A Look at the First Apologists

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Who were the first Apologists? Believe it or not, the first apologists were all Messianic Jews. You may say “Well, what are Messianic Jews?”  Messianic Judaism is not new at all. All the authors of the New Testament were Jewish (with the possible exception of Luke). Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century was not seen as a single “way.”  There were many “Judaism’s”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.  The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).  Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees. The first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism. For many years the early faith in Jesus was strictly Jewish in both orientation and practice. Hence, the early Church was 100% percent Jewish!

We see the growth of Messianic Judaism in The Book of Acts. For example, in Acts 2:41 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost after Peter’s Sermon. It then goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4. In Acts 6:7 it says, “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul- “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands”) or “countless thousands.” Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus.

Obviously, we see our first Gentile convert in Acts 10 (Cornelius).  It was only over a long period where the Church become a predominately Gentile based phenomena. To read more about this, see The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed.  Isn’t it nice that we as Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph .2:11-13), and “without hope.” May we thank God for allowing us to participate in His redemptive plan for the entire world. To see the historical basis and background of Messianic Judaism, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and BiblicalFoundations by David J. Rudolph.

Today, there are thousands of Messianic Jewish  believers in the United States alone and across the world. Of course, the Apostle Paul (a Pharisee and a Jewish Believer himself) showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5; Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). Paul understood that since Gentiles (I am one of them), have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in learning about how to share the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Messianic Judaism pertains to those who are Jewish and have come to faith in the promised Messiah of Israel. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, and means “Salvation.” Jesus was actually called Yeshua, a Jewish man living in the land of Israel among Jewish people.

But with acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah comes much opposition and objections from within the Jewish community. Also, it should not be surprising that the Jewish community has formed its own set of objections to Jesus and the claims of His followers. Many Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus can be ostracized by their own communities. I even know some who have been disowned by their own families.

Dr. Michael Brown

The most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr.Michael Brown. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at http://askdrbrown.org. You can see him walking down the streets of New York discussing the Messiah issue here:

Dr. Brown has written a five set volume called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:
Vol 1 is called General Objections/Historical Objections
Vol 2 is called Theological Objections
Vol 3 is called Messianic Prophecy Objections
Vol 4 is called New Testament Objections
Vol 5 is called Traditional Jewish Objections

We should note that the apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). [1]

According to the late F.F. Bruce, the primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracles [2] (see more below)

What was the Message of the first Messianic Jewish Apologists?

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

After reading this, we can see that there wasn’t much appeal to personal testimony nor “Accept Jesus into your heart and he will make your life better.”

Sources

[1] Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.

[2] F.F. Bruce, A Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 74-75.

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7 thoughts on “A Look at the First Apologists

  1. J.W. Wartick July 24, 2015 / 11:41 pm

    I quite enjoyed this post. Thanks for the taking the time to put together the information here. That Bruce book sounds particularly interesting. Have you read the whole thing? Is it worth tracking down? I’ve wanted to read through Michael Brown’s stuff for a while as well.

  2. chab123 July 25, 2015 / 1:23 pm

    Yes, the Bruce book is a good one. I find alot of his stuff to be worth reading!

  3. Douglas Jack (@ejtst) August 14, 2015 / 9:00 pm

    I’ve always considered Jesus to be the original apologist, with His many appeals to the religious leaders and His continual references to Hebrew scripture.

  4. nawdew14 December 10, 2015 / 10:22 am

    Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

    To me, this is one of the finest verses concerning Apologetics. The word reason is used in judicial terms. It means to prove, convince, to show to be right. God desires to reason with us, to show how stained we are by sin and that through His reasoning’s; proving His argument to be truth, He will make us white as snow.

    Our Lord always reasoned with those He spoke to, Nicodemus in John 3 for example. The argument by our Lord was direct and to the point. He put Nicodemus in a position to consider the truth that only can come from God, Ye must be born again.

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