From Jerusalem To Rome: Paul And Judaism

The Third Meal and Paul’s Meeting at Troas

My dear readers, together we continue to move through the book of Acts. Acts 20 describes a dramatic incident at Troas. As local believers gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, and Scripture tells us that he “prolonged his message until midnight”. This meeting lasted so long that a young man sitting on the window-ledge, sank into a deep sleep and “fell down from the third floor”.  Then the miracle happened: Paul picked him up and resurrected him: “But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.”  This miracle was amazing, and everyone was thrilled: “they were not a little comforted” – but why did this meeting take so long to begin with? What kind of gathering was it?

The description of this meeting begins with the words: “On the first day of the week”. Literally, the original Greek phrase “en de te mia ton sabaton” means, “on the first of the Shabbat”. There is only one evening that is considered Yom Rishon – First Day – in the Jewish calendar: the evening after Shabbat day—Saturday night. The next evening would already be Yom Sheni – the Second Day – as the Jews count their days from the previous evening.

The description continues: “when the disciples came together to break bread.”  If they gathered on Saturday night, this “breaking the bread” was in fact the third and last meal of the Shabbat, called melave malkah – “escorting the queen”. According to Jewish tradition, this meal often continues until late at night: Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. The prayers before and the discussions over the meal are usually connected with the coming of Messiah. Sometimes, the meeting would last till the morning.

Even today, some churches still celebrate the Eucharist on Saturday evening. This custom is based on an ancient tradition which would have originated in the Apostolic Age: the first Jewish Believers celebrated together “Melave Malka”, and then probably observed Havdalah – the end of Shabbat – with the Lord’s Supper. In this sense, this story might be a great testimony of the Jewish customs of the Jewish Apostles.

 

Significant Episode

In Acts 18, we saw Paul taking a vow. Later, in Acts 21, we see another scene, involving both Paul and the Nazirite vow. In Acts 21: 21-26, Luke records one of the most fascinating episodes of his book: we see Apostle Paul offering a sacrifice in the temple and undergoing ceremonial purification for seven days!  The background of this episode is the termination of a Nazirite vow by the four men, by shaving their heads and offering sacrifices – and in this case, Paul was invited to pay the costs! Why? And why did he go through purification? What is the message of this story?

From the previous verses, we learn that because of the rumors of Paul’s “apostasy”, James, one of the main leaders of the Jerusalem Messianic community, was concerned about a potential confrontation between Paul and Jerusalem Messianic Jews. In order to show Paul’s faithfulness to the Torah, he suggests that Paul pay for the required sacrifices of these four men. This practical step meant much more than money, and had obvious theological implications: it would mean that Paul was still following the Torah!

This episode has always been “obscure” and “problematic” for Christian commentators: Why should Paul, “the exemplary Christian,” have joined in the actual act of ritual Jewish purification? However, since Paul agreed to do that, we understand that he wanted to prove his Torah observance – and this is precisely the message of this story!

 

A Great Teacher of the Amazing Student

In Acts 22, addressing the infuriated crowd in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul), opens his defense speech. Evidently, he needs to say something so important, so crucial, that it would affect and impress the whole crowd. What does he say? “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but educated in this city at the feet of Gamaliel.” It seems like the statement: educated in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, was indeed a powerful credential to the people of Israel. Who was this Gamaliel?

Gamaliel the Elder, or Rabban Gamaliel I, was the most distinguished rabbi of his time and a leading authority in the Sanhedrin. He was the first one to carry the title “Rabban,” instead of the more common title “Rabbi”. Mishnah speaks of Gamaliel as of one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism: “Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time.”

Gamaliel was the grandson of the great Jewish teacher, Hillel the Elder, and the leader of his school, Beit Hillel. This whole school—and Gamaliel in particular—was noted for a more tolerant, liberal attitude in the religious legal rulings. We see this clearly in Acts: when some Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus, Gamaliel said to them: keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God[1]

There were many rabbis and teachers in Jesus’ time, but it was Gamaliel who first was called “Rabban,” instead of “Rabbi”. And it was Gamaliel who raised such a prominent student and gave to the world Apostle Paul! Gamaliel is a Hebrew name, meaning either “God is my reward” or “reward of God”. Did Rabban Gamaliel see his amazing student as his true reward of God?

 

 

Excerpts from my books are included in many posts here, so if you like the articles on this blog, you might also enjoy my books, you can get them here.  Also, I would like to remind you, dear friends, that we offer a wonderful course, Jewish Background of the New Testament.  As always, you are welcome to contact me  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) for more information and for the new students’ discount.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Acts 5:38,39

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Lilia Luz Echeverría

    El discurso de Gamaliel ante el concilio, narrado en Hechos 5 del 35 al 39, no se refiere a Jesús, quien ya había partido al Padre, según Hechos 1 del 1 al 11, Se refiere a los Apóstoles, entre ellos, Pedro, quienes habían sido encarcelados, pero un ángel los libertó.

  2. Job

    I’m highly interested and appreciate your for your good service.Be blessed, thanks.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words!

  3. Nick

    Thanks Julia! Again the difficulty of both covenants being of great value, though apparently incompatible. The paradox of both being true at the same time. This is the difficulty of being a human being and why some of us drink a glass of wine at times as we ponder being “from dust” and “ruach” simultaneously!
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Nick! I am always very interested to read your comments and to follow the thoughts that were caused by my post! Thanks and blessings!

  4. Allan Hopgood

    The Gentiles have much to thank the Jews in Christ day, I f they had of accepted Christ, what would the relationship between Jews and Gentiles been like now. Would the word still been exported to the west as ST Paul did.

    1. Julia Blum

      I totally agree Allan! Unfortunately, there are many Gentiles – many Christians – who don’t realize it!