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The Union of Jews and Gentiles

30 Jun

Once you get the Jews and the Gentiles in the Church together, how does that work? Under what conditions is this possible, and who gets to say? God’s plan has always been not only to sum up everything in heaven and earth in Christ, but to bring together the whole human race in him as a sign to the principalities and powers (Ephesians 3:10). Caesar and world powers today would have loved to unite the world in this way, but they cannot. Only God is able to cross national and traditional boundaries with all the differences this implies, and cross gender lines, social class, and levels of authority and unite all in one body under the Lordship of Jesus.

This is the emerging Kingdom of God on this earth—all nations throughout the world, united as one people in obedience to the God of Abraham. So, Acts 15 asks the question does one have to belong to the family of Abraham (symbolized in the act of circumcision) in order to be saved? It depends upon who gets to tell the story of the people of God. The believing Pharisees in Acts 15 told the story of the people of God needing to be circumcised to be associated with the Abrahamic Covenant and the promises and the need to keep the Law of Moses and be kept in line thereby in order to inherit those promises. Therefore, anyone wanting to take part in a basically Jewish movement must become a Jew in order to be associated with the God of Abraham. This is a very logical point of view, but it is also wrong, if the Scriptures are to be taken into consideration.

Consider the fact that Peter (Acts 15:6-11) told the story differently showing God placed no difference between the Jews and Gentiles, because without being circumcised the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as it fell upon Jews in the beginning (Acts 2). Afterward, James stood up and gave his judgment of the matter in Acts 15:13-21. Quoting Amos 9:11, James says that the Lord would raise up the tabernacle (Temple) of David in order that “the remnant of men, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, may earnestly seek me, says the Lord who does all these things” (Amos 9:12 LXX).

The new or rebuilt Temple (tabernacle) of David is Jesus and the Church emerging throughout the world! Notice that James does not support the Marcionite error of the 2nd century. He doesn’t claim the Gospel has nothing to do with Abraham or Moses, but he draws from the Old Covenant itself to prove the equality of Jews and Gentiles come together in one body. Had James believed that the salvation of Jesus had nothing to do with the Old Covenant, this would have been a good time to show it. However, instead of cutting himself off from the Old Covenant, he drew his supporting argument from it.

It is important to note that Luke uses the arguments of Peter and James rather than Paul and Barnabas to provide the Scriptural answer to the problem of uniting Jew and Gentile. Had he not done so, modern critics might have some support in claiming Christianity was invented by Paul, but Luke refutes this argument here by showing Peter and James support Paul’s claim against the traditional Jewish claim that righteousness comes through the Law and identification with God comes through circumcision. The point is, the Law was incapable of giving the life it promised. This is why it is so wrong to seek to be righteous through it—in doing so, we put God to the test (Acts 15:10). Rather we are saved through faith or trust in Jesus that he will do all that is needed in and through us. He is Lord, not the Law. All the Law can do is show me I am a lawbreaker. It cannot offer life, because I am unable to keep it perfectly. Life or salvation comes only through Jesus. Deep within the heart of the prophecies of the Old Testament is the statement that when God does everything for Israel that he intends to do, then the Gentiles would want to join in also. And why not; aren’t they also the creation of God who has created everything else?

James concludes by writing a letter to the Gentile churches affected by those Jews who erroneously claimed to be sent out by him and says that circumcision and uncircumcision are irrelevant. Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be saved and have a relationship with the God of Abraham. However, this doesn’t mean the Gentiles have no responsibility. They do have the basic responsibility of no longer participating in pagan temples of worship (Acts 15:20, 29), of being faithful to God in all things related to prayer, thus not seeking answer to prayer through the curious arts (cp. Acts 19:19), to refrain from eating meats that have not  been properly bled (e.g. strangled animals), and of not participating in meals “with blood”—i.e. meals that invite the god (demon) to eat with them.[1] By doing these things we leave the door open to practicing Jews in our communities who have their eyes open to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah.


[1] Blood was perceived as the food of the gods or demons. In placing a cup of blood on the table, one was inviting the god/demon’s presence and imagining the god/demon was there eating with them at the meal.

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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Gospel, Kingdom of God

 

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