Judaizers! Part one:
Acts 15:1-2 – 1Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.
- New American Standard Translation (NAS)
It has been well-said that when Christianity comes in contact with a new culture, that there is – in the beginning – a clash and confrontation. This confrontation can be and often is quite violent, resulting in severe persecution. Such has indeed been the case through much of church history. The Jewish culture which first encountered Christ and His gospel was no exception.
Christ's Gospel: To the Jew first and also to the Greek
The Gospel of our Lord was "to the Jew first and also the Greek". Through its first several years, the early church was primarily Jewish. Jews were the first to accept and proclaim Christ's gospel to the world. Salvation was - as Christ Himself said – through the Jews (John 4:22).
We are aware though that the gospel message was not received by all. Those Jews who had despised and persecuted our Lord Jesus launched ruthless persecution against the infant church, as well. Saul of Tarsus (later to become the apostle Paul) made his first contact with the church as an official agent of the Jewish state; as a persecutor and prosecutor of Christians.
The Acts 15 text cited above shows, though, that there was another class of Jews that created trouble for the early church. These were the Judaizers; men who promoted a hybrid form of Christianity – a form that demanded circumcision and the traditions of Moses. They were not convinced that men could be saved by the gospel alone. For them it had to be the gospel plus Moses. They treated Christianity and the gospel as the step-children of Judaism and the Law.
Paul made it a primary part of His mission to show that this was not the case; to show that the gospel stood alone. Throughout his writings, Paul contended that a man…
"is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." – Romans 3:28 (NAS).
The Gospel's break from Judaism
Our Lord Jesus, of course, came to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel. And He did save them. He saved the lost sheep of Israel, as well as the lost sheep of another flock, spoken of in John 10:
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. – John 10:16 (NAS)
This other flock of which Christ spoke was made up of lost sheep from among the gentiles. Jesus gave His life at Calvary for the salvation of all men; sheep and goats alike. But the goats – among the Jews first and also the Greeks (gentiles) – refuse to have this salvation. The Lord's sheep hear His voice but the goats of every nation – Jews first and also Greeks - willfully deafen themselves against it.
Christ and the gospel came to Israel first. But it was plain from the first that, while seeking Israel, there was also to be a clash with many of Israel. This clash was first announced by the forerunner, John:
"…do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham… - Mat 3:9 (NAS)
To the Jews of that day, being Jewish was everything. But that was about to change and this change was announced even by Christ's forerunner, John.
Jesus, likewise, quickly served notice that there was to be clash and confrontation. There was to be conflict between His teaching and the religious culture of the day:
"For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Mat 5:20 (NASB)
Christ's Sermon-On-The-Mount totally rewrote Jewish notions of both blessedness and righteousness. The beatitudes showed that blessedness had far more to do with spiritual character than with the possession of physical goods. The remainder of our Lord's most famous discourse showed that true righteousness arises from correct attitudes of the heart, rather than outward displays or even "rules-keeping".
The Sabbath and circumcision
The gospel's break from Judaism is possibly best illustrated by two Jewish (and Mosaic) institutions; the Sabbath day and circumcision. These were the most precious of Jewish institutions. Yet Christ's gospel – as presented in the New Testament - disregards them both.
Jesus – though He kept Moses Law concerning the Sabbath – routinely and deliberately flaunted the Jews' interpretations of Sabbath day law. See, for example, Matthew 12:10-14.
Paul later wrote that the keeping of Sabbath and other special days was merely a shadow of the gospel's reality and that it should not be used as criteria for judgment – Colossians 2:16-17.
The controversy addressed in Acts 15, of course, centered on circumcision. The gospel's break from Judaism is demonstrated in the fact that the council of Acts 15 ruled that circumcision of converts from among the gentiles was not necessary.
The apostle Paul consistently taught that physical circumcision had become worthless with the advent of the gospel age. See Romans 2:25-29, 1Corinthians 7:19 and Galatians 5:2-4, 6. Note that Paul is not speaking in this Galatians passage of the principle of law but of the Mosaic Law specifically. His teaching was that the Old Covenant had become obsolete and that men were saved by the gospel alone, owing no allegiance at all to the Law of Moses. This is stated quite plainly in Hebrews 8:13.
Still with us
Whatever came of the New Testament's teaching that the Sabbath, circumcision and the Mosaic Law are now done away? Apparently nothing has come of it. Paul's teaching on this matter has been largely ignored.
The Ten Commandments of the Mosaic Law (now made obsolete by the gospel) are among the earliest of our children's Sunday School lessons. Sabbath keeping (though incorrectly on the 1st – not 7th day of the week) is still taught and practiced. And despite Paul's stand against circumcision a large majority of adult males in Christian nations are circumcised and continue to have their sons circumcised.
Such complaints may seem trivial or nit-picky. Such practices may seem – to us – quite harmless. But they are indications that much of Christendom has still not made a clean break from the old covenant given by Moses. That is not harmless.
I also remind you these "trivial" things are the exact practices that Paul stood against. He was willing to suffer persecution due to his stand against such things – Galatians 5:11-12! Paul could have saved himself a lot of trouble by simply accepting that the circumcision of the gentile converts was OK. But he refused to teach that it was OK. As a matter of fact he taught that it was wrong.
The teaching of the Judaizers – to whom being Jewish was everything – prevails in Christendom to this day. I wish that Christendom's continuing reverence for the Ten Commandments along with its practice of circumcision and "Sabbath-Keeping" (so called) were the worst symptoms of the Judaizers' influence among us. They are not.
There is much more to say on this matter. But that will wait for future blog entries.
I am – by God's Grace:
- Rich In Christ