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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – False Reports About Paul's Teaching (21:20-22)
False Reports About Paul's Teaching (21:20-22)

In full spiritual unity, the elders point out to Paul that massive numbers of Jews, . . . all of them . . . zealous for the law, have become believers. These may be the converted Pharisees of Acts 15:5. Literally "zealots for the law," they lived out their loyalty to God by combining ardent nationalism with strict observance of the whole Mosaic code. Phinehas, Elijah and the Maccabees were their worthy predecessors (Num 25:10-13; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Josephus Jewish Antiquities 12.271).

These converts have been particularly troubled by reports that Paul has been teaching Diaspora Jews to turn away from Moses. This phrase translates apostasia, which refers to either political or spiritual rebellion (2 Chron 29:19; 1 Macc 2:15; Acts 5:31, 39; 2 Thess 2:3). Specifically, Paul is alleged to have instructed these Jewish believers to stop having their children circumcised and "to stop walking according to the customs" (so the prohibitions should be understood).

While it is easy to see how such implications might be drawn from Paul's teaching of a law-free gospel, there is no evidence that Paul ever instructed Jewish Christians this way (Rom 2:25-30; Gal 5:6; 6:15). In fact, Paul was most scrupulous not to offend the conscience of the "weaker brother," the Jewish Christian who maintained ancestral customs, and even went so far as to have Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3; Rom 14:1—15:13).

Our religious past can make distortions of the truth attractive to us, especially those that reinforce our pride in loyalty to our traditions. What can be done to overcome such falsehood, which always threatens to bring disunity to the church?

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