CH101 - The First CenturyThe Primitive Church - 30 - 100 A.D.
Conversion of the Apostle Paul
In his own words, Paul says "I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it" (Galatians 1:13). On his way to Damascus he was confronted by the risen Jesus in a heavenly vision. According to the three separate accounts in Acts, Saul found himself on the ground, blinded by the intensity of a heavenly light. The risen Jesus gave Saul a commission to "be a light to the Gentiles." After his conversion this Saul was to propel the infant church to fulfill the Great Commission by taking the gospel to the Gentiles.
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."The Apostle Paul: in danger from every side
~ Acts 11:1-3
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians the apostle describes the opposition he continually faced in order to fulfill his call:
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning...in danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters...many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.To understand Paul's letters you must first understand that his entire ministry is forged in conflict. Luke gives us an overview in Acts that shows Paul and his companions being opposed in almost every city, many times being attacked and chased out. Who is opposing Paul?
- 2 Cor. 11:24-27 (emphasis added)
We begin to get an idea of Paul's opposition in Acts 15:1-2, and 5. There are Jews, some Pharisees who have believed, demanding that the Gentiles be circumcised and obey the Laws of Moses. Paul rejects this position and continues to reach Gentiles without pushing the Law on them For the remainder of the Acts record he is chased, beaten, and slandered by Jews. Luke seems to describe these merely as Jews, which leads the casual reader to assume they are persecuting Paul in the same manner as he himself had done as Saul of Tarsus. But when Paul's writings are carefully studied it seems that he describes his primary opposers as pseudo, or false brothers.
In Galatians Paul is on the attack against those who have led Gentiles to circumcise themselves and place themselves under the Law. In Gal 2:11ff he relates an important story of when he confronted Peter over a similar issue. Peter had been sharing table fellowship with Gentiles until "certain men came from James." Paul is referring to James, the brother of Jesus. This is the same James who speaks out and seems to make the final decision at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
This group of early Jewish believers is often referred to as "Judaizers." Why is this important? Paul refers to his struggle with this group in at least five of his letters; thus, to properly read and understand Paul one must recognize the historical backdrop in each Pauline letter. How prevalent is this issue? Here are the letters with the most important texts highlighted.
The entire letter to the Galatian church is Paul's reaction to this issue. Some of these Judaizers had convinced some of the Gentile Galatians to get circumcised. In 2:4 he calls these Jews "false brothers" and:
Mark my words. I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.Paul's most animated words come in this letter in 5:12.
This is a unique letter for Paul in that he has not yet been among this congregation. He is writing this letter to make sure his ideas are clearly presented to the Romans rather than having his opposers misrepresent him. In 14:14-23 he gives his clear stance on unclean meat, one of the issues where he is not in agreement with the decision of the Jerusalem Council.
Other texts where Paul speaks about the Judaizers:
2 Corinthians 11:1-29
1 Timothy 4:1-5
During his conversion experience Paul was commissioned by Jesus to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter and James recognized that calling (Galatians 2:9), and Paul aggressively pursued his calling even though it cost him greatly. The Acts account seems to indicate that the primitive church was not effectively fulfilling the Great Commission until the apostle Paul came on the scene. By the middle of the second century the Christian Church was primarily Gentile.
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