Tag Archives: Acts

What Church Taught Me About Jews and the Torah

paul-editedThen after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

Galatians 2:1-3 (NASB)

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Acts 16:1-3 (NASB)

I know I’ve written in this before, but during Pastor’s sermon in church this morning (as I write this), I had a small revelation. Pastor was preaching on Acts 16:1-5 and in the course of his preaching, I had plenty of material to take notes on and plenty of points where I know Pastor and I don’t see eye to eye.

But of course, he had to bring up the issue of Paul’s circumcision of Timothy, even though he believes that after the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish believers were no longer obligated to observe the Torah mitzvot. Fortunately, he contrasted the circumcision of Timothy with the following:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Galatians 5:1-6 (NASB)

We are pretty sure Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians before the Acts 15 decision of the Jerusalem Council and thus before the events involving Timothy in Acts 16. But comparing these two statements makes Paul seem like a hypocrite, doesn’t it? If circumcision and non-circumcision mean nothing, why did he circumcise Timothy? Because he gave into Jewish peer pressure and was worried about what Jewish people would say of Timothy when he was accompanying Paul? That doesn’t sound like the no-nonsense, no compromises Paul that I know.

Remember, the question in Acts 15:1-2 was whether or not the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to enter into the Jewish religious community of “the Way” as co-participants and disciples of Jesus. The Council’s final legal decision (Acts 15:19-22) which was recorded in a letter (Acts 15:23-29) that was later transmitted to the various Gentiles in different communities in the diaspora (Acts 15:30-32, Acts 16:4-5). Gentiles were allowed to enter the Messianic congregation without being circumcised.

It’s been said in some Christian commentaries that Paul also encouraged Jews to give up on circumcising their children. He was even accused (falsely) of this by other Jews (Acts 21:21). In trial after trial, Paul defended himself and said he had done nothing against Jewish or Roman law (Acts 25:8, 28:17). In his sermon today, my Pastor even agreed that it was right for Jewish believers to be circumcised as a requirement of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). However, he says that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants aren’t directly connected and while the Abrahamic covenant was meant to be permanent, the Mosaic was always intended to be temporary.

Except he’s got a few problems.

The first is that in the Tanakh (Old Testament), no where do I read that it was God’s intension to “expire” the Torah upon the entrance of Messiah (or at Messiah’s death). In fact, I get the very clear intension that God took the Torah and Torah observance by Jews quite seriously, and meant for Jewish Torah observance to be continual.

Also, there’s what Paul said in Galatians 5:3:

And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.

Paul inexorably links circumcision (he was talking about ritual conversion to Judaism, but I’ll also read into it the circumcision of people born Jewish) to obligation to observe all of the Torah mitzvot.

Paul by RembrantIn another blog post, I attempted to establish a continuing Jewish obligation to observe the mitzvot based on the past commands of God in the Torah and the future Messianic prophesies we read in the Tanakh. Dr. Stuart Dauermann, interestingly enough, posted something quite similar on Facebook (which I can’t find at the moment) making the same argument.

The “weakness” of my argument, if you will, was in not being able to locate support in the Apostolic scriptures, especially something written by Paul, that firmly establishes continued Torah observance for Jews during that time frame and extending into our present era…that is, until now. Ironically, I have my Pastor to thank for making the connection, not that he meant to.

In Galatians 5 and in other portions of that letter, Paul firmly links circumcision to Torah observance, warning the Gentiles (and presumably the Jews) in the churches in Galatia, that being ethnically Jewish or a Jewish convert does not justify you before God. Only faith and grace does that (salvation is not contingent upon being circumcised or not being circumcised). He also says that anyone who is circumcised (because they are a Jewish male or are a Gentile male undergoing conversion) is obligated to observe the entire Torah. So far so good.

Next, in Galatians 2, we see Paul deliberately using the Greek man Titus as an example of a Gentile believer who does not require circumcision (conversion to Judaism and obligatory Torah obedience) in order to be saved and be an equal co-participant in the community of “the Way.”

In Acts 15 and confirmed in Acts 21:25, we see a binding legal decision rendered by the authorities of the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem that the Gentiles do not have to be circumcised (convert) and obey the Law of Moses in order to be justified before God and to be co-equal community members.

And in Acts 16 Paul circumcises Timothy because he has a Jewish mother and, if we believe Paul in Galatians 5, then the act of circumcision (which is a covenant requirement for all Jewish males) must also confirm that Timothy is (and probably always was since he’s considered Jewish) obligated to keep all of the Torah.

We don’t know the reasons he wasn’t circumcised on the eighth day. Timothy’s mother married a Gentile. Perhaps his Greek father forbade it. Perhaps Timothy’s mother was an “assimilated” Jewish person, living in the Diaspora (was this a problem for many Jews living in the Diaspora in those days?), having fallen away from Jewish practices (which seems odd, even to me, because she was such a faithful believer and Jewish faith in Messiah at that point in history was a very Jewish way of life). We probably won’t know the answer to these questions this side of Messiah’s return, but we do know that Paul circumcised Timothy because his mother was Jewish and everyone knew Timothy’s mother was Jewish.

And this isn’t the only example of a Jewish man being circumcised “late in the game,” so to speak.

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood”—because of the circumcision.

Exodus 4:24-26 (NASB)

Moses too was living apart from his people. He married Zipporah, a Midianite woman, fathered a son by her, lived among Midianites, was a shepherd in Midian for forty years…

…and in all those years, he never circumcised his son. Even Zipporah knew better, at least in time to prevent a disaster.

So I’ll suggest that we can’t say Timothy not being circumcised on the eighth day was incredibly unusual, especially for Jewish people living away from the Jewish community (and according to some news articles, this is a problem among the Jewish people today).

I know, my Pastor isn’t likely to accept my arguments, but I think they’re good ones. I think they should be taken seriously. I think we can establish from the Biblical record, in Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Apostolic Scriptures, that the Torah was founded by God for the ancient Israelites and for all their descendants:

Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today…

Deuteronomy 29:14-15 (NASB)

Rolling the Torah ScrollVirtually all reliable commentators agree that the ones with whom the covenant was made, yet who were not there at Sinai, were all the future generations of Israel, the Jewish people, projected forward in time.

The Torah speaks of the expectation of Israel to observe the Torah of Moses from the point it was given at Sinai and into the future. The Prophets speak of the future Messianic Age, where Torah will be observed as it was in days of old, and Messiah, the Prince, will offer sacrifices at the Temple. And Paul says that anyone circumcised, which is definitely any convert to Judaism and any Jewish male under the covenant obligation to be circumcised, is also obligated to observe the entire Torah. James and the Council made a legally binding ruling that only the Gentiles in the Jewish movement of Messiah were exempt from circumcision and full Torah obligation.

It really doesn’t get more plain than that. We have witnesses in the ancient past at Sinai, in the day of Paul, and prophetic witnesses that speak to the future, all of them, every single one, telling us that those obligated to be circumcised because of Abraham, the Jewish people, must all perform the Torah mitzvot because of covenant requirements.

All of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have a covenant obligation to be circumcised. The descendants of Jacob stood at Sinai and received the Mosaic covenant obligation. The later covenant adds to the earlier one. Paul understood that one leads to another. The Church must catch up with this understanding.

It’s all in the Bible. All you have to do is look.

As They Were Ministering To The Lord

prayingWhile they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Acts 13:2 (NRSV)

Last Sunday, I was wondering how Pastor Randy was going to preach for an entire hour on just three verses from the Bible. He told me there was a lot packed in those three verses (Acts 13:1-3) and he was right. However, his explanation of the Greek word translated as “worshiping” in the above quoted verse was especially interesting.

According to TheFreeDictionary.com, the word “leitourgia” (which is rendered as “worshiping” above) is related to the English word “liturgy:”

  1. A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship.
  2. often Liturgy Christianity The sacrament of the Eucharist.

[Late Latin ltrgia, from Greek leitourgi, public service, from leitourgos, public servant, from earlier litourgos : liton, town hall (from los, dialectal variant of los, people) + ergon, work; see werg- in Indo-European roots.]

That’s a lot to pack into the word “worshiping” and reading that verse in English totally obscures the meaning of what’s being said. It might have made more sense to translate the word as “ministered” (which the King James Version actually does) in order to render the meaning more accurately.

According to Pastor Randy, the sense of the word can refer to the duty of the Levitical Priests in the Temple in Jerusalem and as the dictionary definition states above, addresses the discharge of a public office.

But what was that about liturgy again?

Pastor Randy didn’t touch on this, but what may also have been communicated by Luke when he used the word “leitourgia” was that the worshiping of God was being performed using liturgical prayer, or more specifically, a Jewish prayer service.

This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility if we consider that the “church” in Syrian Antioch was actually a synagogue servicing believing Jews and Gentiles. What other model for worship of the Jewish Messiah would they have?

The other day I wrote a blog post citing New Testament scholars Larry Hurtado and Paul Trebilco on the topic of “Early Christian Identity.” That source, along with many others I’ve quoted from over the many months I’ve been writing this blog, continued to confirm that the early Jewish believers in the Jewish Messiah unquestionably identified themselves as Jews worshiping (ministering, praying liturgically, providing a service to God) within a wholly Jewish context.

The Huffington Post recently published an article called The Apostle Paul Lived and Died as a Dedicated Jew written by psychologist, college professor, and journalist Bernard Starr, who expands greatly on this topic in his book Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew

PaulMost Christians and Jews don’t have a problem with the idea that Jesus was a Jew and lived a completely Jewish lifestyle, but when Paul comes up in conversation, most folks aren’t really sure who he was or what he was up to. Actually, I’m being generous. Most Christians and Jews actually believe Paul took the Jewish teachings of Jesus and made up a new religion called “Christianity.”

In the article I mentioned above, Starr writes:

It’s widely acknowledged that Jesus was a thoroughly practicing Jew throughout his life. Anglican Priest Bruce Chilton expressed that conclusion explicitly and concisely in his book “Rabbi Jesus”: “It became clear to me that everything Jesus did was as a Jew, for Jews, and about Jews.”

But what about Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles? It’s generally accepted that Paul was the true founder of a new religion called Christianity. Biblical scholar Gerd Ludemann, author of several books about Jesus and Paul including “Paul: Founder of Christianity,” affirms that “Without Paul there would be no church and no Christianity.” Ludemann adds, “He’s the most decisive person that shaped Christianity as it developed. Without Paul we would have had reformed Judaism … but no Christianity.”

Paul converted Jews and then Gentiles to Jewish Christianity, basing these conversions on his belief in the teachings, resurrection and divinity of Jesus. But powerful evidence within “Acts of the Apostles,” the book of the New Testament that chronicles Paul’s mission, reveals that Paul, like Jesus, remained a dedicated Jew until his execution. In fact, if Paul had simply stated that he was no longer a Jew but the leader of a new religion, he would not have been imprisoned or executed.

Actually, that last part is probably not true. It was a crime in the Roman empire to promote an illegal religion. If Paul was spreading the “good news” about a form of Judaism, as attorney and Bible scholar John Mauck asserts in his book Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity, then he was innocent of the charge of “atheism”. If, on the other hand, he really had “converted” from Judaism to Christianity and was promoting a brand new religion to Jews and Gentiles, he was guilty and would have deserved to be sentenced to a harsh punishment by the Roman court up to and including death, according to Roman law.

However, both Starr and Mauck emphasize the same thing: That Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, lived a lifestyle completely consistent with that of an observant Jew and even died as a Jew. He didn’t “convert” in the sense that he left Judaism for a new religious form. He did “convert” in the sense that he recognized that Yeshua (Jesus) was indeed the prophesied Messiah, and from that Jewish platform and the mission given to him by Messiah in visions, he proceeded with unabashed courage to take the Gospel of Messiah “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles,” in order to fulfill the command Jesus uttered in Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Paul didn’t create a new religion and he didn’t abandon being Jewish or “morph” the Jewish “Way” into something alien to the Jewish disciples.

According to Starr:

Still, Paul said nothing about a new religion. On the contrary, he presented himself to the Roman Jewish community as a loyal Jew who was being persecuted for his revisionist views. Since the Romans had no quarrel with him, as a Roman citizen, and with the Sanhedrin a continent away, there would be no viable case against Paul — if he had denounced his affiliation to Judaism and declared a new religion. At this point in his life, facing trial and execution for blasphemy against Judaism, didn’t Paul have every reason to sever his tie to Judaism? The Sanhedrin, representing traditional Judaism, sent a clear message by their action against Paul: “We will not accept your beliefs and teachings about Jesus.” Despite this definitive rejection, Paul didn’t choose the obvious way out of the clutches of the Sanhedrin: declaration of a new religion. This strategy never even showed up for discussion. Paul chose to go to his death as a Jew. Why?

Paul’s vision was to make his brand of Judaism — with the recognition of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah — a world religion easily accessible to everyone. He never surrendered that passion. But after his death the accelerating conversion of Gentiles to a movement that began as Jewish Christianity became increasingly distanced from Judaism — and a new religion was launched.

derek-lemanLast week, Derek Leman published a blog post called Jewish “Unbelief,” Romans 11, Isaiah in which he supported (rightly in my opinion) the position that “Jewish unbelief” in Jesus as Messiah was a temporary state and initiated by God for the sake of the Gentiles. God never intended to abandon His people Israel and in the end, “all of Israel will be saved.”

Derek is supporting the same points I am; that the Jewish believers remained Jewish and maintained normative Jewish religious practices as disciples of Messiah. He also soundly (again) refutes traditional replacement theology (supersessionism). The Gentile Christians did not replace the Jews in the covenant promises and God’s love for Israel and His devotion to them has never wavered.

I was so impressed with this particular blog post of Derek’s that I sent the link to Pastor Randy last Wednesday morning. During my Wednesday evening conversation with Pastor, I found that he had printed the blog post. He agreed with everything Derek wrote up until this point:

  • Unbelief in Torah and Yeshua.
  • Unbelief in Yeshua; belief in Torah.
  • Unbelief in Torah; belief in Yeshua.
  • Belief in both Torah and Yeshua.

The core of the disagreement is the word “Torah.” He and I still haven’t settled upon a mutual definition of the word (it’s not all that easy to define) and our conversations about Torah tend to get a little “slippery” in how we apply it in the days of Paul vs. modern times. Pastor isn’t convinced that Jesus ever intended for the Jewish disciples to conform to the Torah mitzvot much beyond the lifetime of Paul and certainly not after the New Testament canon was closed.

But what about the Torah in the days of Paul?

You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.

Acts 21:20 (NRSV)

I quote from this verse fairly often. Thousands of Jewish believers all zealous for the Torah. I think Pastor can accept this because, after all, it’s right there in scripture.

So Paul lived and died fully and completely as an observant Jew and, based on what I read in the New Testament record as well as what I’ve written, including my conclusions on Acts 15 taken from Mauck’s Paul on Trial book, Paul never taught the Jewish believers to set aside Torah, nor did he teach the Gentile believers they had to keep Torah in an identical manner to the Jews.

The part I emphasized is important to note (especially for my critics) since I don’t say that Torah doesn’t apply to Gentile believers at all. In fact, we see that Christians are often better at performing some of the weightier matters of the Torah than much of Messianic Judaism and (as far as I can tell since they don’t blog, write, or teach about this aspect of Torah), just about all of the Hebrew Roots movement.

praying_jewWhat can we say then? Paul was born, lived, and died a Jew. Even after his encounter with the Messiah and being commissioned as an Apostle to the Gentiles, he remained completely Jewish, taught other Jewish believers to maintain the Torah mitzvot, and defended himself by stating that he never committed the crimes against the Jewish people and against the Temple of which he was accused. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees.

And, to return to the beginning of this missive, just before he and Barnabas were sent out by the congregation at Syrian Antioch on what has been called “Paul’s first missionary journey,” he and the other Messianic Jews and Gentiles were “praying, prophesying, teaching, fasting, working, and ministering/worshiping/praying liturgically in the manner of the Jews” together.

At the end of his article, Starr tells us:

Nevertheless, an understanding of the deep connection to Judaism held by the founders of Christianity should highlight the common ground of Judaism and Christianity and pave the way to reconciliation between the two faiths.

I’m convinced that in the coming days of the Messiah, he will teach us that there is only one faith; faith in the God of Israel. Right now, two peoples are contained in two separate religious expressions: Judaism and Christianity. One day, Moshiach will reconcile us as two peoples, Israel and the people of the nations called by His Name, occupying a single body: the body of Messiah.

May he come soon and in our day.

The Tzemach Tzedek once told his son, my grandfather, an incident in his experience, and concluded: For helping someone in his livelihood, even to earn just 70 kopeks (a small, low-value Russian coin) on a calf, all the gates to the Heavenly Chambers are open for him.

Years later my grandfather told this to my father and added: One should really know the route to the Heavenly Chambers, but actually it is not crucial. You only need the main thing – to help another wholeheartedly, with sensitivity, to take pleasure in doing a kindness to another.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Sivan 28, 5708
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

108 days.

The Evidence of Luke

Apostle-Paul-PreachesIn writing about Jesus, the early church, and the travels of Paul, Luke weaves his defense against the many charges made against Paul and the followers of Jesus. The accompanying chart shows the defenses put forth to Theophilus just in Acts (most of the defenses raised in Luke are discussed in the chapter on Luke). Some defenses are subtle: assertions of verifiable facts which belie the accusations. Others are explicit: citation of legal precedent directly contrary to the arguments of Paul’s opponents. In light of the number and breadth of charges, I have placed them in to two general categories for ease in analysis…

-John W. Mauck
“Chapter 4: For the Defense”
Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity (Kindle Edition)

This book was authored by an experienced attorney who believes that Luke and Acts were written as a formal legal argument for the defense of Paul as he awaited a hearing before Nero in Rome. Mauck’s analysis encompasses not just the immediate charges that were brought against Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21-22), but any other charges that Paul may have faced or potentially could have faced as a result of his evangelical activities anywhere in the Roman empire. Maulk isn’t the only one to believe this is how Luke/Acts functions, and if he’s correct, then the points Luke makes in his writings are not only of critical interest as theological information to religious scholars and lay readers, but as actual legal evidence to the validity of the Jewish sect known as “the Way” as a legitimate Jewish religious stream (important in Paul’s case since Roman law only recognized Judaism as a legal religious movement outside the Roman/Greek pantheon of “gods”).

I was reading Chapter 4 last week and the chart provided by Maulk details the fifty-nine arguments in defense of Paul. I realized that the chart as a whole was a very nice compression of the entire Book of Acts and that many of the items supported a number of my positions on Acts as legal evidence. I won’t present all fifty-nine items in the following chart, only those that speak to specific points.

The original chart has four columns. The first cites the specific item being defended, the second and third columns indicate which charge or charges it involves. The fourth column gives an example or cites scripture illustrating the defense of the charge. For the sake of space and how WordPress blogs are laid out, I’ve eliminated the two middle columns.

Defense Passage Illustrative of Defense
1. Our faith is based on the Tanakh
Acts 26:22b-23 “[I am] saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come – “that the Christ [Messiah] would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
2. The Inclusion of Gentiles was always God’s plan for the Jewish faith.
Acts 15:16-17 quoting Amos 9:12 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord
3. We are a self-governing sect within Judaism
Acts 1:15-26; Acts 3:42-47; Acts 4:32-35; Acts 6:1-7
4. Rejection of Jesus by Jewish leadership can be explained.
Acts 3:17 (ignorance); Acts 5:17 (jealousy); Acts 13:45 (jealousy); Acts 5:28 (fear)
6. The apostles and Paul are subject to duly constituted authority.
Acts 13:1-3; Acts 15:23 The apostles and the elders, and the brethren. To the brethren who are of the Gentiles…
7. The followers of Jesus are faithful Jews.
Acts 2:41; Then those who gladly received his word were baptized…about three thousand…
11. The presence of female prophets and evangelists is foretold in Torah.
Acts 2:17-18; quoting Joel 2:28-29 (Joel 3:1 in Heb).
25. Paul did not initiate inclusion of Gentiles, other Jewish leaders did so.
Acts 10 (conversion of Cornelius); Acts 15 (Jerusalem council)
28. The Gentile church and the Jewish church did not disconnect
Acts 11:19-29 (many Greeks in Antioch believed and joined the Jewish congregation)
38. Paul’s message was accepted by many Jews who checked the scriptures
Acts 17:10-15 they searched the Scriptures daily…
40. Our assemblies are not illegal collegia, but Jewish worship.
Acts 18:7-8 Paul moves preaching from synagogue to next-door home of synagogue leader.
43. The teachings of the Jewish prophet John confirm the Jewishness of faith in Jesus.
Acts 19:1-7 (encounter with disciples of John in Ephesus)
47. Paul was not teaching the Jews of the Diaspora to stop following Torah.
Acts 21:21-24 (meeting between Paul and James the leader of the Jerusalem congregation)
48. Paul’s opponents are anti-Gentile
Acts 22:21-22 (riot when Paul uses the word “Gentile” in his speech)
49. The Sanhedrin itself has sharply differing views on Jewish theology
Acts 23:9-10 (internal dispute over resurrection of the dead)
52. Even those accusing Paul of leaving Judaism admit the Way is a sect of Judaism
Acts 24:5 …a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Point one is really both for Jewish and Christian readers, emphasizing that the “Christian” faith is based on documented scriptural evidence from the Tanakh or Old Testament. That states faith in Jesus is Jewish to both target audiences.

judaismPoint two is primarily for Christian readers illustrating that God didn’t bring us in after the Jews “failed” to accept Jesus as Messiah. We were supposed to be part of the “plan” all along with no Jewish “failure” implied.

Point three emphasizes to both audiences that “the Way” is Jewish.

Point four explains that having the Jewish leadership of the day reject Jesus as Messiah is not proof of the invalidity of Jesus as Messiah.

Point six shows that the authority of the early Jewish movement of Messiah is a Jewish movement under Jewish authority and that authority extended to both Jewish and Gentile members.

Point seven supports Jewish members remaining faithful (Torah observant) Jews after coming to faith in Jesus.

Point eleven I include since some people (OK, just one guy) in the blogosphere has “issues” with women in certain leadership roles, so I thought I’d offer evidence that women were intended all along to assume the roles of prophets and evangelists within “the Way.”

Point twenty-five is more for Jewish audiences who believe that Paul “invented” a new religion that included Gentiles at the expense of Jews and Judaism. In fact, Gentile inclusion not only involved Peter (Acts 10) and James and the Council (Acts 15) but a number of other Jewish believers who participated in preaching the Good News to the Gentiles in Syrian Antioch prior to the involvement of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11).

Point twenty-eight is interesting since it can be interpreted a couple of ways. For some portions of the Hebrew Roots movement who are part of what could be called “the inclusionist group,” it could mean that Jewish and Gentile believers were identical units in every respect. For the Messianic Jewish movement and those within it who adhere to a “bilateral ecclesiology” viewpoint, it could mean that the early groups of believing Jews and Gentiles worshiped together in the synagogue (Acts 15:21) as part of the teaching/training of Gentiles in “the Way” of Messiah as differentiated from full conversion to Judaism and Torah observance.

Point thirty-eight says both that normative Jewish people accepted Jesus as the Messiah and that evidence in scripture supported the Messianic claim.

Point forty again verifies that “the Way” was not some newly invented religion but a functioning Judaism.

Point forty-three again verifies the “Jewishness” of the teachings of and Jewish faith in Jesus.

Point forty-seven supports that Paul was not teaching against Torah to the Jews.

Point forty-eight explains that Jewish hostility against “the Way” did not involve objections to believing in Jesus as Messiah but was specifically directed against Gentile involvement in the movement.

Point forty-nine illustrates that there was no one overarching “Judaism” or Jewish belief system in that day, and shows that even though there was some Jewish opposition to faith in Jesus, it did not mean such faith was not a legitimate Judaism.

Point fifty-two again confirms that even Paul’s Jewish opponents believed “the Way” was Jewish.

While Luke had one specific agenda for his writings, I have a different (though related) one for the use of the above-cited information. I want to “prove” the validity of “the Way” as Jewish to modern Jewish and Christian audiences. I’m hardly saying that I believe Gentile Christians are “Jewish” or should take on obvious Jewish identity markers or practices, but I do want to communicate that supersessionist and anti-semitic thoughts and practices in the church are not sustainable when examined against the Biblical record.

I want to illustrate also that since the faith of ancient Jews in Jesus as the Messiah was considered as an acceptable and valid form of Jewish worship, the same is true today, particularly within valid Messianic Jewish worship communities. I’m not trying to chase Jews into the church since, despite Maulk’s use of language, Peter, Paul, James, and the rest of the Jewish apostles and disciples didn’t worship and congregate in “church,” they did so at the Temple in Jerusalem and in synagogues in Israel and the diaspora. There is nothing about the Jewish worship of the Jewish Messiah that goes against Jewish Torah observance, Jewish lifestyle, and Jewish devotion to Hashem within a specifically Jewish community.

synagogueFinally, I want to demonstrate that while Jewish and Gentile believers worshiped closely together in community at the beginning of the movement of the Way, they were not necessarily identical units, with Gentiles observing the full yoke of Torah in the manner of Jews but without becoming proselytes. That’s the weakest of my arguments, since the chart information doesn’t address it specifically, but then, Maulk probably never considered that Gentiles could or would be required to take on the full Torah as normative Gentile behavior within the Way. Nothing in Luke or Acts even brings up the issue of full Gentile Torah observance as an expectation of Paul’s and in fact, the opposite is true.

The chart does say four things. That Gentile inclusion into the Kingdom was always part of the plan (Acts 15), that James and the Council made a ruling that was specifically tailored for Gentile inclusion and it applied to no other population, specifically Jewish believers (again Acts 15), that such a decision didn’t violate “the Way” as a Jewish sect (see points 3, 7, 25, 28, and 47), and that there was mutual community participation between Jews and Gentiles, at least in the early days of the movement (Acts 11).

It’s not incredibly overwhelming evidence and I don’t doubt that the various reader populations I’ve been addressing will continue to object, but hopefully I’ve given everyone something to think about. I’ve probably even raised objections among some Messianic Jews relative to the “closeness” between believing Jews and Gentiles I see demonstrated in Acts 11. At that point in history the only place where they could learn anything about Jewish religious practices and theology as related to Jesus was the synagogue. Paul and Barnabas spent an entire year educating the believing Gentiles in Antioch. I think it’s valid to say that they had close relationships which included table fellowship (although Galatians 2 seems to show that nothing is perfect).

I know I’m stirring the pot again and no doubt emotions are also being stirred among some folks reading this. But like I said, I hope a few new ideas and possibilities are also moving around. I hope and pray they produce healthy dialogue.


135 days.

Gathering Jerusalem

paul-in-romeHe lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Acts 28:30-31

So ends Luke’s chronicle on the acts of the apostles in what we know today as the Book of Acts. Paul is left in Rome as a prisoner of Caesar in a rented abode, still in chains and guarded by a member of the Praetorian guard. We have only bits and pieces from Paul’s letters and other documents to help us understand what happened to him afterward and the fate to which he finally arrived.

The abrupt end of the book leaves the reader wondering why Luke closed the narrative at that point. He does not grant any specific stories about Paul’s activities in those two years, and he does not mention the outcome of his appeal before the emperor. It seems like a strange and unsatisfying place to conclude the story.

-D Thomas Lancaster
Study for “Behar (On the Mountain)”
Commentary on Acts 28:16-31
Chronicles of the Apostles, Volume 6,  pg 837
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club

This is the conclusion, as far as Luke’s narrative is concerned, of Paul’s long, dangerous, and confusing journey from Jerusalem to Rome, a journey which began under the shadow of grim prophesy.

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.

When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Acts 21:10-19

Even before Paul entered Jerusalem, he knew he might not be leaving the Holy City again, at least not in this life. Yet he did as a result of false accusations against him, having been accused by Jews from Asia of teaching against the Temple, against Jews keeping Torah, and even bringing a Gentile into the Temple past the court of the Gentiles.

As I said, none of it was true, but Paul defended himself as he was taken from one city to the next, from one court venue to the next. And even though he had done no wrong, because of the accusations against him and the threats against his life, Paul finally appealed to Caesar to hear his case, and his assurance of a one-way journey to Rome and the emperor was complete.

But he never saw Jerusalem again. Never saw Peter or James or the elders and apostles again. Never offered sacrifices in the Holy Temple again.

While Paul’s ultimate fate remains a mystery, what about the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem?

Last Sunday, Pastor Randy said a funny thing from the pulpit and he repeated it during last Wednesday night’s conversation with me.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

Acts 11:19-21

Apostle-Paul-PreachesPastor said this was the beginning of the process of transferring authority from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch. What? Transferring authority? I’d never heard of such a thing. How could any city but Jerusalem be the geographic and spiritual center of our faith? I had always believed that the ultimate authority over the “church” was always wielded from Jerusalem, that is until 70 CE when the Romans leveled the Temple, razed Jerusalem, and sent the vast majority of the Jewish population into the diaspora. Only then was authority transferred from the Jewish apostolic council to the Gentiles, and this by force.

But according to Pastor Randy, once the original apostles, those who walked with Jesus and who witnessed the resurrection, died…their authority was not automatically passed down to others, either their heirs or any other appointed elders. There is only one record of an apostle being replaced and that was long before the trials of Paul.

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:21-26

Protestantism tends to discourage the idea of a more permanent intent for the Council of Apostles because it smacks of the authority of Rome in Catholicism and other Ecumenical Councils who exercise authority over the faithful, many times to the detriment of the faithful. So Pastor’s thoughts could be a reflection of his perspective and education.

Be that as it may, the Council of Apostles disappears from Jerusalem and from history, certainly by 70 CE if not before.

But what about the centrality of Jerusalem? If you believe there will be a Third Temple (as I do) from where Messiah will reign in Jerusalem, then you cannot dispense with Jerusalem. If you believe that each year the Gentile nations must send representatives to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19), then you cannot dispense with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the focus, the nexus for all of our prophetic hopes in the return of the Messiah. If the apostles and the council vanished from Jerusalem with no successors, did “authority” shift to Antioch?

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 13:1-3

It certainly seems so, but let’s think about this. The first large group of Gentiles to become disciples of the Master and to receive and extensive education in his teachings and (very likely) in the Torah were the Antioch Gentile God-fearing believers. Antioch also became a good “jumping off place” for Paul and his fellow apostles to go to the Gentiles in the diaspora with the good news of the Messiah (but going to the Jews first, of course). And while Antioch seems to have been a major center of Jewish/Gentile Messianic worship and evangelism, Paul continued to return to Jerusalem (Acts 15 and 21) to receive authoritative rulings on difficult matters and to bring donations for support of the Jewish “saints” in Israel.

fall-of-jerusalemAntioch may have been the center of the Jewish/Gentile interface of the Way, but Jerusalem was the heart, soul, and final authority over the movement.

But when there were no more living apostles in Jerusalem, did God close the door on Jewish authority over the Way, even over the Jewish members?

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…

Romans 11:25-26

This and other references of Paul’s, indicate that whatever separation there may be between the Jewish people and King Messiah is only temporary, which includes the separation between the King and Jerusalem. The “authority” left Jerusalem temporarily, but the Throne of the King has always been in the City of David.

The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.

Psalm 132:11

When Jesus returns as Lord of Israel and Lord of all, the authority will return to Jerusalem again. I don’t think even Protestant resistance to “apostolic authority” can deny that we all have one King and he is the authority and author of our lives.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)

Good Shabbos.

145 days.

Paul the Christian Pharisee

paul-the-phariseeNow when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.

Acts 23:6

Paul used the present tense, “I am a Pharisee,” not “I was a Pharisee.” Christian commentaries are uncomfortable with the statement, and they usually try to dodge the implications by explaining that he used to be a Pharisee prior to becoming a Christian.

Did Paul perjure himself before the Sanhedrin (a grave sin) by saying, “I am a Pharisee” instead of saying, “I was a Pharisee”? If so, none of his accusers had the wherewithal to challenge him on it. If he was no longer a Pharisee at the time of the trial, his testimony would be easy enough to discredit.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Tazria (pg 711), Commentary on Acts 23:1-24:27

I suppose you could say this is a continuation of my previous “meditation,” Paul the Apostle, Liar, and Hypocrite and earlier commentaries. As I continue to read through Lancaster’s “Chronicles of the Apostles” Torah Club study, I continue to follow Paul through his various “legal problems” and his journey that will eventually lead to Rome, Caesar, and death. I also continue to watch as Paul repeatedly defends himself against the charges brought against him by the Jewish authorities of the Sanhedrin. From Paul’s point of view, he did nothing wrong to the Jewish people, to the Torah, to the Temple, or even to Rome.

Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”

Acts 25:8

In verse 7 of the same chapter, Luke records that “…the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him that they could not prove.”

As we’ve seen in earlier chapters of Acts and in my earlier commentaries on those chapters (thanks to Lancaster and the Torah Club), there simply was no evidence to support the wild accusations that had been made against Paul. He should have been set free, and except for various political reasons, finally including Paul’s appeal to Caesar and Rome, he never was.

Not only do I want to pursue the scriptures and commentaries that support Paul’s innocence, but I want to continue to illustrate how Paul never imagined that being an apostle of Jesus required in any sense, surrendering observance of the Torah mitzvot and the lifestyle of a Jewish Pharisee, nor did he expect this of other believing Jews.

All believers could claim to adhere to Pharisaic doctrine, but not all of them could claim to actually be Pharisees. Paul concluded his testimony with the declaration, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6).

-Lancaster, ibid

That statement might come as a shock to you if you’ve been taught that all Pharisees were horrible, legalistic monsters and hypocrites. After all, Jesus had some pretty rough things to say to the Pharisees.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:27-28

On the other hand, Jesus also said this:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.

Matthew 23:2-3

Do what they say but not what they do. What do they say?

And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Acts 23:7-8

For Paul, the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection of the dead and a life in the world to come was lived out by his faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the risen Messiah King.

That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 4:22-25

The doctrine of “the Way” was generally Pharisaic and in believing in the resurrection, so is modern Christianity.

I know, that’s probably a stretch for most of you, but if you follow the logic of Paul’s defense as recorded by Luke, it is very compelling. Lancaster comments further on this point.

The teaching and beliefs of Yeshua, Paul, and all the apostles echo the theology of the Pharisees. A Pharisee could become a disciple of Yeshua and still be a Pharisee…

-Lancaster, pg 713

Not so the Sadducees or any other branch of Judaism that did not believe in resurrection.

Even though the Master sometimes disagreed with the specific priorities of the oral law, He and the apostles practiced and transmitted Pharisaic, rabbinic tradition and interpretation. Their teachings and methods of biblical exegesis mirror those of the Pharisees. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the first-century equivalents of Karaite Jews and sola-scriptura Protestants. They rejected most Jewish tradition, oral law, and rabbinic exegesis.


paul-in-chainsFrom a modern Christian’s point of view, we almost want to make the Sadducees the heroes of the story because they rejected Jewish oral law and traditions, and Jesus heavily criticized the Pharisees for some of their traditions. But while many of the Pharisees far exceeded the Torah’s intent by creating enormous burdens from their rulings that weighed heavily on the Jewish people, Jesus did not criticize their core teachings. Being a Pharisee wasn’t the problem. Being a hypocrite and a liar was. Paul was the former but never the latter.

But Paul had a “confession” to make.

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

Acts 24:14-16

Paul admitted to the charge of belonging “to the sect of the Nazarenes,” but he rejected any implication that the teachings of the Way deviated from normative Jewish expression. To Paul, faith in Yeshua was not simply one more sect of Judaism, it was “the Way of the LORD,” a spiritual restoration and redemption of all Israel that transcended sectarian divides. He admitted to “believing everything that is in accordance with the Torah and that is written in the Prophets.” He declared his hope in God, a hope which his accusers also cherished.

-Lancaster, pg 723

There’s one sentence in my last quote from Lancaster that I hope you caught. Here is is again:

To Paul, faith in Yeshua was not simply one more sect of Judaism, it was “the Way of the LORD,” a spiritual restoration and redemption of all Israel that transcended sectarian divides.

This is as true today as it was the moment Paul said it. Faith in Yeshua the Messianic King is not just a way for the world to be saved (which, of course, is no small thing) but it is the way to spiritual restoration and redemption of all Israel. That is the critical piece of knowledge both Jews and Christians must understand. Jesus doesn’t stand in opposition to the Jewish people, he stands for their redemption as a people and their restoration as a nation.

The good news of forgiveness from sins, salvation, and a life in the world to come is what we focus on as Christians, but most of the time, we miss why Jesus is uniquely special to the Jewish people. He doesn’t just save the individual Jewish soul as he does the individual Gentile soul, he saves Israel, he restores their nation to the head of all nations, he gathers his people back to him and to their Land, and he is their King, the King of the Jews, even as he is also the King of the World.

Paul, the “Christian” Pharisee knew all that, and the evidence of his innocence is also a shining lamp for every Jew and Gentile who turns away from darkness and to the light. To turn toward the light, we Gentiles must surrender a life of disobedience and learn to love, listen, and obey God. For a Jew to turn toward the light of the world in Messiah, they also must learn to obey, but Torah observance for the Jew is part of that obedience. We in the church are obedient, not only when we refrain from sin, but when we act to encourage our Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith to continue to live wholly Jewish lives in accordance with the commandments.

Paul lived his life enthusiastically as a disciple of Jesus Christ…and as a Pharisee.

162 days.

Paul the Apostle, Liar, and Hypocrite

Apostle-Paul-PreachesFor though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.

Acts 21:22-24

In one of the conversations I’ve had with Pastor Randy at my church, we discussed the activities of Paul as recorded by Luke in Acts 21. Included in some of the questions Pastor brought up was whether or not Paul was being disingenuous by offering to pay the vow price for four men at the Temple to avoid criticism from other Jews (see the quote from Acts 21 above) and that Paul had replaced this devotion for the Torah and for the Temple with faith in Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, according to D. Thomas Lancaster in his commentary on Acts 21:15-22:30 (see First Fruits of Zion’s Torah Club Volume 6 Chronicles of the Apostles reading for Torah Portion Shemini [“Eighth”] for details), this is exactly what most Christian commentators believe.

Paul’s participation in the sacrificial services proved to the Jerusalem believers that he was not an apostate. Ironically, many Christian interpreters would consider participation in the Temple sacrifice as apostasy from Christ. They excuse Paul’s backsliding into Judaism on the basis that he was pressured into the ceremony by James and the elders. Moreover, Paul himself said, “I have become all things to all men so that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

-Lancaster, pg 684

The quote above from 1 Corinthians 9 seems particularly damning, but I want to mention something else first. In order to believe the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul’s participation in the Temple sacrifice, we have to believe that Paul is a terrible liar and hypocrite and we have to believe that James and the Council of Apostles of Christ not only condoned his dishonesty, but actively encouraged him in it.

If these are the sorts of people responsible for writing much of our New Testament, what does that say about the foundations of the Christian faith? Did God really entrust the establishment and dissemination of the Gospel of Jesus to not only flawed human beings (and all the writers of the Bible were imperfect), but deliberately dishonest, hypocritical liars? Do the ends justify the means? Should we emulate the apostles by also lying in order to win a few souls for Christ?

Assuming he’s not also lying in the following quotes, Paul defends himself before his Jewish accusers and the Romans:

Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”

Acts 25:8

After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

Acts 28:17

But then what are we to make of Paul’s own words to the church in Corinth in his first letter to them? What is Paul saying?

whispererAccording to Lancaster’s commentary (pp 684-6), Paul was saying that he was merely crafting his message for different audiences, not that he was changing his overall behavior, especially in relation to Torah observance. When Paul said “to the Jews I became as a Jew,” it could hardly mean he “became a Jew” since he was already Jewish by birth (although some modern Jews believe Paul was born a Gentile and converted to Judaism). Lancaster states that in Paul saying this, he “only means that, when among Jewish people, he employed that common ground to his advantage” since he “shared with them a common cultural and historical heritage.”

I don’t have a problem believing this. My wife sometimes tells me that Jews today have a particular way of thinking and conceptualizing their world and that communication between Jews takes on a different “flavor” than between a Jew and a Gentile. It is likely that Paul would have presented his language and message within a heavily Jewish ethnic, cultural, national, and religious framework when sharing the good news of Messiah to an exclusively Jewish audience.

But what about when Paul said, “To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law”? First of all, he already said he “became a Jew” so why add the redundancy (supposedly) of saying that he “became as one under the law?” Isn’t he saying the same thing twice and worse, isn’t he saying that he acted like someone under the law but actually wasn’t under the law? Isn’t that clearly being a hypocrite?

Lancaster answers those questions by saying that those “under the law” were not born-Jews but Gentile converts to Judaism or proselytes. That answers the question of why he wasn’t “under the law” if it means he’s not a convert to Judaism (a Gentile proselyte who chose place himself under Torah observance by converting). That seems a little weak, even to me, and I wish Lancaster had cited some sources to back up his claim. Apparently, this is his personal opinion but it does tend to solve why Paul engaged in “redundant language.”

On the other hand, he could have been referring to God-fearing Gentiles who were not proselytes (or who were considering conversion but had not yet made a commitment) but who voluntarily chose Torah observance. We see an example of such a person in Izates bar Monobaz who was a disciple of a Jewish merchant named Ananias and who, because of his royal position, was discouraged by Ananias from converting to Judaism. Izates vowed to observe all of the Torah mitzvot as the Jews do and later on, converted to Judaism, as did his mother Helena of Adiabene.

I also have to wonder about Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, who Peter encountered in Acts 10. In verses 3 and 30, Cornelius is seen or relates that he was praying at the ninth hour, or about 3 p.m. which is the set time for the mincha prayers in Judaism. Although the text doesn’t make it explicit, Peter and his Jewish companions stayed a number of days in the Roman’s household (see verse 48) and so they all must have eaten meals together. Unless you believe (and I don’t) that Peter’s vision (see verses 9-33) convinced him and his Jewish companions to permanently forego kosher foods, then, since there was a synagogue and thus a Jewish population in the largely Gentile community of Caesarea, it is likely that kosher food was available.

Just how many of the laws of Torah did Cornelius adhere to in his life as a God-fearer? We can’t possibly know, but it’s at least compelling to consider the idea that he may have kept a good many of them, as his position in the Roman military allowed.

under-law-torahI’m not saying any of my suggestions are fact, but it’s another way to look at Paul’s statement about “those under the law.”

Returning to Paul’s “those under the law” statement, Paul says he is not like them “under the law” but becomes like them. If Lancaster is right and they are converts, then of course, Paul doesn’t become a convert to Judaism and thus his statement is accurate. He can communicate to them in a way that they would understand in crafting his message specifically for converts (or Torah keeping God-fearers), though.

And what of “those outside the law” (1 Corinthians 9:21)? Lancaster defines them as Gentile God-fearers who do not live by the standards of Torah. If Paul becomes like them though, doesn’t that mean he puts away his Torah observance and eats ham sandwiches and shrimp scampi right alongside them at the lunch counter? Again, Lancaster refutes this and says that, “is not to say he ate forbidden foods or unclean meats, but wherever he had room to budge, he did so.” Lancaster goes on to say (pg 685):

Paul explained that he himself is not “outside of the law,” that is to say that he was not a Gentile God-fearer. Instead, he was under the “Torah of Messiah.” He remained legally Jewish in Messiah, but he bent where he could bend and flexed what he could flex in order to win those who were not Jewish.

Again, that seems a little thin, and again, Lancaster appears to be relying on his own interpretation and does not cite other authorities to back up his claim.

Traditional Christianity would probably jump all over these verses to illustrate that Paul was a behavioral chameleon and that Torah observance meant absolutely nothing to him unless he was talking to fellow Jews. Otherwise, he was under the “law of Christ,” which is to say “grace,” rather than the “Torah of Moses” or the traditional observances of the non-believing Jews.

Is there any other way to understand all this, particularly Paul’s behavior with Gentiles?

The only other way I can think of, and I’m no expert, is to say that Paul, like any good communicator, was able to craft the same message differently for different audiences. I’m a professional writer and that’s exactly what I do when constructing technical information about a software product for technical vs. lay audiences. The Gospels are largely thought to relate more or less the same information to different audiences, with Matthew written to Jews and Luke written to Greeks.

Even in ancient days, Jewish and Greek thought and conceptualization of ideas and actions was fundamentally different, and information about the same events and thoughts had to be constructed in different ways.

That’s how I would read Paul’s “chameleon” statements.

But that’s just me.

However, I also know this about Paul:

But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

1 Corinthians 9:15-16

I believe Paul. I believe he’d rather die than compromise his principles. I believe that he was devoted to the Messiah and to the truth of the Gospel. In fact, Paul ultimately did die for his faith, as did Peter, and the other apostles except arguably John. Like the other apostles, Jesus hand-picked Paul for his task and added to that, he did so as a supernatural event, well after Christ’s ascension to glory at the right hand of the Father. If God knows all things, it would be unlikely that such a man as Paul would have been selected if it was known that he was going to fail spectacularly as a liar and a hypocrite.

AbrahamYes, all men of God have failed. Abraham failed. Jacob failed. Moses failed. David failed. But not one of them failed in their mission for God. They failed in many human ways, but each successfully carried out the work that God gave them to do. Abraham failed when he lied about calling Sarah is sister (although arguably as his cousin, she could be called his “sister”), but he succeeded in having overwhelming faith in God and in the binding of Isaac. Jacob failed in his many acts of deceit, but he succeeded in fathering and raising the beginnings of the twelve tribes. Moses failed by desecrating God in front of the people when he struck the rock twice, which cost him his entry into Israel, but he succeeded in leading the Jewish nation in the wilderness for forty years as a shepherd leads and protects his flock. David failed with Bathsheba, but succeeded in conquering the Land and vanquishing Israel’s foes as her King.

Paul no doubt failed in many human ways too, but he succeeded in integrity, honesty, and courage, even in the face of death, many times defying opponents for the sake of his gospel and promoting Gentile inclusion in the Way of the Messiah.

If Paul was a liar and a hypocrite, then he only claimed to be serving Jesus. He couldn’t have been a real apostle and disciple. No one behaves so badly and yet serves a God of truth and justice.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

If Paul is the man who most Christian commentators (and most Jewish ones as well) believe him to be, then he was a “worker of lawlessness” literally, and a liar, and a hypocrite. If he was all of those things, then his epistles are a sham and we cannot trust them or their writer. If we can’t trust Paul, then most of the New Testament is unreliable. If that’s true, we Christians are in a horrible bind and we have to believe the modern Jews in saying that Paul took the basic teachings of Jesus and perverted them into an anti-Judaic religion, preaching hate of Jews, of the Temple, of the Torah, and of Israel.

That’s not the Paul I know. I’m sorry if you believe otherwise.