Aug 04, 2010
One Jewish cultural factor often unappreciated fully is the idea of a triumphant Messiah who could never be utterly humiliated by dying on a cross. The idea of a humiliated Messiah was a "stumblingblock" (i.e., an insult) to Jewish aspirations (1 Cor. 1:23). In a prideful world where an insult is a highly emotional act that can cause perpetual war, the idea of a crucified Messiah horrified the sensitivities of Jews everywhere.
For Paul to change course from extreme Judaism to a crucified Messiah was one of the most radical of all conversions. Even the other apostles were not so steeped in radical Judaism, and they had the benefit of prophetic statements that Jesus made along the way to prepare them for the inevitable. Even so, their minds were unprepared for the reality of the event. After the resurrection, however, they were able to understand the divine wisdom in this.
The next apostolic problem that they faced was Judaistic prejudice against all non-Jews. Even proselytes could remain on religious probation for generations. Greeks were required to be circumcised, and yet they were still considered to be unclean. Jews would not eat with them, nor fellowship with them, for no matter what they did, they were still despised Greeks with an idolatrous past.
The gospel writers included an abundance of material to counter this narrow prejudice. Jesus healed Canaanites, Romans, and Greeks as well as Jews. Jesus knew His world-wide mission, though He made it clear that the first priority was to reach His own people.
Luke's historical account (the book of Acts) is careful to show Philip going to Samaria, where these most-despised people received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the hands of the apostles. Peter's vision taught him not to call any man common or unclean, and hence he preached the gospel to the Roman centurion and his friends. When they too received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it was proof that the promise of the fathers was not just to a few "chosen" ones, but had been given to all men (Acts 11:15-18).
Within the context of our own culture, it is difficult to picture how radical a change this was to the apostles. Yet not all Jewish believers had received or accepted such revelation. In the desire of the Jerusalem Church to reach their brethren, they had downplayed or hidden the more controversial revelations of the gospel. It was hard enough to get around the idea of a crucified Messiah, but if they had openly proclaimed that no man should be called common or unclean, they would have offended Jewish sensitivities even further. Hence, there grew a class of Jewish Christians who were not asked to leave Judaism, but who were apparently told that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, and that if they merely added Jesus to their Jewish traditions, they would be saved.
So we can, perhaps, forgive--or at least understand--Peter's reluctance to offend the Judaizers. The story is told in Gal. 2:11-13,
(11) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (12) For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. (13) And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
In a small way, Christianity in Jerusalem had become like a mystery religion, having certain truths withheld from the mainstream believers. The truth of the unity of believers was known in Antioch, so Peter and the other Jewish believers had no problem treating the Greek believers with equal respect; but when men came from Jerusalem who were unaware of these higher truths, they felt it necessary to pretend that they believed the Greek believers were still common and unclean.
Worse yet, it was a public display of inequality, sanctioned by Peter, no less, who certainly knew better. Paul immediately recognized the far-reaching consequences of this charade and was bold enough to confront Peter to his face in public. The dirty little secret was exposed when Paul revealed to the Judaizers that Peter and the others had been eating with Greeks all along, and were now trying to hide their revelation for fear of offending the Judaizers.
The lesson here is universal and applies to us today as well. I have observed how many Christian missionaries to the Jews feel it necessary to engage in outright deception in order to reach the Jewish people with the gospel. They massage the Jewish ego and appeal to them as specially "chosen" ones who will rule the world in the age to come. They are chosen even without Christ. In fact, many are now saying that Jews are saved apart from Christ. All they must do is be good Jews and follow Moses and their traditions.
In trying to make Jesus appealing to the Jews, they water down the gospel and accept the Jewish idea of what a messiah ought to be. He loves Jews more than Christians. He is a military Messiah who hates Arabs and anyone who stands in the way of Jewish ownership of land in Palestine--and ultimately, the whole world. He was killed by Romans and therefore not the true Sacrifice for sin. A physical temple must be built in which to resume animal sacrifices. Levi will again replace Melchizedek. The Old Jerusalem (Hagar) is the mother of the promises of God. The New Covenant is merely the Old Covenant reinstated. The traditions of men (Talmud) are the true interpretation of the law.
In the end, these Christians will find that they have compromised the character of Christ and the divine plan so much that they have re-established Judaism as the "true religion" apart from Jesus Christ Himself.
The motive is the same as Peter's in Galatians 2. It is based upon fear that if a Jew is told the truth of the gospel, then he might not accept Jesus as the Messiah. The "solution" is to water down the gospel, hide the truth, pretend that Judaism is correct after all, and hope that this will make Jesus more acceptable.
We need to adopt Paul's policy and not worry about offending the Jews or anyone else. The truth is the truth, and we do them no favors by withholding the truth from them (as Peter tried to do). Obviously, we should speak the truth in love, but compromising the gospel is not love. To compromise the gospel is to risk confirming that a Jew is saved or "chosen" when in fact he is not. There is only one way a man can be justified. There is no "Jewish way" vs. a "Gentile way." There is only one gospel, and God is building His Temple made of living stones which constitute "one new man" (Eph. 2:15). There are no "Jewish stones" to be placed higher than "Gentile stones" in this Temple.
The only advantage of being a Jew or an Israelite is that the gospel went to them first. They were the first to receive the oracles of God under Moses, because they were there. They were the first to receive the oracles of God under Jesus Christ as well, for it was prophesied that He would be born in Bethlehem of the seed of David and of the tribe of Judah.
But this did not mean that the gospel was given to them exclusively. No, the Abrahamic promise was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). To the extent that they fulfill this prophecy, to that extent are they the seed of Abraham, the chosen of God. They are chosen and "elected" with an authoritative commission to bring the gospel to the rest of the world. By this shall the earth be subdued to the rule of Christ (Gen. 1:28; 1 Cor. 15:28), and in this way the Stone Kingdom will grow until it fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:35).
This is the sixth part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.