In the previous post I provided some quotes from the early church showing how they applied the gospel in different ways for different purposes.
Today I would like to discuss how they related the gospel to the law of Moses. In their day and age they faced unbelievers who tried to discredit Jesus and the gospel. Part of the problem was that Gentile believers did not observe some commands in the Law of Moses and this upset the Jews. This is a long post. My apologies.
In the diagram below I illustrate the transition in modes of living that came about before and after Christ.
Before Jesus, the Jews were the people of God (‘the righteous’) and they observed the whole law of Moses. During and immediately after Jesus came only Jewish believers made up the people of God (‘the righteous’). Soon afterwards however, Gentiles heard the gospel (e.g. Acts 10, 13) and believed in Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles believed Jesus is the Christ. But, problems arose when they did not observe the customs of the Jews (e.g. Acts 6.14; 21.21; 28.17).
This created a few significant challenges for the early church. In particular the early church had to argue;
- The God described in the Old Testament is the same as in the gospel, and
- The commands of Jesus are in harmony with the Law of Moses,.
It will also bear to keep in mind what I have quoted already.
Remember the early church believed the gospel is a narrative about Jesus’ words and deeds.
As we will see they quoted from Paul’s epistle to the Galatians to provide ammunition for their arguments. Some of the quotes are long, so I have restricted the number to three early church leaders. Tertullian, Origen and Augustine.
Tertullian (c.e. 160-225)
In this quote Tertullian is refuting Marcion. Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism). Marcion argued that because Christians do not observe the Law of Moses, they must therefore be worshipping another god.
CHAP. III.—ST. PAUL QUITE IN ACCORDANCE WITH ST. PETER AND OTHER APOSTLES OF THE CIRCUMCISION. HIS CENSURE OF ST. PETER EXPLAINED, AND RESCUED FROM MARCION’S MISAPPLICATION. THE STRONG PROTESTS OF THIS EPISTLE AGAINST JUDAIZERS, YET ITS TEACHING IS SHOWN TO BE IN KEEPING WITH THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS, MARCION’S TAMPERING WITH ST. PAUL’S WRITINGS CENSURED
But with regard to the countenance of Peter and the rest of the apostles, he tells us that
“fourteen years after he went up to Jerusalem,” (Gal 2.1)
in order to confer with them about the rule which he followed in his GOSPEL, lest perchance he should all those years have been running, and be running still, in vain, (which would be the case,) of course, if his preaching of the GOSPEL fell short of their method. So great had been his desire to be approved and supported by those whom you wish on all occasions to be understood as in alliance with Judaism!
When indeed he says, that
“neither was Titus circumcised,” (Gal 2.3)
he for the first time shows us that circumcision was the only question connected with the maintenance of the law, which had been as yet agitated by those whom he therefore calls
“false brethren unawares brought in.” (Gal 2.4)
These persons went no further than to insist on a continuance of the law, retaining unquestionably a sincere belief in the Creator. They perverted the GOSPEL in their teaching, not indeed by such a tampering with the Scripture as should enable them to expunge the Creator’s Christ, but by so retaining the ancient régime as not to exclude the Creator’s law. Therefore he says:
“Because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ, that they might bring us into bondage, to whom we gave place by subjection not even for an hour.” (Gal 2.4,5)
Let us only attend to the clear sense and to the reason of the thing, and the perversion of the Scripture will be apparent. When he first says,
“Neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised,” (Gal 2.3)
and then adds,
“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in,” (Gal 2.4) etc.,
he gives us an insight into his reason for acting in a clean contrary way, showing us wherefore he did that which he would neither have done nor shown to us, if that had not happened which induced him to act as he did. But then I want you to tell us whether they would have yielded to the subjection that was demanded, if these false brethren had not crept in to spy out their liberty? I apprehend not. They therefore gave way (in a partial concession), because there were persons whose weak faith required consideration. For their rudimentary belief, which was still in suspense about the observance of the law, deserved this concessive treatment, when even the apostle himself had some suspicion that he might have run, and be still running, in vain. (Gal 2.2)
Accordingly, the false brethren who were the spies of their Christian liberty must be thwarted in their efforts to bring it under the yoke of their own Judaism before that Paul discovered whether his labour had been in vain, before that those who preceded him in the apostolate gave him their right hands of fellowship, before that he entered on the office of preaching to the Gentiles, according to their arrangement with him. He therefore made some concession, as was necessary, for a time; and this was the reason why he had Timothy circumcised, and the Nazarites introduced into the temple, which incidents are described in the Acts.
Their truth may be inferred from their agreement with the apostle’s own profession, how
“to the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews, and to them that were under the law, as under the law,” (1 Cor 9.20)
and so here with respect to those who come in secretly,
“and lastly, how he became all things to all men, that he might gain all.” (1 Cor 9.22)
Now, inasmuch as the circumstances require such an interpretation as this, no one will refuse to admit that Paul preached that God and that Christ whose law he was excluding all the while, however much he allowed it, owing to the times, but which he would have had summarily to abolish if he had published a new god. Rightly, then, did Peter and James and John give their right hand of fellowship to Paul, and agree on such a division of their work, as that Paul should go to the heathen, and themselves to the circumcision. (Gal 2.9)
Their agreement, also,
“to remember the poor” (Gal 2.10)
was in complete conformity with the law of the Creator, which cherished the poor and needy, as has been shown in our observations on your GOSPEL.
A large part of the quote is devoted to explaining Galatians and why Gentile Christians do not observe the Law of Moses.
He refers to the gospel several times. The most significant is this last one where he associates the gospel with ‘remembering the poor’. In the gospel Jesus shows compassion to the poor, asks people to give to them (e.g. Mt 19.21) and looks down on people who do not (e.g. Mt 25.31-46).
It is thus certain that the question was one which simply regarded the law, while at the same time it is apparent what portion of the law it was convenient to have observed. Paul, however, censures Peter for not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the GOSPEL (Gal 2.14).
No doubt he blames him; but it was solely because of his inconsistency in the matter of “eating,” which he varied according to the sort of persons (whom he associated with)
“fearing them which were of the circumcision,” (Gal 2.12)
but not on account of any perverse opinion touching another god. For if such a question had arisen, others also would have been “resisted face to face” by the man who had not even spared Peter on the comparatively small matter of his doubtful conversation.
But what do the Marcionites wish to have believed (on the point)? For the rest, the apostle must (be permitted to) go on with his own statement, wherein he says that
“a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith:” (Gal 2.16)
Faith, however, in the same God to whom belongs the law also. For of course he would have bestowed no labour on severing faith from the law, when the difference of the god would, if there had only been any, have of itself produced such a severance. Justly, therefore, did he refuse to
“build up again (the structure of the law) which he had overthrown.” (Gal 2.18)
The law, indeed, had to be overthrown, from the moment when John
“cried in the wilderness, Prepare ye the ways of the Lord,” that valleys and hills and mountains may be filled up and levelled, and the crooked and the rough ways be made straight and smooth (Lk 3.4,5)
in other words, that the difficulties of the law might be changed into the facilities of the GOSPEL.
I’ve referred to this concept before (post 2). The early church believed the gospel was a historical narrative that ended the dispensation of the law – the time of the Jews.
Tertullian is making a similar point. This time he uses it to argue that Christians no longer need observe the Law of Moses, but still worship the same God.
The Old Testament predicts this would happen;
For he remembered that the time was come of which the Psalm spake,
“Let us break their bands asunder, and cast off their yoke from us;” (Ps 2.3)
since the time when
“the nations became tumultuous, and the people imagined vain counsels;” (Ps 2.1)
“the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ,” (Ps 2.2)
in order that thenceforward man might be justified by the liberty of faith, not by servitude to the law,
“because the just shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2.4)
Now, although the prophet Habakkuk first said this, yet you have the apostle here confirming the prophets, even as Christ did. The object, therefore, of the faith whereby the just man shall live, will be that same God to whom likewise belongs the law, by doing which no man is justified.
Since, then, there equally are found the curse in the law and the blessing in faith, you have both conditions set forth by the Creator:
“Behold,” says He, “I have set before you a blessing and a curse.” (Dt 11.26)
You cannot establish a diversity of authors because there happens to be one of things; for the diversity is itself proposed by one and the same author. Why, however,
“Christ was made a curse for us,” (Gal 3.13)
is declared by the apostle himself in a way which quite helps our side, as being the result of the Creator’s appointment. But yet it by no means follows, because the Creator said of old,
“Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” (Gal 3.13)
that Christ belonged to another god, and on that account was accursed even then in the law. And how, indeed, could the Creator have cursed by anticipation one whom He knew not of? Why, however, may it not be more suitable for the Creator to have delivered His own Son to His own curse, than to have submitted Him to the malediction of that god of yours,—in behalf, too, of man, who is an alien to him?
Now, if this appointment of the Creator respecting His Son appears to you to be a cruel one, it is equally so in the case of your own god; if, on the contrary, it be in accordance with reason in your god, it is equally so—nay, much more so—in mine. For it would be more credible that that God had provided blessing for man, through the curse of Christ, who formerly set both a blessing and a curse before man, than that he had done so, who, according to you, never at any time pronounced either.
“We have received, therefore, the promise of the Spirit,” as the apostle says, “through faith,” (Gal 3.14)
even that faith by which the just man lives, in accordance with the Creator’s purpose. What I say, then, is this, that that God is the object of faith who prefigured the grace of faith. But when he also adds,
“For ye are all the children of faith,” (Gal 3.26)
it becomes clear that what the heretic’s industry erased was the mention of Abraham’s name; for by faith the apostle declares us to be
“children of Abraham,” (Gal 3.7,9,29)
and after mentioning him he expressly called us “children of faith” also. But how are we children of faith? and of whose faith, if not Abraham’s? For since
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness;” (Gal 3.6)
since, also, he deserved for that reason to be called
“the father of many nations,” (Rom 4.11)
whilst we, who are even more like him in believing in God, are thereby justified as Abraham was, and thereby also obtain life—since the just lives by his faith,—it therefore happens that, as he in the previous passage called us “sons of Abraham,” since he is in faith our (common) father, so here also he named us “children of faith,” for it was owing to his faith that it was promised that Abraham should be the father of (many) nations.
As to the fact itself of his calling off faith from circumcision, did he not seek thereby to constitute us the children of Abraham, who had believed previous to his circumcision in the flesh?
In short, faith in one of two gods cannot possibly admit us to the dispensation of the other, so that it should impute righteousness to those who believe in him, and make the just live through him, and declare the Gentiles to be his children through faith.
Such a dispensation as this belongs wholly to Him through whose appointment it was already made known by the call of this self-same Abraham, as is conclusively shown by the natural meaning.”
Tertullian. (1885). The Five Books against Marcion. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, pp. 433–435). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Jesus was hung on a tree (the cross) and there suffered the curse given in the Old Testament. Therefore the God of the gospel, is the same God in the Old Testament. Gentiles have become the ‘children of faith’ and are also called the ‘children of Abraham’. So he makes the same point. The God of the gospel, is the same God in the Old Testament.
Tertullian is still working within the understanding that the gospel is a narrative about Jesus’ words and deeds.
He didn’t let Paul’s arguments concerning justification and against the law of Moses define what the gospel is.
Origen (c.e. 185-254)
Origen is dealing with Ebonites. Ebionites, or Ebionaioi (Greek: Ἐβιωναῖοι; derived from Hebrew אביונים ebyonim, ebionim, meaning “the poor” or “poor ones”), is a patristic term referring to a Jewish Christian movement that existed during the early centuries of the Christian Era. They regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites).
“THE first book of our answer to the treatise of Celsus, entitled ‘A True Discourse’, which concluded with the representation of the Jew addressing Jesus, having now extended to a sufficient length, we intend the present part as a reply to the charges brought by him against those who have been converted from Judaism to Christianity.
And we call attention, in the first place, to this special question, viz., why Celsus, when he had once resolved upon the introduction of individuals upon the stage of his book, did not represent the Jew as addressing the converts from heathenism rather than those from Judaism, seeing that his discourse, if directed to us, would have appeared more likely to produce an impression.
But probably this claimant to universal knowledge does not know what is appropriate in the matter of such representations; and therefore let us proceed to consider what he has to say to the converts from Judaism. He asserts that
“they have forsaken the law of their fathers, in consequence of their minds being led captive by Jesus; that they have been most ridiculously deceived, and that they have become deserters to another name and to another mode of life.”
Here he has not observed that the Jewish converts have not deserted the law of their fathers, inasmuch as they live according to its prescriptions, receiving their very name from the poverty of the law, according to the literal acceptation of the word; for Ebion signifies “poor” among the Jews, and those Jews who have received Jesus as Christ are called by the name of Ebionites.
Nay, Peter himself seems to have observed for a considerable time the Jewish observances enjoined by the law of Moses, not having yet learned from Jesus to ascend from the law that is regulated according to the letter, to that which is interpreted according to the spirit,—a fact which we learn from the Acts of the Apostles.
For on the day after the angel of God appeared to Cornelius, suggesting to him
“to send to Joppa, to Simon surnamed Peter,” Peter “went up into the upper room to pray about the sixth hour. And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth; wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts, and creeping things of the earth, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common.” (Acts 10.9-15)
Now observe how, by this instance, Peter is represented as still observing the Jewish customs respecting clean and unclean animals. And from the narrative that follows, it is manifest that he, as being yet a Jew, and living according to their traditions, and despising those who were beyond the pale of Judaism, stood in need of a vision to lead him to communicate to Cornelius (who was not an Israelite according to the flesh), and to those who were with him, the word of faith.
Moreover, in the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul states that Peter, still from fear of the Jews, ceased upon the arrival of James to eat with the Gentiles, and
“separated himself from them, fearing them that were of the circumcision;” and the rest of the Jews, and Barnabas also, followed the same course. (Gal 2.12)
And certainly it was quite consistent that those should not abstain from the observance of Jewish usages who were sent to minister to the circumcision, when they who “seemed to be pillars” gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas, in order that, while devoting themselves to the circumcision, the latter might preach to the Gentiles.
And why do I mention that they who preached to the circumcision withdrew and separated themselves from the heathen, when even Paul himself
“became as a Jew to the Jews, that he might gain the Jews?” (1 Cor 9.20)
Wherefore also in the Acts of the Apostles it is related that he even brought an offering to the altar, that he might satisfy the Jews that he was no apostate from their law. Now, if Celsus had been acquainted with all these circumstances, he would not have represented the Jew holding such language as this to the converts from Judaism:
“What induced you, my fellow-citizens, to abandon the law of your fathers, and to allow your minds to be led captive by him with whom we have just conversed, and thus be most ridiculously deluded, so as to become deserters from us to another name, and to the practices of another life?”
Now, since we are upon the subject of Peter, and of the teachers of Christianity to the circumcision, I do not deem it out of place to quote a certain declaration of Jesus taken from the GOSPEL according to John, and to give the explanation of the same. For it is there related that Jesus said:
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all the truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak.” (Jn 16.12,13)
And when we inquire what were the “many things” referred to in the passage which Jesus had to say to His disciples, but which they were not then able to bear, I have to observe that, probably because the apostles were Jews, and had been trained up according to the letter of the Mosaic law, He was unable to tell them what was the true law, and how the Jewish worship consisted in the pattern and shadow of certain heavenly things, and how future blessings were foreshadowed by the injunctions regarding meats and drinks, and festivals, and new moons, and sabbaths (Paul’s ‘works of law’).
Origen has corrected Celsus, because he has been mistaken. There are Jewish and Gentile Christians. Early on the Jewish Christians continued to practice the law of Moses. The Gentile Christians on the other hand, didn’t. Celsus wrongly assumed all Christians had abandoned the law of Moses.
To give further explanation Origen refers to the gospel and quotes from John’s version. He explains that many of the Jewish customs in the law were so ingrained into the Jews they were hard to let go of. But in the gospel Jesus alluded to a time when they would be taught they could let them go.
Gentile believers do not observe the law of Moses. They observe the commands of Jesus.
These were many of the subjects which He had to explain to them; but as He saw that it was a work of exceeding difficulty to root out of the mind opinions that have been almost born with a man, and amid which he has been brought up till he reached the period of maturity, and which have produced in those who have adopted them the belief that they are divine, and that it is an act of impiety to overthrow them; and to demonstrate by the superiority of Christian doctrine, that is, by the truth, in a manner to convince the hearers, that such opinions were but “loss and dung,” (Phil 3.8)
He postponed such a task to a future season—to that, namely, which followed His passion and resurrection. For the bringing of aid unseasonably to those who were not yet capable of receiving it, might have overturned the idea which they had already formed of Jesus, as the Christ, and the Son of the living God. And see if there is not some well-grounded reason for such a statement as this,
“I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot hear them now;” (Jn 16.12)
seeing there are many points in the law which require to be explained and cleared up in a spiritual sense, and these the disciples were in a manner unable to bear, having been born and brought up amongst Jews.
I am of opinion, moreover, that since these rites were typical, and the truth was that which was to be taught them by the Holy Spirit, these words were added,
“When He is come who is the Spirit of truth, He will lead you into all the truth;” (Jn 16.13)
as if He had said, into all the truth about those things which, being to you but types, ye believed to constitute a true worship which ye rendered unto God. And so, according to the promise of Jesus, the Spirit of truth came to Peter, saying to him, with regard to the four-footed beasts, and creeping things of the earth, and fowls of the air:
“Arise, Peter; kill, and eat.”
And the Spirit came to him while he was still in a state of superstitious ignorance; for he said, in answer to the divine command,
“Not so Lord; for I have never yet eaten anything common or unclean.”
He instructed him, however, in the true and spiritual meaning of meats, by saying,
“What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
And so, after that vision, the Spirit of truth, which conducted Peter into all the truth, told him the many things which he was unable to bear when Jesus was still with him in the flesh. But I shall have another opportunity of explaining those matters, which are connected with the literal acceptation of the Mosaic law.”
Origen. (1885). Origen against Celsus. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), F. Crombie (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second (Vol. 4, pp. 429–430). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
In the remainder of the quote, Origen continues explaining the issues involved in the transition between the time of the law and the time of Christ.
My main point is by quoting from the gospel according to John, Origen remains consistent with his other statements about the gospel we’ve seen in my other posts.
He didn’t let Paul’s arguments against the law of Moses define what the gospel is.
He believes the gospel is a narrative about Jesus’ words and deeds. This brings us to Augustine.
Augustine (c.e. 354-430)
Augustine held similar beliefs regarding the gospel, the law of Moses and justification that Tertullian and Origen did before him. Likewise, he is commenting on the same issues they were. The issues regarding whether Gentile believers needed to observe the law of Moses.
8. For this reason, from the books of the New Testament, except the figurative pre-significations used by our Lord, if thou consider the life and manners of the Saints, their actions and sayings, nothing of the kind can be produced which should provoke to imitation of lying. For the simulation of Peter and Barnabas is not only recorded, but also reproved and corrected.
For it was not, as some suppose, out of the same simulation that even Paul the Apostle either circumcised Timothy, or himself celebrated certain ceremonies according to the Jewish rite; but he did so, out of that liberty of his mind whereby he preached that neither are the Gentiles the better for circumcision, nor the Jews the worse.
Its probably helpful to note that when Augustine refers to ‘ceremonies’, ‘customs’, ‘sacred rites’ and ‘sacraments’ he is referring to what Paul calls the ‘works of law’ in Romans and Galatians. These works of law are Circumcision, the Jewish Festivals and Holidays, their practices of Temple Worship and sacrifices, and their purity and washing laws.
Wherefore he judged that neither the former should be tied to the custom of the Jews, nor the Jews deterred from the custom of their fathers. Whence are those words of his:
“Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” (1 Cor 7.18-20)
How can a man become uncircumcised after circumcision? but let him not do so, saith he: let him not so live as if he had become uncircumcised, that is, as if he had covered again with flesh the part that was bared, and ceased to be a Jew; as in another place he saith,
“Thy circumcision is become uncircumcision.” (Rom 2.25)
And this the Apostle said, not as though he would compel either those to remain in uncircumcision, or the Jews in the custom of their fathers: but that neither these nor those should be forced to the other custom; and, each should have power of abiding in his own custom, not necessity of so doing.
For neither if the Jew should wish, where it would disturb no man, to recede from Jewish observances, would he be prohibited by the Apostle, since the object of his counselling to abide therein was that Jews might not by being troubled about superfluous things be hindered from coming to those things which are necessary to salvation.
Neither would it be prohibited by him, if any of the Gentiles should wish to be circumcised for the purpose of showing that he does not detest the same as noxious, but holds it indifferently, as a seal, the usefulness of which had already passed away with time; for it did not follow that, if there were now no salvation to be had from it, there was destruction to be dreaded therefrom.
And for this reason, Timothy, having been called in uncircumcision, yet because his mother was a Jewess and he was bound, in order to gain his kindred, to show them that he had not learnt in the Christian discipline to abominate the sacraments of the old Law, was circumcised by the Apostle; that in this way they might prove to the Jews, that the reason why the Gentiles do not receive them, is not that they are evil and were perniciously observed by the Fathers, but because they are no longer necessary to salvation after the advent of that so great Sacrament [Jesus’ death on the cross]. which through so long times the whole of that ancient Scripture in its prophetical prefigurations did travail in birth withal.
For he would circumcise Titus also, when the Jews urged this, (Gal 2.3,4) but that false brethren, privily brought in, wished it to be done to the intent they might have it to disseminate concerning Paul himself as a token that he had given place to the truth of their preaching, who said that the hope of GOSPEL salvation is in circumcision of the flesh and observances of that kind, and that without these Christ profiteth no man: whereas on the contrary Christ would nothing profit them, who should be circumcised because they thought that in it was salvation; whence that saying,
“Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” (Gal 5.2)
Out of this liberty, therefore, did Paul keep the observances of his fathers, but with this one precaution and express declaration, that people should not suppose that without these was no Christian salvation. Peter, however, by his making as though salvation consisted in Judaism, was compelling the Gentiles to judaize; as is shown by Paul’s words, where he says,
“Why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal 2.14)
For they would be under no compulsion unless they saw that he observed them in such manner as if beside them could be no salvation.
Peter’s simulation therefore is not to be compared to Paul’s liberty. And while we ought to love Peter for that he willingly received correction, we must not bolster up lying even by the authority of Paul, who both recalled Peter to the right path in the presence of them all, lest the Gentiles through him should be compelled to judaize; and bare witness to his own preaching, that whereas he was accounted hostile to the traditions of the fathers in that he would not impose them on the Gentiles, he did not despise to celebrate them himself according to the custom of his fathers, and therein sufficiently showed that this has remained in them at the Coming of Christ; that neither to the Jews they are pernicious, nor to the Gentiles necessary, nor henceforth to any of mankind means of salvation.
Augustine of Hippo. (1887). On Lying. In P. Schaff (Ed.), H. Browne (Trans.), St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises (Vol. 3, pp. 461–462). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Augustine refers to the ‘hope of gospel salvation’. Clearly he is referring to various events in the future. Perhaps resurrection, the kingdom of God, etc.
He is arguing against some who suppose Gentile believers need to observe Jewish ‘ceremonies’. He makes it a salvation issue if Gentile believe they need them for salvation. From his point of view, the ceremonies predict the coming of the Christ. Hence he calls them ‘prophetical prefigurations’. But now that Jesus has come. There continued practice may suggest the adherent does not believe Jesus is the promised Christ.
Like before we need to take this with Augustines other statements about the gospel. See the second post.
The above quote also provides context for this second one in which he says more about the gospel.
“For that simulation of Peter and Barnabas with which they were compelling the Gentiles to Judaize, was deservedly reprehended and set right, both that it might not do harm at the time, and that it might not weigh with posterity as a thing to be imitated. For when the Apostle Paul saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the GOSPEL, he said to Peter in the presence of them all,
“If thou, being a Jew, livest as the Gentiles; and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to Judaize?”
But in that which himself did, to the intent that by retaining and acting upon certain observances of the law after the Jewish custom he might show that he was no enemy to the Law and to the Prophets, far be it from us to believe that he did so as a liar.
As indeed concerning this matter his sentence is sufficiently well known, whereby it was settled that neither Jews who then believed in Christ were to be prohibited from the traditions of their fathers, nor Gentiles when they became Christians to be compelled thereunto: in order that those sacred rites which were well known to have been of God enjoined, should not be shunned as sacrileges; nor yet accounted so necessary, now that the New Testament was revealed, as though without them whoso should be converted unto God, could not be saved.
For there were some who thought so and preached, albeit after Christ’s GOSPEL received; and to these had feignedly consented both Peter and Barnabas, and so were compelling the Gentiles to Judaize.
For it was a compelling, to preach them to be so necessary as if, even after the GOSPEL received, without them were no salvation in Christ. This the error of certain did suppose, this Peter’s fear did feign, this Paul’s liberty did beat down.”
Augustine of Hippo. (1887). To Consentius: Against Lying. In P. Schaff (Ed.), H. Browne (Trans.), St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises (Vol. 3, p. 493). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Like Tertullian and Origen above, Augustines statements about the gospel need to be taken in the wider context of what he says. He certainly acknowledges that what Peter did was not consistent with the ‘truth of the gospel’, but he, like Paul does not spell out how or why.
If we remember that Augustine believes the gospel relates the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. We should note that no where in the gospel narrative does Jesus impose any of these Jewish observances on his followers. Rather in some cases he opposes them.
It follows then that those who believe the gospel, that Jesus is the promised Christ and his words and deeds are true. That they need not observe these commands. Imposing these commands on others is therefore contrary to the truth of the gospel.
In this last quote, Augustine is writing about someone’s interpretation of Galatians. He has some issues with it.
3. In your exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians I have found one thing which causes me much concern. For if it be the case that statements untrue in themselves, but made, as it were, out of a sense of duty in the interest of religion, have been admitted into the Holy Scriptures, what authority will be left to them?
If this be conceded, what sentence can be produced from these Scriptures, by the weight of which the wicked obstinacy of error can be broken down? For as soon as you have produced it, if it be disliked by him who contends with you, he will reply that, in the passage alleged, the writer was uttering a falsehood under the pressure of some honourable sense of duty.
And where will any one find this way of escape impossible, if it be possible for men to say and believe that, after introducing his narrative with these words,
“The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not,” (Gal 1.20)
the apostle lied when he said of Peter and Barnabas,
“I saw that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the GOSPEL”? (Gal 2.14)
For if they did walk uprightly, Paul wrote what was false; and if he wrote what was false here, when did he say what was true? Shall he be supposed to say what is true when his teaching corresponds with the predilection of his reader, and shall everything which runs counter to the impressions of the reader be! reckoned a falsehood uttered by him under a sense of duty?
It will be impossible to prevent men from finding reasons for thinking that he not only might have uttered a falsehood, but was bound to do so, if we admit this canon of interpretation. There is no need for many words in pursuing this argument, especially in writing to you, for whose wisdom and prudence enough has already been said. I would by no means be so arrogant as to attempt to enrich by my small coppers your mind, which by the divine gift is golden; and none is more able than yourself to revise and correct that work to which I have referred.
4. You do not require me to teach you in what sense the apostle says,
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews,” (1 Cor 9.20)
and other such things in the same passage, which are to be ascribed to the compassion of pitying love, not the artifices of intentional deceit. For he that ministers to the sick becomes as if he were sick himself; not, indeed, falsely pretending to be under the fever, but considering, with the mind of one truly sympathizing, what he would wish done for himself if he were in the sick man’s place.
Paul was indeed a Jew; and when he had become a Christian, he had not abandoned those Jewish sacraments which that people had received in the right way, and for a certain appointed time.
Therefore, even although he was an apostle of Christ, he took observing these; but with this view, that he might show that they were in no wise hurtful to those who, even after they had believed in Christ, desired to retain the ceremonies which by the law they had learned from their fathers; provided only that they did riot build on these their hope of salvation, since the salvation which was foreshadowed in these has now been brought in by the Lord Jesus.
Augustine is making the same point as he did with the term ‘prophetical prefigurations’ above. The ‘ceremonies’ (or ‘works of law’ as Paul says) predicted the coming of the Christ and the salvation he brings. Now that Jesus has come, their observance is no longer necessary and possibly reveals the adherent does not believe Jesus is the Christ.
Hence in Galatians, when Peter suggested the Gentile believers needed to become Jews, he was not walking according to the truth of the gospel.
The remainder of the quote reinforces this same point.
For the same reason, he judged that these ceremonies should by no means be made binding on the Gentile converts, because, by imposing a heavy and superfluous burden, they might turn aside from the faith those who were unaccustomed to them.
5. The thing, therefore, which he rebuked in Peter was not his observing the customs handed down from his fathers—which Peter, if he wished, might do without being chargeable with deceit or inconsistency, for, though now superfluous, these customs were not hurtful to one who had been accustomed to them—but his compelling the Gentiles to observe Jewish ceremonies, which he could not do otherwise than by so acting in regard to them as if their observance was, even after the Lord’s coming, still necessary to salvation, against which truth protested through the apostolic office of Paul.
Nor was the Apostle Peter ignorant of this, but he did it through fear of those who were of the circumcision. Manifestly, therefore, Peter was truly corrected, and Paul has given a true narrative of the event, unless, by the admission of a falsehood here, the authority of the Holy Scriptures given for the faith of all coming generations is to be made wholly uncertain and wavering.
For it is neither possible nor suitable to state within the compass of a letter how great and how unutterably evil must be the consequences of such a concession. It might, however, be shown seasonably, and with less hazard, if we were conversing together.
6. Paul had forsaken everything peculiar to the Jews that was evil, especially this:
“That, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they had not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom 10.3)
In this, moreover, he differed from them: that after the passion and resurrection of Christ, in whom had been given and made manifest the mystery of grace, according to the order of Melchizedek, they still considered it binding on them to celebrate, not out of mere reverence for old customs, but as necessary to salvation, the sacraments of the old economy, which were indeed at one time necessary, else had it been unprofitable and vain for the Maccabees to suffer martyrdom, as they did, for their adherence to them.
Lastly, in this also Paul differed from the Jews: that they persecuted the Christian preachers of grace as enemies of the law. These and all similar errors and sins he declares that he
“counted but loss and dung that he might win Christ;” (Phil 3.8)
but he does not, in so saying, disparage the ceremonies of the Jewish law, if only they were observed after the custom of their fathers, in the way in which he himself observed them, without regarding them as necessary to salvation, and not in the way in which the Jews affirmed that they must be observed, nor in the exercise of deceptive dissimulation such as he had rebuked in Peter.
For if Paul observed these sacraments in order, by pretending to be a Jew, to gain the Jews, why did he not also take part with the Gentiles in heathen sacrifices, when to them that were without law he became as without law, that he might gain them also?
The explanation is found in this, that he took part in the Jewish sacrifices, as being himself by birth a Jew; and that when he said all this which I have quoted, he meant, not that he pretended to be what he was not, but that he felt with true compassion that he must bring such help to them as would be needful for himself if he were involved in their error. Herein he exercised not the subtlety of a deceiver, but the sympathy of a compassionate deliverer.
In the same passage the apostle has stated the principle more generally:
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some,” (1 Cor 9.22)
the latter clause of which guides us to understand the former as meaning that he showed himself one who pitied the weakness of another as much as if it had been his own. For when he said,
“Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Cor 11.29)
he did not wish it to be supposed that he pretended to suffer the infirmity of another, but rather that he showed it by sympathy.
Augustine of Hippo. (1886). Letters of St. Augustin. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. G. Cunningham (Trans.), The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work (Vol. 1, pp. 273–274). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
I recognise the majority of these quotes describe Jew – Gentile issues associated with the Law of Moses. The key point I want to make in each is that these early church fathers all consistently believed the gospel described the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. They did not define the gospel by its relationship to the Law of Moses and whether believers should obey it or not.
This was a long post, I apologise. The next is the last of the series. In it I will make some concluding observations.
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