Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles (ethnos) also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who pushed circumcision took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men (those w ith foreskin) and ate with them.” But Peter explained to them in orderly sequence, saying,Acts 11:1-4
I wrote in the last Gems:
The use of this term here in the Cornelius story is a strong indication that the Jewish believers who opposed Paul here were the same group who caused him to write the letter to the Galatians. This would indicate that this group was present and active right from this early time in confronting Peter on his return from meeting with Cornelius’ household. If that is the case then this encounter indicates that this was more than some mild criticism for Peter when he came back. When we read what these men said in verse 3. “You went to uncircumcised men [the akrobustia] and ate with them.” This word [akrobustia] is a contemptuous expression for “Gentile filth” indicating the strength of the opposition expressed by “these Jewish believers”. This was no passing phase or a light dispute. It is the beginning of a rift.
Akrobustia refers to the foreskin, but very pronounced foreskin, a lot of it. It could also refer to the male organ but what is particularly in focus is the collection of surplus skin. Because that’s true it is also prone to getting infection in folds of skin. As a result it is symbolic of those who had not been circumcised according to Jewish laws but came to symbolise the uncleanness of Gentiles. The term becomes used as a label for those uncircumcised. These men who are pushing circumcision did not refer to men, Gentiles or people who are uncircumcised. They referred to “the foreskins”. It is a derogatory term for those who were not circumcised and Peter’s actions were opposed in strong terms. “You went to these unclean foreskins and you ate with them.” That was against everything these men of the circumcision group believed. So their comments were strong condemnation of what Peter had done. Their use of the contemptuous term [akrobustia] indicates the acrimony of the opposition they expressed.
That Luke used the term [hoi ek peritomes], a term which Paul uses later for the those pushing circumcision is the indicator that these are the same ones who become known as the circumcision party (Gal 2:12). Now that is interesting. When we come to analyse the words in later Gems that Peter uses to explain to these men who are challenging him it is almost like the problem is solved. In verse 18 Luke records, “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” But the use of the term [hoi ek peritomes] indicates they are linked to the later term Paul uses for them. They have not settled down at all. Like satan, they have allowed the issue to die down only to revisit it later.
It made me think of something that we experienced when we lived in a certain village on the field. The road to the village as so bad in rainy season that it was really just a sea of mud. The road was used by heavy vehicles to haul heavy stone up to the lower reaches of the river valley. They would carve out huge ruts under the sea of mud. To get through with a four wheel drive you had to chose your rut carefully because you would be in it for a long while. The ruts put you on a set course as long as you had to drive through the sea of mud. You could not change course part way through the journey because you couldn’t climb out of the rut in order to navigate a smoother track on the road. You were forced to keep going in the rut you chose. It is much like that with our prejudices and biases. If we have a left leaning tendency then we are locked into seeing things from the left (politically, religiously etc). If we have a right leaning tendency we are set with a bias toward the right. It is so hard to change our point of view.
Over these last weeks I have been visiting a precious saint of God who has supported us in our work for a long time. Now she is in an aged care facility and not doing well. I visit her every time I go down to teach Deeper Bible in Matamata. We have had some funny times together when I come and find her leaning over to her right and unable to get up again. I regularly ask her if she would like me to prop her up straight again and she comes out with some funny comments. She has told me. “Yes Ian I would like to be set straight again but I have a natural lean toward Te Poi. That is where I come from. I am leaning toward Te Poi aren’t I?” Te Poi is a little country hamlet out of Matamata to the east. I tell her, “Yes Clarice, you are indeed leaning toward Te Poi, staying true to your Te Poi roots.” But then she said one day “My leanings make me aware that I have to stay balanced and not have any errors that I take on board. We all have leanings you know Ian.” Oh what a wise lady. Indeed we do. Be careful that your leanings or your life bias doesn’t set you on the wrong road. We all need constant correction to navigate life on this earth. There are too many temptations or errors in judgement which can lead us away from the truth. We need little course corrections along the way.
It is very clear to us when we read this portion of of Acts that these events happened at the instigation and intervention of the Holy Spirit in order to open the hearts minds of the apostles to embrace the Gentiles. But it is also clear that while quieting down and mouthing words of praise to God (verse 18) they remained set on their opposition to what was going on and later emerged as the Circumcision Party about whom Paul warned the Galatians not to be entrapped by their error.
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain?Gal 3:1-4
Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.Galatians 5:2-3
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
I wish that those who are troubling you would go and mutilate themselves.Galatians 5:7-10, 12
Choose your rut carefully, you will have to stay in it a long time.Ian Vail
Be aware of your biases and leanings. Make sure you have someone to help realign you from time to time.Ian Vail
Don’t allow your tendencies to accept one point of view determine your course for life. Get a course correction from the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.Anon
Never give up on someone you think is in error. When “I” is replaced by “We”, illness becomes wellness.Ian Vail
It’s not hard to understand another person; it’s only hard to listen without bias.Anon
Learn a lesson from a precious old lady and learn to recognise your own leanings. Ian with Clarice’s help.Ian Vail & Clarice Bell