IT would be a mistake to attempt too precise a distinction, within the general term 'explanation', between the explanations offered by the Church to outsiders and the teaching and instruction offered to its own members or to definite enquirers. Or again, it is a faint line, in the last analysis, that divides explanations given to outsiders on the Church's own initiative, in the course of evangelism, and those given in reply to inquiry, criticism, or attack – explanations, that is, which constitute Christian apologetic. These various categories merge insensibly into one another. For the sake of clarity, however, the subject of 'catechesis' – the instruction of enquirers ('catechumens') or the newly baptized – and of 'edification' thereafter will be raised again in a later chapter; and for the present we turn our attention more generally to the Church's understanding of itself in the face of problems and pressures, whether from within or from without, so as to see the stages by which an awareness of its distinctive calling dawned.
It must be remembered at the outset that the Church in the first century, unlike the Church today, did not need to spend much time defending the existence of God. True, there were Epicureans, whose system relegated God to such a distance from the physical world as to constitute a virtual atheism; and there were one or two other brands of 'free thinking'. But for the most part everybody took some doctrine of deity and the supernatural as an axiom (it was the Christians who seemed atheists, with their lack of altar and shrine), and Christian explanation did not have to begin with God – least of all when confronted by Jewish monotheism – even if the distinctively Christian con- victions did in fact involve a radically new conception of deity.
Chronologically, indeed, one of the earliest questions to be faced was what might at first seem far more pedestrian and less doctrinal – the question of the relation of the followers of Jesus to the rest of Judaism. This was forced upon the Church from within, as well as being pushed at it from outside; and, as we shall see eventually, it is really a major doctrinal issue. Even during the ministry of Jesus, onlookers had exclaimed in amaze ment, 'What is this?' and, in the same breath, had answered, 'New teaching!' (Mk i.21 ff.). It was not long before the Christian community had to face a similar question: What was this that they were caught up in? What were they? Were they in fact something new and revolutionary or were they only an improved and expurgated version of the old? Were they a new race, a tertium genus, an addition to the familiar twofold classification into Jew and Gentile, or were they simply Israel, true Israel – a purified, inner nucleus of the one ancient People of God?
Unfortunately for the cause of simplicity and clarity, it proved to be unrealistic to come down exclusively on one side or the other, for there were senses in which both were true. God, by his purging of the old, had made a new creation. The message was at once both old and new (as 1 Jn ii.7 f. says, though with a rather different connotation). Consequently, the New Testament contains evidence of both standpoints, and it is obvious enough that the emphasis is determined by the varying requirements of the circumstances and the tone in which the questions were asked.
On the side of the continuity of Christianity with Israel, a vigorous stream of thought issues out (like Ezekiel's stream from the Temple), and forks in two directions. As against anti Christian Judaism, it stresses that the only real Jews are those who confess Jesus as Messiah: 'so far from not being Jews', Christians said in effect, 'we are the only Jews'. As against an anti-Semitic tendency in Gentile Christianity, it stresses that to become a Christian is necessarily to be growing, whether natur ally or by grafting, on the stock of Israel: 'so far from not being Jews, Christians cannot be Christians unless they are Jews'. There is little room for doubt that Jesus himself began by appealing to Israel – and, so far as his earthly ministry goes, virtually ended with Israel also. He addressed his message to Israel, and saw his own mission and vocation in terms of the fulfilment of Israel's destiny. Even if one sets aside the question whether or not he accepted the title of Messiah, the anointed King of Israel, his use of the term ' the Son of Man' was related at the very least to God's plan for Israel through him – probably to his very self as the epitome and representative of loyal Israel. That he chose a body of twelve men to be his messengers and intimates (unmistakably suggesting the twelve patriarchs representing the twelve tribes, cf. Matt.xix.28, Lk.xxii.30), and that he virtually restricted his ministry to Israelite territory, are themselves significantly Israelite gestures.
Correspondingly, in the Acts, not only are the earliest Palestinian Nazarenes represented (as we have seen) as going on worshipping in the Temple and practising Judaism, but scrupulous care is taken to show even Paul both as making a regular practice of going first to the Jewish community whenever he was beginning to preach the Gospel in a new area (Acts xiii.5 and passim; cf. Rom.i.16), and also as claiming himself to be still a good, Pharisaic Israelite (Acts xxiii.6, xxiv.12-15, xxvi.5-7). And it is well known that the Acts represents Christianity as acceptable to the Roman government, which it would not have been (so the implied argument seems to run) had it been a totally new religion. It appears from Gal.v.11 that there were even some (possibly the most radical, anti-Semitic Christians)who complained that, in effect, Paul (of all people!) was 'still' proclaiming the need for circumcision (contrast Acts xxi.21!). What he did proclaim, in Rom.xi.13 ff. especially, was that salus extra Israel non est (to adapt the Cyprianic phrase, Ep.73, 21). If the Gentiles are to be given wholeness, salvation, they must be grafted into the original stock, they must become Jews by adoption. Similarly, Eph. (ii.11-iii.7) speaks of the salvation of the Gentiles in terms of fellow-citizenship with Israel. A fortiori, those who are already Jews by birthright will – even if temporarily excluded because of obstinacy – be brought back in the end into the community to which they belong by birth. The ecclesia of Christ is the assembly of Israel. As J. Munck remarks, Paul never turned his back on Jerusalem; or, at least as H. Chadwick points out, he moved in an ellipse, with Jerusalem as one of the foci. He did not think of a tertium genus, but rather of the Covenant renewed by God with the children of Abraham.
If one branch of the stream of 'identity' flows out to cut off those who try to by-pass the spiritual heritage of Israel on the way to salvation, its other branch, as we have seen, is directed against the anti-Christian Jew who denies that the Church is Israelite at all, or against the extreme Judaizing Christian who will only allow that it is Israelite if it is marked by a rigorous observance of circumcision. Here there are all the sayings of Jesus about the rejection of the children of the Kingdom in favour of better members – a line of attack reaching its climax in the bitter controversies of the Fourth Gospel and the great tirade of Matt.xxiii and the fierce strictures of Rev.ii.9 ('... who call themselves Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan'). And in the Pauline Epistles there are passages such as the following: Gal.i.6-9 (Judaizing Christians are actually pronounced excommunicate for making' circumcision a sine qua non):
I am astonished to find you turning so quickly away from him who called you by grace, and following a different gospel. Not that it is in fact another gospel; only there are persons who unsettle your minds by trying to distort the gospel of Christ. But if anyone, if we ourselves or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel at variance with the gospel we preached to you, he shall be held outcast. I now repeat what I have said before: if anyone preaches a gospel at variance with the gospel which you received, let him be outcast!
iii.16, 29 (the 'seed of Abraham' is Christ, and therefore it is those who are 'in' Christ who alone are true Israel):
Now the promises were pronounced to Abraham and to his ' issue'.
It does not say ' issues' in the plural, but in the singular, ' and to your issue';
and the ' issue' intended is Christ. ...
But if you thus belong to Christ, you are the 'issue' of Abraham, and so heirs by promise.
vi. 15 ff. (God's Israel is all those, whether circumcised or not, who have been brought inside the new creation):
Circumcision is nothing; uncircumcision is nothing;
the only thing that counts is new creation!
Whoever they are who take this principle for their guide,
peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the whole Israel of God.
In future let no one make trouble for me,
for I bear the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, my brothers.
We are the circumcised,
we whose worship is spiritual,
whose pride is in Christ Jesus,
and who put no confidence in anything external.
In him also you were circumcised,
not in a physical sense,
but by being divested of the lower nature;
this is Christ's way of circumcision.
(i.e., baptism into Christ achieves that total surrender of the body which transcends and includes mere circumcision). Again, all over the Epistle to the Hebrews there is the argument that Christians, so far from being deprived and 'unchurched' from Israel, are the only ones to whom belong, in an absolute degree, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the altar, and the sanctuary. In 1 Pet.ii.9 f., Christians are the real, worshipping People of God
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own, to proclaim the triumphs of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You are now the people of God, who once were not his people; outside his mercy once, you have now received his mercy;
and similarly in Rev.i.5b, 6 it is they who are the royal and priestly people:
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins with his life's blood,
who made of us a royal house, to serve as the priests of his God and Father –
to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever!
Yet, conversely, with this stout defence of the position that Christianity is Israel and that there is no salvation without inclusion in this Israel, there dawned very soon, if not simultaneously, the realization of its difference, its newness. It is probably true to say that this was not sought, still less fought for by argument: all the instincts of Christians were on the other side – that of claiming continuity and antiquity. There was no desire to break away or to form a new sect or religion. It was only that the quality of the Christian experience, and the centre of gravity in Christian teaching, were so different that, sooner or later, they simply had to be acknowledged. Many in the past have spoken of the Hellenizing of Christianity; but it has become more fashionable recently – and with good reason – to speak rather of its 'de-judaizing' or its 'catholicizing'.And the seeds of this revolutionary differentiation were sown by Jesus. His ministry was marked by an attitude to the religious authorities, and a manifestation of his own personal authority, which were entirely unacceptable to the most influential exponents of Judaism at the time. They sought authority in tradition or written documents rather than in the personal encounter, the dialogue, between the living God and man. For guidance, they looked to the precedents of past authority, or to recognized techniques of scriptural exposition, rather than to the divine encounter within the worshipping community. In a word, the most authoritative spokesmen of the Israel of Jesus' day were 'authoritarian', not 'prophetic'. Jesus himself, by contrast, reached out a hand – so far as he reached backwards at all and was not altogether forward-looking, new, and different – not to the authoritarian scribes' religion of the post-prophetic period but to the mighty prophets of Israel. His ministry, heralded by the prophetic ministry of the Baptist – the only great prophetic voice since the ancient prophets fell silent – went on, and went still deeper, into the ancient prophetic tradition. Unlike the rabbis, he went straight behind legislation and casuistry to the great controlling principles and motives – to the creation of man and wife by God (Mk x.6); to God's call to love, to love of God and of neighbour (Mk xii.28 ff.); to the supreme dignity of man within creation, and his accountability before the living God (Mk ii. 27). It was in the framework of these fundamental, personal categories that Jesus found his own direct contact, in prayer and converse, with his Father, and in this living, personal contact that he found and followed his Father's will and purpose. The outward manifestation of this absolute harmony of will between Jesus and the Father was the creative power that showed itself with unprecedented majesty in deeds of healing. When he spoke, it was with the Creator's words of power.
All this is only another way of saying that the ministry of Jesus pointed to such a new covenant as is described in Jer. xxxi – a relation between God and man not of prepositional statement such as may be written and engraven on tablets of stone, but of personal obedience in the realm of heart and conscience: a relation properly belonging to the new age of which those same deeds of power were harbingers (see Paul's exposition of this theme in 2 Cor.iii). And one more way of expres sing this is to say that the community which Jesus formed round himself was the community of the new age: it was Israel, indeed, but it was the Israel of the latter days; and in committing their loyalty to Jesus, the Twelve and others with them were constituted in that sense a new community.
Thus, if the very number twelve bears witness to the Israel consciousness of Jesus, and if (as we have seen) he scarcely began to extend his ministry beyond the confines of Israelite territory, yet his teaching and his attitude no less clearly bear witness to the radical, the 'eschatological', newness of this Israel: here are contained the germs of its universal expansion. True, it is a well-known (though often forgotten) fact that the New Testament nowhere countenances the term ' New Israel' – indeed, the very term 'New Testament' (i.e., New Covenant) implies continuity with the recipients of the earlier covenants; yet the fact remains that God's Israel, true Israel, was so radically different from what counted as Israel in the contemporary world, that there is an undeniable sense in which it is 'new'.
We have seen how even the radical sayings of such epistles as Galatians and Romans fit into the 'continuity' side of the argument, and we have observed that discontinuity (or at least startling newness) was not argued for and defended, so much as (almost reluctantly) accepted and recognized. But those radical passages in Paul's letters do argue clearly enough, if not directly, for this newness also. To be in Christ is, as he acknowledges, to be part of a new creation: and though this new world is indeed that to which the apocalyptic of Israel looked forward, it is strikingly different from the ordinary Israelite conception of it.
Another way of putting the same point is to look back once more at the traditions of the ministry of Jesus. Here there is evidence that, long before the climax, he had begun to fall foul of the religious leaders, who regarded him as a dangerous false teacher, and that he was warning his disciples to expect the same sort of opposition, leading to excommunication (Mk iii.6, vii.1 ff., viii.15, x.29 ff.; cf. Matt.x.17, 25, Jn xvi.2, etc.). It is true, there is no sign that Jesus ever set up his own authority against the books of Moses or any other scriptures regarded at that time as authoritative. But his way of using the scriptures and of selecting from them, and the conclusions he drew, were so subversive to the rabbinic scheme of life that it is not surprising if he was regarded as a breaker of the law. It was of small avail if, in breaking the Sabbath law as the rabbis had denned it, he appealed behind the rabbis to scripture. It is true that this may not have greatly disturbed the Sadducees; indeed, it is note worthythat only once before his trial is Jesus recorded to have had any clash with them (Mk xii.18 ff. and parallels), while, if the story of the temple tax in Matt.xvii.24 ff. is any reflection from the actual period of his ministry, it shows Jesus scrupu lously avoiding offence to the Temple hierarchy. It was not until the end of the ministry that the political interests of the Sad ducees came into conflict with Jesus: thereafter, they were going to play a prominent part, in the very early days of the Church, in attacking the Christians as upsetters of the peace (e.g. Acts iv.5 ff., and contrast the comparative friendliness of the Pharisees in Acts xxiii.9). But all through the ministry, the genuinely religious leaders of Judaism – the Pharisees and especially their rabbis and scribes – did recognize the threat to their system presented by this revolutionary and subversive teacher. Luke, it is true, alludes to some degree of friendliness from Pharisees (vii.36 ff., xiii.31 ff., xiv.1 ff.); but, for the most part, they are the real antagonists. Jesus' way of authority simply did not square with theirs. For instance, when he pronounced love of God to be the first commandment, he did not mean that from it could be deduced all the rabbinical regulations, but that it must take priority over, and, if necessary, nullify any others. And Jesus not only saw the implications of this attitude for himself, but, as we have seen, seems to have warned his fol lowers of impending excommunication and persecution for them. If E. Stauffer is right, there was even systematic spying and collecting of incriminating evidence against Jesus by the scribal authorities long before he was actually indicted, and when he came to Jerusalem for the final Passover he was already a marked heretic, already, perhaps, excluded from normal participation in the festival.
Thus, when the Christians claimed (Acts iv.11, etc.) that Jesus was the foundation-stone or the corner-stone of God's Israel, they were inevitably proclaiming the radical newness, the essential differentia of their faith. For this was the very stone which the accredited builders in Israel had decisively rejected. Either the experts of Israel must confess to a vast mistake or the Christian edifice must be branded as something new and alien to Israel. It is this stone which becomes the touchstone: you either fell foul of it and found it a skandalon, or you discovered in it the one foundation of the whole building.
But this newness did not become immediately evident, and the evolution of the Christian writings may, in part, be traced in terms of the gradual dawning of this very consciousness. About the time of Christ, there were already Jewish sectarians who, eager to separate themselves from the corruption of Judaism, had styled themselves 'the community of the New Covenant'.And no doubt the early Christians too believed themselves to be no less Israelite than a reforming group of this kind – a kind of religious confraternity (a haburah ) within Israel. As we have seen, their very habits of worship bore witness to their assumption that they were truly Israelite. Yet their one distinctiveness was so fundamental that their extrusion from Judaism could only be a matter of time. It turned on the vital question of the seat of authority. For Judaism, the keeping of the Law, loyalty to the divine Wisdom, was believed to be the ultimate test on the day of judgment; and for the extreme Judaistic wing of Christianity itself, Jesus was only one stone in the building: the Law, circumcision, and the rest were equally vital; 'justification' – that is, a right relation with God – might be either by Law or by faith. But for Christians such as Paul and John, Jesus was the supreme and unique test: he was the keystone of the building, the only door into the sheepfold; and the one decisive test was loyalty to him and trust in him. He was of necessity either foundation-stone (Isa.xxviii.16) or skandalon (Isa.viii.14). Decision was inescapable. And inevit ably, therefore, the cleft occurred. Rather like the Methodists in England, the Christians found themselves squeezed out by the logic of their position, even when they were themselves reluctant to go.
A factor which must have accelerated the process of segrega tion was the implication of blame in the Christian declaration that the rebel condemned and handed over to execution by the Jews was in fact Israel's divinely-chosen King – that the expert builders had made the great mistake of all time. On top of the conservative Sadducean fear that the Nazarenes might upset the political equilibrium, on top of the scorn of the Zealots, at the opposite wing, for revolutionaries who refused to revolt, on top of the Pharisaic belief that they were purveyors of dangerous heresy, this implication of blame (coupled with sheer jealousy at the Christians' success with the common people) must have helped to awaken a fierce resentment and antagonism.
But in this there seem to have been degrees of intensity, corresponding with degrees of provocation. There is no evidence, in the Acts at any rate, that the apostles in the early days in Jerusalem took the line that all but a small 'remnant' or nucleus within Israel had always gone wrong. That was Stephen's argument. It is Stephen (and cf. Matt. xxiii. 31) who calls the Jews sons of the murderers of the prophets (vii.52); Peter calls them sons of the prophets (iii.25 f.). It seems to have been Stephen's argument which precipitated the first serious persecution. Thereafter there followed two consequences. One was that even the Jerusalem apostles began to be suspect as disloyal to the heart of Judaism, so that Herod Agrippa I (41-44) was able to execute the apostle James, and, finding this acceptable to the Jews, to make an attempt on the life of Peter (Acts xii.1 ff.). The other was that among those actually scattered by the Stephen persecution were some bold enough to preach about Jesus to non-Jews (Acts xi.20).
Boldness it needed; for the ministry of Jesus had virtually confined itself, with resolute concentration, to the People of Israel, while the teaching of Jesus about the rejection of Israel and the coming into the Kingdom of aliens from afar (Matt.viii.11 f., Lk.xiii.28 f.), if not actually forgotten for the time being, might have been construed as applying to the Jewishdiaspora and not to Gentiles (perhaps cf. Jn vii.35). It was a courageous application of Stephen's arguments, then, coupled with sheer eagerness to share the good news, which led to the beginnings of the Gentile mission. And once begun, it had to be reckoned with. The Jerusalem leaders sent Barnabas to investigate (Acts xi.22 ff.). He approved, and fetched Paul to help to consolidate the gains. So the greatest mind of the early Church was lent to the advance of the Gospel beyond the limits of Judaism, and thus prepared the way for a step which, however, Paul did not himself take, the definition of the Church as a tertium genus over against Jew and Gentile.
And then the breach was no doubt clinched by political circumstance. In the disastrous war of AD 66-70, the 'Nazarenes' (a term by then applied to the Jewish Christians) refused to participate in the Jewish resistance movement, the Zealot insurrection (see p. 43, n. i). If the crisis of AD 40 – Caligula's threat to the sanctity of the Temple – might have closed the ranks of world monotheism, the crisis of 66 decisively separated Jew from Christian. The Epistle to the Hebrews is plausibly placed at this point(though an even earlier crisis is conceivable – see p. 53 below) – when intense political and psychological pressures must have been exerted on Jewish Christians to show their loyalty to their ancestral religion and their nation by sinking differences and helping to present a united front in the bitter struggle for existence. But it is exactly such a situation that forces the distinctiveness of Christianity agonizingly into view. And the heroic and the percipient, like the writer to the Hebrews, then see it their duty to say: Now is the eternal crisis: to go back into Judaism (even Judaism of a liberal, Philonian type) is to desert the Crucified and to join the ranks of the crucifiers . The only way to life is the way forward, not back: we must go outside the camp, bearing Christ's reproach. And, he adds, do not be deflected from your purpose by the ignorant taunts of Jews and pagans, who, both alike, say that Christians are atheists because they have cut themselves adrift from priest hood, altar, sacrifice, and shrine: all these we have, and have them on the heavenly level of the absolute (Heb.viii.1, x.19 ff., xiii.10 ff.). We alone are citizens of that true Jerusalem, the city which, as the Psalmist puts it, has the foundations:
... he was looking forward to the city with (the) firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb.xi.10);
apparently a reminiscence of:
His foundations (plural) are on the holy hills . . . (Ps.Ixxxvi.1, LXX);
cf. Gal.iv.26, Phil.iii.20.
Thus there emerges, in succession to the primitive, unexamined assumption, 'of course we Christians are Jews', a polemical and carefully reasoned apologetic for the Church of Christ as alone the real Church of Israel. Ultimately, this logically involves also the paradoxical conclusion that the scriptures of Israel not merely belong, but belong exclusively to Christians. But long before this ever became explicit, and before the Jewish war had precipitated the split on a large scale, the tools of thought had already been sharpened by Paul in his personal conflicts; and he had begun to use two contrasting terms – 'Jews' for those who are externally or by birth Jews, 'Israel' for the religious community, the People of God as such. The latter is constituted by all, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, who put their trust in Jesus and are baptized into his Name. Of the former, only they belong to 'Israel' who are in the latter category. Sooner or later, as a result of this distinction, 'Jews' came to be used in certain Christian writings almost exclusively for antagonistic, anti-Christian Judaism, and nowhere more strikingly than in the Fourth Gospel.
John only twice uses 'Israel' (i.31; iii.10); but the term 'the Jews' is used often, and in a remarkable way, always as though by a non-Jew or an outside observer, for the benefit of non-Jews or outside observers. The writer is at pains to explain that the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles are festivals of' the Jews' (vi.4, vii.2, xi.55); Jewish customs are alluded to as though requiring explanation (ii.6, xix.31, 40, 42); the Jews are regularly the opponents of Jesus, except when a section of them is expressly distinguished as those Jews who had come to believe him (viii.31, xi.45, xii.11). Once Jesus himself is described as a Jew, but only by the Samaritan woman who is distinguishing his race from her own (iv.9). 'The term "the Jews"', writes Dr J. A. T. Robinson, 'is found overwhelmingly in polemical contexts: they are the representatives of darkness and opposition throughout the Gospel.'The significance of this for the milieu of the Fourth Gospel is a matter which must be discussed else where (see pp. 93 ff. below); but meanwhile, the usage well illustrates the terminology of separation, and corresponds with Paul's use as just described. One other example of the same tendency worth mentioning here is Matt.xxviii.15, where the false story of the theft of the Lord's body is described as current among the Jews. This is the only occurrence of this usage in Matt., though in iv.23 Jesus is described as preaching 'in their synagogues', as though the narrator felt himself standing outside Judaism.
But if such writings bear witness to the sharpening of the consciousness of the gulf, how did the Christians explain and rationalize it? Was such a situation anticipated in scripture? Could it be fitted into the purposes of God? There were sufficient scriptures about the Gentiles coming into Israel and bring ing their wealth and glory into the Temple (Isa.lx., etc.). But did not that mean as proselytes? And ought not converts from the Gentiles therefore to be circumcised and made true Jews? The logic of the question is obvious enough. To secure membership in 'God's Israel', true Israel, what was to be the minimum requirement? Surely circumcision, and all else that went to the full instatement of a proselyte, in addition to the distinctively Christian confession of Jesus of Nazareth as the King of Israel. If the Christians were true Jews, distinguished from others only in that they identified Jesus as Messiah, surely this was the logic of the situation.
The Church as a whole answered No, and therein enunciated far-reaching Christological decisions. Within Judaism, R. Joshua ben Hananiah had claimed that baptism alone was sufficient to make even a male Gentile a proselyte; but even he did not deny that circumcision was a duty; and the orthodox position, championed by Eliezer ben Hyrcanos had prevailed.But the Christian debate did not turn simply on the issue ' liberalism versus rigorism', nor did it rely upon an inward and spiritual interpretation of circumcision (though Paul does allude to this in Rom.ii.28 f.): it was (implicitly) a Christological controversy. And Paul is the fullest and most explicit spokesman of – not liberalism but high Christology. It was probably his influence, also, in the Christian world generally which turned the scale.
His argument was this. The distinctive form of initiation into the Christian community as such was by baptism into the Name of Jesus. This meant incorporation into the Messiah. According to Paul, it actually involved the 'stripping off' of one's whole 'body'. When Jesus died, he 'stripped off', he parted with, he surrendered his body: obedient to God, he handed over his very self to death. And being baptized 'into Christ' ^heant being identified with just that act of total surrender: it meant death and burial with Christ:
In him also you were circumcised, not in a physical sense, but by being divested of the lower nature; this is Christ's way of circumcision. For in baptism you were buried with him, in baptism also you were raised to life with him through your faith in the active power of God who raised him from the dead. And although you were dead because of your sins and because you were morally uncircumcised, he has made you alive with Christ. For he has forgiven us all our sins; he has cancelled the bond which pledged us to the decrees of the law. It stood against us, but he has set it aside, nailing it to the cross. On that cross he discarded the cosmic powers and authorities like a garment; he made a public spectacle of them and led themas captives in his triumphal procession.
(Col.ii.11-15, on which see the commentators.)
But circumcision was the symbolic stripping off of only a small part of the body. Christ's total stripping, as shared by the Christian in baptism, was thus the greater which included the less (cf. Jn vii.23, contrasting circumcision with health to the whole body). Accordingly baptism included and obviated cir cumcision; and to demand circumcision in addition would have been to pronounce on the insufficiency and non-inclusive nature of baptism. Besides, once incorporate in the Messiah, how could one go further inside Israel? To add to baptism would therefore also have been to pronounce upon the non-inclusiveness of Christ (cf. Gal.ii.5, v.4). In a word, if Jesus had been only an individual and his death only a noble martyrdom, things might have been different. The vehement Pauline refusal to require circumcision in addition to baptism implies an estimate of Christ's person and work which sees them as all-inclusive and as absolute.
This line of argument involved Paul's viewing Abraham rather than Moses as the true symbol of Israel. The great Pauline manifesto on it is the Epistle to the Romans, gathering up and ordering the results, no doubt, of prolonged and wide spread controversy. That the Sabbath controversy (which of course has left very clear marks in the Gospels – the Beza logion, Lk.vi.5 (D), in particular looking like a polemic 'reply' to Nu.xv.32 ff.
) does not figure in Acts xv, nor even at all prominently in the Pauline epistles, must presumably be due to the fact that, whereas circumcision would have been practicable for Gentile converts, Sabbath observance simply was not. Unless they came inside the Jewish ghetto, where there was an ordered life adjusted to the cessation of work on the Sabbath, they could not earn their living or subsist while observing the Sabbath. If they were slaves, Gentile masters would not release them from work; and if they were independent and earning their own living, they would still have had to pursue their trade on a Sabbath. It was no doubt because circumcision was a practical possibility for Gentile Christians as the Sabbath was not that it was the centre of controversy.
But, in addition to the great Christological argument against requiring circumcision, there were other considerations also. Since it concerned males only, it was bound to become less and less significant in communities where women were becoming far more prominent than in non-Christian Jewish communities.Ako, besides being, for adults, a drastic step, it was open to fierce obloquy and contempt and would therefore make a great rift between the convert and his pagan friends: was it right, then, to require it? And finally – and more seriously still – it carried with it the obligation to keep the whole law and brought the proselyte under the influence of the Jewish authorities who were themselves antagonistic to Christianity. It might thus afford a route leading straight past Christianity into anti-Christian Judaism. In Acts xv.10, Peter is represented as arguing that even Jews themselves could not keep the Law, and that the Law had thus failed to prove itself a means of salvation (cf. Gal.vi.13). Now that, by faith in Jesus, a new means of salvation was offered, why burden converts with this additional and unnecessary obligation? Christ had opened a new way into Israel, bringing freedom and power, not frustration.
The Jerusalem Council was thus persuaded (according to the narrative of Acts xv) that, while the call of the Gentiles into membership was in accordance with God's design (Amos ix.11 f. (LXX) and Isa.xlv.21 were cited in support), to force circumcision upon them would be wrong. But they did lay down certain stipulations by way of securing a modus vivendi with Jewish Christians – namely, the avoidance of technical 'con tamination' from idolatry, the avoidance of meat with the blood in it (which to Jews was ritually abhorrent) and the avoidance of fornication. The question of how far this was based upon the so-called Noachic rules is an interesting one, and is duly discussed by the commentators (see, e.g., C. S. C. Williams, in loc., and literature there), but need not delay us here.
It seems likely that before long the ritual food-clause became a dead-letter. The further Christianity went from Judaism, the less necessary became its accommodation to table-fellowship with orthodox Jews. As Goppelt points out (e.g. op. cit. 96), the change seems to have taken place between the writing of Galatians and Romans. In Galatians there is need for strenuous defence of Christian freedom against Judaizing claims; by the time Rom.xiv is written, the scruples of the Jewish Christian (as a 'weak' person) have to be protected against harsh treatment. Romans (as Goppelt shows, op. cit. 124 f.) is the very centre of the history of the early Church's response to this question of Christianity vis-a-vis Judaism.
But the other two clauses, broadly interpreted as the avoid ance of idolatry and sexual immorality, were basic religious and ethical demands which of course had permanent relevance. It is noteworthy (Goppelt op. cit. 125 f., 138) that in the Corinthian correspondence and Colossians it is not strictly legalistic Judaism but rather syncretism that is the object of attack. Indeed, in Corinth there was no tendency to Judaism, so far as our evidence goes. Thus, Jewish antagonism pushing from one side, and Gentile conversions pressing in from the other, led to the Church's definition of itself as true Israel because baptized into the Messiah, rather than because circumcised into the Law of Moses. It is simplest to assume that when Paul deliberately circumcised Timothy (Acts xvi.3), it was because, in his case, there was no question of circumcision being a sine qua non of Christianity. It was only 'to make an honest Jew' of him, so that he might preach to Jews as one of them. If Paul resisted the circumcision of Titus (if that is what Gal ii.3 does mean), it was because in his case the implication would indeed have been that circumcision was a sine qua non.
It is against the background, then, of the gradual hammering out of Christian self-consciousness that much of the New Testament writing becomes intelligible; and the very genesis of certain sections of Paul's letters and of an entire document such as the Epistle to the Hebrews may credibly be traced to this process. The Epistle to the Ephesians, again, whoever was its author, is rightly interpreted as concerned to show that the Christian Church is indeed continuous with Judaism, and, at the same time is not limited by the limitations of Judaism: it is (as has been well said)a splendid apologia in the face of the 'scandal of particularity': its claim that the Church has existed always in the mind of God, and is cosmic in its range and embraces the entire human race, is an answer to the objector who sees only a particular group of persons in a particular setting in time and space. Thus it is to non-Christian Judaism as a whole that the much-used words of Isaiah come to be applied:
And he said, ' Go, and say to this people:
" Hear and hear, but do not understand;
see and see, but do not perceive".
Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.'
(Isa.vi.9 f.; cf. Mk iv.12 and pars., Jn.xii.40, Acts xxviii.26, Rom.xi.8.)
We turn, next, to the consideration of a special aspect of the process – the use of scripture by the Christian Church.