Is the New Testament Really Christian?
Most Bible professing people think that the teachings of New Testament Christianity replace virtually everything prescribed in the Old Testament. In this article’s second half we examine more evidence that what we typically see in teaching and practice today hardly resembles what we find in the New Testament Scriptures.
We invite you to look beneath the veneer of today’s worship and compare it, teaching-by-teaching and act-for-act with the New Testament. We believe you will be shocked by what you discover, even in the most basic of doctrines.
First, we look at the name itself. Is "Christian" a legitimate label for believers in the New Testament? Fifteen years following the impalement of Yahshua, New Testament believers were identified by three terms, only one of which was employed by the early believers for themselves. These designations were:
• "Nazarenes," a name used by Jews for the converted believers, Acts 24:5.
• "Christian," a label concocted by Greek Gentiles for the early Assembly: "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch," Acts 11:26. Believers in Yahshua did not routinely call themselves Christians until the third century and by then it was a totally different group from the group in Acts.
• Followers of "the Way," a term the believers sometimes used for themselves. "And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of Elohim. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus" (Acts 19.8-9).
"And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way (Acts 19:23). But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off…" (Acts 24:22).
Those who followed "the Way" are the earliest group of True Believers of which we have record in the Scriptures.
"Church" derives from the Greek goddess Circe, which then morphed into the Dutch Kirk and German Kirche. We avoid using it in reference to the true Body of Messiah because of its heathen origin.
From its earliest usage the word "church" has been understood in pagan environments, then later in Roman Catholicism and now in this present day as a building, but never has the word "church" in Scripture represented the Greek word ekklesia. Church was a pagan concept and not a Christian one.
Kuriakon, kirche, and church all meant simply a religious building, originally used that way by pagans and later by Christians following pagan customs. Christians originally didn’t use buildings, which distinguished them from the pagans whose focus was on buildings, statues, rank ritual and physical objects (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary).
Significantly, Yahshua did
not create or authorize any specific designation for His followers. He
refers to them as disciples and believers, followers and friends. But He
never employed any official name for the body of Messiah.
Prophecy said that Yahshua of Nazareth would be called a Nazarene. "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene," Matthew 2:23. From that association Yahshua’s followers would unofficially take on the identity of "Nazarenes."
If there is a historical group with whom believers today can identify as being closest to the original teachings, it would be these Nazarenes who followed the Way. From the evidence, the Nazarenes were true to the teachings of Yahshua and the apostolic Assembly, making them likely the true Assembly of His day. (There is no connection between those ancient Nazarenes and today’s Church of the Nazarene.)
According to the early "church father" Epiphanius (7,2), Nazarenes used both the Old and New testaments. He writes, "For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old, like the Jews. For the Legislation and the Prophets and the Scriptures, which are called the Bible by the Jews, are not rejected by them as they are by those mentioned above" (Manicheans, Marcionites, Gnostics).
He also writes that they know Hebrew and read the Old Testament and at least one Evangel in that language (7,4; 9,4): "They have a good mastery of the Hebrew language. For the entire Law and the Prophets and what is called the Scriptures, I mention the poetical books, Kings, Chronicles and Esther and all the others, are read by them in Hebrew as in the case with the Jews, of course. They have the entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew. It is carefully preserved by them in Hebrew letters."
Latin Vulgate translator Jerome is another authenticator, especially because he quotes from Nazarene-written works. The third century scholar wrote, "The most important conclusion of this chapter is that the Nazarenes were not mentioned by earlier fathers not because they did not exist but rather because they were still generally considered to be acceptably orthodox."
Here in a nutshell are the significant beliefs of the Nazarenes or earliest followers of Yahshua:
• They believed the Old Testament as well as the New.
• They believed in and accepted the Messiah, His resurrection, angels, spirits, haSatan, and the supernatural.
• They attended the synagogue, and kept the Feasts of Leviticus 23.
• They obeyed the laws of Moses (Acts 6:14, 21:21).
Circumcision and the Believers
In about the year 50 CE a crisis developed that Paul had to deal with by consulting the other elders at Jerusalem. It was instigated by those who thought new converts had to convert to Judaism and adopt Jewish customs before they could enter the New Covenant body.
The significant question we must ask is, why was this even an issue and why did Paul and the other leaders of the New Testament assembly have such a difficult time dealing with it? Clearly it arose because of the Jewish roots of the New Testament assembly. Early New Testament believers were Jews converted to messiahship and Yahshua’s message. Paul’s ministry changed the dynamics when he began to convert those of non-Jewish ancestry – known collectively as Gentiles.
These Gentile converts had a dilemma. They were joining a "Jewish" sect, and to be Jewish involved circumcision – an unappealing rite of initiation for any adult male. Their impasse posed a crucial doctrinal complication: if the New Testament faith is for everyone, how does one become part of it? Was physical circumcision still required? The Apostles Paul and Barnabas and others did not have complete understanding of how to proceed on this issue, having never encountered it before.
We read about the deadlock in Acts 15:1-2; 6-9: "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren [and said], Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."
(Keep in mind, the issue was over the specific rite of physical circumcision and not whether to obey the law generally. Abolishing the law was never an option with Yahshua or Paul or any other apostle.)
"And the apostles and elders came together for to consider this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, you know how that a good while ago Elohim made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the evangel, and believe. And Elohim, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith."
Going from classic Judaism to the New Testament faith of Yahshua did not involve the complete transformation that many think. According to Eusebius’ History the first 15 bishops of Jerusalem were "of the circumcision." The big issues in the New Testament were accepting Yahshua as the Messiah as well as His sacrifice, eliminating man-made laws and traditions, and understanding the higher, spiritual intent and purpose of Yahweh’s laws.
These changes were significant, but were not anything close to a complete overhaul or replacement of the Old Testament faith—a bogus notion taught by many today. Yahshua did not come to start a whole new religion, but to make some necessary changes to what was already there in order to deal effectively with man’s sin.
Off on the Wrong Foot
The toxic upheaval that derailed most of the early movement arose from the doctrinal chaos that became Christianity. Christianity has always been a highly eclectic belief system. A potpourri of teachings and practices not found anywhere in Yahweh’s Word. How could such a thing have happened?
One historian observed, "The church of our [Savior] was established in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of [Messiah].
In it practices that are common in the religious world today were not found. Before the death of the apostles they gave such admonitions and exhortations as were necessary to keep the church pure…The failure of those who professed to be the people of [Yahweh], to accept the scriptures as the only safe guide, allowed pagan ceremonies and Jewish practices to be brought into the worship of the church" (History of the Church Through the Ages, Robert H. Brumback, p. 19).
For example, in the second and third centuries there were Christians who worshiped a single mighty one. But others insisted that there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others claimed there were 365. Note what one writer observed, "As long as the gospel remained on the Jewish ground, there were mainly Jewish assemblies and, therefore, no discussions about the [Majesty] were known. At this stage, Roman and Greek thoughts and pagan thinking over gods and goddesses were brought into the discussions" (Traditional Christianity, Truth or Deception?, Ewald Frank, p. 27).
Also in the second century began a movement away from "Jewish Christians."
"The Christians were declared to be [Yahweh’s] Israel and the Jews to be renegades who had fallen away. The Apostle Paul looked upon this matter in a totally different way, ‘For in Messiah Yahshua neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and upon Israel of Elohim.’ The Apostle Peter also made an important statement in this regard ‘…of a truth I perceive that Elohim is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him’ Acts 10:34-35." Ibid, p. 30.
Amalgamation with pagan beliefs, which became another hallmark of Christianity, led to doctrinal heresies and profane practices. "In regard to doctrine, Christendom was slowly taken step by step from the Jewish foundation and placed upon heathen thinking," (Brumback) . He notes, "In the beginning the church was pure. The divine plan of the church as revealed in the New Testament, was followed. Now the apostasy of which the apostles warned, began to develop," History, p. 31.
Early on, disagreement reigned over such basics as which day to worship on. Most adhered to the seventh day of the week or Saturday, as was established by Yahweh’s Fourth Commandment and observed for thousands of years. Those who sought to distance themselves from the Hebraic roots of the early movement argued for Sunday, the first day of the week. The wrangling went on for centuries until Roman Emperor Constantine forced Sunday rest upon the realm by imperial edict: "In the year 321 A.D., Constantine decreed, ‘On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed’" (Codex Justinianus lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1).
Heathen converts did not just bequeath their Sun-day worship, either. "Many of our religious ideas, festivals and ceremonies, as witness Easter and Christmas, may be traced back to an origin in the practice and belief of our heathen ancestors," Medieval and Modern History, Philip Van Ness Myers, p. 42. (Request or read online our booklets, December 25 – Birthday of the Sun and also Easter – the Fertility of It All.)
Constantine, arguably a convert to the new movement, took advantage of the doctrinal chaos to mold Christianity to his own liking. "He availed himself of the apostate Christendom and at the same time he did not break totally with heathenism. He supported the building of heathen temples and also the erection of Christian churches," Frank, p. 27.
Paul: A Law-keeping Apostle
One characteristic common in the earliest Assemblies of the New Testament was explicit fidelity to the Law and the Prophets, which had pointed prophetically to Yahshua’s coming. Yahshua understood Himself in an Old Testament context. In Luke 24:44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." His followers were to be true to the fundamentals found in the Old Testament, the ONLY Scriptures in existence in His day.
Churchianity today says that it follows Paul’s lead, contending that Paul taught against the law. Is this true? Surprisingly to many, we find Paul affirming in Acts that he was also a believer and follower of the Old Testament and its laws. "But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the Elohim of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets," Acts 24:14.
In Acts 21 Paul comes to Jerusalem and sits down with the other elders, including James, and gives a report of his ministry. He is then told that some people believed he taught against the law. Here is their accusation:
"And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise [their] children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to you: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify yourself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave [their] heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning you, are nothing; but [that] you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law" Acts 21:21-24.
And so Paul proceeded to demonstrate that he was a law-keeper, not a law-abolisher.
Roots of the true Assembly are planted firmly in the beliefs and practices of the early New Testament believers who held true to fundamental teachings of Yahshua and the apostles. By harmonizing the entire Scriptures the believer can be assured of keeping faith of Yahshua and His disciples just as those who adhered to the Way did from the start.
We note the changes that Yahshua’s coming mandated in the New Testament and we adjust our beliefs and practices accordingly. Man’s traditions must never set the standard for our worship today.
by Elder Alan Mansager