Tradition plays a large part in both Judaism and Christianity. People will say that Judaism is full of tradition and it is a “trap” if you do anything that comes out of Jewish tradition. The implication is that you are out of the will of God. Yeshua said that by your traditions you have made void the commandments (Mark 7.6-13).
We have said before that there were two main schools of Pharisees, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. Writers have studied these schools and they noticed that Yeshua agreed with the School of Hillel most of the time. When you see a debate in the Gospels with a Pharisee, you need to remember that there were many schools of Pharisaical thought so you can tell by the argument what school that particular Pharisee was from. You can’t say that all the Pharisees in the Scriptures believed the same way because they didn’t. Yeshua is usually arguing with a Pharisee from the School of Shammai because of what they were discussing, and he took issue with them in Matt 23.
Yeshua agreed with the school of Hillel many times. These writers don’t come out and say that Yeshua was a Pharisee, but his doctrine agreed with the School of Hillel in most cases (see the book “Jesus the Pharisee” by Harvey Falk). So, in Mark 7 cited above, he is taking issue with a Pharisee from the School of Shammai and the issue there was ritual hand-washing, and Shammai taught that you washed your hands before every meal. Hillel taught that you did a ceremonial hand-washing before festival meals. Alfred Edersheim in the book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” said that if the rabbi’s come forth with a decree that contradicts the Torah, you should obey the Rabbis.
Now, there were five stages in Jewish tradition. First, you have a literal command that you find in Scriptures (the 613 commandments), secondly, one that is derived from a Scripture. Third, an oral tradition is one that is not found in the Torah, but it is found elsewhere in Scripture. Then there are rabbinical decrees that were added as “fences” around certain commands and lastly there are the customs that cannot contradict a commandment but they can change due to changing situations.
In Mark 7, Yeshua is not referring to all Jewish tradition but only the particular one about hand-washing by Shammai. There are terms in the Gospels and Epistles we need to understand.
In Acts 21.15-24 we read about Paul and how he was showing that “you yourself walk orderly, keeping the Torah.” The word “walk” is “holech” in Hebrew and it is where the term “halakah” comes from, which is how a believer was to interpret the Torah and behave in his everyday life. In v 21 the word “customs” is used and it means “ethics” or habits. Paul was accused of not being Torah observant so he was asked to pay the expenses (sacrifices) for four other believers coming out of a Nazarite vow in order to show that these accusations were not true and that Paul was Torah observant.
In 1 Cor 11.2 it says that Paul praised the Corinthians because they held firmly to the “traditions” that he taught them. The word “traditions” is “paradosis” in Greek and it means “Jewish tradition and law.” He says the same thing to the Thessalonians in 2 Thes 2.15 and 3.6. In Phil 3.17 he tells the Philippians to “join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” We know that Paul was Torah observant and taught others to follow his example. So, traditions aren’t always bad, as long as they do not contradict the Scriptures.
What we are going to develop is that Christianity is full of traditions that do violate the Scriptures and that is exactly what the foundation for it was. With that in mind, we talked about the years of 30-70 AD as being a Jewish faith. There were those who believed that Yeshua was the Messiah and there were those that didn’t. Jerusalem was the home of the believers in Yeshua and there were many Gentile believers coming into the Faith.
There were some changes in perception and practice that was coming about on just what they were supposed to do with these Gentiles (Eph 2.11-22) and where their place was, but it was growing. The Jerusalem congregation was made up of Jews and non-Jews who believed that Yeshua was the Messiah and Jerusalem was the center. Non-Jews saw themselves as “grafted into” the Commonwealth of Israel.
However, Greek philosophy was having a major impact on these Gentiles. As Christianity moved away from its Jewish roots, which Paul warned against in Rom 11.17-18, it had an affect on them after 70 AD. Everything was beginning to change. Jews were still becoming believers and by 90 AD the synagogues reactivated a prayer against “heretics” (Jewish believers in Yeshua) into the daily prayers of the synagogues.
As an example of this, there was a famous Jewish believer called Rabbi Eleazar, who was a student of the famed Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai. It was said of Eleazar that he knew more Torah than all the scholars in Israel (Mishnah Avot 2.8). After 110 AD, the Jewish believers begin to fade into obscurity and are no longer an active force. They remained in the Jewish community till about 135 AD when the Bar Kochba revolt occurred. A famous Rabbi named Akiva declared Bar Kochba the Messiah, and the Jewish believers in Yeshua asked him to renounce this. Akiva refused, so the Jewish believers refused to fight for Bar Kochba and fled to Pella again.
These believers were declared “meshumed” (traitors) and ostracized. This revolt failed, and the believers continued to exist till about 600 AD and they remained Torah observant. They were in two groups, the Nazarenes and the Ebionites. The Nazarenes followed the teachings of the School of Hillel and the Ebionites followed the teachings of the School of Shammai.
With the downfall of Jerusalem and the Jewish influence, it was fertile ground now for pagan influences and Greek Philosophy among the Gentiles. This brings us up to what is called “the Church Fathers” and they were in three groups. The Ante-Nicene (before the Council of Nicea), the Nicene Fathers (at the time of this council) and the post-Nicene fathers (after this council). This where early Christianity was coming from. The Church Fathers used Greek philosophy and pagan influences to bring Christianity forth.
Socrates and his writings influenced the explanation of man. Plato had a perception of God embodied in “the good” and he wrote extensively about it. Aristotle was less mystical than Plato. The visible world was reality. He thought that the world was the main object of knowledge and was a “scientist” and he explained the changes in the world was due to a “prime mover” who he argued was God. Man had a link to God through the “logos” or divine spark.
There is much more to this, but these concepts began to shape the minds of these “church fathers” and it was reflected in their philosophies concerning God and Christian theology. By 110 AD, a major influence collided with Christianity called “Gnosticism.” Many church fathers, to their credit, made themselves known by standing against this. But, there were two major conflicts going on in Christianity, Gnosticism was the fight within and the Roman government was the fight without.
The Christians were seen as atheists because they did not accept Emperor worship or all the gods. Jews were not seen as atheists and Jewish believers were not persecuted until about 110 AD. Remember, Jerusalem was no longer a Jewish home and the people were scattered, so the Christians were seen as a “new” faith and illegal accord8ng to Roman law. This persecution started with Hadrian who also went against Bar Kochba in 135 AD.
So, the Church Fathers wrote two types of “manifestos.” One battled Gnosticism and the other was to the Roman Emperors to validate Christianity. Christianity fights Gnosticism and the influence of Greek thought, but in defending it they used Greek philosophy. Eventually, Gnosticism morphed into a blend of Greek philosophy and pagan religions and what they read in the Bible. In other words, Gnosticism came into Christianity anyway. Due to Paul’s writings that talked about the old and new natures, Gnostics accepted Paul’s writings and rejected the other writers of the New Testament.
As a result, the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were perceived as inferior to the New Testament by the Church Fathers and this was because of Gnostic influence. Church leaders deny this, but it is exactly how the Gnostics thought.
Rome rejected any religion if it did not predate Rome. Therefore, Judaism was considered legitimate and the eschatological congregation that believed in Yeshua was considered a sect of Judaism and therefore legal. But, as Christianity distanced itself from Judaism it was seen as a “new” religion and considered illegal by Rome. This is where the Church Fathers come in.
They attempted to defend the Christian position and these men were called “apologists” and they relied on Greek philosophy and the Bible to defend their arguments. This opened up a “side door” for the entrance of Greek philosophy into Christian theology because it was already moving away from a Torah based faith. These apologists attempted to show that Christianity was a legal continuation of Judaism and legal since it would have existed for thousands of years. But, in order to do that they had to show that Judaism was now obsolete and now illegitimate. As a result, the concept of replacement theology was formulated and this became a foundational doctrine in Christianity.
Early Christianity became the strongest where Greek philosophy was strong. The leaders of the church, who were predominately Gentile, were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. This influence can be clearly seen in the thought that man is the center of all things. This is what is called humanism, and man was the focus. When you take what Yeshua said about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, it conflicted with Greek thought that said man was the center. But, in Christianity concern for man was more important, so Christianity today is a home for humanistic thought where man is the focus and “love for man” and unity of the faith among people is the goal, not the truth of God’s Word.
This is just one example of the Greek influence on Christian theology, there will be more to come. In Part 4, we will begin to discuss the Church Fathers and what they believed and how they influenced Christian doctrine and theology, the differences between Hebrew and Greek methods of interpretation and how things moved in the direction that formulated the basis for replacement theology.