Eschatology – Part 8

Eschatology – Part 8


The Christian community, as a separate entity from Israel, was a new creation. In order to root itself in antiquity, it transferred all the prerogatives and claims of the Jewish people to itself. The church was “the true Israel,” “the new people,” “the original people,” and “the people of the future,” that is, of eternity. “This estimate of themselves rendered Christians impregnable against all attacks and movements of polemical criticism, while it further enabled them to advance in every direction for a war of conquest. Was the cry raised, ‘You are renegade Jews’ – the answer came, ‘We are the community of the Messiah, and therefore the true Israelites.’ If people said, ‘You are simply Jew,’ the reply was, ‘We are a new creation and a new people.'”[2]

“There were one or two other quite definite convictions of a general nature specially taken over by the early Christians at the very outset from the stories accumulated by a survey of history made from the Jewish standpoint. Applied to their own purposes, these were as follows: (1) Our people is older than the world; (2) the world was created for our sakes; (3) the world is carried on for our sakes; we retard the judgment of the world; (4) everything in the world is subject to us and must serve us; (5) everything in the world, the beginning and course and end of all history, is revealed to us and lies transparent to our eyes; (6) we shall take part in the judgment of the world and ourselves enjoy eternal bliss. In various early Christian documents, dating from before the middle of the second century, these convictions find expression, in homilies, apocalypses, epistles, and apologies, …”[3]


Regarding Israel and the Church being separate entities in the economy of God, Harnack argues that there was a clarity in the thinking of Paul that eluded many of the other New Testament writers, and all of the Patristics. Paul may have been responsible for the absolute cleavage between Judaism and Christianity at the Acts 15 council, but he was clear that God had a future for the nation of Israel. This theme, argued especially in Romans 9-11, is not found in the writings of the Patristics.

“Finally, in Rom. ix-xi, Paul promulgates a philosophy of history, according to which the new People, whose previous history fell within the limits of Israel, includes the Gentile world, now that Israel has been rejected, but will embrace in the end not merely ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ but also ‘all Israel.'”[4]

Judaism prepared the way for Christianity. “To the Jewish mission which preceded it, the Christian mission was indebted, in the first place, for a field tilled all over the empire; in the second place, for religious communities already formed everywhere in the towns; thirdly, for what Axenfeld calls ‘the help of materials’ furnished by the preliminary knowledge of the Old Testament, in addition to catechetical and liturgical materials which could be employed without much alteration; fourthly, for the habit of regular worship and a control of private life; fifthly, for an impressive apologetic on behalf of monotheism, historical theology, and ethics; and finally, for the feeling that self-diffusion was a duty. The amount of this debt is so large, that one might venture to claim the Christian mission as a continuation of the Jewish propaganda. ‘Judaism,’ said Renan, ‘was robbed of its due reward by a generation of fanatics, and it was prevented from gathering in the harvest which it had prepared.’

“The extent to which Judaism was prepared for the gospel may also be judged by means of the syncretism into which it had developed. The development was along no mere side-issues. The transformation of a national into a universal religion may take place in two ways: either by the national religion being reduced to great central principles, or by its assimilation of a wealth of new elements from other religions. Both processes developed simultaneously in Judaism. But the former is the more important of the two, as a preparation for Christianity.”[5] Harnack then quotes Jesus’ summary of the law, as loving God and neighbor,[6] to substantiate the claim that Christianity had taken the national religion of Israel and reduced it to two great principles.

Paul experienced opposition on his missionary journeys by Christian Jews who insisted that Gentiles accept Jewish dogma. “Still, two Jewish Christian parties continued to exist. One of these held by the agreement of the apostolic council; it gave the Gentile Christians its blessing, but held aloof from them in actual life.[7] The other persisted in fighting the Gentile Church as a false church.[8] Neither party accounts in the subsequent history of the church, owing to their numerical weakness. According to Justin (Apol., I. liii.), who must have known the facts, Jesus was rejected by the Jewish nation ‘with few exceptions’….In the Diaspora, apart from Syria and Egypt, Jewish Christians were hardly to be met with; there the Gentile Christians felt themselves supreme, in fact they were almost masters of the field.[9] This did not last, however, beyond 180 AD., when the Catholic church put Jewish Christians upon her roll of heretics. They were thus paid back in their own coin by Gentile Christianity; the heretics turned the former judges into heretics.

“Before long the relations of Jewish Christians to their kinsmen the Jews also took a turn for the worse – that is, so far as actual relations existed between them at all. It was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple which seems to have provoked the final crisis, and led to a complete breach between the two parties.[10] No Christian, even supposing he were a simple Jewish Christian, could view the catastrophe which befell the Jewish state, with its capital and sanctuary, as anything else than the just punishment of the nation for having crucified the Messiah. Strictly speaking, he ceased from that moment to be a Jew; for a Jew who accepted the downfall of his state and temple as a divine dispensation, thereby committed national suicide….There were Jewish Christians still, who remained after the fall of Jerusalem just where they had stood before; evidently they bewailed the fall of the temple, and yet they saw in its fall a merited punishment. Did they, we ask, or did they not, venture to desire the rebuilding of the temple? We can easily understand how such people proved a double offense to their fellow-countrymen, the genuine Jews. Indeed they were always falling between two fires, for the Jews persecuted them with bitter hatred,[11] while the Gentile church censured them as heretics – i.e., as non-Christians. They are dubbed indifferently by Jerome, who knew them personally, ‘semi-Judaei’ and ‘semi-Christiani’….They followed the course of life which Jesus had himself observed. Crushed by the letter of Jesus, they died a lingering death.

“There is hardly any fact which deserves to be turned over and thought over so much as this, that the religion of Jesus has never been able to root itself in Jewish or even Semitic soil. Certainly there must have been, and certainly must be still, some element in this religion which is allied to the greater freedom of the Greek spirit. In one sense Christianity has really remained Greek down to the present day. The forms it acquired on Greek soil have been modified, but they have never been laid aside within the church at large, not even within Protestantism itself….Islam rose in Arabia and has remained upon the whole an Arabic religion; the strength of its youth was also the strength of its manhood. Christianity, almost immediately after it arose, was dislodged from the nation to which it belonged; and thus from the very outset it was forced to learn how to distinguish between the kernel and the husk.

“Paul is only responsible in part for the sharp anti-Judaism which developed within the very earliest phases of Gentile Christianity. Though he held that the day of the Jews (I Thess. ii.15) was past and gone, yet he neither could nor would believe in a final repudiation of God’s people; on that point his last word is said in Rom xi. 25, 29….In this sense Paul remained a Jewish Christian to the end. The duality of mankind (Jews and ‘nations’) remained, in a way, intact, despite the one church of God which embraced them both. This church did not abrogate the special promises made to the Jews.

“But this standpoint remained a Pauline idiosyncrasy. When people had recourse, as the large majority of Christians had, simply to the allegorical method in order to emancipate themselves from the letter, and even from the contents, of Old Testament religion, the Pauline view had no attraction for them; in fact it was quite inadmissible, since the legitimacy of the allegorical conception, and inferentially the legitimacy of the Gentile church in general, was called in question, if the Pauline view held good at any single point.”[12]


In other words, by the year 180 the tables had been turned on the Jews; instead of their stalking Gentiles, calling them heretics for not adhering to Judaism, the Gentiles judged the Jews as heretics, something similar to what Paul did in Gal 2:14f. The Jews now became the enemy. They were rejected of God. To substantiate this biblically, the Old Testament was interpreted allegorically or figuratively.

Paul was the only one who saw a place for a future, restored Israel. In the early writings we find no one from the early church sharing his viewpoint. If the Jews have any future, then how can the OT be taken allegorically? To solve this, they ignored Paul’s teaching in Rom 11.

Next time we will look at how this influenced their rules of interpretation.

[1] op.cit., Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, p. 125.

[2] Harnack, Adolf, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, Moffatt, James, translator, Williams and Norgate, New York, 1908, p. 240.

[3] ibid, p. 242.

[4] ibid, p. 244.

[5] ibid, pp. 15-16.

[6] Mark 12:28-34.

[7] Gal. 2:12-13.

[8] Acts 21:18 – 22:24. When Paul gave his defense to the Jews in the temple, they did not become hostile when he said Jesus was the fulfillment of OT expectations and that Paul was to procalim Him as Lord (22:8-16), but rather when he said Jesus commissioned him to preach to the Gentiles (22:21-24). Evidently these were believing Jews hostile to the Gentile mission.

[9] “The turn of affairs is seen in Justian’s Dial. xlvii. Gentile Christians for a long while ceased to lay down any fresh conditions, but they deliberated whether they could recognize Jewish Christians as Christian brethren, and if so, to what extent. They acted in this matter with considerable rigor.”

[10] “We do not know when Jewish Christians broke off, or were forced to break off, from all connections with the synagogues; we can only conjecture that if such connections lasted till about 70 AD., they ceased then.”

[11] “Epiphanius (xxix.9): ‘Not merely are they visited with hatred at the hands of Jewish children, but rising at dawn, at noon, and eventide, when they perform their orisons (prayers) in their synagogues, the Jews curse them and anathematize them, crying God curse the Nazarines! For, indeed, they are assailed all the more bitterly because, being themselves of Jewish origin, they proclaim Jesus to be the Messiah – in opposition to the other Jews who reject Christ.'”

[12] op.cit., Harnack, pp. 61-65.