Acts 15 First Council of the Church. The Jerusalem Council Part 3

Acts 15:13-21 (NLTse)
When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. 15 And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:
16 ‘Afterward I will return and restore the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore it,17 so that the rest of humanity might seek the L ord, including the Gentiles—all those I have called to be mine. The L ord has spoken—18 he who made these things known so long ago. ’

In the last message we saw a lot of debates around the issue of wether the Gentiles who were being converted should also be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be saved. Peter gave his testimony and Paul and Barnabas as well. Now, when they had finished, we see in the above verse that James stood up and addressed them.

First thing James did was to remind them what Peter had told them. He reminds them how God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. James summarizes Peter’s testimony with one sentence that says God visited and not Gentiles did something. In James’s statement, it is God who visited, it is God who takes for himself a people among the Gentiles. Gentiles did nothing but believed. This by James is again an illustration of God’s sovereign will of unconditional election and our response to it by faith.

Secondly, James did something that we as Christians should do but do not always do. James went to the scriptures to confirm that what Peter was saying, was in line with scripture. He used scripture to confirm Peter’s testimony and to prove that the conversion of Gentiles is God’s will, by quoting Prophet Amos 9: 9-12. 
 Amos 9:11-12 (NLTse)
11 “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.12 And Israel will possess what is left of Edom and all the nations I have called to be mine.” The L ord has spoken, and he will do these things.

So, now that Peter’s testimony was confirmed and is in line with scripture, James is now ready to make a judgement.

19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 

First James makes a judgement and by judgement it means to make a ruling. The word “make it difficult” in Greek is 3926. παρενοχλεω parenochleo; contracted parenochlo, fut. parenochleso, from para (G3844), in addition to or beside, and enochleo (G1776), to disturb. To create additional disturbance, add extra trouble, with the dat. of person. 

So, James makes a ruling on the issue of wether the Gentiles who were being converted must also be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be saved. The ruling is that they as Jewish Christians should not create additional disturbance or trouble for Gentiles who are turning to God. By this James clearly means then that he rules in favour of Paul and Barnabas’s position that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be saved. I need to highlight here that this ruling does not say that Gentiles don’t have to comply with the law of Moses, it simply says that they don’t have to comply with the law of Moses as a requirement for salvation. Therefore what James is saying is that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus only. James’s ruling simply says that salvation is not by grace through faith in Jesus plus the works of the law. 

20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 

The word “instead” here refers to wether the Gentiles who were being converted must also be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be saved. James says here that instead of requiring Gentiles who were being converted to also be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be saved, we should rather write and tell them to…..just here again James is saying let’s set aside this requirement that Gentiles should be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. Let’s forget about that. Instead let us write to them. James here is offering an alternative to circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses by Gentiles. What is then the alternative:

Abstain or stay away or refrain from 
1. Food offered or used in sacrifice to idols
2. Sexual immorality
3. Eating the meat of strangled animals
4. Consuming blood

James is saying listen let’s set aside this requirement of circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses as a requirement to salvation and thereby confirming that salvation is by grace through faith only as Paul and Barnabas and Peter were saying. James rules that let’s live that all together and rather require the Gentiles to abstain from the four things listed above. Did James mean that these were required for salvation? Of course not, these were a total alternative to what was required by the Pharisees and other Jewish Christians. How do I know that? Well if you look at the contents of the letter that was sent with Paul to the Gentiles, verse 29:
Acts 15:29 (ESVST)
that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The letter does not say if you keep yourself from these four things, you will be saved. It simply says, you will do well. Even in the Greek testament, it does not say you will be saved but rather you will do well. That is how I know that these were not the requirements for salvation by Gentiles. These were more how those Gentiles that have been saved must avoid now that they are saved. 
The four things listed above:
Abstain or stay away or refrain from 
1. Food offered or used in sacrifice to idols
2. Sexual immorality
3. Eating the meat of strangled animals
4. Consuming blood
These four things can be divided into food and behaviour and these existed even before the law if Moses. In Genesis already, God told Jacob to refrain from idols

Genesis 35:2 (ESVST)
So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.
Eating meat from strangled animals is eating meat with blood. So, 3 and 4 on the list above is the same thing that means do not consume blood. This God also forbid already in Genesis:
Genesis 9:3-4 (ESVST)
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
Sexual immorality was also forbid by God already in Genesis and Joseph went to jail because he refused to commit adultery because he knew God did not want that. Sodom and Gomora were eliminated because of sexual immorality. Remember that sexual immorality includes all sexual acts that are immoral and a sin to to God. 
Genesis 39:9-10 (ESVST)
He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

As you can see, these four things did not originate from the law of Moses but these were the things that God hated even before Moses was born and God included them in the law of Moses. But why did James expect Gentiles to abstain from these?
21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

In verse 21, James gives a reason for why he wants Gentiles to abstain from the four things on the above list. Notice that the reason has nothing to do with salvation. James says that the reason is that these laws of Moses, have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every sabbath for many generations. By these laws, James is referring to the four things Gentiles must abstain from and not the whole law of Moses. How do I know this, because verse 21 is a continuation of verse 20 and starts with the “for” which also means because. So, James’s reason is that these four things on the list, are being preached everyday in synagogues. 
It is not clear however, why James picked only these things. Some scholars believe that these were things that Jews could not stand and for ther sake of fellowship between the Jews and Gentiles. 
Whatever the reason is, what is clear is that the first council of Jerusalem, called the Jerusalem council, gave a verdict that salvation is by grace through faith only. The law of Moses has nothing to do with salvation. This means that anyone who preaches salvation by grace through faith plus anything else, is preaching a false doctrine and is a false teacher. The law of God is not a requirement of salvation. Complying with any law of Moses wether it is the Ten Commandments or moral law, ceremonial law or judicial law, is not the requirements of salvation. 
This does not mean that after being saved and as Christians, we should not comply with the moral law. It simply means that it is not a requirement of salvation. There are unfortunately false pastors out there that go around telling people that you need to observe sabbath, you need to be baptized or you need to pay tithe to be saved. That is false doctrine and they are false teachers. The only thing required for salvation is and this was said by Jesus himself:

John 6:28-29 (NLTse)
They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”
29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you:Believe in the one he has sent.”
Amen.




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Posted in Acts, Acts 15, Law vs Grace.

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