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Paul’s reputation in Jerusalem

01-10-2013 - Posted by Andre Piet

images19 Of Paul’s four, previous visits to Jerusalem, we have a record in the book of Acts (9:26, 11:29, 15:2, 18:22), but not nearly as extensive as of his fifth and final visit. It is the climax. On his first visit, God had already revealed to him that Jerusalem would not be a safe place for him (Acts 22:16-18). Paul was sent to the nations, because Jerusalem rejected the Evangel (22:21). Paul’s ministry is based on this rejection (Rom.11:11-15) and “circumcision” is therefore irrelevant in his message. To him was entrusted “the Evangel of the uncircumcision” (Gal.2:7). This message gave Paul among the tens of thousands of Messiah-believing Jews, an extremely bad reputation. When Paul visits James, then James shares the following him (21:20,21):

You are beholding, brother, how many tens of thousands there are among the Jews who have believed, and all are inherently zealous for the law? Now they were instructed concerning you that you teach all the Jews among the nations apostasy from Moses, telling them not to be circumcising their children, nor yet to be walking in the customs…

Please note: tens of thousands of Messiah-believing Jews (!) were instructed that Paul was teaching apostasy from Moses. That is formulated much stronger than, “they have been informed about you,” as most translations render it. From the Greek word, used here, (katecheo) is our word “catechize” derived and it indicates instructed or taught (Gal.6:6). In the teaching that the Hebrews received, Paul was presented as an apostate from Moses. A worse reputation among such strong zealots of the law is hardly conceivable. Could that possibly be the reason that in the letter to the Hebrews the name of the writer is missing? The accusation made against Paul was that he was teaching all the Jews in the diaspora “not to circumcise their children nor to walk in the customs”. This accusation is categorically untrue, as Paul demonstrates (21:24). Paul taught freedom: the Jews need not to circumcise their children. That is something totally different! And, therefore, Bible translations such as the KJV and the NKJV are completely wrong, in saying “…they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs”. Paul himself lived Jewish, in line with “the ancestral customs” (28:17). He kept the Sabbath and went to the synagogue (18:4), he visited the temple and brought sacrifices (24:17,18). Why? In 1Corinthians 9:20, he gives the answer:

… I became to the Jews as a Jew, that I should be gaining Jews; to those under law as under law (not being myself under law), that I should be gaining those under law…

The reason Paul gives for his Jewish lifestyle is pragmatic. He was a Jew and in order to win Jews, he lived Jewish. Not because he was personally under the law, but to win those who are under the law, he lived under the law. It was this freedom that to the countless “zealots of the law”, in Jerusalem, was a thorn in their side.