March 11, 2009

The Letter of Acts 15

Jumping back into topics on James & Galatians... The letter of Acts 15 may be the first piece of christian literature ever written for a particular audience. It was definitely one of the most controversial.

The letter from the Council of Jerusalem told gentile believers to follow some Jewish laws, but not others. It was carried by Judas & Silas to Antioch, where it brought much rejoicing. Chronology proves Paul deliberately left it out of his letter to the Galatian churches. Evidently, Peter felt the need to share about it with Corinth - because Corinth did not generate dozens of new questions about eating and idols and "es ee ex" (not to mention tongues and healing) until after Peter's momentous visit - which means Paul failed to mention that letter in Corinth as well. Later on, Paul contradicted it flatly to Rome. As the years went on, Paul fought against Jerusalem's restrictions in his own letters with less and less subtlety. It may not be a coincidence that Paul left Antioch after Jerusalem's letter caused joy there... or that Paul's dispute with Barnabas came about that same time, as well.

The letter itself gets included in Acts. Why? It seems it was supposed to show Paul was not actively persecuted by Christian-Jews, but only by Jewish Jews. While I find nothing inaccurate or dishonest in what Luke wrote, a larger context reveals a much more complex situation. Luke was prudent to be so selective in positioning Paul with a solid defense. It isn't lying unless he said something false. In fact, it is perfectly true that the Council's letter was encouraging, to a degree. It just didn't go far enough. At least, not for Paul.

Shrewdly, Luke's omission of commentary about the Jerusalem letter helped give Caesar a certain impression of Paul, in Rome. However, those of us reading today can put together much more of the picture than Nero had. Surely, we should form a more complete impression. Whatever you want to say about it... however you want to explain it... we need to admit it. Conflict between Paul and Jerusalem lasted long after 50 AD.

In my humble opinion, needless resistance to this obvious conclusion is one of the things that has kept us from reconstructing an accurate, coherent, holistic account of the New Testament Events in their larger context. We deserve better. Far better.

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