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Sunday: Meeting the Jerusalem Leaders — 66 Comments

  1. Why did Paul compromise and agree with the leaders of Jerusalem?
    He must have compromised in his mind it would be the same as circumcising Timothy in order to further the gospel.
    The leaders of Jerusalem also made a blunder distinguishing Jewish faith and the faith of the gentiles.

    The spreading of the gospel in freedom for Paul comes to an end.

    Compromise in the bible never ever have led to success
    Abraham sends Ishmael away
    Jacob never see his mom
    Judas never returns to the Lord - hangs himself

    What is the human wisdom or behavior that is leading us to compromise today?

  2. When our kids were little we used to play a game called "Scruples". Essentially the game comprised of situations where a decision, either way, carried with it both positive and negative consequences. It provided some interesting discussion with our kids and a valuable learning experience about how we arrive at decisions.

    Paul faced "the two horns of the dilemma" in Jerusalem. I believe that he made the wrong decision, but having said that, I am not living in Paul's shoes, and the Bible only really tells the result of the decision and the consequences.

    The Jerusalem incident should be seen in the light of a growing church, facing internal challenges, and some of those challenges did not have an easy resolution. It reminds me that today is not all that different. The Seventh-day Adventist Church numbered less than 1 million members when I was baptized into it, and depending on who you listen to, numbers in the 10-20 million-member range today. Further, the demographic has changed considerably. Both factors are similar to the challenge facing the early Church.

    Here is something we may need to consider. Maybe the Holy Spirit is leading us, not so much in making decisions to solve our dilemmas but allowing us to learn from our mistakes and decisions. I hear people saying that we must be led by the Holy Spirit, but maybe we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will teach us to learn from our mistakes (and headstrong decisions).

    The lesson to learn from this episode is that the Holy Spirit is our guide, not our enforcer.

  3. Maurice, the game you played with your kids is somewhat similar to a question that was on my mind. If we fashioned a picture in our minds eye view, how would you picture what Paul looked like? Was he tall. short, fat, thin, muscular, normal,. How about his demeanor short tempered, or evenly disposition'd, stubborn, or willing to compromise. In reading Acts 21 about the "Arrest in Jerusalem" I read all chapters 21-28. When we compare Pauls experiences on the Damascus road, with the problem of the Jews that tried to kill him, the years to get to Rome with the centurion by decree of Ceasar, plus how relentless the Jews were to kill him, Paul comes across as patient and willing to provide accurate information about Jesus. Our ideas and mental pictures fluctuate when the record of Paul's activities change significantly. Thus the question that I posed. Acts 9:15 is somewhat of an answer to my questions.

  4. How do we look at Paul's decision to yield to the proposal of the church leaders in Jerusalem to demonstrate that the exaggerated rumors about him were false? Is acting out a charade something God would desire of us?

    Perhaps we could look at Daniel, and think of what he might have done for himself to lead his enemies to like him and leave him alone. Perhaps he could have just closed his window while praying so there would be no evidence of his violating a silly law? Would this have saved him from the lion's den? Would God be glorified in this? Would his enemies have been satisfied, making them his friends? Would such an act be seen as faith or unbelief?

    God is glorified in our perfect trust in HIM and not in our own efforts to save ourselves trouble by compromise. Whatever we would do is nothing less than what those did who built a tower to escape the next flood, which is unbelief. Paul shows his humanity for a brief moment and God's hands were tied by this decision.

    In this sinful world, we NEED the help of the Lord who alone can demonstrate to all His power to save, and only by an uncompromising faith can this take place. God cannot act on our behalf if we choose to be "god" in His place. Unbelief has kept us in this world far too long.

    • Hindsight on someone else's experience can be wonderful.

      But what about us right here and now? After all, it was "the General Conference" that advised Paul to go to the temple and go through the "charade." By what I read and hear there's a fairly large proportion of Seventh-day Adventists that would equate such advice with the voice of God.

      • Some might suggest it was the General Conference that was trying to kill Paul, and the independants who were trying to get Paul to compromise. Just sayin'.

          • Yes, the church leaders in Jerusalem could be seen as the GC for the growing church. And while it was the Jews who rejected the Christian faith that sought to kill Paul, the church leaders were not supportive of Paul at this time. Their silence throughout his trials only emphasizes their own unbelief over these matters. They were trying to be "friends" of the enemies of Christ, most likely to save themselves from increased persecution. Why else would they have asked Paul to act out this scene in the temple? It was their belief that Paul was a major source of their difficulties with the Jewish leaders.

            Paul learned valuable lessons from his visit to Jerusalem, and these are brought out in his epistles for our benefit. God can make "all things work together for good" if we place our full trust in Him as we learn from our mistakes and continue to move forward as we become more aware of His "good, acceptable and perfect will". Our mistakes are often our best teachers.

  5. Paul yearned for a breakthrough of the gospel to his former cohorts in the Sanhedrin and to the Jewish population in general. He cherished the prospect of the awakening he experienced through the Holy Spirit being extended to his countrymen with whom he had a close if but tenuous bond. Here he shares his sentiment in the letter to the Romans:

    ‘I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:.... Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.’ Romans 9:1-3,10:1-4

    I think that even though Paul made an error in judgement, God was fully acquainted with the noble motives of his heart and knew what His flawed messenger was trying to accomplish for the gospel. What is interesting to me is that the church leadership in Jerusalem gave Paul bad advice, which he followed, and conversely, the gentile churches in Asia gave Paul good advice which he didn’t heed. This is very humbling, and provides a warning to us today. While we are a part of an organized body, we each have to work out own salavation with fear and trembling. We should always accord our leaders (in and outside the church) with the respect and regard their positions are due, but we should not lose sight of the fact that they are human. We should never hold their instruction as divine fiat which should not be tested against scripture and violate conscience.

    There is no question that the choice made by the Jerusalem church elders at this critical juncture in the early church’s history backfired horribly, and did not just result in Paul’s arrest but brought on all a new round of persecution and further jeopardize the Jewish Christians’ access to the temple, synagogues and Jewish community in general.

    However, as noted earlier, and alluded to in the memory text, God’s purpose was still being accomplished through Paul in Jerusalem, as it would in Rome as well.

    God was and still is in control of His church.

  6. “In our attempts to be relevant, how can we be careful not to make a similar kind of error?” I do believe we can avoid similar error by letting the Holy Spirit use us rather then us trying to use the Holy Spirit. So He does not have to bail us out of trouble all the time. Not that He does not mind coming to our rescue, but that more good for Christ cause can be accomplished when we let Him use us. In coming to grips with his errors, Christ came to His rescue, and made good come out of bad. “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” ‭Acts‬ ‭23:11.

  7. Who is Ellen White and the author of this lesson to question the authority of the Apostle Paul????....Ms. White demonstrates with her criticism that she does not respect the Authority of the Apostle Paul..By her criticism of Apostle Paul she provides evidence to Christians of other denominations or who are non-denominational that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is not a Christian Church but is a Church of its own faith....

    • None of the Bible Characters were perfect. Moses hit the rock twice in frustration. Abraham had a child with Hagar, David murdered a man to hide the fact that he was committing adultery. These are men of faith and the Bible says as much. The Bible is about people growing in their spiritual experience, and the story of Paul is no different.

  8. A review of the many different ways that Paul was in life threatening situations is remarkable. Paul often noted that his life was one of sacrifice, with a goal to proclaim Jesus to gentile believers. Acts 9:15. Those terrible experiences were survived due to by help from the Holy Spirit, and were the only reason. Acts 21-28 records those events.

  9. I amend my previous comment. I think the critical view of Apostle Paul is the view of the author of the lesson and not Mrs. White. After reading commentary on The Book of Acts lesson from Mrs. White, i dont see any criticism of Apostle Paul...she criticizes compromise, which Apostle Paul is not guilty of that sin.

  10. The Jerusalem leaders that advised Paul about the vow...are they the Apostles or is it the Synagogue leaders? I just need clarification on this. Thanks.

  11. The point is not much whether or not Paul made a bad decision. The point is, when we make a bad decision God is there to pick us up and turn a bad situation into a good out come, if we turn to Him and put our trust in Him. We need not be cloudy with dispare, there is hope for us too. Psalms 42:11. Rejoice in the Lord no matter what may be fall us. Philippians 4:4. Revelations 19:7. Just as Christ showed us the way so did Paul. There are so many examples of Christian living that Paul has given us. We can look to Pauls testimony, and imitate Paul for he imitated Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1. His faith, courage, and binding to the Holy Spirit is a huge testimony to us. Acts 20:22-24. Paul counted it as Joy. He was calm before his acusors and Roman police. He had the peace that Christ spoke of in the latter part of Matthew 11.

  12. Paul undergoing the purification did not cause the riot, so why are people saying it was the wrong decision? What is wrong with Paul purifying himself?

    The riot & Paul's arrest was the result of people spreading lies.

    • Its was a wrong call because the blood of Jesus purifies and it was no longer the sacrificial rituals of the temple. This was a very compromise. He is human. He remains one of my favorite heroes in the bible.

      • Romans 12 says present your self a living sacrifice to God, maybe that was what Paul was doing, those days bringing a sacrifice was like bringing a special offering these days.

        • I beg to differ. He was purifying himself after spending over 3 years with Gentiles! The great warrior of the Grace Gospel had reached its rock bottom here. Jesus was the equaliser, Jews and Gentiles will all be saved from his finished work.

        • Shirley, the biblical record does not tell us that Paul *dedicated* himself, but that he "purified" himself.

          For what would he need purification? As Eric Ongara suggested, in the eyes of the Jews Paul would need purification after spending time with the gentiles. However, even if there were some other reason for "purification," Paul had essentially taught that all the Jewish rites and ceremonies were meaningless as spiritual exercises.

          What the Jews said about him wasn't all that far off from the truth. He *did* teach that their rites had no spiritual value - that conservative practicing Jews has no better way into heaven than did the gentiles who paid no attention to the rites associated with the temple. It was the Jewish Christian leaders who suggested that he needed to put down rumors that he taught Jews to leave their traditions, which was a bit of an exaggeration. They thought that if Paul only went through a typical purification rite, the Jews would think better of him. So Paul compromised: After teaching that even circumcision was meaningless for salvation, he went through a purification rite that essentially upheld a difference between Jews and Gentiles which did not exist according to his teaching. That is, he denied his teaching by his actions..

    • Ms. de Beer....i agree with your comments...the author of this lesson seems to have some animus towards the Apostle Paul. I think the author is using Ms. White's comments out of context. I read the entirety of Ms. Whites writings in the Acts of the Apostles and i dont see how the author of the lesson makes the conclusion that Paul made an error in his actions....which by the way resulted in him testifying in front of the leaders of the Roman government in Rome....and resulted in evangelizing the world for the LORD...to critique Apostle Paul is to question his authority, which is an error of the author of the lesson and i dont think Ms. White would agree with this approach

      • Mark, I agree I find it hard to believe Paul compromised, not that Paul is perfect but regarding legalism he never backed down. Secondly I question the recommendation of James had "legalistic motivations." I believe that James wanted to show the falsity of the rumors no legalism intended. Both Paul and James understood grace better than most of us. They were not against the Law only against the false and foreign idea that one is saved by their own works. Because they were not against the Law they went to demonstrate that fact in a visible way that Jewish believers would understand. Unfortunately modern gentile readers tend to misunderstand the culture and perspective of these 1st century Jewish believers.

        • Robert, I question the validity of the advice given to Paul by the church leaders, if they were believed in what they told him to do where were they when the riot started, I have not read anywhere that they defended Paul or tried to defuse the situation. Would their defense have made a difference? I don't know but this tells me that sometimes not even your own will stand with you in times of crisis. I believe Paul made an error in judgment here, but his intentions were pure and God who reads the motive of the heart used the tumultuous situation for God. He gave Paul the assurance that He was still with him. That is the consolation we have that when we fall we are not cast down or forsaken.

    • The purification rites Paul undertook was a show meant to quell any disaffection from the Jews. Paul himself did not believe that these rites had any redemptive value, and he taught just as much. It was an Ill conceived plan, and he was complicit with the church elders in going along with it. Their motive was clear: to send the message that it was not true that Paul had taught that these and other laws of Moses were not still binding. The problem is Paul did teach that, so the rumors were not entirely untrue. He did not say that Jews should not be circumcised, but that circumcision (and other ceremonial practices), were not a requirement for salvation.

      Here’s the rationale of the Christian church leaders:

      And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
      Acts 21:21-24.

      This was a bad idea. It would have been better for Paul to have gone in the temple as he would normally have done. Instead by going through the purification rites it had the opposite effect than what the Christian elders intended and infuriated that Jew, especially the Asians Jews, who had previously encountered Paul in their home countries. His action signaled duplicity and hypocrisy.

      This was not too dissimilar from the actions of Peter (prompted by the same church elders) so time before, and for which Paul was harshly critical of Peter.

      And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
      Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

      But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

      And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
      Galatians 2:9-14

      Jesus during his three and a half years ministry on earth was constantly accused by the Jews of not comformimg to their rituals. He demonstrated tact in how he approached them but He was faithful to uphold the commandments yet showed that the way to salvation was through Him alone.

      The take away here is that we all make mistakes including our leaders but God is just and faithful not to forsake us if we continue to lean on Him.

  13. I think Paul had some experience with God preventing or prohibiting him from executing his own plans. “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them...” (Acts 16:6,7). From this, one should conclude that Paul would regularly accede to the Spirit’s prohibitions. Paul had “ purposed in spirit” to visit first Jerusalem and then Rome (Acts 19:21). Upon Paul’s conversion God specified: “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16). We are all called to suffer (1 Pt 2:21), but Paul’s case is special. He admits that what alone he knew about visiting Jerusalem was “bonds and afflictions await me there” (Acts 20:22-24). Could that be the statement of one executing his own plan? The sympathies of those aware, through the Spirit, of the pending sorrows to their beloved apostle are understandable and expected. I think that God revealing these things to them confirms that it was His design. This was Peter trying to deter Christ from completing His suffering. The sympathizers finally concluded: “... the will of the Lord be done.”(Acts 21:14). What was God’s will? Paul endured the same kind of accusations and condemnation as Christ. The Jews arrested him and turned him over to the Gentiles. Instead of “crucify Him, crucify Him...” they cried, “Away with him, away with him...” To avoid a riot, as with Pilate, the Gentiles arrested him.
    The Christian (Jewish) leaders also tried to prevent this suffering with their suggestions to appease through practicing Old Covenant customs. Finally God’s comment on the matter: “... Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” (Acts 23:11)

    • Kenny I agree that it all was part of God's plan and design and Paul was meant to go to Rome. However James the was not trying to appease he was trying to make a point. James said the reason was "that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law." (Acts 21:24) To understand James and Paul you have to understand the first century Jewish believer as they saw things, and not try to understand them from our far removed perspective as in doing that you will certainly misunderstand them.

      • Robert, I believe the clear, unadulterated teaching of Jesus can be summarized in Mt 22:37-38, which I also believe applies equally to Jews and Gentiles of every period of Earth's history. I believe this high-quality love (Rm 5:5) from our Creator binds us to Him and manifests itself in unswerving loyalty (Jn 8:29; Act 5:29). I believe that constitutes our "high calling in Christ" (Php 3:12-14; 2 Tim 1:9-10).

        The Jewish way of thinking in Jerusalem had become a problem for God (Isa 1:1-4). Jews were really no different from the other nations (Jer 9:26). God through Moses had early revealed this truth to them (Dt 5:29). In fact, God's people on numerous occasions took the additional step of assimilating the non-God thinking of the nations, which resulted in their very checkered history (Eze 16:2-3,20-22). Yet, when God's ultimate Messenger (Mt 21:37) came to them (Act 3:26) in a display of God's loving concern as prophesied (Dan 9:27; Act 3:24-25), Scripture records prophecy's fulfillment (Jn 8:33,37,59)--and that from "Jews who BELIEVED Him" (Jn 8:31)! Of course, they would eventually succeed in killing Him.

        I find it interesting that it was people (Jews) who were living in Jerusalem, with its rich religious culture, and who perhaps were pious individuals who were the immediate threat to Christ and what He was establishing (Mt 26:19-21; Act 15:5; 13:45; 20:29-30). First century Jewish believers are really no different from twenty-first century gentile me--and all readers of this post (Rm 3:9). While I understand that cultural differences aren't irrelevant, there's a far more threatening flaw across our humanity that not even good religious laws will ever repair (Rm 8:3; Heb 7:18-19). Paul's experience with leadership may well be cautionary counsel to stay on message regarding what alone unshackles us from the tyranny of impure minds and actions (Heb 8:10; Act 15:8-9; Heb 9:9,14).

        • Lynrol, is it not true that there was a faithful remnant of Israel? Yes numerous times down through history many of the Jewish people followed the way of the pagan gentile nations but not all bowed down to Baal there always remained those faithful. Zacharias and Elizabeth were part of the faithful, as to was John the Baptist. Elizabeth’s cousin Mary the mother of Jesus also faithful and likewise the husband of Mary Joseph faithful. In the upper room on Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell on the faithful. The books Acts records the guidance of Holy Spirit upon these men and women. James the leader of the Church was from a family of faithful Jews and was appointed as leader by the apostles. Yes we know the leaders were not perfect, certainly we know Peter had his flaws. Yet over all Peter was faithful even unto death as Paul and James were also faithful unto death and they all died martyrs for Christ. Thus if we accuse James of teaching a foreign, pagan, gentile and idolatrous doctrine that men can save themselves through their own works we should have clear proof from scripture that James was actually teaching that. Where in Acts does Luke clearly write that James endorsed or the taught pagan doctrine of men saving themselves through their own works? I find nowhere that says that nor do I see that of Paul either. Your whole argument above is based on they are guilty by association because some Jews are guilty then all Jews including James and Paul are guiltily. All I see is that James and Paul wished to visibly demonstrate that the rumors about Paul were false; James did not say or suggest men could save themselves by their own works and I see no evidence to support that claim. That fact that they were Jews does NOT make them guilty.

          • Robert, I believe you are missing the point when you write

            Thus if we accuse James of teaching a foreign, pagan, gentile and idolatrous doctrine that men can save themselves through their own works we should have clear proof from scripture that James was actually teaching that.

            The issue is not clearly teaching a pagan doctrine. The issue is compromise - trying to appease the Jewish Christians who thought it was necessary to still follow the Jewish rites. The rumor was that Paul told the Jews not to follow their customs. This was actually close to the truth, but it was not the entire truth. The truth was that Paul taught that there was *no* difference in regard to salvation between Jews and Gentiles. Following Jewish rites had *no* spiritual merit. And that, in itself, made the Jews very angry.

            The Jerusalem Council did not say that the Jewish Christians should stop following Jewish customs. It just said that these were not necessary for salvation and were not to be imposed on the Gentiles. The Jewish Christians actually remained essentially Jewish for a very long time after Christ's resurrection. Yet Paul's teaching is crystal clear that there is no merit whatsoever in any Jewish rites. By going along with the counsel of the Jewish Christian leadership, Paul compromised his own teaching.

  14. I don't think Paul compromised. I think his motives for having Timothy circumcised was the same motive when he did the purification vow. He knows it's not salvational. He didn't do it to be saved for He well understood the relationship between the grace of God and the law. He did it so it won't be a stumbling block or a hindrance to his purpose in presenting the gospel to the Jews.

    • Caroline, if we understand all that Paul teaches and writes, then we must conclude that his actions in Jerusalem with this rite of cleaning was indeed a compromise to win the favor of people who were prejudice against the Gospel, and the liberty it brings to all who receive Christ as their Savior from sin. With the non-christian Jews not accepting Christ as Messiah, they continued to hold to the ceremonies and customs of the types, which the rent veil at Jesus' death signaled the end of. The great fulfillment of all those types had died and thus fulfilled these types and rendered them void. So why do we find Paul, who understood this, in the temple acting as if Christ had not died? Only through compromise could he have done this since he clearly taught and wrote contrary to it. So he did what he did not believe in himself for the sake of disarming the prejudice of unbelievers. I believe his epistles written after this show that he learned from this futile attempt. Isn't it through our failures that we often learn the most?

    • I agree but obviously there are others who don't, I think God has Principles of Life that have always applied and will always apply and I believe Paul understood that and his writings support that because he said faith establishes the Law and that the righteous requirements of the Law are fulfilled in those who walk according to the Spirit

  15. Apostles are humans just like us. They make mistakes like we all do. I believe what Paul did in chaper 21 was his lowest point! He compromised trying to serve two masters, Jews and God, it always backfires and you end up disappointing both sides.

    James and others advised Paul to put on an act, Paul whom by this time he was preaching one faith, one Lord one Saviour, before him there is no Jew not Greek.

    In Galatians 2 Paul took on Peter for hypocrisy, unfortunately he did that exactly that in Acts 21. Only blood of Jesus can purify a men, with such an understandi Paul was simply putting a show to be politically correct before the Jews. Review chapter 15 carefully of Jame's speech you will see same line of thought, saying Moses has his people to read torah every Sabbath, implying Jews shouldn't worry, Gentiles will get to learn the law eiither way, lets just write them this few items, they will eventually learn the law. James was balancing pleasing Men and God and it never work.

    • Luke does not tell us Paul was being hypocritical. Some people read that in to the narrative, and judge Paul and James without fully knowing their motivation and thought, only God knows their heart we do not. Learning the Torah or observance any commandment in the Torah does not necessarily mean a denial of grace or the atoning blood of Jesus. I cannot understand how people consider observing a particular Torah commandment is a sin and James and Paul comprised and sinned? Observing a commandment does not necessarily mean legalism and does not necessarily mean they are compromising, sinning and/or denying Christ.

    • Eric,
      Apostles are "not like us". You or i are not nor ever will be Apostles. To criticize the Apostle Paul for his judgement in re to religious activity is demonstrating a lack of
      respect for his authority given by the LORD.

      • Mark, i’m not crizising, these are basically key lesson from the bibble for us to learn.

        The same power Apostle had we have it(Romans 8:11). I respect what they did. Paul is my hero, one of the my favourite people in the bibble and i’m learning from his great work and his mistakes as well. There is only one character in the bible who had no flaws, that is our Lord and Saviour Jesus!

  16. Very interesting discussions.
    Paul was very human like many servants of God. He himself cried about the sinful nature in him-
    Romans 7:14 "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me"
    Regardless of how we might look at Paul in the Jerusalem saga, he remained steadfast in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, no wonder the Lord stood with him and testified of him Acts 23:11 !And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome"

  17. God said to Paul, “Take courage; for as you have witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Take care we curse what God has blessed. The term “purification” has disturbed us. The false accusers termed Paul “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. Apparently Paul was observing the Nazirite vow in the Temple. Paul had recently observed a vow in Cenchrea (Acts 18:18). From Num 6 the Nazirite vow involved a dedicated period of separation or consecration to God, for anyone. There was an initial consecration ceremony and definitely another one to end it (Num 6:5,13). If there was an infringement, like someone dropping dead in one’s presence😬, the vow was broken and a reconsecration would take place. The Nazirite would start over the vow. This is about ceremonial cleansing. Seems much like us designating a group to fast and pray about a project for some period of time; and they might perform a consecration service initially(setting apart for the service) and some closing ceremonial at the end. Also our old week of prayer... When James advised Paul to unite with the four in this vow in order to quash the false accusations, Paul agreed. But on what basis! Paul says that he always sought to please God above man (Gal 1:10). He always considered the other’s good or wellbeing above his (1 Cor 10:24-32). James said that those offended by Paul’s supposed gospel were believers, and Law zealots. How that must have thrilled Paul who would rather be accursed in order to save his brothers/sisters of the flesh (Rom 9:3). He stated, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18). Since the kingdom of God is about righteousness and peace, and joy, he said, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another,” in our relationships(Rom 14:19). Imagine Paul speaking the Word of Truth to these law zealots convinced that he had thrown out Moses and had forbidden circumcision to Jews. Would they “hear” anything in order to believe? They would have done what the unbelieving Jews eventually did.
    The kingdom of God is not about do’s and dont’s but about the love relationship between members of the same body and their relationship to God, and the world. Circumcision or un-circumcision is nothing; idols or food offered to idols is nothing (1 Cor 7:19; 8:4; 10:19). It is how these are used in our relationships to the honor and glory of God. God instructs that we may accept an invitation to an unbeliever’s place and eat without question what is placed before us, because all things belong to God and come from God. If the unbeliever specifies that the food was offered to idols, then we refrain for the unbeliever’s conscience sake...
    In the end those Jews who were more zealous of the Law attempted to kill Paul in the temple. I think James and his flock learned that day what they would not have learned otherwise about zeal for the Law in place of Christ. The Jews continued the filling up of their judgment exactly as Christ prophesied: “... they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matt 10:17,18). “ Therefore , behold, I send you prophets... some of them you will kill and crucify, ... so that upon you may fall all the righteous blood shed on earth, from righteous Abel... Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt 23:34-36)

    • Kenny well said and thank you for explaining this from Paul's perspective, and the way he and James would have likely viewed this. Yes in the end some of the Jews would attempt to kill Paul but it was not about those Jews. James and Paul were concerned about the Jews who believed, those Jews who were about to believe, and those Jews in the future who would become believers. For these Jews James and Paul took action. We should remember as the SS lesson has pointed out a few times the Church at this time was mostly Jewish and the Jews were joining the Church daily in fairly large numbers as recorded in Acts. James and Paul could simply not jeopardize the outreach to these Jews. I do not believe James and Paul were teaching two gospels. Telling Jews or Gentiles that Paul was not teaching against the Law does not mean they were teaching Jews or Gentiles they were saved by works of the Law.

      • David, the compromise that went against Paul's teaching was that taking part in this rite appeared to confirm a difference between Jews and Gentiles in regard to salvation - something that Paul strongly opposed in his teachings.

        • Paul makes it very clear that "works of the law" is not a matter of salvation Jew or Gentile. Just because Paul observed any law be it moral law, religious law, or any Jewish rite does not imply salvation by keeping that law, especially since Paul made it so clear that it does not! Secondly Just because James suggested it does not imply James thought or taught salvation comes from observing the law or that there is a difference between Jews and Gentiles with regard to salvation. Paul went to synagogue many times, does that imply he thought going to a Jewish house of study and worship is how one is saved? No, of course not, same thing with any other Jewish observance Paul or James did.

          • No argument there, David. The problem was that Paul did something he normally would not have done in order to appease those Jewish Christians who *did* believe that their Jewish rites still had merit. I haven't seen anyone suggesting that Paul saw spiritual merit in these rites.

          • James and GC had already recognised that there was a difference between Jews and gentiles in respect to their rites by their decision in Acts 15 that gentiles only had to keep certain ones, why didn't he say all Christian. Where in NT does it say Jews should no longer celebrate their feasts and other rites, it only says they must be done by faith see Rom 9

  18. Inge, I am not certain that this is something that Paul normally would not have done. Commentators are divided but Acts 18:18 appears to be the same vow and perhaps one other time as well so it maybe 3 times that Paul takes the Nazirite vow. However, this Jewish observance and the many other Jewish observances Paul does in Acts does not mean he thought or taught salvation comes through them we know he believed salvation comes from the grace of God through Jesus. Secondly, it is highly doubtful that all Jewish believers believed they were saved by works. Third and final point Luke does not record this was done to appease the salvation by works Jews camp (which by the way would offend the Jews who believed in grace). Luke only records the point of the vow was to show the falsity of the rumors. Since Luke only writes this I do not think it advisable to add any more to what is written. I concede there may be unwritten motives not recorded in Acts but they are outside of scripture and thus we can not be certain if they existed or not.

      • Yes motives matter, however we have no scripture to support the alleged motive to appease the legalistic believers. The only motive scripture provides is to prove the falsity of the rumor.

        • The "rumors" were only a slight exaggeration of the facts. Clearly those circulating the rumors did not like Paul's teaching that there was no difference between Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation. Circumcision and/or any Jewish rite was meaningless in terms of salvation after the cross. That's what Paul taught. By going along with "demonstrating" that he was still observing Jewish laws, he was weakening his witness. He must have thought that compromising like this would help his witness. But it didn't. Compromising on principles never does.

  19. It’s remarkable that we who are more zealous of the Law than any other Christian denomination would condemn the most faithful Christian Apostle of all for performing a lawful custom.

    • Kenny, it's not what Paul did, it's why he did it. Try to see the difference. The fact that the church leaders suggested it is also sad. Yet, Paul learned much from this experience that he has shared with the church through his epistles. Truth is only beneficial when properly understood and followed in one's life.

      I must ask you this: what did the rending of the veil at Jesus' death mean? I believe it is important to understand.

  20. I confess I am puzzled that some of our readers disagree so strongly with the last two paragraphs in our lesson, including this:

    ... it was a compromise, as it signified his endorsement of the legalistic motives behind the recommendation. The implication of such an attitude was exactly the one the apostle vigorously tried to oppose: that there are two gospels, one for Gentiles, of salvation by faith, and another for Jews, of salvation by works. “He [Paul] was not authorized of God to concede as much as they asked.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 405.

    I believe some may be forgetting a primary tenet in biblical interpretation - that context matters. A lot. In this case, the context is provided in his letters to the churches when Paul recounts the trouble he is having with the "Judaizers," i.e. Jewish Christians who deemed it important that Gentiles become Jews as part of becoming Christian. This can be seen most strongly in his letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. These Jewish Christian "teachers" dogged Paul's every move, following up on his teaching to teach the converts things they thought he had left out. Paul had some very strong things to say about them.

    But being back in Jerusalem, among the apostles and at the headquarters of the church, he was off his guard, and he compromised his teaching of there being no difference between Jews and Greeks by yielding to the suggestion to "prove" that he was still a loyal Jew, keeping Jewish laws. In fact, this is not what he taught, and it was not what he was. He was trying to be "politically correct," as the lesson author states. (Note that "the law" in this context referred too the laws surrounding the temple services, not the Ten Commandments or even the two "great commandments.")

    Neither the author nor others who commented in harmony with the lesson for the day said that Paul was being "legalistic" in his actions. So arguments against Paul being "legalistic" are irrelevant. However, Paul's going along with the charade of engaging in a Jewish temple rite in whose efficacy he no longer believed "was a compromise, as it signified his endorsement of the legalistic motives behind the recommendation." That was the problem. No more, no less. And it almost cost Paul his life. (If he had not gone to the Jewish temple for that purpose, the Asian Jews who had tried to kill him in Asia would not have seen him and become to incensed that he polluted their most holy place.)

    I confess that I have trouble understanding why some feel it is so important to "prove" that Paul did not make a mistake.

    Paul, after all, was human. He was not God incarnate, as Christ was. Paul made mistakes (though not many), and they are recorded for our benefit. In spite of Paul's poor judgment in this respect, God did not leave him. God protected him, guided him, and gave him a strong witness in Rome. What an awesome God we serve!

    [Moderator Note: We are choosing not to publish more comments opposing the points made in the lesson. Opposing arguments have been presented, and we see nothing new in the comments we are choosing not to publish.]

  21. Paul did the completely wrong thing in going to the temple and following the Jewish law regarding vows. These laws died at Calvary, as did the system of priests and Jewish worship. This was an amazingly hard fact for the early believers to reconcile with.

    First, we must clearly understand that all animal sacrifices ceased to have any value after Jesus death. The sacrificial system pointed forward to Jesus, and in particular the atonement for our sins by his blood. It existed to teach that without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness.

    The entire structure of the temple existed for animal sacrifice which culminated in the offering of blood before the throne of God. The priests existed for this purpose, being fed by the sacrificial system which they were to administer.

    Jesus and the legacy of his sacrifice absolutely destroyed this entire system. This was more than the Jews could handle, it was even more than the disciples and early Jewish Christians could handle. They struggled to cope with the understanding that God had finally abandoned the Jewish nation as foretold by Gabriel to Daniel in his prophecy, which happened when the Jews stoned Stephen and started wholesale persecution against the Christians. From then on, the difference between Jew and gentile evaporated in the eyes of God. The Jews were no longer his chosen people, he pruned the branches from the vine and grafted new branches in from the gentiles and the new nation of Spiritual Israel began.

    Paul should not have supported that system in any way.

    God does understand that we find great difficulty in adjusting to radical new situations. He knew Peter would not defile himself by being amongst 'unclean' gentiles, and had to be prepared to meet them by a vision to clearly show Peter that God had never called gentiles unclean. It was a custom of the Jews, not of Gods teaching, but Peter was susceptible to it.

    How much Paul and the early Jewish Christians understood all of that we can debate, but had we been in their shoes we would have erred in the same way.

    The entire destruction of the Jewish system was no doubt more than they, or we if we had been them, could grasp.

    But the underlying greater error was more in the attempt to appease and it gave an impression of compromise to those things that Paul understood perhaps better than any other Jewish Christian.

    Could we, had we been in their place, stood alone against the system? I believe only a Job, Noah or Daniel could have done that, men who stood firm, immovable and alone against a world.

    The Bible records the deeds of many great men, and of an exceptional few it records no errors. Why should it surprise us so much that it records human frailty in this case too?

    Read some of the names of faith in Hebrews 11. Great errors are recorded against some of them, but does that disqualify them? Do we discredit Paul and the early church if we see an error in their behaviour? No, rather that we should see in them some of the same human weaknesses that we know exist within ourselves, and marvel rather at a God who can draw straight lines with crooked pens.

    • I believe what you say is true, Ian. Yet God is merciful and deals with us according to our weakness. That's why, at the Jerusalem Council, the Holy Spirit led in freeing the Gentiles from the Jewish laws even while allowing the Jewish Christians to continue what was embedded in their brains as the "right" way to live - because it was their culture for many generations. If we check history, we find that the Jewish Christians practiced many of the rites of Judaism for a long time after the cross. In fact, the Jewish Christians put such a stranglehold on the church of Christ that God delivered the church not only from unbelieving Jews but also from the control of Jewish Christians when He allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed. It is hard to accept that what one was taught were practices that contributed to salvation no longer make a difference ..

      And now we find there are movements, even in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, towards embracing some of the practice of Judaism....

      • Yes, tradition has such a strong pull on the human psyche. Probably because we (a) find it easier to obey outwardly than inwardly and (b) the externally visible tradition appears godly.

        I have been thinking a lot over the teachings of Paul in this quarter's lessons, and one thing I have realised must be true but I have never studied or heard it studied.

        The Bereans were complimented (Acts 17:11) for dilligently searching the scriptures to validate the teachings of Paul. One of Paul's most recurring themes in his letters was to rail against the need for circumcision for gentiles.

        How was it that Paul made the connection that circumcision was no longer required? What and where in the old testament did he base that on?

        The clearest I can see is that the Bible taught it for the Jewish nation and that it was to be strictly followed. This was reinforced with the threat of death against Moses re his family's circumcision. The way the Bible taught it was that membership in Israel was required for salvation. If you disobeyed certain instructions you were 'cut off' from both Israel and salvation. Salvation and membership of the Jewish nation went hand in hand.

        Was it just the leading of the holy spirit with Cornelius that convinced the early church that salvation was no longer linked to the Jewish nation? This seems to be our thinking.

        However this is dangerous ground. We should always be led by the word and not by the spirit. Eg, Isaiah 8:20 and Acts 17:11 among others. Therefore there must be in the old testament support for Paul's teaching. It is not yet clear to me where though, so I want to study that in more depth.

        • Ian, you asked, "How was it that Paul made the connection that circumcision was no longer required? What and where in the old testament did he base that on?". Well, the OT ritual that became such a fixation within Judaism can be compared to another post currently under discussion, where something good, becomes something bad because of the collective ATTITUDE of INDIVIDUALS towards it (2 Kg 18:4). From very early in national Israel's history, God used His servants to make clear that the ritual of circumcision was only an object lesson regarding the universal state of fallen humanity (Dt 10:16; Isa 53:6) and God's plan for our recovery (Dt 30:6; Isaiah 46:12-13).

          Very soon after Israel's departure from Egypt, God gave them His Ten Commandments and entered into a covenant with them (Dt 5:1-2). They agreed to the terms of the covenant (Dt 5:27), but the important knowledge God knew about them and shared with them (Dt 5:29) they missed (Dt 9:6), repeatedly (Isa 48:4-5). But the truth is that circumcision as God intended it was never really about the male genital organ. God--in the past, present and future--has ALWAYS expressed interest in the hearts of people (Jer 4:4; 17:9). Like the male genitalia, our life issues from our heart/mind (Prov 4:23) with every thought and decision. It is there that God seeks to dwell (Isaiah 57:15; Eph 3:16-17). The cutting of the foreskin, represents the removal of that which ALL men are BORN with (Col 2:11), which He began to promise from the OT Scriptures that He would handle (Dt 30:6; Eze 11:19-20). In Christ, the OT promise (Jer 31:32-33) is fulfilled (Heb 8:10) for Jews and Gentiles alike (Act 15:8-9).

          • Lynrol, thank you for your comments, it becomes more clear that what God wanted from the beginning was circumcised heart.
            Deu 10:16 Therefore, circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stiff-necked.
            Could it be that verse and others you quoted to which Paul was pointing when he stated:
            Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: Rom 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

            More texts:
            Deu 30:6 And Jehovah your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed, to love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.
            Deu 5:28 And Jehovah heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me. And Jehovah said to me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They have well said all that they have spoken.
            Deu 5:29 Oh that there were such a heart in them that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, so that it might be well with them and with their sons forever!
            Jer 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and people of Jerusalem; lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that none can put it out; because of the evil of your doings.
            Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?
            Jer 17:10 I, Jehovah, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.
            Pro 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life.
            Isa 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
            Eph 3:16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man;
            Eph 3:17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
            Eze 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh;
            Eze 11:20 that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
            Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah,
            Jer 31:32 not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Jehovah;
            Jer 31:33 but this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, says Jehovah, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

          • Shirley, precisely and Amen! If you're now experiencing greater clarity regarding the Gospel of Christ give an amazing God your praise!!

            Given people's sensitivity regarding our reproductive organs, I'm quite sure that if I were inspiring the writing of Scripture and the proclamation of good news, circumcision wouldn't even be on my long-list of messaging aids! Yet, I've discovered that the more I've embraced it as given to Abraham in Gen 17:1-14, 23-27 the more I've been encouraged in my personal walk with my Father (Mt 6:9..Ok, "our")!

            Thanks for quoting Rm 2: 28-29, because the faster we come to God's truth that we're ALL (Rm 3:9,23) being BORN with a "foreskin" that not only places us outside of the benefits of the covenant but marked for death (Gen 17:14), when we find ourselves with life, we KNOW it was because of THE FATHER'S action (Gen 17:23; Dt 30:6)--while in the blissful ignorance of our infancy (Rm 5:6). Notice that it is Ishmael (Gen 17:23) who is circumcised foreshadowing God's generosity towards ALL His children--Jews and Gentiles alike (Gal 3:8; Rm 3:29-30; Jn 3:16; Gal 3:14; Act 15:8-9). Keep on mining His Word for even greater clarity.

  22. Hi Shirley.

    Matt 23:37-38 I wouldn't think to apply because it's a New Testament book that in the time of Paul, was not scripture. When Paul wrote 'All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' he was talking about the Old Testament. We can correctly apply it today to the New, but they did not.

    Jeremiah is what Paul uses in Hebrews 10:16 and definitely applies. It does talk about a new covenant, and is the verse often referred to when talking about old/new covenant Christians, often to great confusion 🙂

    I can't really find anything specific though, as to how Paul and the early church would know from the Bible (old testament) that becoming a christian and becoming a Jew were two different things. The vision of Daniel points out that Israel was deserted by God when they persecuted Jesus through His church, His spiritual Israel. It may be that they understood that, but very often those that live through or in a prophecy often do not see it, and it is only recognised later.

    Paul's desire, and the whole Jerusalem church's focus was for the Jewish nation, and they did have a number of converts, but, relatively speaking, only a tiny percentage of the nation, and were rapidly outnumbered by the gentiles, possibly already so when Paul stood before them.

    It is just that I am looking for a hint as to if Paul and the early church recognised the Daniel vision and it's fulfilment. If so, I would have expected to find it spoken of even if only in passing. Luke's writings though are from a gentile to a gentile perspective, so possibly the reason it is not given.

    What is completely clear is that the Jewish nation broke covenant with God, and this last time he finally deserted them as he had warned them he would so many times before. It is clear that the old covenant was broken and could not be repaired. As circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic (old) covenant (Gen 17) which had been broken, it is clear that circumcision no longer has or had any further meaning or value.

    While all this is clear to me, I was studying for confirmation of this from New Testament writings, but can't find that link mentioned.

    I suppose in another way, it points out the importance of being an Adventist who believes in the whole bible, not just the new testament, further helped by a proper understanding of bible prophecy which we as Adventists are fairly unique in 🙂

    • Ian, we will have to keep looking. As I understand, Paul's message to Gentiles was you don't have to be become a member of Abe family to be a follower of Jesus and to Abe family you need to follow Jesus spiritually not only physically. So maybe we could look at Isaiah's prophecy re Messiah being a light to the gentiles.

    • Ian, could it be that the disciples and apostles taught Paul by word of mouth what Jesus taught in Matthew. Mark, Luke, and John. Also Paul then Saul, I do believe witnessed Christ crucifixion, thus he would have known of the rent veil. So therefore he would not have needed it in writing.

  23. Beyond what appears to me as a failure in leadership (Act 21:20,23-24), I am perplexed by some portions of Scripture that have captured my attention resulting from studying lesson 11.

    Toward the end of his third missionary journey, Paul is twice given foreknowledge regarding his intention to visit Jerusalem (Act 19:21; 22:17-18). The first recorded occasion occurs in Tyre (Act 21:4), where Paul is explicitly warned "through the *Spirit* NOT to go up to Jerusalem." The second occurs at his lay-over in Caesarea (Act 21:10-12) and comes to him by way of a "prophet named Agabus", whose message is directly credited to the "Holy Spirit". This servant of God of whom so much is recorded throughout Acts regarding his exemplary service being motivated by the "Holy Spirit" (Act 13:2;16:6-7), clearly violated that Authority towards the end of his third journey (Act 21:13-14).

    Some versions of the Bible (like my NKJV) appears to suggest that Paul's desire to visit Jerusalem was motivated by the Holy Spirit. My NKJV records the word "Spirit" (Act 19:21) with an upper case "s", designating the word a proper noun or a reference to a specific individual, as it does in Acts 21:4--meaning God's Holy Spirit. The SDA Bible Commentary states, however, that "in the Greek the expression is ambiguous" (vol 6, p.377). It doesn't seem reasonable that God's Spirit would contradict Himself. So, in the face of ambiguity, I've concluded that Acts 19:21 is a reference to Paul's own spirit (as in Acts 17:16).

    What should 21st century followers be asking "ourselves" about "our spirits"? What can we learn from Paul's experience? We could be asking "ourselves" whether it is ever safe or acceptable to be fixed on any particular life-plan/action (Act 21:14) to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit's counsel (Act 21:4)? Should we never plan (Lk 19:13; Js 4:14-15)? Do the lofty desires we adopt (Rm 9:2-3; 1 Cor 9:19-21) ever justify ignoring Spirit-inspired instructions (Lk 14:26-27)? How "flexible" should one be (2 Cor 12:8-9)? How much of "our spirit" are we called to lose--some, most or all (Eph 4:20-24)? Do we need to refocus our attention to correct processes (Dt 30:6; Php 3:3; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Eph 4:30) and not just on correct outcomes?

    I believe I/we've have been afforded an opportunity to learn from a flawed apostle's misstep that Christ remains my/our ONLY EXAMPLE of achieving AND maintaining right standing with God (Mt 23:8-10). Christ has bequeathed to us competent Counsel in His absence (Jn 14:16-17). Let us rise and embrace our individual responsibility of shedding "our spirits" in favor of His (Rm 8:1-4).


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