A Hellenistic Influence
Below is an excerpt from They Never Told Me This in Church! Deuble, Greg.
There was massive diversity within churches all over the Roman empire. It seems that today’s bewildering number of Christian churches and breakaways is but a pale reflection of the kaleidoscopic scene during the second and third centuries after Christ. Christianity in post-apostolic days was in a liquid state. With the death of the apostles, and the destruction of Jerusalem as the spiritual home of their faith, Christians were scattered far and wide. There were pockets of believers throughout the empire, and larger churches in the big cities like Rome, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, and Alexandria. More and more Gentiles were converted and the whole character of the churches changed. The apron strings of the Jewish mother church that had cradled them were well and truly cut. “There was a certain amount of communication between the centres, but nothing approaching an integrated universal Church.” Christianity quickly came to terms with the predominantly Hellenistic (Greek) culture surrounding it. Diversity became the order of the day. The confusing of Greek ideas with the Hebrew heritage of the apostolic church: began very early, as early as Clement of Alexandria [ca. AD 150-215] and Origen [ca. AD 185-254] and it arose from the fact that these scholars were Hellenists first and Christians second. It was furthered by the fact that all men until Jerome [ca. AD 347-420] tended to read the Greek Bible as a Greek book, and with Hellenistic eyes…The result of this has been that from a very early stage, Christianity itself has tended to suffer from a translation out of the Prophets and into Plato. Thus, diffusion and confusion became rampant: There were Christians who believed in only one God. Others believed there were two Gods, one inferior to the other. Some accepted the Hebrew Scriptures as the only revelation of the one true God. Others placed the writings of the apostles and their delegates as equal to the old Scriptures.
Deuble, Greg. They Never Told Me This in Church! Restoration Fellowship. Kindle Edition.
Robert Heidler, in his book The Messianic Church Arising, wrote: “The early church was the most powerful institution the world had ever seen. Pagan religions could not compete with it. Greek philosophy could not comprehend it. Persecution only purified it and caused it to grow more rapidly. Yet, by the sixth century, it was largely destroyed. By the year 600, almost nothing that had characterized the early church remained. The church became a corrupt political power, hated and feared by the common people, with little evidence of the life and power it had once known.” (Robert D. Heidler, Th.M., is senior pastor of the Glory of Zion Outreach Center in Denton, Texas.)
Although, as Heidler points out, Greek philosophy couldn’t comprehend the early church, it did however, altered it considerably. Through the influence of Hellenism the ekklesia of which the apostles would have been familiar and had been replaced. Talk about replacement theology!!!!
How I got here
I remember the first time I read something referencing Hebraic Roots of Christianity. I already had questions. My mother is the one who introduced me to what she referred to as our Jewish Roots. She listened to Sid Roth on the radio and watched TV shows like Jewish Jewels and Zola Levitt Presents. Zola was a gentle soul with a tremendous teaching gift. He was a well-known and beloved Messianic Jewish Bible teacher. I loved listening to Zola, but Mom was the one who spurred me to investigate the Hebraic roots of the early church. What I didn’t understand, at the time, was why the church was so dead against it. This was back in the 1980’s when the Charismatic community was still having to justify speaking in tongues. (another subject of contention which I didn’t understand)
No one talked about the early church being made up of Jews. No one talked about the changes that ensued after the death of the apostles. No one talked about the celebration of the feasts of the Lord being replaced with Christianized pagan festivals. Those who did were labeled freaks and extremists. I had tons of questions. But there was no-one who could answer my questions. I was on my own and resources were few. The internet was invented yet. Bookstores didn’t carry Christian material and those that did certainly didn’t carry anything on the Jewishness of the early church. Everything I read from Christian authors spouted the rhetoric taught in seminaries for centuries. I couldn’t find anything at the time except what is known as replacement theology. The basic idea as I understood it was that because Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah Christians weren’t supposed to identify with the Jews in any way, shape, fashion, or form. That usually meant that if you even asked questions about it you were labeled a heretic or even a traitor.
In the mid 1980’s I met a woman at church who came out of life of addiction to drugs. She got saved as a young woman in the 1970’s during the Charismatic Renewal. She was not Catholic. She was Jewish. She born a Jew to Jewish parents. Her grandfather was an orthodox rabbi. When she became a Christian she was renounced by her family. She had been a Christian for more than fifteen years when I met her. She was held in respect in our church community. She became my friend and mentor. She introduced me to a local bible teacher and Jews for Jesus leader, my first experience with a Messianic community. Everything I remember hearing taught on the subject was that Jews coming to Christ had to renounce their Jewish faith and have nothing to do with again. But this was an entirely different experience. These people were fully Christian and yet fully Jewish. I was intrigued.
The Messianic congregations didn’t believe they had to stop being Jewish in order to be Christians. It was through Jhan that I heard it explained that the apostles were Jewish and never stopped being Jewish. Often when referring to the men and women of the Bible they used the Jewish version of the name, such as Shaul rather than Saul or Paul; Yeshua as opposed to Jesus. It was then that I was introduced to the Complete Jewish Bible. And once again, I was intrigued.
It was in one of these discussion that I heard for the first time that the disciples (talmudic) were called Messianic in Antioch. It was explained that the Greek word Christianos translated as Christians comes from the root word Christos which is “the Anointed One,” the Christ (Hebrew, “Messiah“). So the term Christians is really the Greek from of saying Messianic. At this point everything I understood about Christianity came crashing down. I couldn’t prop it back up. I could only let the rubble tumble to the ground and sweep away the debris.
Then Bar-Nabba went off to Tarsus to look for Sha’ul; 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. They met with the congregation there for a whole year and taught a sizeable crowd. Also it was in Antioch that the talmidim for the first time were called “Messianic.” (Acts 11:25-26 The Complete Jewish Bible)
Once my eyes were opened to the Hebraic roots of Christianity I have made my own investigation. I have studied and searched through the scriptures and other resources. I have prayed and sought the Lord. I am not comfortable with the Greek/pagan influence on Christianity. I do not believe that Christians have to take on Jewish customs. There is as much Hellenistic/Greek influence on Judaism as there has been on Christianity. There are equally as many man made traditions in both sects.
So what’s a Christian to do?
That’s a good question. I believe it is the Holy Spirit that leads us into truth. (John 16:13) However, I do believe that it is up to each individual to investigate things for themselves. There is a tremendous amount of influence from Greek philosophy which has fashioned the face of Christianity as we know it today. When I wanted to know where it all began I went to the gospels and the book of Acts. There was a common factor. All these men were Jewish. Our Messiah is the Jewish Messiah. He is the One Whom the Prophets foretold.
The God we worship as Christians is the God of the Old Testament. We might not like that statement but it is true. Jesus, as portrayed in the gospels, was born to a Jewish mother, lived a Jewish life and was sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. (Matt. 10:6 & 15:24) This is a Jewish story. We were grafted in.
Consider what the apostle to the Gentiles has to say on this issue.
Romans 11:16- 24 And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.
17 But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. 18 But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.
19 “Well,” you may say, “those branches were broken off to make room for me.”20 Yes, but remember—those branches were broken off because they didn’t believe in Christ, and you are there because you do believe. So don’t think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen. 21 For if God did not spare the original branches, he won’t[f] spare you either.
22 Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off. 23 And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. 24 You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong.
The way I see it, each person must consider these issues for themselves. We each must live by our own convictions. We won’t adhere to what we do not fully believe in our heart and mind. I have to be convinced in my mind. I will only believe what I am convinced to be true.
Romans 14:5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
Romans 14:10-13 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.
I believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Jesus said that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22) In Romans 1:16 & 2:10, Paul wrote that salvation was to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. Investigate for yourself. Study to show yourself approved. Dig into the facts. Look things up and don’t settle for what the majority believe to be true just because the majority believe it to be true. If I learned anything in life it is to question the status quo. Don’t accept things just because someone says it is so. Check it out. Like me, you may feel unqualified to do the research. That’s okay. We aren’t all scholars. I certainly am not. We live in a day when information is readily available. The resources are available. All we have to do is take an interest and not be armchair Christians feeding off of regurgitated rhetoric. We can think for yourselves.