Did Paul Create His Own Version of Christianity?
by Glenn Smith
This is another in a series of questions on the Bible.
Question: In Acts 21, Paul is described as partaking in Jewish rituals to show the Jerusalem Church that he has not strayed from the Law of Moses. Gerd Luedemann takes this as evidence that the early Church was essentially Jewish in nature and thus that there was a division between early Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity. It would seem then that we are given Paul’s version of Christianity which differed from other versions of Christianity.
In reply, there are several points:
First, it is true that in Acts 21 Paul goes to Jerusalem, encounters the church there, and begins a purification ritual. The part of the question that says he did it “to show the Jerusalem Church that he has not strayed from the Law of Moses” is an opinion that is read into the text. The passage simply says that Paul began the ritual; it does not say why he did it. Unfortunately for this question, Paul is arrested before he can finish the ritual, meet with the church, and address the issue…..or at least Luke does not record for us anything else Paul said on the matter before he was arrested.
Second, in the passage, v.21 and v.25 tell us much of what the church leaders were thinking and discussing. It is clear from these two verses that the church leaders in Jerusalem were making a distinction between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. The accusation against Paul was that he was telling the Jewish Christians that it was not necessary to circumcise children nor “walk according to our customs.” In v.25, the Jerusalem church leaders repeat the response given at the church council in Acts 15:21, speaking to Gentile Christians.
Therefore it is clear that the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were from a thoroughly Jewish culture. That their church would reflect such a culture is no surprise. That they had to be corrected by Paul is also no surprise, as shown in Galatians (see below). This only shows that the Jerusalem church, made of primarily Jews and the starting point of the early church, is Jewish. Even today, many Jewish Christian churches still hold to their Jewishness…….they call themselves Jewish, meet on Saturdays, keep Jewish traditions, and have church services which have a distinct Jewish flavor. This is not a division in the church…
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