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LP0.1 Only The Law and the Prophets Had Divine Status

There are some things in Christian churches that are assumed. Even though there is no proof, these tenets are accepted without questioning. For example, some assume water baptism every time the word baptism is used. Some assume that the 66 books in the protestant bible are the Word of God, complete and entire. That the law and the prophets is the Old Testament is another assumption.

In fact, there are equations that some people have in their minds:

  • The law and the prophets = the Word of God
  • The law and the prophets = the old testament
  • The Old Testament = the Word of God

Does the Bible itself teach this? Some use verses like 2Tim 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 to say it does. But that is circular reasoning. The word “scriptures” is really “writings”.  Not all writings were given divine status. Maccabees was scripture in existence in original Christianity times, but not all include this in their interpretation of what “all scripture” is in 1 Tim 3:16, so the word “all” is not all-inclusive. Rather “all scripture” in 1 Tim 3:16 refers only to those writings that were actually considered the word of God. And what people considered scripture in 100 AD is different than what 21st-century Christians call scripture.

In ancient times there were numerous books that people read. In the time of original Christianity, for example, the Shepard of Hermas was very popular. Many accepted it as a prophetic book. It was read in churches. But hardly anyone today would even consider it as a “scripture” Nevertheless, to many, it had that status in the early centuries after Christ.

The modern bible with its collection of books bound together as a unit is a modern tool.  Modern Bibles are not in agreement as to which books are the Word of God.  The Roman Catholic Bible contains the “Apocrypha”.  The Apocrypha includes books like Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch including the Letter of Jeremiah.  The  Tewahedo Bible in Ethiopia has, for example, the 27 books in the Protestant bible plus 28 – Sirate Tsion (the book of order), 29 – Tizaz (the book of Herald), 30 – Gitsew, 31 – Abtilis, 32 –  The I book of Dominos, 33 –  The II book of Dominos, 34 –  The book of Clement, 35 – Didascalia.[i]

There is more variation in biblical canons than the above paragraph includes but the point is that there are multiple modern versions of the Bible with differing book counts and that weakens the modern Protestant argument that their bible is the complete and original Word of God.

Furthermore, it is known that Reformers like Martin Luther challenged the validity of certain books in the Protestant canon of scripture.  Luther challenged Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation in the New Testament and Esther in the Old Testament.

Added to this is the fact that while Christians lump the books into one generically named Old Testament (not named so until 170 AD by Melito of Sardis) the Hebrews divided their bible into three sections, the Torah or Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.[ii]

Interestingly, the Prophets section in the Hebrew Bible includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings while Chronicles is in the Writings.  I had the pleasure of talking with a rabbi about the Hebrew scriptures. I asked him about books in the Writings like Job.   He informed me that they have an expression that went like, “Truer than if it were true”.  He said while that he didn’t believe Job actually lived, what was taught in there was vital truth.  But it was not part of the Law and the Prophets.

Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles are all in the Writings section of the Hebrew Bible.

There were no “bibles” at the time original Christianity was formed. There were individual scrolls, the scroll of Isaiah, the scroll of Jeremiah, and so on. There is no evidence that the old testament as we know was accepted in its entirety as the Word of God in the first century.  Furthermore, the evidence suggests that only those books labeled the law and the prophets were read as scripture in the synagogue or by Christian groups of the first centuries after Christ.  That is not to say that the other books of what we call the old testament were not available. And while new testament books like Paul’s epistles were available they too were not read in Christian gatherings at least during and immediately after the first century AD.

Since there was no “bible” in original Christianity we can only look at references to see what books had the authority of the “word of God”

Let’s look at some of the references that Jesus and Paul used.

And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers, believing all things which are according to the law, and which are written in the prophets; (Act 24:14)

The Law and the Prophets are what both Jesus and Paul referred to as the writings that should be believed.
Jesus speaks about which books to consider:

Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; (John 5:39)

The Septuagint was available in Jesus’ time, but he apparently didn’t use it. Where he was there were only scrolls of individual books. There are no references to Job, Esther, or Ecclesiastes by Jesus or Paul. The one certain determination about which books had divine status when we read the gospels was whether they were part of the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets are certainly less than what the rabbis in Jesus’ time or the bishops in the fourth century decided were “scripture”.  One principle of original Christianity is that what was considered scripture was the Law and the Prophets.  That means just the Torah, the first 5 books of the Old Testament, and the prophetic books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc.

The Hebrew Version of the Old Testament is called the Masoretic text.  There was a Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint and it had the poetic books and the historical books besides the Law and the Prophets.  Scholars say that the quotes that the new testament writers cite from align more closely with the Septuagint than with the Masoretic text.  That doesn’t mean that the disciples preferred the greek version, a possible explanation is that the Septuagint was translated from earlier scrolls than the Masoretic text we have today and thus was more accurate.

If you are like me you are not ready to throw out the Writings section of the Old Testament and I am not saying to do so.  I read books like 1 and 2 Chronicles and the poetic writings like Psalms and Proverbs all the time

The point of this article is to show the change in perspective from the time of original Christianity to now.  For a good while in the last centuries, Christian churches have grown to take the position that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are inerrantly the “Word of God” whereas it appears that to the first century Christians, not all 66 books were considered such.

For the above reasons, I am dedicating a section labeled the Law and the Prophets to the website with the view of looking at what Jesus and his disciples called scripture and quoted from.

[i] https://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/english/canonical/books.html The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church Faith and Order page.

[ii] The Encyclopedia Brittanica Online page on the Hebrew Bible, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hebrew-Bible

© copyright 2009 Mark W Smith Revised 2019.  All Rights Reserved.

February 19th, 2009 Posted by | Original Christianity, The Law and The Prophets | one comment

The Power of the Spirit in Original Christianity

In modern Christianity many churches adopt the stance that the gifts and power of the apostles ceased with the apostles or shortly thereafter. This is completely untrue. The standard is set in the book of Acts. There we see that receiving the spirit was a priority. In Acts chapter 8 we see that the Apostles were sent to Samaria because they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but the holy spirit hadn’t fallen on any of them. The Apostles laid hands on the believers there and they received the holy spirit. And in Acts 19:2 Paul asks the new believers in Ephesus whether they had received the holy spirit when they believed. After being answered in the negative, Paul laid hands on the new believers and the holy spirit came upon them and they manifested the power of the holy spirit.

The Pattern of the Leading of the Spirit in the Book of Acts

In chapter one of the book of Acts we have the apostles waiting for the promise of the Father. In Acts 2 we have the phenomenal outpouring of the holy spirit and the real start of the church under the apostles. Chapter 3 shows the apostles Peter and John miraculously healing the man who was lame from birth.

We are starting to see a pattern here where there is miraculous power of the holy spirit and accompanying preaching from the miracle workers that leads people to accept Christ and join the church. The real star of the book of acts is the holy spirit. It’s the holy spirit that is poured out on the day of Pentecost, fills Peter with power to give his sermon on that day, flows through Peter and John to heal the man that was born lame, and works in the believers as they grow closer together and share everything wonderfully. The holy spirit is at work again to convict Ananias and Saphira when they lied about the amount of money they received and were giving.

In Acts chapter 5 we see that with all of this wonderful movement of the holy spirit, the apostles “ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus the Christ.” In chapters 6 and 7 we see the power of the spirit in Stephen. In chapters 8 and 9 we see the holy spirit again at work, this time in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on his way to becoming Paul the Apostle. In chapters 10 and 11 we see the leading of the holy spirit in bringing the Gentiles into the church. First Peter gets a vision, then leads Cornelius and his family to Christ, and then the acceptance of the whole Church of this dramatic change in outreach. In chapter 12 we see the Angel delivering Peter from prison, a tremendous deliverance in the power of the spirit.

In each and every one of these occurrences we see the power and leading of the holy spirit, but we also see the convicted preaching of those experiencing the spirit, and the resultant growth of the church. The preaching centers around how Jesus fulfilled the scriptures and is the Messiah. The goal of the preaching is to simply get people to accept Christ and experience the spirit themselves.

Up until this point, around chapter 12, the preaching has been done by Peter and the apostles at Jerusalem. But from this point forward in the book of Acts we begin to see the ministry of Paul and the outreach to the gentiles. Paul’s ministry appears to work in a manner similar to Peter’s. There is the leading of the spirit with manifestations and power. There is Paul preaching, the manifestation of the spirit in power, and people accepting Christ and manifesting the Holy Spirit themselves.

Chapter 15 records the historical Council of Jerusalem where the issue is not one of deep theological analysis. Rather it is simply to rectify the situation where some of the people who had become disciples earlier and had Jewish backgrounds were having problems accepting the ways of the new Gentile converts. It was simple theology, that the new converts did not have to become circumcised and/or follow the law.

In chapter 16 we see this spirit giving Paul a vision of where to go to minister. The next few chapters show the same pattern. The holy spirit leads, Paul and his associates minister, the people accept Christ and receive the holy spirit.

The latter part of the book of acts shows a different story line. We see the holy spirit, through prophets and prophetesses, advising Paul about the dangers of going to Jerusalem. We see Paul going to Jerusalem, and we see him on a course from that point on going all the way to Rome fighting legal matters. While Paul is eventually set free and we see him preaching in Rome at the end of the book, this definitely is a different pattern from the pattern of growth that we see in the first 20 chapters or so of the book of Acts. The movement changed right around the time when the believers ceased saying the will of the Lord be done, when they stopped “following the spirit”.

After the Book of Acts

(There is a timeline of movement of the spirit throughout the ages at The Argument that Tongues and other Gifts and Manifestations have Ceased.)

Not only is there a parade of accounts throughout the ages that the holy spirit continued to be manifested by believers, in the time of original Christianity the amount of this manifestation was quite abundant.

The Didache, which was probably written in the late first century, has specific instruction for how apostles and prophets were to operate and be treated within the church.

Irenaeus, 2nd century church father, writes of the workings of the holy spirit within the body of believers,

“For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward ” (Against Heresies, 2:32,4).

This is quite a powerful testimony. By Irenaeus’ time, the original Apostles were gone. This is clear evidence that not only the original Apostles, but others received and manifested the power of God, and that this power continued. This is incredible. There were healings, people were raised from the dead, and people were freed from devil spirits. And according to Irenaeus the number of these happenings was innumerable.

Now about the same time as Irenaeus Montanus claimed that he was the paraclete from God. He started a movement that lasted for centuries, but was proclaimed a heresy. This event seems to have dampened believers’ interest and pursuit of the workings of the true spirit.

Nevertheless the history is clear. The power of the spirit manifesting itself in prophecies, foretelling, healings, raisings of the dead, and more was a key part of original Christianity.

(c) 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

February 19th, 2009 Posted by | Original Christianity, Spirit | no comments