CH101 - The First Century

The Primitive Church - 30 - 100 AD
Early Conflict in Christianity

In Acts 6 we get the first sign of internal trouble. The Hebrew widows were being cared for while the Grecian widows were neglected. As we mentioned above, Jews from all over the empire had made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the great festival of Pentecost and had witnessed the strange, yet supernatural events described by Luke. Many had trusted in Jesus as the promised Messiah and made the decision to stay in Judea rather than make the trek back home (it is possible that these early believers were waiting for the apocalyptic return of Jesus).

- Hellenized Jews
Large numbers of Jews lived outside Palestine in the first century. These are the Jews of the Diaspora, the "scattering," or "exile" of the Jews throughout the Greek world - first in 722 BC when the Assyrians declared war and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, then in 588 BC the Chaldeans conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. The victors in both instances forced the Jews to be relocated, thus diluting their national and cultural strength. Over the next few centuries the Hebrew language was neglected and forgotten by these exiled Jews. Most diaspora Jews of the first century spoke Greek. In fact, sometime in the third century BC the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament, OT) were translated from Hebrew into Greek so that these Greek-speaking Jews could hear and understand the Law of Moses. This famous translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX), a reference to the legendary story that 72 scribes translated the various texts in a 72 day period with a divinely inspired perfection of agreement.

These Jews of the diaspora were referred to as "Hellenized" ("Greek influenced") by the politically important, Hebrew-speaking Jews of Palestine. Palestinian Jews despised this Hellenization and these Hellenized Jews, believing they had compromised their religion. They could not speak Hebrew, God's language, nor could they understand the Law of Moses when read in Hebrew. When Hellenized Jews came to Jerusalem they were urged to attend Greek speaking synagogues so they could hear and understand Moses being read. They were not wanted in the Temple. We know that the Jews hated Samaritans, and were not fond of Gentiles. Luke tells us this prejudice found its way into the primitive church - Hellenized widows were being neglected.

- Stephen
According to Luke, the apostles solve this problem by appointing seven men to new leadership positions. If you look closely you will find that these men are all Hellenized Jews. The apostles apparently realized that the minority class needed representation in the leadership of the church. In the next chapter we find Stephen (one of the seven deacons) preaching aggressively against the Jewish leadership and, more importantly, against Temple worship. Hellenized Jews living outside Judea were forced to find a more spiritualized way for obeying the Law of Moses since they did not have access to the Temple nor to the sacrificial system. This spiritualized Judaism is attested to in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and in the writings of the Qumran community (The Dead Sea Scrolls). In the next few chapters of Acts we see these Hellenized Jews taking the gospel to Samaritans, Ethiopians, and other non-Palestinian Jews. The Great Commission is being extended, but it should be noted that non-Jews continue to be excluded by these Hellenized evangelists (Acts 11:19). It takes a special person to push the infant church outside the Jewish boundaries - Saul of Tarsus is that person.

I have had someone ask me a question regarding my use of "Palestinian" Jew, suggesting that the use of "Palestine" was not biblical. This person had found the following information online:

It is clear, then, that the Bible never uses the term Palestine to refer to the Holy Land as a whole, and that Bible maps that refer to Palestine in the Old or New Testament are, at best, inaccurate, and, at worst, are a conscious denial of the biblical name of Israel.
"Palestine" is not a biblical term, but was a Greek term used by Aristotle, Plutarch, Herodotus, and Philo to refer to the region that included Judea. See my response to this criticism, Palestine in Ancient History.

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