Tag Archives: Peter

Cornelius Is Not Common Or Unclean And Neither Are We

I just watched a brief video by Marc Turnage at the Jerusalem Perspective website called Character Sketch: Cornelius the Centurion. It’s about 5 minutes, 25 seconds long, so when I started watching the presentation, I knew it wasn’t going to reach much depth.

That’s too bad, because I really wanted to hear something new about Cornelius that would help me in my current investigation as to the status of a Gentile who directly worships and relates to God without necessarily being part of a Jewish communal setting (or a traditional Christian venue, for that matter).

In other words, was Cornelius and his Gentile household chopped liver, even after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), or did (does) God consider the Gentiles as having some sort of value in their (our) own right?

Before someone complains that I’m being too “whiney” again, I’ll say straight out that I think a Gentile can have a direct relationship with the God of Israel through faith in and by the merit of Rav Yeshua and his symbolic, atoning sacrifice. Moreover, I think even before Cornelius had his vision which resulted in him sending messengers to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:3-8), I think God had regard for the Gentile Cornelius. In fact, the wording of verses 1 and 2 as well as the angel’s message from verses 3 onward tell us so.

turnage
Marc Turnage

Cornelius was devoted to God as expressed through his prayers and acts of tzedakah (charity) to the Jewish people, and God responded kindly and valued Cornelius. God was about to do Cornelius and his household a big favor. He was about to have Peter deliver the good news of Rav Yeshua to them.

According to Turnage, in the late second temple period in Roman-occupied Judea and in the diaspora, from a Jewish point of view, there were three types of people:

  1. Jewish, either by birth or conversion
  2. Pagan Gentiles wholly divorced from God
  3. God-fearing or God-worshiping Gentiles who viewed God from the perspective of Abraham and Isaac (but not Jacob)

These God-fearers existed on the fringes of Jewish community, attending synagogue, hearing the Torah read, rejecting (according to Turnage) the pagan Greek and Roman gods, and swearing devotion only to Hashem, God of Israel. However, this was not as far as they could go in approaching God. They were just missing one last piece of the puzzle.

Turnage compares the vision of Cornelius to Peter’s where Peter does an amazing thing. He says “no” to God. Specifically, he tells God he won’t obey the directive to kill and eat unclean or non-kosher animals.

Turnage states what is obvious to me; that the vision was never about food but rather about people, specifically non-Jewish people. This was God’s lesson to Peter that God Himself did not consider the Gentiles unclean or common. He also states this is obvious proof that Peter never saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as somehow ending his status as a Jew and his relationship with the Torah mitzvot. Again, that seems entirely obvious to me but is something of a revelation coming from a more traditional Christian.

tongues of fireGod backed this up in the aforementioned Acts 10:45 by showing Peter and his Jewish companions that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, something that was thought only to be available to the Jewish people by covenant promise (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) up until that moment.

Peter was forced to realize that Gentiles were not common or unclean, that they (we) were indeed, through God’s grace and mercy, and by the merit of Rav Yeshua, also able to access the covenant blessings of God, even though we were not named participants in the New Covenant.

During the legal proceeding to formally establish the status of Gentiles in Jewish community we see in Acts 15, Peter testified to his experience with Cornelius as proof that the Gentiles were not common and unclean, and that God accepted them (us) to the degree that they (we) also can receive the Spirit of God upon hearing the good news of redemption brought about by Rav Yeshua. We who were far off have been brought near or at least nearer (Ephesians 2:13).

Turnage was clear that none of this meant that the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua, even after receiving the Spirit, were required to observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. We lack the sign of circumcision (for males) that would be required for conversion to a proselyte and that would obligate us to the mitzvot. Cornelius was not circumcised, neither was his household (interestingly enough, unlike the non-Hebrews in Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:27).

In this case, it wasn’t necessary, since God’s plan for worldwide redemption required that both Israel and the rest of the nations of the world were all to be redeemed while maintaining their own national and ethnic identities.

communityTurnage rightly states that the challenge of the “first century church” (his language, not mine) was not convincing people to believe in Jesus, it wasn’t a theological challenge, but rather, an ethnic and sociological dilemma. How would it be possible to mix both Jews and Gentiles, two groups that are difficult to put together, into Jewish community and covenant life?

Paul was always attempting to solve that puzzle as we read in his many epistles including Romans and Ephesians, but also in 1 Corinthians 7, according to Turnage:

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)

Since Turnage uses circumcision as the dividing line between Jews and even the believing Gentiles, and since that dividing line includes obligation to the mitzvot for the Jews but not for even the believing Gentiles (remember, Cornelius received the Spirit and was not previously or subsequently circumcised), then, based on the brief record we have of the life of the Centurion, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav have no obligation to the mitzvot either.

Divine TorahI know I’ve said this about a billion times before, but since I’m re-examining my relationship with God as a Gentile, and I just viewed Turnage’s video, I thought I’d mention it again.

We have no information about how Cornelius’s life changed after Acts 10. Perhaps in many ways, it didn’t change much at all, at least from a day-to-day lived experience. He probably still prayed continuously. He probably still did great works of charity for the Jewish people. But additionally, he also probably thanked Hashem for the good news of Messiah, the indwelling of the Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a place in the world to come, which indeed, Cornelius lacked before the revelation of Moshiach.

For Turnage, the central focus of being a believer rests back in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20. Are you going to obey God or not?

The question of obedience is an interesting one because Turnage assumes quite casually that to obey God for a Gentile does not require observance of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people.

Just as we are not required (our males) to be circumcised in order to have a life with God, because of not being circumcised, not converting to Judaism (because it’s not required of us), we also do not have to observe the mitzvot that indicate an individual is Jewish.

We don’t know what Cornelius did with his life after the revelation of Rav Yeshua. It would be easier if we did have some record to see how he changed from God-fearer to Messianic disciple.

family prayingBut I didn’t write this missive to answer the “mystery of the Gentile mitzvot”. I wrote it to establish that through the example of the life of Cornelius, Gentiles are not considered common and unclean to God. Quite the opposite if God allows His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We Gentiles have a relationship with God just the way we are.

Oh, I could embed the YouTube video of Turnage’s brief presentation directly into this blog post, but I don’t want to take web traffic away from the Jerusalem Perspective site. To view the video, you’ll have to click the link I provided above.

One more thing. I chose the “featured image” at the top of the page because finding something that looks interesting and somehow represents Jewish mystic visions isn’t all that easy.

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Relative Righteousness

‘This is the story of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted.’

What is the implication of ‘his generations’? Rabbi Yochanan said, “Only in his generations, but not in others.”

Reish Lakish said, “If in his generations, then certainly in other generations.”

-Tractate Sanhedrin 108a

Rabbi Yochanan acted in accordance with the noble precept “judge every person positively.” If the text lends itself to both laudatory and pejorative readings, then certainly a man described by the Torah as ‘a man righteous and wholehearted’ should be given the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, the Torah itself deprecates Noah for not having tried to influence others, in contrast to our father Abraham, about whom the Torah testifies ‘and the souls they had acquired (lit., “had made”) in Charan.’ The Rabbis explain: “He (Abraham) brought them under the wings of the Holy Presence, Abraham converting the men and Sarah the women. The Torah reckons this as if they had made them” (Tractate Sanhedrin 99b). Except for his immediate family, Noah “made” not a single soul and seemed uninterested in the fate of contemporary humanity.

-Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel
Chapter 1: A Tzaddik in His Generations, p.95
Translated by Kadish Goldberg
Jews, Judaism, & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

I’ve read this criticism before. There’s more than a hint of “superiority” in attributing higher or better motives to Abraham, the first Hebrew, than to Noah who was a Gentile, at least on the surface. Of course, if Rabbi Yochanan is correct, then Noah really did forsake even the attempt to inspire anyone in his generation besides his family to repent of their sins and thus be saved of the coming destruction of the flood.

On the other hand, how can Reish Lakish possibly be right, since there is evidence showing that Abraham but not Noah had disciples who were devoted to the One God?

If, however, we assume that the leader is forged by his generation, the picture is reversed. Noah’s stature surpasses that of Abraham. Abraham functioned in a society amenable to moral improvement, wherein one could “make souls.” Noah lived in a totally corrupt society, yet remained unblemished by its immoral influences.

-Amiel, p.96

This doesn’t tell us if Noah tried to save anyone, but it does suggest that he would have universally failed, given the abject corrupt nature of the society around him.

All this is conjecture, of course, but have you ever wondered if the world we live in today is more like Noah’s or Abraham’s?

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Matthew 24:36-39 (NASB)

We can see that Jesus (Yeshua) is drawing a comparison between the days of Noah and the days of Messiah’s eventual return. In both cases, the general public didn’t have a clue that their time had come and that a revolutionary act of God was imminent. People will still be carrying on “business as usual” right up until the end.

stained glass jesusBut we can’t necessarily extend the comparison to include relative levels of corruption. After all, in the current age, people do respond to Christian missionary efforts and become disciples of Jesus and even some Jews and Gentiles have come to the realization of the revelation of the Jewish Messiah as the Jewish Messiah rather than the Goyishe King, if you’ll pardon my making a distinction.

Beyond the presumed difference in behavior in Noah and Abraham that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish represent, there’s the idea that God will continue to offer redemption should a generation be open to it, and withdraw that option should that generation be totally cold to God. Does God ever give up on an entire people group?

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,

“To your descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”

Genesis 15:15-21

Although God promises the Land of Canaan as a permanent inheritance to Abraham’s descendants, they would not be allowed to take possession of that Land until the current inhabitants had become so corrupt that they were (presumably) unable to be redeemed. This seems to indicate some sort of spiritual or moral “cut off point,” a state that once entered into can never be reversed.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

Exodus 32:7-10

It seems like Israel had crossed that “line in the sand” or at least was standing right on top of it. If Moses hadn’t pleaded with God for Israel (Exodus 32:11-14), then the inheritors of the Land would only have come from the tribe of Levi, that is, the descendants of Moses.

That last point is debatable however, and God could have been testing Moses the way He tested Abraham at the Akedah (Gen. 22:1–19).

The famous “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20) as Christianity calls it, was Messiah’s directive to his Jewish Apostles to do what had never been done before; make disciples of the people of the nations without requiring them to undergo the proselyte rite and convert to Judaism. It may have been (and I’m extending the previously mentioned midrash about Noah and Abraham) that like the people of Noah’s generation, the Gentiles were considered unable to be redeemed unless they converted and joined Israel and Jewish people “lock, stock, and barrel,” so to speak. If a Gentile were permitted entry into the ekklesia of Messiah and to remain a Gentile, was such a thing even possible?

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Acts 15:1-2

Peter's visionMany Jews didn’t seem to think so, not because they were mean-spirited or had anything against Gentiles as such, but because it seemed like a spiritual and covenantal impossibility. Even Peter, if he hadn’t experienced his vision (Acts 10:9-16),would never have understood that it was possible for Gentiles to be redeemed.

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.

Acts 10:28

See? The vision was a metaphor, not a literal reality. It was never about food. It was about people.

Opening his mouth, Peter said:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.

Acts 10:34-35, 44-46

Obviously, those late Second Temple period Jews who thought Gentiles could not be brought to God on equal terms and yet remain Gentiles were wrong, but it took a lot of convincing. In fact, Luke’s Book of Acts and many of Paul’s epistles testify to how eagerly thousands upon thousands of Gentiles accepted the discipleship of Yeshua upon themselves, receiving the Spirit and the promise of the resurrection.

But what about we believers today? Oh yes, Christians sometimes go door-to-door passing out religious tracts, send missionaries to far away lands to preach the word of the Gospel, and otherwise proselytize the people around them, but do we ever give up on individuals or, Heaven forbid, entire groups of people?

For Easter one year, the church where I first became a believer many years ago, created a video project. They went to Portland and deliberately approached people who seemed extraordinarily (from these Christians’ point of view) unlikely to accept Christ or even to know much about him. The people they captured on video tape seemed to be what I believe were/are called punk rockers, people, with spiked, multi-colored hair and a proliferation of body piercings; people who didn’t look at all like the “clean-cut” Christians from that church in Boise, Idaho, who typically were socially and politically conservative, and most of whom were educated professionals.

When we screened some of the raw video prior to editing, a lot of people around me in the audience were laughing and making fun of the answers the “subjects” gave in response to the Christian interviewer’s questions about Jesus and Easter.

I was disgusted.

If that had happened today, I certainly would have spoken up, but way back then, I was considered what is called a “baby Christian,” someone new to the faith. I had very little experience as a Christian and didn’t know how or even if this was to be considered normal for a believer. All I knew was that a year from that point, none of the people in that Church would know if anyone they had spoken to in Portland might have made a confession of faith and become a brother or sister in Christ. They’d just written these folks off. More’s the pity.

Who are we? Are we worthy to be called by His Name?

Well, no one is worthy, but by our behavior, by our attitude toward individuals or entire groups or “types” of people, do be sanctify or desecrate the Name of God?

unworthyI can’t tell you about Noah’s righteousness relative to Abraham’s with any certainty, or for that matter, in relation to Moses, but I can tell you that the next time you see another believer operating with a “holier than thou” attitude (or the next time you operate with that attitude), chances are, the second you started making fun of someone else or denigrating them for some flaw or problem they possess, you ceased to have any claim to any righteousness you thought you had.

…as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one…

Romans 3:10

So what’s the cure for this sickness of self-righteousness?

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent…each of you…”

Acts 2:37-38

Peter said other things, but I’m assuming that it is as believers we need to repent of how we judge others, not as those who still need to be baptized by the merit of Moshiach. But then again, if we are capable of acts of cruelty or even just indifference to whole populations of people because they don’t look, talk, or act like us, maybe we are not really disciples of the Master at all.

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'”

Matthew 7:23

Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter

Paul told the Galatians of a time in Antioch when he “condemned” Peter “to his face” for failing to “walk straight toward the good news.” He attributed Peter’s change of mealtime behavior to a hypocritical effort to escape pressure from “the ones for the circumcision” (Gal 2:11-21). For before “certain ones came from James,” Peter “was eating with the Gentiles” but afterwards he “drew back and separated himself.

-Mark D. Nanos
“What Was at Stake in Peter’s ‘Eating with Gentiles’ at Antioch?” pg, 282 (pages 282-318) in The Galatians Debate. Edited by Mark Nanos. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002.

So begins Nanos’ article on a topic I’ve been exploring recently, the Messianic community of Jews and Gentiles in the “Synagogue of the Way” in first century CE Syrian Antioch, and more specifically, what is known as “the Antioch Incident” which involved the activity chronicled by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-21.

While this article was included as a chapter (fifteen) in the book The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, it also functions as a stand-alone paper which we can examine and from which we may be able to draw certain conclusions.

I’ve covered this material in two previous blog posts, both based on chapters from Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (See Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch and Today’s Messianic Judaism and Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles). There is only one more chapter left in the Zetterholm book, which describes his perspective on the split between the Jewish and Gentile groups within the Messianic Antioch ekklesia (and ultimately all believing communities of that era), but someone suggested that I might want to review the Nanos paper on this topic first, since it may provide some clarification as to the actual problem between Paul and Peter as related to Gentile community and social status in this Jewish religious stream.

What Was at Stake in the Antioch Incident?

Nanos defines two “interpretive elements” that are “central for determining what was at stake” in “Peter’s eating or not eating with these Gentiles (pg 283):”

  1. What did the ones for the circumcision, whom Peter feared, find so objectionable about Peter’s eating with Gentiles?
  2. What did Paul find so objectionable about Peter’s decision to withdraw and separate from these mixed meals?

Keep in mind all this is from Paul’s point of view, so we don’t have the perspectives of Peter, the other Jewish believers (and unbelievers?) present, and particularly the Gentiles who were impacted by the incident.

According to Nanos, there are three possibilities as far as what the “ones advocating circumcision” could have found objectionable or offensive about Peter eating with the Jesus-believing Gentiles:

  1. The food served was objectionable according to Jewish dietary norms.
  2. Peter was violating halachah in even eating with Gentiles at all, even though the food was acceptable.
  3. It was the way Peter was eating with these Gentiles, rather than having a meal with them as such (and with the food being acceptable).

In trying to select an appropriate response, we also have to take Paul’s reaction into consideration. Which of these circumstances was most likely to elicit his offense and outrage and why?

Traditionally Paul has been understood to be upset because he maintained that faith in the gospel obviated continued regard for eating according to Jewish dietary regulations. But for Paul, did observing a Jewish diet compromise in principle “the truth of the gospel”? Or did he perhaps object instead to the degree of Jewish dietary rigor necessary to comply with the standards of those whom Peter feared? Or again, in a different direction, could it be that Paul understood that Peter’s withdrawal and separation undermined the identity of the Gentiles as equals while remaining Gentiles?

-Nanos, pg 284

At the church I currently attend (and I suspect at most or all Evangelical churches just about everywhere), it is assumed that the first and traditional Christian interpretation is obviously correct. Jesus canceled “the Law” including kashrut and Peter was eating ham sandwiches and shrimp scampi with his Gentile buds until other Jews who were “still under the Law” showed up and embarrassed Peter. Peter caved in to peer pressure and pulled away from eating trief with the goyim. Clearly for Evangelicals, the issue at hand was the food.

But before we get into whether this is actually supported by scripture or not, we need to identify the players. I used to think there were only two interest groups outside of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and of course, the Gentiles present:

  1. The “certain men from James” who represented the “party of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12 NASB).
  2. The rest of the Jews (Gal. 2:13 NASB) who “joined him (Peter) in hypocrisy.”

However, Nanos draws a distinction between the Jewish men from James and the advocates of circumcision as representing two different groups of Jews. Paul obviously knew the particulars and presumably, so did the intended audience of his epistle (Gentile believers in the Messianic synagogues in the area of Galatia), but because that understanding was assumed, this narrative doesn’t contain a lot of information to help us figure out who’s who.

Antioch Rubens“The rest of the Jews” probably isn’t a terribly significant group, according to Nanos. They could be local Jesus-believing Jews, or Jews who accompanied Peter from Jerusalem/Judea to Antioch (Peter’s personal disciples?).

More critical to grasp are the two other groups. From verse 12, the Greek describing the contingent from James is best translated, again according to Nanos, as ”certain/some ones came from James,” (pg 286) but doesn’t absolutely delineate whether James actually sent them or if they came from James but weren’t specifically his representatives.

This is important because in my previous blog posts citing Zetterholm, it was thought that Paul and James disagreed about the status of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community and even that James advocated for a total “bilateral” separation of Jewish and Gentile believers, while Paul supported covenant and social inclusion. It makes a difference if James sent this group to “spy out” the doings in the Antioch synagogue vs. this group was associated with James but didn’t directly represent his views.

The third group (pp 286-7), the ones Peter was actually afraid of (I guess this would mean he wasn’t afraid of the group from James), is simply identified as “circumcision” (Jews) as opposed to “foreskinned” (Gentiles). Why did Paul call this third group only “circumcision?” What did he mean? Were they believing or non-believing Jews?

It would seem odd, at least to me, for Paul to call this Jewish group “circumcision” in order to differentiate them from believing Jews (although according to one Pastor I’ve spoken with who represents the traditional Christian viewpoint, Paul was advocating against believing Jews becoming circumcised, though this should have happened when they were eight-days old, or having their male children circumcised). In Galatians 3:28, Paul wrote that Jews and Greeks are all “one in Christ” but he still differentiates Jews and Greeks, even as he differentiates men and women “in Christ.”

This would mean (and Nanos speaks of this on pg 287), that Paul and Peter self-identified as “Jews by birth” (v. 15…also see Rom. 9:3-5, 11:1; Phil. 3:3-5, and by inference, 1 Cor. 7:17-20), thus a Jew becoming a disciple of Messiah Jesus (Yeshua) did not remove the status of “Jew” from the Jewish person. In other words a Jesus-believing Jew and any other Jew are both considered Jews, with no distinction relative to their ethnic or (Sinai) covenant status. So Paul and Peter are just as Jewish as any other Jewish individual. Being called “circumcision” is only to differentiate Jews from the “foreskinned” Gentiles.

Citing Dunn (Dunn, “Echoes,” 460-61; see also, Dunn, Theology, 123, where he cites Rom 4:12; Col 4:11; Titus 1:10), Nanos states (pg 288):

…but an interest group specifically distinguished from other groups of circumcised Jews as advocates of circumcision.

And further:

Given the rhetorical context dealing with Gentile associates, the likely connotation of this particular advocacy is proselyte conversion.

The “circumcision” then are a group of Jews (believing or non-believing) who advocate for Gentiles in the Jewish religious space to gain equality with the “Jews by birth” only through the proselyte rite which includes circumcision.

This group represented the dominant viewpoint of Jewish communal norms (see Acts 15:1) relative to full Gentile inclusion in Jewish religious/communal space. Gentile God-fearers were attendees or guests in that space but were hardly considered of equal status to Jews in the synagogue and in Jewish society at large and they absolutely were not included in covenant.

fellowshipNanos presents what appears to be a new perspective (from an Evangelical Christian point of view) regarding the issue at hand. Paul considered the believing Gentiles as having equal status in the Jewish “Way,” both in terms of social status and covenant blessings, while still remaining Gentiles. In fact, Paul required that the Gentiles retain their status as Gentiles lest “Christ be of no benefit” to them (Galatians 5:2).

The problem was not food, and it was not a general ban of Jews eating with Gentiles (since in diaspora communities, the halachah for such mixed-meals would have to allow for some social intercourse), but rather non-proselyte believing Gentiles being treated as social and covenant equals within the Jewish community.

Nanos refers to v. 13 in terms of Peter and the other Jews as “masking their true conviction,” which will be seen as significant because:

Therefore, the Christ-believing Jews try to mask their convictions that these Gentiles are not regarded among their subgroups as mere “pagan” guests, but at the same time not as proselyte candidates either, by withdrawing from eating with Gentiles to distance themselves from meals symbolizing this nonconforming “truth.”

-ibid, pg 289

The “nonconforming truth” is that, through faith in Messiah, the Gentiles are considered equal co-participants in Jewish covenant and community while remaining Gentiles and with no intention of them ever participating in the proselyte rite. Something about the way Peter was eating with the Gentiles, indicated to outside Jewish observers, that Peter and the Jews with him considered the believing Gentiles as social/covenantal equals to the Jews, something that non-Jesus-believing Jews (or maybe Jesus-believing Jews from a different faction) found offensive and unsustainable.

Peter’s hypocrisy then, was pretending the Gentiles did not have equal social standing with the Jews of the Way when just previously, he had been eating with them as equals. Peter then included Barnabas and other Jews in his hypocrisy when his example resulted in their following his lead.

Nanos supports something that I’ve believed for a while now. The “offense of the cross” for non-believing Jews wasn’t Jesus himself, but rather Paul’s insistence that Jesus-believing Gentiles be included in the Jewish community as equal co-participants while remaining Gentiles.

Apostle Paul preachingA classic example of this occurred at Pisidian Antioch. In Paul’s first appearance and “sermon” there on Shabbat, the Jews and Proselytes were quite interested in Paul’s message of the good news of Messiah and wanted him to return the following Shabbat to say more (Acts 13:43). However, the following Shabbat, it was apparent that the Gentile God-fearers, present the previous week, had “spread the word” to their Gentile families and friends, most likely not God-fearers, but “straight up” pagans and idol worshipers, because “crowds” of Gentiles showed up at the synagogue (v. 45) resulting in “jealousy” among the synagogue leaders, and with them responding to Paul with “blasphemy” and evicting Paul and his companions from the synagogue and the entire district.

Getting back to the two groups, the ones from James and the advocates of circumcision for Gentiles, Nanos states that we don’t know how they are related or what the timing of the arrival of the first group has to do with the presence of the second group. It could be a coincidence, but in the Bible, I tend to think there is no such critter.

That describes a great deal about the situation but doesn’t answer the question about what was at stake in Peter eating with and withdrawing from the Gentiles at Antioch.

J.B. Lightfoot argues that before the withdrawal Peter “had no scruples about living [like a gentile],” that is, without observing Jewish dietary restrictions (“discard Jewish customs”), for the vision of Acts 10 “taught him the worthlessness of these narrow traditions.” Lightfoot assumes that this change is the logical result of the desire to “mix freely with the Gentiles and thus of necessity disregard the Jewish law of meats.”

-ibid, pg 293

This is an example of the traditional Christian interpretation of the matter, but as I’ve stated here and in many other blog articles, this just doesn’t jibe with the overall presentation of Paul relative to the Torah as well and Jewish and Gentile status, and it certainly is inconsistent with Messiah’s interpretation of his own mission in terms of continued Torah observance by believing Jews (Matthew 5:17-19).

Nanos presented examples of the opinions of other New Testament scholars who support the traditional view and then more “recent trends in interpretation.”

As E.P. Sanders makes exceptionally clear, there is no reason to believe that observant Jewish people and groups did not eat with Gentles given the right conditions.

-ibid, pg 296

And…

There is no reason to believe that many, if not most, observant Jews, certainly those living in the Diaspora, would not and did not eat with Gentiles without compromising their Jewish dietary norms to do so.

-ibid, pg 297

However, other Jewish groups may have feared that such mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile “equals” would somehow lead to Jews ”eating of inappropriate food according to Jewish dietary norms, inclusive of the food and drink associated with idolatry.”

shared wineThere has been some support of the idea that God-fearing Gentiles remained polytheistic (M. Zetterholm, S.J.D Cohen), probably as a convenience since they had to continue to interact with individuals, groups, and businesses that were part of the diaspora pagan cult. If Jews witnessed other Jews and Gentiles eating (kosher food and wine) together as equals, they may have assumed that this represented a significant risk, based on their experience with and understanding of God-fearers. The only way they could be reasonably sure that such mixed meals weren’t “risky” was if the Gentiles involved were participants in the proselyte rite. The Jewish observers objecting to mixed meals didn’t “know,” they just assumed what was going on.

Nanos says Paul’s reference to the “truth of the gospel,” to which the circumcision advocate objected, was the way Gentiles were treated by Jews at the mixed meals, that is, the Gentiles were treated as full equals in the Jewish subgroup.

It pronounced these Gentiles full members of the people of God apart from the traditional conventions for rendering them such. Thus the pressure is specifically said to be from “advocates of circumcision.” And the reaction of Peter and the other Jews was to “withdraw” and “separate” in order to “hide” their conviction with behavior that does not exemplify “the truth of the gospel,” instead of dismissing the Gentiles as though they agreed in principle with those who brought the pressure…

ibid, pg 301

But what about this?

I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Galatians 2:14 (NASB)

The issue of Peter “living like a Gentile” is traditionally assumed to mean that Peter gave up a life of Jewish Torah observance, including keeping the laws of kashrut, and felt free to live life as a Gentile, eating and drinking pretty much anything with disregard of Jewish norms. Also, and this is less clear in Christian thinking, Peter was somehow compelling the Gentiles present to live like Jews.

In Peter’s withdrawal and separation from the Jesus-believing Gentiles present, he was indicating that Gentile status in the Jewish ekklesia was not equal after all and that, by appearing to side with the Jewish circumcision advocates, he was implicitly saying that for the Gentiles to be considered equal, they had to participate in the proselyte rite and become Jews (compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews). This was Peter’s hypocrisy, because he actually believed the Gentiles were already equal co-participants due to their discipleship in Christ.

Did Peter compromise his Jewish identity by eating with the Gentiles (living like a Gentile)? The issue at hand relates to identity, both Jewish and Gentile:

The question before these Gentiles, as Paul sees the matter, is one of identity, not behavior per se, although it is Peter’s change in behavior — because of his desire to maintain the privileges of identity on terms that no longer should dictate behavior of members of this coalition — that provoked the incident around which Paul constructs his case.

-Nanos, pg 311

Peter and accusersPeter wasn’t “living like a Gentile” in the sense that he had abandoned his Jewish identity and affiliation, but he was behaving in a manner that was not dependent on absolutely separating himself from equal co-participation in the ekklesia, including mixed Jewish/Gentile meals, in order to maintain and affirm his Jewish identity. Jews and Gentiles could maintain distinct identities and yet, in terms of social behavior, they could be co-equals in fellowship within the Messianic Jewish ekklesia.

Peter’s behavior, when seen by Jewish outside observers, was criticized as violating Jewish social norms and thus Jewish identity (living like a Gentile) by the circumcision party, but they were unaware or they didn’t accept the new status of the Gentiles relative to Jewish community.

Nanos adds dimension to this by re-translating the relevant scripture in this way:

If you Peter, remain Jewish yet are identified now as a righteous one (justified) in the same way as are these Gentiles (by faith in/of Christ) and not by virtue of the fact that you were born a Jew, how can you decide to behave in a way that implies that these Gentiles are not your equal unless they become Jews too?

-ibid, pg 315

The mindset required here is a shift from Jewish privilege as justified by being born Jewish, to justification through faith in/of Christ in exactly the same manner as the Gentiles.

I found the following quote revealing:

The salient difference is the claim of this subgroup to live “in Christ” as equals before God and one another, as “one,” whether Jew or Gentile. Claiming that the end of the ages has dawned, this coalition seeks to exemplify this “truth” by living together without discrimination according to certain prevailing conventions of the present age (cf. 1:3-4; 3:27-29; 6:14-16).

-ibid, pg 316

I’ve mentioned previously, citing D.T. Lancaster (see the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons and What About the New Covenant lectures), that the Messianic Age or Kingdom was inaugurated with the death and resurrection of Christ but will not be brought to fullness until the return of Messiah as conquering King. In the meantime, we believers, Jewish and Gentile, have received a “downpayment,” or a “guarantee” that the Messianic promises of the New Covenant will indeed reach fruition in their appointed time.

We are to live like partisans or freedom fighters resisting the current “King” in the present age, and living as if the “once and future King” were already here.

That’s what the mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile co-participants in the ekklesia as equals represents.

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

This is one picture of the Messianic Kingdom, when we Gentiles will indeed ”come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom.” That’s what was at stake in the Antioch incident, the recognition and acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in the coming Kingdom which has yet to arrive but is already here.

When Peter pulled away from the Gentiles and caused other Jesus-believing Jews to do likewise, he was sending a clear signal (whether he intended to or not) that the Gentiles were not equal, and he was actually denying the “truth of the gospel,” the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Messiah, and the reign of Messiah over Israel and the nations of the Earth in peace and unity.

Peter, in one simple but devastating act, denied that God had to power to bring about all He promised in the New Covenant times. No wonder Paul was so furious.

Conclusion

What I’ve gotten from Zetterholm so far is that in mid-first century CE in Antioch, and presumably influencing the rest of the Messianic communities (the “churches” Paul had “planted”), there was a dynamic “tension” between Paul and James, with Paul advocating for Jesus-believing Gentiles being included into the Jewish ekkelsia as equal co-participants socially and in covenant blessings, while James strongly thought the Gentiles should maintain their own separate and bilateral communities apart from the Jesus-believing Jews. This tension in my reading of Zetterholm so far, was never resolved, and the result was the ultimate schism between the Gentiles and Jews in the community of believers.

The Jewish PaulNanos doesn’t paint quite so grim a picture, but he’s writing while strictly considering only Paul’s perspective in Galatians 2. The ones from James may have had something to do with the Antioch incident, but Nanos believes the ones Peter actually feared were a separate group, a group of believing or non-believing Jews who advocated Gentile inclusion in Jewish religion and fellowship only by circumcision and participation in the proselyte rite.

Paul continues as the advocate for Gentile inclusion which he sees as a sign of the emergent Messianic Kingdom symbolized by Jews and Gentiles sharing meals as equals rather than the Gentiles being subordinate in the Jewish space, either as pagan guests or God-fearers. Peter’s withdrawal punched a really big hole in the structure Paul was trying to construct, a portrait, an image of the future age coming into the world now. Peter not only rejected Gentile equality in the ekklesia, he denied the power of God to bring about unity in the Kingdom to come.

What implications can we draw for the modern Messianic Jewish (MJ) movement. The current MJ movement exists as separate or interrelated streams with different standards of Torah observance, halachot, and particularly, different viewpoints on Jewish/Gentile community interaction and participation.

Many of the questions Paul was addressing are the same issues we find in MJ today. For the most part, communal meals aren’t an issue, since in the communities in which I’ve participated, either kosher meals are available prepared and served in accordance with accepted Jewish halachah, or kosher meal requirements have been loosened (for instance, the elimination of the requirement that said meals must be prepared in a kosher kitchen) to allow for mixed Jewish/Gentile (kosher or kosher-style) meals.

However, the issue of bilateral ecclesiology very much continues to be at the forefront of the debates regarding Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community. Should Messianic Jewish synagogues only allow Jewish membership or should Gentiles be included? If Gentiles are included as members in Jewish religious space, should they be considered equals (as Paul likely advocated) or should they have a lesser status (associate membership) with lesser privileges and responsibilities? Should non-Jewish kids participate in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Can Gentiles be called up for an aliyah to read the Torah on Shabbat? What about Gentiles being included or excluded from davening in a minyan?

We have no record in the Bible of these questions being answered, but we do, at least in my opinion, have strong indications, both Biblically and through historical records, that Gentiles did participate in Jewish communal life in diaspora synagogues. They did eat together as equal co-participants.

Taking all of this into account, where does the modern Messianic Jewish movement go from here and what part do we “Messianic Gentiles” play in it?

I hope to finish my final review of Zetterholm soon.

Shammai, Peter, and Cornelius

hillel_shammaiShammai’s school of thought became known as the House of Shammai (Hebrew: Beth Shammai‎), as Hillel’s was known as the House of Hillel (Beit Hillel). After Menahem the Essene had resigned the office of Av Beit Din (or vice-president) of the Sanhedrin, Shammai was elected to it, Hillel being at the time president. After Hillel died, circa 20 CE, Shammai took his place as president but no vice-president from the minority was elected so that the school of Shammai attained complete ascendancy, during which Shammai passed “18 ordinances” in conformity with his ideas. The Talmud states that when he passed one of the ordinances, contrary to the opinion of Hillel, the day “was as grievous to Israel as the day when the [golden] calf was made” (Shabbat, 17a). The exact content of the ordinances is not known, but they seem to have been designed to strengthen Jewish identity by insisting on stringent separation between Jews and gentiles, an approach that was regarded as divisive and misanthropic by Shammai’s opponents.

Wikipedia

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

Acts 10:28 (ESV)

I suppose I could have called this blog post, “Things I Learned in Church Today,” but then, I’d have a lot of blog posts with the same title. I recently came across a “statistic” on a blog (it’s not based on any real data) that said the vast majority of Christianity, something like “99.99999999999%” is “anti-Judaic.” I’ll agree that the church has a rather poor track record relative to Jews, Judaism, and Israel, but that’s changing. I know because the church I attend is very pro Jews, Judaism, and Israel. It’s not just the Pastoral staff but the regular members, too. In my Sunday school class, the teacher, who by trade is an electrical contractor, opined on how much we Christians owe the Jewish people at the very start of class.

But what did I learn in church about Jews, Judaism, and Acts 10? I learned about something called the “18 measures.” Apparently, this was something debated between Hillel and Shammai and while the specifics of these “measures” crafted by Shammai are no longer known, two of them were said to be “anti-Gentile.” Pastor Randy came to speak with me right before services began and shared what he had found out during his research. He said that one of the measures of Shammai stated that it was “unlawful” for a Jew to enter a Gentile’s home because it would be possible for a corpse to be present without the Jew’s knowledge (resulting in ritual defilement: see Num. 19:11-16). This could include a dead person buried under the house, since it seems it was the custom in some households to bury the family patriarch under the structure.

Or was Shammai looking for excuses to keep Jews and Gentiles apart? After all, Israel was occupied by Gentile forces and the Romans never went out of their way to be friendly or courteous to the Jewish population. Quite the opposite in fact. The Jews had good reason to want to avoid Gentiles and particularly Roman soldiers.

Was this part of what Peter was thinking of when he was confronted by God with the news that he was to visit the household of a Roman Centurion? In the above-quoted passage from Acts 10, the greek word translated as “unlawful” as in “how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate…” isn’t the word for “Law,” but the word for “tradition.” Basically, Peter was telling Cornelius that it was against halakhah for a Jew to enter the home of a Gentile because the Jew might well become ritualistically “unclean.” God showed Peter the contradiction (in this case) between the prevailing halakhah of his day and the teachings of God that no human being is “unclean.”

I don’t know if Peter was specifically thinking of Shammai during this whole transaction, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

But am I being too hard on Shammai?

Shammai is a much misunderstood character and you malign him with your words…. according to the Mishnah in Treatise Avot, one of Shammai’s favourite sayings was “Always receive all men with a cheerful expression on your face!” (Avot, chapter 1, para. 15)

-ProfBenTziyyon, 18 Jan 09
http://messiahtruth.yuku.com

I’m not trying to be hard on Shammai or for that matter, on Peter. I did think this was an interesting detail that works to “flesh out” the humanity and the lived context for Peter as he was faced with doing a very hard thing. About fifteen years earlier, Jesus gave his Jewish disciples the “commission” to make disciples out of the Gentiles, but as far as we know, that command received no attention until the Master spurred Peter into action using a vision (Acts 10:9-16).

In this case however, if Peter has responded to halakhah rather than God, the good news of Christ would never have come to Cornelius and his household and arguably the rest of us would have suffered the same fate. Or God would have chosen a different messenger, but He chose Peter. It was Peter who had to grow beyond his prejudices and perhaps only a Jewish apostle could deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles. I mean, the angel (Acts 10:3-6) could have told Cornelius everything he needed to know, but it was more than just information that needed to be delivered, it was the forging of new connections and relationships. While Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, was a “God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation,” God had a far better destiny for him as one of first Gentiles to ever receive the Holy Spirit and be reconciled to God. Peter, for his part, and his Jewish companions needed to be witnesses and to see for themselves that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” They needed to see that even the Gentiles could receive the Spirit and be saved, even as the Jews had done.

This, as much as anything else in the Bible, was an incredible miracle, because God so loved the world.

What biases and prejudices prevent you and me from doing the will of God?