We cannot know the first century

15 July 2008

This past Shabbat a question was asked "Can we know what the faith walk of the believers in the first century was like?"

One group emphatically stated "Yes!"

Another group with equal vigor said "No!"

The thought of the "no" group was that we can know about the first century (through Scripture, historical accounts, and archaeology)  but we cannot intimately know the first century like we know our own time.  For better or (more likely!) for worse we are immersed in the culture and society in the time in which we live.  While I strongly agree with those in our congregation who desire to conform their lives to Scripture rather than our culture I found myself in the "no" camp in this discussion.  The abundant minutia of daily living within American culture of the 21st century shapes and colors our thoughts to varying degrees.

To what can this be compared?  Living with a person who smokes.  If a person lives with a smoker the non-smoker, their clothes, their hair, everything about them will smell like smoke whether they like it or not.  It is the consequence of the environment in which they are immersed.

Here was my take on original question: think about Nemo from the Pixar film "Finding Nemo".

Nemo was a tropical fish born and raised in the sea off the great barrier reef.  Nemo is captured by a diver and put into a fish tank in a dentist's office.  The bulk of the story beyond that is the tale of Nemo's father trying to find him and Nemo's attempt to fit in with the fish that are in the fish tank.

The believers of the first century were native to the environment that was present when Yeshua was born.  They were born "in the wild" so to speak (i.e. in the sea) .  Many who walk in Messiah's footsteps today are trying to artificially create that environment for themselves (i.e. the fish tank).

Both the sea and the fish tank are similar: both contain water... in this case salt water. We can import coral, plants, and plankton, and attempt to replicate the original environment as closely as possible but the fact remains is that the fish tank is and will always be an artificial environment.  It is definitely capable of sustaining the fish we put into it but it will always require our careful attention and manipulation to keep it in that state.  It also contains artificial barriers (i.e. the glass of the tank) that are not found in the natural environment.

Even if we were to exactly replicate all the variables of the ocean around the great barrier reef (water salinity, temperature variations, biodiversity, landscape features, etc) we would still only end up with a really good artificial copy of something God put together millennia ago with infinitely greater wisdom and far greater detail.

God has placed those of us who live today in a specific era of time and given us a specific environment in which to live and honor Him.   We should absolutely remain faithful to the truths and commandments revealed in God's Word.  To try and live according to cultural standards of another era seems to attempt to create an artificial environment instead of living in the one God in which God has placed us.

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