Welcomed by Brethren Part 4 of 4

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written{9] and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.

James concluded his proposal to Paul with a reminder of the apostolic decrees. The words in verse 25 are to be seen as an assurance to Paul that the basic decision of the Jerusalem conference had not been changed. Gentiles still were not being asked to live by the Jewish Torah—only to observe those basic ritual matters that made table fellowship and social interaction possible between Jewish and Gentile Christians. The elder’s proposal (vs. 22-24) was strictly for Paul, that he as a Jewish Christian demonstrate his fidelity to the law to offset the rumors in the Jewish Christian community. In reality, the matter was neutral with Paul, as we learn from 1 Corinthians 7:18: “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” Paul did not insist that Christians from a Jewish background give up their ancestral customs. So far as Paul was concerned, circumcision and all the rest of it was “nothing”— “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. (1 Corinthians 7:19). So far as we can tell, Paul continued to observe the law throughout his life, especially in Jewish Company.

The Elders hastened to assure Paul they had no intention of shackling his Gentile converts. In fact, they implied, it would be a good idea if they remained aloof from the whole business now about to be transacted. This was between Paul and them and the Jews of the world. The proposal was a sort of compromise solution and thoroughly in accord with the picture of James at the Jerusalem Conference, for they made it clear that only certain definitely limited obligations have been laid upon Gentiles. James wanted both to acknowledge the legitimacy of Paul’s law-free Gentile mission and to maintain an effective witness among the Jews, for which faithfulness to the law was absolutely essential. Ultimately the compromise did not work—either in this instance for Paul or in regard to the larger issue of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. As Jewish nationalism increased, the Gentile mission became more and more of a liability to Jewish Christianity. In the aftermath of the Jewish War with Rome and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Jewish Christianity was declared heretical by official Judaism; and it was no longer possible for a Christian Jew to remain in the Jewish community. James understood the problem well and sought to present himself as a strict, Torah-abiding Jew, doubtless to strengthen the credibility of his witness to his fellow Jews. Ultimately, he gave his life for his Christian witness, being put to death at the order of the

high priest Ananus in A.D. 62.

26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the Temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.

One commentator has suggested that we translate this difficult verse thus: “He entered into the Temple, informing the priests that within seven days (v. 27) the days of their purification would be accomplished; and he proposed to remain with them in the Temple for a whole week, until the legal sacrifice had been offered for each one of them.”

Paul was all too ready to be a Jew to the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20). We know from his letters that the collection from the Gentile churches had brought him to Jerusalem, and the major reason for this was to express the unity between Gentile and Jewish Christianity. He knew the risks involved in coming to Jerusalem (Romans 15:31). He was more than willing to participate in this symbolic act of Jewish piety if that would help to justify his Gentile mission in the eyes of the Jewish Christians. He began his purification the next day and announced in the Temple the formal date when the Nazarite ceremony would be completed. It would take place in seven days, when his own purification was fulfilled.

One could say that the purification ceremony, and everything associated with it was a waste of time and effort. Once the Temple was gone, all these petty things, so dear to the hearts of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, would be swept away forever. In the meantime, for the sake of Christian unity and peace, Paul paid the price demanded of him by the Jerusalem elders, and for the best part of a weak he went through with it, hoping against hope that it might do some good. Then his world exploded. An era came to an end, and Jerusalem lived up to its Christ-rejecting reputation.

Luke’s tendency is to overstress the friendly relations between Paul and the Jewish leaders of the church, but the fact remains that he says nothing about any further support given to Paul by these leaders; indeed, once Paul is arrested they appear to abandon him to his fate.

WHAT IT MEANS TOO ME and YOU! Friend, you don’t have to take a vow. But if you want to take a vow, you can. If you want to shave your head and take a vow, that is your business. If you want to take a vow and let your hair grow long, that is your business. It is all right with the Lord. Under grace, you have a right to do these things. Under grace, you have the right to make a vow if you want to do so—just so you understand that you are not saved by what you do but by the grace of God.

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