Commentary on "Jew and Gentile"
Day 4: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - "What Must I Do To Be Saved?"
The lesson covers Acts 15:1-12, the story of Paul coming to the council in Jerusalem for their help in resolving the question of whether or not the Gentile converts needed to keep the Jewish law in order to be Christians. Further, the lesson addresses the method by which this dispute was resolved, using Ellen White to emphasize that Paul turned to the wisdom of the church body to help him with this question.
The lesson builds the case that circumcision was the issue the Judaizers were insisting be applied to the Gentile converts. The teacher’s notes, in fact, make much of the fact that even in the Old Testament, circumcision was to represent and be accompanied by circumcision of the heart.
In fact, however, circumcision was never in a vacuum. While the typical Adventist explanation of Acts 15 is that the early church decided new converts did not need to be circumcised but still had to keep the “moral laws”, this conclusion is not in view at all in Scripture.
Circumcision was the ritual that ushered a convert into the full privilege of the entire Mosaic law. Unless a Gentile was circumcised, he was not bound by any of the law. Moreover, he was not allowed to keep the Jewish law if he was not circumcised. Circumcision was what made a person “Jewish”, and when a person was circumcised, he was then REQUIRED to keep every other law of the Torah.
The Council of Jerusalem was not about circumcision; it was about the whole law. Circumcision was simply the “door” that opened up the law. If Gentiles were not to be circumcised, then none of the law could be expected of them, including the Sabbath. If they were circumcised, then they would have to keep all 613 laws.
By deciding that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised, they decided that Gentiles were not under the law in any sense, nor were they required to keep it. They had become born again—Paul stressed they had received the Holy Spirit—and they answered directly to the Lord Jesus and lived by His Spirit’s conviction and teaching. The Law now indwelt them., making Jesus real and causing them to understand Scripture.
Moreover, the lesson makes a case that the “Christian Pharisees”, as they call the Judaizers, were analogous to all those who come to Christ bearing baggage. The teacher’s notes say that “they were Christians, and they were Pharisees…as such, they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, Their contention that new converts must be circumcised and obey the laws of Moses was considered seriously by the church but ultimately rejected and dismissed.”
In other words, the lesson describes them as Christians just like the rest, but just bearing baggage, like we today may carry bad habits or have false or unnecessary beliefs about God, ourselves, the universe, or other things. God accepts us with all these, the lesson says, but ultimately we have to decide what is necessary and what’s not.
In fact, the Judaizers were not considered just like everybody else. They were considered false teachers, and Paul railed against the influence of the false teachers in the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Furthermore, in Galatians 5:12 Paul says of the Judaizers that he wished they would go so far as to emasculate themselves, and he said they had bewitched the Galatians (Gal. 3:1) and that they should be accursed (Gal 1:9).
When anything is added to the simple gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from death on the third day that addition is a “different gospel” which is really not a gospel and which is a distortion of the gospel.
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