BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 74
Copyright 1995, Biblical Horizons
When God created the world, He created two lands: the Throne-land of Eden (entered through the sanctuary-garden, the Garden of Eden), and the Outlying Lands, such as the lands of Havilah and Cush. This essentially bi-polar world is the world of the Old Creation, and it continued to exist until ad 70.
After the Flood, God set it up again. The Noahic Covenant sets forth the way of salvation for all men, which is by faith in God. After the Tower of Babel, God called a particular people to serve Him as priests to all the other nations. These people grew from Abraham the Hebrew, and initially were called Hebrews. Later they were called Israelites, and later, Jews (an English contraction of the word Judahite).
Gentile God-fearers are never absent in the Old Testament, though sadly they are seldom noticed. Jethro, for instance, a descendant of Abraham through the non-priestly line of Midian, was such a God-fearer. Caleb the Kenizzite was one of the two men who were allowed to live all the way through the wilderness wanderings and enter the promised land. The other was Joshua. Caleb actually became an Israelite by circumcision, but originally he was, of course, a gentile (Genesis 15:19; Joshua 14:6).
Jethro actually appears as a Noahic sponsor of the Sinaitic Covenant with Israel. As a gentile God-fearer, he wanted the Israelites to take up their unique role as priests to all the nations. Before him, Melchizedek had appeared as a Noahic sponsor of Abraham. At the time of David, Hiram of Tyre appears as a sponsor of the Temple, and in the Restoration, Cyrus and Darius appear as gentile sponsors of the Jews.
Through Daniel, God told His people the particular form this bi-polar world would take during the Restoration. There would be a succession of four gentile world empires. They would be a large metal man, made of the metals of the Tabernacle and Temple, and they would house the Jews (Daniel 2). They would be four mighty cherubic beasts who would bare their fangs and claws against the enemies of the Jews. When they sinned and turned against God and His people, He would replace them with the next empire in turn. This would continue until the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 7).
The great temptation during the Restoration Era would be Hellenism. Zechariah said that God’s people would be at enmity with the Greeks (9:13). Daniel 11 shows the course of Greek domination over the Jews, and prophesies the apostasy of the Jews toward the Greeks.
This bi-polar world is put under judgment in the book of Revelation. Here the angels, who set up, taught, and ruled the Old Creation, now bring it to an end. The "land" refers to Israel, and the "sea" to the gentiles. Both are apostate, and both are judged and removed from the scene.
Before this happens, however, the new Church is formed. Its center is neither Rome nor Jerusalem, but Antioch. In other words, it is not centered in either of the two centers of the Old Creation. In the new Church, Jew and gentile are considered the same. Both are priests to the nations. There are no longer two kinds of believers, circumcised and uncircumcised.
In Antioch the believers are first called by their new name, Christians, apparently under Paul’s influence (Acts 11:20-26). From Antioch went a donation to the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:27-30). From Antioch Paul went on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1ff.). From Antioch Paul went to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 14:26ff.). From Antioch Paul went on his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 15:35ff.; 18:22ff.).
Now it is true that Acts proceeds from Jerusalem to Rome, but nothing in Acts hints that Rome would become the new center of Christianity. And the New Testament indicates quite the contrary, for in Revelation both Jerusalem and Rome are destroyed, the former literally and the latter officially. After ad 70, Rome no longer holds the place God appointed her in Daniel 7. She is now just one nation among others.
To sum up: After ad 70 the history of the Jews and of Rome as special people and empire in God’s plan is over, finished. All that remains is the Church, which is centered wherever God’s worship is established.
But the Church did not believe this completely. After all, there were still Jews in the world, claiming to be God’s continuing chosen people. And Rome still existed, and shortly the church at Rome began to insist that Peter had founded her, and that she was appointed by God to be first among the churches. There is really no reason to think Peter founded the first church in Rome, but even if he did, it does not matter. Peter founded other churches also. And if the matter had any importance at all the New Testament would call attention to it. The silence of the New Testament at this point is very telling. (When Peter writes from Babylon, the reference is to Jerusalem, 1 Peter 5:13.)
Soon, expositors lost touch with the meaning of Romans 11, seeing in it a future conversion of the Jews. Actually, the conversion of the Jews had already happened, in the years preceding ad 70. It was future to Paul, but it was already past for the early church.
Similarly, expositors lost touch with the meaning of Revelation. They ignored the clear and unmistakable date and time of the book. The Old Creation was run by angels. The fact that angels do the judging in Revelation proves that Revelation was written before ad 70 and concerns those events primarily. The present age is run by the Church and will be judged by the Church.
How did this ignorance arise? The answer is very simple: The early Church was in a state of strong reaction against the Jews. As a result, they lost touch with the Old Testament and its ways. (The Jews also lost touch with the Old Testament, reinterpreting it through the cloudy lens of the Mishnah.) Soon the Church was drifting into the "mysteriological piety" of the Hellenistic world. They decided that feasts were dangerous, and they multiplied fasts. They decided that sex was dangerous, and prized virginity, insisting that Mary never had sex with Joseph, that the clergy really should not marry, and that the Song of Solomon could not possibly be about human love. They decided that enthusiastic and instrumental music was dangerous, and rejected them. All of these ideas, and many more, came exclusively from Hellenism and not at all from the Bible.
The theologians and apologists of the early Church were intellectual converts from Hellenism. They brought much of their baggage with them, sadly. Moreover, they continued to believe that a well-educated man should be steeped in the "Greek and Roman classics," so they perpetuated this evil influence. It took Augustine his whole life to outgrow even a part of it.
Estranged from the symbolism of the Bible, presented throughout the warp and woof of the Old Testament, they interpreted the New Testament more and more in terms of Hellenism, allegorizing it extensively to bring it into line. They viewed the Old Testament as merely a group of footnotes to the New, rather than as the foundation of the New.
Soon other evil ideas came into the Church from Hellenism. Pagans consecrate matter to their gods, and soon the Church came to view the elements of the sacraments as consecrated (instead of merely used), and therefore to be adored. Later on, images of the saints and of Jesus received similar treatment.
A couple of centuries into the history of the Church, men began to think that the land of Palestine was holy. They "recovered" holy sites, the places where Jesus was supposedly born and crucified, for instance. Actually, these sites are far removed from where Jesus was really born and crucified, but in their stupidity and superstition, these men were determined to find places to treat as holy, and so they "found" them. Other myths arose, such as that the Mount of Transfiguration was Mount Tabor, something that the Bible does not say, and so that site became holy as well.
There were, of course, always those who studied the Bible and opposed these tendencies. The anti-icon party argued that God had forbidden the adoration of images, but they were overwhelmed by the politics of the icon-worshippers. In the West, the converted barbarians were more interested in the Bible than in Hellenism initially, and so the Frankish church in Charlemagne’s day had within it men who seriously challenged the Hellenized thinking of the mainstream church (and were friendlier to the Jews).
But throughout the Middle Ages, the hangover persisted. People thought that the land of Palestine was the "holy land." They sent crusades to liberate it from the Moslems. In fact, the holy land is the Church herself, and the land of Palestine is nothing but dirt. Meanwhile, Rome was the holy city.
Thus, they did not believe the New Testament. They did not believe that the Old Creation was over. They perpetuated the two major elements of the Old Creation, Jewry and Empire, in spite of the statement of the Bible that these had run their course.
You don’t get over a hangover in ten minutes. The Reformation was a mighty recovery. The Protestants broke completely with the Roman myth. Calvin interpreted the Bible preteristically, and clearly saw that there was no longer anything special about the Jews. He had no interest in Greek philosophers. (Luther went too far in rejecting the Jews, but this was an overreaction, typical of Luther, to an earlier error.)
The Reformers sat around tables for the Lord’s Supper, moving toward recovering it as a festival. They set the psalms to joyous, bouncy music, and composed similar hymns. The Lutherans, at least, recovered the use of musical instruments in worship. They affirmed marriage and sexuality. They said that Mary had sons by Joseph. They rejected monasticism. Their approach to the Bible made it possible eventually for Christians to read the Song of Solomon more accurately.
In a word, Calvin recovered the Old Testament. He produced a systematic theology, but only as a book for beginners to set out the basics of Christianity (The Institutes of the Christian Religion). From there, Calvin went to what really mattered: consecutive exposition of the text of God’s Word. Calvin realized that the New Testament is the completion of the Old, and that the Old Testament sets up the language and categories into which the New is written. Sadly, his insight was soon lost, and once again the Old Testament became a place of "cross-references" from the New.
And, in no time the myths were back. Calvin’s associates, unlike him, interpreted Revelation as if it were speaking of their own day. They saw a future conversion of the Jews in Romans 11. Thus, they failed to see the newness of the New Creation. Soon, the Christian "head" was bruising again with the hangover.
Four Elements of the Hangover
In no particular order let us take up what seem to be the four primary aspects of the hangover. First, Rome. The mystique of the Roman Catholic Church goes right back to the Old Creation and to its last phase, when Rome was indeed God’s appointed protector of the Jews. The Roman Church maintains that Rome continued to be part of God’s special plan, and not only part of it, but central to it. Peter went to Rome and founded the church there. Then Paul made Rome his journey’s end, at least in the book of Acts. Thus, God chose Rome to be the earthly, geographical center of the Church, with the chief elder of the Roman church as "Father" (Papa, Pope) over all.
The myth of Rome did not stop with Rome itself. In the West, there were Holy Roman Emperors in Germany and Austria. In the East, Constantinople thought of herself as a Second Rome, and, not to be outdone, the proud Russians proclaimed Moscow as the Third (and of course, Final) Rome. Thankfully, this kind of idiocy seems to be dying away now. Nobody in Washington, Peking, or Seoul seems to care to claim to be the Next Rome. At last the tattered remnants of the Old Creation seem to be passing away.
After all, this is all nonsense. With the end of the Old Creation, the whole idea of geographical centrality is radically transfigured. There is no longer any central Garden of Eden on the surface of the earth. Wherever God puts His name, there is the center, and in the New Creation His name is put wherever the Church exists. Your church and mine are each the center of the world. This does not eliminate the desirability of a larger church, but it means that the larger church is coordinate and cooperative, not centralized.
The rejection of the Jews by the early church had another effect, which was that Roman law rather than Biblical law became the standard of how law is conceived. Christian rulers drew specific ideas from Biblical law, but the general concept of law was Roman. This is still with us. The United States was founded as a replica of the Roman Republic, as you can see from the architecture of Washington, D.C., the fact that the founders took Roman names and models for themselves (Washington as Cincinnatus; the Federalists as Publius), and that they admired Roman authors (Cicero in particular). But before this, Calvinistic writers also called themselves by Roman names. The author of the Huguenot tract on civil resistance, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, did not call himself Ehud but Lucius Junius Brutus. Even today, the Bahnsenian theonomists continue to conceive of Biblical law in Roman terms, as a God-given compendium of legislation rather than as Torah (which is a much broader and deeper thing).
We need to wake up, look in the mirror, have a cup of coffee and three aspirin, and get over this hangover if we are going to give our grandchildren something better. The only people who need to study Latin are historians.
(to be concluded)