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?
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
Step 1 - Create an account or log in to start your free trial.
Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. You’re already logged in with your Bible Gateway account. The next step is to choose a monthly or yearly subscription, and then enter your payment information. Your credit card won’t be charged until the trial period is over. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.
Click the button below to continue.
Step 1 - Create an account or log in to start your subscription.
You’ve already claimed your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus. To subscribe at our regular subscription rate, click the button below.
Upgrade, and get the most out of your new account. An integrated digital Bible study library - including complete notes from the Believer's Bible Commentary and the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (NIV and NRSV) - is just a step away! Try it free for 30 days.