You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Law’ tag.

paul66Based 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 (16:3) and he had made a vow while in Corinth (18:18). When he is before the Sanhedrin, Paul claims he has continued to keep the law (23:1). This is curious considering the reputation Paul has for preaching a “Law-Free” gospel among the Gentiles. To what extent he kept the boundary markers of the Law these conservatives Jews would have expected from him.

Paul claims to have a “good conscience” in 23:1. The verb Luke uses refers to living as a good citizen (πολιτεύομαι) and is the same work Paul uses in Phil 1:27 for having a “manner of life” worthy of the Gospel. In the Maccabean literature the verb refers to living one’s life in accordance with Jewish traditions (2 Macc 6:1, 11:25; 3 Macc 3:4, 4 Macc 2:8).

4 Macc 2:23“To the mind he gave the law; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.”

Paul therefore claims loyalty to the Law while at the same time evangelizing the Gentiles and teaching them they are not under the Law. It is clear from Paul’s letters he does not advocate freedom from Law as a license to sin, but when people heard Paul teaches a law-free Gospel, they appear to have thought the very worst.

In order to prove to Paul’s detractors that he is stull loyal to the Law, James proposes Paul prove sponsor a Nazarite vow for a few you men (21:22-25).   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?

 

 

I am still thinking about James, especially as he appears in Acts 21.  While this might seem a bit afield from Acts and Pauline theology, I think that James is a bit of a window into why Paul’s gospel was so radical in the first century, especially his declaration that Gentiles are saved apart from the Law.

James the JustJames seems to represent a Jewish Christianity which continues to keep the Law in a way that fulfills Matthew 5:20.  If one was to be a part of the kingdom of God, then one kept the whole Law.  The idea that the people of God need to be absolutely Holy when the messiah comes is found at Qumran.  The people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls seemed to have lived in a state of Temple Purity all of the time, a state which the priest who was serving in the Temple had to maintain.  Even the Pharisees maintained a higher level of purity than was required by the Law, although this may not have been in anticipation of the kingdom.

It is possible that the emphasis on circumcision and food laws which were so troublesome in the Galatian churches is a result of the Second Temple period emphasis on Works of the Law, boundary markers which defined who was a Jew and who was not.

Using the book of Acts and the letter James wrote, we can see that James was associated with the most Jewish form of Christianity which remained based in Jerusalem.  In Acts 15 James leads a church which includes Pharisees and priests (probably the same people, many priests were also Pharisees).  Like Paul, these men came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah and that he would return soon to judge the world and Israel and establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

There was a broad range of views on the status of the Gentiles in the coming kingdom in the Second Temple period.  For the most part, the gentiles would either be converted and included in that kingdom, or judged and excluded from that kingdom.  Some Jews thought there would be more or less mass conversions, but on the other end of the extreme, few if any gentiles would be converted (and probably most Jews would be excluded!)

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21, the issue James raises has to do with Paul’s keeping of the Law.  Some in Jerusalem think that Paul has left Judaism and no longer keeps the Law.  So even at this late date, James represents a group in Jerusalem who are Christians, but are keeping the Law.

Was Law a requirement for salvation for the Jewish believers in Jesus?  Probably not, although it is inconceivable to this group that there would be Jews who did not want to keep the Law.  Keeping the Law is the only possible response to the grace which God has given – how could you not demonstrate your justification by doing the things which God requires?  By way of analogy, there are many Baptist churches which would agree that baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but it is inconceivable that anyone who was truly a Christian would not get baptized. It is simply the natural thing to do, if you have become a Christian.  So too the Law, if you were a Jewish believer, you simply did the Law because it was the proper response to God’s grace.

Back to Paul.  I think that Paul would agree with James on Jewish use of the Law.  Where he differed (radically) was that Gentiles did not convert to Judaism in order to be “right with God,” and therefore were not required to do the Law.  James, on the other hand, likely though that Gentiles were in fact converting to Judaism, or at the very least ought to be under the sojourner laws while living in The Land (the point of Acts 15).

Rembrandt TimothyAs he begins this new phase of the Gentile mission, Paul wants to take Timothy, a young convert from Lystra, as a companion. Like Silas, Timothy is an important companion of Paul and a foundational member of the early church in Asia Minor. Timothy is well known from the letters of Paul, mentioned as a co-sender of the two Thessalonian letters, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians. He is called a “brother” (1 Thess 3:2, 2 Cor 1:1, Philemon 1:1) and a “fellow worker” (1 Thess 3:2, Rom 16:21). In addition, two letters are sent to Timothy, and he is mentioned in the greetings-section of Hebrews.

The problem is that Timothy’s father was a Gentile and he was never circumcised. That Timothy’s Jewish mother would marry a Greek is unusual, but not unknown. James Dunn suggests that the fact Timothy was not circumcised might be an indication that Eunice has already ceased practicing Judaism and did not circumcise her son. But 1 Tim 3:15 implies that Timothy was taught the Scripture from childhood by his mother and grandmother. Perhaps his father refused to circumcise his son. It is at least possible that he was God-fearing Gentile himself and allowed his wife to raise his son “more or less Jewish” with the exception of circumcision.

This is obviously speculation, but it is not clear from Acts 16 that Timothy’s mother was married to a Greek. It is at least possible that the husband was dead or had abandoned the family at some point, or possibly that there was never a marriage in the first place.

Why does Paul circumcise Timothy? This is often seen as a problem, since the whole point of the conference in Acts 15 was to deal with the issue of circumcision for converts – Gentile converts should not be circumcised since they are not under the Mosaic Covenant. Some scholars have suggested that Paul is inconsistent in the application of the decision of the council, or that Luke’s portrayal of Paul is inconsistent with his letters. Scholars have often wondered if the Paul of Galatians would have circumcise Timothy.

The circumstances of Timothy’s birth as Luke describes them in Acts 16:3 is the solution to the problem. While his mother was a Jew, his father was a Greek. The ruling that the one’s status as a Jew was traced through the mother’s line dates back to the time of Ezra. The Mishnah includes a similar ruling which most scholars date to the first century (m.Qidd 3:12).  While it is not absolutely certain that matrilinear descent was always followed in the first century, there appears to be enough evidence to say that likely was (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 664, n.23).  From the perspective of most observant Jews in Asia Minor, Timothy was a Jew, not a Gentile.

If it is a fact that Timothy was, with respect to Jewish law, a Jew not a Gentile, then he ought to be circumcised when he accepted Jesus as Messiah and savior. Luke also tells us that the reason Paul circumcised him was pressure from the Jews in Lystra and Iconium. They presumably knew that Timothy was not circumcised and they would have made Timothy’s status with respect to the covenant the central issue whenever Paul attempted to preach the Gospel in a Jewish community. (I think that it is wrong to say that Timothy was “forced” to be circumcised, he was in agreement with Paul on this matter!)

Does Paul “do the right thing” in requiring Timothy to keep the Law, even though he argues passionately in Galatians that those whoa re “in Christ” are not “under Law?”

One of the most interesting things about the Jerusalem meeting is that it is James who appears as the key leader and is described as rendering a decision on the matter of Gentiles and the Law (Acts 15:13-21). The structure of the Jerusalem community seems to center around elders, and James appears to be the leader of this group of elders. To take up a thread from earlier in the book, the Jerusalem community is living like a new Israel. In the early history of Israel, Moses led as a prophet, but through a council of 70 elders.

council-of-jerusalemWithin this community there are some who are “more conservative” with respect to the Law, primarily Pharisees (v.5). These Pharisees accept Jesus as the Messiah, but consider the Gentiles who are coming to Christ as a result of Paul’s mission as “joining Israel.” If the community thought of itself as new Israel, then Gentiles in Paul’s churches were like Gentiles who joined Israel in the Hebrew Bible. The ought to “convert” and accept Jewish Law and practice.

Luke intends his description of the meeting in Acts 15 to show to Theophilus that the church is an orderly independent entity that functions in a way that is similar to the Greco-Roman world. A question that effects the whole is presented to an assembly, which debates that issue and makes a decision that the whole accepts (Witherington, Acts, 451). Luke describes a report from Peter and Barnabas, explaining that the Holy Spirit has come upon Gentiles as it is the Jews at Pentecost, and that miracles are being done by the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles.

James states that it is not right to “trouble” the Gentiles with the Law. The verb παρενοχλέω is rare in the New Testament, only used in this passage. It does appears in 2 Macc 11:31 in a text describing the Jews being permitted to “enjoy their own food and laws” without being troubled by the Greek authorities. In that case, the Jews were not to be “troubled” over their keeping of boundary markers like circumcision or food laws, here in Acts the Gentiles are not to have the Law imposed upon them.

The position of James in the Jerusalem council bears on the date of the writing of the Epistle of James. While this cannot be stated too dogmatically, it appears that the letter of James written before the Council as well. He is clearly writing to Jews, especially those Jews that are living outside of Palestine. He is also dealing with the same sorts of issues, how do we “keep the law” in the new age? The fact that he deals with the same language as Paul (“justified by faith”) is remarkable, as if he has heard Paul’s teaching and is trying to clarify it for the Jewish audience.

Perhaps James is the best to make the statement since he stands between the two parties, the Gentile Party represented by Paul, and the Circumcision party represented by the Pharisees. It is hard to know just how much “power” James has at this point, but the resolution seems to keep both sides happy.

I wonder if this solution really satisfied everyone, since Paul never (specifically) mentions it in his letters and he continues to have trouble with Judaizers.

YokePeter reports his experience with Gentile salvation and argues that requiring Gentiles to keep the Law is placing an unnecessary yoke upon them (Acts 15:7-11).  He first briefly reminds the assembly of his encounter with Cornelius, a conversion which was confirmed by evidence from the Holy Spirit. At the time this was a shock to Peter and his companions, as well as to the Jerusalem community. Cornelius received the Spirit before he converted to Judaism. In hindsight, this may be the reason that the Spirit comes upon him even before baptism, so that there can be no question that Cornelius was saved apart from conversion.

When Peter describes the Law as a “yoke” on the Gentiles he is not necessarily criticizing the Law. In Judaism, the idea of being “yoked” to the Law is a positive image, although there is often the implication of completeness – if you are yoked to the Law, you are required to keep it all (Bock, Acts, 501).  To live under the yoke of the Torah or yoke of Wisdom was to live as God intended!

Sirach 51:26 Put your neck under (wisdom’s) yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.

PsSol 7.8-9  For you will have compassion on the people Israel forever  and you will not reject (them); And we are under your yoke forever, and (under) the whip of your discipline.

m.Aboth 3:5 R. Nehunya b. Haqqaneh says, “From whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah do they remove the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor. And upon whoever removes from himself the yoke of the Torah do they lay the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor.”

m.Ber 2.2 Said R. Joshua b. Qorha, “Why does [the passage of] Shema precede [that of] And it shall come to pass [if you keep my commandments]? So that one may first accept upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterwards may accept the yoke of the commandments.

Despite being given the Law, Peter says that  forefathers were never able to “bear the yoke.” Luke 11:46 uses a similar phrase with respect to the traditions of the Pharisees, so it is possible Peter has  “beyond the Torah” traditions in mind.  I really cannot see the requirement of circumcision for converts to Judaism  as one of these sorts of burdens, however.

What is more, Peter calls the imposition of law on the Gentiles “testing God.”  Luke used πειράζω in 5:9 (Sapphira “tests” the Holy Spirit”).  To “test God” is to invite disaster. Peter has already learned that if God has accepted a Gentile without circumcision, then it is dangerous for the Jerusalem community to require it now.

Peter therefore is saying that God saves both Jew and Gentile by faith.  But God has only given the Law to Israel, not the Gentiles. He agrees with Paul’s claim that Gentiles are not converts to Judaism, although he may stop short of agreeing that Jews and Gentiles both are converts to something new, a new people of God which Paul will later call the “body of Christ” (Eph 3:1-6).  Peter is not saying that Jews ought to disregard Law, but only that Gentiles ought not be given this additional burden.

I am still thinking about James, especially as he appears in Acts 21.  While this might seem a bit afield from Acts and Pauline theology, I think that James is a bit of a window into why Paul’s gospel was so radical in the first century, especially his declaration that Gentiles are saved apart from the Law.

James seems to represent a Jewish Christianity which continues to keep the Law in a way that fulfills Matthew 5:20.  If one was to be a part of the kingdom of God, then one kept the whole Law.  The idea that the people of God need to be absolutely Holy when the messiah comes is found at Qumran.  The people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls seemed to have lived in a state of Temple Purity all of the time, a state which the priest who was serving in the Temple had to maintain.  Even the Pharisees maintained a higher level of purity than was required by the Law, although this may not have been in anticipation of the kingdom.

It is possible that the emphasis on circumcision and food laws which were so troublesome in the Galatian churches is a result of the Second Temple period emphasis on Works of the Law, boundary markers which defined who was a Jew and who was not.

Using the book of Acts and the letter James wrote, we can see that James was associated with the most Jewish form of Christianity which remained based in Jerusalem.  In Acts 15 James leads a church which includes Pharisees and priests (probably the same people, many priests were also Pharisees).  Like Paul, these men came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah and that he would return soon to judge the world and Israel and establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

There was a broad range of views on the status of the Gentiles in the coming kingdom in the Second Temple period.  For the most part, the gentiles would either be converted and included in that kingdom, or judged and excluded from that kingdom.  Some Jews thought there would be more or less mass conversions, but on the other end of the extreme, few if any gentiles would be converted (and probably most Jews would be excluded!)

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21, the issue James raises has to do with Paul’s keeping of the Law.  Some in Jerusalem think that Paul has left Judaism and no longer keeps the Law.  So even at this late date, James represents a group in Jerusalem who are Christians, but are keeping the Law.

Was Law a requirement for salvation for the Jewish believers in Jesus?  Probably not, although it is inconceivable to this group that there would be Jews who did not want to keep the Law.  Keeping the Law is the only possible response to the grace which God has given – how could you not demonstrate your justification by doing the things which God requires?  By way of analogy, there are many Baptist churches which would agree that baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but it is inconceivable that anyone who was truly a Christian would not get baptized. It is simply the natural thing to do, if you have become a Christian.  So too the Law, if you were a Jewish believer, you simply did the Law because it was the proper response to God’s grace.

Back to Paul.  I think that Paul would agree with James on Jewish use of the Law.  Where he differed (radically) was that Gentiles did not convert to Judaism in order to be “right with God,” and therefore were not required to do the Law.  James, on the other hand, likely though that Gentiles were in fact converting to Judaism, or at the very least ought to be under the sojourner laws while living in The Land (the point of Acts 15).

Follow Reading Acts on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,749 other followers

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

Christian Theology

%d bloggers like this: