Thursday, July 15, 2010

Circumcision Ended Without Scripture?

In the discussion between Matt Slick and Robert Sungenis, Dr. Sungenis made the following comment:
In Acts chapter 15, where the debate over circumcision arises. And Peter stands up and says, "We're no longer going to practice circumcision." And he had no Scriptural precedent to do so.
(see 53:51 in this mp3 recording of Dr. White's partial review of the discussion)

Dr. White provided some responses (as you will hear in the mp3), but I'd like to provide six of my own:
  1. The debate in Acts 15 was really a debate over sola fide, which the Judaizers opposed, claiming that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Acts 15:1 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. Compare Acts 15:8-9 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

  2. Peter stood up, but what he stood up to do was to argue for faith alone and against the burden of circumcision: Acts 15:7-11 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

  3. Peter's comment was not the announcement of a decision. The decision was pronounced by James. Acts 15:13 & 19 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: ... Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: ... And then by all the church at Jerusalem, not just the apostles and elders. Acts 15:22-23 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: ... .

  4. The decision of the council was specifically directed to Gentile converts, not to Jews. (see the verses in the previous bullets) It was not actually a call to end circumcision, just a recognition that circumcision is not necessary for salvation. Jews continued to be circumcised. Act 16:1-3 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

  5. Peter's argument itself refers to his experience with Gentiles such as Cornelius. That experience is recorded in Scripture, whether or not an as-yet-incomplete book of Acts had been written. So, the precedent on which Peter relied is in Scripture, although it may not yet have been in Scripture at that time.

  6. The decision of the church of Jerusalem, however, was based on Scriptural precedent. Specifically, as James explains it we can see the Scriptural precedent, I'll provide cross-references in brackets. Acts 15:15-18 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: [Amos 9:11] that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, [cf. Hosea 3:5] and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. [Amos 9:12] Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. [cf. Isaiah 46:10]
So, for at least these reasons, I would have to respectfully disagree with Dr. Sungenis' argument.



Nick said...

Here are my comments:

1) The debate was on justification, but two key points should not be overlooked:
(a) Acts 15:5 shows explicitly that the issue was faith in Christ versus obeying the Mosaic Law; thus it was not 'faith' versus 'works in general' as it's unfortunately too often framed as. The Mosaic Law and "works in general" are not synonyms.
(b) Acts 15:9-11 teaches justification happens by "purifying their hearts by faith," which is not at all in line with imputing alien righteousness and rather fits the Catholic notion of inner transformation (also note Acts 26:18).

2) Peter stood up for an extremely important reason, because it was through *him* the Gentiles were first formally accepted, "the Gentiles *by my mouth* should hear the word of the gospel" (note Acts 10-11b).

3) The doctrine was already proclaimed by Peter, ratifying what had happened in Acts 10-11. All James added was suggest 4 disciplinary actions. The overall format of this council looked nothing like that of how Protestantism decides issues, especially parts such as "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (which is infallibility).

4) Overall, I agree. It was directed at Jewish Christians in so far as they were to know not to harass Gentile converts.

5) This stuff took place without the book of Acts written yet, thus the Church operated on what was largely inspired authoritative *oral* teaching.

6) The Council didn't appeal to Scripture as their primary grounds for their decision at all. In fact if Catholics were to bring up a passage like that we'd be laughed out of the room. The prophecy speaks of receiving the Gentiles, but nothing as specific as not requiring circumcision nor about the 4 disciplinary canons. The fact is, the council didn't take the form of "let's see what Scripture says on this issue".

Lastly, this situation is perfect precedent for infallible magisterium, and nowhere suggests or indicates it would be supplanted by a 'scripture alone' approach to the Faith.

louis said...

"this situation is perfect precedent for infallible magisterium...."

I don't see how. These were apostles and prophets of God's revelation in Christ. They are in a different class from modern-day Romanists. Failure to make this distinction is a big part of why your sect is apostate and idolatrous.

Lucian said...


Get your hands on two of Chrysostom's homilies: "On those who left the church to go to the hypodrome" and "On the last days", and read their endings. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Where you come down on this issue, let it be very clear what is the intent of God's Heart with regard to those elected to the Resurrection and the Life, then and now.

Adam's heart? Was it circumcised?

Abram's was and after God called upon him to have a physical circumcision as a sign of that spiritual cut upon his heart, Abram circumcised all the males of his household.

With Moses, it is understood that there are two circumcisions also. One, by the Law imparted to him on the Mount. He found out very abruptly about physical circumcision before God gave Him the Law, as God was going after his son by Zipporah, Ex. 4:24-25; Deuteronomy 30 lays out the spiritual circumcision that happens to all God's Elect Called and Chosen Children.

By the time Christ appeared there was only a dry old keeping of the Law based on appearances. The "power" of the Spirit of God was absent.

An interesting dialogue happens in Luke 20.

The ground for it begins here:

Luk 20:1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up
Luk 20:2 and said to him, "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority."

They are pressing Jesus, Our Lord, Our King, for answers to why this demonstration of the great Spiritual Power that comes from Him.

Later on in the Chapter, we read:

Luk 20:27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection,

Jesus then makes this Gospel known, the only Gospel that saves us out of this world:

Luk 20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife."
Luk 20:34 And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage,
Luk 20:35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,
Luk 20:36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
Luk 20:37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
Luk 20:38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."

Jesus then goes for the death blow ending the dialogue by pointing out the "spiritual" nature of King David and His own mission being his son/Son.

The Acts 15 affair, as we know followed this incident, making it more poignant:::>

Luk 18:31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
Luk 18:32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.
Luk 18:33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise."
Luk 18:34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

There is a great work ahead of us. It is a work to the death. The Church, that Body of Christ, conjoined to Him by spiritual circumcision, of God, not of man, is to rise up and demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in heavenly places! Ephesians 3.

That anyone would today circumcise a man like Paul did Timothy in his day, is a matter of principle and for a purpose. It does not negate the Eternal Purpose of the Church, Called and Elected to serve the Living God as has been noted above already:::>

Luk 20:38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."

Turretinfan said...

(1)(a)It wasn't faith plus works in general vs. faith plus the Mosiac law. It was faith alone vs. faith plus. In this case the plus was specifically the Mosaic law.

(1)(b) "Purifying their hearts by faith" sounds more like imputation of righteousness through faith than justification by infused grace expressed in works.

(2) Peter stood up primarily as a witness to God's work through his preaching to Cornelius, yes.

3) "The doctrine was already proclaimed by Peter, ratifying what had happened in Acts 10-11."

Uh, no. The apostles did not try to "ratify" what the Holy Spirit had done in Acts 10-11. Instead, they used that as evidence of the fact that salvation did not require circumcision, since the uncircumcised received the Holy Spirit (i.e. the extraordinary gifts) just as the Jerusalem church (all Jews) did.

Saying that Peter "proclaimed" the doctrine, makes it sound as though he made some sort of official pronouncement. That kind of claim is not supportable in the text.

"All James added was suggest 4 disciplinary actions."

All he added? That is funny. The entire letter that issued from the assembly was essentially what he said. James is the only apostle individually pronouncing a sentence, and the entire Jerusalem church wrote a letter that basically followed what James said.

"The overall format of this council looked nothing like that of how Protestantism decides issues, especially parts such as "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (which is infallibility)."

"Protestantism" isn't really a single group as to how they decide issues - except for one thing - they appeal to the authority of Scripture. James did that here.

This assembly doesn't look anything like a Roman Catholic tribunal. Not only don't you find "it seemed to the Holy Ghost and to us" in their pronouncements (how strange to chide Protestants for not doing something Rome doesn't do!) but James (not Peter) presides over it - it does not announce a decision allegedly binding on all Christians, the brethren are a part of the council, and so on.

4) Since there is apparently agreement, I move on.

5) I addressed the first part of this above. We don't know whether Acts was partly written yet or not.

"thus the Church operated on what was largely inspired authoritative *oral* teaching."

No, there is no appeal to allegedly inspired authoritative "oral" teaching.

6) I'd have to firmly disagree. James does make Scripture central to his reason for his sentence.

"Lastly, this situation is perfect precedent for infallible magisterium,"

Not really. It's terrible precedent not only for the reasons already stated above, but further the reason that this council had men with the extraordinary gifts - post-apostolic councils do not.

"... and nowhere suggests or indicates it would be supplanted by a 'scripture alone' approach to the Faith."

The only authority cited in the discussion is Scripture, so a "Scripture alone" approach would hardly be considered to "supplant" what is present.

Nevertheless, again, the extraordinary gifts that the Apostles had and gave to only the first generation of believers were a passing item whose absence today prevents us from making our position "Scripture plus those with the extraordinary gifts," in case anyone thought we should more closely follow a seemingly* older approach.

- TurretinFan

* I say "seemingly" because, in fact, it is not clear that those with the extraordinary gifts were even given as much credence as Scripture itself.

Nick said...

1a) All it is speaking on is whether the Gentiles are required to follow the Mosaic Law, that says nothing about "works in general" or implies a "faith alone vs faith plus." The issue surrounded how Gentiles related to the Mosaic Law. There's plenty of evidence that "works of the Mosaic Law" were the issue but no place that makes "works in general" the issue. It's a logical fallacy to say "apart from the Law" entails "apart from everything else."

1b) How so? In what sense does a purified heart imply imputation? Imputation is about leaving the sinner unchanged at that time, delegating it to sanctification. This doesn't fit the imputation model at all.

2) Which is no small point. Peter explicitly says God chose him to usher in the Gentiles.

3) The Apostles formally confirmed what had been done through Peter. The text plainly says: "God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear *from my lips* the message of the gospel and believe." This is clearly Peter's authority being referenced and recalling Acts 10-11. James didn't add anything new, the only addition he made was the 4 disciplines.

Also, James didn't appeal to the authority of Scripture, at least not the way Sola Scriptura would have it (not to mention the Apostles didn't practice SS). There's no way you could draw 'no circumcision' plus 4 disciplines from that obscure OT text he quotes to supplement (not establish) the main decree.

I think it looked like a Catholic Council in many respects, as there was clear hierarchy of various authorities, Pope, infallible pronouncement, and decrees binding on all (Acts 16:4).

I'd love to have a short debate with you on whether Acts 15 is more Protestant or more Catholic.

5) If Acts was only 'partly written', leaving aside the reality there was a time when it wasn't written at all, then there still remained oral inspired teaching for those doctrines to be propagated. All through Acts, especially the early part, it's purely oral teaching without any indication of appealing to NT letters.

6) I commented on Scripture at the Council in #3 above.
I'm not sure what "this council had men with the extraordinary gifts" is supposed to decisively prove...would future Councils not have the Holy Spirit guiding them? And how do you know certain gifts are required or even no longer present?

You said: "The only authority cited in the discussion is Scripture," but I'd say that's because you only accept Scripture.

You said: "the extraordinary gifts that the Apostles had and gave to only the first generation of believers were a passing item".
But on what grounds do you say this was a "passing item" that only applied back then? Does Scripture teach this? If not, then it's a presumption.