Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Faith All Around: Is Tim Hegg Correct That No One In Acts 15 Was Advocating Works-Based Salvation?


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 Council
Oh, 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 [16]," (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.

23 comments:

  1. Here's something else puzzling that Hegg says regarding Acts 15:

    He argues that the primary issue was whether Gentiles must be circumcised according to the ritual circumcision of Rabbinic Judaism in order to qualify for the salvation which is the “gracious gift of God to every Israelite.” Is he really saying that the Pharisee antagonists were promoting grace even as they qualified that grace by teaching that ritualized circumcision was a pre-requisite to salvation?

    It is very strange that Hegg says works-based salvation was not at issue!

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  2. I think it makes sense when you understand what Hegg probably means by "work-based salvation", that being what people generally understand: salvation by obedience.
    What it means in the texts you mentioned is very different from that: salvation by going through a certain procedure.
    I think that's what He means: nobody was saying: hey you gotta observe the Torah perfectly if you want to be saved, they were saying: gentiles, you gotta do certain things in order to be saved by grace.
    I honestly think Hegg makes sense in this differentiation, but I am not so sure about his take on the rabbinic tradition (actually I disagree hehe).
    Anyway, I think it is possible to combine both perspectives!
    Blessings!

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    1. I don't think the antagonists were saying "you must obey the Torah perfectly." I think they were saying "you can't receive the grace of the covenant with Israel unless you are ritually circumcised." And their position put all of the power on circumcision--circumcision was the initiation into the covenant (as opposed to G-d's grace). They were, in effect, promoting that a work of law (i.e. circumcision) is what saves you.

      Hegg says that their view didn't amount to the promotion of works-based salvation. So I happen to disagree.

      But I should make clear that I, like you, Matheus, respect Mr. Hegg and value his opinion such that I think we should all take his (and other Messianic scholars) opinions into account when discussing these topics.

      And, yes, we both disagree with Mr. Hegg on rabbinic tradition. For me, I see the Rabbis as helpful, advisory authorities (not mandatory authorities). I doubt that Hegg would allow the Rabbis even advisory authority. Maybe one day he'll clarify his position.

      Thanks for the comment, Matheus. Bless you, brother.

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    2. I think there are 2 varieties (at least) of works-based salvation:

      (1) the law must be obeyed perfectly in order to be saved (which I'm not aware of anyone believing);

      (2) grace is qualified in that salvation cannot be received until a work of the law (e.g. ritual circumcision, ritual immersion) has been performed.

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    3. As usual you miss the glaring point by a mile....

      What the antagonist were saying is that unless a gentile becomes a Jew he cannot be saved. And for them the only way for becoming a Jew was to undergo the ritual of circumcision. Get it?

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    4. Hence, they advocated salvation by works. Get it? : )

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  3. Circumcision is a work-base salvation? What are you sniffing? Let's throw Gen. 17 out of the Bible.....

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    1. It was most certainly a works-based salvation for the Pharisee antagonists of Acts 15 who said that YOU CANNOT BE SAVED unless you are ritually circumcised.

      Come back to reality, Dan.

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  4. Hello.....Since when was the ritual circumcision an act of salvation? If this is true then every 13 years old Muslim is Saved.....OY.....

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    1. Dan,

      Why are you assuming that everyone in history views ritual circumcision the same way as you? Yes, you see it as a seal of righteousness. Very good! But some did NOT see it the same way as you! The antagonists saw it as having power unto salvation.

      If anyone should be saying "oy" it's me--at you! Hehe. : )

      I love you. : )

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  5. So, now you know how I see things...OY!

    " The antagonists saw it as having power unto salvation."

    Prove it! Sanhedrin 10 says " All ISRAEL will be saved."

    A smart lawyer like you should see by now where I am getting, no?

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    1. And the Tosefta (Sanhedrin 13:1), a compilation that predates the Mishnah, says that all the righteous gentiles have a place in the world to come.

      What's your point?

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  6. Peter,

    Acts 15:1 is not referring to the commandment of circumcision, it is a loaded term referring to proselytism, like what Dan said, it was about becoming a Jew, the Torah never taught or teaches gentiles how to become Jews, because the entire thought and idea is anachronistic, simply it did not exist. So, Acts 15:1 is not about keeping a commandment to be saved, it is about keeping a "custom" or tradition as mandatory for salvation. The Torah never teaches that circumcision is mandatory for salvation, thus we must look elsewhere, rabbinic tradition put such an emphasis on "becoming a Jew" and that through a ritual that involved "schooling, circumcision, a sacrifice, etc" to finally acquire that status.

    Conclusion,

    Acts 15:1 cannot be speaking of the commandment of circumcision, as the Torah never says "one cannot be saved unless circumcised according to some much later tradition", instead this must be a dogmatic tradition, hence rabbinic tradition, that is actually opposed the words of God, Paul calls those who teach this "the false circumcision".

    That said, I agree with Tim Hegg's interpretation.

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    1. Zion,

      RE: "Acts 15:1 is not referring to the commandment of circumcision"

      Agreed!

      RE: "the Torah never taught or teaches gentiles how to become Jews, because the entire thought and idea is anachronistic, simply it did not exist."

      Agreed!

      RE: "So, Acts 15:1 is not about keeping a commandment to be saved, it is about keeping a "custom" or tradition as mandatory for salvation."

      Agreed!

      So you've just stated everything I've been saying the entire time.

      And the fact that these Pharisees were promoting ritual proselyte circumcision for salvation shows that they advocated works-based salvation.

      Tim Hegg says they did NOT advocate works-based salvation.

      So if you agree with Hegg then that means you think the antagoist Pharisees in Acts 15:1 were promoting salvation via grace (as Hegg believes).

      I happen to disagree with that assessment. I think requiring someone to be circumcised for salvation is a works-based salvation. I don't see that as grace at all. I see it as contravening grace.

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    2. Your lawyer trickery will not help you now....keep reading your agenda into Scriptures. We are trying to show you that the word circumcision here does not refer to the act, but you of course know better....

      So, are you adding Zion to your enemy list now?......

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    3. Not exactly, the custom of circumcision was a short hand for proselytism, which was believed to result in covenant inclusion. They were not saying remove the foreskin to be saved per the commandment, even though it reads that way, which would be blatantly saying, do this work in order to be saved, salvation was linked to covenant identity, it was believed that being a Jew was guaranteeing one self a place in the world to come (salvation). So I think saying it is works based salvation is partially missing the point and too simple, they didn't believe that works could save you per the example I gave above, however they did believe covenant status did, that being a Jew, was assuring ones place in the world to come (salvation). Meaning, they still believed it was God saving them, because of their covenant relationship, not because of something they did, they did nothing, they were born into covenant, thus in order to get into covenant for an outsider, one would go through their man made ritual, which then they would "become covenant members" by becoming Jews and God would ultimately save them, by giving them a place in the world to come. Can you see the difference, thus much of what Acts 15 is dealing with, is customs and not the commandments, traditions of men and how it relates to salvation. I think Paul just stated in the most simple terms what it is, a false gospel, and that message is about salvation revolving around a status or calling, that status being a Jew, which could be attained through a bogus ritual invented by men. So in a way its two-fold, there is a works based justification being taught, while at the same time through a "rabbinic" man made tradition. I put rabbinic in quotation because that is being anachronistic.

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    4. Now, one would thing that a smart lawyer would understand this, no?

      Shabbat Shalom to all.

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    5. Dan,

      I love you and Zion. No enemies here, just discussing Scripture with friends. Have a good Shabbos!

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    6. Zion,

      RE: " there is a works based justification being taught"

      So we're in agreement, right? This is exactly my analysis of the antagonist Pharisee position in Acts 15. They promoted works based justification--via the work of the Rabbinic ritual of proselyte circumcision.

      At any rate, have a peaceful Shabbat. G-d bless you, brother.

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  7. Peter,

    Well like I said, lets be specific, it was a man made invention #1, so when we speak of works based salvation, we must also define the context of "works"? The Torah? nope. Man made regulations. Jews did not believe they were saved by works, they believed they were saved by grace through covenant affiliation. Thus for gentiles to assure themselves of a place in the world to come, would need to acquire covenant status, by going through a bogus ritual, in order to magically become a Jew.

    So the issues we see in Acts 15, is not simply just saying, works based salvation, it is more complicated. Its not like they believed you could keep the Torah in order to be saved, that needs to be made clear, do you get that point? So when trying to understand the dilemmas, we need to understand these fine points. The issues in Acts 15, heavily rely on made made rulings of that day, something the Pharisees believed was right, that being -> proselytism and all that it encompassed. Tim Hegg argues for the source of these arguments, which is purely man made and I agree. Its two-fold, you can't say that this is only speaking of justification by works and ignore the man made element that it is wrapped in, which is the issues of Acts 15:21, or the references to yokes, they are intertwined.

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    1. Zion,

      They didn't say the work in question was "keeping the Torah perfectly"; they said that the work in question was "ritual circumcision".

      But work is work, whatever the context. They could've said the work was "math homework." It wouldn't matter. The point is that it IS a work. Thus, the issue is whether salvation can be achieved by a work or if it is purely through grace.

      So as long as you recognize that "ritual circumcision" was a work and you recognize that they required this work for salvation then you and I are in agreement that it is a works vs. grace issue.

      But we would both then be in disagreement with Mr. Hegg who says that the issue was not works vs. grace.

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    2. Peter,

      Maybe we are not reading the same document, but here, he says states the issue clearly at the beginning:

      http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Acts%2015.pdf

      The "issue" at hand was whether or not someone who was not a Jew could be saved.

      I don't think it gets anymore clear than that? He then goes on to break down the intricate details of what all this means. Did you read the entire document or did you just pick that random point?

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    3. Zion,

      Yes, I did read it all. And he states the issue in various ways throughout the document. So if we look at each statement in the entire document we get a picture of what Hegg thinks was the primary issue, primary rule, corollary issue(s), corollary rule(s). His analysis looks like this:

      Tim Hegg:

       PI: “The opening verses of Acts 15 give us a clear picture of the core issue around which the

      Jerusalem Council convened…The ‘issue’ at hand was whether or not someone who was not a Jew could be saved.” NOTE: Hegg says the issue at hand was NOT whether salvation was gained by works, “…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 further states “In the Mishnah a place in the world to come is reserved only for Israel, meaning that the only hope for Gentiles was to become proselytes [and thereby join Israel].” THEREFORE: Hegg is arguing that the primary issue was whether Gentiles must be circumcised according to the ritual circumcision of Rabbinic Judaism in order to qualify for the salvation which is the “gracious gift of God to every Israelite.”

      CSI(s): CSI 1: “To put it another way, how could a Gentile become a covenant member with Israel and share in the blessings of the covenant? The prevailing belief of the Judaisms in Paul’s day was that only Jews had a place in the world to come since God had made the covenant of blessing with Israel and no other nation.”; CSI 2: “The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was dealing with a specific issue: was it necessary for Gentiles to become proselytes and thus take on the full weight of the man-made laws of the Sages in order to be accepted within the Jewish community?”

      PR: Gentiles are not required to be circumcised according to the ritual circumcision of Rabbinic Judaism (rules which amount to an “unbearable yoke”) in order to qualify for the salvation which is offered as a gracious gift to every Israelite. NOTE: in the summary section of his paper,
      Hegg’s restates the primary issue of Acts 15 in such a way that downplays the centrality of the salvific issue: “Summary: The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was dealing with a specific issue: was it necessary for Gentiles to become proselytes and thus take on the full weight of the man-made laws of the Sages in order to be accepted within the Jewish community? The Council voiced a unified ‘no’ to this question. Using ‘circumcision’ as as a short-hand designation for ‘the ritual of becoming a proselyte,’ the Council determined that the Gentiles would not need to be circumcised (i.e. become proselytes) in order to be received into the Torah community.” It is unclear why Hegg keeps rephrasing the primary issue--especially at the end in such a way as to totally ignore the "simple" salvific issue posed at the outset of the paper.

      CSR(s): CSR 1: Gentiles may become covenant members with Israel and share in the blessings of the covenant without undergoing the Rabbinic proselyte ritual of circumcision; CSR 2: It is not necessary for Gentiles to take on the full weight of the man-made laws of the Sages in order to be accepted within the Jewish community. “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.”

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