Killing Two False Theologies With One “Stone”

Here is a section of scripture that exposes the errors of both “Judaising” and “Gentilising”.

And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

Judaising: The insistance that Gentile believers in Jesus need to become Jewish or follow Jewish law to be accepted by God.

Genitlising: The demand that Jewish believers need to forsake their Jewishness and its ways to be accepted by God.

Both of the above focus on “the law” in some way – making relationship to IT the central thing rather than relationship with God through Jesus.

The quoted section of scripture is only one example where this issue is addressed, but the example given couldn’t be clearer. Paul demonstrated his own relationship to “the law” as a Jew (he continued to keep it) and it was made clear that gentiles who believe “should observe no such thing” (with a few general, moral exceptions).

11 thoughts on “Killing Two False Theologies With One “Stone”

  1. Thank you. Very good and well put. Though I question whether Paul “continued to keep the law” as a rule. So, I cant see Paul keeping the Jewish feasts, observing Shabbat and the other hundreds of legal requirements. There is the one example of head shaving and vow taking in Acts (becoming a Jew in order to win the Jews). I cant recall any others. Also Paul failed to be strict about the eating of meat offered to idols.

  2. Hi Ian, I’d have to add following comments and questions:

    Paul also circumcised Timothy.
    I wonder how many examples of Paul’s “law observance” needed to be given in scripture to indicate ongoing observance? As for the keeping of “Jewish” feasts – I don’t see scripture describing them as “Jewish feasts”, they are described as the Lord’s feasts that were given to Israel to observe. How long does scripture say that observation was required?

    Paul’s lack of strictness regarding food was demonstrated to whom? Did he “promote” that lack of strictness among Jews or to the gentiles who he considered weren’t required to follow the law given to Israel?

    I don’t see that Paul needed to become a Jew to win the Jews – he was already one and when arriving in new cities his first port of call was the Jewish community, even though he saw himself as the apostle to the gentiles.

  3. Thank you for your reply. But did Paul really keep the hundreds of legal commands? He does defer to specific Jewish sensibilities, e.g., the head shaving and vow would show the Judaizers Paul was kosher (Acts 21), Timothy’s circumcision “because of the Jews in those places” (Acts 16:3). But not Titus (Gal 2:3 )! I think he was listening to the Spirit, and acted accordingly. Maybe you can show what led Paul, the author of Galatians, Romans and Philippians, to circumcise Timothy and not Titus?
    He specifically claims “to the Jews I become like a Jew in order to win Jews” (1 Cor 9:20-21). And hastens to add “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law”.
    Re the Jerusalem council. My suggestion was that, in spite of their requests of Acts 15:20, he was not always strict about idol-meat eating with the Gentiles (1 Cor 8, 11). And what do you make of Peter at this council who saw the yoke as something that “neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear” (15:10)?
    Regarding your question ‘to make a point’? I think that all depends what point we are making. My ‘point’ was that Paul did not always strictly adhere to Judaism.

  4. Hi Ian,
    Timothy was a Jew, Titus wasn’t.

    Does scripture tell us or show us that Paul didn’t keep the commandments or is that a church tradition arising from the historical desire to remove Paul from his Jewish origins as step towards separating the church from its Jewish origins? Effectively turning Christianity into a new gentile religion – forgetting that the early believers didn’t see themselves as part of a new religion but continued to consider themselves to be practicing Jews, who recognised Jesus as their promised Messiah.

  5. Timothy and Titus? Sure, Titus was a greek. But was Timothy a proper Jew if not circumcised? His mother was Jewish but his father was greek. It was because of the Jews in those places that Paul fulfilled Torah to silence the Judaizers because they saw Paul’s fellow-worker Timothy as uncircumcised. And Paul was put under intense pressure to make a Jew of Titus which he emphatically resisted.

    Your last question is probably unanswerable. I certainly maintain that “The Way” is not just a gentile thing. Paul cannot be removed from his Jewish origins. Jesus’ Way is the only way for both Jew and gentile. I am certainly with you there, dear brother.

  6. Timothy was clearly Jewish enough through his mother to be circumcised by Paul considering his passionate opposition to the idea of Gentiles needing circumcision to be made acceptible to the Jews.

    The fact that Paul circumcised Timothy, and similar references to Paul’s Jewish practices, used to confuse me – he was contradicting what I’d been taught about Christianity vs “Judaism”. But when I saw that the early Jewish church didn’t stop being Jewish, the contradiction was no longer there. The problem wasn’t with Paul or with scripture, it was with the way I’d been led to believe about Paul.

  7. Being as a Jew with Jews and as a gentile with gentiles is foremost about ways of communicating; it’s not a call to be disingenuous and pretend you continue in the ways of the Jewish people in order to trick people into following as if they can trust you. It would also have something to do with geography. The law was given to the Jews (more technically, in terms of historical time, the children of Israel) for when they would “enter the land” — so less of it is practicable in say Turkey (which wasn’t called that at the time)… as more of it is practicable (and not only practicable but required) in the Temple and its environs than even in the rest of Israel (and we’re courting trouble and confusion if we start acting like some other place is the chosen country of God whether we promote the laws of Israel in it or not or reject them). Now, in places where it is less practicable there is no reason I can’t respect someone who remembers or practices or teaches Jewish food habits (for instance). I taught a lot of these to my children. We are not required to be rude to others.

  8. In my mention of what is not only practicable but required in the Temple environs (most of all for priests, yet for anyone there to an extent), I didn’t mean there is a need to build one now and get busy with it. It was just that in the time when Paul went into the Temple, certain behavior inside it was not an option but a must (if one did in fact go in); choosing to go in showed respect for that, as Paul himself argued in his defense subsequently.

    I’ve started reading a book I found on someone else’s shelf recently; and the day after I posted what I did previously, I read in it about Essenes, Pharisees, and Jewish people in the Diaspora among the Greeks (etc.) of the time. The Essenes had an alternative central area (somewhat similar to the Temple area and in place of it as they claimed to be better) while Pharisees rather tried to get all (whom the Bible/Torah didn’t ask to do all these things) Jews to do more, as if they had to live up to the purity of the priests even if they weren’t and just lived in Israel generally. The book (if this might be “suspected” due to the implications) is not one that is in any way trying to convince people to live up to the Law given at Sanai, and I’m not going to cite it; but I’ll cite who the author cited: Neusner (A HISTORY OF THE MISHNAIC LAW OF PURITIES and FROM POLITICS TO PIETY).

    Prior to the reading, I had known from my own reading of the Bible itself that a NT story, when some Pharisees bugged some disciples of Jesus about not washing their hands before they picked grains to eat, was NOT an example of those leaders holding people to account for the Law. But I hadn’t thought of this detail… the explanation being the application maybe of more particularized Law; I thought it was a made up one instead (and it still is to a degree, being improperly thrust upon people of the land who didn’t take it upon themselves).

    I like the title you gave to this topic, Onesimus.
    And I agree that Paul didn’t become a Jew to win Jews; he was and remained a Jew.

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