Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Paul versus Peter (another excerpt)

I thought last night went well, very thankful.  Here's another excerpt from my novelistic portrayal of Paul:
When we got back to Antioch, it was clear that John Mark had been talking.  I could see that my decision not only to accept Gentile believers but to pursue them actively was going to cause a lot of controversy. I received a word from the Lord that I should go down to Jerusalem and lay out what Barnabas and I had been doing.  It seemed very important to have the support of the so called "pillars" of the church in Jerusalem.

Of course I knew I was right.  And God speaks to me every bit as much as to Peter.  Am I not an apostle?  Didn't Jesus choose to reveal himself to me?  Didn't he commission me to go and witness to his resurrection?  I would go up to Jerusalem, but I already knew God's will on the issue.

Barnabas and I took Titus with us as an object lesson.  He was a young Gentile who had believed. We thought it would make the issue real to them.  Were they going to consign him to destruction when he clearly had faith?

They agreed.  I think they viewed him a little like the aliens and strangers in the land of Israel of old. They were not Israelites, but Israel was to treat them kindly remembering that they, too, were once strangers in the land of Egypt.  Neither James nor Paul forced Titus to be circumcised.  I'm pretty sure it was their preference, that the best scenario of all was for him to convert fully to Judaism and get circumcised.  But they didn't compel him.

Their main concern was that I remember the poor in Jerusalem, and in fact that is exactly what I am doing right now as I prepare to depart from Corinth for Jerusalem.  After I leave here we will pick up key representatives of the churches I have founded here in the Diaspora and they will each take an offering from their church to give to the Jerusalem church.  I won't handle any of the money, so no one can accuse me of anything.

I was elated.  Barnabas and I returned to Antioch very encouraged.  Little did I know the firestorm that was about to erupt.

It turns out that James was very concerned about a slippery slope.  He had acknowledged that Gentiles didn't have to become Jews to escape God's coming wrath.  They didn't have to keep purity laws or observe the Jewish Sabbath to be saved.

But he was worried that some Jewish believers might get the idea that they didn't have to worry about these things anymore either.  He was insistent that they needed to perform these sorts of works of the Law just as much as ever.  He sent some representatives--and Peter--up to Antioch to make sure that the Jewish believers were still holding the line.

Frankly I don't think Peter cared.  In fact, it is ironic that it was exactly these sorts of issues that kept James from believing in his brother Jesus when he was on earth, because Jesus flaunted all the rules about purity and the boundaries of the Law. I can just hear what James probably told Peter, "Peter, you are the apostle.  You are the one Jesus first appeared to.  People see you as the leader.  You have to set the tone."

So Peter comes to Antioch and, all of a sudden, after so many years of Jewish and Gentile believer having fellowship together and eating together, they separate apart.  Now the Jewish believers are all concerned that they will become unclean for eating with uncircumcised men.  It became a kind of "separate but unequal" situation.

I couldn't stand it any more.  I stood up in front of a whole assembly and called Peter a hypocrite to his face.  It was completely absurd.  I had kept the Law.  As far as the righteousness that is in the Law, I had been blameless.  Peter hadn't fully kept the Law a day in his life.  It was a complete joke.

I lost that argument, and it created real barriers between me and many in that church to this day.  When it came time to go back out on a second mission, Barnabas and I had to part ways.  Sure, the surface issue was about taking John Mark, but it was really about the fact that our sense of the mission had changed.  He believed it was important to submit to the authority of James and the leaders in Jerusalem. I believed it was a hindrance to the gospel and had no intention of following their instructions on Jew and Gentile believer eating together.

So we agreed to disagree and went our separate ways.  He took Mark and returned to Cyprus.  I grabbed Titus and headed off for Asia Minor.


Jenny Brien said...

Don't you mean Jesus flouted the rules?

Scott F said...

I have read that Paul meant that Jews continue to keep the law,- keep being "Jewish." That is certainly what you would think if you read Acts 21!

If this is so, wouldn't eating with gentiles have presented a problem to such a Jewish Christian attempting to continue in the Law

Scott F said...

Can you recommend the best sources for plumbing Paul's views on the role of the Law (as opposed to "works of the Law"?) and Jewish practices?