Four Myths about the Beliefs of the Early Christians
The recent archaeological discoveries related to the Early Church have shed much light on the beliefs and practices of the believers whom Christ taught. After scrutinizing the multitude of evidence from the first century believers, I have clearly concluded that their beliefs and practices were different than those of the church today.
Although there are a great variety of modern theologies available, virtually all of them are some form of replacement theology. Many theological systems say they do not hold to replacement theology but any system that believes the church replaced Israel in any way is a form of replacement theology. Dispensationalists say the church did not replace Israel; God just set Israel and the law aside because they failed. Although the logistics sound appealing, this is still replacement theology.
Please allow me to debunk some myths about what the Early Church believed. The following is what I have learned from translating ancient Greek inscriptions and interpreting ancient icons from the Early Church.
Myth #1 Jesus set aside the Old Testament laws.
Modern theological systems hold the church is not under the Law but under grace (Romans 6:14). It is true that the church is not under the Law but under grace. What does that mean in the context of Romans 6? Paul is arguing that we don’t have to keep the Law for salvation. Old Testament believers did not obtain salvation by keeping the Law either! No person has ever received salvation by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:11). Every soul that receives salvation does so by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Just like believers today are not under the Law, the Old Testament believers were not under the Law either.
There are no indications in any of the inscriptions or icons of the Early Church that Jesus set aside the Old Testament Law. The evidence actually speaks to the contrary. The Early Church continued in the ways of the pre-crucifixion believers. They kept the feasts, Shabbat, and the law.
Myth #2 The Early Church did not keep Shabbat (the Sabbath)
It is interesting to me that most theologians I know will agree that we should keep most of the Ten Commandments. I do not know of any believer that will say it is okay for a Christian to steal. I do not know of any believer who will say that it is okay for a Christian to commit murder. I do not know of anyone who will argue that we should not observe nine of the Ten Commandments. Why do we want to pick out one that Christians should not keep? The argument is that Jesus reiterates nine of the ten but He never mentions the fourth commandment. I have not yet had anyone show me where in the New Testament where Jesus repeats nine of the Ten Commandments. I can not find anywhere Jesus said, “Do not keep the Shabbat.” Jesus and the disciples kept the Shabbat. They met and taught in the synagogues on Shabbat.
The fact is the Early Church met corporately on Shabbat. The church as a whole did not start meeting on Sundays until the Catholic Church issued a canon at the Council of Laodicea that Christians not keep Shabbat but meet on Sunday. I realize the church in Acts met every day of the week. Paul ordered the churches in Corinth and Galatia to take up the offering for the oppressed believers in Jerusalem on the first day of the week. That order does not imply they met corporately for worship on Sunday. The emphasis was to not do it on Shabbat. The Greek language does not say “the first day of the week.” Rather it says in the Greek “the day after Shabbat.” Pauls’ order to collect the offering was given in a way that it not violate the Shabbat or take time or energy away from the corporate worship and teaching at the synagogue.
Myth #3 There was a conflict between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers in the Early Church
It is true that Jesus often had confrontations with the Jews; not the Jews as a whole but the religious establishment. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had imposed many laws and traditions, which were not from God but man. Certainly their intent was to be the best they could be for God, but in their zealousness they went beyond that which God instituted and lost focus of what God intended. The conflicts referred to in the New Testament are between the pharisaic type Jews and gentile believers.
Myth #4 The Early Church abandoned the Temple system.
When Christ died on the cross He became our sacrifice. He became our red heifer sacrifice, our Passover sacrifice, our scapegoat sacrifice, and all of our sacrifices in one. The sacrifices pictured the coming Messiah who would fill the significance of all of those sacrifices. Believers today do not need to offer sacrifices because the Messiah completed them. Did the early believers abandon the Temple system? NO! They held on tightly to the other elements of the Temple because those will be fulfilled soon. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross did not end the Temple worship system; it completed one phase of the pictures it portrayed. In other words, Jesus’ death brought us one step closer to the day the Messiah returns and rules and reigns from the Temple in Jerusalem.
It is time for a theology in the church that embraces the Jews. After all doesn’t the Bible say gentile believers are grafted into Israel (Romans 11)? It is little wonder most Christians have a hard time understanding the Bible. We have confused people by trying to impose a theological system on the Bible which is man made. We can never understand the Bible as long as we are trying to interpret it through a set of preconceived ideas, which come from a man-made theological system. Let’s remove our prejudice against the Jews and read the Bible as the early believers did.
© Dr. Steven L Smith 2016