Most places do not give a very good background on goings on in Scripture
Q. There seems to be some confusion and hotly contested debates going on in the Book of Acts but the "why" is not clear to me. Could you explain what was going on because there seems to be more to it than what is explained in Sunday School?
A. You are right that in most places you will not get a very good background on what was going on, not only in Acts, but in all the Scriptures.
So, I will give you a brief history and synopsis so that you can get an idea of the context. First, let’s go back to the Great Commission in Matt 28.19-20. Let’s define a few things first.
The "gospel" is known in Hebrew as the "basar" and it means "good news" or "meat, bread" and it is spoken of in the Tanach, or Old Testament (Isa 40.9-10,62.10-11).
The "gospel" was preached to Abraham and taught all through the Old Testament.
So, the gospel was defined as the golden age of Israel, David’s throne restored, Messiah has come, God reigns through him over the earth, peace has come, man and nature restored, the resurrection has taken place, righteousness in the earth, the day of the Lord has come, Torah goes forth, no idolatry, the exiles have returned to the land, true worship restored, Gentiles believe and much more.
The Messiah is the agent of God empowered through the Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) to bring all of this about.
His task is to redeem man and nature. We enter into this redemption by emunah (faith).
The gospel message is that Yeshua (the Messiah) has come and the redemption of all things has been initiated.
Now, the headquarters for the faith was Jerusalem. In 30 A.D., Yeshua was resurrected and all this was centered around the 12 Talmidim (apostles).
At this time, there was not a concept that the Gentiles would come into the faith "enmasse" nor was there a concept that they would without becoming Jews.
So, the Jewish people believed in the coming Malkut Shamayim or the Kingdom of God. This was about the restoration and very eschatological.
First Century Jews believed that only Jews would have a part in the Malkut Shamayim. This included the disciples of Yeshua.
When they heard "go and make disclples of all nations" in Matt 28 they thought the Gentiles had to become Jewish and the Godfearers (Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel) were well on that road. Their concept of their commission was to go into world to the Jew.
The non-Jew would come into Judaism as a convert, then see that Yeshua was the Messiah. Some factions did not like that idea.
There were many groups or sects in the First Century.
The Pharisee’s were the most popular group amongst the people and they were made up of two main schools called the scholl of Shammai and the school of Hillel.
The question between the two groups was how should a non-Jew walk or live.
The school of Shammai said that a Gentile should convert to Judaism through circumcision (Book of Galatians and Acts 15 deals with this), then keep the Torah.
The school of Hillel believed that they should follow the Torah only where it applied to them, like festivals, Sabbath, sacrifices, food, uncleanliness laws and things like that. So, Acts moves along and and in Acts 10 Peter has a vision that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised (means becoming Jewish) to have a part in the Malkut Shamayim.
After he tells the story in Acts 11 the disciples change their doctrine and the issue was settled for awhile. But the issue crops up again and Paul has the same revelation and he explains this in Acts 15 and in the Book of Galatians. Now, the Messiah was not the "basar" but he is the agent of it (Psa 68.11, Isa 40.9-15, 52.1-40).
Messianic Jews are going to take a different path than mainstream Judaism. So, with this backround, we will pick up here next week and discuss the the Book of Acts up to approximatley 70 A.D. and the first Jewish revolt against Rome. We will deal with the Jewish and non-Jewish believer and the issues and controversies that we read about and hopefully this will give you more insight into what was really going on.
This area of study is largely ignored in most Bible studies and it has lead to a gross misunderstanding of what Paul was trying to say. So, we will look at the history and how these misunderstandings led to heresies and how Jews were eventually viewed as enemies of the Roman government and how these attitudes were reflected through the writings of the so-called "church fathers" which has influenced biblical doctrine to this day.