Friday, November 04, 2005

An Alternate Text of Acts 15?

An amazing discovery of an alternate text of a portion of the book of Acts has been discovered. The text, referred to as Acts VF #1, tells a very different story of the solution of a dispute in the early church commonly referred to as the Council of Jerusalem. Here is the new text, as translated by scholars at Frisbee Newton Badly Hall Seminary in upstate New York:

Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. However, this was also considered a shameless effort to manipulate the prejudices of the people in the pews. When they came to Jerusalem, they were cautiously welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses."

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you that our polity makes discriminating action impossible. I mean, I know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. But now what are we supposed to do? I mean, that’s my perspective, but what right do we have to impose our views on these sincere sisters and brothers? Our hands are tied.”

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how our polity allows for a wide variety of perspectives. Now we have Barnabas and Paul making a big deal about this. Obviously, they’re the real problem here. Trouble makers, I’d say. Let’s face it—the problem isn’t the Judaizers. It’s these guys. They’re narrow-minded. I bet they even want us to have a statement of faith. Shocking!

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the diversity among the churches. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from the narrow ideas of these two wild men.”

So Barnabas and Paul were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and withheld their United Mission funds. They began to be more intolerant and insisted on preaching Jesus to pagans. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached these wild fundamentalist ideas. And they were first called Evangelicals at Antioch.

Any resemblance between this parody and current events is entirely intentional.

The point of this parody is that when we hold up current ways of doing things to the light of the New Testament, some of the things being said today are simply absurd. Isn't the first allegience of a Baptist to the Scripture itself, not to modern nebulous concepts such as "diversity", "soul liberty" and a view of polity that not only would be unrecognizable in the New Testament, but as well to early English and American Baptists?

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