Texts like today’s reading from Acts provide the back story for why letters like Paul’s to the Romans needed writing. Later in that letter Paul writes “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you” (15:7), encouraging Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles to live as “one body in Christ” (12:5). And because there were still voices saying “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), Paul also writes “keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned” (16:17).
The sad irony is that while Paul dedicates an entire chapter (Rom 14) to creating space for different approaches to food and festivals, by around the end of the first century there are influential voices questioning the legitimacy of Jewish Christians observing Torah.
Have Jews and Christians done any better at dealing with difference than their neighbors?
“Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, ‘You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites– in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh.’ Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, ‘Let me go over,’ the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ When he said, ‘No,’ they said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth,’ and he said, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time” (Jdg. 12:4-6).