“Then there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people and ordered to put the apostles forward a bit; and said to them: you men of Israel, be careful about what you do to these men. Because a while ago Theudas appeared boasting that he was somebody important. He was joined by a group of men, about four hundred. He was slain and all that followed him were dispersed and came to nought. After this man, Judas of Galilee arose, in the days of the taxing, and attracted many people to him. He also perished. And all those who followed him were dispersed. And now I tell you, refrain from these men and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this activity is of men, it will COME TO NOUGHT! But if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest as a result you are found to be fighting against God!” Acts 5:34-39.
Christians like to point to this passage as a proof that the Christian Church “is of God”, as 19 centuries have passed since Gamaliel spoke those words, but followers of the church have neither been dispersed nor “come to nought”.
Of course, the validity of this argument may be seriously questioned. The followers of Muhammad, the Arabian Prophet, are very much in existence. Islam has conquered much of Asia and Africa and has millions of devout followers. Yet who is the Christian that will admit this as proof that Muhammad was “of God”? And what about the millions of Buddhists and Hindus? Are they all “of God” merely because they haven’t “come to nought?”
But assuming that Gamaliel was right, what men was he speaking about? Was he referring to the trinitarian, image worshipping, Sunday keeping, pork eating gentile church?? Was he thinking of the church of Rome, the Anglican Church, the so called protestant churches?? NO! He was speaking of the Jewish church at Jerusalem, the church of Peter and James! All these men were Jews, and differed from other Jews only in that they believed the messiah had already come in the person of Jesus. In all other respects they were Orthodox Jews, NOT “Christians” (the term hadn’t been invented yet!). What actually did come of the church? What is the testimony of history?
The Jewish Christians, excluded by their fellow countrymen, continued to observe sabbaths, circumcision, and other Jewish feasts. As this distressed many Gentile Christians, they became lonely, unsupported groups. In the fourth century and later there were small Jewish churches in Syria. Jerome translated into Latin their Gospel according to the Hebrews, preserving traditions slightly diverging from the canonical Greek gospels, and magnifying the position of James the Lord’s brother. But the orthodox Jews could not forgive them for being Christians, and the Gentile majority in the Church could not comprehend their continued observance of the traditional customs and rites of Judaism. Slowly the communities lost importance. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (below, p. 75) written about 160 it appears that they were still a force. Justin believed that a Jewish Christian was quite free to keep the Mosaic law without in any way compromising his Christian faith, and even that a Gentile Christian might keep Jewish customs if a Jewish Christian had influenced him to do so; only it must be held that such observances were matters of indifference and of individual conscience. But Justin had to admit that other Gentile Christians did not take so liberal a view and believed that those who observed the Mosaic law could not be saved. From Irenaeus onwards Jewish Christianity is treated as a deviationist sect rather than as a form of Christianity with the best claims to continuity with the practice of the primitive church at Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians called themselves Ebionites, a name derived from the Hebrew word meaning ‘the poor’; it was probably a conscious reminiscence of a very early term which is attested by St. Paul’s letter as an almost technical name for the Christians in Jerusalem and Judaea. Since some of them had never accepted the tradition of the virgin birth of Christ, Irenaeus classified the Ebionites with other heresies that denied this; soon Tertullian was supposing that they originated with a person named Ebion, and later anti-heretical writers even felt able to quote from Ebion’s alleged writings.
The Early Church, by
Henry Chadwick, pp. 22-23.
Theudas appeared, boasted, was slain, and his followers came to nought! Judas of Galilee appeared, attracted followers, was slain, and his followers came to nought. Jesus of Nazareth appeared, boasted, was slain, and his true, original followers CAME TO NOUGHT!!
THE INEVITABLE CONCLUSION……………!?