Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Acts and Mission 87

Jerusalem.jpgNow on to Jerusalem (replica to your left of the old ancient core), which begins a long but final set of episodes in Acts: Paul gets there, suspicion is aroused, he’s taken into custody, and eventually ends up in prison in Rome — but undeterred in his gospel preaching.

The singular issue concerns Paul’s observance of Torah and whether or not his churches are Torah-observant. Notice these words, and I am suggesting these words shed light on what today is often called messianic Judaism: is it to be observant? (According to this text, I’d say yes.) This issue is discussed clearly in Beverly Gaventa: Acts Abingdon New Testament Commentaries
The strategy is to demonstrate Paul’s Torah observance by taking a vow along with others. Paul, it is said, follows the Torah, and the Gentiles do to a much lesser degree.
What do I see here for missional: that sometimes missional work involves overt acts that demonstrate one’s theology and obedience.

Acts 21:

 21:18 The next day Paul went in with us to see James, and all the elders were there. 21:19 When Paul had greeted them, he began to explain in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 21:20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all ardent observers of the law21:21 They have been informed about you – that you teach all the Jews now living among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 21:22 What then should we do? They will no doubt hear that you have come. 21:23 So do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow; 21:24 take them and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law21:25 But regarding the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter, having decided that they should avoid meat that has been sacrificed to idols and blood and what has been strangled and sexual immorality.” 21:26 Then Paul took the men the next day, and after he had purified himself along with them, he went to the temple and gave notice of the completion of the days of purification, when the sacrifice would be offered for each of them. 
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posted February 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Sometimes one simply has to play up to cultural standards. Many have pointed out the illogical approach of Paul in Acts: Acts 15 states that circumcision is not necessary, yet Paul circumcizes Timothy; Paul has shown that Gentiles need not follow Mosaic, yet he chooses to make sacrifices at the Temple. Many people point out the inconsistencies in their attacks on Paul.
Yet we often neglect the fact that Paul became all things to all men. Paul saw no need to anger the Jews he was working among in Jerusalem, and thus had no problem offering those sacrifices of cleansing. Indeed, we find Paul taking a Nazarite vow in the context of his Gentile ministry. Paul was a cultural Jew and, as a former Pharisee, was comfortable with the Jewish expression of his faith. For Paul, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, not the founder of a new religion per se.
From a missional point of view, you must often dress, eat, and live in ways that conform to the culture you are entering. To not do so would be poor missiology.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Daniel #1-
Good point, and we cannot overlook that Paul does not ask, or even want, Titus to be circumcized (Gal 2). Cultural and theological implications must be considered for each circumstance.

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Scot McKnight

posted February 3, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Daniel, an increasing number of New Testament scholars are not convinced Paul’s observance of the Torah is missionary strategy, but a part of his faith, his covenant commitment, and belief system.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Who would you include under that heading? (Just wondering; been out of seminary too long!)
I don’t discount that Paul is doing it as a part of his faith; he still sees himself primarily in Jewish terms throughout his ministry. Indeed, he usually goes to the Jews (or at least the synagogues) first. But I still wonder about the strategy of it all. Paul seems to play by the “rules” wherever he is: among Gentiles, he is not above eating in non-kosher ways by eating with Gentiles, and among Jews he seems to keep all of the kosher laws (all the laws of purity).
I do wonder, however, about the continued use of the sacrificial system among Christian Jews during this time. Are they still participating in all of the temple’s sacrifices, even though they saw Christ as the ultimate Lamb of God? (Just wondering…)

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Scot McKnight

posted February 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Daniel, hard to know about sacrifices.
But the good messianic Jewish scholars are involved, but I think now of Markus Bockmuehl at Cambridge. I suspect this will become an issue, but not central, to NT studies before too long and will generate lots of friction.

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