Review of Disciples by Stephen R. Kaufman

Stephen Kaufman wrote the following review of Disciples.  It appeared in the May 15 issue of the e-newsletter of the Christian Vegetarian Association.

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Nearly all Christians accept without question the assertion that Christianity started with Jesus. In this remarkable book, Keith Akers argues convincingly that the movement now called Christianity preceded Jesus’ ministry. It regarded Jesus as an exemplary leader, but evidently it did not consider Jesus divine.

Akers focuses on the Jewish Christian movement – those Jews who followed Jesus during his life and honored him after his death. Though they were the ones who knew Jesus best, their understanding of his teachings was eventually deemed heretical by a Gentile church that was heavily influenced by Paul.

None of the initial Jewish Christian literature remains, but Akers is able to draw inferences by looking a range of biblical and non-biblical sources. In particular, Akers shows connections between the third century literature of the Ebionites, a Jewish Christian sect, and what we know about the Jewish Christians, whose “heresies” were denounced by several early church writers.

The Bible is another major source of information about the Jewish Christians. In particularly, Paul’s letters relate to his bitter conflicts with the Jewish apostolic church in Jerusalem. Interestingly, Acts, written much later when the Jewish Christian movement was no longer a significant component of Christendom, minimizes these conflicts. Clearly, Paul and these early Jewish Christians had significantly different views about who Jesus was and what he taught, which leads to the question of which source is more reliable – those who lived with Jesus or one whose only contact was a claimed encounter after Jesus died. Paul rejected the Jewish Christians’ commitment to vegetarianism. Later, when Constantine co-opted Christianity, the Jewish Christian commitment to pacifism and simple living were similarly discarded.

In summary, this is a remarkable book, featuring thorough scholarship, insightful analysis, and very clear writing. Some might be hesitant to accept the book’s conclusions about Jesus as a great leader rather than as God incarnate. However, this view lends itself well to receiving Christianity as a call to serve God right here, right now, on earth, rather than focus one’s life on heavenly rewards. As we face increasing population, environmental, and social justice challenges, perhaps this view is just what our world needs.

Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

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4 Replies to “Review of Disciples by Stephen R. Kaufman”

  1. I’m all for living in the here and now as opposed to being being preoccupied with earning “paradise points.” The fact is evangelical Christianity does not emphasize earning paradise points, that’s works righteousness. Unfortunately, it doesn’t require any work at all. I think Christians of more traditional views can still rationally maintain that Paul received inspired knowledge about Jesus that transcends what Jesus knew about himself! This is probably the position of most Christian Bible scholars.

  2. So I guess my question is can we rewrite Christianity or replace the religion with philosopher Jesus to promote vegetarianism and animal rights?

    1. I don’t have the answer (not yet anyway). This process is likely not something that “we” can control. The spirit goes where it will. My guess is that this process will involve at least, but likely more than, vegetarianism and animal rights. What do you think?
      P. S. This is more like a blog post topic. Perhaps I will comment on it in a future post?

  3. I agree this is another topic. So I will reserve my thoughts until you choose to do a blog on it.

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