Apostasy in the Early Assembly
Hegesippus, an ancient chronicler of the early history of the Assembly, records something very unsettling about an apostasy which crept into the body of believers after the death of the apostles. As Hegesippus wrote, “Up to that period the Assembly had remained like a virgin, pure and uncorrupted; for, if there were any who were disposed to tamper with the wholesome rule of the preaching of salvation, they still lurked in dark places of concealment. But, when the sacred band of apostles had in various ways closed their lives, and when that generation of men to whom it had been entrusted to listen to the Godlike Wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then the confederacy of godless error took its rise through the treachery of false teachers. They then, seeing that none of the apostles lived any longer, attempted with bare and uplifted head to oppose the preaching of the truth by preaching ‘knowledge falsely so called.’” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastic History 3.32)
Hegesippus records elsewhere that up to this point in the history of the Assembly, “the state of affairs was in accordance with the teaching of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Lord.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastic History 4.22) In other words, the early Assembly, prior to the ascension of Yeshua and the death of the original apostles, conducted their business by not only the teachings of Yeshua, but also by the Torah and the Prophets.
What Hegesippus was essentially recording was the widespread paganization of Christianity, which- up to that point- had been an authentic form of the Hebrew faith known as Nazarene Judaism. The Hebrew faith was, according to Jude 1:3, “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Hegesippus’ statements here certainly indicate that some sort of massive paradigm shift away from the Hebrew faith must have occurred sometime after Yeshua’s ascension, but during Hegesippus’ own lifetime. An amazing parallel to this same event can be found in Judges 2, which can be used as a powerful analogy to better understand the apostasy the apostasy of the Assembly after the ascension of Yeshua and the death of the apostles from the pattern of the children of Israel after the death of Joshua and the judges.
About this Study
During the course of this brief study, I will provide the relevant verses from Judges 2, and a short midrash (retelling) to explain how each of these verses directly corresponds to the apostasy of the early Assembly.
Starting with Judges 2:6-7, “When Joshua had sent the people away, the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance to possess the land. The people served YHWH all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of YHWH that He had worked for Israel.”
The parallel here from ancient times to Apostolic times is unmistakable. Joshua here is a foreshadow of Yeshua, and the elders who out lived him are like Yeshua’s apostles. When Yeshua sent out His disciples, the people of the Assembly served YHWH for all the days of Yeshua, and all the days of the apostles who remained after Him; for they had seen the great work of YHWH that He had worked for Israel.
Judges 2:10-12 continues, “All that generation were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know YHWH, nor the work which He had worked for Israel. The children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of YHWH, and served the Baals; and they forsook YHWH, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; and they provoked YHWH to anger.”
The parallel continues here too. When this generation passed away, there arose another generation after them, who did not know YHWH, nor the work which He had worked for Israel. The Assembly did that which was evil in the sight of YHWH, and served the Baals. They forsook YHWH, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the bondage of sin; instead, they followed the ways of the gods of the nations around them by incorporating elements of worship from the gods of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.
Judges 2:13 states further, “They forsook YHWH, and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.”
The early Assembly did the exact same thing by incorporating the worship of Baal and Ashtaroth, which developed over the years into the drunken revelry of Saturnalia (i.e. Christmas) and the fertility festival of Easter. Certainly, they celebrated these festivals in honor of Yeshua, but the festivals themselves were of a purely pagan origin.
The parable closes in Judges 2:16, 18-19, “YHWH raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who despoiled them… When YHWH raised them up judges, then YHWH was with the judge, and saved them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for it grieved YHWH because of their groaning by reason of those who oppressed them and troubled them. But it happened, when the judge was dead, that they turned back, and dealt more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down to them; they did not cease from their doings, nor from their stubborn way.”
It happened, when the Apostles were dead, that the Assembly turned back, and dealt more corruptly than the had before Yeshua had even come. To this day, the Assembly has not ceased from their disregard of the Torah, even though the fathers of the Christian faith held to it fervently.
Beyond Judges 2
The correlation here does not end in Judges 2. The following chapters record a succession of several leaders; first Othniel, then Ehud and Shamgar, followed by Deborah and Barak, and then Gideon. In each of these instances, after the deaths of these righteous leaders, it is recorded that the the children of Israel returned to their previous ways, doing evil in the sight of YHWH, and worshiping after the manner of Baal and Ashtaroth. This same pattern continues throughout the entirety of the Tanach, i.e., the Old Testament, that after the departure of a righteous leader, the nation turns again to apostasy.
Apostasy from Within
What is especially troublesome is that the greatest attack on the Torah came from within the ranks of the leadership of the Assembly itself, after Yeshua and His Apostles were no longer involved. What is interesting to note is that several years prior, an attack against the Torah had come in the form of a full-fledged military campaign from the Hellenistic Greek empire. According to 1 Maccabees 1:51, this attack was made specifically “so that they might forget the Torah, and change all of God’s ordinances.”
In many ways, the influence of Hellenistic doctrines and dogmas permeated the Jewish faith, which, in turn, had a great impact on the early Assembly; hence, when blatant brute-force didn’t work, the adversary didn’t give up on his goal from turning people away from God’s Torah; rather, he simply changed his tactics. Instead of using soldiers to wage a war against those seeking obedience to God’s commandments, the adversary began to use the institutions of religion, theology, philosophy, and pagan doctrines as his new weapons of war.
The attack on the Torah from within the ranks of the leadership of the Assembly was nothing more than a continuation of the adversary’s agenda, “so that they might forget the Torah, and change all of God’s ordinances.” The early Assembly did, in fact, do both of these things; they forget the Torah by relegating it to the status of an exclusively “Jewish” book, and they changed all of God’s ordinances by altering their worship to align with the pagan gods of their neighboring nations.
When there is such a clear and obvious pattern established, it should come as no surprise that this trend would continue after the departure of the most righteous King of Israel, Yeshua, and for nearly two thousand years, the gentile church has been unable to see that they have followed in the sins of their Israelite fathers who came before them. It is time for true repentance, for a Hebraic awakening, and for a return to the Torah driven life.
The following examples show how the Scriptural principals that God laid down for His people were abandoned after the departure of His anointed leadership, and the Assembly mingled their pure (Hebraic) worship with pagan practices and beliefs. The result of this paganization was the emergence of the gentile church, as opposed to the original Hebraic Assembly.
|The Scriptural principals that God laid down for His people…||…mingled with pagan practices and beliefs…||…and became “Christianized” for the gentile church.|
|The seventh-day Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8-11, Hebrews 4:9)||Worshiping the sun god on the first day of the week (Sunday).||Based upon the assumption that Yeshua came out of the tomb Sunday morning, Sunday became known as “the Lord’s Day” and by 363 CE keeping the seventh-day Sabbath was outlawed by Roman authorities.|
|Celebrating Passover (Exodus 12:1-28, 1st Corinthians 5:8) as a symbol of God’s grace, followed up by the First Fruits offering. (Leviticus 23:10-14)||Worshiping the fish god (Dagon) on the sixth day of the week (Friday), and celebrating the festival to the queen of heaven named Easter. (aka Ishtar, Astarte, Asherah, Ashtaroth, etc.) This pagan festival involving (among other things) sacrificing newborns and dipping eggs in their blood as a fertility ritual.||“Good Friday” was instituted, using Yeshua’s death as a scapegoat. Easter was affixed to always fall on a Sunday, transitioning from worshiping the queen of heaven to being centered around Yeshua’s resurrection, but many of the practices and observances thereof remained the same.|
|Circumcision- a token sign of the Abrahamic covenant, made in the flesh, also representing circumcision of the heart. (Genesis 17, Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, Acts 16:1-3)||Circumcision of the flesh was both foreign and repugnant to the Greco-Roman culture, and was outlawed by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the early 2nd century BCE. Although the Maccabean revolts temporarily restored peace to the Jewish way of life, the hostile pagan attitude toward circumcision continued.||Circumcision became exclusively of the heart- and those who practiced circumcision of the flesh became legalists and Judaizers.|
|Eating clean meats- God instructed a diet that is beneficial for the human body that He Himself designed. Additionally, He only permitted clean meat to be sacrificed in His temple to Himself, and called unclean meat “an abomination.” (Leviticus 11)||Unclean meats were ritually consumed by pagan cultures, who recognized no distinction between what God calls “clean” and “unclean.” In fact, sacrifices to pagan gods (as opposed to YHWH) were frequently unclean meat; Antiochus Epiphanes IV specifically sacrificed a pig upon the alter of God in an effort to desecrate the Temple of YHWH.||Yeshua’s statement in Mark 7:18 that “…whatever goes into the man from outside can not defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, then into the latrine, thus purging all foods” was grossly misinterpreted to indicate that Yeshua had declared all foods clean. The fact is that Yeshua had just rebuked the Pharisees for placing their ritual cleanliness traditions over the actual commandments of God. The specific issue Yeshua taught here was that ritual hand washing could not render oneself unclean, since the body itself purges all food, and had nothing to do whatsoever with the consumption of unclean meats.|
|Worship of YHWH as God alone- based on the oneness of God.“YHWH is our God; YHWH is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)||Many ancient pagan cultures worshiped a pantheon of deities, but frequently a pattern of three stood out. In elements of Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian mythology these generally consisted of a sort of primal self-proclaimed god, (Osiris / Baal / Nimrod) with the queen of heaven by his side, (Isis / Semiramis / Astarte) and their resurrected son. (Horus / Tammuz)||This pattern spread also to Christianity, and came to encompass the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Yeshua.|
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