“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen’” (Acts 1:1-2).

Whereas the link between the modern Christian church and Judaism may be more so theological than cultural, the early church, as described by Luke in the early chapters of Acts, is overtly immersed in Judaism. Again addressing Theophilus, a fellow Gentile, Luke begins Acts much like the Gospel that bears his name. “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen’” (Acts 1:1-2, NIV). [1] Just as the book of Acts picks up right where the Gospel of Luke ends, Luke seeks to deepen the continuity between the faith expressed by the followers of Jesus and the historical faith of Israel. Luke’s account demonstrates that Christianity began as a legitimate religious movement within first century Judaism, and the distance that has developed between Judaism and Christianity lends itself to misinterpreting and misappropriating much of the New Testament. [2]

Using a common Jewish expression at the time, Luke measures the distance between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives as a “Sabbath day’s walk” in Acts 1:12, and he invokes Jewish law establishing a legal community by recounting the presence of about 120 disciples in the upper room where Peter was teaching in Acts 1:15. What’s more, by recounting that the disciples chose Matthiasas to replace Judas by casting lots in Acts 1:26, or the gathering during the Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13, Theophilus, as well as any other Gentile reader, would observe from the onset that the faith they have embraced is quintessentially Jewish.

In addition to emphasizing their Jewishness in terms of culture and tradition, Luke records the disciples’ obedience to the instructions that Jesus gave at His ascension, including remaining in Jerusalem until the gift of the Holy Spirit was received, despite the mortal danger posed to them by hostile authorities. Luke’s emphasis on the Jewishness of the early church, together with its obedience, helps to establish that the followers of Jesus were neither Jewish heretics nor a syncretic religion that appropriated elements of Judaism, but rather, as the fulfillment of the covenant religion. Luke’s account of the Spirit’s intensive presence at Pentecost in Acts 2:2-4, symbolizes the completion of God’s redemptive work by linking it with the start of a harvest of souls in response to the proclamation of the cross. 3 Consequently, among the lessons found within the book of Acts, perhaps, one of the most significant is that Christianity cannot be truly understood fully in the absence of its Jewish roots.

In many ways, the relationship between mikveh and baptism serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

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[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Robert Wayne Stacy, “The Jewish Setting of the Early Church In Acts” (video lecture in NBST 520 at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, 2019).

3 Walter A Elwell and Robert W Brough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2013), 198.