Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Who were ‘those of The Circumcision’?

Who were ‘those of The Circumcision’?

In Acts 10, Acts 11, and Galatians 2, it is clear that both Peter and Paul had problems with ‘those of The Circumcision’:

Acts 10:45  Those of The Circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

Acts 11:2  When Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of The Circumcision contended with him,

Galatians 2:12  Before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of The Circumcision.

Who were ‘those of The Circumcision’?….and What was the problem?

‘Those of The Circumcision’ were the inheritors of the Rabbinic doctrine of Circumcision that had been promulgated by the famous Rabbis Hillel and Shammai in about 50BCE, almost 100 years before the disputes in Acts and Galatians.

The specific ruling that Hillel and Shammai made is noted in the Talmud in Shabbat 133a concerning Hatafat Dam Brit, Drawing the blood of the Covenant:

I have copied and pasted the ruling from the Mishnah as follows:


2.      UNCOVER THE CORONA  -  Per’iah - splitting the membrane and pulling it down
3.      SUCK THE WOUND  - Mezizah, AND


Note: HALUK  - A kind of shirt-shaped bandage placed over the membrane and tied at the corona, in order to prevent the flesh from growing back and recovering the membrane.

In the quotation from the Talmud there are 4 separate steps of which only step 1 is Biblically commanded.  Steps 2, 3, and 4 were added by Hillel and Shammai.
One of the reasons for the extra requirements was Greek athletes competed naked. Jews who wanted to compete tried to cover their circumcision by drawing the membrane back over the corona and thereby disguising their Jewish identity. The Rabbis decreed the additional steps 2,3, & 4 in order to prevent this practice.

However, the prevention of Jewish athletes obscuring their nationality was not the cause of the disputes in Acts and Galatians between Peter and Paul on one side and ‘those of The Circumcision’ on the other.

The dispute was about salvation, and the dispute came to a head in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.1:

Certain men (of those of The Circumcision) came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

The phrase according to the custom of Moses is a common Hebrew idiom that means ‘as the Rabbis have ruled’.

The certain men (of those of The Circumcision) had been taught by their Rabbis, and they fervently and obediently believed that a person could not be saved unless they were circumcised in accordance with the 4 steps of circumcision as proscribed in the Mishnah, Shabbat 133a.

The certain men (of those of The Circumcision) of Acts 15.1 were supported in Acts 15.5 by some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed who rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Torah of Moses

So we have certain men of those of The Circumcision together with some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed on one side, and we have Peter and Paul together with their supporters on the other side. The only sensible solution was to bring the dispute to the apostles and elders about this question.
                 When there had been much dispute, Peter spoke to them in Acts 15.7-11.

Peter’s speech carried the day, and resolved the dispute. He made 4 telling, persuasive points:
1.      God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them (the Gentiles) by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and
2.      made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
3.      Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
4.      But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.’

Point 1 refers to Acts 2 and the dramatic events of the Day of Pentecost when suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Point 2  refers to the visit of Peter to Cornelius in Acts 10 when Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.’ Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.’

Point 3 refers to the yoke (of all the Rabbi’s extra laws) which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear…..including the extra laws introduced by Hillel and Shammai concerning circumcision.

Point 4 refers to the salvation available through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which required a new believer simply to:
1.     Accept the God of Israel and trust in the finished work of Jesus at His Crucifixion and Resurrection
2.     Reject all pagan practices and beliefs.
3.     Accept God’s instructions in how to live and behave as set out in the Torah of Moses
4.     Be baptized as a public affirmation of 1,2, and 3.

These 4 points resolved the dispute once and for all….or so everybody thought.  Unfortunately, as a result of centuries of misunderstanding of Acts 15 by the Gentile Church, much of the dispute ligers on.  How sad!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Circumcision of the flesh or the heart?

In the last Blog on Hebrew Idioms I identified the specific idiom in:

Jeremiah 4.4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts,  
which means to commit yourelves and commit yourselves fully, and noted that physical circumcision is a physical mark of commitment to the LORD. Therefore, the ‘circumcision’ of other parts of the body is used as an idiom that symbolises commitment to the LORD.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, and explained to them what circumcision really means, in the light of a proper understanding of the Hebrew idiom and, particularly, Jeremiah 4.4.

I have inserted in brackets explanatory additions that show how Paul contrasted 1. the physical mark of circumcision with 2. circumcision of the heart. The failure to understand Paul’s contrast has led to centuries of pain and enmity:

Romans 2:25-29:
For (the physical mark of) circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the Torah; but if you are a breaker of the Torah, your circumcision (physical mark of commitment) has become uncircumcision ….

as the Habakkuk 2.16 described: You are filled with shame instead of glory. …be exposed as uncircumcised! (= with no commitment to the LORD)

Therefore, if a (physically) uncircumcised man (a Gentile) keeps the righteous requirements of the Torah, will not his (physical mark of) uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? (= commitment to the LORD)

And will not the (physically) uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Torah, judge you who, even with your written code and (physical mark of) circumcision, are a transgressor of the Torah?

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision (commitment to the LORD) that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision (commitment to the LORD) is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Following on from his explanation in Romans 2, Paul explains in Romans 4 how Abraham is the father of faith and commitment to the LORD to both Jews and Gentiles who walk as Abraham walked….and as the Apostle John wrote in 1John 2.6: who walk just as Jesus walked.

Again, I have inserted in brackets the explanatory additions:

Romans 4:11-12:
Abraham received the sign of (physical) circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still (physically) uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all those who believe. Although they are (physically) uncircumcised, righteousness might be imputed to them also.
Therefore, Abraham is the father of circumcision (commitment to the LORD) to those who not only are of the (physical) circumcision,(= Jews) but also those who walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still (physically) uncircumcised.(= Gentiles)

Paul highlights and explains the same contrast in his Letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, and the Colossians.  It seems that the misunderstanding was common to all the new believers!!:

1Corinthians  7:19:
(The physical mark of) circumcision is nothing and (the lack of the physical mark of) uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the Commandments of God (The Torah of commitment to the LORD) is what matters.

Galatians 5:6:
In Christ Jesus neither (the physical mark of) circumcision or (the lack of the physical mark of) uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Colossians 2:11:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

…..because, as the Prophet Jeremiah explained in Jeremiah 4.4:
You have circumcised (= committed) yourselves to the LORD, and taken away the foreskins of your hearts, (= totally and fully committed yourselves to the LORD) 

So…which is more important - the physical mark of circumcision of the flesh, or the spiritual mark of circumcision of the heart?  

The answer is that without circumcision of the heart, the circumcision of the flesh is meaningless!!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Hebrew Idioms

An idiom is an expression, a term, or a phrase  whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through the conventional use of a specific language.

Every language in the world has developed idioms that are only understood in its own language.  The following examples are specific to the English language:
·                to feel under the weather
·                to have egg on your face
·                to read between the lines
·                to rain cats and dogs
·                to be all in the same boat
·                to have a bone to pick with someone
·                to go for a burton

If we tried to understand these idioms literally we would have to conclude that they are absolute nonsense. However, as idioms they make sense either in giving a graphic image of a situation, or in referring to a particular English custom:

·                to stage a boycott refers to an incident in 1880 named after Captain Boycott
·                to be as bold as brass refers to a magistrate called Brass Crosbyin 1770
·                to toe the line refers to the line drawn between the opposing front benches
         in Parliament
·                to use your loaf  means to use your head or intelligence. Its origin is the
         cockney rhyming slang for ‘head’ which is ‘loaf of bread’.

The Bible is no different, and it contains many idioms. It is  important to be on the lookout for idioms in order not to misunderstand a phrase by interpreting it  literally.

10 Hebrew idioms that could be misunderstood if read literally:
1. 1 Samuel 10:9   When Saul had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart;   
Meaning: God changed his mind

2. Psalm 75.5 Do not lift up your horn on high; do not speak with a stiff neck.’    
Meaning: Do not rebel

3. Isaiah 57.4    Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue?  
Meaning: do you sneer  

4. Jeremiah 4.4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts,  
Meaning: Commit yourselves and commit yourselves fully

Note that physical circumcision is a physical mark of commitment to the LORD….and, therefore, the ‘circumcision’ of other parts of the body is used as an idiom that symbolises commitment to the LORD, or the lack of commitment to the LORD, as in:

Ezekiel 44:9  Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary,

Habakkuk 2:16  You are filled with shame instead of glory. …be exposed as uncircumcised!

Acts 7:51  You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!

Acts 11:3  You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!

5. Jeremiah 6.10  Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot give heed.
Meaning: Indeed they do not listen

6. Matthew 5.29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; 
Meaning:  If your decision or your will
Note that this idiom must NOT be taken literally, as some enthusiasts have done over the centuries.

7. Matthew 8.21      Another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 
Meaning:  collect my inheritance. The disciple obviously considered that he could not afford togive up his day job and follow Jesus....until his father died and he inherited enough cash!

8. Matthew 16.19   Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven
Meaning:  to forbid and to allow

9. Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 
Meaning: The Ancient Hebrew pictographs for ‘hate’, ‘sane’, are a thorn and a seed. A thorn is the seed of a plant with small sharp points, which causes one to turn direction to avoid them.  Therefore, in the Bible, ‘to hate someone’ really means ‘to avoid them’, as in the following two examples:

Genesis 29.31  When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, ’sane’, hated/avoided
Amos 5:15       Hate ‘sane’ evil, love good;  =  Avoid dysfunction, be committed to function

10. Luke 23:42   Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.
Meaning:  intercede for me (as my Advocate with God)   

So…remember to check the meaning of odd phrases, because they might be Hebrew idioms…..and if they are not understood correctly, you might  have egg on your face!!!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Why did Jesus 'write on the ground' in John 8.6?Part1

Why did Jesus ‘write on the ground’?

John 8.6 Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger as though He did not hear.  

What an odd thing to do in the middle of an aggressive challenge from the Scribes and Pharisees.   Why did He do such an odd thing?

The answer is in the Old Testament.  There is a reference to almost all that Jesus did and spoke in the Old Testament.  There has to be because it was the Old Testament that proved His claim to be the Messiah. 

The Prophet Jeremiah gives us the answer to His action:
Jeremiah 17.13  O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be ashamed. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, The Fountain of Living Waters.

On the previous day Jesus had made His startling announcement to the crowd on the Temple Mount:

John 7.37-52 On the last day, that great day of the Feast (of Tabernacles), Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of Living Water."

However, His announcement was not received with universal acclaim because:
Many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet." Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?……So there was a division among the people because of Him.

The Scribes and Pharisees took the view that enough was enough, and that it was time to arrest Jesus:
Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?" The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!"

There is no doubt that the ruling group of Scribes and Pharisees had rejected Him, and forsaken the LORD, as the Prophet Jeremiah wrote.

Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?

Jesus, who was Himself The Fountain of Living Waters had offered the people rivers of Living Water…..but His offer was rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus symbolized their rejection of Him by stooping down and writing on the ground with His finger.

The aggressive response to His confirmation of Himself as Messiah was rooted in their fear and anger that their authority was being challenged. Therefore, Jesus wrote on the ground….as though He did not hear.

His action of ignoring them, as though He did not hear, was in fulfilment of Psalm 66.18 and Isaiah 59.2:

Psalm 66.18   If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear.

Isaiah 59.2   Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.

How did the Scribes and Pharisees react?

Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.

They knew their Scriptures, and would have recognised the reference that Jesus made to Jeremiah 17.13, that those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD.

They would also have recognised why He seemed not to hear, because they were regarding iniquity in their hearts.

They were convicted by their conscience, and so there was only one thing for them to do… to go out one by one.

BUT….there was another option for them. The very next verse, Jeremiah 17.14, is His offer of redemption:
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.  

How tragic that they rejected every offer that He made....

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Who is the 'one new man' of Ephesians 2.15? Part5

The First Route to enabling Jewish and Gentile believers to become the ‘one new man’ of Ephesians 2.15 must be that the authority of Tradition is accepted ONLY on the basis that it agrees with, and is consistent with, the authority of the Bible.

Is this a likely possibility?  Probably not.
Why?  Because the leadership of ALL Christian denominations and ALL the separate groups in Judaism depend and rely on their Traditions to bolster and support their authority.

Remember the quotation from the Council of Trent:
It is clear, therefore, that Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others…..
And the comment of Maimonides that:
God did not permit us to learn from the Prophets, but only from the Rabbis who are men of logic and reason.

The Second Route is, therefore, presented with some difficulty!  This route depends for its success on the leaders of Christianity and Judaism accepting The First Route, and agreeing together the implications of The First Route…..so that  the whole building, being joined together, grows into a Holy Temple in the LORD.

Since this is so unlikely, it seems that we must wait for Jesus to return and effect the change Himself.

When He arrived the first time, His teaching resulted in such a response from the people that ‘myriads believed’.  In fact, there were so many believers in 62 AD that the pressure for change in the Rabbinic leadership was overwhelming. So much so that the leaders asked the LORD’s brother, James, who was the leader of the believers, to renounce Jesus as Messiah.  When he refused to do so, he was murdered:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said:
"We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they are gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all who have come hither for the day of the Passover, concerning Jesus. For we all listen to thy persuasion; since we, as well as all the people, bear thee testimony that thou art just, and showest partiality to none. Do thou, therefore, persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus: for all the people, and we also, listen to thy persuasion. Take thy stand, then, upon the summit of the Temple, that from that elevated spot thou mayest be clearly seen, and thy words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the Passover, all the Tribes have congregated hither, and some of the Gentiles also."

To the Scribes' and Pharisees' dismay, James boldly testified that Christ "Himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven."

The Scribes and Pharisees then said to themselves, "We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him."

Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5.

The prospect of any current leader in Christianity or Rabbinic Judaism taking the same course of action as James seems most unlikely!!

In conclusion….we must wait for His return, The Second Coming, before the whole building, being joined together, grows into a Holy Temple in the LORD.

In the meantime, small pockets and groups of believers are beginning to experience to joy and fulfilment of becoming ‘one new man’…