top of page

3.22 Acts -- Law vs Gospel Round 3

Incredibly, the next 6 chapters of the Book of Acts (Acts 21-26) are devoted to the uproar in Jerusalem over Paul's mission to the Gentiles!  In a sense, this was the reverse of Ephesus -- there, the Gentiles accused him of blaspheming their goddess, and went on a rampage.  In Jerusalem, the Jews accused him of teaching against Judaism and defiling the Temple -- and went on a rampage.   The Kingdom of God is an offense to religions of all stripes.


But it all began because of his "friends."  Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Paul reported to the church leadership about his work among the Gentiles.  James and elders responded,

          "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20).   

            In other words,

           "Nice to hear about a few hundred Gentiles scattered here and there around the Empire, but here there are thousands of converts, and all of them keeping kosher kitchens.  Face it, brother, this is where the action is, this is where Jesus is going to return to, and here is where the capital of his kingdom will be established.  You need to get in sync with us."


Something wrong here.  Despite the earlier council that "welcomed" the Gentiles, the Jerusalem church had reverted to the hardline position concerning the Law.  This was inevitable, because a converted believer in Jesus became more serious about his religious beliefs, rather than less so:  the Scriptures were being fulfilled right before his eyes, the Messiah had come once, and would soon return and begin his thousand year reign.  A few Gentiles and Samaritans could be tolerated on the fringes, so long as they didn't infect the rest of the fellowship -- which now consisted of "thousands" of Jewish believers.  Their religion was not the Gospel preached by Paul, nor that summarized by Peter earlier in Acts: it was an amalgam of traditional Judaism intensified by the millennial element that Jesus represented.   Rather than being committed to the task Jesus had given them: 

          "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mk 16:15),

they had stayed as close to home as they could, expecting Jesus to bring legions of angels from heaven any day.


We see this in the plan they forced Paul to adopt, a disastrous scheme which precipitated the eruption that followed.  The new converts had heard that Paul taught Jews living abroad to ignore the Law and circumcision. The leaders of the church did not back him up or silence the critics.  Instead, they wanted Paul to mollify the Jewish believers and prove his own zeal for the Law by entering into a 7-day period of purification, while sponsoring four other men who were also making vows.  This would convince everyone that Paul was a "law-abiding citizen."  Paul went along with their hokey plan.


This leads to an interesting theological problem.  Why was Paul acting dishonestly?  Clearly, he did not believe that believing Jews were any longer subject to Old Testament laws:

           "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified" (Gal 2:15-16).

            It doesn't get much plainer than this.  Paul had no business faking rituals of self-purification to appease a church that was in serious error.  For the Jerusalem church was in error:  it believed that the Law was an adjunct to salvation through Jesus Christ.  It believed that the Old Covenant was still alive and kicking.  It believed that Gentiles were second-rate, low-life believers who should be marginalized.  It believed that the Holy Spirit worked alongside and through the Mosaic Law, rather than supplanting it.  It believed that the Holy Spirit still inhabited Herod's Temple, rather than the temple of Christ's body (else why would the elders have sent Paul and the other young men to be purified in the Temple?).

bottom of page