Chapter Four --------------------------------Feedback Box:
"Bible Discussions in Synagogues"
Bible Discussions in churches were no new idea. That's the way it was always done in synagogues! It's Pastor-Controlled Pulpits which are Biblically Unprecedented. Pictures of vigorous exchange of ideas in synagogues, as painted in the Bible. One man didn't do all the talking, or even lead. Several led together, and they invited audience input, even from enemies.
"B-but", you demand, "if God wanted everybody in the whole church to preach -- why, if God wanted to completely re-do the sort of worship everybody has been used to since time began -- why did He write only one chapter calling for an open discussion? Why didn't God give more details about how to do it? How are we supposed to get a clear picture of the sort of discussion God wanted from those scant clues in 1 Corinthians 14? When Moses instituted an entirely new form of worship, he wrote 5 long Bible books with lots of details. And now God wants to completely re-do the whole scheme of worship services again, and all we get for details are half a dozen verses?"
The Bible Discussions mandated by 1 Corinthians 14 weren't the least bit new. Bible discussions -- open forums in which ANYONE could participate with vigor, even with controversy -- were the only form of worship Jesus and his followers knew! So there wasn't any need for Paul or any other Bible writer to provide any details about how to conduct a Bible discussion!
Have you ever wondered why, if Synagogues were places where the Rabbi did all the talking, and no one was allowed to share the Gospel, Jesus and His apostles spent so much time in them? Why, even after they started their own churches, did they continue to spend so much of their time in synagogues?
As for us today, the few clues given to us in Scripture, plus our extensive successful experience in the exchange of secular ideas between vast numbers of people, are more than we need to know to implement 1 Corinthians 14 in our worship.
The Biblical evidence of robust interchange of ideas in Jewish synagogues and in the temple is so overwhelming that giving it all may seem unnecessarily redundant by the time you reach its end. But another reason for reviewing it is to pick up further clues about exactly how worship was conducted by the Jews.
As the picture of Synagogue worship becomes clear, you may marvel at what an easy system it was for Truth to penetrate! It really was "a level playing field for ideas". Well, perhaps not entirely level, since the temple leaders, after listening to you exercise your "Freedom of Speech", could try you for heresy and stone you to death. But other than that, Freedom of Speech in the Synagogues was alive and well. No wonder Jesus always went to the Temple and to synagogues: they were such open forums that they were the equivalent of people today calling in on talk radio shows! They were that open! Perhaps more, since hosts screen callers and reject those they don't like, which synagogues didn't do!
Those open forums were so vulnerable to truth, that you may come to wonder how far Jesus would have gotten today, in today's American churches, where only the minister talks, and they have visiting evangelists but certainly none whose fundamental theological credentials are seriously questioned! In other words, certainly none whose theology is as different as that of other denominations! Can you imagine Jesus walking into the biggest church in your town and disputing with your pastor during his sermon?! Your pastor would never allow it! But Jewish rabbis allowed it all the time. That was the only way they knew. They bitterly resented Jesus, but nowhere in the NT does it indicate they resented him for speaking in their synagogues. They resented the content of his message, not the fact that he had a message, or that he thought it was his right to present it in their synagogues.
Had Jesus come today instead of 2,000 years ago, he would have had to find some other way to reach people besides through churches. Because no church today would have permitted him to speak.
First, before we hit the Scriptures, a little background about synagogues, from Smith's Bible Dictionary. (There was only one Temple. But there were Synagogues -- meeting places -- in every city in the world with very many Jews.)
It stood, if possible, on the highest ground, in or near the city to which it belonged. And its direction too was fixed. Jerusalem was the Kibleh of Jewish devotion. The synagogue was so constructed that the worshippers as they entered, and as they prayed, looked towards it. In the internal arrangement of the synagogue we trace an obvious analogy to the type of the Tabernacle. At the upper or Jerusalem end stood the ark, the chest which like the older and more sacred ark, contained the Book of the Law. Here were the "chief seats," after which the Pharisees and Scribes stove so eagerly (Matthew 23:6), to which the wealthy and honored worshipper was invited (James 2:2-3). OFFICERS. In smaller towns there was often but one Rabbi. The most prominent functionary in a large synagogue was known as the sheliach, the officiating minister who acted as the delegate of the congregation. The Chazzan or "minister" of the synagogue (Luke 4:20) had duties of a lower kind, resembling those of the Christian deacon or sub-deacon. Besides these were ten men attached to every synagogue, known as the Batlanim. ...From the synagogue came the use of fixed forms of prayer. To that the first disciples had been accustomed from their youth. They had asked their Master to give them a distinctive one, and he had complied with their request (Luke 6:1), as the Baptist had done before for his disciples, as every Rabbi did for his. The large admixture of a didactic element in Christian worship, that by which it was distinguished from all Gentile forms of adoration, was derived from the older order. "Moses" was "read in the synagogues every Sabbath-day" (Acts 20:21), the whole Law being read consecutively, so as to be completed, according to one cycle, in three years. The writings of the prophets were read as second lessons in a corresponding order. They were followed by the Derash (Acts 13:15), the exposition, the sermon of the synagogue. The conformity extends also to the times of prayer.... From the synagogue...come many less conspicuous practices, which meet us in the liturgical life of the first three centuries: Ablution entire or partial, before entering the place of meeting (Hebrews 10:22; John 13:1-15); standing, and not kneeling, as the attitude of prayer (Luke 18:11); the arms stretched out; the face turned towards the Kibleh of the East; the responsive amen of the congregation to the prayers and benedictions of the elders (1 Cor 14:16). JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS. The language of the N.T. shows that the officers of the synagogue exercised in certain cases a judicial power. It is not quite so easy, however, to define the nature of the tribunal and the precise limits of its jurisdiction. In two of the passages referred to (Matthew 10:17; Mark 13:9) they are carefully distinguished from councils. It seems probable that the council was the larger tribunal of 23, which sat in every city, and that under the term synagogue we are to understand a smaller court, probably that of the Ten judges mentioned in the Talmud. Here also we trace the outline of a Christian institution. The Church either by itself or by appointed delegates, was to act as a Court of Arbitration in all disputes among its members.
The only clue I find, in this definition, to the openness of synagogues to input from any member (or visitor) is this: "They were followed by the Derash (Acts 13:15), the exposition, the sermon of the synagogue."
Acts 13:14-16 But when they [Paul and his company] departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, [Ye] men [and] brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. 16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with [his] hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. (KJV)
We find the "sermon" was NOT, in this case, given by the ruler of the synagogue, or any other official of the synagogue! Rather, the leader, exercising a role like pastors today who see a missionary from Yucatan and motion for him to come up, "sent unto them" (Paul and his comrades) to speak.
But did the Synagogue leaders invite Paul, like our Yucatan missionary, to be the one who does all the talking that one Sabbath, instead of themselves? Were the synagogue leaders even the ones who decided who spoke? Was Paul the only one invited to speak that day? Once a speaker was selected, was his message pre-approved and endorsed, or could he look forward to public contradiction if he got controversial?
Interesting questions. Even more interesting answers.
Acts 13:42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
Who selected the speakers? Not the ruler of the synagogue! Not even the Jews! The Gentiles, of all people, selected Paul for their speaker for the next Sabbath! This is consistent with many passages which describe Jesus preaching in the Temple at all sorts of odd hours, every day of the week. Apparently the Synagogues and the Temple were public meeting places, where anyone could preach who could get anyone to listen, as easily as on a public street or in an open field.
Could the ruler of the synagogue, and other synagogue officials, withdraw their invitation? Could they tell Paul, "We let you speak last Sabbath, but that doesn't mean you can just come over here and speak whenever you like!" No, they couldn't tell Paul that, for some strange reason. Even though any American preacher may readily tell that to any guest speaker who somehow escapes already knowing it. That is understood, in America today. Paul didn't understand it, though, in his day.
"...the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting..."
They still let Paul speak! They really wanted to shut Paul up! BUT THEY DIDN'T! Why not? Because synagogue services were open forums. They could not censor anybody. But they could certainly contradict Paul! They gave Paul freedom of speech. But they retained theirs, too.
When the ruler of the synagogue "sent" for Paul to invite him to speak, was he the only one invited, that first Sabbath?
The invitation was not just to Paul, but to "men and brethren"! If a modern preacher saw a famous missionary in the audience, he might relinquish his sermon to the missionary, but he wouldn't relinquish it to the missionary's entire staff sitting with him!
If a modern preacher offered a famous guest his sermon, every eye in the "church" would shift to the famous guest being introduced. Everyone would look at the guest preacher as he rose and made his way to the microphone. Not so with Paul, who had to "beckon... with his hand" (like people today raising their hand in a meeting so the moderator will give them a turn to talk) so people would know he was trying to speak! And even then, he had to ask them to "give audience"! Not something you would need to say if you had just been already given an audience by the Pulpit Master!
Why did Paul do that? Could it be that "the rulers of the synagogue" extended their invitation to others besides Paul, so that no one had any reason to assume Paul or anyone in his company would speak next until Paul waved (the Greek word means "shook" or signalled) his hand? Here's how "ruler of the synagogue" is defined in the Greek lexicon in my Logos computer program:
Ruler of the synagogue. It was his duty to select the readers or teachers in the synagogue, to examine the discourses of the public speakers, and to see that all things were done with decency and in accordance with ancestral usage.
In the KJV, the word is translated "ruler of the synagogue" 7 times, and "chief ruler of the synagogue" twice. Or at least that's what the lexicon says, and yet in this passage, it's "rulers of the synagogue", plural. I guess if there is a "chief ruler", then there must be other rulers under him. So I guess more than one shared this duty of selecting speakers. But notice they select speakers, plural. And also notice how the concept of "selecting speakers" says (1) others besides the "rulers" were the "speakers"; and (2) there wasn't just one speaker Sabbath after Sabbath, in which case there would have been no need to do any "selecting".
When we read that the rulers' job was to "examine the discourses", our experience inclines us to assume they pre-approved sermons. But obviously that didn't happen in this passage! Paul popped in from Timbuktu and the "rulers" gave him the podium. "Examine" more often means to "cross-examine". In school we have "exams" or "examinations", which today are mostly written tests, but sometimes are still oral exams where the teacher asks questions which the students must answer correctly.
When Paul returned the second Sabbath, we see the rulers of the synagogue arguing with him and contradicting him, or, in other words, "examining" him. Questioning him. Looking for flaws. Putting him to the test. They did not pre-approve Paul's sermon -- they didn't even post-approve him!
Notice also, in the Greek definition, that they selected not only "teachers" but "public speakers", as if there were some distinction between them. These categories both given as plural, that means there might have been a minimum of four at the pulpit! (Assuming the definition is accurate in this detail.) And as we observed earlier, from the account of Paul's second Sabbath at this synagogue, the rulers of the synagogue did not have the power, or the inclination, to forbid ANYONE from speaking, regardless of their personal hatred of anyone's message!
In other words, the rulers of the synagogue were NOT censors, or one-man-does-all-the-talking preachers. They were moderators. They facilitated orderly speaking by others. But their concept of "orderliness" did not require speakers to agree with them, or to be theologically correct. Heresy was attacked through oral examination -- challenges, not by pre-approval and censorship! The rulers of the synagogue lived the First Amendment. Could the authors of our First Amendment have patterned it after the example of these synagogue rulers, and after the way of dealing with heresy given in 1 Corinthians 14?
1 Corinthians 14:3, in defining the "prophecy" which every member was supposed to exercise in every service, used the same Greek word for "exhortation" that we find in Acts 13:15. The Greek word is "paraklete". It is the same word, translated in the KJV as "comforter", which Jesus used to introduce the Holy Spirit:
John 14:26 But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
The word means "advocate", or "defense attorney". "Intercessor". Someone who argues, or pleads, someone else's cause on their behalf. This shows us the quality of the "exhortation" Paul invites each of us to offer in Fellowship Gatherings. This shows us the quality of "exhortation" Paul himself was invited to offer in the synagogue, by the rulers of the synagogue.
It invites us to get personal with our fellow Christians. The involvement with the problems of others suggested by this word is similar to what we know as "counseling", except that counselors today refuse to affirm any objective standard of right and wrong, and they usually operate in secret. These passages indicate God considers counseling more beneficial when it is in what we would call "support groups". Except that the "support groups" God wants for us are not just people mired in the same problems we suffer, but are a healthy cross section of the variety of problems suffered by us all. The only time God calls for secrecy is when our "counseling" of a brother is concerning a personal complaint we have against him: Matthew 18:15.
From the record of what Paul said, after he was invited to offer "exhortation", we are shown the scope of the exhortation which Paul was invited to offer, and since Paul used the same word in 1 Corinthians 14:3 for what he invites us to offer in our Fellowship Gatherings, we are shown the scope of the "preaching" which each of us is called upon to do.
Acts 13:17 [Paul preaching at the synagogue] The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. 18 And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. 19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. 20 And after that he gave [unto them] judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the [son] of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. 23 Of this man's seed hath God according to [his] promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: 24 When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not [he]. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of [his] feet I am not worthy to loose. 26 Men [and] brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. 27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled [them] in condemning [him]. 28 And though they found no cause of death [in him], yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took [him] down from the tree, and laid [him] in a sepulchre. 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. 32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. 34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, [now] no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35 Wherefore he saith also in another [psalm], Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: 37 But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. 38 Be it known unto you therefore, men [and] brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; 41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.
Paul made his Scriptural case for the Lordship of Jesus.
He began with a history of familiar Bible stories so the people would snuggle into their pews and smile, and get comfortable, and let down their guard, and soak in Paul's words like a hippie in the sun.
Then, just when they were listening real good, he let them have it. He told them the truth they had hidden so carefully away: Jesus is risen, as He said! Paul didn't let them thoughtfully handle the Resurrection as an abstract theory, but reminded them of the multitude of still living, still notorious witnesses to Jesus' Resurrection! He disposed of charges that this miracle was the demonic work of some cult by showing how the Resurrection was prophesied in Scripture! He did let them get away with treating the Resurrection as a mere fact, as an assayer handles ore, intellectually weighing its pros and cons. He made the Truth scream at them, not allowing them to escape from the logical consequences of this miracle: that forgiveness is now available from Jesus in a way never before possible through Moses! And Paul didn't even let them get away with the comfortable smug assumption that Paul was just preaching to "the other guy"! Paul closed by showing that even the very stubbornness of Paul's audience was prophesied!
That is the scope of the "exhortation" which Paul was invited to offer! And even if we may surmise that the rulers of the synagogue did not really want Paul's exhortation to reach so wide a scope, we have to acknowledge that is the scope which Paul associated with the word "exhortation", and therefore, is the scope we must acknowledge is commanded us by 1 Corinthians 14:3! We are not limited to polite, abstract theological discussion sure to offend no one! We are free to address denomination-grade heresies worming their way into our gatherings. We are free to address White Identity theology, since we know a surprising proportion of the members of probably every white church share it. We are free to Biblically examine the Psychology infiltrating our fellowship. We can be vigilant against "cheap grace", as Bonhoeffer called it. Indeed, we can dispense with the fiction that it is possible for each denomination to distinguish itself from every other by its universally held beliefs, and we can invite all Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, etc., and then go after each other like Bereans. Just as Paul spent his Sabbath, not off in some little building with people who agreed with him, but in energetic pursuit of the very audiences most likely to disagree with him, and even want to kill him! Because Paul's vision of a good church service was to Preach the Gospel, and that meant to people who hadn't heard it, who are always found mixed with people who have heard it but haven't received it. "Preaching to the choir" (those who already agree with you) has its place, but that wasn't the end of Paul's vision, as it is of virtually every American church today!
We can be this bold, this "offensive", because the Bible commands it. (Read Romans 9:33 before you object that Christians aren't supposed to "offend" anybody! In fact, look up all the references for "offence" and "stumbling" and "rock", etc., and you will see the analogy is of an obstacle in your road. God wants you to put obstacles in the road of sinners, but not in the road of the innocent.)
The synagogue system was so open that it allowed apostates like Jesus and Paul to preach! Synagogue rulers maintained such wide-open forums that they let their bitterest enemies preach! And we may not dismiss this openness as one of the many sins of the Jews. Paul could not have more explicitly endorsed this very openness than he did in 1 Corinthians 14.
Matthew 21:23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? (KJV)
The astonishing thing about this passage is that the context shows the leaders were not questioning Jesus' authority to teach, which they never made any move to stop, but his driving out of the moneychangers in the verses just before!
To show how incredibly open even the Temple in Jerusalem was, to teaching even by the bitterest enemies of the leaders, marvel with me at this entire chapter of vehement criticism of the leaders of the Temple, which the first verse of the next chapter tells us was delivered right under their noses, right in the Temple!
Matthew 23:12-4:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men's shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, [even] Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16 Woe unto you, [ye] blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 [Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 [Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 [Ye] serpents, [ye] generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and [some] of them ye shall kill and crucify; and [some] of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute [them] from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed [is] he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
24:1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to [him] for to shew him the buildings of the temple. (KJV)
Can you think of one church you have ever visited, in your entire life, that would put up with this degree of "exhortation"? And yet Jesus was our example, and we have to assume Paul would have permitted Jesus to deliver similarly "offensive" exhortation in one of his churches! Think how your "church" would deepen, spiritually, if it would suffer such exhortation! All you who differ from myself on various theological points: Catholics, Calvinists, Mormons, Masons, Psychologists, White Identity folks, whatever: can you catch even a glimmer of the benefits of examining our differences together in the light of Scripture? Why be so afraid of the Sword of Truth? It's double edged, remember. It cuts both ways. It's at your disposal as well as mine. Everyone who uses it wins. Only falsehood and ignorance lose. Why act so exhausted every time you see it coming, as if your time is so precious that a few more hours searching the Scriptures with a theological adversary would be a waste? What are you doing that is so much more important than Biblically defined fellowship?
Here is more startling confirmation that Jesus taught daily, right in the Temple, and yet no one made a move to stop Him!
Matthew 26:55 In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. (KJV) (Also Mark 14:49)
Of course, other familiar verses show us that heresy was a capitol crime, and people could be arrested and stoned for it, and moves were made to arrest and stone Jesus on a number of occasions. But the Temple was such a wide open forum that the leaders were powerless to stop anyone from speaking, short of prosecutable heresy. And of course Jesus offered irrefutable legal arguments in His defense whenever they brought a formal charge.
In other words, the Temple offered such a wide open forum that no leader could tell anyone who wanted to speak, "Stop speaking. We don't agree with you. We can no longer endorse you. You will have to go somewhere else to speak. Not here, on OUR property." No, the leaders had to let anyone speak as long as anyone would listen to them, right up until the point when they could justify an arrest and bring sufficient evidence of heresy to sustain a verdict of guilty!
What were the political dynamics that made the leaders put up with such a system? Perhaps they had risen to power, themselves, by virtue of their own debating skills, and until Jesus and His followers came to town, they were Top Dog and saw the Open Forum as their surest means of remaining so. Perhaps they reasoned that they would rather have a heretic tip his hand right out in the open, where witnesses could come forward at his trial, than to stir up the populace behind their backs! Communist regimes have gone back and forth between openness and censorship; they opened things up to refresh their list of dissidents, and then closed them again when the message of the dissidents made the populace too rebellious. In America we have the First Amendment (everywhere but in our churches) but it doesn't do dictators any good because we have no laws against heresy. Why do we support freedom of expression? Hard to understand, yet the threat of its loss frightens us as little else does. Except in our churches. Has the freedom to express one's religion become the subject of least importance to Americans?
The following passage shows us that it was not just Jesus' irrefutable testimony, perhaps supported by miracles, that opened the door for him to preach in the Temple. This passage shows that they let anyone preach there, even someone who is uneducated. In this passage, they didn't recognize Jesus at all, and since their "college of letters" was the only one in the land, all they knew about this stranger was that he hadn't studied there. And yet they let Him preach anyway!
John 7:14-15 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. 15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? (KJV) (See also Matthew 13:54-55)
Now marvel with me at the scope of Jesus' doctrine which the people tolerated from a man they assumed was an uneducated, perfect stranger:
John 7:16-28 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. 17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak of myself. 18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. 19 Did not Moses give you the law, and [yet] none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me? 20 The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee? 21 Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. 22 Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. 23 If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? 24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. 25 Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill? 26 But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? 27 Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. 28 Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. 29 But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me. (KJV)
Verse 25, in other words: "Isn't there a warrant out for his arrest? And yet here he is, preaching right in the police station, and they don't even say anything to him?!" We, today, know the leaders were afraid to arrest Him because "they feared the people", Mark 11:32, Luke 20:19, Luke 22:2, Acts 5:26. But why? I notice that every time they made a move to arrest Jesus, they didn't just drag him away without explanation, but first accused Him of some capital crime. This appears to correspond to our practice, today, of charging a man with a crime before arresting him. In those times, when "court" was held, not just before a jury of 12, but in "the city gate" where practically the whole town was present, bringing a formal charge against Jesus gave him the opportunity to present, to everybody in town, a legal argument why He should not be arrested. Just as today, before officers make arrests, they ideally give prospective prisoners a chance to defend themselves, yet Due Process (the right of citizens to all the protections of law) will of course be best observed by police when there are many witnesses! Then as now. So the reason the leaders were afraid of Jesus, apparently, was because of their many frustrated experiences of formally charging Him, only to retreat in dismay when Jesus decimated their charges with irrefutable legal arguments!
The rest of the chapter:
John 7:30 Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come. 31 And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this [man] hath done? 32 The Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning him; and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take him. 33 Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and [then] I go unto him that sent me. 34 Ye shall seek me, and shall not find [me]: and where I am, [thither] ye cannot come. 35 Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles? 36 What [manner of] saying is this that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find [me]: and where I am, [thither] ye cannot come? 37 In the last day, that great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) 40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. 41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? 43 So there was a division among the people because of him. 44 And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him. 45. Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? 46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man. 47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? 48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? 49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. 50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) 51 Doth our law judge [any] man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? 52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. 53 And every man went unto his own house.
Again, we must marvel that the only recourse the leaders had, to shut down a dissident, was arrest, trial, and execution. Simply telling someone they could no longer use their podium was not an option! As long as Jesus prevailed in "court", the leaders were helpless to stop Him! It was easier for them to, in their thinking, risk the wrath of Caesar, John 11:50, than to close the Temple as a wide-open forum, a level playing field for ideas!
John 8:2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. (KJV)
John 8:20 These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come. (KJV)
Acts 2:46-47 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (KJV)
I guess the Temple was sort of a Jewish Internet. Anyone could sit down and talk with anyone else on the grounds. The verses that indicate preaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath suggest a formal meeting where only one at a time could speak. But when they came daily, and seemed to spend most of the day there, and especially when Jesus came "early in the morning", I wonder if the scenario is coming on to the premises and just striking up a Bible Discussion with whoever you can, either in some corner of the interior, or in the courtyard, or, if you have a large crowd, right up at the front of a "full house".
Another amazing fact is that even after the First Church was formed and had thousands of members, they still went DAILY to the Temple! Obviously their concept of "church" was not to go off by themselves and "associate" only with people who believed like they did, so they could all happily "endorse" each other!
Acts 4:1-21 And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2 Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put [them] in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. 4 Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, 6 And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? [Cured the cripple, that is. They were arrested, not for preaching, but for healing!] 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, 9 If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; 10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, [even] by him doth this man stand here before you whole. 11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. 14 And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them [is] manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny [it]. 17 But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. 18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all [men] glorified God for that which was done. (KJV)
I think this is the first and last instance in the entire New Testament where Jewish leaders attempted to censor the content of speech! Yet even here, there was no greater censorship imposed with regard to the location of speech. That is, they didn't say "you can go off in your own churches and preach, but don't preach here in our Temple." Even here, they remained just as free to preach in the Temple as anywhere else!
Acts 5:25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set [them] before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.
Even after all these hard feelings between the apostles and the temple leaders, the leaders still said they could teach in the Temple! They just weren't supposed to teach in Jesus' Name any more! And as I said before, even this restriction seems to be unprecedented in the NT record.
But what's this, that the leaders feared being stoned? Just who is in charge here? Could it be that "we the people" is a phrase not just for America, but for all nations in all times, to describe who, ultimately, is in charge, because it is "we the people" who determine how much wickedness in their rulers they will tolerate?
Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the [other] apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.... 40 ...and when they had called the apostles, and beaten [them], they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (KJV)
Even after an "injunction", and jail, and beatings, and another "injunction", the leaders were STILL helpless to prevent the apostles from teaching and preaching Jesus Christ in the Temple EVERY DAY!
WHY COULDN'T THE PHARISEES SILENCE THE APOSTLES?
Sure, much of the reason was their political impotency against the immense popularity of the apostles. But the immense popularity of the students placing a model of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square didn't stop the Chinese Communist government from mowing them down with tanks in the early '90's! What was so special about the popularity of the Apostles, that it stopped the temple leaders? Were the Pharisees so much more democratic than the Chinese communists?
If an immensely popular, and theologically irrefutable preacher wanted to speak in your church, but your pastor was jealous and didn't like him, he would have no trouble keeping him out, even though he could find no fault in the preacher's doctrine or life. He wouldn't have to lock the door, or sic armed guards on him to escort him back out. He wouldn't even have to prove the preacher was a heretic, or even a bit less than perfect! All your pastor would have to do, to keep the preacher out, would be to not invite him in! No one would question it! It wouldn't even be an issue! NO one gets to speak in "their" pulpits uninvited!
Immense popularity didn't stop the Communist Chinese, and it doesn't stop your pastor, from censoring messages they dislike. Why did it stop the Scribes and Pharisees? Were the Scribes and Pharisees so much more reasonable, so much more civilized, so much fairer, than your pastor?
Now notice something truly spectacular. The difference is not in the hearts of the murder-minded Pharisees, Chinese Communists, or "your" (hypothetically) jealous pastor. The difference is in what their followers will tolerate. The people of China did not revolt when the tanks drove over the students. Your congregation would not complain if your pastor censored excellent speakers for the most wanting of reasons. Yet the Pharisees were justifiably concerned that if they censored the Apostles, they would be stoned! WHY? Was the civilian population of Jesus' day so much more enlightened, democratic, willing to take a stand for Freedom of Speech, than the population of China, or the members of your own congregation? Was that the difference?
The difference was in the laws to which the respective populations have or had become accustomed.
Chinese have become accustomed to their government killing anyone and everyone for no reason. Tiananmen square was not an open forum! No one is outraged when censorship is exercised there -- they would be astonished if it weren't! The world was astonished when the Red Chinese didn't crush the students with tanks for -- how long was it -- a month?! An entire month of no murderous repression? The world was flabbergasted! The world was almost relieved when the tanks came and fulfilled their expectations! Revolt in outrage when the tanks came? Don't be ridiculous. No one revolted before when the Red Chinese acted like Red Chinese. Why should anyone revolt after the Red Chinese resumed acting like Red Chinese?
"Churches" today are not open forums! No one is outraged when a pastor doesn't share "his" pulpit with other preachers, and with members of the congregation (other than when speech can be "kept under control", and not very often even then). A congregation would be amazed and very concerned if the censorship were lifted! I guess the world is still waiting to see a time when censorship is lifted from an American "church" for an entire month!
But the Scribes and Pharisees maintained their Temple and Synagogues as open forums. The people were used to that. People will tolerate their rights being coaxed slowly and comfortably, and voluntarily away, but people might revolt if their rights are yanked away!
A "red herring" is an analogy of one way to win a confrontation by cheating. The phrase alludes to a fish drug across a trail to throw off tracking dogs following that trail.
If your (hypothetical) congregation thought your pastor was censoring that popular Bible Scholar/evangelist just out of jealousy, your congregation would fire him in a minute! But no one has to know that is his motive. Because he has an enormous red herring always handy. All he has to say is that God gave him that pulpit, and God has given him things to say in it which leave no time for visitors. He can say any manner of nonsense like that, and no one will question that yes, of course, your pastor does own that pulpit, after all, and has a perfect right to censor anyone and everyone, as "God" leads. That is a "red herring". The real motive is jealousy, (in this hypothetical example), but a technical excuse for censorship is available in the tradition that pastors hardly ever invite anybody to share "their" pulpits, no matter how good they are; hence their censorship can never be proven to be associated with dislike of someone the whole congregation likes.
So it's not just the laws to which a population has become accustomed which dictate the limits of its tolerance of evil. It's also the excuses which can be made of those laws and still be willingly swallowed by the population.
A politician who wants to vote against a prolife bill, but who doesn't want to risk offending any prolife voters, can tell people "I voted against the bill, not because I am pro-murder, but because the bill would have appropriated funds for abstinence education, and I am concerned about balancing the budget." In other words, the politician gave voters a "red herring", a technical excuse for voting the way he did, so he couldn't be blamed for his true motivation. Voters accept the excuse, because in their minds the smallest effort to Balance the Budget outweighs the largest effort to end the murder of innocent babies. They are willing to swallow this excuse, because the alternative is to think, be vigilant, and act.
Even the Tiananmen Square massacre needed a Red Herring. Even by communist standards, it was brutal. So the communists told the world they simply had to restore law and order. Well, that sounds reasonable. Law and order. Red herring. Must we discuss the legitimacy of their "law", or whether they themselves follow it, or whether there is any "order" to their prosecution of their laws? That requires too much thinking. Besides, their products are so cheap! Bribery. Maybe slavery isn't so bad after all, if it can produce violins for us for $100 retail! They're pretty good, too! And what's so bad about Chinese Communists giving a few million to Clinton so Clinton will sell them our naval base in California? Everybody does it, you know. Yes, the massacre really put even the Red Chinese in danger. They needed to play their red herrings like violins to stay in control.
But those poor Scribes and Pharisees! They had so vigorously established the Temple and their Synagogues as open forums, that they had no "red herring" to drag across the people's noses to justify censorship of messages the people loved! They had no technical excuse for censoring anybody, ever.
Had the Temple operated like modern pulpits, where no one spoke there other than those very few, chosen and heartily endorsed by the Pastor, the apostles would have presented no problem for the Temple leaders. They would simply have withdrawn permission to speak there, and not one soul in the whole nation would have questioned it. Everyone would have reasoned, "this doesn't necessarily mean our leaders don't like what the apostles preached. Why, lot's of good, Temple-endorsed men are never permitted to speak, so it's nothing personal." The leaders would have had their technical reason so they wouldn't be blamed for their true motivation: their loathing of the very message which all the people loved.
But, you see, the temple leaders didn't have the advantage which pastors today enjoy. Had they censored the apostles, who by their customs "had every right to be there", they would have had to do it without any technical excuse to give the people, to escape the blame for their true motivation, their loathing of the very message which all the people loved.
Synagogues, with the Temple, were open forums. Just like God wants churches to be, once again.
Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. (KJV)
Luke 6:6 And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. (KJV)
Acts 6:8-10 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. 9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called [the synagogue] of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. (KJV)
We're starting to get really redundant here. But again, the synagogues were open forums; level playing fields for ideas, where eloquent truth could prevail against eloquent falsehood. Simply telling Stephen he was not welcome to speak again was not an option for the leaders. Synagogues were not pastor-controlled pulpits, like we have today.
Acts 14:14 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. 3 Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. (KJV)
Described here is a long-term, ongoing theological debate. Something not possible in "churches" today.
Acts 17:13 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. (KJV)
Here is further evidence that not only were synagogues open forums where anyone could present a new idea and also where all ideas were tested by the fire of God's Word, but this openness is a thing appreciated and endorsed by God: the Bereans, who exemplified this Bible-testing openness, become the personification of nobility:
Acts 17:10-12 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. (KJV)
Acts 17:16-18 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. 18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. (KJV)
Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. (KJV)
Acts 18:1920 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they desired [him] to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; (KJV)
Acts 18:25-26 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. 26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto [them], and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. (KJV)
Acts 19:8 And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. (KJV)
Synagogues were open forums! They were places to reason with people. They were places where Christians could find pagans willing to listen to them! Is there a place in America like that today? Certainly not in "churches"!
Will it always be this way? I am praying it will not, and God answers prayer!
Excerpts from "Ante Pacem/Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine" by Graydon F. Snyder, pub. The SeedSowers, Mercer University Press, (c) 1985, 2nd printing 1991. A book full of photos of art created by early Christians in their homes, churches, and tombs; and photos and architectural perspective drawings of reconstructed house-churches and meeting halls.
Page 81: "If this hall [Titulus Crisogoni, in Rome, 100 by 58.5 Roman Feet -- a Roman foot is .296 meters] was built in 310, or at least prior to Constantine's own building program, then this, or possibly the north church at Aquileia, must be the earliest-known structure built specifically for the Christian assembly. We can note that this building specifically designed for Christian usage was a meeting hall just like the smaller areas we have found in Dura or SS. Giovanni e Paolo. There were no special appointments or divisions for liturgical purposes. Only later was it necessary to divide clergy from laity (the screen of the mid-fourth century). The confessio and the altar were introduced no earlier than the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the fifth.
"We might summarize [a time line of church structure development for this particular church] as follows:
[A.D.] 250-300 private room
280-310 meeting hall
350-380 appurtenances and divisions in the hall
375-400 insertion of confessio, cult of the saint [Saint Chrysogonus, for whom the church was later named], and altar
450- building of basilica
Page 82: "It cannot be determined when the congregation of Sta. Pudentiana first met in [the building] nor when they gained total possession of the building. One only knows that they met there for some years before the building was transformed into a basilica and the title titulus Pudentis was given to it. Again we can see that the Christians of the third and even fourth centuries sought only a meeting place and only late in the fourth century did they seek out formal Christian architectural structures."
Page 166: "The New Testament Church began as a small group house church (Col 4:15) and it remained so until the middle or end of the third century. there are no evidences of larger places of meeting before 300. Indeed, evidence of any kind remains surprisingly sparse. Christians must have met in homes or other small edifices [Ed: and met and debated in synagogues] without sufficiently altering the structures for us to determine their presence. What we have as evidence points only to the house church. At mid-third century we have in Dura-Europos a house remodeled to function as a church; in Rome we have in SS Giovanni e Paolo a single room serving as the church edifice until near the turn of the century, when a larger complex was formed. Street lists in Egypt indicate some homes were used as churches. Thousands of Christians met throughout the Mediterranean basin for two centuries without leaving us solid data regarding their places of assembly. Those places of assembly must have been private homes not owned by the 'church' and, therefore, not remodeled. We can only surmise that an occasional fish or calix might have marked such a home.
"Without denying the formal presence of ministers and elders or bishops in the governance structure of a local church, it must be maintained that the pre-Constantinian Church was remarkably democratic. In the letters and inscriptions there are very few references to clergy, and those are late. Only in the Crypt of the Popes in Rome do we have a clear interest in 'leadership' figures, but we understand the political nature of this attempt to replace saints with bishops. Still, even the presence of this struggle in Rome and such evidence as the letter to the brothers at Arsinoe indicates that there was a hierarchy in place. There was leadership, but clergy were not divided from laity, nor religious act from religious actor. Not until the end of the fourth century can we find church edifices with a choir or confession.
"Not only were religious distinctions minimalized, but social class structures were all but destroyed. The first Christians abetted that shift within the Roman world but obviously moved well ahead of society itself. One can see this fact in two distinct ways: the rapidity with which Roman family names were dropped and the total lack of reference to slaves. In both cases the Christian community demonstrably differed from Roman society at large.
"The characteristics of the house church noted in the period's art match our picture of the Christians as a democratic, close-knit group. People found in the new faith community a place of deliverance and peace. Most of the symbols from 180 [A.D.] reflect this deep sense of security. At the same time the Church extended itself by offering hospitality not only to its members but to society at large. We find this in the philanthropia of the Good Shepherd and the function of the meal as social diakonia [service]."
OTHER HISTORICAL GOODIES
By the way, by the fourth century, the meeting place as important as church was the cemetery, where there were meals with the dead. The upside was the food was here shared with the poor; but at least some caskets were built with funnels going down to the mouth of the corpse, and I guess as Christians ate, they shared with dear old grandma, through that funnel. They would visit with her, too, and ask her advice. I'm not clear on how much she gave.
Page 61: "In the social matrix the people believed the dead remained in the houses or places prepared for them. They ate with the dead, talked to them, asked for their assistance. In the case of special dead, they revered and honored the daemon of the dead present in the aedicula or heroon."
Page 83: "Several scholars now assume that there is a strong continuity between the ancient 'cult of the special dead' and the formation of saints in the early Church."
Page 88: "In this roofed...room people sat and shared their food with the dead (the drinking cup was in the ring and food was held in a vase or dish in the bowl). From literary accounts and pictorial representations we know that food was also shared with the needy."
Page 90: "The depressions in the lid of the sarcophagus [casket]...may have either held the food for the meal or served as the means for injecting the food into the sarcophagus itself." (P. 91 says this practice probably preceded Constantine but it is not known for sure, or by how much.)
Page 93: "Only in the later part of the fourth century were graves themselves made the center of the celebrative focus, and not until the next century were there eucharistic celebrations over the remains (relics) of the saints and martyrs. ...about the end of the fourth century, or the beginning of the fifth, the relics of the martyrs were inserted into the architectural structure of the meeting hall."
Page 166: "From inscriptions we know that baptism was originally limited to adults, but toward the end of the third century the age of baptism must have shifted toward childhood."
Page 168: "The Christian conflict with the State has been overemphasized by later generations. There were persecutions, but the picture of early Christians cowering in the Colosseum or hiding in the catacombs better represents later martyrologies than it does any known archaeological data. If anything, the data reflect an unconcern for police or State activities. The original catacomb was constructed opposite a police station on the Via Appia. Property rights in the catacombs and agreements with the diggers or fossores were registered when appropriate. House churches in Egypt were registered for tax purposes. Christians executing legal affairs did not hide their faith stance. Again, without denying the historical evidence from the literature, one must temper the later picture with the apparent fact that local Christians were fairly open about their faith and its public ramifications."
Page 132: "In contrast with some third-century literature (Acts of Paul), a religious order of virgins does not occur in our pre-Constantinian archaeological data."
Crosses, as Christian symbols
Page 139, about a cross-like symbol on a tomb: "The large tau or chi has been interpreted in some circles as a cross. Generally it is assumed there were no crosses anywhere in Christianity before Constantine. If these are the earliest crosses in Christian symbolism, we have no notion of their meaning, except to suppose that, like the term Christian, it publicizes the faith of the deceased. For such formalization one would have to presuppose a prehistory of the symbol as a public Christian insignia. However, there is no hint of that. One would conclude, then, that the cross marks are cultural attempts to ward off evil spirits and have no reference to the cross of Jesus."
Early Christian Economy
The earliest known (about 250 A.D.) recorded Christian financial transaction, for which the original copy exists is translated:
Page 153: "pay for the grain...the same price lest they wonder what was said when the deposits were sent to him from Alexandria. And though I made excuses, caused delays and put things off, I do not believe he thinks these things without cause. If now this superabundance which has occurred does not make it possible to pay the bill, for my own good, I will endure the cost. And if you wish again to sell some bread..... Nilos and my father Apoillonis in A.... And they have written the money should be given to you immediately. Also bring that to Alexandria, having bought (linen) among you in Arsinoe. I have made this contract with Primitinus, that the money will be delivered to him at Alexandria."
"You did well brethren when you bought the linen...some of you take....with you to Maximos the papa and...the Lector. And in the city having sold the linen...deliver the money to Primitinus or to Maximus, having received a receipt for it....deposit....having sold the bread and the linens, the money, I beseech....give it to Theonas, in order that, with God, when I come to Alexandria...I find it (deposited) against my debits. Do not neglect, brethren, to do this quickly, lest Primitinus, because of my delay waste time in Alexandria....for Rome, but as us....for the papa and those with him...I will offer...and all agreements quickly for you and Agathobulus....."
"This may be...the oldest autograph letter of a known Christian. The letter is mutilated and difficult to understand, but there is enough to make it one of the most valuable papyri of the first centuries. The first column has been damaged too severely for cogent reconstruction. There would appear to be a reference to a Dionysius in line 6. This might have been the Dionysius who was bishop of Alexandria from 247 to 264, since the rest of the letter deals with two other bishops of Alexandria.
"The writer obviously has a primary concern about a payment due to one Primitinus who will soon be in Alexandria. We cannot determine why the brethren, or faith community, of Arsinoe would be involved. But through the sale of grain (?), bread, and linens, the group should be able to deposit enough to match the debits and make the payment. By addressing the group at Arsinoe as brethren we can be sure we are dealing with a church, so this would be the first extant private letter written to a church. In column III, line 14 the writer may use a nascent Christian piety formula, (sun theo/with God). But more important is the reference to two bishops of the Alexandrian church. Maximos would be the successor of Dionysius, from 264 to 282. It would appear Theonas was the financial secretary for Maximos at this time, but later himself was bishop (282/300-301.)
"The financial function of the Church has not been sufficiently appreciated. At the time of Christ the Jewish Temple and its synagogues were probably the largest independent (of Rome) banking institution in the Empire. The account in Acts tells us the Christians threatened that financial function of the Temple with a counterstructure. Our knowledge of how that new financial structure developed has been very minimal. This letter indicates the office of the bishop was available for expediting financial transactions nd even holding deposits.
"Little can be done with the title 'papa.' It only indicates that the term 'pope' could be used for a bishop other than the bishop of Rome. It fits well, of course, with the early understanding of the faith community as a family -- brothers and sisters led by a father or mother."
Page 158: "In addition to this deep sense of community
that was expressed, no doubt, through common meals, worship, and assemblies,
the community served as an economic institution. It could act as a bank,
both local and international, and [in two surviving documents] employment
is offered. In others...services are being performed. A kinship community
also cares for its members financially, as the documents indicate.
Chapter 5 "Categories of Church Workers"
Got feedback? Send it, along with
name or url of the article, and a little of the text on either side of where
your comment belongs, so I know what you are responding to, and I'll post
your response. I might even place it right smack dab in the article! (If
you don't want your email posted, SAY SO!)