New Testament Introduction has been a favorite subject of mine for many years. Learning about the historical context in which the New Testament books are written is, to me, quite enjoyable.
So, when I found a theological seminary offered the public the opportunity to listen to all of the lectures in its class on the subject, I couldn’t click on iTunes U fast enough.
It was an immensely enjoyable series of lessons. That is, until the instructor arrived at textual and historical criticism and applied some of the things he had very nonchalantly said earlier in the class.
The professor said that Jews and Gentiles had a dichotomy of faith. The Jews arrived at faith from quite a different perspective, so their approach to faith was on one path. Gentiles arrived at faith from an entirely different perspective, therefore their path to faith was different. He said the two paths did not converge until the second or third centuries A.D.
Suddenly, I understood why he had been saying some of the innocuous things he had said during the initial lectures. While I understood what he said, I didn’t agree. My instructor wanted me to believe in a “Hegelian” thesis, antithesis and synthesis arrangement in which the Jews came up with the thesis of Christianity. The Gentiles developed the antithesis and both diverged into a synthesis in the third century A.D.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yet, there are some severe problems in the “Hegelian” model he produced.
This kind of thinking introduces the possibility there is no unified path to salvation. The Jews believed what they did and the Gentiles believed what they wanted. Therefore, different people arrive at faith with divergent ideas. Yet, that’s not what the Bible teaches.
Acts 8 relates the events when an Ethiopian Jew decided to obey the gospel. A good preacher friend of mine has written a brilliant sermon outline on the events of Acts 8. In analysis of this outline some facts are evident. The eunuch had an open heart (8:27-28), there was an open conversation (8:30-35) and there was an open confession (8:36-38) that led the eunuch to obey the gospel.
Yet this is exactly what Paul told the mostly Gentile Romans in chapter 10 verses 9-10 of his letter to them. He wrote, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
That doesn’t sound like a dichotomy to me. That sounds like both Jew and Gentile generated the same faith in their hearts and that they obeyed the same gospel the same way.
The apostle Paul also told the Romans, “So, then, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God,” (Romans 10:17). The Ethiopian Jew believed at the preaching of the word. So did the Romans. Faith in the Jew and in the Gentile was generated the same way.
Now, while it is correct that Jews and Gentiles came to the gospel from different perspectives, it is not true that the divergent groups were believing different gospels and didn’t come to a common path until the third century. The evidence says that proposition just isn’t so. While there were disagreements and misunderstandings, Paul wrote the books of Romans, Galatians and Corinthians to show them how SIMILAR these two groups were, not how different. The Christians in Macedonia were aware of this (2 Corinthians 8-9).
There is only one gospel, Paul said (Galatians 1:6-9). People come to faith the same way (Romans 10:17), people obey the same commands Jesus gave (Matthew 28:18-20). They become members of the same body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 [written to mostly Greek people]).
But, if we accept the idea that people can believe different things and arrive at the same salvation, then whatever they believe is true may be true, and what we believe may also be true. No, that’s relativism and that’s not right.