They used to call the church a virgin, wrote Hegesippus, a church historian in the second century, for she had not yet been corrupted by vain teachings.
Answer for yourself: To what vain teachings does Hegesippus refer?
Answer for yourself: Have you fell victim to believing in such vain teachings and not aware that you have?
Essentially the New Testament was the developing statement of the experience of the one virginal church. The first disciples had the unique experience of the human Jesus, then of the resurrection, then of the Holy Spirit. Before Paul these experiences were already expressed in prayers and hymns. It will be hard for you to see and admit at first, but upon completion of this series of articles you will be clearly able to see for yourself that Paul thought these pre-Pauline ideas through, and wrote his own conclusions in his epistles that often were in conflict with the original teachings of Yeshua, James, and Peter. The evangelists and writers of the original Gospels, not those to whom the early church attached authorship, had access to the memories of the first disciples, and they re-told the traditions about Yeshua in the Gospels, either in line with, or modifying, the Pauline theology that pre-dated their writing. In other words, the Gospels were written up to 50 years after Paul had penned his Epistles and they were heavily influenced by his ideas. Thus, Pauline thought was first submitted to writing, and the Gospels were originally written to correct matters at had that had been misrepresented by Paul. Sadly, these corrections would themselves fall victim to additions, deletions, and creationism through the hands of less than credible Gentile Church authorities during the second century and onward. The false teachers who cloud the later books of the New Testament are a mixture of out-of-date 'Judaizers', gnostics, syncretists and other menaces who tried to seduce the virginal church. The whole structure of Christian belief grew, as Cardinal Newman has so memorably to put it, as an oak out of an acorn.
These articles are an attempt to educate the contemporary Christian to the spiritual dynamics behind the scenes of the Jerusalem Church which was constantly at odds with Paul. It was this tension between Yeshua Apostles versus Paul which fueled the need to create writings to vindicate Pauls opinions which were not readily acceptable by the Jerusalem Church. Sadly Pauls writings, written in defense of his opinions which often contradicted Moses, as well as Yeshua, were later considered inspired by the Gentile Catholic Church as they searched for authenticity for the unorthodox positions on matters of faith and practice which stood in violation of the Torah. These tensions literally shaped the writing of the New Testament.
From as far back as we can trace it (to the 40S) there never was a single, united church. There were (in fact from the 30s) two missions: one run from Jerusalem, with Peter and the sons of Zebedee in charge, and later James, Yeshua' brother, and other members of his family; the other run by Paul, from various centers. The two missions were agreed about the supreme significance of Yeshua, but they disagreed about almost everything else - the validity of the Bible, whether the kingdom of God had arrived or not, sex, money, work, tongues, visions, healings, Yeshua's divinity, and the resurrection of the dead, for example. On the surface the New Testament gives the impression of a united, developing body of belief because it is an organized and purposeful selection of writings; naturally it was selected by the winning mission, that is the Paulines, and that is why it consists of the Epistles of Paul (and his followers), and four Gospels, two of them ultra-Pauline in perspective and two which serve as bridges to the Jewish fraction in the Jerusalem Church. More on that later.
This attempt, through a series of articles, endeavors to reveal to the reader the story of the two missions, the two messages, and the two competing Gospels from as early as our evidence takes us, in practice AD 48, and runs on to about 130 AD. Through a thoughtful searching of Christian history, any reader will find the same facts I have which paint a picture that is quite different from what we hear preached in our Christian Churches today. I have drawn evidence from all the major New Testament sources and some other Christian historical sources into a single overall picture which will draw you to the inescapable conclusion to which I also have come that Paul was not submitted to the authority of the Jerusalem church, and in all actuality preached another Gospel all the while warning others about another Gospel which in reality is the real message Yeshua desired the Apostles preach and teach to the Gentile world.
For every reader of the New Testament the first problem is to see the connections between the Epistles and the Gospels. The usual way of doing this is to read both against the background of Acts; but this does not guarantee correct understanding of the dynamics at work in the text. For example, how are we to reconcile Marks passage referring to Yeshua's clear teaching to Peter and others that all food is clean (Mark 7.I5-I9) with Peter's need of a vision proclaiming 'What God has cleansed do not call unclean' (Acts 10), and then, some years later, Peter's yielding to eat unclean meat at Antioch (Gal. 2:12)? Something is missing for the above passages conflict and contradict each other! Acts is in fact a doubtful asset, for it was Lukes skillful attempt to paper over all the cracks between Paul and the Jerusalem Church. We could not tell the story of the two missions without Acts, but it is Paul who is our primary source: Paul was there at the time. It is the Epistles which enable us to see what is going on in the churches in the 50S, and we have then to use this picture to interpret the different emphases which we find in the Gospels, and which are so revealing. These articles tell the story of the early church, and the New Testament which it produced. There certainly were editions of Yeshua's sayings which have come through into our four Gospels; but it has been common ground for a century that John put these teachings into his own words, and felt free to reinterpret them in line with his own theology. It has become widely agreed more recently that the other three evangelists used some similar license or freedom. What is at issue is how much have they been reinterpreted and deviate from the original Gospel message of Christ. All four evangelists felt free to put the tradition in their own (Greek) words, and thought that it as their duty to do so, in the same way that contemporary Jews told the biblical stories. So it is perilous to infer that Yeshua said something from the fact that one or more of the Gospels said he did; but it is usually safe to think that each evangelist wrote what he himself believed to be true. The Gospels almost always give us the theology of their authors, and sometimes true tradition about Yeshua.
The earliest incidents in church history of which we have a first hand account reveal an uncomfortable tension. Paul had been a member of the church at Antioch, in Syria, for some years, a the mission there had been successful in converting some gentiles (non-Jews). The question had then arisen as to how much of the Jewish Law in the Bible these Gentile converts needed to keep; and Paul had adopted a liberal policy - roughly speaking they had of course to keep the moral commandments, but he turned a blind eye to the ceremonial commandments, other than central matters like idolatry. This decision then led to a series of difficult incidents, which he records in the letter that he wrote some years later to the Galatian churches, in central Turkey. The first of these opened a dozen years or so after his conversion:
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with us. I went up by revelation . . .because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Yeshua; that they might ring us into bondage - to them we did not yield submission for a moment (Gal. 2:I-4).
Answer for yourself: Who are these false brethren and did Yeshua consider them also to be false brethren?
The 'false brethren' were Christians from Jerusalem, 350 miles away. They had been sent by James to see what was going on at Antioch, and naturally had not mentioned this at first. However, when they realized the Antioch church was not observing the Jewish Law (especially, as it turns out, over kosher meat and meats sacrificed to idols which was idolatry), they raised an objection. Paul refused to repent and change his church's ways ('to them we did not yield submission for a moment'), and regarded them as having deceived him ('false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Yeshua's). As they could spy it out, it must have been something they could see, like the meats eaten that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul's new revelation in Christ had nullified for him the Laws of God.
The 'false brethren' then reported the lax ways of the Antioch church to the Jerusalem apostles, who wanted proper order observed. Paul saw trouble coming (so he prepares the way by saying 'I went up by revelation'), and took Barnabas and Titus, a young Greek Christian, with him to talk with and discuss his position on matters of faith and practice with the apostles. The event is characterized by Luke in Acts 15 and is dated at 50 A.D. Paul saw James (Yeshua's brother), Peter end John, and Paul speaks of them in a rather sarcastic tone: 'those who are reputed to be something (what they are makes no difference to me; God shows no impartiality) . . . those who seemed to be pillars' (Gal. 2:6,9). The ill temper with which he speaks of them is a clear indication that he saw them behind the further, extensive trouble which the letter to the Galatians was written to counter.
The writer of Acts, himself a Gentile and pro-Pauline, would have his reader understand that the Jerusalem meeting amazingly was in fact friendly, and the cracks were papered over. But no matter how the account was softened in Acts we find the underlying tension soon reappeared following the council:
But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to the face because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing those of the circumcision. And with him the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Gal. 2.11-14).
Answer for yourself: The above is Paul's version of the Antioch incident where Peter made a surprise visit and found Paul violating the Laws of Moses and teaching both Jews and non-Jews to do such in Antioch. Peter's rebuke pf Paul is hidden but understood in Paul's response. Along with the men from James who confronted Paul to his face with his deeds and even Barnabas, who for a short time had been swayed by Paul, withdrew from Paul's company in repentance and Barnabas, who had been misled by Paul, along with others, returned their hearts unto the Fathers (Moses). Did you just see that Paul compared repentance with hypocrisy in the above verse?
Answer for yourself: Can you see that this is only Pauls perspective and his account of the incident from his perspective only since he was corrected by Godly men from Jerusalem, and not meant to be taken as if Pauls opinion is Gods view on the subject?
Cephas is another name for Peter: Yeshua had given him the name 'Rock', which is Cepha in Aramaic and Petros in Greek`. Peter had come to Antioch because James and he were not too sure of what was going on there, and felt they had better see for themselves. At first Peter enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and the devotion of the church, and he joined in eating the meat at the church supper, without asking any questions about where it had been bought or how it had been cooked ('he ate with the Gentiles'). The issue was not only Gentiles eating unclean meat to whom Paul was supposed to teach the Laws of Noah which forbid such, but meat sacrificed to idols as well. Paul rightly understood that he could win more of the lost if he dropped some requirements of Torah, but this was to be his undoing shortly.
Some commentators suppose that James in Jerusalem suspected that Peter's kindly heart meant that he would not put his foot down; so he sent a further deputation ('certain men from dames'), and they found, just as James feared, that he was not insisting on kosher meat, purity laws, etc. ('living like a Gentile'). The idea you need to understand, if this idea be true, is that we don't know for sure Peter was eating unclean food as well, but for certain he was fellow-shipping at tables which served it, and in reality he was fellow-shipping with sin. Such, if it happened, was the compromise of Peter, for he as one who was given the Keys to the Kingdom for the Gentiles first with Cornelius, should be above compromising commandments given to Gentiles which he was not only aware of, but sworn to teach and enforce. So James men said to him quietly, look here, which side are you on?" But this is possibly just conjecture. For certain however something was able to be "spyed" out or seen that tipped off the men from James and Peter that the actions and teachings of Paul were a compromise of truth and a rejection of Jewish Covenant Law.
The following Saturday nigh there was a scene. Peter said,' Before we go any further, I have to ask, Is this meat kosher? Was it bought at the Jewish butcher's?' Well, the meat actually came from the Antioch market; so Peter said, 'Then I'm afraid that all God's people will have to go next door for the concluding Sabbath service ("separated themselves" meaning becoming holy once again in regard to uncleanness); and leave this meat for those who have not yet put themselves under God's Law'. It was a moment of crisis: everyone there had to decide whether Peter or Paul was right. Paul naturally hoped that his church would stand solidly with him, but in fact all the Jewish members had been feeling guilty of breaking the Law, and they sided with Peter; then Paul's closest ally Barnabas felt that was right ('was carried way by their hypocrisy'). The whole of Paul's church, once rebuked by the men from James and Peter, left Paul and went next door and removed themselves from such sin. Paul revels in it and twists the account into a one-sided presentation where the unsuspecting reader would thing Paul was right and the others were wrong!
Answer for yourself: Again, Paul would have us understand that Barnabas repentance at eating unclean food and food sacrificed to pagan idols, is to be understood as hypocrisy instead of holiness. Do you hear such absurdity in Pauls account?
Answer for yourself: Can you, now having all the facts, and no longer reading Paul as if he can do no wrong, can you now see how easily you have been misled and believed a lie most of your life concerning Gods wishes for you and your diet?
This naturally made Paul very angry, because in effect his Gentile converts were being excommunicated; so he explained to Peter where he had gone wrong ('I withstood him to the face because he stood condemned'). Before the James party arrived he had joined in and eaten the non-kosher meat ('lived like a gentile'); now that they had frightened him, he was trying to force Jewish ways on the Gentile Christians ('compel them to live like we'). As for Paul this was a double life, or hypocrisy; but not for God! The die had been cast by now, and the Peter party, the Petrines, had won the round.
Although the Petrines won the battle the Pauline won the war. In the long run the Paulines won, and Christians today do not eat kosher meat nor are circumcised as a matter of faith as a sign of the Covenant.
Idolatry, just like with Antioch and the Pauline Gospel which was rebuked by Peter and the men from James, lies hidden in many of the teachings of Pauline Christianity today. The Paulines have won...that is until we die and find that God has got a different opinion on the matter than Paul!
In consequence non-Jewish readers of the story usually sympathize with Paul, and are apt to speak of the Jerusalem Christian attitude as being legalistic. But if we are to follow the story open-mindedly, we must be fair to James and Peter. If you accept the Bible as the word of God (as they all did, Paul included), then it is not for you to say that one of God's rules or Laws, say for example "not murdering," is important, and another, circumcision, is legalism: if God has said it is to be done, that is the end of the matter. Furthermore, many of the rules may need some explanation. Leviticus I7:14 says that you may not eat blood in your meat: well, what exactly are you to do to make sure there is "no blood"? Sometimes one text says one thing and one another. If God has told us what he wishes us to do, then surely we must have such points discussed by experts, and we must follow their conclusions. That is what the Jewish Sages had been doing for centuries, and Peter and James were honoring God's Word by taking their interpretations seriously. Paul, on the other hand, knew that the Gentile church-members would be repelled by a demand that they should observe such rulings, and he thought it was obvious that they did not apply now that Christ had come: so he speaks of 'our freedom' which we have in Christ, and of 'bringing us into bondage', and he calls Peter and the others hypocrites because they had either rejected his "special gospel" or had first been swayed by him to relax their observance of their Covenant and then, when called upon the carpet for their actions, withdrew and repented when shown that they were in error and sin.
Although the issue about Jewish rulings has faded away, the point about interpreting the Bible has not, and a modern example may help the non-Jewish reader to balance his sympathies. The film Chariots of Fire featured the partially true story of the Scottish runner, Eric Liddell, who was picked to run for the United Kingdom in the Paris Olympics of I924, and declined to run because the heat was on a Sunday. He was a pious Presbyterian Christian, later a missionary, who would not break the sabbath. The Bible law is set out in Ex. 20:8, 'Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy', and for Liddell that settled the question, let the Prince of Wales say whet he would. Now the attentive reader may notice that two steps have been jumped in the argument. First, Exodus goes on to say that the sabbath (rest) day is to be kept on the seventh day of the week, that is Saturday; so Sunday activities are not covered at all. Secondly, while Exodus clearly forbids work on the sabbath, no mention is made of running as work. When people have been brought up in a long and unchallenged religious environment, the community's interpretations of its traditions have all the authority of the Bible itself. So although secular modern man may think gold medals more important than fussy old superstitions, he can still empathize with Liddell, and admire his integrity; and he ought (and even more ought the religious man) to empathize with and admire James and Peter for their integrity.
The problem between James/Peter and Paul was one which would not go away in a hurry. Here is Ignatius, a Pauline, the Bishop of Antioch seventy years later; he is on his way to be martyred in Rome, and the scene is Philadelphia in modern Turkey, not far from the Galatian churches Paul had been writing to:
If anyone propound Judaism to you, do not listen to him . . . For even though certain persons desired to deceive me after the flesh, the spirit is not deceived . . . I cried out, when I was among you; I spoke with a loud voice, with God's own voice, 'Give heed to the. bishop and the presbytery and deacons' . . . I heard certain people saying, 'If I do not find it in the ancient texts, I do not believe it in the Gospel'; and when I said to them, 'It is written', they answered me, 'That is the question' (Philadelphians, 6ff.).
The Philadelphian church is split. It has 'Jewish Christians' in it, who propound Judaism and trust only the Old Testament, the ancient texts; and it has Gentile Christians, who do not keep the Jewish food laws, circumcision, etc., and who have some other, Christian book, which Ignatius calls 'the Gospel'. Ignatius has come as a stranger to the Church, and the Jewish party has kept quiet (desired to deceive me); but be had met this kind of tension before, and he soon guessed what has up. Now Paul used to run a mission for a short period and then move on, normally; and when he left, he used to appoint a committee of senior people ('the presbytery') and other of officers ('deacons') to run the church. In time the most senior person, often the one in those house the church met, became known as the 'overseer' (Greek episcopos) or bishop. So Ignatius shouts out that the church should follow these leaders, or in other words, the Pauline party and not the Petrine party); and like some modern preachers, he thinks that if he shouts it loud it is because he is inspired (God's own voice).
These are two first-hand accounts of Christian church meetings, from either end of the period which these articles cover. The row between Paul and Peter in Antioch happened right before or just after the Jerusalem Council (opinions differ); the one between Ignatius and the Jewish Christians at Philadelphia took place about 117 A.D. None of our New Testament books were written before the dispute at Antioch, and most had been written before Ignatius' martyrdom. It is not an accident that they both reveal the same basic tension, for this tension was certain to appear wherever the Pauline mission went. For there were Jews in every major center throughout the Roman Empire, and Paul's normal preaching method was to go to the synagogue first. Even if he did not convert some Jews, the Gentiles whom he won over had been used to Jewish ways and respected the Old Testament as the word of God. But Paul knew that the Gentile mission would never go far if it got tied up with kosher meat and tithing rules; and he was totally persuaded that Christ had died to save all mankind. So everywhere it was inevitable that there would be divisions on this issue. Of course there might be many other divisions, but this division was bound to come. There were two missions: the Jerusalem mission headed by Yeshua's central disciples, Peter, James and John, and by Yeshua's family, his brothers James, Jude and the others; and the Pauline mission, headed by Paul, with centers first at Antioch, later at Ephesus in western Turkey, and finally in Europe. This examination of this dynamic struggle is an account of the first century of church life in the light of this basic split.
Most people today live in tolerant communities. In some communities there is an issue which you cannot escape; and when national and religious identity are involved, as they were with the Petrine and Pauline missions, you have issues for which men will die, and kill. It is probable that both Paul and Ignatius died in partial consequence of the hatred of Jewish Christians (that is, those loyal to Peter and James); and we shall see that the Paulines, especially St. John, hated the Jewish Christians with an equal ferocity.
The two missions are there in Galatians, with their leaders: 'when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcision [the non-Jews] as Peter had been with the gospel to the circumcision [the Jews]; for he who authorized Peter for the mission to the circumcision authorized me too for the mission to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). The issue about the Law is the subject of Pauls letters to the Galatians and the Romans, and crops up in virtually every other book in one form or the other. But the Law was only the first of many differences between the two missions; and to understand what those differences were, and why they arose, is to understand the New Testament.