Many of the "Christian" writings that have been preserved, from the second century onward, put forward a totally different theology from that of the Apostle John, who wrote just 10 or 20 years earlier. As Bacchiocchi asserts: "Ignatius, Barnabus, and Justin, whose writings constitute our major source of information for the first half of the second century, witnessed and participated in the process of separation from Judaism which led the majority of the Christians to abandon the Sabbath and adopt Sunday as the new day of worship" (p. 213). Ignatius of Antioch, in about 110ad, wrote: "It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism" (Magnesians, 10). He also talked of "no longer observing sabbaths." Yet John, writing his gospel scarcely 20 years earlier, emphasized that Jesus kept the same Festivals the Jewish community kept (John 7:2; 11:55).
Barnabus of Alexandria, not to be confused with the Apostle Barnabus, in his epistle written about 130ad, alleges that the Old Testament is an allegory and not intended to be understood literally. He regards the prohibitions of the law against eating unclean meats as an allegory of the type of people that Christians should avoid (Epistle of Barnabus, 10). He also seeks to allegorize the Sabbath and states: "We keep the eighth day for rejoicing in the which also Jesus rose from the dead" (Epistle of Barnabus, 15).
Two prominent second century theologians, who played an important transitional role in the change from biblical theology to Roman Catholic theology, were both baptized in churches under faithful Polycarp's leadership. Polycarp (ca. 69-155ad) had been a personal disciple of the Apostle John and was one of the few church leaders of his day to hold fast to the Truth. These two men, Justin Martyr (ca. 95-167ad) and Irenaeus (ca. 130-202ad), while maintaining some truths they had learned under Polycarp, also sought to accommodate themselves to the new direction of Roman theology in the name of "church unity." Irenaeus, though he departed from much of Polycarp's teaching, maintained a lifelong admiration for Polycarp as a great man of God.
Justin was a Greek from Samaria who became a Platonist philosopher and then, under the influence of Polycarp and his disciples, was baptized as a Christian at Ephesus in about 130ad. He came to Rome in 151ad, founded a school and was subsequently martyred in 167ad. After arriving in Rome, Justin sought to steer a middle course on the subject of the law. Henry Chadwick writes:
"Justin believed that a Jewish Christian was quite free to keep the Mosaic law without in any way compromising his Christian faith, and even that a Gentile Christian might keep Jewish customs if a Jewish Christian had influenced him to do so; only it must be held that such observances were matters of indifference and of individual conscience. But Justin had to admit that other Gentile Christians did not take so liberal a view and believed that those who observed the Mosaic law would not be saved" (The Early Church, pp. 22-23).
Irenaeus grew up in Asia Minor and, when a teenager, heard Polycarp preach. He came to Rome as a young man and later became bishop of Lyons in France in 179ad. Irenaeus is considered the first great Catholic theologian and seems to have gone to great lengths to promote peace and a conciliatory spirit. His desire for peace was so great, however, that he was willing to compromise with the Truth to maintain church unity. The churches in Asia Minor under Polycarp's leadership observed the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Yet, when Irenaeus came to Rome, he readily adapted to the Roman practices of observing Sunday and Easter. In Lyons there were some who kept Passover on Abib 14 and some who kept Easter. Irenaeus kept Easter but sought to be tolerant of those who still observed Passover.
A theological revolution was indeed taking place in the Church of the second century. Notice: "Justin Martyr occupies a central position in the history of Christian thought of the second century Justin also molded the thinking of Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons" (Chadwick, p. 79). Though Justin became a professing Christian in
Ephesus, he "did not understand this to mean the abandonment of his philosophical inquiries, nor even the renunciation of all that he had learnt from Platonism" (p. 75). He believed that the God of Plato was also the God of the Bible. "Justin does not make rigid and exclusive claims for divine revelation to the Hebrews so as to invalidate the value of other sources of wisdom. Abraham and Socrates are alike Christians before Christ" (p. 76). This approach set the stage for a reshaping of Christian theology to embrace much of Greek philosophical thought concerning the nature of God.
In spite of all this, Justin acknowledged the authority of the book of Revelation and believed "Christ would return to a rebuilt Jerusalem to reign with his saints for a thousand years" (p. 78).
Irenaeus, heavily influenced by Justin, also preserved bits and pieces of the Truth in spite of conforming to Roman practices. He rightly taught: "The purpose of our existence is the making of character by the mastery of difficulties and temptations" (p. 81). He also adhered to the literal hope of an earthly millennium, during which Christ would reign on earth, and taught against interpreting the millennial hope as symbolic of heaven, though he toned down his insistence on this point in his later works.
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