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"And said unto him; Thou seest, brother, how many thousand Jews there are, which believe. And they are all zealous of the law" thinking it still obligatory upon themselves, and their posterity, who are of the Jewish nation. However, they afterwards add, at ver. 25, agreeably to the determination of the council: "As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written, and concluded, that they observe no such thing:" that is, that they need not, are under no obligation to observe the law, or its customs; but may be justified without observing them. Consequently, neither did the believing Jews expect to be justified by the law. And their zeal for it consisted only in a desire to keep it, as obligatory upon themselves, to whom it was delivered as a nation and people. They must generally, (for we need not be unwilling to allow of exceptions for some individuals,) have assented to what St. Peter says in the council, chap. xv. 11, "We believe, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we [Jews] shall be saved, even as they," the Gentiles. Which is also agreeable to what St. Paul says to St. Peter himself, and as a thing well known, and allowed by such as believed in Christ, Galatians ii. 15, 16, "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing, that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law."
They are all zealous of the law," in the sense just mentioned. But, possibly, even that was more than was approved of by James, and the elders, or the most knowing and understanding men in the church at Jerusalem.
Ver. 21,"And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles, to forsake the law, saying, That they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs."
"That they ought not," that is, that it was unlawful for them so to do. Which was a calumny upon the apostle. He never said so. He may have said, that they needed not to practise circumcision; or that they were at liberty to quit the observances of the law. As he is understood by some to say, Rom. vii. 1—6. But, he never said that it was unlawful, or sinful for the Jews to circumcise their children, and keep the law. And though this had been reported among the Jews at Jerusalem, it is evident that James and the elders did not give credit to it. By their manner of speaking they show, that they were persuaded, and knew it to be a falsehood.
Ver. 22-24, "What is it therefore? The multitude must needs come together. For they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this, that we say unto thee. We have four men, which have a vow on them. Them take, and purify thyself with them, that they may shave their heads, and all may know that these things, whereof they are informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself walkest orderly, [or regularly,] and keepest the law."
They recommend something to be done by Paul, as likely to be more satisfying, and convincing, than any verbal declaration could be. And be complies. Which showed, that he did not think it unlawful for a Jew to observe their customs. And that is all.
However, this compliance of the apostle must have been very agreeable to them, by whom the proposal was made. And though by the violence of the people of the city, and of others assembled there upon occasion of the feast, he was prevented from "accomplishing the days of the purification," and performing all the prescribed rites: there can be no question made, but that his design was well taken by the whole church at Jerusalem. He may have received many civilities from them, whilst he was kept in custody in Judea. And he was better qualified to write to them, at the end of his imprisonment, that excellent epistle, called, to the Hebrews; and they, and other Jewish believers elsewhere, may have been better disposed to receive from him that word of exhortation, which was so well suited to their circumstances.
Though I have now gone over that history, perhaps it will not be disagreeable to some, if I add a word or two more by way of remarks upon it.
1.) St. Paul's complying with the proposal made to him by James, and the elders, did not at all weaken the freedom of the Gentiles from the law of Moses. Nor could it be understood by any so to do. This is manifest from the clear and open declaration here made by them, that " as touching the Gentiles, which believe, it had been concluded, that they observe no such thing."
2.) What St. Paul did now, was not contrary, but agreeable to his own declarations at other times, and to his conduct upon other occasions, and to the directions, which he gave to others.
First, What St. Paul now did was agreeable to his declarations at other times; and therefore, as we may be assured, was conformable to his settled judgment and per
suasion, and not an artful or hypocritical compliance, proceeding from fear, or calculated to subserve some private and selfish views.
He was a Jew. The rites prescribed by the law of Moses were in their own nature indifferent. He practised them now, as such, not as things necessary to his own, or any other men's salvation. This his conduct therefore is agreeable to his declarations at other times. Thus it follows after the words before quoted from the beginning of the fifth chapter of the epistle to the Galatians; where he so earnestly dissuades them from taking upon them the yoke of the law, as necessary to justification and salvation, "For, [says he, ver. 5, 6,] we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness through faith. For in Christ Jesus," or according to the tenour of the christian dispensation, "neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith, which worketh by love." And afterwards, in the same epistle, ch. vi. 15, 16, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be upon them, and upon the whole Israel of God." So he writes in an epistle, where he strongly asserts his own integrity, and earnestly exhorts those, to whom he is writing, " to stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free." He might therefore very reasonably practise indifferent things, as lawful, when not insisted upon, as necessary to salvation.
Farther, the compliance, related in the place, which we are considering, was also agreeable to his avowed conduct upon other occasions.
So 1 Cor. ix. 20-22, “ And unto the Jews became I as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law,that I might gain them that are without law. To
Factus sum Judæis tanquam Judæus, ut Judæos lucrifacerem,' -compassione misericordiæ, non simulatione fallacia--Nam utique Judæus erat. Christianus autem factus, non Judæorum sacramenta reliquerat, quæ convenienter ille populus et legitimo tempore quo oportebat, acceperat. Sed ideo susceperat ea celebranda, quum jam Christi esset discipulus, ut doceret non esse perniciosa his qui vellent, sicut a parentibus per legem acceperant, custodire, etiam quum in Christo credidissent; non tamen in eis jam constituerent spem salutis, quoniam per Dominum Jesum salus ipsa quæ ipsis sacramentis significabatur, advenerat. Ideoque gentibus, quod insuetos a fide revocarent onere gravi, et non necessario, nullo modo imponenda esse censebat.--Aug. ad Hieron. ap. Hieron. ep. 67. T. 4. p. 605. And see Remarques de Beausobre sur le N. T. T. I. p. 444, at the end of the second ep. to the Corinthians.
the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means
Here, in the history under consideration, we have an instance of that compliance and condescension, which in the just-cited text from the First to the Corinthians, he openly declares to have been his frequent practice; and which he esteemed to be his duty, in order to gain and save men of every rank and denomination. And what was now done by him, was done by the advice and recommendation of men of great candour, and great wisdom and understanding; friends to Paul who knew him well, favourable to the Gentiles, and guardians of the church at Jerusalem.
"This do, [say they,] that all may know, that those things whereof they were informed concerning thee are nothing" that is, that all may be satisfied that "thou dost not teach the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses; [nor say,] that it is unlawful for them to circumcise their children, and to walk after the customs; forasmuch as thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law." The meaning is not that he did always and constantly keep the law in all its appointments; but that sometimes, or often, upon many occasions, he did not scruple so doing: and that he did not judge it sinful, or contrary to the doctrine of Christ, so to do: for, when Paul said to Peter, Gal. ii. 14, “ If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews:" the meaning, certainly, is not that Peter always, and in all things, lived after the manner of the Gentiles, but only sometimes. Take the words in that sense, which it seems most reasonable to do: and Paul's argument with the apostle Peter is sufficiently cogent.
And that Paul did sometimes" become to the Jews as a Jew," he says himself in the place just cited from the first epistle to the Corinthians. And some instances of his so acting are particularly recorded by St. Luke, beside that of which we are speaking. So, as before observed," he took, and circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewess, because of the Jews in those quarters." For his father being a Greek
Ipsum vero Paulum non ad hoc id egisse, quod vel Timotheum circumcidit, vel Cenchreis votum persolvit vel Jerosolymis a Jacobo admonitus, cum eis qui voverant, legitima illa celebranda suscepit, ut putari, videretur per ea sacramenta etiam christianam salutem dari: sed ne illa quæ prioribus, ut congruebant temporibus, in umbris rerum futurarum Deus fieri jusserat, tanquam idololatriam Gentilium damnare crederetur, &c. Aug. ad Hieron. ep. 76. ib. p. 631, 632.
by nation and religion, all supposed that Timothy was as yet uncircumcised. Acts xvi. 1-3.
And afterwards, ch. xviii. 18-22, at Corinth, "Paul tarried there yet a good while; and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, having shorn his head in Cenchrea. For he had a vow. And he came to Ephesus When they desired him to tarry longer time there, he consented not; but bid them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem; but I will return unto you again, if God will."
This is an action much resembling that which was proposed to him by James, and the elders at Jerusalem. And, so far as we are able to discern, it was performed by him, of his own accord, freely and voluntarily, without any compulsion, and without the advice and recommendation of any. And, I think, it must be reckoned full proof, that he did, upon some occasions, "walk orderly and keep the law."
Once more, finally, the complying conduct of Paul at Jerusalem was agreeable to the directions which he gave to others upon the like occasions.
We all know, that in his epistles he oftentimes earnestly exhorts the Gentile christians, the strong among them in particular, not always to assert to the utmost their christian liberty; but to forbear it, when there was danger, lest any weaker brethren should be so offended as to fall. "I know, [says he in his epistle to the Romans, ch. xiv. 14-20.] and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, then walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, For he that in these things serveth Christ, is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God." See likewise what follows at the beginning of the next chapter.
"Of Paul's vow at Cenchrea there is a particular account in Vol. i. p. 219, &c.