Christianity’s Jewish Roots

Study Bible and Morning Coffee

            Context is key to understanding any message. If the context is not clear, then messages will often be misinterpreted or completely misunderstood. That is why Luke went to great lengths to depict the authentic Jewish roots of the early church recorded in Acts. It was important for Luke to depict the “Jewishness” of the early church because Christianity was born out of Judaism and Old Testament (OT) promises. This context was essential for Luke as a Gentile and the Gentiles whom he wrote. It was needed so they could grasp the gospel message. For instance, if they did not understand that the prophets had foretold of this time, they would be unable to understand the significance that the “Age to Come” had arrived or what a “sabbath day’s journey” would have meant (Acts 1:12, ESV).[1] The Gentiles who joined the church needed to understand how they fit into God’s redemptive plan communicated through the OT. Additionally, it was a time of great tension between the Romans and Jews. The early church suffered at the hands of several Roman emperors, especially Nero and Domitian.[2] Part of Luke’s motivation to write Acts may have been to clarify how Christians differed from the Jews stirring up problems in the Roman Empire. Also, Acts likely served to introduce Luke’s coworker Paul and his missions throughout the Mediterranean (Col 4:14, ESV).[3] Even today, it is important for 21st Century Christians to understand the Jewish origins of their faith.

            Without the proper view, it is easy for the contemporary reader to misunderstand the messages Luke was attempting to convey.[4] Elwell and Yarbrough explicitly warn readers to exercise caution when attempting to discern between the descriptive and prescriptive messages found in Acts.[5] As Christians today, we are separated by a significant distance between the author and original recipients. This distance not only covers time, but language, culture, and unfamiliar geography.[6] Much of what the authors write about would have been common knowledge during the period but is lost on modern readers. An example of this is baptism, which has its roots in the Jewish tradition of the Mikvah, a ritual bath to confess sins (Acts 1:22, ESV). Contemporary Christians often view baptism as a response to repentance, where the Mikvah was the act of repentance.[7] In addition to understanding the Jewish roots of the faith, Acts assists believers today in understanding that early Christians faced similar challenges about doctrine, faithful living, “as well as, personal and social identity questions.”[8] The early church faced a complex and daunting world under Roman control, shaped by Hellenism, vibrant religious activity, and competing philosophical claims.[9] Christians in the U.S. today know a similar reality living in an increasingly secular, post-modern society that is dominated by competing worldviews and spiritual practices. Not only does Luke’s focus on Judaism in Acts provide a reminder of Christianity’s Jewish heritage, but it records lessons from the early church to aid Christ’s followers today.

Notes


[1] Robert Stacy, “Pentecost & the Eschatological Setting of the Early Church in Acts,” New Testament Orientation-II, Liberty University, 2019, video of lecture, https://canvas.liberty.edu/courses/147189/pages/watch-pentecost-and-the-eschatological-setting-of-the-early-church-in-acts?module_item_id=9332365.

[2] Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 181; 190.

[3] Robert Stacy, “The Jewish Setting of the Early Church in Acts,” New Testament Orientation-II, Liberty University, 2019, video of lecture, https://canvas.liberty.edu/courses/147189/pages/watch-the-jewish-setting-of-the-early-church-in-acts?module_item_id=9332357.

[4] Stacy, “The Jewish Setting of the Early Church in Acts.”

[5] Elwell and Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament, 196.

[6] Robert Stacy, “Negotiating Distances in Biblical Interpretation,” New Testament Orientation-I, Liberty University, 2019, video of lecture, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_667418_1&content_id=_42163111_1.

[7] Stacy, “The Jewish Setting of the Early Church in Acts.”

[8] Issues in African Christian Theology, ed. Samuel Ngewa (Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers, 1998), quoted in Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 202.

[9] Elwell and Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament, 190.

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