Tag Archives: Paul on Trial

The Evidence of Acts 15

Apostle-Paul-PreachesWhen they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.

Acts 14:27-15:2 (NRSV)

Luke notes a sharp disagreement existed (verse 2), his otherwise respectful reference to the circumcision groups contrasts markedly with Paul’s trenchant comment about the Jewish Christians who were advocating the requirement of Gentile circumcision in Galatians 5:12: “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” This treatment is consistent with the desire by Luke not to hang the church’s “dirty laundry” before Roman officials.

-John W. Mauck
“Chapter 17, Acts 15:1-35: Circumcised Hearts”
Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity (Kindle Edition)

I previously mentioned Mauck’s book on my blog and I am continuing to read and enjoy his insights on Luke/Acts as a reflection of his belief that these books were written as a legal brief pursuant to Paul’s trial in Rome before the emperor (Acts 28). Mauck, an attorney and Bible scholar, suggests that Luke did not write his gospel or the book of Acts as theological instruction for the Jewish and Gentile disciple of Christ, but as a legal document for the secular Roman court. His book acts as “evidence” of his assertion to his readership and I must say, as a lay person, I’m certainly seeing how he arrives at his position.

Acts 15 is of special interest to me, since it is the pivotal chapter in Luke’s book regarding how Gentiles were to be formally entered into the Jewish religious movement of “the Way.” I previously spent a good deal of time writing on Acts 15, primarily from D. Thomas Lancaster’s viewpoint as expressed in Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles published by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). While Lancaster’s treatment of Acts 15 was dense with information and insight, I always welcome different viewpoints on this material, since I consider it so vital in understanding the purpose and drive of the Gentile Christian life today.

What follows is a summary of Mauck’s chapter on Acts 15 and what I can glean that is of relevance to both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Messiah today.

(I haven’t abandoned my series on the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference, but wanted to change my focus for a moment to keep my thoughts fresh and to continue to provide new and enlightening material to anyone who is reading my blog. I’ll continue my commentaries on the conference and its presenters tomorrow).

Scripture informs the argument and decision. Acts 15:17, a part of Jacob’s interpretation of the prophet Amos, is particularly important: “that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord. Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name.” It tells the Roman reader that the Hebrew prophets had foreseen that not all Jews would remain faithful to God, while Gentiles would become followers of Israel’s God without becoming Jews. The Messianics were not inventing a new faith, but following a plan of God unfolding from ancient times.

-Mauck, Chap. 17

As a legal brief written by Luke, Mauck believes that the intended audience of Acts is not only Gentile but non-believing. One of the most serious charges leveled against Paul was that he was promoting a new religion among Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Empire. Only Judaism was considered a legal religion outside of the Greek/Roman pantheon of “gods”. The creation and promotion of any other religious form would be considered “atheism” in the Roman courts. Luke then, must convince the court in Rome that Paul’s evangelism to Jews and Gentiles was the promotion of a pre-existing religion: Judaism, and that the Jewish expression of “the Way” was wholly consistent with the other normative Judaisms of the first century CE as evidenced, in part, by the Tanakh (Old Testament).

The-LetterBut as we’ve seen so far, while the plan to include Gentiles in the Jewish movement has been established from ancient times, it isn’t clear just how they (we) were to be involved. At the beginning of Acts 15, Jewish believers from the “circumcision party” assert that the only way for Gentiles to gain entry into any form of Judaism was to be circumcised (convert) and to follow the Torah as proselytes. Paul disagreed with this position and it became such a controversy that the matter was referred to James (Jacob) and the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem for a legal decree.

I’ll leave it to the reader to acquire Mauck’s book and review Chapter 17 in its entirety, but in addressing the “Jerusalem Letter,” which contains a summary of the Council’s final decision about the Gentiles, Mauck says this:

By carefully setting forth the controversy, summarizing the arguments of the disputants, recounting the decision-making procedure, and memorializing the decision and reasons for it, Acts 15:1-35 exemplifies how a legal brief addressing a theological subject should be written to a secular reader.

Instead of the far more extensive law of Moses which the Jewish Christians were following, the Gentiles who are now going to be included in the people of God have been given four laws to obey…

Dan Gruber 1. has shown how the Jerusalem Council never changed the requirements of Torah but rather took portions of Torah which applied to Gentiles living among the Jews and informed the Gentiles of those requirements.

It’s been rather frustrating for both ancient and modern Bible scholars that Luke didn’t record more of the “mechanics” of exactly how the “Apostolic Decree” was supposed to impart a life of holiness and inclusion upon the Gentile believers. On the surface, the four decrees seem especially anemic in addressing Gentile worship and devotion to God within a Jewish framework. However as Mauck points out:

The theological basis for this decision would be lost on a Roman official reading Luke’s brief except that Luke records Jacob’s pronouncement that his decision is based upon the teaching of Moses…if Luke were writing to Gentile or Jewish Messianics, it seems to me that a more comprehensive or edifying explanation for these rules would be forthcoming…

What has been lost to history and thus to us, are the instructions that were orally provided to the letter’s Gentile recipients by Barnabas, Paul, Judas, and Silas (Acts 15:22) which no doubt gave dimension and deeper meaning to the pen and paper content of the Council’s letter to the Gentiles in the diaspora.

However, Mauck appears convinced of an important point: that the Gentile believers were never intended to live a Jewish lifestyle and take on board the full “yoke of Torah” as were the Jews.

I know I’ve said that before in a number of different ways and I’m sure certain members of my audience are getting tired of hearing it, but when presented by an attorney as not theology but legal evidence to be submitted to a pagan court system, the nature and weight of the information changes. The differences in application of Torah to Jewish and Gentile participants in the Nazarene movement cease to be an argument of opposing theological opinions and become a series of established facts set before the Roman court, complete with documentation (assuming any copies of the letter could be acquired) and witnesses (Paul could testify on the events he witnessed as could other apostles and disciples if they could appear before the court).

In the next Chapter, Mauck nails home the point of differing Torah application to Jewish and Gentile disciples:

…that the church’s disruption of the social/religious status quo (allowing Gentiles to become full members of the faith without circumcision and observance of the Torah)…

He further states:

Gentiles could be included into the people of God by faith in him rather than by circumcision and observance of extensive ritual…

A fruit tree budding detailOf course, it is faith that attaches both Jew and Gentile to God through Messiah by the Spirit, not observance of Torah, but Mauck does repeatedly assert that upon turning to God through faith in Messiah, the Gentile was not required to become circumcised or to observe Torah in the manner of the Jews.

While I believe it’s important to continue to establish that it was never the intent of the Council of Apostles (nor of the Holy Spirit) that Gentile disciples were to have Torah applied to their lives in the same manner as the Jewish disciples of Jesus, it is equally important to drive home the point that, according to the evidence, God never intended for Jewish believers to ever cease observance of the Torah of Moses:

Also, the inclusion of Paul’s circumcision of Timothy…refutes charges that Paul and the Messianics were changing “customs handed down from Moses.” (Acts 21:21, see Acts 6:14)

In further support of this point (Mauck’s references to Jews turning to Jesus as Messiah while remaining Jewish and remaining “zealous for the Torah” are replete in this book and I won’t attempt to create a comprehensive list), Mauck notes in Chapter 21:

The meeting with Jacob and the elders (Acts 21:15-26) has essential forensic applications. First, the elders declare how thousands of “zealous for the law” Jews have believed. Luke wants Theophilus to know that the faith in Jesus remains Jewish completely.

I’ll stop here since I only intended to present the content of primarily a single chapter of this book rather than write a complete review. Nevertheless, I believe I have found another stone to support the structure that Gentile entry into the first century Jewish Messianic movement did not require that the Gentiles undergo circumcision and adhere to Torah observance in the manner of the Jews, nor did Jewish entry into “the Way” convert Jewish believers to “Christianity” as we understand it in the modern era, and force them to surrender their Jewish identities and Jewish Torah observance.

The modern Messianic Jewish movement is on a quest of discovery, re-establishing these facts, re-asserting the right of Jews to live as Jews, to observe the Torah of Moses, and to be devoted disciples of the Messiah, as concepts and behaviors that are completely acceptable and integrated within a Jewish lifestyle and worldview.

In doing so, Messianic Judaism, like the Apostolic Council in ancient days, does not require Gentile believers in Jesus to become circumcised and to observe the Torah in a manner identical to their Jewish counterparts. This is established by the Bible and specifically Acts 15 and related scriptures as both theology and legal evidence along with the support of the Holy Spirit of God.

The mystery isn’t in how Jewish believers are to live as disciples of the Messiah, but how we Christians are to understand the application of the Torah upon us, since the oral instructions accompanying the Council’s letter did not survive. However, if we are to believe that the Bible is sufficient for our needs (though not containing all of the information that exists and with the understanding that extra-Biblical data, such as history and archeology, can enhance Biblical understanding), then we must agree that what we have in our hands when we hold the Bible, is enough to tell us who we are and how we are to proceed forward, as Jews and Gentiles, in a life of discipleship as followers of our Master.

1. Dan Gruber, “Torah and the New Covenant” (Hanover, N.H.: Elijah Publishers, 1998), 26-7 and other references; see Bauckham, “James and the Church,” 459-62.

122 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.