The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 6 (Wrapping Up)

And so that’s why I believe that making a cappella music a salvation or fellowship issue is to commit the Galatian heresy. As I’ve said before, teaching it a cappella only is not heresy. I disagree, but we’re still brothers even so. But when you make it a salvation issue, then you’ve fallen from grace.

Teachers and Students

Paul does not, however, make his condemnation so sweeping that even the victims of this error are damned. At least, he makes it clear that those who teach this error are in the greatest jeopardy.

(Gal 1:8-9 ESV)  8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Paul condemns those who preach this error — not their victims. In chapter 5, Paul again focuses on the false teachers —

(Gal 5:10 ESV)  10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.

But he is also warning the listeners away from this error. They aren’t entirely absolved; rather, Paul holds the teachers and leaders to a higher standard.

Therefore, I see a huge difference between our editor-bishops to pound out this false gospel — this salvation by faith + works — and those they seek to deceive. But I can’t go so far as to think and let think on this issue.

Disagree with me on how many children an elder must have or what deacons are supposed to do, and I think you’re wrong but not damned. Brothers in Christ can and will disagree about such things. But we have to agree on the sufficiency of Jesus and justification by faith — not works. We cannot teach that the Law of Moses was replaced with a new Law of Christ based on such things as how to worship and how to organize a church.

No — the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love, because this is what a new creation is created to do.

Baptism

One reason 20th Century Church of Christ soteriology (theology of salvation) is so messed up is our effort to defend baptism as a “work” and essential to salvation. Because we see baptism as essential and assume that it’s a work, we figure we must be saved by works, because “baptism now saves us.”

This is from Truth Matters

When we talk of obedience, we are talking about works. Since there are at least two kinds of obedience, then there must be at least two kinds of works. Works that result from human reasoning have absolutely nothing to do with justification (Ephesians 2:8-10). But works that result from our doing what God has said because of our faith are, in reality, the workings of God. For example, when I am baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3,4) I am engaging in a work. But it is a work of God, not my own. Paul wrote: “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12).

When the Bible says we are not justified by works, it does not refer to the workings of God, but rather to other kinds of works such as works of human resigning or works or the Old Law.

The “logic” is that when we do what God really requires, it’s a “work of God” — even though we’re the ones doing it! — and so not the kind of “works” that Paul condemns, as he only condemns seeking salvation through works that God didn’t command. Obviously, the author never bothered to actually read Paul.

(Rom 4:4-5 ESV)  4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Try this —

(Rom 4:4-5 ESV)  4 Now to the one who works [by doing things not really commanded], his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work [by doing things not really commanded] but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

You see, Paul speaking of God saving “the ungodly,” not those who perform the right works. And it’s only the right works that deserve wages! No one gets paid wages for doing the wrong thing.

No, baptism is rescued as a doctrine because it’s simply not a work. A work is something we do that has merit — so that we could in theory do perfect works and so be saved without grace. Baptism is for those who need grace.

And baptism is always in the passive voice. Baptism isn’t done — it’s a gift received, not a work done. And this is why Paul can repeatedly condemn seeking salvation by works and yet connect baptism with our salvation.

In short, we don’t need to explain Paul away to teach baptism.

James

As I’ve argued in several places, in Paul’s thought, “faith” (pistis in the Greek) includes both intellectual belief and faithfulness. When Paul requires faith, he does not mean mere assent to the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. “Faith” includes obedience — but not the sense of perfect obedience. “Faith” includes obedience in the sense of striving to obey. It’s a state of the heart. Obedient people sin, but they don’t rebel. They try to do right.

James argues against the false understanding of “faith” as pure intellectual assent. Of course, faith is supposed to produce works. But the works don’t save — the faith does.

(Jam 2:21-23 ESV) 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God.

Of course, God credited Abraham with righteousness decades before he offered Isaac! The works didn’t justify so much as “complete” the faith. The word is teleios — meaning to make perfect or complete or to achieve the desired end. And God gave Abraham grace through faith so Abraham would respond in obedience.

And this is precisely what Paul teaches — except that Paul adds the Spirit’s working in us to achieve that end. There is no need or warrant to re-write Paul to make him consistent with James, because Paul expects obedient works to come from faith, too.

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35 Responses

  1. If someone were to tell you your house is burning down, and you believe him, you’re going to act on that belief. If you don’t act, I would have to wonder whether you believe what you were told.

    If a mechanic tells you that your car absolutely has to have its thingamajig replaced, and you don’t get it replaced, I would have to wonder whether you actually believe what the mechanic told you.

    If you believe what Jesus said, you will act on it. If you believe what the scriptures say about what Jesus did for you, you’ll be forever loyal to Jesus. You won’t be ashamed to testify about Jesus before unbelievers. You’ll want to be sure Jesus is pleased with your response to his sacrifice.

    But it is the belief, and not your response, that qualifies you for forgiveness of sins and an eternal relationship with God.

  2. Jay,

    The bad theology you’re addressing with your “A Different Gospel” series has caused almost endless division, controversy, and misguided behavior within Churches of Christ. In my opinion, our ability to correct the issues you’re addressing will be absolutely crucial to our long-term viability as a movement.

    As a GenX guy, I have dozens of peers who have left Churches of Christ, and I suspect that if we were to drill down to discover exactly why they left, I think you wold find the “different gospel” issue at the heart of what troubles them about us.

    Please keep up the excellent and Godly work!

  3. Amen!

    What is a guy who claims to be a “gospel preacher” yet does not preach the gospel? You have not preached the gospel unless you have preached the gospel.

    In this series It is my hope that honest seekers of truth have been able to distinguish between coc distinctives and gospel, they are not the same.

    Thanks for what you are doing for Truth.

    Royce

  4. Chris,

    That may well be true of some who’ve left. But many stay without ever forming a genuine loyalty to Christ (perhaps their family tradition just “stuck” in their case). And many young people leave other denominations who pride themselves on not having this particular doctrinal “problem.” i’m not really sure that all cases of people taking off from the CoC can be reduced to one problem or even one root issue.

    –Guy

  5. The “logic” is that when we do what God really requires, it’s a “work of God” — even though we’re the ones doing it! — and so not the kind of “works” that Paul condemns, as he only condemns seeking salvation through works that God didn’t command. Obviously, the author never bothered to actually read Paul.

    The whole debate turns on wrong terminology, Jay. Whjen Pauls speaks of the works of the Law, he means addresses only (!) the judaizing heresy that gentiles must be circumcised and keep the complete law of Moses (as was discussed and decided once for all in Acts 15). We are not bound to keep the letter of the Law, except 4 necessary things (no fornication, no meat sacrifced to idols, no blood and no strangled meat – that’s all very simple).

    But we are bound to keep the Spirit of the Law. And we are being made able by the New Birth to live that way, so YES! All works we do in obedience to God, we do in His power and give glory to Him. But it is us who decide to obey.

    Joh 3:21 But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.

  6. Alexander,

    Acts 15 is very interesting. i don’t take that letter to be binding in the sense that God has always expected Christians to keep those particular tenets of the law, but rather these were guidelines for how non-Jewish Christians were to behave so that they did not grossly offend their Jewish Christian brethren to the point of creating practical divisions. Given that we’re not in the same situation, those 4 things (as defined in the particular first century scenario) aren’t binding on anyone anymore.

    –Guy

  7. Sorry that’s a rationalisation. It was repeated in Acts 21 – and concerning fornication and meat scrificed to idiols the decisions from Acts 15 were repeated quite often in the NT (even by the Lord in Rev). The letter to all churches (!) has the authority of all apostles and elders and the Holy Spirit … what more can we ask for? It is definitely better confirmed that celebrating the Lord’s Supper every first day (Acts 20:7 – an example, not really confirmed in scripture; far from being a command if I go by just this one and only verse).

    Well, the latter can be confirmed by church history, which I do. But if we do that, we have to acknowledge that Chritians did not eat strangled meat and blood in the Ante-Nicene period either (they were very unanimous about that – Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Mark Minucius Felix, Origen …)

    Oh, I almost forgot: A-Cappella worship can be confirmed the same way – and only this way. So all of you, who point to church history for a-cappella (as I do), must be consistent in acknowledging that Acts 15 is binding because of the very same reasoning.

    Those who want to go by the Bible alone will have a hard time making the Lords’s Supper binding every first Day just by Acts 20:7. So there are all kinds of inconsistencies …

    But even if I go by scripture alone – without adding reasons the apostles themselves did not bring in the discussion! – Acts 15 is as clear as anyone could wish for. And if we choose to explain it away, we have to go beyond scripture to some vague theories, that cannot be backed up by the recorded discussion in Acts 15.

    Sorry, brother, this won’t do …

    Alexander

  8. Alexander–

    I for one think it is cool that you take much of the bible as literal rules to be applied today and don’t try and explain things away.

    I know you’ve said before that in your church the women are silent, heads covered, …don’t recall if you do the holy kiss or not.

    It’s not that I necessarily agree–I think good points are made that much of this was specific to the audience–but I can appreciate that you are going to the scriptures in total submission. That is awesome. And it is different from our legalistic heritage since we would explain away what we didn’t like, and bind our inferences that made us unique. Big difference.

    What other “commands”, etc. does your church follow that might be unique to many of us?

  9. Chris:
    Let me chime in to comment that I appreciate Jay’s focus on baptism as other than a work. Paul is clear that it is an expression of God’s grace — which is why the event/subject is so important.

    But I am not convinced all of this “different Gospel” teaching is as new or ground-breaking as Jay seems to suggest, or even uncommon among many (most) churches of Christ as Jay proposes. This is what J. W. Roberts, Frank Pack, Tom Olbricht, William Woodson, Edward Wharton, and the list is much longer have been teaching for many decades (re baptism and the Galatian problem).

    Also, some of what Jay writes regarding a “different Gospel” places him in the middle of the “Ephesian problem” (see also the lively discussion in The Future of Progressive Churches of Christ: Article by Elizabeth Achtemeir). So, the humanistic religion in Galatia (which Jay is on target about) is not Satan’s only trap. It has a cousin; Ephesus had its own brand of humanistic religion as well.

    In application the issue many may have in leaving churches of Christ (I have talked with some too) may not be broadly related to what Jay contests as the “Galatian heresy” (and he is right to contest it). Kinnaman and Lyons’ study entitled UnChristian suggests a deeper root for why young adults are leaving all religious groups (including churches of Christ). It seems to be a strong reaction to religious authority. My two sons — in school at a Christian university — have suggested similar thoughts to me. They believe the “authority thing” is irritating much of their generation.

    One of the findings seems to be that the more “freedom” folks feel in a group to believe whatever they want to believe, the more likely they will “stay” in our day. Churches of Christ consistently have exhibited a strong commitment to apostolic teaching (and the New Testament as a whole). That probably puts churches of Christ (along with Independent Christian churches, Southern Baptists and Mennonites) at a seeming “disadvantage” in reaching out to many 16-29 year olds who hear much apostolic teaching (whatever is said) as a “rule.” The early 21st century U.S. appears to be in another wave of “Jesus, yes; the church, no” time.

    This may all be “old news” to you, but decided it might be worth a weblog post. I hope your work in reaching university students helps them better see Christ and hear His Word.

    Glad to hear your thoughts/input.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  10. Alexander,

    i didn’t deny that the letter carried apostolic authority. That’s not the point. The point is: what exactly did that letter enjoin? Universal laws for all Christians everywhere from that point on? Or mandates to be followed by certain people in a certain circumstance? i’m claiming i understand the latter to be the case.

    Were those mandates repeated? Well, of course, they were. Because the particular situation those mandates were meant to address was widespread throughout the church at that time. The people in the relevant circumstance were morally obligated to follow those mandates. But i think very few people today (if any) are in the same circumstance and thus the particular mandates mentioned in that letter don’t apply.

    –Guy

  11. Jay:
    I appreciate your challenging baptism as a “work.” However, perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but believe you have missed apostolic teaching regarding baptism is an expression of God’s grace (e.g. Titus 3:4ff.) — and therefore essential to our salvation.

    Human beings participate in the death and resurrection via immersion into Christ! We are passive (as you have well noted); in the event/action of God, we receive the grace of God. That is why I am so surprised by your “baptism is not essential” conclusion (God never rejects genuine faith and submission — i.e. no baptism needed).

    Albrecht Oepke, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:540 expressed it well: “Though mediated by men, baptism is the action of God in Christ (Eph. 5:26).”

    Also, regarding baptism as an expression of God’s grace, the writings beyond apostolic teaching in Titus 3:4ff. are significant:

    See, for example:
    S. R. Llewelyn, “Baptism and Salvation,” in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published 1984-5; 8:176-9. ed. by S. R. Llewelyn (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1998).

    Jack P. Lewis, “Baptismal Practices of the Second and Third Century Church,” The Restoration Quarterly 26 (First Quarter 1983): 1-2.

    I think that is enough for one post.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  12. [quote]The “logic” is that when we do what God really requires, it’s a “work of God” — even though we’re the ones doing it! — and so not the kind of “works” that Paul condemns, as he only condemns seeking salvation through works that God didn’t command. Obviously, the author never bothered to actually read Paul.[/quote]

    I grew up in the Churches of Christ, but have more recently found a home in the Episcopal/Lutheran churches. I think their sacramental theology would point to this lesson. For them, communion and baptism are sacraments which means works of grace within the assembled body of Christ. So it is the work of the gathered body, the assembly, which make these actions of God and not actions of solely the individual. In the context of community, it is Christ who baptizes us by work of the community (his body) who calls us and welcomes us into a new life.

  13. Chris,

    Thanks!

  14. Bruce,

    Yes, baptism is an expression of God’s grace. Amen. It does not follow that God necessarily damns those baptized in error.

  15. At JMF:

    What other “commands”, etc. does your church follow that might be unique to many of us?

    Dear JMF, there is (sad to say) a difference in what the teachers see as necessary in the scripture, and what the church is able to bear. Actually we are in a progress of change, and we need to be careful not to hasten things.

    First, we discovered that meeting in homes for worship better fits the NT. Actually many examples (patterns) for worship cannot be imitated in a large scale assembly (such as each one of you has a Psalm, a teaching … 1Cor 1:26). That was something very important, a move from a very conservative and traditional Sunday-CoC to a more NT-like fellowship.

    Actually I am not a big kisser, but slowly I am getting used to the hugs we share. We are to show affection, and that’s something that is not part of myself, but I know I have to grow in this area.

    In our house-church we also restored the agape, which means the Lords’s Supper is actually a full meal, and at te end we break the bread and share one cup of wine mixed with water.

    We celebrate foot-washing once a year in our house church, I preached about it in the big assembly and although the agreed with the basic idea (actually they could not deny that this is apattern to be followed with a deep spiritual meaning), I think our group is the only one so far that put it into practice (I once read a very good tract on it by the Winebrennerian Church at MUN).

    I teach and encourage fasting as a regular spiritual displine (when the bridegroom is taken away they will fast), something most of the Protestants explain away as well.

    When we then tried to restore the headcovering last January, boy we experienced strong resistance that revealed to us, that we have to set other things in order first; such as a deeper sense for God’s Glory and submission to a recognized leadership. So we put that aside for a while.

    Most of these changes took place in the last one or two years. We tend to follow the same approach: We stick to what is written, be it a pattern to follow or a direct command, and we strive to keep inferences to a minimum. Thus we sometimes may look like progressives, while on the other side we are stricter that most conservatives – so we don’t really fit into either camp.

    Dear Guy

    i didn’t deny that the letter carried apostolic authority. That’s not the point. The point is: what exactly did that letter enjoin? Universal laws for all Christians everywhere from that point on? Or mandates to be followed by certain people in a certain circumstance? i’m claiming i understand the latter to be the case.

    There was a very important quetsion at the stake: Do the Gentile Christians need to be circumcised and keep the full Law of Moses in order to be saved? These question was proposed by Christians from a pharisaic background.
    And the answer to that is No, but they have to keep four necessary things (quite remarkable definition in Acts 15:28).

    It has nothing to do with being polite or gracious toward the spiritually weaker Jewish Christians, so they might have less problems to fellowship with us. It is about salvation.

    There are issuses where we have to go beyond our freedom in Christ, however: So we may be called to eat kosher in order to not be a hindrance, or to abstain from meat completely. There is nothing wrong for us to keep the Mosaic dietary laws, or to become as one under the Law for the sake of those who are under the Law. But that’s not the issue there.

    When we may go beyond our freedom on side, please note, that these “necessary things” are meant to be an enforced restriction, not a voluntary one (as in the letters of Paul). May we fornicate? Of course not. So why do we believe it is all right to drink blood or eat strangled meat?

    May we eat meat sacrificed to idols (hard to get nowadays anyway) – well even here Christians disagree inspite of the very strongs words of Jesus in the letters to the seven churches in Asia. Of course the meat does not change, and demons don’t live in a steak; but because of its connections to idolatry we must not eat it – that means, if we know it has been used that way. We don’t need to be overscrupulous, but we must not eat it if we are aware of its background.

    So, again, how can we argue that the other necessary things” (blood and strangled meat) are obsolete? After all, this law has not even been given to Moses but to Noah after the flood! So it is – actually – binding to all mankind anyway, even though the sinners ingore it.

    If we put our theological energy and wisdom into the task of abolishing God’s commands, what will the lawgiver say to such an attitude? Will He praise us for it and say: “Well done, my fine Theologian, you have well put into words what I actually wanted to say but I failed, because my wording was so clumsy …”

    Think about it

    Alexander

  16. Kablamo:
    Since I am a student of Lutheran theology (attended classes at Gettysburg Theological Seminary and studied the Book of Concord), let me suggest something for your study:

    Paul’s teaching in Titus 3:4ff. points to God’s grace expressed in baptism, but says nothing about Christ baptizing us by the work of the community. Also, compare that with Ephesians 2:1-10.

    I think enough for one post.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  17. Alexander,

    First, “requirements” and “enforced restrictions” don’t necessarily imply universal laws for all people from here on out. Some rule that people have to keep given a certain circumstance is nonetheless a “requirement” or an “enforced restriction” *for people in that circumstance.* The question is “required” for what? “Necessary” for what? i don’t read in Acts 15 where the four practices in question are given as requirements for salvation or maintaining salvation or practices intrinsic to Christian discipleship. The fact is the “for what” question is not explicitly stated. Thus we have to use other clearer passages to interpret this one.

    Second, if those four requirements are meant to be salvific or universal, the Bible elsewhere contradicts that letter (ex. Romans 14:14, 19-21; 1Timothy 4:3-5).

    Third, Paul was there at the council and one of the deilverers of the letter. He knew the contents. If those requirements were meant to be universal mandates for the church, then Paul appears either to be very confused or flat out misleading people about their ethical requirements in the passages i mentioned above. *Or* we could let those clearer passages from Paul inform our understanding of Acts 15 where the purpose is not explicitly defined, especially since Paul *did* know the purpose and intent of that letter.

    Fourth, even if the requirements stated in this letter are not universal, that doesn’t necessarily imply that Christians are thus allowed to engage in those behaviors. This is analogous to the fact that the Law of Moses (including the ten commandments) has been abolished, but that fact doesn’t necessarily imply that it is not okay to murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. If we are not in the same circumstance as the recipients of that letter, then we need additional information which does apply to us to determine what our ethical obligations are regarding those practices.

    (As a side: the only puzzling requirement would be ‘fornication.’ Why would this have been included in the letter? It may seem obvious to answer: “well, because Christians aren’t allowed to fornicate.” Of course they’re not. That’s just it. The recipients of this letter were already believers. Were they genuinely unaware that having sex with just anyone you like is wrong? If these are meant to be taken as universal laws for all people, then this particular requirement seems as redundant or as having the same “duh” factor as if the letter had included “And we also require you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The recipients: “Well, of course, we have to. We already do! So why are you saying so?” So i don’t take “fornication” there to mean *general sexual immorality.* i think it more than likely that the letter’s recipients already knew not to sleep around. Rather, i think there were things the Gentiles did that the Jews *regarded* as sexually immoral. What specifically? Not entirely sure, but there are plenty of good candidates. Maybe they thought it was okay for a man to hug a woman other than his wife. The Gentiles may likely have allowed marriages that were forbidden by the Law of Moses, etc.)

    –Guy

  18. Second, if those four requirements are meant to be salvific or universal, the Bible elsewhere contradicts that letter (ex. Romans 14:14, 19-21; 1Timothy 4:3-5).

    I don’t know of anyone who would call those four requirements “salvific” (having the intent or power to save or redeem). That is quite a different question from whether violation can cost you your salvation. One concerns how you gain salvation, and the other how you lose it.

    Those two aspects are often confused in discussions like this. And the result is that the two sides talk past each other rather than actually communicating.

  19. Alan,

    Sorry if you dislike the use of “salvific.” You define it as “having the intent or power to save or redeem.”

    If someone believes that one must keep every requirement in the NT in order to be saved, then they could view these four requirements as “salvific” in the same sense that the entire NT is. i’ve certainly heard some conservatives speak as though the entire NT and all its requirements “has the intent and power to save or redeem.”

    i used the term intending to cover an array of views that would affirm the universal nature of these requirements.

    Sorry if using words differently than you offends.

    –Guy

  20. Guy, It’s not a question of offending. It’s a question of precision in what is being said. I was merely quoting the Merriam-Webster definition:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/salvific

    Nothing we do is salvific by that definition. But what we do can cause us to lose our salvation. Blurring that distinction is counterproductive to the discussion.

  21. Bruce,

    I agree that baptism in “an expression of God’s grace”. It is not however a “means of grace”. And, Titus 3:4ff doesn’t mention baptism that I can see. Are you thinking that baptism is really regeneration? I hope not for everyone knows that not everyone baptized is truly saved.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but in your view are Restoration Movement people the only ones saved? If it is then I see why you disagree so strongly with Jay about his statements re: whom God accepts.

    Royce

  22. Alan,

    It may be true that “nothing we do is salvific by that definition”, but i think there are some conservatives who believe that obedience to NT requirements in salvific by that definition.

    If it’s that much of a hurdle in my post, then omit that one word. i’m not sure my point in it is any different.

    –Guy

  23. The question is “required” for what? “Necessary” for what? i don’t read in Acts 15 where the four practices in question are given as requirements for salvation or maintaining salvation or practices intrinsic to Christian discipleship. The fact is the “for what” question is not explicitly stated. Thus we have to use other clearer passages to interpret this one.

    I don’t say that these four requirements are in themselves a salvation issue. Obedience is a salvation issue, and if we start picking and choosing or explaining away, we are onm dangerous ground.

    The question discussed, was whether it was necessary for gentile Christians to be circumcised and to follow the law of Moses. That was the discussion: “Is it necessary?” And the answer is: No, it is not, but four things are required.

    You understand the discussion, don’t you? Well if the answer is: No, not circumciosion and the law, but these four requirements – how can anyone assume that this answer is less universal than the question it answered? The question was about something binding for all – and the answer should be less than that? I don’t see why. And I don’t see even a hint in this whole chapter that might lead to such a thought.

    Second, if those four requirements are meant to be salvific or universal, the Bible elsewhere contradicts that letter (ex. Romans 14:14, 19-21; 1Timothy 4:3-5).

    I don’t see how these pasaghes could contradict Acts 15. After all, this letter was spead among all churches – so ifthere had been a change in direction I would expect a statement like: “The Apostels’ letter it is not binding any more.”

    If you point to Romans, then Acts 21 where Acts 15 is being confirmed took place after the letter to thr Romans was written.

    OK, what do these verses say, you mentioned:

    Rom 14:14 I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

    is the issue in Acts 15 about clean and unclean food? No. It is about blood, which belongs to God. This goes back to the covenant with Noah.

    Rom 14:19 So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another.
    Rom 14:20 Overthrow not for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
    Rom 14:21 It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth

    Is the theme in Acts 15 avoiding things that others could cause to stumble? No, it is about what is necessary and binding. We can go beyondthat in the sense, yes, it is perfectly all right to keep the Mosaic dietary laws if you eat together with Jewish Christians who don’t have the freedom of conscience to eat “normal” food.

    But the underlying rule of avoiding blood and starngled meat is not an issue in this text in Romans. It is like: Only Matthew has the “exception clause” in the texts of divorce, the other gospels, 1Cor 7 and Rom 7 don’t. Does that mean, because this exception is not mentioned there, that this “allowance” was unique to the situation in Matthwe? Or did the Christians automatically understand, that there is this exceprion, even if it is only mentioned in Matthew? The latter, as we know from history.

    It is the same with bloos and meat strangeld. the Christians knew that this letter from Acts 15 has to be kept inthe back of ones mind when reading other passages about food, that did not specifically repeat it.

    Ti 4:3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.
    1Ti 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving:
    1Ti 4:5 for it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer.

    Actually it is intersting thet the phrase “every creature” reminds strongly on Gen 9,2-4 which is in fact the Biblical legitimation for eating meat at all! Because before the flood (esp. in Eden) mankind was vegetarian. And so, when God gave the animals as food (every creature) he did not permit to eat it with the blood, because the blood is the soul and the life and belongs to God.

    Again, the question here is different. It is about demonic teachings, that endorse a Gnostic form of ascetism foreign to the Bible. A different question, a different answer. this verse has actually nothing to do with Acts 15.

    Third, Paul was there at the council and one of the deilverers of the letter. He knew the contents. If those requirements were meant to be universal mandates for the church, then Paul appears either to be very confused or flat out misleading people about their ethical requirements in the passages i mentioned above.

    Not at all. What has been said and sent out in a letter does not need to be repeated unless the rules had been violated. Paul never mentiones the headcovering in other letters and yet it is clear that he taught the same practice in all churches. Paul did not urge the women ni Philippi to remain silent, because he already said that in the letter to the Corinthians (and most likely taught it orally anyway). So Paul knew that this letter was around, and – even in the presence of James in Acts 21 – he did not say: “Well, that was just a temporary thing, brother …”

    It wasn’t. Between Acts 15 and Acts 21 are about 15 years. The gospel spread, the letter was given to all churches of Pauls first missionary journey and most likely beyond. Whether in written form or orally, it was taughtin all chuches. I see nowhere a hint that this letter had been taken back as just temporary – on the contrary: It has been preserved for us in the Scriptures.

    In Christ
    Alexander

  24. Guy, you previously said:

    i don’t read in Acts 15 where the four practices in question are given as requirements for salvation or maintaining salvation or practices intrinsic to Christian discipleship.

    On the day that letter was delivered to Antioch, it was fully in force. What would have been the consequence of a Christian willfully and persistently disobeying the letter? Wouldn’t that be rebellion against the lordship of Jesus? Wouldn’t that result in losing salvation? Those commands were as binding as any other commands in that day. And while obedience to those commands didn’t cause salvation, failure to obey could cause loss of salvation. That’s the point I was trying to make.

    I do think you are right in saying Paul’s later writing on the subject of meat sacrificed to idols implies that the Acts 15 letter was temporary.

  25. Alexander,

    (1) The letter in Acts 15 never says, “Adherence to the law of Moses is not required of you Gentile Christians, but there are four things that are required in the same sense that the Judaizing teachers said that adherence to the law of Moses is required.”

    The content of the letter doesn’t contain the first part at all even though that was part of the topic of discussion at the council. And it definitely doesn’t contain the last part, that the four requirements were requirements in the very same sense that the Judaizers said that circumcision and such were requirements. i understand why the letter *could* be read that way, but i don’t see why it *must.* i’ve already said why i think it’s better not to read it that way.

    (2) The passages contradict your understanding of Acts 15 because they allow people to eat what Acts 15 would condemn. If diets were universally restricted, then it is *not* the case that “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1Tim 4:4-5). Yet Paul claims the latter is true. If Christians are commanded to reject eating blood or food sacrificed to idols, then it can’t also be the case that *nothing* is to be rejected if received with thanksgiving. Those are contradictory.

    Further, in Romans 14, Paul says that some people’s faith allowed them to eat *everything.* If The contents of the Acts 15 letter are meant to be universal dietary restrictions for all Christians, then no one’s faith could allow them to eat *everything.* If Paul is right and no food is unclean in itself, then we are free to eat *anything.* The only qualification Paul places is whether we ourselves regard eating something in particular as sin, or whether our brother regards us eating something in particular as sin. But if the Acts 15 laws are universal, then we are not free to eat *anything,* and in fact we are restricted *regardless* of what we or our brother things about the particular food in question. This understanding of Acts 15 is incompatible with Romans 14.

    (3) “Temporary” is not what i’m saying. i have said *circumstantial.* i believe those rules apply inasmuch as those circumstances apply. i don’t think it’s impossible to encounter those same circumstances today. Thus, it is possible for those rules to bind even today. But i think the church at large is far removed from the issue those rules are meant to address.

    (4) i never said that Romans or 1Timothy *changed* or *rescinded* what the Acts 15 letter said. i am claiming that the passages in Romans and 1Timothy are incompatible with a *certain understanding* of Acts 15. Were the contents of that letter upheld after Acts 15 and even after the writing of Romans? Of course they were, because the situation they were meant to address was still a significant issue in the early church.

    –Guy

  26. Jesus kept the law perfectly. Jesus celebrated the Passover feast. If Jesus did not eat the Passover, He would have been violating the law, and would have been accused of sin. The Bible records that Jesus ate the Passover feast sending His disciples to prepare the meal for their observance, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?” And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ (Mark 1214:12-14)

    Those who choose to celebrate the Passover feast, the lamb and all the other elements point to Jesus as our sacrificial Passover Lamb.

    “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

    I believe we should keep the Passover feast as it is pleasing to God, though I do not condemn people who don’t, we are free from the bondage of the law through Christ’s Sacrifice.

    People like to find anything to divide and argue over, Paul tells people several times that should not be so.

    “For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” (Romans 14:2-6)

    “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”(Colossians 2:16-17)

    “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:21-23)

  27. Hbr 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son],
    Jam 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
    Jam 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
    Jam 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
    Jam 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
    Jam 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent [them] out another way?
    Jam 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

  28. James made the point that a person who says they have faith their works should be showing evidence of it, other people can look at their life and see their faith. We will be known by our fruit.

    James 2:8-10 “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”

    If you stumble in one part of the law you are guilty of all the law. Are you ever greedy, rude, selfish, covetous, unforgiving, unmerciful, lazy, argumentative, do you always keep what you say to another, have you always loved your neighbor as you should, do you always give to the poor and needy…and the list goes on.

    The many righteous works Abraham performed did justified him that he was seen to others as a great man of God, though the works he did cannot justify him before God, Romans 4:2 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

    Galatians 3:10-14 “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

  29. Royce:
    Jack Cottrell’s study of baptism, as one example, is thorough and brings together with clarity “expression of grace” and “means of grace.” I suggest you grab a copy and wade in. It will be well worth your time — in the same way as Jay has invited all of us to wade into his treatment of the “Galatian heresy” in his weblog. Jay may even want to consider a book review of Dr. Cottrell’s study.

    With that, let me ask that we leave my question to Jay between Jay and I for now. I will be glad to wade in deeper with you/others in this weblog chain later regarding baptism, the Restoration Movement, and salvation, but I would like to keep the discussion more straightforward at this point.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  30. Jay, loath as I am not to prove I can be as long-winded as the next fellow, I’ll settle for saying a simple thank you for your forthrightness and your wisdom in this post. (No matter what else we’ve disagreed on elsewhere.)

    apostle

  31. Charles,

    Thanks. Everyone I’ve ever known has disagreed with me about something. (Does that mean I’m the only one going to heaven?) The disagreements teach me the most.

  32. Jay,

    Perhaps you are the only one not going to heaven! Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. lol

    Royce

  33. (1) The letter in Acts 15 never says, “Adherence to the law of Moses is not required of you Gentile Christians, but there are four things that are required in the same sense that the Judaizing teachers said that adherence to the law of Moses is required.”

    I don’t mean it this way either. But these four requirements were the result of a discussion, whether we have to be circumcised or not in order to be saved. You cannot take the letter out if this context.

    And you cannot blend statemnts from other contexts and put them against this letter.

    What you basically do, Guy, is: Here is text A and here is text B. Text B in your understanding contradicts text A, so – in order to harmonize it, you have to find a way to make text A not binding anymore.

    To do that you take the questions answered in text B (do nothing that offends your brother), and carry that issue into the context of text A. But then you (along with most commentators today) change the whole scene and topic of text A and therefore change the answer contained in text A.

    The result is “harmony” between text B and a (de facto) changed text A. Which is somehow weird, isn’t it?

    The problem is you misunderstand text B as to be a full and universal statement about everything that is to be said about eating and drinking, which it isn’t. Text B also answers specific questions that are even mentioned in the context.

    Text B is about weaker Christians, whose conscience is still bound to keep the dietary laws or the Sabbath, who still are convinced that they should obey these Mosaic commands. Stronger Christians are called to forsake their freedom in Christ for the sake of the weaker brothers, otherwise their freedom would be “pushy” against these brothers’ consience causing them to sin – not against a comand but against their faith.

    Text A is the other way round: Do the Gentile Christians have to follow the full Law of Moses as the Pharisaic Christians were conviced? In other words, shall the Law be made binding on the Gentiles? Note, the discussion was not about the dietary laws per se, but about the complete law, especially circumcision. Again there is nothing wrong with keeping the Sabbath or being circumcised – either out of personal conviction or to become a Jew to the Jews. But it is wrong to make that binding. This would mean to seek righteousness by the Old Law, this is what is meant with the phrase “falling out of Grace” in Galatians (which is actually the whole theme of Galatians).

    Text B is mainly about food and some other aspects of the Law, it is about weaker and stronger Christians, and it is about the freedom to farsake your freedom for the sake of others.

    Text A is about salvation, about requirements, about circumcision and the complete Law of Moses. It is about what is binding, not about freedom. It is about the Gospel, not about weaker or stronger Christians.

    Do you see the difference? I don’t want to be too repetitive, but I want to bring it home, too.

    Note also: Text B is not concerned about blood and strangled meat, but about the other dietary laws, about clean and unclean food.

    Text A is not concerned about the Mosaic dietary laws, but about requirements that were binding to all men even before Mose:
    Fornication .- would violate marriage, that was introduced in Eden.
    Meat sacrificed to Idols – would violate the worship of the living God.
    Blood (and meat with its bloos – strangled meat) was explictly forbidden in the covenant with Noah.

    So text B has in fact nothing to do with text A at all. Therefore you cannot losen text A by pointing to text B. Text A is binding.

    (4) i never said that Romans or 1Timothy *changed* or *rescinded* what the Acts 15 letter said. i am claiming that the passages in Romans and 1Timothy are incompatible with a *certain understanding* of Acts 15. Were the contents of that letter upheld after Acts 15 and even after the writing of Romans? Of course they were, because the situation they were meant to address was still a significant issue in the early church.

    But this actually means you cannot take text B (Romans and 1Tim) to argue, that we are foodwise in no way restricted whatsoever. Because – as is clear from Acts 21 – text A (Acts 15) was still upheld until the end of the Apostolic era. So the readers of Romans and Timothy had Acts 15 in the back of their minds when they read Paul’s letters. And I could proove to you, that it was upheld in the post-Apostolic Era as well; but that would make this post even longer, and I think we should go by the Scriptures alone.

    But if we do that, according to your own statement I quoted last, there is not one single Biblical reason to declare Acts 15 not binding anymore.

    If we don’t do what is written there, I would not say that we are immediately doomed to hell, but let me refer you to the words of our Lord:

    Mat 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    We maybe could agree that – at least today – Acts 15 falls under “minor issues”; I would go that far. So it is one of these least commands. I have made this pledge, that I by all means want to avoid this embarrasing situation that the Lord one day might say to me:

    (Just my imagination – not inspired, but backed up by a few verses): “Friend, why were you ashamed of these least of my commands? Didn’t I pass them on to you in plain language? Didn’t you boast about your many Bible-translations and even your basic skills in Greek? Look at all these sheep of mine, whom you have misled, who missed the blessings followed by obedience! And see what they did to other commands of lesser weight, too – they followed your bad example! And worse than that: See where they set the borders between minor and major commands! See how they picked and chose when and under what circumstances to obey! Friend, do you see these few children of my Father? Yes those on the other side – they completely lost the balance and lived lives that made people ridicule my name. Because you taught them to pick and choose, and they chose according to their flesh. Friend, you owe me their souls!”

    I don’t think anyone among us would like to hear such words – but the more we losen what is bound in the Scriptures, the more we are in danger of hearing such a rebuke. I don’t want to risk that. Do you?

    And – Good news – avoiding blood and strangled meat is really simple; nothing to boast about, nothing that could even remotely be called burdensome …

    Alexander

  34. Alexander,

    i think i’ll speak once more then let it die and please feel free to have the last word. We clearly both remain unconvinced, so i gather we’re spinning our wheels at this point.

    (1) i acknowledge that both the Romans and the 1Timothy passage do not share precisely the same contextual concerns as Acts 15. But i never claimed they did. i don’t think they need to.

    If your position is correct, then it implies some particular claim about dietary restriction for all Christians. Are there any other texts which talk about Christian dietary laws? Yes. At least the two i mentioned, and i’m gonna throw in 1Corinthians 8 as well. Christian dietary law is a topic the umbrella of which *does* cover Acts 15, Romans 14, 1Tim 4, and 1Cor 8. That doesn’t mean that what each passage says isn’t contextually determined. But if all passages are inspired and inerrant, then whatever their contextually determined meanings are must be consistent.

    If Acts 15 implies that all Christians in all places and circumstances are forbidden to eat meat sacrificed to idols (let’s call this “15-U”), then Paul says things in the other three passages that, even given their respective contexts, are simply false.

    If 15-U is true, then people are restricted from eating meat sacrificed to idols *regardless* of whether they possess “this” (1Cor 4:7) knowledge. Yet Paul claims it hinges on one’s understanding. If 15-U is true, that is false.

    If 15-U is true, then it is not the case that “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (1Cor 8:8)

    i’ve already mentioned how i believe this interpretations contradicts clear statements in the other two passages. (And no i don’t think it’s weird at all to alter my understanding of a less clear passage using my understanding of clearer passages. You may disagree with me about which ones are clearer. Fine. But i don’t see anything weird about the heuristic that clearer passages should be used to understand less clear ones.)

    (2) About Acts 15 and the Jew/Gentile problem in general:

    vs 19-20:

    “Therefore my [James] judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”

    Why? Why should they have to observe those things?

    vs. 21

    “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

    Gentile believers should observe these things because wherever those Gentiles live, there will more than likely be Jews living their who hear what Moses has to say about such things read to them every Sabbath day. If Gentile believers didn’t observe these requirements…

    (a) Christianity would be seen as anti-OT and anti-Jewish in the eyes of local Jews.
    (b) They would be judged as “unclean” by anyone with a Jewish conscience–believer or unbeliever.
    (c) Jewish believers would likely not associate with Gentiles believers because of these cultural differences
    (d) Most importantly, if Gentiles didn’t observe these things, yet some Jewish Christians endorsed those Gentiles as being spiritually okay, then that would destroy the ability of those Jewish Christians to reach out to non-believing Jews. Thus the work of the apostles at Jerusalem would be compromised, Paul’s own efforts would be compromised (Acts 21 is a fine example). Paul and the apostles could not be waltzing into synagogues to preach Christ if local Jews saw them as “unclean” because of their association with “unclean” Gentiles.

    Bottom line is that the Jew/Gentile problem was *the* problem of the first century church. If both sides didn’t bend a little, there was no way that the early church would stay *one* church. And this difficulty continued through the end of the Apostolic era. But i don’t think anyone would consider it a major problem in the modern church.

    –Guy

  35. Dear Guy, I’ll take the offer to have the last word – and I want to thank you before that for this fair and good discussion with you. You never became impolite or sarcastic and set a fine example of having a conviction in a controversial debate.

    Somehow, you don’t get the significance of the fact that these four “requirements” predate the Mosaic law. If it were a regulation to not make Christanity look anti-Jewish, then this decision misses the point. But Paul’s advice to forsake your freedom in Christ does meet this goal: We are called to keep the laws of clean and unclean food when we have a meal with Jews. But we are to abstain from blood, strangled meat or meat sacrificed to idols all the time.

    Let’s take “Acts 15 U” as a precedent, because we have a lot more texts about that. I also think we agree about the first requirement: fornication.

    1Co 8:1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth.
    1Co 8:2 If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know;
    1Co 8:3 but if any man loveth God, the same is known by him.
    1Co 8:4 Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no God but one.
    1Co 8:5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many;
    1Co 8:6 yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.
    1Co 8:7 Howbeit there is not in all men that knowledge: but some, being used until now to the idol, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
    1Co 8:8 But food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better.
    1Co 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak.
    1Co 8:10 For if a man see thee who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols?
    1Co 8:11 For through thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother for whose sake Christ died.
    1Co 8:12 And thus, sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, ye sin against Christ.
    1Co 8:13 Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble.

    This text is about having “knowledge”. In verse two Paul criticizes this kind of knowledge he is describing it as something that puffs up.

    What does this knowledge say:
    a) Food does not defile us. There is nothing evil in meat itself. Meat is meat. Period.
    b) The idols do not exist. It is a manmade religion, their so-called gods are all made up. They cannot harm us.

    Both statements are true.

    What Paul criticizes is the rude application of this freedom in the presence of people who don’t have this knowledge. It might cause them to act against their (supposedly) inferior knowledge and conscience, therefore cause them to sin and … to perish (?) – strong word, isn’t it? But if we live and die in sin, we are in danger of losing salvation, even if the sin is just “imaginary”. I don’t want to discuss this now, because it is a little too tough even for me 😉

    OK this passage is clear. And if this were the only passage about Meat sacrificed to idols, I would be forced to agree with you.

    1Co 10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
    1Co 10:8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.

    Here Paul describes the rebellious attitude of the Israelites in the desert. He mentions two out of the four requirements from Acts 15: Fornication and idolatry, which had to do with eating and drinking.

    Idolatry had to do with eating and drinking, so eating meat was part of the worship. The meat was sacrificed to idols and sold as such at the market to be eaten by the worshippers. Paul goes on to speak about the Lord’s Table and then comes back to this meat:

    1Co 10:14 Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
    1Co 10:15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
    1Co 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?
    1Co 10:17 seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread.
    1Co 10:18 Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar?
    1Co 10:19 What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
    1Co 10:20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons.
    1Co 10:21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons.
    1Co 10:22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

    Paul urges us to flee from idolatry. We cannot – he says sit, eat and drink at the Lord’s Table and sit, eat and drink at the demons’s table. He points to a jealous God who won’t accept that.

    Maye we might want to understand this passage figuratively to be about separation from idolatry in a general sense, not really about eating and drinking. Of course it is about fleeing idolatry in general, but a certain application of this had to do with literal food, such as the Lord’s table has to do with literal food.

    Pauls also repeats the “knowledge” that the idols are nothing. But here he points to a reality behind idolatry the “puffed up” seem to overlook: Demons. If we sit at their table, we have fellowship with the demons (although there are some even among us who deny the reality of demons).

    Paul continues:

    1Co 10:23 All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify.
    1Co 10:24 Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good.
    1Co 10:25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake,
    1Co 10:26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.
    1Co 10:27 If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
    1Co 10:28 But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake:
    1Co 10:29 conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience?
    1Co 10:30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
    1Co 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
    1Co 10:32 Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God:
    1Co 10:33 even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

    Idolatry does not “happen” it is an act of our will. So the meat itself is not defiled. We shall not ask where the meat we buy at the marklet comes from for conscience sake, because all things are created by God to be eaten with thanksgiving. And so all food is sanctified.

    But if we know the meat has been sacrificed to idols we must neither buy it nor eat it when we are invited. Why? For the conscience sake of those we buy from or eat with.

    That’s consistent with what the Lord Jesus said: When we enter a house, we shall eat whatever they serve us.

    But what would our message be to idolaters? We buy the steak blessed by Zeus, eat the cutlet sacrificed to Ares – we are at their table, having fellowship with their Gods. There is a reason why they sacrificed the animals to God.

    So it is not the meat that is the problem, but the connection of the meat to idolatrous purposes. We have to flee idolatry, must have nothing to do with it.

    That’s why “knowledge” and “liberty” are not the main criteria whether we eat or don’t eat. We must not touch that which is unclean (2 Cor 2:14-7:1).

    We might now ask why we must not eat meat sacrificed to idols:
    Because we must flee idolatry
    Because it is a testimony against idolatry
    Because we acknowldege the demonc side of idolatry
    Because we must not mislead others with our liberty and knowledge

    But not, because the meat itself is unclean. And, not even because of the Jews! Who are those who sell this meat at the market? Pagans! Who are those who prepare a meal with this kind of meat? Pagans!

    Was James in Acts 15 concerned about the Pagans and their conscience? Most likely not. So why did he and the Apostles and the Spirit of God decide we must not eat meat sacrificed to idols? Because we must flee idolatry. We must avoid any conscious contact with the demons.

    Does the meat defile us? No. But what are the consequences if we have fellowship with demons? If nothing else: God becomes jealous! Are we stronger than He?

    To close the matter: Our Lord Jesus was very strict on this:

    Rev 2:14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.
    Rev 2:15 So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner.

    Rev 2:20 But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.

    Again two out of the four requirements from Acts 15, and a close connection to 1Cor 10. Here we have two false teachers: The Nicolaitans and a female teacher. In both cases our Lord points to incidents in the Old Testament (Balaam and Jezebel).

    So, how do you think He would respond, if we say: Well, this restriction of not eating meat sacrificed to idols is not really important? I don’t think He would agree with us.

    If I look at all these passages, I see “knowledge” and “liberty” more questioned than confirmed. I must admit though, that in our culture I see no real application for this restriction, because there no sacrifices to idols made in our society. And I think this tends to shape our exegesis as well. We might say, this was all a matter of past milleniums and has nothing to with us. But is that so? As soon as we enter a mission field where idolatry is still practiced, these verses become very important. But we won’t teach them because we already explained them away …

    An analogy: We tend to say, that footwashing is not important today, because we don’t walk in sandals on dusty roads anymore. So we explain this command of Christ away as having no meaning for us. Then our missionaries go to third world countries, where people walk in sandals (or even barefooted) on dusty roads, where footwashing would make sense, but the missionaries are so convinced that footwashing is not literally binding that they don’t teach it there either.

    You know, Guy, if the resuilt of our theological work is that we don’t do what has been written in plain language, I begin to question our approach.

    I’ll end here. It is a tiny wee bit too long anyway, I fear

    God bless
    Alexander

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