By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Acts 5.34-39
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Acts in conjunction with this article.
Christianity’s Hebrew Roots
This month we will be examining the book of Acts, the second of a two-volume set, written by the author Luke. This article’s writer generally begins our month’s study by having a book introduction, and it seems that having one for Acts would serve a worthwhile purpose. In this instance, I refer the reader to the article “The Book of Luke” for an introduction to that book and a portion of Acts. However, for a historical time marker, consider that Luke writes about and records events happening during the first Pentecost following the ascension of Jesus (Yeshua) up through Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, which is roughly 30 years.
A New Assembly
While the book of Acts provides a tremendous amount of information about the early church, we are also forced to recognize that it records a minimal number of events covered in its brief historical time span, and therefore is not an “all encompassing history”. Yet, without Luke’s work, the church would be at a loss. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus proclaiming that he was going to build his assembly1 and Acts records some of the development of that assembly.
While Acts records for posterity Jehovah’s involvement in the then new movement, it also includes a powerful declaration from Gamaliel addressing the Sanhedrin regarding the actions of Peter and the other apostles.2 A portion of Gamaliel’s address3 includes the following:
“… in the present case, my advice to you is not to interfere with these people, but to leave them alone. For if this idea or this movement has a human origin, it will collapse. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them; you might even find yourselves fighting God!”
The reason why Gamaliel’s statement should be profound for us, is that it forces us to backup in time. When Gamaliel made his declaration, the Gentile world had yet to hear about the Hebrew man named Yeshua. It would be several years before Yeshua would be known by the Greek name Iesous and hundreds of years later when he would be known by the English name Jesus. In a very real sense, this movement (this assembly) that Gamaliel was referencing was truly a new section (sect) of Hebrews. So while Peter and the others were beaten and commanded not to speak “in the name of Jesus”4 they were speaking in the name of Yeshua of Nazareth, because the name Jesus was not yet “invented”.
From Jerusalem to the World
Sometimes it is difficult for twenty-first century believers to remember the roots of their belief. While we have philosophical and rational foundations in Greece and Rome, Christianity truly is not founded by Greece or Rome. It is a movement (an assembly, a group of people) that is firmly rooted in Jerusalem – the epicenter for Hebraic national and religious identity, life, and thought. It is interesting to note, that the disciples of Yeshua of Nazareth were not referred to as “Christian” until the Good News came to the Hellenists (Grecians) of Antioch5 which is shortly after the opening of the door to the Gentiles with the conversion of Cornelius.6
Following Cornelius and Antioch, the unfolding of Acts seems primarily focused around the adventures of Paul. While he travels many places and has several missionary journeys, he is proclaiming to the Gentiles the Good News that had its origination in Jerusalem. Ultimately, Acts closes with Paul being under house arrest and thereby in Roman captivity, albeit a “loose” captivity, because he has the freedom to speak freely regarding the Good News.
As this writer looks back, not just at the history of the scriptures and the unfolding of eternal truth, but also at church history and world history, I sometimes wonder how believers will react when learning that their faith originates in and is built by the Semites. To this writer, it seems that the Western church has developed in such a fashion so as to not really undermine its Hebrew origins, yet it seems that until recently, collectively, the church has not esteemed its Semitic origins.
While trying to be cautious with words, simply stated, the church is not a Western birthed concept; it is specifically from the Near East. Western Christians for centuries have sought to develop and hone their faith, not just going back to Nicea, but to the churches of Corinth, Galatia, Rome and other western cities. The church has at times given great appreciation to its Hebrew lineage, but at other times it has sought to destroy its founder. Sometimes the book of Acts is read to determine function and operation of the early church, but Acts also serves as a vibrant reminder that the assembly began in Jerusalem, with its first adherents being Jews, not Gentiles. May the Lord bless us as we learn about our Christian heritage.
1. “Jesus and his assembly.” Matthew 16.18; NASB.
2. “Peter and the other apostles.” Acts 5.29; cf. 5.12, 18; NASB.
3. “A portion of Gamaliel’s address.” Acts 5.38-39; Quote CJB; Link NASB; complete address 5.34-39; NASB.
4. “The name of Jesus.” Acts 5.40; NASB.
5. “Hellenists of Antioch.” Acts 11.20-26; NASB.
6. “Conversion of Cornelius.” Acts 10.1-11.18; NASB.