To thoroughly understand the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ we must know the context in which the Gospel was actually formed. Certainly we must consider the fact that the prophets of the Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ and that Christ would “redeem” his people. Certainly we must consider the fact that Christ became the “perfect sacrifice” and the “new Adam,” and also, as the Prophet Isaiah says, the people of God are to experience heaven on earth where the “wolf will live with the lamb.” All of these things are important theological developments, but these and many more developments beg the question of how all this began to happen on a cultural and even existential level at the time of the second Temple (515B.C – 70 AD).
When God’s grace effects his creation, things begin to happen in a natural way; that is to say, the beauty of His grace takes its form on earth to the extent of actually moving in His people, His creation. A proper study of Church history will show us that God was indeed guiding and preparing His creation for the coming of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ’s message! So beside the fact that “Christ was to come” we have the fact that his message was to accompany Him. This took a portion of time to accomplish.
As Robert C. Dentan states in his short book The Apocrypha, Bridge of the Testaments (1954), the main theme of the 400 years prior to the Incarnation was that of conflict between Judaism and Hellenism (the Greek infiltration of culture from Alexander the Great). First Maccabeus 1:15 says, “[many Jews] made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant…and were sold to do mischief.” Dentan draws heavily on the Maccabean revolt and how the soon-to-be Pharisees joined this revolt as a last ditch effort for the survival of God’s people. He does not hesitate to comment on the influence and motives of Alexander and how he was not only a tyrant but a “missionary” of the Greek culture; a culture that prevailed over much of the Jewish culture. This is really an amazing snapshot of God’s hand and how God was paving the path for the Gospel. It is as if God was allowing the Jewish culture to be given over to another culture, to open the doors for John the Baptist’s arrival.
After a portion of Jewish people returned to Judea after the deportation to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., a Jewish community formed and remained undisturbed by Judea’s Hellenistic rulers. This seemed to become a type of motivation for other Jews outside of Jerusalem to sustain communities in what is now known as the Diaspora. According to A History of The Christian Church, by Williston Walker (p. 14), these Diaspora Jews were honored by their efforts as soldiers and workers under the authority of the Ptolemies and Seleuicds, and were therefore allowed to settle “outside if their heavily populated homeland.”
In pursuing his desire to establish Hellenism, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) (175 B.C) prohibited the Jews from practicing their worship and laws, and ordered them to conform to the worship of Zeus. The climax of his campaign was to establish a pagan altar in the place of the altar in the Jerusalem temple in 167 B.C. (F.F. Bruce, New Testament History). First Maccabees 1:54, 59 records this event, and Jesus refers to it by using a phrase that comes from the LXX version of Daniel 12:11 “The abomination of desolation” (Mark 13:14).
We can see in I Maccabees that after Antiochus issued his decrees forbidding Jewish worship, a priest named Mattathias sparked the revolt against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship Greek gods. After Mattathias’ death, his son Judah Maccabee led an army of Jewish dissidents to victory over the Seleucid dynasty. The Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the villages, circumcised children and forced Jews into outlawry (The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, London, Aurum Press, 1997). It should be noted that the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Maccabean Martyrs on August 1, the first day of the Dormition Fast.
As stated in A History of the Christian Church, the “era of the Maccabean revolt and Hasmonean rule was the matrix of the religious ideas that dominated Palestinian Judaism in the time of Jesus” (p.15). As a result of the Maccabean revolt, Jerusalem became a “temple-state,” governed by a high priest. This gave the Jews an incredible amount of momentum up until Rome changed its course and installed Herod the Great as ruler over the Jewish territories, corrupting her theocratic momentum.
The continued Roman division of the Jewish culture brought about the division of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were loyal to the Law but would not accept the oral tradition of the Scribes and were also very interested in “political and commercial expansion” (ibid, p. 16). They denied doctrines of resurrection, immortality, as well as good and evil spirits (ibid, p. 16). We might be able to classify them under the modern term of “liberal.” The Pharisees, on the other hand, stood by the tradition of the Scribes who had originally initiated the Maccabean revolt. The Pharisees were less interested in politics than they were the sanctification of life and a “joyous observation of the law” (ibid, p.16).
A very important factor regarding the late Jewish community (B.C.) and their causation of New Testament teachings is the very division between the Sadducees and Pharisees. The doctrines of the Law between these two caused much controversy within the Jewish community, and then, of course causing St. Paul and Christ himself to manifest the topic of the Law throughout much of the New Testament.
There were other manifestations of the Hellenistic Jewish culture that provoked much doctrine and thought of the New Testament era that are not frequently mentioned by today’s Christian communities. Accordingly, a “faithful Jew, Philo sought to show the Law – that is, the Pentateuch –… [through a] Hellenistic exegetes of Homer and by this means uncovered in the pages of Moses not only an ethic but also a philosophical doctrine of God and of creation. According to Philo, the cosmos is the product of God’s outflowing goodness. Incomprehensible in this transcendence, God is linked to the word by the divine powers. Of these, the highest is the logos, which flows out of the being of God himself and is not only the agent through whom God created the world…Philo’s picture of the Logos thus fuses together elements from many sources: from Jewish Wisdom speculation, from Platonist ideas about an intelligible realm of Forms, and from the scriptral notion that God creates by his Word (Logos).” (ibid, p. 19)
The time surrounding the New Testament period is a period which was ordained by God for many reasons. The people of God were destined to come together in order to establish an actual community for the Gospel to flourish and for Christ to do His work. The Old Testament (what is known today as the Septuagint/LXX, as opposed to the post-Incarnation Jewish documents/translation of the Old Testament known as the MT) was formed at this time by this very Jewish community and its Hellenistic influences. The Apostles, with the Early Church, used the Septuagint as their official Canon (2 Timothy 3:15, 16). The term “intertestamental” that is often used by modern Christians is heterodox. There was no “gap,” no “silent period,” “between testaments,” where God was not working. If one truly believes in this so-called period of intertestmanet, then one cannot believe in the New Testament; for the very formation of the Old Testament was derived from this period.
As Robert C. Dentan states in his short book The Apocrypha, Bridge of the Testaments (1954) “neither time nor thought was standing still” during the 400-some years before the Incarnation. Dentan reminds us that the difficulty many of us face when connecting the thoughts of the Old Testament to those of the New Testament can be significantly diminished through the study of certain Old Testament books which many modern Christian refer to as the “Apocrypha.”
The doctrines of afterlife (including resurrection) that are mentioned in the New Testament are derived from the Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon, and II Maccabees). The rest of the Old Testament books speak of Sheol but say nothing about eternal life, resurrection, or hell.
Lastly, doctrines of angels and demons have heavily influenced the New Testament. Angels and demons were mentioned in the Old Testament but the people of God did not have a theology of them. The Septuagint gives us a theology of angels and demons that is carried forth into the New Testament with its same driving force.
All of these cultural and theological developments are crucial to the Gospel itself. It cannot be assumed – as many Protestant scholars do – that during the reign of the Second Temple, God somehow lifted his hand and was not revealing the divine Logos to his people. To do so makes Christianity out to be an arbitrary religion with no divine authority. And this is what liberal Protestants have done with their “higher criticism” doctrine of biblical interpretation. They have assumed a warrantless revelation that is disconnected with creation itself; the perfect hole to presuppose their arguments against the divinity of Christ.