May 27, 2010

Stephen's Day of Atonement

The day Stephen was stoned, Christians began fleeing Jerusalem. Whether diaspora pilgrims who never went home or Judean believers who hated to leave, they all had two things in common. They were suddenly homeless, and they had no one but each other to rely on.

Given those facts, Acts 8 does not have to tell us the details of the scattering. Generally, what must have happened is that little bands of Jewish Christians regathered together in as many places as they were able to find one another. Whether just passing through or whether looking to stay, little bodies of Christ were set up, again and again, all over Palestine.

As any church is one corporate Home for the Lord, one dwelling place assembled from many parts, so it was that God put together in these days a series of Tents for Himself, each temporary to some degree or another. As these mini churches continued to sprout, all over Israel, God's House and His Testimony was once again moving across the face of the Earth, for the first time since David took Jerusalem.

These are the obvious after-effects of Acts 7. Combined with an assumption of historicity for the basic content of Stephen's speech, and given the chronological data that Paul's conversion took place less than twelve months after Pentecost Sunday - which narrows the most likely timeframe for these events to some time during the Autumn of 33 AD - one should find it remarkable to consider the following thoughts.

Reconstructing this picture of autumn events, the aftermath of this scattering suddenly looks a lot like God's 'ingathering'. The small churches being assembled now seem a spiritual version of the Sukkot (Shelters/Booths) that went up during Israel's autumn festival. The original church - driven away from Jerusalem to appease the guilty consciences of the Sanhedrin and their closest adherents - amazingly, the Jerusalem church now parallels the scapegoat, sent out into the wilderness, to wander the face of the earth.

This much, at least, we ought to conclude: That WHATEVER day Stephen was stoned, these events happened afterward. And that, whether or not this suggests Yom Kippur as a likely historical context for the events of Acts 7, these parallels are remarkably like a fulfillment of much in the High Holy season.

Jesus may not have been crucified at precisely the time that the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple. Nevertheless, Jesus' death WAS very much a fulfillment of Passover in Eternal ways.

Likewise, Stephen may not have been stoned on the Day of Atonement, but these events which occurred after Stephen's death DID mark a first-time fulfillment of Tabernacles in Eternal ways.

A first-time fulfillment, at least...


Wyatt Roberts said...

Bill, what is your basis for dating Stephen's martyrdom and Paul's conversion? Are you saying both of these occurred in or around AD 33? What date do you put on the crucifixion?

Bill Heroman said...

Great question, Wyatt.

See the links on my post, Timeline of New Testament Events.

You can comment over there on specific issues there, or comment here on... well, on whatever you like, of course!

Bill Heroman said...

Ah. Yes.

April, 33: Cross & Resurrection
May, 33: Pentecost
Autumn, 33: Scattering

Wyatt Roberts said...

If you take the events in Acts as being chronological (and you may not), I'd think it would take more than just a few short months from the time of the crucifixion and Pentecost to set up the kind of social structure and cohesion that seem to have existed in Acts 4:34 and Acts 6:1. Just my opinion, of course.

Bill Heroman said...

I do take Acts 1-7 as Chronological, but the social cohesion & structure you observe came together immediately after Pentecost - of pure necessity!

The moment 3,000 out-of-towners became Christian, life together became a survival situation. We should also give the Holy Spirit a lot of credit here, but even if we look at purely physical factors, their gathering was necessary.

Nightly breaking of bread takes on a whole different meaning if you've got a dozen or more brand new houseguests. No wonder people like Barnabas sold property and gave it to the church - those were serious needs!

If, instead, the Jerusalem church members had all been originally local, then I'd agree with your point. The gentile churches were locally membered, and did not seem to live in common.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Bill, what is your timeline between Acts 8:1 and Acts 21:20.

In the first verse, Acts 8:1, following the stoning of Stephen, persecution of the church begins in earnest, led, apparently, by the Jews. In Acts 21:20 we find Paul being told of "thousands of Jews who have believed."

Bill Heroman said...

Wyatt - Paul's arrest took place in 57 AD, though some say 58.

Anders - I'm not sure what your comment has to do with this post or comment thread, specifically. Care to try again?

Wyatt Roberts said...

So, Anders, given your belief that "Jewish Christianity is an oxymoron," what do you make of Paul? He wrote extensively about his credibility within Judaism, yet said that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek." (Gal 3:28, Col 3:11).

Wyatt Roberts said...

Bill, what I'm trying to get a handle on is at what point the climate in Jerusalem turned from one of persecution to one in which there would be thousands of law-observant Jewish Christians in Jerusalem many years later (according to your timeline). Or do you see these thousands of Jewish Christians as suffering severe persecution in persecution? If persecution=scattering, how is it that Paul returns to Jerusalem to find a huge number of folks that did not flee?

Bill Heroman said...

Wyatt, we can see glimpses of the later Jerusalem church developing after the scattering. Were they persecuted? Probably to some degree, but obviously nothing as bad as mass exile, a second time.

The liklihood that Jerusalem kept emergency food stocks may mean that Antioch expected the christians to get slighted when famine struck. So that gives you an idea. On the other hand, we have accounts that James (up to the end of his life) had become very well respected by the nonbelieving Jerusalemites.

The persecution of Acts 11 dates to 44 AD. The famine itself ran through about 46/47 AD. The council of Acts 15 dates to 49 AD. Paul's arrest, again, is either 57 or 58. And finally, James was martyred in 62. His murder, of course, would also count as 'persecution'.

In short, the later J church's strong devotion to Torah probably helped win some measure of respect, as it did for James, but that still didn't prevent other Jerusalemites from remaining opposed to the new sect.

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