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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ I. The yudaizing tendency in the Churches of Palestine, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Italy.

We have seen the Church at Jerusalem forming itself into an organized body, borrowing its principal institutions from the synagogue, but still remaining faithful to the Jewish worship. Judging from these conditions alone we might suppose that it would be especially distinguished by opposition to the work of St. Paul. Such, however, was not the case, as is amply proved by the authority exercised in that Church by James, the brother of the Lord. It is certain that the Christians of Jerusalem rallied around James, and manifested to him on all occasions the most sincere and respectful deference. As he exercised no episcopal function, strictly so called, his influence must have been entirely of a moral character. We have had evidence in the first Council of the breadth of his spirit, since he gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul, and sacrificed without hesitation the narrow notions of the Judaizing Christians. The author of the beautiful epistle we have analyzed was not the man to put salvation by circumcision in place of salvation by Christ. We cannot, then, suppose any open hostility to Paul at Jerusalem during the life-time of James, and it is an ascertained fact that their death took place at the same period. Further, St. Paul always continued in the most friendly relations with the Church at Jerusalem; he visited it again and again at the close of his missionary journeys; he himself carried thither the offerings of the converted Gentiles to relieve the poverty of the Christians of Palestine. Acts xi, 30; 1 Cor. xvi, 3. The most sincere affection bound him to the Elders who presided over those Churches; he received unquestionable proofs of their affection; they glorified God for his success. Acts xxi, 19, 20. It is needful, therefore, to show that the Church at Jerusalem was at variance with its representatives in order to establish its hostility to Paul. To assert, as some have done, that the imprisonment of the Apostle was brought about by the intrigues of the party of Judaizing Christians, and not by the party of the Pharisees, is not only to hazard a gratuitous supposition, but also to invalidate the most positive statements of the history of primitive Christianity.332332Baur, "Christ. der drei erst. Jahrhund.," p. 65.

It would, however, be equally erroneous to suppose that the doctrine of Paul was fully comprehended by the majority of the Christians in Palestine. Thanks to the influence of James, the principles asserted by Paul had not been formally condemned; but they were not generally recognized, either in their real character or in their issues. The first Council had bound Jews by birth to adhere to the prescriptions of the law. The converted Jews, in Gentile cities, who of necessity lived in association with Christians of Greek extraction, had been led to shake off, in many particulars, the Mosaic yoke. At a distance from the religious center of their nation they had no other synagogue than the assemblies of the new worship. Thus their habits became gradually modified, and their spirit enlarged. At Jerusalem it was otherwise. The Church of that city numbered several thousands of Jews zealous for the law, (Acts xxi, 20,) who lived in an atmosphere of Judaism, and repaired daily to the temple. The greater part had sincerely received the faith in Jesus, and persecution, constantly renewed, raised a barrier between them and the body of their people. But they were still strongly imbued with national prejudices, though they refrained from any intolerant expression of them, and continued in communion with the Churches gathered from among the Gentiles. They are not to be confounded with those teachers in Galatia or Corinth, who placed themselves beyond the arena of conciliation, and openly violated the decisions of the first Council. They were in that intermediate state, which was both natural and legitimate, on the theory of the gradual development of the Church. Undoubtedly, there were at Jerusalem disciples of the narrow school, but the predominating influence was that of the broad and conciliating Christianity of James. It appears, however, probable, that after the death of the latter there may have been a Judaizing reaction among the Christians of Palestine.

We know that the years preceding the fall of Jerusalem were marked by numerous revolts among the Jews. The national spirit was stimulated to fanaticism, and the passions of the people were kept in violent agitation. Some of the converted Jews could not breathe with impunity this heated atmosphere. At their side were ardent champions of the independence of their beloved country; was it strange if, with renewed patriotic zeal, there should have come a revival of those religious ideas which had ever been so closely identified with the glory of their nation? It is possible, also, that in the persecutions which did not cease to rage against the Church, defections may have multiplied. From the Epistle to the Hebrews we learn that the Church at Jerusalem was threatened with apostasies; some had begun to forsake "the assembling of themselves together."333333Heb. vi, 4; i, 5; x, 25. (See Bleek "Brief an die Hebræer," pp. 56, 57.) The general tone of the letter, however, proves that the faith of the Christians at Jerusalem rested on the same basis as that of the Churches founded by Paul: The writer has no fear of not being understood when he rises at once to the sublimities of the faith. He would assuredly not have spoken as he does, without preface or comment of the person of Jesus Christ, had he been addressing a company of declared Ebionites. We shall find the Ebionite heresy springing up in the following century on the ruins of the holy city; but if the germ from which it was to grow was already present, it was not yet developed, nor could it be while the influence of a James and an Apollos was still paramount.

The other Churches of Palestine, and those of the neighboring countries, were in a position similar to that of the Church at Jerusalem; being, however, less directly under the influence of the Apostles, they were more accessible to the spirit of intolerance. The Epistle of James, which was written for them, discloses serious irregularities in their conduct. They had evidently allowed themselves to be carried away by stormy contentions; into these they had thrown much bitterness of spirit, much of that wisdom which was earthly, sensual, devilish; and, under pretext of defending the interests of truth, they had forgotten and belied its essential element of love. Jas. iii, 15, 16. Favored by these sharp disputations, formalism had crept into the Church; piety had become a mere sound of words, a deceptive appearance, a purely intellectual belief, with no power over the heart—theory without practice, faith without works. James ii, 16-18. Worldly distinctions had been introduced into the Church; the poor were slighted, while the rich were courted; and we may judge the extent of the evil from the vehement indignation of James. James i, 9-11; ii, 1-7; v, 1-7. It is impossible not to discover in these characteristics a revival of the old Pharisaic spirit, which had only changed its garb, and had insinuated itself among the Christians of these regions through the inlet of their sectarian prejudices. We see reason to think that the Judaizing form of Christianity assumed a more decided character in the small towns of Palestine than at Jerusalem. It is probable that the fanatical adherents of the old law left that city after the Council, and sought to propagate their views wherever they could hope to find credit for them. We have seen emissaries of this party making unfair use of the name of James in their attempt to divide the Church at Antioch, and so far accomplishing their end as to draw Peter into an unworthy concession, and to acquire considerable influence in this early sphere of Christian missions. There is full ground, however, for believing that the effect produced by them was not abiding, and that the Church at Antioch retained its original type. Judæo-Christianity found a stronghold only in the Churches of Galatia, of Corinth, and of Philippi; and even there, though it produced for a time sharp divisions, it achieved no ultimate triumph. It was a leaven of bitterness which troubled the Churches, but it failed to leaven them altogether, and could not maintain its influence against the irresistible reasoning of Paul.

We have described the first fervent attachment of the Galatians to the Apostle who had preached the Gospel to them. Yielding again to the same remarkable susceptibility to impressions, they soon allowed themselves to be led away, and, as it were, bewitched by false teachers, the declared enemies of Paul. These false teachers, though imbued with all Jewish prejudices, do not appear to have been Jews by birth.334334Οἱ περιτετμημένοι. Gal. vi, 13. They were proselytes fanatically zealous for the law of Moses, like those Hellenist Jews who had denounced Stephen to the Sanhedrim. They had embraced Christianity in form only, and sought to stifle it under a weight of ritual observances. Some have supposed them to be messengers from Peter and James, because theirs is the authority invoked.335335Schwegler, Nachapost. Zeit., i, 16. It is evident, however, that by their violent hostility to St. Paul, they placed themselves in opposition to the Apostles at Jerusalem, who had given to him the right hand of fellowship. According to this same Epistle to the Galatians, which is the sole document that can be brought forward to support the theory of a schism in the apostolate, these false teachers used every effort to nullify the influence of Paul. They disputed his authority, and sought to place him in a position subordinate to that of the first witnesses of Christ. Gal. ii, 7, 8. Not content with insisting upon the observance of the law by those who were Jews by birth, they attempted to lay the same yoke on the Gentile converts. They made circumcision and legal observances the essential and universal conditions of salvation. Gal. v, 2, 3; vi, 12. They thus repudiated the decisions of the Council at Jerusalem; they placed themselves outside the Church of the Apostles; they preached, in truth, "another Gospel."336336Εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον. Gal. i, 6. It is not difficult to draw the line of distinction between these false teachers and the Judaizing Christians of Jerusalem. The latter, when they admitted with James, that Gentile converts could not be compelled to be circumcised, implied by that very concession that the rite of circumcision had lost its positive value, and that it was no longer a saving ordinance; since the Gentile converts could not have been allowed to dispense with a practice really necessary to their entrance into the kingdom of God. Faith in the Lord Jesus was now the one absolute condition of conversion, as it had been declared by Peter in his Pentecostal sermon. Acts ii, 38. This would no longer be the case if circumcision was raised to the height of a universal and permanent obligation. Christianity would be then only the complement of Judaism. The Gospel would be overthrown or rather destroyed. Thus the false teachers of Galatia were innovators and schismatics. They succeeded by guile in acquiring a dangerous ascendency in a young Church, in disseminating the malice of which their own hearts (Gal. v, 15) were full, and in leading timid Christians to seek circumcision in order to escape persecution and the reproach of the Cross. Gal. vi, 12. But their successes were only momentary. We have evidence, at the close of Paul's career, that the Galatian Church had placed itself again under his influence. He writes to Timothy, in his second epistle, that he has sent Crescens, one of his companions, into Galatia, doubtless there to fulfill the same mission as Titus in Dalmatia, and Timothy himself at Ephesus. 2 Tim. iv, 10. Peter's epistle, which belongs to the same period, is addressed to the Christians of Galatia, and of the countries round about. We may infer from the tone of that letter that the Churches to which it speaks are in a prosperous condition. Peter does not in any way reproach them, nor reason with them, as he would have done if they had been under the influence of these false teachers. He sets forth the vital truths of the Gospel without comment, as confident of being understood. Persecution was imminent in Galatia; the furnace was even then heated. 1 Pet. iv, 12. The Christians had already experienced its salutary effects, and the purifying fire had consumed the dross. They also bore in their body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Gal. vi, 17. Judæo-Christianity, therefore, if it seemed for awhile to flourish among them, took no root. Its influence, though critical, was but transitory. It still hovered in the air, however—a vague, floating spirit of evil—and the day would come when it would take the form of open heresy.

We meet again with these false, Judaizing teachers in that Church which is certainly the most prosperous of those founded by St. Paul. Formed in circumstances of difficulty, early tried by persecution, matured by protracted suffering, (Phil. i, 27, 28,) the Church of Philippi was distinguished by its courageous fidelity and unwavering attachment to the Apostle. Of this attachment it gave him many proofs, sending to him again and again the gifts of its generosity. Phil. iv, 14-16. We gather, however, from the warning words of the Apostle, that a spirit of strife and vainglory had begun to show itself even at Philippi. Phil. ii, 2, 3. It is certain that some seeds of division and some roots of bitterness had found a place in that Church. Phil. iv, 2. The advocates of a Judaizing Christianity were there conspicuously in the minority, but they endeavored to balance the smallness of their numbers by the bitterness of their zeal. Paul speaks of them, therefore, with unusual severity. "Beware of dogs," he says to the Philippians; "beware of evil workers; beware of the false concision."337337Literally, "of mutilation"—τὴν κατατομήν. Phil. iii, 2.

The false teachers of Philippi united to their legalism a kind of immorality which went to the length of the grossest materialism, (Phil. iii, 18,) thus proving that when religion is made to consist in forms and outward ceremonies it has no influence on the heart and life, and that bigotry is perfectly compatible with impurity. They were not able to shake the authority of Paul at Philippi, and they were equally unsuccessful at Thessalonica. The Church founded in that city was one of the jewels in the crown of the great missionary. 2 Thess. i, 4. It was early distinguished for its piety, its charity, and its steadfastness under persecution. 1 Thess. iii, 6. We may, perhaps, attribute to the influence of Jewish notions, the false and exaggerated interpretation given by some of the Christians to the teaching of the Apostle. Some members of the Church of Thessalonica, excited by these erroneous views of evangelical prophecy, felt themselves raised above the normal conditions of ordinary life, and gave up their customary occupations, and even work of any kind, living, as they said, in daily expectation of the return of the Saviour. 1 Thess. iv, 11; 2 Thess. ii, 2; iii, 10. This was the first manifestation of the millenarian doctrine, which became in the second century so widely diffused, and so strongly imbued with Judaistic elements.

Judæo-Christianity did not fail to find its way into the great metropolis of the ancient world. It attempted to creep into the Church at Rome, and there carried on its intrigues and underhand practices. But it has no claim to the honor of having founded that important Church, and modeled it after its own image.338338See Baur, work quoted, p. 59; Schwegler, work quoted, vol. i, p. 167. It is quite evident, from the Epistle to the Romans, that the majority of those whom Paul addressed were Gentile converts. He writes to them as being of the number of those Gentiles to whom he was the special embassador. Rom. i, 6; xi, 13. He speaks in that letter of the Jewish people in a general manner, which gives no ground for supposing that many of them were to be among his readers. Rom. x, 1. And, lastly, Roman names abound in the salutations with which the letter closes. Urbane, Apelles, Herodion, Rufus, Hermes, did not, we may be sure, belong to the synagogue. We do not assert that none of the Christians at Rome were of Jewish extraction. The Jewish colony in that city was a very considerable one; it had its separate quarter, and, in spite of the contempt thrown upon it, had gathered to itself many proselytes.339339Josephus, "Antiquities," iii, 3. It is probable that at Rome, as elsewhere, the Gospel was first preached in the synagogues, and that it gained some adherents among the Jews, while it received a far more eager welcome among the Gentiles. It is not known who was the first missionary who proclaimed the name of Christ in the capital of the empire; it is only proved, as we have seen, that it was not the Apostle Peter. The Church at Rome was founded, like that at Antioch, by the preaching of simple evangelists. It, at first, exercised no considerable influence, (though this statement is contradicted by Catholic writers,)340340See Abbé Cruice, "Etude sur les Philosophoumena," p. 238. but it largely increased during St. Paul's stay in Rome.

The terrible persecution raised against it by Nero shows how great had been its progress. It was not, however, free from divisions; the fanatical, Judaizing Christians sought there, as elsewhere, to counterbalance the credit of their powerful adversary. They tried to add affliction to his bonds, (Phil. i, 16,) but they failed signally in their attempt, for we find the influence of Paul paramount and almost exclusive at Rome during an entire century.

The great battle between the Judaizers in the Church and the Apostle of the Gentiles was fought at Corinth. The atmosphere of that city was favorable to such a contest. These converted Greeks had brought into the Church the subtle and supple spirit of their race; their old nature was but imperfectly subdued. Great in disputation, they loved to make the Gospel, as some of them had been wont to make philosophy, the subject of their dialectic skill. The Church of Corinth had received in large measure the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially the more brilliant of those gifts, those which were most distinctly miraculous. It prided itself much on this fact, and was in that dangerous attitude of mind when there is a disposition rather to make use of truth to advance personal glory than to serve it with humility and fidelity. 1 Cor. iv, 18-20. We can understand what an influence would be at once acquired in such a Church by the false teachers who had displayed so much malice and cunning in Galatia. They stirred up sharp contentions at Corinth; piety and charity grew cold, and the voice of God was almost drowned in the babel of discordant words. Serious practical evils were the consequence of this condition of things. The bond of brotherliness was broken by the spirit of envying and pride. The Christians at Corinth began to dispute about their secular interests with as much acrimony as about their religious views; they went to law with one another, and carried their causes before heathen tribunals. 1 Cor. vi, i. The recognition of the equality of believers in the sight of God was lost as brotherly love declined. Worldly distinctions began to assert themselves, not only in the ordinary worship, as in those Churches so sharply reprimanded by James, but even in the feasts specially designed to show forth the equality and unity of all Christians. The rich began to make a show of their abundance at the tables of the agapæ, as it were to mock, instead of to minister to, the wants of their needy brethren. 1 Cor. xi, 20-22. Lastly, in just rebuke of its pride, shameless scandals brought dishonor upon the Church of Corinth. The most unblushing vices of paganism were found, and even tolerated, in its midst. 1 Cor. v, 1.

All these evils were, in truth, the grievous results of that spirit of division which had poisoned at the spring the piety of the Corinthian Christians. From Paul's first epistle to them we gather that there were four parties in the Church—that of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, and of Christ. 1 Cor. i, 12. Between the two former the distinction was rather that of personal preference than of difference of doctrine. Apollos professed the same principles as Paul; he regarded Paul as his master, and nothing could be more unjust than to attribute to him the formation of a sect at Corinth. It is probable, that by his great eloquence and his extensive learning he may have given a peculiar charm to the exposition of the truth. The Epistle to the Hebrews shows us with what skill he was able to present it. He placed at the service of Christ that dialectic art, so fertile in ingenious allegorization, which was the glory of the Alexandrine school. He thus acquired a vast influence over a Church which was still far too keenly susceptible to the charms of human wisdom. Apollos made no concession to this their weakness; he preached, no less than Paul, "the foolishness of the cross," but he presented it under a learned and philosophic form. It was this form which enraptured the Corinthians, not the doctrine which it enshrined. There was, therefore, blameable extravagance in their professed enthusiasm for Apollos, and this Paul points out with admirable delicacy, while he casts not the faintest reproach on the innocent object of their fanatic ardor. His penetrating glance fixes at once on the inordinate estimate of human eloquence, the perilous craving for mere intellectual gratification. 1 Cor. ii, 1.

Paul is no less severe, however, upon his own partisans, who were equally guilty of schism. Their attachment was to him rather than to the truth, and they were as passionate in their defense of his personal claims as were his adversaries in their attack upon them. 1 Cor. iii, 4, 5. They had, moreover, drawn false deductions from his principles; they had exaggerated them in practice; they had failed to unite, as Paul did, charity with fidelity; and, in the pride of their intellectual superiority, had wounded the weak consciences of their brethren. The most serious charge against them was, that they had placed themselves in open opposition to the decision of the Council at Jerusalem with reference to meats offered to idols; they had thus refused to conform to the system of mutual concession which was gradually to effect the emancipation of the Church. By such conduct they showed a narrow and sectarian spirit. They carried a carnal mind into the defense of great principles and the support of a noble cause. With larger charity and greater humility they would have formed the true Church at Corinth, instead of adding another to the rival parties by which it was divided and distracted.

The party of Cephas or Peter had at its head the false, Judaizing teachers. They sheltered themselves very unfairly under the revered name of Peter; as the partisans of Apollos, without his own consent, made him their watchword. The Epistle to the Galatians has already initiated us into the system pursued by these false teachers; they set up an opposition between St. Paul and the twelve Apostles, accrediting the latter with far higher authority. The party of Cephas, therefore, attempted at Corinth, as in Galatia, to deny Paul's claims to apostleship. In this way his influence might be most surely undermined, for if Paul's authority were once brought into discredit, it would be easy to revive Jewish prejudices; and Peter was not on the spot to silence those who spoke falsely in his name. The enemies of Paul left no means untried to detach the Corinthians from him. They appear to have been here more personal than elsewhere in their attacks, for his apology has reference rather to himself than to his doctrine; it is plain that he was assailed on all sides at once. The false teachers had endeavored at first to bring his teaching into disfavor on account of its somewhat bald simplicity. They had even spoken scoffingly of his bodily infirmity and suffering. "His letters," say they, "are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence weak, and his speech contemptible."2 Cor. x, 10. Not satisfied with calling his apostleship in question from a legal point of view, his detractors had contested it on the ground of Christian virtue, depreciating his missionary labors, (2 Cor. xi, 21-28,) and extorting from his humility the bold protestation: "I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles." 2 Cor. xi, 5.

Paul names a fourth party, which he calls the party of Christ.341341Ἐγὼ δὲ Χριστοῦ. 1 Cor. i, 12. Some have regarded this as only a section of the party of Cephas, distinguished by a yet more unmeasured zeal for Judaism.342342Schwegler, "Nachapost. Zeit.," i, 161. Baur, "Das Christ. der drei erst Jahrh.," 57, 58. Reuss, "Geschichte des N. T.," p. 55. But it is impossible to trace so fine a line of demarkation between two schools so closely allied. There is no sect which has not its moderate and its extravagant disciples; and if all these gradations were to be distinguished by separate names, subdivisions might be multiplied indefinitely. Other theologians have regarded the party of Christ as an exclusively Gentile company, formed of converted Greeks, who endeavored to carry the speculations of philosophy into the Church, and who, scornfully rejecting apostolical authority, maintained that they alone comprehended the teaching of Christ, and held their doctrine directly from him.343343Neander, "Pflanz.," vol. i, p. 383. But this theory has no ground to rest upon; the designation, the party of Christ, points to a Hebrew origin; it would be hard to imagine a Hellenist school giving this theocratic title to the Lord. It seems to us that without having recourse to the third hypothesis, which is equally unsustained, that of a transcendental mysticism, laying claim to direct communication with the Saviour344344De Wette, "Comment. in Corinth. Brief." Einleit., 3, 4. Schenkel, "Inquisitio critica historica de Eccles. Corinth," p. 90. by means of visions, the two former may be happily combined.

The party of Christ is in truth of Jewish origin, but it belongs to the eclectic Judaism of the period, in which there was an infusion of Gentile elements, and which was more or less tinged with oriental dualism. It is well known that in these times of universal syncretism, a large number of Jews at Alexandria, in Judæa, and elsewhere, had come, to a very considerable extent, under the influence of foreign ideas. We have already given abundant evidence of this, and shall find fresh corroborative proof in the study of the heresies of Colosse and Ephesus. Now Paul tells us that a section of the Church at Corinth had embraced the principles of a false spirituality on the subject of the resurrection of the body,345345"How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" 1 Cor. xv, 12-38. and inclined to positive asceticism with reference to marriage. 1 Cor. vii, 1-5. These opinions were founded on a dualism more or less logical. These Christians could not be classified with the party of Paul or of Apollos, still less with that of Peter, for their views were in diametrical opposition to Pharisaic legalism. We are led, therefore, to regard them as that fourth party alluded to by the Apostle as the party of Christ. It had probably taken this sacred name to establish its superiority over all the rest; perhaps some of its adherents boasted of being in direct communication with the Lord, or they may have taken hold of some detached portions of his teaching, misunderstood and wrested from their true signification. Thus in this encounter of opposing parties in the Church of Corinth all forms of error came into contact and collision. Roots of bitterness, which were subsequently to bear fruits of death, had struck into this fertile soil, which, for all its refined and brilliant culture, was as yet but imperfectly renovated by the Spirit of God.

The letters of Paul to the Corinthians produced the happiest results. From the second it is evident that he had already regained the leadership in that Church, which owed him so large a debt of gratitude. His heroic disinterestedness, which led him to refuse all pecuniary support lest he should give the slightest pretext to his calumniators; his words, now flashing with the fire of love, now falling with the sound of tears, now piercing like the sword of God; his sufferings, described by himself with such eloquence of pathos; every thing, in short, touched upon and appealed to in these inimitable letters, won back to him the hearts of the Corinthians. Was it possible to resist entreaties such as these: "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus have I begotten you through the Gospel." 1 Cor. iv, 14, 15. The party of Judaizers was vanquished at Corinth as at Philippi and in Galatia.

We have thus reduced to its true value the assertion that the Church of the first century was divided into two almost equal sections, each with an Apostle at its head; and that to avoid the scandal of such a contest pushed to its full and final issue, the two parties were compelled to seek an approach to reconciliation by a series of diplomatic combinations. Judæo-Christianity was only really powerful in the early period, before it came to a knowledge of itself; that is, before it had been confronted with Christianity in its breadth and comprehensiveness. After the Council at Jerusalem it was not upheld by any Apostle, for all admitted the abrogation of circumcision in the case of Gentile converts. It may have succeeded in raising stormy dissensions in young Churches, which, in their inexperience, were surprised and beguiled; but it was nowhere able to sustain a resistance to the arguments of St. Paul. At the close of this period, it was already preparing to organize itself as an heretical sect apart from the Church. The history of the second century will clearly establish its complete defeat in the first.


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