Hi @SuperBigV -
I appreciate the fact that you are bringing in some of the evidence that needs to be discussed. I am also aware of the fact that you will be busy for a while and cannot reply right away. I do hope you can come back and continue the conversation in the not too distant future.
Since we have many readers, I do want to go ahead and give a reply now, rather than later. Please do not feel pressed to reply right away.
I think you are right that Christians in the nascent church were not persecuted primarily because of their belief in the resurrection, but rather because of their beliefs about the law and the temple. However, you are mistaken that Christians have generally claimed that their belief in the resurrection of Christ was the source of their persecution. Moreover, I think you have overlooked a good bit of the evidence that indicates that the persecution in the nascent church originated among Jews. Let’s take a closer look at some of the passages (italics mine):
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
Acts 5: 27, 40
The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. … They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Acts 6: 8-9, 12; 7: 57-58
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. … So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. … At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Acts 8: 1-3 (Note that Saul was a Pharisee/teacher of the law at this point, and not yet a follower of Jesus)
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 21:27 (a passage you also cite)
some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him
These passages all indicate that the persecution of Christians came at Jewish hands, and largely because the Christians had different views of the law and the temple than the Jewish majority.
So what are we to make of Acts 23:6, where Paul claims to be persecuted because of his belief in the resurrection? To many commentators, it seems that Paul was making an incomplete statement (i.e., the truth, but not the whole truth) in order to prevent a united Jewish leadership from blocking his chance to appeal to Rome. Perhaps you would even consider this to be a bit too slippery on Paul’s part. That wouldn’t really bother me, as the apostles are nowhere in the Scriptures depicted as perfect.
Finally, let’s take a look at the controversy in Galatians: was Paul depicting persecution among Christians, or was it just an argument about doctrine? The text points strongly to the latter, in my opinion.
some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. - Galatians 1:8
A debate about doctrine, not an outburst of persecution.
you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. - Galatians 1:13
The first mention of persecution in Galatians, but it is not between Christians. Prior to his becoming a follower of Christ, Paul in his role as Saul the Pharisee had persecuted Christians.
some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves - 2:4
Another argument. Note that “slaves” is clearly metaphorical; Paul often uses the imagery of slavery to speak of a person’s relationship to the law, to sin, or to Christ. In particular, from the same epistle see the following:
- Galatians 4:3 (“we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world”)
- Galatians 4:8-9 (“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”)
- Galatians 5:1 (“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”)
[B]efore certain men came from James, [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? - Galatians 2:12-14
Another disagreement, as opposed to persecution. Peter was afraid of disapproval, so he changed his behavior. “Force” is a reference to compulsion by means of religious authority, not to chains and whips.
Those people are zealous to win you over , but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. - Galatians 4:17
Again, Paul depicts the conflict as a disagreement over doctrine and not as a campaign of persecution. Paul’s opponents are trying to use persuasion (“win you over”), not persecution. They are trying to break a relationship by disrupting loyalty (“alienation”), not by throwing someone in prison.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. - Galatians 5:7-8
Persuasion, not persecution
Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! - Galatians 5:11-12
The second mention of persecution, and again it refers to persecution by Jewish leadership. Paul distinguishes between the persecution he has encountered (at the hands of Jewish leaders) from the agitation by the James crowd. They are two different cases: in Paul’s case, he is being persecuted by Jewish leaders (cf. the Acts passages); but in the other case, “as for those agitators” (i.e., a different situation), there is a misleading religious argument being propagated.
Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. - Galatians 6:12
The final mention of persecution. In this argument between two camps of Christians, Paul (the leader of one camp) claims that the other camp is motivated by a fear of persecution. Clearly Paul and the churches he has founded are not persecuting anyone, so who would be the party doing the persecution? Jewish leaders, of course–the ones who have been persecuting Paul.
So there are only 3 passages in Galatians that refer to persecution (1:13; 5:11-12; 6:12), and all of them clearly refer to Jews persecuting Christians. All of the other passages that refer to the conflict between Christians speak only of rhetoric and arguments, not whips, chains and prison.
I apologize for the length of this post, @SuperBigV, but it is important to deal as carefully as possible with the texts. I hope that you will take away from our discussion the idea that perhaps you have also misinterpreted other more important passages of Scripture, such as those about the post-resurrection encounters between Jesus and his disciples. If you still choose to disbelieve the “good news” that Jesus and his followers taught, that is your prerogative, of course; but you would do well to make sure you accurately understand what it is that you are agreeing or disagreeing with.