Jesus Creed


What a fascinating set of issues arise in Derbe and Lystra. Jerusalem looms large on the horizon of church building in the Diaspora.

16:1 He also came to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple named Timothy was there, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 16:2 The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was Greek. 16:4 As they went through the towns, they passed on the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the Gentile believers to obey. 16:5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day.

As we proceed, we are reading Beverly Gaventa, Acts Abingdon New Testament Commentaries , for her expert insights into the Book of Acts.

First, it is my contention that Paul (at least at this point) fully supported the Jerusalem decree about the Torah expectations of the Gentile believers in Messiah Jesus. Gentile believers were expected — even outside the Land — to follow the Torah so far as it applied to them. One might say that “Land” is being expanded to include any place where believers in the Messiah were forming. 

Second, Paul regulates Timothy’s status so that he’s no longer in “liminal” space — that is, that he no longer occupied a space where he was neither clearly Jew (uncircumcised with Gentile father who was probably neither a proselyte nor a believer in Jesus [Gaventa]) nor clearly Gentile (his mother was a Jew and that means he “should” be a Jew if the matrilineal principle was in effect — and this was Paul’s concern: other Jews would be thinking Timothy should have been circumcised). So Paul clarifies Timothy’s status; he becomes a Jewish believer with one cutting decision.
Third, the apostolic decree only specified what laws Gentiles needed to follow, and circumcision wasn’t one of them. So, this is not a case of a Gentile needed to be circumcised but of a Jew who had not been circumcised. So, Paul thinks it wise for Jewish believers to live according to Torah — at least for the sake of receptivity to the gospel on the part of other Jews.
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