Food for Thought: The First-Century Church in Context

The apostle Peter was staying with a tanner in Joppa on the Mediterranean coast. One day around noon he went up onto the rooftop to pray and soon became hungry. 

While he waited for his meal to be made ready, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened and an object like a great white sheet descending down toward earth. In it were all sorts of animals, reptiles and birds—of the kind that Peter, as an observant Jew, would not have eaten (Acts 10:9–12). This is clear from his response to the voice that called out to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter didn’t understand why God would have him eat what he knew to be unclean (forbidden by scripture). He protested, saying that he had never eaten anything common or unclean. God’s answer astounded him: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Peter could not reconcile this instruction with the scripture he had observed all his life. He “wondered within himself” or was perplexed, as the scripture notes (verse 17).

Many scholars use this passage to free followers of Christ from the biblical dietary laws that explain which meats to avoid and which are good for human consumption (see Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14).

But does this New Testament event provide such a basis? Does it remove the dietary restrictions laid out in the Old Testament, as most denominations teach? There are several important aspects to the account.

First, let’s note that Peter’s direct and forceful response shows that Jewish followers of Christ still held to the command to avoid certain types of meat.

Second, an important key to understanding the passage in Acts lies in the preface to chapter 10. A gentile believer, the Roman centurion Cornelius, had found favor with the God of Israel. His prayers and charitable giving had been noted by God, who sent an angel to direct Cornelius to send men to Joppa to contact Peter. The meaning of the vision relates to this context. 

Third, let’s note that it was almost impossible for a Jewish follower of Christ at that time to believe that gentiles could have the same access to eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They thought this privilege belonged exclusively to Israelites. To change this perspective, God had to make a dramatic point.

Even though Peter had been taught that it was unlawful to keep company with a person of another nation, he tells Cornelius that God has shown him not to call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28). The vision wasn’t about meat at all; it was about offering the potential for salvation to all nations (Matt 28:19–20). 

Another scripture that scholars often use to justify the belief that all meats are equally acceptable for food is Romans 14:14. Paul writes, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself.” On the surface, this seems to contradict what has already been stated, but let’s take a look at the context of this scripture.

Paul commands the Romans to “receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables” (Romans 14:1). This is a discussion not about clean and unclean meats, but about whether eating meat itself is wrong. The weak brother or sister in Christ believes that they should abstain from meat and eat only vegetables.

But Paul cautions the other believers not to judge their brothers and sisters because of this difference. Verse 14 says: “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself [eating meat or drinking wine is not defiling]; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean [someone of a weak conscience about these things would say it is defiling].”

Paul goes on to show that eating meat is not forbidden by God, but it could be a stumbling block to a person who was weak in this aspect of belief. Believers are to look out for their brother’s welfare. 

That’s why Paul tells the Romans in verse 21, “it is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” He was concerned about his brother-in-Christ being offended. He wasn’t saying it was permissible to eat what the scripture calls unclean meat.

Finally, another passage used to defend the view that all things are good to eat is found in 1 Timothy 4:1–5. Paul is writing to his helper Timothy about what to teach in the congregations under his care. 

He states that the spirit of God had shown him that in the latter days of this era people will depart from the faith, listening to doctrinal deception and speaking lies in hypocrisy. The kinds of wrong teaching would include:

“Commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” 

This scripture is pointed towards those who “believe and know the truth.” They understand the scriptures that say it is not permitted to eat certain types of meat. 

Paul goes on to say, “every creature of God is good and nothing is to be refused.” A conditional clause adds, “If it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (Verses 4–5). 

Sanctified means to be dedicated or set aside for service to God. Which foods are set aside or sanctified? As we noted earlier, we can read about them in Leviticus 11. 

Some believe that here Paul is warning Timothy about the influence of Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that spirit is good and matter is evil. According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “They (the Gnostics) believed all appetites relating to the body are therefore evil and should be rooted out, including normal desires for sex and food.” 

We can understand this passage much better with this explanation. Verse 3 states “ . . . forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods.” Paul was telling Timothy that this was going to be a problem in the Church and that he must warn the congregations about this deceptive idea. 

As we can see, this text isn’t talking about clean and unclean meats, but is a warning not to follow the destructive doctrines of false teachers. 

The apostles Paul and Peter warned about many of the potential deceptions that false teachers would try to introduce within the congregations of God. The first-century followers of Christ also understood this and obeyed these scriptures. God’s instructions are clear about which foods He intends us to eat and which are not appropriate. He makes this distinction because He cares for us.

In each of these examples we see that context is very important in understanding the Bible.

Jerry de Gier


Related Content: 
The Apostles

What Day Is the Sabbath? What Does the Bible Say?


In any culture there are some things we simply take for granted. For instance, Sundays may be set aside for watching or participating in sporting activities. During the summer, Sunday could also mean barbecues in the backyard with friends.

Almost as ingrained in our collective mindset is the idea of people going to church on Sunday. We may visualize a pastor standing at the door greeting everyone, and it seems normal and expected. But has it always been this way? Have followers of Jesus always worshiped on Sunday, and does the Bible teach adherence to Sunday as the day of worship?

In the first century, Jesus went to the local synagogue to worship on the seventh day, called the Sabbath. He often stood up to teach as the Bible says it was his custom to do that on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16).

Paul, too, had a custom of teaching on the Sabbath day in the synagogue—for example, in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–3).

When he and Barnabas went to Antioch in Pisidia, they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and reasoned with the congregation and its leaders. The people were encouraged by their words, and when Paul and Barnabas were finished, the people asked if they would speak to them again the next Sabbath. As it says in Acts 13:44, almost the entire city gathered on the following Sabbath “to hear the word of God.”

If Christ and Paul kept the seventh-day Sabbath and also taught on that day, why do most 21st-century Christians keep Sunday as the day of worship? Is there a scripture that clearly directs believers to ignore the Sabbath command (Exodus 20:8–11) and change the day of rest and worship to Sunday?

You can search the Bible from beginning to end, but you will not find a directive superseding the command to keep the Sabbath as the prescribed day of worship. What you do find are scriptures showing that followers of Jesus should still follow the Sabbath command.

The Bible shows us that when the creation was completed, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1–3). He didn’t rest because He needed to rest but to set an example for us. Verse 3 also states that He “blessed” and “sanctified” the Sabbath. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains defines the Hebrew word translated “sanctify” in terms of dedicating something to God’s service—setting it aside for a special purpose. So the seventh-day Sabbath was set apart for the benefit of those who want to follow the example God Himself set. 

Leviticus 23:3 further shows us that our Creator meant the Sabbath to be “a holy convocation”—that is, a sacred time set apart for a formal gathering—and it should be observed that way. 

The Gospel of Mark records Jesus showing the Pharisees that they had a wrong view of the Sabbath day. They wanted to put undue restrictions and burdens on their followers with regard to Sabbath observance. Jesus showed them that the disciples were well within the limits of the law to walk through the grain fields and pluck some kernels of grain to eat. He emphatically stated that man was not created for the benefit of the Sabbath; rather, God had created the Sabbath as a benefit for man (Mark 2:23–27).

Jesus Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath” (verse 28; see also Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5). He is the one who created it and He is the one who demonstrated proper observance of it to His first-century followers. The Bible shows that He upheld the Sabbath as the day of rest and worship for His followers.

You can read more about the gradual move from Sabbath to Sunday observance in “The Path to Sunday.”

Jerry de Gier




Tags: first christians, bible study, Early Church History, the sabbath

How Did the Early Church View Itself?


One of the many ways that churches get members is through evangelical campaigns, where people are encouraged to “give their hearts” to the Lord. After all, the reasoning goes, if a person can be helped to see the need for a relationship with Jesus Christ, he or she may take that first step toward Him and thus become saved for life. When this happens, there is great joy among the members of the church because they feel they are saving souls for Christ. 

But is that what the Bible teaches? Jesus Himself gave the answer: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.44, emphasis added throughout).

This is such an important principle that He repeated it a few verses later: “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (verse 65). 

Even in Jesus' time most people didn’t understand His words, however. Nor did the vast majority follow Him, though He was the very Son of God. And that is exactly the point. His words can be understood and acted on only through a calling or a summoning by God the Father. 

Jesus illustrated the point by teaching the multitudes through parables—often-enigmatic stories that illustrate specific principles. After a few parables, His disciples came to Him and asked why He taught in this way.

Jesus replied that it had been given to them (the disciples) “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” but that the multitudes would not understand what they saw or heard (Matt 13.13–15). So to those whom God had not called Jesus spoke in parables. To His disciples, whom the Father had called, He spoke plainly and explained what the parables meant. He told His followers that they were very blessed to understand what the Scriptures teach, because many people had rigorously sought to understand and could not (Verses 16–17).

When we read the parables in the gospel accounts we see Jesus teaching His disciples truths that the majority of the public could not appreciate—spiritual gems. He also taught that it is the duty of those who do understand to hold on to such truths with all their being (Matt 13.44–52).

But isn’t God calling the entire world right now, trying to save as many as possible before they die and it’s too late?

Most churches teach that this is the only day of salvation, so they are vigorously and understandably trying to save as many people as they can. But if we can’t embark on a relationship with God unless He draws us first, where does that leave the rest of humanity? What about those who never in their life so much as heard the name of Christ? Are they lost? 

The answer is an emphatic no! Everyone will be called, but only in the order that God the Father wants them to be called—and not necessarily in this life. He has a long-term plan that includes every human being ever born. Paul was inspired to write about this in 1 Corinthians 15.22–24:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”

The apostle John also wrote about this. Having been shown the future in a vision, he recorded that he had seen the faithful, who “lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:4–5).

The first-century followers of Jesus understood this and cherished the knowledge they were given. They also knew it was a miracle that they had been called into the body of Jesus Christ, and that the same miracle would be extended to others in God’s own good time.

Jerry de Gier



Does The Bible Say Christ Rose on Sunday?
The Bible: Who Needs It?
Apocalypse Now, Later or Never?

Tags: early christianity, Early Church History, evangelism

Were the Disciples of Jesus Poor and Itinerant?

2016April_FF-were-disciples-itinerant_1920x1080.jpgIn traditional Christianity, the disciples of Christ are often viewed as homeless single men, perpetually on the road and living below the poverty level. Some even have this view of Jesus Himself. Is this a correct view or simply another misconception?

Although Jesus and His first followers did their share of traveling and interacted routinely with the poor residents of Israel and Judah, the Bible actually offers a more varied description of them.

For instance, fishing was one of the main occupations for Galileans, and the Bible records that some of the disciples had worked on fishing vessels and made a living in that trade. This brings to mind one of the more famous events in the Apostolic Writings, which occurred after Jesus’ death. The disciples had returned to what they knew best: their former occupations. For Simon Peter and some of the others, that meant fishing, but after fishing all night, they had caught nothing. The now-resurrected Jesus called to them from the shore and told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, saying that they would find success there. They listened to Him and indeed caught so many fish that they could hardly bring their catch ashore (John 21:1–6).

The point to be made here is that they clearly had access to boats, nets and other fishing equipment, which would have been difficult without a sufficient income.

As the early church grew, the apostle Paul lived off the tithes of the people he served, but when that was insufficient he, too, fell back on his original occupation. Acts 18 tells us that Paul joined Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, in tent-making because he was of “the same trade” (Acts 18:1–3).

Mark 1:29–30 offers an account of Jesus visiting the apostle Peter’s home: “As soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon [Peter] and Andrew, with James and John.” When they arrived, they found Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed. Jesus took her by the hand, and the fever left her. She immediately stood up and served them. So Peter not only owned a home, but he was married, and his mother-in-law either lived with them or at least occasionally came to stay with them. In any case, Peter was able to provide for his mother-in-law as well as a wife. This doesn’t sound like the life of a drifter.

When we look at the scriptural record, then, we see a much different view of the disciples—later to become the apostles—than we do if we rely on popular traditions.

What about Jesus? What were His background and upbringing? We know that He was not only a carpenter’s son but a carpenter Himself (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tektōn (τέκτων). It means “one who constructs”; in other words, a builder. Jesus had the skills to be a contractor, not just a carpenter. Like Paul, He had a viable trade with which He could earn a living and support Himself. Yet He is often portrayed as a homeless, poverty-stricken preacher.

In the account of the first public miracle He performed, Jesus, His family and the disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1–10). The exact location of Cana is not known, but it is believed to have been in the area of Nazareth and Sepphoris in Galilee. Jesus, His family and the disciples were well enough known in this region to be invited to a wedding there. This would hardly be the norm for a wandering, itinerant preacher.

Isaiah 53:3 prophetically describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows” who would be “acquainted with grief.” He knew what it was like to be shunned and despised, but it wasn’t because of His upbringing or occupation; it was because of His teachings and example. The things Jesus said and did were difficult for the self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees to hear and follow. They belittled Him for eating with sinners and with the wealthy-but-despised tax collectors (Matt 11:19). But they couldn’t see that their own sins would have made them equally flawed dinner partners.

While He had a great deal to say about showing compassion for the poor and destitute, Jesus knew how to handle Himself with both rich and poor; He didn’t judge people on that basis. What Jesus was looking for, in both rich and poor, was an attitude of repentance, an attitude the religious leaders of the day generally lacked (Luke 5:31–32). While He did say that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, this was not an endorsement of poverty but of humility.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:3). This echoes a similar statement in the Hebrew Scriptures, made by the One who would later become Jesus: “On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit . . . ” (Isaiah 66:2, emphasis added).

Jesus was not teaching His disciples to be destitute, homeless itinerants as many assume. He was teaching them to be humbly contrite (repentant) and teachable.

In this respect, as in all others, He was a good example for His first-century followers as well as for us today.




Tags: life of jesus, what did jesus do, disciples of jesus

Celebrity Cult-ure versus Stories of the Bible


The appeal of modern celebrity is something we have all encountered; its imprint is unavoidable across all forms of media in our global culture. The prevailing idea is that celebrities are somehow beyond the day-to-day norm; they’re often described in such terms as 'star,' 'superstar' or 'idol,' evoking stratospheric or even divine attributes.

In his work titled Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism: The Rise of Hollywood's Gods, British author and academic Michael Williams makes the connection between the phenomenon of modern film celebrity and the gods and heroes of ancient myth, who were also celebrated as both stars and idols. In fact, Williams identifies Classicism as the foundation for modern stardom as invented by the Hollywood film industry of the 1920s.

The fact that modern star makers look back to Greece and Rome to define stardom has been "curiously neglected." Williams cites an excerpt from a 1928 feature in the fan magazine Photoplay, suggesting that "Hollywood is the new Olympus. Hollywood is bringing back the glory that is Greece." He describes the accompanying images of youthful actors Richard Arlen and Joan Crawford, posing as 20th-century incarnations of the ancient Belvedere Apollo and Venus de Milo sculptures. Sometimes pitched as tongue-in-cheek or playful, such images nevertheless constitute a very real foundation for the nature of stardom today.

According to American cultural historian Leo Braudy, the cult of celebrity has clear lines of connection to the ancient past. In The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History, Braudy draws attention to the fame cult as used by figures such as Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Napoleon and Hitler, among others. Writing in the pre-Internet-infused world of the 1980s, Braudy says "the impact of the face of Alexander the Great on a coin where only those of gods and mythical heroes had been before becomes thinned out in a million fleeting images on the evening news, images that reach a larger audience than Alexander could touch in a life time—or for long after." Williams points out that this "paradoxical and somewhat perverse situation speaks to a need for something beyond the everyday, and something in which one can become passionately invested" (emphasis added).

The Hollywood scandals of the 1920s marred the divine aura in which star makers were seeking to shroud their young actors. Inevitable human fallibility quickly tarnished the grand illusion. Williams relates that in more recent times the "divinising language" applied to celebrities has gone underground, although "the discourse is still there." So, too, are the audiences. Indeed, "there can be no idol without an audience," he points out. If shows such as American Idol or Pop Idol are to be taken as modern embodiments of the star-making phenomenon, then human beings are still searching for "something beyond the everyday" and something to "become passionately invested in."

That being the case, why not consider investing time in the lives of real-life celebrities of the Bible? Unlike ancient mythological gods and modern-day Hollywood demigods, who can do little more than offer a temporary escape from the mundane, their words and their example have real relevance for society today.  





Jesus referred to evidence about Himself in the Hebrew Scriptures. This series from Vision explores that section of the Bible known as The Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
Series: The Gospels for the 21st Century

Gospels for the 21st Century is the result of taking the New Testament at its word, reading it carefully for what it actually says. It weaves the four Gospel accounts into a single, compelling storythe story of Jesus Christ.  
The Apostles series covers the lives of a number of heroes worthy of emulation.

Tags: bible history, Apostles, what is the gospel, old testament stories, stories of the bible, famous people, celebrities

Teachings of Jesus: The Measure We Mete

Book Covers“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a popular axiom that points to something very important. What we see on the outside may not be representative of what is on the inside. Appearances can be deceiving.

Judging people based on appearances moves us into dangerous territory. It limits us from understanding what motivates and guides them. In our minds we might employ a label that is inaccurate. On a personal, emotional level we can understand why this could be hurtful and why we wouldn’t want to be labeled this way ourselves.

The Bible, too, warns that this type of judgment is wrong. In the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, God explains that there is a vast difference between man’s way of judging and His own. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7). The right type of judgment considers not just outward appearances but what makes up the whole person. This allows us to discern between right or wrong behavior without condemning the individual.

Jesus told His first-century followers to be careful in the way they judged, because the same judgment would be used against them (Matthew 7:1–2). This is good advice for us as well and calls for a certain amount of gravity. If we're careless about our judgment of others, perhaps condemning them for something we see but may not correctly understand, then we will receive the same type of judgment in return.

But it’s important to note that godly judgment applies in both directions. Consider, for example, those who offer spiritual instruction. If we esteem such individuals based on appearances—on how well they speak or how imposing they are on the outside—we could be making a disastrous mistake. Rather we should listen to their message and observe the way they live. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Their words and actions will identify what is on the inside. We should put less emphasis on outward appearances, because that isn’t the true measure of what they are and what they teach. Do their words ring true when compared to biblical instruction, and furthermore, do they practice what they preach? Those who teach certain principles and behavior but live contrary to their own teaching negate the effectiveness of their words and undermine their own credibility. On the other hand, a person who may be less imposing as a personality but who teaches words of truth and lives by them should be judged accordingly.

Many Jewish instructors in Jesus’ time were examples of the first sort of teacher, and He had harsh words for them. He said they looked good on the outside—they dressed well and gave eloquent prayers—but inside they were full of extortion and self-indulgence. He called them blind and hypocritical (Matthew 23:25–28).

Jesus wanted to emphasize that deception abounds when religious deceivers are active. He told His audience, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

He explained that, because of lawlessness, even some who claimed to be performing miracles in His name would not be in His kingdom. In other words, they were not keeping the words and laws that are found in the Bible. This is an important lesson to keep in mind as we live our lives as well.

Should we judge a book by its cover? It is rarely a reliable guide for identifying what is inside. By the fruits of people’s lives, however, we can learn to discern what really motivates their actions.



Tags: bible history, First Century, First Followers, first century church

New Testament Basics: Jesus on Materialism

MaterialismFirstFollowers5 6 14“He who dies with the most toys wins.” So said billionaire Malcolm Forbes, a man famous for acquiring a wide array of material goods. Yet like everyone else, he died unable to take it with him. Most of us regard this reality as a truism, but we nevertheless find it very difficult to strike a balance between grasping and letting go. The fact is, the pursuit of possessions is not just a potential snare for the rich; it can damage anyone’s outlook and peace of mind.

The conflict between the get and give ways of life is an ancient dilemma. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24; English Standard Version throughout). He also made it clear that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). 

If Jesus taught that the pursuit of material possessions is a diversion from life’s spiritual quest, how should we think about such everyday needs as food, clothing and shelter?

Jesus didn’t imply that we shouldn’t work. However, He assured His followers that God knows what we need, and that worrying about such things is futile: “Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30).

What He wants us to achieve is balance in how we approach work and in our various wants and needs. The apostle Paul wrote that if someone isn’t willing to work, then he should not expect to eat the fruit of someone else’s labor (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The author of Proverbs instructed us to look to the ant for an example of how we should work to feed our families and ourselves (Proverbs 6:6–11). The focus is on contributing to the welfare of those in our care, not on amassing wealth or collecting “toys.”

Jesus was teaching His followers the most important priority in life. His discussion of materialism ended with a remarkable promise regarding our material needs. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” He said, “and all these things will be added to you”(verse 33).



Tags: Jesus, first christians, greed, Early Church, 12 disciples, materialism, give versus get

Understanding the Bible: Out With the Old and In With the New?

OldAndNewFew believers today would admit that they place the same importance on the contents of what is called the Old Testament as they do on the New Testament. But the apostle Paul tells us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16, New King James Version). This would include the Hebrew Scriptures. 

When Christ taught the people of the first century—His first followers—He was using the same Hebrew Scriptures. Using the term Old Testament to describe them can privilege the New Testament in a way that debases the value of the Scriptures that Christ used to great effect in His teaching. 

Jesus pointed out that His purpose was to uphold and magnify the law of God, not to make it of less effect. He said, “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” (Matthew 5:17, New International Version). 

The Old part of the term Old Testament is simply a reference to the covenant relationship God established with ancient Israel at Mt. Sinai, when the Ten Commandments were given. 

The New part of the phrase New Testament refers to the new relationship offered through Jesus Christ to all humanity. This new relationship includes access to the Father of humankind through the gift of the Spirit of God. It would be a mistake to think that the Old Testament is no longer useful for instruction and correction just because we use the word old to describe it. 

A first-century audience would have recognized that Jesus taught from the Hebrew Scriptures. Those words had meaning and authority in their lives. Christ’s followers conveyed His teaching in what became known as the New Testament, which supports the Old. 

Jesus made it very clear that God’s law is still valid when He stated, “For truly I tell you, 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” (Matthew 5:18, NIV). 

First-century followers of Jesus understood and valued the Hebrew Scriptures as the inspired Word of God. By taking a studied approach, we should be able to come to the same conclusion.


Tags: first christians, new testament, Old Testament, first century church

New Testament Bible Basics: Lives of Pretense?

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In what has become known as the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.” Then He added, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do [people] light a lamp and put it under a basket” (Matthew 5:14-15).

An oil lamp in the first century was put on a stand to give light to everyone in the house. 

These references to things that give out light and are seen tell us that the actions of Christ’s followers should be the same; they should be visible.

The lesson became clear when Jesus added: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (verse 16).

That is to say, in anything followers of Christ do, they should demonstrate the godly principles by which they live. It is not primarily by occasional acts of community service, but by living every day by Jesus’ principles that onlookers should notice a difference in them. That means everyday followership, not a once-a-week show of allegiance. It requires sincerity and truth in daily life.

What Jesus was saying flew in the face of the false piety the Pharisees and religious leaders practiced. They claimed to observe and teach the law of God, but their words and their actions were in contradiction.

Followers of Christ in the first century would have understood Jesus’ words as vital guidance 

in living their lives. If we claim to have a relationship with Christ, we too must avoid pretense and allow these principles to guide us. People who come into contact with us should appreciate a notable difference between our attitudes and actions and those of the world around us.



For more on this topic:

Gospels for the 21st Century 
This fascinating journey through the Gospels will change your perception of Jesus and His original followers. Gospels for the 21st Century is the result of taking the New Testament at its word, reading it carefully for what it actually says. It weaves the four Gospel accounts into a single, compelling story—the story of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a believer in Jesus as the Messiah or are simply interested in learning more about His life and teachings, what follows may surprise you and open the door to a more accurate and enlightened reading.

Read more and order this book. 

The First Christians: From Nazareth to Nicaea

9781846141508LA book recently published in the United Kingdom deals with a subject of interest, namely the history of the early church. It is written by Geza Vermes, whose works we have previously mentioned. The publishers, Allen Lane, a division of Penguin Books, provide the following information on this new title.

Geza Vermes, the author of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls and acknowledged expert on the life and times of Jesus, tells the enthralling story of the first Christians and the origins of a religion.

The creation of the Christian Church is one of the most important stories in the development of the world's history, but also one of the most enigmatic and little understood, shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. With a forensic, brilliant re-examination of all the key surviving texts of early Christianity, Geza Vermes illuminates the origins of a faith and traces the evolution of the figure of Jesus from the man he was—a prophet fully recognisable as the successor to other Jewish holy men of the Old Testament—to what he came to represent: a mysterious, otherworldly being at the heart of a major new religion. As Jesus' teachings spread across the eastern Mediterranean, hammered into place by Paul, John and their successors, they were transformed in the space of three centuries into a centralised, state-backed creed worlds away from its humble origins. Christian Beginnings tells the captivating story of how a man came to be hailed as the Son consubstantial with God, and of how a revolutionary, anti-conformist Jewish sub-sect became the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

Geza Vermes, is an interesting author. Born a Jew, he took orders in the Catholic church before reconverting to Judaism. With this background, he provides a unique view of the genesis of the early church .


Tags: first christians, Jesus Christ, Paul, Trinity, State Religion, church history

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