Here’s one for all of my friends who study church history or theology: as you may (or may not) know, I’m somewhat on a quest to find a seemingly lost or unexplored event in church history. Christianity began with the forging of the great rings—no, wait, wrong story. It began completely within the structure of Judaism: Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent to redeem the lost house of Israel, restore the kingdom of God and the nation of Israel to its former glory through the establishment of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-38). Even Jesus’ status as the Light to the Gentiles was a First Covenant idea—it was always in the plan. None of the earliest followers of Jesus ever thought of themselves as anything but devout Jews—even Paul (he was perhaps the closest, as he proclaimed that his status as a ‘Jew’s Jew’ was rubbish compared to the knowledge of Christ, but never did Paul renounce his Judaism).
Somewhere along the way, however, Christianity changed into a Greek religion, borrowing from the philosophers and pagan religious forms of the Greek-influenced Roman Empire, which in turn were borrowed from Babylonian and Persian pagan archetypes (The Father is Ba’al/Nimrod/Osiris/Zeus; Mary is Ashtoreth/Semiramis/Isis/Alcmene-Hera—this is why Catholics/Orthodox call her 'the Mother of God' and 'the Queen of Heaven'; Jesus is Ba’al (reborn)/Tammuz/Horus/Hercules; the saints are the Greco-Roman pantheon). The names were Christianized to apply the real New Testament events to the pagan story. This paganization of the faith has influenced our behavior beyond what we even realize—down to the ways we pray and worship. As a rough estimate of percentage, one could say modern Christianity is 25% New Covenant Judaism, 25% out-of-context attempts to explain Bible passages using Greek thought, and 50% Christianized paganism.
When I embarked on my study of church history to see where this change began, I first ran into Constantine the Great, whose influence as the first ‘Christian Emperor’ changed Christianity more than any other. As the son of a pagan father and Christian mother, he forced a syncretism between Christianity and Roman sun-god worship most likely as a political device in an attempt to rekindle the glory of Rome, which was a natural fit for him as he truly believed Jesus was the embodiment of the Roman sun god. The result of his beliefs were the mandate that Christian worship should only take place on ‘the venerable day of the sun’; that the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection should be reckoned by the pagan festival of Easter (Ashtoreth) rather than celebrating the Jewish Passover; and his puppet-pope Julius I determined that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated on December 25th, the pagan festival of Saturnalia and the ‘rebirth of the sun’ from the ‘death’ of the winter solstice.
The centuries following Constantine were filled with violent debates over the nature of the Trinity and Christology, all arguments being based in a Greek philosophical understanding of divine vs. human nature rather than a simple study of the Bible from the original Hebrew context; and the final papers of divorce from Judaism were signed with the Council of Laodicea in 364. But Constantine was not the beginning of the metamorphosis; as early as Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) we find evidences of Western Christianity becoming a largely Gentile affair. By the time of Origen of Alexandria (d. 254) we see open criticism of Jewish thinking and Jews in general, and finally, by Constantine’s day, there are calls for open slavery, eternal damnation, and even eradication of Jews by the likes of John Chrysostom (d. 407).
Some obvious factors one must certainly take into account when deducing the reasons for the development of a Greco-centric Christianity are:
1. The virulent persecution of Christians by the Jews of the first century; certainly Saul of Tarsus was not the only one dragging Christians from their homes and accusing them of crimes.
2. Even the Judaism of this time had been Hellenized sufficiently to be influenced by Greek philosophy and culture, so the fact that these pop up particularly in the Western Church should not be a surprise.
3. The vehemence with which Paul debated the Judaizers and the subsequent failed compromise at the Council of Jerusalem involving the Noahide Laws led Gentile Christians to believe that Jewish observances were not important.
4. While there certainly were Jewish communities in diaspora, Jerusalem was by far the largest concentration of Jews on the planet until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. Therefore, as Christianity spread outward, it makes sense that more Gentiles would be converted than Jews, simply because of culture and geography.
5. The destruction of the Second Jewish Temple was seen by Gentile Christians particularly in the West as God’s rejection of the Jews as His people.
However true, none of these reasons—separately or even combined—are sufficient enough to definitively explain how Christianity broke away from its Jewish Biblical moorings so completely in the West. This is particularly illustrated by the fact that this did not happen in the Oriental Eastern part of the Roman Empire; Judeo-centric Christianity was practiced and survived in this region until Islam nearly destroyed it in the 7th century. In the West, something was lost in translation from the time of the original apostles to the third generation of Christians to the point where even the identity of God was changed (no, I’m not talking about the Trinity here, but rather (YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob vs. a universal, interchangeable god). I’m still looking for the ‘black magic bullet.’ Any thoughts?