09b. Excursus: Additional “Tough Phrasing” (covers 2:3, 14)

09b. Excursus: Additional “Tough Phrasing” (covers 2:3, 14)

Chapter Two

2:3 - Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.

Comments:  The key to understanding this verse is the “force” of the Greek word translated as “compelled.” (Pun intended)  Greek “compel” (anagkadzo, to necessitate, compel, drive to, by force, threats, etc.)[1], suggests that Titus, a Gentile believer did not even wish to be circumcised at that time, even though it is a clear command of Torah.  And why would he not wish to exercise his right to Torah as a full-fledged member of the community?  Perhaps he was a “green” believer.  Perhaps he was a seasoned believer with proper motives.  Remember, being with Sha'ul, he surely was aware of the prevailing rabbinic halakhah that Gentiles were not considered covenant members until after conversion.  Thus, his motives for accepting or refusing circumcision at that time were a reflection of his taking a stand with Paul to send the right signal to the newly formed Gentile faction within Apostolic Judaism.  See additional thoughts involving Peter on 2:14 below.  I think it is safe to assume that once the heat was off, circumcision would not present any problem for him personally.  That Sha'ul had Timothy, also considered a Greek by 1st century Jewish standards, circumcised in Acts chapter 16 is proof that Sha'ul himself did not consider this mitzvah unimportant for followers of Yeshua.  What is more, that Sha'ul did not view circumcision as equal to conversion can be deduced by his comments in Galatians chapter 5 coming up later.  In sum, this Greek word shows up a total of nine times in the Apostolic Scriptures.[2]  For our immediate interest it is used twice more in this letter from Paul (2:14; 6:12) and once in his second letter to the Corinthians.  Interesting by association is how Paul uses this word in Acts 26:11 describing his former zeal to “compel” Followers of the Way to blaspheme!

2:14 - When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

Comments:  “Acting in line with the truth of the gospel.”  The phrase suggests that Sha’ul is contending for defined and exclusive truths (note the definite article in the Greek: ho alethia=the truth, and ho euagellion=the gospel), of which the subjects of verses 11-13 (to include Peter) are not upholding, a gospel truth central to his effective evangelization among the Gentiles.  Compromise has been taking place on a public level so Sha'ul makes his rebuke public as well.

You are a Jew (a Jew by birth and not a convert), yet you live like a Gentle and not like a Jew.”  In what way is Sha'ul accusing Peter of living like a Gentile?  From the inner circle perspective of those who apply Torah to their lives on a daily basis, to “live like a Gentile” would mean to invite non-Jews into close quarters where table fellowship is likely to take place.  To be sure, verse 11 and 12 show that Peter was in fact eating with Gentile believers prior to the arrival of the “men from James.”  From a sectarian point of view, like the one obviously held to by those in opposition to Gentile inclusion, to eat with Gentiles was simply taboo—not acceptable if one wished to tow the Jewish party line accurately.  To “live like a Gentile” most certainly does not mean that Peter ate food that was clearly proscribed by the Torah (recall Peter’s confession to God in Acts 10:14).  For a Jew to be labeled by another Jew as “living like a Gentile” was simply to accuse him of having close relations with Gentiles.  Because Sha'ul stressed the equality of Jewish and Gentile covenant membership via Messiah Yeshua, for Peter to waffle in his relations with Gentile believers simply because they were Gentiles was to “live as a good Jew should” only from the perspective of the prevailing Jewish thinking of his day.  In other words, in the mind of Sha'ul, to live within the boundaries of the halakhah of a normative Judaism who defined herself as exclusively Jewish was unacceptable for a Messianic Jew the likes of Peter.   “To live like a Jew” (Greek=Ioudaizo “Judaize”) may even suggest that Peter unknowingly supported the halakhah that favored circumcising Gentiles before they could enjoy unlimited Jewish community access. “How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” seems to reinforce the notion that from Sha'ul’s point of view, whether knowingly or unknowingly, Peter was guilty of undermining the central truth of the equality of the Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles without either one having to be converted by coercion.  The English word rendered “force” is our already familiar Greek word anagkazo “compel,” “constrain.”  The “Jewish customs” in question by Sha'ul were the specific group requirements that excluded Gentiles from full covenant membership and thus full Torah participation.


[1] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD).

[2] Matt. 14:22; Mark 6:45; Luke 14:23; Acts 26:11; 28:19; 2 Cor. 12:11; Gal. 2:3, 14; 6:12.

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