The Problem of Anachronism
Anachronisms have plagued biblical scholarship as far back into the past as the immediate post-apostolic period: from the time that the New Testament writings passed from their Israelite milieu into the hands of Hellenists and Latinists, unto this very day.
We should take account of the fact that although some may question the 'historicity" of the events recorded in the New Testament, the documents did not suddenly spring fully-formed to life like Athena from the head of Zeus: they emerged in real time, from within the historical, political, religious and cultural context of the surrounding society.
Vatican II enjoins us to study these documents:
"The study of the Sacred Page…should be the very soul of Sacred Theology” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 24)
The framers of Dei Verbum would assert that any meanings arising from such study should be viewed through the misty lens of later Catholic theology although Catholic theologians know very well that any serious study of these "Sacred Page(s)" must be viewed through the language, symbols, metaphors and cultural framework of ancient Israelite peoples.
If we wish to be intellectually honest, we cannot retroject onto the past our own present idealistic forms of modern, liberal democracies, or new age teachings, or eastern spiritualities, and so on. For far too long, this scriptural sifting of the New Testament and its characters - accept the best and reject the rest - has been made to serve popular whims, religions, ideologies and philosophies.
To sweep away all this anachronistic debris requires no less than a revolution in thinking, even though it will be considered offensive to modern sensibilities.
To fully understand the intent of New Testament authors, it is first necessary to grasp the importance of Israelite Messianic expectations as they existed at the time of Jesus. Perhaps the most significant of these was the belief that the Messiah, when he came, would gather into one the children of Israel that were scattered abroad. Thus we find this key messianic role ascribed to Jesus before, during, and after his lifetime.
Luke 1:32b -1:33
"...and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." [The House of Jacob, later renamed Israel, comprised the original twelve tribes of Israel.]
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
The House of Israel
The reason why the number of the "twelve" apostles matters, and why the number had to be made up in the absence of Judas, is their symbolic connection with the "twelve" tribes of Israel.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Messiah, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion: Greetings.
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
When Jesus was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Law of Moses regarding first-born males, Luke draws our attention to the following piece of vital information:
"There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher."
The tribe of Asher was one of the ten Israelite tribes of the Northern Kingdom who were taken into captivity in 721-20 BC. These Israelites were not Jews: Jews belonged to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Benjamin. This tribal detail is no accidental reference. Luke wishes to emphasise that Jesus is the promised deliverer of all Israel i.e. the twelve tribes and not just the Jews.
It is difficult to accept, but a reality nonetheless, that the writings of the New Testament were not written for all peoples, for all times, and in all circumstances. They were written for specific groups at a specific time for a specific purpose. That purpose was to demonstrate that Jesus was the expected Israelite Messiah and as such, the writings are full of messianic references found in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, very little in the New Testament can be understood unless that singular fact is recognised.
The writings were broadly addressed to the twelve tribes of the "house of Israel" and more specifically to Messianist in-groups, i.e. Israelites or proselytes adopted into the Israelite covenant who believed that Jesus was the awaited Messiah (Christ). These Messianist in-groups had hoped that the current political/religious establishment in the land of Israel would soon be overturned and replaced by the Kingdom of Heaven/God. This coming Kingdom of God would be a political theocracy established in the land of Israel to be administered by God's anointed one.
They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying: "Lord, do you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
When the Kingdom of God did not arrive in the lifetime of Jesus, the New Testament authors began to associate the resurrection of Jesus as a prefiguring promise to the dispersed of Israel that they would one day be 'resurrected' from their dispersion, from the diaspora which was regarded as a type of death, and gathered back into the land of Israel, as we can see quite clearly in this passage from John's gospel:
"But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
and also in Ezekiel where"resurrection" imagery is clearly linked to the restoration of Israel:
"Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel."
If we don't see the Israelite Jesus in his role as restorer of the house of Israel, in the land of Israel, then we are at odds, not only with Jesus' self-understanding, but also with the intent of the New Testament authors.
The Promise to the Fathers
Although much is made of Paul being the so-called "Apostle to the Gentiles," even the most cursory study of his letters will reveal that their content could only have been understood by those intimately acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures - either Israelite communities scattered abroad in the Diaspora or proselytes who were similarly well versed. We can see the purpose of Paul's entire missionary activity, his raison d′être, in his address to King Agrippa and Berenice:
"The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night."
The "promise to the fathers" that Paul talks about is also the central feature of Luke's gospel
"He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful; to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he promised our fathers.” (Luke 1:54-55)
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people, And has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
The oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (Luke 1:68-75)
What exactly was this "promise to the fathers?"
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
“I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7-8)
So where does all the above leave modern Christians?
Spiritual Adoption into the People of God
The only document of the New Testament which could be described as "universal" in content is the Gospel of John, and only then because its author wished to portray a collision between the values and principles particular to the "world" of the Jesus group in opposition to the values and principles particular to the "world" of the religious/political authorities in Jerusalem. Hence we see the dramatisation of conflict: truth versues lies; the spirit of the law rather than the letter; humility versus arrogance; personal integrity versus institutional formalism; selflessness rather than selfishness; mercy rather then revenge; maintaining one's character in adversity, and so on.
The great and tragic irony of John's portrayal is that his condemnation of the values of a non-universal, particular group of Jews - the Jerusalem establishment - has been made to appear a universal condemnation of all Jews at all times and in all places.
As said previously, the various addressees of all the New Testament writings were Messianist in-groups, i.e. Israelites or proselytes adopted into the Israelite covenant. To become a proselyte is to accept Abraham as one's spiritual ancestor and then one is spiritually adopted into the Israelite covenant, as it was perceived to exist at the time of Jesus. (Note: All forms of Judaism today are based on Rabbinic Judaism which did not fully develop until the fifth century AD.)
From a New Testament perspective, a non-Israelite (Gentile) must not only go through this mental process but must demonstrate having done so by good works honouring the God of Israel. In Acts 11:18 we find the Jesus group based in Jerusalem concluding that the "repentance that leads to life" has also been bestowed on righteous non-Israelites.
Even though Jesus' various sayings, parables and exhortations to ascribe to the highest standards of moral excellence are worthy of our emulation and indeed necessary for entry into the Kingdom by a process of spiritual adoption, it must at the same time be recognised that Jesus' words were uttered for the benefit of fellow Israelites who, in his view, should always strive to attain the highest standards of behaviour so that Gentiles would see reflected there the honour and glory of the God who had made Israelites his own particular people.
Once again, the point at which all the New Testament texts converge, the nexus, is the hope of the coming Israelite theocracy to be established in the land of Israel, peopled by the ingathered twelve tribes of Israel, and governed by God's Messiah - his anointed one.
Regardless of personal opinions, of rights and wrongs, of what we like and what we don't like, proof of the existence of God can be found in the greatest true miracle in recorded history: the establishment of the State of Israel. The existence of the State of Israel after two thousand years of Jewish persecution, of Jewish wandering, wondering and waiting for the next pogrom, the next holocaust, is also proof that God does not change his mind, keeps his promises, and does not fully abandon his "particular people" even after the passage of millennia. (Note that the "Jews" represent only a part of twelve-tribed Israel. See "The Myth of Papal Primacy" Part VII for an explanation of Israelite tribal perculiarities.)