Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


I try to write everyday. Needing inspiration, not always provided by my coffee, I turn to the Quote of the Day. Today’s Quote by Robert Heinlein, is not particularly inspiring for a writer: “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” However, Today’s Gospel reading does do the trick. The devil quotes scripture. In fact, during the first century, the debates were about scripture including the meaning thereof. That the New Testament contains a number of scriptural references to circumcision is an indication that the subject of circumcision was still hotly contested at the time of the publication of each of the passages in question.[i]

Luke 1:59-60 Circumcision of John the Baptist.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zecheriah, but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."

Luke 2:21-39. Circumcision of Jesus.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

John 7:21-24 Jesus teaches at the feast.
Jesus said to them, "I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. Yet because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment."

Christiansen has something to say which provides some possible insight into the circumcision passages we read in the Acts of the Apostles, although admittedly she is discussing the Book of Jubilees. Christiansen states: “For a symbol to qualify as sign of belonging, visibility is vital, because a clear and visible sign of belonging, taking the form of an act of confession, or a rite of affirmation of belonging, is the obvious way to express what status one has within a group or society. In the context of Jubilees this visibility can be found particularly in circumcision, and to a certain degree in the celebration of festivals, either weekly Sabbath, or the yearly seasonal feasts.”[ii] Luke notes that Paul “was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”[iii] Luke also reports that Paul shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem made what Christiansen would call “a rite of affirmation of belonging”.

Acts 21:17-25 Paul's Arrival at Jerusalem
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They 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 their customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses so they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."

The Galatians agitators also quoted scripture but we do not have the full report of the debate and thus need to reconstruct the theological argument advanced by them. Undoubtedly they relied heavily upon the Book of Jubilees. According to Jub. 15, circumcision is the eternal covenant showing the circumcised belong to the Lord.[iv] The Galatians agitators must have relied upon Genesis 17:9-14, Jub. 15:25-34 and the Maccabean tradition. If circumcision was an identity marker of the covenant people that the people must maintain so as to avoid being uprooted from the land,[v] why then was James able to put forth a compromise solution that was acceptable. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was conducted outside of the Land of Israel. The significance of this fact has not been appreciated. Covenant identity, election and associated laws and ordinances do not apply outside Israel.[vi]

The fact that the debates occurred inside and outside Israel is perhaps indicative that the boundary markers had not been firmly set. Nonetheless, the geographical separation between Paul’s mission and the Land of Israel soon led to a divisive separation of mission and people. We just do not know when.

[i] Also, Romans 2:25-28; 3:28-31; 4:9-12; Galatians 2:1-5; 5:1-12; 6:12-15; I Corinthians 7:17-20; Ephesians 2:11-13; Phillipians 3:1-11; Titus 1:10-16.
[ii] Christiansen, 97.
[iii] Acts 20:16.
[iv] Jub. 15:26.
[v] Jub. 15:28.
[vi] Christiansen, 92.

copyrighted 2005


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