In my previous Bible study post, we talked about the first church council. The question was how to handle the new Gentile converts. James responded that the church should request that they abstain from four things:
- Things polluted by idols,
- Sexual immorality
- Things strangled
The people agreed with him. Why was his proposal so convincing? He quoted from the book of Leviticus. In Leviticus 17:1-9, God commands the Israelites to worship the one true God and not idols. Then in verse 10, God tells the Israelites not to eat blood. In verses 14-16 it describes how to treat animals that died naturally or were torn by wild animals (things strangled): they should wash their clothes, bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Then in Leviticus 18:6 God speaks about sexual immorality, specifically incest.*
Here James repeats these four things, but in a different order. He is speaking from memory; so he starts with the first thing, then the last thing (often the easiest to remember) and then the two middle items. Note that when the church leaders write the letter to the Gentiles, they write the four items in the correct order. Probably they consulted the law before writing the letter.
Judaizing was a big issue in the early church. The epistles to the Romans and Galatians were written to deal with this issue. It later became less and less of an issue and was replaced by the problem of Gnosticism.
In Acts 16 we read how Paul left for his second missionary journey. The purpose of the journey was to strengthen the churches and deliver the decisions of the council. He went to Galatia again and discovered that they were forcing the Gentiles to be circumcised and practice Jewish laws. His letter to the Galatians is a reaction to this. (More on this in a future post.)
Then the Spirit told him to go to Macedonia. Note that Luke was with them, because he says “we.” Whenever “we” is used, it is because Luke was accompanying them at that time.
Paul had to leave Thessalonica in the middle of the night, and so he was not able to finish catechizing them. In catechism, the last lessons taught are about the resurrection and future things. Because Paul didn’t have a chance to finish teaching the Thessalonians, he wrote them a letter explaining the importance of the resurrection and also describing future events. This letter is First Thessalonians. In reading this epistle, one would think that Paul was obsessed with the resurrection and future things. But it was just that he hadn’t finished teaching the Thessalonians and still needed to cover these last two subjects.
* Incest was a particular problem at this time. In the Roman Empire, there were no taboos against a man marrying his sister, stepmother, aunt, etc. This offers an interesting insight into Christ’s response to a question about divorce. In Mark and Luke, it records that Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” But in Matthew (which was written to the Jews) the phrase “except for immorality” is added. (Matthew 5:32: “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery.”) I was told that this meant that a man could divorce his wife if she had been unfaithful. However, in those times, when incest was common, it was necessary to make it clear that a husband and wife who were in an incestuous relationship were to be divorced. I had never looked at this passage in that light.