Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Acts 15 -- trouble-shooting problems to their roots

Paul, the "viewpoint character" of so much of Acts, is back home in Antioch. He has enjoyed great success preaching a streamlined, culturally-sensitive Christian message. Because of what God did in Jesus, Jews and non-Jews alike can rejoice in divine grace and find power to live comely lives. Antioch, however, is too close for comfort to Jerusalem. Jewish Christians, born and steeped in Jewish culture, have a reflex to assume that Jewish ways are the right ways. In time, this love for their traditions will overwhelm their love for Jesus, and lead the vast majority into eternal damnation. That's still down the road. At this point, they are simply making nuisances of themselves:
Act 15:1 Yahudiye'den gelen bazı kişiler Antakya'daki kardeşlere, "Siz Musa'nın töresi uyarınca sünnet olmadıkça kurtulamazsınız" diye öğretiyorlardı.
Act 15:2 Pavlus'la Barnaba bu adamlarla bir hayli çekişip tartıştılar. Sonunda Pavlus'la Barnaba'nın, başka birkaç kardeşle birlikte Yeruşalim'e gidip bu sorunu elçiler ve ihtiyarlarla görüşmesi kararlaştırıldı.
Let's unpack a few words, here.
  • töre -- law. custom. accepted practice. customs. mores. ethics. morals. jurisprudence.
  • uyarınca -- in accordance with.
  • kurtulamazsınız -- you can not be saved. kurtula - to save. maz - subjunctive. a potential condition that exists in the minds of the speakers and listeners. sınız - you all (plural).
  • çekişmek -- contend. contest. dispute. haggle. quarrel. scramble. strive. vie. to pull in opposite directions. to quarrel. to argue. to compete. to contest. to contend.
This was a complicated moment in history. Jesus, a Jew, came to the Jewish people and preached a message rooted in the Jewish scriptures. He also rudely condemned some of the "bells and whistles"[1] that had entered Jewish life from outside sources. For example the Romans believed that salvation was a function of dutiful law-keeping. Their subject people, the Jews, thought that sounded like a good idea, and came up with a whole structure of "improvements" to God's law that allowed people to save themselves, apart from any need for a Savior. This is just one more appearance of the sin in the garden -- the desire for autonomy.[2] For being one's own law. For determining good and evil for oneself.

Yet, how do you dissect a living culture, determining what's useful, and what's toxic? American "freedom of speech" is wonderful -- but what do you do about pornography?

How do you make the good parts of Jewish culture available to the rest of the world, while leaving out the bad parts? Not an easy task -- many of them failed that test. Many of us fail the unique tests presented by our cultures. However, God gives us tests with the anticipation that we will eventually pass them. Or, serve as spectacular examples of how to get things wrong, so that others get then get things right.


[1] "Bells and whistles" refers to superfluous features added to a product that have nothing to do with its core purpose. For example, Windows Vista imposed such a heavy load of digital rights management (DRM) "features" that the core purposes of an operating system were overwhelmed. A plausible hypothesis suggests that Microsoft wished to get in bed with content providers -- movie studios, music publishers, etc. -- and shaped Vista to meet their concerns, rather than the needs of the end users. Apple Computers picked up a lot of business as a result, and the culture was enriched by a whole series of "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" commercials.

[2] Autonomy comes from the Greek words for self (auto) + law (nomos).

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