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In the Steps of Barnabas and Paul 2

by on Jul.27, 2011, under Jeff Patton

Cyprus Journal-Part 2

Monday—January 17, 2005
What a great day we had today. Last night we had a reasonable sleep, but there was a continuous “white noise” in the background that we couldn’t avoid in our room. The pool’s pump room next door made it seem as if we were berthed beside a ship’s engine. The woman at the reception desk graciously allowed us to change to a different room: one that had a great ocean view. Ask, and ye shall receive! Why is man-made noise generally so annoying and disagreeable while the sound of the Creator’s ocean waves crashing on the beach is relaxing melody to the soul? Here it was the month of January and I had the window open to listen to the ocean and the wind. It was a bit brisk, but not too cold.

Breakfast at the resort was a real bonus. They allowed us to upgrade to having the resort’s buffet breakfast for only a few Cypriot pounds each. Today, I enjoyed olives, tomatoes, creamy plain yogurt, grapefruit and pineapple slices, wholemeal bread, fried eggs, and white coffee. Of course, we simply avoid the offerings of bacon and sausage without comment. I complimented the maitre d’ about the quality of the food and he mentioned that for 30 years he has tried to constantly improve the meals his restaurant serves. But he said that there were always about one or two percent of the clientele whom he could never please.

I suppose there is a spiritual lesson here. After a bit more than 30 years in the Church am I pleased and wholly satisfied with the continually improving spiritual nourishment that God spreads out for me in his daily spiritual buffet from the scriptures? Or do I whine, complain, and find fault with this minor thing or that unsatisfied fancy?

At our first Greek Cypriot breakfast we ate like pigs but not on the pork or seafood offerings because we followed this admonition from the apostle Paul: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5). And we who live by every word of God know that those foods sanctified in God’s word (Leviticus 11 and Deuterononmy 14) do not include pork, prawns, or other meats God calls unclean. However, one of the innovations that Paul brought to the preaching of the Gospel to the Greco-Roman world was his understanding that strict observance of the Pharisaical regulations, in which he had been reared for most of his life, regarding strictly kosher food preparation, serving, and sourcing need not be rigorously observed. For the Christian, food considered fit for consumption only had to be sanctified by God’s literal written word and prayer. As an example, beef or lamb purchased from a Greek butcher and prepared in a Greek’s kitchen was good to eat—maybe even if it had been slaughtered in front of an idol or was served in dishes that had previous contained some milk product like yogurt or cheese—because it qualified as being edible (“clean”) under a literal reading of God’s word in Leviticus 11.

On the other hand, a good Orthodox Jew would have followed the added regulations eventually codified by the descendants of those Pharisees in what is now called the oral law. These practices were labeled in the Gospels of the New Covenant as the “traditions of the elders” (Mark 7:1-13). An Orthodox Jew during the first century A.D. would not have eaten such meat or for that matter any food whatsoever prepared in a regular Greek Cypriot’s kitchen.

Consequently, it is hardly surprising that we read in the epistles of Paul that there was considerable tension in the early Church over these issues. Some Jewish believers thought the Greek gentile converts should, before becoming bona fide Church members, completely adopt the entire Orthodox Jewish halachah (way of life) with its requirement for physical circumcision of adults and adherence of the oral law in addition to the written Torah (law or teaching) that God had given directly to Moses (Galatians 2:12-14).

The apostles Paul and Barnabas, however, argued that the Greek converts could retain their Greek cultural identity and that they only had to modify certain culinary and moral practices in order to conform to the explicit requirements spelled out by the spiritual teaching given in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

So to summarize, according to Paul and Barnabas, the Greek Christian converts did not have to first adopt the full Jewish way of life or halachah and so become full converts or proselytes to Judaism (become full Jews culturally and religiously) —as defined in the “traditions of the elders”—before they could really become Christian converts. They only had to follow the explicit Torah requirements required of strangers who lived with the Children of Israel (for example, Leviticus 17:8-18:30 and Leviticus 3:17). Now, this is a far cry from the “no law” position that some commentators try to put into the mouth of Paul. Paul did not abrogate the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Rather he specifically cited and innovatively applied the Torah to a new situation. The Apostle James and the Jerusalem conference as a whole, as recorded in Acts 15 endorsed Paul and Barnabas’ argument. So that is the reason we as lineal spiritual descendants of Paul, Barnabas, and James were able to eat our Greek Cypriot “breaky” (sans bacon) with relish this morning!

After picking up our hired car, we went shopping at our first Greek Cypriot supermarket, Papantoniou’s. It was a fascinating experience in how a different culture can take a routine shopping experience and transform it into the whimsical. One thing I loved about this store was their bilingual Greek/English signage. For instance the sign for the supermarket aisle selling sheets and linens was rendered in English as “White gods” [sic]. We later came across a store selling local handicrafts that proudly announced its trade in “Arts and Grafts.” Ah, perhaps that shopkeeper was just being honest!

The common English spelling for some words seems to escape the Greeks. We explored the so-called birthplace of Aphrodite on the Akama peninsula this afternoon. After parking the car we walked down the wooded path to see this spot advertised as a must see for tourists and were rewarded by fantastic views of the ocean and an official sign from the Cypriot Department of Forests that seriously proclaimed the location as “the birthplace of Aphrodite, the coddess of love who used to bath in this crotto” [sic].

Now coming from Canada I thought we knew all there was to know about cod, but I guess not. Maybe our cod stocks in the Grand Banks have collapsed because something has happened to the coddess of love. Sounds fishy, eh? But perhaps this should all give us pause when we do our word studies in foreign languages written thousands of years ago. We would do well to heed the advice of Paul when he wrote to Timothy admonishing him to not get involved in conflicts that hinge on semantics, “striving over words (1Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14).”

But now, we are looking forward to our evening meal. Scripture tells us what is good food – cod for example is a clean sea creature – so as Christians living in a gentile world we are able to enjoy the delights of Cypriot cuisine and the hospitality of our Cypriot host, if in a limited way…. We can say graciously.“Yes, thank-you, the sheep’s liver  and lamb kebab will be just a fine substitute for the calamari, prawns, and pork chop on tonight’s mezze menu.” Mmmm…it was a memorable meal, the stuffed grape leaves, olives, kebab, pita, hummous, yes and even the sheep’s liver!

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