When Paul Rebuked Peter

But when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned (Gal 2:11).

We have witnessed the division that exists within the body of Christ even today; but what could have prompted the Apostle Paul to challenge and condemn the one chosen by Yeshua to shepherd His lambs?

Indeed, Peter assumed a leading role in the Jerusalem assembly; testifying and exhorting his Jewish brethren to repent and be baptized in the name of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ).

The Book of Acts records Peter’s sermon to the men of Jerusalem to whom he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the sacred pages of the Tenach; and on the day of Pentecost three thousand obedient souls responded to the gospel message and were saved.

Contrast that with the Exodus account of three thousand rebels slain in one day for their disobedience at Sinai (Ex 32:19-28).

But even as Peter was commissioned to be a messenger of the gospel to the Jews, Paul was chosen on the Damascus road to deliver the Word to the nations (Gentiles).

The Jerusalem assembly had issues with Paul. They questioned his apostolic authority and doctrine. Some accused him of blasphemy; and, later, while Paul was teaching at Lystra, he was stoned and left for dead. Central to their disagreement with Paul was that they simply did not trust him.

Saul received rabbinic training under Gamaliel, a very respected teacher of the Law. It was Gamaliel who instructed the Council of Pharisees to ignore the disciples:

I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God (Ac 5:38-39).

Saul, having ignored Gamaliel’s counsel, spearheaded a terrible persecution that scattered the disciples all throughout Judea and Samaria:

(He) began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women who would be put into prison (Ac 8:3).

The Bible teaches that Saul, while on the road to Damascus, plotting murder against the disciples, was blinded by a light from heaven; and as he fell to the ground he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

Saul’s response is interesting. He said, “Who are You, Lord?” The scripture could more precisely read, ‘Lord, what do you want of me?’ You see, Saul knew that the Lord was calling him, but for what purpose?

The Book of Acts, chapter 9, records the conversion of Saul; how he amazed the disciples and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that Yeshua is the Christ.

In answer to the Jerusalem assembly, Saul testified that his authority came directly from the Messiah. He wrote to the church at Galatia:

Paul, an apostle not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:1, 11-12).

Paul explains to the Galatians that he was set apart by the grace of God to share the good news with the Gentiles.

He reveals that after his conversion he went away to Arabia presumably to receive the Lord’s revelation; and after three years he journeyed to Jerusalem where he stayed fifteen days with Peter.

James, Peter and John agreed that they would preach to the Jews; while Paul would spread the gospel to the nations.

In time, Peter visited the Gentile church at Antioch where he cast off Mosaic ceremony regarding dietary restrictions; and freely ate at the Gentile table much to the consternation of his Jewish brethren who believed the Gentiles should obey all of the legal ordinances, and be circumcised.

When word reached Jerusalem of these things, James sent men to investigate. 

Paul wrote:

Peter used to eat with the Gentiles; but when certain men of James came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy for they were not truthful of the gospel. I said to Peter in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Gal 2:12-21).

Peter’s actions are often perplexing. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was charged with eating at the Gentile’s table. He explained that he had a vision (Ac 11:1-18), and heard a voice from heaven saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

Upon hearing Peter’s testimony, the Jews understood that God had given to the Gentiles the gift of repentance and salvation.

The spiritual growth and maturity of Peter (and James) is clearly evident at the Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:1-21) where Peter argued that the Law was a curse that neither they nor their ancestors could bear so why place that yoke upon the Gentiles:

God gave Gentiles the Holy Spirit just as He gave us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith (Ac 15:8-9).

And Paul wrote:

The righteousness of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek as the same Lord is Lord of all; that whosoever calls upon His name will be saved (Rom 3:21-22, Rom 10:12-13).

Peter and Paul agree.

Next: Was Abraham Saved By the Law?

Was Abraham Saved By the Law?

The short answer to this question posed by a reader is, no. The Law had not yet been given. Moses delivered the Law to the children of Israel 430 years after Jehovah made His promise to Abram. 

In Abram’s day there were no Jews or Israelites. Abram was both a Semite (descended from Noah’s son Shem), and a Hebrew (descended from Shem’s son Eber). Jehovah extended His promise to Abram’s son Isaac; and again to Isaac’s son Jacob whom the LORD renamed Israel. [Jews descended from Judah, one of Israel’s twelve sons.]

If Abram could not be saved by the Law, how then was he justified? The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly that no one can be saved by works lest any man should boast; but many people have told us that they believe God will save them simply because they are a good person. If this were true then:  

The grace of God is nullified, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless.

We read in Genesis (chapter 15) that God told a mystified Abram his reward would be great. Abram replied that he had no children for an inheritance so the LORD took him outside and said:

Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be (Ge 15:5).

The Bible says that Abram believed the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abram was 85 years old. It wasn’t until Abram was 99 years old that the LORD commanded him to be circumcised.

We read that the LORD declared to Abram:

I am God Almighty…I will establish My covenant between Me and you…No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham (or father of many nations). And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Ge 17:1-5, 11).

We have seen that Abraham was already deemed righteous by God apart from the Law, and that circumcision was a sign of that covenantal relationship much like baptism is today.

Some readers see a division between the Apostle Paul and James  (half-brother of Yeshua) regarding the faith of Abraham. Both New Testament writers point to the Genesis account that Abram’s belief was counted as righteousness, but James adds that by his works Abraham’s faith was justified.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas 2:18).
  
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and he was called a friend of God (Jas 2:21-23).

The offering of Isaac is an interesting study of faith. It’s a common misconception that Isaac was but a lad when Abraham offered him to the LORD. The Hebrew word for lad—used also to describe the accompanying servants—can also be translated young man.

Also, Abraham instructed Isaac to carry the stock of wood up the mountain to burn at the altar; a difficult task for a little boy, but not so for a grown man. Additionally, the historical references in Genesis suggest that some time had passed before Jehovah had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son whom some historians determine was in the range of 20-33 years of age.

More important to consider is that human sacrifice is an abomination to the LORD; and killing Isaac would effectively dissolve the covenant Jehovah made to Abraham. Abraham had faith that the LORD would either provide a substitutionary atonement, or that He would raise Isaac from the dead. It was a test of faith that Abraham stretched out his hand to slay his son when the Angel of the LORD (pre-incarnate Christ) called out:

Abraham!, Abraham! Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from Me (Gen 22:12).

A reader with faithful discernment will see that the offering of Abraham’s son pre-figures the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son—the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

Next: Did James Contradict Paul?

Did James Contradict Paul?

A reader posed the following question which has caused difficulty for many believers: Did James contradict Rabbi Saul (Apostle Paul) regarding salvation by faith or works? Before we examine the weightier issues related to this topic let us first establish that we are saved by grace so that no man may boast before God.

This is what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).

Paul is saying that we do not receive salvation through the performance of good deeds. It is by grace (a gift of God) through faith (a gift of the Spirit) that we are saved .

This is what James—the half-brother of Yeshua—wrote, rather plainly:

Faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17).

At first read it seems as if James and Paul are not on the same page. On the contrary, James enhances Paul’s teaching by suggesting, so to speak, that the proof is in the pudding.

To appreciate what James was teaching we must understand the spiritual climate of his day. The faithful were growing in numbers from amongst both Jews and Gentiles. Those of the Pharisees, who believed  in Yeshua, were teaching that the Gentiles needed to observe Mosaic Law and be circumcised.

There was much dissension and debate within the Jerusalem assembly whether Paul’s doctrinal teaching of grace was, in effect, blasphemy. During his first missionary journey to Lystra, Jews from Antioch and Iconium dragged Paul outside the city and stoned him, leaving him for dead. As the disciples gathered around him, he got up and continued preaching and praising God.

Paul traveled on to Jerusalem to testify before the Council of Elders. James was head of the Jerusalem assembly, and he had the opportunity then to dispute any of Paul’s teachings.

Peter stood up and admitted that the Jews themselves could not obey the law which he likened to a curse:

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are (Ac 15:10).

After Peter’s testimony, James spoke to the assembly saying:

Therefore it is my judgement that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him (Ac 15:19-21).

James very clearly establishes the foundation of Mosaic Law, but the sticking points were the hundreds of statutes and ordinances—like circumcision and dietary restrictions—that Jewish believers wanted to impose upon the Gentiles.

The Council drew up a letter to be distributed amongst the Gentiles for their instruction:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well (Ac 15:28-29).

This edict was sent out with the authority of the Council of Apostles and Elders; and we cannot ignore that there were no instructions regarding circumcision or keeping of Shabbat (Sabbath)—signs which Jehovah gave specifically to the children of Israel.

We know that James wrote his epistle to Jewish believers who had been dispersed due to persecution. The doctrine of grace was difficult for them to understand, and some mistook it to mean that the law of works was abrogated.

James exhorts his readers to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (Jas 1:22).

He adds:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jas 1:27).

We are saved by faith for good works. Or as Paul wrote to Titus:

Christ redeemed us from every lawless deed to be a people zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).

We conclude that James and Paul are in agreement.

Next: Christ is Our Atonement

Christ is Our Atonement

The question of whether we are saved by faith or works is one that has challenged believers for some time.

Years ago, when we evangelized door-to-door, this was an often discussed topic. People generally see themselves as a good person, and they have difficulty receiving a message that is contrary to their own self-image.

God doesn’t see us the way we see ourselves, and He established the Law–not to save us—but to reveal the truth of our sinful nature.

The Apostle Paul wrote: I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, YOU SHALL NOT COVET (Rom 7:7).

When the Law was written in stone, people thought all they needed to do was obey the Commandments and live. The problem is that our human nature wants to disobey. Paul summarized that our sinful passions were aroused by the Law…to bear fruit for death (Rom 7:5).

Think of it in this context: When your mother told you to stay out of the cookie jar all you could think about was how you could grab a cookie and not get caught.

Have you ever told a lie, been angry with someone, dishonored your parents, or desired a neighbor’s possessions?

James, the half-brother of Yeshua, wrote: For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (Jas 2:10).

In the Gospel of Matityahu (Matthew), Yeshua teaches that whoever is angry with a brother is guilty as if he committed murder; whoever looks upon a woman with unclean thoughts is guilty as if he committed adultery in his heart; and whoever divorces his wife, except for reasons of sexual immorality, is guilty of sin (Mat 5:21-32).

So, then, it is clear that we are convicted by the Law not saved.

Under the sacrificial system, administered by the Levitical priesthood, people could present a burnt offering as an atonement for their sins; and blood flowed from the Temple twenty-four hours a day. 

Prior to the Babylonian captivity Judah’s sin had become so great that God rebuked them through His prophet, Isaiah: 

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams…And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls…Bring your worthless offerings no longer. Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, I cannot endure iniquity. I hate your festivals and feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them (Is 1:11-14).

[Temple sacrifice ended in A.D. 70  when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem.]

But thanks be to God, in His divine grace and mercy, that His Son, being the unblemished atonement, gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Eph 5:2).

This is the new covenant announced by God’s prophet, Jeremiah:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers…My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them…I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer 31:31-34).

The witness of John the Baptist:

Look upon Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God (Jn 1:29-34).

Next: Why Christ Died

Why Christ Died

I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves (Jn 5:41-42).

The Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins because the Law can save no one.

The Apostle Paul outlines this teaching in his letter to the Romans wherein he writesby the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Rom 3:20).

This doctrine of justification by faith was not understood by the early church whose Jewish members had been taught that a person is sanctified by the Law.

Understandably, this created a conflict between Jews who believed in the doctrine of works, and Gentiles who were taught the doctrine of grace.

The problem is that a person cannot be good enough to earn their way into heaven as Paul explains in this verse: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9).

And to the Romans: Where then is the boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom 3:27-28).

These are contentious issues still today as many people (some within the church) believe that salvation is the reward for doing good works, and repentance is not necessary.

One woman told us that she believes 95% of all the people in the world are good, and that God will save every last one of them. When she was shown scripture that declares: There is none righteous, and all have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:10, 23), she bristled and said, “Well, I don’t believe that.”

Then, there are Christians who embrace the doctrine of grace as a license to sin.

A young lady confessed to us that she sleeps with a different man every weekend, but has no guilt because the blood of Christ covers her sin. Paul would answer: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! (Rom 6:1)

The Apostle clearly affirms that we have been baptized into Christ, and our old nature was crucified with Him so that sin would no longer reign in our physical bodies.

The purpose of the Law was to convict man of his sin: Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Rom 3:31).

This concurs explicitly with the words our Savior spoke in the Gospel of Matityahu (Matthew): Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Mt 5:17).

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul teaches that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:10).  This is in harmony with James who wrote that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:26).

Finally, Paul reveals to the Ephesians that Christ unifies both Jew and Gentile by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances…that He might reconcile them to God through the cross (Eph 2:15-16).

At first read this may seem like a contradiction to state that Christ abolished the Law in His flesh. (Didn’t He proclaim that He came to fulfill the Law?)

However, a careful study will reveal that Paul is making reference to the ceremonial laws and ordinances, and not the moral absolutes of Mosaic Law.

The Pharisees were zealous in performing outward displays of ceremony and ritual such as circumcision; but quite the hypocrites when applying the Commandments.

Paul concludes:

He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Rom 2:28-29).

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