Bobby Valentine posted an extensive comment regarding the Jewishness of the early church, and it’s just too good to languish in the comments.
For those not familiar with Bobby’s work, he routinely posts thoughtful essays on the church and Christianity on Facebook. Many of these are archived under his Notes. And Bobby long blogged at Stoned-Campbell Disciple, and although he no longer posts there, the blog continues to offer excellent reading material.
Not wanting to steal Jay’s thunder here but the Jewishness of the early Way is beyond dispute. Modern folks are often guilty of reading BACK into the text mindsets that did not exist for decades and even centuries. Luke never uses the word “Christianity” and no believer is recorded in the book of Acts of appropriating the word “Christian” to themselves (it only occurs 2x any way), whereas Luke routinely uses readily available traditional Jewish talk to describe the identity of the Way. All with roots in the Bible he used, the Septuagint. Here is a brief overview that I wrote for my Facebook wall … I post a slightly modified version here.
A major flaw in “our” (a traditional SCM) hermeneutic has been taking the Bible piecemeal. We have collected isolated texts, often with little relation to the narrative around it, and built mountains out of assumptions. We have not typically thought in terms of unified narrative. Our approach to Luke-Acts is a case in point. Luke-Acts is a single unified book. And needs to be read in light of its entire framework – and Luke does have a framework (lots of useful and readable scholarship on this point but Jacob Jervell’s, Luke and the People of God is essential reading)
This is important because today it was declared that Paul, James and the Jerusalem church sinned bc they participated in temple worship, especially sacrifice in Acts 21. There is no basis for this charge. It in fact flies directly in the face of Luke’s consistent Jewish emphasis that runs from Luke 1 to Acts 28. This emphasis is extremely consistent and we have to work hard to miss it.
I will highlight this Lukan Jewish emphasis. My references are representative and not exhaustive. Most are in Acts simply for ease sake but I will begin with Jesus …
… far from being a sin, Luke would have us believe Acts 21 is “par for the course” and a celebration of the unity of the Way in all its liturgical diversity.
1) The last thing the risen Jesus does is give the apostles an “OT” theology lesson, Lk 24.44-49. Pretty important stuff to him it would appear. The emphasis on the “Scriptures” (Luke knows nothing of an “Old Testament”) is in all the sermons in the book save one – Acts 17. These sermons point back to that Jesus inspired “OT Theology” lesson.
2) the Spirit is poured out on Pentecost, a traditional covenant REnewal time and celebration of the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai (Luke makes numerous allusions to this in his narrative), Acts 2.
3) The Way is declared to filled with the Spirit and directed by the apostles doctrine. Apparently among other things they devote themselves to Jewish hours of prayer which coincide with the hours of sacrifice (called the Tamid). The Way worships in the temple (Acts 2.42, 46). Luke alludes to the Tamid several times throughout the narrative of Luke-Acts.
4) Acts 3.1ff is an illustration of “one day” at “THE hour of prayer.” Luke provides a window into the life of the renewed people of God. Peter and John are heading to worship in the Temple at the hour of sacrifice/prayer.
5) The Way in Damascus meets in the synagogues, they were not separate from it (9.1-2)
6) Even Cornelius keeps Jewish piety (10.1-3, 30, note 3 o’clock is the hour of sacrifice and the same time as in 3.1ff).
7) The “authority” claimed by James for EXCLUDING Gentile obligation to the ceremonial aspects of the Law, is the Law of Moses itself. This is declared explicitly in 15.21 with the use of “gar” or “for.” The Law declares what a resident alien living within Israel is to do and that is exactly what the Council imposes upon Gentiles, see 15.21 and Leviticus 17.10-16 and 18.24-30. James says this applies “gar Moses has been read …”
8) immediately after the Council Paul CIRCUMCISES Timothy, Acts 16.3 (this is Luke proving wrong and anticipating the the charge in 21.21)
9) The very next chapter, Luke records Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom” (17.2). This is the identical phrase used of Jesus in Luke 4.16. One of the numerous parallel “patterns” of the early church/disciples with the life of the Jewish Messiah that Luke stresses.
10) the very next chapter Luke tells us that Paul had his hair cut “because he was under a vow” (18.18). This can only be a Nazarite vow. By 18.22 Paul is in Jerusalem and he could have made a sacrifice there. But since the text is silent I will only assert that in v.18 Paul clearly is depicted as doing “OT” worship.
11) Paul stays behind in Macedonia (probably at Lydia’s who is a Jewess) with “us” … that is his Jewish companions for the feast of Unleavened Bread, Acts 20.5-6. I grew up only reading v.7! But the Luke makes an explicit distinction between “us” and “them” (interestingly Paul wrote Romans just a short while before this unleavened bread festival according to most chronologies)
12) Paul declares that he wishes to be back in Jerusalem “on the day of Pentecost” (20.16) … given Luke’s stress so far this is because Paul wants to worship!
13) Luke records that the charge that Paul told JEWS not to keep the law was a lie (21.17-21).
14) James and the elders of the Jerusalem church, recommend Paul join four brothers currently under a vow. Luke has already prepared us for this in 18.18 and his telling us repeatedly of Paul’s kosher habits. So Paul slices an animals throat in 21.22-27 (cf Numbers 6 and the Mishnah tractate, The Vow)
15) Paul’s defense includes the revelation that the man who brought him into the Way, Ananias, was “a devout man according to the law” (22.12), He was not one that did not keep the law. We assume that Ananias was a believer in the same way as James, the Elders, the Jerusalem Gathering. Clearly this torah man had no issues in telling Saul to be baptized! Being baptized did not “unJewish” him though.
16) Paul testifies that after his baptism, the first thing he mentions was he went to the Temple!!! It was while “praying IN THE TEMPLE, I fell into a trance and saw Jesus” (22.17-18). Luke has already told us that Zechariah had a weird encounter too (Lk 1, the hour of prayer/Tamid, btw) and of course every Jew knew Daniel did too at the hour of prayer. It is not possible for Luke to make Paul any more a typical Jew than here.
17) Paul defends himself before the Council and does two things. He states baldy “I AM A PHARISEE” … he does not say “I used to be a Pharisee.” Present tense! And second Paul says he is on trial for the resurrection/the hope of ISRAEL (23.6; 28.20). He is not on trial for breaking the law because, as Luke has shown, he did not break it.
18) in his next defense, this time before Felix, Paul reflects upon the events of the temple in chapter 21. He states as clearly as can be stated “I went up to Jerusalem TO WORSHIP” (reminding us of his desire in 20.16). What kind of worship, probably the same kind Paul wrote about recently to the Romans in 9.4. I don’t have to infer, Paul tells us “I came to bring alms to my nation AND TO OFFER SACRIFCES.” (24.17)
19) in between 24.11 and 17, Paul declares he believes “everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets” (surely a Lukan tie in to Jesus’ OT Theology lesson in Lk 24!)
20) And my final example is another we just “passover” without a moments thought. This is a calendar reference but it is interesting that Luke makes it in this manner. “… sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by” (Acts 27.9). This is Yom Kippur. Luke even identifies it as a traditional Jew would, with NO explanation! Why? Because that is how 1) Paul understood time and 2) that is how Luke’s original readers would have understood it. They would have known because it meant something to them.
Ok. A brief overview of Luke’s Jewish emphasis that totally shows Paul’s actions in the temple in Acts 21 is neither sin nor aberration! It is part of a book length thread that is conveniently ignored and erased from our consciousness when we play hopscotch with the Bible.
Read Luke-Acts from beginning to end. Over and over. Let Luke tell us his Holy Spirit given agenda. Forget the sectarian apologetics and deal with the text. Paul did not err. James did not err. The elders did not err.
Rather James and Paul lead the Way into a demonstration that God’s people are in fact ONE just as Paul had written in Eph 2, Romans 9-11 and scolded people for wanting to DIVIDE God’s people in Romans 14.
Luke’s “pattern” is a very Jewish one. Why do we simply sweep these abundant texts (and this is not all) away?
In Acts 21 the Apostles James and Paul practiced what they preached. Luke celebrates the unity that embarrasses many.
Shalom … this took longer via my Galaxy S5 so be gentle if there are typos.