23 Nov 2022

Back to the Past: A DeLorean takes us at 88 MPH to AD 60

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Acts, Bible, Church, Church History, Journey, Lord's Supper, Mission, Patternism, Precision Obedience, Sectarianism, Unity, Women, Worship

Why Some Choose 1950 over AD 60

To be honest is to confront the truth. However unpleasant and inconvenient the truth may be, I believe we must expose it and face it” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up in a “non-denomination” denomination that claims to be “first century Christianity.” As far back as I can remember, we sloganized with Back to the Bible. Speak where the Bible speaks, Silent where the Bible is silent. Call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.

Perhaps you have heard these slogans yourself. I doubt I am alone in hearing them. What may surprise many outsiders is that a group with this kind of agenda, that claims the first century is normative, is almost completely ahistorical. That is we often have no interest in history at all. In fact it may be a detriment to our faith according to some.

But we have become so Americanized in our view of the “Bible” and “Christianity” that most all of us would not recognize first century Christianity as any expression of Christianity we have encountered in our lives. So for today I offer a handful of surprises about first century “Christianity.” Most of us when we get into our DeLorean to find first century Christians, worshiping in first century ways, are nothing short of shocked and left wondering if we have even found “Christians.”

So lets get into our DeLorean time machine, fire up our Flux Capacitor and hit 88 mph and head “Back to the Past!” That is AD 60 and take a look. Buckle up!

1) Among the biggest surprises when we return to AD 60 we discover no one speaks English. Neither are the vast majority of the people “white.” As our DeLorean takes us through the regions of Jerusalem and Galilee we encounter brown to dark brown people. As we move into Galatia, Asia and Greece we run into sort of a greenish brown olive complexion for most of the people. We decide to head off to center of the Roman Empire, Italy, and we see many of the same shade. But we do come across a band of Germanic people, from beyond the Empire, and they are fair skin. But regardless of where we find ourselves we find people who are bilingual at least and many speaking multiple languages. But we do not find anyone, not even the Britons from the furthest northern part of the Empire, who speak anything remotely like “English.” Our discovery is that early “Christianity” was darker than we in America tend to imagine. And though multilingual it never heard of English.

2) Among the major surprises, as our DeLorean takes us to congregations in Judea and the Aegean, is no one has a “Bible.” In fact no one knows what “the Bible” is. No one, from the apostles to the common disciple in the corner, has ever heard the term “Old Testament.” And perhaps the biggest shocker is not a single person has ever heard of “Christianity.” Suddenly “calling things Bible names” seems problematic. (The irony of the slogan “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” dawned on my years ago when I realized that neither the word “Bible” nor “Christianity” ever occur in the Bible!).

3) Probably as unsettling as the above discovery in AD 60 the biggest surprise of all is that the believers almost never called themselves “Christians” (the word “Christianity” did not exist until the second century). First century writers like Paul, Peter, James, John and Clement almost never use the first term. Luke used the term 2x and Peter 1x. But neither Peter nor Luke call anyone that, though they accepted it (with conditions) if someone called them such. Instead all these writers used traditional Jewish nomenclature from the “Old Testament” to identify themselves:

the brothers and sisters;
the saints;
ekklesia (a frequent term in the Greek LXX);
the people;
the exiles; etc.

We decide to consult the Yellow Pages and Yelp while in Corinth but find no listing for Corinth Church of Christ. In fact we cannot find any congregation called “Church of Christ.” Rather what we discover is “church of God.” “Church of the Galatians.” “Church of the Thessalonians.” “Church of the Judeans.” “Exiles.” This is disorienting.

4) The next biggest surprise is that these first century believers, in AD 60, did not carry around pocket New Testaments. In fact no one had New Testaments. Indeed, no one has heard of the Book of Acts and a good portion of “books” we call “the New Testament.” When we do find a group of “messianics” and worship in first century ways, we are overwhelmed by how much time is spent reading Moses, Psalms and the Prophets. In fact the songs sung are almost all from the Book of Psalms. Someone gets up and tells a story about Jesus. But what is read by the reader is Moses. Suddenly we recall an elder at our home church saying, “why are you teaching Psalms, we are New Testament Christians.” Oh the irony. The first century saint would not have a clue what that elder was saying.

5) Another big surprise for most in our day, if our DeLorean stopped in AD 35, AD 45; AD 55; AD 75; or even AD 90 … they would not find a single church building. If the earliest writers are to be believed then we would find believers in King Jesus gathering in three primary locations: the Temple of God; synagogues; and homes/apartments.

6) Some contemporary believers, who think the first century “church” was basically all made from cookie cutters to be identical, will be nothing short of stunned and even shocked when their DeLorean brings them to the Jerusalem church in AD 60ish. Our eyes and ears are eager to see James and Paul together! Both look nothing like classic paintings we know. They are wearing prayer shawls, tzitzit at least one was blue. Paul looks like a Pharisee and James looks like a High Priest. And what do we see our brothers doing? In nothing short of stunned disbelief, we see James and Paul go through a mikvot to ceremonially cleanse themselves, then enter the temple with hundreds of Levites playing instruments on the steps in the Court of Women, then we see them offering an actual sacrifice! We simply do not have a category for that kind of worship in Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ. We do not know if we should upload this for YouTube or not because it clearly is beyond our thought pattern. Then it dawns on us that there was no single cookie cutter used to define “Christian” worship in the first century at all.

7) Another major surprise for us when we arrive in Corinth in AD 55 is the Lord’s Supper is part of a full meal. Much like the sacrificial meals, the Passover and weekly Sabbath meal out of the history of Israel. No one is concerned about who serves and who does not serve. They share the whole meal in honor of the living and present Lord. We are surprised when people are not stone dead quiet and that there is no such thing as tiny unleavened wafers and Welch’s juice … it is tasty loaves of leavened bread and real wine!! No wonder we are giving God thanksgiving!

8) One of the major surprises for American believers transported back to AD 60 in our DeLorean, is just how at odds the Way of Jesus is with the national government and the general tenor of culture as a whole. Disciples of Jesus simply do not fit in with anyone of the major groups and we certainly do not sing the national anthem. In fact they are killing some of us as atheists, enemies of the State, and haters of humanity! One of the prophets, John, even called on them to “come out of” the Roman ways of living. So much for needing a “Christian” nation to practice our faith.

9) Another major surprise has been that one of the women at the table (which seems to be the focal point for Paul’s house church in Corinth) speak and pray. We ask who she is, some one whispers she is Phoebe a visiting deacon from the church of God in Cenchreae/Corinth. She reads and explains a long letter from Paul the Pharisee Apostle. Another shares a recitation of Scripture from Moses, the Psalms or Prophets for the edification of the gathered body. No one gets up and says that was unusual or out of place. Indeed we see that women among these first century saints are some of the most prominent folks in the Way!

10) Another major surprise is just how diverse the family of God is. It is as if the social structure of the old age has simply been jettisoned. Greeks and Jews; Romans and Germans; Slaves and Masters; Males and Females; ‘Whites” and Blacks; Rich and Poor not only claim to be equals pledging allegiance to the Messiah King of Israel who is Lord of the Nations. And it actually looks like they actually believe it. Status has been given to the lowly! And the ones with “status” have become servants of the body. It is a complete overturning of what the world says about how things should be. The Table of Jesus, King of the Jews, is the most integrated place in the Roman Empire!

Just a few interesting observations about a trip to the first century to see the beginning of The Way.

Related Articles

Acts: A Jewish Story, James & Paul’s Animal Sacrifice

Reading Luke-Acts: Thoughts on Luke’s “Patternism”

Aroma of Incense: Shadow of the Temple in Luke’s Story of Jesus and the Way

7 Responses to “Back to the Past: A DeLorean takes us at 88 MPH to AD 60”

  1. JT Says:

    That’s a nice start on listing “shockers” and other things we’d see that are nothing like what we teach and practice today. Many more differences and contrasts could be listed.

    We’d be shocked to observe that Jesus hadn’t given them a new religion but came to “fix” the one in place. And, that those outside of the nation of Israel, who believed, were grafted into it, not separated from and distinguished from it.

    That He hadn’t replaced or cancelled the instructions of His Father (“The Law”) but that His teachings, and his walk, rather, were a perfect interpretation and explanation of all that was written before him.

    And, we might be surprised to learn that they all considered they had been saved by God’s grace upon their Trust in Him, which necessarily motivated them to obey, to include a new beginning into a ritual washing – baptism as we would call it today.

    We know the leaders taught against the minority Jewish believers who insisted on Gentiles converting to Judaism for salvation. But we would be shocked to learn that the ruling in Acts 15 meant those new believers coming from the nations absolutely needed to refrain from four things, as taught in the “OT”, in order to minimally “fit in” with the Jewish brethren. With the implication being that they would learn the deeper truths found in the Word of God while in homes and synagogues. Those things that much of today’s church claims has been “abolished”.

    My thoughts in reflecting upon your thoughts…



  2. Bobby Valentine Says:

    Glad to have your comment JT. There are many more surprises indeed if we went back to AD 60. Or most anytime in the first century. But it is a good exercise to do periodically in our mind. It helps to keep us honest with the text if nothing else. The first century Way had a particular Hebraic worldview that was surprisingly inclusive when it comes to “how to do church.”

  3. A. Ruth Miller Says:

    General: Yes, we’d be shocked to see the number of Jewish believers who still “Sought the Old Paths” of traditions like keeping kosher, cleaning rituals, and circumcision as well as still meeting on Saturdays.

    #3: Luke doesn’t specify that the demonym was used by the believers themselves (unlikely given that it’s nowhere else) or a pejorative used by others.

    #8: Good luck peddling that in an average CoC in the country that has an attendance <100.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      A. Ruth Miller, thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting. I appreciate it.

      You are right about #3. The term “Christian” is almost certainly, in its origin, an epitaph that was attached in a derogatory way from outsiders to followers of Jesus. And it did not come from Jews almost certainly which why the term is first known in Syrian Antioch the old capital of the Seleucid Empire.

  4. Dwight Says:

    The early saints didn’t belong to a church/congregation…they belonged to God or Christ. They didn’t belong to a single congregation other than the body of Christ or others.

  5. Andrew Kitchen Says:

    Hi Bobby, great post. I think articles like this that challenge culturally received church doctrine and practice are very good things. Such aphorisms as “Bible names for Bible things” for example should certainly be examined lest they become verbal sleight-of-hand for maintaining the status quo of an unexamined faith.

  6. Jhun Ma Says:

    Awesome! Same conclusion I have as I continue studying the Bible, particularly the Book of Acts.

    The church or the group of Jesus’ followers after His death and resurrection was really Jewish in its practices and ritual.

    The only difference was that they viewed these Jewish practices and traditions in the light of the knowledge that Jesus is the Anointed King or the Messiah that they were waiting for.

    Even the Lord’s communion according to the Synoptics was the Jewish Passover, of which the Lord Jesus said as “often” as you eat the [Passover] “bread”‘ and “drink” this [Passover] “cup” was not referring or can be identified to our every Sunday communion (with cookie and welch). But based on its context and the event they were celebrating, It was the annual Jewish Passover meal:

    1. That they celebrate Annually or Yearly.
    2. It was a feast or meal NOT a snack
    3. It was to be eaten by the whole family the children and the adults.
    4. It was a joyful celebration remembering God’s Mighty Works of Salvation NOT a Funeral Type Ceremony.

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