Did Jesus actually start a church to himself?
In the words of the song “What it says in the Baable: it aint so relaable”. It is not what people say or write in a book which is “necessarily so” in telling the truth of a matter. After all it could be just wishful thinking or religious spin couldn’t it? Instead of immediately believing the truth of a text, the better question to ask is not, ”What does it mean?” but “Why was it written down?” Remember the Bible was written by men in authority for the instruction of illiterate people to support the cause of those in power.
As evidenced by Paul’s writings and those books written in his name in the early centuries of what we now call Christianity; there were many cults vying for dominance. That is why Paul gets his knickers in a twist when others came up with private doctrines at odds with his own formulas. (1Tim 6:4,5) It is significant that christ-cults were legion back then, declaring their own christs as the true one such as Attis, Dionysus, Orpheus and Mithra for example. The Jesus brand came late on the christ scene and there is not much evidence for the name of Jesus in the extant texts from before the third quarter of the second century). It is worth noting that Jesus Christianity kept evolving and insertions of key names and events were made into the standard hand-written texts over many subsequent centuries.
Christianity as a Church is essentially a fourth century phenomenon, consequently all organised Christianity today stems from what emerged out of the Roman Catholic bottleneck of belief. The idea of a divinely ordained primitive and pure Christianity existing before then is largely fiction. It was Emperor Constantine’s empowerment of his Roman Church to serve his political objectives which was the real birth.
It was by chance that Constantine had a lowly born mother the daughter of an inn-keeper who had adopted Jesus Christianity in the late third century. Constantine had no religious scruples himself (he had his son murdered and his wife thrown into boiling water) his interest was, not surprisingly, in power and the retention of power, lessons he learned from his mentor Diocletian, the systematic persecutor of Christians. Constantine’s endorsement of Christianity was purely for superstitious reasons and prompted by maternal sentiment.
A key to understanding to how Jesus Christianity trumped the other pagan cults is to be found in the politics of Rome under Constantine with its religious tolerance, at least up until the death of the Emperor. There was political capital in having Rome control all of the cults under the one state umbrella...total control is after all the most useful ploy for tyrants. Fusion of the cults, otherwise known by the process of syncretism, meant the acceptance into the fold of virtually all prevailing pagan doctrines. This has a significant precedence, it was the same method used by the Roman Empire to enlarge its sphere of influence by subduing its enemies, adopting them and assimilating them and their gods into Roman culture.
It was no mean task, but the bishops of all the pagan cults were bribed and given privileges to join the Catholic (meaning all embracing) Roman Church. In turn they contributed their dogma and personnel. In the quest for orthodoxy one of the most popular Roman cults, that of Mithra (Mithras) had to be assimilated without loss of face since it held a prominent role in the religious milieu . Bearing in mind there was no fierce partisanship among the non-Jesus cults, the Roman church needed to subdue and eliminate the ever popular Mithraism. How could it be done more diplomatically than by saying that the Jesus figure will build his Church on the ’Rock’. Easily explained away in Roman Catholicism today as an explanation of the first pope but in reality a cryptic promise to Mithraics to build the Catholic Church on their foundations. Which it did in the most literal way at the Vatican City on top of the great ‘mithraeum’ (Mithraic church) of the catacombs and metaphorically so by using their principal doctrines; notably the last supper and the eschatology (end times) as taught by Mithaism. Of course Saint Jerome would say they had different beliefs because he was right they did (he was the son of the Christian writer /forger/ biographer Eusebius by the way) but in the great syncretism all accommodation of all politically useful beliefs were eventually absorbed into the Catholic melting pot. Surprising it is that Jerome might talk about the hopes after death being different in Mithraism when yet again one of the many Catholic borrowings was from their belief in heavenly reward for the righteous and hell-fire for the damned.
Jerome lived in the post Constantine period when a state sponsored blanket condemnation of “paganism” began which deliberately set out to destroy and obscure the rustic folk origins of the Christ cults and their unholy fusion. This policy of distancing itself from its true origins is critical in understanding the authority the Catholic Church awarded itself as the all embracing holy and exclusive Church.
It would be implausible that Jesus (a literary figure) or any of the other cult figureheads could announce the establishment of their own church, being the ones who were the object of its worship! If it was written so, as it is in the case of Jesus, it exposes the mythical nature of the text which contains the information.
(sorry for the length)
With some 30,000 different Christian denominations, how would one know which one was for real? Some folks think Jesus did start a church, others think no.
I would say that the scripture supports that the church was inaugurated at Pentecost.Matt. 16:18, Acts 2:1-4: and I Cor. 12:13
The church is not a building or a denomination; it is made up of all who have believed the gospel of Christ and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit - no matter what imperfect church organization they are affiliated with. God knows those who are His. When Christ returns He will not ask which imperfect church we belonged to. He will only ask, did you love me? Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was hungry, did you give me to drink? Matthew 25:35-40
Wow what an amazing post. I couldnt say it any better myself.
Once you understand how little difference there really is within all the major Christian denominations that idea salvation though works or salvation though obedience to a human organization it all seems quite silly.
I wish all JWs would read this post and then read the new testament from start to finish.
Jesus told Peter, "upon this rock I will build my church." The Catholics believe the rock was Peter; however, in context, the rock of Israel was Christ. Jesus had also queried Peter as to his own identity, and Peter had answered under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God." To which the Lord replied, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven." It was then that the Lord said, "upon this rock" he would build his church, "and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."
The "it" here is clearly "the church." The sure knowledge Peter received was revelation from God. It's entirely likely that the church also is based upon the "rock" of revelation -- or the spiritual knowledge that comes, not through the knowledge of man but by the witness of God. Jesus additionally said, "and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." This is frequently cited by the Catholics and others to show that the church would "prevail" through the ages and would never cease. But John talks about the church being led into the wilderness for 1260 days (years), and the scripture says it's not the church that's the subject, but the "gates of hell" that would not prevail against the church. In other words, the church is assaulting the gates of Hades, or death. These gates would resist, but they would not prevail against the church (see Matthew 16:18). The very next verse speaks of the keys of authority Peter would need.
"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." These keys ensure the proper administration of the church so that its ordinances would apply on Heaven and on Earth.
So as I see it, if Jesus has a church, it will be like his ancient church. It will have his name, be guided by him and have his authority. It also will be built like the ancient church, with apostles, prophets, bishops, elders, priests, deacons and other offices. And it will be guided by revelation and have an open canon of scripture, just as the ancient church.
Anyone trying to come to grips with the origin and development of what we mean when we speak of 'Christianity' may find Geza Vermes' book,'Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325,' helpful.
Vermes was of Jewish stock, who became a RC priest when young, but left the church to marry. He became Reader in Jewish studies at Oxford in 1965 and then full Professor in 1989. When he died, the UK Guardian described him as, "one of the world's leading authorities on the origins of Christianity*." He was also one of the leading scholars in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls studies.** His 1998 publication, 'The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English,' ( which does not include fragments or Biblical texts) is often used as a text book in university courses dealing with the DDS. In Christian Beginnings, Vermes' attempts to sketch the historical continuity between the charismatic Jesus preaching in Galilee and the first ecumenical council (Nicaea, 325CE). His view of Jesus, described in his 1973 book, 'Jesus the Jew,' that Jesus never deviated from his Jewish beliefs is now commonly accepted in scholarship. However, we should note that Judaism over the centuries was not the homogeneous, monolithic religion described in watchtower (and others) literature. There was never 'one truth faith' starting with Noah, and developing through Abraham and Moses etc.
If you can grasp his picture of developing Judaism, I suggest you will have a much better understanding of the origins of Christianity, which continues to have both formal and charismatic forms, as did the Judaism of the first century CE.
The formal form of Judaism centred on the Temple and the Torah. The first temple worship seems to have been in the mobile tent/sanctuary described in the Pentateuch, but after settlement in Canaan there were a number of small temple/sanctuaries across Palestine that were eventually closed and formal worship confined to the Jerusalem temple/sanctuary that was destroyed finally by the Romans who made Jerusalem a gentile/pagan city.
The Torah likewise evolved over the centuries as a set of teachings describing the Jewish way of life. The conduct of that worship and its instruction (and enforcement-sanctions) was in the hands of a hereditary priesthood, first from the family of Levi, and once worship was focussed on the Jerusalem temple, the privileged family of Aaron. But there could be challenges to the establishment, High priest Onias IV, after the murder of his father, high priest Onias III, in 171 BCE set up a competing temple/sanctuary in Leontopolis (in the Nile Delta) that lasted until it too was destroyed by the Romans in 73/74 CE. There was also another Jewish temple in Egypt on a Nile river island at Elephantine.
Another schism occurred when the Maccabees took over formal Judaism in 152 BCE. Vermes suggests that the Essenes (likely the same sect as those at Qumran) were opposed to the Maccabees (in some way) and forsook worship at Jerusalem, and saw themselves as worshipping in a 'spiritual temple' by means of prayer and holy living. (You can read all their prescriptions for 'true worship' in the Dead Sea Scrolls documents usually known as: The Community Rules, The Damascus Document, the War Scroll, and the Temple Scroll, in particular.)
In those forms of worship, authority was derived from legal codes and standardised worship and offices. (And as we see in JW worship and most other churches by appointment to office from the central authority).
But there's another way to gain authority, one that was highlighted by Max Weber, the famous German sociologist. He focussed attention on what he called, the 'charismatic hero/leader.' This authority figure doesn't inherit power, neither is he appointed to power. The charismatic hero/leader gains and maintains his (and sometimes a 'her.') by proving his strength in life. If he wants to be a political leader, he must defeat his enemies, but if he wants to be a 'prophet,' then he must prove himself through his prophetic insights and miracles. So we see in parallel to formal Judaism another form, with Moses as a prototype and continuing through time with the prophets and Vermes argues, with Jesus, and the others in his time that preached throughout Palestine.
There is no text in which Jesus commanded his followers to leave Judaism and start a new church. After his death, his followers continued to meet and worship as Jews, believing that the fulfillment of prophecies (such as Daniel) was imminent, and that the Jewish god would restore Israel to its divinely appointed power.
The separation of the "Christian" organisation from Judaism commenced slowly from the mid first century CE, when those hopes failed to materialise.
The destruction of formal Judaism in 70 CE was a catostrophic event in connection with the messianic expectations.
It is also useful to appreciate that although modern readers attempt to project their contemporary experience back to the first century, most scholarship is agreed that there was not one, but many forms of early Christianity. It took near to 300 years for one form to claim formal control, but it always faced competition, for example, the eastern church lying within the Iranian/Sasanian empire was not controlled by the Roman church based then in Constantinople. Most Christians in those days were located in Asia, not Europe. An example is the Ebionites and the Elchasaites, from them sprang the Prophet Mani, whose form of Christianity swept across Asia to China. (the last known Manichean temple in the world is located in the Chinese coastal city of Quanzhou).
** http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t94/e497 for an overview
The word for "church" is a term meaning "called out." And though Jesus respected the authority of the temple priests, there simply isn't enough recorded information to draw the conclusions that Prof. Vermes draws. What, for example, were Jesus' final instructions to the Twelve during his 40-day ministry? (Acts 1:1-2) No one knows. We have the Acts of the Apostles, some of the epistles. We see Peter standing in judgment and condemning two church members, Ananias and Sapphira; so he obviously had authority. (See Acts 5) Otherwise, why weren't the Jewish leaders the ones standing in judgment over them?
Jesus also announced that he was giving Peter the keys of the kingdom, indicating that he had them. Jesus is the one who gave Moses the law, so he was not subject to the Jewish leaders. He also appointed the apostles as judges over the Twelve Tribes. How, then, can the good professor argue that Jesus intended to incorporate his movement into Judaism? The way he appears to argue is that Jesus had expectations that were based in error, and many Christians are not willing to concede that. Also, there's absolutely no evidence that the apostles expected God to restore Israel in their day. Instead, they fully knew that the Romans would scatter Israel to the four corners of the earth and burn the temple because Jesus prophesied it.
There are traditions about what Jesus taught during the 40 days, but if we just go by what's in the New Testament, we know nothing about the 40 days. As two current scholars note:
Luke states that during the 40-day ministry the Savior spoke "of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God," but there are only vague hints in other New Testament writings as to the nature and content of these teachings.
Thanks for the scholarly leads FTS.
Mephis :And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Again, that is the future tense. Even according to Matthew, written half a century later, the 'church' (ekklesia) doesn't exist when he says that to Peter. It is not "and on this rock I am building my church" or "on this rock I have built my church".
And that's assuming Matthew has it right.
Haha! But the Matthew document (written by whom?) isn't the only document that mentions succession. The Gospel of Thomas, has another perspective:
"The disciples said to Jesus: We know that thou wilt go from us. Who is he who shall be great over us? Jesus said to them: In the place to which you come, you shall go to James the Just for whose sake heaven and earth came into being." (Gos.Thom. 12)
Ben Witherington III, another contemporary student of early Christianity, in his "New Testament History: A Narrative Account,' and is a believer* discusses the key role played by the family of Jesus, and quotes the above passage, acknowledging that "James played and important and central role in the earliest days of Christianity ..."
He then quotes the early church historians, Eusebius and Epiphanius, that the first two bishops ot the church in Jerusalem were relative of Jesus - James and Simeon, and refers to evidence** that the grandsons of Jesus' other brother Jude (likely author of the NT letter of that name).
Interestingly, he continues that:
"What little evidence we have does not encourage us to think that Galilean Christianity under the family of Jesus, and perhaps some of the Twelve, was any less Jewish than the Jerusalem-centred community."In other words, Christianity (at first) was a Jewish sect, in the same way that the Essenes were a Jewish sect, which is also the point that Vermes was making, as I noted in my previous post.
We can only guess how James got involved in the early church, and how James and Peter sorted out their respective roles.
* In the dedication of the above-mentioned book he acknowledges a R.D.H., who has been the hands of Jesus in my life.
** R.Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, (Edinburgh: Clark,1990)
I admit I take a radical viewpoint but for a better critique of the NT we should, as I have suggested, be asking asking the question why was it written rather than being over precious about what it says. By asking this (better!) question I feel that we can penetrate the political and cultural impulses and events which created the stories which are contained in the Bible.
Has anyone else read JM Roberston's A Short History of Christianity? After reading Crisis of Conscience, I reckon any ex JW should read this little gem to wean him or herself off slavish regard of the subtleties of words and grammar in the NT. Instead of trying to see what the NT writers meant, Robertson sagely used sociology, then in its infancy, as a tool to evaluate the world in which the writings were made. He clearly has a significant contribution that to understand the Bible; the social context, prevailing cultural assumptions the source material, custom, and cult politics play the primary role in textural criticism... and not the meaning!
I say this because we are all too ready even as non believers to listen to the voice of the Bible writer without knowing why it was written down. Believers though are slaves to the letter.
It is a self evident fact that any human organisation needs regulating. It is also a fact of psychology and human frailty that where individuals are given or take power; there will be those who abuse it at the expense of the weakest in the group.
The Christian Jesus cult was not immune to these factors and with religion being an appeal to the heart, its course has to be interpreted in the light of competitive strands seeking dominance. That is why the matter of succession was of vital interest but especially so for the Catholic Christianity of the late third and early fourth century. (I expect to find, but will be happy to be disproved that the "Peter the rock" idea is a late interpolation). The notion of the Christ in glory of first century Jewish Christianity was scuppered by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and therefore a successor to the Christ (probably not yet called Jesus) had not before that time become an issue.
@ FTS the early evidence for Christianity surely finds it roots with the ascetic and messianic Jewish cults (about 200 to 150BCE?) but this does not explain the source of the Roman Christianity which includes a large dose of the older pagan god-man cults including the Dionysian and Mithraic.
The other assumption fundamental to all of Christianity is its lead character. There is an extreme paucity of questionable information supporting a historic god-man teacher who could raise the dead in the first century. There is no testable evidence for his existence and there would have been had he existed...there is only a historic silence. That god-man cults existed however is beyond doubt.
Jesus could no more start a church than can Harry Potter.
The reason a church was started in Jesus' name and was made successful, surviving even today, was due to Jewish messianic hopes fused with pagan cults by the Imperial and catholic Roman Church.