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II. The Interim Period, 135-381 AD, The Great Separation


The term Nazarene now refers to Hebrew-speaking Judeo-Christians in the Middle East.  Ray Pritz says the term applied to the whole Church of God during the days of the apostles. 


"It is important to note that the name Nazarenes was at first applied to all Jewish followers of Jesus.   Until the name Christian became attached to Antiochan non-Jews, this meant that the name signified the entire Church, not just a sect. So also in Acts 24:5 the reference is not to a sect of Christianity but rather to the entire primitive Church as a sect of Judaism.  Only when the Gentile church took over and overshadowed the Jewish one could there be any possibility of sectarian stigma adhering to the name Nazarene within the Church itself.  This should be borne in mind when considering the total absence of the name from extant Christian literature between the composition of Acts and 376[AD], when the panarion was written." [Ray Pritz, 1992]


What Eusebius would like people to believe is that Judeo-Christianity left Jerusalem after the Bar Kokhba revolt and war with Rome.  Bagatti begs to differ.


"[By] Reading Eusebius one gets the impression that the Judaeo-Christians left the city [of Jerusalem] forever, but such was not the case, because things that happened later, when examined, show us that they were still in their old surroundings.  From which it is established that the Judeao-Christians, after having left the city for a time, returned very quickly.   This is explained by the fact that within the war a distinction was made between the Jews and the Judeao-Christians, and that the decree of expulsion, promulgated by Hadrian, concerned only the Jews."  [B. Bagatti, 1971]


".the ancient Jewish church, rejected by both Jews and Gentiles, found itself in increasing isolation.  Although by A.D. 135 a number of Jewish Christians returned to Jerusalem, their relationship with the rest of Christianity had been almost completely severed, and leadership had passed to Gentile Christians.  When, in later centuries, Gentile Christians deigned to write a few words about that forgotten community, they would speak of its heretics and its strange customs, but they would have little of positive value to say about that church, which faded out of history in the fifth century."  [Gonzalez, 1984]


Initially, right after the Bar Kokhba revolt was brutally suppressed by the Roman Legions under Hadrian, some Greco-Roman Christians moved into occupied Palestine right after 135AD.   Bagatti had this to say about them and the Jewish believers in Jesus:


"In fact some gentile Christians could not bear that their coreligionists should perpetuate, more than a century after the death of Christ, those Jewish rites which they, on reading St. Paul, believed had been juridicially abolished.  The Christians of Jewish stock, on the contrary, thought that it was wrong to abandon those rites, which neither Jesus nor the apostles, Paul excepted, had abrogated."  [B. Bagatti, 1971]


And it is interesting, a close reading of Romans 14 shows that the New Testament freedoms Paul was explaining allowed for believers in Jesus to practice the days of worship that their Christian conscience dictated, allowing all others the same freedom of choice.  It would seem that these Gentile Greco-Roman Christians wanted to deny the very freedoms that had allowed them to choose Sunday/Easter/ observance over Sabbath/Passover observance. 

          Some historians feel that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem during the Bar Kokhba revolt marked the end of the Apostolic Era.  John in Ephesus of Asia Minor is dead, Polycarp is alive leading the Hellenized Judeao-Christians in Asia Minor.  But as we have seen, the Jerusalem Church of God continued long after 135AD.  The Bar Kokhba revolt brought about almost the entire annihilation of the Jewish people living in Israel.  55 important outposts, 985 of their most important villages wiped off the face of the map, 580,000 men slain, according to Dio Cassius, Roman History. 

          Judeo-Christians in Asia Minor (and throughout the Empire to a lesser degree) continued to observe the Christian Passover on Nisan 14, the weekly Sabbath, and the Holy Days of Leviticus 23.  The Greco-Roman Christians now observed "the Lord's Day" (Sunday), Easter, and later on, Christmas.  These changes could have begun in the Greco-Roman churches as early as the late first century to mid 2nd century (between 96 and 150 AD).  As the Greco-Roman church syncretized pagan days of worship and customs into its belief structure this church grew.  Don't forget, they had access to huge pagan populations in both the eastern and western half of the Roman Empire.  Evangelism in the synagogues amongst the indigenous Jewish population had almost run its course.  As this syncretizing of pagan days of worship was occurring Judeo-Christians separated themselves out of and away from this Greco-Roman movement which they more and more believed to be apostate and outright heretical.  i.e. their days of worship were out of the Bible, whereas the Greco-Roman days had been syncretized out of the pagan cultures and religions of the far east, Greece and Rome, which were, upon close scrutiny, all the same thing-copied from the Babylonian Mystery Religion.  This fact was not lost upon those early Judeo-Christians, whose Old Testament biblical history of God's anger with Israel over pagan practices had led to two separate total captivities in Jewish history, Assyrian and Babylonian.  What else distinguished the Judeo-Christians from the Greco-Roman churches? 


"In second-century Asia Minor and a few neighboring regions, a Christian Passover was kept which naturally placed the thought of the Lord's passion in the foreground, but also included the idea that this passion leads to the resurrection. In accordance with Jewish custom, 14 Nisan was kept as the date for this Passover, by the Quartodeciman's of Asia Minor and perhaps generally [by all] at first; it was prepared for by a strict fast and included a homily on Exodus 12 (as did the Jewish Passover).  It was not exclusively a day of mourning nevertheless, and had a joyous conclusion with the agape and celebration of the Eucharist early on Nisan 15."  [Karl Baus, 1990]


This "agape" meal was generally kept at the end of 14th Nisan, sundown, as the 15th was beginning [Jewish days, biblically, begin at sundown].  The Quartodeciman, or Judeo-Christian Passover was observed on the 13th/14th Nisan, at sundown, as the 14th Nisan was beginning.  This agape meal would have corresponded with the Jewish Passover meal, or Seder.  Jesus had kept his Passover meal 24 hours earlier, at the beginning of the 14th Nisan, so he would be crucified during the 14th when all the lambs in the Temple were being slain.  So Judeo-Christians observed the Passover memorial at the same time Jesus did, and then kept their agape meal or feast when the Jews were observing their Passover Seder, 24 hours later.  Even today in the Sabbatarian Churches of God, this Quartodeciman Christian Passover memorial is still observed on the 13th/14th Nisan, and the agape meal, which they call The Night To Be Much Observed, is observed on the 14th/15th Nisan, the same night of the Jewish Seder.  [see to see the significance of why the early Judeo-Christians felt so strongly about 14th Nisan observance of Passover instead of a Sunday Easter service.  This was the original "Holy Communion" observed, once a year, annually on the 14th Nisan by the early Judeo-Christian Church of God in Jerusalem, and then by the Judeo-Christians throughout the Middle East and Asia Minor.]




Polycarp, disciple of John, visited the Roman bishop Anicetus in 160AD.  Anicetus tried to convince Polycarp to have the Greek churches give up the 14th Nisan Passover observance and replace it with the resurrection feast (Easter), as the Latin churches from Sixtus I, 115AD, had already done.  Anicetus said he "could not persuade Polycarp not to keep it because he had always observed it with John, the Lord's apostle, and the other apostles." [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History.]

Irenaeus (177AD)


During the first three hundred years of the Christian Church a pitched battle raged against the heresies of Gnosticism and Adoptionism and those that were spreading them into the congregations.  Many of the early Church leaders after John would start to draw up the battle-lines between the orthodox and heretical.  Polycarp was John’s trained disciple.  He trained a disciple named Irenaeus, another Jewish Christian, who then moved up into the region of Gaul and was a Bishop in what became Lyons in 177-178AD.  He wrote five lengthy books defining the heresies that were attacking the Church.  He was the Christian Church’s first major apologist.  He wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volume On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, normally referred to by the Latin title Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies).  Book I talks about the Valentinian Gnostics and their predecessors, who go as far back as the magician Simon Magus.  Book II provides rational proof that Valentinianism contains no merit in terms of it’s doctrines.  Book III shows that these doctrines are false by providing evidence from the Gospels.  Book IV consists of Jesus’ sayings, and stresses the unity of the Old Testament and the Gospels.  The final volume, Book V, focuses on more sayings of Jesus plus the letters of Paul the Apostle.  Irenaeus recognized the legitimacy of the church in Rome, which at this time had apparently not become an apostate church yet After 325AD this all changed, but at this time the Judeo-Christian congregations and Gentile Christian congregations existed peacefully, side-by-side, recognizing each other and working with each other.  All the genuine Christian churches were busy fighting these heresies and those who brought them into their congregations.  These heresies had torn into the early Judeo-Christian churches, just as John and Paul had warned, noting especially what Paul said, that when he departed, he said grievous wolves would tear into the flock.  The nature of what become the Catholic Church would all change by the 300s AD.  Irenaeus is claimed by the Catholic Church as one of their early “fathers” to this day.  As stated Irenaeus was a Jewish-Christian, and was a student of Polycarp, who was said to have been tutored and discipled by John the Apostle.  It’s interesting, Irenaeus give us in these five volumes a sort of snap-shot picture of what the early Judeo-Christian, and even Gentile Christian churches believed, which modern apologists might label heretical, sort of proving my point that heretical beliefs should only be those that complicate the simple gospel of Christ, and nothing more. 


Early eschatological beliefs of the Christian Church as recorded by Irenaeus


Irenaeus gives us a vivid snap-shot of early Judeo-Christian eschatological doctrines, which should not surprise ex-members of the Worldwide Church of God.  “Irenaeus identified the Antichrist, another name of the apostate Man of Sin, with Daniel’s Little Horn and John’s Beast of Revelation 13.  He sought to apply other expressions to Antichrist, such as “the abomination of desolation,” mentioned by Christ (Matt. 24:15) and the “king of a most fierce countenance,” in Gabriel’s explanation of the Little Horn of Daniel 8.  But he is not very clear how “the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away” during the “half-week,” or three and one-half years of Antichrist’s reign.”  Small wonder he wouldn’t understand some of this, as these events are due to occur about 2,000 years later.  Irenaeus is at the early end of the Church age, and we now are at the end of it.  “He also understood that Rome, or some form of the Roman system, would be extant at the time of the 2nd coming of Christ.  Like the other early church fathers, Irenaeus interpreted the three and one-half “times” of the Little Horn of Daniel 7 as three and one-half literal years.  Antichrist’s three and a half years of sitting in the temple are placed immediately before the Second Coming of Christ.” 


Early beliefs about the Millennium


“Irenaeus declares that the Antichrist’s future three-and-a-half-year reign, when he sits in the temple at Jerusalem, will be terminated by the second advent [2nd coming of Christ], with the resurrection of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the millennial reign of the righteous.  The general resurrection and judgment follow the descent of the New Jerusalem at the end of the millennial kingdom.”  Well, he got the order a little mixed up, as Revelation 20:11-13 shows the general resurrection taking place, and Revelation 21:1-17, after that event, shows the descent of the New Jerusalem---after the lake of fire, and the new heavens and earth are created.  “Irenaeus calls those “heretics” who maintain that the saved are immediately glorified in the kingdom to come after death, before their resurrection.”---i.e. he does not believe that the spirit-in-man component within humans remains conscious upon death when they rise to God in heaven, but as Ecclesiastes teaches, the spirit of man rises to God, but is unconscious, which is often called the doctrine of “soul sleep”.”  So Irenaeus and the early Church during his lifetime believed that believers were to be brought back to life and made immortal at the time of the 1st Resurrection, spoken of by Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:49-56.  The doctrine of “the immortal soul” was considered Biblically inaccurate and heretical by the early Christian Church, and don’t forget this is a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.  So what Irenaeus pens in these five books, these beliefs here, were the doctrinal beliefs of John and the other 11 apostles, as well as those of Paul.  “He avers that the millennial kingdom and the resurrection are actualities, not allegories, the first resurrection introducing this promised kingdom in which the risen saints are described as ruling over the renewed earth during the millennium, between the two resurrections.”  “Irenaeus held to the old Jewish tradition that the first six days of creation week were typical of the first six thousand years of human history, with Antichrist manifesting himself in the sixth period.”---Wow!  No wonder his concepts of what the end-time Roman government, or some form of it, were fuzzy.  He knew he was 1800 years away from that event---“And he expected the millennial kingdom to begin with the second coming of Christ to destroy the wicked and inaugurate, for the righteous, the reign of the kingdom of God during the seventh thousand years, the millennial Sabbath, as signified by the Sabbath of creation week…he applies Biblical and traditional ideas to his descriptions of this earth during the millennium….”  i.e. he’s relying on Old Testament prophecies that describe that millennial period, such as found in Isaiah.  He saw the millennial period bounded by the two resurrections.  You know, I learned most of this information when I first became a member of the Worldwide Church of God, which was under the leadership of Herbert Armstrong at the time.  Now isn’t that a kicker?  Most other Christians and apologists like to paint him as being a fringe cook, a cultist (heretic?).  But here is described the eschatological beliefs of the early Church, and undoubtedly the apostles themselves, as recorded by the first and foremost apologist of the Christian Church.  So we see reflected in what Irenaeus wrote in his five books, as he battles heresies John and Paul also battled, the very same beliefs the early Church of God in Jerusalem believed, which are the same beliefs taught and believed by the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong.  So what should we conclude from this?  Secondary beliefs, in such areas as prophecy, soul-sleep verses immortality of the soul, are not to be considered on the list of what makes beliefs orthodox or heretical.  We must go by what Paul taught, and that is simply that anything that complicates the simple gospel of Christ is to be considered heresy.  Personal or denominational beliefs about prophecy or immortal soul verses soul-sleep, even teachings about heaven and hell, all fall within the realm of secondary teachings, and can and do differ amongst the various denominations that make up the body of Christ.  Apologist’s beware, you must not aim your gun-sights on other denominations and groups just because they disagree with you on these secondary items I have just listed.  For years you have hammered at the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong’s leadership, calling him a heretic, and you were wrong in doing that.  [Be sure to click onto the Homepage nav button “Why Orthodoxy?” when it appears on the site.  It will reveal a lot about these early battles against those two major heresies that tried to destroy the early Christian Church.]


          Bishop Victor I (189-199AD) also tried to abolish observance of he Christian Passover on the 14th Nisan and replace it with Easter.  He set up the Counsel of Caesarea in an attempt to push this through.


"A half century after Hadrian's war we meet in the community an open dispute between Hellenistic hierarchy and the Judeo-Christian faithful, especially under bishop Narcissus and his successor Alexander.  The first was present at the Counsel of Caesarea (196), at which it was established that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday instead of the 14th Nisan, and it can be supposed that when the bishop wished to implement the decision of the Counsel, he met with opposition.  In fact, Judeao-Christians were convinced that the traditional day of Nisan the 14th was not capable of change."  [B. Bagatti, 1971]


"The fact is that the Judeao-Christians did not accept the conciliar decisions for two reasons: first, because they deprived them of a preponderance of authority; secondly, because they considered the date of Easter [14th Nisan Passover] unchangeable.   The various facts relative to the observing of the new moon in which the Minim also in the beginning were taken as witnesses by the Jews, shows us the Judeao-Christians also observed the neomenia and fixed accordingly Easter [Passover] and the feasts that depended on it."."deeper reason prompted the Judeao-Christians not to accept the decisions of the gentile churches, and it was this, the common belief among the Jews that the date had been fixed by the Lord and was, therefore, unchangeable.  Many believed that this date was superior even to the Sabbath itself."  [B. Bagatti, 1971]


At this time Policrates, disciple of Polycarp, was ruling the Greek or Asia Minor Churches, and he refused to follow the Latin custom of Easter, refusing to be intimidated by Victor and his threats, saying the churches of Asia Minor (which would have included Judeo-Christian and Hellenized Greco-Roman churches which still observed Passover, Sabbath and Holy Days) would not change their practice.

200AD        At this time the percentage of ethnic Jewish believers in the Roman Empire is 62.9 percent of all Christians-Sabbath, Holy Day, 14th Nisan Passover observing Christians.  Ethnic Gentiles made up 37.1 percent of all Christians. [percentage figures from Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1996]  An estimated 7,000 Gentile Christians were in Rome. There still wasn't sufficient number of Gentiles to force a change from apostolic days of worship to the syncretized pagan Gentile Greco-Roman days of worship.  This wouldn't occur for another 100 years.  Even after 300AD the Quartodeciman minority remained faithful to their 14th Nisan Passover, Lord's Supper (Sabbath, Holy Day observances included).


Leading Up To Constantine and the Counsel of Nicea


300AD:  Starting with Constantine, the Roman government (whenever these emperors were from the Greco-Roman "orthodox" church) sought to bring the pagan population into the "orthodox" church. 


"In the 4th century, when Christianity had already won the victory over paganism, there was a reorganization of the church [i.e. the Greco-Roman "orthodox" church] for Unitarian purposes.  The Jewish usages and doctrines, unknown in great part to the [Gentile] Christian world, in some regions were looked upon as causes of division among the faithful and were therefore fiercely opposed.  Bishops and savants united their efforts on this programme and they acted through the counsels."  [B. Bagatti, 1971]


The orthodox Greco-Roman emperors sought to do this in order to stabilize Roman citizenry under one uniform umbrella system of beliefs.  Their motive was political, not religious or Christian in any way.  This "orthodox" Greco-Roman church now used the power of the Roman Empire to confiscate Judeo-Christian churches, church properties, and criminalize their observance of the Sabbath, Holy Days, and the Christian Passover of 14th Nisan.  Judeo-Christianity was essentially squashed under the military boot of the Roman Empire, now acting upon the orders of the Greco-Roman "orthodox" church.  What had been the Church of God at Rome in Paul's day had now become something totally new.  The apostle John had remarked in his 1st Epistle how the iniquity of the antichrist is already at work, which could have been a veiled reference to what the Roman bishops were up to at the end of the 1st century.  It certainly does seem to fit, looking back.  Elaine Pagels writes that by 200 AD Greco-Roman Christianity:


".had become an institution headed by a three-rank hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons, who understood themselves to be the guardians of the only "true faith."  The majority of churches, among which the church of Rome took a leading role, rejected all other viewpoints as heresy.  Deploring the diversity of the earlier movement, Bishop Irenaeus and his followers insisted that there could only be one church, and outside of that church, he declared, "there is no salvation."  Members of this church alone are orthodox (literally, "straight thinking") Christians. And, he claimed, this church must be catholic, that is, universal.  Whoever challenged that consensus, arguing instead for other forms of Christian teaching, was declared to be a heretic, and expelled.  When the orthodox gained military support, sometime after the Emperor Constantine became Christian in the fourth century, the penalty for heresy escalated."  [Elaine Pagels, 1979]


300AD:  66 percent of those calling themselves Christian were from the Greco-Roman stock, and only 34 percent were now Judeo-Christian.  That would come to 4.8 million Greco-Roman believers compared to 3 million Judeo-Christian believers. [percentages from Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1996] 

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