Biblical People, Places and Time-Part 12

In the development of Gentile Christianity, there are certain factors that contributed to the development of the Episcopacy. In the Gospels and Epistles, congregations were set up with at least three elders (zekanim) and deacons (shamashim) in each congregation. This was based on the Tanach and what was called the “mishpochah” or family structure of the tribes. For more information on how these messianic congregations were set up, see our teaching on “First Century Congregational Structure” on this site. But, by the early second century, more and more Gentiles were coming into the faith and there was a move away from the Tanach and Jewish leadership. Elders and bishops became two different functions, but in the biblical model they were the same. Each congregation would be governed by bishops, priest, elders and deacons (called the Episcopacy). So, there was a change in structure in Gentile Christianity already. This is basically the model that is followed today within all Christian churches. Later in the second century, diocesan bishops began developing where a bishop “oversaw” a group of congregations in a geographical area. They were thought to be successors of the apostles, but in reality, they really weren’t, but this gave them an inherited “authority.” By the middle of the third century, the priesthood and the sacrifice of the mass developed. Elders came to be seen as sacrificing priests. The primacy of the bishop in Rome was asserted. Early in the fourth century, metropolitan bishops were called “archbishops” by virtue of their location in population centers. This idea began to gain ascendancy over “country” bishops. By the late fourth century, we have the idea of the “patriarchs.” Special honor was given to the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem. The patriarch of Constantinople was given primacy next to the bishop of Rome. By the middle of the fifth century, Leo I claimed authority over the whole church on the basis of succession from Peter. So, what were the factors contributing to the supremacy of the bishop of Rome. Papal (the pope) claims rest on the false assertion that Peter was given authority by Yeshua over the entire congregation, based on a false interpretation of Matt 16.17-19. In reality, it was James who was the Nasi over the Nazarenes, not Peter (Acts 15.1-19). This claim was first made by Leo I. Thus the teaching of Apostolic Succession began to develop. This teaching states that the apostles passed on their authority to their successors, which led to the conclusion that Peter’s supreme authority had been perpetuated in the bishops of Rome. With the rise of the veneration of martyred saints, Rome gained prestige as the site of the deaths of two principle apostles (Paul and Peter) according to their tradition. The persecution under Nero also gave to the Roman church a special prominence by virtue of all the suffering there. However, there is no indication that Peter was ever in Rome. He was sent to the Jewish people and was an elder in Babylon, the site of the largest Jewish population in the world (1 Pet 5.13; Gal 2.9). Both the size of the city and the size of the church contributed to the authority of the bishop in Rome. The Latin-speaking west, led by the bishop of Rome, was often able to cut through the theological problems that incapacitated the Greek speaking east (Scriptures went from Hebrew to Greek) because Greek could not express subtle shades of meaning. In other words, Greek was not equipped to be a biblical language. It could not get down to the intricate meaning of what God was saying through Hebrew. Of the five Patriarchal cities mentioned above, only Rome was in the west, so the bishops of Rome exercised authority over much more territory than the other patriarchs did. The bishops of Rome, such as Gregory I, encouraged missionary work among barbarian tribes, who then looked to Rome for guidance and with more respect. The eastern patriarchs were not as successful in evangelizing the Persians and later the Muslims. The collapse of the western empire under the barbarian horde left the church as the major integrating force in society. In other words, it was the glue that held society together. The loss of the territory in Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem to the Muslims and the continual pressure exerted against Constantinople also increased the authority of the bishop of Rome. The Ecumenical Councils of the early Gentile church attempted to solidify the hold of Gentile Christianity on the masses and they defined doctrine. The Council of Nicea in 325 AD, held by Emperor Constantine. had major outcomes. It declared the Son as co-equal in substance and co-eternal with the Father, it condemned the Arian heresy and drafted the original Nicene Creed. It also tried to root out the last vestiges of Rabbinic Judaism from the emerging church. The Council of Constantinople in 381 AD confirmed the results of the Council of Nicea, produced a revised Nicene Creed, ended any controversy about the Trinity, affirmed the deity of the Holy Spirit and condemned the Appollinarian heresy. The Council at Ephesus in 431 AD declared that Nestorianism was heresy, accepted by implication Alexandrian Christology and condemned Pelagius. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD declared that Christ had two natures, unmixed, unchanged, undivided and inseparable. It condemned Eutychianism. The Council of Constantinople in 553 AD condemned the so-called “Three Chapters” (certain works by Theodoret of Cyrus and Theodore of Mopsuestia) to gain support of Monophysites (who believed that Christ only had one nature, not human and divine). It affirmed the Cyrillian (followers of Cyril of Alexandria) interpretation of Chalcedon. Another Council of Constantinople in 680 AD rejected Monothelitism (Christ had two natures, one will). It also condemned Pope Honorius as heretical. Another Council of Nicea in 787 AD declared that the veneration of icons and statues was legitimate, which was totally against the second commandment. But, lets go back to the Council Of Nicea in 325 AD with Constantine and find out a little more about him. He became sole emperor in 323 AD after a battle with Licinius, the emperor of the east. He transferred the court to Byzantium, which was later called Constantinople, but died suddenly in 337 AD after being baptized by Eusebius of Caesarea. After he gained his victory over Licinius, he began to be very hostile towards the Jews. In 329 AD, the Jews were forbidden to practice circumcision on slaves, the death penalty was ordained for anyone who converted to Judaism (and obeyed the Torah) and anyone versed in Torah who aided them. On the other hand, Jews who converted to Christianity were protected from an Jew who tried to persuade them otherwise. Marriages between Jews and Christians were forbidden, and the death penalty imposed on those who transgressed this law. This law was affirmed in 335 AD, two years before his sudden death. Judaism was spoken of in these laws as an ignominious and bestial sect. The hostile attitude of Gentile Christianity got worse under Constantine’s sons. It is probable that Constantine renewed the law outlawing any Jew from entering Jerusalem. Constantine was still the High Priest of Mithraism and called “pontiff” as he sat at the Council of Nicea. Now, this council was called two years after he declared Gentile Christianity the official religion of the empire. He had no love for Christianity, but he knew that it was a way to consolidate competing beliefs in his empire under one faith. He took the various religious factions like Mithraism, Gentile Christianity, sun worship, Bacchus cults, Roman paganism and the like and assimilated them all under the “banner” of Christianity. Above all, Constantine was a great politician and he knew all these religious factions were fragmenting the empire. Like the old saying goes, if you cant beat them, then join them! It is not a coincidence that Mithraism “disappeared” around the same time Gentile Christianity became the official religion of the empire because it absorbed much of the doctrine, Sunday worship, festivals and terminology of Mithraism, and “Christianized” them. There were two hundred bishops and other priests gathered for this council, and none of them Jewish. This council laid down basic principles of this new religion and did everything they could to wipe out all traces of Judaism that still remained of the beliefs and practices of the people. They made every effort to separate Gentile Christianity from the teachings of Judaism, which they claimed was their basis to begin with. The question of the calendar was a disturbing question that had to be settled. Up until this time, the Christian calendar had been dependent on the Jewish calendar. Most Christians held their Easter celebration on the date of Passover, as declared by the Nasi and the Sanhedrin of the Jewish people. The Council of Nicea now set up a different calendar for determining the dates of their festivals, which had more in common with the pagan dates set by Mithraism and the worship of the sun than it did with Scripture. They just gave these festivals Christian names. The historian Eusebius, who assisted Constantine, was biased and violently anti-Jewish. His writings have influenced every history written in the western world for over fifteen hundred years. He wrote that Constantine addressed this council saying “why should we follow in the footsteps of these people (the Jews) who are scorned of God, to celebrate our holy festivals together with them? Is there any greater impertinence than this, that these hated Jews should be able to say that we cannot celebrate and observe our festival unless we follow their calculations?” (History of the Jewish People: Yavneh to Pumbedisa, p 184, Mesorah Publications). This was the attitude at the Council of Nicea, the foundation for Gentile Christianity and the persecutions that followed, even today. Christian churches still follow many of the conclusions from this council, including some of the attitudes. Anyone who tries to come out of these churches and begins to learn the Torah will find these attitudes alive and well. In the conclusion, we will do brief summary of what we have learned and get down to the heart of the matter, and finish up with a prophetic scenario based on these conclusions.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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