A friend has asked me about the origins of Christianity. Unfortunately, I did not give him a reply because I don’t really know anything about it. Could you answer this question? Another friend asked me about the origins of the gospels (indschīl). And he also asked why the first chapter of Genesis does not talk about the origins of God but more about his creation and about a God who acts and creates. I would appreciate your explanations.
This question is made up of three questions.
- The origin of God
Nourished by the spirituality of the Bible Christians address God as Father. Jesus of Nazareth has asked them to address God with this name. Following Jesus’s example Christians address God as Father, a God who is intervenes in history to bring salvation. Despite all the differences, there is one characteristic that God shares with human beings: He can act.
Talk of a God who can act and who calls into being from nothing is considered to be unbelievable by many people these days. Modern scientists have shown us more and more about the unfathomable depths and distances of the universe. And so many people suspect that faith in a personal God who from nothing calls the world into being, is based on mythological ideas that belong to the past.
The bible takes the faith based knowledge of an origin without origin that pre-dates everything else for granted and does not question it. In its creation accounts and the creation theologies it points to the creative power of God. But its aim is to proclaim to people the good origins of creation and to call them to cling to God who can bring order into the chaos of our experience of the the world. Early teachers of the church, such as Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130 - 200) expand this understanding of God. The God of the bible, the God whom Jesus addresses and proclaims as Father, is the only God. “And as the only God he is also the origin of everything; he is not only the reality that sustains everything but also the reality that is the ground of being from nothing.” (for this quote and the complete answer see Magnus Striet in: Katholische Glaubensfibel, published by Von Walter Fürst and Jürgen Werbick [Rheinbach: CMZ-Verlag, 2044], S. 69) “To speak in such a human way of God, to believe him to be the free origin of all that is, does not have to mean being deceived by past world views but it means first of all not to relinquish hope. And for as long as there is no proof to the contrary it means to risk the bet on this God as the more humane alternative. Because the other alternative means that all that was achieved and all that failed is destined to be forgotten” (ibid, p. 71).
- The origin of Christianity
“Every religious movement enters a critical phase when its founder and the first generation eye witnesses are no longer around. In the early church this phase was even more critical as Jesus had not regulated which organisational structure his followers should assume while waiting for his return. He neither regulated a horizontal side by side of certain offices and ministries, not a vertical structure of leading and being lead. St. Paul had hoped that the Holy Spirit would where appropriate awaken all those gifts and talents that are necessary for the life of a community, for the charisms, for teaching and for reconciliation (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28), until the return of the Lord that was expected in the near future. But when time passed, contradicting teachings appeared and communities threatened to split. Then it became a matter of survival: 1. to secure the basis of faith by means of Holy Scriptures and a Canon and 2. to regulate by the introduction of specific offices the guidance and leadership of the community. With regard to the offices two problems arose: How should they be structured and how could they be legitimised?
As Jesus only prescribed that office holders cannot invoke power and knowledge (cf. Matthew 23:1-12) the communities simply adopted examples and titles from Palestinian regulations for synagogues (Elders, Presbyterians), and from the organisation of Hellenitstic cults (episcopes, bishops and deacons). What was created was an office for leadership and service that could fulfil all the functions and tasks that were necessary for the existence and the mission of the church: the celebration of worship, dispensing of the sacraments, proclamation and conservation of the teachings as well as leadership and charitable and pastoral care of the community. Just two generations after Jesus and the disciples, no later than around the middle of the second century, the formation of the three-fold office had been completed. At that time every community in each town had one single bishop, presbyters and deacons. And no-one doubted that this order was correct, according to God’s will and conforming to apostolic tradition. Later developments (with the exception of the Petrine office, the Pope and the primacy) such as Cardinals, Archbishops, Pronotaries and Prelates, Archpriests and Archdeacons and all those other differentiations that make church hierarchy so colourful, are irrelevant by comparison. […]
“There is widespread historical agreement in all Christian denominations on the origins and development of church offices and ministries. What is being debated is how this development is to be judged: Is it a legitimate development or a turning away from the core structure of the nature of church? The answer cannot be given by recourse to history but requires a dogmatic choice based on a decision on whether to believe that the development of the church from the circle of the disciples to today’s Papal and Episcopal church was wanted by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the question on how binding one believes ecclesiastical tradition to be, especially when it forms part of later decisions of the Councils, as was the case with offices and ministries.” (from: Ernst Dassmann, „Bischöfe – Presbyter – Diakone“ in: Walter Fürst & Jürgen Werbick (Hg.), Katholische Glaubensfibel. D-53359 Rheinbach: Publishers CMZ-Verlag, 2004. p. 118-119.121)
- The origin of the gospels
“The first four books of the New Testament are known as the Gospel. Christians believe that the Messiah himself is the Gospel (the Good News) […] It is important to know that the Gospel reports the life and the teachings of Jesus the Messiah. They include his life and his teachings, because he himself is the Gospel. The revelation about who the Messiah is and what he does is as important and the revelation through His teachings and sermons. The written Gospel is therefore a depiction of the Messiah.
This Gospel, which is the Messiah himself, was seen by people. Those who were closest to the Messiah are called disciples. Some of these disciples became God’s apostles. The apostles were the eye witnesses of the Gospel. They had lived with the Messiah and had spent much time with him. They knew him personally. Following the death and resurrection of the Messiah God inspired the Apostles to write down what they had heard and seen. The reports from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written down in four books. Each book is a piece of apostolic witness of Jesus, the Messiah. This aspect of witness of the gospels is confirmed beautifully in the first verses of the Gospel as written by Luke:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
(David W. Shenk in: Badru D. Kateregga/David W.Shenk, Woran ich glaube. Ein Muslim und ein Christ im Gespräch. [What I believe - a Muslim and a Christian talk] Schwarzenfeld: Neufeld Verlag, 2005, p. 171f.)