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The Nature and Method of Revelation
George P. Fisher
How the ties which at the outset held Christianity and Christian believers within the pale of the Jewish religion, with no thought of breaking away from its appointed ordinances and rites, came to be completely dissolved, forms a highly interesting chapter in early Christian history. The leading agent, the man specially chosen of Providence to introduce this new stage of development, was a converted Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. A remarkable characteristic of the revolution — or evolution, if one prefers so to call it — is the circumstance that there neither lurked in it nor ensued from it any antipathy to the Old Testament religion. It involved no discarding of the ancient Scriptures in which the revelation to the Jews was recorded. Moses and the prophets continued to be reverenced as divinely commissioned teachers. The Old Testament continued to be the Bible of the Christian churches. Up to the time of the composition and collection of the Apostolic writings they had no other Bible. It was read in their Sunday assemblies. The God whom Christians worshiped was the God of the patriarchs, the same who “spake . . . unto the fathers by the prophets.” The religion of the Gospel assumed no antagonistic relation to the religion of the Old Testament. Yet it came to pass that the Old Testament ritual was dropped. The title of the Jews to peculiar and exclusive privileges in the community of Christian believers was set aside. The demand that the Christian believer should come into the Church through the door of Judaism, by conforming to the rites ordained for heathen proselytes, was no longer made. Christianity was, and was perceived to be, one thing, and Judaism another; and soon there was a wide gulf between them. At the beginning we find the Disciples “continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple,” although they met, also, by themselves for social worship (Acts ii. 46, Revised Version). If they were, in a sense, to borrow a phrase now current, “churchgoers,” they were likewise “temple-goers.” They were like other Jews; only they believed that the Messiah had come, and, although he had been rejected and crucified, they looked for his second appearing in power and splendor. The daily devotions, the solemn festivals, the smoking altars of the Jewish system, were as dear and sacred to them as they had ever been. The converts were to be baptized, but baptism did not supersede the necessity of circumcision for admission into the Judaic-Christian fraternity. But pass over a few decades of years and we discover that this conformity to the old system has vanished. Numerous Christian churches are planted in which the Mosaic ceremonies are not practiced. In process of time the revolution is complete. The synagogue is no more a place of resort for Christians. Their fellowship, such as it was, with disbelieving Jews, who formed the bulk of the Jewish people, is broken off. The rupture is absolute. The opposition is mutual. The Jews pursue the Christians with bitter maledictions. The Christians are of one mind in discerning that the old ritual with its burdensome yoke of ordinances is obsolete. They no longer tolerate the observances which at first they expected all of their number to practice.
This revolution was the consequence of no injunction of Jesus. He himself kept the law in its ceremonial as well as in its moral parts, notwithstanding that he protested against the overrigid interpretations of the Pharisaic school. He distinguished between the laws themselves and the “traditions of the elders “—the glosses and additions which the doctors had affixed to the Old Testament legislation under the pretext of expounding it, or of applying it to unforeseen cases. He denounced the pernicious casuistry which brought in now an evasion of moral duties, and now an imposition of ceremonial performances which the spirit of the law did not exact. He taught that the value of institutions consisted in their usefulness. They were not an end in themselves, but a means for attaining a good beyond them. Rules were not framed for their own sake. Even the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. While Jesus encouraged no revolt against the ritual system, while he even enjoined conformity to it according to its proper meaning, and himself set an example of such conformity, the spirit of his teaching and the work done by him undermined it. They could not fail to lead to the discontinuance of the Jewish cultus. Eventually it would be seen to have no longer a raison d’~’/re. It would come to be felt to be as needless a burden as winter garments in the mild air of summer. The time must arrive when the Jewish system would be consciously outgrown. To keep it up would then be like the attempt of an adult to wear the clothes of a child. Jesus did not decree the subversion of the Jewish cultus, that ancient fabric which had sheltered religious faith in the days of its immaturity, when the community of God was waiting for a full disclosure of his purpose of mercy and of deliverance for the race. He did not by one sudden stroke demolish that system, but he put gunpowder under it. And yet this is not an apposite simile. We should rather say that he prepared the way for the gradual, intelligent abandonment of it. There might be temporary confusion and even occasional contests; but on the whole the change was to be in a true sense natural, like the melting of the winter snows and the coming out of the leaves and blossoms under the increasing warmth of the vernal sun. Jesus taught that religion is spiritual. He showed, as the prophets before him had proclaimed, how empty is a round of observances into which the heart does not enter, and which are not accompanied by righteousness of conduct. “Mercy is better than sacrifice.” He said of one that he was not far from the kingdom of God because he discerned that the love of God and man “is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” The illustrations in the Sermon on the Mount of that fulfillment of the law which he came to secure all relate to moral tempers and moral conduct. He taught the infinite worth of the soul, the impartial benevolence of God, and that love is the substance of the law. His teaching was void of sympathy with Judaic exclusiveness. That the institutions of the Gospel could not be identical with those of the old system, he taught when, in answer to the question why his disciples did not fast, he said that “new wine must not be put into old bottles.” He said that not what goeth into the mouth defileth a man. This he declared, the Evangelist adds, “making all meats clean.” He laid down the principle that defilement is from the heart alone, from bad feelings and motives — a principle which cut the ground from under the ritual as far as it related to meats and drinks. Jesus implied that he was conscious of an authority higher than that which prescribed the laws of the Old Testament, when he superseded the Mosaic Precept concerning divorce (Matt. xix. 8, Mark x. ~); when he declared the Son of man to be “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark ii. 28, Luke vi. ~); when he affirmed that he and his disciples were not under an obligation to pay the tax to the temple (Matt. xvii. 24—27). “In this place,” he said, “is one greater than the temple.” The priests, it had been understood, were absolved from the strict observance of the sabbatical law. They might on any day offer their sacrifices; they might “profane the Sabbath” without guilt. The thought was not so remote that he who was greater than the temple might supersede the temple. To the woman of Samaria he said that worship was confined to no local sanctuary (John iv. 23, 24). There were predictions of a downfall of the temple, of the letting out of the vineyard to other husbandmen (Matt. xxiv. 2, Mark xiii. 2, Luke xxi. 6, John ii. i~, Matt. xxi. 41, Mark xii. 9). Then he made everything turn on the relation of men to himself. The test of character was belief or disbelief in him. The one condition and source of communion with God was personal communion with him whom God had sent. When this last truth should be fully apprehended, what space would be left for any other priesthood or sacrifice? At the Last Supper he so connected his death with the forgiveness of sins as virtually to dispense with the need of any other offering or intercession than his own. In fine, the large and spiritual view of the nature of religion which Christ presented, together with the sufficiency which he ascribed to his own work as a reconciler, made the cultus of the Hebrews, including the national rite of circumcision, superfluous. But how should the free and catholic spirit of the Gospel come to be recognized? How should the fetters of custom, and ingrained reverence, and national self-esteem — the claim on the part of the Jews to precedence and to some kind of perpetual sway in the concerns of religion — be broken? For so great a change time was required. In matters where feeling is strongly enlisted, where lifelong prejudices are to be overcome, where usages are closely linked, from long association, with devotional sentiment, there is often between the premises and the legitimate conclusion a long road to travel.
The purport of the Gospel in the particulars to which I have referred was discerned by the Apostle Paul at an early date, and it was more clearly and vividly perceived by him than by any other. Whether Paul had in his hands written accounts of the teaching of Jesus we are not informed. For what he says of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (i Cor. xi. 23 seq.) he had in some way the direct authority of the Lord. He refers it to a direct revelation; for so we must interpret his language. On the contrary, what he says of the appearances of Jesus to the other Apostles after his resurrection (i Cor. xv. i seq.) he had ascertained from them. We cannot be mistaken in supposing that Paul was acquainted with teachings of Christ which, in his judgment, contained an implicit warrant for that broad interpretation of the Gospel and of the privilege of the Gentiles under it which he adopted; such teaching of Jesus as we have cited above from the Evangelists. In his intercourse with the other Apostles — it is important to remember that Paul spent a fortnight with Peter—he had the best opportunity to rectify any mistake, if he had fallen into any mistake, in respect to this part of the Saviour’s teaching.
It has been sometimes said that Paul himself professes not to be acquainted with the facts of the ministry of Jesus. This strange statement is founded on a misunderstanding of his meaning when he says that he did not receive the Gospel from men, but “through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. i. 12). This direct relation to Christ, who revealed himself to him and called him to be an Apostle, does not preclude the obtaining of knowledge through secondary sources. That he did not care to learn what Christ had taught and done during his earthly life is something quite incredible in a man of his active intelligence and Christian feeling.
That Paul became the leader in the work of emancipating the Church from Judaism has been sometimes attributed to the liberalizing influence of culture and learning. He was that one of the Apostles, we are reminded, whose mind had been expanded by study, and whose intellect had been invigorated and widened by a scholastic training. But on this subject of the education of the Apostle to the Gentiles there are prevalent mistakes which require to be corrected. One of them is the ascription to him of a familiarity with Greek classical writers. This idea is based partly on certain utterances of his which correspond to sayings of Greek authors. There are three of these passages. The first is in the Apostle’s speech at Athens: “As certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts xvii. 28). The quotation is found in Aratus, a poet who belonged to Soli, a place near Tarsus, and it occurs, also, in that noblest example of devotional poetry that has come down to us from a heathen source, the Hymn of Cleanthes. Both Aratus and Cleanthes belonged to the Stoic sect. The second passage of this kind is an Iambic verse: “Evil company doth corrupt good manners” (i Cor. xv. 33). This has been referred to Euripides by many, including John Milton, who remarks that “Paul thought it no defilement to insert into holy Scripture the sentences of three Greek poets, and one of them a tragedian.” But the passage is traced by scholars at present to the “Thais” of Menander. The third of the passages traceable to heathen sources is the unflattering description given of the Cretans (Titus i. 12 ): “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, idle gluttons.” The words form a hexameter and are from Epimenides, a Cretan poet, whom Plato styled a “divine man,” and whom Paul does not scruple to call a “prophet “— recognizing in him, as regards this particular saying at least, a remarkable divination or foresight. But probably all these passages were proverbial sayings, and as such were caught up by the Apostle from the conversation of the day. According to the correct reading of the passage from Menander, Paul deviates from the metrical form; which indicates that, unless he did not knoxv what the original was, he preferred to give it in the shape in xvhich it passed current as a proverb. There is really nothing either in the style of Paul’s writings, or in their contents, to show that he was versed in the Greek classical authors. As to his style, it is unlettered Greek. It is not likely that a man of his high intellectual qualities could have read an author like Plato without distinct traces of the fact being evident both in his language and in his thoughts. On a mind of an inferior order a feeble impression might have been left by the masters of Greek philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, but not on a mind like that of Paul, in case he had been conversant with them. He was born, to be sure, in a city where Greek was familiarly spoken — although the inscriptions discovered recently in that region do not indicate that the Greek in use there was of a choice character. Tarsus was a seat of Stoic philosophy. It must be remembered, however, that Paul was the son of a Pharisee, that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and was no doubt brought up after the strict method of Pharisaic training. Such a father as he had would not have put pagan authors into his boy’s hands. He had for his teacher at Jerusalem the rabbi Gamaliel. The advice which, according to Luke, was given by this noted rabbi to his fellow-members of the Sanhedrim reveals a certain moderation and sagacity. He dissuaded them from using force against the Apostles, for the reason that, if their cause was right it could not be put down, and the attempt to put it down would be impious; while, if their cause was wrong, it would come to nothing all the sooner for being let alone. His appeal to the instances of Theudas and Judas of Galilee, fanatics who raised a disturbance which lasted but a little while, would seem to indicate that he anticipated a like failure for the new enterprise which the Apostles were trying to promote. Whether Gamaliel was simply politic, or had some genuine tolerance in his temper, may be a question. This we know very well, that his ardent pupil did not share in any sentiment of this kind. He was an approving spectator of the killing of Stephen. He plunged into the work of a heresy-hunter and inquisitor. He seized on the disciples of Jesus and shut them up in prison. He tried in the synagogues to force them to recant. He chased them from one place to another; for he was “exceedingly mad against them” (Acts xxvi. ii). It is certain, therefore, that Paul had not imbibed any lenient sentiment towards dissentients from the standards of orthodoxy; and it would be irrational to credit him with feelings of this kind towards the heathen. His education was rabbinical; and traces of its peculiar character crop out occasionally in his way of arguing and of illustrating truth, even after he had been lifted into the higher atmosphere of the apostolic calling.
Nevertheless, there exist in the writings of Paul striking coincidences with Stoic philosophic teaching. The correspondences between New Testament passages and Stoic maxims and precepts is a fact that calls for explanation. It is more marked in relation to Seneca, the Roman Stoic, the preceptor of Nero, than in regard to any other of the philosophers of the Porch. The similarity in his case extends to numerous sayings of Jesus as well as to other portions of the New Testament. The theory was broached by several of the ancient fathers that Seneca was a Christian convert. There appeared a forged correspondence between him and the Apostle Paul. From the time of Jerome, it was taken for granted that Seneca had been won over by the Apostle to the Christian faith. There is nothing to disprove the supposition that Seneca may have gathered up, perhaps from slaves of his household, fragments of the teaching of Christ and of Paul. Yet it has been observed that some of the most striking parallels are with the Epistle to the Hebrews, and this Epistle was written after Seneca s death. The whole basis of Seneca’s philosophical view is utterly at variance with the Christian system. This circumstance is fatal to the hypothesis that he was connected with Paul, as the legend represented.
But how shall we account for the Stoic phraseology which is undeniably found in Paul’s speeches and writings? The Stoic ideal of the sage painted him as lacking nothing, as the possessor of all things, as alone free, as alone happy, as alone rich, as the true xvise man, the true priest, the true king. In similar terms the Apostle delineates the Christian believer. We seem to be hearing echoes of Stoic sayings. The Stoic system was cosmopolitan in its character. The kinship of mankind, that the Stoic is a citizen of the world, a denizen of all lands, are frequent affirmations of Seneca, of Epictetus, and of the imperial philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. This universality of fellowship the Apostle affirms of the Christian believer. In it the boundaries of race and nationality are effaced. Such ideas in Paul are presented in an original, entirely different setting. There is a groundwork for them in Christ and his kingdom, which was wanting to the Stoic, with whom these lofty distinctions could have but little more than a negative import and value. However, the verbal resemblance remains. This is best accounted for by the intercourse into which the Apostle was brought with Stoics, both at Tarsus, where he dwelt for a considerable time after his conversion, and in other cities which he visited. At Athens, as we are told, he disputed with Stoics and Epicureans. These were the popular philosophical sects at that time. With the Epicurean tenets he could find few points of contact. But in the ethical ideas and maxims of the Stoics, although they rested on no basis of fundamental truth that was satisfactory, and although the Stoic ideal, for this reason, could not be realized, the Apostle discerned features which he, from his higher point of view, could appropriate. He could take them up and infuse into them both a significance and a worth which they had not before possessed. The relation of Paul to certain Stoic terms and phrases was somewhat like that of the Apostle John to the term Logos, or Word, and possibly to some other phrases in his writings. Terms in current use in the discussions of the day John could take up and transfigure, as it were, so that they became a fit vehicle for expressing the higher truth which was derived, not from any philosophical source, but from revelation and from the direct impression made by Jesus upon the susceptible spirit of his disciple.
The reason, certainly the main reason, for the exceptional liberality of Paul, or his complete emancipation from Judaic prejudice, is not to be found either in his learning, or in his• marked perspicacity. His mind was no doubt disciplined and made capable, above most others, of looking into a question to its very core. He had no need of an acquaintance with Aristotle in order to grasp a doctrine in its logical relations, and to carry it out to the legitimate inferences. And he had a superiority in knowledge — not merely in that sort of kr~owledge which an eager scholar of the rabbis would of course acquire. He had a store of knowledge, constantly increasing, drawn from observation and from contact with adherents of differing schools of opinion in the places where he sojourned. But the secret of his catholicity, as we have seen, is not to be found either in his talents or in his culture. To discover that secret we must turn to the history of his conversion. Great as the transformation was at that crisis, yet in important respects he was the same man after as before. If we look at him first on the day when he was on the road to Damascus, armed with credentials from the high priest, and then look at him again when he was on one of his great missionary journeys, we behold the same energy, the same aggressive, conquering force. He was a crusader from first to last. No revolution of motive and of moral temper could be greater. He had become humane, loving, willing to give up his life, and even his own salvation, for the sake of the Jewish countrymen who detested him as an apostate. And the end in view—how different! Then he was bent on exterminating the class whom now he regards with an almost motherly tenderness. Then it was to extirpate a faith which now he cherishes, and for which he is ready to be offered up! Nevertheless, the natural qualities of the man, the qualities that made him a leader and, when consecrated to the service of the Gospel, a Christian hero, were his in the first as well as the last of the eras into which his life was divided, and between which seemingly a great gulf was fixed. There is one other element of resemblance, or thread of continuity, of more consequence still. His ideal from the beginning to the end of his career was righteousness. To stand right before God, acquitted, with no accusation lying against him at the bar of the Judge and in the forum of conscience, was always to his mind the one inestimable good. He attached the same value to it after his conversion as before, the same before as after. As to what is involved in being righteous, and how righteousness can be attained, these were points on which there was a world-wide difference betxveen the earlier and the later conception. But the aim in its generic character was unaltered.
In the attempt to explain the conversion of Paul in such a way as to eliminate the miraculous elements in the event, a naturalistic solution has been suggested. The persecutor, it is said, was probably haunted with misgivings in reference to the course that he was pursuing. He had heard of the moral excellence of Jesus; perhaps he had seen him. He had been touched by the forgiving, heavenly spirit of the dying Stephen. The meek demeanor of the harassed disciples was not without its influence. In short, there was a conflict arising in his mind; there was inward anxiety, amounting to selfreproach. Here, it is urged, was a state of feeling which might give rise to hallucination — to the imaginary vision of Jesus. The trouble with this theory is that not only is there no evidence that Paul felt any such disquiet respecting the rectitude of the errand on which he was bent, but there is decisive evidence that he did not. The phrase “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” means nothing more nor less than that he was engaged in a futile enterprise. It has no reference to any feeling of compunction. He was like an animal kicking against the goad. That is to say, his undertaking against the Christian faith was a hopeless one. But he says: “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts xxvi. 9); “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (i Tim. i. 13). There was no insincerity, no inward halting, no doubt as to whether Jesus might not after all be the Messiah. There was no psychological state of the kind which would pave the way for an illusive vision of Jesus. In epistles the genuineness of which is beyond dispute, the Apostle attributes his conversion exclusively to the grace of God and an act of revelation (Gal. i. 12, i6). “ While,” writes Weiss, “he constantly accuses himself of persecuting the Church, as being the greatest sin of his life, he never intimates that he struggled long against better knowledge and conscience, in opposition to the testimony of the truth.” He never ascribes the revolution in his convictions, which was accomplished at a single stroke, to proofs appealing to his understanding, but always to facts accepted in faith, “on the believing acceptance of which his peace of soul and his eternal salvation depend.” Hence if it was a vision that produced the change, it was a real vision, and no product of illusion. It was a vision that convinced him not only that Christ continued to live, but that he had risen in bodily form; so that, if this was an error, “it was God himself, by causing this vision, who led him into the error.” This perception of Christ, while he was on the way to Damascus, stands apart from other visions, of which he did not care to speak. On it he rested as the guaranty of his apostolic office (i Cor. ix. I). There was included in it not only his commission to be an Apostle, but more specifically, to be an Apostle to the heathen.
The sight of Jesus in the glorified state swept away the “stumbling-block “which was contained in the idea of a crucified Messiah, and served to demonstrate the fact of his resurrection. But into the conversion of Paul there entered something more than the giving up of disbelief in the divine mission of Jesus. That, in itself considered, might not have carried with it any great spiritual change. In the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans the veil is drawn aside, and we have glimpses of the course of his inner life. Without doubt he speaks of his own personal experience, although he speaks as in this matter consciously the representative of human nature. He shows how the attempt to get inward peace by the method of law had collapsed. The seeking for righteousness on this path had brought him to utter despair, to a sense of helplessness. At the outset, as we may suppose,— in his younger days,— he was “alive.” His natural feelings and desires were in full activity, with no painful consciousness of wrong. But “the law came.” There came a time when the holy ideal of duty to God and man rose before him in the rigor of its perfection. Then he “died.” His peace of mind was gone. The conflict between the desires on the one side and the restraints of law on the other produced a schism in the soul. A distressing battle raged within, in which the better nature was felt to be powerless, felt to be a slave panting for liberty, but struggling in vain to free itself. To what extent this feeling of condemnation and of bondage was experienced by him when he was on the way to Damascus —whether this consciousness of guilt and of weakness was not greatly intensified in the days that immediately followed — he does not tell us, and we have no means of knowing. But this moral conflict it was that prepared him to welcome the gospel of deliverance. There was a better way to attain to righteousness; namely, a free pardon from God, and a new life in the spirit, a heart-fellowship, a grateful feeling, a filial relation which made obedience easy. He learned by experience that a legal system had in it no life-giving power. It could only condemn. It could only make one aware of his need of help from some other quarter. When it had done this work it had fulfilled its office, and was superseded by those forces of spiritual aid and healing which are contained in the gospel of grace.
Now what must be the effect of this experience on Paul’s view of the Old Testament legal system, including the ceremonial features? He could look on that system only as something preparatory and provisional. It was like the ancient pedagogue, whose business it was to lead boys to school and leave them there. Law and grace, the old dispensation and the new, appeared to him in the sharpest contrast. In his philosophy of religion, ceremonial prescriptions, as means of salvation, were “beggarly elements”; that is, rudiments which had had their day. The other Apostles, the original Disciples, had not passed through a like spiritual crisis. They had been led on, step by step, in the company of Jesus, into a full sympathy with him and trust in him as a Saviour. They knew that, believing in him, and following him with a loyal spirit, they were forgiven and saved. In common with Paul they held with one accord that reconciliation was through Christ, and that the humility of the publican in the parable was the temper of mind alone becoming a sinful man. The gradualness of their religious progress, the absence of a momentary, decisive turning-point, prevented them from seeing at once, and from seeing so distinctly, that relation of the new to the old, of gospel to law, which Paul’s experience made as clear to him as sunlight. Their minds were open; they were ready to be guided by the Spirit, and they were thus guided; but, so far as human instrumentality is concerned, it was Paul who led the way.
What effect on his mind had these new perceptions, the outcome of a living experience? They could have no other effect than to level the barriers of race and nationality. Where were now the privileges on which the Jew plumed himself? Sin was a characteristic equally of Jew and Gentile. The same divine law which through Moses and the prophets had been revealed to the Jew had been written on the heart of the Gentile. Both rested under the same condemnation. It was not on the Gentiles exclusively, it was on “the world,” that the burden of guilt rested. And what could circumcision, lustrations, the sacrifice of animals, do to deliver any from the double yoke of self-accusation and evil habit? There was only one means of deliverance, one remedy for heathen and Hebrew alike. It was the Christ and faith in him. Moreover, Paul had seen the Christ on a heavenly throne. His kingdom was evidently not a temporal one having its seat in the city of David. Even when he should come again, the kingdom was not to have this earthly character. The Apostle no more knexv Christ “after the flesh,” as belonging to one nation and leading here among them a human life. He says, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. iii. 20). There Christ is, and there, for this reason, is the center of our polity. There is the seat of authority in the commonwealth in which we are citizens. XVhen the Lord comes, the “body of our humiliation “— the mortal body, borne down by persecution, privation, suffering — is to be assimilated to his glorified body, to that heavenly mode of being that belongs to him. Paul’s conception of the kingdom is changed. His idea of it is wholly different from that of those who had not shaken off the associations of a political theocracy, with Jerusalem for its capital and with the temple on Mount Zion for the place of resort for all nations. When we consider the birth, and education, and earlier characteristics of this Pharisee, this inquisitor, thirsting for the blood of heretics, how astonishing is the declaration, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek” (Rom. X. 12)! Few more remarkable utterances ever fell from human lips. Yet the reason which is connected with it explains all: “For the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him.” There was but one Lord, and there was not less mercy in his heart for the heathen than for the Hebrew. In a religion that is spiritual, where there is but one Lord, and salvation is a free gift from him, there “cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all, and in all.”
We pause for a moment to point out a profoundly interesting parallel between Paul’s conception of the death of Christ as bringing Jew and Gentile together, and certain most instructive and pathetic words of Jesus. At the last Passover, we read in John’s Gospel, certain “ Greeks,” — who were not Jews, but heathen, probably proselytes of the gate,— who had come up to the festival to worship, came to Philip, one of the twelve, and exl)ressed their wish to see Jesus (John Xli. 20, seq.). Philip reported this to Andrew, and then both carried the request to the Master. It is one of those circumstantial accounts which in its manner, not to speak of its contents, shows the truthfulness of the Gospel narrative. When the two Disciples delivered their message, Jesus exclaimed: “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” The visit of the Greeks, heathen, proselytes of the gate, and their request, was a suggestion to Jesus that the time had come for him to die, and thus to open the door for the wide extension and growth of his kingdom beyond the limits of Judaism. That very idea of the significance of his death is intimated which is clearly brought out by the Apostle Paul.
THE first sign of a disposition to break through the wall that fenced off the Gentiles appears in the liberality of tone which was manifested by Stephen. It drew on him the charge of having threatened with destruction the whole Mosaic system of worship. His death dispersed the Church and sent abroad many to engage in missionary work. Philip, one of the deacons, preached with success in Samaria, and the Samaritan converts were recognized by the Apostles. The Samaritans, however, were among the circumcised. But the Ethiopian chamberlain, the eunuch, was only a proselyte of the gate, if he was even that. It required supernatural communications to Peter 9 to induce him to receive the Roman centurion Cornelius, and others with him, as disciples, and to sit at the same table with them. But Peter, when he returned to Jerusalem, was taken to task for his proceeding. When he told his tale the accusers were quieted, and there was joy over this accession of Gentile believers. The illiberal spirit was quelled, but only for a time. It was not at Jerusalem, but at Antioch that the catholic interpretation of the Gospel first gained a foothold. There some of the dispersed disciples, Hellenists, or foreign Jewish converts, preached the new faith to the heathen. There in that great city, which was one of the three principal cities of the Roman Empire, Rome and Alexandria being the other two, the message of the Gospel met with a quick response in heathen souls that found in it satisfaction for their spiritual hunger. Barnabas, himself a foreign-born Jew, a native of Cyprus, was sent by the Jerusalem church to look after this new movement.
For a number of years after Paul’s conversion he is almost lost to our knowledge. There was a sojourn in Arabia; and then, after the lapse of three years, a return to Damascus. From there he was soon obliged to flee. Then followed a visit to Jerusalem to see Peter, with whom he spent fourteen days. After this visit he went into “the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” The churches in Judea had not met him, but had only heard that he who had been a violent enemy of their cause had now become a preacher of the faith which he had persecuted. Later, he is found at Tarsus, and thence he is brought by Barnabas, who needed his help, to Antioch. They “taught much people” there, and there the disciples were first called “ Christians.” There is a coincidence between the ceasing to be a Jewish sect and the acquisition of the new name by which believers in Jesus were thenceforward to be designated. Up to this time they had been called “Nazarenes,” “Galileans,” or “Ebionites.” Paul and Barnabas, according to Luke, were sent upon the occasion of a famine in Judea with contributions to the Jewish Christians there; but as Paul makes no allusion to his being there on this errand, it is probable that by some accident he was hindered from accomplishing it. So vigorous was the Antioch church that it sent missionaries into Asia Minor. On the return to Antioch of Paul and Barnabas from their missionary journey, they found the church in a ferment. Men from Judea had arrived and had raised a disturbance by warning the disciples that they must conform to the Jewish law and be circumcised, or give up the hope of salvation. There was discussion and debate between Paul and his companion on one side and the Judean visitors on the other. Finally it was resolved that the two Antioch leaders should depart at the head of a deputation to confer with the Jerusalem church on this all-important subject of dispute. In that church there had been an addition of members from the Pharisaic sect who were opposed to conceding liberty to the Gentile converts in this controverted matter. The rapid growth of the Antioch church, the multiplying of heathen converts, might naturally awaken anxiety and give rise to misgivings among many who had given way under the peculiar circumstances in the case of Cornelius. It was not now a question about a few individuals. Here was an organized church, on the basis of absolute freedom from “the law,” and engaged in a successful work of propagandism. What was to become of the distinctive privilege of the Jew? Was the new kingdom to abolish the old cultus? Was it to be composed largely, and perhaps predominantly, of uncircumcised heathen? The turn of events brought up afresh a question of vital moment. Paul, on his side, had a full sense of the importance of the crisis. He resolved to meet it in the frankest and most direct manner. He would go to Jerusalem and meet the Apostles and the church there, face to face. He went tip, he tells us, by “revelation “— by divine sanction; but he went, as Luke states, with the sanction of the Antioch church and as their commissioner. Fourteen years had elapsed since his visit to Peter; seventeen years had passed since his conversion.
We are brought to the memorable occurrences of which we have accounts in the fifteenth chapter of Acts and the second chapter of Galatians. At Jerusalem the demand was made of Paul that Titus, a Greek convert who accompanied him, should be circumcised. Here was a practical test that would decide the point in dispute. This demand the Apostle met with a resolute denial. That there was a pressure upon him which it was not an easy thing to withstand is evident from his language. At that supreme moment he did not flinch. The intense agitation which the recollection of the crisis stirred within him is betrayed in his language. It causes him in referring to it, as Lightfoot remarks, to make shipwreck of grammar. We can well believe that his voice trembled as he dictated the passage to his amanuensis. Did the other Apostles join in this request, so repugnant to his views and feelings? We are not justified by anything that he says in inferring that they did. Yet it would appear that Paul was left to stand alone, with no outspoken sympathy from any quarter. It is not improbable that even the Apostles, at that moment, under the circumstances, recommended him to yield, and to make the required concession. But he felt that the principle was at stake. The very meaning of the Gospel, the breadth of its grace, the liberty of the Gentile, hung on a pivot. The Apostle took a stand like that which Luther took at Worms; but with a difference. But for Paul, there would have been no Luther; unless, indeed, it should have pleased God to raise up, in the room of Paul, another equally clear-sighted expositor of the truth and intrepid leader in the Church. There was another difference. There were numerous friends at Worms to sympathize with Luther’s position. Paul was alone.
Paul and Barnabas took the precaution to have a private conference with the leading persons in the Jerusalem church before they should meet its members as a body. Paul laid before the select company the substance of his preaching, the Gospel as he understood it, in order that his career as a missionary might not be interfered with by a division among the Apostles themselves, and an opposition to him, the fruit of misconception. The other Apostles were told not only what Paul and Barnabas had preached, but also the result of their preaching — how that among the heathen Paul had been as successful as Peter had been among the Jews. No further persuasion was needful. Peter, James, and John had nothing to add to Paul’s teaching by way of correction or amendment. On the contrary, they extended to the Antioch leaders the right hand of fellowship, with the understanding that their work was to be among the heathen, while their own work should continue to be among the circumcised. There was a cordial fellowship, as was implied in the engagement of Paul to collect alms from the Gentile converts for the poor disciples of the mother church. The danger of a rupture was now over. It was settled that the heathen were not to be driven to become Jews in order to be Christians. But it remained for the apostle of liberty to meet the Jerusalem church as a body. Our knowledge of this public gathering we owe to Luke. At the meeting the recruits from the Pharisaic sect renewed their demand. Peter opposed it in a characteristic address wherein he referred to what had occurred in relation to Cornelius. James spoke the final word, quoting, as he naturally would, passages from the prophets. He gave his voice in behalf of catholicity, but recommended that the heathen converts should be enjoined to abstain from certain practices which were especially obnoxious to men of Jewish birth, who had been trained to observe the laws of Moses and were to continue to do so. These articles of peace clashed with no principle which Paul valued. They included nothing that could fairly be called a modification of his teaching. They probably put in a definite form what was already a custom of the Gentile converts. They are based on the injunctions, imposed alike on Israelites and strangers among them, which are set forth in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of Leviticus, and included the usages which were practiced by proselytes of the gate. The agreement of the Jerusalem conference, therefore, was not a compromise or concession to Jewish prejudices. It served to keep the peace among the disciples in Syria and Cilicia, to whom it was addressed. At a later day, when Gentile churches were independently established and in remoter places, the Apostle does not feel himself bound to refer to this pastoral letter of the Jerusalem conference. In writing to the Corinthians he considers the question of” meat offered to idols” on its own merits; just as he calls for gifts of money for the Jerusalem Christians without referring to the stipulation that he should make a collection for their benefit. Yet he teaches nothing at variance with the essential purport of the instructions given to the Gentile converts. We may l)e sure that James would have been content with nothing less than these “necessary things,” and that Paul would not have consented to go farther in the path of concession. To the fact of their harmony and satisfaction with one another Paul himself testifies. That he did not go to the extreme attributed to him by Baur and his fellow-critics is clear enough from his express recognition of the “gospel of the circumcision” as having been committed to Peter, and of the divine blessing which had been accorded to Peter in his work (Gal. ii. 8).
Ecclesiastical settlements were not then more certain to be final than in later times. It was understood on all hands that the Gentiles were to be left unmolested. But it was expected that Jewish Christians, whoever they were, would continue to conform to the old observances. To this Paul felt no objection. What he refused to do was to impose an obligation of this sort on the heathen; he would not allow it a place among the terms of salvation. If in the consultation of the Apostles at Jerusalem his own work had been approved by Peter, he in turn had approved Peter’s work as the Apostle of “ the circumcision.” It was enough for him that the legal observances were not made the foundation of the disciples’ hope in Christ. As regards outward things, he was no revolutionist. He let the Jewish national usages remain as they were. He willingly conformed to them himself. Not needlessly to offend Jews, he caused Timothy, whose mother was a Jew, to be circumcised. But still there were points which the Jerusalem conference left undetermined. So the controversy was reopened at Antioch in relation to one of these unsettled points. The Jewish and heathen converts there mingled together freely and sat down at a common table. Peter, as well as Paul and Barnabas, had no scruples of conscience respecting this kind of free intercourse. But at length certain persons came from James. We are sure that they were persons of influence; for when they objected to this liberality on the part of Jewish Christians, not only Barnabas, but even Peter, deferred to them, and “drew back and separated” themselves. The rest of the Jewish Christians followed them. Here there was suddenly drawn a new line of division between the two classes of Christians. Once more Paul had to stand by himself. He sharply and publicly rebuked Peter for timidity and unfaithfulness to principle. He, a Jew, had been living as a Gentile himself, and now he was trying, so far as his example went, to bring the Gentiles to live as if they were Jews. The authors of this trouble came from James. It is not safe to conclude that they came expressly on this errand. Yet it may be that the liberal course taken by Peter was the occasion of their mission. It is, on the whole, probable that their view of the subject was one in which James participated. He had given to Paul and Barnabas, in all sincerity, the right hand of fellowship. It does not follow that he expected the old restrictions as to eating with the Gentiles, and their social relations in general, to be swept away. It is likely that he did not interpret the Jerusalem arrangement in so broad a way as Paul construed it. A church made up, as at Antioch, of Gentiles and Jews together, presented a case which in the conference had not been definitely considered. The tradition about James as it was given by Hegesippus, the Jewish Christian historian, in the middle of the second century, represents him as an ascetic, observing the Nazarite rule, strict in all his ways, frequently resorting alone to the temple, “praying for the forgiveness of the people until his knees grew hard and thin.” We see him, on the occasion of Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, receiving the Apostle to the Gentiles with fraternal cordiality, to be sure; yet advising him to make a further manifestation of his respect for the ritual by taking on himself a vow, which involved the shaving of the head. The motive of James’s counsel is thus explained in his own language: “That . . . all may know . . . that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law” (Acts xxi. 24). The occurrence shows how strenuous James was for the keeping up of the Mosaic ceremonies by the Jewish Christians, and how anxious he was that Paul should do something to efface a prevailing impression that he had tried to induce Jews to discard them. The spirit of James is clearly disclosed in the Epistle which bears his name. It was included in the ancient Syriac canon, and as it was addressed to Jewish Christians outside of Palestine, it was not improbably intended to be read primarily by Syrian disciples. The law, in the spiritual import given to it by Jesus, is prominent in the writer’s esteem. We observe in the Epistle not a few echoes of the teaching of Christ. The practical tone, averse to all theory and theologic disputation, is obvious. Its doctrine is not contradictory to that of Paul, but moves in a different line. As Jesus had taught, it is said that men are to be judged by their works. There is a verbal contrast with sayings of Paul; for example, in the definite assertion that Abraham was justified by works. Whether or not we are to conclude that the author had in mind a current use and misuse of Pauline phraseology, depends on the date to which James’s Epistle is to be assigned. Some would place it too early to admit of any reference to Pauline theology. There is much in the peculiarities of the Epistle — as in the application of the name “synagogue” to the meeting-place of Christians—to favor the supposition of a very early date. Could it be shown that it was written by James at a later point of time, the opinion that it refers to Pauline language would be more probable.
What was the immediate outcome of the renewed controversy at Antioch, the Apostle in his letter to the Galatians does not inform us. Taken up with his theme — salvation by faith alone — he drops the consideration of personal matters. About seven years after the Apostolic conference at Jerusalem and the subsequent rebuke of Peter, we find Paul writing an epistle to the Christians at Rome. During this interval he had been pursued with animosity by the Judaizing faction, of whose malignity he repeatedly complains. Nowhere does he imply that the other Apostles are in sympathy with these enemies of himself and of the Gospel. On the contrary, his references to the other Apostles imply the opposite. Yet the reports which the Judaizers set afloat concerning him, to which a reference has just been made, might easily excite a certain degree of alarm and uneasiness even among the Apostolic leaders who had extended to him the right hand of fellowship. We must bear in mind that the disturbance at Antioch had followed. Whether the separation of Paul from Barnabas, the immediate occasion of which had reference to Mark, had any connection with that incident, we are not informed. At all events, when Paul writes to the Romans, he is looking forward to another visit to Jerusalem, not without some anxiety about the reception that will be accorded to him. He asks for the prayers of the Roman brethren not only that he may be delivered from the hostility of the unbelieving Jews in that city, but also that his “ ministration might be acceptable to the “saints” there. There was some apprehension in his mind lest the collection which he had been making for the poor in the Jerusalem church might be unwelcome (Rom. xv. 3 i), gathered as it was from churches composed of heathen converts, and while the accusation of being hostile to the observance of the Mosaic rites by anybody was circulated against him. His kind and fraternal reception by James and his associates dispelled this apprehension. The mob of Jews that assailed him, notwithstanding the precautions taken to appease their wrath, showed the hatred which had been accumulating against him in the course of the missionary campaigns in which he had spent the later eventful years. The Apostle now passed into the custody of Roman officers. At the end of about two years he was conveyed to Rome. After the lapse of another equal interval, he appears to have been set free for a time. Once more a captive, it was in the closing part of Nero' s reign, the period of the tyrant’s unbridled cruelty, and in the year 66 or 67, that he fell under the sword of the executioner. If the name of James is not an interpolation in a passage of Josephus, James perished in the interval between the death of the procurator Festus and the arrival of his successor, or in the year 62. As to the main fact that James was stoned to death, the traditions agree. It is evident that the animosity of the Jews even against the most conservative — if the term may be allowed — of the followers of Jesus was growing fierce. The lines betxveen the adherents of orthodox Judaism and the believers in the Nazarene were more and more sharply drawn. At length, in the year 66, the great insurrection against Rome burst out. In the blaze of the popular fanaticism there was no safety for Christians within the walls of Jerusalem. The church there was broken up. When the epoch of the mortal struggle of Judaism with Roman power was fast approaching, the Jewish Christians must necessarily find that the middle position which, in a certain sense, they had held, was no longer tenable. There xvere circumstances which might tempt them to give up their faith in Jesus, and to find their comfort exclusively in the old system in which they had been bred and whose ceremonies they still observed. They had hoped for the conyersion of their countrymen, but that hope grew more and more faint. They had hoped for the reappearance of the ascended Messiah, but where was the promise of his coming? Patriotic instincts might naturally awake to a new life, and sympathy with the national enthusiasm impelling to a revolt against foreign domination, might find a lodgment even in Christian hearts. There stands in the canon an Epistle to the Hebrews, concerning the authorship of which opinion has been divided from ancient times. At the present day there are few scholars who attribute it to Paul. Some, with Luther, ascribe it to Apollos; others to Luke, or to Barnabas. Whoever the writer was, it is certain that it was addressed to Jewish Christians. The purpose of the author, moreover, is clear. He sees a danger and he is striving to ward it off. He seeks to deter Jewish believers from lapsing from their faith and returning to Judaism. He is anxious to show them that they have in the Gospel a treasure infinitely more precious than anything offered them in the old ritual, and that the ordinances and ceremonies of the ancient Covenant are but types of blessed and enduring realities brought to them through Christ. To go back to the old sacrificial system is to give up the substance for the shadow.
If there was a retrograde movement, a reactionary tendency in some minds at this critical era, when the fate of the Jewish state and the Jewish religion hung in the balance, the same circumstances would engender in another class an opposite feeling. They would cling to the Christian faith with redoubled ardor and firmness. The tie that still held them to the old ceremonies would be loosened. The rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish people, and the persistent rejection of him, with the attendant fact of the astonishing spread of the new faith among the Gentiles, must have tended to open the eyes of many to a more just and liberal interpretation of the purpose of God. A fatal blow was dealt at Jewish Christianity by Divine Providence — the same Providence which had been the teacher from the beginning, removing, step by step, prejudice and misconception. No doubt there were those with whom the legions of Titus were more effective than persuasion and argument. The “logic of events” could not be disputed. Many Jewish Christians must have seen in the ruins of the Temple a sign of the passing away of the ancient system of worship. When the Jewish rites were wholly forbidden in Jerusalem, and it was converted by Hadrian into a heathen city (A. D. 135), the lesson was taught afresh with an irresistible emphasis. It was probably about the time of the beginning of the Jewish war, and after the death of the Apostle Paul, that there was a migration of a number of Jewish Christians to Asia Minor. Among them were the two Apostles Andrew and Philip, and among them also was the Apostle John. John took up his abode at Ephesus. Traditions of his life and teaching and traces of his influence remained in all that region. There, in his serene old age, he wrote his Gospel and Epistles. From one of his pupils, the martyr Polycarp, Irenteus in his youth heard personal reminiscences of the Beloved Disciple. It is the same Apostle who, long before, had given to the Apostle to the Gentiles “the right hand of fellowship.” After all these years, after the providential occurrences which had swept away the hope of the conversion of the Jews as a body, it would be strange indeed if no further advance had been made in catholicity of perception. The sayings of Jesus, which indicate the spiritual and universal nature of the Gospel, are present in John’s recollection. He remembered that Jesus had said that the worship of the Father was not to be confined to Mount Gerizim or to Jerusalem. Christianity was now set free from Judaism, and in the second century Judaic Christianity survived only in sects beyond the borders of the Church.
To revert for a moment to the causes which brought on this result, the historical events to which reference has been made have an important place. The subjugation of the Jews by Hadrian and the exclusion of their worship from the Holy City were of especial consequence. An essential condition on which the result depended was the multiplying of churches made up of Gentile converts. The rapid spread of the Gospel in the Gentile world and the comparative fewness of its Jewish adherents excited surprise even in the lifetime of Paul. It was to him a mysterious fact, a fact that called for explanation. It had a great influence in molding the institutions of the Gospel. But underlying all these agencies was the leavening influence of the teaching of Jesus. The catholic elements of that teaching produced their legitimate effect. They were the warrant for the doctrine of the Apostle Paul. It was Jesus and the teaching of Jesus that liberated Christianity from the entanglements of Judaism. George F. Fisher.
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How could Jesus liberate us from the very life he lived? The Judaism of that time.
too much reading.... put some more "PICTURES" and LESS WORDS!!!!!
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