Of immense importance to believers of all ages is the question of salvation. The question the Philippian Jailer asked of Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30) is just as applicable today as it was then. The crux of the question really revolves around our right-standing with God. At what point is a man no longer deemed "wicked" or "a sinner" and credited with righteousness? Can we know that we are saved and definitely going to heaven? Although there was some incongruity among many of the post-apostolic writers, there are some generalizations that were universally held:
1. All mankind is held under the sentence of condemnation because of the sin we personally have committed.
2. God's plan of salvation through Christ was God's providential plan for the ages. God predestined all of the events to the present in order to unveil his unfathomably gracious plan of salvation and adoption to the human race. Much evangelical theology today has missed this element, and has characterized the Fall as Satan frustrating God's plan, and Christ's advent as merely restoring that which Adam's disobedience and Satan's schemes had robbed from us. The early church always had a strong emphasis in the sovereign dealings of God in history, which extended even to the Fall.
4. Our salvation is comprehensive for the whole man, affecting first the spirit, which is unified with the Holy Spirit and regenerated; then the soul, which is progressively sanctified and drawn into increasing holiness; and lastly the flesh, which will be redeemed at Christís Second Coming.
5. Repentance on our part was a necessary and integral element in appropriating what Christ had done for us. Since the culture in which the post-apostolic church lived was so hostile to the followers of Christ, it was veritably impossible to "walk the fence" with regard to the testimony of Christ. One was either fully identified with the Body of Christ, or, one was a heathen. It was expected that those naming Christ as Lord would be fully devoted, and would forsake the sins that they had previously walked in before conversion.
Most debate today over salvation revolves around questions of what role our works play in our salvation, and the issue of eternal security. It is of interest to note that these two questions, even in the volumes of writing from the post-apostolic period, are never addressed directly from a conceptual or theological point of view. I would surmise that the reason for this is that the early church rarely engaged in conceptual or hypothetical theology. The church was fully grounded in practical applications of the Christian walk in their world. The question was not asked "Am I irrevocably saved forever, regardless of my future actions?" Instead, the apostolic command was to persevere and to cling to Christ, regardless of what circumstances may come upon us. In the black-or-white environment that the church found itself in, it was expected that only those who were truly regenerated would persist through those trying times. If one should fall away, then their apostasy was sometimes complete, and that individual had cursed Christ in the presence of Roman officials and made sacrifice or paid homage to an image or idol. As previously noted, even in these cases, there was provision in the church to bring someone who had renounced Christ during persecution (one who had "lapsed") back into communion with the church. Debate raged, however, amongst believers for many generations as to whether such "lapsed" could indeed be saved, owing to the enormity of their sin. Because of this cultural fact, one will find several references in the early church's writings to the necessity of maintaining our confession in order to be saved. But, because of the immediate circumstances of the church already mentioned, this neither advances nor disparages the theological concept of eternal security.
Regarding salvation by faith alone, there is some evidence that it held a primary position of belief from the first to second century, In chronological order, following are some citations that reflect the importance of this Biblical truth.
Clement of Rome (I Clement, 95 A.D.)
All these (men), therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Ignatius (Epistle to the Magnesians, 107 A.D. )
If God were to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be.
Polycarp (Epistle to the Philippians, ca. 140 A.D.)
Into which joy (eternal life) many desire to enter, knowing that it is by grace you are saved, not by works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.
Clement of Alexandria ( Exhortation to the Heathen, ca. 192 A.D.)
If eternal salvation were to be sold, for how much, O men, would you propose to purchase it? Pactolus...the fabulous river of gold, would not reckon up to a price equivalent to salvation. Do not however, faint. You may, if you choose, purchase salvation, with your own resources, love and living faith, which will be reckoned a suitable price. This recompense God cheerfully accepts.
You have, O men, the divine promise of grace. You have heard, on the other hand, the threatening of punishment. By these the Lord saves, teaching men by fear and grace. Why do you delay? Why do you not shun punishment? Why not receive the free gift?
(The Stromata, ca 195 A.D- quoting from Shepherd of Hermas.)
Faith, by which the elect of God are saved, and that which acts the man is Self Restraint. And these are followed by Simplicity, Knowledge, Innocence, Decorum, Love, and these are the daughters of faith.
In this text, Clement was quoting from "The Shepherd of Hermas, which was a very popular work, and thought to be canonical by many in the 2nd century. Clement in shows explicitly that faith was understood to be the active agent in our salvation, the only requirement for salvation, with various virtues described as "daughters of faith". Eternal Life is called a "free gift". Based on these texts and others, we can presume that the early church started with the theological presupposition that an individual is saved by grace, through faith, apart from works. There certainly could be other texts found which exhort the reader to maintain holiness and confession to the end, lest one be "castaway", but as mentioned, the hostile culture would likely account for the churchís later stress on remaining pure and fruitful in the faith.
Being "In Christ" and Platonism
In order to rise above the contemporary debates on salvation, it is imperative to get the proper perspective on the mechanics of our salvation. We can only base our estimation on whether someone is saved or not within the parameters of our very limited perspective, either by their confession, or their deeds, or what ever other evidence we might see. Since we are immersed in an existentialist world-view, it is common for us to only see salvation from the human, earth-bound perspective. We might view Christís work as Godís reaction to the human predicament. Unfortunately, this is anthropocentric, and may have little to do with Godís perspective, who is the author and initiator in our salvation process. In order to fully comprehend salvation, it is important that we take a Theocentric view: for what purpose did God ordain the plan of salvation., and what is His ultimate end for us? What does God do for us and in us when we come to Christ? The truth is that God did not send Jesus because the devilís scheme or Adamís trespass had messed up His "Plan A". We are assured in the Bible that our election and Christís sacrifice were Godís intention before the foundation of the world. For this reason, we can only really understand salvation when we take the Theocentric view, and that view is most clearly enumerated in the New Testament where the Bible talks about how God sees us "in Christ".
Before fully explaining the ramifications of being "in Christ", it must be stressed that this is not merely theoretical mumbo-jumbo, or wild speculation. It is not a religious concept or pie-in-the-sky platitudes. It is a very real position, that is integral to being saved. Once again, it is only our contemporary mindset that only accepts reality that is experienced, that prohibits us from appreciating this biblical truth.
In order to fully understand it, I believe that it is important that we digress momentarily to become familiar with the prevailing philosophies of the day when the books of the New Testament were written. The predominant philosophy was in the world when the New Testament was written was Platonism, based on the writings of Plato, supposedly from the verbal teaching of Socrates. The primary concept behind Platonism was that everything on this earth was a mere shadowy copy of a heavenly "Reality", which truly exists in the heavenly realm. In Plato's classic Phaedrus, it is presented that our immortal soul has the opportunity to gaze upon these pure, heavenly virtues, at, what Plato called, "the throne of holiness". On this earth, we have only partial knowledge of the true Reality, and we currently perceive only the shadow of the Realities. Our perceptions are as "shadows" cast by the "body" of the reality. At the throne of holiness, however, everything exists in itís fullest and purest sense. Plato said that there we behold "Glory" (Greek-"doxa"; from which the church derives the "doxology", lit. "glory-words") It is the "Ideal" of everything that is represented here on earth. Moreover, our immortal soul here on the earth is drawn in conflicting directions by two opposing forces Plato likened these by means of analogy to horses, but we could easily substitute the terms "flesh" and the "spirit"). Our "spirit" seeks after those heavenly virtues, while our unruly "flesh" is desirous of the more base things of the earth.
Now, what does the Platonic concept of the heavenly Reality have to do with salvation? In Ephesians chapter one and two, Paul goes into great length to talk about how we have been "raised up in Christ" and are now "seated in heavenly realms" ( Eph. 2:6). In this place we have been "blessed with every blessing in heavenly places" (Eph.1:3). We are told that we are presented as "holy and blameless in God's sight" (Eph. 1:4), and elsewhere Paul says that we are "without blemish and free from accusation" (Colossians 1:22). All of this poses a problem for those of us who just don't relate to these lofty statements of his. If all of these statements by Paul are merely theoretical concepts or hyperbole, then Paul sure would seem to waste a lot of space in Ephesians, as well as other epistles with these ideas. It appears, however, that Paul said what he meant, and meant what he said. The essence of what he is saying is that our "Reality" is being "in Christ", and our perceptions here are just a shadow of that ultimate Reality. What Paul is referring to is God's perspective on our salvation, and it was all perfectly prefigured by Plato. From God's perspective, He sees the Reality that He purposed to accomplish from before the foundations of the world. It was His intention to take a race completely undeserving, and usher it into the highest pinnacles of rule and authority, transforming the weak into the mighty, the unholy into the righteous, and the obstinate into those who rang out with the praises of gratitude towards God. He chose, by His grace, those who were dead and trespasses and sins, and raised them up and seated them in Christ, at Godís throne of holiness. In the process, adopted them into the Godhead; actually making them part of His family! God sees the fullness of Christ dwelling in each believer, and all of the benefits of Sonship resting upon each one. This, in His perspective, is the Reality. It has only been weak and worthless religious tradition that has defrauded Christians from this glorious truth. Consider these words of Paul's to the Colossians:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:8-17)
Many have utilized the first verse in this text to try to show antagonism between the Gospel and any philosophical system. Clement of Alexandria says that this condemnation is particularly aimed at Epicurianism, which Paul ridicules in 1 Corinthians 15:32. Reading the whole in context, however, we can see the clear allusions to a modified Platonic world-view. Our new "self" is an established fact, already present in itís completeness before God. Our "position" in Christ is perfectly paralleled and foreseen by the Platonic "Ideal". Most importantly, this position is not merely one of "potential" or possibility, but the essence of reality itself, regardless of our perceptions or feelings. I am sure that we would all agree that we donít always feel like we have "fullness in Christ", or that we stand completely free from accusation, or that we are imbued with a power above that of all the principalities or spiritual powers, but that indeed is the reality. Everything we perceive is a shadowy copy of the heavenly ideal. Even the external elements of religion are just circumstantial to the truth of us being "in Christ". This has a very critical application in the life of every believer. It is the fact that we now have this spiritual fullness in Christ, and that our souls on this earth are being sanctified to bear closer resemblance to the "In Christ" ideal on a daily basis that gives impetus and motion to our walk on this earth. If a believer knew what God had wrought in them, they would certainly be more apt to exhibit the corresponding behavior. The apostle Paul prayed in Philemon 6 that
The communication of thy faith may become effectual through the acknowledgment of every good thing that is in you in Christ Jesus. (A.V.)
We consequently understand that our lack of knowledge of what Christ has done for us will only serve to stifle our walk. Peter said that if any one was unfruitful in their walk, they were "near-sighted and blind" and had "forgotten that they had been cleansed from their past sins." (II Peter 1:9). Sin, spiritual weakness, and error comes from our failure to recognize God's accomplishment in this matter. It must be noted here that this is not advancing a metaphysical reality that denies the existence of sin, evil, and other such negative elements in the physical world, such as would be purported by Christian Scientists, Theosophists, and some New Age religions. The existence of the physical world and all that our senses perceive is affirmed by the Biblical world-view, yet for the believer, there is a new perspective or essence "in Christ" that rises above the baser elements of mundane existence. Knowledge of our spiritual union is what energizes us to live uprightly. We are actually more apt to walk in holiness when we understand the position of holiness that God has placed us into. According to Clement, it was this knowledge that we were righteous and regenerated that was the determinant as to how we would walk in this world.
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata: Book VII, Chp. XIII
"Know ye not" says the apostle " that ye are the temple of God?" The Gnostic (Clement's term for a Christian with this knowledge) is consequently divine, and already holy, God-bearing, and God-born. Now the Scripture, showing that sinning is foreign to him,... plainly pronounces sin foreign and contrary to the nature of the Temple of God. ...He therefore has God resting in him, and desires naught else. At once, leaving all hindrances, and despising all matter that distracts him, he cleaves to the heaven by knowledge. And passing through the spiritual essences, and all rule and authority, he touches the highest thrones, hasting to that alone for the sake of which alone he knew. ...For he is conscious of the boon he has received, having become worthy of receiving it and is translated from slavery to adoption, as the consequence of knowledge, knowing God, or rather known of Him, for the end, he puts forth energies corresponding to the worth of grace,. for works follow knowledge as the shadow does the body.
Clement stresses that we must be conscious and knowledgeable of this fact to derive it's benefits in our daily walk. Notice again that the use of the Platonic terminology of "thrones", "shadows" and the "body". As expressed in the text from Philemon and II Peter, the knowledge of our position in Christ is an active agent in our sanctification and growth. There are over 200 uses of the phrase "in Christ" in the New Testament, almost all of which, allude to the Platonic concept of "Ideals". The majority of them are found in the epistles to Greek churches (ie. Ephesus and Colossi). Perhaps it is not a small wonder , then, that Paul, when he stayed at Ephesus, spent several years lecturing in the "school of Tyrannus". Typically, such schools were set up for the teaching of philosophy, rhetoric, logic, and debate. I have no doubt that in the two years Paul was there, he put his energies into demonstrating how Platonism and other Greek philosophies were merely stepping stones to the epitome of philosophical thought, which was Christ. Almost universally, the early church fathers regarded the various Greek philosophies, particularly Plato, as "hand maidens to faith"; that is, they served the purpose to bring us to the ultimate Christian truth. Clement of Alexandria said that the philosophers were providentially placed in history by God to prepare the culture for the gospel. Almost all of the apologists cite either Plato's Phaedrus or Timeus to support the ideas of an immortal soul, Monotheism, and God's Word (Logos) as an extension of God Himself. Even though Paul primarily utilized the "In Christ" ideal with Greek audiences, we should not think that the Idealist principles are too far removed from Jewish thought. We should remind ourselves that Moses, when instructed to build the tabernacle, was told by God to build it "exactly after the pattern I will show you." ( Exodus 25:9). Apparently, the earthly tabernacle was a representation, or a copy, of the heavenly original. Some of the early church fathers went so far to say that Plato was dependent upon Moses for his popular philosophical ideas. One Pythagorist philosopher named Numenious said "What is Plato, but Moses speaking in Attic Greek". In the beginning of the Gospel of John, we are again reminded that the language and rudimentary concepts of "heathen" philosophy can sometimes be a inspired vehicle for Godís truth to the nations. The use of the word "Logos" (used by John to describe Christís pre-existence as "The Word") was a familiar term to the Hellenistic culture and Platonists of the day describing the aspect of the Divine that interacted with our material universe.
Righteousness and Adoption
In this position "in Christ" we receive complete remission of our sins and are credited or imputed righteousness or right-standing. The Bible declares in II Corinthians 5:21 that "God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in Christ." On these grounds, we can affirm that we have been made righteous through Christ's blood. We essentially exchanged our sin for Christ's righteousness. This is sometimes referred to as "forensic", "passive" or "legal" righteousness, and it is a state of being, not merely a description of good actions. It is our position before God because of Christ's sacrifice. Implicit in this is the fact that our spirit has been qualitatively changed. We have been renewed, regenerated, and reborn as a child of God. .In this sense we are legally "perfect". That does not mean that every action is perfect, or that we will never sin, but that our "inner man" of the heart, our spirit, is righteous and perfect before God. Progressively our soul (mind, will, emotions, intellect; as distinct from our spirit) is being sanctified and renewed. In the future, our body will be resurrected and glorified. That is the completion of our salvation: Spirit (past tense) Soul (present tense) and Body (future tense). Seeing these three parts of man is essential to understanding the concept of righteousness. In Platoís Phaedrus, we are told that when the three composite parts of man are properly directed (ie. Self-controlled, following the spirit) that "righteousness" (gr. Dikaiosune) is the fruit. Many people today do not understand this since Christians predominately think in terms of being composed of two parts, body and soul, and consequently think it arrogant to say that they are righteous since some sin is evident in all of our lives. Without this distinction, however, it is nearly impossible to navigate through the terms of justification and sanctification, without losing their critical meanings. The Bible and the most of the early church fathers, however, make a distinction between the soul and the spirit. For example in scripture, besides the fact that spirit and soul are listed separately in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12, Paul draws sharp distinction in many of his epistles. (For a full discussion, see Appendix 3 ).
Most Christians today are accustomed to the phraseology that they are "saved", meaning merely that they have received forgiveness for their sins. They are not cognizant of the qualitative change God had done to their spirit. They do not realize that Christ has imparted His righteousness to our spirit already, and we have been regenerated. We have become very comfortable with terms like "sinner saved by grace" and "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" as clichés that we imagine foster humility. Popular evangelicalism has strived to downplay the qualitative difference between the unregenerate and the believer. Yet, the apostolic church recognized that Christ had done much more. Examine the following from the second century.
Mathetes (Epistle to Diognetus, 130 A.D.)
He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the transgressors, the blameless for the wicked. For what was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be made righteous, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits beyond expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify (make righteous) many transgressors.
Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 195 A.D.)
This in reality is righteousness...righteousness is a peace of life and a well-conditioned state...whence this abode (body) become a receptive of the soul which is most precious to God; and dignified with the Holy Spirit, through sanctification of soul and body, and perfected with the perfection of the Savior.
Righteousness here is presented as a "state" or position that is conferred upon the believer through faith in Christ. The believer essentially "swaps" their unrighteousness for Christís righteousness. The actual operation is made effectual by the entrance of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. At that point, we are regenerated and receive this "perfection" in Godís sight.
Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor 195 A.D)
Straight-away, on our regeneration, we received that perfection for which we aspired. For we were illuminated, which is to know God... Being illuminated, we became sons, becoming sons, we were made perfect; being made perfect, we become immortal. This work is variously called grace, illumination and perfection.
The core of what was taught by many of the most astute of the fathers was that our position in Christ was one of being truly righteous before God. The Holy Spirit within us was the seal or deposit that we indeed were part of God's family, and heirs with Christ.
A number of the other church fathers elaborate on God's plan of salvation as having brought us into God's family, and attaining for us a status of a new creation, far superior to the old Adamic creation. Irenaeus says that Christ has wrought for us a "refashioning" that remakes us into the full image of God that not even Adam ever attained to. Given the new status as "sons" we become the pinnacle and crowning achievement of God's handiwork, and manifestation of His mercy and loving kindness, that He should take the creatures most pitiable and "crown him with glory and honor" as His own offspring.
But the perfect man consists in the commingling and union of the soul, receiving the Spirit of the father, and the admixture of the flesh nature, which was molded after the image of God. For this reason does the apostle declare "we speak wisdom among those that are perfect." terming those as perfect who have received the Spirit of God...when the Spirit here is blended with the soul and united to God's handiwork, the man is rendered spiritual and perfect, because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God. (Against Heresies V:VI)
Whereas before, fallen man could not truly participate in Godís "likeness" because of the mar and stain of sin, in Christ, we are able to be refashioned to truly represent that image. We finally fulfill the Divine fiat "let us make man in our image, in our likeness" (Gen. 1:26) In this perspective, it easy to see why the post-apostolic church had so much reverence for God's providential plan of salvation. This perspective exalts the Lord and re-establishes Him as the architect of all history, who works all things out in accordance with His good pleasure. It dismisses the short-sighted notions that Christ's sacrificial death was merely trying to reverse the blow dealt by Satan in Eden.
Clement of Alexandria elaborates on this theocentric view of salvation with respect to adoption. Here Clement cites the regeneration and adoption into the Godhead in Christ as being the ultimate intention of God from the very beginning of creation. From The Instructor II:XII he says:
For the view I take is this, God made man out of dust, and regenerated him by water, and made him grow by His Spirit, and trained him by His Word to adoption and salvation; directing him by sacred precepts, in order that, transforming earth-born man into heavenly being by His advent, He might fulfill to the utmost utterance "Let us make man in our own image and likeness ".
Our salvation in Christ, then, is our teleological purpose, from before the very foundations of the world. Man, who is only in part conformed to Godís image at creation, finds the fullest expression of Godís likeness by being made to conform to Christís exact image at our regeneration and eventual glorification. With this in mind, the Pauline statement from Romans takes on a whole new light. Paul writes:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodiesÖ For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:19-23, 29-3O)
All of history, then culminates in the revelation of what we are in Christ. Our revelation as sons, in the exact likeness of Christ, is the whole purpose for everything that has happened in time thus far. Creation is released from itís bondage to decay (entropy) at our glorification. Many of the earlier church fathers implied that this knowledge was crucial to our on-going sanctification. The Apostle John supports this in his first epistle:
See what manner of love the Father has given us, that we may be called children of God! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know him. Beloved, we are know children of God, and it was not yet revealed what we shall be, but we know, that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone having this hope purifies himself, even as he is pure (I John 3:1-3)
Understanding our adoption and position of righteousness in an essential fact which helps spur on our sanctification. As Clement says, we are "cognizant of this boon". Having this hope, in the words of John, we purify ourselves, just as he is pure.
In concluding this point, it must be stressed that the allusions to the Hellenistic and Platonist principles in salvation do not represent an intrusion into the gospel of a foreign philosophy. Paul, for example, demonstrates in almost all of his epistles how a synthesis between the Jewish and Greek cultural norms produces a harmony, rather than a mutant strain of theology. In the beginning of each epistle, he uses the formula "Grace and Peace" for his salutation. This formula is a blend of the accepted Hebrew salutation in correspondence "Peace" (Hebrew "shalom"), and the standard Hellenistic greeting "Grace" (Gr. "Chareine"). As in the case of the Sibylline Oracles, the "Gospel in the Stars", and Roman predictions of a Jewish ruler, the parallels from paganism and heathen world-views such as Platonism were providential works of God to prepare various cultures for Christ. They served as "handmaidens" to the faith, to demonstrate the absolute superiority and wisdom of the gospel amidst the competing ideologies of the world. It may very well be that the Ebionites had begun as a part of the orthodox church, yet separated after they rejected the Pauline revelation, on account of the similarities to Platonism. We can almost imagine them as the believers of whom Peter wrote about in II Peter 3:14-16:
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Paulís letters concerning salvation were a stumbling block to the purist Ebionites. They had no space in their thinking for a metaphysical union with God, and no space likewise for a metaphysical unity between Christ and His Father. Scandalized by what they thought was a concession to Hellenists and Greek philosophy, they rejected Paulís writing, and ultimately all scripture written in Greek. They were left with a truncated version of Christianity, featuring a Christ who was 100% man, 0% God. Their separation from the orthodox church may have marked the extinction of the Jewish culture in the church which was so prevalent under James. Although we must accept that God ultimately allowed the elimination of that element in the church, one cannot help thinking that, seeing that Christ and all of the original disciples were Jewish, we are all somewhat "poorer" for the loss.