Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why Does Luke Delay in Calling Gentiles "Brothers" Until Acts 15?

I came across some fascinating One-Law evidence today in Trebilco's "Self-Designations and Group Identity in the New Testament."  It turns out that the term "brethren" (adelphoi) is used to refer to members of the people of Israel (see Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles).

ALSO...

Luke purposefully calls Gentiles something other than Adelphoi prior to Acts 15.  He doesn't call them brothers until Acts 15!!!

Check this out:

"The use of [adelphoi] in the NT is in continuity with OT usage for members of the people of Israel [footnote 115]....But as von Soden notes, 'There can be no doubt, however, that [adelphos] is one of the religious titles of the people of Israel taken over by the Christian community,[footnote 117]'", pg. 39.

Footnote 117 reads:  TDNT I: 145.

Also:


 "So why does Luke delay using [adelphoi] of Gentile Christians until 15:1 and 15:23?  
It seems clear that this should be connected to the Apostolic Council of Acts 15 and is one of Luke's ways of emphasizing the significance of that Council.  Now that the Jerusalem Council has expressly affirmed the legitimacy of the salvation of Gentile Christians without them being circumcised and keeping the whole law, and thus has affirmed that they can be fully part of the new movement (see 15:5, 7-11, 13-21), Luke can use [adelphoi] of both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  Now, for the first time, they truly are [adelphoi] together.
Accordingly, [adelphoi] carries significant theological freight for Luke.  [Adelphoi] can be used for Gentile Christians, and so for mixed groups of Jewish and Gentile Christians, only in conjunction with and after the Jerusalem Council.  This also underlines the point that, for Luke, the key background context of usage of [adelphoi] is the OT and Jewish usage for members of God's people, as his ongoing use of it as a term for Jews bears witness," pg. 52.

I'll be adding this to the list of One-Law evidences as soon as I've cross-referenced Barrett's commentary.  


16 comments:

  1. Did you find an online or library copy or something? I'd love to read it, but at $99, it's waaay too rich for my book budget, lol.

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    1. Rob,

      Actually, there are several amazing libraries near where I live. It's so incredible. Half the time, I have the entire library to myself. And I look around and think "Why isn't anyone here enjoying this wealth of books?"

      You just wouldn't believe the books I have access to!

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  2. This seems to confirm not the One-Law position, but Bilateral Ecclesiology. For if the Gentiles can be saved without circumcision and without keeping the Torah, then it is very improbable that they are mandated to circumcision and Torah after their initial salvation. For this would send the wrong message that, albeit their initial salvation be without circumcision and Torah, yet their ultimate salvation (which requires a faithful walk until the end of this earthly life) cannot be obtained without circumcision and Torah.

    But if that were true, then the initial message would be misleading, and it would be better to require circumcision and Torah observance right at the beginning.

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  3. Col. 2:11 flies in the face of your statement. gentiles were to be received as though they were circumcised even before they underwent the physical cutting of the flesh.

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    1. I sympathize with your viewpoint, Dan, but I don't think that this clause of "before they underwent the physical cutting of the flesh" can be demonstrated from Scripture. The NT is silent here as far as I know. We never see any circumcisions of Gentiles, except the rare exception of Timothy, which is hotly disputed because of the ever ongoing debate about his Jewishness.

      I acknowledge, though, that the hypothetical acceptance of Gentile circumcision solves a systematic difficulty, if one accepts the One Law perspective. But for those who don't, it is an indication to the contrary, because it cannot be demonstrated. I also acknowledge that One Law is the best overall view available, since it solves important questions about the practical unity of the Body of Messiah.

      Despite all this, however, it seems to me that one goes beyond the saying of Paul if one holds that according to Col. 2:11 physical circumcision is to follow the "circumcision made without hands". I think this is simply a step to far, exegetically. Here we plunge into uncharted waters, I fear.

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    2. I think what Dan was pointing out, was a truth Paul understood concerning Abraham, Abraham was in covenant before circumcision, thus gentiles were to be accepted as part of the covenant minus any physical circumcision, just like Abraham was, which is understood as the circumcision of the heart. This does not mean gentiles should not be circumcised, however it flies into the face of what was understood to be 'covenant inclusion' during the 2nd century as we see in Acts 15(the dilemma of gentiles, how could 'they' be in covenant without first being circumcised)... Thus in this case, as the case of Abraham, circumcision could come at a later date, the only difference is we do not see any boundary set in scripture, thus people conclude it was not necessary, but that is arguing from silence, we have many things the scriptures do not mention. We simply can't say that gentiles are party to the covenant yet not responsible to its regulations.

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    3. Zion, I agree with you that on a systematic-theological level it is difficult to defend the position that Gentiles are party to the Covenant, yet not responsible to its regulations. As I said, I have no systematic objection against your conclusion. And yet it is very difficult to reconcile this systematic position with honest and consistent exegesis of the NT. I — and I'm not alone in this — consider the position of the Gentiles to be the greatest riddle of the NT Scriptures.

      The "Gentile Problem" as it is called, seems unsolvable, and every proposed solution until now, when taken serious, has its particular absurdities.

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  4. Messianic 613,

    Where are you getting this distinction between "initial salvation" and "ultimate salvation"? I don't see that in Scripture.

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    1. Salvation is conditional, and does not only depend on the initial acceptance of Messiah, but on staying faithful to him, as Paul repeatedly says in Col. 1:23 "...if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, &c". Messiah taught this in John ch. XV. The branches are to stay in the true vine and to bear fruit. Every branch that doesn't bear fruit will be taken away (15:2) and thrown in the fire (15:6). Perseverence in being faithful until the end is necessary.

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    2. Messianic 613,

      Re: "For if the Gentiles can be saved without circumcision and without keeping the Torah, then it is very improbable that they are mandated to circumcision and Torah after their initial salvation."

      Why?

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    3. Because this suggests they can't be saved without Torah and circumcision, after all. As I said to Dan, I do see systematic advantages in One Law Theology, but I have doubts whether this theology is reconcilable with what is said in Acts ch. XV. Didn't the Gentiles to whom the Apostolic Letter with the Decree was delivered rejoice (in 15:31-32) that they could stay as they were, without formally adopting Isrealite status and Torah?

      What would have been the point of the Decree, if its message was that, although they were initially saved without Torah and circumcision, yet after their salvation were mandated to get circumcised and walk according to the Torah? Would this not turn all boasting of being saved without Torah and circumcision into gratitious talk?

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    4. Messianic 613,

      It suggests no such thing. Acts 15 says that the Gentiles are saved by grace. This grace would apply even to Gentiles who never learned anything about Mosaic Torah.

      Just because Gentiles are mandated to learn the Torah doesn't mean that they'll be eternally damned if they fail to learn about the Torah or if they fail to observe it. We're saved by grace, not by works of the law.

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    5. Well said Peter...

      Messianic613,

      We would have to conclude by your understanding that the Gentiles were rejoicing for not having to obey God's commandments, instead what was "disturbing Gentiles" in Acts 15:24, was in direct connection to their very salvation, that they were not truly included in the covenant unless circumcised, and the conclusion was that circumcision was not the entrance into covenant, grace was, and this applied to Jew and Gentile alike. The decree only touches the surface of fellowship with Gentiles among Jews, nothing more, to say it was all that gentiles need to obey minus the Torah, defies the text, you would have to read into the text a scenario that does not exist. It is an argument from silence which is a logical fallacy. The reality of what we read focuses on gentile inclusion and how it was proven by their giving of the Holy Spirit, not through some man made ritual.

      I know you have a hard time with this, but if the man made ritual known as conversion in the 1st century was legitimate, we have a major problem with the Apostles opposing it in this chapter... The fact is the conversion proposed in Acts 15 is in direct conflict with the Gospel message, if conversion in this chapter were still a legitimate method if it ever was, then we have to conclude that the Gospel has now invalidated or proven that method to be not correct.

      How does someone like you, who believes man made conversion to be valid on a biblical scale, deal with this conflict?

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  5. Peter said: "Just because Gentiles are mandated to learn the Torah doesn't mean that they'll be eternally damned if they fail to learn about the Torah or if they fail to observe it. We're saved by grace, not by works of the law."

    My comment: This does seem to lead to the doctrine that one can be saved without being faithful at all. Thus, under your hypothesis that Torah is obligatory, one can choose not to obey it at all and still be saved. To me this sounds ridiculous. If the presupposition that Torah is obligatory is indeed true, then the refusing to do so is open rebellion against HaShem, which will be punished by being cut off.

    The fact that we are saved by grace, not by works, doesn't mean that we will be saved no matter what we do, as long as we still believe in Messiah. Such a concept of salvation is clearly rejected by Paul in Romans ch. VI and many other texts. Paul is constantly warning to remain faithful and teaches that those who continue sinning will not enter the Kingdom of HaShem. Faith is only truly saving if it is informed by love and thus leads to a faithful practical lifestyle, the lack of which is indicative of an unrepentant mindset.

    Thus, in case the One Law hypothesis is true and Torah is obligatory, one cannot escape the conclusion that faithful Torah observance is relevant for our salvation. This doesn't at all contradict that we are saved by grace, since grace is operative in the very works of faithfulness. But it is not by these works, taken in isolation, that we are saved.

    By rejecting the necessary link between faith and faithfulness, between believing and doing, One Law Theology becomes almost identical to Divine Invitation Theology.

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  6. What about Matt. 5:19? it seems that one is in heaven one way or the other?

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    1. Perhaps Mt. 5:20 is the answer to this. Mt. 5:19 doesn't teach that one still is included if one rebels against the Torah. It only says that even breaking one of the least commandments has serious consequences for one's position in the Kingdom. It says nothing about what happens if one willfully breaks the major commandments.

      I admit, by the way, that Mt. 5:17-20, in combination with Mt. 28:18-20 contains one of the strongest arguments for the One Law position.

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