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Paul GraffitiAfter Paul participated in the vow with the Jewish Christians, Asian Jews stirred up trouble for Paul.  These Jews begin by spreading the common misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching, that he is anti-Jew.  Paul is not anti-Jew in the sense that he wants Jews to stop being Jewish, he wants them to stop relying on the Law for salvation.  To the orthodox Jews, this is worthy of death.  The charge the bring against Paul is that he brought a Gentile into the Temple.  This would be a serious offense, worthy of death (for the Gentile, as well!)  The Jews did not allow women or Gentiles into the central courts of the Temple, believing them to be unclean.

Is this anger credible, or is Luke exaggerating the situation for rhetorical reasons? The evidence seems indicate that there were zealots in Jerusalem in the mid first century who were willing to use violence to guard the sanctity of the Temple.

m.Sanhedrin 9:6 He who stole a sacred vessel [of the cult (Num. 4:7)], and he who curses using the name of an idol, and he who has sexual relations with an Aramaean woman— zealots beat him upon the spot. A priest who performed the rite in a state of uncleanness— his brothers, the priests, do not bring him to court. But the young priests take him outside the courtyard and break his head with clubs. A non-priest who served in the Temple— R. Aqiba says, “[He is put to death] by strangling [Num. 18:7].” And sages say, “[He is put to death] at the hands of Heaven.” (Translation from Neusner)

Philo, Spec.Laws 2.253 And such a man will never entirely escape, for there are innumerable beings looking on, zealots for and keepers of the national laws, of rigid justice, prompt to stone such a criminal, and visiting without pity all such as work wickedness, unless, indeed, we are prepared to say that a man who acts in such a way as to dishonour his father or his mother is worthy of death, but that he who behaves with impiety towards a name more glorious than even the respect due to one’s parents, is to be borne with as but a moderate offender.

Luke points out that the charge is not true, that the Gentile that had been seen with Paul did not enter the temple.  The charge comes from “Jews from the province of Asia,” quite possibly from Ephesus.  They would have been the most likely pilgrims to recognize Trophimus as a Gentile convert and associate of Paul.  These men are never called disciples, so the implication is that they are Jewish pilgrims.

If this is true, there is a hint here that the Jews from Ephesus were anti-Paul and quite willing to stir up trouble for him in Jerusalem.  I have speculated earlier that Paul’s time in Ephesus was more troubled than Luke lets on; this is another bit of evidence in that regard.   Perhaps Paul was in prison on Ephesus after all!

That Diaspora Jews are interested in rioting in the Temple over potential desecration indicates that Diaspora Jews cannot be considered “liberal” on Law.  These are people who are very zealous for the traditions of the Law and the sanctity of the temple and are willing execute Paul for breaking the sanctity of the Temple.  Like Paul before his conversion, the Hellenistic Jews are willing to use force if necessary to defend the Law and the Temple.

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.

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem, he meets with “James and the Elders.”  As it turns out, there are many Jews in Jerusalem who are believers in the Gospel and are still  following the laws and traditions of the Jews (21:20).  This is not unexpected– Jesus did not come to destroy the Law and does not teach anything that might be taken as a rejection of the Law or Temple worship.  While Jesus may have rejected the traditions of the Pharisees, he lived as any Jew might have in the first century.

temple2James describes the Jerusalem church as very large, the NIV has “thousands,” translating the Greek “myriads.” While this might seem like a bit of hyperbole, there were several thousand people mentioned in Acts 2 and 3, so it is not unlikely that there have been additional converts in the many years that have passed.

But there is a problem.  There are some among their church that think that Paul is a false teacher  by teaching that Gentiles should turn away from the Law (vs. 21).  Is this true?  Certainly Paul taught that Gentiles were not under the law, in fact, in Galatians he is quite strong in his condemnation of these same zealots who were teaching the Gentiles to keep the law. With respect to Jews, it is true that we do not have a text which clearly indicates that he told Jews to continue keeping the law and traditions of Israel. It may or may not be the case that Paul considered ceremonial law and traditions matters of indifference.

Witherington seems to allow for more possibility that Paul taught that traditions were not required.  Certainly Galatians could be read as a repudiation of the Law, although it seems that Paul only has in mind Gentile converts.  In the end, that may still be the heart of the problem – what Paul has created is something new and different.  People are converting to a belief in Jesus as savior apart from Law rather than converting to Judaism or converting to a particular messianic conviction within Judaism (Acts, 648).

Based on Paul’s behavior in Acts, it may well be he would have told the Jews to continue keeping the Law.  He required Timothy be circumcised, for example, and he had made a vow while in Corinth. Later he will claim that he has continued to keep the law, although one wonders to what extent he kept the boundary markers of the Law these conservatives Jews would have expected from him.

James proposes that Paul prove his loyalty by submitting to the Nazarite vow along with a few men (vs. 22-25).   Dunn rightly observes that James does not deny the rumor: “the advice of James and the elders is carefully calibrated.  They do not disown the rumors.  Instead they suggest that Paul disprove the rumors by his own action, by showing that he himself still lived in observance of the Law” (Dunn, Acts, 287).  The fact that James drops out of the story after Paul’s arrest is a mystery – why does James not come to the aid of Paul?  No Christians are willing to defend Paul when he goes before the Sanhedrin.  Why is this?  It seems as though Paul has less support in Jerusalem in A.D. 58 than we might have expected.

Does Paul make a mistake in sponsoring the vow in the Temple?  Some people think it would have been unlike Paul to “keep Law” at this point in his career.  What is his ultimate motivation for doing this?  Does he really need to “prove himself” to be faithful at this late date?

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.

To 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.

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem, he meets with “James and the Elders.”  As it turns out, there are many Jews in Jerusalem who are believers in the Gospel and are still  following the laws and traditions of the Jews (21:20).  This is not unexpected– Jesus did not come to destroy the Law and does not teach anything that might be taken as a rejection of the Law or Temple worship.  While Jesus may have rejected the traditions of the Pharisees, he lived as any Jew might have in the first century.

James describes the Jerusalem church as very large, the NIV has “thousands,” translating the Greek “myriads.” While this might seem like a bit of hyperbole, there were several thousand people mentioned in Acts 2 and 3, so it is not unlikely that there have been additional converts in the many years that have passed.

But there is a problem.  There are some among their church that think that Paul is a false teacher  by teaching that Gentiles should turn away from the Law (vs. 21).  Is this true?  Certainly Paul taught that Gentiles were not under the law, in fact, in Galatians he is quite strong in his condemnation of these same zealots who were teaching the Gentiles to keep the law. With respect to Jews, it is true that we do not have a text which clearly indicates that he told Jews to continue keeping the law and traditions of Israel. It may or may not be the case that Paul considered ceremonial law and traditions matters of indifference.

Witherington seems to allow for more possibility that Paul taught that traditions were not required.  Certainly Galatians could be read as a repudiation of the Law, although it seems that Paul only has in mind Gentile converts.  In the end, that may still be the heart of the problem – what Paul has created is something new and different.  People are converting to a belief in Jesus as savior apart from Law rather than converting to Judaism or converting to a particular messianic conviction within Judaism (Acts, 648).

Based on Paul’s behavior in Acts, it may well be he would have told the Jews to continue keeping the Law.  He required Timothy be circumcised, for example, and he had made a vow while in Corinth. Later he will claim that he has continued to keep the law, although one wonders to what extent he kept the boundary markers of the Law these conservatives Jews would have expected from him.

James proposes that Paul prove his loyalty by submitting to the Nazarite vow along with a few men (vs. 22-25).   Dunn rightly observes that James does not deny the rumor: “the advice of James and the elders is carefully calibrated.  They do not disown the rumors.  Instead they suggest that Paul disprove the rumors by his own action, bu showing that he himself still lived in observance of the Law” (Dunn, Acts, 287).  The fact that James drops out of the story after Paul’s arrest is a mystery – why does James not come to the aid of Paul?  No Christians are willing to defend Paul when he goes before the Sanhedrin.  Why is this?  It seems as though Paul has less support in Jerusalem in A.D. 58 than we might have expected.

The audio for this evening’s sermon is available here, as is a PDF handout.  Remember that you can leave comments and questions at the bottom of the page, or by clicking on the comments link just above this paragraph.  That link only appears after the first comment.

After Paul participated in the vow with the Jewish Christians, Asian Jews stirred up trouble for Paul.  These Jews begin by spreading the common mis-understanding of Paul’s teaching, that he is anti-Jew.  Paul is not anti-Jew in the sense that he wants Jews to stop being Jewish, he wants them to stop relying on the Law for salvation.  To the orthodox Jews, this is worthy of death.  The charge the bring against Paul is that he brought a Gentile into the Temple.  This would be a serious offense, worthy of death (for the Gentile, as well!)  The Jews did not allow women or Gentiles into the central courts of the Temple, believing them to be unclean.

Is this anger credible, or is Luke exaggerating the situation for rhetorical reasons? The evidence seems indicate that there were zealots in Jerusalem in the mid first century who were willing to use violence to guard the sanctity of the Temple.

m.Sanhedrin 9:6 He who stole a sacred vessel [of the cult (Num. 4:7)], and he who curses using the name of an idol, and he who has sexual relations with an Aramaean woman— zealots beat him upon the spot. A priest who performed the rite in a state of uncleanness— his brothers, the priests, do not bring him to court. But the young priests take him outside the courtyard and break his head with clubs. A non-priest who served in the Temple— R. Aqiba says, “[He is put to death] by strangling [Num. 18:7].” And sages say, “[He is put to death] at the hands of Heaven.” (Translation from Neusner)

Philo, Spec.Laws 2.253 And such a man will never entirely escape, for there are innumerable beings looking on, zealots for and keepers of the national laws, of rigid justice, prompt to stone such a criminal, and visiting without pity all such as work wickedness, unless, indeed, we are prepared to say that a man who acts in such a way as to dishonour his father or his mother is worthy of death, but that he who behaves with impiety towards a name more glorious than even the respect due to one’s parents, is to be borne with as but a moderate offender.

Luke points out that the charge is not true, that the Gentile that had been seen with Paul did not enter the temple.  The charge comes from “Jews from the province of Asia,” quite possibly from Ephesus.  They would have been the most likely pilgrims to recognize Trophimus as a Gentile convert and associate of Paul.  These men are never called disciples, so the implication is that they are Jewish pilgrims.

If this is true, there is a hint here that the Jews from Ephesus were anti-Paul and quite willing to stir up trouble for him in Jerusalem.  We have speculated earlier that Paul’s time in Ephesus was more troubled than Luke lets on; this is another bit of evidence in that regard.   Perhaps Paul was in prison on Ephesus after all!

That Diaspora Jews are interested in rioting in the Temple over potential desecration indicates that Diaspora Jews cannot be considered “liberal” on Law.  These are people who are very zealous for the traditions of the Law and the sanctity of the temple and are willing execute Paul for breaking the sanctity of the Temple.  Like Paul before his conversion, the Hellenistic Jews are willing to use force if necessary to defend the Law and the Temple.

In his recent book on the early church, James Dunn observes that Luke devotes about one-quarter of his book to the arrest and trials of Paul (Beginning from Jerusalem, 958). This tells us a great deal about Luke’s agenda in the book of Acts – his interest is in Paul as the apostle responsible for the westward expansion of the church. He spends more time describing Paul’s “passion” than he does any other character in the book, including Jesus! We have a chapter on Stephen the first martyr, a brief notice of John the Baptist’s death, and only a line on James the apostle. The fate of the other members of the apostolic community are simply not mentioned by Luke.

In his trials in Acts 21-28, Paul fulfills his commission to be the light to the Gentiles, bringing the message of Christ the Gentiles, kings and sons of Israel (9:15-16, repeated in 22:15-21, 26:18-19). He will stand before the people of Jerusalem, Roman governors (Felix and Festus), and the King of the Jews, Agrippa II.

But what is it that happens in Jerusalem? The Jews report that there are extremists among their church that think that Paul has “apostisized”, that he is teaching that Gentiles should turn away from the Law (vs. 21). Is this true?

It is true that Paul taught that Gentiles were not under the law, in fact, in Galatians he is quite strong in his condemnation of these same zealots who were teaching the Gentiles to keep the law. With respect to Jews, it is true that we do not have a text which clearly indicates that he told Jews to continue keeping the law and traditions of Israel. It may or may not be the case that Paul considered ceremonial law and traditions matters of indifference.

Based on Paul’s behavior in Acts, it may well be he would have told the Jews to continue keeping the Law. He required Timothy be circumcised, for example, and he had made a vow while in Corinth. Later he will claim that he has continued to keep the law, although one wonders to what extent he kept the boundary markers of the Law these conservatives Jews would have expected from him.

Ben Witherington seems to allow for more possibility that Paul taught that traditions were not required (Acts, 648). Certainly Galatians could be read as a repudiation of the Law, although it seems that Paul only has in mind Gentile converts. In the end, that may still be the heart of the problem – what Paul has created is something new and different. People are converting to a belief in Jesus as savior apart from Law rather than converting to Judaism or converting to a particular messianic conviction within Judaism.

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