Acts 21:17-25 – Meeting with James (Part 2)

Clint Arnold has a nice sidebar in his commentary on Acts entitled “Jerusalem: Nine Years Before the War.”  I have long thought that the political situation in Jerusalem is the key to understanding James and his chilly reception of Paul.  James was faced pressure from Jews who were Christians to be spiritual prepared for the coming Messiah and Jews who rejected Jesus as messiah but were every bit as much zealous for the Law.  Likely there were many who were unhappy with James’ decision to side with Paul and not require Gentile conversion to Judaism as a requirement of salvation.  If the political climate of Jerusalem made James’ position dangerous, it made Paul’s position on Gentiles lethal.

News of Paul’s activities would have been well known in Jerusalem.  Paul has been creating islands of Gentile Christianity in the Roman world for years now, and it is undoubtedly true that the Gentiles outnumber the Jews in many of his congregations.  Paul has confronted Peter over table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal 2) and made it clear that Gentiles are saved apart from the Law.  Perhaps the theology of Romans 9-11 was known in Jerusalem – the Jews have “stumbled” and the Gentiles have been grafted in.

Destruction_of_JerusalemTo what extent is James part of the problems which face Paul in Jerusalem?   On the one hand, Luke does not explicitly state that James believed these rumors, although he also does not show James as rejecting them either.  When Paul arrived, Jerusalem itself was a hotbed of nationalistic fever is a fact, and the Jewish church was very much a part the messianic nationalism which caused the revolt of A.D. 66.  Arriving in Jerusalem with an entourage of Gentiles who were not at all converts to Judaism was dangerous at the very least (Dunn, Beginning From Jerusalem, 961-2).

Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem probably was in spring of A.D. 56 or 57 during the procuratorship of Felix. Josephus described this period of the mid-50s as a time of intense Jewish nationalism and political unrest. One insurrection after another rose to challenge the Roman overlords, and Felix brutally suppressed them all. This only increased the Jewish hatred for Rome and inflamed anti-Gentile sentiments. It was a time when pro-Jewish sentiment was at its height, and friendliness with outsiders was viewed askance. Considering public relations, Paul’s mission to the Gentiles would not have been well received. (Polhill, Acts, 447).

For fifteen years prior to the war, Judea was ruled by mediocre Roman governors who managed Jewish affairs poorly, exacerbating the problems which eventually led to the revolt.  Judea was not a particularly important to Rome, and as a result they sent some particularly poor officials to govern the region.  Felix, for example, is described by Tacitucs as “wielding royal power with the instincts of a slave” (Hist 5.9).  Felix was recalled by Nero in A.D. 60, and while Festus was an improvement, he died in office .  Schürer described the Roman government as having “deliberately set out to drive the people to revolt” (Schürer, History of the Jewish People, 1.455).  Josephus covers the chaos of this period in Antiq. 20.16–172 and  JW 2.254-265.

It is of course impossible to know the mind of James, but it appears he is trying very hard to keep the more conservative elements of his church in fellowship with the less conservative elements – but from Paul’s perspective, the Jerusalem church was entirely conservative.  By coming to Jerusalem Paul was stepping into a situation which can only end badly for him.

8 thoughts on “Acts 21:17-25 – Meeting with James (Part 2)

  1. The last sentence in the post was Paul went into Jerusalem with a situation that could only end badly for him. The whole post had a sense of conflict and “understanding James and his chilly reception of Paul” was a good summary of the whole thing. However, when I went and read the scripture that the blog was based upon, Acts 21:17-25, the very first line is “When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly”. I might be missing something but this line is contrary to the entire feeling of the post. DO you think this line was in the Bible meaning they received us gladly as in they met our needs, gave us something to eat, but still gave us the cold shoulder about the whole “Not make the gentiles follow the rules thing”. I do not think this is the case.
    Clearly, my year and a half of Bible school do not place me as an expert on all things James vs. Paul. However, if I was in that situation, I would think that there were two men sharing a common goal that were trying to make both their views on the whole thing work. It was as if Paul was telling James, “look how free we are from the law”! James would respond with,” but we need to make sure they steer clear of food sacrificed to idols, what has been strangled, and sexual immorality”. I can’t imagine two men sold out for God and giving their entire lives to him would be so bull-headed to not take pieces of each-others beliefs. Also, Paul was not out of line because he submitted to the authority that James told him when James said to purify himself. Paul and James had the right motives and had the same vision, they just had to make it work together.
    Change can be tough and scary, but just because change is tough and scary does not mean it is a bad thing. Paul was ushering in the new age of christianity and James was ensuring that the things that were important in the past remained important in the future.

  2. There definitely seems like there is some kind of conflict between James and Paul as Paul begins evangelizing to Gentiles with the gospel revealed to him. As P. Long mentions, “Paul has confronted Peter over table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal 2) and made it clear that Gentiles are saved apart from the Law”. Peter had alrecieved his vision in Acts 10 by now and was already practicing eating with Gentiles until “certain men came from James” (Galatians 2:12). It seems like there must be a certain understanding among Peter, Paul, James, and others that James accepts Paul’s gospel (Jerusalem Council) but at the same time doesnt want to fully conform to no distinction between Jews and Gentiles whether the Law is still relevant or not. It’s good that Paul confronts Peter, but it seems like Paul needs to confront James. I know it seems like a pretty difficult task to unite Jews who have had to follow the Law for all of these years in order to be right with God with Gentiles who no longer need to be under the Law but just believe in Jesus Christ to be right with God. If Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were to unite many things would be different especially a lot of the writing of the NT.

  3. When I read this it seems like James agrees with Paul about almost everything. But when you think about having someone be apart of something that you have worked hard at, like obeying rules (keeping the law) and then your mother invites the new kid on the block to come play but tells him he does not have to obey the rules it can put weird conflicts into your head. Even if you like the new kid, there can still be a prejudice against him because he does not have to follow the rules like you do. I am having trouble explaining this, but it makes sense in my head, but I can understand why James is being weird about what Paul is saying.

  4. I feel like James is in fact trying to keep a more conservative view in his church in fellowship with less conservative elements. Paul’s perspective points out the the church in Jerusalem was entirely conservative. Paul stepped into a situation that was bad for him because of his view points and because the elements of the church and its conservationism. James does agree with Paul however about everything.

  5. I would have thought that in Jerusalem would be an ideal spot for Paul’s ministry to the gentiles but it makes sense that because there are so many Jews, Paul it would be difficult for Paul to share the gospel and specially to go up against so many religious leaders preaching the opposite and telling them that God accepts gentiles who aren’t circumcised and even if they don’t follow the law. There is a parallel between Acts chapter 15 where Paul is telling the Jerusalem council that God has come to the gentiles and no longer sees a difference between Jew and gentile, and verse 25. Paul is again telling them that they must abstain from sacrificial animals and eating animals with blood still in them, also sexual immorality and strangled animals. These four concepts Paul states time and again are very important and the people are told to avoid them. I think it is odd that James doesn’t want to accept Paul’s message and help him. his cold manner of receiving Paul is not a good example to the church but from Paul’s different ways of teaching and preaching, James perhaps didn’t like Paul’s method but he does accept the gospel as Paul is bringing it now.

  6. Paul and James wanted to work together to see Jews and Gentiles saved. Even though some of the elders may not have agreed with Paul and James to allow the Gentiles to be saved by faith alone, they were still able to talk about what God was doing among the Gentiles and praise God for it (Acts 21:19). Maybe they did know that God had set Israel aside because they had messed up so many times, and now God was giving the Gentiles salvation through faith. Paul wants to make sure that he and James are still on the same page with how Jews and Gentiles have a relationship with God. They have the same goal to see Jews and Gentiles have salvation. Regardless of the political unrest in Jerusalem, Paul and James want to work together to see people saved.

  7. I feel like this whole subject of Paul and James being in conflict over keeping rules or not keeping rules is still going on today in our church. Paul wanted to make the main focus on Jesus Christ, apart from the law we are suppose to live like this. Some people thought of that to not be right and wanted to keep the works aspects of Christianity incorporated. In my home church I see this plain as day; There is this older gent that always wears a suit and tie to sunday morning, sunday night, wednesday night and anything between. This man does not think it is okay to worship the Lord or even come into the church without a suit on if you are a professing Christian. Many other people in our church want my Dad as the lead pastor to relax his dress code in order to make other people relax.
    The main thing here is that some people love rules and feel like it is an outward testimony of inward change. If you look at James 2:14-17 YOu can see that he thought faith without the law and keeping the perfect law was of no good and an individual that looked at the law and didn’t change wasn’t going to help them at all.

  8. I believe through reading Acts 21 and 22 the true nature and hostility of the people of Jerusalem towards Paul was displayed. This is because like the post talks about, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem it was a time of “intense Jewish nationalism and political unrest.” This would have made it extremely dangerous for Paul because of his reputation for reaching out to Gentiles and pagans. In turn, this would have led to the Jews in Jerusalem being very hostile and hesitant regarding Paul’s ministry. This could have led to Paul’s attempt to prove himself a loyal Jew by purifying himself, adhering to Jewish traditions as requested by James and the elders (Acts 21:17-26). That being said through Paul’s persecution and eventual arrest, it was blatantly obvious that the crowd did not accept his declaration of being a Jew. The reason why this is so evident is because Paul declares that he is a Jew (Acts 22:3) and the crowd responds by saying, “Rid the earth of him, he is unfit to live” (Acts 22:22). This shows the true unrest in the city and extreme pride that the Jews had because they did not just accept anyone declaring they were a Jew, especially someone who was consistently preaching to the Gentiles – Paul. Even more shocking than the crowds rejection of Paul being a true Jew, was the disregard of Paul’s Roman citizenship. This shows us that the hostility in this city was so heavy that they totally disregarded what they would normally hold in high regard – Roman citizenship. This is because Paul declared to the crowd that he was a Roman citizen but they completely ignored his statement and still wanted to kill him. This is so shocking because Roman citizenship was something that was to the utmost importance in this time, because Roman citizens were held in higher regard than anyone else. This type of respect was eventually displayed by the Roman Commander solely stopping the persecution, because of Paul’s citizenship. The peoples disregard of Paul’s citizenship and rejection of his adherence to Jewish traditions, shows the true hostility in Jerusalem when Paul arrived.

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