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Thursday, April 17, 2014

"From Jesus to the Church" (Craig A. Evans)

TITLE: From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation
AUTHOR: Craig A. Evans
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (176 pages).

Based on the prophecy mentioned in Numbers 24:17, this book is a study of the religious tensions between the prophecy, the interpretations of the prophecy, and the family of the religious leaders and Jesus. It is mentioned by the prophets of old and fulfilled in the person of Jesus. This narrow focus is the author's attempt to raise up interesting insights and issues about how this prophecy had impacted the early followers.  It is a focus on the "first link" between Jesus and the Early Church. Situated during the first forty years in between Jesus's ministry timeline and the Jewish-Roman political tensions leading up to the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, Craig Evans, New Testament scholar and Professor at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, Canada, argues that the prophecy is not only ambiguous, but has contributed in a large part to a separation of Judaism and Christianity. After examining the different perspectives of the prophecy, Evans made four conclusions.

  1. Jesus had already predicted the destruction of the Herodian Temple
  2. Jesus had used the same kind of language as the earlier prophets of old. Where the earlier prophets had predicted the destruction of Solomon's temple, Jesus did the same for the Herodian Temple using remarkably similar kinds of language
  3. The cleansing of the temple is necessary because of the corruption manifested within by various religious and sectarian groups.
  4. Simply because Herod was the one who built the Herodian Temple, Jews had already planned to destroy it.
The Resurrection of Christ marks the beginning of the Church. With the spread of Christianity comes increased persecution. Chapter 1 is used to raise the question whether Jesus had originally intended to start the Church. Evans said it depends. If one is part of the mainstream public, they would say yes. If one is a biblical scholar, one would say no. Evans surprisingly is agnostic about it. Probing the language used by Jesus and the early Christians, Evans looks at the typology of the 12 tribes of Israel that connects old Testament Israel to New Testament community. There is no break, thus no necessity to start a Church that is different from the calling of Israel. Maybe it is a remnant that will follow through. Maybe it is a different use of words for assembly, "synagogue" for Jews and "church" for Gentiles. The Church is thus not something distinctly different from Israel because the Church is tasked to fulfill the same purposes God had set out for Israel. The label may be different but the calling is the same. Chapter 2 continues with the connections between the Kingdom of God motif and the Church. The "remnant" applies to both Israel and the Church. There is a continuity. Chapter 3 looks at the people responsible to lead this continuity, in particular, James and Paul. It brings into the age-old controversies between faith and works. Evans takes the stand that Luther failed to interpret James correctly, that the "works" mentioned are not "works of the law" but good works in general. The main point is faith. Thus, James and Paul are more in agreement. This is described more in chapter 4, comparing zeal in the law and faith in God. Chapter 5 argues that the main disputes happened between Jesus' family and the family of the chief priest, Annas. Finally, Evans describes the aftermath of this disputes as he tackles the shape of the Christianity during the times of James, Paul, Ignatius, and others.

The whole point of the book is that Jesus did not intend to start a Church like the one it is today. Jesus wanted to fulfill the will of God, for the sake of all nations, and not to get caught up with the differences of each era. It is the 40 years between the Resurrection of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple that set forth in motion the departure of Judaism and Christianity.  The Church of today is not what Jesus had intended to be, which will dilute any modern attempt to put God's Name into any modern Church establishment. At the same time, we are called to pursue the main calling and the purposes of God to save the whole world. The structures may differ, the history may be drastically different, the interpretations diverse. These are not barriers to the doing of God's will. There is a continuity that exists between the old and the new testaments. This continuity remains with the remnants, a people of God who regardless of ethnicity, religious background, or various idiosyncrasies, will do God's will from where we are.

Read this book if we are interested to learn more about the early controversies and how the Early Church was forced to become what it is. At the same time, do not be too quick to label the Church of today as something that is designed from the start by Jesus. After all, there is a certain freedom for us to choose to become what we are today. The Church of today is within the confines of the liberty and freedom for man to choose.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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