After Jesus was gone, the disciples and many other followers were left without instructions regarding a new religion. They knew the old Hebrew covenant of Law was ended, but what should they do in the future? A new day had dawned, and like awakening from a sleep, what should one do with it?
For us today, we would like to know what Jesus would approve for Christian practices? We know that our religion has been terribly corrupted over the centuries, first at the Council of Nicaea in 325ad, and then grotesquely by the Roman Catholics during their dark age of evil. The Protestant Reformation corrected a few of the outrageous anti-Christ doctrines of the Mary-cult and priestly wickedness, but never have we looked back to that period immediately following Jesus to see what those early Christians did. Pentecost happened fifty days afterward, and the early church was fully fired and dynamic as they struggled to be "Christians." There were some controversies and arguments. One of the first was about circumcision, whether it would be necessary for the diasporan Israelites of Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy. Since circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant, and that covenant had been completed, they decided that circumcision could be left behind with the rest of the old practices.
We know that early Christians did not have large churches. Paul went to synagogues in his missionary efforts because that is where the white-race Israelites were already active. Then, after they heard the Good News about their redemption from the Old Covenant penalty, they became Christians to follow Jesus as their new Shepherd. They met in each other's homes, in small groups, to discuss the stories they heard about Jesus and to read letters that apostles were writing to various churches. Matthew wrote the earliest story about Jesus' life, and that was most highly valued. Having no more priests and no more written law to direct them, they were on their own. What they did have was a New Covenant with God, and from their synagogue literature they could read the details of the contract in Jeremiah 31. Later, Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant was repeated in the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 8. That was the basis for a new relationship to the God of Israel, but it warranted a lot of discussion and pondering in order for the prodigals to seek the correct path home toward their Father. Let's take a look at the New Covenant, from Hebrews 8:10-12, from the KJV.
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days," saith the Lord; "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach, every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord:' for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
Compared to the Old Covenant of Laws and punishments, this was really strange. God is demanding almost nothing, except the strangest clause of all, that they they don't try to teach each other to know God. This must have been mind-boggling and confusing, but with God's spirit active in their hearts and minds, they seemed to take to it as easily as fish to water. So, just what did they do? We don't see much attention given by modern writers to that question, yet, isn't that something we would find useful in our own quests to relate to our Father? The early Christians were fully charged with God's divine Spirit, and they charged forward without ever looking back. They must have had some confidence in whatever they were doing! Now, we want to know what they did. Our religion has been so terribly corrupted; it seems more important than ever to find out what they did.
Where to look? There was a lot of literature produced during the first century after Christ, including a lot of fantasy stuff, some that even had Jesus jumping over buildings, even one that had Jesus selling Thomas to an Indian as a slave. Copies were made of the apostles' letters, spread all across the land. The fervor was really high among those Israelite sheep who had languished for so long awaiting their Shepherd! Over the centuries since, much of that literature has been lost or destroyed. After the Roman church got organized, much literature was destroyed and some was secreted in the dungeons of the Vatican where it is still hidden today. Many writings have been discovered in later centuries in monasteries where they rested undisturbed by monks, of whom many were illiterate. Some of those materials are still being translated and made public today. But, for my purpose, where can I look to find what the early Christians were really doing?
The writings of Eusebius, an early church historian, comes first to mind. He lived from about 260 to 340 AD, and wrote a history of the church from Jesus' beginning until about 325 AD. He had a lot of source material, much which he references that is no longer available to us. We must trust his credibility to the extent that we can judge his veracity and objectivity. He rates quite high. Another source for my quest was the collection of earliest writings, called, The Apostolic Fathers. In this collection are such works as the Doctrina, The Didache, Letter of Barnabas, Letters of Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Letters of Ignatius, Letter of Polycarp (disciple of St. John) to the Philippians, and a few other pieces. Setting aside another batch of early writings classified as "Pseudepigrapha," which means "false writing," the materials just listed are the best indicators of the early church.
The Doctrina is a short document, listing "thou shalt nots" and "thou shalts," ending with "through these sacred contests you will attain the crown, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns and rules with God the Father and the holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen" The rules are not prescribed like O.T. Law, as demands by God, but as instruction in the way of life and of light. Most of the ten commandments are randomly included, along with other such advice as: "you shall not practice magic, you shall not use enchanted potions, you shall not murder a child by abortion, nor kill one when it is born, . . . you shall not speak evil, you shall not hold a grudge, . . . you shall not join yourself in soul with higher men, but you shall associate with upright and humble men." and others. Some of the positive advices are: "you shall remember the one who speaks the word of the Lord God to you; you shall honor him as the Lord. . . . Judge justly knowing that you will be judged. . . . You slaves, moreover, be subject to your masters, as a symbol of God, with modesty and trembling. You shall hate hypocrisy, . . . (et al) This is the way of life. But the way of death is the opposite of it. First, it is bad and full of curses, - adulteries, murders, false witness, fornications, base desires, magic arts, enchantments, thefts, idolatry, robberies, hypocrisies, pride, malice, willfulness, covetousness, foul speech, jealousy, insolence, boastfulness, exaltations, falsity." So, the Doctrina was a simple admonition to be righteous and avoid wickedness. It is interesting that its "rules" are presented so differently than the O.T. commands which were based on threats of punishments. We can see a dramatic change in attitude, as though they really understood the New Covenant promise that God remembers sin no more, but they also recognized that good actions have blessed consequences, while bad actions have bad ones.
The Didache is about eight pages of modern print compared to three pages of the Doctrina. The Didache means "The Teaching." It is also known as "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." It includes most of the advice contained in the Doctrina but also provides simple instructions for baptism, fasting, prayer, the Lord's Supper, treatment of visiting missionaries, etc. This is a manual of Christian morals and church procedure. The Didache was written about the year 100 AD, shortly after St. John wrote his Revelations, so we can feel that this material truly reflects the general values and practices of the early Christians. Like the Doctrina, The Didache is very new-covenant in nature.
The Didache gives instructions for the Lord's Supper, which they called "Thanksgiving." It was a full meal. The before meal instruction: "Now about the Thanksgiving, give thanks thus: First about the cup, 'We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of your servant David, which you have made known to us through your servant Jesus. Glory to you forever.' And about the piece of bread, 'We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge you have made known to us through Jesus your servant. Glory be yours forever. Just as this piece of bread was scattered over the mountains, and then was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For the glory and the power are yours through Jesus Christ forever.'" Then at the end of the meal, "After you are satisfied, give thanks thus, 'We give you thanks, Holy Father, for your holy name, which you have made dwell in our hearts, and for knowledge and faith and immortality . . . etc.'" Only in later years would this Thanksgiving meal become classified as a sacrament, taken away from the laymen of small house churches, and reserved for priests to officiate, called a "sacrament" by the Roman Catholic Church. Even today, the most "protestant" of churches reserves this meal to be a sacrament for preachers alone to officiate.
What we can discern from The Didache is that it, as a CHURCH HANDBOOK, is very New Testament in nature, and does NOT emphasize any of the O.T. festivals, sacrifices, new moon importance, or holy days. The Passover was remembered and acknowledged but it was commemorated in a different manner than the ancient Hebrew tradition. Another thing we learn is that early Christians had stopped using the word "sabbath," and called Sunday "The Lord's Day" because they were honoring the day that Jesus arose. Chapter 14 of The Didache begins "On the Lord's own day, gather together and break bread and give thanks . . ." Other writings make quite clear that their new sabbath (day of rest) was Sunday in honor of Jesus' resurrection. Why God commanded His children to honor and keep the Sabbath (sabbaton) has never been understood by scholars, beyond the simple explanation that after six days of creation, on the seventh day God rested. We are thereby honoring the day in which God did nothing more so than the days in which He created all things! Why? Because God simply commanded us to do so, without any further explanation than that. And that has been enough during all the past centuries. Now, in this end-time period, when more things are being revealed, I understand why we should honor that seventh day. The word "rest" is part of the reason, as elucidated in the writing to the Hebrews, chapter 4. God's Rest will be the Kingdom of God. Following six ages of Kingdom of World (the past 12,000 years), during which God's children were disciplined and trained and prepared for their destiny, then will come the half-cycle period of 12,000 years of the Kingdom of God, which is our "rest," or our "heaven." That is the great reward for which we live and yearn and hope. That will be our rest from the tribulations of this World. That one day of each week should be reserved for honoring our Lord is of so much higher value than the mere legalistic keeping of a Sabbath, that it gave the early Christians no pause, no controversy, not even any discussion when they decided to honor the day of Jesus' resurrection as their day of rest. Those who obey laws simply because they are laws would do better to contemplate their meanings and values and applications. It is not our legalistic motions that our Father values, but our hearts and sincere devotion. Just read what Barnabas has to say about "new moons and sabbaths" in the next paragraph! Obviously, God had more in mind than just the honoring of Saturday as a sabbath.
The Letter of Barnabas was written about 130 AD, by scholars' estimate. So, it is probably not the same Barnabas who traveled with Paul. This Barnabas was likely acquainted with St. John's student, Polycarp, and is quite knowledgeable about, and consistent with, New Testament writings. Up until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Barnabas was valued by many Christians as Scripture equal to Paul's letters. Near the end of the second century, Clement of Alexandria considered Barnabas to be Scripture. Origen also valued it so. Although, among many it was a "disputed" writing, not quite acceptable as Scripture. Nevertheless, what we can learn from this book, since it was so widely popular and accepted by early Christians, is their general attitude and belief regarding many topics. In modern print, Barnabas is about 23 pages long, just to give you some idea of its size. In his opening, Barnabas makes the interesting statement, "And not as a teacher but as one of you I will show you a few things over which you will rejoice in the present time." It is obvious that Barnabas knows and values the New Covenant which prescribes there shall be no more teachers. In his second chapter, he says, "For he has made it plain to us through all the prophets that he needs neither sacrifices nor burnt offerings nor offerings, for he somewhere says, 'What is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? says the Lord. I am full of burnt offerings, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats, not even if you come to be seen by me. For who has required this at your hands? You shall not tread my courts again. If you bring fine flour, it is vain. Incense is an abomination to me; your new moons and sabbaths I cannot bear.' So he abolished these things in order that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is free from the yoke of necessity, might have its offering not made by man." Later, Barnabas quote a passage saying, "A broken heart is a sacrifice to the Lord; a heart that glorifies its maker is a fragrant odor to the Lord." Without making clear references to God's law and the directions for keeping Old Testament festivals and holy days, Barnabas quite boldly asserts that God no longer wants such things as were commanded in old times. Now God wants your heart. Barnabas neglects the O.T. rituals just like the New Testament writers did. They seemed to feel no need to explain themselves as they abandoned all the old practices, honored a new day of rest, and accepted the new relationship with their Father which had been denied to their ancestors. However, I should make clear that Barnabas does often quote the Old Testament, and refer to ancient events of Moses and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is nothing but love and honor shown toward those of old, but there is further the rejoicing over Jesus' work of satisfying the demands which their breach of the Old Covenant required, and the securing of a new contract of a very different nature. Something that was clear to these Greek speaking Israelites was the meaning of O.T. words. Let me give an example: English translations often indicate that God established something "forever," like the Old Covenant, whereas the Greek word "aion" doesn't mean "forever," it means "during an age" or "during ages," which are limited periods of time. The Old Covenant was applicable during the age of Aries, but the New Covenant applies during the age of Pisces. God never changes, but ages do, and the pageant on God's stage surely does. The Apostolic Fathers is a collection of writings which are a joy to read, and wonderfully edifying for Christians who want to feel toward our Lord in similar ways that the early Christians felt.
In our search for a better understanding of those earliest Christians, it is not possible to know them unless we get a feel for the culture and society in which they lived. Certainly the Galilean Israelites (Jesus was a Galilean, not a Judean/Jew) knew themselves as a minority race in the midst of Canaanites and Romans and Idumeans with whom they had conflicts. Every group in the Palestine region felt racial consciousness to an extreme, and that was a cause of much of the unrest in the region. Canaanites spoke Aramaic while the Galilean Israelites spoke Greek, a dialect that had evolved from their ancient Phoenician language. At the Jerusalem temple a new language of "Hebrew" was being promoted, but the alphabet had only recently been invented. All Romans spoke Greek, as they would continue to do for another few centuries before Latin finally became dominant in Italy. Some Israelites in Galilee and Asia Minor and in Greece (from the 700BC dispersion) were still attempting to practice their ancient Hebrew religion of the Old Testament. Synagogues (a Greek word, not Hebrew) were a fairly new thing, having been built for local study and worship since they knew the Jerusalem temple had become Babylonian Talmudic Phariseeism. The Edomites had taken over Jerusalem and the Temple itself during the century before Christ, and were using the Temple to promote their banking business, which is the greatest talent of the Edomites. Edomites, being descendants from Esau, were the eternal enemies of Jacob's Israelite descendants, and persecuted them terribly, driving most of them out of Jerusalem to outlying towns of poverty. Edomites called themselves "Judeans" because they lived in Judea. In later centuries they would be called "Jews" as a slang word translation of "Judeans." When Jesus went to the Jerusalem Temple and told the Edomite officials that God was not their father, but the devil was, He was certainly not speaking to His Israelite sheep for whom God was their real Father. Those were Edomites, the race which makes up the body of Satan and the very anti-Christ. Later, in St. John's Revelations 2:9 & 3:9 we hear Jesus saying again that those who call themselves "Jews" but are not are liars and the synagogue of Satan.
So, animosities were high in the Palestine region, very much like they are today. The evil race of Edomite "Jews" had displaced the true Israelites, just like present day Edomite Israelis have now displaced the Ishmaelites who owned that land for thousands of years. Actually, what we are seeing in Palestine today is the Jewish "Beast" acting against the Islam "False Prophet," both of whom get destroyed in the end. Rome ruled over Palestine in Jesus' day, but they were not nearly as cruel as history has painted them. Admittedly, it did take a stern hand to keep those troublesome Edomites under control. The Edomites continued to persist in their wickedness until their temple had to be destroyed in 70 AD. Then they continued to act up until Rome purged them from the region about 135 AD in the bar Kochba rebellion. I'm describing this to give you some idea of the turbulent society of Jesus' time. When you understand the powerful racial identity which the Israelites knew and treasured from their long history, then you will see how they all understood themselves as the "ethnos" of the Israel race. When they spoke of their own ethnos group, they certainly did not mean "gentiles" or "non-Judeans."
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