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Apostolic Age

Apostolic Age

The Apostolic Age is traditionally the period of the Twelve Apostles, from the Crucifixion of Jesus (c. 26-36) and the Great Commission until the death of John the Apostle (c. 110), considered the last of the twelve to die. Since it is believed John lived so long, there is some overlap with the age of the Apostolic Fathers, the first Church Fathers. It holds special significance in Christian tradition as the age of the direct followers of Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic Jewish sect during the late Second Temple period of the 1st century. Some groups that followed Jesus were strictly Jewish, such as the Ebionites, as were the church leaders in Jerusalem, collectively called Jewish Christians. During this period, they were led by James the Just. Paul of Tarsus, however, had better success proselytizing among the Gentiles, and persuaded the leaders of the Jerusalem Church to allow Gentile converts exemption from most Jewish law. Jews who did not convert to Christianity and the growing Christian community gradually became more hostile toward each other, see also List of events in early Christianity. After the Destruction of the Second Temple in 70, Jerusalem ceased to be the center of the Christian church and of Jewish religious life. Christianity established itself as a predominantly Gentile religion that spanned the Roman Empire and beyond.

Significance

The apostolic period between the years 30 and 130 CE produced writings attributed to the direct followers of Jesus Christ. The period is traditionally associated with the apostles, apostolic times and apostolic writings. The New Testament books were connected by the early church to the apostles, though modern scholarship has cast doubt on the authorship of most New Testament books. In the traditional history of the Christian church, the Apostolic Age was the foundation upon which the entire church's history is founded.

The unique character of the New Testament writings, and their period of origin, is highlighted by the paucity of the literary form in later writing. Once the canon of the New Testament was determined, the style ceased to be used on a regular basis. Noncanonical writings persisted, but died out within a historically short period of time. Early patristic literature is dominated by apologetics and makes use of other literary forms borrowed from non-Christian sources.

Early leaders

The relatives of Jesus lived in Nazareth since the first century. Some of them were prominent early Christians. Among those named in the New Testament are his mother and four of his brothers: James, Simeon, Joseph and Jude. According to the Gospels, some of the family were opposed to the mission and religion of Jesus. The relatives of Jesus were accorded a special position within the early church, as displayed by the leadership of James in Jerusalem.

According to 19th century German theologian F. C. Baur early Christianity was dominated by the conflict between Peter who was law observant and Paul who advocated freedom from the law. Later findings contradicted this theory. The allegedly continuous conflict was not supported by the available evidence. However, theological conflict between Paul and Peter is recorded in the New Testament and was widely discussed in the early church. Marcion and his followers stated that the polemic against false apostles in Galatians was aimed at Peter, James and John, the "Pillars of the Church", as well as the "false" gospels circulating through the churches at the time. Irenaeus and Tertullian argued against Marcionism's elevation of Paul and stated that Peter and Paul were equals among the apostles. Passages from Galatians were used to show that Paul respected Peter's office and acknowledged a shared faith.

Scholar James D. G. Dunn has proposed that Peter was the "bridge-man" between the two other prominent leaders: Paul and James the Just. Paul and James were both heavily identified with their own "brands" of Christianity. Peter showed a desire to hold onto his Jewish identity, in contrast with Paul. He simultaneously showed a flexibility towards the desires of the broader Christian community, in contrast to James. (This balance is illustrated in the Antioch episode related in .) Thus, Peter became a unifying force in the church.

Jewish background

Early Christianity was a Jewish eschatological faith. The book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Temple attendance and traditional Jewish home prayer. Other passages in the New Testament gospels reflect a similar observance of traditional Jewish piety such as fasting, reverence for the Torah and observance of Jewish holy days. The earliest form of Jesus's religion is best understood in this context. However, there was great diversity in local variations, as each succeeded or failed in different ways. Regardless, Jesus was a pious Jew, worshipping the Jewish God, preaching interpretations of Jewish law and accepted as the Jewish Messiah by his disciples. Nearly all scholars agree that regardless of how one interprets the mission of Jesus, that he must be understood in context as a first century Palestinian Jew.

Religious climate

The religious climate of first century Judea was quite diverse with numerous variations of Judaic doctrine, many attempts to establish an ideal holy community and divergent ideas about Israel's future hopes. Modern scholars place normative Rabbinic Judaism after the time of Jesus. The Pharisees did not have the overwhelming influence in first century Judea traditionally attributed to them. The ancient historian Josephus noted four prominent groups in the Judaism of the time: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. Jesus dealt with a variety of sects, most prominently discussing the Law with Pharisees and debating about bodily resurrection with the Sadducees. Jesus also directly associated with John the Baptist, who is often associated with the Essenes.

Relationship with the Essenes

Scholars such as James Tabor state that Essenes and early Christians had a number of similar beliefs. The Essenes practised baptism, believed in a New Covenant, were messianic and believed themselves a remnant of the faithful preparing the way for the reign of God's glory. They called their group by names that would later be used by Christians, such as The Way and the Saints. Jesus preached a number of doctrines similar to Essene Halacha. They followed a charismatic leader who was opposed and possibly killed at the instigation of the Pharisees. John the Baptist seems to have risen out of this context.

Some scholars, such as Carsten Peter Thiede, dispute this presentation. Early Christian leaders did not have to visit Qumran to have heard of Essene beliefs and read their texts. The various Jewish groups, including Christians and Essenes, were interconnected and simultaneously adopted some practices and beliefs while rejecting others. While some similarities exist, there are many differences and similar parallels can be also drawn between the early Christians and Pharisees, and other Jewish sects. Many features of Christian faith have no parallels in the texts from Qumran, and some that do are fundamentally distinct from Essene practices and beliefs. Notably, John's act of penitent baptism bears little resemblance to the daily baptismal ritual of the Essenes.

First Gentile converts

The Roman centurion Cornelius is traditionally considered the first Gentile convert. His conversion, as documented in , carries great significance. Cornelius was referenced by both Peter and James in arguing for the inclusion of Gentiles in the Council of Jerusalem. His conversion is broadly considered to have been the beginning of a broader mission to the Gentiles, who would come to eclipse the Jews among Christians.

The story of Cornelius' conversion is thematically connected with, and parallels, the conversion stories of the Samaritans, Paul of Tarsus and an Ethiopian eunuch in Luke-Acts. The Ethiopian was an outsider and castrated, whose presence in worship assembly would have been prohibited under the Mosaic law (). This is consistent with the message of Luke, advocating a "universal" faith and mission. Ethiopia was considered in antiquity to be the southernmost end of the world. Thus, the Ethiopian's conversion can also be interpreted as a partial fulfillment of the mission presented in to bring the Gospel to the "ends of the earth". Some scholars assert that the Ethiopian eunuch was the first Gentile convert, stating that those resisting this conclusion are doing so to preserve the traditional interpretation of Cornelius as the first convert. Regardless of the primacy of either convert, this episode relates Luke's view of how (through Phillip) the Gospel reached the "ends of the earth" and the mission to the Gentiles was initiated.

Circumcision controversy

Disputes over the Mosaic law generated intense controversy in early Christianity. This is particularly notable in the mid-1st century, when the circumcision controversy came to the fore. Alister McGrath stated that many of the Jewish Christians were fully faithful religious Jews, only differing in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. As such, they believed that circumcision and other requirements of the Mosaic law were required for salvation. The increasing number of Gentile converts came under pressure from Jewish Christians to be circumcised in accordance with Abrahamic tradition. The issue was addressed at the Council of Jerusalem where Saint Paul made an argument that circumcision was not a necessary practice, vocally supported by Peter, as documented in . This position received widespread support and was summarized in a letter circulated in Antioch.

While the issue was theoretically resolved, it continued to be a recurring issue among Christians. Four years after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Galatians about the issue, which had become a serious controversy in their region. There was a burgeoning movement of Judaizers in the area that advocated adherence to traditional Mosaic laws, including circumcision. According to McGrath, Paul identified James the Just as the motivating force behind the movement. Paul considered it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith and addressed the issue with great detail in .

References

Bibliography

  • Brown, Schuyler. The Origins of Christianity: A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. Oxford University Press (1993). ISBN 0198262078.
  • Dunn, James D.G. Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity. SCM Press (2006). ISBN 0334029988.
  • Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperCollins (2005). ISBN 0060738170.
  • Keck, Leander E. Paul and His Letters. Fortress Press (1988). ISBN 0800623401.
  • McGrath, Alister E. Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1405108991.
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan. The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0226653714.
  • Tabor, James D. "Ancient Judaism: Nazarenes and Ebionites", The Jewish Roman World of Jesus. Department of Religious Studies; University of North Carolina at Charlotte (1998).
  • Taylor, Joan E. Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins. Oxford University Press (1993). ISBN 0198147856.
  • Thiede, Carsten Peter. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity. Palgrabe Macmillan (2003). ISBN 1403961433.
  • White, L. Michael. From Jesus to Christianity. HarperCollins (2004). ISBN 0060526556.
  • Wylen, Stephen M. The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction. Paulist Press (1995). ISBN 0809136104.

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