Missionary flexibility or continuity: Paul’s purity ritual in Acts 21:18-26 in light of a Jewish Second Temple period background
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation is a reassessment of Paul’s purity rite in Acts 21:18-26. Contrary to the traditional reading of Acts 21:18-26 which views Paul’s action in contrast to the Corpus Paulinum, this study investigates the view that Acts 21:18-26 is compatible with Paul’s encounter with the Messiah of Israel and his own writings. It aims to compare, study and evaluate different approaches. First, the study examines in chapter 2 different traditional approaches to Acts 21:18-26 which argue that purity laws became obsolete after the coming of Jesus. In this light Paul’s purity ritual in Acts 21:18-26 is seen as an adaptation to the Jewish community for missionary purposes. But a plain and literary reading of Acts contradicts such a view. Chapter 3 examines new approaches such as the New Perspective on Paul. Those approaches to Pauline studies also understand ritual and ceremonial aspects of the law as overcome and obsolete. Cultic and ceremonial aspects of the Torah are separated from the moral aspects of the Torah. But a study of literature from the Second Temple period shows that Jewish literature did not have an obvious division of the Torah into three parts. Thus both traditional and new approaches to Acts 21 are unsatisfactory in their understanding of Paul’s purity ritual. More promising seems the understanding of Paul as a continuing Jew. Chapter 4 describes Paul as a man living a genuine and coherent Jewish life with individual Jewish aspects characteristic of the Second Temple period. Thus a non-supersessionist reading of the New Testament is applied. Chapter 5 interprets Acts 21:18-26 in light of a Jewish Second Temple period background embedded in the Roman world. The described events in Paul’s life are historically viable. A comparison of Acts 15 with Acts 21 demonstrates that both Gentile and Jewish identity were affirmed in the early church. Gentiles do not have to become Jews and Jews do not have to become Gentiles; both parties may live within the one church. Paul’s purity rite is a confirmation of his genuine Jewish identity and not a concession to Judaism. The final chapter compares Acts 21:18-26 with the Corpus Paulinum, especially with passages that suggest a negative view of ritual purity. But the examination shows that those texts do not express Paul’s self-understanding as a Jewish believer or his Jewish identity. Therefore, these passages cannot be used as a refutation of the ritual act described in Acts 21:18-26. It is plausible to take the purity rite in Acts 21:18-26 literally as it is described there, namely as a confirmation of Paul’s genuine Jewish identity.
- Theology