Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 3.

I mentioned in the last post that another difficult problem comes up in Acts 15, where the issue was how Gentiles fit into the Christian community. That was a tough one, and it took a lot of time to reach a widely accepted resolution but, in fact, this first trouble in Jerusalem telegraphs the later one in a much deeper way than is always appreciated.

The decision of the apostles was interesting because it had positive effects in some ways but caused difficulties in others. Belief in Jesus was more important than unity over Judaism turned out to be one lesson. That is a useful and unifying thing in some ways. The downside was this: tolerating Jews with different beliefs within the body meant that those Christians brought conflict with other Jews in Jerusalem, not Christians, but Jews who shared doctrine with the Hebrew Christians. That kind of conflict brought trouble for the whole church, and we see this happened, and it had deep and unforeseen consequences.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 2.

In the sixth chapter of Acts, Luke—writing from a ca. 90 CE perspective—narrates a very old tradition about conflict and dissent in the early Christian church. When we talk of this episode, we usually ignore the meaning of the outcome, which may be the most important influence on the course of Christianity after Jesus.

Luke tells us this (Acts 6:1):

in these days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews.[1]

“Hellenists” refers to Christian believers in Jerusalem who had a Greek/Gentile/Roman Jewish diaspora background in some way, Luke doesn’t explain, but he does give some names: Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas (the proselyte), all are Greek names. They are Jews, but the text draws a distinction between them and the “Hebrews,” meaning natives of the city perhaps. That both groups are Jews and Christians, is the important point. As Luke tells us about Hellenist leaders he makes sure to say that one of them was a proselyte (convert to Judaism) meaning that the rest of them were born Jews.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 1.

We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

Since the LDS Sunday Schools are studying the revelations of Joseph Smith this year, I thought I would contribute a little complication to our usually brief narrative of priesthood and our connection of that idea to the New Testament. Enjoy.

Once upon a time, Judaism and Christianity were one. That is, Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. You can see this in Luke’s account of what Paul says at Rome, Acts 28. The Jewish community there (it was pretty important, some Jewish high priests ended up there and the church there was likely established by missionaries from Jerusalem) speak about the believers in Jesus as a sect, a division of Jews.

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews; and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against the people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brethren coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” [RSV][1]

While Paul worked mostly among Gentiles, it was because he was unable get Jews in the diaspora to listen to him. And he grew angry over Jerusalem Jews coming into his Gentile branches and breaking the rules agreed to about preaching to Gentiles. See his letter to the Galatians. [This looks ahead to part 3 of this series.]
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