(10-minute read)

First Century Palestine was a lively time and place. A peculiar group of Jewish young men and women declared that they have witnessed an astounding event. The expected Messianic fulfillment in the life and person of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. Even more, these “followers of the way” affirmed that they have seen God come in human form, humbly and surely! Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, Simon [Peter] the Zealot, and Judas the Son of James, Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers all were together in prayer when suddenly and abruptly as Jesus the Nazarene promised the Holy Spirit entered every one present in that room to empower them to declare exactly what was seen and what would be written. (Acts1:1-12). The Jewish leaders were not pleased and subsequently arrested these early leaders of this group (Acts 4:1-13) and quickly threatened them not to preach the message of Christ (Acts 4:14-18).

But what did these first Christians proclaim, what was the great controversy and what was the message they declared in such apparent boldness? Let us first look at the validity of the author of this book. Luke the Physician.
The biblical scholar A.N. Sherwin-White writes that;

“for [the book of] Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd”. Even noted archaeologist Sir William Ramsey attests to the incredible veracity of this book and describes Luke’s accuracy as “unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness” and “Luke is a historian of first rank…[and he] should be placed along the with the very greatest of historians.” [1]

With that being said here is what Dr.Luke writes about these early Christians message.

They affirmed from the start:

  • Jesus was “Lord” amongst them (Acts 1:21; 2:36, 6:7, 8:37).
  • They were witnesses of His resurrection from the dead (Acts 1:22; 2:23-24; 32, 4:10 & 33, 5:29-32).
  • Anyone calling on Christ’s name will be saved (Acts 2:21).
  • Jesus was affirmed by the Father God with signs and miracles (Acts 2:22).
  • God the Father had a plan that Christ fulfilled to be the ransom for all sins (Acts 2:23, 3:18, 5:29-32).
  • Jesus was killed on a cross (Acts 2:23).
  • Jesus shares God’s throne of Authority (Acts 2:30,33-34, 5:29-32, 8:55-59).
  • Salvation comes through repentance and belief in Christ’s name to all (Acts 2:38-39; 4:12, 5:29-32).
  • The Disciples performed Miracles in Christ’s name (Acts 3:6;4:10).
  • Jesus is the source of Life (Acts 3:15)
  • Jesus was foretold through the Prophets of old (Acts 2:29, 3:21-26).
  • They were actual eyewitnesses of Christ (Acts 4:20,10:34-41).
  • The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:1-4).

Just from the overall context found in the first few chapters of the book of Acts we clearly see that these early devotees took Jesus to be a more than a mere prophet or man!

Larry Hurtado writes;

“it seems that this kind of devotion [Worshiping Jesus as God] to Jesus erupted with amazing force and rapidity”.[2]

I would go as far as to say that these early Christians were doing everything as a result of Christ’s own instruction (Acts1:8).  Hurtado postulates;

“Among the devotional practices of earliest Christian circles reflected in extant sources were such things as invoking Jesus’ name in healings and exorcisms (e.g. Acts 3:6;16:18), in baptism (e.g. Acts 2:38), and in other actions intended to execute divine power (e.g. the judgement of the man accused of an incestuous union in 1 Cor.5:3-5). In these and other actions… we have remarkable feature of early Christian devotional practice, which was that Jesus was apparently given the sort of place that was otherwise reserved for God alone… Jesus was treated as a recipient of “cultic” reverence that was given in a setting of corporate practice”.[3]

The resurrection was certainly not a later invention, nor the divinity of Christ some altered event that was seemingly evolving over time. No! These early Christians understood the function, plan, destiny and instructions of Christ clearly. Jesus made them a promise that holds true; “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26,16:13).

Richard Bauckham affirms that;

“In the earliest Christian Community, Jesus was already understood to be risen and exalted to God’s right hand in heaven, active in the community by His Spirit, and coming in the future as ruler and judge of the world”. [4]“Jesus was the object of religious attention in Christian Worship from the very beginning…unambiguously divine worship of Jesus only somewhat later, the transition would have been difficult”. [5]

“When New Testament Christology is read with this Jewish theological context in mind, it becomes clear that, from the earliest post-Easter beginnings of Christology onwards, early Christians included Jesus, precisely and unambiguously, within the unique identity of the one God of Israel . . . . The earliest Christology was already the highest Christology.”[6]

Martin Hengel observed that;

“In essentials more happened in Christology [believes in/about Jesus] within these few years than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of Church History”.[7]

Let me remind my readers that Paul was NOT presently involved in the Doctrines, believes or essentials of the Christian Church. The stark reality to anyone that presumes the contrary is that this is not what was conclusively depicted within the very early Christian community. It calls for serious ignorance and desperate theories to make this an actuality.
Jeffrey Burton Russell Writes to those that attempt this view that; 

“it ignores the fact that the divinity of Christ is repeatedly affirmed throughout the New Testament. To deny Christ’s Divinity one has to deny the New Testament as a whole…singling out Paul goes against the textual and historical evidence”. [8]

Just from these first few chapters of Acts we can affirm Jesus as Crucified, Resurrected, Ascended, Saviour, God, and Giver of life, Giver of Hope, and so much more! Now with this as our foundation we can clearly see Saul the Jewish Pharisee who gained permission to persecute these Christians were NOT near this early Church nor their believes!

We can affirm:

  • Saul was not present at all in the first Church from Acts 1-9 (He was first mentioned as a witness to the first Christian Martyr Stephen (Acts7:58).
  • Saul was opposing the early Christians violently (Acts 7:58, 8:1-3, 9:1-2).
  • Saul was selected by Jesus Himself (Acts 9:10-17, 13:2).
  • Saul had an immediate change of heart (Acts 9:20).
  • Saul’s conversion brought him to a pre-existing group of people; he did not establish his own group even though the disciples were reluctant to see him at first he was clearly an outsider (Acts 9:26-30)
  • Paul ministered with the Apostle Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 13:46, 14:14).
  • Paul & Barnabas were held accountable for their teaching by the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2-22).
  • Paul was accepted and became familiar with the very disciples of Jesus (Acts 9:15-16; 9:27-31; 13:42-52; 15:2-35; 19:20; 21:4-8 & 18; 22:14).
  • Paul did not invent the divinity of Jesus or the death and resurrection of Christ or the idea of His atonement (Acts 2:23, 1:22; 2:23-24; 32, 4:10 & 33, 5:29-32, 1:21; 2:36, 6:7, 8:37).

We clearly see that Paul of Tarsus had NO effect on the foundational doctrines of the Church and such assertions just seem ludicrous! One of these assertions comes from the atheist Richard Dawkin who wrote in his book the God Delusion that “Paul expounded this repellent doctrine; Jesus has been worshiped as the redeemer of all our sins. Not just the past sin of Adam: future sins as well, whether future people decided to commit them or not!”[9]

We can now clearly see what an absurd idea this was!
David Wenham affirms;

The evidence suggests that Jesus’ divinity was not a doctrine superimposed on the story of Jesus artificially by Paul or by anyone else; it was a conclusion that emerged from how people experienced Jesus during His ministry and from the experience of Jesus Himself”. [10]

Even the Jewish Scholar Arnold Jacob Wolf affirms;

“One cannot any longer say that [Paul] was the founder of Christianity.”[11]

Larry Hurtado writes;

“Paul never indicates that the devotional claims and practices that he affirms and reflects in his letters represent anything innovative from him. Indeed, he insists that in these matters he and other Jewish Christians, including those of the very first years (perhaps months) in Roman Judea.”[12]

We can confidently say that Luke the Historian shows clearly the message Paul preached was testified and affirmed by God (Acts 9:15-20;15:28;22:6-15) as well as the other disciples (Acts 9:26-29;10:34-40;13:46;15:4-8;17:18&31;21:18) and it was identical to the teaching of the First Apostles & Disciples of Christ. There is no confusion nor any doubts that the witness Luke wrote about is concise and highly probable. And in conclusion, we can be assured it is true.

[1] Geisler/Turek: I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist Pg262

[2] Larry Hurtado: Lord Jesus Christ Pg 134-153.

[3] Larry Hurtado: Lord Jesus Christ Pg 135-136.

[4] Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the God of Israel Pg 128

[5] Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the God of Israel Pg 130

[6] Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the God of Israel Pg ix-x.

[7] Martin Hengel: Between Jesus and Paul Pg 30-47.

[8] Jeffrey Burton Russell: Exposing Myth’s bout Christianity Pg 207

[9] Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion Pg 252

[10] David Wenham :Did Saint Paul get Jesus right? Pg 146

[11] Arnold Jacob Wolf : Jesus as an Historical Jew, Judaism 46:377

[12] Larry Hurtado: How on earth did Jesus Become God Pg.36.