Environment of the New Testament. Jesus and Judaism, the Greco-Roman Society and Insights from Archaeology

Academic Paper, 2021

21 Pages, Grade: 90



I. Jesus teachings and the Judaism practices
1.1. Belief in one God
1.2. Belief in the Holy Spirit and in Messiah
1.3. Belief in the covenant and the Torah
1.4. The relation of Jesus’ teaching to the Jewish law
1.5. Temple and Worship
1.6. Judgement and end time
1.7. Conclusion

II. Evaluating the contribution of the study of Greco-Roman society to the application of the gospel in modern contexts
2.1. Introduction
2.2. Contribution of the Greek Culture
2.3. Jewish Contributions to Early Christianity
2.3.1. Old Testament contribution
2.3.2. Jewish Religious Contributions
2.4. Conclusion

III. Insights from Archaeology: What can be learned from archaeology
3.1. Convergences and divergences
3.2. Archaeology shines light on the riot against Paul at Ephesus


Abstract: All societies have their predecessors and all build on the foundations of earlier laws, customs and inventions. This is also relevant for the world of the New Testament, which emerged from an integrated, firm and complex world. The Gospel witnessed in the New Testament was presented to a monotheistic and polytheistic, rich and poor, Hellenistic and traditional Jewish world. However, the Gospel was so universal in scope that it offered a message of redemption for all and yet enabled the redeemed to function as responsible citizens in a pagan society. The purpose of this paper is to present a comparative analysis of Jesus teachings and the Judaism practices at the time. It also seeks to understand the contribution of Greco-Roman society to the application of the Gospel in modern contexts and to draw lessons from Ephesus to find the limits and contributions of the science of archeology. Since the Bible was written to people familiar with the world order, its writers had only occasional reason to include "background" notations. However, for those of us who live centuries later, the need for in-depth study is obvious. It is believed that in-depth studies can lead to a better understanding of the biblical text, but studying the environment of the New Testament is not an end in itself. They have the ability to broaden one's perspective, allow for more rigorous study of the biblical text, and excite one who is driven by curiosity.

Key Words: Jesus and Judaism, New Testament and Greco-Roman Society, New Testament and Contemporary Life, Archeology and the New Testament, the Gospel and Social Norms.

I. Jesus teachings and the Judaism practices

The Judaism of Jesus' day appears as an external legalistic religion to which the message of Jesus and the early Christians was a complete antithesis. Such an image, however, turned out to be a blatant caricature. During this period, Judaism comprised several different groups such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. Each of these groups had its own views concerning the true Jewish way of life, but certain basic beliefs were common to them all. Some of these beliefs might appear to conflict or be challenged by the teachings of Jesus while others were in harmony.

1.1. Belief in one God

At first, Jews believed in one God. They were monotheists - they believed and worshiped only one god (Academy, 2020). This differs from historians because monotheism was relatively unique in the ancient world. Most ancient societies were polytheistic - they believed and worshiped multiple gods. Here, the teachings of Jesus are of the same opinion with the Jews that the God to whom the Holy Scriptures testify is One. However, Christianity generally believes in a Triune God, one person of whom became human. Judaism emphasizes the Oneness of God and rejects the Christian concept of God in human form.

1.2. Belief in the Holy Spirit and in Messiah

Concerning the Holy Spirit, Jews and Jesus teachings were in harmony. The first Christians, like all Jews, had a number of biblical books which basically correspond to what the Church later called the "Old Testament". These writings are in the New Testament called, "the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:40). Frequently they are simply called the Scriptures since this collection was generally known and recognized as a fundamental testimony of faith. Christians as well as Jews derived abundant instruction from the Scriptures for everyday life, prayer, sermons and worship. However, with regard to the interpretation of the Holy Spirit, Jesus had placed the beginning of the promised kingdom of God and the double commandment of love as criteria for the understanding of Holy Scripture. His disciples, moreover, rediscovered the Bible in light of their faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. They began to read the scriptures as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, his history and meaning, as well as a testimony of the preparation for salvation that was fulfilled in Him. This new understanding of the Scriptures finds expression in the gradually evolving writings which were then combined in the “New Testament” and joined with the “Old Testament” to form a whole. The New Testament writings expressed the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in concepts borrowed from the Old Testament and the non-Jewish environment, thus ultimately giving these terms new meaning. Among them were many sovereign titles, such as "Son of man", "Messiah", "Son of God", "Lord", "Savior", as well as hopes of salvation, such as the redemption of the world and the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. From a Jewish perspective, some of these statements appeared to threaten faith in one God because Jesus was thus made too equal to God.

1.3. Belief in the covenant and the Torah

The belief in the covenant God made with his people Israel and in the foundational book of this covenant, the Law of God or the Torah. The covenant between God and Israel included duties and commitments that belonged to both parties. God is committed to treating Israel in accordance with its special position as His own people and to teaching the Israelites the principles of a good and blessed life. Israel is committed to obeying God and living a life worthy of God's people. These principles are found in the Torah or Law of Moses, its teaching and practical applications. The Torah also included instructions regarding atonement for offenses committed so that the covenant could still remain in effect. However, it is important to note that while Christian teachings point to individual salvation from sin through receiving Jesus Christ as one’s Lord (God) and savior; Jews believe in individual and collective participation in an eternal dialogue with God through tradition, rituals, prayers and ethical actions. Judaism places emphasis on correct conduct (or orthopraxy), focusing on the Mosaic covenant, as recorded in the Torah and Talmud. Christianity emphasizes correct belief (or orthodoxy), focusing on the New Covenant as mediated through Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Epistles, and other books collectively called the New Testament. Christians refer to the biblical books on Jesus as the New Testament and to the canon of Hebrew books as the Old Testament. Judaism does not accept retronymic labeling of its sacred texts as "the Old Testament," and some Jews refer to the New Testament as either the Christian Testament or the Christian Bible. Judaism rejects all claims that the New Christian Covenant supersedes, abrogates, fulfills, or is the deployment or consummation of the covenant expressed in the written and oral Torahs. Therefore, just as Christianity does not accept that the Mosaic law has any authority over Christians, Judaism does not accept that the New Testament has religious authority over the Jews.

1.4. The relation of Jesus’ teaching to the Jewish law

Jewish law is central to many passages in the Gospels (Sanders, 2020). According to one set, particularly important in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus urged his disciples to keep the law without fail (Matthew 5: 17-48). According to another set, he did not strictly adhere to the law himself and even transgressed current views on some aspects of it, especially the Sabbath (eg, Mark 3: 1–5). It is conceivable that both were true, that he was extremely strict about marriage and divorce (Matthew 5: 31–32; Mark 10: 2–12) but less strict about the Sabbath. In general, legal disputes in the Gospels fit within the parameters of those in 1st century Judaism. Some opposed the healing on the Sabbath but others allowed it.

Likewise, the Sadducees considered that the Pharisees' Sabbath observance was too lax. There were also many disagreements in 1st century Judaism over purity. While some Jews washed their hands before eating (Mark 7: 5), others did not; however, this conflict was not as serious as that between the Shammaites and the Hillelites (the two main parties of Pharisaism) over menstrual purity. It should be noted that Jesus did not oppose the laws of purity. Rather, according to Mark 1: 40–44, he accepted the Mosaic laws on cleansing lepers (Leviticus 14).

In a statement in the Gospels, however, Jesus apparently opposed Jewish law as universally understood. The Jews agreed not to eat carnivores, rodents, insects and weasels, as well as pork and crustaceans (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14), and the last two prohibitions set them apart from other people. According to Mark 7:19, Jesus declared that all food was clean: “For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body”. If he did, Jesus was directly opposing the law of God given to Moses. This appears to be only Mark's inference, however, and is not found in the parallel passage of Matthew 15. More importantly, Peter seems to have learned this for the first time after Jesus' death, by means of a heavenly revelation (Acts 10: 9-16). Perhaps Jesus then did not directly oppose any aspect of the sacred law.

However, he probably had legal disputes in which he defended himself by citing scriptural precedent, implying that he did not oppose the law (Mark 2: 23-28). His willingness to make his own decisions about the law was probably viewed with suspicion. Usually legal debates took place between competing camps or schools, and those who decided how to keep the laws were seen as troublemakers (Sanders, 2020). In other words, Jesus was autonomous; he interpreted the law according to his own rules and decided how to defend himself when criticized. He was by no means the only person in ancient Judaism to strike of his own free will, acting in accordance with his own perception of God's will, and so he was not particularly troubling in this regard, but such behavior could nevertheless be suspect.

1.5. Temple and Worship

Jesus promoted the culture of worship by attending and preaching in Jewish synagogues. As a result, Jews and Christians come together for worship to hear the word of God, to confess their faith, and to pray. There are common elements in their worship that set them apart from most other religions. These are based on the fact that both consider themselves bound by divine revelation to which the Holy Scriptures bear witness. Both span the life of a pious person who, in faith and obedience to the word of God, is to make his whole life an expression of worship. The current forms of Jewish worship are the result of a long development. During this process, the worship of the Temple in Jerusalem with its offerings coexisted with prayer services in the synagogues, which could take place anywhere. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the synagogue service became the heart of Jewish religious life. Christian worship, which had its origin in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, took elements of synagogue service and developed them independently (CECG, 1975). Jewish and Christian worship therefore contains many similarities and has many points in common, such as the weekly holiday (Sabbath / Sunday), the form of the service of the word (biblical readings, prayers, blessings) with common liturgical expressions (Alleluyah, Amen). It should be remembered that the existing differences were often created with the intention of separating them from one another.

1.6. Judgement and end time

Christianity and Judaism believe in some form of judgment. Christian teachings point to the future second coming of Jesus, which includes the resurrection from the dead and the Last Judgment. Those who have accepted Jesus as their personal Savior will be saved and will live in the presence of God in the Kingdom of Heaven, those who will not have accepted Jesus as their Savior, will be cast into the lake of fire (eternal torment, torment over, or simply deleted).

In the Jewish liturgy there is a meaningful prayer and there is talk of a “book of life” in which it is written, indicating that God judges every person every year even after death. This annual judgment process begins on Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur. In addition, God sits daily to judge a person's daily activities. At the anticipated arrival of the Messiah, God will judge the nations for their persecution of Israel during the exile. Later, God will also judge the Jews on their respect for the Torah.

1.7. Conclusion

In all, the main themes that Jesus taught, which Christians later embraced, we can cite: Loving God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Forgive others who have wronged you. Similarly, the most important teaching and principle of Judaism is that there is only one God, incorporeal and eternal, who wants all men to do what is righteous and merciful. All people are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. However, some differences between the teachings of Jesus and Judaism are held in particular on laws and purity, sin and salvation, one God and Triune (especially God in human form) as well as belief in Jesus and his second coming in the future.

II. Evaluating the contribution of the study of Greco-Roman society to the application of the gospel in modern contexts

The emergence of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world was one of the most significant things of this time. It occurred at the most appropriate time in history, but was misunderstood and persecuted by those who ultimately contributed to its growth and development. This paper examines the contributions of the Greco-Roman and Jewish world to the growth of Christianity. This showed that the Greeks were bringing their culture, which gave Christianity its language - Greek, the language of its writings. The Romans, with their exceptional political configuration, helped Christianity to develop. The Jews, on the other hand, contributed to the growth of Christianity through their religion. The paper concludes that the Greco-Roman cultural studies are important to modern Christians since the Greco-Roman society contributed to the growth of Christianity; a way God prepared the world to receive the salvation.

2.1. Introduction

Christianity started in a world with humans who had their distinct cultures and religious lives, the Greco-Roman society. Politically, economically and culturally speaking, the establishment of the Roman Empire was one of the most notable and greatest political achievements of the turn of the century. A careful comparison of the various achievements of men like Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and Napoleon Bonaparte, one will have no other choice but to conclude that the structures established by Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus Caesar surpass them all. During the reign of Emperor Augustus, a child was born into a poor Jewish family from the line of David. This child was called Jesus. He was to rule a kingdom much larger than all the kingdoms of the world put together, including that of the Caesars. Lica (2017) explains that it is a striking fact that almost synchronously with the implantation of the Roman Empire, Christianity appeared in the world. Although at a cursory glance the Roman Empire might seem the greatest enemy of early Christianity, and at times a bitter persecutor, it was in many ways the greatest preparation and in some ways the best ally of Christianity. The Caesars - whatever they may have been or done, prepared the way for the Lord and His church, hence an inspiration to the modem application of the gospel.

Many aspects of our contemporary society have been influenced in an influential way by the ancient Roman, Greek and Jewish ingredients on the cultural, social, religious and other levels. Creation of law and justice; development of democratic government practices; influences in different languages, literature, arts and infrastructure; and town planning are all the different areas where this influence of Roman ideas is evident. Roman influences, as well as Greek and Jewish influences, had considerable importance in the spread of Christianity. The popular adage “all roads lead to Rome” has so much to say about what Rome bequeathed to Western civilization. From time immemorial, first century Christians have always applauded their faith that the world was already prepared for it. Perhaps the unstoppable spread and growth of the Christian faith has confirmed these claims and made them a reality. In this small paper, we consider the Greco-Roman as those countries that are directly or indirectly influenced by the culture, language, religion, and government policies of the ancient states of Rome and Greece.

When evaluating the value of Greco-Roman studies in our current context, we see that their contributions are the various ways, aspects, and means by which the Romans, Greeks, and Jews aided the growth and spread of early Christianity or Stone Age Christianity. Just as the Romans helped legally and politically, the Greeks helped culturally and intellectually because they were so rich in cultural and artistic heritage. The Jews, however, gave alms to early Christianity by strictly observing the laws of Yahweh; they laid the foundations for the Old Testament as civilization has changed it. The detail of these different contributions is our concern. The early Christianity has to do with the Christianity practiced in the first, second and third centuries until the fifth century. This was the recorded beginning of Christianity as a missionary religion; these nations - Greeks, Romans and Jews - gave this new religion a taste and a shelter that strengthened its diffusion as to what is available in our society today and in the world at large.


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Environment of the New Testament. Jesus and Judaism, the Greco-Roman Society and Insights from Archaeology
Nations University
The New Testament Environment
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Jesus, Judaism, New Testament, Greco-Roman Society, Contemporary Life, Archaeology, The Gospel, Social Norms
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Dr. Sixbert Sangwa (Author), 2021, Environment of the New Testament. Jesus and Judaism, the Greco-Roman Society and Insights from Archaeology, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1021016


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