Hot potatoes

Hot Potatoes

Galatians Part 2

It is said that you should never mix religion and politics. Nobody thought to tell that to the Apostle Paul.

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, i 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.

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 l 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. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, t so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised ( for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John,  who seemed to be a 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. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 1:18 – 2:10 ESV.

Paul is not a natural diplomat. But he has to take it very cautiously here or that’s it. The other side will have won the argument.

We do not know what information Paul had received, but we can have a good, informed guess, as Paul was in the habit of using the language of the people who he opposed.

CEPHAS – This is the name of Peter in Aramaic. And it means the same as it does in Greek, the Rock. Peter is the one that Jesus said the Church would be built on. The Galatians would have been Greek speaking, so it would make sense for Paul to use the Greek form of the name.  Unless, of course, unless he has another motive.

Paul’s motive is political: It is all about who controls the church – those who want to follow the Jewish customs, or those who do not. When Paul writes, “I stayed with Cephas for two weeks,” he is speaking for the benefit of those who would speak Aramaic, those who had come from Judea and wanted Christians to keep the Jewish laws, including circumcision.

The very first Christians were Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah. Their worship would have continued to follow the practice of the Jewish communities they sprang from. The earliest churches would have been Messianic synagogues. Circumcision would not have been an issue to them, as former Jews all the men would have been circumcised anyway.

Circumstances would not have arisen that there were uncircumcised Christians. Not until Paul and Barnabas started preaching to non-Jews and getting converts. Throughout the book of Galatians circumcision is a hot potato. Something that can only be held on Toby juggling.

Paul believed that the church should be one. For all and all being equal. No barriers by race or colour or gender – all are equal under God. There are two different types of unity at play here.

1. Unity in practice, every one worshipping the same way. Which in his day would have meant following the style of the synagogues, with all their practice’s, as that is what the majority of Christians would have done.

2. Unity of belief, which is why Paul is talking about there being one Gospel, which is why Paul is keen to show that Peter and John, two of the inner core of three of Jesus’ disciples, and James Jesus’ brother, well on the way to being the leader of the Jerusalem church, agreed with him. My belief is that we are stronger in this form, not worrying about whether the other Christian is Baptist, Anglican, Orthodox, Traditionalist or Evangelical.

I blogged a while back about how the evangelist Billy Graham and theologian John Stott accepted each other’s ministry despite disagreements about whether social work was part of the Gospel (Stott thought so) or whether non Christians will burn in Hell for eternity (Stott thought not). Accepting each other despite differences is part of the Gospel message. Any attempt towards a unity which is in form alone is doing what the people who Paul is disputing with are doing, insisting on a unity which is about form alone.

in Paul’s day the hot potato was circumcision. Today we have many hot potatoes. From women’s ministry to how we should accept people with non-standard sexuality (or none).Particularly on that last one there is a need for tact and discression. On the one hand it is no good calling everyone who has looked at the traditional teaching of the church, or has looked at the Bible and agrees with the way this has been taught homophobic, as some do. On the other hand there should be no barriers, in my view, between people under God – even on the subject of sexuality. There is too much talking at each other and not enough listening.

It was not easy in Paul’s time, nor will it be easy in ours. This is what Paul said next:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:11-14.

Disputes happen. It may comfort some to see that there’s nothing new here. Cephas (Peter) was acting as agreed. Until some said that in the same way that Jews do not eat with non-Jews so in the same way racially Jewish Christians did not eat with non-Jewish Christians. You can hear the anger in Paul’s even Barnabas. Barnabas who had gone on the missionary journeys with Paul was also swept away. By refusing to eat with non-Jewish Christians Peter was going against what was agreed in Jerusalem. What is worse he was making it more difficult for Gentiles to become Christians.

Paul was getting involved in the politics of the early church because he believed in the church as the place where God is primarily encountered, worshipped an where what it means to be a Christian is taught. Paul believed in the unity of the Church not as in ritual, but in encountering Jesus Christ in a real way by all with no barriers.

My prayer is that all may be equal by being one in Christ.


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