Monday, November 19, 2012

Zetterholm on the Status of Gentiles in the Covenant of Israel

So I'll share a few interesting quotes from Zetterholm's book "The Formation of Christianity in Antioch" and then discuss them briefly.  It's interesting how close to One Law he gets without ultimately being able to put the pieces together:






"Above we reached the conclusion that the idea that Gentiles could be included in the covenantal community of Israel was foreign to Jewish theological reflection.  If Gentiles were considered as embraced by eschatological salvation, this was not thought of in covenantal terms.  However, this seems to be exactly the case with Paul.  The inclusion of the Gentiles meant for Paul the inclusion in the covenant, since it was the covenant that provided the ultimate means of salvation.  By connecting the inclusion of the Gentiles with the promise given to Abraham in Galatians 3:7-29, Paul interprets the salvation of the Gentiles in covenantal terms, since the promise given to Abraham is a covenantal promise as stated in Genesis 15:18:  'on that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.'"  pg. 156 The Formation of Christianity in Antioch by Magnus Zetterholm

"As a result of the theology of Paul, the Gentiles connected to the Jesus movement understood themselves as part of the covenant that was originally made between Israel and the god of Israel, and their status had thus shifted from god-fearer to something more." pg. 195 The Formation of Christianity in Antioch by Magnus Zetterholm


But what is that "something more"?  Our friend Zetterholm has already said that Paul's Theology understood the Gentiles as belonging to the covenant of Israel.  So the answer would seem obvious (at least to me).  And yet he leaves it ambiguous.  He notes that the Gentiles must have a status greater than that of the G-d-fearer in first-century Judaism.  But he doesn't go so far as to say that the Gentile "inclusion in the covenant [of Israel]" made the Gentiles co-equal citizens of Israel.

Furthermore, Zetterholm accepts Sanders assertion that covenantal membership meant that one was obligated keep the commandments:

"...we learnt from Sanders that covenantal nomism was the general type of Judaism during [first-century Judaism]....Paul also embraced the pattern of covenantal nomism..." pg. 156

If the Gentiles are included in the covenant made with Israel and covenantal membership entails an obligation to keep the commandments, why can't Zetterholm accept the logical conclusion that Gentiles have a covenantal obligation to keep the commandments?

See how he's trying to protect his Gentile identity?  I love this guy but his anti-Judaic bias is really showing here.  If Gentiles are included in the covenant, the covenant is nomistic (i.e. law-based), the law was intended to be eschatologically universal (a point he makes on page 138 of the book), the status of the Gentile appears to be much greater than the first-century G-d-fearer, etc, then it follows that the Gentiles have ceased being Gentiles and have become Israelites.  I'm guessing this guy is so steeped in Swedish Protestantism, going back generations, that he just can't make the leap.  Ah, well.  He's still a good scholar.





32 comments:

  1. I would argue that we can be gentile and citizens of Israel at the same time, instead of saying we left being gentile. As the promise to Abraham was that of the inclusion of the gentiles.

    But I like everything said and agree. Paul tying gentiles into the being being sons of Abraham does actually go against the Judaism of his day. Even a convert could not say the prayer "of our fathers", because Abraham was not his father, but we gentiles in Messiah, Abraham is our father through adoption as sons. This is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.

    Having the Jerusalem Council, concluding that the gentiles were to attend the synagogue to learn Moses on Shabbat, indicates they expected the Gentiles to keep the Torah, which means they considered gentiles to be part of the covenant, apart from having to become Jewish. As that would have invalidated the promise made to Abraham, of the nations coming in, we have to come in as nations or the promise is moot. Thus gentiles are to be gentiles inside of the covenant.

    "No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations."

    Not the father of a multitude of Jews, although he is that as well, but it is important that gentiles are part of the covenant as gentiles, and that he is the father of these gentiles, not "proselytes", but gentiles.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The reason why scholars like Zetterholm are very reluctant to draw the conclusion that the Gentiles are to become Torah-observant is obviously the problem of circumcision in Paul's letters. Tim Hegg and others have tried to solve this problem by asserting that Paul is not against the circumcision of Gentiles per se, but only against the proselyte circumcision of the Pharisees. This solution of Hegg, which I admit is very attractive from a One-Law perspective, resists scriptural proof. It is a speculative assumption that Paul distinguighes between two types of circumcision. We make this assumption because it suits our One-Law theology, not because of exegetical reasons.

    If we cannot escape the conclusion that Paul was against the circumcision of Gentiles except by making speculative assumptions, then One-Law theology cannot be more than one of the options of dealing with the question how Gentiles are related to the Torah. For circumcision is very fundamental and extremely important commandment. Refusal or negligence of circumcision results in being cut off from the covenant. So if circumcision is out of the question for Gentiles, the whole project of Torah observance for Gentiles is in danger.

    I have not seen any theological option, thus far, which is truly convincing in dealing with the Gentile question. The Divine Invitation theology of FFOZ is self-contradictory. The G'd-fearer or Noachide option is vague and has the serious disadvantage of splitting Messiah's One Body into two disparate parts, a Jewish and a Gentile. And, as I said, One-Law theology has to deal with the huge problem of circumcision.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Messianic613,

      Dank je wel. It isn't just Paul that distinguishes between two types of circumcision. This is also well attested in Talmudic and other Rabbinic writing. For example, there is a classic Rabbinic disagreement over giyyur (conversion) when it comes to the elements of hoda'at ha-mitzvot (notifying the convert about the mitzvot), kabbalat ha-mitzvot (the convert's formal, public declaration that he accepts the mitzvot as binding ), and shemirat ha-mitzvot (actual observance of the mitzvot) as these elements relate to the process of conversion. For example, Ramam seems to feel that Kabbalat ha-mitzvot is not a requirement for conversion:

      "A convert [who] was not informed of the commandments but was circumcised and immersed in the presence of three laymen, is a proselyte. Even if it becomes known that he became a convert for some ulterior motive, he has exited from the Gentile collective, because he was circumcised and immersed" (Hilkhot Issurei Biah 13:17)

      Needless to say, this conflict with other Rabbinic writings:

      "A convert who accepted upon himself all matters of Torah, excepting one thing, should not be accepted..." [Tosefta Demai 2:4-5]

      This indicates that there is a conflict of opinion over the efficacy of proper circumcision and improper circumcision.

      This idea that there are different types of circumcision (proper and improper) is confirmed by Paul. Paul says in Galatians 5 that Moshiach will be of no use to those who circumcise in order to self-justify (Gal. 5:4). Yet we know that Paul circumcised Timothy and didn't think that such a circumcision of a Gentile rendered the Moshiach of no effect for Timothy. The solution to this contradiction is that Paul, like many Jewish rabbis, saw a distinction between proper and improper circumcision.

      I think Tim Hegg is on to something when he says that Paul was against Pharisaic proselytism. Perhaps Paul viewed circumcision as a requirement for Gentiles but weighed this mitzvah against the threat of Pharisaic proselytism and decided that it was better that Gentile remain uncircumcised than subject themselves to non-Messianic authorities.

      What is your name, Messianic 613? I've thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and look forward to talking with you more about this subject if you feel so inclined.

      Goeiedag nog! : )


      Delete
    2. I don't see any conflict between the opinion expressed by Rambam in Hilkhot Issurei Biah 13:17 and the dictum in Tosefta Demai 2:4-5.

      Rambam essentially says that the giyyur is valid when the formalities of the transition ritual (circumcision, immersion, witnesses, &c) were correctly followed, even if the convert wasn't informed of (some of) the commandments. When he comes out of the mikvah he is nevertheless a true Israelite who is under the obligatioin to observance the entire Torah.

      The Tosefta dictum says that a candidate for conversion cannot make an exception for himself concerning the acceptance of the commandments. If he makes objections against only one commandment, he cannot go through the conversion ceremony.

      These two sayings are in complete mutual harmony. If one should ask: What will happen if a candidate in his heart objects against a commandment without openly saying so? The answer is simple. The conversion ceremony is valid and the proselyte is bound to the commandment despite his objection.

      I greatly appreciate Tim Hegg as an acute and creative scholar. But I believe he is in error when he proposes that the Apostles granted the Gentiles a dispensation or at least a delay of circumcision. An Apostle simply has no power to give a dispensation for what is a clear commandment of the Torah. When Abraham received the commandment of circumcision, he fulfilled it the same day (Gen. 17:23-27). It is extremely dangerous to neglect this commandment. It is the foundation sign of the covenant. Moses was almost killed because he had been negligant concerning the circumcision of his son (Ex. 4:24-26).

      If, as One Law Theology affirms, a Gentile becomes a full covenant member at the moment of his acceptance of the faith, then the conclusion must be that from that moment on he is responsible for all the commandments, including circumsion. And this implies that a new believer must be circumcised immediately.

      Delete
    3. Messianic 613,

      Your comment got me thinking and so I wrote a new post entitled "Was Paul a Maximal Judaizer? Or Was He Anti-Judaization?"

      Perhaps we can continue this discussion on the new post?

      Delete
  3. Acts 15:21 flies in the face of this assertion.

    ReplyDelete
  4. messianic613,

    I think your argument is missing a few points though. If the apostles agreed with "proselyte" conversion, then they should have simply accepted what was said in Acts 15:1 by the Pharisees.

    The other point, if gentiles had to go through "proselyte" conversion, becoming a "Jew", then it invalidates the promise made to Abraham, as he would be a father of a multitude of gentiles.

    As Dan stated, the fact that the Apostles did not agree with the conversion process for Gentiles, yet wanted and expected them to learn the Law of Moses on Shabbat shows they saw something different. They conclude covenant inclusion without the need of proselyte conversion or simply becoming a Jew. One can remain a Gentile while now being a member of the covenant. Concerning circumcision, which is a clear command, the children of Israel went a good 40 years in the wilderness without being circumcised, yet God did not destroy them or cut them off from the covenant. I think the Apostles simply saw a grace, even more so for those gentiles who did not live in the land of Israel. In other words, if the children born in the wilderness could go 40 years without being circumcised, do you think maybe the gentiles would have some leniency even beyond that, I do, most gentiles today are not even at the doorway to go into the land, even if they wanted to.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Zion and Dan,

    I didn't say that Messiah believing Gentiles should go through the rabbinic conversion process. My only point concerning the traditional conversion halachah was that the statements of Rambam in Hilkhot Issurei Biah 13:17 and and the dictum in Tosefta Demai 2:4-5 don't conflict.

    As to the point that Gentile believers are granted leniency concerning circumcision, one would expect that this supposed leniency also applies to the other commandments, for why would circumcision be an exception here?

    I guess that the omission of circumcision during the 40 years of wanderings had to do with the peculiar situation of the cursed generation that had to die in the wildernis. I'm not sure of this, for I haven't studied this particular case. However, it seems to stretch the meaning of the text to derive from it a dispensation for Gentiles. In any case, this delay in the desert had nothing to do with personal or subjective considerations about the moment of fulfilling the commandment. It was a national affair and before the entrance of the Land the people were circumcised collectively. Individual or subjective considerations played no role whatsoever.

    The problem with your supposition is that it results in an utterly vague position. If a Gentile believer can live a faithful life for years and years without being circumcised, then the pressing question is: At what moment does he become legally responsible for his behaviour? For in in the Torah many commandments are connected to punishments and although we in our time don't live under a theocracy, yet the the fundamental idea remains intact that transgression is sin, and that serious sins result in expulsion from the community.

    If Gentiles are simply left to learn the Torah according to their own discretion and at their own pace, as is oftentimes held, then the One-Law position in practical terms hardly differs from the Divine Invitation position. In that case it is not One Law for all but different laws for Gentiles and for Jews.

    If Gentiles can choose the moment of their circumcision at their own discretion, then for all practical purposes they are under no legal obligation at all. For they can postponte and delay without limits and are never forced to obey! This is not what the Torah says and it makes the performance of the commandments a completely subjective affair.

    This position in fact undermines the foundations of the legal order. No Torah court can function if there are no clear guidelines as to the position of Gentiles. If it is no sin for a Gentile covenant member to walk around uncircumcised, then why is it a sin for a Jew to do the same? And if it is no sin for a Gentile to delay circumcision for a long time, then it is also no sin for him to delay Sabbath keeping for years.

    In the time of the Apostles the Temple was still in function. This fact adds more problems to the concept of uncircumcised covenant members. One-Law implies that Gentile believers living in the land had to keep Passover at the Temple, and thus had to be circumcised, according to Ex. 12:43-49.

    ReplyDelete
  6. One-Law implies that Gentile believers living in the land had to keep Passover at the Temple, and thus had to be circumcised, according to Ex. 12:43-49.

    But this is the point, gentiles do not live in the land today and their is no theocracy in the land, and there is no Temple, thus no Passover.

    As you pointed out, the children were not circumcised until they were going to enter the land, which seems to mean the cut off period was entering the land. Why did God not require circumcision 20 years into the wilderness, they were old enough age by then to understand...

    But I think that any gentile learning the Moses on the Shabbat will be compelled at one point to be circumcised. For me it was easy, I was circumcised the 8th day, and I circumcised my son the 8th day... But I don't hold others to circumcise themselves as there is not a requirement right now, the command of Passover cannot be kept today with no Temple, and 99.9% of Messianic Gentiles do not live in the Land. When the day comes that all these things can be fulfilled, then I think this discussion will become a lot more serious.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Zion,

    You are evading the point I make. There was a Temple in the times of the Apostles and there were Gentile believers at that time in the land who were able to go up for Passover, Cornelius and his family for example. Were these Gentile believers to follow the same rules as the Jews — which is the essential claim of One-Law — or not? Had they to perform the commandment of going up for Passover and get circumcised in order to do that, or not? What was the practice of the Apostles? If it was according to the One-Law claims, then the matter is clear. The Gentile believers were to follow the same Torah rules as the Jews and had thus be circumcised and to bring a Passover lamb. If One-Law is true, then Cornelius the centurion was under the same Torah obligations as his Jewish brothers in Messiah. He had to be circumcised and the next Passover he could go up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil his Passover obligations there.

    As to the peculiar situation of the wilderness generation, one should not extrapolate this to normal circumstances. It was a unique situation that only occurred once. If you are really One Law you should confirm that Gentile believers as well as Jews should circumcise their sons on the 8th day. The requirement of circumcision is in itself completely independent of the Passover celebration at the Temple. The relation between the two is one of pre-condition. A Gentile who wants to join Israel cannot perform the Passover rite before he is circumcised, "for no uncircumcised person (not even an uncircumcised Jew) shall eat thereof".

    You say: "I think that any Gentile learning Moses on the Shabbat will be compelled at one point to be circumcised". May I ask: compelled by what? What do you propose as the normal rule here? When should this circumcision happen? In other words, what is the halachah to be followed in this matter? How long can a Gentile believer remain uncircumcised without committing a grave sin? Can he also postpone or delay the other commandments?

    The decision as to when an adult Gentile person has to be circumcised cannot be left to his own judgment. To leave it in the hands of the invidual person is completely arbitrary. There has to be a non-subjective rule.

    If the Gentile believers in the times of the Apostles were free to decide for themselves when they were circumcised, and were permitted to delay it for years, then they were also free to neglect the Passover, if they were in the land. For the Written Torah the only real Passover celebration is at the Sanctuary. The Seder we have now since the Destruction of the Temple is a product of the Oral Torah. Not that there is something wrong with that under the present circumstances, but one has to consider the situation of a standing Temple as the normal situation as matter of principle and because during the times of the Apostles the Temple was still functioning.

    I would say that in order to study the implications and consequences of One-Law or Divine Invitation or whatever other theological hypothesis concerning the status of the Gentile believers, one has to test first how this proposed hypothesis works out in the situation of a theocratic governement, which is able to enforce the rules, and with a standing Temple. That's the normal situation according to the Torah.

    As to Acts 15:21, I doubt that this text is about Gentiles coming to the Synagogues to hear the Torah. It seems to say that Moses has already those that proclaim him, namely the Jews. Yaakov's conclusion seems to be that the Pharisees needn't be concerned if the Gentiles are not required to be circumcised and keep the Torah. Moses' Torah will be upheld by the Jews, including the Messiah believing Jews. Moses has his people, and the service of G'd according to the Torah will be continued by the Jewish nation, and this service is not affected or dimished by the fact that the Gentiles are not obligated to it. This seems to me a fairly natural explanation of this verse.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You are evading the point I make. There was a Temple in the times of the Apostles and there were Gentile believers at that time in the land who were able to go up for Passover, Cornelius and his family for example. Were these Gentile believers to follow the same rules as the Jews — which is the essential claim of One-Law — or not? Had they to perform the commandment of going up for Passover and get circumcised in order to do that, or not? What was the practice of the Apostles? If it was according to the One-Law claims, then the matter is clear. The Gentile believers were to follow the same Torah rules as the Jews and had thus be circumcised and to bring a Passover lamb. If One-Law is true, then Cornelius the centurion was under the same Torah obligations as his Jewish brothers in Messiah. He had to be circumcised and the next Passover he could go up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil his Passover obligations there.

    Your point is moot, because it is hypothetical and ignores the context in the time.

    Cornelius even if circumcised, could not go up and take part in Passover, because he would not have been considered a covenant member or a convert, because he would not have gone through the proselyte ritual as was standard in that time. His covenant membership due to his faith in the Messiah, would have been worthless and not considered by the standard of Israel who did not accept the Messiah or this belief.

    The purpose of showing the example of the children in the wilderness not being circumcised, yet also not being cut off from the covenant, is proof that it is not as black and white as you would like it to be. I on the other hand, do teach that people should circumcise, like I said, I was circumcised the 8th day and I circumcised my son the 8th day, but I also do not claim that there is a time limit on when exactly this should be done for someone who is 50 years old for example.

    Why would a gentile be compelled, well for many reasons, to enter the Temple, to keep the Passover, etc, if you love God, these are very exciting things to be missing out on. Of course who is missing out on these things today, everyone, because neither can be fulfilled or here with us today.

    The decision as to when an adult Gentile person has to be circumcised cannot be left to his own judgment. To leave it in the hands of the invidual person is completely arbitrary. There has to be a non-subjective rule.

    So how long should one have?

    If the Gentile believers in the times of the Apostles were free to decide for themselves when they were circumcised, and were permitted to delay it for years, then they were also free to neglect the Passover, if they were in the land.

    Again this argument does not work, because even if a gentile was circumcised, he could not participate in the Passover, as it would not have been valid, concerning the standard... he would then have to take part in Hatafat Dam Brit in order to be considered valid.

    one has to test first how this proposed hypothesis works out in the situation of a theocratic governement, which is able to enforce the rules

    Exactly, which is why the gentiles who had become covenant members according to the Apostles and God through faith in the Messiah, would not and were not accepted by the theocratic government in that time, as they practiced a different standard for covenant inclusion.

    ReplyDelete
  9. As to Acts 15:21, I doubt that this text is about Gentiles coming to the Synagogues to hear the Torah. It seems to say that Moses has already those that proclaim him, namely the Jews. Yaakov's conclusion seems to be that the Pharisees needn't be concerned if the Gentiles are not required to be circumcised and keep the Torah. Moses' Torah will be upheld by the Jews, including the Messiah believing Jews. Moses has his people, and the service of G'd according to the Torah will be continued by the Jewish nation, and this service is not affected or dimished by the fact that the Gentiles are not obligated to it. This seems to me a fairly natural explanation of this verse.

    But this destroys the context... the issue is gentiles coming into the covenant something which the standard in that time would not agree with, the only way to do such was through proselyte conversion, the Apostles disagreed and concluded gentiles part of the covenant without the need for proselyte conversion. So in order to satisfy the arguments proposed in Acts 15, we see that Peter points out the work of the Holy Spirit among the gentiles to prove of their acceptance. Then James talks about their observance, from a starting place and learning Moses every Shabbat, so that the argument concerning inclusion and observance is satisfied by the Apostles decree. In order for you interpretation to work, we would have to conclude that gentiles are truly not members of the covenant, but that invalidates the conclusion of the Apostles.

    ReplyDelete
  10. But in ancient Israel which was a theocracy there was no enforcement for circumcision. When the Israelites came out of Egypt the mix multitude traveled in the same camp and were called together with the Jews "Beney Israel." They were an integral part of the covenant community at the time without being circumcised (there is no narrative that shows a ritual circumcision for the mix multitude). Nowhere we find that they, or the uncircumcised Jews were excluded from celebrating the Passover in the desert.

    In his book "the beginning of Jewishness" Shaye D. Cohen writes: "During the second-temple period circumcision was deemedeffecacious no matter how, under what circumstances, or by whom it was performed. It was a surgical procedure, a phisical operation on a piece of skin. the circumciser did not even have to be a jew, let alone a priest or a sage. Intention was irrelevant; involuntary circumcision was fine too...This position is well articulated by R. Yosi in a statement that is transmitted in three different versions: "where have we seen circumcision that is not for the sake of the covenant?" or "where have we seen that the Torah requires circumcision to be for the sake (of the covenant)?" or "Where have we found in the Torah that circumcision require (proper) intent?" (Page 226). The rabbinic references are: T. Avoda Zarah 3.13; B. Avoda Zarah 27a; Y. Yevamot 8.1 9a.

    That shows that Gentiles could have been circumcised without becoming Jewish and still attend the Passover meal.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I see no substance in the answers above, only clever devices to evade the issue. Your position seems to be that in the matter of circumcision a Gentile can do as he likes or as it suits him. Nice! If this can be done with the central commandment of circumcision, then this can be done with all the commandments. In matters of Torah Gentile person can simply do as he likes and follow his own whims without facing consequences.

    The conclusion I draw from this is that in practical terms One-Law Theology (OLT) is essentially the same as Divine Invitation Theology (DIT) and the quarrel between these options is really about nothing at all. For if the Invitation of DIT is followed it results in a level of observance that is the same as the observance resulting from OLT. And if the doctrine of OLT is followed a Gentile male can delay his circumcision indefinitely, and a fortiori can do so with all the commandments without sinning or incurring divine punishment, which is essentially the position of DIT.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dan's points out the problem solved, as I already stated, as me, a gentile, circumcised my son the 8th day, the issue is really over what you do with someone who is past 8 days... like a 45 year old, should they be circumcised immediately, maybe in a few weeks, maybe in a few years, maybe after they have been discipled?

      And the issue is bigger than simply for gentiles, when should an uncircumcised Jew be circumcised, you can make up whatever time you like, but regardless we do not have a clear definition of this in the bible, instead we have scenarios of people not being circumcised for long periods of time, and God was okay with that, or He gave grace in those periods of time.

      Lets clarify DIT and OL, DIT does not believe gentiles are responsible for the Torah period, DIT teaches that some gentiles might have a calling towards the Torah, but are not obligated to do such, so they can quit whenever they like or simply not participate at all. OL believes gentiles no matter what are obligated to the Torah due to covenant relationship. What is debatable is how fast at the moment of conversion should a gentile be keeping Torah in all regards. Remember unlike conversion to Judaism which can be hard and is also shunned, consisting of a full program, some that run anywhere between 1 and 2 years, educates the person so that at the moment of conversion they are up to date. Coming to faith in Messiah can happen at any moment, thus the period of learning is going to differ, because it will depend on if the person receives discipleship or schooling or none of these. So ultimately one has to make a standard, and that standard is not simply found in the scriptures, and the Apostles did not set one either, they left it open, so... instead we are only left with communal decisions.

      Delete
  12. First, what I quoted shows that there was no mechanism of enforcement in the 1st Century. But what you are failing to see is that when a gentile is joining the covenant, like in the case of Zion, he will circumcise his children on the eighth day..Poof...your problem disappears.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dan,

      You are partly right. I acknowledge that part of the problem disappears if we assume that Gentile child circumcision was indeed practiced by the early Messianics and thus ought to be practiced now.

      However that may be — we have no evidence or any indication about Gentile children being circumcised in the days of the Apostles — the problem of adult Gentile circumcision remains, and seems unsolvable.

      According to the instructions found in Gen. ch. XVII all human males of Abraham's household have to be circumcised, no matter whether they be young or old, free men or slaves. This law knows of no exceptions. Now if Gentile Christians are sons of Abraham, and thus belong to Abrahams household, as Paul says in Gal. 3:29, then there's no escape.

      Yet we don't know about any practice of Gentile circumcision in the NT, except the much debated and not easy to interpret case of Timothy. This case cannot be used as a general example since it is contrasted by the case of Titus (in Gal. 2:3). So it is very difficult to find a general rule on how to proceed here. And a text like Acts 21:21 even seems difficult to reconcile with the practice of Gentile child circumcision. For if Paul had taught this, wouldn't it have been easy for him to retort the accusations made against him by saying that he not only taught that Jews should go on living according to Torah and tradition and circumcise their sons, but that his teaching was that Gentiles should do the same? But he never said such a thing.

      Don't you find it yourself very unsatisfying to leave the timing of such a central observance to the judgment of the individual? This can easily lead to a total abrogation of adult circumcision, since, as we all know, delays are dangerous.

      The fact that this whole item is mixed up with the issue of conversion doesn't make it easier.

      The reason I'm pressing this question is for the sake of the internal consistency of the One-Law movement. If we are basically right in emphasizing that both Jews and Gentiles in our congregations should obey all the commandments of the Torah that are reasonably applicable today, and that we should maintain an Apostolic standard of discipline and be prepared to excommunicate blatant sinners — such as adulterous persons and extortioners — then we simply cannot ignore blatant transgressions of the ritual commandments, especially not those that carry with them the scriptural punishment of being cut off. It would be hypocritical and undermining of congregational discipline to throw out a person who has an adulterous affair but to leave alone one who doesn't care about observing the Sabbath or circumcision.

      Delete
  13. "Now if Gentile Christians are sons of Abraham, and thus belong to Abrahams household, as Paul says in Gal. 3:29, then there's no escape. "

    I agree, and that is exactly what Hegg is teaching.

    "This can easily lead to a total abrogation of adult circumcision, since, as we all know, delays are dangerous. "

    Not in the case of Joshua 5.

    So what I get from you, is that basically you agree to adult circumcision on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, your only problem is with the enforcement?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is not just a matter of enforcement. The question here is: Why can’t we find any ruling about this matter in the NT in general and in Paul’s epistles more specifically? Is there no rule of enforcement here because it was left to the leadership of the communities, or does the lack of such a rule perhaps indicate that the presupposition that Paul favoured Gentile Torah observance is wrong?

      The answer to this last question depends for a great deal on what we know about Paul’s interpretation of the Apostolic Decree of Acts XV. If Paul taught what Tim Hegg and others say that he taught, then there is no doubt that not only Gentile boys but also adult Gentile males ought to be circumcised. But Hegg has the greatest difficulty in making this sound acceptable.

      In his Fellow Heirs, Hegg says that because of the confusion between the biblical rite of circumcision and the pharisaic circumcision of conversion Paul ruled that the uncircumcised Gentile believers “were to be received as though they were circumcised, even before they underwent the physical cutting of the flesh” (FH 82). He concludes: “We may therefore presume that Paul’s perspective on Gentile circumcision was that until the Gentile believer was sufficiently mature in his faith, he should not receive circumcision. Once he was well grounded in the fact that his faith in the Messiah was the means of his covenant inclusion, he would be circumcised, a process that gained him no new pedigree, nor awarded him any more covenant status than he already had” (FH 83-84).

      This position of Hegg is entirely speculative. In particular the statement that until the Gentile believer was sufficiently mature in his faith, he should not receive circumcision cannot be proved by any Pauline text at all. A further problem with this position is that it makes, as I already said in my former comments, the fulfilling of the commandment entirely dependent on subjective considerations.

      If, according to Hegg, Paul's concern is that the ceremony of circumcision will be mistakenly perceived as quasi-sacramentally conferring the reality of the stutus of being “in Messiah”, then why does he not also propose a postponement or delay of the rite of baptism, in order to make it clear that it is by faith, not by water, that we are “in Messiah”?

      Now, the fact that the major assumption of Hegg, i.e. that Paul favoured Gentile Torah observance, leads to such a speculative consequence regarding adult Gentile circumcision, justifies raising the question whether this assumption is correct at all. For in making the moment of the rite of circumcision dependent on the subjective faith status of the canditate, and thus on introspection, Hegg actually raises new obstacles against it. Gentile males now have to ask themselves: “Am I sufficiently sure that my covenant status only depends on Messiah and am I not subconsciously influenced by the idea that circumcision confers legal covenant status?”. Hegg obviously is not aware that this psychological, introspective soul-searching will have the unintentional effect of making the ritual of circumcision more spiritually important than it ever was!

      Delete
    2. This is a good conversation guys! Keep it going! I'm really just trying to listen to it and learn from it. But I might have some comments eventually.

      Delete
  14. " can’t we find any ruling about this matter in the NT in general and in Paul’s epistles more specifically?"

    I believe we do find.

    "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hand, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah" (Col. 2:11).

    This shows that the gentiles were to be received by the Jewish believers as though they were circumcised. The same is with baptism (Verse 12). If god had received them without circumcision, who is Paul to exclude them from the covenant. circumcision can come later, time is no constrains.

    The important thing for Paul was the contrary to what the Rabbis were teaching, circumcision is not the ticked to enter the covenant nor an act to make someone Jewish.

    What is hard for me to understand is your insistence on circumcision to the exclusion of all the other commandments. Do you think that in the 1st Century all new believers were keeping all Torah commandments the instance they joined the covenant? In the event that they have "Grace time" on the other covenant, why exclude circumcision?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I meant "grace time" on the other commandments. Sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The problem with receiving the Gentiles “as if circumcised” is that this “as if” cannot replace the actual and literal fulfilling of the commandment. For if it could replace it, then we would run into a version of Replacement Theology. If circumcision is understood as One-Law Theology understands it, namely that it is not an entrance ceremony but one of the commandments alongside the other commandments, then the question is urgent why we should accept a delay of it, while we are not prepared to do so with (some of) the other commandments. It seems that a person sins if he delays the literal fulfilment of the commandment.

    To give an example: Suppose that a wordly and criminal person repents and believes the Gospel. He is a Gentile, and he wants to become a member of a messianic congregation of the One-Law type. He promises to stop his criminal activities and makes serious efforts to get his life in order. However, after a year or so the leadership of his congregation suddenly hears from some outsiders that this same person is involved in adultery. When asked about this the man confirms and admits that the accusation is true. He says: “I have had adulterous affairs all my married life, but I thought that I could start a Torah observant lifestyle at my own pace here. Well, stopping my adultery has not been my priority thus far. I have gradually diminished my criminal business and I hope to end it completely before the end of this year. After that I’ll consider the next step of ending my adultery.”

    Naturally, the leadership is appalled and says to him: “Why didn’t you stop this thing immediately? Didn’t you know that adultery is a very serious sin, which according to the Torah deserves the death penalty? If you go on with it any longer we’ll have to excommunicate you. This behaviour cannot be tolerated in the Assembly of G’d.” To this the man retorts: “Of course I knew that adultery is a deadly sin. But remaining uncircumcised is also a deadly sin. If I can walk around as a faithful believer while still not circumcised, why can’t I walk around as a faithful believer if I have not yet ended my adulterous affairs? Why is the case of circumcision different from the case of adultery? Why are you pressing me in this case but not in the other? I’m still in the process of gradually becoming Torah observant and when I came here I was instructed by you that I could do this at my own pace. That’s what I’m doing, so what’s your problem?”

    The question is thus: When does the (Gentile) newcomer become legally responsible for his fulfilment of the commandments? The only moment we have in One-Law theology is the moment a person accepts the faith. For at that moment we believe that a person is incorporated in the faithful remnant of Israel, and if he is a Gentile he begins to share in the covenants from that moment on. This fact makes it very difficult to work with the concept of gradually becoming Torah observant at one’s own pace.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Greet, your theory falls apart when it comes to women.

    How does your theory jives with 1 Cor. 7:19? If circumcision is nothing then why is Paul urging Torah keeping?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First, I'm not stating a theory, I'm asking a question about the consistency of a theory. Second, to bring up the question of women here evades the question. It does not matter that circumcision doesn't apply to women; it does apply to men and that's enough for the difficulty to raised. Third, if a women would lead an immoral life after entering Yeshua's Assembly by doing some commandments and not doing others while declaring that she is approaching a Torah obedient lifestyle at her own pace, this would essentially be the same case as the example given above. The difficulty is that by introducing the concept of each person becoming Torah observant at his or her "own pace" is nothing else but a permission to continue a sinful lifestyle.

      As to I Cor. 7:19, this verse is mostly explained by One-Law teachers, such as Hegg, as saying that it applies to Jewish versus non-Jewish status, or change of status. Jewish status is unimportant and non-Jewish status is unimportant, but doing the commandments is important. This exactly illustrates my point. If circumcision belongs to the biblical commandments, then no post-ponement or delay is permissible and the logical conclusion is that a male Gentile should be circumcised immediately after embracing the faith.

      Delete
  18. Third, if a women would lead an immoral life after entering Yeshua's Assembly by doing some commandments and not doing others while declaring that she is approaching a Torah obedient lifestyle at her own pace, this would essentially be the same case as the example given above. The difficulty is that by introducing the concept of each person becoming Torah observant at his or her "own pace" is nothing else but a permission to continue a sinful lifestyle.

    The Apostles gave 4 essentials that they wanted these new converts to adopt immediately, none of those were circumcision, they left it open to learning Moses on Shabbat.

    We have an example in 1 Cor 5, of immorality among the believers, and Paul tells them to remove him from among them, he list even more in verse 11 concerning those who should be removed. It would seem Paul considers this to be more detrimental to the community of God, then whether or not a gentile has been circumcised yet.

    So it simply is not the same as painting the brush broad and making claims a gentile could techincally delay any commandment they want, we have clear instructions in some areas and gray in other areas. We have four essentials that are more important than the rest at least within the context of community fellowship, this does not devalue the other commandments, but it puts a importance factor for what needs to happen first, and it also shows us, that not all is expected day one. How could you expect someone to know the Torah in one day?

    As already mentioned, we have examples of Israel who were not circumcised for 40 something years, why were they not circumcised immediately or within age of understanding, I mean it is a death penalty, maybe you can help with that one?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Zion,

      I agree with the interpreation that considers the four requirements of the Apostolic Decree as fences against idol worship. These requirements were necessary because G'd-fearers in general were not demanded to make a formal break with idolatry, as is clear from the scholarly discussion about the Aphrodisias inscription.

      Whether Acts 15:21 teaches that the Gentile believers are expected to learn Torah at the Synagogue is a question that is not directly dependent on this interpretation. Here we must carefully distinguish between what exegetically follows from the text of Acts XV and what follows only under a One-Law perspective. It is possible to interpret Acts 15:21 as simply stating that Moses has already those who proclaim him, namely the Jews, and that the Gentiles in Messiah were considered a special class of G'd-fearers, who were required to abstain from all contamination of idolatry. I don't say that this interpretation is correct, I only say that it is a possibility. We should not force our One-Law view upon the text beforehand, i.e. before we have proved it.

      As to the sin of adultery of my example above, it is questionable whether adultery falls under the categories of the Apostolic Decree. If the Decree only deals with fences against idolatry, then porneia should be understood here as ritual sex or temple prostitution. Whatever may be the case, it is clear the Apostolic Decree does not cover all sins that must immediately be given up by new believers. Stealing and extortioning, for example, are in this category, but they are not in the Decree. So the Decree is sufficient for answering the question what sins must be given up immediately.

      For clarity's sake, let me ask you a basic question: How do you think that the 613 commandments of the Torah become mandatory for a Gentile? What, according to your point of view, is the decisive transitory event that causes a Gentile to be called to fulfil these commandments?

      Delete
    2. There was a typo in the concludubg sentence of my second paragraph. It should be read as: So the Decree is not sufficient for answering the question what sins must be given up immediately.

      Delete
  19. It is possible to interpret Acts 15:21 as simply stating that Moses has already those who proclaim him, namely the Jews, and that the Gentiles in Messiah were considered a special class of G'd-fearers, who were required to abstain from all contamination of idolatry. I don't say that this interpretation is correct, I only say that it is a possibility. We should not force our One-Law view upon the text beforehand, i.e. before we have proved it.

    Concerning the context of Acts 15, I can't see this conclusion at all. This verse is an answer to the situation of what should Gentiles do, the conclusion of 4 essential commands that must be kept at the point of conversion was laid clear, then immediately following is a follow up, they will learn the rest every Shabbat.

    The "possibility" you offered, cannot work, as it breaks the paragraph and the continuity of what is being said. Simply saying "don't worry, Jews will keep the Law if these gentiles are not" does not answer the question concerning gentile observance, that simply is not an answer, and in fact would destroy the context of the chapter, making absolutely no sense, because that is not even in question, that is bad exegesis.

    How do you think that the 613 commandments of the Torah become mandatory for a Gentile? What, according to your point of view, is the decisive transitory event that causes a Gentile to be called to fulfil these commandments?

    Covenant entrance creates the responsibility to the Laws of the covenant. That is a generalization of course, on the other hand, the Apostles never gave a clear indication of when all these gentiles would be held responsible to more than the four essentials, so we can't make a simply decisive decision. I think the biggest reason to this, is because Israel according to the flesh, was not going to recognize these gentiles as covenant members, period, and still do not till this day. Second, these gentiles lived outside of the land, and thus could not be held to the exact accountability of those who lived in the Land. Thus I have to say it is up for the local community to deem what should and should not be allowed and for how long, this will not always be like this, one day it will be much more clear, when the theocracy in the scriptures is reinstated and Israel nationally recognizes the gentiles who have joined themselves to the Lord.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One-Law Theology offers an explanation of Acts 15:21, but is not the only possible one. It pushes this verse into the direction of being an injunction. But Acts 15:21 doesn’t have the form of an injunction. If one interprets it as saying that the Gentiles should go to the Synagogue and study Torah, then why is this verse in the form of a simple statement instead of an injunction? Why doesn’t it literally say that the Gentiles should go to the Synagogue and learn what Moses has to say?

      The emphasis of this text is actually on the fact that Moses has already and from old times those that proclaim him. The “for”, which starts the sentence, actually seems to give the reason why the Gentiles need not to follow the entire Torah: “For Moses of old time has [already] them that proclaim him, since he is read in the Synagogues every Sabbath day”. I understand the difficulty of such a reading from a systematic pro-Torah viewpoint, but that’s another matter. Exegetically I see no difficulty in it.

      That’s why I don’t think that the traditional exegesis breaks the continuity of the paragraph. The Gentiles are given their obligations in 15:20. Then follows the declaration that Moses already has his own group since long times. I don’t see any destruction of context here.

      I would add that when you say: “the Apostles never gave a clear indication of when all these gentiles would be held responsible to more than the four essentials, so we can't make a simply decisive decision”, is actually an indication that there’s something wrong with the One-Law explanation if it assumes that it should give an answer to the question of the obligations of the Gentiles, which according to you was the question that was put before the Council. For it is the One-Law explanation that results in the problem or the unclarity you point to, not the traditional explanation. For the traditional explanation this problem doesn’t even exist, since it doesn’t expect the Gentiles to observe the Torah anyway.

      By all this I don’t want to say that it is impossible to give an explanation of Acts XV which is in harmony with the tenets of One-Law Theology. This remains to be seen. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves in thinking that One-Law Theology solves all difficulties in interpreting the NT. We should be honest enough to admit that it also creates new difficulties. And this was what I actually said at the beginning of this whole discussion. The debate in the messianic world — as matters stand nowadays — is undecided and will remain undecided for a while. Every proposed solution to the problem of Gentiles and Torah produces its own problems.

      Delete
  20. Thank you for giving more details on this perspective.

    Why doesn’t it literally say that the Gentiles should go to the Synagogue and learn what Moses has to say?

    First of all, going to the Synagogue was the purpose of all of this situation, where did you think they were going, to the nearest Catholic Church? The necessity of these gentiles adopting these 4 essentials was for the purpose of integrating these gentiles into the community, the synagogues, if they did not stop these 4 things, they were never even going to be allowed in a Synagogue.

    Second, because of context and continuity. When I am talking to you, I do not need to mention your name every 5 minutes in order for our conversation to flow correctly. Thus what you are saying to me does not satisfy or answer any questions given the context.

    The Gentiles are given their obligations in 15:20. Then follows the declaration that Moses already has his own group since long times. I don’t see any destruction of context here.

    What would be the purpose of saying such, what does it solve given the context? And how does it solve the equation of gentiles now being part of this group?

    which according to you was the question that was put before the Council.

    That was only one question, the other question which was in regard to whether one had to be a Jew in order to be in covenant with God. Just so we are clear, there was not one question. These questions went hand in hand.

    For the traditional explanation this problem doesn’t even exist, since it doesn’t expect the Gentiles to observe the Torah anyway.

    Well, the problem exist, because the question of what it means for a gentile to now be considered part of the covenant is much larger then the simple dilemma concerning gentile identity in relation to the covenant in Acts 15 even for the traditional explanation, but that is also because the traditional explanation ignores the perspective of covenantal nomism.

    Gentiles clearly were not held to only the limitations issued of Acts 15, not even the traditional view agrees with that. Acts 15 also, is only addressing those just turning to the Lord, it does not deal with the gentiles who were already turned to the Lord and participating in Synagogues. Thus it is even limited more in its scope.

    It would have been real easy for the Apostles to say that gentiles did not need to keep the Torah, because Gentiles are not Jews, but we do not read this at all. It is not easy though to say gentiles should take on all the Torah, there are way to many complications as I mentioned before, such as being outside the land, relation to Israel according to the flesh and much much more. Learning Moses over the course of time only seems rational and logical.

    In your opinion, if it was clear that gentiles were to keep the Torah, what should it look like?

    ReplyDelete