Part 4: The early church. Lesson 5 of 7
Lesson 23.  Adapting the Legacy

Goal: Through today’s lesson,  I hope you will treasure the fact that God allowed non-Jews to be part of his Plan.  The English word “gentiles” means “people who are not Jews.”  A major development in the early church was the realization that salvation was not only for the Jews, but also for the non-Jews through faith in Jesus.

1.Messiah also for non-Jews.  Although the Messiah was a Jew, God said that the Messiah would be a servant not only to restore Israel, but also be a “light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” 1  That is why Paul wrote: “the gospel is the power of God for salvation, for the Jew first, and also for the Greek.” 2  But when the non-Jews believed in Jesus, the leaders had to decide how to adapt the legacy from the Old Testament. That is, Judaism and Christianity both see themselves as the continuation of the Old Testament religion.   The Christians had to determine how to handle their Old Testament heritage, and in the process to define their difference with emerging Judaism.

2.Covenant.  Paul writes that before believing in Christ, the Gentiles were lacking many things: they had no relationship to Christ, they were not members of Israel, they were apart from God’s promises, they had no hope, and they were without God, 3  but after believing in Jesus, they join with other saints in God’s kingdom, and you become part of God’s family. 4    God had told Abraham, when making the covenant with him,  that God would be God “to him and his descendants.” 5 After believing in Jesus, the Gentiles  become part of the covenant promise that God originally made to Abraham:  that is, God will also be God to the Gentiles, not only to the Jews. 6

3.Grafted. Paul compares the Old Testament believers to a tree, and the Jews who accept Jesus are described as the natural branches of a tree.  The non-Jews are called non-natural branches that are connected to the tree, and this connection between them and the tree is called a graft.  The reason you are able to be connected to the promises of God is because you have been grafted in; this happens when you trust in Jesus. 7

4.Saturday.  Some Jewish believers told Gentile Christians that the only correct day for a worship gathering was Saturday.  Paul however said that we cannot say it necessary for a Christian to worship on Saturday, but we also cannot say it is wrong to worship on a Saturday. 8  God does not command that Gentile Christians should worship on any certain day.  The custom of worshiping on Sunday was a free choice made by early Christians.  This choice is explained in a document from around 250 AD:  “we worship on Sunday because that is the day on which Christ rose from the dead.”  9  Christians can worship on any day, but should not tell others that one day is better than others, and should not refuse to go to their church worship just because they don’t agree with what day it is held on.

5.God’s laws. Judaism has found 613 laws in the Old Testament.  Many of them are rules about what people should not do on Saturday.  They believe that keeping these laws is important, but admit that most people fail to keep all 613.  Christians teach that our relationship with God is not based on keeping laws.  The Old Testament laws about ceremonies and festivals no longer apply to us today.  However, the laws about morality, such as in the Ten Commandments, do apply to us, especially those that are repeated in the New Testament.  For example, the law against murder is repeated in the New Testament.  But the law about worshiping on Saturday is explicitly rejected in the New Testament, as shown above in paragraph 4.  The law about offering one-tenth of your money is not repeated in the New Testament.  In the New Testament, all our resources, not just one tenth, are to be used according to God’s will.  But keeping the law does not give us a relationship with God.  Our relationship comes from faith alone.  The law is useful to show us our sin, so that we turn to Jesus our savior.  The law is also useful to show us those behaviors that are in harmony with the Christian life.  The power for the Christian life, though, does not come from the law.  The power comes from the New life and the Holy Spirit we received when we believed in Jesus.10

6.Temple. The Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but some Jews hope that in the future they can build a temple again and resume animal sacrifices.  The Christians do not need a temple, because Jesus was the final sacrifice, and no more sacrifices need to be made.  The New Testament talks about another kind of sacrifice: we are us to be a “living sacrifice.” 11  That is, we do not kill an animal to sacrifice; rather, we offer our very selves to live for God.  The New Testament also gives a new, special meaning to the word temple.  A temple is a place where God lives. For the Christian, the temple is not a building but is his own body. 12  A church building, then, is not a temple.

7.Priest. The Jews do not have priests now, because they do not have sacrifices. A priest is someone who represents the people to God, and represents God to the people.  Peter writes that all of us are part of a royal priesthood. 13   In the New Testament, all believers are priests, because all of us can go directly to God without a go-between.  Jesus is our go-between.  All of us can directly proclaim God’s salvation.  The pastor is not a priest. 14  The meaning of the word pastor is “shepherd.”

8.Presence of God. In the Old Testament, the presence of God filled the temple. Now there is not temple.  Judaism teaches that the presence of God is found in God’s Word, and especially the first five books of the Old Testament.  The Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but as far as the presence of God is concerned, they believe the presence of God is found in Jesus.  Jesus lives in us, so we have access to the presence of God at all times.  The Bible encourages us to to approach God in prayer in full assurance of faith, since Jesus opened up the way for us to God. 15

9.Customs. In the previous lesson we saw how difficult it was for the Jewish believers to share the gospel with the Gentiles.  But when God brought the Gentiles to faith in Jesus, there was no way to deny that they truly had become believers.  The next challenge was how to teach them about the life of a Christian.  Some Jewish Christians did not accept the Paul’s teaching that the Gentiles could be exempt from the Jewish customs.  The Bible says that we are saved by faith alone, but Acts 15 talks about some men who were teaching that even Gentiles have to follow the customs that God gave to the Jews at the time of Moses.  Peter responded Peter said that both Jews and Gentiles are not saved by laws, but only by faith. After much discussion, the Jewish Christian leaders agreed that the Gentile believers were not required to follow the laws of Moses. They were only asked to do four things: don’t eat food sacrificed to idols; don’t eat blood;  don’t eat meat from strangled animals; avoid sexual immorality. 16

10.Blood. Of these four things, only the fourth one (sexual purity) is still emphasized today. This paragraph will explain what happened to the second and third requests, which have to do with blood.  The reason that they were asked to avoid blood was because of the belief that “the life is in the blood.”  It was a way to respect life.  The Jews killed animals with a knife in a way that the blood drained away so it would not be eaten.  A strangled animal would still have the blood left in it.  Today, people do not generally believe that “the life is in the blood,” so that restriction has no meaning to them.  However, there are some churches that still promote this rule.

11.Idols. The first rule, about food offered to idols, was addressed by Paul in some detail. Paul said we should avoid eating meat offered to idols for the sake of the man who mentioned it, and for that man’s conscience.  This means that even though Paul did not have any doubts about eating anything, the other man might have doubts, and so Paul would be putting that man under pressure. 17

8.Making rules. Even though Jewish Christians no longer try to put rules on Gentile Christians, this habit of “making rules” still occurs in the church.  It seems as though it is part of human nature to make rules. Sometimes people make rules to decrease the possibility that they will break one of God’s laws.  For example, the Bible tells us not to get drunk, 18 but some churches,  to avoid even the possibility of getting drunk, have created a new rule: “do not drink alcohol at all.” This is a man-made rule, not found in the Bible.  Sometimes people create rules so they can say they are better than others who do not keep the rules.  Sometimes people create rules so they can have an identity separate from other Christians.  Sometimes people make rules because they are worried that salvation by grace through faith is not sufficient.  The church must continually remind people that we do not come closer to God through rules 19  Our relationship with God is based only on faith.

12.Christian. The name “Christian” was applied first to a group that included both Jewish believers and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. 20  God loves the Gentiles so much that he chose Paul to concentrate on being a minister to the Gentiles. 21 Paul gave lectures for two years, so that both Jews and Gentiles who lived in the province of Asia  heard the gospel. 22  This province is today part of Turkey. Soon there were many more Gentile believers than Jewish believers.  Christian history is largely the history of those Gentiles.


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1 Isaiah 49:6, quoted by Paul in Acts 13:47
2 Romans 1:16
3 Ephesians 2:11-13
4 Ephesians 2:19
5 Genesis 17:7
6 Galatians 3:13-14
7 Romans 11: 17-21
8 Colossians 2:16-17.

9 Stated in Apology by Justin Martyr (AD 150 ), section lxvii. Quoted in Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, page 67. (see bibliography)
10   Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would add: “and the grace given to us in baptism, confirmation and holy communion, and the other sacraments.”
11 Romans 12:1
12  1 Corinthians 6:19-20
13 1 Peter 2:9
14 The Roman Catholic church calls its pastors “priests” because their church teaches that these priests have been given the role of praying to turn the bread and wine into the body and blood, and then to present these to God on behalf of the congregation. The word “priest” in the Old Testament described one who presented a sacrifice, so using this word “priest” for those who present the body and blood seems appropriate. Luther, on the other hand, stressed that the gift of the body and blood is not offered to God, but is a gift from God to us.
15 Hebrews 10:19-22
16 Acts 15:23-31
17 1 Corinthians 10:23-33
18  Ephesians 5:18
19 A Roman Catholic view is that while our relationship with God begins by grace through faith, God has also given us helpful rules to maintain our good relationship with God and each other, and to grow in grace and holiness.
20 Acts 11:26
21  Romans 15:16.
22  Acts 19:8-10