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.
If you found this article helpful please consider making a donation to Judaism Resources by clicking on the link below.
Judaism Resources is a recognized 501(c) 3 public charity and your donation is tax exempt.
Yisroel C. Blumenthal