Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The First Encyclical

In the weeks that follow Easter, the Lectionary readings lead us through the early spread of the Gospel as recounted in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. In the fifth week (last week to those keeping track), the readings are taken from chapters 14 and 15 and tells of the Council of Jerusalem. We Catholics like to think of the Council of Jerusalem as the first ecumenical council.

The apostles met in Jerusalem to discuss circumcision and whether it, and the Mosaic law in general, should be imposed upon new Gentile believers. They eventually decided that the Law of Moses did not apply under the New Covenant, and circumcision was not necessary. The first encyclical letter was drafted stating that the only thing required of converts was that they abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from sexual immorality.

Imagine that! The very first encyclical authorized by the Church was about sex! The letter, as recorded by Luke in Acts 15:23-29 doesn’t even say anything about circumcision, which was the whole reason the convening the council in the first place!

That brings us to Paul and Timothy. With the ink still wet on the documents of the council that decided circumcision was not necessary, Paul takes Timothy, whose mother was a Jew but whose father was a Gentile, and circumcises him! (Acts 16:3) His reason, says Luke, was to avoid offending the Jews. Was there a foreskin check at the synagogue?! Yet Paul doesn’t hesitate to tell the Galatians that he rebuked Peter for refraining from eating with Gentiles when the circumcision party was in town (Gal 2:11-13), even though Peters motives were probably very similar to Paul’s (i.e., to avoid giving offense).

I’m starting to understand why Mark wasn’t keen on travelling with Paul.

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