Clash of Cultures: Competing Ethos
Acts 15:1-3 – The Vision vs. The James Gang
– Some people came down from Judea teaching the family of believers – “unless you are circumcised according to the custom [culture; usage of a community] (ethos) we’ve received from Moses, you cannot be delivered and protected (sozo).” Circumcision is the primary Jewish sign of identity and covenant membership. According to Mosaic Law, Gentiles must be circumcised or be excluded from God’s community (Gen. 17:14; Ex. 12:48-49). Paul refers to these proclaimers of religion in his letter to the Galatians (2:1-5). Shortly thereafter, Paul has another run-in with them where he identifies them as “coming from James” (Gal. 2:11-14).
– Paul and Barnabas – The notion that Mosaic Codes played any role in the life of the community lived out of Resurrection Life flew directly in the face of the Pauline Vision of God’s worldview; God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the life of the Resurrected Christ.
– The church at Antioch – “therefore, appointed Paul, Barnabas, and several others from Antioch to go to Jerusalem to set this question before the apostles and the elders.” Paul’s willingness to go expresses the Vision of Unity in Diversity. He nor the Gentiles desires to separate from the Jewish Church, or otherwise “relaunch” a Gentile version of the church.
Acts 15:4-21 – The [So-Called] Jerusalem Council
– When they arrived in Jerusalem – “the [Jewish] church, the apostles, and the elders welcomed [to draw near into one’s own life] them.” “The Antiochean visitors gave a full report of what God had accomplished through their activity. But, some believers from among the Jewish religious leaders stood up and insisted that the Gentiles be circumcised; they must be required to keep the Law of Moses.” Many of the religious leaders believed that signs – the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit – were insufficient attestation of the divine will when it contradicted traditional interpretation of Law. The ethos of the Covenant Community weighed more than the worldview of God when the two seemed a contradiction.
– The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter – Peter stood and addressed them: You know that, early on, God chose me as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the logic of the good news and come to believe. On the contrary – the burden is light – we believe that we and they are delivers and protected (sozo) in the same way, by the grace of the supreme (kurios) Jesus” – a stark contrast to the assumed supremacy of the Law Giver, Moses.
– James responded – I conclude that we shouldn’t create problems for Gentiles who turn to God. Let’s write a letter telling them to avoid [ceremonial] pollution of images for worship, sexual immorality [associated with pagan worship], eating animals that have been choked to death [associated with pagan worship], and from blood [associated with pagan worship]” – traditionally, the Noahic Code. (See Gal. 2:6-10)