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Bible verses about Ceremony
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Luke 2:21-24

Some try to convince others that Jesus was born under the law by pointing out the scriptures that show His parents performing Old Covenant rituals. This includes His circumcision and giving the commanded offering after His birth. However, note that these were things that were done by Joseph and Mary, not by Christ Himself. Jesus was only eight days old at the time of His circumcision and was not even aware of what was going on.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Was Jesus Christ Born Under the Law?


 

Acts 21:21

The speaker is James, our Savior's brother. "They" is the Jews, and "you" is the apostle Paul.

Verse 25 is a quotation taken from the conference in Acts 15, and the subject, according to verse 21, is the customs. The controversy did not involve the civil laws or the Ten Commandments. Instead, it involved the ceremonial additions, as is clearly shown in context by what Paul did.

The context shows what these customs were. Paul made the offerings required at the conclusion of a vow. It is clear that the passage is speaking about the ceremonies. It is also entirely possible that the controversy over these customs also involved the oral traditions of the Pharisees, which they were so devoted to.

There is no evidence that Paul ever taught any Jew to forsake Moses. To do so, he would have to preach against God. There is no evidence that Paul ever told them, "Do not circumcise your children." He certainly preached that keeping the law could not justify a person before God. His writings clearly state that we are justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).

Plainly, Paul's own actions in Acts 21 testify that, though salvation or justification could not be won through keeping these things, keeping them was not destructive unless one depended upon them for justification or salvation. In addition, there was no hesitation on Paul's part to do them. Scripture gives no indication that he argued with James; in fact, we see a unity of mind between them. There is no indication of reluctance either, that somehow it would destroy Paul's faith in Jesus Christ, or that it would compromise him in the eyes of any Christian, Jew or Gentile, who might witness it.

This teaches that first-century Christians understood this issue. They clearly understood what we seem to have such a difficult time understanding nineteen centuries later. Nothing this God of love that we worship requires of us is bad for us. Sometimes what He requires may be difficult to bear, but it is not destructive to His purpose or thoughtless in any way. It is always intended to strengthen us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)


 

Galatians 2:3

The account of Acts 15 shows that it is not necessary for salvation for Christians to be physically circumcised. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith without works is dead. We cannot "work" or "earn" our way into the Kingdom of God. The privilege to be a part of the eternal Kingdom is one that God bestows according to His will. Nothing we can do will make God indebted to us or require Him to do something for us, such as grant us admission into His Kingdom.

But at the same time, if we are within the salvation process, we must show forth works, or fruits, that demonstrate our repentance, our attitude, and our desire to live by the rules of His Kingdom. We must live now in the same way that we will be living for eternity—by the laws of God's Kingdom. Our works do not save us; they demonstrate that we are being saved.

Under the Old Covenant, the ceremonies and ordinances were primarily physical, and the spiritual aspects were implied. Under the New Covenant, the ceremonies and ordinances are primarily spiritual, and the physical aspects are implied. For example, there is no record of Christ ever performing an animal sacrifice, even though the Old Testament requires one in the morning and in the evening. Under the New Covenant, the physical rite is not required, yet the basic law is still there, and is thus manifested in morning and evening prayer, a sacrifice of our time and energy.

In the same regard, the council of Acts 15 shows that circumcision is not one of the works that is required to demonstrate the salvation/sanctification process. When considering eternity and the spiritual bodies that we will have at that time, circumcision is almost insignificant. What is truly important is whether or not the heart has been circumcised. The physical rite was a reminder to the children of Israel that they were separate and distinct, but even in this God was looking for a change of heart so much more so than a modification of the flesh.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:1

The word translated here "foolish" means unintelligent or unwise, and by implication sensual. This implication is very interesting when considered in light of what the letter to the Galatians is fundamentally about: The Galatians were trying to use the rites and ceremonies and physical requirements of Gnostic Judaism to "work" their way into God's Kingdom. Their emphasis was on what they were doing, rather than on God's work in them. Their focus was on things dealing with the senses; things that would be, by definition, sensual—not in terms of being sexual or provocative, but rather indicating the emphasis on the physical senses.

This word (anoeetoi—Strong's #453) is a derivative of a negative particle and noeo (Strong's #3539), which means to exercise the mind, observe, to comprehend, heed, consider, perceive, think, or understand. So the word foolish is the opposite (because of the negative an) of all these things. The Galatians, then, were not exercising their minds; they were unobservant, uncomprehending, unheeding, inconsiderate, imperceptive, non-thinking, and non-understanding. They were not thinking things all the way through, and not fully considering all of the aspects of the way they were living. They were unable to see that their ideas and views did not add up—that there were some obvious gaps in their understanding that had brought them to the condition they were in.

Paul here is continuing with a theme from Galatians 1:4-9—namely, that the Galatians were falling away ("so soon removed") from the original teaching that had been given to them by God through His human servants. The very foundation of the New Covenant with God is that we can build a relationship with God directly—because of the sacrifice of Christ. For them even to make the covenant with God properly, it was a requirement that they understand that justification by means of a sinless sacrifice was the only way it is possible for us to come into God's presence! Our own righteousness is as "filthy rags" in comparison to God's; our works simply do not amount to enough to even out the scales. But this does not negate the necessity of working! The Galatians' problem was that they thought their personal righteousness was sufficient—and if that was the case, then truly there was no need for Christ to die.

Paul refers to the Galatians being "bewitched." This word means "to malign," or "to fascinate by false representation." The Galatians were drawn in—their fascination was piqued by these Jewish and Gnostic ideas. It did not take long for them to begin slipping spiritually, and a large part of this was because of their misplaced faith. They had more faith in themselves, in their own works, to save them than they had in Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession! They did not see or know God clearly enough, and the absence of Him in their lives created a void that was quickly and easily filled by these false ideas.

This is the only place in the New Testament where this word ("bewitched") is used (Strong's #940), but numerous other verses speak of this principle. Paul is speaking of this principle when he says in Galatians 1:7-9 not to deviate from this gospel message even if an "angel" from heaven gave them different instructions! The Galatians were weak enough in the faith that they could be easily deceived and drawn away if one of Satan's angels were to appear before them.

Matthew 24:24 speaks of false Christs—false ideas, pictures, impressions about Christ—arising, as well as false prophets, who will be able to manifest terrific signs and wonders to the extent that even the elect of God could be deceived. This is why we have to have such a concrete picture in our minds of what "Christ" is comprised of so that when we begin to hear about or see miraculous things, our faith will not be shaken as the Galatians' was.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 5:2-3

Remember, the overall subject here is justification by faith. Circumcison is certainly permissible, as Acts 16 says that Paul circumcised Timothy, so he is not talking about the actual cutting away of the foreskin. Here, though, circumcision stands for keeping the ceremonial additions to the law for the purpose of receiving justification. Circumcision is a symbol that stands for the whole law. We know this because he writes, "He is a debtor to the whole law." It is obvious that the whole law is not physically binding upon us, as the ceremonies—the various washings, sacrifices, and offerings—do not have to be kept.

However, there is no shortcut to discerning which laws are binding and which are not. We would like things to be tied up in neat little boxes, but God has not chosen to do it that way. We must study—comparing scripture with scripture—especially the words and examples of Christ and His apostles. We must also meditate, seeking God's will.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)


 

Hebrews 13:9

"Foods" represent physical, ritual observances. God is the author of rituals as well, and they have their place. Paul is referring to the ritual observances, the ceremonies, of the Old Covenant, as food was involved with them. But over the years, people came to have a superstitious attitude toward such things—that if, for instance, they ate of something that had been offered in sacrifice, it would impart to them some spiritual strength. Of course, it could not. We receive spiritual strength from spiritual things.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

 




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