Religious Backgrounds

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Religious Backgrounds


PART I

I. Opening Remarks

This is the second file in the online series of lectures for understanding the Gospels and Acts, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s ‘Jesus and The Gospels: an Introduction and Survey’. In our first lecture, we focus on political and historical background for the New Testament and for the narrative portion of the New Testament: the Gospels and Acts in particular. This lecture focuses on the religious background of the Gospels and Acts recognizing nevertheless that the departmentalization is somewhat artificial in a world that had not yet conceived of the notion of separation of church and state. Political and social events always had religious significance and vice versa. Nevertheless the division is puristic and can be helpful as all historical studies require systemization and departmentalization of one kind or another.

An interesting way to come at the question of their religious background would be to ask, what might a person be, who would had been a listener to this set of lectures, religiously speaking, at the beginning of the first century before Jesus of Nazareth became a public figure and before the movement that would become to be known as Christianity was even birthed? Again, we can separate the option into those aligned with the Jewish and those as aligned with the more Greco-Roman background. The Jewish option will prove far more significant for a study of the life of Christ and the birth of Christianity, certainly within Israel but also to a significant extent elsewhere, simply because Christianity was the outgrowth and by- product of the Jewish religion. We will therefore spend more time on the Jewish background but begin by briefly considering the Greco-Roman side of religious life in the first century. It would be interesting to think about how you or I would relate if we had lived in the opening years of the first century before the Jesus Movement.

II. Non-Christian Religious Options in the First Century

The PowerPoint, labelled ‘Non-Christian Religious Option in the First Century,’ begins with a pie chart of the Greco-Roman World and the first reasonably sized piece of the pie refers to devotees of traditional mythology of Greece and/or Rome. We, of course, have no census of the numbers or percentages of supporters of the various first century religious options and particularly in the Greco-Roman understanding of things. There would have been many combined potentially separable options, including combinations that were not always true to the genus that would correspond to one or more of the options which scholars referred to as syncretism, thus creating as least a portion of religious belief or practice that would have been deemed heretical by the earlier religions or world-views. In the fourth and fifth century BC, almost everyone would have believed in the myths surrounding the gods and goddesses of the Olympian pantheon, still well known in the modern era; Zeus, the head of the pantheon, and his wife Hera; who when the Romans took over these myths, Jupiter and Juno; Apollo, the god of the Sun who broke his fiery chariot from the sky and was so named by both Greek and Romans; Poseidon, the god of the sea, who became Neptune in Roman nomenclature and many more. There is little doubt that in the largely rural and out of the way places, traditional mythology with the various sacrifices offered to different gods or goddesses over the different areas of nature in folklore good fortune in those realms of life still held sway in the first century. But among the more urban or more educated peoples of the empire the traditional mythologies were in serious eclipse because science even as rudimentary as it was in those days recognized natural forces rather than gods or goddesses or many parts of what we still call nature and the imperial conquest of the various ancient Mediterranean empires had long since out stripped exploits prescribed even to the gods and goddesses. So we draw a sizable piece of the pie, of less than 50% indicates a downward trend or decline of a full-fledged belief in mythology as an over-arching world view. Still we will see the coming prominence in such context as Paul and Barnabas's treatment in Lystra in Acts 14 when they were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, the messenger god or again in Acts 19 at Ephesus when Artemis or Dianna, the goddess of the Ephesians is seen to be under threat because the silversmiths are losing their trade as Christians are now not buying the idols they once did as pagans.

III. The Most Pervasive Philosophies

The second piece of the pie is much smaller and should actually be drawn smaller than it is in the pie chart, but then, it would be more difficult to see. Those who were full-fledged devotees of the philosophers to the extent that they actually learned from the philosophical schools as teenagers or young adults, sitting at the feet and or walking with the major philosophers of Greeks and Roman centers, were a very small elite group of people who had free time and money to engage in such pursuit. The numbers could have been slightly expanded by others who could study more informally, more through hearsay or listening to public orators than through formal education. But the influence of the philosophers and their followers spread well beyond those who might be said to be fully subscribed to the philosophies as a world view and then may be categorized under several headings as the next screen proceeds to illustrate. The most pervasive philosophies going all the way back to the teachings of Socrates as written down and interpreted through Plato, again in the fifth and fourth centuries BC and likely beyond, had begun to experience a resurgence and slight modification in the first century such that history today speaks of this philosophical view as Neo-Platonism. Most significant for our purposes was Plato's view of unrelenting dualism between the material and immaterial world such as that in Neo-Platonism; the material world including that of human bodies was definitely viewed as inferior to the immaterial world which alone would survive death in this strand of philosophical thought. This commonly led to a form a asceticism or self-denial of standard bodily appetites, but on occasion could produce the opposite results of an over-indulgence of those appetites, a form of hedonism under the rationale that if matter ultimately didn't matter then its didn't matter how it was treated. Two groups of philosophers who we see together in Athens in Acts 17 as Paul debates and discusses with those who he encountered in the stoa or market place there and then addresses on Mars Hill or the Areopagus, are quite important for the more immediate century leading up to and including the time of the birth of Christianity. And in many ways they are polar opposite of each other with respect to a number of their major tenets. The stoics founded by Zeno in 300 BC were for the most part pantheistic, that is to say believing in a world soul or life force that integrated the entire material world but not distinctly separate from what Jews and Christians would have considered to be the created order. The Epicureans on the other hand were pure materialists who did not find the world inhabited by any soul of any kind. Perhaps the closest thing to any wide spread equivalent to atheism in the ancient world; nevertheless, Epicureans did not formally deny gods and goddesses but simply believed that they were too remote to be meaningful in dealing with the affairs of this world. Theists rather than atheists might be the better modern equivalent. They were founded approximately the same time in Greece as the Stoics were by Zeno, but by a man named Epicurus. The Cynics’ idea is slightly different from the modern use of the word, were a group who disparaged the traditional belief in god and goddesses and virtue in public morality in a variety of ways and often reveled in counter cultural behavior in public with respect to unkempt dress, in extreme cases even in defecating or copulating in public; but was perhaps best known for their beggars curse and for living off handouts that others were willing to give them. Dominic Constance has suggested that they were the hippies in the first century in an age of Augustine, in reference to the increasingly upwardly mobile young people who were the age of Caesar Augustus. Many more radical theories about Jesus' itinerant life style have likened him to a Cynic though interestingly the closest parallel: the use of the purse was precisely what Jesus told the disciples not to take with them but rather depend on hospitality of established home dwellers rather than handouts of those they might encounter in public.

As with all the topics in these lectures and in these opening surveys as different religious options, our textbook goes into further detail and refers to literature that elaborates in much greater length. Still, we return now to our pie chart: we come to a third piece of the pie which is that of Gnosticism or more specifically for the first century, we should speak of incipient Gnosticism. We see also two additional pieces of the pie rounding out the chart labelled Mysteries & Magic and then Imperial Cults. Let us take a look now at these additional three Greco-Roman religious options, and proceeding in reverse order.

Another small piece of the pie: the Imperial Cults which at least in some era unified into what can be called the Imperial Cult; in other terms, may be referred to just emperor worship. Initially rejected by Augustus Caesar during his life time, he was deified and subsequent emperors throughout the first century increasingly were willing to countenance this possibility during their lifetimes so that by the time of Nero and beyond, we have evidence of the demand to acclaim the Emperor as lord and god. In terms of individuals for whom this was their dominant religious world view, the piece of the pie was undoubtedly small. One may think today for example of the very tiny handful of people who in totalitarian regimes around the world would take seriously the claim of various dictators to divine qualities. But, as in the former Soviet Union or the contemporary North Korea, the occasional African country throughout the twentieth century, etc. or in a strong totalitarian regime, required at least lip service to this belief.

The outward expression of the appearance of such a philosophy can be seemingly pervasive. Christian refusal to participate in such acclamation probably was viewed by the average Greek or Roman as simply a lack of patriotism. Why not simply give lip service and keep the order and stability of the Empire for everyone's benefit, even if one did not believe in one's heart that the Emperor was divine, would have been the common logic. For Christians not to follow suit might well have been viewed much the way many people today looking at a group like the Jehovah Witnesses who refused to pledge allegiance to the flag.

Mysteries & Magic combine together a miscellaneous assortment of secret cults and practices, all of which had growing appeal in a slightly larger piece of pie because of the ability to manipulate the gods and goddesses to do one’s bidding, because of the opportunities or eternal life that were offered, because of the elitism of being in a sect or having access to rituals that set one apart from the large mass of humanity and in many instances because of the equality in a very classless society offered to the devotees of these groups so that slave and senator, prominent business person and mistress, and other unequal individuals, could come together as a secret group by night and be treating as equal worth by the gods and each other.

Finally, we come to Gnosticism which throughout the New Testament period was more in its infancy stages such that scholars often speak of incipient Gnosticism or proto-Gnosticism. Nevertheless, by the second century it would be become a major factor for a synchronistic combination with Christianity and significant alternative to what emerged as the dominant more orthodox second century Christianity. Gnosticism built on the dualism, the radical separation of material and immaterial world from Platonism and Neo-Platonism and developed it entire cosmology stemming from this. Our next slide depicts a strange display revealing a kind of composite of a number of various Gnostic texts; their creation myth in which an original god now remote and largely unknowable and impersonal produced in Greek what were called aeons. Today we think of this term as referring to long periods of time, but originally one of the meanings of the word was something akin to our English concept of an emanation, an impersonal abstract force or power, vice or virtue from this original god. One of these original aeons rebelled from the original god-head, a combination of god plus its emanation which was often referred to as pheroma or fullness of deity; I recall similar language used in Col 2:9 but this reference applies to Christ alone. This rebellion from the god-head, had decided to create the universe, that it, the material world. Since in Gnostic thought, the material world was by nature inherently evil. Such creation could be seen as an act of rebellion not the perfectly good product of a perfectly good God as in the narratives of Genesis one and two. The plight, from which humanity had to be delivered in Gnosticism including regular combinations of Gnosticism of Christianity, was therefore not humanity’s sin but this initial fall as it were was from immaterial perfection into material imperfection. The hope for the Gnostic, Christian or otherwise, was not the resurrection of the body; being stuck with something evil for all eternity, but rather, be the disembodied immortality of the soul, and hence for the same reason as Neo-Platonism, most Gnostics or proto-Gnostics took an ascetic approach to living and ethics while a minority took the opposite extreme and pursued a hedonist life style. Redemption in the Gnostic myth was salvation not from sin but freedom from the material world which could ultimately be achieved only upon a person's death, which could be anticipated in this life if one had access to secret, elitist and sometimes esoteric revelation or wisdom; (Wisdom is a Greek word for knowledge; akin to this wisdom was being kanoious to Gnosticism. Another Greek word for wisdom was sophia, which was also a Greek name and a feminine word) such that wisdom or knowledge easily became personified as that which came from the god-head to save humanity. In 'Christian forms of Gnosticism' sophia was often equated with or replaced by Jesus which found certain Jewish precedents and there were in fact Jewish forms of Gnosticism but not as common as the more pure Greek form and there were Jewish Christian syncretistic mixtures with Gnosticism as well but though again in the minority. For these later combinations, we should draw from the background of Proverbs eight and nine and various second temple Jewish sources that had already begun to personify God's wisdom as a person and often as a woman, doubtless because in part because the Hebrew word for wisdom: toqma was also feminine. One of the most significant, later, probably mid to late second century, 'Christian Gnostic documents' was the Gospel of Thomas; the famous Jesus seminar in the 1990's included this along with Mathew, Mark, Luke and John as one of the five Gospels whose authenticity or historicity they evaluated verse by verse, saying by saying, deed by deed throughout the lives and teachings of Jesus, therein, portrayed Thomas as by far the most important of the non-canonical Gospel text and is a collection of 114 sayings prescribed to Jesus supposedly secretly given to the Apostle Thomas after Jesus' resurrection about what turns out to be in many instances far more amenable to Gnostic thought than to the religion of the New Testament. But because somewhere between a third and a half of all the sayings of the Gospel of Thomas find at least partial parallels in the New Testament and which were demonstratively unorthodox in nature. It is an intriguing question for scholars to debate the number of the sayings of potential authentic as well as relative merits of the varying forms of the sayings that do find partial parallel within the New Testament.

Turning to the Jewish area now will occupy the rest of this lecture; Judaism had many different facts, though scarcely contained the diversity one found within the Greco-Roman world. Here, we can speak of many common features that unify almost all strands of Judaism in ways that have no parallel within the Greco-Roman religious options.

PART II

IV. Languages and Bibles in Israel and Beyond

We begin with information on Languages and the Bible in Israel and beyond. As so often happens in the history of religious, cultural and ideological differences, it all begins simply as the by-product of different language groups participating in a common religion and by the first century, Jews had been dispersed or voluntarily chose to settle other places in the Roman Empire. We saw in our first lecture, way back in the Persian period, in the beginning of the inter-testament period, Aramaic had become the lingua franca or common language of the ancient Mediterranean world, Middle East and even a bit further into Central Asia. We noted there as the centuries went by, Aramaic died-out outside of Israel but remained the lingua franca in Israel.

During the Hellenistic period as Alexander and his successors spread the Greek language and culture throughout the same territory, the Greek language became the lingua franca. It was not the elevated exalted prose and poetic language of the classic poets and playwrights in Athens in the fourth and fifth centuries BC: so-called classical Greek, but was instead called Koine Greek or common Greek. It was a much simpler, less grammatically precise common language of the ordinary person. Because of its success throughout the Empire, in the Diaspora, that is to say where Jews settled outside of Israel, all but a handful of people lost the facility not only to speak Aramaic but also with Hebrew that had preceded it. Hebrew was still the language of the vast majority of the Sacred Scriptures which had already been written by 200 BC. During this time, a need developed for a brief translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek for the Jews of the Diaspora; this was to become known as the Septuagint and it was represented much later in Latin by the LXX.

So, seventy rabbis and scholars, who knew Greek, were commissioned to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek and thus the Septuagint came into being. When they compared their copies, they were identical. However, there is textual variance among ancient copies of the Septuagint as we have in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. But this explains the name and abbreviation. In Israel, the Hebrew Scriptures were still preserved and young boys were taught to read from the Torah scroll so that knowledge of Hebrew for the sake of reading Scripture. However Aramaic still remained the lingua franca. As we move into the Roman period, one might expect in an empire as vast as the Roman that Latin would supplant Greek as the lingua franca and in fact in the western half of the empire it gradually did. The western half being Italy, Gaul (modern day France), Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, but in the eastern half, Greece and the lands to the east, including Israel and well beyond it; the tribute to the pervasiveness of the influence of Hellenism was that Koine Greek remained the lingua franca.

Thus, even in the Diaspora, there was no need in the first century for the Latin text for the Old or emerging New Testament. These would appear in later times long after the Septuagint, which remained the Bible that was most commonly appealed to and cited; and still in Israel, the Septuagint would have been available and used for multilingual groups when they gathered, especially when the Diaspora Jews came to the Holy Land during times of festivals. However, the Hebrew Scriptures would still be used as well and an emerging body of literature known as the Targum began to develop, written in Aramaic. This was part translation, part paraphrase with the occasional short or long explanatory insertion. This enabled those whose language was Aramaic, to gain both a translation and interpretation of the Scriptures.

V. Non-Christian Religious Options in the First Century

In the pie chart, we can combine the Greco-Roman world pie-chart already examined with one for Jewish options in the first century, prior to or apart from the coming of the Christian Gospel. To complement the textbook treatment of these various Jewish groups and for the sake of some variety in format, we follow Wright's New Testament and the People of God / Christian Origins and the Question of God on what may be called the common narrative and the problem every observant first century Jew knew; that the exile in which God's people had been repeatedly sent was still not entirely over. Even Jews living in the Holy Land given in perpetuity as they understood it, their people lived under Roman subjugation and often under Roman oppression. And of course there may have been nine or ten times as many Jews living outside of Israel. Yet, the Hebrew Scriptures promised the land to the descendants of Abraham and therefore what psychologists might call cognitive dissidence was created. What was to be done about this situation.

VI. Solutions to the Problem of "Exile"

One way to compare and contrast the various Jewish groups was in terms of how they answered this question. For the Pharisees might have said, 'we must do better in obeying God's laws and teaching others the same.’ Thus, the Pharisees thought to extend the highest levels of holiness, incumbent on the elite few of Israel, more widely; first among themselves and eventually among others as well. It was the Pharisee, therefore, who began to dramatically expand the oral laws which were introduced at the beginning of the last lecture in surveying the Persian period. The Pharisees wanted to create a defense around the Torah so that people would know the meaning of obedience and disobedience, as to make obedience possible in every area of life. Key concerns of this obedience and disobedience involved ritually pure foods and tithing, vows, as well as the various badges of national righteousness, crucial to all Jews, plus circumcision, occupying the land, worshiping in the Temple and providing the right sacrifices. To correctly understand the Pharisees, you must first understand that they didn't start out to establish what Christian’s term, legalism, setting up long lists of do's and don’ts as requirements of salvation. Nevertheless, there are a few notorious examples of legalistic Pharisees in the Gospel but we must also recall such comparatively positive references to Pharisees such as in John's reference to Nicodemus and Mark's reference to Joseph of Arimathea. There was also a warning in Luke 13 by friendly Pharisees in reference to Herod, etc. One of the most difficult problems for the theologically trained Christian today in helping people both inside and outside the church to understand the original meaning and term for Pharisees, since it has now become synonymous with the word, hypocrite.

The Sadducees were polar opposite to the Pharisees on many items, much as the Epicureans and Stoics were in the Greco-Roman world. But, if we imagine how they might answer the question of Israel’s plight and its remedy, they might have said, 'we simply accommodate to the current reality of the Roman occupation’; after all, they had the most to gain by it. They were primarily the wealthy priestly classes whose influence dominated the Temple, their people and also the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court and the high council based in Jerusalem. Even later rabbinic sources acknowledged that the Sadducee wing of the Sanhedrin had become particularly corrupt during the days of Caiaphas, the high priest. The Temple trafficking was a recent innovation by Caiaphas for the convenience of the money changers and the venders and priests, where until recently such commerce had taken place in the Kidron Ravine just to the east in the valley below the Temple, itself. This Temple trading had become an offense to many, and this probably accounts for the reason Jesus was tolerated when he cleared the Temple of them.

The third group, the Essenes, was particularly famous because of their monastic community at Qumran, located on the Shores of the Dead Sea. The infamous Dead Sea Scrolls produced from there are an intriguing group of documents. To understand them; they were in many ways like the Pharisees but only more separatist. They would have answered the questions to better obey God's laws but with the conviction that all the rest of the world, including Judaism, had become so corrupt that their only hope was to huddle together in ghettos or in rural conclaves to start over again. They were very conservative in respect to Scripture, not adding oral laws to it as the Pharisees did, nor rejecting non-legal sections of the Hebrew Scriptures not binding for doctrine. Their innovation was characterized by interpretations of Scripture, particularly the prophetic books what became to be known by the Hebrew word, pesher; translated to be 'this is that which.' They anticipated God's apocalyptic intervention with a war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. The sons of light represented fellow Essenes while the sons of darkness represented everyone else in the world. Their community was founded by an anonymous leader known as the Teacher of Righteousness. He would, one day, give way to both priestly and kingly Messiahs. Their communities were a corporate preparation and saw themselves much as John the Baptist saw himself as fulfilment of Isaiah 40; the prophecy of a voice crying in a wilderness preparing the way of the Lord. Their own monastic living was a sacrifice replacing the temple sacrifices which they believed were too corrupt.

Finally, we come to the Zealots. They were different still to the earlier groups. Less organized that the other groups, the Zealot’s answer to the question of their occupation was, 'we must take matters into our own hands,' trusting God to re-enact the Maccabean miracle. They strove to overthrow their oppressors by military might. They were dubbed by Richard Barnsley, as a band of Prophets and Messiahs. By the 60s they became somewhat organized and finally led the Jewish rebellion, caused by heavy forms of taxation and oppression. But as was noted at the end of the previous lecture, they were horribly massacred and defeated. God, for whatever reason, did not intervene in this instance to bring about their salvation like during the time of the Maccabees.

What is important to understand here, however, is to avoid the misconception that all or almost all Jews fell into one of these four groups, sometimes referred to as leadership sects. Whatever the nomenclature, the vast majority of Jews were simply made up of ordinary farmers and fisher people, housewives, craftsmen, carpenters, small artisans who were, somewhat discouragingly, defined by the Pharisees as the Am-ha-Aretz, or the ‘people of the land’. They were easily swayed by others and were just busy earning enough to feed themselves on a daily basis, staying barely above the poverty line, hoping for help to continue working. They tried obeying the main laws of the Hebrew Scriptures, hoping for a Messiah but for the most part without inclination to join up with any particular group who claimed to have more stringent solutions to the blight their nation faced.

VII. Trends in Judaism in Jesus' Day

Moving on in regards to trends in Judaism in Jesus' day, we look at some of the commonalities that cut across the various sects. What James Dunn has dubbed ‘badges of national righteousness’, particularly in regards to the life of Jesus in his recent book, 'Jesus Remembered' . These involved the dietary or kosher laws, clean and unclean food, worshipping on the Sabbath and all of the various other laws developed to determine what did or did not constitute work on the day of rest, and the circumcision of male babies and adult male converts to the Jewish religion. Along with those badges were three symbols of national identity: their unique law or Scripture, the Torah; their uniquely promised land of Israel and the temple worship and the call for the forgiveness of sin in Jerusalem. The over-arching theological framework for this has become known as ‘covenantal nomism’; the Law was given to be obeyed as a response to the covenant God established with Moses. As already mentioned, Pharisaic beginnings were not predominately legalist in the classical sense of doing certain good deeds in order to become saved. It was more in terms of staying saved in a religion that did not have any strong sense of what centuries later, Christian Reformers would dub as the perseverance of the saints.

It has been already noted in some common narratives, the problem involving the tension between God's promises and Roman occupation. We can summarize these narratives as to the solution to the promise of the Exile; to obey God's law better and to help others to do so as well, building a defense around the Torah, the rise of the Sadducees and their accommodating the occupation of Rome, the Essenes' stricter obedience in forming monastic communities and rejecting the temple sacrifices as being corrupt and creating their own sacred literature as found in the many of the scrolls discovered at Qumran. The scrolls also contained all but Esther from the Hebrew Scriptures, so there is no question that Essenes acknowledged the classical Hebrew Scriptures. The other large portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls contained literature predominately, it is believed, to be followed by the Essenes, themselves. There were also manuals of discipline included amongst these documents, regimenting the nature of behavior and policies of communal meals and living at Qumran. They also included hymn books and apocalyptic literature and other liturgies and forms of worship and historical narratives. But the variety of genres of the scrolls focused primarily on the Hebrew Bible.

VIII. Sadducees, Pharisees, etc.

N.T. Wright in his second big book on the topic of Christian origins, Jesus and the Victory of God, summed up the message of Jesus as metaphorically announcing the claim that the problem these other groups were trying to address or not being able to address, was in fact no longer a problem; 'for Jesus,' Wright says, 'can be summarized in the implicit claim that the Exile was over. How can this be? Not one Roman solider had left his out post. But to summarize the four leadership sects of Judaism is explicitly stated by Jesus in his farewell discourse and high priestly prayer in Psalm 14 to 17 and also in John Chapter 17 where he prays that his disciples though not taken out of the world but might be protected from the world. If we use this language, ‘in the world’ as being mixed up in society of human beings but closely mingling with them; yet not in the world, to mean the creation of a separate community. Then if we take of the ‘world’ to mean, being characterized by the world's sins and then ‘not of the world’, preserving Godly life styles; then in a very real sense we can speak of the Sadducees being in the world and of it, and the Pharisees being in the world but not of it, and then the Zealots as not in the world but of it, and finally, the Essenes as being not in the world and not of it, then we have all four logical options covered. With this kind of taxonomy and no real logical alternatives, Jesus did not come along and provide a new and distinct option but in essence our position was aligned with the Pharisees, as shocking as this may sound. Numerous observers have commented that of these four groups; in many respects, the Pharisees might be akin today to more fundamentalist thinking; not inherently, legalistic, but always with a tendency of temptation to move in that direction. Jesus, on the other hand while agreeing with the Pharisees that high standards of morality needed to be observed without physical or geographical separation from the world's sinners. This takes in what Tom Wright terms as the five radical re-definitions of the central tenets of Jewish theology enabling him to make sense of his implicit claim that the Exile was in fact, over.

Next, in Jesus verses Judaism, Wright argues that the two most central theological tenets for second temple Judaism were monotheism, one God and election, God having chosen one people through Abraham and Isaac and others related by conversion to Judaism through those descendants by which to work out his purposes for the world. Jesus begins with these two most central doctrines and thus through these doctrines, redefined God in ways that led his followers increasingly more explicitly in the first century to link God with Jesus. This was done so closely that many orthodox Jews felt a line separating reverence from blasphemy had been transgressed. He had also associated the Spirit of God known from countless Old Testament references with himself. The second redefinition involved referring to the elect or chosen people of God, no longer as all Israel but as Jesus' followers including Gentiles that will be included as well, not necessarily through conversion into Judaism. The third central redefinition was to see the people's plight, the salvation that they needed as more spiritual than of a political nature, freedom from Satan rather than Rome. The next redefinition included a dying Messiah rather than one reigning as king and military general from Jerusalem. The prophecies would be fulfilled but only at a later date. And thus the finial redefinition with two stages to the Messianic era: a period in which the kingdom had arrived but was not yet fully present and a later date ushered in by the coming Son of Man. This would conclude all of the fulfillments of the Old Testament to God's people.