Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dinosaurs, past and present. (Part 2a)

“Caesarem appello!” Studying the trajectory of events that led to this famous appeal uttered by Paul the Apostle will undoubtedly prove that the “Old Time Religion” was entangled with Jewish tradition and Paul’s fresh ideas regarding the gospel of Christ, which inevitably went their separate ways after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

The first internal church crisis besides a brief squabble between the Greek-speaking Jews and Hebrews over the daily distribution of food in the church of Jerusalem (Acts 6), was created by certain Judaists, probably from the “large number of priests who became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7 NIV) who joined after the dispute was resolved. They demanded that all Gentile converts should first become circumcised Jews. This was Paul’s first open fight with his lifelong enemies. “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea,” (Romans 15:31 NIV); “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12 NIV) These men, the Judaisers, were to dog his steps across the Mediterranean, to speak against him and to strive with all their might to chain the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18-19) to Judaism. At long last, on Paul’s arrival in Rome, he was informed by the sympathetic “leaders of the Jews” in Rome “people everywhere are talking against this sect.” The early church movement, known as “The Way” by the Jews, was perceived as a subdivision of Judaism, whose members had have to some extent diverged from the rest of Judaism by developing deviating beliefs, practices, etc. (Acts 5:13); often regarded as extreme and heretical (Acts 9:2). The Apostle Paul previously a notorious persecutor of the Way now perceived by many Jews as a turncoat made a brave attempt in Rome to reconcile the Jewish misunderstanding between himself and his countrymen in Jerusalem. “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against our customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.” (Acts 28:17 NIV)

How odd, when we compare Paul’s ‘not-guilty plea’ in Rome with the true circumstances he encountered with James, Jesus’ brother in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Paul was categorically questioned by James concerning his actions concerning Jewish customs abroad. Why couldn’t Paul use this argument “I have done nothing against our people or against our customs of our ancestors” to his defence when James asked him, “What shall we do?” (Acts 21:22 NIV) Was Paul not opposed to Jewish customs, like circumcision? Lastly, how different was the respective “belief system” between the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

Let us turn the New Testament pages to Acts 21. Here, we find in the late stage of the development of the Jerusalem church, fondly known as the Mother Church, a people who we will associate as Christians, but are unlike what we expect Christianity today to be like. Here, the ‘Jewish’ Christians live in harmony with Judaism’s ancestral customs. Here, we find no sectarianism between ‘Christian’ Jews and their countrymen. Here, the Temple and the Law of Moses cohere with the Jerusalem church, unlike elsewhere in Gentile churches. Here, regarding Paul the apostle and the Jerusalem church, we don’t see “a partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phillipians 1:5) but ‘an agreement’ (Galatians 2:9 NIV).

Even so, here we find a panic-stricken ‘Christian’ community who come face to face with the greatest adversary the Jewish synagogues have ever known, namely, Paul the apostle of the Gentiles! A rumour has reached this ‘Christian’ community regarding Paul’s actions in far away missionary fields. The rumour has it that Paul taught “all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to [Jewish] customs!” (Acts 21:21) Is this accusation not strikingly opposite to what earlier Gentiles had to endure? They were almost forced to observe Jewish customs! Whereas the overseas Jews apparently had to forsake their customs! “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the [Gentiles] brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 NIV)

James’ fears concerning this rumour materialised when “some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple.” (Acts 21:27 NIV) Perhaps, James fears was grounded in the fact that the Jerusalem Jewish ‘Christians’ synchronization with Judaism was under threat because of their affiliation with Gentiles. After all they hosted Paul’s company! Here, in the open, in their midst, they were forced to face an old agreement between Paul and “those reputed to be pillars” (Galatians 2:9 NIV) regarding the ‘conflicting ministries’ that existed between Jew and Gentile. How would the Jewish community react towards the Jerusalem church? Notice the vehemence as the Jewish audience opposed mixing their worship with Gentiles despite the Lord’s words, “Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid, the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” (Acts 22:21,22 NIV) Here, eventually “the Jews of Jerusalem” if not with the say-so of some in the Jerusalem church, disposed of Paul by handing him “over to the Gentiles.” (Acts 21:11) This might be a harsh opinion, but consider none other than Paul’s young nephew who foiled a Jewish plot to kill Paul and came to his rescue as in the case in Ephesus where “friends of Paul” (Acts 19:31) stood by him. Let us note that Paul made an extraordinary effort despite a prophetical warning (Acts 21:10,11) to bring the Gentile contribution to Jerusalem accompanied with a group of Gentiles. The danger of this mission was irrelevant to Paul, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” (Acts 20:23 NIV) However, we can take comfort in the fact that it was God’s will. The Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11 NIV) Yet, how intense were those days in Jerusalem, when the Jews viewed Gentiles as an isolated race far removed from worshipping alongside their God. Perhaps, as pitiable, when South Africans, in the former-Apartheid era were driven apart from religious ceremonies? “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed; … There is neither Jew nor Greek; … for you are all one in Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:23-29 NIV)

In Jerusalem, we see that the Gentile Christian finds no equal footing with their Jewish Christian counterparts. James’, suggestion in order to allay such criticism came to nothing as he urged Paul to perform some typically Jewish religious rites, something to prove “there is no truth in these reports.” Ultimately, it proves the point that all Jews, whether they ‘Christian’ or not should live “in obedience on the law.” (Acts 21:24 NIV) Obviously James excluded the Gentile believers participation in the ‘purification rites’ because they were not Jewish, but the decision to abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality is apparent (Acts 21:25, ff 15:20, 28-29).

The Temple at Jerusalem presented absolutely nothing for any Gentile, but a vast court, called the Court of the Gentiles, that allow the Gentile tourist to marvel at the Temple site, Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith to pay homage to a monotheist God, or Gentile Christians to mingle freely with Jewish citizens in this particular court. “In short, according to Paula Fredriksen, “Gentiles were not subject to Israel’s purity regulations.” This perception alters only on full acceptance of Moses Law and circumcision. The infamous barrier separating the Court of Gentiles from other Jewish courts of succession, ranging from the Court of Women to the Sanctuary inspired Paul to write, “Consequently, you [‘Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”, Eph 2:11] are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people [Israel] and members of God’s household [Temple priests and Levites].” (Ephesians 2:19 NIV) Because, “For he himself is our peace [Jesus Christ], who has made the two one [Jew and Gentile] and has destroyed the barrier [The wall of Partition, forbidding non-Jews to cross over to the respective Jewish courts], the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:14 –15) Here, the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) and many other church groups reinvent Paul’s pure teaching by ‘spiritualising’ some aspects of it to sound ‘biblical,’ for example, the ICOC ‘Church-study’ or ‘Denominations-study’ teaches “God’s people” are ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ or ‘family’; and “God’s household” is ‘the Church.’ Although it is not a fair assessment of Paul’s intensions, it does no harm. Nevertheless, Paul’s words are being ‘twisted’ thus robbing the richness of its fuller meaning it otherwise tries to convey. Gentiles were literally barred from full participation with God because of Jewish law and regulations and a physical hostile barrier in the Temple! [See my DPP (Part 1) article]

The radical or revolutionary Christian teaching of Paul, “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations” could never be retained as a subdivision in the Jewish faith. This fact quickly become apparent during Paul’s meeting with the Jewish leaders in Rome. Here, Paul, in contrast to his arrest in Jerusalem, was given a stable platform from “morning to evening [which] he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” (Acts 28:23 NIV) Here, years after the riot in Jerusalem, no bad report had reached the Roman Jewish community about Paul, despite frequent trips by brothers to Jerusalem and back. “We have not received any letters from Judea [HQ] concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there [Jerusalem] has reported or said anything bad about you.” (Acts 28:21 NIV) But the appeal had been recorded (Acts 25:12) and must stand just to show how right the Holy Spirit have been about the Jews in Jerusalem, “they will hand him over to the Gentiles.” Paul laboured fruitfully in Rome. “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made his final statement: “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:24-28 NIV)

Jewish synagogues in the Diaspora gave Paul a starting-place for his preaching. Paul knew the whole Roman world was studded with such synagogues, that wherever there was a Jewish colony there would be a prayer house willing to give him a hearing. He was invariably driven away as a blasphemer, but that did not matter. Sometimes the seed fell on good ground. Often, even though the Jews drove him away, the proselytes became Christians. Paul’s Gentile Christians were neither Jew nor pagan, they were a midway people, and unlike those ‘Jewish Christians’ in Jerusalem or Jewish proselytes they didn’t abide in the Law of Moses. ‘Midway Christians’ typically had no official ‘Bible’! Reading the Epistles of Paul we see how hard the Apostle had to labour “to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith,” (Romans 1:5 NIV) not from the Law! “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last [from faith to faith], just as it is written in Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The European Christians in Philippi had to “conduct [themselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ … without being frightened in any way by those [Jews] who opposed [them]. This is a sign to them [Jews] that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God.” (Philippians 1:27,28 NIV) Instead unlike the Jewish Bereans’ who held a synagogue and Scriptures (Acts 17:10-12), the Philippians had to “continue to work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling [under great expectations of persecutions from the Jews], as they “hold out the word of life” [personal example]. Obviously the Bible today is “the word of life” but we must realise the Philippians were the word of life to “those dogs” [Jews] who put their confidence in the flesh of circumcision. “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” (Philippians 3:2 NIV) Here, we need to appreciate Paul’s cunning to sway his Greek audience from getting circumcised based upon pagan Hellenistic thought. At the time, the Greeks could not understand why tribal people would “mutilate” the flesh through circumcision as they had a high regard for the body! On the other hand, Paul disclosed to them that they were already circumcised in the Spirit! There was no need for another earthly circumcision. Besides, Paul here made it clear that circumcision was a Jewish inheritance and custom not related in anyway to the Gentiles! “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself [As Paul The Hebrew] have reasons for such confidence.” [Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard to the law, a Pharisee] (Philippians 3:3-5)

Christians in Philippi must like Paul “forgetting what is behind [Old Testament practices] and straining towards what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13 NIV); they should join with others in “following [Paul’s] example” and “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17 NIV). Practically, they had to rely on less-earthly rituals, like the Jews did, for example, “the law with its commandments and regulations.” Instead, righteousness did not come from observing the law, but from faith as practically done by having a positive attitude (Philippians 4:4,5); prayer (Philippians 4:6); meditation (Philippians 4:8); and Paul’s apostolic authority “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9 NIV). Nevertheless, these good virtues were downplayed by Paul’s opponents who appeared to have argued, how much wiser it would be to accept circumcision and the Law of Moses and belong to a synagogue. And as proof, Judaisers could point to the main Apostles in Judea, who believed in Christ, yet still observed the Law of Moses. In this regard, Trophimus, (Acts 21:29) who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem on that fateful day, could attest, if only asked by Ephesians Christians.

We must never forget when reading Paul’s Epistles, he wrote them instinctively in a period long before the Gospels were written. The Temple in Jerusalem was nearing its grand completion before the great Roman army levelled its grandeur, but this apocalyptic event took place after Paul’s death. Every time Jesus was mentioned Paul drawn on his own knowledge of Christ or on something, which those who followed Jesus had told him. Paul’s letters was not meant to be doctrinal theology. He was an evangelist, an apostle, a father, a mother, but above all a lonely missionary finding his way through the darkness of paganism with no light of the recorded Gospel to help and guide him. But he did not require such guidance. He had the unwritten Gospels in his heart, “Not I, but Christ in me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV) In fact, how could he knew that his present church’s crisis amongst the first generation of Christians would be cherished for centuries as part of a New Testament Bible? Paul, unlike Peter never saw Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps, the unlimited Jesus in the Spirit made Paul the Apostle so very useful!

How difficult it is for us to grasp the midpoint crisis which unfolded during the first century Church between Christian Jews abiding with the Law of Moses [and faith in Jesus Christ] and the simplicity of just having a ‘hearing faith’ (KJV) or ‘believing faith’ (NIV) of the Gentiles in Christ. Nevertheless, even some Gentile Christians then as today lent their ears out for an alternative teaching, not based on faith, but a philosophy played on human effort. A checklist! To this Paul asked the Galatians two questions while he exposed the hypocrisy of Jewish Christians in full view of generations who cares to read the Epistle of Galatians! To the Galatians; firstly, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” secondly, “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2,5 NIV) To what extent do Christians in the ‘new ICOC’ have a hearing faith?

Here, I personally carry much gratitude for Gordon Ferguson “openness” when he affirmed how off the beaten track the ICOC belief system was as he compared the ICOC’s ‘checklist’ with Galatians 1. (See my article: “Is Jesus’ discipleship method a theological fantasy?”)

The first century Jewish – Gentile debate intensified as more and more ‘Gentile sinners’ in distant Roman territories become obedient to the faith outside the sphere of influence of the country of the Jews. Steadily the gap widened between the traditional perception of the law and Paul’s message. Why can the early church be closely associated with Judaism? Perhaps, we can draw this conclusion from Jesus’ perception and attitude towards Jewish orthodoxy. Jesus never disputed the Law or the use of the Temple. In fact, in Jesus pre-Resurrection period he not only encouraged the crowds but his own disciples to remain steadfast with Judaism! Preposterous?!
Then how do we explain away his instructions regarding those who sit in ‘Moses’ seat’? “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach.” (Matthew 23:1-3 NIV) Ouch! The synagogue had raised seats, called “Moses’ seat” facing the audience whereupon Pharisees sat teaching the laws. Modern Christians should not act surprised as James reminded the council at Jerusalem, “Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15); nor can the importance of keeping the commandments in the late Jerusalem church be overlooked (Acts 21). In many aspects the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude of the Pharisees observance of the Torah (God’s teachings) has made their name a term of reproach today. A pharisaic tendency always represents legalism. Jesus guarded against it through his ‘do ye even so’ teaching (Matthew 7:12 KJV). Jesus targets the Pharisees because of their pious observance of the law and regulations lacks love and mercy. Christians often make a mistake regarding Jesus’ attitude towards the Law of Moses. Jesus fulfilled the Law. (Read Matthew 5:17-20)

If the report is true, which reached James and the whole Jerusalem church, concerning Paul’s teaching “all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to [Jewish] customs” (Acts 15:21 NIV); then it would have meant that the Apostle breached a contract of goodwill amongst “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars” (Galatians 2:9). For, “They agreed that [Paul and Barnabas] should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.” (Ibid)

Like Jesus, Paul was not against what he described “our people or against our customs of our ancestors,” but against a Jewish perception of teaching Gentile Christians that Moses is first! This national heritage is nonsensical to Gentiles. “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through the same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:29-31 NIV) How? “We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” (Romans 3:9 NIV) Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:20 NIV)

Paul applied a simple rule as simple as the faith he professes in all the churches he ministered. “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised? Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.” And this rule he applied in other matters, such as slavery. “Were you a slave? …” Paul concluded, “Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.” (1 Corinthians 7:17-24 NIV)

Thus, being a Gentile, you remain one, and the demands of the circumcision group, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” falls away.

* “Dinosaurs, past and present” (Part 2b) will examine the purity laws with the help of Paula Fredriksen’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews”.

Friday, March 24, 2006

No Monkey Business!

The article “Dinosaurs, past and present - Part 2” is almost ready. This article investigates perceptions held by ‘the country of the Jews’ regarding their ‘purity laws’ and ‘commandment-keeping’. In particular, the focus is on the Gentile worshipper. I have never contemplated how much the Jewish traditions rubbed off onto the New Testament primitive church. I thought the song, “Give Me That Old Time Religion” might be “good for Paul and Silas” but is it really “good enough for me?” Wait and see!

Going into the weekend, worldwide, Muslims on Friday gather in their mosques; Saturday, Jews congregate in their respective synagogues, while at the close of the weekend, church bells will announce Sunday.

Which brings me to this story of the invention of wine, for those who will answer the call of the ‘Bells”.

“Long ago, when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, Mother Eve was sorry to notice that Adam lacked enterprise and was quite content to potter about the garden and waste his time. She said to him one day: ‘Why do you remain in Paradise all the time? Why don’t you go out and see what lies in the world? If I were a big, strong man like you, I should be ashamed to sit about all day long. Have you no sense of adventure?

So Adam, in order to escape from Eve’s reproaches, left the Garden and wandered in the world outside, where he discovered a tree that was not in Eden. It was a vine. Small clusters of green grapes grew on it, and these Adam gathered and took home to show Eve. She ate them and said they were very good.

One day he went out to the vine and saw that its leaves drooped in the heat of a khamseen, while he was wondering where he could find water, a monkey passed by. Adam seized it and killed it, refreshing the vine with its blood. He went out again, and again the vine was wilting. This time a peacock passed by. Adam slew it and gave its blood to the vine. A third time he went, and still the vine was parched. A lion came along and, after some difficulty, Adam slew it and poured its blood upon the vine. On the fourth visit the vine, although considerably improved, was still suffering from the heat. As Adam was wondering what to to do about it, a wild pig came along, and this Adam killed and with its blood nourished the vine. And the heat passed and the vine thrived.

One day he went again and saw that the vine was covered with huge bunches of big, red grapes. He gathered some and ran to Eve with them. She cried, ‘O Adam, are you hurt? There is blood on you!’ But he said, ‘No, it is the juices of the vine, which I have watered with blood.’ Adam and Eve like the grapes so much that Eve kept them in a pot and they drank the juice. So wine was discovered.

Here is the moral of this Arab-story.

One drink of wine, and you act like a monkey; two drinks, and you strut like a peacock; three drinks, and you roar like a lion; and four drinks - you behave like a pig.”

So lets keep it moderately!
Until then.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dinosaurs, past and present. (Part 1)

Acknowledgement
To the reader, I am not, to use a Xhosa word a “fundi” meaning an expert on what I am about to write, but I am thoroughly enlightened! Much of my ideas for this series are based on a contemporary Boston University historian, Paula Fredriksen’s book, titled, “Jesus of Nazareth - King of the Jews” (published in 2000).

“Boston! Can anything good come from there?” I asked, as I repeat Nathaniel of the New Testament. Most definitely! Fredriksen has skilfully alerted me to anachronistic mistakes that may appear in scholarly projects, with the International Churches of Christ (ICOC) as no exception! The ICOC Bible standard is shallow. Their belief system with their faith firmly set in the Gospel books have probably unbeknown to them raise the rabbinic times of Jesus and the pre-Temple era to the present. “But [this] relevance comes purchased at the price of anachronism.”

The hunt is on
Dinosaurs have once roamed the world - a land before time! It happened so long ago that we refer to this period as pre-historic times. People often refer to things in the past that happened long ago figuratively ‘back when the dinosaurs roamed the world.’ Recently, during the September 2005 Seattle Conference, Steve Johnson used that expression announcing his intentions to continue with the pre-2003 ICOC discipleship policy, which he describe as a “mousetrap,” which eventually landed him a position as an assistant-Lead Evangelist in the Portland International Church of Christ in January 2006. I quote from Dave Anderson’s website: “In Savannah, [Savannah Church of Christ, Georgia] I want to do exactly what I did in Boston in 1979 or in New York in 1983 - with regards to teaching people how to teach people to become disciples. I’ve not come up, and I haven’t seen anyone else that has come up with a better mousetrap. And I assure you that when I see one, I’ll adopt it just like I did when I moved to Boston to be trained by Kip back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.”

Now if it were up to “dinosaurs” to set “mousetraps” then this contraption would look most probably gory or ghastly! “Whack-Attack!” A great deal of ICOC folk, judging from the bloody mousetrap hunt in “Episode 1” are now avoiding a follow-up episode. “Episode 2” is alive and well what I call the Portland Movement. However, at this stage, the happy hunting grounds of “Episode 2,” relies on old traps because they can’t find “better mousetraps” to adopt! Oh! What a bloody mess! If you can’t make out head or tail from this saga, perhaps this series, “Dinosaurs, past and present” might be helpful to you.

Understanding time misplacement and chronology of Jesus’ time
Who can forget films like Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park”? Mr Spielberg’s enthralling film is a brilliant example of deliberate anachronism in art and fiction. Jurassic Park manages to ‘collapse time’ by allowing pre-historic events to resurface alongside our time, just like “The Flintstones” cartoons successfully depicts many modern appliances in a pre-historic setting.

Ananchronisms are things that are placed in the wrong time period. This misapprehension of the true state of affairs that drives our imagination to wonder up and down a chronological timeline happens when we misplace events with regard to each other’s chronology. The ‘ana’ in ‘anachronism’ is a prefix derived from Greek referring to ‘upward’ or ‘backward’ and ‘chronos’ means ‘time’. Furthermore, there are two types of anachronisms. A ‘parachronism’ is when the assigned date is too late for the appearance of the anachronism - Spielberg’s dinosaurs, while ‘prochronisms’ occurs when the assigned date is too early for the appearance of the anachronism - the Flintstone’s modern appliances.

A fictional character, John Cullinane, in James A. Michener’s book, titled, “The Source,” excavated a bullet once fired from a British rifle. After examination, he catalogues it 1950 A.D., “but he no sooner done so than he erased the A.D. in some embarrassment and substituted C.E.” Cullinane, “was working in a Jewish country which had formerly been a Muslim country, and here the use of Ano Domini was frowned upon; yet the worldwide system of dating had to be respected. And that required a Before Christ and an After Christ whether Muslims and Jews liked it or not, just as all longitude was measured from an English observatory near London, whether Anglophobes like that or not. So Cullinane wrote his date 1950 C.E., which had originally signified the Christian Era but which was now universally read as Common Era. Dates before Jesus were written B.C.E., Before the Common Era, and this satisfied every one.”

Nevertheless, when the past is surveyed, the worldwide system of dating is based upon Jesus’ birth (+/- 4 B.C.). A chronological timeline connects the trajectory of historical events, just like Cullinane’s bullet passing from the British muzzle to the first point of impact, where it was found. However, historical events may relate periodically ‘before’ or ‘after’ each other’s fixed point of chronology on the timeline.

The cannonical Gospels accurately synchronised the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb as Matthew indicates after “the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,” but it is anyone’s guess in which year of anna Domini (the year of our Lord). Therefore dates of Jesus’ Ascension may vary from 29 - 33 A.D or C.E. Nevertheless, the event of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel narratives becomes an anchor point on the Biblical timeline, dividing events in a pre or post-Resurrection periods.

Some Christians often feel sidelined or intimidated by scholarly work. In the first place, Christians should view it as a challenge to step up from basic Sunday school training and mature beyond “elementary truths of God’s word.” A quote from R.H. Malden’s book, titled, “Problems of the New Testament Today” (published in 1923) concludes, “It is to be feared that many of those who attend Public Worship understand very little of many of the New Testament lessons which they hear read.”

Everyone who wishes to understand the New Testament Chronology must take in consideration the fact that Paul’s letters were written before any of the Four Gospels. Therefore, the earliests Christian text on record belongs to Paul. The 27 books of the New Testament are not arranged in the order they were written. Paul’s epistles, for example, are arranged according to their length - Romans to Philemon. Incidentally, geographic names takes prominence to letters addressed to people.

Paul’s letters contrast significantly with the Gospels. Very little is mentioned about Jesus of Nazareth. If it was not for the Gospel writers rich contribution, precious little would have been known about Jesus’ ministry and what transpired from it, other than snippets in the Epistles of the New Testament. Paul’s earlier groundwork towards free mandates of worship as to be “bound to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3 NIV) saved Christianity from the clutches of Judaism. With divine inspiration, Paul, the Hebrew, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a servant of Christ was chosen to take the New Testament out of the hands of Jewry and to proclaim it in the far places of the world, even possibly as far as Spain! “I have been longing for many years to see you, [The church in Rome] I plan to do so when I go to Spain.” (Romans 15:20-24 NIV)

Jesus’ Jewish audience “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) contrasts sharply with the Gentile audience Paul targeted, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) Jesus’ earlier followers continue to keep the Sabbath, (Matthew 23:56, Mark 16:1) while in the post-Resurrection era, the early church in Jerusalem also continued to worship according to the Mosaic tradition. The importance of the Temple in their midst cannot be dismissed. (Luke 24:53; Acts 1:12; 2:46; 3:1; and 5:42) At the time of Stephen’s death, a few years after the resurrection of Jesus, the primitive church was still in the arms of the synagogue. Jews who believed in Christ did not differ in any of the outward signs from Jews who did not believe. The ‘Christian’ Jews still offered sacrifices in the Temple, and still observed the law of Moses, feast days and fasts.

By mid-century, Jewish interpretation of Biblical laws, the ‘halakah,’ prompted an urgent meeting between members of the Jerusalem and Antioch churches after a dispute arise between Gentile and Jewish Christians. Jesus’ message from the outset, as the gospel spread from Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth was contained in three Jewish regions - Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. (Acts 1:8; 2:14; 5:16; 8:1, 4, 25; 9:22, 28, 31) The foremost region was Jerusalem (Luke 24:47,48; Acts 2:5, 11, 14) and “towns around Jerusalem” (Acts 5:16) but “a great persecution broke out against the church of Jerusalem, and all except the apostles, [who were not Hellenised Jews] were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” The Hellenised ‘Christian’ Jews “who had been scattered preached the word everywhere they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria” (Acts 8:4,5) when “the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.” This was necessary so that the Samaritans “might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, they had simply been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:15-17) This sign from the Holy Spirit here, as it later appeared in favour of Cornelius’ household, appeases conflicting notions that might have existed between Palestinian Jews and Samaritans. John’s Jesus interview with the Samaritan woman disallowed disassociation between ethnic groups as indicated above, “Yet, a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (John 4) Jesus promise was made good when the Holy Spirit finally intervened, as Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch, as Ananias baptised Saul, as Peter baptised Cornelius’ household. What transpired from the meeting in Jerusalem was the fact that God had “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27) as he had done in the “country of the Jews”. (Acts 10:39)

The Jewish ‘Christian’ community within the country of the Jews in the beginning consisted of the eleven apostles, who elected Matthias as their twelve member (Acts 1:26), “Mary the mother of Jesus” and Jesus “brothers” (Acts 1:14), about 120 believers with them (Acts 1:15), who later expanded to a sizable group by baptising “about three thousand” (Acts 2:38), then “the number of men grew to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4), then “more and more men and women were added to their number [Jewish Christians] (Acts 5:14), and still “the number of disciples was increasing: (Acts 6:1) and finally Paul the apostle for the Gentiles had to reckon “how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.” (Acts 21:20) Thus, the “apostles’ teaching” in Acts 2:42 was primary Jewish inclined. It appears that pre-Temple Jewish ‘Christians’ gradually got use to the idea in accepting Gentiles in their fold, but on their terms! “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18 NIV)

Many scholars place the Epistle of Galatians before Thessalonians, in the early portion of the New Testament (+/- 47, 48 C.E.). Galatians was written to counteract the doctrines of certain Judaistic missionaries who had attempted to undermine the teaching and the apostolic authority of Paul. The question at issue is nothing less than the survival or the disappearance of the Gentile church. Who must come first, Christ or Moses?

When reading Galatians, clear boundaries between Jewish and Gentile ‘Christians’ existed. Paul investigated this matter. “Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.” (Galatians 2:12 NIV) However, as the Thessalonians’ letter state in the same period of Paul’s fact finding meeting. “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.” “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” (1 Thessalonians 2:1, 3-4 NIV)

Today reading Galatians we cannot help to be amazed by Paul’s vision as he publically rebuke Peter and other important figure heads of his time who “were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” (Galatians 2:14) The ‘apostles’ teaching’ as described by Acts 2:42 compared with Jude’s 17 “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (KJV) is a different story. Early Jewish ‘Christians’ gradually got hold of the ‘abnormally born’ apostles’ teaching on Christ. Paul was against a Judaistic perception of the law that served its purpose until Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” (Galatians 3:13 “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21) In short, this ‘Jewish belief system’ is not faith and faith is not based on this ‘Jewish belief system’.

This question was partially settled in the meeting held at Jerusalem by the apostles and elders, alongside with Paul and his own representatives. “Some of the believers who belonged to the party of Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” (Acts 11:5 NIV) Clearly, with such strong sentiments concerning the Gentiles we know that this practice was already accepted as standard practice in the early Jerusalem church, which continued as Acts 21 indicates in the late Jerusalem church. A Gentile Christian was perceived as a type of proselyte as Jews view Gentiles ‘going over to the Jews.’ At best, some Jewish ‘Christians’ in the region of Judea, apparantly “without [the apostles and elders] authorisation” (Acts 15:24) “came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 NIV) Parties involved “met to consider this question” and James dismissed the meeting without compromising Jewish ‘Christian’ standards while Gentile Christians followed a semi-ruling partially based on the law of Moses. “It is my judgement, therefore that we [Jewish Christians] should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God ... For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times [“back when the dinosaurs roamed the world”] and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” ... Gentile Christians “are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15) Nevertheless, Paul won an important dispute “before the saints.” (1 Corinthians 6:7) These requirements is beautifully explored by Paul in his Epistles in order for Gentile ‘Christians’ to find the fuller meaning in Christ rather being exploited wrongly by the circumcision group.

The Jewish element had been shed over the centuries as songs from the Kids Kingdom (ICOC Sunday school) ring out tunes such as “Building up the Temple” probably pass us by without thinking much about it. The children while singing act out the building of the temple of God with their small hand over hand gestures reaching higher and higher. Perhaps, it is ironic that as little children we learn about the Temple while as grown ups we cast its’ lessons aside. Symbolically the Temple becomes Jesus’ body, “Destroy this temple, [Jesus’ body] and I will raise it again in three days.” Christian’s bodies in the post-Resurrection era is perceived as ‘living sacrifices’ or ‘temples.’ “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV)

Phoenicians, who, having no architecture of their own, borrowed from the architecture of Egypt and Assyria, built Solomon’s Temple. The later Temple that Herod the Great built, and in which Jesus taught, was no doubt borrowed from Greece and the architecture of the Hellenistic age, for the Jews never created a national architecture. And how curious it is that the building which now stands on the same site is also a piece of borrowed architecture. By sight, the temple site of Jerusalem, despite its stormy history now stands radical transformed. To rebuild the Temple to its former glory, will be no child’s play! Standing in its place is the Kubbet-es-Sakhra, (Harem-es-Sherif) or Dome (Mosque) of the Rock, which is the most sacred Muslim shrine outside Mecca!

Throughout early Christian history the Christians of Jerusalem wished this site to remain a vacant ruin in order that the words of Jesus might be literally fulfilled, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” All the city rubbish of Byzantine Jerusalem was carted to the site of the Temple, so that when the Mohammedans captured the city, the Caliph Omar had to crawl on his hands and knees over accumulated refuse into the place where the Temple had been. So great was the neglect that difficulty was experienced even in finding the Sakhrah, the site of the sacred rock. If a Christian goes there today, he or she must conform to certain rules, just as the Gentile was obliged to conform to the rules of the Jewish Temple.

It was built in 688 C.E. to the orders of the Caliph Abd el Melek, but Arab architects did not design it, because Arab architecture had not yet developed. A huge white platform holds the domed octagonal building. This platform and building occupy, the site of the inner sanctuaries of the Temple of Solomon. The mosque is built over an outcrop of rock on which the Jewish Altar of Burnt Offerings once stood. The Dome of the Rock is the same today as it was when the Byzantines built it for the Arabs in 688 C.E. Vast spaces to the south are the renowned sites of an ancient court of the Gentiles. Formerly, in the pre-Temple era, a barrier separated Gentiles from coming near the Holy of Holies. All strangers were warned of the consequence of facing instant death by frequent notices in Latin, Greek and Hebrew to stay out! The fortress of Antonia stands today where Paul was taken to safety in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 21.

Suppose, like Spielberg’s dinosaurs, we manage to bring back pre-Temple period worshippers to the present site of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. How will they react surveying this place? Judging from a scenario in the pre-Temple period ‘our pre-Temple dinosaurs’ will faint from shock! “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place [Temple]. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:28,29 NIV)

Clearly, the lesson we must take to heart is “though history is always done backward, life is only lived forward.” Therefore, like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park film, ‘dinosaurs’ of the past mingling along with our contemporaries is dangerous! Likewise, an anachronism, “the viewing of persons or events out of their own historical context, is the first and last enemy of the historian.” Just how much this is evident in the ICOC belief system is startling.

Making informative choices base on a better overview on the New Testament might combat over zealous ICOC trappers.

* “Dinosaurs past and present (Part 2) is coming soon!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Commentary on anachronisms

A two part article - "Dinosaurs past and present" can be expected on Monday, 13 March dealing with ICOC faulty doctrine. I'll attempt to point out some anachronistic errors uphold as "biblical teaching" in the ICOC belief system. The first part will focus on "hidden clues" in the four Gospels concerning the first century Temple cult and Jesus Return. The second part will explore an error of judgement concerning discipleship methodologies as ascribe in the ICOC. Until then.

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