When Muslims seek to tie you up in knots concerning the Law of Moses and the Apostle Paul
The Muslim Argument – Jesus and the first Christians kept the Law of Moses
The original Christians observed the dietary and ritualistic laws of the Torah and required non-Jewish converts to do the same. In doing this they were faithful to the teachings of Christ. Jesus confined his preaching to Israel, but in his message to all mankind in the Sermon on the Mount he said that their would be no change in the Mosaic system till the end of time:
> “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18)
He preached the strict keeping of the law even beyond the bounds of his contemporaries:
> “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
The Apostle Paul eliminated these obligations in order to make Christianity more attractive to the Gentiles. He not only extended the physical confines of Christ’s teaching beyond Israel but also changed his doctrine so that the new Christian had no longer to submit to the rituals of the Jewish religion.
Paul claimed to have received visions even though he, himself was unsure what the visions contained apart from the fact that they were ‘unspeakable words that are unlawful to utter’ (2 Corinthians 12:1-5) but then he goes on to say that these were visions of Jesus and that they were the authentic teachings of Christianity. No one, not even the disciples who had been with Jesus had access to this revelation of the gospel except Paul and so now he was free to make disciples conform to this teaching. Nothing, no power, was going to stop him.
> “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
He became so arrogant in his new found faith that he boasted that he worked far harder than any of the earlier followers of Jesus > “but I laboured more abundantly than they all“ (1 Corinthians 15:10).
The Christian Response – Did Jesus teach that the Mosaic system should remain unchanged for all time?
The two quotations above are misrepresented.
1) > “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17,18)
This first reference is interpreted by Muslims to mean that the law will remain unchanged but it finds its true meaning when it is recognised that Jesus himself, fulfils the Law and the Prophets in that they point to him and he is their fulfilment. The term Law is used in different ways in the New Testament here it refers to the whole of the Old Testament in its prophetic function. This is confirmed when Jesus says in the same gospel ‘For all the prophets and the Law prophesied.’ (Matthew 11:13)
2) > “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Muslims provide this reference to support the importance of strict keeping of the law yet the text shows that despite the Pharisees and the scribes being the most punctilious in restricting themselves to the law they still failed to reach the standard of behaviour and righteousness to which the law pointed!
The teaching of Christ emphasises moral rather than ceremonial purity (Matthew 15:1-20 Mark 7:17-23) his strongest denunciations were against those who elevated the ritual and external over the moral.
The early church
The Christian Jews in Jerusalem strictly observed the Mosiac law. They counted it was their responsibility to win the strict Jews of Jerusalem to the Messiah so they continued in the law’s requirements. However, those Gentiles who accepted Christ as the Messiah were expected to submit to the moral standard of the law but were never expected to follow the Jewish ordinances.
The church in Jerusalem was made up predominantly of Galilean Jews together with those who had responded to the apostolic message in Jerusalem. Externally a professional narrator called them Nazerenes (Acts 24:5) but they called themselves ‘the Way.’ It was mostly tolerated in Judea except when it began to fraternise with non-Jewish churches in other parts of the Roman empire. The leadership was under the Galilean twelve especially Peter and John but they soon gave way to the regular Jewish manner of elders under the presidency of James until his execution in AD 62.
Their distinctive belief was that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, that God had raised him from the dead and that he had suffered for Israel’s redemption and that the great day of the Lord had come already and would be culminated by the manifestation of the Messiah in judgement and glory. They baptised in the name of Jesus, received regular instruction from the apostles, and had fellowship in households daily remembering the Lord by the breaking of bread and in prayer (Acts 2:41-46).
The church became large: > “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: even priests and Pharisees” (Acts 21:20). >“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Right from the beginning the Jerusalem church included many Greek speaking Jews (Hellenists) who for various reasons had to come to Jerusalem from other parts of the Roman Empire. The church experienced united fellowship and mutual support and the committee of seven appointed to look after those in need were probably Hellenists.
Did the early Christians expect Gentile converts to keep the law?
Although Peter preached to and baptised the uncircumcised Cornelius and his household, the teachings of the church were firstly spread by the Jewish Hellenists Stephen and Philip. Later the Jewish Hellenists went from Jerusalem to Antioch and there preached to Gentiles without any stipulations regarding the law. Officially the Jerusalem church gave its approval to these developments and supported the new church policy in Antioch. It was formerly laid down at the Jerusalem Church Council in Acts 15.
Because of the Jewish opposition to the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles the Hellenistic group were forced to leave Jerusalem while the law-abiding Jewish Christians were able to remain. Some however, from the Jerusalem church disapproved that the gospel should be preached to Gentiles without an obligation to keep the law: > ‘And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.’(Acts 15:1).
The whole procedure outlined above reflects the primacy of the Church at Jerusalem in matters of faith and morals. Jerusalem was the church par excellence. The Jerusalem church approved the keeping of the law to the Jew and the non-keeping of the law for the Gentile.
Did Paul eliminate the legal obligations to make an easier Christianity for the Gentiles?
> “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14)
It was Peter, not Paul, who was the first person to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. In the home of Cornelius he saw a vision and was told to eat both clean and unclean animals.
Paul, along with his Jewish companion Barnabas, were sent out by the church of Antioch and they always preached to the Jews first. (Acts 15:22-23) The Jewish leadership of Antioch was responsible for sending them and they he always reported back to them and had their approval.
Paul was always careful to walk in the same way as the Church in Jerusalem both in practice and doctrine. He visited them several times and supported them when they were going through famine. To isolate Paul as an individual who acted independently of the true church misses the point of the teaching of the New Testament.
Did the visions of Paul make him so arrogant that he split off from other Jewish Christians and developed a new splinter Christianity?
To say that Paul became arrogant to the point that he disregarded the eye-witness apostles is facile. The truth of the matter is that Paul was most reluctant to talk about his visions and revelations. We know that Paul did receive a number of visions, for Luke records them as a testimony to the kindly guidance of God (Acts 9:12; 16:9-10 18:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:23-24). What is remarkable is that in his epistles Paul does not share the content of any revelation or vision, he preferred to keep it private. Only when he felt forced to, because of the fickle spiritual state of the Corinthian church, did he reluctantly go on to mention his visions. Paul was far from arrogant, he knew that there was nothing to be gained by talking about his most intimate spiritual experiences, but for the sake of the believers he concurs emphasising “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory” (2 Corinthians 12:1); hardly the words of an arrogant apostle.