Early Church; List of Articles

Four major turning points in the first 30 years of the church transformed the church from a movement within Judaism to a separate entity.

The purpose of the articles listed below is to describe the context within which Paul’s letters were written.  For this purpose these articles describe four major turning points and the four major phases in the first 30 years of the church, which transformed the church from a movement within Judaism to a separate entity, including uncircumcised Gentiles.

These articles are mostly based on the Bible Book of Acts.  This book left an immense amount of apostolic activity is unrecorded, and focuses only on the major transitional events.  Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible verses quoted are from the NASB version of Acts.

The Jerusalem Phase (Acts 1 to 5) starts with Christ’s resurrection.  Just before His ascension, 40 days later, He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit.  They received this power on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), ten days later.  Over the following 2 to 4 years the church grew exponentially, from the initial 120 followers to thousands, but the church was limited to Jerusalem only and consisted of Jews and proselytes only.  They worshiped daily in the temple, functioned as a part of Judaism and observed the Law of Moses and the Jewish customs.

The Judea and Samaria Phase (Acts 6 to 9) starts with the stoning of Stephen and persecuted the church (8:1).  The church was limited to Jerusalem and the persecution was also limited to Jerusalem, and forced the believers out of Jerusalem to other cities in Judea and Samaria, preaching the gospel where-ever they went.  Paul intended to persecute the believers also outside of Jerusalem, but God stopped him immediately, allowing the church to grow in Judea and Samaria for a period of about 5 or 6 years.  During this phase all Christians still observed the Law of Moses.

The Gentile Dispute Phase starts when Gentiles for the first time received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10) and for the first time were allowed to join the church.  Before this event the church viewed Gentiles as unclean, and avoided them.  The events in Acts 10 convinced the church that Gentiles are allowed to join the church, but a dispute arose afterwards as particularly the Christian Pharisees maintained that these Gentiles must still be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.  These Christian Pharisees therefore still thought of the church as a part of Judaism—the true Jewish religion—and sought to convert these Gentiles to Judaism.

The Separation Phase started with the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, nearly 20 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, where it was decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  This decision created separation between Gentile and Jewish Christians; one group observing the Law of Moses, the other not.

A fifth article explains the theological implications.  The history explained in these articles is important context for Paul’s letters, for Paul’s arguments that Jewish and Gentile Christians are united under the same law, that the Law of Moses is no longer relevant, that man is not justified by the works of the Law and for Paul’s teaching, or lack of it, with respect to the Seventh Day Sabbath.

A page is also available with estimated dates for significant events in the history of the early church.

TO: General Table of Contents

Early Church History – Theological Implications

Early Church history explains Paul’s letters, the dispute over justification in Galatians, unity of Jew and Gentile, the Law of Moses, and the Sabbath.

SUMMARY

The church started as part of Judaism.  John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles were all Jews.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell only on Jews.  In the first few years of its existence the church functioned as a movement within Judaism, consisting only of Jews and proselytes.  They were all circumcised and they all observed the Law of Moses and the traditions.

Only about ten years after the Cross, through divine intervention, did the church for the first time preach the Jesus-message to Gentiles and were the first Gentiles baptized.  The Gentile Christians in the church caused a dispute over whether they must observe the Law of Moses.  This dispute was settled a further ten years later when the church council meeting, recorded in Acts 15, decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  Jewish Christians, on the other hand, remained zealous for the Law of Moses throughout the period recorded by the Book of Acts.

The history explained in these articles is therefore important context for Paul’s letters, most of which have been written in the decade after the Jerusalem council decision recorded in Acts 15 (see, for instance Bible Hub).  For example:

The dispute raging in the church before the Jerusalem Council decision explains the letter to the Galatians.

The separation made by the Law of Moses between Jewish en Gentile Christians explains the need for Paul’s arguments for unity.

The continued observance of the Law of Moses by Jewish Christians provides background to Paul’s statements that the law was added “until the seed (Jesus) would come” (Gal 3:19), which implies that the Law of Moses is no longer relevant; even for Jewish Christians.

The claim that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1) explains the idea of justification by the works of the Law (Rom. 3:27), which Paul had to contend with in his letters.  Justification by the works of the law is the idea that compliance with the rituals and ceremonies of the Law and the traditions will compensate for one’s sins, in contrast to Paul’s argument that we are “justified as a gift by His grace”.

This history provides important context for Paul’s teaching, or lack of it, with respect to the Seventh Day Sabbath, and for his comments on the observance of “days” (Rom. 14:6; Gal. 4:10).  When he wrote, all Jewish Christians observed the Sabbath while the Gentile Christians probably observed the Sabbath, but the different Sabbath taught by Christ.

OVERVIEW OF THE FIRST 30 YEARS

The church was conceived within its mother religion – Judaism.  John the Baptist was a Jew, calling Israel to repentance.  Jesus was a Jew, and His followers were Jews. He preached in the Jewish countryside, not the Hellenistic cities.  When a Gentile woman once asked for healing for her daughter, Jesus responded (at first)

Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).

The apostles were all Jews.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell only on Jews.  In the first few years of its existence the church functioned as a movement within Judaism, consisting only of Jews and proselytes.  They were all circumcised and they all observed the Law of Moses and the traditions.  In those first years the church grew exponentially, but it was confined to Jerusalem – the capital of Judaism.

In the earliest stage Christianity was made up of all those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). [David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Amsterdam University Press. p. 709. Retrieved 15 February 2014.]

After the first few years the church was dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria by the persecution of the church by the Jewish authorities.  Many Samaritans accepted Christ and were baptized, but the Samaritans also accepted the five books of Moses.  Consequently all Christians still observed the Law of Moses.

Only about ten years after the Cross, through divine intervention, did the church for the first time preach the Jesus-message to Gentiles and were the first Gentiles baptized.

The Gentile Christians in the church caused a dispute over whether they must observe the Law of Moses.  This dispute was settled a further ten years later when the church council meeting, recorded in Acts 15, decided that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  This decision created a double separation:

Firstly, the decision was not relevant to Jewish Christians, who were still the majority in the church.  The Jewish Christians, particularly in Judea, continued to be zealous for the Law of Moses, and continued to live like Jews, as evidenced by Acts 21, which is dated to nearly 30 years after the cross.  There arose therefore a separation between Gentile and Jewish Christians; one group observing the Law of Moses, the other not.

Secondly, this decision erected a permanent barrier between Judaism and the Church.  For the Jews it was a great sin to associate with uncircumcised people.  By associating with uncircumcised Christians, the Jewish Christians became unclean in the eyes of their Jewish friends and families (Gal. 6:12), hastening the separation of the church from Judaism.

The apostles and the other Christian Jews in Jerusalem therefore remained zealous for the Law of Moses throughout the period recorded by the Book of Acts.  The Jerusalem church also had a strong influence over the wider church, as evidenced by the following:

  • The Samaritans only received the Holy Spirit after Peter and John laid hands on them (8:14-17).
  • The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit through Peter (Acts 10).
  • The dispute whether Gentiles must observe the Law of Moses was referred to Jerusalem for resolution (Acts 15).

The influence of the Jewish Christians on the wider church diminished in later years due to various factors, but this is not discussed in this article because the purpose here is to describe the context within which Paul’s letters have been written, at a time when the influence of Jewish Christianity still was strong.

CONTEXT FOR PAUL’S LETTERS

Christians today find it difficult to appreciate the Jewishness of the early Christian church.  They tend to think that the early church was like the church of today; unaware that the past 2000 years have transformed the church from a movement within Judaism—an exclusively Jewish organization—to an almost exclusively Gentile organization.  The consequence is that Christians today read Paul’s letter into today’s context, and then misinterpret what he wrote with respect to issues such as the Law of Moses, the role of the nation of Israel, justification and the Sabbath.

The history explained in these articles is therefore important context for Paul’s letters.  The dispute raging in the church before the Jerusalem Council decision explains the letter to the Galatians.  Even after that decision Paul’s letters had to frequently explain why it is not necessary to observe the law, namely that man is not saved by the works of the Law, but by grace.

This history makes us aware of the sensitivities which Paul had to avoid.  Paul did his best not to offend the Jewish Christians.  In many towns there were Jews and Jewish Christians, and when Paul arrived in a town, he first preached his message to the Jews.  That normally failed. Then he turned to the Gentiles.  With his letters he addressed both groups simultaneously, and he had to be very careful not to offend unnecessarily.

UNITY OF JEW AND GENTILE

One aspect that is explained by this history is Paul’s arguments for the unity of Jewish en Gentile Christianity.

Even 30 years after Pentecost the mother church of Christianity, namely the church in Jerusalem, made distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  It expected Jewish Christians to adhere to the Law of Moses:

Jewish Christians combined the confession of Jesus as Christ with continued adherence to Jewish traditions such as Sabbath observance, observance of the Jewish calendar, observance of Jewish laws and customs, circumcision, and synagogue attendance. [David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Amsterdam University Press. p. 709. Retrieved 15 February 2014.]

1st century “Jewish Christians” were totally faithful religious Jews. They differed from other contemporary Jews only in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. In effect, the Jewish Christians seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. [ McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1-4051-0899-1. Page 174: “

On the other hand, they allowed Gentile Christians freedom from the Law of Moses.  It is not suggested here that Jewish Christians are still subject to the Law of Moses, but rather that this explains the context within which Paul taught that the two groups are made one, such as:

“Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision” (Gal. 6:15).

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

He (Jesus) Himself is our peace, who made both groups (Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles) into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:11-14).

He described Israel as an olive tree from which some branches have been broken off (unbelieving Jews), while branches from a wild olive (the Gentiles) have been grafted in, sharing in the wealth of the root (the fathers of the Jewish nation and the promises they received) (Romans 11:11-24).

While the Christian Jews in Jerusalem based their separateness on Moses and his law, Paul taught the unity of two groups in Abraham; both groups are children of Abraham and both share in the promises to the fathers of the nation of Israel (Gal. 3:17).

LAW OF MOSES

This evidence that the large number of Jewish Christians observed the Law of Moses during the entire period during which Paul worked and wrote his letters, explains the context for his statements about the law.  Paul was accused by the Christian Jews in Jerusalem “that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21).  Reading his letters, this was true.  Paul wrote of himself that he is not under the law (1 Cor. 9:20) and that the law was added “until the seed (Jesus) would come” (Gal 3:19), which implies the Law is no longer relevant; even for Jews.  See the discussion of Galatians 3:19-25 for more on this subject.

JUSTIFICATION

This context allows one to better understand the idea of justification by the works of the Law (Rom. 3:27), which Paul had to contend with in his letters:

The Jewish Christians maintained “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (15:1).  That is justification by the works of the law.  It does not mean that one is justified by not sinning.  Justification by the works of the law is the idea that compliance with the rituals and ceremonies of the Law and the traditions will compensate for one’s sins, and put one in a right relationship with God.  This was not a novel idea that developed after the church was established, but a concept which the church inherited from its mother religion – Judaism.

In contrast Peter argued, “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11).  This is the same as saying that we are “justified as a gift by His grace” (Rom. 3:23), which is something which Paul emphasized.  This means that our sins are wiped away by grace (mercy); not by the rituals and ceremonies of the Law.

SEVENTH DAY SABBATH

This history is also important context for Paul’s teaching, or lack of it, with respect to the Seventh Day Sabbath.

For the first years of the church, when it was still confined to Jerusalem and consisted of Jews only, all Christians observed the Law of Moses, and therefore also the Sabbath.  After the church was dispersed by persecution throughout Judea and Samaria, many Samaritans put their faith in Christ, but since they also based their religion on the five books of Moses, all Christians were still circumcised and observed the Sabbath.  Seven to ten years after the Cross the first Gentiles were allowed into the church (Acts 10).  A dispute arose whether they must observe the Law of Moses (15:1).  About twenty years after the Cross a church decision was made that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses (Acts 15).

But the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem continued to be “zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20).  The Law included the Sabbath.  If the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem observed the Sabbath, then probably all Jewish Christians in Judea and even the Jewish Christians that lived in Gentile nations also observed the Sabbath.

When the first Gentile Christians received the Holy Spirit, about seven to ten years after the cross, the Christian Jews were most surprised.  They thought that the Holy Spirit was for circumcised people only.  What is revealing about the account is that Peter did not convert them to Judaism first through circumcision, and then to Christianity through baptism; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he received them directly into Christianity through baptism. The implication of these events is the then novel idea that Gentile Christians do not ever have to convert to Judaism through circumcision.

The question is what the Gentile Christians were taught about the Sabbath.  The Jerusalem Council decision in Acts 15 mean that Gentiles are not under the Law of Moses.  It is nevertheless proposed here that we should conclude that the first Gentile Christians were probably taught to observe the Sabbath, for the following reasons:

(1) The specialness of the Seventh Day originated at creation.

(2) A seven day cycle was maintained before Moses.

(3) The Acts 15 decision obviously did not free the Gentile Christians from moral laws, and the Sabbath is included in the Ten Commandments with nine other moral principles.

(4) Christ never indicated that the Sabbath was aborted, but argued with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath.  He said the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27), that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12) and that the Sabbath is the preferred day for healing (Luke 13:16).  (See the article What did Jesus teach about the Sabbath? for more information.).

(5) Christ in His teachings already replaced the Law of Moses with the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21).  For instance, in Matthew 5 Jesus several times quoted from the Law of Moses, and then gave His alternative, which is always at a much higher moral level.  This is not something that happened at the Cross.  Christ’s teaching with respect to the Sabbath was therefore not an interpretation of the Sabbath commandment, but a replacement of it.  (See the article on the Law of Christ for more information.)  Consequently, when the church decided that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses, it simply applied something which Christ already taught twenty years earlier.

(6) Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

(7) All Jewish Christians in the early church, and therefore the majority of all Christians, observed the Sabbath.  The only teachers that the first Gentile Christians had were these Jewish Christians.  The church in Jerusalem had a strong influence in those days.

(8) the Sabbath, by itself, was not a matter of controversy in Paul’s day, as indicated by the fact that he used the word “Sabbath” only once in all of his letters, and then only as part of a technical term to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar (Col. 2:16 See the article Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths for more information).  The fact that there was no controversy in the early church about the Sabbath, combined with the fact that the Jewish Christians observed the Sabbath, implies that all Christians observed the Sabbath.

However, Jesus taught a different Sabbath.  Christ did more than to interpret the Sabbath commandment; He gave a new meaning to it. He converted the seventh day from a day of compulsory idleness to a day that is filled with purpose, activity and work; a day to show kindness and mercy; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan, to elevate the entire man to God’s ideal; in particular, a day to heal.  This does not mean that Christ taught that the requirement to rest, as given in the Law of Moses, is no longer binding, but the Law of Moses made rest the goal, while Christ shifted the focus to the purpose of the rest, namely healing.  See the article Jesus taught a different Sabbath for more information.

The Gentile Christians would have been taught the seventh day as taught by Christ.  Just like Christ’s Sabbath practices made the Jews so angry (Luke 6:11) that they wanted to kill Him (Mat. 12:14), the Sabbath practices of the Gentile Christians would not have been acceptable to the strict Jewish Pharisees.

The analysis above of the first years of the church is important context for Paul’s comments on the observance of “days” (Rom. 14:6; Gal. 4:10).

TO: General Table of Contents

TO: Early Church Table of Contents

Law of Christ

Christ did more than to merely interpret the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with much higher moral standards, which Paul calls the Law of Christ.  This law reflects the Father’s perfect heart.  He loves His enemies and has compassion with people.  Therefore, the Law of Christ asks the same from His followers.  The Law of Christ is the eternal law as it existed from the beginning.  The Law of Moses was a temporary watered-down version of the eternal law, suitable for the corrupt condition of the nation.

Overview:

Christ not only interpreted the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.  Paul refers to this as the Law of Christ.  The Law of Christ is best illustrated by Matthew 5, where Christ quotes various Old Testament laws, and then, starting with the words, “But I say to you”, for each gives His alternative law, which is at a much higher moral level.  For instance:

He replaced the law against murder with a law against anger.

The revenge-law, which specified “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, He completely set aside, commanding His followers to “not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”.

This higher level Law reveals the Father’s heart.  The Father is perfect.  He loves His enemies and has compassion with people.  For that reason the Law of Christ requires His followers to do the same.

When Jesus was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses, He referred to the creation account, stating that “the two shall become one flesh”.  When the Pharisees then asked why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus responded as follows:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v8).

This teaches two principles:

Firstly, Christ’s Law is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.

Secondly the Law of Moses was a diluted / watered-down version of the law as it existed “from the beginning” to fit the corrupt condition of the nation.

The question then is, did Christ also replace the Old Testament Sabbath with a much higher Sabbath Law?

Introduction

This page discusses a principle that is seldom sufficiently appreciated, namely that Christ, through His teachings, did more than to interpret the Old Testament Law; He rather replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.

Christ replaced the law of Moses with a higher system of ethics.

The Sermon on the Mount provides perhaps the best examples of this.  Here Christ quoted various Old Testament laws, and then, starting by saying, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39 and 44), gave a much elevated version of that law.

For instance, the law against adultery He replaced with a law against looking at a woman with lust:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mat 5:27-28)

This is not an interpretation of the seventh commandment, but on a much higher moral level.

The law against murder He replaced with a law against anger:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘you shall not commit murder … But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty …” (Matthew 5:20-21).

Still talking about people that make one angry or scared, He said: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Here Christ lifts the standard exponentially by defining even anger is a sin.  Instead of anger He requires us to love even our enemies.

Christ not only replaced the Ten Commandments; he also replaced other Old Testament laws, for instance, God gave to Moses the rule “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Lev. 24:20), but now Christ teaches that we should not take revenge:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

This was also how Christ lived and died.  Dying on the cross, in incredible pain and suffering, He still had time to think about His enemies:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)

The law of Christ replaced the law of Moses. 

Moses said that “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” (Deut. 18:15; cf. Acts 3:22), for “I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut. 18:18).  At the transfiguration of Jesus, Moses also appeared with Jesus (Mt. 17:3), but God said of Jesus “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (v5).  These statements confirm that Jesus is the law-giver of the new dispensation.

Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Paul wrote “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37) and that he (Paul) is not “without the law of God” because he is “under the law of Christ” (1Cor.  9:21).  He urged Christ’s followers to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  The “Law of Christ” refers Christ’s teachings, which is the higher level law which replaced the Law of Moses.

The Law of Christ reveals the Father’s heart.

Christ said:

He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

“I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. (John 8:28)

I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).

It is therefore proposed that the “Law of Christ” is the pure law as it exists in the Father’s heart.  This is supported by Christ’s conclusion of His teachings in Matthew 5,

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

This means there is no anger or revenge in the Father.  He would never expect more from us that from Himself.  He requires us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35) because He loves His enemies.  He told us to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39) and “I desire compassion” (Matthew 9:13) because that is what the Father is like.  The Bible does sometimes present God as angry or seeking revenge, but it is proposed here that that is simply to explain the infinite One in a way which humans can understand.

God never punishes us because of bad things we have done in the past.  He does punish, but it is always with an eye on the future; to achieve better things for the future, for God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

The Bible speaks about God’s wrath, and His wrath is a reality, but that does not mean that He becomes angry.  Without God we can do nothing.  He is the invisible Force that constantly protects and upholds us both physically and spiritually.  We are not even aware of all the dangers from which He constantly protects us. His wrath, therefore, is simply to give up those people for whom He can do nothing more.  In Romans 1, where Paul discusses “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v18), he three times wrote that “God gave them over” to their own passions and lusts (v24, 26, 28).  Also with respect to His people Israel, who were “bent on turning from Me”, God said:

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? … My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled” (Hosea 11:7-8)

Since the Father’s standards are infinitely high, our response should simply be like that of the tax collector:

“standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’” (Luke 18:13)

God gave Israel the law in a form which they could understand.

But, one may protest, if Christ revealed God’s true law, why was the Law of Moses given at a lower level?  Why did God give Israel a watered-down law?

It is proposed that the law was scaled down to fit the corrupt condition of the nation.  Jesus explained this principle in Matthew 19.  When He was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses, He said:

Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (v4-6)

Jesus therefore responded to their question by referring to the creation account, not the Law of Moses.  This implies that the Law of Christ is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.  For both marriage (Mat. 19:8) and the seventh day (Mark 2:27) Christ reached over the Law of Moses to derive His elevated principles or laws from the way that things were created to be.

The Pharisees then, still adamant to apply the Law of Moses, asked, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (v7)  Jesus then explained:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v8).

Here we have confirmation that the original law was adapted to Israel’s limited abilities.  God elected Abraham and his seed to be the conduit of His grace to the peoples of the earth.  To Abraham He promised, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3).  But, by the time of Moses, Israel has become a corrupt and enslaved little nation; far removed from the sinless and regal human beings that God created.  Due to the deterioration that comes from thousands of years living in a world filled with sin, Israel would not have been able to keep or even to understand the Laws of God as it existed “from the beginning”.  Therefore, to rescue that weak little nation from their addictive and soul-destroying idolatrous practices.  He gave the Law to Moses in the form that was best for Israel due to their “hardness of heart”.  He gave laws to Israel according to their capacity.  Israel needed simple, clear and practical instructions, linked with severe penalties.

This principle is applicable to all of God’s interactions with His creatures.  God meets people where they are.  He speaks to His hearers words that they are able to understand.  He never expects more from people than what they are able to do or able to bear.

Differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ

The point is that Christ went beyond interpreting the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments with a much higher system of ethics, here referred to as the “Law of Christ”.  Consider some differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ:

The Ten Commandments is God’s Law at Satan’s end of the spectrum; it expresses God’s principles in terms of the practical realities of a world controlled by the evil one.  Take, for instance, the commandment not to kill.  It is based on God’s law—to love the people around you as much as you love yourself—but with Satan’s and man’s fallen nature in mind.   The Ten Commandments therefore are but a dim reflection of His original and eternal law.  The Law of Christ describes what the Father wants us to strive for, namely to be like Him, which is unconditional love.

The Law of Moses is an adaptation of God’s eternal law to fit the condition of a specific nation, place and time; to fit the hardness of man’s heart (Mat 19:8).  The Law of Christ is the law as it existed from the beginning.

The Law of Moses is given at a level where sinful man would be able to keep it.  The Laws of Christ, being at such a high level, is impossible for man, in his current condition, to comply with.

The Law of Moses may be read as teaching that one can earn rewards from God.  The Law of Christ emphasizes grace (mercy).

The Law of Moses focuses mostly on external behavior, while Christ’s laws put the emphasis mostly on the drivers of external behavior, namely internal feelings, such as love, hate and compassion.

Most of the Ten Commandments are stated negatively (what you should not do), while most of Christ’s explanations of the laws are stated positively (what you should do: Matt. 5 – let you light shine – be reconciled – make friends quickly with your opponent – turn the other cheek, to mention a few).

The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for Sabbath breaking (Ex. 31:14), murder (Ex. 21:12), striking or cursing one’s father or mother (Ex. 21:15; Ex. 21:17), adultery (Lev. 20:10), blaspheming the name of the LORD (Lev. 24:16) and various other transgressions.  But Christ said to the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Relevance

You may ask why the “Law of Christ” is discussed here as part of a discussion of Christ and the Sabbath.  The reason is that when we read what Jesus said about the Sabbath, we have to listen carefully.  If it can be shown that Christ, through His Sabbath teachings, explained the Sabbath principle as at a much higher moral level than the Law of Moses, then it would be possible to conclude that He replaced the Old Testament Sabbath with a much higher Sabbath Law.

TO: Rebuttal of the article “The Law of Christ”

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

NEXT: First two Sabbath healing miracles

TO: General Table of Contents

Colossians 2:16 Introduction

Sorry, this article is a bit corrupted – I am busy editing it.

Summary

The Greek word translated to “judge” means to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong.  In Colossians 2:16 Paul is not asking Christians not to judge; he is asked them not to be influence by people judging them. This implies that it is people outside the church were judging the Christians.  What the Christians were doing or not doing were considered unacceptable in that community.

Food or drink“ literally refers to the act of eating and drinking.

Festival refers to the annual festivals prescribed by the Old Testament.  The New Moons were the first days of the months, which determined when the festivals will be held.

The seventh day was sanctified at creation and the Ten Commandments require the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest; a Sabbath. The Law of Moses, which was different from the Ten Commandments, required certain annual Sabbaths.  One question addressed below is whether 2:16 refers to the annual and/or to the weekly Sabbaths.

The phrase “festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” is often used by the Old Testament to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar.  Colossians 2:16 therefore does not really refer to the Sabbath specifically.  Today the relevance of the Sabbath to the Christian is heavily debated, but since Paul uses the word “Sabbath” nowhere else in his letters it is clear that the weekly Sabbath was a not controversial issue in Paul’s time.

Discussion of Colossians 2:16

2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day

Judge – The Greek word translated “judge” is krino (Strong’s # 2919) and means “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong” (Thayer’s Lexicon).

Food or drink – A more literal translation of the words “food” (brosis) and “drink” would be “eating” and “drinking” (Young’s literal translation).  It therefore refers to the act of eating and drinking.  Brosis is the word used in Matthew 6:19-20 to say that “rust destroys”.

Festival – Seven annual festivals were prescribed by the Old Testament.  The three principal Jewish festivals were Passover, Pentecost (“new grain offering” – Lev. 23:16), and the feast of Tabernacles.  These three were feasts of joy par excellence, commemorating the great acts of mercy which the Lord performed on behalf of His people.  These three also were pilgrimage feasts, when all Jewish males were expected to appear before the Lord.

New Moon – Peoples in ancient times kept track of months by means of the moon. A “new moon” is simply the beginning of a new month, namely when the first slither of the new moon is seen.  The festivals were prescribed for certain days of certain months. Yom Kippur was, for instance, on the 15th day of the 7th month. Since the new moons determined when months begin, they also determined when the festivals will be held. The New Moon in the beginning of the month Tisri (October) was the beginning of the Jewish year, and was commanded to be observed as a festival (Lev. 23:24-25).

Who was judging who?  – It is generally assumed that Christines were judging one another, namely with respect to the Jewish special days, but if that was true, then Paul probably would have written “do not judge”.

Since he wrote, “no one is to act as your judge”, it seems as if people outside the church were judging the Christians.

This view is supported by what the Christians were judged about.  Christians were being judged with respect to “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (2:23), such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”.  Things such as “severe treatment of the body” are not of Jewish or Christian origin, which means that non-Christians, in the same community, were judging the believers.  Since they were being judged with respect to the Jewish feast days and Sabbaths, it seems as if the eating and drinking that were associated with the Jewish feats days were not acceptable in that community.  This was a pagan community (1:27), and the

It seems as if the Christians overstep the boundaries of acceptable behavior is this regard.

 

 

 

Sabbath – There were two categories of Sabbaths in the Old Testament:

The Ten Commandments required the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest (a Sabbath – Ex 16:23).

The Law of Moses required some of the days of the annual feasts to be days of rest. These are annual Sabbaths.  Examples are the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:31; 23:32) and the first and the eighth days of the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:39) (see separate page on Numbers 23).  The annual Sabbaths are therefore similar to our public holidays.

Since there were both weekly and annual Sabbaths, one question is whether Paul is here referring to annual and/or to the weekly Sabbaths.

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

The requirement for the weekly Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, which were written by the finger of God on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13), and which were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), implying that the Ten Commandments were the heart of the covenant.

The annual Sabbaths, on the other hand, are described in a book that was written up by Moses, with many other laws (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Deut. 31:24, 26).  This book became known as the “Law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2Chron. 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2Chron. 35:12; Ezra 6:18; etc.) and was stored “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote some typical verses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses …” (Jos. 8:31).

Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

Another important difference between the Seventh Day Sabbath and the Annual Sabbaths is their origins.  The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3) and should therefore be regarded as sanctified for all people for all time.  Christ therefore could say that the Sabbath was made for man (all people) (Mark 2:27).  Many people are unable to believe the creation account, but at least we must agree that some people at the time of Moses believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

Some accept that the seventh day was sanctified at creation, and remains sanctified for all time, but argues that only Israel was commanded to commemorate this day as a day of rest.  This commentary on Colossians has been developed specifically to contribute to the discussion of the relevance of the Sabbath to Christians.

Festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” – The Old Testament uses the sequence “Festival … new moon … Sabbath day” as a technical phrase to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar.  See the analysis below for more detail.

With the exception of the current verse Paul’s letters never use the word “Sabbath”.  (The word Sabbath is also appears in Hebrews 4:9, but the author of Hebrews did not identify himself, while the first word in Paul’s letters is always his own name, “Paul”.)  And since the sequence “Festival … new moon … Sabbath day” is a technical shorthand for the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar, Colossians 2:16 does not really refer to the Sabbath specifically either.  The absence of references to the Sabbath implies that the weekly Sabbath was a not controversial issue in Paul’s time; at least not by itself; either everybody in the church observed the Sabbath or nobody observed it.

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