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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The Christmas Story 12. Examples Taken From Early Christian Hymns

Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

I said something about the early hymns that Luke introduced in the nativity story and here for your enjoyment then, are some of the earliest Christmas Songs in various settings. That’s the end of our Christmas journey together. A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.
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The Christmas Story 11. Temple Ordinances–KJV Error–Origins of the Author of Luke

The first born child of a Jewish marriage at the time of Jesus had to be, in effect, given to God. In place of actually turning the child over to the temple cult, a sum was paid (the turning over was symbolic—only Levites could perform the temple service—the exercise was a remembrance of the Golden Calf episode—Num. 18). The parents were not really involved here, but the mother had to come, after a waiting time, for a purification rite (offer a sacrifice). (See Lev. 12)

When priests like Zacharias offered sacrifice or incense, they had to be purified. They had to come out of the secular (perhaps a better term is the temporal), leave it behind, so that they could enter the presence of God. They had to change their clothing, put on special vestments, wash, and so forth. There were well-defined rituals to create this separation.[1]

Against this, birth was seen as a creative act (see the second post on the status of Mary) and much like the priestly acts, there was a holiness about birth, a participation with God.
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The Christmas Story 10. Luke on the Scene of Jesus’ Birth

Luke has told us about the birth and the circumcision of John the Baptist, and now he begins his narrative of the birth and presentation of Jesus. He spends more time here since this is his main point in the prologue of the ministry.

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled [RSV Luke 2]

It was a census, not a tax. It is known that Augustus had a census now and then to get an idea of the population in various places, however, he never commanded an empire-wide census. But recall that Luke’s view is a global one, and he wants this to follow that picture. Another thing to recall is that Luke is writing many years after the death of Augustus (August of 14AD -yes the month is named for him) and the other events he tells us about. Consider trying to recall the highlights of the years of the U.S. presidency of William Howard Taft. It gives you some idea about Luke’s story. You have some general ideas about Taft perhaps, but probably not details about him. You probably don’t recall details of his role in the “Big Burn” and the forest service in 1910. But you may have some kind of general picture, legends of Augustus, if you’re Luke. Luke wants us to understand that this is an event that has world-wide significance.
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The Christmas Story 9. Mary, Elizabeth and Hymns of Early Christians

Luke has given us two traditions, one about Zacharias and Elizabeth, one about Mary, and both involve Gabriel and angelic announcements. Luke now brings the two narratives together by telling us about a visit Mary makes to Elizabeth. This cements the blood relationship between Jesus and John and Luke is the only one of the Evangelists who knows about this, and he uses this to blend the two traditions.

Now that Luke has this backstory of John and Jesus, what does he do with it? Essentially nothing, directly, at least. The other Gospel writers are ignorant of it, and in the Gospel of John, the Baptist actually says that he never knew Jesus! So this is a little like the infancy stories in general. They create this backstory of Jesus, they provide an Israelite foundation, there are these spectacular events: stars, wise men, murder of children, shepherds who tell the story of angels, and then no one knows about this at all later on. It’s as though Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, never see each other again. The story of this linkage comes to us and then disappears.
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The Christmas Story. 8. Gabriel: Mary as Disciple.

Luke sees Mary as the model disciple. He gives us a picture of Mary as the first to hear, however frightening it may have been, and she believed though not with full understanding (hence Luke’s repeated, “and Mary pondered these things in her heart” phrase). Luke has Gabriel come to Nazereth. Thus, Luke tells us that Mary lived in Nazereth. Matthew doesn’t: he thinks Mary (and Joseph) lived in Bethlehem.

She is betrothed to a man named Joseph “of the house of David.” Again, it’s Joseph that is a descendant of the great king (see part 2). David is a symbol for the kingdom itself. Luke wrote that Gabriel told Mary she is favored of the Lord: God wanted in effect to bestow grace on her and that’s the way Jerome translated it, full of grace.

El Greco: Mary meets the angel. Note the dove. (Image: Wikipedia)

El Greco: Mary meets the angel. Note the dove. (Image: Wikipedia)

The calling, grace, and power she was about to experience: she was to conceive a child. God’s Son. The words seem to mean that Mary was already a graceful, a faithful person, one who already stood in favor with God. Now she was to stand in greater favor with him.[1]
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