Good morning! Today in Acts 17-18 we read about Paul’s second trip through the Mediterranean, this time with Silas and Timothy. He visits some of the sites of his prior trip, checking in on congregations he had planted, but also striking out in new territory.
The main question that arises for me in today’s reading is why the message of early Christian missionaries was so provocative everywhere they went. It appears that Paul is wrapped up in one controversy after another, almost wherever he goes. If this were simply a matter of doctrinal differences, I find it hard to imagine it generating the sort of resistance that these missionaries face. Rather, I suspect that the theology of “God makes no distinctions between Jew and Gentile” becomes truly problematic when it suggests behavioral and cultural changes in community life.
Consider the case of Paul in Corinth, described in Acts 18. He shows up and stays with Jewish hosts and then argues for Christian beliefs in the synagogue every Sabbath, as is his custom. Some Jews believe, but others resist to the point that Paul feels he has to leave the synagogue. Going next door to a Greek’s home, he finds a more successful outreach to the Greeks in Corinth and remains doing this work for eighteen months. In that time, Paul is accused before the Roman tribunal of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law”. Yet before the trial continues beyond the accusation, the matter is dismissed because Gallio considers this merely an internal squabble.
This is mostly supposition, but I suspect that what the unfriendly Jews of Corinth object to (in addition to the legal matters) is that Paul sees nothing wrong with spending time in the company of Greeks. Yesterday’s matter of circumcision aside, Paul shows a remarkable ability to mix and mingle with anyone who will hear his message. His culture-crossing, and the suggestion that faith communities should not discriminate in who they welcome in, elicits the same response as multicultural movements do in our own time. Proposing that Jews and Greeks could (and should) share food, community and faith is much riskier than merely resolving doctrinal difficulties. We see this same challenge in the United States when denominations of nearly identical theological positions insist on remaining separate rather than combining churches. Cultural distinctions divide us, even when theology proposes that we unite. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 19-20. Thanks for reading!