The Appearance of Accommodation?

Acts 21:15-26

And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

Another excellent example of why we must consider the continuing context. It appears as though Paul is making accommodations to walk freely in Jerusalem, and indeed he is. But we have to understand the difference between contradictions and circumstantial compromise, especially because of the time period and place in which Paul has found himself. All of the things said about Paul were true and yet, he still described himself as follows: “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Of course he consider it all rubbish but he cannot uncircumcise himself, can he? The point is that Paul considered all of his pedigree as rubbish compared to knowing Christ, it doesn’t mean that he can’t use this pedigree to position himself in Jerusalem to proclaim Christ. We, lord willing, will actually see this soon. But in the meantime, there is no denying that Paul was teaching Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and that the gentiles had no need to be circumcise or obey the Law of Moses. Remember where we are in history, the overlap of the Covenants. Paul has already written Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians and others. He’s teachings on these things have been recorded for posterity. Paul cannot deny what he has written but he can walk as they walk in Jerusalem. Remember that the temple still stands. Let’s jump ahead to see Paul’s mentality and beliefs concerning this precise time in this precise place.

In the near future, Paul was brought before the Jewish council, “And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?’ But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, “YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.”‘” Paul never intended to violate the Law but ironically, the high priest did. Paul understood where he was in time and location. This is precisely why Paul is there, yet the leader of the hypocritical council didn’t understand the age or the age that “is coming and now is”. The time of the law is coming to an​ abrupt close but the age of grace has already come. Notice that Paul admitted that one should not speak evil of a ruler of the people, which is in the Law of Moses, but he does not recant his statement that, God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 

Paul is well aware of what was, what is, and what is to come, generally speaking. Again, the continuing context of the Bible confirms that Paul was present to proclaim to the people under the Law that God is coming in judgment against the Law. Look again at Paul’s statement; “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” What do you suppose Paul meant by saying that God would strike the high priest? Notice also Paul’s point that they claim they are trying him under the Law but are in fact breaking the Law. God is not coming to them tomorrow or even in a year, but he is coming soon and Paul is pointing this out. Notice also Paul calls the people present, “brethren.” Keepingg these things in mind, we remember the continuing context and consider the context of today’s text.

“And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” Paul and his companions leave Caesarea and Philip, bringing a few more disciples with them and head to Jerusalem, staying for the night, or many nights, in the house of Mnason of Cyprus. Other than being a disciple for a long time, all we know about Manson is that he had a really big house, or possibly a big barn with a manger and hay. How could I possibly know that? Long view– that’s how–consider the continuing context; “And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.” And, “And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge.” That’s an absolute minimum of eleven people. If you did the math, and came up with 10, did you forget about Luke? Nevertheless it was probably more. We are not told exactly where this big house was but based on the text I would guess it to be just outside Jerusalem or halfway between Caesarea and Jerusalem; we can’t be sure what Luke meant, was it a lodging near Jerusalem or a lodging on the way to Jerusalem? Nevertheless, it is of very little consequence but it does prove Luke to be a prolific presenter of details.

Finally, Paul has come back to Jerusalem. How long has it been? I’ve lost count of the time that has been told, not to mention the fact that all of the time that has passed wasn’t recorded. Nevertheless it is safe to say that it has been a few years and the elders were happy to see him, sort of. Have you ever been on either side of a similar situation as this? I have been on both sides, usually Paul’s side but nowhere near the magnitude of Paul’s situation. Look again at the text, seeing if you understand what I mean. Listen to the words carefully and you can almost hear the tone of voice and concern from the people present. “And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.'”

This is Jerusalem! You can almost hear the concern, and sense the strain of Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, being in the midst of the temple and Law-loving, circumcised, Jewish believers. Look at what happens first; “And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” We are looking for the 12, this James is the brother of Jesus, James, the brother of John and one of the twelve has already been killed. Also, Luke wrote “elders” and not “apostles,” leaving me to believe that none of the apostles are present. However, those who were present rejoiced greatly when they heard of all the things that had happened at the hands of Paul. One by one Paul relayed that of which we have read in these missives. From the multitudes of gentiles and Jewish people coming to Christ, to the miracles made through the hands of Paul. But there is always a but, even if Luke doesn’t write it. After all, this is Jerusalem and context is king. Sometimes it helps to look at the context backwards to get a better feel for the scenario in Jerusalem.

Notice what “they” say to Paul towards the end. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.” Once again I have to break out my favorite “The Simpsons” reference. Bart has lost his dog and the family gets a new one, much to the chagrin of Bart. But he gets no sympathy from his best friend, Millhouse. In fact, Millhouse is glad that the dog is gone, recalling the time that he ate his goldfish. “Remember when he ate my goldfish and you lied to me and said that I never had any goldfish? Then why did I have the bowl bart, why did I have the bowl?” The meaning is that there must be something about Paul’s presence that concerns them or else, why would they give Paul these instructions?

This goes well beyond unfounded rumors, their speech, their “goldfish bowl,” if you will, gives it away. “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” This, followed by their instructions are a dead giveaway that they are well aware of Paul’s teachings and that this is Jerusalem! I have said that I am a “rip the bandage off quickly” kind of person but I can also be quite cunning, patient and methodically minded.

In one of my former church gigs as youth director, I brought an electric drum set to the church. We would let the youth groupers mess around with it but on Sunday mornings it sat there silent, and sat there. Drums were of the devil to many in the congregation. Therefore they simply sat there during the Sunday morning service. But people would come up to me and say, “do you use those for youth group?” I would tell them that we did, occasionally. Most of the time people would goof around with them but sometimes we would make real music. Then as time passed, even the most ardent opponents of drums would say, “those are electronic drums, so they could be turned down low and not drown out the singing, right?” I would reply that they were correct. More months passed and on few special occasions, the drums began to be used. But then I left the church, eventually taking the drums with me but now they have drums playing almost every week. Slowly, people not only got used to the idea but actually became supportive of it, as long as the volume was low.

But the  people in Jerusalem had no time to become acclimated to Paul. His presence alone would stir up not only the Jewish christians but also the religious Jewish people. Therefore they devised a plan that would ensure order and the safety of Paul. But there’s another but, and this time it is recorded. “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

We have a hypocritical problem here; Paul has written to the Romans, “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” I have ripped this out of context because they would have as well; look at what it says. Obviously no one present had a copy of this letter or Paul would have been dead in a matter of minutes. Nevertheless they knew Paul’s teachings by word of mouth and from his own mouth. But this is Jerusalem!

Paul realizes that this is Jerusalem and that for centuries the law and the land, the temple and the sacrifice, have been front and center to them. This was God’s chosen city, the place where he chose to have his earthly dwelling. And the dogmatic dispensationalists dwell on this as the people present did 2000 years ago, even now in this day, the dispute over Jerusalem continues. It’s been the cause of many wars. Nevertheless, we would do well to take the position of Paul and understand that God gave the Law to their forefathers, and God gave them the land and God brought them back to the land. However, God also drove them out of the land and God is about to drive them out again. While God’s presence in the Holy of Holies has long since departed, the Old Covenant is still in an overlap with the New. By God’s grace, he has given them a generation to accept the terms of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. It’s difficult to let go of traditions, especially when they were God given. Many are mishandled and misconstrued and more are man made. But the people present were attempting to be obedient to their Law. We have to put ourselves in their sandals. But I am sorry, I can’t imagine being set free from the law and wanting to keep it. Milkshakes go great with a burger and a hot ham and cheese sandwich always hits the spot. I’m not mocking, I’m simply pointing out that I am, and we are, chronologically challenged. We simply don’t see the situation as Paul did. Still, Paul is willing to play by the rules but it is so that he can preach the end of the Law through the fulfillment of the Law, by the only one to actually obey the Law, who also gave the Law. And he is about to take away the Law forever.

I don’t know how the dogmatic dispensationalists and Seventh Day Adventists, and some Messianic Jewish people miss this, or misinterpret this: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, ‘BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD. FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM UPON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, “KNOW THE LORD,” FOR ALL SHALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM. FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE.” When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” This is the overlap in the Covenants, where the Old Covenant was ready to disappear. And in 70 AD, it disappeared forever. However, we see thousands of Messianic Jews, following the teachings of the apostles and yet, also following the Law. The author of Hebrews, which given this certain situation, could very well have been Paul remaining anonymous, and Jesus himself precisely pinpoint this overlap in the Ages and Covenants. To the Samaritan woman Jesus said, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers​.”

“But Russell P, what about Israel returning as a nation?” It’s fascinating but the State of Israel is not a Covenant, it’s a country. Surely we can see the difference. True Israel are from all nations who have been chosen by God; that’s Romans 9-11, which again, has already been penned by Paul before his final stand in Jerusalem where he acquiesced to the elders’ request.

“Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.” Paul, was in luck, he once again had long hair. How can we ascertain this? We take the long view and consider the continuing context. We remember his haircut after he had left Corinth, fulfilling his vow. Look at today’s text and you will see the stunning similarities. In his haste to get to Jerusalem, Paul didn’t have time to stop off at his local barber. All kidding aside, it’s actually a fairly plausible argument, sans the sarcasm.

“Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.” Beyond keeping the Law, it appears that Paul has taken part in a Nazarite vow. But that was years ago. I don’t believe that he has taken the vow again, but it is possible. It would make sense, Paul knowing that this is Jerusalem. Nevertheless, I think that if he was actually under the vow, Luke would have written it. I just think that Paul was a hippie. Many problems arise if we hold to a strict, literal, interpretation of the Nazerite vow found in Numbers. The first time Paul took a vow, he had his hair cut in Cenchrea; there’s no temple in Cenchrea to offer the sacrifices. And if Paul was under a Nazerite vow in today’s text, it would have been made void by his raising of the dead, right, he touched a dead body? A Nazerite vow is to be a minimum of 30 days. Therefore, in order to determine if it was not made void, the “some days” in Caeserea would have had to have been almost two weeks. This is possible, but we are not told. Could it be that Paul, while acquiescing to the request of James and the elders, through Luke’s writing, is demonstrating God’s grace? Because I also find it hard to believe that Paul has had no wine on this journey back to Jerusalem. That may sound silly but Paul was a big promoter of partaking of the bread and the cup, and the Nazerite vow forbids any partaking of the fruit of the vine; ironic, I know. While it is specifically said that they broke bread, it is never stated specifically that Paul drank wine. All of this context but we simply don’t know.

Paul, several years prior, wrote to the church in Corinth; “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”

I believe the lesson here is that Paul was willing to do what it takes to not only preach the gospel but to participate in, and partake of, the glorious gospel of grace, even if that meant being a slave to all. Did Paul pass on the wine at communion? Probably. Has it been 31 days since he laid on a dead body? Probably. In Paul’s heart, based on all of his writings, he knows that he doesn’t have to take a vow to the Lord; especially after he’s already done it. Nevertheless, it was never officially completed at the temple. In Paul’s mind he knows that to be in Jerusalem, he needs to act like Jerusalem and has probably prepared provisions, or lack thereof, for the purification of a vow. Paul has every right to be in Jerusalem and every right to show them their hypocrisy. But rather than be a hypocrite himself, he knows where he is and at what time he is there. Paul will be Jewish, to save some and not offend others. He’s not being hypocritical, but hospitable. But that’s Paul, what about the request and attitude towards Paul from the elders and James? With a close examination of the context, I truly believe that they were happy to see Paul and overjoyed from the news Paul tells them. But I also believe that they would have been just as happy to see Paul leave Jerusalem as to stay in Jerusalem. Paul was a pioneer, a Jewish man who lived like a Roman and a Roman who lived like a Jewish man. He was a trail blazer, a front runner, a new breed of apostle–he was different. I know the feeling, but not even close to the magnitude or severity.

I have been to and tried to teach in many different churches. I walked into one and and on the wall a sign read, “This is the Lord’s house, keep it clean.” In another, it was said from the pulpit, “we all have a burden to deal with, that’s our cross to bear.” I have trouble keeping quite about the misuse and misinterpretations of Scripture. I would teach on many of our misunderstandings, but you can imagine how the person felt who hung that sign or said those words. It doesn’t matter how gently we say things, sometimes people would rather have us gone than to stir things up; right or wrong.

 

 

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