Thursday, May 21, 2009

Judiasers and Miscegenation

I have added something to my earlier post on North Idaho Racism Again, interacting with an objection about the Judiasers. I will repeat my comments here because the issue is relevant beyond the confines of this specific debate, since the conflict with the Judiasers is frequently misunderstood by Protestants.

It has been alleged that I completely missed the point about the Judaisers. [Technically, a Judaiser is a Gentile who is trying to become a Jew, that is, to Judaise, although the term is popularly used to denote the Jewish agitators who tried to get Christians to Judaise. It is in the second sense that I am using the term]
As one person argued after reading my article, the ruling of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 did not rule that the ethnoi were abolished (which I never claimed anyway), that there were no longer sovereign peoples or any other such humanist fantasy. Rather, this person argued that they ruled that the Gentiles categorically did not need to be assimilated or homogenized into the Judaisers’ idea of a universal empire. The council recognized the ethnic and cultural sovereignties of the Gentiles (Japhethites) and demanded that the Judaizers in the Church leave them alone, respecting their distinctions and their boundaries.
I think this objection misses the point. It is anachronistic to say that the Judiasers’ were proto-postnationalists pushing for a borderless polyglot. Rather, they were simply good Jews who were doing business as usual, as it had always been done under the Old Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, Gentiles could come into the covenant but not as Gentiles, they had to first convert to Judiaism. When the Lord restructured the covenant around Jesus, faith in Christ (as evidenced by the covenantal sign of baptism) replaced circumcision as the visible sign of entry into the covenant community. But the Judiazers didn’t like that. They wanted things to just carry on as they always had done in the Old Testament period. Under the Old covenant, if a Gentile wanted to join the covenant community, he had to get circumcised and begin living like a Jew. The Christian Judiasers were carrying on with this practice. The Judiasers failed to realise the newness of the good news. Even though Christ had died and risen from the dead, and even though the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles as Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48 and 15:8), the Judiasers continued with ‘business as usual.’ They said, ‘Yes, it’s fine for Gentile believers to become one of us, but they have to first go through the same process that proselytises have always had to go through. They must get circumcised and start keeping the Torah of Moses.’
The Judiasers’ vision of God’s covenant would have been the correct view had it not been for Jesus work in radically restructuring of the covenant around himself. They came on the scene too late in redemption history and the good news they were preaching was old news and therefore not good.
When the Judiasers told people they had to get circumcised and come under the law (Torah) in order to be justified, it wasn’t a matter of trying to earn your salvation. In the Old Testament, keeping the Torah never meant living perfectly by every command. Consider Zechariah who, despite being a sinner, was said by Luke to have walked blamelessly in all the Lord’s commandments. As Olliff points out in his article '
Looking for Legalism', the claim about Zechariah isn’t a claim that he didn’t sin. Rather, such a statement was possible because the text is not referring to law keeping in the abstract. It is referring to faithfulness within the context of the covenant. And the covenant itself had the sacrificial system whereby sin could be dealt with by faithful people. So when Zechariah (or someone else) sinned, he remained obedient to the commandments by sincerely availing himself of the sacrificial system. Thus, to keep the law meant faithfulness to the covenant. That faithfulness was expressed by entering into the basic structure that defined this people over and against the Gentiles, availing oneself of the atonement system, living by the Mosaic ceremonial codes, being separate from the Gentiles, and of course availing oneself of the covenantal sign (circumcision). All these points can be found in the Old Testament. The problem with the Judiasers was simply that they were no longer living in the Old Testament.
It is against this backdrop that Paul's emphasis on Christian freedom can be understood. Freedom throughout the epistle to the Galatians simply refers to the freedom for Gentile Christians to stay as Gentile Christians, and not to have to become Jews in order to belong to the people of God.
If this reading of the controversy is correct (and those who are unconvinced should check out THIS and THIS and THIS resource), then notice what follows. The anti-thesis between the Judiasers vs. Paul and the Jerusalem council, is not the antithesis between those who wanted to preserve the ethnoi vs. those who wanted to obliterate it. Nor was the conflict between those who advocated Babylonian-style empire vs. those who didn’t, but between two different visions of God’s covenant and how to enter it. Those ways of reading the controversy are just as anachronistic as the post-reformation idea that the conflict was between those who advocated a works-based soteriology vs. those who were contending for a grace-based soteriology (after all, hadn't salvation always been by grace, even under the old covenant?). Rather, the conflict hinges on two different ways of answering the question “How do you define the people of God?” Both groups believed in an expanding the covenant and both groups could assert that God’s plans were international, but whereas the Judiasers said that the Gentiles had to stop being Gentiles and enter the covenant through the door of conversion to Judaism, Paul asserted that faith in Christ was the only requirement.
In his brilliant lecture, ‘Justification, Trinity and Catholicity’, Rich Lusk comments on some of the deeper issues involved in Peter’s actions. He says,
“We in the reformed world have been blind to the real issue in this passage which clearly centres around table fellowship. See, to eat a meal together in scripture is a covenantal act. It is an act of covenant bonding. When Peter ate with Gentile believers, he was acknowledging them as fellow members of the covenant community. He was acknowledging that apart from the Mosaic law, apart from living Jewishly, that these gentiles had right standing in the covenant. He was recognising their status as fellow sons of Abraham. Thus, by later withdrawing from table fellowship with those Gentile Christians, he was calling their covenant status into question. They were excommunicated practically speaking so far as Peter was concerned. They were out of table communion or table fellowship with him. By eating only with Jewish Christians, Peter was compelling the Gentile Christians to live as Jews, to submit themselves to the Torah of Moses. In other words, his action suggested that justification, which in this context has to be understood covenantally – right standing with the covenant – his action suggested that justification could not be obtained apart from Judaism – that is to say, apart from a Jewish form of life.
“Peter divided believers into two categories: there were Gentiles who believed in Jesus as Messiah but were now, because of Peter’s action, on the outside looking in, excluded from table companionship with the apostle. And then there were Jewish believers who, yes, believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but in addition to that maintained a Jewish way of life according to the customs of Torah. It was precisely this action of dividing the church into haves and have-nots, into first class and second class citizens in the kingdom, that drew forth Paul’s harsh rebuke. See Peter failed to understand the newness of the good news, that through Christ’s death the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile had been taken down, that the new age inaugurated by the Messiah brought about the fulfilment of all the prophetic promises – all the prophetic hope – which pointed towards the inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles in the Israel of God. Peter failed to come to grips with the way the way the death and resurrection had reconfigured the covenant community so that in Christ one’s heritage as a Jew or Gentile or one’s social status as a bond servant or a free man or one’s gender as a man or woman, had no baring whatever on one’s status or standing within the covenant community. Peter was trying to turn back the clock of redemption history, seeking to live BC in an AD world. He was clinging to features of the old age such as circumcision and the dietary laws, features of the old world order that, yes, were God-given, but now fulfilled their God given purpose in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So by dividing the communion table Peter was tearing Christ into pieces. Peter was denying catholicity."
This backdrop makes sense of Paul’s criticisms of Peter that he recounts in Galatians. In Galatians 2:13, Paul called Peter a hypocrite. This is because Peter had stopped living like a Jew yet was now requiring (if only by implication) that Gentiles begin to live like Jews. In what way had Peter begun to “live like a Gentile”? Well, recall what happened to Peter in Acts. In Acts 10, Peter had a strange vision where the Lord lowered down a net filled with unclean animals and told Peter to eat. It is significant that unclean animals were used to represent unclean people, since the reason God gave for the clean/unclean distinction was in order that His people might be separate from the rest of the nations (Lev. 20:22-26). This vision was God’s way of telling Peter that things had now changed: Gentiles believers are now welcome into the covenant community as Gentiles (always before they had been welcome provided that they convert to Judaism and become ritually clean according to Mosaic law). Always before it had been unlawful for a Jew to keep company, much less eat, with a Gentile. As Peter said to Cornelius, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts. 10:28) The consequence of this is that Peter begins eating with Gentiles, to the great astonishment of the Jews (“’You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’” Acts 11:3). But not only does Peter stop observing the clean/unclean distinctions, being, like Paul, “convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself” (Rom. 14:14), but Peter also insisted that Gentile converts not be made to submit to the ceremonial laws of Moses. As Peter had said in response to the Judiasers, “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?” (Acts. 15:10) Peter was not referring merely to circumcision when he said that, since circumcision by itself was not a yoke that was difficult to bear; nor is Peter referring to the yoke of God’s moral law, as if an age of antinomianism was now being ushered in; nor is Peter referring to the yoke of trying to earn one’s salvation, since that was not the issue with the Judiasers. Rather, Peter was referring to the need to follow the ceremonial customs of Moses, with the elaborate instructions for cleanliness that involved. This is because the Gentiles have been purified (made clean) through Christ. As Peter said in Acts 15:8-9, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” Peter appealed to the fact that the Holy Spirit came upon Gentiles living as Gentiles and not as Jews, as the final proof of this new work. Given all of this background, we can begin to understand why Paul called Peter a hypocrite when he began to separate himself from Gentile believers and demand that Gentile converts start living like Jews.
Tom Wright puts it like this in his book on justification:
'We are Jews by nature,’ he writes, ‘and not ‘Gentile sinner’ (2:15). That last phrase is a technical term: ‘lesser breeds,’ as it were, ‘outside the law.’ It represents, as do the boasts catalogued in Romans 2:17-20, what Paul knew to be a standard Jewish attitude rooted of course in the scriptures themselves. He is talking about ethnic identity, and about the practices that go with that. And he is about to show that in the gospel this ethnic identity is dismantled, so that a new identity may be constructed, in which the things that separated Jew from Gentile (as in Ephesians 2:14-16) no longer matter. This, and only this, is the context in which we can read the famous and dense verse 2:16 with some hope of success.
Despite the fact that ‘we are Jews by nature [i.e. by birth], not Gentile sinner,’ ‘we nevertheless know’, he says, ‘that a person is not justified by works of the law’. Here it is: the first statement of the Christian doctrine of justification by faith. Or rather, the first statement of its negative pole, that one cannot be justified by works of ‘the law’ – which, by the way, for Paul always means ‘the Jewish Law, the Torah’.... The force of the statement is clear: ‘yes, you are Jewish, but as a Christian Jew you ought not to be separating on ethnic lines’....
The context and argument of Galatians 3:1-4.11, like that of 2:11-21, is all about God’s strange but single plan for the family of Abraham, now accomplished in the apocalyptic events of the faithful Messiah’s death and resurrection, generating a single family who are characterized by faith, and who through baptism have left behind their old solidarities to discover their inheritance as Abraham’s children, God’s children.
It is only with this backdrop in place that we can draw the types of applications that I was urging, which have as much to do with our ecclesiology as our soteriology since it gives credence to a healthy sense of ecumenicism (or 'catholicity' since I have found that Americans associate the term 'ecuminical' with syncretism and liberal views of salvation) by demolishing all the man-made barriers that otherwise divide the people of God. Specifically, if it was wrong for the Judiasers and Peter to divide the table between two types of Christians (Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians), then it is wrong for us to divide the table between white Christians and black Christians, which is the functional result of arguing against churches of mixed race even if it is still acknowledged that both races can be saved. Such functional division of table fellowship is also the logical corollary of arguing against marriage of mixed race, an argument which is developed HERE. It is also the functional result of the kinds of pejorative views of blacks that are necessary attendant to arguing that black and white moral categories transfer over to skin colour.
Since writing the above article, someone left a comment on my facebook charging me with inconsistency. My friend has got so concerned about my inconsistency and my views on race that he accused me of an "eisegetical imposition" worthy of execution (and people say I take these debates too seriously!).
The concern comes from my quotation of Wright: "[This is]...what Paul knew to be a standard Jewish attitude rooted of course in the scriptures themselves. He is talking about ethnic identity..." It is alleged that this contradicts the comments I made in THIS article that the “descendents of Abraham" were a mixed race. As I wrote there, "This is just as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New, since among the “descendents of Abraham” very few of them were actually blood descendents of the Patriarch. As Peter Leithart points out in his book A House For My Name, all the male members of Abraham’s household were circumcised (Gen. 17:12-14), and in a household that included 318 men of fighting age (Gen. 14:14), this must have been a sizable number of men – far more than the blood descendants of Abraham, who at that time included only Ishmael. When Israel came from Egypt, they came out as a “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38) that included thousands of converted Egyptians who did not want to hang around Egypt after it had been nearly destroyed by plagues. My point is that blood decent from Abraham was never the criterion of covenantal identity, and within the covenant those who were not blood descendants of Abraham have always outnumbered those who are."
It is alleged that the above paragraph is in diametric opposition to Wright who argues that Israel was a distinctly ethnic nation. The objection is easily overcome by pointing out that there is no formal contradiction in affirming the premise that (A) ethnicity was indeed one of the defining features of the people of God under the Old Covenant; and (B) that those who counted as ethnic descendents of Abraham included those who may or may not have been technically descended from the Patriarch. Since the Bible clearly teaches both A and B, if someone has a problem with this, take it up with God, not me. And more calls for my execution.
A question remains about my reference to mixed marriages which though not the topic of the above article, nevertheless relates to a number of points I made above. When Paul says in Galatians that there is neither slave nor free, Jew or Greek, male or female, etc., does this imply that marriages of mixed race are legitimate? If so, then doesn't it follow that same-sex marriages are also ok? After all, if the statement "there is neither Jew nor Greek" means that people are free to marry irrespective of race, then can't we also say that people are free to marriage irrespective of gender, since Paul mentions gender categories along with racial categories? Such would indeed be the implication if I was arguing simply that because Paul says "there is neither Jew nor Greek" that people can ignore these categories (he clearly didn’t want us to ignore gender categories!).

To use this passage to argue for the legitimacy of inter-racial marriages, we must point out that when this passage is seen in the light of the entire epistle to the Galatians, interpreted in the context of the whole biblical story of redemption history, it becomes clear that in this passage Paul is saying that ethnic identity is no longer what marks out or defines the people of God. Seen as such, there is then continuity with the gender categories Paul also appeals to, because gender, no more than race, marks out the people of God. Gal. 3:28 does not abolishes all distinctions, issuing in an age of egalitarianism, but it does establish that these distinctions are no longer what fundamentally defines who we are and cannot stand in the way of table fellowship (which is denied in practice if not in principle by a kinist approach to ecclesiology). Ethnic identity had been the thing that defined the people of God over against the Gentiles but in Christ this is no longer the case. Hence the Judiasers had an out-dated Ecclesiology, like the Jews who still clung to the Temple as the place where God's presence dwelt.

Now notice what follows by way of implication. To the extent that the Old Testament prohibition against inter racial marriages ("miscegenation") was rooted in a racial demarcation of the people of God, that prohibition is no longer relevant. It doesn’t mean that other prohibitions rooted in other principles (such as the prohibition against homosexuality) are suddenly void. It doesn’t mean that race and gender distinctions are obliviated. But it does mean that neither race or gender or economic status define who are the people of God, and since the prohibition against inter-racial marriages had been rooted in that particular way of defining the people of God (given the qualifications about who could count as a descendent of Abraham, which was always rather fuzzy since most of Abraham’s original household were servants not actually descended from the patriarch), it follows that this prohibition is no longer relevant but finds expression under the new covenant in the command not to marry an unbeliever.
Again - and forgive me for re-iterating this but my kinist friends find this apparently simple point incredibly difficult to grasp - the legitimacy of miscegenation follows from the fact that the covenant boundary markers have been changed (Galatians establishes that) so that no longer is the distinction between those who are and who are not God's people co-equal with the distinction between those who are and are not ethnically descended from Abraham's household (who were never all blood descendants of Abraham anyway, interestingly), which was itself the grounds on which miscegenation was forbidden in the OT, so now the distinction between those who are God's people and those who are not God's people co-equal with the distinction between those who confess Christ and those who don't. This means that the new covenant equivalent of miscegenation is marrying an unbeliever. This doesn't mean that marrying anything is suddenly okay. Such an implication is a non-sequitur and fails to appreciate the grounds on which my argument is based.

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