The Bible is not the literal, infallible or inerrant word of God, but the faithful witness of ancient Jews and first and second century Christians. It is a human story that may also be a divine story, for those with "ears to hear and eyes to see."
In the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth challenges temple leaders and is crucified for treason by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine. The first church in Jerusalem is founded by Peter and the disciples, but led by James, the brother of Jesus. Paul preaches the gospel to Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles in cities throughout the Roman Empire.
In the first century the Roman emperor Augustus demanded worship as the Savior of the world, and after his death he was worshipped by many in the Roman empire as the divine son of a god. Faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was an act of resistance to Roman idolatry and oppression. In the 60s Paul and Peter were executed in Rome for treason, and James (the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church) was killed for denouncing temple authorities who supported Roman rule.
Jews in Palestine revolted in 66, but four years later Roman armies captured Jerusalem, destroyed its temple, and crucified thousands of rebels outside the city walls. These apocalyptic events led Greek-speaking followers of the Way to proclaim among Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah (Christ), and to tell Gentiles that Jesus is the Son of God who rules the world.
The church began without the Christian Bible that we read today. The first Christians, like Jesus and his disciples, read as scripture the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings of their Jewish ancestors. Paul's letters were written in the 40s and 50s, and the gospels were composed and edited late in the first century and early in the second century. Controversy in the early church about what writings should be read as scripture was resolved only in the fourth century after emperor Constantine was converted and demanded that church leaders preach a unifying message in all parts of the Roman Empire.
In the midst of this tumultuous history, men and women found ways to abide in love, and so came to know — through faith in the Way of Jesus — the just God who is forgiving. This is now our challenge.
May 23, 2016