The Jewish/Roman War and Canonization
In this chapter we will see that Peter prophesied of the Jewish/Roman War that was, by mid-66 C.E., immediately on the horizon, and that Jude records what happened at the beginning of that conflict. The fact that the outbreak of that war was foreseen by Peter and that it would result in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the national existence of the Jews, made it even more imperative for Peter to formulate a New Testament canon in order to preserve the true Christian doctrine for those who would survive the prophesied holocaust. To understand this matter, we need to look first at a major historical event that occurred among the Christian community. This was the death of James, the Lord’s brother.
The death of James at Passover 62 C.E. was a major turning point in the history of Christianity. As long as James was alive he headed the government of the Christian community from Jerusalem with practically a sovereign type of rule. The New Testament states that it was James
Paul even stated that his preaching among the Gentiles would have been in vain had he not gained the approbation of James and the other Jerusalem apostles (Galatians 2:1–2, 9–10).
James was the most powerful man in the Christian community of believers, and he was also held in high esteem by many of the rulers and laity within mainline Judaism. The 2nd century writer Hegesippus said that many of the ruling class of the Jews believed in Christ and that some of the Scribes and Pharisees thought that the popularity of James was so vast that there was “a danger that the entire people would accept Jesus as the Christ.” 1 Even in the Book of Acts James stated that there were “many tens of thousands of Jews who believed, and they are all zealots for the Law” (Acts 21:20, see Greek), and this included a great crowd of priests (Acts 6:7). James even demanded of Paul that he offer animal sacrifices in the Temple with four other Jewish Christians to prove that “you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the Law” (Acts 21:24).
As long as James was alive there was a general unanimity of belief among Christians throughout the world. There was a strong emphasis on keeping the Law among the Jews and even the Gentiles were subjected to a less restricted version of it. With the death of James at the Passover 62 C.E., it became a different story, and very quickly. It appears that a crisis in leadership developed. When a strong monarchical type of leader dies, and without another powerful ruler following in his footsteps, it is common for the basis of power to be dispersed among the most prominent of leaders who remain. This appears to be what happened within the Christian community. We find the apostle John within three or four years of James’ martyrdom stating that many rebels (not just a few) were now emerging on the scene and they were coming from within the Christian Community itself (1 John 2:18–19). Many of them who had formerly accepted and believed in Jesus were then beginning to deny his name (1 John 4:1–2), and these former Christians were no longer listening to or submitting to the original apostles (1 John 4:6). And even with some of those who remained within the bosom of the external Christian organization, John recorded that some elders were rejecting his authority (3 John 9–10).
It was not only the apostle John after the death of James who was unable to control the rebels, but the apostle Peter said that destructive sects would soon rise within the pale of Christianity (even feasting among Christians themselves), committing abominable acts and denying that Christ would return to earth (2 Peter 2:1–2, 13, 3:3–4). Jude, the brother of James, said the great apostasy that Peter was given “advanced knowledge” about (2 Peter 3:17) was then beginning to happen (Jude 3). This breakdown in a centralized government which was once headed by James is also seen in people’s attitudes to the apostle Paul. Recall that the apostle Paul stated that “all men in Asia have turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15).
The unexpected death of James in 62 C.E. put the matter of Christian leadership into disarray. While up to that time, the Book of Acts shows a consistent and orderly government that was effectively administered from Jerusalem (albeit with strains here and there), with James’ death, it seems like insurrection, dissension, and many doctrinal doubts began to surface within Christendom. Remarkably, this is the very time that the Book of Acts comes to an abrupt halt in its historical narrative. It is almost as if Luke (though full well knowing, and perhaps even recording, the later history from James’ death onward to Paul’s) could not bear to place within the canon of the New Testament the unfortunate events which happened within Christendom just prior to the Jewish/ Roman War of 66 to 70 C.E. However, John, Peter, Jude, and Paul gave hints of it in their letters written after James’ martyrdom.
Thus, the death of James and the failure of the end-time events which they thought would lead up to the second advent of Christ in that generation were epochal in the history of Christianity. This is what led to the breakdown of a once powerful Jewish Christianity in Palestine. Eusebius tells us that at this time,
“The holy apostles and disciples of our Savior were scattered over the whole world. Thomas, tradition tells us, was chosen for Parthia, Andrew for Scythia, John for Asia [western Turkey], where he remained until his death at Ephesus.”
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History III.1
This exodus from Palestine was not simply because the apostles planned to take the Gospel to the world as peaceful missionaries. In no way was this the case. Things had now changed and most Christian authorities, and along with them much of the laity who remained within the teachings of the apostles, “were driven out of Judaea.” 2 Indeed, by 64 C.E. vast numbers of Jews of all political and sectarian persuasions left Judaea for other areas in the Roman Empire, and this involved the populations of whole cities and intercity regions of Palestine. 3 Thus, the former central government of Christendom was greatly disturbed with the death of James. The many tens of thousands of Jewish believers in Christ (when James was alive) either renounced Christianity, moved out of Palestine, or accepted numerous erroneous doctrinal beliefs with new and often rebellious leaders who rejected even the administration and teaching of the original apostles.
Matters went from bad to worse in Palestine and Eusebius said the reason the Jewish/Roman War took place soon after, according to Josephus, is because God was judging the nation for the martyrdom of James. 4 Whatever the case, the year 62 C.E. (and the Sabbatical Year from autumn 62 to 63 C.E.) was the turning point in the history of early Christendom. It led to a most devastating war in Palestine and, for all practical purposes, the end of Jewish Christianity.
It is hardly realized today but the New Testament tells us that the apostle Peter gave a prophetic warning of the Jewish/Roman War before it occurred, and that Jude (the brother of James) mentioned how the fulfillment of Peter’s prophecy was happening in his day. The New Testament also shows how the arrival of that war helped the apostles to finally canonize the New Testament.
We should recall that the miraculous events which occurred in the spring of 66 C.E. caused all remaining Christians in Jerusalem to abandon the city to the destruction that Christ said would happen. It appears that Peter himself remained in Jerusalem until the Pentecost sign of 66 C.E. When he wrote his first epistle about 64 C.E. he was then in “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). 5 Most people who lived in the 1st century had the conviction that at that very time world dominion would come forth from Jerusalem — not from Rome or any other city. This expectation was one of the reasons that prompted Nero to burn down the city of Rome. He had been told that it was now time to move his capital to Jerusalem because it was destined for world empire to emerge from there. 6
At Pentecost in 66 C.E., however, the sign of God’s abandonment of the Temple at Jerusalem was given to the 24 chief priests who ministered in the inner sanctuary: “We are leaving from here.” This was a signal to Peter (and to the remaining Christians in Jerusalem) to flee the city — and they did. Most retired to Pella about 60 miles northeast of Jerusalem, from where they probably were quickly transported by their Greek neighbors into safer areas. In some regions east of the Jordan the Gentiles “escorted to the frontiers any who chose to emigrate” of those Jews “who showed no revolutionary designs.” 7
The apostle Peter may have been with these last remnants of Christians to leave Judaea. But he did not remain in Pella, or any area of the Middle East. He had an important mission to perform before he died. The apostle Paul was at that time in prison at Rome. And since it was then apparent that Christ was not returning in that generation, it became imperative to bring together a set of standard books (like those of the Old Testament) for later Christians which would have the authority of the apostles behind them.
The maintenance of purity within Christian doctrine required a diligent effort of the leading apostles to provide a canon of New Testament scriptures which would last “until the day dawn” (2 Peter 1:19). Thus, it appears that Peter in the summer of 66 C.E. journeyed, via Pella, to Rome to see the apostle Paul about this very matter. Indeed, there would have been no other reason for Peter to have gone to the capital city of the Empire, other than to consult with Paul before his death concerning the canonization of the New Testament which was the most important endeavor that the apostles could leave for future generations.
There can really be no doubt that Peter finally went to Rome and that he and Paul conversed together shortly before their deaths. About 170 C.E. Dionysius, who was the minister in charge of the Corinthian church, mentioned that both apostles “taught together in Italy and were martyred about the same time.” 8 Irenaeus also said that the congregation of Rome was established and founded “by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul.” 9 Then there was Gaius, a Roman elder who lived near the end of the 2nd century. He said that it was possible to point to the very tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul in the vicinity of Rome. These were the tombs “of those who founded this church [the church at Rome].” 10
Really, there is hardly a scholar today who would not say that the historical evidence for both Peter and Paul to have been in Rome in the last years of Nero’s reign is very strong indeed. True enough, when Paul wrote his last epistle to Timothy, Peter was not yet in Rome (nor is there any solid evidence that he had ever been there before), but there is every reason to believe that Peter finally went to Rome just before Paul’s execution, and that he met the same sentence of death a short time later. The fact that Peter went to Rome is important because he must have gone there FOR A PURPOSE. What was the reason that he went so far away from his Palestinian home to go to Italy?
The historical evidence suggests that Peter went to Rome in 66 C.E. Since there was no longer any need for him (or other Christians) to remain in Jerusalem after the final Pentecost sign in 66 C.E., the summer of that year would have been the most logical time for his trip. Jerusalem and Judaea were thus deserted by the Christians in the early summer of 66 C.E. Then by late summer, Peter found himself in Rome in conference with the apostle Paul. They had only one reason to be together, and both of them were intent on performing the responsibility that lay before them.
After being in Rome a few weeks before the martyrdom of Paul (and recognizing that his own execution was near), Peter wrote his Second Epistle to those in Asia Minor (the former area assigned to Paul and where the apostle John was then in residence). It was in that epistle that Peter spoke about the canonization of the New Testament, but he also prophesied of the coming war between the Jews and the Romans. The whole of Peter’s second chapter describes an apostasy from the truth, and it was to be a widespread lapse of former Christians into a rebellion against God and against all constituted authorities no matter who they were. He even warned that the revolt would eventually occur among the readers of his Second Epistle and it would result in the many (not the few) turning away from the true teachings of Christ into a state of utter baseness and rebellion to God and their abandonment of human authority.
It should be noted, however, that Peter in his Second Epistle was giving a prophecy of what was to happen. When Peter wrote, the apostasy and the war to which he was referring had not yet occurred. He told his readers that he was giving them “advanced knowledge” of the sedition so that those who were true to Christ would be on guard against the coming errors (2 Peter 3:17). By early autumn of 66 C.E. the major problems leading to the revolt had not yet surfaced, but they were just on the horizon. Peter said there
Note that all of Peter’s references were for future events that he was prophesying would soon happen.
Though Peter was aware that such depravity was forthcoming, it was not yet a mature reality when he wrote his Second Epistle in the autumn of 66 C.E. The case was different when Jude, the brother of James (and also of Jesus), wrote his letter to those who had received Peter’s Second Epistle. The two letters (Peter’s Second Epistle and Jude’s) are very similar to one another in content. In fact, they were speaking about the same events. Only the timing was a different factor in Jude’s letter.
If one will read Jude’s short letter carefully, it reveals that he was starting to write to his readers about the common salvation which all people had in Christ, when all of a sudden a disaster began to happen which caused him to postpone that particular instruction. Something had just erupted which rendered it urgent for Jude to communicate with his readers about the immediate situation.
What was happening? The answer is simple. Jude was following closely what Peter had predicted. Note that what Peter wrote was to occur in the future, but Jude was showing the apostasy was presently erupting! Both men were speaking about the outbreak of the Jewish war against the Romans. Jude was making a hurried and urgent appeal that his readers would not be caught up in the insurgency that was then starting. Notice Jude’s urgent appeal.
“Beloved one, though I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I found it of urgent necessity to write you encouraging you to put up a hard fight for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.”
Jude 3, translation from Greek
While Peter knew that such a condition of insurrection and debauchery would develop among many of the Jewish Christians to whom he wrote, Jude now put the actions into the present tense. Note how he said the events had now begun. People were now,
How could such evil be connected with God-fearing Christians? It seems almost like a contradiction. Why were so many of Peter’s and Jude’s readers involved? How could these filthy dreamers, corrupters of human rights, despisers of people in authority, those beginning to deny Christ and even counteracting the heavenly powers find themselves within the Christian community? Worse yet, these reprobates were participating with Christians in their love feasts (2 Peter 2:13; Jude 12).
This rank and file rebellion seems so counter to the first principles of belonging to the Christian faith that hardly anyone imagines that such a thing could happen in a regular Christian environment. But it did in the society that Peter and Jude were referencing.
What in the world was happening? Why did the apostasy occur so suddenly (yet it was prophesied by Peter that it would develop)? The answer is clear if Bible students today will only realize what Peter and Jude were talking about. They were both speaking about the revolt against the Romans in Palestine, and a vast number of Jewish Christians were involved. Indeed, the potential for insurrection was beginning to spread, at first, even among the Jews in other provinces. This is why Peter and Jude were warning Jewish Christians not to take part in the national revolt against the Roman Empire that was just beginning to take place.
Still, Peter prophesied that such warnings would fall on deaf ears as far as the majority were concerned. Peter said that it would be many (not few) who would relinquish their faith in Christ and begin to participate in the war against Rome (2 Peter 2:1–2). And Jude was now saying that the defiance had started.
The very things that Jude said were beginning to occur were what Josephus recorded that many of the Jews in Palestine adopted in their rebellion to Rome. 11 The reason the revolutionaries were now denying Christ is because they felt the prophecies given to John as earlier recorded in the Book of Revelation had completely failed.
“Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
2 Peter 3:4
When it is realized that Peter was foretelling the revolt against Rome and that many (again, it should be noted, NOT A FEW but many) would abandon their faith in Christ and participate in the war effort against Rome, the descriptions given by Peter begin to make sense. This is the only reasonable explanation of why true Christians putting up with reprobates sharing a part in their festivals without being excommunicated from their midst. Such feasts that Peter and Jude were speaking about were the national festivals ordained by Moses in which all Jewish people everywhere participated. There would have been no way for a few Jewish Christians to prevent a great number of people within any predominantly Jewish community from observing the national feasts along with all other Jews.
No one can rationally explain how true Christians could let rebels of the nature mentioned by Peter engage in a celebration of their festivals unless they were the national feasts of Moses that were being discussed. All Jews shared in such festivities, and these would have been celebrated by all even in times of civil or national wars. 12 In times of war it is even normal for the participants to forget temporarily their sectarian differences and to join hands to overcome the common enemy. The Jewish people who fought the Romans (though they were in various political camps) shared one Temple, and singular religious festivals. All of them were (so they thought) defending the common traditions that they all adhered to. It is interesting that Josephus said that throughout most of the war, and even among the different political divisions, the various groups in Jerusalem allowed worshippers of all camps to have free passage into the Temple to offer their religious devotions to God. 13
The whole of the Jewish nation kept the feasts ordained by Moses in Jerusalem and throughout all Judaism. Jewish Christians observed these days as well, and Peter along with Jude told true Christians to beware of those denying Christ who were participating in the ceremonies of the holydays and yet advocating war against the Romans. The cry of the revolutionaries was:
This is exactly what Peter said the rebels described in his epistle would tell the people. They were also “promising them liberty” (2 Peter 2:19). While the quest for liberty may seem to be a noble gesture in itself, the men who were saying such things were anything but noble. The very things that Peter said would take place, and that Jude said were then occurring, were what Josephus said happened in Jerusalem once the war got under full sway. Jude said that the rebels “are setting at nought dominions, and rail at dignitaries” (Jude 8). Josephus records:
“Every law of man was trampled underfoot, every requirement of religion was ridiculed by those who scoffed at the oracles of the prophets as rogue’s stories.”
Josephus, Wars of the Jews IV.6,3 ¶385
They thought nothing of the sanctity of the Temple or the priests who conducted the services therein. Josephus said:
“These men converted the Temple of God into their stronghold and refuge from popular upheavals, and made the Holy Place the center for their tyranny. To these horrors was added a vein of ironic pretense more galling than the actions themselves. For, to test the complete subservience of the people, and to show their own power, they dared to appoint high priests by lot. ... to them this sacrilege was a subject for jests and ribald mirth, but the other priests watching this mockery of their law from a distance burst into tears and bemoaned the degradation of their ceremonies.”
Josephus, Wars of the Jews IV.3,7–8 ¶¶61, 153, 157
And note further:
“These dregs and the scum of the whole country have squandered their own property and perpetrated their lunacy first upon the towns and villages around, and finally have poured in a stealthy stream into the holy city; these scoundrels are so utterly impious that they have desecrated even holy ground. They can be seen, shamelessly getting drunk in the Temple and spending what they have stolen from their victims to satisfy their insatiable appetite.”
Josephus, Wars of the Jews IV.4.3 ¶¶241–242
Jude said they “are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaking great swelling words” (Jude 16). Josephus echoed the same things as occurring in Jerusalem during the war.
“Here are native born Jews, brought up according to our customs and called Jews, strut where they like over the inner sanctuary itself, with hands still reeking with the blood of their countrymen.”
Josephus, Wars of the Jews IV.3.10 ¶183
“Setting aside the families from which the high priests had always been drawn, they appointed to that office base persons of no family, in order to gain partners in crime.”
Josephus, Wars of the Jews IV.3.5 ¶148
Josephus summed up the general condition that prevailed in Jerusalem (and even in parts of the countryside). He said:
“That period had become so prolific of crime of every description, that no deed of iniquity was left unperpetrated, nor, had man’s wit been exercised to devise it, could he have discovered any novel form of vice. So universal was the contagion, both in private and in public life, such the emulation, moreover, to outdo each other in acts of impiety towards God and of injustice towards their neighbors. Those in power oppressed the masses, and the masses were eager to destroy the powerful.”
Josephus, Wars of the Jews VII.8,1 ¶¶259–262
Granted, Josephus had a grudge against those who persisted in the rebellion and his words may appear to be an exaggeration, but they accord perfectly well with what Peter and Jude said about this same situation in their epistles. Peter and Jude were referring to that very war.
The Jewish/Roman War of 66 to 73 C.E. was one of the most horrendous that mankind ever devised, and this was especially true in the case in Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians who stayed in the capital with the other people of the nation to fight the Romans, those who did not heed the warnings to flee the city, consigned themselves to the most horrible circumstances that mankind could ever endure. And though we can allow for some exaggeration in Josephus, what he shows (if only half his descriptions occurred) is that siege of Jerusalem was one of the most terrible and frightening events in the annals of man. What Josephus described should serve as a proper commentary on what Peter and Jude stated in their epistles would occur to those Jewish Christians who failed to heed the warnings that God was abandoning the Temple and the city.
Peter was well aware that many Jewish Christians would be tempted to join the “fighters for liberty” (as Peter called them), but the people who joined them were actually, according to Peter, “the servants of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19). Josephus would have agreed. Peter was actually making his warning to thousands of people at the time he wrote. Indeed, the New Testament states that there were many tens of thousands of believing Jews in Judaea in 56 C.E. (Acts 21:20) and many of these did not migrate out of Palestine with the others from 62 to 66 C.E. Many refused to go to Pella after the Pentecost sign in 66 C.E. The majority of those Jewish Christians who stayed in Jerusalem gave up the type of Christianity that the apostles were teaching. They remained behind in Palestine to war with the Romans — and to disaster!
There were also many Palestinian Jews who were among the Jews (and Christians) of the Dispersion. It was these people to whom Peter and Jude were writing. They were warning the Jewish Christians in Asia Minor, and elsewhere, not to follow in the rebellious ways of most of the nation because they were going to come to a “swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1) and a “judgment of desolation” (verse 3). Peter said their cities would be turned into ashes just like the ruin of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:6). And this is exactly what happened.
When the prophecies given by John contained in the earlier version of the Book of Revelation failed to materialize in the manner the early Jewish Christians thought they would, there was a widespread defection from Christian belief by vast numbers of Jewish Christians. Peter was trying to warn them of the folly of their ways. But Peter’s message for the most part fell on deaf ears. The majority of the Jewish Christians (along with the generality of the nation) went to war with the Romans, and lost.
When it is realized that Peter and Jude in their letters were describing the ravages of the Jewish/Roman War of 66 to 70 C.E., we can then date those epistles pretty closely. Since Peter was giving “advanced knowledge” of what would happen to the Jewish Christians, we can date his epistle to about autumn 66 C.E. And since Jude said the conflict that Peter talked about had now begun, then sometime after the period of Tabernacles in 66 C.E. (when the Roman General Cestius retreated from besieging Jerusalem which caused the war against the Romans to begin in earnest), must be the time when Jude wrote. Both epistles were mainly designed to warn Jewish Christians in the Diaspora not to take part in the war with Rome because it would lead the nation to utter destruction. And, it did.
The truth is, the apostles came to see that Christ was not going to return in that generation and establish his kingdom on earth. The signs that preceded the war with Rome and the start of the rebellion itself had a profound effect upon Peter, John, Jude and the other Jewish apostles. They came to see, just as Christ Jesus had told them would be the case, that God would desert the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. Those Jews who put up a physical defense to maintain their traditional system of religion, brought nothing but utter disaster upon themselves and others in Palestine.
In the next chapter we will see that the destruction of the physical government for Jewish Christians centered at Jerusalem required that a canonical edition of Christian doctrine be developed (like the Old Testament scriptures) in order that Christians would have a proper standard for reference which would last them “until day dawn” — until the time that Christ would actually return from heaven. To that task Peter, Paul, and finally John, placed their efforts and it resulted in a set of 27 books being bound together to form what we call the New Testament.
Indeed, canonization meant the rescue of some books which many people deeply held in suspicion because of their remarks about the soon coming of Christ back to earth some time during the seventh decade of the 1st century. The canonization process also meant that the early version of the Book of Revelation was resurrected from the disdain that many people showed for it (because of its supposed failed prophecies) and it was finally placed in the New Testament canon.
The restoration of the Book of Revelation was an essential need. It finally became clear to John and his helpers (when he found himself in a renewed visionary experience on the Isle of Patmos) that the prophetic teaching of those visions had to do with the end-time generation, and not with that one in the seventh decade of the 1st century. Interestingly, even after the Book of Revelation was canonized by John himself, it was still held suspect in some quarters for several centuries afterward.
The important thing that must be realized is the fact that what we call the New Testament today records information about the formation of the Holy Scriptures for the Christian community of believers. And, indeed, the New Testament itself speaks about its own canonization. True, hardly anyone today pays attention to what the apostles said about their own canonization of the New Testament, but I feel it is time to put the matter into proper perspective. It was the apostles themselves who put together the New Testament books, not some unknown church group or groups of the 2nd and/or 3rd or 4th centuries. The next chapter will explain.
1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 23.
2 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History III.5.
3 Josephus, Wars of the Jews II.14.2 ¶¶277–279.
4 Josephus, Antiquities XX.9.1 ¶¶200–203.
5 This was a cipher for Jerusalem, not Rome. Even the “Mystery Babylon” which John wrote about in the Book of Revelation was the city of Jerusalem. After all, it was recognized by the apostles that the “iron legs” of Daniel (which most considered to be the Roman Empire) were to give way to ten toes (ten nations) which would have as their head a “little horn.” This person was called by a variety of names: the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition, the Beast, and the Antichrist. This evil man was not to establish his capital at Rome, but he would sit in the inner Temple at Jerusalem (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
6 Suetonius, Nero 40. “Yet some of the astrologers promised him, in his forlorn state, the rule of the East, and in express words the kingdom of Jerusalem.” See the English text at: http://perseus.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0132&layout=&loc=nero+40
7 Josephus, Wars of the Jews II.185 ¶¶479–480.
8 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History II.25.8.
9 Irnaeus, Against Heresies III.3.1–3.
10 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV.22.3.
11 Josephus, Wars of the Jews IV.4.3 ¶¶238–365.
12 Observe that in the American Civil War it was common for soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy to keep the same Christmas and the same Easter. And even if some of the soldiers had no personal religious convictions of their own, it would still have been common for all of them to share in any Christmas dinners (if they were able to have them) that were dispensed among the troops on both sides.
13 Josephus, Wars of the Jews V.1.3 ¶¶98–99.
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