Common Questions

Because of the online nature of this course, common questions may come up. We will try and deal with those questions in a open environment. If you have a question regarding this study, please email it to

Date of the Book Jewish Response to Paul's Ministry
The Necessity of Messiah's Work Is Circumcision to Join the Covenant Community?




Date of the Book

Question: I have always understood that Paul wrote the book of Galatians after the events of Acts 15. It seems that Galatians is trying to setting some of the same things as Acts 15. Is that right?

Answer: It is common for many to consider Galatians to have been written after the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 because of the similarities between Acts 15 and Galatians 2. Although there are similarities, the Jerusalem Council and the meeting described in Galatians 2:1-10 have some important differences. Additionally, Peter's actions in Antioch as described in Galatians 2:11-14 seem at odds with the conclusions and decrees that came out of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. It is far more likely that Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council. I would date Galatians around 48 CE, whereas I would date the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 sometime shortly after that time, and somewhat as an answer to an ongoing controversy that was still unsettled by Paul's work in Galatia.

Jewish Response to Paul's Ministry

Question: In Acts 13, it appears that the Jews that did respond with jealousy and began contradicting Paul, that they were rejected. Were these particular Jews then condemned? What about those Jews that did believe were they then rejected as being a light to the Nations?

Answer: The most common explanation of the last part of Acts 13 falls into the "Jews rejected Messiah, so it was given [exclusively] to Gentiles" theological category. I complete reject that view for a number of reasons, the the least of which is Paul's own admonition from Romans 11:1:

I say then, has G-d cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. G-d has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Romans 11:1-2a

Instead, it is instructive to keep focus on indivuals vs collective. Interestingly, nominal Judaism uses this same perspective. The blanket statement, "All Israel has a place in the World to Come" (Sanhedrin 90a), does not preclude the cutting off of an individual Israelite. In fact, that is what Paul alludes to in his address to some of the Jews of Antioch-Pisidia. In the circumstances found in Acts 13:14-49, we read of Paul visiting the synagogue in Antioch-Pisidia on the Sabbath. As a visiting Jew he is permitted to speak after the reading of the Torah and the Prophets. His address is to "men of Israel" and "those who fear G-d" (i.e. "Jews and G-d-fearing Gentiles"). In his outline of the promise of Messiah, Yeshua's coming, death, and resurrection, he makes key connection points with the Jewish listeners. He specifically made points that they would find appealing. Then he closes his speach with, Him [Yeshua] everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. Acts 13:49

In this one statement, he immediately earns the distain of some of the Jews in the synagoge that Sabbath day. Not because of a rejection of "Law" in favor of "Grace" - rather, because of his implicit inclusion of Gentiles. While it may not be obvious in modern English without the context of First Century Jewish-Gentile relations, I assure you this is what is meant: Him everyone who believes is included in the covenant community, whereas ritual conversion to Judaism cannot accomplish this. (my paraphrase)

Notice what happens to the G-d-fearing Gentiles after that. There reaction is remarkable. Many of the Jews in attendance were of the same mindset.

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of G-d. Acts 13:42-43

This was good news particularly to the G-d-fearing Gentiles and the proselytes. You could be "justified" (shorthand for "included in the convenant community of Israel") without "becoming a Jew" by ritual conversion. And such an inclusion was full inclusion - not the half-hearted inclusion and suspicion still rendered toward proseytes. Even many of the Jews were intrigued by such a thought.

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of G-d. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Acts 13:44-45

The effect was an advertisement for the followers of Yeshua. Everyone showed up to hear the next Sabbath. It is important to notice that there were "many of the Jews" in verse 43 who were supportive of Paul - so which Jews are referenced in verse 44? This is a common device found in the Apostolic Scriptures. "The Jews" does not refer to "all Jews" - rather it refers to some of prominence or influence. They are certainly not representative of all the Jews of the city, nor of the People of G-d. Further proof of that is found in Paul's rebuke fo them, where he says,

It was necessary that the word of G-d be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46

Paul is directly addressing their "blasphemy" in a very "rabbinic" sense. What was their blasphemy? It is tied to what Paul spoke of the previous Sabbath, and something very central to Pharisaic Judaism as it was practiced in the Land and in the Diaspora: The resurrection of the dead. Paul is using the rabbinic consideration that those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead have no part in the World to Come. He is using irony here. He is reversing the argument which says that Gentiles have no part in the World to Come, and instead showing that because they spoke ill of the resurrection of Yeshua that they had no part in the World to Come - but rather those Gentiles that believed did. No wonder this resulted in them being expelled from the city.

Finally, Paul's reminder that it was the duty of Israel to draw the nations into the commuity of faith makes it quite clear that the "rejection" of some Jewish leaders did not mean that Paul and Barnabas "wiped their feet" of Jews. After all, there are 15 more chapters of Acts that are replete with reference to Paul's continued identification with Judaism, and his declaration that he remained an orthopractic Jew, devout and faithful on all levels.

I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth. Acts 13:47

The Necessity of Messiah's Work

Question: Why do we need Messiah and His work? The faithful have always been able to be attached to Israel and the covenant community. There has always been a path to salvation. There has always been forgiveness of sins - so what changed when Messiah came?

Answer: There are two main reasons, and those reasons are "two sides of the same coin." They are certainly hinted at throughout the Torah, but Yochanan (the disciple John), spells them out quite convincingly in the first verses of his epistle. Messiah was absolutely necessary:

Without Messiah physically coming, dying, and resurrecting, all the righteous of the past, present, and future would be without hope. Let's see how that works..

First, our Chassidic brothers (Breslov, Chabad, etc.) would also tell you that we certainly need Messiah. They have some amazing insights into the purpose of a Tzadik [a righteous one]. Chassidus teaches that it is through the Tzadik (eg. the Rebbe) that one can drawn closer to the holiness of HaShem. Through a Tzadik, one can become attached to HaShem. This is called "devekut" [cleaving]. Deuteronomy 10:20 says,

You shall fear HaShem your G-d; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast [tid'bak from davak = "cleave"] , and take oaths in His Name. Deuteronomy 10:20

In Deuteronomy 4:4 we are told the result of that "clinging" to HaShem. Life. But G-d is a consuming fire:

For HaShem your G-d is a consuming fire... Deuteronomy 4:24a

How is it possible to cling to one, whose very Presence will consume us? Therein lies the purpose for the Tzadik [the rightous one]. Chassidus teaches that the Tzadik, by his elevated holiness, is able to attach himself to HaShem, and on the Tzadik's merit is not consumed. In turn, the Tzadik's disciples cleave to their Rebbe and find the comfort and safety of HaShem. Chassidus teaches that Moses was the ultimate Tzadik that provided a means for all Israel to cleave to HaShem.

While some may not like the ultimate conclusions of Chassidic thought in regard to devekut, it is clear that the concept is built squarely upon Scripture (there is much proof of that, for a much longer answer).

Of course, the true Tzadik is Messiah Himself. Chassidic followers would agree that Messiah will play this important role. For those of us that know Messiah Yeshua, it is clear that He is more than simply a Tzadik, but that He fulfills the role of both Mediator and Judge. 1Timothy 2:5 certainly makes it clear:

For there is one G-d and one Mediator between G-d and men, the Man Messiah Yeshua, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 1Timothy 2:5-6

Now let's see how Yochanan explains the mystery of devekut [clinging to HaShem].

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d. He was in the beginning with G-d. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men... That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him... And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Torah was given through Moses, and grace and truth came through Messiah Yeshua. No one has seen G-d at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. John 1:1-4; 9-10; 14-18

Now think back to the Tabernacle. What was its purpose? Exodus 25:8 says,

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. Exodus 25:8

The purpose of the Tabernacle was so that the Infinite Holy One, blessed is He, could dwell among His people. And yet, the Holy G-d, could not dwell among sinful men. Yom Kippur provided for that. The offerings of Yom Kippur made the Place holy. This all works quite well in the temporal plane. HaShem dwelt among us at the Tabernacle and the Temple. But the Tabernacle does not allow us to dwell with Him in perpetuity.

The temporal problem of the infinite Holy One, blessed is He, dwelling among us was solved by the protocols outlined in the last chapters of Exodus, and the first five chapters of Leviticus. However, without an eternal solution – one that would deal with the ultimate effect of sin (ie. death), we would not be able to dwell with HaShem eternally. Death is not allowed in His Presence.

Although we could experience the Presence of HaShem in the Tabernacle, eventually we still would die. Except by the (then future) work of Messiah we would have had only what was necessary to remain in His Presence for a single day [with korban chatat and korban asham - personal sin and guilt offerings].

We always were in need of something else. We needed HaShem to dwell among us physically, and we needed to be purified once and for all so that we could dwell with Him eternally. Only the "Word made flesh" could do that. HaShem could “put on” the Tabernacle and dwelt with us, and even though it protected us from dying in those moments of worship, we eventually aged and died. It was always HaShem’s plan to “put on” a more enduring “Tabernacle” and make the arrangement permanent.

It was Messiah, as the ultimate Tzadik, having the very holiness of HaShem in the frailty of human flesh (incomprehensible as it may seem) that accomplished this. It was always His work on our behalf, His ultimate offering of His perfect life is the merit by which we were able to eternally cleave to HaShem and not be consumed. Before the foundation of the world, Messiah’s atoning work was HaShem’s plan.

Paul said it well:

But when the fullness of the time had come, G-d sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5

"Born under the Law" is not a negative thing to be "redeemed from" (notice it does not say that, as commentators incorrectly conclude). He is making the point that He was human like us. Real humanity was able to join us to HaShem. Only our Rebbe, Yeshua, the "Word made flesh" could do this. In the ancient past, now and until the future, all those that cleave to HaShem do it through Messiah Yeshua.

Is Circumcision Given as a Means to Join the Covenant Community?

Question: Perhaps Paul was arguing against ritual circumcision (ritual conversion to Judaism) as a way to "become a Jew." But should we still follow the physical commandment of circumcision to become part of the covenant community?

Answer: The fact that ritual circumcision was a part of the process of ritual conversion to Judaism gave the entire process the short-hand "circumcision" or "taking the law." This man-made ritual was invented for the express purpose to join a former Gentile to the covenant community.

In the years before the First Century, this invention accomplished two things: it answered the question "Do Gentiles have a part in the World to Come" (no), and provided a means for Gentiles to have a hope in the World to Come. This man-made ritual accomplished these two things by turning Gentiles "into Jews."

Paul's point in Galatians and elsewhere is that one does not use man-made rules to enter into the covenant community. A Gentile was joined to Israel by being joined to Messiah by Messiah's atoning work. A supernatural work was the only way that a person could join the covenant community.

This is best seen in Paul's remarkable treatise on Gentile-inclusion in Ephesians chapter 2 and 3:

But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace...

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of G-d... Ephesians 2:13-15; 19

The covenant community was the source of the covenants of promise. Gentiles were excluded by decree (the Eighteen Measures for example), and by man-made decree, their only hope (according to the decrees) was to go through ritual conversion (aka "circumcision") a man-made process which involved statements of loyalty to the written and oral Torah, the physical act of circumcision, and immersion (thereby becoming "Jewish"). Instead, Paul says here that the work of Messiah "abolished" the "law of commandments contained in ordinances." The word "ordinances" is the word "dogma" - which in the Apostolic Scriptures always means "man-made laws or traditions."

What a marvellous truth - Gentiles joined to Israel through the work of Messiah alone!