Response to “Answering Judaism” – Acts 21 – Part 2
In response to my presentation in which I had presented evidence that Paul taught a doctrine that was unknown to the original disciples of Jesus AJ quotes Galatians 1:11 through 1:18. AJ then comments with the following words:
“He had to check with the apostles, in this case James and Peter, to confirm what he had received from the Lord.”
I encourage the readers to read the verses that AJ quotes and see if you could find anything about Paul seeing the need for “confirmation” of his mission. The only verse which can perhaps be understood as if Paul was seeking confirmation is Galatians 2:2 where Paul speaks of laying out the gospel before those of repute lest he “run in vain.” This comment could be understood to mean that Paul was checking the doctrines that he had been teaching against those of Jesus’ disciples just in case he was making a mistake.
But this interpretation would have Paul saying the very opposite of the heart and soul of his message in these two chapters in Galatians. In the first two chapters of Galatians Paul attempts to establish the superior authority of his teaching. He emphasizes that those of repute imparted nothing to him (Galatians 2:6). It is for this reason that the Christian commentators explain that Paul’s words in Galatians 2:2 do not describe a quest for confirmation but rather an assurance that the Jerusalem Church will not oppose his efforts (Matthew Henry, Jameison Fausset Brown, Wesley, John Gill, James Coffman).
AJ goes on to quote John 14:26 where Jesus assures his disciples that the Holy Spirit will remind them of his teachings. AJ jumps to the conclusion that this means that the Holy Spirit taught Jesus’ immediate disciples the same things that Paul claimed to have received.
The reasoning here is completely circular. AJ assumes that Paul’s teachings are an authentic representation of Jesus’ teachings so he therefore concludes that John’s Jesus is assuring his disciples that he will remind them of Paul’s doctrines. But if Paul’s doctrines are not authentic then Jesus never heard of them, and it would make no sense to assume that he spoke of what he didn’t know.
AJ raises several passages from the Christian Scriptures which would seem to indicate that Jesus himself taught about his sacrificial death. AJ piously informs his readership that my arguments are “repudiated by the New Testament itself.”
AJ seems to be unaware that I never proposed that the editors of the Christian Scriptures explicitly taught that Paul was the inventor of Christianity. My argument is that the editors of the Christian Scriptures exerted themselves to smooth over the differences between Paul and the Jerusalem Church. But that with all of their efforts, the deep conflict between Paul and Jesus’ immediate disciples is still evident.
At some point in his rebuttal, AJ addresses the primary points that I raised in my presentation. AJ asks how it is that I know that the members of the Jerusalem Church did not believe that Jesus’ death was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. AJ chides me with the words “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” As if I based my argument on absence of evidence.
The evidence that I presented to establish the argument that the Jerusalem Church did not view Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice was the fact that they still brought animal sacrifices in the Temple after the death of Jesus. Why would they do this if Jesus already atoned for their sins? Why would they deem this ritual representative of their loyalty to the Law of Moses?
Some Christians have proposed that perhaps the Jerusalem Church participated in the temple ritual as a remembrance to Jesus’ sacrifice and not as a means of atonement in and of itself.
I respond to this bizarre theory with two separate arguments. One point I raised is the simple fact that the sacrifices were processed by the non-Christian Temple establishment. The men actually sprinkling the blood of the offering would certainly not be doing it in remembrance to Jesus. They would process the offerings with the understanding that these offerings atoned for sin without the services of Jesus. If the disciples were looking to make a remembrance to Jesus this would be the wrong way to do it.
The second argument I raised to refute the “remembrance theory” is the fact that Paul’s participation in the Temple rite was meant to be a public demonstration for the Jerusalem crowds. The general populace in Jerusalem certainly believed that the Temple sacrifices atoned and they did not view these offerings as a remembrance to Jesus. If someone makes a public demonstration we can assume that this fellow calculated the crowd’s particular understanding of his demonstration and that it was that understanding that he was trying to reinforce by going through with the demonstration. It makes no sense to say that James made this demonstration with one intention although he was fully aware that the crowd will read his activity in a way that repudiated everything he stood for.
AJ does not respond to the second of these two arguments. He responds to the first argument by suggesting that the Temple establishment may have been aware of the apostles teaching on the subject of atonement and still processed their sacrifices anyway. In other words AJ is suggesting that when the disciples came to the Temple with their offerings the Temple establishment clearly knew that these sacrifices were being brought in remembrance to Jesus and they processed them anyway “to do their duty.”
I find this assertion ridiculous. In order to assume that the Temple establishment knew of this theory (that the sacrifices were a remembrance to Jesus) we need to assume that they were deeply knowledgeable about the modern Jewish-Christian polemic. Until the argument is raised from this episode in Acts 21 most deeply committed Christians haven’t thought about animal sacrifices being brought as a remembrance to Jesus.
Harry Ironside, a respected Christian commentator, declares that had Paul actually gone through with this demonstration, it would have repudiated all of his teachings. It seems that Ironside, a Christian thinker, never heard of the idea of the Temple offerings being brought in remembrance for Jesus. Yet AJ would have us believe that the Temple establishment knew all about it.
AJ concludes his rebuttal with a response to my question: why was this particular ritual (the nazirite offering) chosen by James to represent loyalty to the Law.
AJ responds by explaining that acceptance of a nazirite vow was a very serious obligation and perhaps the serious nature of the nazirite vow would be the ultimate demonstration of loyalty to the Law.
It seems that AJ did not read the passage in Acts 21. It is clear that Paul was not enjoined to accept upon himself a nazirite vow. He was told by James to participate in the offerings of people who had already accepted this vow upon themselves.
In conclusion I would suggest that AJ’s attempt to refute my arguments only serve to strengthen them. Why indeed did the members of the Jerusalem Church still engage in bringing animal offerings for the expiation of sin after the death of Jesus? Why did they view this particular activity as a symbol of their loyalty to the Law of Moses?
AJ has not answered these questions.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Dear Readers; One thing we over look is that there was a gospel at first, which the one we see today contradicts. This is part of the answer; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvcizFKWNfc
Listen and discern what is different. It may surprise you.
Dr. Brown’s assistant Ryan said, if I remember correctly, that it makes sense to him to think that J’s suffering provided justice and forgiveness on an ultimate level, in the ‘heavenly temple’ but that the earthly Temple offerings commanded in Torah will always have an important part in atonement for Jews. While he doesn’t bring proof for this (just pointing to shadows and resonance) he definitely responds to some of the challenges raised in this post. I guess he would think the early Christian Jews still brought atonement offerings for forgiveness according to Torah but also believed that J had provided the possibility for forgiveness altogether.
The possibility of this idea actually negates some of Dr. Brown’s ‘proofs’ on at least a couple of levels. Anyway, it is a mark of actual humility that he lets his colleague have an idea different to his own. It’s interesting that he doesn’t think it violates anything central in his proofs, but that’s a different conversation. The main thought I’m bringing here is that there is a possibility of the apostles believing that their messiah claimant died for sin, as mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, while also still making offerings for atonement.
Still doesn’t explain why it was this particular activity chosen to demonstrate Paul’s loyalty to the Law – and besides this is certainly not a popular opinion
True. You know better than I what it all would have signified. But perhaps it was chosen not as a specific refutation of the claims about Paul’s message, but rather because it would be an especially public affirmation of Torah in general. Particularly because connected to the Temple establishment and its functionaries.
Also, in modern Messianic Jewish movements, it’s not about holding the same opinion as each other. It’s about going through whatever theories seem needed so as to hold on to belief in J, and at the same time a feeling of harmonising with Tanach and with the earliest values in the early churches… Plus sometimes certain loved ideas about not needing to keep Torah laws, or still needing to; about being the Jewish remnant, or about not replacing it… etc. But generally it seems like people in that movement aren’t trying to hold onto popular and mainstream ideas quite so much as just trying to find any theories needed for holding on to J and the NT.
Rabbi Blumenthal, with respect to this post, would you engage me if I offered a challenge to your questions or ignore me…. as my last comment received no response in the post about Harry Ironside (the post after this one)? I don’t want to waste my time on a response if you won’t engage me. I promise to respond to every problem you pose in this post.
Just so you know, it’s likely that FFOZ will put out a critical review/article on “The Return of the Kosher Pig”. It is a scholarly/academic Messianic Judaism journal. If you would like, we could send you a copy for free when it comes out. I’m sure you would enjoy it.
I apologize for not responding to your comments on my post (the quote from Ironside) I did not respond because you are obviously preaching a different Jesus than the one Harry Ironside is familiar with – and I think that Ironside’s Jesus is far more popular than yours. Still and all – I will acknowledge your comment on that post.
I will certainly attempt to respond to any challenges you raise concerning this issue (Shapira’s book).
I would greatly appreciate a review on Shapira’s book from a Messianic standpoint – it would help me believe better of humanity.
All in all, we have a different Christianity today, than what we had before the 4th century CE. It was changed to what we have today to please a Roman Emporium that was not happy with a Judaism that gave them a rough way to go, when they were defending their land and way of life from Rome. This is shown by the continuation of false ideas proven wrong centuries ago, to lure Jews into a religion that is not with the same theology as theirs. Missionaries and Hebrew Christian cults have not yet learn the truth, so we still go round robin. This quote from Mark Twain kind of covers what I am trying to say; Mark Twain – It’s not what we don’t know that get us into trouble; it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so. If Messianic (Christian and Hebrew – Christian cults) could understand that it is only G-d who can say He is sure, then we could work more in harmony, as many Christians are doing today.
You said – “The only verse which can perhaps be understood as if Paul was seeking confirmation is Galatians 2:2 where Paul speaks of laying out the gospel before those of repute lest he “run in vain.” This comment could be understood to mean that Paul was checking the doctrines that he had been teaching against those of Jesus’ disciples just in case he was making a mistake.”
1)This is true, he had to check his teaching against the apostles who were teaching at that time that Gentiles had to become Jewish in order to serve the king of the Jews. This message of the inclusion of Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven, to merit the resurrection, the world to come, and a position within the people of God was not yet introduced to the apostles.
2) Paul’s own teacher Rabban Gamliel used to say, “Do not rely on your own interpretation. Take upon yourself a teacher and remove all doubt.”-m.Avot 1:16. Paul seems to follow his advice.
You said- “He emphasizes that those of repute imparted nothing to him (Galatians 2:6). It is for this reason that the Christian commentators explain that Paul’s words in Galatians 2:2 do not describe a quest for confirmation but rather an assurance that the Jerusalem Church will not oppose his efforts (Matthew Henry, Jameison Fausset Brown, Wesley, John Gill, James Coffman).”
1)Those of repute added nothing to him means that they did not add anything to his gospel and that they did not correct him in any way. They ultimately did not enjoin things like circumcision or Shabbos on Gentiles….. and this would line up exactly with Paul’s Gospel and Acts 15.
You said- “AJ goes on to quote John 14:26 where Jesus assures his disciples that the Holy Spirit will remind them of his teachings. AJ jumps to the conclusion that this means that the Holy Spirit taught Jesus’ immediate disciples the same things that Paul claimed to have received. The reasoning here is completely circular. AJ assumes that Paul’s teachings are an authentic representation of Jesus’ teachings so he therefore concludes that John’s Jesus is assuring his disciples that he will remind them of Paul’s doctrines. But if Paul’s doctrines are not authentic then Jesus never heard of them, and it would make no sense to assume that he spoke of what he didn’t know.”
1)Obviously Pauls Gospel is not from Jesus’ own mouth. What was from Jesus’ mouth was that the Gentiles would receive salvation, but not HOW they would receive salvation. Paul, as Scripture sates, had a direct revelation from heaven and the message that he preached was not “man’s” gospel.
You said- “But that with all of their efforts, the deep conflict between Paul and Jesus’ immediate disciples is still evident.”
1)I’m still not sure where you get this from.
Lastly, just because “my Jesus” (which is not my own but more of a realization among modern scholars) is not commonly accepted among Christians does not mean that it wasn’t the apostolic Jesus. If I give support and valid reasoning from the apostolic writings for “my Jesus”, then you would have to concede (or maybe not) that “my Jesus” is a valid Jesus and that the followers of Jesus today that espouse to this Jesus are not heretics but yet a small sect within the sect of Judaism.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
1) So your interpretation of Galatians 2:2 is that Paul was seeking confirmation – I think you would have to agree that for Paul to have taught for 14 years – changing people’s lives, without being sure that his preaching is true – is something that needs explanation – therefore your interpretation of this particular verse – while conforming to the words of the verse – runs against the grain of the entire thrust of Paul’s message in those first two chapters.
You ask (or wonder) where I get the idea that there was deep conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles – form Acts 21, from the first two chapters in Galatians, from Corinthians 9:2 and 2Corinthians 11
My point with saying that your Jesus is not the popular one was not a point about authenticity – I don’t believe that any of the Jesus’ are authentic – although if I would have to bet yours would be closer to the historical reality. My point was that your Jesus is not pulling so many people away from the truth so I will be spending less time refuting his claims.
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