So as I was compiling notes for the Acts 15 paper/post, I came across this statement from Tim Hegg:
“…the Council was not debating whether or not salvation was gained by works. No one, including the “men from Judea” who were insisting that the Gentiles become proselytes, believed that anyone gained a place in the world to come by a complete keeping of Torah. As I have already noted, the prevailing view was that a place in the world to come was the gracious gift of God to every Israelite," Hegg, Acts 15 and the Jerusalem CouncilOh, really?
Aside from the fact that it was not a foregone conclusion that Gentiles had been accepted into Israel, we see in Paul's writings that, contra Hegg, there were actually folks in that time who pursued a works-based salvation:
“You who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4)and:
“but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works,” (Rom. 9:31-32).
So the reality, according to Paul, was that there was a prevailing soteriology amongst first-century Jews that advocated works-based salvation. McKee astutely picks up on the fact that the language in Acts 15:1 reveals that the Pharisee antagonists believed that there was salvific power in the act of circumcision:
"A possible translation of the clause ou dunasthe sothenai...is 'you are powerless to be saved ," (McKee, Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic)And in the footnote 16:
"The verb dunamai...is related to the noun dunamis...meaning 'power, might, strength' (H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994], 213).The implication from the language in 15:1 was that the Pharisee antagonists taught (quite forcefully) that circumcision carried power ("dunamis") for salvation.
So why does Tim Hegg say that works-based salvation vs. grace-based salvation was not at issue?
I think it's because Tim Hegg, somewhat understandably, harbors an anti-rabbinic bias. He says that the oppositional "yoke" to which Peter the Apostle refers in his speech before the Jerusalem Council is the burdensome "Oral Torah" of the Rabbis:
"Rather, the yoke [the Council is] unwilling to place upon the backs of the Gentile believers is the yoke of man-made rules and laws. Indeed, the layer upon layer of rabbinic additions to the Torah had made the whole matter a burden, and had even at times clouded the very purpose of the Torah. It was this burden the Apostles were unwilling to place upon the shoulders of the Gentiles, a burden every proselyte would have been expected to bear.”He makes a good point when says the following:
"Yeshua refers to the man-made laws of the Sages via the metaphor of a ‘burden’…[W]hen the rulings of men became so intertwined with the written Torah that for all practical purposes the two were one, to neglect the traditions of the Sages was viewed as a neglect of Torah…The implication is obvious: to throw off the traditions was to cast away the ‘yoke of the commandments’ and to mark oneself as a heretic….As far as the rabbis were concerned, one was not keeping the commandments as they should unless they kept them as prescribed by the ruling authorities—according to the accepted halakah…[T]he ‘yoke of the commandments’ had effectively become the ‘yoke of the rabbis’ interpretations of the commandments,’ and this yoke was often a burden.”However, this interpretation not only destroys the symmetry of Peter's argument, the antithetical juxtaposition of "yoke" (v. 10) with "grace" (v. 11), but it ignores the fact that Paul employed the same rhetorical device of antithesis with the same language in Galatians 5 when he juxtaposes "yoke" (Gal. 5:1) with "grace" (Gal. 5:4). That Paul equates "yoke" with works-based justification is evidenced by Paul's explanatory statement in the same passage, "...you who would be justified by the law" (5:4).
In conclusion, Tim Hegg's assertion that “…the Council was not debating whether or not salvation was gained by works" should be evaluated in light of the language employed in Acts 15:1 and in light of the structure of Peter's argument in 15:10-11 and Paul's argument in Gal. 5:1-4.