Galatians – Part 3 – Confrontation with Cephas (Peter)

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Galatians 2:11 (ESV)

I can not help but read this verse and wish Paul and Cephas were available for further questions.  I definitely wish there was a corresponding account of this anywhere else in the New Testament, preferably from Peter to hear another perspective.  Unfortunately, we just don’t get another side of this story, so we have to do the best we can to decipher it from where we sit today.

Up to this point, within his letter to the Galatians, Paul has recalled his testimony including his interaction in Jerusalem with the beit din of James, Cephas, and John.  Paul has assured his readers that he was given the “right hand of fellowship,” to continue his ministry.  In simplest terms, Paul is telling the readers that the authoritative beit din in Jerusalem has agreed with his teaching.  In typical rabbinical format, Paul provided a testimony, his credentials or under what authority he can teach (beit din approval), and is now going to give a story to start his teaching.

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

Galations 2:12 (ESV)

In my opinion, this verse is skipped over all too quickly when evaluating this passage.  By stopping to evaluate and absorb what Paul wrote, the rest of his story regarding Cephas is much easier to explain and there is no need to guess or infer meaning to the passage.

Jewish sages and rabbis had developed laws or instructions in addition to the Torah (Laws of Moses).  These are referred to as “fence laws.”  The idea was that by developing additional laws, it created a barrier or fence around the Torah.  If one were to break one of these additional laws the original, God-given law would still be protected.  We see evidence of this issue throughout scripture.

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Mark 7:5-8 (ESV)

These Pharisee leaders were bothered that Yeshua’s disciples were not following the fence laws.  While there is nothing directly wrong with these additional laws, the problem is that these Pharisee leaders, considered the “traditions of the elders” as important as the God’s laws.  Yeshua actually referred to a passage in Isaiah 29.

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,”

Isaiah 29:13 (ESV)

The full passage in Isaiah deserves an entire lesson by itself, but the leaders that Yeshua was talking to, knew exactly what was prophesied by Isaiah and would have understood the point, which was to not elevate the teaching, instructions, or commandments of men to an equal or higher standard than the teachings of instructions from God.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.

Ephesians 2:14-15 (ESV)

Many use this verse to focus on the “One New Man” concept, which I am not going to get into in this study.  What I want to draw attention to is Paul’s use of the phrase, “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.”  Paul is not referring to the Torah.  In this instance, Paul is discussing the man-made ordinance regarding Jews and Gentiles in worship.  There was typically a wall, curtain, or some kind of physical separation in synagogues designed to segregate Jews from non-Jews.

This is the crux of Paul’s message, which I’m going to delve into much deeper as I get further into the letter to Galatians.  To simplify for now, Paul was working to break down the barrier that had been built, not just physically but a psychological barrier of prejudice that Jews were saved and Gentiles were not.  Jews had developed a mentality and teaching that the only ticket to salvation was to be Jewish or to convert through Jewish ritual circumcision.

For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation.

Titus 1:10 (NLT)

Paul’s message in this letter was not to abolish the need to follow the Torah.  His message in this letter was to abolish the man-made teaching that Jewish conversion was the only path to salvation.  Jewish conversion was commonly referred to circumcision within Paul’s writing.

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 

Galatians 2:3 (ESV)

The specific point that Paul made was that circumcision or Jewish conversion was not necessary for salvation.  This point will be made more evident as I dig through the letter to the Galatians.

How does this apply to the topic at hand regarding Paul’s dramatic account of his confrontation with Cephas?

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

Galatians 2:12 (ESV)

Paul’s accusation was that Cephas had no problem eating with the Gentiles until the circumcision party came for a visit.  The “circumcision party” was a group or sect of Judaism, at the time, that believed salvation was only attained by being circumcised as God commanded Abraham in Genesis chapter 17.  Paul’s position was that salvation was attained by Abraham before he was circumcised, which he will mention later in this letter.

What was so significant about Cephas eating with Gentiles?  Why would he not want to be caught? This was an ordinance of man, tradition of the elders, or a fence law.  The dietary instructions in the Torah are very specific.  There are also specific guidelines that must be kept in order to be considered ritually clean.  At that time, because these instructions and guidelines were not adhered to by a typical Gentile, Jews feared that they would become ritually unclean or defiled by unknowingly coming in contact with a Gentile that was unclean.  Therefore a fence law was established that Jews could not enter a Gentile’s house or eat with Gentiles.  These segregation laws were established to protect a Jew from unknowingly becoming unclean.  Take the time to read Acts 10:1 – 11:18.  Peter is under fire from the circumcision party because he went to visit a Gentile home.  He defends himself and interprets a vision he had that God tells him “What God as made clean, do not call common.”  Contrary to some popular beliefs, this vision is not about food, it is about Jews considering Gentiles unclean or common.  Peter defends himself in Acts 11 and in verse 18 said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Peter has already dealt with this issue and defended himself on the issue, yet he still feared retribution from leadership.

The entire basis of Paul’s confrontation with Cephas is to set aside this man-made law to exclude Gentiles from fellowship and ultimately salvation.  Paul’s argument was consistent with Peter’s defense in Acts 11, which was (is) to include Gentiles into fellowship, as God includes them into salvation without requiring Jewish circumcision.

Paul continues his argument with Peter, but I’m going to split that into another post, as this has already become a lengthy post in itself.

Final footnote: The English Standard Version places quotation marks at the end of verse 14, ending Paul’s conversation with Peter.  Other major translations place the quotation marks at the end of verse 21.  Upon reading carefully, Paul’s use of “we” and “our” in verses 15, 16 and 17, in reference to Jews, it does appear that he is still talking to Peter.  Although the placement of the quotation marks may seem insignificant, it is a valid point to make when evaluating this particular passage.  I disagree with the ESV’s placement of the quotation marks and agree with the other translations, placing the end of the conversation after verse 21.

Galatians – Part 2 – Running in vain

In the previous post, I established that Paul wrote this letter prior to the Jerusalem Council.  I also made a statement that I disagree Paul was breaking free from Judaism or challenging Jewish leadership.

 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Galatians 2:2 (ESV)

What did Paul mean by run in vain?  Have you’ve ever watched a marathon or race on TV, such as the Olympics?  If you watch long enough, at some point it is common to see the race participants spread out as the reach their own pace.  Imagine watching the race and one of the participants veers off course, yet continues to run as if still in the race.  The helicopter zooms out and shows this lone runner well off course, but smiling as thought he is thinking, “There’s no one else in sight.  I can’t believe how far ahead I am!”  When the reality is that he is so far off course that he’s not even in the race any longer and thus, running in vain.

There is more than one account of Paul submitting to authority.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 9:1-2 (ESV)

Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

Acts 21:26 (ESV)

It is worth remembering that Paul was a disciple of Gamaliel and considered a zealous Pharisee.  For Jews, submitting to authority was and is paramount.  Whether he was seeking permission from the high priest or agreeing to a purification ceremony to prove his Torah observance, he submitted to authority.  The idea that in the middle of his ministry he would challenge or turn his back on authority, is inconsistent with the scripture accounts of his character.

and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Galatians 2:9 (ESV)

Paul describes a meeting that he had with three leaders; James, Cephas (Peter), and John.  If you aren’t already familiar with a beit din, I would recommend you follow that link and do some research.  Essentially a beit din is a leadership council, typically of three rabbis that would render decisions based on scripture interpretation.  I would also encourage you to read about the Jewish meaning of binding and loosing, which Yeshua mentions in Matthew 18:18.  If someone had a question about how a scripture passage should be applied, they would typically ask their rabbi.  If the rabbi was unsure of or wanted to confirm the answer he would request a ruling from the beit din.  If the beit din disagreed with the answer or interpretation, they would bind (forbid) the interpretation.  Contrarily, if they agreed with the interpretation, they would loose (permit) the interpretation.  Again, understanding context is critical.

Paul accounts that the beit din added nothing to his teaching and gave him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship to continue teaching the Gentiles. Despite a common perspective that Paul was breaking away from Judaism to create something new or different, the evidence does not support that.  Paul describes a scenario, in which he knew he needed validation from leadership that what he was teaching was not contradictory to scripture.   He knew if the beit din of James, Cephas, and John ruled against him, no matter how right he felt he was, he would not be considered a reliable rabbi, nor would he be welcome to teach in synagogues.  He would not have had the support of the Jerusalem leadership.

Paul may have challenged authority, by presenting his vision and arguing his case using scripture.  However, he was still submitting to authority and I believe he would have respectfully lived with their decision in the same way David submitted to King Saul, even when he knew the king was wrong (1 Samuel 24).  It just turned out that the beit din agreed with his interpretation and permitted his ministry to continue.

Galatians – Part 1 – When did Paul write this letter?

To some, this post is going to seem tedious, unimportant, or possibly more complicated than it needs to be.  For me, this was just the beginning of unraveling common misunderstandings or misinterpreted passages in Paul’s letter. When reading commentary about Galatians, I found the common understanding was that this letter was written after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 and Paul’s reference in the chapter 2 about going to Jerusalem is an account of him challenging the authority of the council, thus breaking away from his old Jewish ways or turning his back on Jewish authority.  I find this account wrong, and unsupported in scripture.  I spent days flipping between Galatians and Acts comparing the timelines and accounts to figure this out.  I believe I have a legitimate and accurate account of Paul’s timeline, and I believe by reading Paul’s letter correctly, we see him submitting to authority rather than challenging or turning his back.  This post will flip back and forth a lot between Galatians and Acts.

As a diversion, before I even get started, I learned something interesting while writing that is unrelated to the timeline.  If one looks at a traditional map of where Paul travelled, he was always north of Jerusalem, yet in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1 he wrote that he “went up” to Jerusalem and in Acts 9:30 “they brought him down to Caesarea,” which is north of Jerusalem.  This confused me until I learned that in Hebrew, when referencing a trip to Jerusalem, the word aliyah is used, which means to go up.  Thus, regardless of where you are in relation to Jerusalem, you will always go up or when you leave, go down.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to Destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 1:15-24 (ESV)

Unfortunately the writers of this time did not provide date stamps in their letters.  That sure would have made it a lot easier for us!  Paul provided a short synopsis of what occurred over about a three-year period.  He sawYeshua while traveling to Damascus, spent about 3 years in the area, then traveled to Jerusalem and met with Cephas (Peter) and James, brother of Yeshua.

I compared Paul’s brief account to Luke’s account in the book of Acts.

But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.  When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul.  They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

Acts 9:22-25 (ESV)

Along with Acts 9:1-21, this corresponds with Paul’s account of spending time in Damascus after his vision.

And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.  So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists, but they were seeking to kill him.  And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Acts 9:26-30 (ESV)

While Luke does not provide a time frame of how long Paul was in Damascus until his visit to Jerusalem, in Acts 9:26, I believe this corresponds with Paul’s account in Galatians 1:18, which he wrote after three years.  So far, so good.  Pretty simple comparison and the timeline accounts correlate.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Galatians 2:1-2 (ESV)

Keep in mind that Paul is providing a timeline as part of his testimony.  He is establishing credibility with the readers of his letter by providing details and names that can be verified by others.  With that said, Paul claims that he went to Jerusalem for a few days and met only with Cephas and James.  In his next sentence he states “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem.” He doesn’t provide a record of what he did during those fourteen years, but the way in which he wrote this implies that the next time he went to Jerusalem was fourteen years later.  If, in Galatians 2, Paul is referring to his trip to Jerusalem regarding the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council, it seems inconsistent with Luke’s historical and chronological account because Luke mentions Paul going back to Jerusalem between those visits.  If we flip back to where we left off in Acts 9, the next time Luke mentions Paul is Acts 11:19-30.

Paul mentions that he went back to Jerusalem “because of a revelation.” What revelation?  Is Paul talking about his revelation when he met Yeshua on the road to Damascus?  That just doesn’t seem to make sense.  Earlier in Acts 9:27, Barnabas already vouches for Paul and retells the story of Paul’s vision of Yeshua.  Why, fourteen years later, would Paul feel the need to go back to Jerusalem and explain his revelation?

I believe the revelation that Paul is speaking of is one of two things.  Either he is referring to Peter’s vision and subsequent understanding of that vision that salvation is also available to Gentiles (Acts 10 & 11), or, more than likely, he is referring to the prophecy mentioned in Acts 11:28 of Agabus’ vision of a famine because of Paul’s reference to remember the poor in Galatians 2:10.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 11:27-30 (ESV)

Paul is in Antioch at the time Agabus prophesied that a famine was coming, so the disciples took up a collection and sent Paul and Barnabas to deliver it.   The next mention in Acts of Paul is the last verse of chapter 12.

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Acts 12:25 (ESV)

Other than a brief mention that Paul and Barnabas bring a collection, then leave Jerusalem some time later.

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Galatians 2:10 (ESV)

Paul makes a specific mention about remembering the poor, which completely correlates to the account given in Acts 11:30 about going to Jerusalem with a donation because of an impending famine.

My conclusion is that Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.

If you have followed along up to now, here’s the point.  When trying to understand some of this, I found a common theme in a lot of commentary that considered Paul’s explanation at the beginning of Galatians chapter 2 as him taking a stand against Judaism and starting the Christian church.  Instead of an act of rebellion, I believe Paul was sincerely following Jewish protocol and seeking validation from leadership.  Instead of breaking away from his Jewishness, he was embracing it and following protocol.

Galatians – About the Author

In order to understand my perspective of Galatians, one must understand my perspective of the author.  After all, I am attempting to put myself in the shoes of the author as much as possible, two thousand years later, in order to decipher one of his letters.  I was not raised with the beliefs I currently hold.  I was raised believing that The Church had essentially replaced Israel as the chosen people.  Therefore, I always read the Bible from that perspective.  After my revelation, when I read scripture, I viewed it through a different lens.  One significant conflict I had to work through when I read anything written by Paul, I struggled with inconsistency between what I was taught vs what I read on the page.  Prior to studying and consequently teaching Galatians for an adult Bible study, I decided to get to know Paul better and understand his character, personality, and attempt to reconcile seemingly contradictory statements he made.  There are numerous books written about Paul, of which I had not read until recently.  When formulating my understanding of Paul, I did so with an ESV bible and a lot of prayer.  Since that study, I found a great article written from the same perspective I developed on my own.

This is the result when we approach Paul from our side of the time line. We live after the triumph of Christianity and the final parting of ways between Jews and Christians. Paul did not. Yet we bring that post-Pauline framework with us when we read him. And that framework has determined how we read him—at least until a few decades ago, when a number of scholars began to offer a new view of Paul.

Consider what would happen if, for just a moment, we were to consider Paul’s letters from the other side of the time line, from Paul’s time instead of our own. What would happen if we threw into doubt the triumph of Christianity in Paul’s time, or even the notion of the final split between Jews and Christians?  Or—since we have started to ask tough questions about our assumptions—what would happen if we were to recall (here I am not inventing but simply describing) that in Paul’s time there was no Bible other than the Hebrew Bible, no New Testament, or even any idea of a New Testament, and no Christianity, or even any idea of Christianity? What difference would it make to our reading of Paul if we were to bring these assumptions, this framework with us when we read his letters? The result is not just a minor adjustment here or there on the fringes of the old image. What I and others have been arguing is that the old image, the image that has been 100 percent dominant from Paul’s day to our own, is 100 percent wrong, from top to bottom, from start to finish.

John G. Gager
Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity (p.6-7)
Biblical Archaeological Society

Gager’s position described my own when I was trying to reconcile inconsistencies between Paul’s letters.  To any believer, it is a requirement that scripture can not contradict itself.  Otherwise, we can not rely on it as an absolute truth to guide our lives.  If that is true, then how was it possible for Paul to make pro-law and anti-law statements?  How was it possible for Paul to write against the law, yet continue to observe the Sabbath, travel to Jerusalem for festivals, engage in a Nazarite vow of cleansing, and defend himself as law-abiding when accused otherwise?  Either my previous assumptions about Paul were wrong, or Paul was a complete hypocrite, speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

What if the last two thousand years of history and doctrine has adjusted our position of what Paul was attempting to say?  Is it possible that if we view Paul from a different lens, a lens from his perspective in history, that what Paul meant was completely removed from how his words are read today?  Prior to reading Gager’s position, I attempted to reconcile these questions on my own, simply by digging into scripture and finding what I considered to be contradictions.  I will not spend a lot of time here outlining the contradictions.  Instead, I am going to paint a picture of the Paul I found in scripture by seeking words from his pen and how some of Paul’s life was recorded by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul authored nearly half of the New Testament books.  Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon.  It is easy to determine which letters Paul wrote because he introduced himself in the beginning of each one.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (Romans 11:13 ESV)

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8 ESV)

Arguably the father of many Christian church doctrines because he was the self-proclaimed apostle to the Gentiles and each of his letters ring a certain theme of teaching directed towards Gentiles.

I am not sure where I heard the claim that Saul’s name was changed to Paul after his vision of Yeshua as a method to separate himself from Judaism.  This subtle assumption may seem inconsequential, but it does provide a pinch of understanding that scripture can be misread so easily.  Acts 13:9 simply reads Saul, who was also called Paul. The simple understanding here is that in Hebrew, he would have been called Rav Sha’ul or Rabbi Saul.  Paul is the Greek equivalent of the name Saul in the same way that Yeshua is the Hebrew equivalent to Jesus in the Greek.  Odds are much higher that Paul referred to himself with his Greek name because his mission field was primarily Greek speaking territory. Other than the name he used or what we call him today, who was Paul?

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

Romans 11:1 (ESV)

Paul, being an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, was potentially named after King Saul, also from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:21).  Being named after King Saul is purely speculation, but would not be uncommon.

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;

Philippians 3:5 (ESV)

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 

Acts 23:6 (ESV)

Paul was proud of who he was.   Clinging to his Pharisee status, with pride, well into his ministry.  It is important to recognize a common misconception among New Testament readers.  All Pharisees were not bad.  Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were different sects within Judaism.  Similar to Christian denominations, Judaism has sects which have different understandings of how to interpret or uphold scripture.  The common Christian understanding is that all Pharisees were bad because of the snapshot portrayed in scripture.  Being a Pharisee wasn’t bad in itself, in fact there are a few good examples in scripture.  That, however, is an entirely different topic which I may write about in the future.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

Acts 22:3 (ESV)

Being trained by Rabbi Gamaliel would have been an incredible honor.  Rabbi Gamaliel was very well-known, highly influential, and to be a disciple of him would have meant Paul was extremely well-educated. (As an honorable mention, but unrelated to this post, do not forget that Gamaliel, although not a messianic believer, was a Pharisee and the voice of reason on the Sanhedrin that saved the Apostles.  Acts 5:34-39).

So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Acts 22:27-29 (ESV)

Historically, Roman citizenship meant high status. It could be obtained by being born in a Roman territory of parents that were citizens, serving in their military, adoption, or by purchasing the citizenship. Simply living or being born in a Roman territory did not grant citizenship.  The idea that Paul was born a citizen, and that his parents were Jewish, implies that someone in his lineage was able to purchase their citizenship.  His Roman citizenship probably held significance in respect to him being able to move and teach within these territories without as much fear of persecution.  As seen above, Roman citizens were not as susceptible to legal retribution or punishment.  Obviously this changed during the time of his ministry, but it allowed him to have a far-reaching effect.

Finally, I feel the need to establish a pattern of Paul’s character and obedience to God and the Torah (law).  I believe that this is the single most important key to reading Paul’s letters accurately.  One of the most argued positions regarding Paul’s letters is his stance on the law.

And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. (Acts 21:20-24 ESV)

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets (Acts 24:14 ESV)

Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” (Acts 25:8)

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12 ESV)

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being (Romans 7:22 ESV)

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:25 ESV)

Each passage above shows a consistent pattern of Paul defending the Torah.  Many readers have interpreted Paul’s writing to mean that the law was no longer required.  Many have even interpreted Paul’s writing to mean that the ceremonial portion of the law should not be observed.  Specifically Sabbath observance, dietary laws, and the biblical festivals.  I argue that Paul’s lesson is not that the law is no longer required, no longer important, or even no longer necessary.  I argue that Paul’s lesson is that salvation does not come through the law.  If one is capable of setting aside preconceived ideas about the grace vs law debate, and reading Paul’s letters from the perspective that Paul is teaching that salvation comes through grace, and not teaching against Torah observance, scripture makes a lot more sense.

Consider this point:  If Paul truly taught against observing the law or in some way was attempting to teach that Torah observance was not required, not necessary, or even worse, should be abandoned, isn’t Paul the biggest liar and hypocrite?  Consider the conflicting message.  In several passages, Paul defends the law.  Luke recorded in Acts, Paul defending himself, claiming to follow the law.  James, also recorded in Acts, believed and defended to others that Paul lived according to the law.  Paul himself, in Romans claims the law is holy and should be upheld.  Either Paul was lying and had others fooled, or Paul truly maintained Torah observance.  Scripture simply will not contradict itself.

but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. (Acts 13:14 ESV)

As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. (Acts 13:42 ESV)

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2 ESV)

And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4 ESV)

but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. (Acts 20:6 ESV)

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16 ESV)

Several references that Luke recorded throughout the book of Acts provide evidence that Paul observed the Sabbath and made the festivals a priority for his travel.   All of this must be taken into consideration when reading Paul’s letters.

From my perspective, by reading scripture, Paul was a well-educated Jewish man, from a proud Pharisaic family, trained by the prominent Rabbi Gamaliel, who loved God, and forsook all that he had to carry out a mission spreading the gospel to the nations.  He lived a Torah observant life and refuted anyone that accused otherwise.

I repeat Peter’s warning that Paul is difficult to understand and his words easily twisted.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

2 Peter 3:15-17 (ESV)

When deciphering anything that Paul wrote, I will maintain the assumption that Paul was Torah observant and would have expected his readers to know that.  He also would not have been hypocritical and taught contrary to his lifestyle.

Galatians – Introduction

About a year ago I started waking up about 3 am every morning and was unable to sleep.  I felt wide awake, but frustrated knowing my alarm would go off in a couple of hours.  I would dread the sound of the alarm and would dwell on the thought of how tired I was going to be.  Each night, for three or four nights, I would toss and turn trying to will myself to sleep.  I couldn’t shut my brain off.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  This seemed odd to me since I had not really paid much attention to it before.  After a few days, I finally succumbed to the thoughts, crept downstairs, and started reading Paul’s letter.  I think I read it a two or three times.

I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to teach this letter to the adult Sunday School class from as much of a Jewish perspective as I could figure out. To teach a class, in a church that I was not a member, that does not embrace this perspective at all, seemed like a crazy and disrespectful thing to do.  Yet, I found myself in the pastor’s office explaining my idea.  I fully expected to be asked to step down from teaching or at the very least have this idea turned down.  To my surprise he agreed to have me teach from this perspective.  This led to about a 4 months study of the letter.  Most of which was very much outside of my knowledge spectrum and comfort zone.

I was still trying to understand what Hashem had revealed to me just a few months earlier regarding the Jewish roots and perspective of all scripture.  I had been listening to some audio teaching by D. Thomas Lancaster from Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship.  I remember listening to some of his series on Galatians, but I don’t remember anything standing out significantly that would cause me to have a burning desire to teach a class.

I spent several hours studying each week, sometimes toiling over one word that would have me stuck.  I remember writing a lesson two different times, and just feeling like it didn’t make sense.  I don’t remember how I learned this, but I learned that the original text would not have included quotes so the translators added the quotation marks based on their understanding of where they should go.  Comparing multiple translation versions, the quotation marks were in different places.  I had a eureka moment.  I can still remember telling my wife what I found about quotation marks while she looked at me like I had lost my mind and asked if she was going to have to sit through Sunday School class and listen to a study about where quotation marks belonged.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

2 Peter 3:15-17 (ESV)

Peter provided a warning that Paul’s letters were hard to understand and were easily twisted.  My goal was to study as much as I could from a historical and contextual perspective.  Instead of viewing Paul’s letter(s) through the lens of 2,000 years of Christian theology, I worked hard to view his writing from the perspective of a first century reader.  I recognize that Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament and that his letters are the basic foundation for many Christian church doctrines. My intent is not to offend anyone or to incite anger.  It is only to explain the  perspective that came to me while I was teaching this class.  At the time I taught this class, I did not feel qualified.  I still do not feel qualified and imagine that over time some of my understanding may change.  I chose not to use any single study guide when teaching this class.  It was me, Hashem, a cup of coffee (or several), my English Standard Bible, and the internet.

The notes I have are currently written in outline format designed as a study guide for a Sunday School class.  I will be reformatting each lesson and posting these periodically.  If you’re like me, you probably have your cup of coffee and a bible close by.

I welcome your thoughts, whether you agree or not.