Sunday, March 10, 2013

Part 1 Old Traditions Die Hard The Circumcision Controversy.

Acts 21:21. This is a straight-forward verse, that shows how Paul was received the first time he came to Jerusalem. and introduced himself to the Jerusalem church when they thought Paul was teaching Jewish converts that they should abandon the Jewish customs of circumcise and that they no longer should follow the laws as given by Moses.

In Acts 21:18-19. The James mentioned here is the brother of the Lord Jesus and the current leader of the church at Jerusalem. Paul comes to the Jerusalem church not only bearing quite a bit of money as an offering but also giving a very good report of all that he had done in ministry. He has reason to be proud (in a good way) of what the Lord has accomplished through him. In the first part of verse 20, we can see how this good news is welcomed: the elders of the Jerusalem church praise God because of this. They are pleased and happy. But, like in many aspects of life there is a "then they said..." and they have to give Paul the "bad" news, so to speak, of Paul's reputation among the Jewish believers. In other words, they have to do some "damage control" and deal with a difficult situation.

What is the situation? People have been spreading lies that Paul had been teaching Jewish converts that they should abandon the Jewish customs and that they no longer should follow the laws as given by Moses. In Jerusalem, many of the Christian believers were Jews and, as described here "zealous" for the law. 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,

What exactly was Paul teaching on this matter? We could easily spend all night talking about this, but let's look at just three passages to get a sense of what Paul believed. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. For the Jews' sake, Paul conformed to Jewish law, so as not to cause offense. However, he also made it clear that he did not believe that circumcision was a necessary requirement for God's acceptance or salvation and told the Galatian (Gentile) believers. (Galatians 5:1-6) "Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised" (1 Corinthians 7:18). This describes the delicate tight-rope Paul had to walk/

He regularly taught in his writings about the freedom they have in Christ. If the Jews wanted to do a outward ritual that was apart of their Jewish heritage that was something between that man's conscience and God and not something that they can use to judge a person's relationship with Christ as long as they were not doing it for salvation.

Back to Acts 21. The elders know that Paul needs to do something publicly to set to rest this controversy surrounding him. The next few verses describe what they ask Paul to do. Acts 21:22-24 "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.

Let's review what this involved. Read Numbers 6:1-12. Notice that sacrifices were involved here, 2 doves or 2 pigeons and a lamb per person. Paul is being asked here not only to join in the purification rites, but also to pay for the expense of the sacrifices, as well as to notify the priests when their days of purification would be fulfilled so that they could prepare to do the sacrifice. (As we'll see in verse 26 of this chapter). WHAT Paul involved with animal sacrifices after the Lamb of God had come? Wow he really did became like a Jew, to win the Jews. (1 Corinthians 9:20) Again, this goes back to the freedom he had in Christ.

All this would have been a very public act and Jews of the community would have seen that Paul was willing to participate in Jewish customs. So Paul did what was asked of him and publicly demonstrated that he had no difficulty participating in Jewish rituals or in paying for them out of his own pocket. (Acts 21:26) This is a wonderful demonstration of Christian submission and love for his Jewish brothers who were steeped in old covenant rituals and signs.

Paul was a great leader in his own right and could easily of been very offended at being asked to do these things simply to make other people happy. Yet, he submits and is obedient to the elders, even paying for the privilege! Truly a great man of God.

Does the apostle Paul kept the Law of Moses under any circumstance? From Paul's own writing we read, " 1 Corinthians 9:19 -20 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.

Although Paul knew and taught everywhere that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross and that no one was justified and obligated to keep its commands for salvation, Paul used the law that he might gain them that are under the law. When Jewish customs which would not compromise his Christian principles could be kept he did them.

Why did Paul circumcise Timothy but not Titus? To understand these two very different situations, the first thing we need to do is try to understand some of the social habits within the nation of Israel that were driving motivators. The Jewish people, like many other tribes, were determined nationality by male descent. God chose a man named Abraham and made a covenant that included being be circumcised as a covenant sign. Genesis 17:26-27 That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

If a foreigner resided with Israel and wants to celebrate the Lords Passover, and come as a member of Israel he too had to be circumcised Exodus 12:48-49 If a foreigner resides with you and wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover, every male in his household must be circumcised, and then he may participate; he will become like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat it. The same law will apply to both the native and the foreigner who resides among you."

So, if someone did not have a Jewish father but wanted to fully and legally join the Jewish people, they had to formally agree to follow all of Yahweh’s commandments For a male, that would include getting circumcised.

Timothy’s mother was Jewish and she had raised him in the Jewish practices from birth with the notable exception of circumcision. Timothy (was half-Jew and half-Greek) The Ancient Greeks and Romans valued the foreskin and were opposed to circumcision something they perceived to be a barbaric practice?

Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Had Timothy refused to do this it would have seemed to the Jews he would witness to that he refused to identify with them; that he valued Greek, polytheistic and often anti-Semitic world views. In a similar case, Paul again chose to go along with following the Law in order to assure that He was not teaching rejection of Moses. Timothy’s uncircumcised condition would have posed a substantial barrier when he tried to witness to fellow Jews from a Jewish standpoint.

On the other hand, Titus was a completely different issue and Paul flatly refused to have him circumcised, stating that the truth of the gospel was at stake; that circumcising Titus would be itself non use to the gospel of justification by faith apart from works of the law.

For Titus, it was important to show that God accepted all no matter what the external appearance may be as decided at the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15). His role was in converting Gentiles, not so much in converting Jews. He would have calmed some fears by his example, which showed you didn’t have to be circumcised to be a Christ-follower and a believer. Further, Timothy was part Jew; whereas Titus was full Greek.

Isn’t that amazing? Here in the bosom of the mother Church were ten-thousands of thousamds of messianic Jews who believed in Jesus who were still very much caught up in the Torah: “zealous for the law.” The early days of Christianity indeed had a very difficult time getting away from their long held Jewish heritage and Judaistic influences! It did not occur overnight. And the disciples used many of the things from their old Jewish heritage not for salvation but to win the Jews over to Christ.