11 August 2011

Evil Surmising

The initial accusation given by the Jews against the apostle Paul in Acts 21 provides an interesting glimpse at human nature.  But first of all, let’s back up to his greeting by the elders of the church at Jerusalem. 

Acts 21:18-21 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 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: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.

A number of points:

1.       If this is what Paul was teaching, he would have been right.

2.       At least the elders did the right thing in taking what they had heard about Paul to Paul instead of spreading if further.  That’s a good example for us to follow.

3.       I need to research the timeframe of these events in relation to Paul’s writings a bit further, and perhaps somebody can help me with this: Was Paul backsliding on what he said to Peter and what he wrote to the churches of Galatia?   What he wrote in Romans 6:14?  He counters the elders’ charge by agreeing to purify himself with 4 men that had a vow on them, as a testimony to the Jews that he walked orderly and kept the law (vv. 22-25).

4.       So the conclusion of the council in Acts 15 – that the law was in no way binding on believers – at this point was seen, at least by these, as being limited to Gentile believers (vv. 22, 25).

5.       Some excuse Paul’s actions with 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, becoming all things to all men.  I believe this excuse is invalid, especially in light of the Holy Spirit’s continually directing Paul NOT to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4 vs. 20:22; 21:10-14; even when he made it there, 22:17-21).

Interesting.  Now,

Acts 21:27-30 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.

1.       So the Jews who had heard and opposed Paul’s preaching in the cities of Asia (during Paul’s previous missionary journeys) are in Jerusalem for the feast and see Paul go into the temple. 

2.       The first part of their accusation is extremely negative – that Paul taught against the Jews, against the law, against the temple (cp. 6:10-14).  This is how they heard Paul’s preaching for Jesus Christ and for salvation and for forgiveness and freedom from sin.

3.       The last part of their accusation is pure conjecture.  And this is really what stuck out to me about the passage.  Mankind has this tendency to “put two and two together,” only to find out later that part of that equation was off because the situation didn’t add up to four.  The Jew’s logic was as follows: Trophimus was with Paul in Jerusalem + Paul was in the temple = Paul polluted the temple by bringing in a Gentile.  That’s quite a leap.  But that’s what we do.  We suppose that if this is true and if this is true then that means the other must be true, and we convince ourselves that it is, and we act upon it.  The Bible calls it “evil surmising.”  And we need to be really careful about that.  Because a lot of the time we end up being wrong.  And in this case, it just about got Paul torn in two.

4.       What we need to be careful to do is make sure we diligently enquire about a person or situation before we act on mere supposition or accusation (Deuteronomy 19:18).  What we need to be careful to do is Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.   What we need to be careful to do is Proverbs 25:9 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another:  Don’t just assume something is true because you heard it or you thought it up in your mind.  Find out the truth; go about it the proper way; and respond accordingly.