Biblical People, Places and Time-Part 5

The believers in the first century went by several names. They were called the Neztrim (Nazarenes) and “Ha Derech” (The way). In Acts 2.38-47 we read about the “promise” which is referring to the promise of the Father (Luke 24.49; Rom 9.4; Acts 13.32, 26.6). The
“talmidim” (disciples) are referred to now as “shaliachim” (apostles, sent ones). They taught from the Tanach and had “all things in common” which was a common practice in the “Judaisms” at the time. It says they were “selling their property and possessions” but that doesn’t mean all their property or possessions. They were getting rid of the excess, but only as the Lord led. For example, if you had two houses, you sold one. If you had two tunics, you sold one. You will also notice in this passage that they worshipped in the Temple and they were “breaking bread” in meals consecrated to God at the Sabbath and festival meals in their houses of study. Now, if all of that was done away with, why are they still doing it? You would think that in three and half years Yeshua would have told them to stop doing it, but they didn’t because they were never told that they were “free from the Law” like people are told today. What we are being told about the believers, the “kehilat” is that all of this was done within a Jewish context. These are the guys who would write the Gospels and some of the Epistles. There is no aspect of Hellenization or “gentilization” here, and not only that, they had “favor with the people” including the mainstream sects of Judaism, within and without the land. But, that is not to say there were not differences. In Acts 6. 1-7, we have the first division. This was between the Hebrews (traditional, orthodox believers) and the Hellenists (those not as “traditional” and according to their standards) concerning providing for the needy, which was a role of the synagogue. This conflict began about 200 years before when there was a conflict between the Jews and the Greeks during the time of the Maccabees. Because of this rift over the care of the Hellenistic widows, the apostles wanted those from the Hellenistic group to select people who were “full of the Spirit” which means they had the Shekinah, or indwelling presence of God. When you read about the men chosen, you will notice they had Hellenistic names, implying that there were “shamashim” who were already traditional, providing a balance. You will also notice that one of them was a man named Nicolas, a proselyte. This means that at this point, anyone (Gentile) coming into the sect of the Nazarenes must be a proselyte first. This will change in Acts 10-11. They are “ordained” for their task by the laying on of hands (semichah). We also learn that many priests were believing in Yeshua and coming into the faith. In Acts 7.1-53 we have the story of Stephen, on of the Hellenists chosen in Acts 6.5. We read in Acts 7.9 that some from the Hellenist synagogue of the Freedmen took issue with Stephen, who was performing signs and wonders among the people. He is falsely accused of being anti-Torah (6.13) and wanting to destroy the Temple. These are false accusations, meaning he was Torah observant and did not want to destroy the Temple. This is a strange testimony about a person who is supposed to be the first “Christian” martyr! They take him out to be stoned, which was probably in the same place Yeshua was killed. He was thrown off the top of a hill and stoned at the bottom. According to Halachah, the Sanhedrin had moved back into the Chamber of the Hewn Stones in order to pass a death sentence on Stephen. We also learn that Shaul (Paul) was an agent of the Sanhedrin. This was not a mob action, but a judicial act. For more on how a stoning was done, see the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6 for more details. In Acts 8.1, we learn that Shaul cast a vote for Stephen’s death. At this point, all the apostles were traditionalists. In Acts 8.2, it says that “devout men” buried Stephen. These were “sebemenoi” or God-fearers. In verse 4 we read that there was a scattering of believers because of Shaul. Remember, their concept of the Great Commission was to go to the Jews, and the Gentiles would come to them. But we have a conflict between the Jewish believers within the faith, and a conflict between the Netzerim and other sects from without. So, let’s look at was going on here. Within the faith, you had believing traditionalist Jews in conflict with believing Hellenistic Jews. And even among these groups, there was a conflict with those who sided with the school of Hillel and the those who sided with the school of Shammai. The “Judaisms” outside of the faith were these. The Pharisees were made up of two main schools of belief. The school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. Paul was from the school of Hillel. They were very eschatological, orthodox, conservative, easier on converts and had lesser influence than the school of Shammai. The school of Shammai was eschatological, very strict and hard on converts. The Sadducees were the opposite of the Pharisees. They believed very little, accepted only the Torah, were non-eschatological and priests. The Boethusians were rich Sadducees, a priestly family from a man named Boethus, upper class and non-eschatological. The Sicari were “cutthroats” and assassins, radical, and against anyone working with Rome. The Zealots also opposed Rome, but were more Torah observant and belonged to other groups. The Chasdim were “pious” and mainly in the north, very eschatological and not as extreme as the Pharisees in piety. The Essenes are a mysterious group. There is some confusion as to who they were. Many were priests fed up with the Sadducees and Boethusians who ran the Temple, and very eschatological. The Am ha Eretz were the “people of the land” and the common people. They followed the Pharisees in halachah for the most part. The Babylonian Jews were very Torah observant and didn’t have to contend with these other groups. They were eschatological. The Hellenists were in three groups mainly. The Judean Hellenists were non-Torah observant and non-eschatological. The Alexandrian Hellenists were Torah observant and influenced by Greek culture. The Hellenists from Asia Minor were also Torah observant and influenced by Greek culture. Over these was the Great Sanhedrin, with a court system that filtered down, regardless of what sect you were in. Their purpose was to set halachah for everybody. Each sect would have a “beit din” or a court that would set halachah for their sect and beliefs, which caused many debates. So, the Nazarenes would have a beit din (Matt 18.15-20). A major conflict had been going on within the “Judaisms” at large between the Traditionalists and the Hellenists. Now it will filter over into the sect of the Nazarenes. Now we know that Yeshua sent out the believers into the world, but only the persecution in Acts 8.1 caused it to happen. The persecutors, like Shaul (Paul), went out to outlying areas, specifically Hellenistic areas, like Samaria, Antioch and Damascus. It seems they are picking on the Hellenistic Jewish believers in Yeshua outside of Jerusalem. It appears that they left the believers in Jerusalem alone (8.1). Why? Because James and the Nazarene sect in Jerusalem had favor (Acts 2.47) and were Traditionalist Jews. James would later be killed by Hellenistic High Priest and the Jews complained so much about his death that Rome removed him from being High Priest. Jews in the Hellenistic camp were being persecuted, but Jews in the Traditionalist camp were not. In Acts 9.1-19, Shaul becomes a believer. Paul is a Traditionalist, and he confronts the Hellenistic Jews in verses 20-30, which causes all sorts of issues. Now, the synagogues he went to had at least three elders, or “zekanim.” If they were the only synagogue of Nazarenes, the beit din would be there. If there were several Nazarene synagogues in the area, one beit din would serve the area. Each beit din had to have at least three judges. Jerusalem was the location of the primary beit din of the Nazarenes. The “nasi” or president of the beit din was Ya’akov, Jacob, or James (Acts 15.2,4,13; Acts 21.15-18). Everyone before Acts 10 who is a believer is subject to the halachah as set forth by the beit din of the Nazarenes. If some did not follow their halachah, he would be put out of the sect, or it was a least possible. However, halachah had nothing to do with salvation or deliverance. Acts 10 is the great “headache” chapter because everything gets complicated after this. The difference between the Nazarene sect and the other sects was that the Nazarenes believed that Yeshua was the promised Messiah who had come. Other than that, there wasn’t much difference. They will have the same conflicts the rest of the “Judaisms” had (like Traditionalists vs. Hellenists, etc). Halachah is of primary importance in the congregations (Kehilat). Look at the examples from Acts 11.3, 15.13-20, 21.21). God opens the door in Acts 10 for non-Jews to enter the Kingdom of God without becoming a Jew through circumcision. But there are two problems. Among the Nazarenes, those from the school of Shammai don’t agree with that. They believe a non-Jew must be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15.1). This conflict among the Nazarenes will be used against them from the other sects. In Part 6, we are going to get into this conflict a little deeper and show what happens. This will not only help you get more insight into the book of Acts, but also into the chronology, genealogy, geography and personalities of the Scriptures, especially in the Gospels and Epistles.

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

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