by Wayne Chamberlain
Sentry Magazine, December 2002
Throughout history, God has used natural events, nations, cultures, individuals, and even beasts to facilitate and accomplish the fulfillment of His will. Evidence is strongly indicative that God used some of these same components in preparation for the corning Messiah and the carrying of His message into all the world. Certainly, John the Baptizer functioned in this way: "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD, Make His paths straight."1 But even more precursory were the various cultural contributions from the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews.
The apostle Paul stated that "when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son"2 Mark's gospel also quotes Jesus saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand"3 These passages cause one to conclude that the timing of Christ's birth was not a random thing. God "sent forth His Son" when the world was ripest for Him.
The Romans contributed politically to this ripeness in five major ways:
Two elements fostered a sense of unity among those who were under the yoke of the Romans: A common law and citizenship.
The lex XII tabularum
The lex XII tabularum, or Twelve Tables, were the basis of the Roman legal system. These laws had been crystallized and codified in the middle 5th century B.C., but as the Romans conquered other nations the Twelve Tables were ameliorated by the laws of the other nations. The educational system of the Romans included the Twelve Tables as part of the academic training for all Roman boys. All people in the Roman Empire were accountable to this same law -- thus setting the stage for the accountability of all men to the law of Christ.4
A sense of unity was also enhanced by Roman citizenship. Citizenship certainly had its advantages. Simply put, non-citizens had few rights, whereas Roman citizens had many privileges and rights as well as duties. With just a cursory reading of Acts 16:35-40 and 22:25-29, one can readily see the advantages of Roman citizenship. As time passed, citizenship was made available to more and more people, finally culminating in universal citizenship for all freemen in 212 A.D.The fact that the then known world was under one law, and that citizenship in this kingdom was desired by all and was continually made more available, created a sense of unity that aided the acceptance of the gospel as a system in which there was "neither Jew nor Greek, ... slave nor free, ... male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."5
The pax romano
The pax romano, or the Roman Peace: Much criminal activity had been checked by the Roman military. The peace that followed contributed greatly to the freedom of movement enjoyed by Christ and particularly Paul in his efforts to spread the gospel.
An Excellent Road System
Once the early church began to see its mission to gentiles, instead of to the Jew only, the spreading of the gospel was facilitated by the exceptional network of roads the Romans had developed throughout their empire. Paul's travels in Acts verify this.
The Roman Army
Contributions by the Roman Army are not legion nor provable, though we know of a few instances in Scripture where military men obeyed the gospel (e.g. Cornelius, the jailor at Phillipi, et al). No doubt, these individuals and others carried the gospel wherever they went. The acceptance of the faith by these men would have given some credibility to Christianity among soldiers, making it less an enemy than it otherwise would have been. It is also suggested that the probability exists that Christians in the Roman military introduced the gospel in Britain.6
The Religious Element
The Scriptures record numerous examples of conquered peoples turning away from their gods because their gods were unable to protect them from the conquering nation. The subdued people would then serve the gods of their captors. This effect was brought upon those conquered by Rome; however, the Roman gods (Greek gods with new names) were unable to offer anything better than the impotent gods before them. Thus these people "were left with a spiritual vacuum that could not be filled satisfactorily by the religions of the day."7 This, no doubt, contributed to a readier reception of the gospel. There were, however, "various mystery religions (that) seemed to offer more than this in the way of spiritual and emotional aid."8 Yet, time revealed that they were merely empty rituals through which neither forgiveness nor hope could be found.
The Greeks contributed intellectually to this ripeness in three major ways:
A Universal Language
With the conquest of Alexander the Great (322 B.C.), came a new culture (Hellenism), and a new language (Greek). The Attic Greek spoken by Alexander was a difficult language, and with the passing of time the language (as languages always do) began to change; consequently, the Attic Greek gave way, at least to the common man, to what became Koine Greek, or common Greek. The Septuagint, ca. 285 B.C., was written in Greek, thus setting the stage for the acceptance of the Greek language among the Jews. "The actual speech of the LXX varies widely from book to book, however, the underlying literary vehicle is koine."9
The New Testament was also written in this language. The Koine Greek was the perfect language for clarity and precision in discussing the topics found in the New Testament. "It frequently has been said that the precision and depth of meaning available to the Greek language rendered it the perfect vehicle for the thought of Plato and Aristotle. In the same manner, the directness and precision of koine made it the ideal vehicle for the 'Word of God.'"10 Surely God's hand was in the forces that brought about the Koine Greek and its universal usage throughout the world during the time of Christ and the New Testament.
The rational thinking of Socrates and Plato did much to undermine and destroy the bankrupt philosophies of the pre-existing religions. As time transpired and the Hellenistic influence expanded, Greek philosophy, though itself inadequate to fulfill man's spiritual needs, showed the foolishness and emptiness of the polytheistic religions of Greece and Rome.
Though Socrates and Plato stressed a larger dimension than "this world," the mere intellectual pursuit of finding fulfillment produced vacuity. And though some Greek literature taught of right and wrong, the way to correct it or even the need to correct it were not addressed because the infractions were never seen as "more than a mechanical and contractual matter. (Not) ... as a personal failure that affronted God and injured others."11
The Religious Element
With somewhat of an overlap with the preceding element, the philosophers of Epicurean and Stoic persuasion presented a different viewpoint of man. Though Stoicism stressed a system of ethics, and Epicureanism "advocated a fairly pure morality",12 man was still pretty much left on his own to "work out his own obedience to the natural Jaws."13
Both of these were materialistic religions: Epicureanism taught, "The human soul is made of particularly small, mobile atomic bodies; there is nothing incorporeal or immortal about it;"14 and Stoicism taught, "The human soul is simple and solely rational.15 Thus their negative response to Paul's preaching on the resurrection in Acts 17:30-32.
With the polytheistic religions discredited, philosophy itself found hollow, and the materialistic religions of Epicureanism and Stoicism offering nothing better than a "do-it-yourself' ethic with no hope beyond the grave, the gospel of Christ-with its emphasis upon the spiritual, a relationship with God, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, and hope of eternal life-was found more appealing and was no doubt given more serious attention than it would have been given centuries earlier.
The Jews contributed religiously to this ripeness in six major ways:
After centuries of punishment and finally the captivity in Babylon, the Israelite nation finally learned its lesson concerning other "gods". They became servants of only the one true God Yahweh (Jehovah). Of course, Jesus being the true Son of God, He taught that there was only One Deity the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit -- who are One.16 This truth was well established among Jews. Never did the apostles have to deal with Polytheism when they preached to a Jewish assembly. Yet numerous examples can be cited to verify the necessity of this topic among Gentile audiences.17
Though there were obviously many incorrect ideas about the Messiah and His kingdom, the hope of His coming was certainly present among Jews and also among Samaritans. Most preaching to Jews began by proving Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (Gr. "Christ"; lit. "anointed one").18
After nearly 1,500 years of living under the paidagogos ("tutor, schoolmaster' i.e., the Old Law), the Jews clearly understood right and wrong. Though the Pharisees had done much to take the heart out of the Mosaic Law, the Decalogue and its many attendant teachings set forth "the purest ethical system in existence."19 It is interesting to note that the epistles which deal with Jews, are concerned more with pride and its elements, whereas the letters with Gentile recipients contain so many rebukes and exhortations concerning ungodly behavior.20 The Jewish religion clearly laid a solid foundation for the gospel in teaching that "Salvation came from God and was not to be found in rationalistic systems of ethics or subjective mystery religions."21
Old Testament Scriptures
That the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament is clearly seen in the books of Matthew, Romans, Hebrews, and others. The books of Romans and Hebrews consist of nearly one-third Old Testament quotations. Not only is it impossible to understand these letters without a good knowledge of the Old Testament, but it is clear that the New Testament is the spiritual fulfillment of the physical elements in the Old Testament.22 Thus the Old Testament was the canvas upon which the New Testament was painted.
Philosophy of History
The Jews did not share the pessimistic view of history as being merely a series of redundant, repetitive, and meaningless cycles.23 Nor did they see, as the optimistic historians, man at the hub of the wheel with his aim being merely to continue evolving to higher technological and intellectual levels.24 The Jews saw Jehovah as being in control of history, and that, consequently, there was meaning and purpose in history. This ideology set the stage for a key issue of the gospel. One day Christ will return and all wrongs will be made right, and all men will answer for their actions.25
Synagogue worship is thought to have begun during Babylonian captivity when the Jews had no access to the temple. For seventy years they met, recited and read Scripture, and sang songs in worship to God. When they returned from captivity, and as they dispersed throughout the world, the synagogue became a standard fixture wherever there were enough Jews to have one.26 The significance of the Jewish synagogue as it relates to the preparatory element of Christianity is that:
- It was the synagogue that fostered and nurtured the five previous points we have just discussed the teaching of the One God, the coming of the Messiah, the high standard of morality and ethics, and the Jewish philosophy of history were all taught in the synagogues as they read and studied the Old Testament Scriptures continually; and
- The synagogue served as an open forum for teaching the gospel. Christ made use of the synagogues, and Paul took advantage of the "open doors" of the synagogues everywhere he traveled.27
In view of all these factors, one must freely acknowledge that Judaism was "the stalk on which the rose of Christianity was to bloom."28
Just as God, in the days of Daniel, foresaw the establishment of Christ's kingdom during the days of the Roman empire, 29 He also had the power and wisdom to bring about the fulfillment of these events in such a way that one could hardly doubt the presence of His hand in them. "In the period of Christianity's birth and during the first three centuries of its existence, conditions were more favorable for its spread throughout the Mediterranean world than at any other time in the ancient or medieval eras."30
- Mark 1:2-3 (All Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.)
- Galatians 4:4
- Mark 1:15
- q.v.Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 1:15-23 et al
- Galatians 3:28
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p. 37
- Earle E.Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p. 37
- The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol.2,p. 828
- Ibid. Vol.2, p.833
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages p.40
- The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2,p. 336
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p. 40
- 1992 Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia, Epicureanism
- 1992 Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia, Stoicism
- See John 17:20-23; I John 5:7
- See Acts 14:8-18;17:22-29,et al
- Acts 2:22-ff,3:11-26,9:20-22,et al
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p. 40
- See James 1:1;2:1-13;4.6,10; I Corinthians 5:1-ff;6:9-11;8:1-ff
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p. 42
- Hebrews 9:23-28,et al
- See Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p.15
- See Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p.15-16
- Revelation 6:.9-11; II Corinthians 5:10
- Packer, Tinney, White, The Bible Almanac, p. 502. This wasn't difficult since "only 10 Jewish men were needed."
- Luke 4:16-ff;Acts 13:13-16;et al
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p. 41
- Daniel 2:44
- Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Ages, p.43