Torah in the Book of the ACTS of the Apostles: Chapter 13 (Part 2)

Acts 13  – Continued

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.   Acts 13:14

Sabbath as a signWe consistently find Paul and his assistants meeting in the synagogues on the divinely appointed 7th day.   Many teach that this was simply because they were ‘going where the people were,’ and that the apostles themselves worshipped with true believers on Sundays.  We will discuss this in Acts, Chapter 20.  For now, simply note that Paul and his entourage regularly attended Sabbath (Friday night and Saturday) worship as Torah instructs. 

And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.   Acts 13:15

It was customary for visitors to be greeted by the congregation and to be offered the opportunity to speak.  Usually the visitor would merely greet the congregation in return, but some, like Paul (and Y’shua), were happy to take advantage of the opportunity to teach.

Preach it, Paul!

paul-preaching-in-synagogueFirst Paul establishes Y’shua’s claim to the throne of Israel through His descent from David. Then Paul shows from scripture that Messiah was executed in accordance with prophecy.  He goes on to declare their joy that Messiah was raised from the dead, also according to prophecy.

Then Paul says:

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified [1] from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.  Acts 13:38-39

What the Law Could Not Do…

Since we have already shown that many people have been ‘justified by the Law of Moses[2]; since the author of Acts does not record anything more of Paul’s statement (other than a promise that Messiah can offer total justification); since we have seen that Stephen was falsely accused of not following Torah; since we know from other scriptures (yet to be discussed) that Paul loved, taught, and practiced Torah; and since the congregation did not erupt in outrage; we must infer that he is conveying some Torah-related idea other than the dissolution of Torah.

We are reminded of Paul’s statement in his epistle to the Romans:

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:…. And if Messiah be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Rom 8:3, 10

In our study of Romans, we found that ‘what the law could not do’ was to give us the power to overcome the sinful nature of our flesh and walk in Torah righteously – the power that now has been given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are therefore entirely able to walk in righteousness, which Scripture defines as submission to the Torah of YHVH.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law [Torah] of God, neither indeed can be.For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  (Rom 8:7, 13 For we know that the law [Torah] is spiritual (Rom 7:14)

In addition, and perhaps more to the point with reference to this passage, the sacrifices for atonement as ordained by Torah  had to be made over and over as one inadvertently sinned, whereas in Y’shua there is one sacrifice for all.  Power through the Holy Spirit and a permanent sacrifice eliminating condemnation – these were indeed valuable additions to the Covenant – improvements that would be most welcome to YHVH’s people!

Back to thinking like First Century Hebrews

Once again, let’s put ourselves in the place of Paul’s audience.

We are Jews, some more devout than others, but all Torah-observant out of necessity if not out of personal conviction: if we neglect obvious Torah instructions we will be ostracized by our peers and perhaps even punished under the civil law.

ancient_rabbisMost of us, however, are happy to be observant, finding in our observance both divine and human approval.  Nevertheless, we know that we inadvertently and even knowingly sin (transgress Torah, 1John 3:4) on a regular basis. Even though we want to do what is right, we find ourselves succumbing to the sinful nature of our flesh, and have therefore condemned ourselves to the penalty of death.  We wish there was some way to conquer the flesh, but haven’t had much luck with that so far.  (Rom 7:15-25)

The rabbis have taught us [contrary to Scripture] that our salvation depends on perfect Torah observance.  Thankfully, Torah provisions are in place for the atonement of our sins.  God is merciful!  On the other hand, since we are neither rich enough to constantly offer the necessary personal sin sacrifices, nor do we live close enough to the Temple to be able to do so even if we could afford it, we must rely on the sacrifices offered for all the people in the regular Temple services – especially the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement.  This means that there are extended periods when we are under the condemnation (death sentence) of our sin. What if we were to die during one of those periods? What wonderful news it would be to us if somehow this condemnation could be lifted!

Paul told us that this Messiah Y’shua has provided a means for us to be counted as righteous at all times despite our sins! This is indeed good news!  We wanted to hear more about this, so we invited him to speak again at our next meeting. Some of us even cornered him during the week to learn more about this, and we spread the word until almost the whole town turned out to hear him speak!

We believe that this message of Messiah’s appearance, the invitation to repent and become citizens of the Kingdom, the granting of power over the flesh, and the release from the condemnation of sin was the message that Paul was conveying to the Jews.  It is completely in line with OT and NT teaching, as well as being consistent with the enthusiastic reception it received from the ‘Jew in the pew.’

big-fish
“Remind me again what’s so great about this…”

We notice from the rest of the chapter (especially 13:45) that it was not Paul’s message that annoyed the ruling Jews, but rather the popularity and esteem with which Paul was being greeted – he threatened their positions of authority.  These big fish were anxious to get him out of their little pond!

In Contempt of the Law!

Another important issue to consider is this: If Paul had been teaching that the sacrificial system had ended and that Y’shua’s people were no longer expected to live by Torah precepts, he would not only have been guilty of blasphemy in the eyes of the people and religious leaders alike, he would also have been guilty of treason, because the national laws were based on Torah precepts.  He could and would have been arrested for sedition and anarchy. That’s how Stephen ended up in court!

Stephen could be falsely accused with success because the judges had not actually heard him teach.  Paul, on the other hand, had been heard by everyone in town – everyone knew what he taught, so there could be no false witnesses brought against him. The leaders could only bad-mouth him and do everything in their power to get him to leave town, and that’s what they did.

Ministry to the Gentiles
PaulTurnsToThe Gentiles
Paul preaching to the Greeks (Gentiles)

It is at this point that we begin to see Paul directing more of his attention to Gentiles, though he always offered the Good News of the Kingdom to the Jews first. [3]  And we hear consistently that the Gentiles welcomed his message and flocked into the fellowship of believers.

Persecution from ‘the Jews’

From here forward, the rest of the Book of Acts is a steady litany of the persecution Paul suffered at the hands of ‘the Jews,’ only now it is not just the religious leaders who oppose him, but even ‘the Jew in the pew.’

Why did the Jews, previously so receptive to the Good News both in Jerusalem and in other towns, suddenly become so determined to oppose the messenger?   As we read the accounts, we perceive a steady underlying attitude of jealousy and anger from the Jews toward Paul and his converts. What were they angry and jealous about?  What had changed?

Jealousy and Resentment

We will diverge from  discussing specifics of the Book of Acts to address this topic of Jewish resentment, because it is a theme running through Acts.  We believe it is directly connected to the early believers’ observance of Torah. 

We have already discussed the idea that Paul’s popularity threatened local religious leaders. However, we believe that there was another element at play in the Jews’ violent reaction to Paul’s message.

The only real change we can find is that now, suddenly, Gentiles are flooding the ranks of believers. But why would that cause the attacks against Paul?

At the risk of offending dear Jewish brethren who may read this article, we must be forthright and honest in sharing our belief on this matter.  We have seen in our personal experience that Jews in general, even Messianic Jews, are protective of their status as YHVH’s Chosen People.  They perceive Torah to be His special gift to them alone.  If asked outright, they generally will not  openly acknowledge it, but their actions and attitude clearly reveal that they resent it when ‘Gentiles’ become Torah-observant.  They do not really believe that Gentiles can be adopted into the House of Israel, as both the OT and NT scriptures teach.

this_is_a_disapproving_lookWe have personally been told by observant Jewish Messianics that since we are not of recent Jewish descent, we are ‘not obligated’ to observe Torah. The accompanying tones of voice and facial expressions clearly indicated that our Torah-observance was actually insulting and distasteful to them as ‘true Jews.’

Considering all that the Jews have been put through at the hands of Gentiles, this attitude is completely understandable, and we hold no rancor against them for it, but it is nevertheless an unscriptural and ungodly attitude.

Scripture speaks clearly on this topic many times: There is one law for both Hebrew and Gentile, and those Gentiles who choose to abide by YHVH’s law are to be considered true Israelites. This is not subject to debate. [4]  Just a very few examples are:

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: Lev 18:26

Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am YHVH your God.  Lev 24:22

And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto YHVH; as ye do, so he [the non-genetic Israelite] shall do.  Num 15:14

Thus saith YHVH, Keep ye judgment [Heb. mishpat: ordinances; in other words, ‘obey the law’], and do justice :  for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to YHVH, speak, saying, YHVH hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith YHVH unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.  Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to YHVH, to serve him, and to love the name of YHVH, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. YHVH Elohim which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.  Isaiah 56:1-8

Having had this personal experience of prejudice against ‘Gentile observance’, combined with what we have read in the writings contemporary to Paul’s time, we believe that the resentment and persecution Paul suffered was not because of his message, but because he offered his message to Gentiles, who gladly accepted it and came into Torah themselves.

For these earliest ‘ex-Gentile’ believers, the only place of worship available to them was the established ‘Jewish’ synagogue, so that’s where they headed.  The synagogues, once a refuge for the conquered and oppressed Jews, became places where the oppressor expected to be welcomed as a brother[5]

It is difficult for us to grasp the pain and anger this would have caused.  Perhaps the best we can do is to imagine that we are Jews at worship, and Nazis in uniform sit down to worship with us as though there was no history between us. What would be our response?

arguing 3For many Jews, their religion was more a mark of national identity than it was a relationship with the Father.  For such as these, the presence of the conqueror in their synagogues had to have been intolerable. They must have deeply resented Paul, who was the cause of their pain and anger.  Those of devout faith were doubly resentful that their Torah was being taken from their exclusive possession and given to the hated Gentiles!

Oddly enough, this jealousy is exactly what was supposed to happen, according to Paul’s own statements in his letter to the Roman believers:

I say then, Have they [the Jews] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them [the Israelites] to jealousy.  Rom 11:11

But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. [referring to Deut 32:21 Rom 10:19

We believe Paul clearly understood that the bulk of the persecution he suffered from the Jews arose because they felt threatened by the flood of Gentiles into their ranks.  We find him actually spelling it out in his first letter to the Gentile Thessalonians: [6]

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea [i.e., the Jewish churches] in Messiah Y’shua. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Master Y’shua and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. 1Th 2:14-16  [7]

This explains why the Good News of the Kingdom went from being gladly and quickly embraced in the synagogues to being kicked out of the synagogues.   As word got around that the Sect called The Way welcomed Gentiles without formal conversion to Judaism, orthodox and nationalistic Jews would have turned away before even listening if they thought that it would mean having to accept and fraternize with the unclean oppressor.

THE BOOK OF ACTSIntroduction * Chapters 1-5 * Chapters 6-10 * Chapters 11-12 * Chapter 13 (Part 1) * Chapter 13 (Part 2)Chapters 14-15 * Chapter 16 * Chapters 17-18 * Chapters 19-20Chapters 21-26 * Chapters 27-28

By John and Sue Wyatt, lambs.servant@gmail.com


© John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


FOOTNOTES

[1]  The word translated here as ‘justified’ is the Greek word δικαιόω (dikaioō), meaning to show, exhibit or evince one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered. (Strong’s G1344).

[2]  Such as Noah, Abraham, David, Zachariah, etc.  Please see our article, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE RIGHTEOUS?

 [3]  It should be noted here that there is controversy as to whether or not Paul actually went to pagans next. This controversy is based on some related facts: (1) In the First Century, a ‘Jew’ was still considered to be a member of one of only three tribes: Judah, Benjamin or Levi. These were the tribes that had remained generally faithful to YHVH and Torah and had returned from Babylon to rebuild the Temple. Thus, when Paul says he is preaching to ‘the Jew’ first, he may be talking specifically about those Jews, Benjamites and Levites who remained faithful to YHVH and Torah. (2) In the first century, the other ten dispersed tribes were still recognizably represented in the Dispersion. Many contemporary documents specifically mention the other ten tribes and their known dwelling areas.  Several of the apostles addressed epistles to “the tribes in the Dispersion.”  Y’shua stated that His mission was to “the lost sheep of Israel”, which to Jews of His day would have meant, “the Israelites in the Dispersion.” There is strong indication that these dispersed Israelites were colloquially referred to as “Greeks” because, although they were aware of their Israelite roots, they had mostly abandoned the Hebrew God in favor of pagan gods and practices. Y’shua and Paul wanted to bring these Covenant-entitled people back into relationship with YHVH. In the process, however, Paul’s preaching would necessarily have come to the attention of genuine genetic Greeks and other Gentiles, since they made up the cultural context within which these Dispersion Israelites lived, resulting in a steady influx of ex-pagans into the ‘Jewish’ world.  Thus, the “Greeks” to whom Paul ministered may have been expatriate Israelites and their (Gentile) friends and families.

[4]  Many Jews do not realize that the sages taught a liberal sharing of Torah.  For example: The Torah was given in the wilderness, and like the wilderness it is free and open to all comers without formalities or introductions: all that wish to do so can enter into it.” –Tanchum. Vayakhail.  Please see our article, ONE LAW FOR JEW AND GENTILE?

[5] This resentment had another important factor to it.  These intruders had not even properly ‘converted’ to Judaism, and were thus unclean and uncircumcised!  Their very presence among orthodox Jews was a threat to each Jew’s personal ritual cleanliness.  Should a ritually clean Jew come into the slightest contact with one of these people, it would prevent him from participating in Temple worship.  Such an intruder might even try to enter the Temple himself and create total havoc!  Such ‘proselytes’ were restricted to their own seating in the synagogues and had other limitations imposed upon them.  The average Jew was willing to deal with such people when the proselytes were under the care of the rabbis, but without that supervision (as with Christian proselytes), the Jewish congregations felt nervous and upset.

[6]  Thessalonica was a free commercial city and had a large Jewish population. The converts there were both Gentiles and Hellenized Jews.  When Hellenized Jews accepted Y’shua as Messiah, they were not expected to follow the traditional ‘initiation’ rites, which meant that they were not under rabbinical control.  Thus, the Jewish religious leaders felt threatened, and the orthodox lay people would have been offended by the lack of compliance with ‘the traditions of the fathers.’  There would have been cause for great friction between Christians and orthodox Jews, not to mention the greater stress between conservative Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

[7] This verse somewhat supports the contention that the ‘Gentiles’ Paul ministered to were actually genetic Israelites of the Dispersion who had accepted some pagan practices due to their captivity or residence in other lands.  Since there was a large population of orthodox Jews in Thessalonica, it may be these people to whom Paul refers when he mentions equates “your own countrymen” with the Judeans (the Jews, the countrymen of the converts in Judea) who persecuted the converts in Judea. This perspective is obviously open to dispute, but has some merit, given the cultural context of the times.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s