Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. Sha’ul came down to Derbe and went on to Lystra, where there lived a talmid named Timothy. He was the son of a Jewish woman who had come to trust, and a Greek father.
He was the son of a Jewish woman and therefore a Jew, not a Gentile. Many Christians suppose he was a Gentile for at least these two reasons: (1) At Numbers 1:2 God calls for a census of Israel "by their families, by their fathers' houses." (2) The genealogies in the Tanakh always mention the men and only rarely the women.
Nevertheless, while legal responsibilities and entitlements are passed from father to son (see Mt I:IN on "Son of and 'Son of Avraham," Mt 1:24-25N, Lk 3:23-38N), Jewish and non-Jewish descent are invariably traced through the mother, not the father. The child of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father is Jewish, the child of a Gentile mother and a Jewish father is Gentile. If a Gentile woman converts to Judaism, she is a Jew, and her subsequent children are likewise Jewish. The questions for us are. First, whether this was the case in the first century, and, second, even if it was, is it authorized biblically? In his interesting book. Who Was A Jew? — Rabbinic and Halakhic Perspectives on the Jewish Christian Schism (Hoboken. New Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1985), Lawrence H. Schiffman has a chapter, "The Jew By Birth," in which he dates matrilineal Jewish descent to at least the second and probably the first century C.E., adducing as evidence Mishna Kiddushin 3:12, Tosefta Kiddushin 4:16, and Josephus. Among the supportive biblical passages is Ezra 10:2-3: "And Shechanyah... answered Ezra, 'We have trespassed against our God and taken foreign wives from the people living in the Land.... So, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and such as are born to them....'"
The phrase, "and such as are born to them," implies that the children of Jewish fathers and Gentile mothers are Gentiles and not Jews; otherwise they would not be excluded from the Jewish people in this covenant. Oved, the son of Bo'az and Ruth the Moabitess, is Jewish not because of his father Bo'az but because Ruth became Jewish first, not by some formal conversion process (there was none at the time) but with her confession, "Your people shall be my people and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16; 4:9-10, 21-22). Schiffman discusses these and other relevant biblical passages, concluding that inheriting Jewishness and non-Jewishness through the mother goes "back as far as the mid-fifth century B.C.E." (Who Was A Jew'.', p. 161. In other words, the practice is biblical. Former Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren gives evidence that not only is it biblical but many centuries older; see his article on pp. 32-37 in Baruch Litvin, compiler, and Sidney B. Hoenig, editor, Jewish Identity: Modern Responsa and Opinions on the Registration of Children of Mixed Marriages (Jerusalem & New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1970).
The importance of tracing Jewishness through the mother increased when Jewish life became disrupted and Jewish families were broken apart by conquerors and persecutors. The rabbis reasoned, first, that where Jewish women were being abused it might be impossible to determine who the father was and therefore whether he was Jewish; and, second, that since a child's loyalties are often determined by the mother because she spends more time with him, a child raised by a Jewish mother and a Gentile father is more likely to be brought up loyal to Judaism than the child of a Jewish father and a i .entile mother who will not give him the early training that builds such devotion.
The conclusion that Timothy was a Jew and not a Gentile is important for understanding v. 3&N.
Timothy was the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek father. Since exogamy violates Jewish law, an explanation is called for, although any conclusion must be a conjecture. I think the most likely reason for Timothy's mixed parentage is that Timothy's mother, Eunice (2 Ti 1:5), like many Jews today, was assimilated into the dominant Gentile culture around her and simply did not observe halakhah. Before coming to New Covenant faith she married a non-Jew, but afterwards her pagan and nonbelieving husband left or died; whereupon she raised her son in the faith "from childhood" (2 Ti 3:15). Possibly she and Timothy went to live with her Messianic Jewish mother Lois (2 Ti 1:5).
Many Messianic Jews like to say that believing in Yeshua "makes us even more Jewish." One result, in some cases, is that we become more attentive to Jewish laws and customs. But if the above explanation of why Timothy's father was Gentile is correct, it is clear that coming to faith did not make Eunice more observant. For if she had been observant, she would have seen to it herself that her son got circumcised. In Judaism the responsibility for circumcising a Jewish boy rests with his Jewish father but not, of course, with a Gentile father. If the father is unwilling or, as in this case, unable to take responsibility for his son's circumcision, the beit-din (Jewish religious court) sees to it, acting on behalf of the Jewish commmunity as a whole. If a boy has not been circumcised by the time he reaches thirteen, bar-mitzvah age, the obligation to get circumcised becomes his own. While the mother is not directly accountable for her son's circumcision, nothing prevents her from urging the boy's father or the beit-din to act. Unlike Moses' wife Zipporah (Exodus 4:25), Eunice did not take this responsibility on herself, which is why Timothy was still uncircumcised when Sha'ul arrived on the scene, so that he. himself an observant Jew (see 13:9N), acted in loco patris (v. 3&N).
Here are other possible reasons, likewise speculative, why Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Gentile father:
(1) It was not a marriage but the rape of an observant Jewish woman. This is not impossible, given the antisemitism and level of violence in ancient Roman society. This explanation has appeal for Messianic Jews who would like to paint a picture of every Jewish believer as Torah-tme and gloss over the fact that the Gospel has appeal for assimilated Jews too.
(2) Eunice came to faith before her marriage and therefore considered herself no longer Jewish but Christian, therefore not subject to the Torah, so that she had no scruples about marrying outside her people. Those who think accepting Yeshua decreases Jewish loyalty or frees a Jew from the Law might prefer this explanation, but the New Testament evidence is against it. Jews who accepted Yeshua as the Messiah did not suddenly consider themselves ex-Jews; everything in the book of Acts demonstrates exactly the opposite. Moreover, accepting Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah does not free a Jew from the Law; this point is made in numerous notes in this commentary. A different point: although there is no specific evidence that the leaching had yet been promulgated, we know that believers in Yeshua were encouraged to marry other believers (1С 7:39&N).
(3) She simply fell in love with the man. But this explanation reflects twentieth-century fantasy, not first-century reality.
2. All the brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy.
3. Sha’ul wanted Timothy to accompany him; so he took him and did a b’rit-milah, because of the Jews living in those areas; for they all knew that his father had been a Greek.
Sha'ul... took him and did ab'rit-milah, which can imply that he had an expert mohel ("circumciser") perform the operation. While Sha'ul had both Jewish ritual knowledge (22:3) and at least some manual dexterity (18:3), circumcising an adult is not a simple operation and normally requires a specialist. Because of the Jews living in those areas. A number of non-Messianic Jewish thinkers have a high regard for Yeshua. Even if they don't acknowledge him as the Messiah they consider him to have been a good Jew whose teachings were well within the rubric of Judaism and whose life can serve as an example to all (but see Yn 5:17-18N, 14:6N). It was Paul, they say, Sha'ul, who was "the villain of the piece," he who paganized Judaism by presenting Yeshua as a man-god, diluted it by throwing out the Law, and whose opportunism stopped at nothing as he tried to win Gentiles to himself after failing to convince the Jews. The present verse can help put this canard to rest.
Sha'ul's detractors would say that his circumcising Timothy was motivated by sheer opportunism, that he did not care a whit about the commandment itself (see 15: IN) and in fact explicitly taught that circumcision didn't matter at all (1С 7:19; Ga 5:6, 6:15), and that he circumcised Timothy only "because of the Jews, that is, to conciliate them, so that they would not raise the issue. But this theory conflicts with the New Testament evidence. Sha'ul himself observed the Torah to the end of his life (see 13:9&N for references), and he never taught Messianic Jews to stop observing it (21:20-27&NN.).
So, if "because of the Jews" does not mean to conciliate them, what does it mean? It means that even though it was not Sha'ul's responsibility to have Timothy circumcised (see v. IN), he took it upon himself because he did not want Timothy's uncircumcision to provoke questioning that would impede the Gospel. The Gospel itself contains the stumblingblock of the Messiah's death (1С 1:23), and a good proclaimer of the Gospel will remove ail other stumblingblocks if he can. That is the point: Sha'ul anticipated the problem and solved it. Had Timothy been a Gentile there would have been no problem. Jews were glad to welcome Gentile "God-fearers." It is because Timothy was in fact Jewish by virtue of having a Jewish mother, yet uncircumcised because his Gentile father had not had him circumcised (v. IN), and because this was widely known (they all knew that his father was a Greek, or: "had been a Greek," which may imply that the father was already dead), that there was danger of the Gospel's being misrepresented as contrary to Judaism.
4. As they went on through the towns, they delivered to the people the decisions reached by the emissaries and the elders in Yerushalayim for them to observe.
Decisions, those of 15:20-29, perhaps best understood as halakhic dinim ("legal rulings"); see my Messianic Jewish Manifesto, Chapter V ("Torcih").
5. Accordingly, the congregations were strengthened in the faith and increased in number day by day.
6. They traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, because they had been prevented by the Ruach HaKodesh from speaking the message in the province of Asia.
7. When they came to the frontier of Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit of Yeshua would not let them.
8. So, after passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
9. There a vision appeared to Sha’ul at night. A man from Macedonia was standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
10. As soon as he had seen the vision, we lost no time getting ready to leave for Macedonia; for we concluded that God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them.
We concluded. The author, Luke, was with Sha'ul and reports his own experiences. The '"we' passages" continue until 16:17 and resume at 20:5.
The Holy Spirit can give specific instructions where not to go (vv. 6-7) and where to go (vv. 9-10).
11. Sailing from Troas, we made a straight run to Samothrace; the next day we went to Neapolis;
12. and from there, we went on to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that part of Macedonia. We spent a few days in this city;
13. then on Shabbat, we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we understood a minyan met. We sat down and began speaking to the women who had gathered there.
We spent a few days in the city; then on Shabbat we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we understood a minyan met The Greek words "prosevche einai" mean "where a prayer-place was"; here it is translated "where a minyan met." Prosevche often denotes a synagogue building, and synagogues were frequently built by running water in order to eliminate the need for constructing a mikveh for ritual immersion. But in this instance there is reason to suppose that there was no synagogue at the river's edge. For when the Roman Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (18:2&N), the Roman-controlled city of Philippi followed suit. In consequence, it is likely that a few Jews passed over by the expulsion order, along with other Jews who formerly lived in Philippi but now lived outside it nearby, did not have a building in which to meet and instead gathered together at the river's edge. A minyan ("quorum" of ten men) would have been enough for a regular synagogue service, and a modified version of the service could proceed with fewer men, or even with no men and only women, as is the case here, since Sha'ul and his companions spoke to the women who had gathered there.
14. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in fine purple cloth. She was already a “God-fearer,” and the Lord opened up her heart to respond to what Sha’ul was saying.
15. After she and the members of her household had been immersed, she gave us this invitation: “If you consider me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she insisted till we went.
16. Once, when we were going to the place where the minyan gathered, we were met by a slave girl who had in her a snake-spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She earned a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes.
17. This girl followed behind Sha’ul and the rest of us and kept screaming, “These men are servants of God Ha‘Elyon! They’re telling you how to be saved!”
18. She kept this up day after day, until Sha’ul, greatly disturbed, turned and said to the spirit, “In the name of Yeshua the Messiah, I order you to come out of her!” And the spirit did come out, at that very moment.
From this passage we learn:
(1) Demons can perform apparently useful services (v. 16).
(2) They can tell the truth if it serves their purpose (v. 17), even though their ruler, Satan, is "the inventor of the lie" (Yn 8:44).
(3) Nevertheless, their object is to interfere with the Gospel (v. 18).
(4) Powerful and remarkable as they are, demons must submit to the authority of Yeshua the Messiah (v. 18, Mk 1:23-27). Note that in expelling the demon Sha'ul does not address the girl but the demon, and he does not rely on his own authority but that of Yeshua (contrast 19:13-16&NN).
19. But when her owners saw that what had come out was any further prospect of profit for them, they seized Sha’ul and Sila and dragged them to the market square to face the authorities.
20. Bringing them to the judges, they said, “These men are causing a lot of trouble in our city, since they are Jews.
21. What they are doing is advocating customs that are against the law for us to accept or practice, since we are Romans.”
22. The mob joined in the attack against them, and the judges tore their clothes off them and ordered that they be flogged.
The judges tore their clothes off them and ordered that they be flogged. No mention of a trial or a defense. When antisemitic feelings run high, as in this city which had already ejected its Jews (w. 12-13N), justice also flees.
Since they are Jews (see Yn 1:19N). The charges, that they are causing trouble and advocating customs... against the law for... Romans, are both false and vague. Their purpose is only to stir up a mob: thus antisemitism throughout history. Nevertheless, these Gentile pagans were right about one thing: Jews for Jesus are Jews, not Goyim.
23. After giving them a severe beating, they threw them in prison, charging the jailer to guard them securely.
24. Upon receiving such an order, he threw them into the inner cell and clamped their feet securely between heavy blocks of wood.
25. Around midnight, Sha’ul and Sila were praying and singing hymns to God, while the other prisoners listened attentively.
26. Suddenly there was a violent earthquake which shook the prison to its foundations. All the doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.
27. The jailer awoke, and when he saw the doors open he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, for he assumed that the prisoners had escaped.
28. But Sha’ul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”
29. Calling for lights, the jailer ran in, began to tremble and fell down in front of Sha’ul and Sila.
30. Then, leading them outside, he said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?”
31. They said, “Trust in the Lord Yeshua, and you will be saved — you and your household!”
Trust in the Lord Yeshua (see 11:2O-23N), and you will be saved. There are five conditions for the salvation of individuals stated in the New Testament: (1) Believing that Yeshua is Lord and trusting in him (here, Ro 10:9).
(2) Acknowledging him publicly (Ro 10:9, Lk 12:8).
(3) Turning from sin to God (Mk 1:15, Ac 2:38).
(4) Being immersed (Ac 2:38, Mk 16:16). See v. 33&N.
(5) "Holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (MJ12:14). A person who meets the first four conditions but leads an ungodly life gives public evidence that he is not saved.
Sha'ul names only the first condition, the touchstone, sensing that the jailer is ready to meet all of the conditions as soon as they have been explained, which Sha'ul then does (v. 32).
You and your household. In the Bible a man and his family are considered as a unit far more than in the individualistic twentieth-century West; and some use this verse in advocating infant baptism (see v. 33&N). Nevertheless, the jailer's faith will not save the members of his household. Rather, Sha'ul is stating a general principle: if one trusts in Yeshua, one will be saved. This principle applies not only to the jailer, says Sha'ul, but also to his household. Another view: "and your household" is a word of knowledge (1С 12:8-10&N), a correct prediction given Sha'ul by the Holy Spirit, that the jailer's entire household would come to faith after hearing the Gospel (v. 32). See v. 33&N.
32. Whereupon they told him and everyone in his household the message about the Lord.
33. Then, even at that late hour of the night, the jailer took them and washed off their wounds; and without delay, he and all his people were immersed.
He and all his people were immersed. Including the babies? Christian denominations split on this. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists baptize babies, while Baptists and most smaller Protestant denominations do not. I personally believe that the New Testament evidence favors immersion of believers only, which is to say that "all his people" means that every person old enough to hear the Gospel message and respond to it with faith did so, with the consequence that they obeyed it and immersed themselves. Nowhere does the New Testament state that babies were ever immersed, but also nowhere does it say they were not. So, because of the unknowns, different interpreters have reached opposite conclusions.
Such disputes have divided the Body throughout its history. As a Messianic Jew I believe that Messianic Jews should interest themselves in these matters as much as other believers do. But also as Messianic Jews, living bridges of the greatest schism in the history of the world, that between the Church and the Jewish people, we should be especially aware that the Adversary uses such differences of opinion to turn one part of the Messiah's Body against another. Messianic Jews must remain in fellowship with each other and with the rest of the believers, no matter on which side of this issue or any other they stand, so long as it is clear that the basics of the faith are being preserved. Our Lord Yeshua prayed "that they" — meaning we — "may be one" (Yn 17:20-23&NN). It is far more important to live out that unily and avoid the scandal of "the Messiah... split in pieces" (1С 1:13) than to insist that one's own interpretation must be accepted (even though, when all is known, it may prove correct) at the expense of fellowship with believers who disagree.
34. After that, he brought them up to his house and set food in front of them; and he and his entire household celebrated their having come to trust in God.
35. The next morning, the judges sent police officers with the order, “Release those men.”
36. The jailer told Sha’ul, “The judges have sent word to release both of you. So come out, and go on your way in peace.”
37. But Sha’ul said to the officers, “After flogging us in public when we hadn’t been convicted of any crime and are Roman citizens, they threw us in prison. Now they want to get rid of us secretly? Oh, no! Let them come and escort us out themselves!”
38. The officers reported these words to the judges, who became frightened when they heard that Sha’ul and Sila were Roman citizens.
39. They came and apologized to them; then, after escorting them out, requested them to leave the city.
40. From the prison they went to Lydia’s house, and after seeing and encouraging the brothers they departed.
Believers in Yeshua are sometimes expected to be "meek and mild" and behave like "doormats." While we are not to sue each other (IC 6:1 -8), and we are to turn the other cheek and go the second mile (Mt 5:39-42), there is one situation where we are expected to stand adamantly, refusing to give ground; and that is where the Gospel itself is at stake. If the Gospel can be served better by fighting back, we should fight back — the fighting, of course, to be conducted ethically and by spiritual means (2C 10:3-5, Ep 6:10—18). We are to obey God rather than people (4:19&N, 5:29).
In these verses we see Sha'ul using several legitimate means: he mentions his own Roman citizenship, he points out the officials' illegal behavior — public flogging and imprisonment without a trial or conviction of any crime — and he demands public redemption of public insults. He does all this to insure his proper treatment, but not because of personal pride. His concern is for the Gospel only: he wants to ensure that no one in Philippi will come away from the incident with the impression given by Sha'ul's accusers (vv. 20-23), that the message of the Messiah is not for Romans.
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