Books and encyclopedic volumes have been established and devoted for the sole purpose of Church History. Time and space simply do not permit a flexibility of recapping all, most, or even a large portion of some of church history.
In my experience and in my research, it seems that I have happened upon a certain truth. While the modern church is appreciative of its church history, the tendency is to study certain aspects of church history. I suppose this is natural, as specific points in history have their defining moments that capture people’s attention.
It seems certain that the modern church believes in the Ancient Church and accepts that it cannot exist without the Ancient Church. However, practically and spiritually speaking, experience leads me to think the modern church has little interest in learning about the Ancient Church. I know this because when I speak about the relevancy of the Ancient Church for the modern I hear many negative retorts about the Ancient church.
There are two I want to mention. One retort offers the idea that the Ancient Church cannot really help us live our faith in modernity. The other retort disparages the Jews and their involvement in the origins of the church. These retorts are common and usually spoken hastily, but in some instances the retorts are given with malice.
The Ancient Church is relevant. Via the Books of Acts, I will show some various aspects of the early church history – Ancient Church History, First-Century Church History. From there readers can decipher for themselves whether the church, and all its schismatic divisions, and church actions in history and in modernity are faithful to God’s original intent.
This is not a book about church history. Via the Book of Acts, I simply want to reveal the makeup of the First Church and some aspects of their daily life. I do that through several sections, providing citations from the Book of Acts and offer my thoughts.
For clarity, I offer the following but find it personally offensive that I have to claim such. I am not advocating that the modern church live, breathe, and move exactly like the church of the First Century. Time, distance, society and culture do not truly permit such.
However, when the modern church fails to seek full understanding of that which gave the First Century Church its faith, then the modern church does little to protect itself against failure in faith and practices. The modern church needs to see the mindset of the Ancient Church and why it conducted itself the way it did. Only then will the modern church know if it is living the faith of the Ancient Church.
The Upper Room
From Acts, the first thing we need to see is that the original members, “founders” if one will, of the Church were Jews. Consider the Jewish nature of Acts 1:
While Acts Chapter One is pre-Pentecost, we can clearly see that this chapter contains the earliest disciples who will “build” the church. Each and every one of them, both Apostles and disciples, is Jewish. These Jews are doing Jewish things for the cause of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Additionally, it must be noted that Peter utilized the only Scriptures these people had available, what the modern Church calls the OT. The Bible they had available was one of two, but they were essentially the same. The first is the Hebrew Scriptures, written in Hebrew from Genesis to Chronicles. The second is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, organized Genesis to Malachi. In Acts Chapter One, Peter referred to the Psalms for scriptural support for the process so Matthias could become the replacement Apostle. While Christianity considers Psalms part of the OT, to Peter, the Psalms were not OT, the Psalms were Bible, period.
Thus, Peter simply used the only Bible Israel had available, what the Modern Church calls the OT. Peter simply did not have NT scriptures. There is absolutely no way Peter had anything that he would have called “New Testament” scripture. This is because Peter was living in the dawning days of the NT. It would be many years later that Luke would record the events of Acts Chapter One.
The Day of Pentecost
Luke, in Acts Chapter Two, reveals the presentation of the Good News to those gathered in Jerusalem. While about 3000 responded to Peter’s sermon, what is important is that we see Apostolic Jews take the Gospel to the Jews, to the devout men, to the proselytes and to the strangers gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.
It is important to recognize that Pentecost is simply not 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is one of three specific Feasts for Israel established by God. Pentecost is called the “Feast of Weeks” and this Feast was established shortly after the Exodus (Exodus 34.22). Deuteronomy contains some more details for Passover and Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16.1-17).
For us, what is important is to recognize is that Jesus was crucified during Passover and the first Gospel message was given at Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks. These time markings demonstrate that these events are according to the calendar God gave Israel, established hundreds of years before Jesus. Knowing that, consider the Jewish influences of Acts Chapter 2:
From Acts 2, we need to see that the Jewish Apostles preached to Israel through four categories of people: Jews, devout men, strangers and proselytes. The easiest to define are the proselytes and strangers; but let me begin with strangers.
There are many passages in the Books of Moses that refer to strangers. From some of those passages, we need to see that strangers have been among the Israelites since Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt (e.g. Leviticus 17.12-13). What is important is that we see that the strangers were Gentiles. Additionally, we need to see that while strangers did not necessarily become “part” of Israel thus Jew, strangers were instructed to follow the same law as Israel (Exodus 12.49, Numbers 15.16, 29).
Those strangers (Gentiles) who converted to the fullness of Israelite faith and practices – some call this Judaism – became known as proselytes. What is important about being a proselyte is that a proselyte would have been circumcised and would have diligently followed the Law of Moses. Thus according to Acts Chapter Three, it is probable that some of the three thousand believers were proselytes and strangers.
Jews and devout men are a little more difficult and are highly defined by Israel’s historic developments up to the time of Jesus, but also have definitions in modernity. From what I have gathered from my studies, the word Jew has several applications, here are a few definitions.
One, first and most specifically, a Jew was a person from the Tribe of Judah. Two, Jew is a general term used to refer to the collection of people who remained after the Assyrian Invasion – these Jews came from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and the remnant of the other tribes and resided within the Southern Kingdom. Three, while referring collectively to all Israelites, Jew also seems to be a term that has NT specific application referring to some of the more educated and “devoted” of all the Israelites. Four, a modern application for Jew is an individual descended from Israel or converted to Judaism and is usually considered a non-Christian.
As for the term devout men, the term could have been used to refer to the average Israelite in the Jerusalem area. But based upon NT Scripture the term devout men seems best to refer to people who are not yet proselytes. Thus it seems a devout man would be considered to have greater spirituality than a God-fearer, but less spiritual commitment than a proselyte. Irrespective of specific definition, according to Acts Chapter Three, it is probable that some of the three thousand believers were Jews and/or devout men.
Thus, Peter presents the Jewish Messiah to an audience – gathered in Jerusalem for the God-ordained feast, the Feast of Weeks – made up of almost all Jews, along with proselytes, devout men, and some strangers. Interestingly, Peter collectively calls this assembly the “House of Israel” (Acts 2.36). This makes the first gospel message from a Jew to Israelites/Jews and those proselytized into Judaism and those favorable to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Of that mixed assembly, about 3000 responded to Peter’s message (Acts 2.41), and each day more were added to their ranks (Acts 2.47). While Acts Chapter Two makes it clear that these “house of Israel” believers met house to house, these Jewish believers also continued gathering daily at the Temple (Acts 2.46). The Temple was in the City of David, Jerusalem – the spiritual center for everything Jewish.
Peter, Stephen and Daily Life
It is impractical to continue outlining every verse of every chapter. So, I will transition to highlighting various truths of the Jewish influence on the early church. Consider the Jewish influences of Acts Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7:
Acts Chapters Three through Seven continue showing us that the first believers in Jesus were Jews. Using Acts Chapter Three time frame, the Temple’s destruction in AD/CE 70 is still about 40 years away. It seems clear from Chapter Three that Peter had no problem going to the Temple at prayer time; it also seems reasonable to conclude that Peter had no real issue against being in the Temple at prayer time for himself, especially when we recognize that he was raised to include the Temple in his life. Thus we must ask three questions:
It is also evident that many, thousands in fact (Acts 2.41, 4.4), believed the teachings of the Jewish Apostle Peter and came to believe in Jesus as Messiah. These first believers were, in fact, Jews; but contrary to much modern interpretation, those Jews did not divorce themselves from their Jewishness in order to establish the church. It is evident that these Jewish believers freely gathered amongst the other members of Israel in Jerusalem and at the Temple.
It seems odd to me that the Book of Acts first mentions a synagogue in Acts 6.9. However, the simple fact is there cannot be a synagogue and it not be Jewish. In other words saying Jewish Synagogue is technically redundant, it is like saying Christian Church. Even if a Messianic Synagogue, the synagogue is still organized and operated by Jews. However, what we need to see is that the faith of the Jewish believers (Acts 6.7) was never compromised. It is vital that we grasp that these Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah continued to attend synagogue.
From Peter and his defense of his actions at the Temple, and from Stephen and his defense of his teachings at synagogue, we can see that these first believers, while Jewish, knew their Scriptures. The Scriptures that Peter and Stephen used are what Christians now refer to as the OT. However, Peter and Stephen did not refer to those Scriptures as “old” instead the Book of Acts reveals that they referred to those Scriptures by using phrases like:
From this, we can see that these Jews were concerned not just about belief in Jesus, the Scriptures, and the history, culture and theology of their fellow Israelites, including the Temple and the synagogue.
Upon a very close reading and consideration of Stephen, he was not against the Jews, nor was he against the Law of Moses, neither was Stephen against the Temple nor was he against any of the customs. We know this because Luke makes it clear that Stephen was accused falsely (Acts 6.13). Since the accusation was false; this means that Stephen was for: the Law of Moses, the customs of Israel, the Jews, and was for the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
There is something else that we must grasp. False witnesses were against Stephen, thus their statements, by their nature, are false. The false accusers accused Stephen of teaching that Jesus was to destroy the Temple and change the customs that Moses had given (Acts 6.14); but that statement, because it is was spoken by false accusers, is false. False accusers, by their nature, do not seek truth. This means that the false accusers’ statement itself is a false accusation against Jesus. These truths and realities of the Ancient Church are profound.
Saul (Paul) and Daily Life
In the Book of Acts, Luke’s narrative brings us to Saul (Acts 8). We must keep in mind that before Saul’s belief in Jesus as the Messiah, Saul agreed with the accusations leveled against Stephen (see previous section), otherwise Saul would not have been present at Stephen’s death (Acts 8.1, 22.20). While Luke informs us that the accusations against Stephen were false, this truth matters little to Saul who went and “made havoc of the church” (Acts 8.3-4).
Saul is an Apostle to the Gentiles and was known in antiquity as Paul (Acts 13.9). In modernity, Saul seems to be exclusively referred to as Paul and interpreted as turning his back on his Israelite/Jewish heritage. However, upon a closer examination of Acts, such a description of Paul does not seem accurate. Consider these highlights about Saul’s Jewish background from Acts Chapters 8, 9, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 22:
Up front, I want to revisit Saul known as Paul. It is common and well known that Saul is also known as Paul, but it seems rare that modern Christians refer to Paul as Saul. In Acts 13.9, Luke informs us that Saul was also known as Paul. However, we need to maintain our focus that Paul has Israelite background and refer to him as Saul.
The reason I do this is because many are convinced that the name Paul is proof that Saul renounced his Jewishness and the Law of Moses. By claiming such, a supposition is made that when Saul received a new perspective about Christ, Saul upon conversion “became” Paul. That supposition is subsequently supported with statements trying to explain why Saul chose the name Paul.
So let us consider Luke’s statement about Saul in Acts 13.9. Luke emphatically states “Saul, (who also is called Paul,)” – notice this quote is from the KJV, which utilizes a parenthetical. Interestingly, the ASV, CEV, ESV, NASB, NIV, and TNIV use similar punctuation devices and thus convey the same meaning.
Contrary to popular interpretation, Luke means exactly what Luke says: Saul also used the name Paul. In other words, Saul had also been known by an alias: Paul. Luke does not, in any way, insinuate that Saul adopted a different name because of conversion. While it is true that many accept new names upon conversion, extracting such for Saul is nothing more that speculative supposition.
Speculation is an elegant word for guess, but speculation makes for poor Bible interpretation and doctrine. The fact that Luke referred to Saul as Paul, and the fact that Saul used the name Paul proves nothing about conversion. If this issue of Saul’s name can be so easily questioned then what else have we misunderstood about Saul?
Let us now consider something else about Saul, his attendance to synagogue. Prior to the Damascus Road, we must notice that Saul visits synagogues to take captive those who believe in Jesus. This information is very important – important, not because of Saul, but where Saul goes to find believers in Jesus. Saul found believers in Jesus – attending synagogue.
Saul’s threats against believers, his Damascus Road experience, his conversion, and his preaching Jesus in synagogue all happen in the same chapter. It is important that we notice that immediately upon conversion, Saul went to the synagogues to preach Jesus (Acts 9.20). Before belief in Jesus as Messiah, Saul took believers from the synagogues; then upon belief Saul went to the synagogues to preach so others might become believers.
So, while it is important that Saul preached Jesus, it is more important to understand that Saul had absolutely no problem attending synagogue. Thus, the modern interpretation of Saul – a man who turned his back on his Jewish roots – is at odds with Luke’s description in Acts – a man who attended synagogue. Even if it were somehow true that Saul simply attended synagogue to share the gospel, the fact remains – Saul attended synagogue, in so doing, Saul in no way turned away from his Jewishness.
Some might be tempted to negate that truth by claiming that Saul went to synagogue only to preach Jesus; such is mere speculation. That claim is no more certain than claiming the believers who attended synagogue during Saul’s reign of havoc went to synagogue only to preach Jesus. All that seems certain is that at this point in Saul’s life, Saul along with other believers in Jesus is right along side other Israelites, devout men, and God-fearers, participating in life together at synagogue and at the Temple.
It needs to be understood and accepted that Saul attended synagogue (and most likely had done so since his youth). This can be known with relative certainty because Saul said he was a Pharisee (Acts 23.6). Pharisees were considered the highly dedicated to God, as such he would have attended synagogue on a regular basis. A close examination of Luke reveals that conversion did not change Saul’s behavior regarding synagogue attendance. When we consider the behavior of the Christians Saul persecuted – they attended synagogue and attended synagogue without any conscientious objection (Acts 9.2) – why should we think synagogue attendance would have been any different for Saul?
Saul Defending Himself and His Ministry
Up front, I can guarantee that someone will accuse me of taking Paul (see previous section about Saul’s name) and the Bible out-of-context. To that accusation I can only offer the following defense. Based upon the Book of Acts, what I include in this section shows that Saul and his position about the Law of Moses, the Jews and the Temple have been taken out-of-context since Saul’s ministry.
Even though I am simply another voice in about 2000 years of Christian history, my point is rather simple. Since the time of Saul’s arrest in Acts 21, Saul’s trials were about him defending his position about the Law of Moses, the Jews, the Temple, and that Saul was not against any of them. It was a huge deal then; it is a huge deal now. Somehow, even with Luke’s evidence in Acts, Saul’s position is still debated and thus unsettled; as such, I doubt it will ever be settled.
However, this section and Saul’s defense automatically leads to a discussion about the relevancy of the Law of Moses for Gentile Christians. Within Ancient Church History, I am simply addressing significant historical Jewish influences in the Ancient Church. However, the Law of Moses and its relevancy for the Gentile Christians will be discussed in Ancient Church Theology.
In this particular section, we will see items from the Book of Acts that we may have never noticed previously. Contrary to what some believers purport, there is NT evidence demonstrating that Saul simply is neither abrogating nor abolishing the Law of Moses, and that Saul is neither denunciating nor replacing his Jewish heritage or the Jews. Thus, this section asserts that which is rarely seen.
Saul’s stance: the Law is good; the Jews are good; both are needed for the NT in effect showing that Saul is pro-Law and pro-Jew even in and for the NT. Consider these highlights about Saul’s positioning about the Law of Moses and the Jews – Acts Chapters 16, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 28:
First, many times Acts 21-28 is referred to as Saul’s fourth Missionary Journey. Upon close scrutiny, such is not the case. It is true that Saul journeyed from Jerusalem via a ship (Acts 27), remained in Melita and journeyed further (Acts 28.1-15) before coming to Rome (Acts 28.16). Importantly, Acts Chapters 21-28 are anything but a missionary journey.
Luke intentionally records Acts 21-28 and Saul defending his ministry. These chapters are Holy Spirit permitted showing Saul defending his ministry to the Gentiles against the accusations of Saul being against the Law of Moses and against the Jews. Thus, any “missionary journey” of Acts 21-28 is incidental to Saul being imprisoned in Jerusalem and then being taken to Rome because of his judicial appeal to Caesar (Acts 25.10-11, 25.25, 26.32). To read these chapters as anything else dismisses Luke’s obvious narrative.
Second, and this is important, upon his conversion, Saul did not have to “learn” the Bible (Genesis to Malachi) in order to preach Jesus. This is because Saul, prior to his conversion, learned the Bible and “the law of the fathers” at Gamaliel’s feet (Acts 22.3). Just from seeing Saul’s use of scripture in Acts (Acts 13.13-41, 28.23), we can know that Saul is highly studied.
So well studied was Saul that Festus claimed that Saul’s studies had made Saul mad (Acts 26.24). This is important because the Damascus Road Messianic revelation and Ananias visiting Saul simply brought Saul “new” insight about Israel’s Promised Messiah. After Ananias’ visit, immediately Saul preached Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Of course, Saul is lead by the Spirit, but that neither negates nor removes his Biblical studies.
Third, it is important that we recognize the importance of Tertulus and Saul’s battle of doctrine. Tertulus accused “For we have found this man [Saul] a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law [the Law of Moses].” (Acts 24.5-6).
However, Saul responded that the charges were false saying, “I do the more cheerfully answer for myself… I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.” (Acts 24.10b-13)
Saul then went on to say, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law [of Moses] and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. (Acts 24.14-16)
Thus it seems proper to conclude that after Saul met the Messiah (Acts 9), Saul came to understand two things:
So, yes, Saul became a follower of Jesus. But, contrary to what some interpretation teaches, Saul did not turn his back on the Law of Moses, and Saul did not argue that the Law of Moses was nullified. Instead, (as we will see in greater detail in Ancient Church Theology), Saul argued that the Law of Moses was fulfilled and subsequently taught that Christians are to fulfill the Law of Moses. Thus from Saul’s own personal vow and extensive judicial defense, we know with certainty that Saul, in no way, abrogated, nullified, truncated, or nailed to the Cross the Law of Moses.
Miracles, Signs and Wonders
This portion is needed because Miracles, Signs and Wonders were a routine part of the early church. It is accepted that Jesus worked MSW, and that the early church included MSW. With that in mind, we need to consider some of the MSW found in Acts:
It should go without saying, but I will state it anyway, I am not excluding the fact that the early church preached the Gospel. The Ancient Church preached the Gospel, and the Ancient Church taught the disciples; but, and this is important, the Ancient Church also performed signs, miracles and wonders.
With Ancient Church History, I simply enumerate many of the various miracles, signs and wonders that the Church practiced. For now, what needs to be seen is that those things were part of the daily life of the Ancient Church. For me, as one who seeks the spiritual and faithful embodiment of the Ancient Church, it seems unfortunate that the modern Church is largely devoid of signs, miracles and wonders. But, I will give a theological reason for this in Ancient Church Theology.
The Ancient Church worshipped, prayed, fasted, shared the gospel, visited, ate food together, and shared property to help each other. But, we need to see that the Ancient Church (both Apostles and members) performed signs and wonders. The Ancient Church healed bodily illnesses and diseases, healed people of unclean spirits, and gave people life after death.
It seems much attention is given to speaking in tongues, both at Pentecost and at Cornelius’ house, so I forgo spending time discussing it. So for me, at least, it is interesting that the Ancient Church, just like Israel of old, had prophets; and again like Israel of Old, the Ancient Church had both male and female prophets. It is also noteworthy that disciples had visions and trances; and that angels worked on behalf of God and the Church.
Also, it is most interesting that Luke – and I believe the Holy Spirit – record Jesus visiting humanity post-ascension. From the Book of Acts, we know that Jesus spoke to both Ananias and Saul. However, Jesus visited Saul pre-conversion and then visited Saul post-conversion. Perhaps, this is because Paul is that special of a chosen vessel for God’s work; but I still ask: since Jesus visited both Ananias and Saul after Jesus’ own ascension, how plausible is it for Jesus do such again?
So here is the perplexing issue about the Book of Acts. It reveals Jews, proselytes, devout men and Gentiles all reaching the point of having faith in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ. The Church was born from and into a completely Jew-Proselyte system. That system had pre-existing Scriptures (now commonly called the OT), but, and importantly, those Scriptures guided the worship, devotion and daily lives of the Apostles and Disciples of Jesus. This is why the first church still gathered at synagogue and the Temple, and basically conducted themselves according to the then current behavior of the Jews – except that their belief and faith in Jesus the Promised Messiah from the Law of Moses and the Prophets separated them from their neighbors.
It is absolutely vital that we accept that Acts 21 reveals that Jews, thousands of them (Acts 21.20) were zealous of the Law. It is just as absolutely vital that we accept that James told Saul to perform a vow showing that Saul was FOR and KEPT the Law of Moses (Acts 21.23-24). And it is just as absolutely vital that we accept that Acts 15.1-29 and Acts 21.25 show something different for the Gentiles, not the Proselytes and certainly not the Jews. But, it is absolutely vital for the Gentile believers to accept that we once gathered with the Jews on Sabbath to learn from the Law of Moses (Acts 15.21). These concepts will be discussed in much greater detail in Ancient Church Theology.
In closing, I want to state that if Saul really did as it has been taught that he had done – turn his back to his Jewishness, then Saul would not have been accused of teaching Romans Jewish customs. (Acts 16.19-21) It is of critical importance that we take note that Luke did not record those accusers against Saul as false witnesses.
Thus here in Ancient Church History, I have presented some very controversial, important and crucial truths about the First Church. In Ancient Church Theology, I will address the Jewish Church’s decision, with Holy Spirit approval, regarding the Gentiles who believed in Jesus (discussing parts of Acts 10, 11, 15 and 21).