When watching movies with my wife, she tends to intuitively identify bad plot writing. She will turn to me and say: “Why did xyz character do xyz action?” I will respond often with “because the movie has a terrible plot writer”. When watching movies, people place themselves into the shoes of the fictional characters. They try to feel what those characters feel and then use those motivations to predict behavior.
When reading history, there is no such thing as a bad script writer. The Bible is replete with stories in both the Old and New Testament involving complicated relational dynamics. It is our job to try to place ourselves into the setting and figure out historical events in context. Again, there is no such thing as a “bad script writer” in real life. If the characters’ motivations and actions seem to not make sense, there is a definite problem either with us or the text.
Recently I have been engaging in a conversation on my blog post False Brethren in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. In an effort to get the individual to start focusing on the actual text of Acts 15, I started writing out some fairly simple questions about the events described. My goal was to focus the individual on the text, to make the individual put himself into the events. That way he could actually figure out motives and relational dynamics in this very short chapter.
Here are my questions. If any reader (who is familiar with Acts 15) cannot quickly answer them, that is good indication that they are probably reading the Bible wrong. We need to be trying to understand the events. Our goal is to let the text dictate our theology, not our theology the text:
1. Who are these false brethren?
2. From where are they coming?
3. What do they believe?
4. Are they considered Christians?
5. Do they accept the authority of the twelve?
5a. If not, why do Christians accept their teachings?
5b. And also why is this mater upchanneled to the twelve for a final word?
5c. If the false brethren did accept the authority of the twelve, were the false brethren teaching what the twelve taught?
5d. Did they think that they were teaching what the twelve taught?
5e. Are the false brethren teaching that the twelve endorse their message?
5f. Do the people that they are teaching believe that the twelve endorse the message?
6. Do the Christians of Galatia already know the twelve’s answer on the issue?
6a. If not, why not?
7. Who disputes with Paul?
7a. Do the disputers accept the authority of the twelve?
7b. If the disputers are not the false brethren, then what became of the false brethren?
7b1. And if so, why didn’t Paul directly dispute with the false brethren?
8. What is the dispute about?
9. What is the resolution?
10. Who goes with Paul to find the answer?
10a. If not the false brethren, then whatever happened to the false brethren?
11. What is the purpose of bringing this mater to Jerusalem?
11a. Will the declaration of the twelve silence the false brethren?
11b. If the false brethren did not accept the teaching of the twelve then why would the people (who were influenced by the false brethren) accept the twelve’s declaration about the issue?
12. On the way to Jerusalem, what does Paul declare?
12a. Do the existing Christians see this as new and exciting news?
12b. If so, why? If not, why does the text record this message? What is the purpose?
13. What happens when Paul reaches Jerusalem?
14. The new contingent of “believers” advocating circumcision, are they Christians?
15. Are they teaching the same things or different things than the false brethren?
16. Do these “believers” accept the authority of the twelve?
16a. If not, why are they mentioned?
16b. If so, why are they teaching that people “keep the commandments of Moses”?
17. Do these “believers” have influence in the church?
18. If the teaching of the twelve is clear, why are the elders assembling to consider the matter?
19. Are the “believers” part of the heavy dispute described in verse 7?
20. Why does Peter stand up to remind people about his outreach to the Gentiles?
20a. Was Peter still actively ministering Gentiles?
20b. Does this suggest the question is being debated only in the context of Gentile believers?
21. Do verses 7-9 suggest a recent change in position regarding the Gentiles?
21a. Does the text imply widespread acceptance or rejection of this change?
22. To whom is this monologue being directed?
22a. Are they Christians?
22b. Are they debating directly against Peter and James (implying considerable sway)?
22c. What position are they taking?
22d. Do Peter and James consider them heretics?
22e. Do they ever accept the position of Peter and James?
22f. Does that acceptance cover only Gentile requirements or Jews as well?
23. In verse 12, why does Paul have to talk about the Gentiles to the “masses”?
23a. Does this suggest that the Gentiles are being widely excluded from fellowship by early Jewish Christians?
24. When James stands up to speak, who is he convincing and what is he convincing them about?
25. In verse 19, why is James declaring that his people should “trouble them not”?
25a. Is this a declaration that James’ people will do their thing and let the Gentiles do their own?
26. Why does James’ add to abstaining from idols, fornication, and blood?
27. How are the apostles and elders “pleased” by this?
27a. If the pronouncement is against circumcision, and this topic was highly debated, why would a pronouncement against circumcision please the critics?
27b. Was this pronouncement about only the Gentiles or the Jews also?
27b1. If not, then why is the resulting letter written only to the Gentiles (verse 23)?
28. Why is the resulting letter not written to the Jews of Galatia?
29. Does the letter suggest that the twelve did not command people to teach circumcision “to the Gentiles” or does it suggest the twelve did not command people to teach circumcision “to anyone”?
30. Why do the apostles send chosen men with Paul?
30a. Do the people in Galatia accept the teaching of the twelve?
30b. Do the people see the teaching of the twelve as authoritative over the false brethren? Why?
30c. Is the teaching of the false brethren strong enough to warrant sending direct representatives of the twelve?
30d. What does this suggest about questions 1 through 6?
31. Why does the letter list a few “burdens” that are “necessary”?
31a. Are these part of the twelve’s normal teaching?
31b. Does the text suggest the normal teaching by the twelve is even more burdensome?
32. What does verse 31 suggest about all the previous questions?
32a. Why do they “rejoice”? What is their mindset that encourages rejoicing at this news?
33. What does the final resolution imply about Paul’s relation to the twelve in terms of apostolic authority in Galatia?