Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Paul Novel 4.4: Interviewing Titus

continued from last week
"You say that several of these Gentiles who believed had already been attending the synagogue?" James finally asked.

"Yes," Barnabas said. "Many had already believed in the God of Israel, but had not become circumcised and fully converted."

"And even after they believed, they did not want to convert?" John added.

There was a pause.

"No," Paul finally added. "They have converted in their heart, I believe, even though they have not converted outwardly."

"Take the young man Titus who is just outside the door," Paul continued. "He is not circumcised. But his faith is far stronger than all the Jews who have not believed in Jerusalem. I venture to say it is stronger than half of the church of God in Judea."

Barnabas cast a quick glance at Paul as if to say, "Don't get too adversarial."

"I encourage you to ask him questions about his faith," Paul continued.

"I would like to meet the young man," Peter finally said. "You know the strange experience I had at Caesarea with some Gentile soldiers. They seemed full of the Holy Spirit without fully converting to Judaism."

Barnabas then interjected. "He has been observing kosher law in his diet with us for some time and has never had sexual relations." This seemed to allay the troubled look on James' face.

"Very well," James said. "Bring in the boy."

After a brief greeting, mostly James and John began to ask him questions. "So you have come to believe in the one true God, the God of Israel?"

"Yes," Titus said in Greek. James, Peter, and John spoke enough Greek to conduct business in Galilee, but would need a little help if Titus' Greek got too advanced. "In fact, there has never been a point in my life when I did not attend the synagogue of Antioch with my family."

"And you have come to believe that Jesus is our king, our Lord, the Anointed One of Israel?" James continued.

"Yes. I believe he will come again soon to rule the whole world as my king. Every knee will bow before him and every tongue confess that he is the Lord. God has raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavens."

James was impressed. Paul was right. Oh that the Jews of Jerusalem would come to such faith!

"And you do not feel the need to become circumcised and join the people of Israel?" John finally added.

"Were there not strangers in the land of Israel who lived among them?" Titus responded. He had been carefully coached by Barnabas. "God asked Israel to treat them with kindness even though they were never circumcised?"

"I would say that his heart is circumcised," Paul interjected, "even though his flesh is not. It is like the opposite of what the prophet Jeremiah said to Israel of old. Their hearts were uncircumcised even though their flesh was circumcised. The hearts of Titus and others like him are circumcised, even though their flesh is uncircumcised."

You could see that this idea troubled James. He could see a slippery slope he had feared with his brother Jesus as well, who had focused on the lost sheep of Israel in Galilee. There were enough Jews who did not take the covenant seriously enough, James thought. Surely if these Gentiles had as much faith as Paul said they did, they would be willing to go the whole way and fully convert.

But Titus' faith was undeniable. In the end, James did not believe God would destroy Gentiles like Titus who gave their allegiance to Jesus. They would escape the judgment. They would be saved. And that was a good thing, even if it was not as much as James thought was ideal.

In the end, James, Peter, and John agreed that Gentiles could be saved without full conversion. They gave their blessing to their mission. "Only be sure that you and Saul are faithful yourselves to keep the Law."

"And in your mission, never forget the many poor among the people of God," John added. "God has blessed many of these Gentiles with much, such as the Roman governor you mentioned. Part of coming to faith is a willingness to give back to God. There are many poor here in Jerusalem who have believed, as you know from a few years back. A test of the Gentiles' faith may be their willingness to give from their abundance to those who have need."

Of course not all Gentile converts were wealthy, but John and others had a certain stereotype of them. Indeed, he even thought of Paul and Barnabas as wealthy Greek-speaking Jews.

"This is an important truth to me as well," Paul quickly jumped in. "Perhaps in our mission we will see the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah when he said that the wealth of the nations would flow to Jerusalem."

This idea seemed to resonate with the others as well.

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