A brief summary of the development of Christianity
Part 1 of 3 parts:
The development of Christianity as viewed
by some current Christian denominations,
the founder, Yeshua (Jesus):
There are currently in excess of 20,000 Christian faith groups in the world. Essentially all regard themselves as being the direct descendent of the early Christian movement, called "The Way." Almost all teach that they, alone, are the only present-day Christian group with the fullness of Christian truth. Unfortunately, many modern denominations have wildly differing understandings of the teachings of the main founder of Christianity: Jesus Christ, a.k.a. Yeshua of Nazareth, and about God, humanity and the rest of the universe.
Three differing examples of modern-day Christian thought can be seen in:
- The Roman Catholic Church which teaches that Jesus formally ordained his twelve disciples who became the first bishops. Peter was the first pope. The bishops then ordained priests, some of whom were later consecrated as bishops. This process has continued to the present day in an unbroken "Apostolic Succession." The denomination teaches that the pope in Rome is infallible when making some statements of belief, and that most other Christian denominations are not real churches.
- The LDS Restorationist movement, which consists of:
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- popularly called the Mormons, or the LDS Church,
- The Community of Christ, and
- about 100 small, mostly fundamentalist, religious denominations,
They trace their spiritual ancestry directly back to the founding of the Church of Christ by Joseph Smith in 1830. They teach that the Christian Church greatly deviated from Jesus' teachings after the death of the last apostle. The LDS official web site states that:
These denominations believe that God worked through Joseph Smith in the early 19th century to restore the beliefs and practices of Jesus' original Christian movement. God is viewed by the largest Mormon Church -- the LDS Church -- as having continued this process through periodic direct revelation to its leaders. For example, the Church believes that, during the late 19th century, God ordered them to discontinue polygyny -- that version of polygamy in which men marry multiple women. God later instructed the LDS Church in the mid-20th century to allow male Church members with one or more Black ancestors to be ordained for the first time. Some Mormons hope that God will make future revelations to the Church leadership that women are also worthy to be considered for ordination, and that it is acceptable for a person with a homosexual or bisexual orientation to marry a person of the same gender.
- Many religious historians believe that it was never Jesus' intention to found a new church. Rather, he considered his message as being for Jews only. Further, he regarded his main mission as promoting the teachings of the 1st century BCE Jewish philosopher Hillel the Elder.
In the following essay, we will rely on the consensus of many religious historians rather than the teachings of any specific modern-day Christian faith group. Each of the latter has their own story about how their denomination traces its history back to "The Way." This was the primitive Christian movement in the early First Century CE.
Origins of "The Way:"
Yeshua of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and James the Just were the central figures in
the early years of the "Jesus Movement." This was before the followers
of Jesus were called Christians. They still considered themselves to be Jewish, and
often referred to themselves as followers of "The Way."
About Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ):
Yeshua of Nazareth,
is now commonly referred to as Jesus Christ. "Jesus" is the Greek form of his
actual Hebrew name "Yeshua," which is Joshua in English. "Christ" is a Greek word meaning "Messiah" or the "anointed one."
Thus, "Jesus Christ" was not Yeshua's actual name; it is a combination of a
translation of his first name and a description of his role, both in Greek. Unfortunately, if one was to call him Joshua of Nazareth, few would recognize to whom you were referring.
Yeshua's birthday is unknown. It is almost certain to have not been on DEC-25, because Gospels refer to shepherds as having their flocks in the fields during his birth. In those days, sheep would have been penned up sometime in the Fall, long before December, and kept there over the winter.
There is internal evidence in the Bible that Yeshua was born
sometime in the Fall, probably during some year between 7 and 4 BCE.
- The lunar month of the birth of John the Baptist -- Jesus' cousin -- can be roughly calculated from a biblical reference to the priestly rotation sequence in the Jerusalem Temple. The month of Jesus' birth can then be estimated from the month of John's birth.
- The range of years, from 4 to 7 BCE is also based on internal evidence in the Gospels: the date of Herod's death and the timing of a Roman census.
Modern-day Christians are divided about the location of his birth. The main contenders are Bethlehem in Judea,
Bethlehem in the Galilee, and Nazareth in the Galilee.
- Bethlehem in Judea is mentioned in the book of Samuel as the location of David's anointing as king circa 1019 BCE. 2 Since Jesus is regarded as a descendent of David, then this is the place to which Jews would go for the census as described elsewhere. Bethlehem is also mentioned in Micah 5:2 in a passage that might refer to Jesus:
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (From the King James Version of the Bible).
- But Aviram Oshri. writing in Archaeology Magazine, reported that:
" 'Menorah,' the vast database of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), describes Bethlehem [in Judea] as an 'ancient site' with Iron Age material and the fourth-century [CE] Church of the Nativity and associated Byzantine and medieval buildings. But there is a complete absence of information for antiquities from the Herodian period -- that is, from the time around the birth of Jesus. 3,4
Repeated archeological excavations have not found any artifacts from the beginning of the last century BCE until the end of the first century CE. Bethlehem in Judea was abandoned for at least a century both before and after Yeshua's birth.
Oshri suggests that Yeshua was born in the other Bethlehem -- the one in the Galilee -- which is only 7 km (4 miles) from Nazareth. He said:
"I think the genuine site of the Nativity is here, rather than the well-known site near Jerusalem. Bethlehem in the Galilee was inhabited by Jews at the time of Jesus, whereas the other Bethlehem? There is no evidence that it was a living site, an inhabited area in the first century. It makes much more sense that Mary rode on a donkey, while she was at the end of the pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem of the Galilee which is only 7 kilometers rather then the other Bethlehem which is 150 kilometers." 5
7 km is a distance of about 4 miles; 150 km is about 94 miles!
The vast majority of Roman Catholics and of conservative Protestants believe that Yeshua was born of a virgin. However, many religious historians note that this belief appears to have originated in an error by translators of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Septuagint was translated from the original Hebrew into the common dialect, Koine Greek, by either 70 or 72 Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt during the third and second centuries BCE. In Isaiah 7:14, they translated:
- The Hebrew word "almah" which means a "young maiden" -- a girl who had started puberty but had not given birth, into
- The Greek word "parthenos," which means a female who is a virgin.
By 80 CE, the approximate year that an unknown author wrote the Gospel of Matthew, few people in Judea or the Galilee could read Hebrew. Greek was the primary language. The authors of the Gospels wrote in Greek, and occasionally in Aramaic. They would have relied on the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures for guidance.
There is a scientific problem with the belief in a human virgin birth. Although parthenogenesis -- conception without a genetic contribution from a male -- has been performed in laboratory experiments on some mammals. it has never been proven to have happened naturally in humans or in any other mammal. Further, since no male genetic material is involved, the child would be lacking a Y sex chromosome in their DNA. The child would thus be female. 6
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "What happened to Christ's Church?, New Era, 2005-FEB, at: http://lds.org/
- "Elo - Solomon Chronology," The Interactive Bible, undated at: http://www.bible.ca/
- Aviram Oshri, "Where was Jesus born?," Archaeology Magazine, Vol. 58, #6, 2005-NOV/DEC, at: http://archive.archaeology.org/
- Bruce Chilton, "Rabbi Jesus," Doubleday, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store The book is described by one Amazon.com reviewer as: "... as a book of reasonable inferences authored by a scholarly theologian."
- "Archaeologist claims Jesus was born in another Bethlehem, real site of Nativity mistaken," 2012-DEC-27, at: http://rt.com/
- "Parthenogenesis,"Wikipedia, as on 2015-NOV-15, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
Copyright © 2005 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2015-DEC-14
Author: B.A. Robinson