James Patrick’s Blog

August 27, 2009

Heirs of Abraham’s promise of land [Israel & New Covenant #2]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 10:29 pm
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The ‘eternal’ land covenant made with Abraham was reissued to Isaac, to Jacob/Israel, to the patriarchs of the twelve tribes in Egypt, and to their ethnic descendants whom God promises will never be permanently rejected.  The promise of land, therefore, is a cheque made payable specifically to the ethnically Jewish people, whether or not this particular generation is permitted to cash it in.

Genesis 15:6-21 – As a reward for his faith, Abram was promised the land of the Amorites as a permanent possession, confirmed by God through a highly unusual covenant ceremony in which God promised it unilaterally, without any conditional requirements for Abram.  The closest parallel is Jeremiah 34:17-20 where passing between the carcasses is a self-curse if the covenant should be broken.  Effectively God is saying that if the descendants of Abram are denied their promised land, God Himself will be slaughtered to atone for His broken covenant.

Genesis 26:2-5 – When Isaac trusted God and in obedience did not leave the land of promise in a time of famine, God reaffirmed the land covenant of his father with him also.

Genesis 35:9-12 – When God officially changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he reaffirmed with him the covenant promises made to Abraham and Isaac of both descendants and land.

Genesis 50:24-25 – Joseph reminded his brothers that God would surely bring the children of Jacob / Israel up out of Egypt and bring them into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 9:4-6 – God explicitly warned Israel not to assume that they deserved His gift of the land of Canaan; He drove out the other nations for their wickedness, and He granted the land to Israel despite their stubborn rebellion, to confirm His promise to the Patriarchs.

Deuteronomy 11:21–12:1 – At the beginning and end of this passage God clarified that his promise of land to the Patriarchs and their descendants (Israel) will endure “as long as the heavens remain above the earth”, and “as long as you live on the earth”.  This was despite his warning that if they broke the commandments He was giving them, they themselves would perish quickly from the good land being given them.

Deuteronomy 30:1-5 – The endurance of the promise beyond exile from the land is made explicit here, where God promised that when the people return to their God, He would bring them back to possess the land which their fathers possessed, and multiply them even more than their fathers.

Jeremiah 29:10-14; 30:3 – At the start of the Babylonian exile, Jeremiah wrote to the exiles promising that after seventy years God would fulfil His promise to bring them back to the land from whence they were sent into exile.  30:3 makes it explicit that this promise is the gift of the land to their forefathers.

Jeremiah 31:1-14, 35-40 – After declaring to the distant nations that He would again gather His scattered flock Israel, ransoming them and returning them to their land, God declared that only if the laws of physics are overturned, or the universe is measured, will Israel cease to be a nation before God for all their sin (cf. Jer 33:19-26).

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August 26, 2009

Interpretation of Old Testament prophecy [Israel & New Covenant #1]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 7:37 pm
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Peter declared that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20).  The standard view in the Church today is probably precisely the opposite – ‘every prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation’.  Nowhere is this more true than in discussions on the subject of the place of Israel today.  Political, religious and historical factors converge in a huge storm of controversy, and at the centre is the question of prophecy.

Christians know that God predicts the future, because the whole New Testament insists that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were entirely the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (Mat 26:56; Acts 2:23; Rom 1:1-4; 1 Cor 15:1-4; Heb 1:1-2; etc.).  Jesus believed that all the Old Testament Scriptures were about Him (John 5:37‑47), and after His resurrection He met with His disciples and opened their minds to understand how the Scriptures spoke about Him (Luke 24:25‑27, 44‑47).  This was the good news they proclaimed with such wisdom and authority that the Jewish leaders recognised they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:10‑13; 6:9‑10), and they also taught this message to Jews throughout the known world (Gal 2:7‑9).  Paul received the same insight into the ‘mystery’ of the gospel purely by personal revelation from Jesus; he was not taught it by the disciples, but they recognised that it had truly been given to him by Jesus in order for him to take this message also to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15–2:10; Eph 3:2‑11).

Since that time, the understanding has been almost entirely lost, of how the Old Testament Scriptures themselves “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Messiah Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).  New Testament writers frequently mention aspects of the interpretation of the Old Testament shown to them by Jesus, but without their bigger picture we are left trying to piece together just a handful of the most important jigsaw pieces.  Neither educated nor uneducated believers are now able to interpret the entire vision of the gospel through the Old Testament (Isa 29:11‑12; 42:18‑21); all of us who are waiting for the Second Coming have fallen asleep to the prophecies we hold (Mat 25:1‑13; cf. 5:14‑18; 1 Sam 3:1‑4, 21).  However we can be encouraged that in the days just before Jesus returns to restore all things, “the deaf will hear words of a book, and … the eyes of the blind will see” (Isa 29:17‑18; 43:8‑10; cf. Dan 12:1‑4).

There is no doubt that the Old Testament speaks a huge amount about Jewish people returning from exile to the land promised to Abraham.  However Christians interpret these prophecies in many different ways: (1) they were all fulfilled in the return from Babylon around 500BC; (2) they are being fulfilled today in the return of Jews to the modern state of Israel; (3) they will be fulfilled at some point in the future; (4) they are fulfilled metaphorically / spiritually by the Church; or (5) they will not be fulfilled because God is doing something else now.  Sometimes people apply a combination of these approaches to different prophecies, but ultimately it is all seen as a matter of one’s own interpretation.

One thing Christians do agree on, however, is that any interpretations must be consistent with the New Testament writings; there are verses suggesting that parts of the Old Testament are now ‘obsolete’ (Heb 8:13), and as no-one is really sure which parts are obsolete, it is safer to stick closely to the New Testament.  On the issue of the modern state of Israel, then, one of the most controversial questions is whether the promises of land apply to Jews today.  A common position taken by Christians is that the New Testament does not reaffirm the promise of land found in the Old Testament, and therefore we must assume it is no longer in effect since Jesus ‘fulfilled’ everything.

My intention in this next series of posts is to address this question of prophecy, particularly as it relates to Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) in the time of the new covenant.  I will look at to whom exactly the promise of land was made, what parts of the Old Testament were actually made obsolete by the new covenant, what the New Testament does not say about the promise of land being revoked, what the New Testament does say about the land covenant in detail (Gospels, Acts, Romans, Hebrews), what this teaching means practically for Jews, Palestinians and believers in the land of Israel today, and then how Moses and all the prophets teach exactly the same understanding of Messiah and His return as it relates to the Jewish people and the promised land.  I urge you as you read to examine the Scriptures for yourself to see whether these things are actually so (cf. Acts 17:11‑12).  May the Holy Spirit give us understanding as we consider the wonderful mystery of the gospel.

August 15, 2009

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Filed under: Exegesis,Theology — alabastertheology @ 12:04 pm
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The question of suffering is often one of the biggest problems people have with the idea of an all-powerful and all-loving God.  The testimony of Scripture is that when we look at Jesus we see the face of God.  There are few places better for revealing how Jesus regards suffering than the story of Jesus’ love for Lazarus:

An exposition of John 11:1-45

11:1-3        Lazarus was one of Jesus’ close friends – “he whom You love”.  This was not simply a ‘test case’ to make a theological point; it was a person Jesus truly loved.

11:4-6       Jesus knew beforehand what would happen – foreknowledge.
Jesus also decided not to intervene to prevent Lazarus suffering and dying, even though He loved him.  He chose instead to stay two days longer where He was – Jesus intended for Lazarus to suffer and die, even though He did not cause the suffering.  God is sovereign and completely in control, even in our suffering.

11:7-10      Jesus took a personal risk in returning to address this problem of suffering and involve Himself in the pain, but He knew that acting according to the light of God’s revelation would keep Him from stumbling.  Jesus risked everything to sort out suffering.

11:11-16     Jesus viewed death as “sleep” from which He Himself was able to “awaken” someone – a reversible reality.
Jesus chose not to be there when Lazarus died for the sake of His disciples, in order that they “may believe”.  The absence of the healing presence of Jesus in suffering and death provides an opportunity for faith, which requires the absence of sight.

11:17-20    In pain and grief, much as we appreciate the consolation of friends and colleagues, it is appropriate to go out of our way to seek Jesus.

11:21-22    Martha acknowledged that Jesus would have been able to heal her brother, but even though she did not believe he would be raised from death at that time, she was still able to testify that she knew Jesus to be no less able to heal.

11:23-27    Martha declared her belief that all believers will receive new resurrection bodies on the ‘last day’, the Day of Judgement.
Jesus then reminded her that ‘resurrection’ is not just an event, but a life-giving power that belongs uniquely to Himself – Jesus Himself is the resurrection and the life, life that is accessed through trust in Him.
‘Living’ refers to eternal resurrection Life, and Jesus assured Martha that (1) death is not the end, but is followed by Life; and (2) for believers, that Life will never end again, even on the ‘last day’.  The resurrection life that Jesus offers us is both certain to follow death, and also everlasting in duration.
Jesus challenged Martha to go beyond believing in Jesus’ ability to minister God’s healing, and beyond believing that there would be a resurrection of the righteous at the end of this age, and to believe that Jesus Himself is the resurrection and the life.  She responded with a statement of acknowledgement that Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, and the One who has come into the world from God.  It is important to clarify that the Jesus who is resurrection and life is the same one who is the object of orthodox Christianity.

11:28-31    Jesus ministers and calls to each one who grieves.  He doesn’t leave any out.
Jesus had intended to minister to Mary without the involvement of the comforters.  It is important that the mourner has the opportunity to interact with Jesus on a personal level without the constant presence of comforters.  Even so, it is important to accompany those who are grieving, perhaps especially in situations where the reality of the loss will be more in view.

11:32-33    Jesus is deeply moved in spirit and troubled to witness our personal mourning, but also specifically the grieving of friends and acquaintances.  Jesus never treats grief as unimportant, however near or far the griever may be from the situation.

11:34-36    Jesus invites us to return to the memory of the suffering and loss we have experienced, although His question to the mourners did not require them to do any more than give an address for the cemetery.
When the mourners invited Jesus to accompany them as they confronted the reality of the loss, this response moved Jesus Himself to tears.
Jesus also personally shares our suffering and pain and grief, because He loves us.  The ultimate expression of this is when Jesus chose to enter into our pain-filled world and accompany us in our suffering, even to the point of death.  He is not distant.

11:37-38    Even if we see that Jesus truly loves us in our suffering, it does not necessarily remove our question of why it had to happen in the first place, or the doubt about Jesus’ ability to prevent death.
The issue of a loving and powerful God allowing suffering is one that is asked even by those who are not personally involved in the suffering or followers of Jesus, and Jesus makes no attempt to defend Himself in response to this questioning.  We may not get an answer, but will that stop us from inviting Jesus to come with us into the pain?

11:39-41    The only command Jesus gives to mourners is one that provides an opportunity for faith to manifest itself.  By telling them to remove the stone, Jesus was inviting them to open up their wounds again, for Him.  They had to confront the reality of Lazarus’s suffering and death, and their ongoing pain, by opening his grave to see again his body lying there and the smell made by decomposition.  When Martha protested, the reason Jesus gave was that without faith they would not see the glory of God in this situation.

11:41-42    Jesus had already prayed and received the assurance from His Father that Lazarus would be raised to life.  He needed to do nothing else at that time, and His prayer in front of the tomb was just to reinforce to those watching that God was responding to the request of Jesus.  In the same way, when our pain and suffering is opened up to Jesus, there is nothing then that needs to be done except receive the life that Jesus has already been granted by His Father.  He doesn’t need to be persuaded.

11:43-45        Jesus’ miraculous resurrection of Lazarus was accomplished with just a word, and He not only restored the sisters’ joy, but received glory and faith from the crowds who witnessed it.  After this, all that remained was to free what had been tightly bound.  The suffering and death was not made to be as if it hadn’t happened and put back to the way it had been, but rather those involved were changed on the inside by the greater power of joy and life.  God’s plans were not just to deal with death, but to be glorified as our joy is made complete.  When it is, let us not hold on to the grave-cloths of pain and bitterness, but unwrap them to give glory to our Lord of Life.

August 11, 2009

Priests in early Israel, and the ‘eternal’ covenant with Phinehas

Filed under: History — alabastertheology @ 3:53 pm
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Numbers 25:1-13 and Psalm 106:28-31 describe a covenant that God made with the high priest’s son Phinehas during the lifetime of Moses.  As God used the word ‘eternal’ or ‘perpetual’ to describe this covenant, people have sometimes taken this as evidence that ‘eternal’ covenants don’t necessarily last ‘for ever’, since the people of Israel no longer have priests ministering before the altar.  They then apply this to other covenants such as the ‘everlasting’ possession of the land of Canaan that was promised to Abraham (Genesis 17:7-8).  In order to understand the significance of this particular covenant, therefore, it is important to first get a general understanding of the development of the priesthood following the Exodus from Egypt, according to the Pentateuch and historical books.

Brief summary of priesthood in Israel

Aaron, brother of Moses, was made high priest over the people of Israel (Exodus 28:1), being from the tribe of Levi through Kohath (Exodus 6:16-27) along with Moses.  The tribe of Levi was set apart as a whole tribe (perhaps because of Exodus 32:25-29) to be without inheritance, representing all the firstborn of Israel (Numbers 8:25-26) as the Lord’s portion (Numbers 18:1-24, esp. 20; Deuteronomy 10:9; 18:2).  They served the congregation in the cities of Israel, and served Aaron and his sons who ministered in the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:5–4:49).  Aaron with his four sons – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, Ithamar – were chosen to minister in the holy place of the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:1–29:44), set apart even from the rest of the tribe of Levi, as “the highest among his brothers” (Leviticus 21:10).

Early history of priesthood in Israel

When the Israelites first arrived at Mount Sinai after escaping from Egypt, God told Moses to bring up the mountain with him Aaron, his two oldest sons Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel (cf. Numbers 11), along with Moses’ attendant Joshua, for a meal with the Lord (Exodus 24:1-14).  After that, Moses went further up the mountain for his first forty days meeting with God and receiving the Ten Commandments.  In the meantime, the people of Israel then went to Aaron to make for them a god, since Aaron was Moses’ deputy (Exodus 32:1-6).  On his return Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get out of control (32:35), and so he stood at the camp entrance and called to him those on the Lord’s side.  His own tribe of Levites gathered to him and were sent out to execute 3000 of the worst offenders, perhaps resulting in God’s specific choice of that tribe as His possession (32:26-29).  Moses went back up the mountain for another forty days, starting with seeing God’s glory, and being given the second pair of stone tablets (Exodus 34).  On his return, face shining, he instructed the people about constructing the Tabernacle first (40:17-35), and then instructed them about sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7) and about the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests (Leviticus 8-9; although God had apparently chosen Aaron even before the golden calf incident – Exodus 27:21-28:30 ff.).

Almost immediately after their consecration, however, Nadab and Abihu offered incense in their firepans before the Lord in an inappropriate way, and fire came out from God’s presence to consume them (Leviticus 10:1-3), as would happen later with the Korahites.  Their brothers Eleazar and Ithamar who had also been anointed were not permitted by Moses to outwardly mourn (see 10:4-20; 21:10-12), but Moses understood when they burned the daily sacrifice completely, being unable to eat it as they were meant to.  The laws of atonement for priests and for the community were instituted after Nadab and Abihu’s death (16:1-34).  Nadab and Abihu died without children, so their brothers served with Aaron in their place (Numbers 3:2-4).

The elder of the two remaining sons of Aaron, Eleazar, served as chief of the leaders of Levi as well as chief of the clan of the Kohathites, who were responsible for performing the duties of the sanctuary and looking after its holy contents (3:27-32; 4:16).  After the consecration of the Tabernacle and the priests (Aaron and his sons), the offerings brought to the Tabernacle by the leaders of all the tribes were distributed among the Levitical clans of Gershon and Merari under the oversight of Ithamar, younger brother of Eleazar.  The Kohathites under Eleazar didn’t receive any because of their more holy responsibilities (7:1-9).  This was all within their first year of being in the wilderness, after which they travelled north to spy out Canaan (Numbers 13-14).

The twelve spies returned from the land of Canaan with their report, but the tribes drew back in unbelief and were condemned to wander the wilderness for forty years.  Shortly after this, Korah, who was of the same Kohathite clan within the tribe of Levi as were Aaron and Moses, along with two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, rebelled against God’s choice of Aaron and his family as priests.  As a result, God opened up the ground and swallowed them alive.  The 250 Korahites who had brought censers with incense before the presence of the Lord were consumed with fire that came from His presence (Numbers 16).  Eleazar was then instructed to clean up the censers of those who had died in God’s presence (16:36-40).

Eleazar was given increasing responsibility under Aaron, supervising the creation of holy water from the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19:1-10).  At the end of the forty years wandering, God told Moses to take Aaron and Eleazar up Mount Hor, and there put the high priestly garments of Aaron onto Eleazar to be high priest after him, before Aaron died there on the mountain top (20:22-29).  Eleazar took his father Aaron’s place as Moses’ deputy and high priest (Deuteronomy 10:6), helping him with a census of Israel in the plains of Moab (Numbers 26), as Aaron had done forty years earlier at Mount Sinai.  Eleazar also assisted Moses in making judgements concerning inheritance (27:1-11; 34:17), consulting the Urim and Thummim for Moses and his successor Joshua (27:15-23), and making distribution decisions concerning the spoils of war from the battle with the Midianites (31:12-54).

Phinehas was a son of Eleazar and his wife, one of the daughters of Putiel (Exodus 6:25; Putiel was probably Ethiopian, as ‘Phinehas’ means ‘black-skinned’).  Phinehas joined with the congregation of Israel when they gathered at the doorway of the Tent of Meeting to weep over the immorality and idolatry of the Israelites with the Moabite and Midianite women (Numbers 25:1-18).  A leader of a clan in the tribe of Simeon, Zimri, brought his Midianite mistress Cozbi, daughter of a Midianite clan leader, into his tent publicly in full view of the congregation weeping before the Tent of Meeting.  Seeing this, Phinehas took a spear and ran it through both of them in their tent, averting God’s wrath.

Because of this action of zeal for the glory of God, atoning for the sons of Israel, God told Moses that Phinehas would have a ‘covenant of peace’, for him and his descendants after him, described as ‘a covenant of perpetual priesthood’ (25:12-13).  This terminology of a ‘perpetual priesthood’ was specifically used at the consecration of Aaron and his sons as high priest(s), as seen in Exodus 29:9, 40:15, Numbers 18:8 and Deuteronomy 18:5.  The significance of God’s pronouncement here was that although Phinehas was not yet succeeding his father in the high priesthood, God was at this time decreeing that the succession of the high priesthood would always come from the line of Phinehas son of Eleazar rather than from the other priestly line of Ithamar.

Eleazar remained as high priest throughout the rulership of Joshua (Joshua 17:4; 19:51; 21:1; 24:33), while Phinehas was the one who went off to war against the Midianites with the 12,000 soldiers and with the holy vessels and trumpets (Numbers 31:6; see also Numbers 10:9 and Joshua 22:13, 30-32).  He continued this role in warfare even after he succeeded his father in the high priesthood, presumably ministering at Shiloh (Judges 21:19) even though his family inheritance was apparently at Gibeah in Ephraim (Joshua 24:33).  [This was a different Gibeah from the Benjamite city of Judges 20:14, which was not among the Aaronic Levitical cities allotted in Benjamin (Joshua 21:13-19), although Gibeah in Ephraim is not listed elsewhere among the Levitical cities of Ephraim.]  Phinehas as high priest apparently accompanied the ark of the covenant from Shiloh to Bethel when the armies of the tribes of Israel gathered at Mizpah against the immoral tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19-21), inquiring of God for the people and offering sacrifices.

More than 250 years later, by the time Eli became judge over all Israel at Shiloh, the high priesthood had apparently passed to his father (1 Samuel 2:28, 30) and thence to Eli.  Eli as high priest also judged Israel for forty years, under the domination of the Philistines.  However Eli was of the line of Ithamar rather than Eleazar, as we see from King David’s later distinction between the two Aaronic clans for the sake of temple worship: the line of Ithamar was represented by Ahimelech son of Abiathar son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub son of Phinehas son of Eli (see 1 Samuel 14:3; 22:20; 1 Chronicles 24:6), and the line of Eleazar was represented by Ahimaaz son of Zadok son of (a different) Ahitub son of Amariah (1 Chronicles 6:4-8, 52-53; 24:3).  Although Abiathar initially succeeded his father as high priest for David with the ephod during his wanderings before he was king (1 Samuel 23:6-12), by the time King David brought the ark into Jerusalem he was served by both Zadok and Abiathar representing both clans of Aaron (1 Chronicles 15:11-15).  They both served in an official capacity as David’s priests, heads of the two clans (1 Chronicles 18:16; 2 Samuel 8:17), and remained so under Solomon also (1 Kings 4:4).

However when the ark was brought into Jerusalem, David left Zadok rather than Abiathar in charge of the Tabernacle that was still in Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39-40).  About thirty years later Abiathar supported Adonijah when he had himself proclaimed king in place of his father David (1 Kings 1:7), whereas Zadok submitted himself to David and therefore supported David’s chosen heir Solomon (1 Kings 1:8, 38-39).  Abiathar was therefore dismissed from priestly service by Solomon and returned to his family inheritance at Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26-27), which is said to have fulfilled the prophecy against Eli’s descendants (1 Samuel 2:27-36).  For this reason, by the end of Solomon’s reign, Azariah son of Ahimaaz son of Zadok ministered as the sole high priest (1 Kings 4:2), as did his heirs even until the exile to Babylon (1 Chronicles 6:4-15), fulfilling God’s promise of a perpetual priesthood for Phinehas son of Eleazar.

Thus we see that the ‘eternal’ covenant with Phinehas was specifically related to the inheritance of the high priestly position, using the same technical vocabulary as in other passages about the high priesthood.  This covenant is therefore self-evidently dependent on the larger decree of God for the priesthood in Israel to belong to the tribe of Levi, a decree that has been superseded by the greater decree given to Jesus within the order of Melchizedek, according to Hebrews 7:11-28.  It is even arguable that the Levitical priesthood was only ever a ‘permission’ of God for the Israelites because of their hardness of heart, as suggested by the change from Exodus 19:5-6, because of the people’s reaction in 20:18-21, to the establishment of Moses and his family and tribe in the priesthood in 28:1.  But further explanation of that idea must be left to another post.

Synopsis of Galatians 1–2 and Acts 9–15

Filed under: History — alabastertheology @ 3:12 pm
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Both Galatians and Acts give biographical information about the first twenty years or so of Paul’s life after conversion, the first being autobiographical, and the second record traditionally attributed to Luke.  Not only have people often had difficulty matching up the two accounts, but whatever synopsis one chooses to accept for these will affect how one dates the letter to the Galatians, with knock-on effects for the development of his theology and the history of the Early Church.  What follows is my own attempt to correlate the two accounts:

Gal 1:15-16 – God “was pleased to reveal His Son in me…”

Acts 9:1-19 – Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, blinding, prayer by Ananias, healing, receiving Holy Spirit, water baptism

Gal 1:16 – “… I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood…”

Acts 9:19-22 – Saul was with believers in Damascus for several days, but “immediately” began to preach in the synagogues about Jesus, confounding the Jews there.

Gal 1:17 – “… nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.”

Acts 9:23-25 – Saul’s disciples lowered him in a large basket from the wall of Damascus to escape his enemies.

[gap in record of Saul’s movements in Arabia]

Gal 1:18-19 – “Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”

Acts 9:26-29 – [8:1 describes the significant dispersion that had happened from Jerusalem.]
“When [Saul] came to Jerusalem he was trying to associate with the disciples”, was introduced to “the apostles” by Barnabas, and then moved freely in the city speaking boldly about Jesus under threat of death.

Gal 1:21-22 – “Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.”

Acts 9:30 – “But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus [in Cilicia].”

Gal 2:1-2 – “Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.  According to revelation I went up…”

Acts 11:22-30 – Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch [in Syria] where he taught new believers, leaving to look for Saul in Tarsus.  They returned and spent “an entire year” teaching together, after which Agabus and other prophets came from Jerusalem, prophesying a great famine.  Barnabas and Saul were sent with ‘aid’ to the Jerusalem elders (cf. 12:25).

Gal 2:2-10 – “… and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but in private to those who were of reputation… Recognising the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John …gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship… only asking us to remember the poor – the very thing I was eager to do.”

Acts 12:[1-]25 – John’s brother James was executed by Herod; Peter was imprisoned and then freed by an angel.  When Peter came to the house of Mary mother of John Mark, he urged them to tell “James and the brethren”, and “Then he left and went to another place”.  “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.”

[Thus John, Peter and James are all mentioned in the context of Jerusalem while Barnabas and Saul were visiting in response to a revelation, serving the poor in Judea.  John is not an actor as such in 12:2, but as ‘James’ was a common name, identifying him as the ‘brother of John’  rather than the ‘son of Zebedee’ implies that John was also well-known to the Jerusalem church.]

Gal 2:11-14 – “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing those from the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not walking straightly about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘…’

[It follows from the culmination in Antioch that Paul is writing to the Galatian churches from Antioch, shortly after visiting them (cf. 1:6 – “so quickly”). He doesn’t mention any conclusion to his dispute with Cephas, nor a letter from the Jerusalem apostles and elders to support his case, suggesting he hadn’t yet left Antioch for Jerusalem when he hurriedly wrote to the Galatian churches.]

Acts 13:1–15:2 – Saul [Paul] and Barnabas were set apart by fellow teachers and prophets for the first Galatian mission [Cyprus, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and back again]. “When they arrived [back in Antioch] and gathered the church together, they began to report …how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent not a little time with the disciples. Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.”

[Peter had apparently come to Antioch before the arrival of the teachers from Judea, during that “not a little time” mentioned above.]

[In the following two declarations by Paul and by Peter on Jewish / Gentile believers, notice the following points of contact:
(1)  no distinction between salvation of Jews and of Gentiles

(2)  justified / hearts cleansed by faith not law
(3)  Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit
(4)  we Jews have been found sinners under law
(5)  it amounts to rebuilding and compelling obedience to the law’s yoke which was destroyed through Christ’s crucifixion
(6)  Christ died, expressing the grace of God ]

Paul’s Declaration in Antioch

Gal 2:14-21 – “I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; since by the works of the law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and that which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died needlessly.’”

Peter’s Declaration in Jerusalem

Acts 15:7-11 – “Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that from days of old God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.’”

[It appears that Peter had been convinced by Paul’s arguments, and put them into his own words for the council in Jerusalem.]

This synopsis serves to confirm the early dating for Galatians to the late 40’s AD, written to the south Galatian churches Paul had just established on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).  That would make it the earliest of Paul’s letters we have (before 1 Thessalonians), written less than twenty years after Jesus’ resurrection, and evidence of Paul’s thought on the question of Gentile salvation prior to the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.

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