Good Question...


On...did the Christians just OUTLIVE those who "knew better and were silent"?


Recently, XXX wrote:

Hello. I am a 17 year old Christian currently struggling with my faith. The problem is that having dealt with apologetics for so long (almost a year and a half now on an active basis (arguing with people, maintaining web pages, etc.) I have come into a state of being troubled. I was hoping that you could help me with one point which is somewhat troubling me:

If there were people around at the time of Jesus (I am here assuming Christianity to be false) who knew this to be false, and a select group of conspirators were propagating Christianity for their own ends, wouldn't those who knew Christianity to be false eventually die off and their influence would eventually pewter off.

The ONLY way this could possibly occur, would be if the people who "knew better" (the "opposition") NEVER TOLD (convinced) another person about the 'real truth'.

If, on the other hand, there were evidence that the 'opposition' was:

  1. Highly organized (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)
  2. Highly vocal (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)
  3. Highly confrontational (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)
  4. Highly motivated to maintain the existing power structures and status quo (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)
  5. Highly successful in gathering disciples in their circles of learning (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)
  6. Highly effective in transmitting their teachings/belief through their disciples (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)
  7. actually known to have preserved disagreements with the Christians in their extrabiblical writings, such as the Talmud and Midrash (like the Pharisees, rabbis, scribes of the 1st century!)

...then we could be rather confident that the Christians didn't win because of the silence (and eventual death) of the ruling Jewish hegemony!

Every scrap of data we have about the Jewish leadership of the time--from Josephus, the rabbinic corpus, the NT documents, Church Fathers, early pagan writers--indicates that they manifested ALL OF THE ABOVE characteristics.

So, at least in Jerusalem, until its destruction (after the NT had already basically been written and circulating), there were strong and vocal anti-Christian movements that would (and did) proclaim disagreement with the early Jewish-Christian leadership (as described often in Acts).

As well, they wouldn't be available when people went off to convert others in far off lands?

The "far off lands" issue is a bit more complex, but also characterized by similar dynamics:

  1. The Jewish leadership in foreign lands often came to Jerusalem for the major feasts. (Remember, that Jews from "every country under heaven" were in Jerusalem for that 1st Pentecost feast (Acts 2.5: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.). These visits occurred a couple of times of year, and caused the town of Jerusalem (probably between 60,000 and 120,000- folk at this time[BAFCSP:237-301]) to swell by an additional 300,000! (The rabbis had to make temporary adjustments to the 'city limits' to allow that crowd to satisfy the legal requirement to 'come to Jerusalem'!!!!) There was ample opportunity for information exchange about the 'new sect' between the Jerusalem establishment and the Jews of the Diaspora.

    For example, in Ephesus (Asia Minor) Paul ran across some folk who knew about the baptism of John the Baptist (Acts 19.1ff). News traveled with travelers.

  2. But we also have evidence that the Jewish leadership ALSO deliberately traveled to 'squelch the faith'. In fact, Paul himself was converted on such a journey to Damascus to imprison believers (Acts 9.1ff: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.).

    Saul (Paul) was not the only Jewish teacher to so travel, for we have records in Acts 14.19 (Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.) and Acts 17.13 (When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.).

    So, there would have been the "traveling, vocal opposition" in these cities as well.

  3. We also know that the literature exchange was substantial in that period. The letters of Paul were by no means the first letters to be mailed! (For an explanation of the use/rise of books during this period, see BREC. For information on letter-writing in antiquity, see PLW.) The vast majority of the OT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, as well as much of the Christian apocryphal works were written "without supervision" during this period, and originated all over the Roman Empire. Writing by 'warring factions' within Judaism (both in Jerusalem and between Jerusalem and other centers of Jewish culture such as Alexandria) was easy to produce to proclaim one's position/argument.

  4. In Jerusalem, Christianity was a 'sect'; outside of Jerusalem, it was a "cult". The difference, sociologically, is that "cults" are transmitted initially by the intelligensia and the urban elite (see ROC). These folk had the greatest ability to investigate matters, the best access to literature, information, and travel, AND the most skeptical of dispositions! As such, they could have investigated the witnessess carefully (and probably did initiate such searches--cf. The preface of Luke 1, Acts 1).

    In other words, there was no difficulty AT ALL in getting the accusation of 'fraud' out, if someone 'knew better'.

One can see the extent of this communication exchange from a passage in Acts 28:17ff:
Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: "My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar -- not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. 20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain." 21 They replied, "We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect."
Notice that the leaders of the Jews in Rome:


(This passage basically confirms the data we looked at above.)

This is a rather brief overview of the teeming information exchange vortex that was in place during this time, and in this part of the world in the 1st century (cf. Acts 26.26: "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.). It should give you some idea of how easy it would have been for an individual or group to vividly and widely contest Christian claims about Jesus.

The early history of Church--as described in all the sources we have--is indeed characterized by this--vigorous debate, confrontation, accusation, harassment, etc. It is quite safe to say that Christianity did NOT 'win' because the opposition remained 'quiet until they died'!!

The problem is that I can sort of see this happening, sort of. I am hoping you can help with this. The whole problem is not so much one of dismissing Christianity based upon this as doubt persists because the mind can conceive of other possibilities, etc. Thank you very, very much.

I know the feeling, believe me. The world is so full of possibilities--thank God for data!

Hope this helps,
glenn miller

12/12/96


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