Apart from the Gospels themselves, the most important book of the New Testament is the Acts of the Apostles. Like all historical documents issuing from a partisan source, not counting that the Book of Acts has more than 6000 discrepancies in the manuscripts we have discovered, it must, of course, be handled skeptically and with caution. One must be aware of whom the text was written for, who it might have served, and what was the end to be achieved by its writing. But it is Acts, much more than the Gospels, which has given us the most informative account of the first years of the Yeshua Messianic Movement or "Early Christianity". Since Acts contains so much basic information not readily found elsewhere, it has established itself as a basic text for understanding the Messianic Movement within Judaism which would later be called "Christianity".
Upon through examination of the book of Acts one can see that it is heavily biased. Luke, the author of the text, was clearly drawing on a number of different sources, editing and reworking material to suit his own purposes. Even Church historians and scholars will tell us that Acts was extensively tampered with by later editors (Catholic Monks). In an effort to establish their own authority (Rome) against the authority of Jerusalem, much of the book of Acts was tampered and re-written to achieve certain purposes. Although there is bias, the bias is highly personal, and this, to some extent, enables the modern reader to read between the lines.
Although focusing primarily on Paul, who monopolizes the latter part of its narrative, Acts also tells the story of Paul's relationship with the Messianic Community in Jerusalem consisting of Yeshua's immediate disciples under the leadership of James, the Lord's brother. It would be this group who would later come to be called the first Christians and are now regarded as the early or original church. The "original church" was the church in Jerusalem. They set the pattern and standards for all others that followed in their wake.
We must realize, if we are to correctly see the whole picture in Acts, that in recounting Paul's association with this community that the Book of Acts offers only Paul's point of view of the events of Acts! Acts is essentially a Pauline document without the balance needed which could only come from James and the other apostles. It is this "Pauline Picture" which has unfortunately become "NORMATIVE CHRISTIANITY". Paul, in other words, is always the "hero"; whoever opposes him, whether it be the authorities or even James, is automatically cast as a villain. We must never forget that God placed James and the Apostles as leaders in the "original church" and not Paul.
Answer for yourself: Where are the Jewish writings of the momentous events that transpired in Acts?
Answer for yourself: Why do we lack their perspectives, after all, they were in charge?
Answer for yourself: Could their writings possibly have been destroyed by Christians of later centuries (Constantine, etc.)?
There is data to substantiate the destruction of many of such documents by the "Early Gentile Church". Gone forever is the balance needed to understand the events of Acts and God's working among His Hebrew Church and His Gentile Church.
Acts opens shortly after Jesus, referred to as "the Nazarene" (in Greek "Nazoraion") has disappeared from the scene. The term "Nazarene" has nothing to do with the city of Nazareth, which was built long after Jesus' birth. It refers to "keepers of the Covenant"; Jesus and his followers kept the laws and covenants!
Answer for yourself: As a typical Christian are your taught by your Pastor to keep the laws in the covenant?
Acts then proceeds to describe the organization and development of the community or "early church" in Jerusalem and its increasing friction with the authorities. The community is vividly portrayed in Acts 2:44-46: "The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared all the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread (Sabbath services)". Notice that the early followers of Jesus adhered to the Temple ritual. Jesus and his immediate followers are usually incorrectly portrayed as hostile to the Temple, where, according to the Gospels, Jesus upset the tables of money changers and incurred the passionate displeasure of the priesthood. Despite the picture given by the Roman slant in the New Testament Jesus is not rejecting his religion!
Acts 6:8 introduces the figure known as Stephen, the first official "Christian martyr", who is arrested and sentenced to death by stoning. In his own defense, Stephen alludes to the murder of those who prophesied the advent of the "Righteous One", or "Just One". This terminology is specifically and uniquely Qumranic in character (Dead Sea Scrolls people). The "Righteous One" occurs repeatedly in the Dead Sea Scrolls as "Zaddik". The "Teacher of Righteousness" in the scrolls, "Moreh ha-Zedek", derives from the same root. As portrayed in Acts, then, Stephen uses nomenclature unique and specifically characteristic of Qumran. This shows us the hidden Qumran influence in New Testament theology (http:bennoah1.freewebsites.com)
Nor is this the only Qumranic concern to figure in Stephen's speech. In his defense, he names the persecutors (Acts 7:53): "You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very one who have not kept it." The New Testament reader never stops to notice that this statement is a contradiction of the Torah for the Laws was given by God and not Angels: this angelic belief is a sign of the hidden gnosticism in the New Testament. As Acts portrays it, Stephen is obviously intent on adherence to the Law. Again, there is a conflict here with orthodox adherence to the Law. According to later Christian tradition, it was the Jews of the time who made an austere and puritanical fetish of the Law. The "early Christians" are depicted, at least from the standpoint of that stringency to the Law, as "mavericks" or "renegades", advocating a new freedom and flexibility, defying custom and convention, and being "free from the Law". Yet it is Stephen, the first "Christian martyr", who emerges as an advocate of the Law. This strikes me as strange since the majority of Christians today feel that they are no longer under the "Law".
Answer for yourself: Was Stephen wrong?
It makes no sense for Stephen, a self-proclaimed adherent of the Law, to be murdered by fellow Jews who also exalted the same Law.
Answer for yourself: But what if those fellow Jews were acting on behalf of a Sadducee priesthood which were collaborators in league with the Roman authorities?
It was such Jews who wanted to live a simple and quiet life that feared an agitator and resistance fighter in their midst that might lead to Roman reprisals. So understand, that the "Early Church" of which Stephen is a member constantly stressed its own orthodoxy and its zealousness and adherence to the Law.
Answer for yourself: Does your church profess a zealousness and adherence to the Law?
Answer for yourself: If not why not since this is the picture of the early church before Paul?
The "Early Church's" persecutors are those who contrived to remain in league with Rome and, in so doing, were willing to lapse in relation to adherence to the Laws of God. Thus they betrayed the Law. In this context, Stephen's denunciation of them makes sense, as does their murder of him. And we also see James "the Just", the "Zaddik" or "Righteous One" who also best exemplifies rigorous adherence to the Law. It is even more incredible that such a man could lead a group of believers who wished to be delivered from the Law. It would be for his adherence to the Law that he would suffer the same fate as Stephen. You can easily see that we have misunderstood the early church, thus we misunderstand what the church is to be today!
According to Acts, it is at the death of Stephen that Paul makes his debut. He entirely approved of the killings and would later engineer precisely the same kind of attack on the "Early Church". Saul, at this stage of his life, is fervent, even fanatic, in his enmity towards the "Early Church." In traveling to persecute believers & totally destroy the church, Paul undergoes some sort of traumatic experience, which commentators have interpreted as anything from sunstroke, to an epileptic seizure, to a mystical revelation (Acts 9:1-19, 22:6-16). Paul interprets the experience as a true manifestation of Jesus, whom he never knew personally. After a three-year apprenticeship in Damascus, he returns to Jerusalem to join the leaders of the "community" there. Not surprisingly, most of them are suspicious of him, not being wholly convinced by his conversion. In Galatians 1:18-20, he speaks of seeing only James and Peter. Everyone else, including the Apostles, seems to have avoided him. He is obliged repeatedly to prove himself, and only then does he find some allies and begins to preach. Arguments ensue, however, and, according to Acts 9:29, certain members of the Jerusalem community threaten him. As a means of defusing a potentially ugly situation, his allies pack him off to Tarsus, the town (now in Turkey) where he was born. He is, in effect, being sent home, to spread the message there. This was tantamount to exile!
By the time Paul travels to Antioch, a community of the "Early Church" (a Gentile church) was already established there. It is important to remember that this church originally, as were all the other churches, were under the leadership of James and reported back to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Some five or more years later, Paul is teaching in Antioch when a dispute arises over the content of Paul's missionary work. As Acts 15 explains, certain representatives of the leadership in Jerusalem arrive in Antioch. They, as well as Peter, arrive there with the specific purpose of checking on Paul's activities. They stress the importance of strict adherence to the Law and accuse Paul of laxity. They notice that Paul had been teaching both the Jews that in Christ it was no longer necessary to circumcise your children or follow the Law of Moses. To the non-Jews that in Christ Paul was teaching the complete cessation of the law of Noah as seen in his relaxation of the commandments concerning idolatry which were enforced for example in refusing to eat sacrificed to idols. Paul in I Cor. tells us that this is permissible and only to refrain when in the presence of a weeker brother. Paul and his companion, Barnabas, are ordered back to Jerusalem for a personal consultation with James and the leadership. From this point on, a schism will open and widen between Paul and James; and the author of Acts as he become Paul's apologist (defender). Acts is written to defend Paul by his close friend Luke.
Answer for yourself: But let me ask you...who did God give oversight to and put in charge...Paul or James and the Apostles?
Answer for yourself: "Who" called "who" back to answer charges?
James is the authority and leader of the Messianic Community and not Paul. We fail to balance the accounts and only see a "defense" of Paul in Acts.
It is incredible to believe that Jesus gave all authority to his followers and Apostles and is ready now for Paul to correct them all!
Surely we interpret Acts by what we have been taught today by pro-Pauline Churches. We should rather let the events of Acts lead us to what we should believe today!
In all the events that follow, Paul is a "Christian heretic" in the eyes of James and the Apostles. James and the Apostles considered many of his teachings (which sadly became the foundation of later Christianity) a flagrant deviation from the "ORIGINAL APOSTOLIC DOCTRINE" as taught by the leadership of the Jerusalem church. Let us never forget that James "the Lord's brother" and the other members of the Apostolic leadership of the "Early Church" not only remembered Jesus but knew him personally, having lived with him during his three year ministry. When these leaders spoke, they did so with first-hand authority. Paul had never had such personal acquaintance with the figure he'd begun to regard as his "Savior". He had only the quasi-mystical experience in the desert and the sound of a voice. For Paul to claim authority to himself on this basis is, in my opinion, to say the least, presumptuous. It also leads him to distort some of Yeshua's teachings beyond all recognition in some areas. This mystical religious experience would lead Paul to formulate his own individual and idiosyncratic theology which he would later legitimize by spuriously ascribing it to Jesus.
Yeshua never believed or taught many of the things that Paul is credited with in the New Testament! Upon study in this area you will see for yourself that often Paul is guilty of preaching "another Gospel" in spite of his own warnings not to do so (or the text was changed and attributed to Paul as original with him). This is little more than a clever literary ploy on Paul's part among the non-Jews who never new Yeshua's true gospel but only's Paul's account of it. They never had the Jewish background necessary to spot the false "gospel." Any of Paul's teachings that contradicts the teachings of Yeshua or the Jerusalem Apostles are wrong! Remember, at the first of the article I told you that Acts has been tampered with more than another book. Not that I wish to blame Paul, but I am confident upon examination through the years that many of Paul's followers altered words and phrases to suit their purposes. Paul could never have disagreed with Yeshua nor every preached another Gospel and be led by the Spirit of God to do so.
In accordance with the instructions given to him, Paul returns to Jerusalem and meets with Apostolic leadership around AD 48-49. Not surprisingly, another dispute arises. If Acts is to be believed as it stands, James, for the sake of peace, agrees to compromise, thereby making it easier for "pagans" to join the congregation of Israel. Somewhat improbably, he consents to relax certain aspects of the Law for Gentiles, while remaining adamant on others. This is an example of "binding" and "loosing". No longer is circumcision to be required of the non-Jew for inclusion into the Israel of God by the Jesus Movement but that of course did not apply outside the Jesus Movement.
Paul pays lip service to the leadership. He still, at this point, needs their endorsement; not only to legitimize his teachings, but to legitimize & ensure the survival of the communities he has founded abroad. He is already, however, bent on going his own way. He embarks on another mission of travel and preaching, punctuated (Acts 18:21) by another visit to Jerusalem. Most of his letters date from this period, between AD 50 and 58. It is clear from his letters that he has, by that time, become almost completely estranged from the leadership in Jerusalem and from their adherence to the Law.
In his epistle to the Galatians (AD 57), he alludes scathingly to the Jerusalem Apostles: "these people who are acknowledged leaders-not that their importance matters to me" (Gal 2:6). His theological position has also deviated irreparably from those who adhere rigorously to the Law. In the same letter to the Galatians (2:16), he states that "faith in Messiah rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us, and ...no one can be justified by keeping the Law. Writing to the Philippians (3:9), he states: "I am no longer trying for perfection by my on own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law..." These are the provocative and challenging statements of a self-proclaimed renegade. "Gentile Christianity", as it will subsequently evolve from Paul, has by now severed virtually all connection with its Hebrew roots by discarding obedience to the commandments of the Torah, and can no longer be said to have anything to do with Yeshua, only with Paul's image of Yeshua.
Following Paul's exposure of his total rejection of Judaism in Antioch we find that by AD 58, Paul is again back in Jerusalem to answer charges again made against him with James despite pleas from his supporters who, obviously fearing trouble again with the Apostle hierarchy, have begged him no to go. Again, he meets with James and the leadership of the Jerusalem community where they express their worry they share with other "zealots of the Law" that Paul, in his preaching to Jews living abroad, is encouraging them to forsake the Law of Moses. It is, of course, a justified accusation, as Paul has made clear in his letters. Acts does not record his response to it. The impression conveyed is that Paul lies, perjures himself and denies the charges against him. When asked to purify himself for seven days (thereby demonstrating the injustice of the allegations and his continued adherence to the Law) he readily consents to do so.
A few days later Paul again runs foul of those "zealots for the Law", who are rather less temperate than James. On being seen at the Temple, he is attacked by a crowd of the pious. "This", they claim in their anger, "is the man who preaches to everyone everywhere...against the Law" (Acts 21:28).
Answer for yourself: Don't you find it a little preposterous to believe that there were no merit to the charges against Paul in light of the abundant testimony otherwise?
A riot ensures, and Paul is dragged out of the Temple, his life in danger. In the nick of time, he is rescued by a Roman officer who, having been told of the disturbance, appears with an entourage of soldiers. Paul is arrested and put in chains on the initial assumption that he is a leader of the Sicarii, the Zealot terrorists. It would be shortly thereafter that a group of angry Jews, forty or more in number, vow not to eat or drink until they have brought about Paul's death. The sheer intensity & ferocity of this anger is worth noting. One does not expect such animosity, not only violence, from ordinary Pharisees and Sadducees. Those who display it are obviously "zealous for the Law."
What we end up with is two factions within the original community in Jerusalem, the "Early Church". One of these factions consists of "hardliners", who echo the teachings of Qumranic texts and insist on rigorous observance of the Law. The other, exemplified by Paul and his immediate supporters, want to relax the Law and, by making it easier for people to join the congregation, to increase the number of new recruits. The "hardliners" are less concerned with numbers than with doctrinal purity, and seem to have only a passing interest in events or developments outside Palestine. They do not display any desire for an accommodation with Rome. Paul, on the other hand, is prepared to dispense with doctrinal purity. His primary objective is to spread his message as widely as possible and to assemble the largest body of adherents. In order to attain this objective, he goes out of his way to avoid antagonizing the authorities and is perfectly willing to come to an accommodation with Rome, even to seek favor; even discard or bend the Law if need be. The "end" justifies the "means." Remember, he said that he would become all things (compromise) to win men.
Answer for yourself: Truly admirable, but at what cost?
Today we have churches that carry the name "Yeshua" who are so influenced by Paul (misunderstanding him of course) that they discard not only the Old Testament, the Bible Yeshua used, but the Law and commandments and live in libertinism and unchecked grace. This is not the Gospel of Yeshua.
The "Early Church", then, as it appears in Acts, is rent by internal schism, the instigator of which is Paul. Paul's chief adversary is James, "the Lord's bother". It is clear that James is the acknowledge leader of the community in Jerusalem that becomes known to later tradition as the "Early Church". For the most part, James comes across as a "hardliner", though he does display a willingness to compromise on certain points concerning the Gentile believers. James' role in the proceedings could not have been excised from the text because his role was too well known.Thus, Luke, in defense of his friend (Paul), plays down James and portrayed him as a conciliatory figure occupying a position somewhere between Paul and the extreme "hardliners" (Zealots).
So you can now see Acts in a new light. What we have is a clash between two powerful personalities, James and Paul. Paul gets all the press and no one shares with us such depth concerning the perspective of the head of the first church which was James!
Answer for yourself: What should be our first consideration before evaluating Acts?
.Had the mainstream of its development conformed to James' teachings, there would have been no Christianity at all as we know it today, only a particular species of Judaism which would have emerged as dominant with Yeshua as it's expected Messiah. This in my opinion is as God would have had it. As things transpired, however, the mainstream of the new movement gradually coalesced, during the next three centuries, around Paul and his teachings. Thus, to the horror of James and Yeshua, an entirely new religion was indeed born; a religion which came to have less and less to do with its supposed founder. Shalom.