Whose Story is It?

A question I have addressed a lot lately is the relationship between the story of Israel and the church. A lot of these recent thoughts have been influenced by N.T. Wright's book The New Testament and the People of God, which I have been working through at a meandering pace.

One of the helpful points that Wright makes in his book is that he early Church understood the story of Jesus as the "climax" to the story of Israel from the Old Testament. This is one of the reasons there was so much conflict between the early church and the Jews during the emergence of the church in the early chapters of Acts. First-century Palestine was a very pagan world. The Jews in both Jerusalem and Galilee were surrounded by pagan idolatries. However, they distinguished themselves by claiming to serve the one true God as described in the stories of the Old Testament.

It is very unlikely that there would have been much conflict between the Jews and the early church if the church was just claiming to be another religion that served another God apart from the Jews. The problem was that the early Christians were claiming the Jewish story as their own. The early Christians claimed that the entire story of Israel found its climax in and through the life and events of Jesus. The conflict between the Jews and Christians of the first century was, in many ways, a conflict over story ownership. Both Jews and Christians were claiming Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their own. Here's how Wright puts it:

First-century Judaism and Christianity have a central worldview-feature in common: the sense of story now reaching its climax. And, most importantly, it is the same story. It is the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; of Moses and the prophets; of David, Solomon, and the monarchy of Israel; and especially of exile and restoration...Christians, of course, soon told the story with a rather different emphasis. But Jews and Christians continued to regard the story of Israel as the earlier chapters of their own story. (pg. 150)

Christians and Jews of the first-century did not view their religion as a formless set of beliefs. Rather, to believe in the God of Abraham meant to place oneself at a certain point in God's story. God's story took historical form through his actions in history. The early Christians saw God's actions in Christ as the definitive and climactic actions of God in history and placed themselves according. To the contrary, many of the Jews did not see things this way. Thus, the conflicts described in Acts are not surprising.

Food for thought.

Michael

Michael lives with his wife (Caroline) and dog (Beau) in Athens, GA where he teaches history and economics to high schoolers. Michael enjoys reading, watching soccer, drinking bourbon, and taking walks with his wife and dog.