The New Book!
When I began the research that eventually turned into this book, I had no idea the world was about to witness another wave of anti-Semitism. It breaks my heart when any people group suffers hostility and prejudice at the hands of anyone else. I find it even more tragic when the people doing the hating are Christians, and the people being hated are Jews. Not all Christians harbor anti-Semitism, of course. But the problem is pervasive enough that I felt moved to do something about it. That is why I am donating every penny of profit from this book to a non-profit organization that fights anti-Semitism around the world. And I was thrilled when my publisher Williamson College said they wanted to join me in that effort.
There is a unique, complex historical relationship between Jews and Christians. Israel is a nation supernaturally called forth by God. The historical thread that began with Abraham sometime around 1,900 BC has evolved down through the centuries into a glorious, colorful tapestry. It continues to grow today, and we Christians have been woven in.
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.Galatians 3:26-29
Christians can rightly view the Jewish people as our spiritual cousins. Indeed, the Gospel is a Jewish story. This is something the early Christian writers roundly affirmed.
Interestingly, anti-Semitism is not the main point of this book. My research was initially inspired by the apologetic work I do in defending biblical Christianity against the growing modern heresy known as Torahism. These are folks who profess faith in Jesus, and at the same time, teach that Christians are required to “keep Torah.” (You may have heard of the Hebrew Roots Movement or the Black Hebrew Israelites?) These groups believe we should be keeping all of the Old Testament Laws given to Israel, including the Saturday Sabbath, dietary restrictions, biblical feasts, and so on. At the root of Torahism is the idea that Christian theology was corrupted in the early centuries of the faith by rampant anti-Semitism. It is this foundational belief that I set out to investigate.
My goal was to understand the true nature of Jewish-Christian relations through the first three centuries of the faith. I chose this specific period of history because it is here that Torahism (among others) claims Christian theology was hopelessly corrupted. The Council of Nicaea in AD 325 is seen as a crystallizing event. It was there that the Church officially embraced the anti-Jewish attitudes of the early Christians. Right?
After studying scores of early writings and the work of modern Jewish and Christian scholars, I discovered things weren’t nearly as black-and-white as we think. The relationship between Jews and early Christians was complex and nuanced. As Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin points out in the preface to his book Borderlines, “The affiliation between what we call Judaism and what we call Christianity is much more complex than most scholars, let alone most lay folk, imagine” (p. xi). The two groups were entwined by a shared history, common sacred texts, and a conjoined theology. They were each trying to work out what this whole Jesus thing meant. And they were fumbling for solid footing amid ever-shifting political and cultural sands.
I discovered that anti-Jewish sentiment absolutely did exist in early Christianity, but it wasn’t what our modern minds would expect. The clashes were chiefly based on issues of theology, not race. In fact, racial theory in antiquity was markedly different from today, which had to be figured into my findings. In addition, during these early centuries, Jewish-Christian tensions were more of a two-street than we realize.
In the end, I was both enlightened and encouraged by my research into the formative centuries of our faith. And I pray you find a little of each in my new book, as well.
6 thoughts on “The New Book!”
One of my chief counter-apologetics arguments for the last 20 years has been that Jesus and the original 12 apostles taught the Judaizer gospel.
In other words, I would blame Paul for corrupting the original form of the gospel. Paul’s heretical view of the gospel is part of what motivated me to give up Christianity.
I would therefore think my arguments might pose a bigger challenge to you than similar arguments advanced by legalistic Christians, because many of them still try to hang onto Paul, whereas I accuse Paul of being a heretic and changing the gospel in ways Jesus never intended.
One particularly devastating argument is the last part of the Great Commission from Matthew 28:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20 NAU)
Notice the phrase “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”
The only apparent qualification on “all” is Matthew’s own gospel. That is, if Matthew correctly understood what the risen Christ meant here, then Matthew would have intended future Gentile converts to obey whatever Jesus-teachings that Matthew includes in his gospel.
So the risen Christ wanted the apostles to require future Gentile believers to observe everything that Jesus had previously commanded the apostles to observe, the ony apparently limitation being that the “everything” should be defined in terms of whatever Matthew recorded about Jesus’ commanding the apostles to do anything.
What, according to Matthew’s own gospel, did Jesus command the apostles to observe?
And therefore, according to the Great Commission, what did Jesus require all future Gentile converts to obey?
—First be reconciled to your brother before you offer your gift at the altar (5:23).
—Do everything the Pharisees tell you, except the hypocritical stuff (23:3).
Would you agree with me that Matthew’s teaching the Judaizer gospel is theory having just a bit more probable merit, than Paul-worshippers would like to admit?
What are the odds that the same guy who tells Gentiles to leave gifts at the Temple altar, would also say Jesus’ death made Temple ceremonies unnecessary? The contradiction between Matthew and Paul is clear.
And of course, this little bit is just the tip of the icebox.
R. L. Solberg
Interesting. Thanks for your comments! I have so many questions. I’ll start here: It’s not clear why you suggest that “The only apparent qualification on ‘all’ is Matthew’s own gospel.” Why did you opt to place that constraint on this statement?
“The only apparent qualification on ‘all’ is Matthew’s own gospel.” Why did you opt to place that constraint on this statement?
a – there is no apparent qualification on the “all” in the immediate context, and
b – Matthew shows in his gospel that he has great interest in the commands of the pre-crucifixion Christ, more interest in fact than in the risen Christ. The only matter of substance he quotes from the risen Christ doesn’t take longer than 15 seconds worth of oral speech.
c – Matthew’s alleged knowledge enough to write a gospel presumes he also knew how easily people can misunderstand. If you trust statements from early church fathers that Matthew intended his gospel to substitute for his own presence, then you must assume the only qualification Matthew would have intended on the risen Christ’s “all that I commanded you” phrase is whatever commands of Christ to the apostles, which Matthew chose to include in his gospel.
You are free to say Matthew would have expected his readers to know what qualifications he meant, but that merely distances Matthew’s intend even further away from modern audiences who, in light of conservative Christian scholarship, don’t have much of a prayer of successfully identifying Matthew’s originally intended audience.
The more objective procedure is to ask how Matthew’s reasonably identified originally intended audience would have understood this phrase “all that I commanded you” in 28:20.
But regardless, Jesus does indeed tell his apostles to obey the Pharisees (Matthew 23:3), so we can argue Matthew writing in 50 a.d. would not have bothered the reader to know such things unless he thought them relevant to the situation of the reader in 50 a.d.
I’m not an inerrantist, I don’t believe Matthew thought his originally intended audience already possessed copies of Mark, Luke and John. I don’t believe Matthew’s originally intended audience even knew about those gospels, must less compared everything he said with everything the other 3 gospels said.
So my argument that any qualification on “all that I command you” come from Matthew’s own gospel, is more objective than the fundamentalist who pretends the only “correct” interpretation is the one that harmonizes with everything else in the bible.
R. L. Solberg
Sure, Matthew was written and originally distributed separately from the other three Gospels. But even within the lifetimes of the NT writers, their various letters were making the rounds among the early churches. Matthew was not read in a vacuum. In addition to the other Gospels and letters in circulation, there was also testimony (in some cases even eyewitness testimony), as well as the oral tradition of communicating teachings and events. In other words, Matthew was neither written nor read by people who would have placed your constraints on the Gospel. And the original audience of early believers would have found it important to harmonize Mattew’s Gospel with the other information they were getting.
“Sure, Matthew was written and originally distributed separately from the other three Gospels. But even within the lifetimes of the NT writers, their various letters were making the rounds among the early churches.”
———churches that would include India.
“Matthew was not read in a vacuum.”
——–But you don’t know exactly how the audience related Matthew with whatever else they had, because you don’t know whatever else they had, if anything. Eusebius tells us Bartholomew left the people of India with Matthew’s gospel, and I don’t think you have any patristic information that says the people of India in the second half of the 1st century were trying to harmonized Matthew with anything else”
“In addition to the other Gospels and letters in circulation, there was also testimony (in some cases even eyewitness testimony), as well as the oral tradition of communicating teachings and events.”
———How is that going to help you when it was Matthew himself who refused to provide a qualification for “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”? You can say Matthew didn’t qualify it because he expected his readers to know what the qualification was, but that just assumes such qualification existed, when in fact you don’t know that. The only feasible qualification is the rest of Matthew’s gospel, where he puts for precisely zero effort to “explain” the Gentile gospel, almost as if he thinks it is exactly the same gospel Jesus preached to the Jews.
“In other words, Matthew was neither written nor read by people who would have placed your constraints on the Gospel.”
—————So tell us what those constraints were. What makes you think those in Matthew’s group would have even acknowledged the validity of other gospels. You are blindly presuming the originally intended audiences would have viewed all 4 gospels the way conservative inerrantist evangelicals do today. Why?
“And the original audience of early believers would have found it important to harmonize Mattew’s Gospel with the other information they were getting.”
———-What makes you say that? Do you have direct quotes from first century sources, or is the evidence supporting your contention somewhat less robust than the contention itself?
And as far harmonization, most Christian scholars hold to Markan Priority and the two-source hypothesis, in which case Matthew was making CORRECTIONS to Mark and not just “toning down” Mark’s phrasing. So Matthew did not believe Mark’s gospel was inerrant, and his willingness to change Mark’s facts contradicts your speculation that they were all 1st century inerrantists trying to harmonize all the Christian testimony.
Matthew’s gospel is a Judaizer gospel. His originally intended audience would have viewed Paul as perverting the gospel, because Paul’s gospel contradicts Matthew’s salvation by merit doctrine.
Matthew seems to think the gospel consists of the actual sayings and teachings of the historical Jesus. Paul infamously uses nothing from the historical Jesus to fix any doctrinal disagreements…almost as if he didn’t believe Jesus was a real person…because if he believed Jesus was a real person and was “god”, Paul would have viewed the sayings of Jesus to be equally as authoritative as the OT. He doesn’t.
Matthew has Jesus saying “do all that the Pharisees tell you” (23:3), which must include circumcision (Exodus 12:48), but Paul insists that those who come the faith without circumcision should not obey the Pharisees. “Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” (1st Cor. 7:18).
R. L. Solberg
If you haven’t read it, James D. G. Dunn’s The Oral Gospel Tradition is excellent. He looks at how the Gospel was transmitted among the early believers prior to being written down. Dunn says, “It is clear . . . that the earliest Christians were concerned to remember Jesus and to pass on these memories to new converts and churches. But again and again it is equally clear that they were more concerned with the substance and meaning of what Jesus had said and done than with a meticulous level of verbal precision or with a pedantic level of historical detail.” So the constraint you want to put on the word “all” as only referring to Matthew’s Gospel is (a.) not how Matthew would have intended it, and (b.) not how his intended audience would have understood it. Because of the way the Gospel spread—orally at first followed by the writings—the likelihood that any early Christian community had access only to Matthew’s written Gospel—and had no other early writings or testimony or oral Gospel traditions—is quite low. And even if such an insular community did exist at one time, it would not have been long before additional Gospel information made its way to them.