Sunday, 8 April 2018

Something the Dead Sea Scrolls Tell Us

The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that there wasn't really any such thing in the 1st century AD as a unified system called 'Judaism'. Rather there were various different religious groups within Israel, each trying to answer questions like:

'Who might the Messiah be?'

'What, if anything, must we do to hasten his coming?'

'What might his community look like?' and

'Who in Israel is going to qualify to be part of it?'

They even baptised (by immersion)! 

Examples of such groups included: the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, temple-priests, Zealots, Essenes and the Qumran community.

The looming threat from Rome made it all the more urgent for them to find answers to those questions.

John the Baptist's ministry, his baptism and his message therefore fit relevantly into that scenario. He identified the Messiah, and warned that Jewish ethnicity alone wouldn't cut it - repentance would be necessary. He even had something to say to soldiers. 

The gospel was intended as a powerful answer to each of those questions. 

By calling Jesus 'Messiah' (Christ), the Apostles were asserting that it was through Jesus (through His death and resurrection, and through repentance and faith in Him) that God was indeed fulfilling His promises to Israel (to Israelis). 

So, it wasn't at all an unusual concept that Israel's promises would be experienced not by the nation as a whole, on the basis of Jewish ethnicity alone - but by a select group (aka 'church') within Israel. Because that concept already existed within the various Judaisms of the day.

That's not strictly-speaking 'replacement theology' as if God fulfilled Israel's promises in the church instead of in Israel. No, God indeed fulfilled His promises to Israel, in the experience of Israelis first. The church was at first entirely Jewish. And it was in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Only afterwards did Gentiles come to experience the same blessing.

But the point is: Israel's promises were fulfilled through Jesus - through His death and resurrection - through the gospel - through repentance and faith in His Name - not on the basis of Jewish ethnicity - and not through the law. It wasn't necessary for Gentile believers in Jesus to also become proselytes to Judaism. The fulfilment isn't something that's been delayed 'til the future. And there isn't any other basis - for anyone - aside from through the Lord Jesus. 

If anyone today wanted to practise Judaism (not that it's even possible anymore to keep the law the way it was still possible in the early 1st century), the question would have to be asked: which Judaism? because there wasn't a unified system of Judaism in the first century. Rabbinic Judaism was mainly a post-Temple development, which most likely emerged from just one among several other forms of Judaism which thrived while the temple still stood (namely, Phariseeism). Because other forms of Judaism (such as Sadduceeism) couldn't philosophically survive the destruction of the temple and nation quite as well as Phariseeism could).

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