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About the old Testament.

What did the First Christians believe about the Old Testament? I might as well have asked what they believed about the Bible because, as the faith developed, the Old Testament was all the written word they had.

Jesus himself laid the groundwork for a uniquely Christian understanding of the Scriptures.


          Consider, for example, one fundamental difference between Pharisees and Sadducees.


                      The Pharisees believed that God gave the law to Moses in two media: oral and written.


                      I.e., Moses got the written law, including the ten commandments, and then he got the Oral Law to go with it.


                      The oral law was passed on to Joshua who received it and passed it on to the next generation, who in turn, received it and passed it on.


                      Thus they believed that what they received from the earlier generation of Rabbis was what God told Moses on Sinai.


                                  The record of the oral law today is found in the Talmud.


          The Sadducees believed no such thing. They believed that the written law was the only law that carried divine authority.


                      I think Moses comes down on that side of the issue, because he said plainly that he wrote down everything God told him.

You may wonder where this expression, “Oral Law” came from, for it is not found in the New Testament, nor the old, for that matter.


          The NT writers knew about this, but declined to refer to it in those terms.


                      Rather, they called it “the Traditions of the elders.”

Because Jesus was parting company with that tradition, he needed to make himself perfectly clear on the issue. And so he did, quite early, in what we call “the Sermon on the mount.”


          He began that seminal message with the blessings that would come to his disciples, followed it with the importance of their example in the world and then offered a caution concerning what he was about to say.


          In the remainder of this message, he argues strenuously against the Pharisaic doctrine, but first he has this caution:

(Matthew 5:17-20 NIV) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.


          Failing to understand where Jesus is going has led some to think that in fulfilling the law, Jesus made it essentially null and void.


          But did he?

{18} I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.


          Note that well. He offers two criteria, not one. Everything was not accomplished at his death and resurrection. Heaven and earth were still there.


          And he pointedly endorsed the permanence of the written law.

 {19} Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. {20} For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.


          You have to do better than the Pharisees, he said.


                      But what was he driving at?

(Matthew 15:1-9 KJV) Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, {2} Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. {3} But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? {4} For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. {5} But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; {6} And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. {7} Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, {8} This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. {9} But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

(Colossians 2:6-8 KJV) As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: {7} Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. {8} Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.


          I think Paul is referring to Jewish tradition, the Oral law, as the existing world order.


          Rudiments, here, means “orderly arrangement,” I.e., the oral law of the Jews.

(1 Peter 1:17-19 NIV) Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. {18} For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, {19} but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.


          So while the First Christians considered the books we call “the Old Testament” as authoritative, it is clear that they did not hold the same reverence for the Oral law.


          Mark records what Jesus had to say about this in no uncertain terms.

(Mark 7:6-8 NIV) He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. {7} They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' {8} You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

So the written testimony of the Old Testament is honored by the First Christians, while Jewish tradition is discarded.

But there is more.

I have an old copy of an Oxford Sunday School Teacher’s edition and it has lists by books of the NT of quotations from the old. It is really surprising when you start noticing them.


          You can find various tables of these on the Internet if you care to compare. Endnote


          I know I was shocked to learn that there are more than 45 direct quotations from the Old Testament in the book of Romans alone. That is in a mere 16 chapters.


                      Paul’s arguments are developed using the Old Testament as a prime authority.

(Romans 1:1-4 KJV) Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, {2} (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) {3} Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; {4} And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

(2 Timothy 3:14-17 KJV) But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; {15} And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. {16} All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: {17} That the man of God may be [proficient], thoroughly furnished unto all good works.


          Can there be any question of what Paul is talking about here?

But one of the most striking examples of appealing to the Old Testament comes from none other than the Apostle Paul.


          Someone in Corinth was beating up on him, attributing to Paul motives that he had long since disproven.

(1 Corinthians 9:1-19 KJV) Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? {2} If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. {3} Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,


          It is fascinating how many there were who tried to cut off Paul’s legs.


                      He was such a strong influence that the only way would-be leaders could get traction was by destroying the confidence people had in Paul.


                      So, they accused him of trying to make a gain of the Corinthians.

{4} Have we not power to eat and to drink? {5} Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? {6} Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?


          By this he means, don’t I have the power to eat and drink at your expense?


          Must I get a job, and serve the churches part time?


                      In fairness to Paul, that is precisely what he had done, and everyone knew it.

{7} Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?


          Logic says that there is nothing wrong with the church supporting a man like Paul while he works.


          Beyond Logic, though, Paul appeals to an authority recognized by the church:

{8} Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? {9} For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? {10} Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.


          This is an astonishing example. First, that Paul appeals to the law of Moses as a definer of right and wrong.


          second, that the law is not about oxen. Think about it. How many people actually owned and ox that they used for threshing? This is the city of Corinth.


          third, what is wrong with feeding the animal before you start work?


          finally, we have the apostle Paul telling a gentile church in Corinth that the Law of Moses was written for them.


          In this, he agrees entirely with Jesus: Not one stroke of a pen shall pass from the law or the prophets while heaven and earth stand.


          So, what is his point.

{11} If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? {12} If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.


          When Paul came to Corinth the first time, he was very sensitive to this sort of thing. So he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in their business.


                      They were tentmakers, and that was Paul’s craft.

{13} Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? {14} Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.


          The point of citing the law of Moses here was to demonstrate to this church that it was okay to compensate their pastors.

{15} But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. {16} For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!

{17} For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. {18} What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.

 {19} For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.


          This last statement is striking, and I didn’t really understand it for the longest time.


          It took striking out as a non-denominational service ministry for me to get the point.


                      One of the easiest things in the world is for a minister or teacher of the Bible to get stuck in a church or an organization and lose his freedom—in various ways, great and small.


          Paul had the blessing of knowing this right from the start.


          And every pastor knows exactly what I am talking about. For in accepting that role in church, he is somewhat bound to that service and the doctrinal structure of that church.

Someone should do a survey of Pastors some day and ask if there is some point of belief they hold that they don’t feel free to preach.


          In most cases, a pastor will decide that it is not that important. The value of doing the job makes it worth leaving small issues aside.

But that makes it all the more important that there be, somewhere, somehow, independent voices who call on us to think.


          Voices with no temporal authority, but with the moral authority of an independent, itinerant preacher.

People whose power is threatened hate preachers like Paul. But that is a measure of their own small mindedness. And while they strive to gain control of this or that flock, they don’t even realize that they are forging their own chains.


          But God will not be silenced.

(Luke 19:37-40 KJV) And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; {38} Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. {39} And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. {40} And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

There is one more thing you need to know about What the First Christians believed about the Law of Moses.


          Paul’s first journey. Rejected by Jews, accepted by Gentiles.


          Return to Antioch, causing great joy.

(Acts 15:1-5 KJV) And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. {2} When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. {3} And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. {4} And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. {5} But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.


          Here is what I did not understand for a long time.


          For the Pharisees, the Law of Moses included both the written and the Oral Law.


          They wanted to require circumcision of all gentile converts.


                      Mind you, the issue was not the circumcision of Jewish children. That was taken for granted.


          It was adult circumcision of Gentiles that posed the issue.


Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor this conference had any problem with the written law.


          The Pharisees wanted to apply their own rules to the Gentile converts.


                      When Jesus didn’t even agree with their rules as applied to Jews!

Peter spoke at this conference and told them what God had done with Cornelius.

Paul spoke and told them what had happened to him.

Then James spoke and said something very important.

(Acts 15:13-17 KJV) And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: {14} Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. {15} And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, {16} After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: {17} That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.


          It was one thing to declare their experience, but it didn’t mean a thing if it wasn’t supported by scripture.


          As it happens, it was. Logic should have told them this, but just in case it didn’t, James covers the last issue.

Much more was said here, but I’ll let you read it for yourself.

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