Sunday, March 10, 2013

Part 2 Old Traditions Die Hard The Circumcision Controversy.

Chapter15 of Acts records the first intimation of the great controversy in first century apostolic church, and of which we find traces in many of Paul's letters, the question whether Christianity was merely a development of the Mosaic laws or was it a New Dispensation that had supplanted the Old and taken its place.

At first the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem and Judea remained strictly Jewish, still keeping the ordinances of Moses. Acts 21:20 “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law.

There was a dispute between the men from Judea and Paul and Barnabas. Acts 15:1 Certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” These Jewish Christians (often called “Pharisees”) came to the congregation in Antioch and taught that Gentiles may become Christians, but only after first becoming Jews, and submitting to all Jewish rituals, including circumcision. "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

It was very difficult for some Jewish Christians to accept that Gentiles could be brought (into the church) as equal members without first coming through the Law of Moses. As a side note many today have been taught "Israel is not the Church and the Church is not Israel. A lot Gentile idea on eschatology are built upon preconceived ideas. Yet in Scripture itself, one is surprised to discover that Israel in the Old Testament is repeatedly called the "church." Stephen tips us off to this fact when he calls Israel (the assembly) in the wilderness. (Acts 7:37, 38) “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in (the assembly) in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. Ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the New Testament, is often used to refer to Israel in the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX).

“It was one thing to accept the occasional God-fearing gentile into the church, someone already in sympathy with Jewish ways; it was quite another thing to welcome large numbers of Gentiles who had no regard for the Mosaic, law and no intention of keeping it. These Jewish Christians were from Judea, and were not content to keep their beliefs to themselves, but felt compelled to persuade other Christians.

By their teaching, these certain men from Judea made a negative judgment on all of Paul’s and Barnabas’ missionary endeavors. On their recent missionary journeys Paul and Barnabas founded churches among the Gentiles without bringing them under the Law of Moses. These certain men from Judea said Paul and Barnabas were all wrong in doing this. Act 15:2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

You can imagine there was no small dissension and dispute with them. Paul and Barnabas saw God work so powerfully through the Gentiles and would not abandon that work easily. They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem. As Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, they found plenty of other Christians who rejoiced at what God did among the Gentiles. This was in contrast to the certain Jews from Judea. (Act 15:3)

Paul and Barnabas arrive to Jerusalem to have the matter settled by the apostles and elders and they reported all things that God had done with them. The Jews from Judea re-state their teaching. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

If the Pharisees believed anything, they believed one could be justified before God by keeping the law. For a Pharisee to really be a Christian, it would take more than an acknowledgment that Jesus was Messiah; he would have to forsake his attempts to justify himself by the keeping of the law and accept the work of Jesus as the basis of his justification. These Pharisees up to this point had not learned the work of Jesus as the basis of his justification as Paul himself was a former Pharisee (Philippians 3:5) who became a Christian.. Paul wrote: knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16) These Pharisees who had become Christians had to do the same thing: Turn from their efforts to earn their way before God by keeping the law, and look to Jesus.

In the midst of a great dispute, the apostle Peter speaks to the issue. Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Act 15:7)

In saying, “Made no distinction between us and them,” Peter is referring straight from his vision of the clean and unclean animals, from which God taught him this principle: God has shown to me that I should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28). Those of the sect of the Pharisees who believed thought that the Gentiles were inherently “common” or “unclean” (in the sense of unholy) and had to be made holy and clean by submitting to the Law of Moses.

Peter wisely answered answers their objection. Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? Peter was correct when he observed that the law was a yoke which neither their fathers nor they were able to bear. At the birth of the nation at Mount Sinai, they broke the law by worshipping the golden calf. At the end of Old Testament history, they still broke the law by disregarding the Sabbath and marrying pagan women (Nehemiah 13). From beginning to end, Israel could not bear the yoke of the law.