Category Archives: Church History

Response about Pentecost Post

It has happened twice that I have been in Jerusalem during Pentecost. I wrote a little note here about the experience of being in Jerusalem as a non-Jew during Pentecost. It was similar to one I had written several years earlier here.

A couple of Israeli readers took exception to some of the things I wrote and made their views known in the comments. I am compelled to make a response to some of the questions and issues raised. You will need to read the comments in order to understand my response.

Modern Interpretation of Pentecost. I have been in Jerusalem twice on Pentecost and I have never seen anyone doing what Leviticus 23:15-22 describes.

15 “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering.
16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.
17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD.
18 And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
19 And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings.
20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.
21 And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.
22 “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:15-22 ESV).

Does it need to be said that these offerings were to be made at the tabernacle, or later the temple? Anything short of that has to be a new interpretation.

Count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath [of Passover week]. The seventh Sabbath is the 49th day. The 50th day is the first day of the week, known in the New Testament as the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10).

Neither in Leviticus 23 nor Deuteronomy 16:9-12 is there anything about the Feast of Weeks “celebrating the gift of the Torah.”

Sabbath + Pentecost “amounts to a two-day holiday.” My USA readers probably had no problem with this. When a national holiday comes on Monday, those who do not work on Saturday frequently say they have a three-day holiday. We know that each day is separate and only one is the national holiday. Sorry that I did not make this clearer for other readers. I know that I did not have any hot food at the hotel for two days.

“What you call the Lord’s Supper” was taken once a year. I do my best to speak where the Bible speaks (1 Peter 4:11). The terms/phrases used in the New Testament to describe this meal are Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20), Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 10:211), Communion (1 Corinthians 10:16), and Breaking of bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16). There is no evidence that the early Christians observed this meal only once a year. The Lord’s Supper was observed on the Lord’s Day. Did ancient Jews only keep the Sabbath once a year?

The earliest Christians were Jews. Full agreement. The book of Acts makes this abundantly clear. They were slow to recognize Gentiles as children of God. We see this discussed in some detail in Acts 15, and the books of Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews.

Law of Moses or Apostolic Doctrine? Those Jews who accepted the gospel of Christ on that Pentecost when it was first preached in its fullness did not continue in the teaching of Moses. The biblical text says,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Interesting, isn’t it? That these Jews from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) should come to Jerusalem following the teaching of Moses, and that about 3,000 of them would begin following the teaching of the Apostles, is one of the most surprising things in Scripture.

My statement, “It would be wonderful to see the gospel freely preached again in this city as it was on that first Pentecost after the death and resurrection of Jesus nearly two thousand years ago” has nothing to do with censorship. I understand that the preaching on Pentecost was in fulfillment of Isaiah 2.

2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,
3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV)

The early Christians gradually drifted away from the original teaching of the New Testament. As a Christian who seeks to follow the teaching of Christ and His apostles, I can, and do, make this statement in my own hometown.

Lack of knowledge and anti-Semitism. It is popular these days to accuse one with whom we disagree of being racist, sexist, homophobic, intolerant, or anti-Semitic. While I grant that I may have a lack of knowledge on this subject, the charge of anti-Semitism is absurd.

I have devoted my entire adult life to serving and teaching the message of Jesus Christ. Here are just a few things I believe regarding Him.

  • He is the Divine Word who was made flesh, the son of David, the son of Abraham (John 1:1-14; Matthew 1:1).
  • This same one who was descended from David according to the flesh “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4)
  • He said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
  • This very people “crucified and killed” him by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).

Paul, who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5), used the illustration of the olive tree to say that some of the natural branches have been broken off and that the Gentiles have been grafted in (Romans 11:17). He also said:

And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:23)

A little church in Nazareth has a beautiful olive tree with a couple of grafts on it in their front yard. I think this may have been intentional on their part to recognize their place in the Lord’s great plan of salvation.

An olive tree in Nazareth with a graft. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An olive tree in Nazareth with a graft. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If believing these things makes me anti-Semitic, then I suppose I must acknowledge it, but I think it teaches that some of the Jews accepted Jesus as the Christ (Messiah), and that others did not.

Simon Peter’s sermon to Jews on Pentecost, and his sermon at the house of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, illustrate that the Lord’s requirements for salvation are now the same (Acts 2; Acts 10-11).

One final word. This does not mean that the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) is cast aside. I understand the Old Testament to be foundational for a proper understanding of the New Testament (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). These inspired texts say that the Old Testament is for our learning, not for our law. The New Testament is the complete and final revelation of God to man (Ephesians 3:1-5).

It may come as a surprise to some non-Christians that the churches with whom I am associated generally have more classes, for both children and adults, in the Old Testament than in the New Testament at any given class period.

It is comforting to me to understand that in Christ Jesus I am a seed of Abraham and an heir of the great promise of Genesis 12:

… I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3 ESV)

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:29 ESV)

Other posts about the importance of Pentecost may be found at the following links.

We don’t like losing readers, but this work is a labor of love and available free of charge to any who wish to read it.

The Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Though I have been in Jerusalem’s Old City many times, I have visited the Armenian Quarter only a few times. The Armenian Quarter is the southwest corner of the walled city. Entrance is easy from Jaffa Gate on the north, or from Zion Gate on the south.

The name Armenia comes from the people who lived in the eastern portion of what we now know as Turkey. Old maps showing this name are easily accessible on the Internet. The area is sometimes referred to as Turkish Armenia or Western Armenia. According to many records there was a genocide of the Armenians in 1915 during the time of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Popes and Presidents have cried out about the near-elimination of Armenians in the area.

This brings us back to the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. From Jaffa Gate one walks along Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate street. The other streets bear the names of St. James, St. Mark and Ararat. In 2013 I happened to be walking in the Armenian Quarter on April 24. This homemade sign caught my attention.

Sign calling attention to the Armenian Genocide. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign calling attention to the Armenian Genocide. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Have traveled in Eastern Turkey and seen the ruined Armenian churches I understood what this meant. Some residences (or businesses) displayed photos of events from the episode of 1915.

Photo of the "genocide" above an entry. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Photo of the “genocide” above an entry. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Yesterday’s The Times of Israel carried a lengthy article titled, “Urging recognition, Jerusalem Armenians mark 100th anniversary of genocide.” The subhead reads, “Thousands marching on April 23-24 to commemorate massacre of 1.5 million, the ‘wound that all the time is dripping blood.'” The pictures are vivid. See the complete article here.

A Restoration Movement Connection

Earl Irvin West, in the 3rd volume of The Search for the Ancient Order covers the period of the Restoration Movement from 1900 to 1918. West includes a few pages dealing with the preaching efforts of Churches of Christ in Armenia (pp. 357-362). One account begins in 1889 when a young man named Azariah Paul was supported by some churches in Nashville to preach in Armenia. Paul died from a sickness, but his brother Asadoor Paul continued the work.

When World War I began, Paul wrote that he would likely be pressed into military service. He dropped out of sight and by the time of America’s entry into the war in April 1917, it was generally assumed he had been killed.

West describes the persecution that came to the Christians from the Khurds, Turks, and Persians. Alexander Yohannan wrote to his American supporters on December 5, 1914,

…that all Syrian church buildings had been burned by them, that some people had been burned in ovens, that more than a thousand people had been killed in the vicinity of Charbosh, Persia.

West says,

“Black Sunday” was December 21, 1914, when Christian people moved into American mission enclosures as their houses and property were looted and burned by Moslem soldiers.

A related post about the region of Armenia is available here.

More stories about the Armenian Quarter later…

Herod’s temple to Roma and Augustus at Caesarea Maritima

We began this theme in the previous post with the temple Herod the Great erected to the emperor Augustus in the region of Caesarea Philippi. We pointed out that Herod had already built temples to the Emperor at Caesarea Maritima and at Sebaste (= Samaria).

Caesarea Maritima was built on the site of Strato’s Tower and became a center of Roman provincial government in Judea. It was located on the main caravan route between Tyre and Egypt. The harbor at Caesarea was built by Herod and named Sebastos (Greek for Augustus) in honor of the Emperor.

Our photo below shows the harbor and the location of the Imperial temple indicated by a red oval. The inner harbor extended over the grassy area, almost to the steps of the temple. When we first began visiting Caesarea it was thought that another building, north of the inner harbor, marked the site of the Augustus temple. It is now identified as a nymphaeum.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The excavation of the Temple Platform began in 1989 under the direction of Kenneth G. Holum of the University of Maryland. Holum says the temple of Augustus was torn down about 400 A.D. with most of the stone being used in others buildings. The scant ruins enable the archaeologists to determine that the temple measured 95 by 150 feet. He says it towered “perhaps 100 feet from the column bases to the peak.” The temple was made of local sandstone, called kurkar, and coated with a white stucco.

The Temple Platform was covered by an octagonal Byzantine church in the 6th century. Those are the ruins we see today within the Crusader city.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the site of the Temple, already stained in 2005, provides some indication of the appearance of the building.

An artists' reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An artists’ reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Like the Temple Mount [in Jerusalem], Caesarea’s Temple Platform would have been enclosed at least on the north, east and south by columned porticoes marking the sacred precinct (the termenos). and in the center, uipon a high podium, would have risen the temple that Herod dedicated to the goddess Roma, embodiment of imperial Rome, and to the god-king Augustus. (Kenneth G. Holum)

The article by Kenneth G. Holum appeared in an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2004) devoted to “Herod’s Fun City.” His article is entitled “Building Power: The Politics of Architecture.” There are numerous photographs and diagrams.

Charles Savelle left a comment to the previous post in which he called attention to a few additional sources here. I was especially pleased to see a reference to Caesarea Philippi: Banias the Lost City of Pan by John Francis Wilson. Speaking of the temple at Paneion, he says that the building itself would be scandal enough from the point of view of the Jews in the area.

Wilson states that Herod set the course for Imperial Worship in the east.

“Herod’s strategy in erecting this temple extended far beyond the symbolism represented by the structure itself. He was among the first of all provincial rulers in the empire to commit to the cult of Augustus. His Augustan temples, and the elaborate priesthood they required, may even have been influential in setting the course of imperial worship throughout the Eastern empire. While ostensibly the act of erecting these temples represented loyalty and commitment to Rome, it also furnished a basis for the social and political organization of diverse populations such as those in Herod’s kingdom. At the same time, because the new cult left the traditional local cults intact, it represented no threat to them. In fact, it symbolized an interest in protecting the local culture.” (p. 13)

When we think of Caesarea we recall the major events recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The residence of Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea (A.D. 26-36), though there is no reference to this fact in the New Testament.
  • The visit of Peter to preach the gospel to the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10-11).
  • The visit and death of Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44; Acts 12).
  • Paul’s return from his preaching journeys (Acts 18:22; 21:8)
  • The imprisonment of the apostle Paul (A.D. 58-60; Acts 23-26).

We plan to say more about Pilate and his role in upholding the Imperial Cult in Roman Palestine in another post.

Flying over Beit She’an, Bethshan, Beth-shan

The Israelis call it Beit She’an, but English Bible readers will know it as Bethshan. The town is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament. The English Standard Version uses both Beth-shan and Beth-shean to identify this town. Other English versions use a variety of spellings including Bethshan.

From atop the ancient tell, called Tell el-Husn or Tel Beth She’an, one has an impressive view of the area. Occupational levels date back at least to 3000 B.C. Artifacts from Canaan, Egypt, Anatolia, north Syria, and Mesopotamia have been uncovered from the mound.

The photo below was made from the air with a view northeast. A small portion of the Harrod Valley, with some fish ponds, is visible in the top of the photo. The River Harod flows to the east of the tel hidden by the line of trees.

Tel Husn (Bethshan) is visible in the bottom of the image. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Husn (Bethshan) is visible in the bottom of the image. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For many Bible students the first event that comes to mind is the defeat of King Saul at the hands of the Philistines. After his death on nearby Mount Gilboa, Saul’s body was taken to Beth-shean and fastened to the wall of the city (1 Samuel 31).

During the Greek period the city was named Scythopolis (city of the Scythians) and expanded to the foot of the tell.

In 63 B.C. the Romans, under the general Pompey, made the city part of the Decapolis (a league of ten cities; Matthew 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:21). This was the only city of the Decapolis west of the Jordan River. The city was populated by gentiles, Jews and Samaritans.

The main street of the Byzantine city. The tel of ancient Bethshan is visible at the end of the street. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The main street of the Byzantine city. The tel of ancient Bethshan is visible at the end of the columned street. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The city grew to its largest size during the Byzantine period as a “Christian” city. It came under Muslim control in A.D. 636, and was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 749.

Some of the earthquake damage at Bethshan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some of the earthquake damage at Bethshan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The destroyed Byzantine city lies between the theater and the mound. That’s a lot of history in one small place.

Index of articles on Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus

Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus.  Our total number of posts has now grown to more than 1700 and this makes it difficult to locate a post you may need. This index is prepared to assist you in your study of the birth of Jesus in ancient Bethlehem. Most, if not all, of the posts include at least one photo illustrating the lesson.

Other places near Bethlehem. Most of the links below are related to Herod the Great and the fortress he built near Bethlehem. I see that I have normally used the spelling Herodium, but sometime Herodion.

Historical Connections to Modern Christmas Celebrations. These post are post-biblical, historical references to customs associated with Christmas.

When other posts on this subject are written I will try to remember to update the list.

Ports of the Sea of Galilee

Mendel Nun contrasts the knowledge of 19th century explorers with what has become known as a result of his work.

Early 19th-century explorers, searching for places where Jesus had walked, attempted to locate the ancient harbors of the Sea of Galilee but failed. Now, after 25 years of searching and researching, we have found them. We have recovered the piers, promenades and breakwaters of the ports. We have also uncovered the ships’ anchors, the mooring stones the sailors tied their ships to, and even the weights fishermen once fastened to their nets. We always knew the harbors must be there, but we had no idea we would find so many remains. (“Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999.

In the 1999 article Nun says that we now have only four small ports serving the motorboats, ferries, and fishing boats, but in ancient times there were no less than 16 bustling ports. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level. As a result of natural changes about a thousand years ago, the water level gradually rose about 3 feet, but the water level this week is 698 feet below sea level (Kinneret Bot, Dec. 2, 2014).

The first ancient port discovered by Nun was the port of Kursi on the eastern side of the lake in 1970.

Droughts in recent years have brought about changing water levels. We know that the famous Roman boat now displayed at Nof Ginosar was found when the water level was low in 1986. This also allowed the discovery of additional ports.

During the time I have been visiting Israel (since 1967), I have seen these changes in the water level of the lake and have mentioned it in several posts. Here I wish to use Tabgha (Heptapegon = the place of seven springs) as an illustration.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter was built in 1933. A good case can be made for this being the location where Jesus called some of His disciples to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11), and where Jesus met His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). The issue of the primacy of Peter over the other apostles is a matter for theological and exegetical study which I think comes up short.

The chapel is built on a large rock called the Mensi Domini (the Lord’s Table) where it is said Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples.

In this 1980 photo you see the water reaching the building.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The rock-cut steps were mentioned by Egeria (about AD 383), but we do not know when they were cut. Now take a look at the same location in December of 2009 when the water was low.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murphy-O’Connor gives this explanation about the heart-shaped stones.

Below the steps, sometimes under water if the lake level is high, are six heart-shaped stones. They are double-column blocks designed for the angle of a colonnade, and never served any practical purpose in their present position. Known as the Twelve Thrones and first mentioned in a text of AD 808, they were probably taken from disused buildings and placed there to commemorate the Twelve Apostles. It takes little insight to appreciate the mental jump from John 21:9 … to ‘You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Luke 22:30). – Murphy-O’Connor, Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 319

These 2009 photos were made during a personal study trip with Leon Mauldin. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hopefully this illustration will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time have become known in the past few years.

The Miletus Market Gate in the Pergamum Museum

The Pergamum Museum in Berlin is home to three outstanding architectural remains from the ancient world: the Zeus Altar from Pergamum, the Miletus Market Gate, and the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.

The Market Gate of Miletus, constructed about 120-130 A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, has been reconstructed in the museum. Fant and Reddish say,

This two-story gateway is one of the finest examples of Roman façade architecture in existence” (Lost Treasures of the Bible, p. 349).

German archaeologists excavated the gate and sent it to Germany in the first decade of the 20th century. It was more than 20 years before a suitable room was available for the gate to be reconstructed.

Miletus was already a significant city with outstanding monuments when Paul stopped there on the return from his third journey, but this building would not be built for another 60 or 70 years.

The recently renovated Miletus Market Gate in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The recently renovated Miletus Market Gate in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin, Germany. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A seated statue of the Emperor Trajan, seen on the left side of the above photo, comes from a different place. We know from the writings of Pliny that some Christians of Asia Minor were persecuted during the reign of Trajan. See here.

The Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To illustrate the greatness of this museum, if we go through one exit from the room we see the Zeus Altar, but if we go through the gate we see the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. Notice the colored bricks of the Ishtar Gate in the photo below.

The Ishtar Gate can be seen through the Miletus Market Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Ishtar Gate can be seen through the Miletus Market Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Miletus is mentioned only two places in the New Testament. The first is on Paul’s return from the third journey about A.D. 57 (Acts 20:15, 17). The other time is when Paul tells Timothy, in his last letter, that he had left Trophimus “sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). This indicates that Paul may have stopped at Miletus on the voyage to Rome, but no activity is recorded.

From Miletus, on the first visit, Paul sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus. In those days it would be a lengthy journey for a messenger to go from Miletus to Ephesus. The distance by land would have been about 63 miles. If the couriers went across the Gulf of Latmos (Latmus) the distance would be about 38 miles. The map below shows the location of Miletus on the south of the Gulf of Latmos. Over the centuries the harbor, fed by the Meander River, silted up. Today Miletus is landlocked about five miles away from the Aegean Sea.

Map showing Miletus and Ephesus. Map courtesy BibleAtlas.org.

Map showing Miletus and Ephesus. Map courtesy BibleAtlas.org.