The Jerusalem Debate – Objection Number 10: Paul didn’t go to Jerusalem for 14 years, so we don’t have to (or shouldn’t) go either. | The Lamb’s Servant
Response by Bob Parham
The first thing I have to ask is this: When did Paul’s (or anyone else’s) obedience or lack thereof eliminate my obligation to obey Yah’s eternal Commands? Yeshua’s obedience didn’t cancel out Torah, so Paul’s apparent disobedience certainly doesn’t have the authority to cancel out Torah! And if I have to choose, I will choose to follow YESHUA before I follow Paul!
The apostles were human and made some bad mistakes – even sins. For example, Peter had to be rebuked and corrected for withholding the Good News of salvation from Gentiles. (Acts 10)
Paul was also a MAN and subject to sin just like the rest of us. For example, Paul and Barnabas had a big fight over a non-salvational issue (Acts 15:36-39), and it seems that it took a long time for them to forgive one another. Does that mean that it’s okay for me to be angry with my brother about such things and divide from him over it?
Bottom line: Even if Paul DIDN’T attend the feasts for 14 years, for ANY reason, what bearing does that have on MY obligation to obey Yah’s commands?
Now I suspect that IF Paul remained away from Jerusalem for 14 years, it was for the same reasons you and I might remain away: inability to travel. But I believe that Paul DID go to Jerusalem during that 14 year period, and here’s why:
The objection comes from Galatians 1:13 – 2:2. Let’s take a look at that passage:
(13) For you have heard of my [Paul’s] previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. (14) I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (15) But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased (16) to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. (17) I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. (18) Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. (19) I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. (20) I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (21) Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. (22) I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. (23) They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (24) And they praised God because of me.
(2:1) Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. (2) I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
Now let’s take a close look at what Paul said here.
He didn’t go up to Jerusalem until after three years (Gal. 1:18) and again after fourteen years (Gal. 2:1). Did Paul give a reason for his NOT going up to Jerusalem until after three and fourteen years?
He sure did! Let’s read chapter 1 verse 17 again.
I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
Why did Paul not go up to Jerusalem? It clearly states here and throughout this passage that he didn’t go up “TO SEE THOSE WHO WERE APOSTLES”. He never went to meet with the Apostles or the esteemed leaders in Jerusalem for fourteen years.
Take a look at how Paul opens up his letter to the Galatians:
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) (Gal 1:1)
In each of the statements Paul makes referring to his visits to Jerusalem, he specifies the people he met with on each visit. His point here is not how often he went to Jerusalem, but rather when he met with the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. He is defending his declaration that his doctrine came not from church leaders, but from Yeshua Himself. He met with these people AFTER he had been teaching for many years; therefore, he declares, his doctrine came from his meeting with Yeshua, NOT through men, thereby justifying his title of ‘apostle.’
Does this, therefore, mean that he never went up to Jerusalem, at all, for any reason, during those 14 years? I don’t believe so. Let me illustrate why.
Valerie and I live in Aqaba, Jordan, only a few kilometers from Arabia where Paul had gone. We have lived here for over ten years. During those ten years, Valerie and I have never gone up to Jerusalem to meet with the elders at Christ Church in Jerusalem.
Paul had to make sure you knew he wasn’t lying when he made his similar statement:
I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (Galatians 1:20)
I also assure you that what I have written concerning Valerie and I not going up to Jerusalem for ten years is also not a lie.
Why did Paul have to point that out? Had he been seen in Jerusalem at times during those fourteen years?
It seems to me that most likely he had been there, because his testimony to those who wanted to kill him was that he always kept all the commands and customs of his fathers. He would have kept the three Pilgrimage Feasts in Jerusalem, just as Valerie and I have for the past ten years! Yes, did you catch that? For the last TEN YEARS, we have gone up to Jerusalem three times a year.
Did I just lie by stating that during the past ten years I never went up to Jerusalem AND I did go up to Jerusalem three times a year? Can both statements be true?
It is true that for the last ten years we have never once gone up to Jerusalem TO MEET WITH THE CHRIST CHURCH ELDERS. But it is also true that for the last 10 years we have gone up to Jerusalem TO GO TO THE THREE PILGRIMAGE FEASTS.
We do Paul a disservice when we call him a liar. He tells us that he is a carefully observant Pharisee and that he always keeps all the commands and customs of the fathers. The church elders AGREED with him and tried to work out a way for him to prove it to the Jerusalem believers (Acts 21). When we say that Paul didn’t observe the feasts – a crucial part of Yah’s commands – we are calling him a liar.
We need to be careful that we don’t take scripture and twist it in ways that make us feel better about what we are (or aren’t) doing. Our twisting of scripture is always to our own destruction, according to Peter.
As a side note, I don’t want this to sound like we are great and holy people here. We are still not keeping all the commands that go along with the feasts, simply because we are unable to. For example, all believing men are commanded to bring their sacrifices before YAH in Jerusalem. None of the men that I know who go up to Jerusalem are bringing ‘sacrifices’, although many bring offerings of money for the poor and for the Temple fund. As I mentioned earlier, when we are in Jerusalem, we still have a time of mourning during our festive times because we can’t keep ALL His commands regarding the feasts.
It’s because of the sins of the nation of Israel that there is no Temple, no altar and no priest for us to be able to keep the laws of sacrifice. Therefore, we go into the Old City quite often and pray in repentance for our sins and the sins of our fathers that prevent us from truly keeping all parts of the feasts each time we come.
But we know that one day Yeshua, our Messiah is coming back to stand with us in Jerusalem. He is going to re-institute the Torah of YAH completely. When He does, we want to be there in Jerusalem with Him celebrating the feasts as He prescribed, learning the complete meaning of each feast from Him!
What a great and glorious day that will be. I hope to see you (and the Apostle Paul) in Jerusalem!