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Paul's difficulty with Jerusalem

29-08-2013 - Posted by Andre Piet

images19 In my presentation of this past Sunday, in Zoetermeer, I discussed two meetings between Paul and James, “the brother of the Lord”, as these encounters are described in Galatians 1 and 2. In these chapters, Paul makes it clear that his ministry is completely separate from the apostles in Jerusalem. When he was called on the road to Damascus, he explicitly did not join them, but instead went to Arabia (1:17), the land where the Lord, long ago, spoke to Moses (4:25). Three years went by, before Paul went to Jerusalem; not to be informed or to get recognition, but to relate his story to Peter, with whom he stayed for fifteen days (1:18). He saw none of the other apostles at this occasion, except James (1:19). It took no less than fourteen years before Paul again visited his fellow apostles in Jerusalem. That was not by invitation, nor because he was summoned. He went “by revelation,” he writes (2:2). To those who were esteemed as leaders, James, Peter and John (2:9), he presented the Evangel which he proclaimed to the nations (2:2). This presentation was done, deliberately, without the presence of others.

… privately to those of repute, lest somehow I should be racing or ran for naught.

Why did Paul writes this? Was he afraid that his message, outside this circle, would experience resistance? Was it because Paul was aware that his message was different from what Peter and his associates were preaching? After all, to him was entrusted “the Evangel of the uncircumcision” as to Peter and the others the Evangel “of the circumcision” (2:7). Did Paul already sense that he, among the Jews in Jerusalem, would experience difficulty? Indeed, everything pointed in that direction. On a subsequent visit to Jerusalem, this anxious premonition would, in fact, become reality. In Acts 21, we read that Paul arrives in Jerusalem and meets with James and the elders (21:17.18). Almost immediately, Paul’s bad reputation in Jerusalem is being discussed. He was accused of teaching the Jews among the nations to forsake Moses (21:21) and James presents a proposal to refute the accusation. Paul remains silent and acquiesces in the proposal. But to no avail. When he, after seven days, is seen in the temple, a great tumult develops among all the people (21:27,28) and they try to kill him (21:31). Anyway, Paul is imprisoned and a few years later, in chains, he travels to Rome. The point is that Paul had realized, from the start, that he was not accepted by the majority of the Jews in Jerusalem. Also (and especially) not by the very large number (“myriads”; 21:20) of Messiah-professing believers in Jerusalem. Long before the conflict escalated, Paul had already sensed this and for that reason avoided the city. That is why he wanted to present his evangel only to the small circle of apostles.