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The First 20 Years of Christianity

World English Bible - Wikipedia

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I wrote this article published in On Line Opinion (OLO): Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God? (3 December 2020). OLO has published a number of my articles over the years. Since I’m an evangelical Christian with an eye and ear for a defense of the faith, some apologetics’ emphases come out in what I write.

Often the anti-Christian, anti-God group comes out in full force and often they don’t address the topics I write about. Instead, they sometimes resort to the use of logical fallacies of erroneous reasoning to put me down or to rubbish the content.

1. Literature not infallible

 

diver dan made this comment regarding my article:

And the authenticity of that literature is not infallible is it. For the first twenty odd years of Christianity there is no literary record of what they believed. [1]

I took him to task: You overlook some fundamentals in understanding basic Christianity:[2]

clip_image002 All historical literature comes with a “not absolutely, 100% sure of the content.” This applies to Manning Clark’s History of Australia, the record of the ransacking of Jerusalem in A D 70, and the biblical literature. It’s the nature of historical science. We weren’t there, so we depend on ancient sources.

clip_image002[1]Since you reject the supernatural God and his power to oversee the writing of Scripture, you won’t accept what God has stated: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When something is THEOPNEUSTOS (breathed out by God) it emanates from the absolutely honest, pure and just Lord God.

clip_image002[3]How did God’s Word reach human beings? What was the process of how the infallible God could produce inerrant Scripture in the beginning? “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Without your accepting the nature of God as revealed in creation and Scripture, I don’t expect you to accept God’s Word of describing how we get reliable Scriptures.

clip_image002[5]For the first 20+ years of Christianity, there IS a literary record and that’s contained in the Book of Acts.[3]

Leading Luke-Acts biblical scholar, Dr Darrell Bock, concludes concerning the dating of Acts: “Given all the evidence, when was Acts written? Sometime in the late 60s—enough time for Mark to have been written and circulated—but not after AD 70.”[4]

Leading Australian ancient historian (he has taught ancient history at Macquarie University) has a 2005 publication,

clip_image002[6]Barnett’s conclusion was:

the historian is able, with confidence tempered with critical caution, to make use of the data in Acts in pursuit of the task of historical reconstruction…. Few have so clearly stated the importance of Acts for early Christianity as Meyer, who was himself critical of Christianity…. We have the completely inestimable advantage … of having access to the portrayal of the beginning stages of the development directly from the pen of one of its co-participants. That alone ensures for the author an eminent place among the significant historians of world history” (cited in Barnett 2005:204).

2. Splinter groups of early Christianity

Dan continued:

In the end, it was so confused with congregations of splinter groups, innovations were necessary to focus attention on what was to be the core belief system.

Yes, there were congregations where early Christian writers had to challenge erroneous groups. We see this in:

2.1 Errors in the Corinthian Church

Paul commends the Corinthian Christians who were chosen to be God’s holy people (1 Cor 1:2).

However, all was not well in that church where he corrected errors about marriage (1 Cor 7) and sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:12-20), abuse of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12-14); there was disorder at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). There were some who doubted the bodily resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15).

To understand how these sins could happen in the new Corinthian church, we need to know about the culture of Corinth in the first century. Lacoste Munn explained:

Perhaps the most significant of the factors which comprised the atmosphere of Corinth was gross, unashamed immorality. Both the old city and the Roman colony were known far and wide for their sexual looseness. The most prominent site was the Acrocorinth, a sharp projection which rose to a height of 1,800 feet. On the summit of this steep mountain stood the temple of Aphrodite, a symbol of the lust which pervaded the mind of the city. The worship of this goddess was not Greek in origin but Oriental; it had been imported from the Phoenician cult of Astarte.

In old Corinth the temple maintained a thousand priestesses who amounted to no more than common prostitutes. It is not certain that the thousand priestesses were maintained in the temple of rebuilt Corinth; nevertheless, the gross immorality continued as before. The attitude of the city toward immorality involved no condemnation whatever; on the contrary, it was considered to be a normal part of life. The same loose attitude was often reflected in the church. The case of incest and the question about the Christian view of marriage had their roots in the immoral mind of the city. Most of the members of the church were Gentiles, and the strict morality characteristic of the Jews was foreign to them. They found it difficult to understand that what they once considered virtue was now sin.

Idolatry is another feature of the city which was closely linked to its immorality. In addition to the temple of Aphrodite, there were numerous others, and the worship in these temples was popular among the residents. These idol temples played a significant role in both economic and social life (Munn 1960).

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new church raised in this milieu would need to grow through many sinful challenges.

There were other challenges to the churches in the first century that were addressed by various epistles:

2.2 The Letter to the Colossians

The church at Colossae was under attack from false teachers who were denigrating the deity of Jesus; they were teaching that He was not actually God. Though Paul had never been to the church itself, he addressed these issues head-on. The nature of Jesus Christ as Creator and Redeemer was nonnegotiable, so Paul wrote to them that he might bring his wisdom to bear on this difficult and trying situation. It was critical to him that this church know God in His greatness and glory, rather than in the deficient view given them by the false teachers (Colossians 1:25; 2:1–2) [Chuck Swindoll 2020].[5]

How did Paul address this Christological error? In this book we read some of the grandest language of the pre-eminence of Christ in all things. Colossians 2:9 (ERV) states: “All of God lives in Christ fully, even in his life on earth.” So, Christ is the center of the universe, not only as the active Creator but also as the recipient of creation—in His taking on of human flesh. Christ was and is the visible image of the invisible God, containing within Himself the fullness of Deity.[6]

2.3 Serious error corrected in 1 John.

First John 4:1-6 (ERV) gets to the crux of the issue:

My dear friends, many false prophets are in the world now. So don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God. 2 This is how you can recognize God’s Spirit. One spirit says, “I believe that Jesus is the Messiah who came to earth and became a man.” That Spirit is from God. 3 Another spirit refuses to say this about Jesus. That spirit is not from God. This is the spirit of the enemy of Christ. You have heard that the enemy of Christ is coming, and now he is already in the world.

4 My dear children, you belong to God, so you have already defeated these false prophets. That’s because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 And they belong to the world, so what they say is from the world too. And the world listens to what they say. 6 But we are from God. So the people who know God listen to us. But the people who are not from God don’t listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit that is true and the spirit that is false.

ASV Star Bible.jpg(American Standard Version, image courtesy Wikipedia)

John wrote to a group of Christians. This is clear from statements such as:[7]

gold foward button 1 John 2:12 (ERV), “I write to you, dear children, because your sins are forgiven through Christ.”

gold foward button 1 John 2:13-14, “I write to you, fathers, because you know the one who existed from the beginning.
I write to you, young people, because you have defeated the Evil One.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers, because you know the one who existed from the beginning.
I write to you, young people, because you are strong.
The word of God lives in you, and you have defeated the Evil One.”

gold foward button 1 John 2:20, “You have the gift that the Holy One gave you. So you all know the truth.”

gold foward button 1 John 2:24 provides clear evidence he wrote to regenerate people: “Be sure that you continue to follow the teaching you heard from the beginning. If you do that, you will always be in the Son and in the Father.”

gold foward button 1 John 2:27, “Christ gave you a special gift. You still have this gift in you. So you don’t need anyone to teach you. The gift he gave you teaches you about everything. It is a true gift, not a false one. So continue to live in Christ, as his gift taught you.”

gold foward button 1 John 3:1, “The Father has loved us so much! This shows how much he loved us: We are called children of God. And we really are his children. But the people in the world don’t understand that we are God’s children, because they have not known him.”

gold foward button 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God. We have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him. We will see him just as he is.”

gold foward button 1 John 4:4, “My dear children, you belong to God, so you have already defeated these false prophets. That’s because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

gold foward button 1 John 5:5, “It is our faith that has won the victory against the world. So who wins against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

gold foward button 1 John 5:13, “I write this letter to you who believe in the Son of God. I write so that you will know that you have eternal life now.”

gold foward button It is clear from John’s Gospel, 3:15-16, that “everyone who believes in him can have eternal life. Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life.“

gold foward button 1 John 5:18, “We know that those who have been made God’s children do not continue to sin. The Son of God keeps them safe. The Evil One cannot hurt them.”

Since this book was written to Christian believers, why the warnings?

gold foward button “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

They have been warned many antichrists are in their midst and there is the possibility they will deny Jesus. Could they follow Peter in denying Jesus?

There is another warning to Christians, based on 1 John 4:1-6,

gold foward button They need to test the spirits of false prophets;

gold foward button John faced the heresy of Gnosticism among these Christians: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (4:2). We discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of falsehood by those who listen to the teachings of the God of truth.

gold foward button This is why it is of critical importance to know the spirit of truth in Scripture to be able to differentiate between it and falsehood.

2.4 Another error corrected in the Book of Galatians

The problem in the Galatian church was mixing grace with works of the law. It was dealt with in Council of Acts 15. Because so many of the early Christians were of Jewish origin, it was not surprising that these believers wanted to retreat to some elements of Judaism.

See the article: “Who were the Judaizers?” (Got Questions)

Paul particularly addressed this problem in Galatians 2:14, “They were not following the truth of the Good News. When I saw this, I spoke to Peter in front of everyone. I said, “Peter, you are a Jew, but you don’t live like one. You live like someone who is not a Jew. So why are you trying to force those who are not Jewish to live like Jews?”

3. Conclusion

(Revised Version image courtesy Wikipedia)

MRevised Version Bible 01.JPGany of the NT letters were written to combat errors in the emerging churches. It is natural that new Christians would bring with them some errors of their previous lifestyle. They are warned about refusing to continue with their worldly lifestyles:

These are only a few biblical examples:

clip_image0041 John 1:6 (ERV), “But when you ask God, you must believe. Don’t doubt him. Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that is blown up and down by the wind.

clip_image004[1]1 John 2:4 (ERV), “If we say we know God but do not obey his commands, we are lying. The truth is not in us.”

clip_image0051 John 2:15 (ERV), “Don’t love this evil world or the things in it. If you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.”

clip_image005[1]In the Epistle of James, he states that “The worship that God wants is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence. This is the kind of worship that God accepts as pure and good.” So “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father” (ESV) is (among other things) “to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world” (James 1:27, ESV), or “keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence” (ERV). This will be what “God accepts as pure and good.”

“Religion” is a biblical word but it has strong practical dimensions and not have academic overtones. Caring for orphans and widows is not like teaching systematic theology at seminary but it is regarded as core “religion” by James.

clip_image004[2]In James 4:4, the author of James labels some Christians as those who “are not faithful to God! (ERV, NIRV).” Other translations use the language of “adulterous people” (ESV, NIV), “adulteresses” (HCSB, NASB), “adulterers” (NET, NLT, NRSV, Wycliffe), “adulterers and adulteresses” (NKJV, WEB), and “unfaithful creatures” (RSV).

You should know that loving what the world has is the same as hating God. So anyone who wants to be friends with this evil world becomes God’s enemy.

They are labelled as “adulterers and adulteresses” because of their friendship with the world, adding that the one who will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

The other passage is 1 John 2:15, where John commands Christians not to love the world. The force of the Greek grammar is: “Stop loving the world.” That couldn’t be clearer. The reason John gives is similar to James: “If any man love the world, the

love of the Father is not in him.”

4. Bibliography

Barnett, P 2005. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. Grand Rapids,

Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Munn, G. Lacoste 1960. “The Historical Background of First Corinthians,”

Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 3 – Fall. https://preachingsource.com/journal/the-historical-background-of-first-corinthians/.

 

5. Notes


[1] Posted by diver dan, Sunday, 6 December 2020 7:25:13 AM.

[2] This was the first part of my reply: Posted by OzSpen, Sunday, 6 December 2020 8:46:22 PM.

[3] Since I’m only allowed 350 words in a post, this was the second part of my response to Dan: Posted by OzSpen, Sunday, 6 December 2020 8:49:06 PM.

[4] Darrell Bock 2018. “When was Acts written?” 12 January. Zondervan Academic. https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/when-was-acts-written. This post is adapted from Darrell Bock’s Theology of Luke and Acts online course.

[5] Available at: https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-pauline-epistles/colossians (Accessed 7 December 2020).

[6] Ibid.

[7] These verses were suggested by Bill Pratt, “Who were the original readers of 1 John?” Tough Questions Answered. Available at: https://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2013/11/25/who-were-the-original-readers-of-1-john/ (Accessed 7 December 2020).

 

 

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 07 December 2020.

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