« AnteriorContinuar »
15. The Decades of Church History. HAVING
how far a purely impersonal sorting of the different classes of material can explain the structure of the gospels, we turn to the historical conditions for light on the periods of the documents thus separated. Down to this point, personal judgment has not had any scope ; after this, the historical bearings have to be estimated.
It is to be expected that the successive stages of history of the early Church would be reflected in the character of the episodes which were thought most needful for public teaching. This does not at all imply that the episodes were invented at the appropriate time; but that, out of the large floating mass of written memoranda and oral tradition, certain parts successively caught the
general attention of the Church, owing to their applicability to the questions of the period. These episodes, thus brought into prominence by the conditions of the time, were therefore incorporated in the Nucleus, or in the gospels which grew upon
that. There seems to be hardly a sufficient appreciation of the vital differences which existed in the interests and tone of the early Church from one decade to another. A question of organisation or of custom would arise, which had not been thought of ten years before, and which would never be debated ten
The rapid changes of the early Church, developing within a single generation from an almost crushed Jewish sect in Jerusalem to a power extending over the whole civilised world, necessitated an equally rapid adjustment of its outlook to the changing conditions. We will here notice the characteristics of each decade. In the dates given we are not concerned with the small differences of two or three years between various authorities, the order of the changes being our object here.
To about 30 A.D., during the ministry, the
problem to Jewish minds was the proper understanding of the law, which was not yet abrogated in any particular. “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets : I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." The principles of the law, and their genuine application were the main subjects that appealed to the hearers. The Jew was eaten up with legality at the time, and the main question of the day to thoughtful minds was, how that burden should be lightened without losing the essential principles. The whole Sermon on the Mount is occupied with the discrimination of formalities and essentials. The interest in the baptism of John and his history also belongs to this age. .
30-40. The period of the Church in Jerusalem is marked by the great questions of the relation of the Church as a community to the general mass of Judaism. The Temple was the centre of teaching, and only by the compulsion of persecution was the Church being forced into an independent attitude. We may gain some living impression of the situation by looking at the relation of the early Wesleyans to the Established Church. An order of friars or derwishes is similarly united by its special rules and beliefs, while yet subject to the religion and laws of the general community around it. Narratives became needful in order to explain the past events to the five thousand who had joined the new party (Acts iv 4).
40-50. The beginning of the next period is marked by the founding of churches outside of Jerusalem. That of Antioch is described, and there the definite title of Christians was adopted in 42. Quite as early must have been the Church of Alexandria, when we consider the enormous Jewish population of Egypt, and its close relation to Palestine. Stephen disputed with the synagogue of the Libyans, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, before 36. The interest of the time lay in the Diaspora, and the equal importance of the Jewish communities wherever they might be. The Samaritans were welcomed, and Gentile proselytes such as the centurion Cornelius. The law was beginning to be regarded as partly obsolete or abrogated. Local explanations regarding scenes of narratives now became needful.
50-60. The Gentile period was now developing. As early as 48 the Gentiles as a body asked for teaching at Antioch, and the first blast of the new age of the Church came in the open declaration,“ seeing ye put it from you . . . lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” No longer must a Gentile be regarded as a proselyte. Even in the heart of Judaism the law was declared void by 48 or 50, and only the most fundamental morality was required to be observed by the Gentile converts. The road to Christianity no longer passed through Judaism. To this age there was a special meaning in the Prodigal Son, and in the subjection to kings and rulers. The explanations of the law now became necessary for the Gentiles to understand the narratives and allusions.
60-70. The age of external persecution and trouble began with Paul being sent a prisoner to Rome in 60. It was in full course in Nero's persecution in the year 64 in Rome. Paul's martyrdom followed in 66. The immense national tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 must have shaken the Jewish world far more than the fall of Rome shook