Jew to the Jews, Greek to the Greeks? Part II

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Introduction

In Part I, we have established that Paul never said that he was Greek to the Greeks. We demonstrated that the text must be read in its context, which is broader than the chapter and extends to Paul’s entire discourse, encompassing all three chapters of 1 Corinthians 8, 9 and 10. We expounded on the main theme of the discourse, namely the legalism surrounding the eating of meat that was sacrificed to idols. We briefly brushed by the cultural elements of this religious practice and showed how Paul appealed to the Christians to be sensitive to the fragile conscience of new believers from pagan backgrounds. We showed that this in effect is not contextualization but its opposite, decontextualization. The new believers needed to break away with pagan practices from the past. But some Christians who wanted to exercise their freedom in Christ, were causing the weak brother to stumble.  In regard to ministry to Muslims, we proposed that Christian workers should heed Paul’s warning by not participating in Islamic festivals and practices to avoid being a stumbling block to new believers lest they return to their former practices.

Finally I promised to tackle the text of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 in Part II, which I am doing here.

Interpreting 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

This passage is simple, and its meaning is discovered when read in its full context. Yet, a number of missiologists and missionaries have committed grievous errors in interpreting it to mean the direct opposite of what Paul intended it to mean.

Here is the text 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

In Part I we showed that the text needs to be read in its immediate context of the full discourse of Paul in Chapters 8 to 10. Here we will build on that principle of hermeneutics and apply another principle, which is that the text needs to be cross-referenced with other texts that have a direct relationship to the passage or story.

We will look at passages from Acts, Romans, Galatians, as well as various chapters from the two letters to the Corinthians. We shall see that without looking at all these other texts, it is easy to misinterpret our passage.

What did Paul really say?

In chapter 8 Paul established the argument that we must not exercise our freedom or right when we know it may cause a weak brother to stumble. Paul continues to make the same argument in Chapter 9 which opens with the question: “Am I not free?” Paul goes on to argue that indeed we have freedom and the right to practice even those things that pagans practice. But then he points out: “But I have not used any of these rights.” (9:15). Consequently, even if one claims that this applies to Islamic practices, we must refrain from participating with Muslims in their religious practices. The true meaning of the text does not permit us to exercise this freedom, for the sake of our weak brothers who have converted from Islam and have not yet been completely “freed” from their past.

To illustrate his point, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that he had the right to receive financial support from the churches he planted. Yet he did not. “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.” (9:15). Paul is adamant about not using our freedom to hurt others. He always wanted to be above reproach and not give anyone a reason to accuse him of serving Christ for financial gain.

“…I became like a Jew…”

The popular misconception is that Paul said he became a Jew to the Jews. Paul said he became “like a Jew.” Is this significant? By all means.

It is well known to students of the Bible that Paul had dual citizenship. In reality he was both a Jew and a Greek at the same time. So what is this about him saying that he became like a Jew? Is he denying his Jewishness and saying that he is like a Jew but not a true Jew? Certainly not. Is he reminding the believers in Corinth that he was a Jew when it was well known that he was? There has to be a deeper meaning. Paul did not have to become a Jew nor a Greek because he was already both biologically. So when he says “like a Jew,” he is not using the term Jew in the physical sense to refer to his Jewish roots.

 

The meaning of the word Jew

The Bible frequently uses terms in more than one sense. Paul particularly uses terminology that is paradoxical or that simply carries different and sometimes opposing meanings. For example he writes “…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” (Romans 9:6) Here he uses the word Israel in two senses. One, the physical branch from Abraham through Jacob (renamed Israel.) The other meaning is spiritual. Paul says in this verse that not all who are from the blood line of Abraham are children of faith.

In another passage, Romans 2:28, 29, Paul had explained that “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”

Here Paul is making the distinction between being an ethnic Jew, (outward and physical) and the spiritual Jew, (inward and spiritual). When Paul says that to the Jews he became like a Jew to win the Jews, he uses the word Jew in both senses. The first and third refer to the race, the middle (like a Jew) refers to his obedience to certain Jewish laws. In this case, not eating meat sacrificed to idols.

Various times in the Bible the word Jew is used in either or both of these two meanings. Sometimes it is hard to tell. But a sincere student of the Bible who lets the Bible speak for itself rather than imposing his or her bias on it, can easily find out the difference.

Paul in Corinth

Since the passage we are discussing in this article, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, was addressed to the Corinthians, why don’t we go to the story recorded for us in Acts 18:1-18. The significance of this story is that it tells what Paul did in Corinth, where he stayed and served the church for one and a half years. It contains elements that shed light on our text. Let us see how the word Jew is used here. “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately” (Acts 18:24-25). Apollos was a Christian, yet in Acts he is called a Jew. Paul more than once also spoke of himself as a Jew. “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia…” (Acts 21:39) Here he is referring to himself as an ethnic Jew.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that if Paul said that about the Jews, he could have said that about the Greeks too. So they put words in his mouth and say that Paul became a Greek to the Greeks or Gentile to the Gentiles. Paul was capable of saying those words, but he did not. In any case, had he said that he was a Jew or a Greek, he would have been right because he was both a Jew and a Greek. Yet he deliberately did not say he became a Greek to the Greeks.

To those not having the law..

When I have pointed this out to some people, they quickly responded: “But it is implied that he became a Greek to the Greeks.” This is a huge error.
The discourse in all three chapters of I Corinthians 8, 9 and 10 is addressing the issue of freedom from the law. Paul’s theology is clear that the law does not save and that we must not practice the law as a means of salvation. But he never said that the law is bad. He, in fact, wrote, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (I Timothy 1:8)  The proper use of the law is to apply it not for salvation but as a result of salvation.  So if Paul was willing to practice some aspects of the law to avoid being a stumbling block he would. However, in dealing with those who do not have the law, he does not find it necessary to go out of his way to observe the law.

Let us not forget that the entire issue is about whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The law dictates not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Grace gives us the freedom to eat it in good conscience because idols are nothing. So if you are eating meat with someone who does not know the law and is not expecting you to keep it, go ahead and eat that meat. Yet even so, if your Greek friend tells you this meat was sacrificed to idols, then refrain.

Interpretation: handling the word of God Correctly

We have no right to put words in God’s mouth. We have no freedom to interpret the text beyond the scope of its original meaning. Paul has warned us to handle the word of God correctly (II Timothy 2:15). And he added: “… we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.” (II Corinthians 4:2)

Peter and the Law

The 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 passage should be balanced in light of Galatians 2:11 “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”

This is a challenging passage. Paul called Peter’s accommodation hypocrisy. What was wrong? If Paul promoted the idea of being a Jew to the Jews, why was he disturbed by Peter’s accommodating the Jews? Why was Peter wrong when he was sensitive to “the circumcision group? Wasn’t he being Jew to the Jews and Greek to the Greeks?

This passage in fact demonstrates what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He certainly did not mean to be all Greek or all Jew. The text was limited to the issue of our freedom in Christ.

The circumcision group promoted full adherence to the law. They were Christian Jews who had not broken away with their Jewish practices. The problem with Peter was hypocrisy. He was compromising his own convictions to please the wrong crowd.

Based on the above explanation, no one can make Paul do in 1 Corinthians 9 what he emphatically said he would not do in Galatians. He did circumcise Timothy but not Titus. Why? Timothy was a half Jew like Paul. Circumcising him was not a problem because circumcision has no value. In a sense Paul is saying, with it or without it, there is no difference. Titus on the other hand was Greek so he did not need to go out of his way to practice Jewish law. This confirms that the issue is about the law, not culture.

Elsewhere Paul asserted: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” (I Corinthians 7:19)

 

To the weak I became weak

What does Paul mean by “weak”? To understand that we need to go again to Chapter 8. There Paul uses the word weak five times. In each case he refers to new converts who have freshly left idol worship and have not fully broken away with pagan practices. Paul made himself weak in the sense that he refrained from eating meat for their sake even though he himself has no problem eating meat.

Therefore, it is clear from 1 Corinthians chapter 8 that to “become weak” meant that Paul did not insist on his freedom. Weak converts could not handle such freedom when they are still emotionally tied to their past. Rather, he was extra careful to stay away from the former cultural/religious practices of the weak in their presence. Furthermore it is clear from Galatians Chapter 2 that becoming “like a Jew” certainly did not mean preserving Jewish law and practice. It would be wrong then to conclude that Paul would become Muslim to the Muslim and indulge in Islamic practices.

All things to all men

Paul concludes his passage with these words, “I have become all things to all men.” These words have been misquoted and abused to a shocking degree. Did Paul mean literally that he became all things to all men? Would Paul be a prostitute to prostitutes, a Hindu to the Hindus, sorcerer to the sorcerers, or an idolater to idolaters? Absolutely not.

Paul was very specific in this passage. What he wrote must not be interpreted beyond the scope of the context of the passage. These words: “all things to all men”, are a generalization that aims to show the heart of Paul as one who is willing to deny himself and do anything for the sake of the gospel.

These words must not be taken literally as though Paul believes that the end justifies the means. Paul adds an important qualifier when he added: “…though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.” This means that there are limitations to what he would do. It is like saying I would do anything for Christ as long as it does not violate Christ’s law. This excludes any sin or act not honoring to God such as being a stumbling block to others who are weak.

Conclusion

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 have been grossly misinterpreted by those who promote the Insider Movement, Common Ground and other contextualists. They have used it to promote the concept of becoming Muslim to the Muslims. When solid principles of hermeneutics are utilized to interpret this passage, we find that what Paul intended to say is contrary to the notion of taking the identity of people of other religions. He in fact was decontextualizing by asking mature believers to exercise their freedom in Christ responsibly by not doing what pagans do and not participating in their religious rituals.

Therefore, we must exercise extra care in not causing anyone to stumble, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who have left Islam. We must not tempt them to return to Islam by indulging in Islamic practices that could cause their weak consciences to be enticed by the old ways. Though they left Islam behind, they still struggle with the emotional baggage. We must not hinder them from leaving Islam behind and letting the Holy Spirit transform them into the likeness of Christ.

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About Author

Georges Houssney was raised in the predominantly Muslim city of Tripoli, Lebanon. He came to faith in Jesus Christ as a teenager. Soon God grew a deep love for Muslims in his heart, and he began to sense God's call for full-time service among them. Well-known for his work supervising the translation and publication of the Bible into clear modern Arabic, Georges and his family moved from the Middle East to the United States in 1982 to minister to international students. Georges is passionate about reaching internationals here and abroad with the great news of salvation. He writes and lectures internationally about ministry to Muslims, and he strives to awaken a new generation who will proclaim the gospel boldly. Georges is founder and director of Horizons International and does Muslim evangelism training through his training Engaging Islam.

49 Comments

  1. Pingback: Jew to the Jews, Greek to the Greeks? Part I

  2. I think it’s funny that the Americans on here supporting the “IM” idea praise it as “eastern” while the Saudi, Syrian, and Lebanese here reject it calling it “western”. If nobody wants the idea can’t we just let it die?

    But let me try to answer Pierre’s two questions,

    Did Jesus take steps to preserve cultural and traditional social relationships? Not according to Matthew 8:21-22:

    Another of the disciples said to him, Lord, let me first go and bury my father.
    And Jesus said to him, Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.

    Christ, in the most brutal of terms, contrasted social expectations with his own.

    Again Christ said in Matthew 10:35

    “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,
    And a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
    And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
    Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
    And whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
    And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
    Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

    How can one reconcile this with “encouraging my Muslim friend who has come to Christ to stay in his family, culture and country as much as possible so that he can be salt and light”?

    I must conclude that Jesus would not advocate that strategy – he certainly did not try to appease the culture around him, even when it came to little, “insignificant” details like having his disciples wash their hands of refrain from picking wheat while walking through a field.

    Is IM a Western or Eastern concept?

    On a college campus in any Western country today you will find that most people are not exactly atheists, nor do they adhere to any particular religious system. Rather they pick and choose attractive ideas and bits of ideas and mix them with favored elements of different faiths. The postmodern, Western approach to religion is “Baskin’ Robbins” mix and match.

    Not so in the East, where “innovation in religion is highly taboo. Islam is an all-encompassing system, within Islam you can’t just pick and choose for yourself what you will accept and what you will reject.

    Yet this is exactly what the IM Agenda is trying to push. They are encouraging people to create a new self definition, to redefine “Muslim” in a new way. This is totally foreign to Islam, but not to Islam only, it’s also totally foreign to the Middle Eastern mind; Christian, Jew, whatever. To the Westerner a name; “christian”, “muslim” is just a symbol, a label, “a rose that’s called a rat” to paraphrase Shakespeare “would smell the same.”

    But to Easterners, especially to Arabs, names have value, meaning, intrinsic qualities, they can’t be played with. You can’t just start playing with their definitions.

    It’s easy to understand why anyone would want to try to avoid conflict with their family and their whole society. It’s easy to understand why people would want to make it easier for converts to avoid painful repercussions and uncomfortable sacrifices. But if Jesus himself said that following him would result in rejection, family conflict and persecution, who are we to argue?

  3. Elijah (the Saudi) on

    In this multi-part reply I will make an attempt to respond back to some of Mr. Medearis’ most recent postings or dialogues with Pierre.

    Part #1

    Mr. Medearis stated the following in his response on Aug. 2 to a question asked by Pierre:

    ” An Easterner – Jesus of Nazareth. (He very clearly did not call people to become “Christians” since he himself wasn’t one.”

    Mr. Medearis chief example as to why IM is a tolerant approach is that our Lord Jesus Christ was the one who implemented such approach by not asking his followers to call themselves “Christians” and furthermore, Mr. Medearis reason for that is that Christ Himself as our example did not call himself “Christian” as well.
    Unfortunately, this response is filled with evidence of Biblical depravity and lack of knowledge of the teachings of the Bible as a whole and of Christ in particular. However, before I even present some evidence to that effect I like to ask Mr. Medearis to point out to me any Biblical example of anyone who ever called Himself as a follower of his own teaching by his own name, or any example of someone who was specifically told by God not to call himself or his followers by his name? Please point out any biblical example of such. If the Bible is our guidance as followers of the TRUE God then we must turn to this very Bible for evidence to support our claims.
    Now to the main point of contention: Did Jesus really never called people to become “Christians”? Let’s examine some of the teachings of Christ concerning those who should follow Him. In the Gospel of Matthew we have numerous examples of imperatives by our Lord to His disciples or “soon-to-be disciples” to follow him and the result of his command (Matt. 4:19; 4:20). Furthermore, the greek described the action taken by the crowed or those who wanted to follow Jesus by using words like ἀκολουθέω (akoloutheō) which means:

    “to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him, to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple, side with his party [see Strongs G190]”. In fact, the word is a combination of two parts “particle of union and road”. In other word, to follow someone’s path.

    Given this knowledge, my question would be: what do you call someone who follows someone else? Naturally you would call him “a follower of so-and-so”. In this case, it would be reasonable to assume that Christ expected His followers to be called the followers of Christ; or of the Messiah; or of the Way. Where in this imperative do we see or read any hint of these followers to retain their former identity (i.e. Jews who are followers of the Christ, or Fishermen who are followers of the Christ). In fact Christ told His future disciples in Matt. 4:19 that he will make them fishers of men; clearly indicating a change or disassociation with their former identity and an association with his new way or identity – if they would to follow Him. Even Paul before his conversion went searching for those who belonged to the Way (see Acts 9). Obviously those who followed Christ made it known to those around them that they belonged to the Way otherwise, how can Paul (or Saul) be able to find them if they were IM’ers.

    Without getting any deeper or more technical (as we have tons of examples in the Gosples), my simple question to Mr. Medearis would be: Can you kindly explain this imperative to us if you believe we are misrepresenting the truth of the Word of God.

    Elijah (the Saudi)

  4. Seems to be several common threads to what many who frequent this site object to that I write or that the IM or C-5 folks do:

    1. Using the term follower of Jesus instead of Christian. And then I am accused of using “semantics” to support that case. First of all, everything is “semantics.” It’s how we use language. And following Jesus, is in fact, what we’re all trying to do. So why not just say that. It seems a lot bolder and more biblical then using a term Jesus never used.

    2. That we need to be clear. Forthright. Biblical. That’s all I’d want to be. Using terms that no one understands is not helpful. Here in Boulder Colorado, when I go down to the Pearl Street mall and talk to people about faith – which I do – I don’t find any of them who would like to talk about Christianity. But our talks about Jesus and what he did and who he is, are awesome. So why would I use a term here or in the Muslim world that we know people don’t understand. I don’t get that.

    3. And finally, I think there’s a feeling that contextualization (some versions anyway) are Western. Seems odd as it strikes me that the apologetic approach that is being used here is the Western way. Paul went to the West – and I notice Paul gets quoted a lot. Jesus stayed in the East – and didn’t answer questions with a yes or no. He was an Easterner and he’s a little more confusing then Paul.

    Finally, why not do what Gamaliel did in Acts 5. Say this to the IM folks you’re worried about: “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

  5. Elijah,

    I could not agree with you more, brother. To me, your post has captured everything in this discussion the most effectively. Thank you for your heart, genuineness, love, and passion for Christ and to see as many come to know Him as possible. My heart is always warmed to read posts from people like you.

    However, I do want to say (and this isn’t necessarily directed at you Elijah, just the people involved here as a whole) that, yes, while as a whole I am in agreement with the Houssneys and the people who are “against” the IM movement, I am a little discouraged by the seeming (and certainly I could be misinterpreting :) ) animosity (for lack of a better word) toward those who hold to IM.

    I truly believe with all my heart that anyone who holds to IM has JUST as much love for Christ and JUST as much of a passion to see as many Muslims come to know Him in saving faith as any not holding to IM. If they didn’t have that same love and passion I highly doubt they would be in these hot-spot countries, sacrificing the ease and comfort of their homes to reach their Arab brothers for Christ. They would not be risking life and limb were this love absent. They are “abiding” in the love of Christ truly. I just get the feeling that some (certainly not all) who disagree with their “methods” don’t take this into consideration, and the result is divisiveness and disunity. Are IM people “contextualizing” the message too much instead of the just contextualizing the delivery of that message? Perhaps. Are they depending too much on “methods” instead of depending on the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit? Maybe. Are they confusing Muslim converts? It sounds like it (I myself have never been to one of these countries to see for myself). Do I wish that they would abandon human strategy and abide by the teaching of Matthew 10:19-20? Yes. However…

    Do they love Christ with all their heart? Are they taking the Gospel “into every nation”? Are they willing to sacrifice all in the name of winning Muslims for Christ? Are they (and MBBs and “followers of Jesus” and “Muslim Christians”) just as much our brothers as anyone else? Are we all one in Christ?

    The answer to all those is obvious. I’m not saying anyone here hates anyone else or is angry or whatever. However if I were an unbeliever and I were to read some of these posts my conclusion would be one of disunity exists here. I know all hearts here are pure, but I just wish we would fully and completely unite under the cross. Forget about titles and what Christians are called here or there. We’re all bought with the blood, “adopted as sons” by Love Itself. Let us debate and “in love” figure out the best ways to reach these beloved brothers and sisters…but disunity has no place here. Should we tolerate what we think are teachings or methods that are unbiblical? Of course not. But should we express such negative emotions or accusations toward those who do so? No way. They want the same thing we want. Heck, there should be no more “they” AND “us.” It is only us…

    God bless you all.

  6. Back to the issue of where IM, Common Ground, etc. came from. It seems to me that the origin is difficult to determine. All those who taught this kind of approach in Indonesia were really late comers. Some of them like John Travis are well known but I doubt they had any of the original ideas. John Travis promoted the C1-C6 Spectrum but that was only a template representing some of the ideas he observed. To find the origin, I think we have to go back to experiences like that [I think in Pakistan] where the Sirat Al Masih (The Life of the Messiah) was produced. This was a composite of the gospels in story form (also a diglot using Classical Arabic & English translation). It was published in 1992 but the author eventually backed away from it and asked that no one use it.
    It eliminated certain words that indicate the divinity of Christ such as Son in Luke 3:22 though verses are not designated in this production. It relates God’s word at the baptism of Jesus as “This is my Beloved and we are very pleased with him.

    The same type of idea was eventually promoted in Bangladesh and, from what I can gather, all those following this kind of approach who are in S.E. Asia have been influenced by experiences in Bangladesh. The people I know from Frontiers, Navigators, CMA, YWAM, and others who have been influenced by this teaching are mostly from the missionary period that began their careers in the 1980s. In the S.E. Asia area, they are the ones who have promoted alternative Bibles that change the identity of Jesus as Lord of Life and Son of God.
    That sums up what I know about the emergence of this kind of approach.

  7. Pierre Houssney on

    Carl, you wrote:

    “[Jesus] very clearly did not call people to become “Christians” since he himself wasn’t one.”

    By that logic, Jesus clearly did not call people to become “followers of Jesus”, because he himself wasn’t a “follower of Jesus”.

    I’m not stuck on the label “Christian”. I use it because of what it means in the English language, just as I use “Masi7i” because of what it means in the Arabic language. I use it despite the fact that some people have a negative view of it, just as I follow Jesus despite the fact that people have a negative view of him (and his followers, known around the world as “Christians”). When Muslims meet Christians who share and show Christ’s love, it redefines their idea of Christianity. I’ve often heard Muslims say “wow, I thought that Christians were ______”, or “you’re not like other Christians I know”. That gives me the opportunity to tell them what Jesus really taught.

    There is a great deal of shame that we must bear when we bear the cross, but that’s what this is all about- glorifying the name of Christ, even though it is hated, despised, and rejected.

  8. I am from Middle East and a Christian from Muslim background. It never seems to amaze me to the discussion I am reading. It is my belief that the issue here is a biblical one. Jesus never did say become Christian, this happened afterward, as you all know been Bible savvy. Neither Moses demanded the Hebrews to be called Jews. What does it mean to be a Christian, well to me it is my identity in Christ not in Islam. To be called a Muslim follower of Jesus, this is an oxymoron term, because my identity would still be in Islam. Of course the IM advocates would tell you that the term Muslim means submitter. Well, when you are in a Muslim world and call yourself a Muslim, the fellow Muslim does not think “O, this man is a submitter to Jesus.”

    I read earlier that it depends on who leads a Muslim to Christ and what title the convert would adopt. This is the main problem, it seems that both missionaries have their own version of biblical theology. Paul never addressed the Corinthians as Gentiles followers of Jesus or Gentiles background believers. He did address them as brethren, fellow workers, saints, etc.

    This whole mess is leading Muslims from the darkness of Islam to one messed up theology that westerners cannot even agree on, they are showing their disagreement in the field at the expense of the Muslims real converts or not. This is making me angry for my people that have been a ginny pigs for western missiological debate. What a sham. Shame on those who are advocating IM, CAMEL, C5-C100.

    This is an insult to the Holy Spirit that lead me from the darkness of Islam to the light of Christ. These methods are aimed to help the Holy Spirit, because HE is not converting Muslims fast enough. Isn’t the Bible and the Holy Spirit enough for the missionaries to use to convert people? Why there has to be a formula? It is my conviction that those who advocate such methods to repent or face the Lord with trembling for denying His name.

    Every fellow convert wether from Middle East, far east, africa, etc, they all hate this nonsense. It is creating a huge damage to the body of Christ and to the efforts of evangelism. Meanwhile the Islamic Shari’ah law is advancing in America and around the world because we are not fighting this fight with the gospel. Shame on us all. I am tried of this and lost all respect of men and women who advocate such methodologies no matter how many PHDs they hold. There are a lot of people who are so smart, but have no common sense.

    May the Lord Jesus have mercy on these people. I better stop, I am getting to upset to type.

  9. Carl wrote:

    “So when I say “a Muslim follower of Jesus” I’m simply encouraging my Muslim friend who has come to Christ to stay in his family, culture and country as much as possible so that he can be salt and light. So we don’t make them monks who have to leave everything and join a monastery. And everyone has a different way of thinking of what makes a Muslim a Muslim. For me, it’s not the theology of it as much as the culture.”

    “Muslim” means an adherent to Islam, as defined by Islamic commentators as well as in popular Muslims sentiment, holding that Muhammad is God’s final messenger and that the Koran is God’s Word. It is semantic nonsense to claim that “Muslim” can be cultural, which by the way, is the same definition given in the Common Ground and Jesus in the Qur’an workbooks (founded respectively by Kim Gustafson of Navigators and Jamie Winship of the Southern Baptist Convention–cannot get any more American than they are!).

    Anyone who encourages a Muslim to remain Muslim in name is like someone having an affair who continues to wear his/her wedding ring and professes his married state to his/her spouse. It is spiritual adultery. If this language seems strong I defer to 2 Corinthians 11:1-4:

    I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

    Secondly, it is an ad hominem/straw man argument to infer that Christians who are opposed to IM desire converts from Islam to be monks. This is what Rebecca Lewis does so ably in her comments against Dick Brogden’s recent article in IJFM and this is what Jamie Winship did to me when I asked him a question after the Jesus in the Qur’an seminar held at Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan, in May 2009.

    As for “Jesus [not calling people to be] “Christians,” this too is a semantic game. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” He specifically called people to follow Him (e.g. Mt. 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21). To say that Jesus “wasn’t [a Christian]” is missing the point–He is the object of worship and obedience. Moreover, since Jesus is Christ, why would one be embarrassed by identifying oneself with one of the greatest titles of the Savior? There are many embarrassing examples of Muslims throughout history so one can just as easily argue that by terming oneself Muslim means to live a hypocritical, whitewashed, prideful life, not to mention bloodthirsty and violent. By this logic, you would have to come up with a different term than “Muslim” altogether, if your argument against “Christian” is the perversion of the term by professing believers in Jesus.

  10. Well from my experience from the Muslim country I’ve worked and lived in IM has been brought by Westerners into the country via two groups in particular, Frontiers & Common Ground.

    The national church’s response has been against this. They weren’t too happy that CG had a conference there. And Frontiers did a “Muslim-Friendly” translation of the NT that replaced phrases “Son of God” with “God’s Representative”. This is not a proper translation in any way. The National church asked them to cease distribution and stop the work. Of which I’m told they did.

    I am actually working on this situation as a case study. Still collecting all of the details and information.

  11. So if you insist on simplistic yes or no answers to these huge questions (not sure why you would, but,,,), then I believe the answer to your two questions:
    1. Who came up with the idea? (predominantly Easterners or Westerners)
    2. Who holds the idea? (predominantly Easterners or Westerners)

    Is…

    1. An Easterner – Jesus of Nazareth. (He very clearly did not call people to become “Christians” since he himself wasn’t one.

    2. Easterners. I actually don’t associate with Westerners who are into the IM. So all the ones I know who are “into” being a Muslim and following Jesus, are Muslims from the Arab world.

    I know that’s not what you’re looking for as your question had an assumed answer to it, but this is the reality that I see….

  12. Pierre Houssney on

    Actually, both.

    In this conversation, “eastern” means “middle eastern”. Anyone who has spent time in the middle east should know that middle easterners are very big on absolute truth statements, and that definitely includes Muslims.

    In fact, if you want to ask Muslims some yes/no questions and get yes/no answers, you could try these basic questions:

    1. Is Muhammad the final prophet of God?
    2. Is Jesus the Son of God?
    3. Was Jesus crucified and resurrected?

    Middle easterners (including Muslims) are very black/white thinkers. Post-modernist Americans are much less comfortable with absolutes.

  13. Pierre Houssney on

    Carl,

    I know you don’t like simple answers or yes/no questions, but these questions are very simple, with 2 options for each:

    1. Who came up with the idea? (predominantly Easterners or Westerners)
    2. Who holds the idea? (predominantly Easterners or Westerners)

    These are simple factual questions. I’m not asking why certain people hold that view. I’m not asking whether it’s wrong or right. I’m not asking how to define it. I’m also not asking how this applies to Western culture. You addressed all those things, yet avoided the questions.

    Anyone have answers?

  14. Pierre
    Great questions. The answers though, are not simple. What I’ve found is this – Muslims who have come to a real and fully biblical faith in Jesus Christ will call think of themselves as “becoming Christian” when those who led them to the Lord think that way.

    And Muslims who have stayed in the Muslim context and think of themselves as “followers of Jesus” or “Muslim Background Believers” are the ones who were led to the Lord by missionaries who thought that way.

    Many of my friends who are from Muslim background would have never heard of this discussion and would find it humorous or confusing. So they would think of what they are doing as a fully Eastern idea.

    Whereas some of your friends who have converted to Christianity (and call themselves that) would see the ideas of contextualization or Insider Movement, as “western.” So it is impossible to say this or that is a Western or Eastern idea. It all depends on how they first heard the gospel and the trajectory they were initially set on by the missionary.

    Finally, let me comment that I think much of the confusion comes from how we use the word “Muslim.” What I’m assuming we’re all “against” is encouraging Muslims to not fully become biblical followers of the resurrected Lord and savior Jesus Christ. That the “Muslim” would continue to give the Qur’an equal or greater authority then the Bible and Muhammad equal or greater authority then Jesus. And i agree with those concerns. I don’t know if some IM folks are advocating that or not – the contextualists that I’m around – don’t.

    And inasmuch as Christ calls ALL of us out of our cultures and contexts to follow him – we agree. So Americans need to reject as much of being “American” and even growing up “Christian” by name, in order to follow Jesus as a Lebanese Muslim would in his context. If that’s what we mean – again, I’d think that most of us would agree. That needs to happen.

    But using the same standard, and example, I’d say we don’t call American “Christians” (who grew up Catholic or Lutheran or whatever, but haven’t really experienced Jesus by the Holy Spirit), to leave being capitalists, or Republicans or white individualistic suburbanites, in order to follow Jesus (although, maybe we should).

    So let’s just be sure we’re using the same standards for everyone. I’m not so sure that being a Lebanese, community-based, Eastern Muslim, has any further to go to follow Jesus in or outside his context then the American i describe above.

    So when I say “a Muslim follower of Jesus” I’m simply encouraging my Muslim friend who has come to Christ to stay in his family, culture and country as much as possible so that he can be salt and light. So we don’t make them monks who have to leave everything and join a monastery. And everyone has a different way of thinking of what makes a Muslim a Muslim. For me, it’s not the theology of it as much as the culture.

    So as you’re critiquing the IM, (which is fair enough) be careful you’re defining what it is you’re against and why.

  15. Pierre Houssney on

    Great discussions- it’s good to see lots of meaningful, positive iron-sharpening-iron going on….

    Seth: I just wanted to highlight some things in your comments for further discussion. In one comment you wrote:

    “Shouldn’t we trust that God is using those in their contexts to shine as witnesses to proclaim Jesus? Will it sometimes look like syncretism to us in the West? Yes.”

    You explained this in your next post:
    “Being Muslim, but one who follows Jesus. That’s what Paul did…he was a Jew who followed Jesus. That’s what I meant by looking syncretic.”

    You seem to be saying that from a Western perspective, being a so-called “Muslim follower of Jesus” looks syncretistic, whereas from an Eastern perspective it does not.

    To continue the discussion I’d like to ask you, and the rest of the people involved in the discussion, two questions:

    1. Who originally came up with the idea that one could remain a Muslim while following Jesus? Was it Westerners or Easterners?

    2. Among whom is this idea (that one could remain a Muslim while following Jesus) more prevalent? Western missiologists or national believers and CMBs (also known as MBBs)?

    I’d love to see several people respond briefly with guesses or opinions ( and if you’d like, give quotes and references, and/or give stories of people you know that hold this view)

  16. Dear Readers and those who wrote comments,
    Thank you all for making this blog interactive.
    I cannot possibly respond to every point. The next article and others in the future hopefully will clear some of the clouds surrounding many erroneous concepts that purport to be biblical. This blog is here to present a fresh and “different” perspective that so far has remained unknown, even hidden to the missionary community.
    My hope is that we will bring biblical clarity to the missionary movement. I pray that the Spirit of God would help us dispel the dark clouds of heresy and unbiblical thinking. We want people to interact with the word of God. Be Bereans. Check if what is written is consistent with biblical truths. Do not react too quickly. Read the text in its full context before responding. Quote chapter and verse when you argue a point. Do not go by your gut feelings. Let God have the final word. Affirm biblical authority.
    Again thank you for the healthy interaction. Let all learn from one another so that God may be glorified in all we say and do.

  17. Thanks Seth! Now I know where the heart of the issue is.

    You said, “Paul’s whole ministry looked syncretic at times when you think that he went to the synagogue, had Timothy circumcised, practiced the Sabbath, etc.”

    My position is that Paul did not look syncretic because the early Christians, Jew and non-Jew alike, kept the Law. Non–Jews at first kept introductury parts of the Law (Jerusalem Council) with the goal of eventually keeping the entire Law.

    To be clear, we as Christians today must keep the entire Law as Paul and Jesus did (not to gain salvation but out of love).

    In regard to the IM, MBBs must be ripped from their Islamic practices (five pillars) into gradually keeping the Law which Paul and Jesus kept.

  18. Victor
    So, Paul was a Jew and kept all you said, yes? We all know this well…So, Paul, kept keeping those things that pointed to Jesus even though there was no substance within them? Why would he do this? To win Jews to Jesus. Paul, being Jewish kept these laws for that reason and for the reason of loving his heritage (I would bet as well)…but he knew that there was no actual substance for salvation within them, he knew Jesus was the substance. He continued to do these Jewish things to win Jews and go where the Jews were.

    What is the difference between Paul and a MBB doing the same thing? Being Muslim, but one who follows Jesus. That’s what Paul did…he was a Jew who followed Jesus.

    That’s what I meant by looking syncretic. Especially when you look at the councils…They were quite confused on what was happening (more with the Gentiles) with Paul’s ministry. Paul’s whole ministry looked syncretic at times when you think that he went to the synagogue, had Timothy circumcised, practiced the Sabbath, etc. Again…from afar it looked syncretic when Paul tweeted and blogged about what he was doing back in the day ;)

  19. Seth, you said, “But, if we are honest…didn’t Paul look like a syncretic in his day sometimes to the Jews?”

    How in the world did Paul look like a syncretic??? For he was COMPLETELY JEWISH (He repeatedly said he did not break the Law – so he was circumcised, ate no food to idols, observed Sabbath, etc.)

    Great conversation! :-)

  20. Oops. Somehow the quoted text did not come through. It reads as such:
    p. 139
    ….the real danger of “knowledge apart from love” is that “weak” believers—those who have recently come into the congregation out of paganism–may be influenced to revert back to former religious routines offensive both to the God of Israel and to the apostle (8:10)”

    p. 141-2
    The issue, then, is not merely public relations or the spiritual subversion of immature Christians; the issue is that any tinkering with pagan deities, no matter how trivial, contaminates the congregation’s covenant with God……
    ….While more mature believers are responsible to abstain from practices that might incline the immature to choose the gods of pagan culture over faith, the immature must be held accountable to avoid the destructive power of any other idolatrous allegiance. Working out one’s salvation within the faith community is a collaborative work that enjoins “weak” and “strong” to form friendships that are by turns responsive to God’s love and the spiritual requirements of other believers

  21. Greetings. I would like to dove-tail into Roger Dixon’s comment by means of a book on the holiness of the church that I am reading. It is called “Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament” by K. E. Brower and Andy Johnson. In it is an article by Robert Wall and here are a few things he says…
    (pp. 141-2)
    <<<<>>>>>>

    What I like about Wall’s article is that he identifies a paternalism that absolves new believers of any responsibility…kind of like “oh poor Muslim Background Believer”…and then the “strong” believers are to take on all the responsibility. His article brings some good balance to the situation where only the “strong” believers must be very circumspect. It is really a two way street. Likewise the “strong” must not put themselves in a situation where they are the ‘savior’ of the new believer.

    I can’t help but wonder if some of this discussion centers around the fact that we really don’t believe that God is capable to bring to completion the salvation for which Christ paid for.–no excuse for ‘stumbling block behavior’ but it was a big part of Paul’s doctrine. We must not forget that he will bring to glory all of those who he has saved. (but I am sure I am preempting another sovereign grace subject that Georges has up his sleeve .

  22. Victor, I believe it was Timothy who was circumcised (Acts 16:1-3), and had nothing to do with the law, it was “Because of the Jews.” Paul was more concerned for the integrity of the gospel, and he wasn’t going to have circumcision shut the door on their testimony, however when Peter was hypocritically acting with the Judaizers, Paul opposed him, because that action was ruining the integrity of the gospel (The Judaizers were “Believers” adding to grace).

  23. victor says:
    July 30, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Thanks Mike. Even if you abstain from pork when with Muslims (but eat pork with non-Muslims), the Muslim you are trying to reach will not be impressed at all. He will nonetheless be offended by you, for you are still a pork-eater!

    I’m not sure we’re in disagreement. This is my point, maybe in a Muslim context you refrain from pork, and possibly even pray 5 times a day? Is it wrong to do that (Pray five times a day)?

  24. George.
    I don’t know you at all and won’t pretend to and if you ever wanted to simply talk about this over skype or email…more than happy to do so as well. The reason I say this, is that I am not into saying stuff, to merely sound “right” in a debate. And know…I am NOT saying this is what you are doing either. I am more interested, as I assume you are as well, in getting to the heart of the matter to win people to follow Jesus.

    Although your articles draw some straw men, which I am sure you are aware of (such as…”prostitutes to prostitutes, idolators to idolators, etc.) I merely want to point out what I have learned as I have engaged, not only Muslims, but Western Pastors and theologians.

    It seems as though we Westerns think we have “it” down when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus and like to speak from afar to those who are perishing, being beaten and publicly shamed for their honest faith and following of Jesus. These people are seeking ways to follow Jesus and proclaim in ways that are not Western, so we seem to point fingers and discourage them.

    I guess my question comes in to simply ask, “Shouldn’t we trust in the same Spirit of God that allowed men to go out two by two in the NT and proclaim Jesus in their contexts, for those doing it today?” Shouldn’t we trust that God is using those in their contexts to shine as witnesses to proclaim Jesus? Will it sometimes look like syncretism to us in the West? Yes. But, if we are honest…didn’t Paul look like a syncretic in his day sometimes to the Jews? Again…continually going to the synagogues, having Timothy circumcised, saying don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, to then saying eat meat if you want in Romans, shaving his head, etc. The issue was, is that when he reported back of the Gentile and Jewish conversions, it might have looked quite odd to the councils, etc. but they trusted in the Spirit and sovereignty of God.

    I just find it odd, not saying this is you, but Western Christendom as a whole, sits back in our comfy offices and homes over here and tell those in the “hard areas” of the world to be ready to die for their faith.

    I would rather listen to them, who literally live out 2 Timothy 3:12 than us theologians over here who merely write about it.

    Why don’t we instead let them be all things to all people, while God saves some and help, support them and pray for God’s Spirit to overwhelm the areas they are ministering? I fear we are not supporting them, but tearing them down both physically and spiritually.

    Thanks for your articles and again…let me know if you ever want to talk.

    Please don’t take these as “stabs” at you personally…

    Peace.

    Seth.

  25. John/Victor/Mike,

    Thank you all for your comments/wisdom. It has really helped.

    Pardon all my questions, I hope you don’t take them as me necessarily “disagreeing” with you because for the most part I do. For most of my Christian life I have been massively confused with the Old Testament Law, particularly what on earth God saw/sees as being inherently evil about eating pork or shrimp or wearing clothes made of two different fabrics (???). I don’t deny that the law is perfect or that it’s not from God, but its many seemingly picky and insignificant rules, however, have always befuddled me. If we ought to keep the law by being circumcised or refrain from idol food, as has been discussed here, then why do so many millions of Christians think nothing of eating pork and shrimp on a regular basis? So anytime a discussion pertaining to the law comes up, I always have questions :) I am just trying to understand the balance between the necessity of the law and our freedom from it (or its “curse”) on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice as is so often taught by Paul, and I do not want to fall on either incorrect, extreme way of viewing the law (legalism or abandonment). This fantastic article and the following discussion have really pricked my questions. Thank you all for your perspectives.

  26. John, you said…

    “Paul and Jesus:
    did not have other gods.
    did not take God’s name in vain
    did not steal
    did not commit adultery
    did not covet
    honored mother and father
    kept Sabbath
    . . .
    kept the Law”

    and I completely agree! All I was saying was that the WAY they kept it was not by looking at the law, seeing these specific commandments, and then went out to try to “keep” them. They lived by the law of Christ, the law of love, in that if you love God and others as a lifestyle, you will not BY DEFAULT:

    have other gods
    take God’s name in vain
    steal
    commit adultery

    And by default WILL

    honor father and mother
    honor the Sabbath
    Etc….

    In this way we do/do not do these things out of a motivation of love, not of obligation or blind obedience or eyeservice. It seems that this concept, this law of love, is hammered all over the New Testament far more than trying to keep the Law itself, which is what the Galatian church was criticized for. :)

  27. Remember that Paul was an APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES. Thus he would have been the first to, for example, eat food sacrificed to idols.

    However, he repeatedly asserted that he NEVER ate food sacrificed to idols (Paul defended that he never broke the Law)!

    Also, since Paul never broke the Law (nor taught against it), Titus was EVENTUALLY CIRCUMCISED.

  28. Thanks Mike. Even if you abstain from pork when with Muslims (but eat pork with non-Muslims), the Muslim you are trying to reach will not be impressed at all. He will nonetheless be offended by you, for you are still a pork-eater!

  29. (cont.) proclaim the truth so that some will hear the truth (As God opens their eyes and ears), and respond to the gospel in truth. This is what happened in Athens (Acts 17), and when the gospel is properly contextualized some will reject it and hate, some will desire to talk further, and some will believe (Acts 17:32-34). I agree, we are to preach Christ and Christ crucified, and allow the Holy Spirit to work, but let’s do that in a language that people can understand, so that they can reject the truth, and not our western versions of it.

  30. I’d say that everything this post says is right on in relation to the exegesis of the passage, especially in the sense of showing the fallacy that this called to be a “Greek to the Greek.” However I have never used this passage for this means, and not sure why it was something to defend against.

    What I find hard to agree with is the conclusion that this is a passage that demonstrates “De-Contextualization?” It’s anything but. The thrust of the passage, and the surrounding context as George is right to point out is found in verse 12 of chapter 9, “We endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” This is Paul’s heart. It isn’t law driven, it is gospel driven, so when Paul is around the Jews, he will abandon his right to not circumcise Timothy (Acts 16), because it would be a stumbling block for the gospel to unbelieving Jews, but if circumcision Which doesn’t mean anything (1 Corinthians 7:19), would destroy the gospel by adding to it, and making gentiles stumble, as in the case of Paul opposing Peter, then he would refrain from dding circumcision to the equation.

    This is exactly what contextualization is, an adaptation of methodology to communicate clearly the gospel, while removing any “Hindrance” of the gospel that would cause anyone to “Stumble,” and reject a caricature of the gospel and not the gospel itself. Biblical contextualization is not the “Dumbing Down” or “Watering” down of the gospel so people will like it, it’s the removal of barriers so people can understand it. It’s not “Making the gospel relevant,” as some suppose, it’s communicating the gospel in relevant language. Paul is merely saying that for the sake of the gospel, he is going to place his rights on the side, and “become” what it takes (Apart from sin, etc.) to

  31. To clarify a comment I left earlier, 1 Cor. 9 is dealing with issues that affect people within the Church, not people outside the Church.
    It is possible to extrapolate it in some ways to unbelievers but there would hardly be any justification for saying that Paul would adjust his life values and behavior to that of “all men.”
    See: See: Thiselton, Anthony C. “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (The New International Greek Testament Commentary- Eerdmans)

  32. Troy, you said, “Paul and Jesus kept the law, but they did not keep it by “keeping” the law. They kept it by loving one another.”

    Paul and Jesus:
    did not have other gods.
    did not take God’s name in vain
    did not steal
    did not commit adultery
    did not covet
    honored mother and father
    kept Sabbath
    . . .
    kept the Law

    God bless!

  33. Troy, thanks. Great discussion. You said, concerning circumcision, “Now if doing so keeps a brother from stumbling, then yes we do it, because we do so out of love for our weak brother. However if there is no cause for anyone to stumble in not being circumcised, then why do it, for “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”?”

    But what if you are good friends with one weak brother who is circumcised and another weak brother who is not circumcised? What do you do?

    Obviously you don’t get circumcised one day and then get uncircumcised (!) the next week. And then get circumcised again the following month, and so on.

    THIS IS TOO CONFUSING. :-0 And God is not a God of confusion. There is one set of rules for all (not one set for Jews and another for Greeks).

  34. Hello Troy,

    First, I like your comments, but I think further thought needs to be given to unclean verses idolatry. Eating something unclean isn’t necessarily idolatry. However, I think there are several veins going through Paul’s discussion here in Acts, and other places.

    – Unclean vs. Clean
    – Idolatry vs. God-centeredness
    – Freedom vs. Weaker Brothers

    All of these are different arguments, and equally as valid when discussing contextualism. While food sacrificed to Idols may be clean, they are still tied to idol worship. We have freedom to eat anything however it is prepared but we cannot be participants in the alter.

    So certainly during Paul’s times, on feast days, food would be served that was sacrificed at the alters, and then shared and perhaps sold in the markets, or given to guest and visitors in certain houses. To this Paul is saying we know it’s just meat.

    However, later to the Corinthians he says we know sacrifices given to Idols are given to demons. Is it a meat issue there? Nope. It’s an idolatry issue. It is different being served sacrificed meat after the fact via friends/family, marketplace, etc… it is another to be part of the sacrificing.

    This is where I think IM makes the fatal mistake. They think they can participate in the alter, and think about Jesus, and they are all good. There are many people doing this by praying in Mosques, bowing to Mecca, to the Shahada. This isn’t dealing with the unclean, maybe not even the weaker brother issues, but certainly is idolatry.

    My question to IM people is simply this does missions need the model of a social/anthropological academic form, or does missions need to follow the model God laid out by the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:17-18). They did not compromise. They did not syncretize. They did not bow and lie, or mutter Yahweh’s name as they knelt. They were quite clear, they would not bend their knees, they would not compromise, they would not do anything but stand firm on God, His Word, and His sovereignty.

  35. Victor,
    Thank you so much for your comments. They helped give me good perspectives on my questions. God bless you in your growth and service to Him. I did, though, find a couple of your comments which seem to go against certain Scripture, which I highlight below:

    “But Paul never told Jews NOT to be circumcised”

    True, but he also never told them to BE circumcised, either. Instead what he says in Galatians 5 (keeping in mind this particular letter was written to believers) is that “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but faith working through love.” The problem with the Galatian church was that they still felt compelled to keep the law, instead of relying on the law of Christ, which as Paul explains in Romans 13, is to: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery’…and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Christ said the same thing in Matthew 22. I agree with you that Paul and Jesus kept the law, but they did not keep it by “keeping” the law. They kept it by loving one another. Therefore the law is not as much a law of obedience, but a law of love. Therefore at first I’m not sure I can agree with your statement, “We SHOULD get circumcised, eventually,” because that seems to be more a requirement of the law, not a law of love. Now if doing so keeps a brother from stumbling, then yes we do it, because we do so out of love for our weak brother. However if there is no cause for anyone to stumble in not being circumcised, then why do it, for “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”?

    Rest assured I understand I have limited perspective on this, being human and learning constantly, but I write only what the Scripture seems to be saying. Appreciate yours or anyone else’s response :)

    To John, thank you also for your comments, and you also said:

    “Therefore Paul did not teach that Christians are free to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

    I see what your saying, but what Paul says in Romans 14 about the same subject, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” seems to be saying otherwise. It sounds to me that Paul is saying that it is silly for any mature Christian to think that something like meat is in and of itself “sin” or “evil” and therefore we shouldn’t eat it; evil may dwell in physical beings (humans), but it is not itself a physical thing. However if we abuse that freedom by neglecting the conscience of those who, in their youthful weakness, think (or come from a background that thinks) that eating such meat is evil, then we are causing the stumbling block, and that is certainly a form of evil.

    Paul also says in that chapter: “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him…He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God…Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.”

    So Paul seems to be saying that of course the meat itself is not unclean, but he also condemns the ignorance and pride of those who eat it in the company of those who are not yet at the maturity level to know it is not unclean. Doing so causes a stumbling block.

    I ask all these questions because I am in the works to leave for S. Asia this winter for at least a year to work among Muslims, and I only want to be assured of how to conduct myself in such areas around those I will meet, so as to avoid both destructive stumbling blocks and falling back into the legalistic mentality that Christ died to free these Muslims from. I hope my comments and questions lead only to edification and growth, and I do not at all want to get into any “arguments over words” that serve only to divide and not edify. Appreciate anyone’s input into this. Feel free to correct anywhere that I may have gone off :)

  36. If Paul taught that he was free to eat food sacrificed to idols, then he would have been the first to eat such food. Why? Because he was an apostle to the Gentiles. But Paul never ate food sacrificed to idols (He said that he never broke the Law). Therefore Paul did not teach that Christians are free to eat food sacrificed to idols.

  37. If this article’s interpretation of Scripture is correct, then Paul would have taught against circumcising Jews, for their Law (legalism) was a stumbling block to them, just as food sacrificed to idols was a stumbling block to Greeks.

    But Paul never told Jews NOT to be circumcised.

  38. Troy, you asked, “What about the things they think we SHOULD do (positives, such as getting circumcised), but we OCs know we don’t need to? Where’s the line drawn between DOING these things for the sake of not offending (“stumbling”) a brother or sister and between slipping too much into these people’s unbelieving backgrounds?”

    We SHOULD get circumcised, eventually. Paul was easing the new converts into keeping the Law; this is why he didn’t immediately require circumcision. The Jerusalem Council determined the requirements for new believers (Note that they are part of the Law known as the Noahide covenant). And imagine the relief of the Gentiles for not having to get circumcised right away!

    “If OC does get circumcised, he knows he has done nothing wrong, but does NC see it as OC agreeing that he needs to fulfill the law? Is that the same as slipping into the “old nature” practices of legalistic Judaism?”

    Legalistic Judaism is the practice of the Law in order to get to heaven. The proper way however to keep in the law is to keep it the way Paul and Jesus did (not out of legalism). If you keep it the way Paul and Jesus did, then you will not slip “into the ‘old nature’ practices of legalistic Judaism.”

    Great points you brought up Troy.

    Paul was not a hypocrite. He did not eat food sacrificed to idols when he was with Gentiles and then refuse food sacrificed to idols when he was with Jews. Neither did Paul commit adultery when he was with Gentiles but remain pure when he was with Jews (same Law!).

    Paul established one set of rules for all, i.e., all converts must keep the Law (like he and Jesus), but they can be eased into it.

  39. So if Old Christian (OC) is uncircumcised, and New Christian (NC, who comes from a Jewish background) is both circumcised and is not yet mature enough to understand how he is free from the law (or curse of the law, however you want to word it) and is offended by OC’s uncircumcision, should OC get circumcised? If he doesn’t get circumcised, he knows he has the freedom to not need to, but NC is offended; is that the same as a “stumbling block”? If OC does get circumcised, he knows he has done nothing wrong, but does NC see it as OC agreeing that he needs to fulfill the law? Is that the same as slipping into the “old nature” practices of legalistic Judaism?

    I ask because this is the subject of Paul’s discourse here, but also because it seems (at first glance) that Paul’s principle as it is layed out here applies only to things NCs think we should NOT do (negatives, such as NOT eating idol food)…what about the things they think we SHOULD do (positives, such as getting circumcised), but we OCs know we don’t need to? Where’s the line drawn between DOING these things for the sake of not offending (“stumbling”) a brother or sister and between slipping too much into these people’s unbelieving backgrounds?

    I hope all that made sense. Appreciate anyone’s input to these questions.

    God bless you all in your service and love to Him.

  40. Jesus and Paul not only kept the Law but they also taught everyone to keep it. They practiced what they preached.

    Paul understood the difficulty of working with Gentile converts. Thus he introduced them slowly to the Law with the goal of eventually bringing them fully into it.

    There are not two sets of rules – one for Jews and one for Greeks. There is only one set of rules for both Jews and Greeks.

    We are not free from the Law but from the curse of the Law. This is an important distinction. Jesus and Paul exemplified this beautifully. They kept the Law.

    What happens if we accept Christ but do not follow the Law? We go to heaven but we do not experience the blessings of Deuteronomy 28.

  41. John, Thanks for your question and citing that important verse. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever attacked Jewish law. Paul said the LAW is GOOD.
    “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (I Timothy 1:8)
    “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”(Romans 7:16)
    Jesus fulfilled the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

    This strengthens my argument that because the law in itself is good, Paul had no problem practicing it although in Christ has become free from it. Paul’s theology of the law is clear in his various epistles that the law does not save us even if it is good.
    It is one thing to follow the law of God, it is another thing to practice any law of man such as Islamic law. Some claim that it is similar to the OT law. But similar is not identical.
    Let us discuss and help each other understand these deep things of God. But let us not impose on the text our preconceived concepts and theories.

  42. Please reconsider what you mean by “freedom.” For Paul in Acts 25:8 said, “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews . . .” This means that Paul must not have eaten food sacrificed to idols. Nor did he advocate such.

    What do you think?

  43. Sorry to keep filling up Georges comment section but I just have to reiterate that Georges’ exposition accords with that of the most scholarly work that has been done on 1 Cor. The passage is about ministering to believers, not unbelievers. The stress is on protecting the weak believer. The message is that we sacrifice our own rights to protect the weak brother or sister. See: Thiselton, Anthony C. “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (The New International Greek Testament Commentary- Eerdmans)

    Thanks Georges for setting this forth for the missionary community.

  44. Dear Brother Georges,

    Let me congratulate you on the two excellent articles dealing with the proper interpretation of the passages in I Corinthians that the IMers had high jacked to use in their propaganda. It is shocking how so-called scholarly men have fallen for this heresy, that is anti-Biblical, and anti-historical. It reminds me of the 1930s report, “RE-THINKING MISSIONS,” that was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller, and was published uner the chairmanship of Harvard philosophy professor, William Hocking.

    The results of the report, when put into practice, were devastating on the mission work of the mainline Protestant denominations. I experienced that personally, as I was growing up in Syria and Lebanon between the two World Wars. The work of the pioneers (Eli Smith, Cornelius Van Dyck, Henry H. Jessup) was almost destroyed, and the young Evangelical Churches of Syria and Lebanon were thrown into the modernist camp.

    Ironically, the danger now comes from certain Evangelicals who are impatient to see results on work among Muslims, and are advocating radical views regarding how converts from Islam must reorder their new lives.

    In the mid-1950s, a Protestant theologian who, upon his retirement, gave his final lecture on “Balanced Christianity.” As you so well demonstrated in the passages you exegeted, Paul maintained a wonderful balance in his statements, so as not to be misunderstood or misquoted. I remember the Professor saying that heresy is a truth pushed to an extreme, without taking the other side of the truth into consideration. Such was the Arian heresy that emphasized to such an extreme point the human nature of Christ, as to deny His deity.

    May the Lord continue to bless you in your strategic ministry.

    In Christ, the Lord of Missions,

    Bassam

  45. Georges. Good news! I agree! Well said and well written. Not that it’s worth much, but I’ve never thought that this passage had much to do with contextualization and have not used it in that way.

    And you even gave me a new thought which i appreciate – your thought about honoring the weaker brother (in this case a Muslim convert) by NOT exercising our “rights” to be involved in Islamic rituals. That’s good. Never thought of it that way.

    In my world, my biggest challenge is this – I’m typically surrounded by people from all walks/views. Even though you may see me as a radical IM or C-5 guy, I’ve never seen it that way. But I am around them at times. But I’m just as likely to be with a Muslim who has converted to Christianity and lives in the States. And an Evangelical Arab pastor with some Christian leaders from the States. When it really gets wild is when all of those are with me at the same time (which happens regularly).

    So this point is helpful for me. I can say to my MBB friend, who has stayed completely in his context, to honor the brother who has not chosen that way – based on this passage. There is no need for the MBB to show how “Muslim he is” in front of the others – this can be a form of arrogance (which I’ve seen go both ways).

    in the end, as we interpret our ministries, religions and cultures through the eyes of scripture, we need to pray for humility since we still only see part of the story. And I appreciated the tone of this article. Thank you!
    carl

  46. Ant Greenham on

    Thanks for your helpful insights Georges

    When I teach the 1 Cor 9 passage to my missions classes, I summarize it with the following words: Sensitivity not Capitulation.

  47. Thank you Georges: Your piece reminds me of the TV show Mythbusters. On that show they take what is said to be “truth” by some and show that it is actually in error. You have done the same by showing the error of those who have contorted this passage and have “busted their myth” that Paul was the ultimate pragmatist—end justifies the means. Your piece strongly parallels the talk that the New Testament scholar, Don Carson gave at the Together for the Gospel conference in 2009. Here is the link for his talk entitled: “That By All Means I Might Win Some’: Faithfulness and Flexibility in Gospel Proclamation” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
    http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/That-By-All-Means-I-Might-Win-Some

    Blessings as you contend for the faith, once and for all delivered to the saints, and not by IM

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