Are we merely a branch – though perhaps the truest branch – in the family tree of “Abrahamic faiths”?
Are we a part – though perhaps the most faithful part – of a broader “Judeo-Christian” consensus?
Do we have one take – though perhaps the most complete take – on OT interpretation?
When Paul is before Felix, he makes a fascinating distinction between Christianity “a sect” and Christianity “the Way”:
I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets (Acts 24:14).
Paul’s opponents want to understand him as part of a Jewish sect. Paul rejects that understanding. He follows the Way. The Ancient Way – the Way of the Law and the Prophets.
In front of Agrippa, Paul unpacks a couple of things from that quote. First he shows what a sect is.
…according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. (Acts 26:5)
This is what Paul means by sect: a small part of a greater whole (in modern usage it has the added meaning of a part that claims to be the whole.)
Pharisaism is a good example of a sect within Judaism.
But Paul insists, Christianity is not a competing sect within some broader category of Abrahamic faith. Christianity is not a smaller, more specific kind of OT faith that just happens to follow the Messiah. Messianic faith is the Way. The Way of the fathers, the Way of the law and the prophets. The Way it’s always been.
How can Paul say this? Well, Paul simply explains what the law and the prophets have always testified:
I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen– that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)
This is Christianity – the Ancient Way. The Way of Moses and the Prophets. This is not a sect within a larger entity called Judaism but the one way of the suffering, rising and reigning Christ – the way the fathers have always travelled. According to Paul you cannot and must not understand Christianity as a smaller part of a broader Scriptural story, for then you misunderstand the law and the prophets themselves.
Paul says explicitly that he has not put a Christian gloss on a pre-existing sub-messianic revelation. He is simply following the Way of Moses.
If someone does not follow the suffering, rising, reigning Christ they are not following the Way of Moses. And, note well, this is not a new state of affairs according to Paul. This is not Paul reading messianic meaning into Moses. Paul is saying nothing beyond the original meaning and intention of the Prophets and Moses.
Anyone, in any age, who is not trusting in the promised Messiah is not part of the Way. They are the sect.
That’s Paul’s understanding. Is it our understanding? Or do we think of the Law and the Prophets as part of a broader religious movement into which Jesus fits?
No Jesus – our suffering, dying and reigning Messiah – is the Way. The Ancient Way. And there has never been any other.