by Christopher Harbin

Those Nasty Gentiles
Christopher B. Harbin
Acts 15:1-11

We often find it difficult to relate to people, especially those who are different from us. We tend to use those differences to categorize people who make us uncomfortable. It is often easier to deal with them if we can relegate them to some category that will place them in a condemnable position. When that happens, we no longer need see them for who they are, with the same needs, desires, and dreams that we share. We can write them off as undeserving, different, other, and unworthy of our attention.

The Jews categorized people according to worth. The first and foremost distinction was whether a man was circumcised. We are familiar with the discussion in Paul's epistles. Paul had choice words for those who demanded the gentiles conform to the religious constraints of Judaism. He called those who wanted all converts to become circumcised "mutilators of the flesh." For him, it was a derogatory term, classing these legalistic Jewish believers as focused on issues which should never have been issues of importance. As far as Paul was concerned, they were distracted from the deeper concerns of the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus. They were throwing away the very gospel they claimed.

Here in Acts 15, we find the issue of circumcision raising its head for the first time among First Century believers. It is somewhat simple for us to recognize that this discussion missed the point of the gospel. For believers of the day, however, circumcision was an issue that was far from settled. They still understood themselves first of all as Jews, secondly as having accepted that Jesus was the expected Messiah. They had not severed ties with their Jewish heritage and traditions. Circumcision had been an important marker of their religious observance for countless generations.

Circumcision meant a break with the idolatrous fertility cult practices of the nations around Israel. To the Jews, such actions ...

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