The Words of the Fefferman Family

Peter and Paul: A Unificationist Perspective on Faith and Law

Dan Fefferman
November 2004
New Hope Family Church (Maryland)

John 13:34-35
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Galatians 2
11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

[Note: Green subtitles refer to new slides in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation]

Peter and Paul –Title Page

This sermon is entitled Peter and Paul: a Unificationist perspective on faith and the law. However, what I really want us to think about here is the issue of unity. The relationship between Peter and Paul – or more generally between Jewish and Gentile Christianity -- is important both as a case study and because it lies at the very foundations of Christian history.

Peter and Paul

Peter and Paul will the two main pillars of Christianity. Their relationship was a stormy one. Paul took a conscientious stand against Peter at Antioch, but in so doing he caused disunity. It does not seem that the conflict was ever fully resolved, and it was symptomatic of the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. The lack of unity between Gentile and Jewish Christianity set an unfortunate pattern in the relationships between various types of Christians throughout history. There are types of new Peters and new Pauls in the present and the future. Each one of us will be a Peter or a Paul on some level. Each of us has Peter-type aspects and Paul-type parts. So the question is: how to unite Peter and Paul without compromising the conscience of either of them.

I have yet many things to say to you…

Because of Jesus’ death, he wasn’t able to teach his disciples everything he wanted to. "I have many things to tell you but you cannot bear them yet," he said shortly before he died. So of course, Jesus couldn’t resolve disputes between the disciples as they came up. The confrontation between Peter and Paul at Antioch was an example of this. Let’s look at the background of episode more closely.

The Jerusalem Church

Until Paul, Christianity was basically a Jewish messianic sect. Its headquarters was Jerusalem. According to the book of Acts, thousands of people joined in that city alone shortly after the Pentecost events. They were virtually all Jews, and even many priests were included. Peter was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem group. However, James seems to have been senior to him. James held the title "The Lord’s Brother." Many scholars believe he was literally Jesus’ brother—either that or his step-brother, half-brother (by an earlier marriage of Joseph, who could have been either divorce or a widower), or possibly a cousin.

Gentile Christianty

Gentile Christianity probably began in Antioch, where many gentiles as well as diasporan Jews became believers. The Antioch church was led by Paul and Barnabas and it was less strict than the Jerusalem church in its attitude toward the law.

Jesus and the Law

What was Jesus’ attitude toward the Law? It is not always easy to know, because the Gospels were not written until after Paul’s letters, probably after the Temple was destroyed and the Jerusalem church ceased to exist. But if we look at the sources we do have, Jesus’ attitude toward the law probably wasn’t extremely radical. He was flexible about the minor commandments, but he was strict about most of the major ones. In the Sermon on the Mount, he doesn’t abrogate the Law. He says you have to go beyond it. "Thou shalt not murder" still holds, but now you have to even love your enemy. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" still holds, but now you shouldn’t even look at a woman lustfully. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" still holds, but now you shouldn’t even need to swear an oath. The one exception seems to have been that according to Jesus, you should NOT obey your father and mother if they stand in the way of your commitment to God’s kingdom.

True, Jesus allowed his disciples to violate the law on occasion. But these were on minor points only – hand-washing before meals, healing on the Sabbath, that sort of thing. As we will see, only the strictest Pharisees would have had a major problem with this.

Shammai and Hillel

Actually, there were two opposing schools of Pharisees in Jesus day. One was led by the broadminded Hillel the Elder. His attitude was fairly liberal. The other was led by the straight-minded Shammai. His teaching was more strict. What were the differences between them?

Shammai came from a rich family. Hillel was so poor that he had to sit on the roof of the synagogue to learn the Torah. Shammai believe in obeying the letter of the law. For example, you must never lie, no matter how much it hurts the other person’s feeling. Hillel said that sometimes it was okay to stretch the truth. An example he gave was that on a bride’s wedding day it is permitted to say "you are beautiful" even if she is actually ugly. Shammai was much more strict about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. But Hillel taught that to do good works such as healing and charity was permissible, even encouraged, on the Sabbath. And the two teachers also differed on the question of how to treat gentiles. The Talmud tells the story of a gentile man who came to Shammai and asked him to teach him the Law while standing on one foot. Shammai was deeply offended at this insolence, grew angry at the man, and used a measuring stick to drive him away. Then the same gentile man went to Hillel. His response was exactly opposite to Shammai’s. He promptly balanced himself on one leg and uttered the famous words: "Do not unto others what is hateful to you. This is the law and the prophets. Now go and study."

Jesus in the Temple

I’ve often wondered whether Jesus might have learned from Hillel when he stayed those three days in the Temple at age 13. Jesus’ attitude toward the Law was similar in many respects to Hillel’s. And "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" certainly sounds like something Hillel would have said.

Pharisees who helped

So not all of the Pharisees would have opposed Jesus. BTW did you know that the NT names three prominent Pharisees as supporters of the Jesus movement, but it names no Pharisee who opposed it? They are: Nicodemus, Joseph of Aramithea, and Gamaliel. All three of them actually defended Jesus or the disciples in front of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council. Gamaliel, by the way, was the grandson of the very Hillel we’ve been discussing. He is also named by Paul as his own teacher. The NT names two prominent Jews who opposed Jesus: Annas and Caiaphas. They were both members of the Sadducees, not the Pharisees. But that is the subject of another sermon!

To summarize, Jesus’ attitude toward the law would not have been shocking to many Jews.

Jesus Summarizes the Law

Listen to the following exchange between an ‘expert in the law’ and Jesus:

Luke 10
25. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

Why did the expert in the Law already know Jesus’ teaching about what we need to do to inherit eternal life? The answer is that it is not just Jesus’ teaching, but was a well known idea. In fact, it is taken directly from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This was not really anything new. What was new about Jesus’ teaching was found in the next question. "Who is my neighbor?" To answer that question, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. And that too is the subject of another sermon!

Jewish Christians

In any case, we can see from this that Jesus’ basic attitude toward the Law wasn’t so radical. He favored a flexible and universalistic approach to the law. In other words, on matters of legal interpretation he was a Hillelite. And the Jerusalem church would have followed Jesus teaching. That is why, according to Acts, so many priests could join. They did not stop being Jews, observing the Law or offering sacrifices in the Temple. What distinguished them from their fellow Jews is that they believed that Jesus was the messiah, and they believed he had risen from the dead.

The Situation in Antioch

Now let’s turn back to Antioch. In that congregation, there were actually more gentiles than Jews. It was a gentile city. The Jewish authorities had little power in Antioch. We don’t hear of any Jewish priests being members of the church there. So the members didn’t need to worry about the Temple authorities. Paul’s personality held great sway. And visits from the Jerusalem church were probably infrequent. A big question for gentile followers of Jesus was: "which of the Jewish laws do we need to follow, and which don’t apply to us?" Some of the Jerusalem group said that these gentiles would need to become Jews. They would need to be circumcised and raise their children as Jewish believers in Jesus. Of course, this was a major stumbling block to new converts. This was the context in which Paul began to think and write about the relationship between the Law, faith and God’s grace. Paul strongly opposed the idea that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and obey the entire Jewish law.

The Jerusalem Council

The split between Paul and the stricter Jewish faction—known today as the Judaizers—resulted in a conference between Paul, Peter and James in Jerusalem. As a result, James decided on a compromise solution. Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be baptized and join the church. However, they did need to obey the moral laws against murder and adultery, they should not be involved idol worship, nor should they eat food that had been offered to idols, and they should obey the Jewish dietary law against eating uncooked meat.

The Decision of James

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15: 19-20)

Table Fellowship

This compromise worked well for a while. But there were still unresolved issues. The one I want us to focus on is the issue of table fellowship. According the strict tradition, Jews were not supposed to sit at the same table with gentiles. Peter, Paul and Barnabas ignored this tradition in Antioch. They mingled freely with the gentile Christians, especially during the Sabbath meals, which may have involved a type of communion celebration.

Then one day a delegation of "Judaizers" came from Jerusalem. Paul calls them "men from James." This group wanted to keep the tradition of separate tables for Jews and gentiles. Paul hated the idea, of course. And Peter was caught between Paul and the "men from James." He decided it would be best not to offend them, so he withdrew from the gentiles and ate separately with the men from James. That is when Paul "opposed him to his face," accusing him of hypocrisy.

Paul’s Gospel of Grace

Throughout the rest of his career, Paul wrote and taught against the "Judaizers" and emphasized the idea that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek." His Gospel emphasized that no one can live righteously. The law does not save us, but convicts us of our sin. Therefore salvation cannot come merely from trying to live righteously—regardless of what Jesus may have taught above about what we need to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus did not come primarily as a teacher of righteousness but as a sacrifice, sent by God to die on the cross for our sins. It is only by faith in God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice that we can be saved and live eternally.

Paul’s Later Career

As we all know, Paul founded many churches, and his teaching became very influential in among the gentile churches. He continued to fight strongly against the Judaizers, and in so doing the rumor spread that he was even teaching JEWS as well as gentiles that they should no longer live as Jews in any respect. This, however, does not seem to be the case. Near the end of his ministry, Paul traveled throughout his churches collecting money to bring as an offering to Jerusalem. When he finally arrived there, this is how he was greeted by the leaders of the Jerusalem church:

"You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law."(Acts 20)

It was while Paul was making this act of public atonement that he was arrested by the Temple authorities and imprisoned. As a Roman citizen he appealed to Rome and was eventually executed under Roman law.

Pauline and Jewish Christianity

Jewish Christianity continued to be a strong force in Jerusalem until 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army and the Jews were forced into exile. During this period, Pauline Christianity continued to spread in the churches outside of Judea. No Jewish Christian literature survives. However, many of Paul’s letters have come down to us and form the foundation of New Testament literature in general. Jewish Christians were scattered after the destruction of the Temple, and Pauline Christianity became the dominant Christian culture. Christian Judaism was declared heretical in the second century AD. By the fourth century, Emperor Constantine declared at the Council of Nicea that "we should have nothing in common with the Jews." From that point on, one could be either a Jew OR a Christian, not both. Jews had to decide either to forsake their ancestral traditions to remain Christians, or to forsake Christianity and go back to traditional Judaism.

Christ’s Family Divided

I believe that the expulsion of Jewish believers from the Christian church represented the first step in a tragic trend of rejecting the inclusivist principle in favor of maintaining "orthodoxy" by excluding those with divergent beliefs and practices. Of course, it was necessary to exclude some beliefs and practices. But did the church really need to exclude all of those whom it did?

Heresies of the Early Church

Beside the Jews, another group that the church excluded were the Gnostics. They believed in the masculinity/femininity of God, the femininity of the Holy Spirit, the potential divinity of all people, and many other concepts that many of us would accept. However, some of them seem to have practiced sexual libertinism, believed in reincarnation, and considered the flesh so evil that they denied Jesus had a physical body. Was it possible for the church to accommodate more of the Gnostic tradition than it did?

Then there was Montanism, which believed in progressive revelation and that God used both male female prophets as well as (male) bishops and priests. This movement, too was excluded as heresy. In the fourth century came Arianism, and the Church actually divided over the question of whether Jesus was exactly the "same substance" as the Father of whether the term "like substance" was acceptable. It would be interesting to know more about the teachings of these and other "heresies," but unfortunately the books of these people were banned, burned and are now lost to history.

And so it continued throughout the ages up to the present day.

Neither either/or but Both/AND

Is it truly necessary to exclude those we disagree with? Or can we find a way to live together so that it is not always a question of "either/or" but "both/and?" Not all conflicts can or should be avoided I think, but we can surely do better in getting to a win-win solution than we have done in the past.

Peter and Paul today

What are some instances of the Peter/Paul principle in our movement today? How about the question of whether Unification culture should be basically Korean or basically western? Or the question of whether we need to be obedient primarily to our leaders or to our consciences? Another example is the tradition of appealing to white conservatives through such institutions as the Washington Times vs. the tradition of working with black ministers and muslims through the ACLC. Related to this is the struggle to find a Middle East Peace Initiative that succeeds in meeting the both the need for security for Israel AND the need for justice for the Palestinians. And to take it to the most general level: "How to find the right balance between ‘living for others,’ and taking responsibility for the health and welfare of ourselves and our individual families?

Jesus said:

"A new command I give you: ‘Love one another.’ As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Let us pray.

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