How often have you accepted something as fact and later found out it was false? The experience is too common.
Even conventional wisdom often turns out to be just smoke and mirrors built on hearsay and tradition.
Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was among the first to say that the earth was not the center of the universe, and it got him into big trouble with the church. The belief for centuries was that the universe was finite, with the earth at its center, a belief accepted by nearly everyone. To say otherwise was heresy.
The majority view is frequently in error and often proven so by facts. Just because the majority accepts a belief does not mean you should hang your hat on it.
We challenge you to prove everything from the Scriptures, and determine for yourself the truth of what we teach. In fact, when it comes to any religious teaching, don’t take someone’s word for it, including a room full of pastors, until you first verify it yourself from the Scriptures. Don’t assume it is correct and true even if your parents and grandparents believed it all their lives.
Proving what you believe is commanded in the Scriptures. If you don’t have a conviction for your beliefs, how can Yahweh judge your heart? If you are stuck in neutral and are not engaged in your beliefs then you are just riding on another’s coattails. Yahweh judges the heart.
Yahweh’s Mandate: Preach and Prove
The job of a minister is to “preach the Word,” 1Timothy 4:2. The responsibility of the hearer is to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” 1Thessalonians 5:21. Notice Paul says prove “all” things. And when you find a teaching or tenet you may not have heard before, test it by the Word. If it is true and right, then embrace it and walk in it. If not, reject it.
There are typically several interpretations for a Bible teaching. Yet, only one can be right. In Matthew 15:9, our Savior Yahshua calls doctrine that is not inspired vain, the teaching of men. Vain means worthless and without profit.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Acts 17:11 about a people who were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Their minds were open to truth and because of that they were called noble. They searched it out and proved everything for themselves. They didn’t accept a teaching simply because they had always believed it. They put it up for cross-examination.
Our Father in heaven did not give us His Bible for someone else to interpret it for us. Each of us is responsible for ourselves to study, learn, and follow the truth revealed by the Word. Peter wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of Yahweh, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16. If you go by the Scriptures themselves you can’t go wrong. They lead to salvation.
Name ‘Christian’ Unauthorized in NT
Have you ever wondered, if only one way is right, where are those living and teaching it? What denomination or group of believers will one day be given a place in the Kingdom of our Savior Yahshua? Do they have a name?
A related question is, what did the early New Testament believers call themselves? These would be those who were taught by the Savior and Apostles themselves. They got their beliefs and practices directly from the source of truth.
Believe it or not, the New Testament assembly of believers did not have a specific name. They are simply called people of the way or that way in the Book of Acts.
The term “Christian” was first applied by Greek gentiles to the Apostle Paul’s Hebraic-based faith after he began to minister at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). “Christian” is Greek and means one espousing the beliefs of the Christos or Messiah. Surprisingly, it is a name used only three times in the entire New Testament.
The early New Testament believers were all Hebrew, not Greek. The faith of the New Testament is Hebraic and based on the Old Testament Scriptures, the only Scriptures in existence at the time of Yahshua and the Apostles. The faith they lived and taught was not Greek but would in a couple of decades pick up Greek influence through ecumenism with pagans. That includes the name “Jesus,” a Latinized Greek name.
Whenever Yahshua and the apostles quoted the Scriptures it was only the Old Testament they used and taught from. The New Testament had yet to be written.
In Acts 26:28 we read, “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, almost you persuade me to be a Christian.” Although Paul was the one on trial, he redirects the inquiry in an effort to convert the ruler Agrippa himself. He questions Agrippa about the ruler’s belief in the prophets. Agrippa recognizes his strategy.
The term Christian was applied to Paul by this half-Jew, Herod Agrippa II. Amazingly, we never find Paul or any of the Apostles using this name for themselves or their movement.
Paul seeks familiar ground with the ruler and the common basis he zeroes in on is that he also believed the law and prophets. In saying this, Paul links the New Testament movement with its foundation, the Old Testament.
Yahshua the Messiah never gave a name to the New Testament movement either. He refers to His followers simply as disciples and believers, followers, and friends, but does NOT designate a formal group label.
The earliest body of believers was called Nazarenes in the New Testament, or the followers of the One from Nazareth.
New Testament’s Hebraic Roots
In about the year 50 CE a crisis developed that Paul dealt with by consulting the other elders at Jerusalem. It began with those who thought converts had to change to Judaism and adopt Jewish customs before they could enter the New Covenant. Why? Obviously because of the clear Jewish heritage of the early New Covenant Assembly.
These followers of the Messiah in the New Testament believed and practiced the laws of the Old Testament. They kept the Feast days of Leviticus 23. They worshiped on the seventh-day Sabbath, just as they did in the Old Testament. They ate clean foods.
All of this is easily seen in the New Testament Scriptures. Just follow the ministry of the Apostle Paul and you will see that. Rather than believing Paul changed Old Testament mandates and made obedience unnecessary, just read what he believed, taught, and did himself.
He kept the seven annual feasts long after the resurrection of the Savior Yahshua. Why didn’t he say that those days were just for Old Testament Jews? Obviously he knew they were for him as well, and he is seen observing them.
The Messiah Yahshua told His disciples in Matthew 10:6 to go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, meaning the Hebrews, the Jews of His day: “These twelve Yahshua sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Paul believed the priority Yahshua put with Israel. He wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Evangel of Messiah: for it is the power of Elohim unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
Paul’s mission, along with the Apostle Peter’s, expanded the outreach to other nations and peoples known as Gentiles. Gentile converts faced one very real problem. They were joining a Jewish sect, and to be Jewish traditionally involved circumcision.
The issue was over circumcision, not whether to obey the law. The laws of the Old Testament were never an issue in the New Testament. It was what man added to those laws that became a problem. Many still have the same difficulty understanding Paul that they did back in the days of the New Testament, thinking he taught against Old Testament law.
Not so. He proved he was a law keeper 24 years after Yahshua. Paul says he believed all things written in the law and prophets, Acts 24:14.
Paul Never Advocated No-Law
Paul had no authority to do away with biblical law. He had no authority to trump our Savior, who said in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to do away with the law. Misunderstanding of Paul’s letters has led to the false notion that he was against Yahweh’s laws.
James in Acts 15:19 settles the matter over whether to circumcise: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to Elohim: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”
James explained that the law is preached in every synagogue all over the place. They will learn the necessity of the law eventually, but first, these newly converted gentiles needed to clean up the filth from their lives. They needed a cleansing. They must first leave their pagan ways behind. You can’t take the old baggage with you if you are taking on new truth. This age-old problem is still with us today.
There were no great sweeping transformations in going from Hebraic truths to the New Testament faith of Yahshua. In fact, according to Eusebius’ History, the first 15 Bishops of Jerusalem were “of the circumcision.” They were Jewish. The big difference comes in accepting of Yahshua as the Messiah, elimination of man-added laws and understanding the spiritual meaning of obeying from conviction, and not just knee-jerk compliance.
The polytheistic influence of the Canaanites on Israel was matched in early Christendom. In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed in one mighty one. But there were others who insisted that there were two. Some said there were 30. Others claimed there were 365. This notion came from the influence of the religions around them, some of which had a god for every day of the year.
But one characteristic is found throughout the earliest Assemblies of the New Testament—there was explicit and total fidelity in teaching and practice to the Law and the Prophets, which pointed to Yahshua’s coming.
Yahshua was very clear that He understood Himself in that Hebraic context. In Luke 24:44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Early Assembly Followed a Way
Another significant truth is in what Paul said in Acts 24:14. “But this I admit to you, that according to the way [the term ‘way’ is what they called the New Testament believers–people of the way because of a specific way in which they lived and believed] which they call a sect I do serve the Elohim of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets.”
Even Paul was misunderstood by the religious majority of his day just as today. They thought he came to destroy the law and the need to obey the one they worshiped.
Following are some other references to this term “way” that was used of the New Testament church or assembly:
• Acts 9:1-2: “Now Shaul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Master, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
• Acts 19:8-9: “And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of Elohim. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.”
• Verse 23: “And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the way.”
• Acts 24:22: “But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the way, put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.’”
Epiphanius, one of the church fathers, gives us an actual by-name for the New Testament people: the Nazarenes. His Panarion (generally known as the Refutation of All Heresies) was written during the period 374-376 CE. Panarion 29 is an extensive treatment of his sources and data on the Nazarenes, and the salient facts about them.
This is probably the earliest group of believers of which we have record outside of the New Testament Scriptures.
Traits of the New Testament Believers
Of these Nazarenes, he says: “They use both the Old and New Testaments, without excluding any books known to Epiphanius (7, 2). He writes, ‘For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old, like the Jews. For the Legislation and the Prophets and the Scriptures, which are called the Bible by the Jews, are not rejected by them as they are by those mentioned above.’”
Epiphanius continues, “They have a good knowledge of Hebrew and read the Old Testament and at least one Evangel in that language. These Nazarenes ‘have a good mastery of the Hebrew language. For the entire Law and the Prophets and what is called the Scriptures, I mention the poetical books, Kings, Chronicles and Ester and all the others, are read by them in Hebrew as in the case with the Jews, of course.’
“They have the entire Evangel of Matthew in Hebrew. It is carefully preserved by them in Hebrew letters.”
Jerome, a church father who translated the Bible into Latin, is another important source of early New Testament belief and practice. He wrote, “The most important conclusion of this chapter is that the Nazarenes were not mentioned by earlier fathers not because they did not exist but rather because they were still generally considered to be acceptably orthodox.”
According to Jerome, these early New Testament followers of Yahshua, believed the following:
• They hold to a very high belief in Yahshua (i.e. virgin birth, pre-existence.) He was of divine sonship.
• They have a high regard of Paul and the ministry to the gentiles.
• They accept the Tanakh/Old Testament and New Testament.
They were not considered heretical until Epiphanius confused them with the Ebionites.
If there is a group to whom we can draw a connection to the very original assembly of the New Testament, it would be those known as the New Testament Nazarenes.
The New Testament is a continuation of the teachings of the Old, but with deeper understanding of Yahweh’s plan for His people. It emphasizes the reason for obedience and the sacrifice of the Messiah for sin when we don’t obey.
In 1John 2:7 we read, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.”
Unless we get the foundation right, the structure will be weak and will collapse in time. The foundation for the New Testament is the Old Testament. It is what our Savior taught from, it is what His followers believed, and it is what keeps proper worship on course when we follow His lead.
These fundamental truths go untaught in our day with fateful results.
“Hosea 4:6 prophesies, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy Elohim, I will also forget thy children.”
May we not be among those cut off by deliberately ignoring truth in the Sriptures. May we have the kind of respect for Yahweh that takes His word seriously. May we enter into the joy of our Master, Matthew 25:23.
Life is short; make the most of yours by living for Him.