Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Emergence of the Church I: The Jerusalem Council

I received this question via email today:

_____ and I have been talking about the import of the Jerusalem Council. Was it intended to start a new group apart from worship at synagogues or was it intended to reflect God’s acceptance of Gentiles into the Jewish community by the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles?

My reply:

I don’t see myself, nor am I aware of cogent arguments that the Jerusalem Council in any way intended to “start a new group” but I’m not sure the other option is “acceptance of Gentiles into the Jewish community”. Like the development of Christology I think the development of Ecclesiology was largely a Spirit-guided reaction to present circumstances. Given what Judaism was, it seems to me they *couldn’t* have explicitly intended to bring the gentiles into the Jewish community. There’s a word for that: “proselytism” and that’s clearly not what was going on.

So I would prefer to speak in the passive voice--with tacit reference to the Holy Spirit--and say that a new community was formed. De facto, this is just the case: the Gentiles weren’t Jews and didn’t become Jews and the Jews didn’t become non-Jews. Perhaps the best way to say it is that a new *genus* was formed which encompassed both Jew and Greek. That’s the sort of transcendent language that resonates with Paul’s “neither Jew nor Greek” language in several places. As the situation developed, the Spirit continued to lead the Church to new de facto constitutions and to new self-understandings.

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