Thank you very much for your clear presentation of Peter's position. It makes sense. I had been struggling with the question of how much of the law was still applicable to the Circumcision gospel. I still have some questions, though...
(1) Why did Paul say that Peter was "living as the nations" (Gal. 2:14), if he was keeping the law?
(2) Did the "sheet vision"'s meaning include that eating "unclean" animals was fine from now on? I know the main meaning of the vision was to say that the Gentiles that were cleansed by God (Cornelius etc) were not to be considered unclean, but did that vision also include changes to food laws?
(3) What is your comment on AEK's commentary on Acts 15:19? This is what got me thinking that not all the law was still to be followed (such as food laws), together with the fact that there is (coming to be) a transference of the Law mentioned in Heb. 7:12 (necessitated by "the priesthood being transferred", while it was on the basis of priesthood that "the people have been placed under law" Heb. 7:11).
AEK writes: "A Jew, even if a believer, could not eat at the same table with a gentile if he should serve an idol sacrifice, or strangled meat, or blood. Had Peter's advice been followed, they would have cast off the yoke of the law, which they never were able to bear, and so could have had free and joyful fellowship with the Uncircumcision. James' plan keeps the Jews under the divine law and puts the nations under a human law. Instead of loosing all from bondage, he binds both."
Now I'm thinking that this is one of the rare times where AEK got things wrong. Thanks for clearing up that the "yoke of the law" actually means the so-called "oral law" of rabbinical tradition. With this understanding, AEK's comment about getting rid of the yoke would make more sense. But on the other hand, James' decree comes from the Mosaic, not oral law (as far as I remember), so though James ought not to have put these laws on the Gentiles, the Jews could not have "cast off the yoke" of those rules without violating their covenant obligation.
(4) When Paul tells the Galatians that the law was Israel's guardian until the time of maturity (which happened when God sent His Son), it sounds like he is speaking of the Circumcision, not just about Jewish Uncircumcision believers like himself. Or not? Perhaps you have already written on these things. I would very much appreciate an answer directly or by way of pointing me to a page you already have written.
My original plan was to answer Ruth's questions in the exact order in which they appear in her comment, but I eventually had to give up on that plan (in fact, I’m actually going to be responding to her last question first).
20 Now there is no Mediator of one. Yet God is One.
21 Is the law, then, against the promises of God? May it not be coming to that! For if a law were given that is able to vivify, really, righteousness were out of law.
22 But the scripture locks up all together under sin, that the promise out of Jesus Christ's faith may be given to those who are believing.
23 Now before the coming of faith we were garrisoned under law, being locked up together for the faith about to be revealed.
24 So that the law has become our escort to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.
25 Now, at the coming of faith, we are no longer under an escort,
26 for you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For whoever are baptized into Christ, put on Christ,
28 in Whom there is no Jew nor yet Greek, there is no slave nor yet free, there is no male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.
29 Now if you are Christ's, consequently you are of Abraham's seed, enjoyers of the allotment according to the promise.
As with other passages in Paul’s letters that make reference to the law, this passage (especially verses 23-25) has been understood by most Christians as revealing that the law given by God to Israel had been abrogated. However, Paul is not talking about the relationship that all Israel had (or has) to the law. Rather, he’s referring specifically to the relationship that Israelites such as himself (i.e., Israelites who’d been called through the evangel of the Uncircumcision to an expectation distinct from Israel’s covenant-based expectation) have to the law. That is, what Paul had in mind in this passage is the status of the law in relation to Israelites who’d become members of the body of Christ. When we keep this fact in mind, we find that there is no contradiction between what Paul wrote in this passage and other verses that indicate that God’s covenant people, Israel, still had a covenant-based obligation to keep the precepts of the law given to Israel.
2 For a woman in wedlock is bound to a living man by law. Yet if the man should be dying, she is exempt from the law of the man.
3 Consequently, then, while the man is living, she will be styled an adulteress if she should be becoming another man's, yet, if the man should be dying, she is free from the law, being no adulteress on becoming another man's.
4 So that, my brethren, you also were put to death to the law through the body of Christ, for you to become Another's, Who is roused from among the dead, that we should be bearing fruit to God.
5 For, when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were through the law, operated in our members to be bearing fruit to Death.
6 Yet now we were exempted from the law, dying in that in which we were retained, so that it is for us to be slaving in newness of spirit and not in oldness of letter.
According to this passage, it is those who have become members of the body of Christ who have been “put to death to the law” and “exempted from law.” Keeping this important fact in mind, let’s now return to Paul’s words in Galatians 3:19-29. It must be emphasized that much of what Paul wrote in Galatians was written in response to the following problem: Some of the saints in Galatia - as a result of the influence of Judaizers in their midst - were desiring to be “under law” (Gal. 4:21), which would’ve involved getting circumcised and becoming “a debtor to do the whole law” (5:1-4). It was because Paul was writing to combat this problem that, in the verses under consideration, he put the focus on the relationship that Jewish believers in the body of Christ had to the law. If, through faith in Paul’s evangel, those who were formerly under the law had become exempt from the law, why would those who were never under law place themselves under it?
Now, some have argued that James was trying to put Gentile believers "under law," and that he may have even understood the salvation of believing Gentiles as depending (at least in part) on their abstaining from the four things contained in the epistle. However, nowhere in the epistle (which can be read in Acts 15:23-29) is there any mention of salvation. Nor do we read of any penalties/consequences for violating the "essentials" referred to in the epistle; the epistle simply ends by saying that if the nations abstained from the things referred to, they would “be well engaged” (CV), would “prosper” (Rotherham), or would “do well” (Young).
Thus, while the content of the epistle could certainly be understood as an exhortation to avoid certain things, there is no indication that James (or anyone else) understood the avoidance of the four essentials as being “requirements for salvation,” or an example of law-keeping/Torah observance. Insofar as the epistle had Paul's apostolic approval, the four essentials of the epistle simply make known certain standards that reveal how believers among the nations should be “walking” in order to “walk worthily of the calling with which [we] were called” (Eph. 4:1; cf. 4:17-19; 5:15-16). They weren’t (and aren’t) a matter of eonian life or death, but of living in a way that honors God and Christ and promotes peace and harmony between believers among the Circumcision and those among the Uncircumcision. These decrees are no more Mosaic commandments than are Paul’s exhortations that believers not steal (Eph. 4:28), that they avoid prostitution and uncleanness (5:3), and that they abstain from getting drunk with wine (v. 18).