leading believers away from "THE TRUTH" was the intentional substitution of Pagan days of worship for God's Sabbath and Holy Days by these evil conspirators - influenced, of course, by their favorite bad-boy, Satan the Devil! With a limited educational background and almost no awareness of the actual history, Herbie reasoned that there must have been a deliberate campaign to substitute Sunday for the Sabbath. How else to explain the fact that Christ and his disciples kept the Sabbath, while Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians all kept Sunday? Completely ignoring the Christian writings from the First and Second Centuries which existed outside of the Biblical canon, he proposed that there had been a "lost" century, and that the Christianity which had emerged on the other side of this mini–Dark Age was completely different than the original - a "counterfeit" Christianity!

To support this false narrative, Bob has discounted and/or distorted all of the Scriptures and historical records which contradict it. For Bob, the Jerusalem Council referenced in the book of Acts did not eliminate Torah observance for Gentiles. For Bob, the Didache, the epistles attributed to Barnabas, and Ignatius weren't really speaking about the Lord's Day or Sunday - the translators had simply gotten it wrong - they had mistranslated the original Greek into English! Likewise, he ignores the fact that for Justin Martyr to have written in the middle of the Second Century that Sunday was the day that Christians gathered for worship, it would of necessity have had to have been the practice for many years prior. In other words, it must have been a long-standing tradition of the Church by that time. Moreover, his failure to understand that Christians would have had very good reason to revere Sunday based on the Gospels and Acts - Christ's resurrection and the founding of the Church both having occurred on that day of the week! Likewise, he seems to be completely oblivious to the impact that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple had to have had on both the Jewish and Jewish Christian Community of the First Century. Instead, Bob chooses to focus on the Bar Kokhba Revolt early in the next century (which I'm sure contributed to the further suppression of Sabbath observance).

Bottom line, the old Adventist-Armstrongist narrative about Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church changing Sabbath to Sunday is not consistent with the available historical evidence. The Roman Church's authority to set Christian doctrine and practice was NOT widely recognized until the Fifth or Sixth Century. Likewise, the Emperor Constantine's famous decree about Sunday observance is recognized by most historians as an attempt at making religious practice within the Empire uniform and regular. In other words, the emperor could not have promulgated a decree of that nature which would upset what was already the established practice of the vast majority of his subjects, Christian and Pagan. Hence, I would encourage all of the folks in the Armstrong Churches of God to do their own research on this subject, and I would also encourage them to follow the evidence - not attempting to prove what you think you already know about the Paleochristian Church!

For those who may be interested, I invite you to explore the following:

Notice this excerpt from Early Christianity by Gaye Strathearn of Brigham Young University:

Christianity did not develop in a vacuum. The early church leaders operated in a world that was ever changing and expanding. During Jesus’s lifetime, the apostles were directed to concentrate solely on the house of Israel, but the post-resurrection ministry was fundamentally different. Expanding missionary work to include the Gentiles was a difficult transition—difficult to transition away from the law of Moses and difficult to transition into the Roman world. As Christianity grew, its adherents began to be found in all levels of society. Even so, its growth also led to significant challenges. While the Roman Empire was strong, Christianity’s political separatism and refusal to participate in the imperial religion were viewed as little more than irritants. But when the empire found itself in a state of crisis, as it did in the third century, Christianity was seen as the destabilizing force of the peace of the gods that threatened to destroy the empire.

Christianity’s other major challenge arose as it developed competing theologies. Initially, those competing theologies focused on the role of the law of Moses in the fledgling church. As it increasingly expanded into the Gentile world, however, those theologies were gradually replaced by differing philosophical interpretations. The resulting posturing of different Christianities to claim legitimacy became a divisive element that the Emperor Constantine could not tolerate in his realm. If Christianity was to receive state sanction and be the means of uniting his empire, then it would need to be united. In the fourth century and beyond, this led to numerous councils whose primary goal was to orchestrate that unity.

Notice this collection of Early Christian Writings from the early Church Fathers

You can also find many of those same writings at New Advent's The Fathers of the Church

Notice this excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia Online titled Sunday:

Sunday (Day of the Sun), as the name of the first day of the week, is derived from Egyptian astrology. The seven planets, known to us as Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon, each had an hour of the day assigned to them, and the planet which was regent during the first hour of any day of the week gave its name to that day (see CALENDAR). During the first and second century the week of seven days was introduced into Rome from Egypt, and the Roman names of the planets were given to each successive day. The Teutonic nations seem to have adopted the week as a division of time from the Romans, but they changed the Roman names into those of corresponding Teutonic deities. Hence the dies Solis became Sunday (German, Sonntag ). Sunday was the first day of the week according to the Jewish method of reckoning, but for Christians it began to take the place of the Jewish Sabbath in Apostolic times as the day set apart for the public and solemn worship of God. The practice of meeting together on the first day of the week for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is indicated in Acts, xx 7; I Cor., xvi, 2; in Apoc., i, 10, it is called the Lord's day. In the Didache (xiv) the injunction is given: "On the Lord's Day come together and break bread. And give thanks (offer the Eucharist), after confessing your sins that your sacrifice may be pure". St. Ignatius (Ep. ad Magnes. ix) speaks of Christians as "no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also Our Life rose again". In the Epistle of Barnabas (xv) we read: "Wherefore, also, we keep the eight day (i.e. the first of the week) with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead".

Sunday, May 5, 2024

From Against Heresies, Book IV

Chapter IV.-Answer to Another Objection, Showing that the Destruction of Jerusalem, Which Was the City of the Great King, Diminished Nothing from the Supreme Majesty' And Power of God, for that This Destruction Was Put in Execution by the Most Wise Counsel of the Same God.

2. Since, then, the law originated with Moses, it terminated with John as a necessary consequence. Christ had come to fulfil it: wherefore "the law and the prophets were" with them "until John." And therefore Jerusalem, taking its commencement from David, and fulfilling its own times, must have an end of legislation when the new covenant was revealed. For God does all things by measure and in order; nothing is unmeasured with Him, because nothing is out of order. Well spake he, who said that the unmeasurable Father was Himself subjected to measure in the Son; for the Son is the measure of the Father, since He also comprehends Him. But that the administration of them (the Jews) was temporary, Esaias says: "And the daughter of Zion shall be left as a cottage in a vineyard, and as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers." And when shall these things be left behind? Is it not when the fruit shall be taken away, and the leaves alone shall be left, which now have no power of producing fruit?

Chapter XII.-It Clearly Appears that There Was But One Author of Both the Old and the New Law, from the Fact that Christ Condemned Traditions and Customs Repugnant to the Former, While He Confirmed Its Most Important Precepts, and Taught that He Was Himself the End of the Mosaic Law.

1. For the tradition of the elders themselves, which they pretended to observe from the law, was contrary to the law given by Moses. Wherefore also Esaias declares: "Thy dealers mix the wine with water," showing that the elders were in the habit of mingling a watered tradition with the simple command of God; that is, they set up a spurious law, and one contrary to the [true] law; as also the Lord made plain, when He said to them, "Why do ye transgress the commandment of God, for the sake of your tradition? "For not only by actual transgression did they set the law of God at nought, mingling the wine with water; but they also set up their own law in opposition to it, which is termed, even to the present day, the pharisaical. In this [law] they suppress certain things, add others, and interpret others, again, as they think proper, which their teachers use, each one in particular; and desiring to uphold these traditions, they were unwilling to be subject to the law of God, which prepares them for the coming of Christ. But they did even blame the Lord for healing on the Sabbath-days, which, as I have already observed, the law did not prohibit. For they did themselves, in one sense, perform acts of healing upon the Sabbath-day, when they circumcised a man [on that day]; but they did not blame themselves for transgressing the command of God through tradition and the aforesaid pharisaical law, and for not keeping the commandment of the law, which is the love of God.

2. But that this is the first and greatest commandment, and that the next [has respect to love] towards our neighbor, the Lord has taught, when He says that the entire law and the prophets hang upon these two commandments. Moreover, He did not Himself bring down [from heaven] any other commandment greater than this one, but renewed this very same one to His disciples, when He enjoined them to love God with all their heart, and others as themselves. But if He had descended from another Father, He never would have made use of the first and greatest commandment of the law; but He would undoubtedly have endeavored by all means to bring down a greater one than this from the perfect Father, so as not to make use of that which had been given by the God of the law. And Paul in like manner declares, "Love is the fulfilling of the law: " and [he declares] that when all other things have been destroyed, there shall remain "faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of all is love; " and that apart from the love of God, neither knowledge avails anything, nor the understanding of mysteries, nor faith, nor prophecy, but that without love all are hollow and vain; moreover, that love makes man perfect; and that he who loves God is perfect, both in this world and in that which is to come. For we do never cease from loving God; but in proportion as we continue to contemplate Him, so much the more do we love Him.

3. As in the law, therefore, and in the Gospel [likewise], the first and greatest commandment is, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, and then there follows a commandment like to it, to love one's neighbor as one's self; the author of the law and the Gospel is shown to be one and the same. For the precepts of an absolutely perfect life, since they are the same in each Testament, have pointed out [to us] the same God, who certainly has promulgated particular laws adapted for each; but the more prominent and the greatest [commandments], without which salvation cannot [be attained], He has exhorted [us to observe] the same in both.

4. The Lord, too, does not do away with this [God], when He shows that the law was not derived from another God, expressing Himself as follows to those who were being instructed by Him, to the multitude and to His disciples: "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens, and lay them upon men's shoulders; but they themselves will not so much as move them with a finger." He therefore did not throw blame upon that law which was given by Moses, when He exhorted it to be observed, Jerusalem being as yet in safety; but He did throw blame upon those persons, because they repeated indeed the words of the law, yet were without love. And for this reason were they held as being unrighteous as respects God, and as respects their neighbors. As also Isaiah says: "This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me: howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching the doctrines and the commandments of men." He does not call the law given by Moses commandments of men, but the traditions of the eiders themselves which they had invented, and in upholding which they made the law of God of none effect, and were on this account also not subject to His Word. For this is what Paul says concerning these men: "For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." And how is Christ the end of the law, if He be not also the final Cause of it? For He who has brought in the end has Himself also wrought the beginning; and it is He who does Himself say to Moses, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have come down to deliver them; " it being customary from the beginning with the Word of God to ascend and descend for the purpose of saving those who were in affliction.

5. Now, that the law did beforehand teach mankind the necessity of following Christ, He does Himself make manifest, when He replied as follows to him who asked Him what he should do that he might inherit eternal life: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." But upon the other asking "Which? "" again the Lord replies: "Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, hon-our father and mother, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,"-setting as an ascending series (velut gradus) before those who wished to follow Him, the precepts of the law, as the entrance into life; and What He then said to one He said to all. But when the former said, "All these have I done" (and most likely he had not kept them, for in that case the Lord would not have said to him, "Keep the commandments"), the Lord, exposing his covetousness, said to him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast, and distribute to the poor; and come, follow me; "promising to those who would act thus, the portion belonging to the apostles (apostolorum partem). And He did not preach to His followers another God the Father, besides Him who was proclaimed by the law from the beginning; nor another Son; nor the Mother, the enthymesis of the Aeon, who existed in suffering and apostasy; nor the Pleroma of the thirty Aeons, which has been proved vain, and incapable of being believed in; nor that fable invented by the other heretics. But He taught that they should obey the commandments which God enjoined from the beginning, and do away with their former covetousness by good works, and follow after Christ. But that possessions distributed to the poor do annul former covetousness, Zaccheus made evident, when he said, "Behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one, I restore fourfold."

Chapter XIII.-Christ Did Not Abrogate the Natural Precepts of the Law, But Rather Fulfilled and Extended Them. He Removed the Yoke and Bondage of the Old Law, So that Mankind, Being Now Set Free, Might Serve God with that Trustful Piety Which Becometh Sons.

1. And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them, is shown from His words. "For," He remarks, "it has been said to them of old time, Do not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That every one who hath looked upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." And again: "It has been said, Thou shalt not kill. But I say unto you, Every one who is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment." And, "It hath been said, Thou shalt not forswear thyself. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; but let your conversation be, Yea, yea, and Nay, nay." And other statements of a like nature. For all these do not contain or imply an opposition to and an overturning of the [precepts] of the past, as Marcion's followers do strenuously maintain; but [they exhibit] a fulfilling and an extension of them, as He does Himself declare: "Unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." For what meant the excess referred to? In the first place, [we must] believe not only in the Father, but also in His Son now revealed; for He it is who leads man into fellowship and unity with God. In the next place, [we must] not only say, but we must do; for they said, but did not. And [we must] not only abstain from evil deeds, but even from the desires after them. Now He did not teach us these things as being opposed to the law, but as fulfilling the law, and implanting in us the varied righteousness of the law. That would have been contrary to the law, if He had commanded His disciples to do anything which the law had prohibited. But this which He did command-namely, not only to abstain from things forbidden by the law, but even from longing after them-is not contrary to [the law], as I have remarked, neither is it the utterance of one destroying the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and affording greater scope to it.

2. For the law, since it was laid down for those in bondage, used to instruct the soul by means of those corporeal objects which were of an external nature, drawing it, as by a bond, to obey its commandments, that man might learn to serve God. But the Word set free the soul, and taught that through it the body should be willingly purified. Which having been accomplished, it followed as of course, that the bonds of slavery should be removed, to which man had now become accustomed, and that he should follow God without fetters: moreover, that the laws of liberty should be extended, and subjection to the king increased, so that no one who is convened should appear unworthy to Him who set him free, but that the piety and obedience due to the Master of the household should be equally rendered both by servants and children; while the children possess greater confidence [than the servants], inasmuch as the working of liberty is greater and more glorious than that obedience which is rendered in [a state of] slavery.

3. And for this reason did the Lord, instead of that [commandment], "Thou shalt not commit adultery," forbid even concupiscence; and instead of that which runs thus, "Thou shalt not kill," He prohibited anger; and instead of the law enjoining the giving of tithes, [He told us] to share all our possessions with the poor; and not to love our neighbors only, but even our enemies; and not merely to be liberal givers and bestowers, but even that we should present a gratuitous gift to those who take away our goods. For "to him that taketh away thy coat," He says, "give to him thy cloak also; and from him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again; and as ye would that men should do unto you, do ye unto them:" so that we may not grieve as those who are unwilling to be defrauded, but may rejoice as those who have given willingly, and as rather conferring a favor upon our neighbors than yielding to necessity. "And if any one," He says, "shall compel thee [to go] a mile, go with him twain; " so that thou mayest not follow him as a slave, but may as a free man go before him, showing thyself in all things kindly disposed and useful to thy neighbor, not regarding their evil intentions, but performing thy kind offices, assimilating thyself to the Father, "who maketh His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and unjust." Now all these [precepts], as I have already observed, were not the injunctions] of one doing away with the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and widening it among us; just as if one should say, that the more extensive operation of liberty implies that a more complete subjection and affection towards our Liberator had been implanted within us. For He did not set us free for this purpose, that we should depart from Him (no one, indeed, while placed out of reach of the Lord's benefits, has power to procure for himself the means of salvation), but that the more we receive His grace, the more we should love Him. Now the more we have loved Him, the more glory shall we receive from Him, when we are continually in the presence of the Father.

4. Inasmuch, then, as all natural precepts are common to us and to them (the Jews), they had in them indeed the beginning and origin; but in us they have received growth and completion. For to yield assent to God, and to follow His Word, and to love Him above all, and one's neighbor as one's self (now man is neighbor to man), and to abstain from every evil deed, and all other things of a like nature which are common to both [covenants], do reveal one and the same God. But this is our Lord, the Word of God, who in the first instance certainly drew slaves to God, but afterwards He set those free who were subject to Him, as He does Himself declare to His disciples: "I will not now call you servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things which I have heard from My Father I have made known." For in that which He says, "I will not now call you servants," He indicates in the most marked manner that it was Himself who did originally appoint for men that bondage with respect to God through the law, and then afterwards conferred upon them freedom. And in that He says, "For the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth," He points out, by means of His own advent, the ignorance of a people in a servile condition. But when He terms His disciples "the friends of God," He plainly declares Himself to be the Word of God, whom Abraham also followed voluntarily and under no compulsion (sine vinculis), because of the noble nature of his faith, and so became "the friend of God." But the Word of God did not accept of the friendship of Abraham, as though He stood in need of it, for He was perfect from the beginning ("Before Abraham was," He says, "I am" ), but that He in His goodness might bestow eternal life upon Abraham himself, inasmuch as the friendship of God imparts immortality to those who embrace it. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

From Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons

 1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one," and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send "spiritual wickednesses," and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

See Early Christian Writings: Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies

Thursday, May 2, 2024

First Century Christianity: Putting Together the Available Evidence

Over the ten plus years of this blog's existence, I have put together a narrative about what happened within the Christian community of the First Century. To be clear, my narrative is very different from the one put forward by Herbert Armstrong, his successors, and most Sabbatarian Christians. And, although my narrative draws upon the evidence provided by Scripture, Josephus, the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Catholic scholars, modern Biblical scholars (like Gerd Ludemann, Bart Ehrman, James Tabor, etc.), secular history, and Roman Catholic scholars, I believe that the narrative provided here is unique and distinctive from the ones provided by all of them individually. In short, I do NOT believe that the available evidence supports the narrative of a Christianity hijacked by Gentiles or pagans, or a Church imposing its beliefs on a diverse and growing movement (NO grand conspiracy theories here).

According to the Gospels, Christ appeared to a small, core group of his disciples after his resurrection and told them to carry the message of his kingdom to the ends of the earth (a message that focused on the salvation that was available to all through him). Moreover, as the Gospels make very clear, an important part of that message was the fact that God had resurrected Jesus after the Sabbath, during the dark portion of the Jews' first day of the week - the one that the Romans called Sunday (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1-2, and John 20:1). Nevertheless, it is the "Acts of the Apostles" which recounts the story of what happened within the movement during the first four decades of its existence. From this historical narrative (in conjunction with the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John), we can piece together the story of what was really going on within the movement. 

Thus, the narrative begins with a small group of people who were wholly Jewish in their ethnicity, religion, and culture. Like Jesus, it is important to understand that these original disciples of his were observant Jews. In other words, they were accustomed to observing the Sabbath, Holy Days, clean and unclean, etc.. In short, they were familiar with Torah and had always employed it as the standard for their lives. Moreover, it is clear that this continued to be the case throughout the first decade of the movement's existence. Indeed, the book of Acts portrays a rather insular group which had little interest in expanding outside of the Roman province of Judea.

According to the Gospels, however, this was not what God and Christ had in mind for the people of the New Covenant. After all, Jesus had told his disciples at the conclusion of his own ministry: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV) Indeed, the inertia was so strong within the early Church, that we are informed that Peter was given a special vision to accept Gentiles into the movement (Acts 10). Interestingly, just prior to this event, we are informed that a Jew named Saul (who had been enthusiastically persecuting Christ's disciples) was converted and welcomed into the Church (Acts 9:1-30). This man, of course, went on to become the Apostle Paul - the apostle to the Gentiles.

Initially, the book of Acts informs us that Paul preached in synagogues around the Eastern Mediterranean provinces of the Roman Empire (Acts 13 and 14). Eventually, however, there was a backlash against Paul and his associates within the Jewish community, and the Gentile audience for their message increased over time. Now, as more and more of these non-Jewish people came into the Church, some of the Jewish Christians became disenchanted with the fact that these folks weren't observing the tenets of God's Covenant with Israel (as outlined in Torah). Sure, they had accepted Christ, been baptized, and received God's Spirit; but they were ignoring circumcision, the Sabbath, and a host of other commandments. These circumstances enraged some of the Jewish Christians within the Church (mainly those who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees).

Hence, we read in the fifteenth chapter of Acts: "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.'" (Acts 15:1-5, ESV) Clearly, the question before the gathering was: Will the Gentile believers be required to adopt the tenets of God's covenant with Israel?

The account continued: "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, 'Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.'" (Acts 15:6-11, ESV)

Notice first, that Peter spoke "after there had been much debate." This was NOT an easily settled question. Obviously, both sides of the debate recognized that the stakes were high - that the theological questions which this debate had engendered went to the very heart of the nature of the new faith. Next, Peter pointed out that God had already made the decision to give his message to the Gentiles, draw them into his Church, and had given them his Holy Spirit. Then Peter reminded his mostly Jewish audience that Christ had been the only Israelite who had ever successfully borne the yoke of Torah. As a consequence, Peter concluded that BOTH Jews and Gentiles "will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus."

In the account, Peter's remarks gave Paul and Barnabas the space they needed to recount the story of what God had used them to do among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). When they had finished, we are told that James addressed the assembly (Acts 15:13). He began by reminding them about what Peter had told them about God making the decision to make these Gentiles part of his people (Acts 15:14). Next, James pointed out that the prophets of old had predicted that David's heir (Christ) would make it possible for Gentiles to seek the Lord (Acts 15:15-18). According to the account, James then concluded his remarks with his own judgment of the matter: "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20, ESV) The account in Acts ends with the assembly writing a letter to the Gentile Christians which encouraged them to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:22-29) In other words, they gave them a short list of things that would distinguish them from the Gentiles around them and make them less likely to offend the sensibilities of their Jewish brethren. They would NOT, however, be forced to become Torah observant Jews.

Now, although Acts gives us the impression that this settled the matter, we know from Paul's letter to the Galatians that some of the Jewish Christians continued to advocate for Gentiles to obey the commandments of Torah. Even though almost two thousand years have elapsed since Paul wrote this epistle, his anger and frustration with those Jewish Christians is still palpable. In the letter, Paul recounted the story of his and Barnabas' trip to Jerusalem. He wrote: "because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (Galatians 2:4-10, ESV) Once again, the leadership among the Jewish part of the Church are portrayed here as accepting Paul and Barnabas and their work among the Gentiles.

Even so, Paul went on to give an account of a previous confrontation he had with Peter over his hypocritical behavior in front of those Jewish Christians who advocated Torah for Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). For Paul, these folks were clearly NOT to be appeased - this went to the very heart of his message about salvation through Christ. He wrote: "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Galatians 2:15-21, ESV)

For Paul, Gentile Christians trying to obey Torah was akin to a freeman submitting to slavery. He summarized his position: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:1-6, ESV) Paul believed that Christ had fulfilled Torah, and that any Christian (Jew or Gentile) who was actively trying to be justified before God by obeying the Law had effectively severed him/herself from participating in salvation through Jesus Christ!

So, this was the situation within the Church about twenty years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Over the previous twenty years, there had been a large influx of Gentiles into the Church - people who had little to no familiarity with Torah and no tradition of practicing its tenets. Nevertheless, there was still a substantial group of Jewish Christians - both within Judea and in the synagogues of Gentile cities around the empire. Within that camp, there was also a small but vocal group of people who continued to believe that Christians were obligated to obey the commandments of Torah (Sabbath and Holy Day observance, circumcision, clean and unclean, etc.).

Within the Church as a whole, there were also a number of elements of the faith that had become universal (practiced by both Jewish and Gentile Christians). For example, both the Gospels and Paul's epistles make very plain that things like baptism, the Eucharist, and Christ's resurrection were held in high esteem by all. Indeed, in this connection, both the writings of the New Testament and of the people who immediately followed the apostles (the so-called Ante-Nicene Fathers), affirm that Sunday was a day highly regarded by ALL Christians by the close of the First Century. It was, after all, the day upon which Christ had been resurrected, and the Church had been founded (Pentecost). Moreover, as I have pointed out many times over the years, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, it became physically impossible to observe the tenets of Torah in the manner prescribed by those writings. The old priesthood ceased to function. The Law of the Central Sanctuary was now defunct (there wasn't any Temple). Over the years that followed, Jews were forced to reimagine and reinterpret Torah in the light of their new circumstances.

In short, at the dawn of the Second Century, what had formerly been a wholly Jewish institution had been transformed into a Gentile one. The Jewish roots and traditions of those original disciples were replaced by the new and universal elements of the new faith. The Ekklesia of God was no longer an appendage or sect of the Jewish religion. Instead, it was now composed mostly of non-Jewish people and was rapidly expanding in reach and popularity within the Roman Empire. There hadn't been any Grand Conspiracy or deception, just the natural evolution of a new faith centered on the person of Jesus of Nazareth.