Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sabbaths in Early Christian Literature

This is an excerpt from the book, Acts of Peter and Paul, the stories recorded between the second and fourth centuries. I stress this first thing, some of the stories in the book were rejected by the church as myth (none included in this passage). But, it does relate some fascinating true stories. The church teaches that the book factually records the deaths of the two Apostles. It also gives us a look into the struggles of the earliest Roman Jews and Gentiles had over circumcision, sabbaths and other Jewish regulations. I have included the context but bolded the parts Seventh-day Adventists will find interesting.

This particular story must have happened during the time of book of Acts before the Council of Jerusalem, for Paul is unsure about some Christian theology. So we place the date c. AD 40s before Paul began writing.

And a report went about in the city of Rome that Paul the brother of Peter was coming. And those that believed in God rejoiced with great joy. And there was great consternation among the Jews.... They came together therefore to him, and exhorted him, saying:Vindicate the faith in which you were born; for it is not right that you, being a Hebrew, and of the Hebrews, should call yourself teacher of Gentiles and vindicator of the uncircumcised; and, being yourself circumcised, that you should bring to nought the faith of the circumcision.
And when you see Peter, contend against his teaching, because he has destroyed all the bulwarks of our law; for he has prevented the keeping of Sabbaths and new moons, and the holidays appointed by the law. And Paul answering, said to them: That I am a true Jew, by this you can prove; because also you have been able to keep the Sabbath, and to observe the true circumcision; for assuredly on the day of the Sabbath God rested from all His works. We have fathers, and patriarchs, and the law. What, then, does Peter preach in the kingdom of the Gentiles? But if he shall wish to bring in any new teaching, without any tumult, and envy, and trouble, send him word, that we may see, and in your presence I shall convict him. But if his teaching be true, supported by the book and testimony of the Hebrews, it becomes all of us to submit to him.
Then Peter and Paul meet with tears in Rome....
At dawn, behold, Peter coming, finds a multitude of the Jews before Paul's door. And there was a great uproar between the Christian Jews and the Gentiles. For, on the one hand, the Jews said: We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, the friends of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, with whom God spoke, to whom He showed His own mysteries and His great wonders. But you of the Gentiles are no great thing in your lineage; if otherwise, you have become polluted and abominable by idols and graven images.
While the Jews were saying such things, and such-like, those of the Gentiles answered, saying: We, when we heard the truth, straightway followed it, having abandoned our errors. But you, both knowing the mighty deeds of your fathers, and seeing the signs of the prophets, and having received the law, and gone through the sea with dry feet, and seen your enemies sunk in its depths, and the pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day shining upon you, and manna having been given to you out of heaven, and water flowing to you out of a rock—after all these things you fashioned to yourselves the idol of a calf, and worshipped the graven image. But we, having seen none of the signs, believe to be a Saviour the God whom you have forsaken in unbelief.
While they were contending in these and such-like words, the Apostle Paul said that they ought not to make such attacks upon each other, but that they should rather give heed to this, that God had fulfilled His promises which He swore to Abraham our father, that in his seed he should inherit all the nations. For there is no respect of persons with God. ... And Paul having thus spoken, both the Jews and they of the Gentiles were appeased.
(For the full story, google Acts of Peter and Paul.)

From early on, the issue of circumcision and keeping the weekly, monthly and yearly Sabbath regulations was of great concern to the early church. This specific topic created hostility between Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. Yet, at this early date we can see that Peter was teaching that these regulations were no longer a part of the New Covenant.