Tuesday, December 2, 2014

All The Saints (part 13)

Observing a brief (or not so brief) reminder in continuing this examination of this passage from Acts, it should be remembered that this study has returned again to this book (Acts), and to this section of the book, because of its usefulness in demonstrating the attitude taken towards Gentiles and the Temple.  

In co-ordination with Paul’s demonstrably sustained focus on Jew and Gentile relations in the early church, the associated controversies concerning covenant markers and covenant inclusion (justification), the repetitive use of highly inclusive language in the first chapter of Colossians, the incredible significance of the sweeping expansion of the covenant peoples to include Gentiles as Gentiles through confession of Jesus as Lord and Messiah (rather than Gentiles as Gentiles-converted-to-Judaism through the adoption of covenant markers that are generally referred to as “works of the law”), a side-by-side reading of Ephesians two with Colossians one (with expansions and abbreviations noted), this study has contended that the statement of the twenty-second verse of Colossians one, “but now He has reconciled you by His physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before Him,” is Temple language that echoes the Levitical code and its provisions for service in the Temple. 

Furthermore, it is proposed that this short statement stands in for the longer statement of Ephesians two, which speaks explicitly about the Temple and the unquestionable qualification of Gentiles to not only serve the Temple, but to actually be components of the Temple (the place of the Creator God’s dwelling and the ultimate symbol of this God’s covenant with humanity and with His creation).  What will be seen in what comes next in Acts twenty-one serves to demonstrate just how revolutionary this thinking was.

As Paul is conducting his business in the Temple, something goes horribly wrong.  Contrary to what was insisted would be the result of Paul’s activity in the Temple, which was that “everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law” (Acts 21:24b), Luke writes that “When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from the province of Asia who had seen him,” that being Paul, “in the Temple area stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting ‘Men of Israel, help!  This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this sanctuary!’” (21:27-28a)  So much for expectations.  Instead, a near-riot ensues.  Of course, what is here mentioned is only half of that which is causing people to take issue with Paul. 

Reading further, one finds a revelation of the generalized attitude towards Gentiles, proving just how deep these long-cherished notions ran, when reading “Furthermore he has brought Greeks into the inner court of the Temple and made this holy place ritually unclean!” (21:28b)  This, of course, was patently untrue, as Luke parenthetically inserts “For they had seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him previously, and they assumed Paul had brought him into the inner Temple courts” (21:29).  The inner Temple courts were strictly off-limits to Gentiles. 

The words of the crowd, as reported by Luke, are thoroughly informative, as the insistence in regards to Gentiles in the Temple and subsequent ritual uncleanness dovetails well with Paul’s insistence that Gentiles (at the point in Colossians that stands in for the Temple-specific language in Ephesians) are in fact able to be presented before Israel’s God (the one whose dwelling place was the Temple), based on their trust in Jesus as the Messiah and as the one mediator between the Creator God of Israel and all men, as holy, without blemish, and blameless.  This naturally stands in contrast to their being ritually unclean and their being able to confer ritual uncleanness upon the Temple itself. 

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