The document before us professes to give a narrative of the progress of the primitive Church from its first formation in the midst of Mosaism, with strong Judaistic rules and prejudices, up to that liberal universalism which freely admitted the Christian Gentile, upon equal terms, into communion with the Christian Jew. The question with which we are concerned is strictly this: is the account in the Acts of the Apostles of the successive steps by which Christianity emerged from Judaism, and, shaking off the restrictions and obligations of the Mosaic law, admitted the Gentiles to a full participation of its privileges, historically true? Is the representation which is made of the conduct and teaching of the older Apostles on the one hand, and of Paul on the other, and of their mutual relations, an accurate one? Can the Acts of the Apostles, in short, be considered a sober and veracious history of so important and interesting an epoch of the Christian Church? This has been vehemently disputed or denied, and the discussion, extending on every side into important collateral issues, forms in itself a literature of voluminous extent and profound interest. Our path now lies through this debatable land; but, although the controversy as to the connection of Paul with the development of Christianity and his relation to the Apostles of the Circumcision cannot be altogether avoided, it only partially concerns us. We are freed from the necessity of advancing any particular theory, and have here no further interest in it than to inquire whether the narrative of the Acts is historical or not. If, therefore, avoiding many important but unnecessary questions, and restricting ourselves to a straight course across the great controversy, we seem to deal insufficiently with the general subject, it must be remembered that the argument is merely incidental to our inquiry, and that we not only do not pretend to exhaust it, but distinctly endeavour to reduce our share in it to the smallest limits compatible with our immediate object.
Representation of the Apostolic Age in
According to the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostolic age presents a most edifying example of concord and moderation. The emancipation of the Church from Mosaic restrictions was effected without strife or heart-burning, and the freedom of the Gospel, if not attained without hesitation, was finally proclaimed with singular largeness of mind and philosophic liberality. The teaching of Paul differed in nothing from that of the elder Apostles. The Christian universalism, which so many suppose to have specially characterised the great Apostle of the Gentiles, was not only shared, but even anticipated, by the elder Apostles. So far from opposing the free admission of the Gentiles to the Christian community, Peter declares himself to have been chosen of God that by his voice they should hear the Gospel (Acts 15:7), proclaims that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (15:9), and advocates the abrogation, in their case at least, of the Mosaic law (15:10). James, whatever his private predilections may be, exhibits almost equal forbearance and desire of conciliation. In fact, whatever anomalies and contradictions may be discoverable, upon close examination, beneath this smooth and brilliant surface, the picture superficially presented is one of singular harmony and peace. On the other hand, instead of that sensitive independence and self-reliance of character which has been ascribed to the Apostle Paul, we find him represented in the Acts as submissive to the authority of the "Pillars" of the Church, ready to conform to their counsels and bow to their decrees, and as seizing every opportunity of visiting Jerusalem and coming in contact with that stronghold of Judaism. Instead of the Apostle of the Gentiles, preaching the abrogation of the law, and more than suspected of leading the Jews to apostatise from Moses (Acts 21:21), we find a man even scrupulous in his observance of Mosaic customs, taking vows upon him, circumcising Timothy with his own hand, and declaring at the close of his career, when a prisoner at Rome, that he "did nothing against the people or the customs of the fathers." (28:17). There is no trace of angry controversy, of jealous susceptibility, of dogmatic difference, in the circle of the Apostles. The intercourse of Paul with the leaders of the Judaistic party is of the most unbroken pleasantness and amity. Of opposition to his ministry, or doubt of his Apostleship, whether on the part of the Three or of those who identified themselves with their teaching, we have no hint. We must endeavour to ascertain whether this is a true representation of the early development of the Church, and of the momentous history of the Apostolic age.
In the Epistles of Paul we have, at least to some extent, the means of testing the accuracy of the statements of the Acts with regard to him and the early history of the Church. The Epistles to the Galatians, to the Corinthians (2), and to the Romans are generally admitted to be genuine (in great part, at least), and can be freely used for this purpose. To these we shall limit our attention, excluding other epistles, whose authenticity is either questioned or denied; but in doing so no material capable of really affecting the result is set aside. For the same reason, we must reject any evidence to be derived from the so-called Epistles of Peter and James, at least so far as they are supposed to represent the opinions of Peter and James; but here again it will be found that they do not materially affect the points immediately before us. The veracity of the Acts of the Apostles being the very point which is in question, it is unnecessary to say that we have to subject the narrative to examination, and by no means to assume the correctness of any statements we find in it. At the same time it must be our endeavour to collect from this document such indications -- and they will frequently be valuable -- of the true history of the occurrences related, as may be presented between the lines of the text. In the absence of fuller information, it must not be forgotten that human nature in the first century of our era was very much what it is in the nineteenth, and, certain facts being clearly established, it will not be difficult to infer many details which cannot now be positively demonstrated. The Epistle to the Galatians, however, will be our most invaluable guide. Dealing, as it does, with some of the principal episodes of the Acts, we are enabled by the words of the Apostle Paul himself, which have all the accent of truth and vehement earnestness, to control the narrative of the unknown writer of that work; and, where this source fails, we have the unsuspected testimony of his other Epistles, and of later ecclesiastical history, to assist our inquiry.
Characteristics of Primitive Christianity
The problem, then, which we have to consider is the manner in which the primitive Church emerged from its earliest form, as a Jewish institution with Mosaic restrictions and Israelitish exclusiveness, and finally opened wide its doors to the uncircumcised Gentile, and assumed the character of a universal religion. In order to understand the nature of the case, and be able to estimate aright the solution which is presented by the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, it is necessary that we should obtain a clear view of the actual characteristics of Christianity at the period when that history begins. We must endeavour to understand precisely what view the Apostles had formed of their position in regard to Judaism, and of the duty which devolved upon them of propagating the Gospel. It is obvious that we cannot rightly appreciate the amount of persuasion requisite to transform the primitive Church from Jewish exclusiveness to Christian universality, without ascertaining the probable amount of long-rooted conviction and religious prejudice or principle which had to be overcome before that great change could be effected.
We shall not here enter upon any argument as to the precise views which the Founder of Christianity may have held as to his own person and work, nor shall we attempt to sift the traditions of his life and teaching which have been handed down to us, and to separate the genuine spiritual nucleus from the grosser matter by which it has been enveloped and obscured. We have much more to do with the view which others took of the matter, and, looking at the Gospels as representations of that which was accepted as the orthodox view regarding the teaching of Jesus, they are almost as useful for our present purpose as if they had been more spiritual and less popular expositions of his views. What the Master was understood to teach is more important for the history of the first century than what he actually taught without being understood.
Nothing is more certain than the fact that Christianity, originally, was developed out of Judaism, and that its advent was historically prepared by the course of the Mosaic system, to which it was so closely related. In its first stages, during the apostolic age, it had no higher ambition than to be, and to be considered, the continuation and the fulfilment of Judaism, its final and triumphant phase. The substantial identity of primitive Christianity with true Judaism was, at first, never called in question; it was considered a mere internal movement of Judaism, its development and completion, but by no means its mutilation. The idea of Christianity as a new religion never entered the minds of the Twelve or of the first believers, nor, as we shall presently see, was it so regarded by the Jews themselves. It was, in fact, originally nothing more than a sect of Judaism holding a particular view of one point in the creed, and, for a very long period, it was considered so by others, and was in no way distinguished from the rest of Mosaism. Even in the Acts there are traces of this, Paul being called "a ringleader of the sect (airesis) of the Nazarenes" (24:5), and the Jews of Rome being represented as referring to Christianity by this term (28:22). Paul, before the Council, not only does not scruple to call himself "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee," but the Pharisees take part with him against the more unorthodox and hated sect of the Sadducees (23:6 f.).
For eighteen centuries disputes have fiercely raged over the creed of Christendom, and the ingenuity of countless divines has been exhausted in deducing mystic dogmas from the primitive teaching; but if there be one thing more remarkable than another in that teaching, according to the Synoptics, it is its perfect simplicity. Jesus did not appear with a ready-made theology, and imposed no elaborate system of doctrine upon his disciples. Throughout the prophetic period of Mosaism one hope had sustained the people of Israel in all their sufferings and reverses -- that the fortunes of the nation should finally be retrieved by a scion of the race of David, under whose rule it should be restored to a future of unexampled splendour and prosperity. The expectation of the Messiah, under frequently modified aspects, had formed a living part in the national faith of Israel. Primitive Christianity, sharing, but recasting, this ancient hope, was only distinguished from Judaism, with whose worship it continued in all points united, by a single doctrine, which was in itself merely a modification of the national idea -- the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was actually the Christ, the promised Messiah. This was substantially the whole of its creed.
The Synoptic Gospels, and more especially the first, [643:4] are clearly a history of Jesus as the Messiah of the house of David, so long announced and expected, and whose life and even his death and resurrection are shown to be the fulfilment of a series of Old Testament prophecies. When his birth is announced to Mary, he is described as the great one, who is to sit on the throne of David his father, and reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:32-33), and the good tidings of great joy to all the people (panti tô laô), that the Messiah is born that day in the city of David, are proclaimed by the angel to the shepherds of the plain (Luke 2:10 f.) Symeon takes the child in his arms and blesses God that the words of the Holy Spirit are accomplished, that he should not die before he had seen the Lord's anointed, the Messiah, the consolation of Israel. [643:1] The Magi come to his cradle in Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Messiah indicated by the prophet, [643:2] to do homage to him who is born King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2), and there Herod seeks to destroy him (Matt 2:16), fulfilling another prophecy (Matt. 2:17 f.). His flight into Egypt and return to Nazareth are equally the fulfilment of prophecies (Matt. 2:23). John the Baptist, whose own birth as the forerunner of the Messiah had been foretold, [643:7] goes before him preparing the way of the Lord, and announcing that the Messianic kingdom is at hand. According to the fourth Gospel, some of the twelve had been disciples of the Baptist, and follow Jesus on their master's assurance that he is the Messiah. One of these, Andrew, induces his brother Simon Peter also to go after him by the announcement: "We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ" (Jn. 1:35 f. 41). And Philip tells Nathaniel: "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write: Jesus, the Son of Joseph, who is from Nazareth" (1:45). When he has commenced his own public ministry, Jesus is represented as asking his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" and, setting aside the popular conjectures that he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, by the still more direct question, "And who do ye say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And in consequence of this recognition of his Messiahship, Jesus rejoins: "And I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." [643:8]
It is quite apart from our present object to point out the singular feats of exegesis and perversions of historical sense by which passages of the Old Testament are forced to show that every event in the history, and even the startling novelty of a suffering and crucified Messiah, which to Jews was a stumbling-block and to Gentiles folly (1 Cor 1:23), had been foretold by the prophets. From first to last the Gospels strive to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, and connect him indissolubly with the Old Testament. The Messianic keynote, which is struck at the outset, regulates the strain to the close. The disciples on the way to Emmaus, appalled by the ignominious death of their Master, sadly confide to the stranger their vanished hope that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they now merely call "a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people," was the Christ "who was about to redeem Israel," and Jesus himself replies: "O foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spake! Was it not needful that the Christ (Messiah) should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk. 24:15-17). Then, again, when he appears to the eleven immediately after, at Jerusalem, he says: "These are the words that I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning me.' Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them: 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead the third day'" (Lk. 24:44-46).
The Suffering Messiah
The crucifixion and death of Jesus introduced the first elements of rupture with Judaism, to which they formed the great stumbling-block. The conception of a suffering and despised Messiah could naturally never have occurred to a Jewish mind. [644:3] The first effort of Christianity, therefore, was to repair the apparent breach by proving that the suffering Messiah had actually been foretold by the prophets; and to re-establish the Messianic character of Jesus, by the evidence of his resurrection. But, above all, the momentary deviation from orthodox Jewish ideas regarding the Messiah was retraced by the representation of a speedy second advent, in glory, of the once rejected Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel, by which the ancient hopes of the people became reconciled with the new expectation of Christians. Even before the ascension the disciples are represented in the Acts as asking the risen Jesus: "Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" [644:4] There can be no doubt of the reality and universality of the belief, in the Apostolic Church, in the immediate return of the glorified Messiah, and speedy "end of all things."
Simplicity of the Christian Creed
The substance of the preaching of the Apostles in Acts simply is that Jesus is the Christ, [644:5] the expected Messiah. Their chief aim is to prove that his sufferings and death had been foretold by the prophets, [645:1] and that his resurrection establishes his claim to the title. [645:2] The simplicity of the creed is illustrated by the rapidity with which converts are made. After a few words, on one occasion three thousand (Acts 2:41), and on another five thousand, [645:4] are at once converted. No lengthened instruction or preparation was requisite for admission into the Church. As soon as a Jew acknowledged Jesus to be the Messiah he thereby became a Christian. As soon as the three thousand converts at Pentecost made this confession of faith they were baptised (2:41). The Ethiopian is converted whilst passing in his chariot, and is immediately baptised (8:35 f.), as are likewise Cornelius and his household after a short address from Peter (10:47). The new faith involved no abandonment of the old. On the contrary, the advent of the Messiah was so essential a part of Judaic belief, and the Messianic claim of Jesus was so completely based by the Apostles on the fulfilment of prophecy -- "showing by the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ" -- that recognition of the fact rather constituted firmer adhesion to Mosaism, and deeper faith in the inviolable truth of the Covenant with Israel. If there had been no Mosaism, so to say, there could have been no Messiah. So far from being opposed either to the form or spirit of the religion of Israel, the proclamation of the Messiah was its necessary complement, and could only be intelligible by confirmation of its truth and maintenance of its validity. Christianity -- belief in the Messiah -- in its early phases, drew its whole nourishment from roots that sank deeply into Mosaism. It was indeed nothing more than Mosaism in a developed form. The only difference between the Jew and the Christian was that the latter believed the Messiah to have already appeared in Jesus, whilst the former still expected him in the future; though even this difference was singularly diminished, in appearance at least, by the Christian expectation of the second advent.
It is exceedingly important to ascertain, under these circumstances, what was the impression of the Apostles as to the relation of believers to Judaism and to Mosaic observances, although it must be clear to anyone who impartially considers the origin and historical antecedents of the Christian faith that very little doubt can have existed in their minds on the subject. The teaching of Jesus, as recorded in the synoptic Gospels, is by no means of a doubtful character, more especially when the sanctity of the Mosaic system in the eyes of a Jew is borne in mind. It must be apparent that, in order to remove the obligation of a Law and form of worship believed to have been, in the most direct sense, instituted by God himself, the most clear, strong, and reiterated order would have been requisite. No one can reasonably maintain that a few spiritual expressions directed against the bare letter and abuse of the law, which were scarcely understood by the hearers, could have been intended to abolish a system so firmly planted, or to overthrow Jewish institutions of such antiquity and national importance, much less that they could be taken in this sense by the disciples. A few passages in the Gospels, therefore, which may bear the interpretation of having foreseen the eventful supersession of Mosaism by his own more spiritual principles, must not be strained to support the idea that Jesus taught disregard of the Law. His very distinct and positive lessons, conveyed both by precept and practice, show, on the contrary, that not only he did not intend to attack pure Mosaism, but that he was understood both directly and by inference to recognise and confirm it.
Teaching of Jesus regarding Mosaism
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states to the disciples in the most positive manner: "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets; I came not to destroy but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass from the law, till all be accomplished." [646:1] Whether the last phrase be interpreted "till all the law be accomplished," or "till all things appointed to occur be accomplished," the effect is the same. One clear explicit declaration like this, under the circumstances, would outweigh a host of doubtful expressions. Not only does Jesus in this passage directly repudiate any idea of attacking the law and the prophets, but, in representing his mission as their fulfilment, he affirms them, and associates his own work in the closest way with theirs. If there were any uncertainty, however, as to the meaning of his words, it would be removed by the continuation: "Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these commandments, even the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." [646:2] It would be difficult for teaching to be more decisive in favour of the maintenance of the law, and this instruction, according to the first Synoptic, was specially directed to the disciples (Matt 5:1-2). When Jesus goes on to show that their righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, and to add to the letter of the law, as interpreted by those of old, his own profound interpretation of its spirit, he only intensifies, without limiting, the operation of the law; he merely spiritualises it. He does no more than this in his lessons regarding the observance of the Sabbath. He did not, in point of fact, attack the genuine Mosaic institution of the day of rest at all, but merely the intolerable literalism by which its observance had been made a burden instead of "a delight." He justified his variation from the traditional teaching and practice of his time by appeals to Scriptural precedent. [647:1] As Dr. Farrar has said: "…the observance of the Sabbath, which had been intended to secure for weary men a rest full of love and peace and mercy, had become a mere national fetish -- a barren custom fenced in with the most frivolous and senseless restrictions." [647:2] Jesus restored its original significance.
In restricting some of the permissive clauses of the law, on the other hand, he acted precisely in the same spirit. He dealt with the law not with the temper of a revolutionist, but of a reformer, and his reforms, so far from affecting its permanence, are a virtual confirmation of the rest of the code. [647:3] Ritschl, whose views on this point will have some weight with Apologists, combats the idea that Jesus merely confirmed the Mosaic moral law and abolished the ceremonial law. Referring to one particular point of importance, he says: "He certainly contests the duty of the Sabbath rest, the value of purifications and sacrifices, and the validity of divorce; on the other hand, he leaves unattacked the value of circumcision, whose regulation is generally reckoned as part of the ceremonial law; and nothing justifies the conclusion that Jesus estimated it in the same way as Justin Martyr, and the other Gentile Christian Church teachers, who place it on the same line as the ceremonies. The only passage in which Jesus touches upon circumcision (John 7:22) rather proves that, as an institution of the patriarchs, he attributes to it peculiar sanctity. Moreover, when Jesus, with unmistakable intention, confines his own personal ministry to the Israelitish people (Mark 7:27, Matt. 10:5-6), he thereby recognises their prior right of participation in the kingdom of God, and also, indirectly, circumcision as the sign of the preference of this people. The distinction of circumcision from ceremonies, besides, is perfectly intelligible from the Old Testament. Through circumcision, to wit, is the Israelite, sprung from the people of the Covenant, indicated as sanctified by God; through purification, sacrifice, Sabbath rest, must he continually sanctify himself for God. So long, therefore, as the conception of the people of the Covenant is maintained, circumcision cannot be abandoned, whilst even the prophets have pointed to the merely relative importance of the Mosaic worship. " [648:1]
Jesus everywhere in the Gospels recognises the divine origin of the law, [648:2] and he quotes the predictions of the prophets as absolute evidence of his own pretensions. To those who ask him the way to eternal life he indicates its commandments, [648:3] and he even enjoins the observance of its ceremonial rites. [648:4] Jesus did not abrogate the Mosaic law; but, on the contrary, by his example as well as his precepts he practically confirmed it. According to the statements of the Gospels, Jesus himself observed he prescriptions of the Mosaic law. From his birth he had been brought up in its worship (cf. Gal. 4:4). He was circumcised on the eighth day (Lk 2:21). "And when the days of their purification were accomplished, according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, even as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male, etc., and to give a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord," etc. (Lk. 2:22). Every year his parents went to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover (Lk 2:41). and this practice he continued till the close of his life. "As his custom was, he went into the synagogue (at Nazareth) and stood up to read" (Lk. 4:16). According to the fourth Gospel, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for the various festivals of the Jews, [648:10] and the feast of the Passover, according to the Synoptics, was the last memorable supper eaten with his disciples, [648:11] the third Synoptic representing him as saying: "With desire I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say unto you that I shall not any more eat it until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Lk 22:15 f.) However exceptional the character of Jesus, and however elevated his views, it is undeniable that he lived and died a Jew, conforming to the ordinances of the Mosaic law in all essential points, and not holding himself aloof from the worship of the Temple which he purified. The influence which his adherence to the forms of Judaism must have exerted over his followers can scarcely be exaggerated, and the fact must ever be carefully borne in mind in estimating the conduct of the Apostles and of the primitive Christian community after his death.
Jesus did not abrogate the Law
As befitted the character of the Jewish Messiah, the sphere of the ministry of Jesus and the arrangements for the proclamation of the Gospel were strictly, and even intensely, Judaic. Jesus attached to his person twelve disciples, a number clearly typical of the twelve tribes of the people of Israel; and this reference is distinctly adopted when Jesus is represented, in the Synoptics, as promising that, in the Messianic kingdom, "when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory," the Twelve also "shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mt. 19:28); a promise which, according to the third Synoptist, is actually made during the last supper (Lk. 22:30). In the Apocalypse, which, "of all the writings of the New Testament, is most thoroughly Jewish in its language and imagery," [649:3] the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb are written upon the twelve foundations of the wall of the heavenly Jerusalem, upon the twelve gates of which, through which alone access to the city can be obtained, are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (Rev. 21:12-14). Jesus himself limited his teaching to the Jews, and was strictly "a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." To the prayer of the Canaanitish woman, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David," unlike his gracious demeanour to her of the bloody issue (Mt. 9:22), Jesus at first, it is said, "answered her not a word "; and even when besought by the disciples -- not to heal her daughter, but -- to "send her away," he makes the emphatic declaration: "I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." [649:6] To her continued appeals he lays down the principle: "It is not lawful to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs." If after these exclusive sentences the boon is finally granted, it is as of the crumbs [649:7] which fall from the master's table. The modified expression in the second Gospel, "Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs," does not affect the case, for it equally represents exclusion from the privileges of Israel, and the Messianic idea fully contemplated a certain grace to the heathen when the children were filled. The expression regarding casting the children's bread "to the dogs" is clearly in reference to the Gentiles, who were so called by the Jews. A similar, though still stronger, use of such expressions might be pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount in the first Gospel (7:6): "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine." It is certain that the Jews were in the habit of speaking of the heathen both as dogs and swine -- unclean animals -- and Hilgenfeld [650:1], and some other critics see in this verse a reference to the Gentiles. We do not, however, press this application, which is, and may be, disputed, but merely mention it and pass on. There can be no doubt, however, of the exclusive references to the Gentiles in the same sermon and other passages, where the disciples are enjoined to practise a higher righteousness than the Gentiles. "Do not even the publicans … do not even the Gentiles or sinners the same things." [650:2] "Take no thought, etc., for after all these things do the Gentiles seek; but seek ye, etc." [650:3] The contrast is precisely that put with some irony by Paul, making use of the common Jewish expression "sinner" as almost equivalent for "Gentile." [650:4] In another place the first Synoptic represents Jesus as teaching his disciples how to deal with a brother who sins against them, and as the final resource, when every effort at reconciliation and justice has failed, he says: "Let him be unto thee as the Gentile (ethnikos) and the publican" (Mt. 18:17). He could not express in a stronger way to a Jewish mind the idea of social and religious excommunication.
The instructions which Jesus gives in sending out the Twelve express the exclusiveness of the Messianic mission to the Jews, in the first instance, at least, in a very marked manner. Jesus commands his disciples: "Go not into a way of the Gentiles (ethnôn), and into a city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand." [650:5] As if more emphatically to mark the limitation of the mission, the assurance is seriously added: "For verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man come" (Mt. 10:23). It will be observed that Jesus here charges the Twelve to go rather "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" in the same words that he employs to the Canaanitish woman to describe the exclusive destination of his own ministry. [650:7] In coupling the Samaritans with the Gentiles there is merely an expression of the intense antipathy of the Jews against them as a mixed and, we may say, renegade race excluded from the Jewish worship, although circumcised, intercourse with whom is to this day almost regarded as pollution. [651:1]
The Appointment of Seventy Disciples
The third Gospel, which omits the restrictive instructions of Jesus to the Twelve given by the first Synoptist, introduces another episode of the same description -- the appointment and mission of seventy disciples, [651:2] to which we must very briefly refer. No mention whatever is made of the incident in the other Gospels, and these disciples are not referred to in any other part of the New Testament. [651:3] Even Eusebius remarks that no catalogue of them is anywhere given, [651:4] and, after naming a few persons, who were said by tradition to have been of their number, he points out that more than seventy disciples appear, for instance, according to the testimony of Paul. [651:5] It will be observed that the instructions supposed to be given to the Seventy in the third Synoptic are, in the first, at least in considerable part, the very instructions given to the Twelve. There has been much discussion regarding the whole episode, which need not here be minutely referred to. For various reasons the majority of critics impugn its historical character. A large number of these, as well as other writers, consider that the narrative of this appointment of seventy disciples, the number of the nations of the earth according to Jewish ideas, was introduced in Pauline universalistic interest, or, at least, that the number is typical of Gentile conversion, in contrast with that of the Twelve who represent the more strictly Judaic limitation of the Messianic mission; and they seem to hold that the preaching of the Seventy is represented as not confined to Judaea, but as extending to Samaria, and that it thus denoted the extension of the Gospel also to the Gentiles. On the other hand, other critics, many, though by no means all, of whom do not question the authenticity of the passage, are disposed to deny the Pauline tendency and any special connection with a mission to the Gentiles, and rather to see in the number seventy a reference to well-known Judaistic institutions. It is true that the number of the nations was set down at seventy by Jewish tradition, [651:6] but, on the other hand, it was the number of the elders chosen by Moses from amongst the children of Israel by God's command to help him, and to whom God gave of his spirit; [652:1] and also of the national Sanhedrin, which, according to the Mischna, [652:2] still represented the Mosaic council. This view receives confirmation from the Clementine Recognitions in the following passage: "He, therefore, chose us twelve who first believed in him, whom he named Apostles; afterwards seventy-two other disciples of most approved goodness, that, even in this way, recognising the similitude of Moses, the multitude might believe that this is the prophet to come, whom Moses foretold." [652:3] The passage here referred to is twice quoted in the Acts: "Moses indeed said: A prophet will the Lord our God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me," etc. [652:4] On examination, we do not find that there is any ground for the assertion that the seventy disciples were sent to the Samaritans or Gentiles, or were in any way connected with universalistic ideas. Jesus had "stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem," and sent messengers before him who "went and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him," but they repulsed him, "because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem" (Lk. 9:51). There is a decided break before the appointment of the Seventy. "After these things (meta tauta) the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself was about to come" (Lk.10:1). There is not a single word in the instructions given to them which justifies the conclusion that they were sent to Samaria, and only the inference from the number seventy, taken as typical of the nations, suggests it. That inference is not sufficiently attested, and the slightness of the use made of the seventy disciples in the third Gospel -- this occasion being the only one on which they are mentioned, and no specific intimation of any mission to all people being here given -- does not favour the theory of Pauline tendency. So far as we are concerned the point is unimportant. Those who assert the universalistic character of the episode generally deny its authenticity; most of those who accept it as historical deny its universalism.
The order to go and teach all nations by no means carries us beyond strictly Messianic limits. Whilst the Jews expected the Messiah to restore the people of Israel to their own Holy Land and crown them with unexampled prosperity and peace, revenging their past sorrows upon their enemies, and granting them supremacy over all theearth, they likewise held that one of the Messianic glories was to be the conversion of the Gentiles to the worship of Jahveh. This is the burden of the prophets, and it requires no proof. The Jews, as the people with whom God had entered into Covenant, were first to be received into the kingdom. "Let the children first be filled" (Mk. 8:27), and then the heathen might partake of the bread. Regarding the ultimate conversion of the Gentiles, therefore, there was no doubt; the only questions were as to the time and the conditions of admission into the national fellowship. As to the time, there never had been any expectation that the heathen could be turned to Jahveh in numbers before the appearance of the Messiah, but converts to Judaism had been made in all ages, and after the dispersion, especially, the influence of the Jews upon the professors of the effete and expiring religions of Rome, of Greece, and of Egypt was very great, and numerous proselytes adopted the faith of Israel, and were eagerly sought for (Mt. 23:15), in spite of the abusive terms in which the Talmudists spoke of them. [653:3]
The conditions, on the other hand, were perfectly definite. The case of converts had been early foreseen and provided for in the Mosaic code. Without referring to minor points, we may at once say that circumcision was indispensable to admission into the number of the children of Israel. [653:4] Participation in the privileges of the Covenant could only be secured by accepting the mark of that Covenant. Very many, however, had adopted Judaism to a great extent who were not willing to undergo the rite requisite to full admission into the nation, and a certain modification had gradually been introduced by which, without it, strangers might be admitted into partial communion with Israel. There were, therefore, two classes of Proselytes: the first called Proselytes of the Covenant or of Righteousness, who were circumcised, obeyed the whole Mosaic law, and were fully incorporated with Israel; and the other called Proselytes of the Gate, or worshippers of Jahveh, who in the New Testament are commonly called oi sebomenoi ton Theon, or oi eusebeis. These had not undergone the rite of circumcision, and therefore were not participators in the Covenant, but merely worshipped the God of Israel, and were only compelled to observe the seven Noachian prescriptions. These Proselytes of the Gate, however, were little more than on sufferance. They were excluded from the Temple, and even the Acts of the Apostles represent it to be pollution for a Jew to have intercourse with them: it requires direct divine intervention to induce Peter to go to Cornelius, and to excuse his doing so in the eyes of the primitive Church. [654:1] Nothing short of circumcision and full observance of the Mosaic law could secure the privileges of the Covenant with Israel to a stranger, and in illustration of this we may again point to the Acts, where certain who came from Judaea, members of the primitive Church, teach the Christians of Antioch: "Except ye have been circumcised after the custom of Moses ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). This will be more fully shown as we proceed.
The conversion of the Gentiles was not, therefore, in the least degree an idea foreign to Judaism, but, on the contrary, formed an intimate part of the Messianic expectation of the later prophets. The conditions of admission to the privileges and promises of the Covenant, however, were full acceptance of the Mosaic law and submission to the initiatory rite. That small and comparatively insignificant people, with an arrogance that would have been ridiculous if, in the influence which they have actually exerted over the world, it had not been almost sublime, not only supposed themselves the sole and privileged recipients of the oracles of God, as his chosen and peculiar people, but they contemplated nothing short of universal submission to the Mosaic code, and the supremacy of Israel over all the earth.
We are now better able to estimate the position of the Twelve when the death of their Master threw them on their own resources, and left them to propagate his Gospel as they themselves understood it. Born a Jew of the race of David, accepting during his life the character of the promised Messiah, and dying with the mocking title "King of the Jews" written upon his cross, Jesus had left his disciples in close communion with the Mosaism which he had spiritualised and ennobled, but had not abolished. He himself had taught them that "it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness," and from his youth upwards had set them the example of enlightened observance of the Mosaic law. His precept had not belied his example, and, whilst in strong terms we find him inculcating the permanence of the Law, it is certain that he left no order to disregard it. He confined his own preaching to the Jews; the first ministers of the Messiah represented the twelve tribes of the people of Israel; and the first Christians were of that nation, with no distinctive worship, but practising as before the whole Mosaic ritual. What Neander says of "many" may, we think, be referred to all: "That Jesus faithfully observed the form of the Jewish law served to them as evidence that this form should ever preserve its value." [655:1] As a fact, the Apostles and the early Christians continued as before assiduously to practise all the observances of the Mosaic law, to frequent the Temple, [655:2] and adhere to the usual strict forms of Judaism. In addition to the influence of the example of Jesus and the powerful effect of national habit, there were many strong reasons which obviously must to Jews have rendered abandonment of the law as difficult as submission to its full requirements must have been to Gentiles. Holding as they did the Divine origin of the Old Testament, in which the observance of the Law was inculcated on almost every page, it would have been impossible, without counter-teaching of the most peremptory and convincing character, to have shaken its supremacy; but, beyond this, in that theocratic community Mosaism was not only the condition of the Covenant and the key of the Temple, but it was also the diploma of citizenship, and the bond of social and political life. To abandon the observance of the Law was not only to resign the privilege and the distinctive characteristic of Israel, to relinquish the faith of the Patriarchs who were the glory of the nation, and to forsake a divinely appointed form of worship, without any recognised or even indicated substitute, but it severed the only link between the individual and the people of Israel, and left him in despised isolation, an outcast from the community. They had no idea that any such sacrifice was required of them. They were simply Jews believing in the Jewish Messiah, and they held that all things else were to proceed as before, until the glorious second coming of the Christ.
There was no breach with Judaism
The Apostles and the primitive Christians continued to hold the national belief that the way to Christianity lay through Judaism, and that the observance of the law was obligatory and circumcision necessary to complete communion. Paul describes with unappeased irritation the efforts made by the community of Jerusalem, whose "pillars" were Peter, James, and John, to force Titus, a Gentile Christian, to be circumcised, [655:3] and even the Acts represent James and all the elders of the Church of Jerusalem as requesting Paul, long after, to take part with four Jewish Christians, who had a vow and were about to purify themselves and shave their heads and, after the accomplishment of the days of purification, make the usual offering in the Temple, in order to convince the "many thousands there of those who have believed, and are all zealous for the law," that it is untrue that he teaches: "all the Jews who are among the Gentiles apostasy (apostasian) from Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs," and to show, on the contrary, that he himself walks orderly and keeps the Law. [656:1] As true Israelites, with opinions fundamentally unchanged by belief that Jesus was the Messiah, they held that the Gospel was specially intended for the people of the Covenant, and they confined their teaching to the Jews. [656:2] A Gentile, whilst still uncircumcised, even although converted, could not, they thought, be received on an equality with the Jew, but defiled him by contact. [656:3] The attitude of the Christian Jew to the merely Christian Gentile, who had not entered the community by the portal of Judaism, was, as before, simply that of the Jew to the proselyte of the Gate. The Apostles could not upon any other terms have then even contemplated the conversion of the Gentiles. Jesus had limited his own teaching to the Jews, and, according to the first Gospel, had positively prohibited, at one time at least, their going to the Gentiles, or even to the Samaritans, and if there had been an order to preach to all nations it certainly was not accompanied by any removal of the conditions specified in the Law. [656:4]
Continued obligation to observe the Law
It has been remarked that neither party, in the great discussion in the Church regarding the terms upon which Gentiles might be admitted to the privileges of Christianity, ever appealed in support of their views to specific instructions of Jesus on the subject. The reason is intelligible enough. The Petrine party, supported as they were by the whole weight of the Law and of Holy Scripture, as well as by the example and tacit approval of the Master, could not have felt even that degree of doubt which precedes an appeal to authority. The party of Paul, on the other hand, had nothing in their favour to which a specific appeal could have been made; but in his constant protest that he had not received his doctrine from man, but had been taught it by direct revelation, the Apostle of the Gentiles, who was the first to proclaim a substantial difference between Christianity and Judaism, in reality endeavoured to set aside the authority of the Judaistic Party by an appeal from the earthly to the spiritualised Messiah. Even after the visit of Paul to Jerusalem about the year 50, the elder Apostles still retained the views which we have shown to have been inevitable under the circumstances, and, as we learn from Paul himself, they still continued mere "Apostles of the Circumcision," limiting their mission to the Jews (Gal. 2:9).
The Apostles and the primitive Christians, therefore, after the
death of their Master, whom they believed to be the Messiah of the
Jews, having received his last instructions and formed their final
impressions of his views, remained Jews, believing in the continued
obligation to observe the Law, and, consequently, holding the
initiatory rite essential to participation in the privileges of the
Covenant. They held this not only as Jews believing in the Divine
origin of the Old Testament and of the law, but as Christians
confirmed by the example and the teaching of their Christ, whose
very coming was a substantial ratification of the ancient faith of
Israel. In this position they stood when the Gospel, without their
intervention, and mainly by the exertions of the Apostle Paul,
began to spread amongst the Gentiles, and the terms of their
admission came into question. It is impossible to deny that the
total removal of conditions, advocated by the Apostle Paul with all
the vehemence and warmth of his energetic character, and involving
nothing short of the abrogation of the law and surrender of all the
privileges of Israel, must have been shocking not only to the
prejudices but also to the deepest religious convictions of men
who, although Christians, had not ceased to be Jews, and, unlike
the Apostle of the Gentiles, had been directly and daily in contact
with Jesus, without having been taught such
revolutionary principles. From this point we have to proceed with
our examination of the account in the Acts of the relation of the
elder Apostles to Paul, and the solution of the difficult problem