6 February 2011 (Rishon/Pesach)|
Day #327, 5934 AM
The New Covenant Assembly
Part 2: Earliest New Covenant Beliefs
Continued from Part 1
Not unexpectedly, the belief system and way of life of the first believers was not at all unlike that of their contemporaries in Judea. They remained devoted to the Torah or Law as it was taught by the non-Messianic religious leaders of the time, even though they had been given a new revelation and a new commission. Every new convert has to have a starting point and for the first Christians or Messianic believers it was Talmudic Judaism. However, there was already a major difference in approach and emphasis: much of their intellectual, emotional and spiritual activity was understandably directed toward convincing their fellow-Judeans from the Tanakh or 'Old Testament' Scriptures that their belief in Yah'shua (Jesus) as the long-awaited Messiah (Christ) was justified. Collections of Testimonies or proof-texts from the Tanakh were almost certainly the earliest form of Christian/Messianic literature. Indeed, there were no other Scriptures in the beginning, because the 'New Testament' was yet undreamed of. References to the "Scriptures" in those letters and gospels that would later form the New Testament were always and exclusively to the Tanakh ('Old Testament'). Therefore it is important to realise that many of the familiar books of the New Testament which we take for granted in our witnessing (like the Gospels) may not have come into general use and circulation until nearly a whole generation of believers had been around, and if sooner, then probably not before a couple of decades. And the actual New Testament canon as we know it did not come into existence until about 270 years later. Simply stated, the Bible of the first generation of Christians/Messianics was the Old Testament!
This truth has to be acknowledged and understood before we can have a clear picture of what early Christian/Messianic life was like. Of course, the talmidim or disciples would have heard stories of Yah'shua (Jesus) orally from the apostles and those who had walked with Him. These would have been widely in circulation, remembering that the penchant for memorising was much more developped in the ancients than in us moderns. The teachings of Yah'shua would have been recounted, along with His miracles and lifestyle, particularly in His approach to the Judaism and Judaic rulers of His day. The teachings of Paul (Sha'ul) would have been unknown to the earliest believers for at least 3-6 years following Yah'shua's death and resurrection so his doctrinal formulations would not have had much currency in the beginning, at least in the Holy Land, since he worked in Antioch and beyond in the Gentile territories whereas Peter (Kefa) and the rest of the twelve intially confined themselves to the Holy Land.
Throughout His ministry Yah'shua (Jesus) openly attacked the "tradition of the elders" (Mt.15:2; Mk.7:3,5) that consisted of the Talmudic teachings of the Rabbis (known as the 'Oral Law') which they claimed had been given to Moses in addition to the written Torah. The first believers were, of course, devoted to the Torah (Law) but not to the "traditions". They believed, as Yah'shua taught, that the Torah had been completed, filled up or fulfilled in the Messiah. Therefore they believed that in Yah'shua's teachings, which completed the written Torah, and which excluded the so-called 'Oral Law' (today's Talmud), they had a standard that was at once simpler and more exacting than the Torah itself. This completed and more demanding New Covenant Torah taught that their righteousness was to exceed that of the Scribe (Torah-teacher) and Pharisee, and the way they were to walk was laid down for them in the sayings of Yah'shua, which must very soon have been arranged so as to provide in outline the ideals of Christian/Messianic conduct and character.
The Sermon on the Mount came to represent the essence of the way of life to which the first Christians/Messianics were committed. The teaching of the apostles, to which they adhered as the authentic transmissions of Yah'shua's teachings, may have included such a survey of the demands of the New Torah and some such directions for the great religious duties of alms, fasting and prayer. Though the foundation of their beliefs and lifestyle remained the Tanakh ('Old Testament'), this was now reshaped - without the Levitical system of sacrifices and rituals - into something far greater and more magnificent. The new life which they both lived and promulgated stemmed from something supernatural within, thus distinguishing them at once from their fellow non-believing Judeans who knew nothing of these things, for whom religion had essentially become an external, ritualistic performance based on the traditions of fallen men.
Continued in Part 3