Just because a Church says it’s Christian or because people say they are Christian does not mean that they are Christian. Many who call themselves Christian are Christianized. They are Churched but not Christian. Then there are Churches who come under the greater umbrella of Christianity but are sectarian in their beliefs. Many use the Bible or their rendition of the Bible and make it say what they want it to say. Some who gather religious information about countries bracket the Jehovah Witnesses and Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) as Christian. The doctrinal persuasion of both are decidedly not Christian, yet are at times confused as such.
(i) Arius (born 250 AD in Libya and died in 336 AD in Constantinople) was a ‘Christian priest’ who taught that Jesus was more than a man but less than God. His teaching became known as Arianism. Although they do not claim their belief comes from Arius, the Jehovah Witnesses believe the same about Jesus. In what they call their Bible, they translate John 1 verse 1 differently to what the Greek text requires.
Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Their scriptures say … “and the word was a god.” Their belief says there is God and then there is Jesus a lesser god. They further believe the Holy Spirit is a just a force. In the fourth century AD, the Nicene Creed was adopted, summarizing orthodox Christianity’s belief about God to resolve the Arian heresy. Another creed known as the Athanasian Creed was written to combat ‘Trinitarian heresies’ in the Early Church. Like Arianism, some rejected the Trinity saying Jesus was only a man or that He was God wearing human flesh. This creed’s main teaching is that God is Triune, three divine persons, yet one God in substance. It also promotes faith in the Incarnation of God the Son. (ii) The Mormons say they believe in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, but do not believe in the Trinity the way traditional Christianity does. In their own words they say … “We believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings who are one in purpose.” In other words, they distinguish their belief from faith in one God as the Bible teaches to three gods as their holy books teach. The introduction today might have seemed long, but is necessary, not so much because of how the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons got to their doctrinal positions, but because their teaching could easily infiltrate the Church when their members join a Christian Church. In appearance, the language used is the same but its outworking will be different and cause doctrinal conflicts sooner or later.
We pick up our reading again at:
Ac 21:20 Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 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 our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
1) Appreciation and Praise. These were dealt with in
Ac 21:20 When they heard this, they praised God.
Now they deal with a huge issue facing the Church.
2) Great numbers of converts amongst the Jews.
Ac 21:20 Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.
It seems as though James is the speaker although Luke records “they said”. Naturally all could not have spoken at the same time.
(1) The term ‘brother’ carries two meanings. The first is personal affection. There is union and oneness as “brothers” (including sisters) in the eternal family of God. To call one a brother or sister in Christ means to accept that person as part of the family of God. The second is an official recognition. The highest title in the Early Church was “brother”. All other titles designated a ministry … such as pastor teacher, teaching elder, ruling elder or deacon.
(2) “Many thousands” is not a mathematical expression. Some have translated this to say “myriads” or “tens of thousands”. The Greek implies an indefinite amount as in vast numbers without defining a sum or an exact total. Since Paul’s conversion and the commencement of missions to Gentile countries, the number of people believing in Jesus in Jerusalem grew substantially. This does not mean they were all true believers through.
3) What is concerning is:
Ac 21:20 … all of them are zealous for the law.
James and the elders used this opportunity of unburdening themselves to Paul and his missionary team. The term “zealous for the law” is concerning and this is the reason I introduced the Note today at length.
(1) The term “zealous” must not be identified with Simon the Zealot in:
Ac 1:13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
He was part of the Party known as the Zealots.
(2) Here the term is used by Luke the way Paul uses it of himself:
Gal 1:14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
That is, zealous for the ancestral traditions of the fathers. Remember when the Pharisees confronted Jesus?
Mk 7:3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”
They were more concerned about the “tradition of the elders” than the Word of God. They lived the tradition not the Word. They were fanatics! Of himself before his conversion Paul says:
Phil 3:4 If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Note the last three “qualifications”:
Phil 3:5 in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Tomorrow we shall take it further … but for today, these Jews who “believed” in Jesus were what one commentator described as “rank and file”. They had done two things.
(a) Brought traditions into the Christian Church that did not line up with the Gospel.
(b) They wrongly accused Paul of teaching what he did not.
Father, help us to be wise according to the True Scriptures so that we do not follow man’s twisted beliefs and believe they are from the Bible. Amen.