Author: Abdulhaq al-Ashanti, Abdur-Rahmaan Bowes
Publisher: Jamiah Media (2005)
Pages: 68 Binding: Paperback
Description from the publisher:
"BEFORE NICEA," the enlightening, insightful history of modern day christianity, previously only available in e-book form is now available for the first time in paperback!
The truth about Paul, the Trinity, the Crucifixion and modern day christianty is now available to buy online.
Read an excerpt below --
Around 90 CE, the Shepard of Hermas was considered to be a book of revelation by the church, according to EJ Goodspeed and is one of two books found in the Codex Sinaiticus, which have not been included in the modern Bible. In it are twelve commandments and the first is: "believe that God is One and that He created all things and organized them, and out of what did not exist made all things to be, and He contains all things but Alone is Himself uncontained. Trust Him therefore and fear Him, and, fearing Him, be self-controlled. Keep this command and you will cast away from yourself all wickedness, put on every virtue of uprightness, and you will live to God if you keep this commandment."
Here God is One and He is uncontained, comparatively, the Anglican affirmation of faith (the Nicene Creed) however goes: “I believe in One God, the father almighty, Maker of the heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made...And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by Prophets...”
According to Theodore Zahn in Articles of the Apostolic Creed until around 250 CE the article of faith was simply, “I believe in God, the Almighty,” which today is only one element of the Anglican creed. J.R. Harris quoted Aristedes, an early Christian apologist as saying that “the Christian worship in the beginning was more purely monotheistic than that even of the Jews.”
During the early history of the Christian church there existed a prospering group called the ‘Ebionites.’ On the origin of the term Robert Wilken says that this Hebrew word means ‘poor persons’ and continues to explain that there is no evidence to support the claim of some Christian writers that it is derived from a person called ‘Ebion,’ he highlights: “The origin, history and distinct character of the Ebionites has been subject to intense debate in recent years. It is possible that the Ebionites go back to the earliest period of Christian history, where most Christians were Jews and some continued to observe the Jewish law. If so, they would be the earliest example of a Christian movement within Judaism that was eventually left behind as Christianity adapted to the influx of gentile converts. These Christians eventually became a distinct group that, along with other groups (e.g. the Gnostics) was rejected as heretical by the emerging ‘great’ church. They are sometimes identified with the Minim (heretics) mentioned in the Talmud. The Ebionites were Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah (Christ) while continuing to maintain their identity as Jews. They cultivated relations with Jews as well as Christians though they were welcomed by neither. They followed the Jewish law, insisting on circumcision, keeping the Sabbath and celebrating the Jewish festivals (Yom Kippur, Passover etc.) and observing the dietary laws (e.g. abstention from pork) and other Jewish customs. They repudiated the apostle Paul because of his denigration of the Jewish law. They saw Jesus as a prophet, an exceptional man in the line of Jewish prophets (as described in Deuteronomy 18: 15) and denied the virgin birth. They justified their way of life by appealing to the example of Jesus’ life. He was circumcised, observed the Sabbath and celebrated the Jewish festivals, and taught that all the precepts of the law should be observed. They celebrated Easter on the same day that the Jews celebrated the Passover, and they held the city of Jerusalem in high esteem.”
Furthermore, there were other Jewish Christian sects according to Wilken, including the Nazarenes , the Symmachians and the Elkesaites.Because it is difficult to distinguish one from another, he suggests that ‘Ebionite’ may have been used to characterize any form of Jewish Christianity which stressed observance of the law. The Ebionites had their own gospel and ancient writers, according to Wilken, mention three Jewish Christian gospels. Wilken writes: “There was a resurgence of Jewish Christianity in the late fourth century, encouraged by Jewish messianism…after this period little is known about the Ebionites.”
According to Compton’s Encyclopedia the early Jewish Christians were persecuted because they recognized that Jesus was the expected Messiah, while the Jewish authorities considered him as an imposter and traitor: “The early Christians were all Jews. They remained in Jerusalem and partook in the religious observances in the Temple. They differed from their fellow Jews only in that they believed that the Messiah had come. Had they kept quiet about their conviction, they might well have remained a sect within Judaism. However, they insisted on preaching to all who would listen that the Jesus whom the Jewish authorities had persecuted was the one Israel had long awaited. This preaching aroused great hostility on the part of religious leaders and the early Christians were persecuted…these Christians had no thought of venturing beyond the confines of Israel with their message.”
The Unitarian concept of God and the prophetic human nature of Jesus, was held by many early communities basing their way of life on the teachings of Jesus, such as the Ebionites, the Nazarenes, the Cerinthians, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians, the Hypsistarians, the Symmachians and the Elkesaites.
Trinitarian Christians point out that these groups have ‘always been seen as heretical by the early Church,’ by this they mean the prevailing Church without attempting to establish whether that Church followed authentic teachings. To repeat Wilken, the Ebionites for example were “eventually left behind as Christianity adapted to the influx of gentile converts. These Christians eventually became a distinct group that, along with other groups (e.g. the Gnostics) was rejected as heretical by the emerging ‘great’ church.”
This shows that the so called ‘heretical’ church was rejected by an ‘emerging’ Christianity. In other words, the earlier followers of Jesus’ teachings were to be condemned by later followers of an adopted faith.
book review by Ted Harrison
Ph.D in Theology and former BBC Religious Affairs correspondent for 20 years.
'Before Nicea' is a short book many Christians would benefit from reading. It covers the crucial period of Christian history, the first 300 years, when Christian theology was being formed. The Christian churches seldom explain to the faithful how the canon of the Bible, the articles of faith as set out in the Nicean Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity took their present shape. Christians are instead allowed to assume, by default, that their faith took its present recognisable form through the direct involvement of the Holy Spirit working in some mysterious way within the lives of the Jesus' apostles.
This gap in church teaching has left Christians unaware of their own history and allowed strange and exotic theories, of the Da Vinci Code type, to fill the void.
Many Muslims it appears are better informed on early Christian history than Christians themselves. The first 300 years after Jesus was a fascinating era of debate. Jewish and Hellenistic ideas met head on against a background of persecution and oppression from the ruling Roman elite.
For 300 years, early Christians struggled to discern who Jesus was. A gifted teacher, a divinely authorised prophet, the son of God himself? Did he really die on the cross? Was he truly raised from the dead? When an orthodoxy was eventually agreed, as the Roman empire itself adopted Christianity, many of the early Christian ideas were condemned as heresies and ruthlessly destroyed. It was as if the old debates had never happened.
Interestingly it was through the teaching of Islam, another 300 years later, that many of the old ideas resurfaced. Perhaps this has been at the root of much of the historical tension between Muslims and Christians. Christian leaders have not wanted church members to know too much about this 'alternative' view of Jesus, in case their authority was undermined.
Islam has much to teach Christianity in terms of religious practice. Islam lays an emphasis on spiritual discipline. Muslims hold, as one of the pillars of the faith, that praying five times a day is obligatory. Too often Christians reckon they are fulfilling their obligations by going to church once a week. Also Islam puts great emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge. There is a premium on scholarship. Most ordinary Christians are intellectually lazy. They read very little pertaining to their faith and prefer to go through live with their set ideas unchallenged.
Despite the obvious parallels between the two religions, and the shared heritage, much divides Christians from Muslims. But there is no reason why, in a spirit of mutual respect, the two great faiths cannot hold a valuable dialogue with both sides learning much from each other. And in this context an honest re-evaluation of the early history of Christianity, as outlined in this book, is of particular relevance. It gets to the nub of the question as to how God reveals himself. Is it through the working of the Holy Spirit in the world, as Christians would argue, or, as Muslims would say, through the final and climactic gift of his direct word as revealed in the Koran?
Read another excerpt on Muslims Weekly