[ theologia ]
Theologia Cross Logo
Apologetics Bible Church History Miscellaneous Sacraments Soteriology Sermons Worship

[From Zeitschrift für das Studium der Frommen Betrugs 37 (Summer 2002): 242-248]

The Nelda Boswell Scroll

The Apostle Paul’s Town Hall Meeting in Iconium

Introduction and Translation by Jeffrey J. Meyers
Copyright © 2003
With the surprising discovery of the Nelda Boswell scroll historians have deciphered its contents and concluded that the apostle Paul returned to the region of Galatia shortly after he wrote the letter that we call Galatians. The evidence suggests that a number of local pastors, elders, and deacons, along with a good many ordinary disciples, made the trip to a common location in Iconium to hear Paul preach and then afterwards question him about the continuing controversy with the Jerusalem “missionaries” that stormed through their communities a few months earlier. The trouble Paul’s adversaries stirred up continued to cause dissention in the Christian communities throughout Galatia.

On the appointed Sunday evening these Galatian Christian leaders and disciples crowded into the courtyard in the home of a prominent Christian family to meet with the apostle. Paul graciously agreed to take a few hours to explain in more detail what he wrote to them in his letter. A young deacon in training for the ministry was assigned the task of transcribing what Paul said. (His name is unknown to us, but perhaps he is the Marius who asks the first question recorded in the extant portion of the scroll.) Tragically, all but one portion (half?) of the scroll was destroyed. All we have is the end of the manuscript [*]. How much preceded the extant fragment continues to be debated by scholars.

It appears as if Paul answered questions on a number of topics, but one of the last inquiries he addressed had to do with what many modern commentators take to be the crux of his argument in his epistle to the Galatians. The only part of the scroll that has survived is the transcript of Paul’s answers on questions that have to do with the last paragraph of what we call Galatians chapter two. The modern reader, therefore, would do well to keep Galatians 2:15-21 in mind in order to appreciate the importance of this scroll:

[15] We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;

[16] yet, knowing that a person is justified not by works of the law

but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah,

even we have trusted in Messiah Jesus

that we might be justified through the faithfulness of the Messiah

and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

[17]But if, in our endeavor to be justified in the Messiah,
we too were found to be sinners,
is the Messiah then a servant [table-waiter] of sin? Certainly not!

[18] For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
[19] For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
I have been crucified with the Messiah.
[20] It is no longer I who live, but the Messiah who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God,

who loved me and gave himself for me.

[21]I do not nullify the grace of God,

for if righteousness were through the Law,
then the Messiah died for no purpose.

What follows is a translation from the original Latin of the extant portion of the damaged scroll:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
. . . and that is what I meant by “works of the law.” I hope that makes sense to everyone. Good. Are there any more questions?

Yes, I have one, Paul. What did you mean when you wrote that line about “we too being found to be sinners”? Is that how you put it? I’m not sure I have the words exactly right.

Paul: Let me see a copy of the letter again. Yes, here it is. I wrote: “but if in our endeavor to be justified in the Messiah, we too were found to be sinners, is the Messiah a servant of sin? May it never be!” Is that the passage? Yes? Okay. So what exactly is the difficulty? . . . I’m sorry I don’t know your name. Marius? That’s a Roman name. Do you have another name? No? Were you a Gentile god-fearer before you became a disciple of Jesus, Marius?

Deacon Marius: Yes, sir. I was. Maybe this is a dumb question, but I get a little confused trying to figure out how you are using the term “sinners” at this point in your letter.

Paul: Oh, I see. Let me try to help you. When I wrote this letter I was pretty agitated and rushed. I wanted to get it done and delivered to your churches before the men from Jerusalem could do any more damage. For that reason, my arguments are often quite compact. There is also more than a little sarcasm in that sentence. Let me try to unpack it for you. Did you think I was referring to sins like idolatry, disobeying one’s parents, murder, stealing, adultery, etc?

Marius: Well, that is precisely what baffles me. We are all sinners, aren’t we? Yes, I thought so. If that is true, then is the Messiah a servant of sin? Somehow I don’t think that is what you meant. It seems to me like you are using the slogans of the opponents, the circumcision party. But I can’t put it all together.

Paul: Yes, Marius, that is it exactly. I meant that sentence to be read as high irony. I had hoped that this would be clear, but it is very difficult to make sarcasm work without using a special tone of voice. You know what I mean? Yes, of course. Let me try to connect the dots for you. If you failed to understand my meaning, I’m sure there were others that are befuddled as well.

First, the situation and context of my statement must always be kept in mind. The controversy, remember, was about table fellowship. It all started as a challenge to Jews who had become Christians. May we Christian Jews eat with the Gentile Christians at the Lord’s Table and even at our own family tables? Or can we only eat with those who are circumcised? Must we compel the Gentile Christians to be circumcised before we can have table fellowship with them? I taught you that Jews and Gentiles who trust in Christ and are baptized into his Church are now one body. Some men from the “circumcision party,” as we call them, came up to Antioch first, but then others came your area as well and said, “No, you may only eat with those who observe the details of the old law. Everyone else is a Gentile “sinner.”

All of which means, of course, that the disagreement was not merely about table manners but about who belongs to the community of those who are right with God. Are Gentile Christians full members of the Christian family, or must they observe the details of the law to achieve that status? Are Christian Gentiles “sinners” because they aren’t circumcised, don’t keep the dietary laws or the festival calendar? The same question can be asked about we who were Jews before coming into Messiah’s church: if we don’t keep the old law anymore, but in effect live like Gentiles, are we too to be judged “sinners”? I really don’t like to use these terms “Gentile Christians” and “Jewish Christians,” but I can think of no better way to describe the controversy. Remember, there really are no Gentile and Jewish Christians. There is one body, one church, composed of those whom God has vindicated and delivered by the faithfulness of his Messiah, Jesus.

Now if you believed the men who came up from Jerusalem, all of us Christian Jews who freely eat with Gentiles do indeed become “sinners.” This is the language they used, you understand. You Gentile Christians are judged as “sinners” in the strong sense of being outsiders, not part of the people of God. Even Jewish Christians who ate with non-circumcised, unclean Gentiles are being called “sinners.”

But worse still, according to them, Jesus is himself an accomplice, for he becomes, to use their expression, a table-waiter of sin! But this is all wrong. They want you to believe that observing the details of the old law defines who is and is not a “sinner.” That doesn’t work. What is more, the law never functioned this way. I have reminded you all many times that we Jews have been given the privilege of knowing the real purpose of the law—not to make us right with God but to pave the way for the Messiah’s faithfulness. Even before the Messiah came, believing Gentiles were not really “sinners” in the sense that these men are using the term. The written law of God, as opposed to the Pharisaic traditions, nowhere forbids Jews from eating with Gentiles in their homes. And since the Messiah has come, we Jews of all people ought to clearly confess that being right with God is a gracious gift based on what the Messiah has done. Of course, this has always been the case for Jews and Gentiles. Even if Jews and Gentiles were distinguished and kept separate in the old world before the Messiah came, such a separation was never meant to imply that only a circumcised Jew can be forgiven and experience salvation. I want this firmly settled in everyone’s mind and heart. One of the chief missions given to the Jews was to serve as priests to the Gentiles. And when our forefathers were faithful to their calling, many Gentiles heard the promise of the coming Messiah and trusted in God’s promise of salvation. This is part of what I meant when I said that “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.”

Elder Zedekiah: Excuse me, Paul. I’m a Jew myself, or—pardon me—I guess I should say a “former Jew.” Right? Yes. I was waiting for the Messiah when you came through preaching that Jesus was the promised one. I believed God’s promise before you arrived in Galatia proclaiming the Good News. And, therefore, I was one of the first Jewish men to be baptized by you in this city. Remember me?

Paul: Sure I do, Zedekiah. I trust your family is doing well? Wonderful. And are they remaining faithful to the Gospel? Thanks be to God! What is your question, Zedekiah? I’m not quite finished with my answer to Marius, but your question might dovetail with his.

Zedekiah: I think I know your answer, but I’d still like to hear you explain it to us. As an elder in this church I get questions like this all the time. What should we think when someone comes into our fellowship and finds that we former Jews no longer observe the details of the old law and then proceeds to call us “sinners”? In effect, they accuse us of acting like Gentiles? What do we say to these self-proclaimed, Jerusalem-accredited teachers who are pontificating like this all through the region of Galatia? They claim that if we eat with Gentiles we become “sinners” like them, that if we don’t keep all the ritual details of the law of Moses this is evidence that we are not part of the true people of God. This confuses many Christian disciples, both Jews and Gentiles.

Paul: Yes, good question. This gets to the heart of the matter. As I understand the situation, members of the “circumcision party” have been visiting your assemblies and “catching” you living like Gentile “sinners.” This is what I was referring to when I wrote about us being “found to be sinners.” These men think it is their high calling to sneak around and spy out our liberty in Christ. So how should you respond if someone visits your church and finds you all sitting around a common Table, eating and drinking as those who belong to the same family, as those who are “in Christ,” heedless of who is circumcised or not, who keeps the old festivals or not, who eats pork or shrimp or lamb or not? And what if they say, “Aha! You Christian Jews are not true Israelites at all, but are sinners just like the Gentiles! You live like Gentiles and even eat with them. Your Messiah waits on a Table of sinners. He serves at a Table of sin!” Yes, I can tell from the expressions on your faces that this happens quite a bit. You all now seem to be getting the sarcasm and irony in my original words.

So what do we say when someone makes this accusation? Is the Messiah a table-waiter of sin, as they say? May it never be! Not only is this absurd, but such a judgment fails to see what has happened to all of us Jews who are endeavoring to be justified in Christ. Let me use myself as an example. Because I am a Jew myself what happened to me serves as a pattern for what happens to all Jews who become Christians.

If you think of the old and the new order as two “houses,” then when I trusted in the faithfulness of Christ, there is a sense in which everything in the old law was disassembled and a new house was constructed out of the material of the old building. I tore down the old in order to be part of a new house, the church of Joshua Messiah. You will remember that this one new house is really a temple of living stones, people brought together and united in Christ. There are not two houses, that is, two people as in the old world–Jews and Gentiles. That distinction is no longer in force. It belongs to the old order. God has fulfilled his purpose for the Israelite people and nation: the Messiah has come from the loins of Abraham, Judah, and David, and he has fulfilled everything written in the law. His faithfulness is the ground of our justification. He now is the true and faithful Israelite. He has fulfilled the calling of the Jews and served the world unto death. This was God’s intent all along.

Now here is the point. If this is all true, then for me to try to “rebuild” what has been torn down–that is, for me to reconstruct the Jew/Gentile distinction and then to make adherence to the details of the old law that kept Jews and Gentile separate determinative for a person’s right standing with God–this would be genuine “transgression” against God. He has decreed that this old house be torn down. To attempt to rebuild it is genuinely sinful.

Pastor Heber: Pardon me, Paul, but I have a question. I’m a converted Jew myself, you will remember. I want to be sure I understand the full force of your argument. You seem to be giving us a new definition of “transgression” and “sin.” Is that fair?

Paul: Yes, that is fair, Heber, and very perceptive. There is a real sense in which with the coming of the Messiah our definition of a “transgressor” must change. I’m sure you remember that the Pharisees and scribes themselves had their own twisted definitions of “sin” and “transgression” that went well beyond the written law of God. I myself was bewitched by their foolishness for a time. Our Lord fought mightily against their foolish additions to the law of God.

But even so, I’m talking about the genuine requirements of the old law: circumcision, festival days, Sabbaths, clean and unclean rules, etc. To fail to keep these ordinances is no longer considered “transgression.” They are no longer in force. They have passed away. They served to keep the Jews separate from the Gentiles (not completely of course, but ritually as a priestly people) until the coming of the Messiah.

But now that Messiah has come and fulfilled these laws a new house is being built, one composed of Jew and Gentile. What this means is that if I were to try to “go back” and “rebuild” the old divisions between Jew and Gentile, I would be the real “transgressor.” As I said, there is a new definition of “transgression” at work here. We who eat and drink with our Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ are not the true transgressors and sinners. The Messiah does not serve at a Table of sin. On the contrary, the true transgressors are those who would rebuild the old distinctions and so, in effect, nullify the work of the Messiah. It is ironic (is it not?) that these traveling teachers who seem so pious and concerned about enforcing the “holy demands” of the Torah are themselves the real sinners. They sin against the Messiah’s holy will. The Messiah serves at a Table of righteousness, that is, one where his loyal covenant partners (both Jew and Gentile) sit down to eat dinner in the new kingdom of God.

I must remind you of the opposition our Lord himself faced from the Jews during his earthly ministry. Recall how often he ate and drank with “Gentile sinners,” and how this practice infuriated the Jewish leaders. He himself was acting out the coming of the fullness of the new kingdom of God. So many of us were deaf to the message of our own prophets–Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, to name just a few–who prophesied the coming of the Messiah’s kingdom as a feast where Jew and Gentile would sit and eat together. You and I are living in the very day foreseen by these holy men of old.

Heber: This is pretty astonishing, Paul. It is not that I haven’t heard this before, but you have to know how radical this sounds to many former Jews. And I’m not sure that everyone here realizes just how radical this is. We Jews find this especially difficult because for so long we have defined ourselves over against the Gentiles as the people of the law. But now that we have become disciples of Jesus we have a new identity. Right?

Paul: Exactly right, Heber. Let me put this another way. This statement in my letter to you probably sounded “heretical” to the Missionaries from Jerusalem that have been trying to “help” you, but I can think of no better way to make clear how my Gospel, the true Gospel, is different from theirs. I will continue to use myself as an example, but change the metaphor from house building to death and resurrection. Actually, none of this is strictly speaking “metaphorical language.” There is an important sense in which the way I am characterizing things is the true reality. You just have to learn to “see” it that way. And the more you “live” it out at your common Tables every Lord’s Day, the more you will understand it. But I digress. I know. I know. Some of you are chuckling because I have a habit of digressing. I admit it.

Here is my “heretical” statement: Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. Yes, you heard me right. What I mean by “through the law I died to the law” is that I have been crucified with the Messiah. I died to the law when the Messiah died on the cross. The Messiah died on the cross because of the law. The law in all of its depths and dimensions led to Jesus’ death. He died through the law and so did I united to him, in him, as I like to put it. The cross changed everything for me and everyone else in the world. No one can every go back wistfully to the way things were before Jesus, in the so-called glory days of Israel. Those days are gone forever. That old world has passed away. It died when Jesus died.

The true glory of Israel climaxes in the fidelity of Jesus Christ. His loving us and giving himself for us was the “faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.” He fulfills everything that Israel was commissioned to do. Israel was commissioned to serve the nations, to deny themselves, and give themselves in service to the world. But Israel failed. We failed as Jews. Jesus, however, did not. He is the final, true, and perfectly faithful Israelite. His covenant faithfulness (that is, his righteousness) is our salvation. He did what Israel was called to do but could never quite accomplish–to serve the world unto death in the service of Yahweh.

This is why we must never return to the older order. To do so would mean that we fail to understand the mercy and grace of God toward us in the faithful work of Jesus the Messiah. I said this over and over again in my letter. Not the observance of the law, but the “faithfulness of the Son of God” achieves God’s saving purposes for the Jews and Gentiles. This is why my experience of the grace of God in Jesus represents the climax of the story of Israel. Not that I myself am all that important, mind you, but my experience of grace in the Messiah exemplifies Israel’s final goal. All Jews should join with me in embracing the Messiah as the end, the goal of the law.

And this means that there is more than simply leaving behind the law. I am finally answering directly your question, pastor Heber. I have a new identity. My life is now lived in union with Jesus Christ. I find my identity united with Christ. I am not identified as a keeper of the old law. I am not the same person I was. The law does not define me. I am not “in the law.” I am not separated from others because of circumcision, feast days, dietary laws, clean and unclean requirements. No, rather, I have been crucified and resurrected in Christ. I am a new man. And now I live “in the faithfulness of the Son of God.” He loved me and gave himself for me. The law did not die for me. The law did not work salvation for me. What the law could not do, Christ did for me. That is why I refuse to nullify the grace of God, to live as if the Messiah’s cross means nothing. If righteousness comes through the law, then why did Christ have to die? Was his death gratuitous? If the law is the end and be all of God’s purposes in history, then Christ died for no purpose. May it never be! By the cross of Jesus the Messiah the world has been crucified to me and I to the world! For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but the new creation that has come through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus our Messiah.

Well, I can see that it is getting late. I’ve been talking a long time. I suppose this is as good a place to stop as any. I can’t help but call attention to the fact that a few men in the back have slipped out rather quickly. No doubt they have a report to make to my adversaries. Some of you are nodding your heads, so I guess you know these men. You were right to allow them into a meeting like this. They too need to hear the Good News. We should pray for them and their leaders.

But I fear what is coming. This controversy seems to be getting worse. The real battle lines are now being drawn. Remember what our Lord has said, the time will come, brothers and sisters in Christ, when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. This has already happened here and there. Indeed, I led such a killing spree shortly after our Lord ascended. But the Lord has had mercy on me. The apostate Jews, however, will not tolerate us much longer. Satan has sent out these “Christian Missionaries” from Jerusalem as the first wave of many attacks. It will get worse. Mark my words. Stand firm. It will look like all the world, from Jerusalem to Rome, is intent on killing us. Rome and Jerusalem will unite against the Lord’s faithful bride and many will die, probably some who are here tonight. But remember, like our Lord and Husband Jesus, we too must die for the life of the world. We can talk more about this tomorrow, if you want. But the hour is late and I know that many of you have a good distance to travel. So depart in peace and please return to your little flocks and encourage the true saints. Grace and peace to you all from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

* The story of the discovery of the Boswell MS is well known to readers of this journal. The scroll was found by an eighth century Byzantine monk in what he described as the ruins of an unknown earlier monastery in the foothills outside of modern Konya, Turkey (ancient Iconium). This unnamed monk showed the manuscript to a certain Byzantium official named Basil Argyros who spent an evening at the monastery while on his way to the capital city. Argyros was so intrigued that he commissioned a court scribe from Constantinople to translate the Latin document into Greek. Once translated, this Greek codex was taken to Constantinople where it promptly disappeared in the ecclesiastical bureaucracy of the Byzantine Church. Argyros’ personal diary only briefly describes his discovery and the subsequent snafu. From what he says, the scroll was complete and legible when he commissioned the translation. The original Latin manuscript, however, was found by the infamous 19th century archeologist Severian Keeble in an excavation near Konya in 1897, but was promptly lost again when his fiancé and lover, a Turkish woman named Dorcas Cadroe, departed hastily from the expedition in Turkey packing a good deal of Keeble’s most treasured finds. Unfortunately, Keeble was not able to examine the scroll in any detail before it was pilfered. There is no indication from his notes that the scroll was incomplete or damaged. In 1997, Ms. Nelda Boswell brought the scroll, along with a number of other Byzantine artifacts, to the Antique Road Show in London for an appraisal. Her “antiques” astonished the experts. It turns out that she was the granddaughter of Ms. Cadroe, Keeble’s estranged lover. She later told officials from the British Museum of History that upon her mother’s death she had inherited the house originally owned by her grandmother and that while renovating the old Southwark home she discovered an old trunk full of strange things in the attic. She hauled the trunk full of artifacts to the Antique Road Show hoping that some of the “junk” might be worth something. Experts now believe that rats and insects gnawed the outer portion of the scroll while it remained hidden in the attic of the aging Ms. Cadroe and her daughter.

Copyright © 2003
Jeff Meyers [contact him] is the pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in Saint Louis, Missorri. He has been ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America since 1988. After college and serving as an officer in the U.S. Army, Jeff attended Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Jeff later earned his Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M) and is currently completing his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary. He has a personal blog page called Corrigenda.

Jeff is also the author of The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenantal Worship, a practical pastoral guide to worship that introduces readers to the application of Old Testament sacrificial liturgics, biblical typology, and covenant theology.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment