Acts of the Apostles
27 - Acts 15:9-19
Acts of the Apostles: 27 - Acts 15:9-19
In this class, we will discuss Acts 15:9-19 and continue looking at the discussion Paul and Barnabas had with the Council at Jerusalem over the issue of circumcision for the gentiles.
[Darris McNeely] The last class that we had here and the book of Acts, we began in chapter 15, as we are encountering the famous Church council in Jerusalem to deal with the issue of the matter of circumcision. And I think just by quick review, certain people were going down to Antioch saying that it was necessary for the gentiles to be circumcised and to command them to keep the law of Moses. We're going to talk about what that did mean here as we go along. That did not mean that it has...not a problem in keeping the law of God. But we're going to find out and understand what it is that was really the issue as it comes up here in this council of Antioch.
We got down to I believe in the last class to chapter 15:8. And I made I think a strong point as we closed up last time about what I call the fellowship of the heart.
Acts 15:8 Says, “God knows the heart and acknowledges them,” meaning the Gentiles, “by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us.”
And that is Peter speaking and it references back to his visit to Cornelius where the Gentiles were called there Cornelius and his cohort. And they spoke in tongues as they received the Holy Spirit. Then Peter reported that to a group of the Church in Jerusalem in the next chapter, and what had happened, and he's kind of repeating that. But here, there's this emphasis which I really love, that God who knows the heart, and He granted them the Spirit just as He had to the Jewish people.
Acts 15:9 It says, “And made no distinction between us and them purifying their hearts by faith.”
You know, if you understand that new covenant, which we do and we are under the New Covenant today. And in Jeremiah and in the book of Hebrews, the primary description of the New Covenant is God writing His laws upon our heart.
And the moral, the spiritual law, the 10 commandments, the Decalogue, the great 10, that spiritual law that is a part of, you know, every relationship with God confirmed by any covenant and is eternal, its spirit. It can't be done away with, it can't be obliterated, it can't be removed from the presence of our relationship with God because He's writing that upon our hearts in this New Covenant. And Peter really strikes to that.
All of us have our hearts purified by faith. And we join, if you will, a fellowship of the heart when we are joined to Christ through baptism and the receipt of the Spirit. And He lives His life within us and we are reconciled to the Father through the sacrifice of Christ. It's a fellowship of the heart or it's not a fellowship at all. Understand that and what that means. And that means so much in terms of our relationships.
And in this case, here with the gentiles and the Jewish component of the Church, and the blending together of these peoples that's what's so critical then and now. All peoples being brought into a relationship with God into a covenant with God, and striking through all of the clutter of what was even in the first century had been built up over generations and centuries within Judaism that was keeping people from the pure worship of God through a heart of faith, a purified heart.
And yet retaining the very essence of the relationship with God, which is based upon His eternal law. How do we love God? The first four commandments? How do we love our fellow man? The last six commandments, and the definitions that those 10 give. This is what was cut through in this council and unfortunately, it's not always understood by Christianity today and by really intelligent scholars who know the Bible and the Greek and everything else, but they have blinders on and they're not able to see this.
So, let's look at what is happening here as we move to verse 10 in this council. Keep in mind this is a convening of ministers in Jerusalem and elders. Some named Peter is named, we know that Paul and Titus and Silas and Barnabas are there, and no doubt others, but those are the ones named.
Acts 15:10 Peter continues with his particular part of his speech. He says, “Now, therefore, why do you test God?” And he's speaking to the assembly of elders and to the community of the Jews that are predominant here in Jerusalem. “By putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.”
That's the critical key to understanding what is going now to happen. He says why do we test God by putting a yoke on the neck? Now, we have to define a yoke. I could have put a picture through the slide here of a team of oxen pulling yoked and pulling a plow. Have any of you ever seen that actually being done? We don't...have you? You go to Africa, you'll see that quite often. I woke up one morning in a place we were staying in Africa and looked out the back window and here out the field were a couple of farmers plowing their field with a yoke of oxen by hand.
And they didn't have a John Deere tractor, they didn't have some big implements. They were going back and forth across this field with a bull who was yoked to their plow and they were plowing it. Typically, you might see two animals yoked together. And we've kind of introduced this when we were talking about Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, why do you kick against the pricks Christ asked him. And the same idea because they would put kind of a large post type that was pointed there at the back of the...in front of the cart to keep the oxen to pull forward so they wouldn't halt and try to go backwards. If they did, they got something stuck up, you know, the backside, and that, you know, kept them kept on going forward.
Here it's being used in the idea of putting a yoke which is a burden. A wooden yoke, an iron yoke is a burden put upon typically animals to engage their power to do work. And it is used here in the sense of a burden that in this case, people are not able to bear. So what is this yoke? This is going to be the critical thing that we want to understand out of this discussion here. What is this that Peter is referring to? So, keep that in mind as we progress in this.
Acts 15:11 “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
The gentiles. Altogether being saved by grace, not by any works. Paul talks about that in Ephesians 2, we are saved by grace not by works. “We are created unto good works” he also says in Ephesians 2 as well. But it is not the works of any law that we might do that saves us, it is the grace of God by which salvation is granted here. We believe that. And so Peter then is beginning to trace what is happening here. So, before we go forward because this kind of ends the point and Peter sits down. And if you look at verse 12 the first clause there.
Acts 15:12 “Then all the multitude kept silent.”
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and all the ships at sea, when you have a roomful of ministers and they all keep silent, you have achieved a miracle. Sit in on a council of elders meetings and you will understand what that means. Ministers like to be heard, ministers like to preach right? Ministers are authority figures. And so we get in a room together everybody's got an opinion, everybody's got an idea. And I'm not saying that's wrong. But it's humorous here.
Acts 15:12-13 “All the multitude kept silent and they listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the gentiles.” And then verse 13, says, “After they became silent,” so another period of silence. “James answered them.”
But before we get to James's answer, let's go back. Let me give you a little background and let's understand with some other scriptures what it is that we are addressing here with circumcision and the law, and the issues that are being put forth here in this council. That Peter says, “You're in danger, you're testing God by putting a yoke on the neck of these gentile disciples.” Which he says again, going back to verse 10, “Neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.”
So, the fathers goes back to the story of the Israel, the Israelites, the tribes, their ancestors, this room full of largely Jewish men, Benjamin mixed in and perhaps some other elements of some of the other tribes, but that's primarily Judah and Benjamin there. But he's going back to the beginnings into the law of the five books and the origins of Israel as a covenant nation under God then what happened there. Now you study this as you're going through the Pentateuch. Have you gone through all of Galatians, yet? You're still working your way through Galatians? So you're right in the midst of this, and this fits into what you're learning there as you go through Galatians. And Peter says they weren't able to bear it, we were not able to bear it.
If you look...let's understand what this is. If you look to the Gospels and the story of Christ and His interactions with the Pharisees and the Sadducees during His ministry. We understand that Christ and these prominent Jewish leaders of that period disagreed over the very matter of the status of a developing oral law. All right, an oral law. This is different from the 10 commandments that was given at Mount Sinai. And even largely the statutes and judgments that flow from that that you read about in Exodus and Leviticus. Many of which were civil statutes dealing with the interactions between people. If you were responsible for killing accidentally somebody's goat, donkey, cow, how was restitution made? There were laws about that.
Laws dealing with adultery, with lying, with stealing, the application of that. There were also ceremonial laws dealing with the priesthood and the tabernacle in the wilderness that you've read about as you primarily go through the book of Leviticus. So you've got the 10 commandments, you have civil laws and statutes that govern the Israelite community. And then you've got the ceremonial laws, three ideas there that deal with the sacrifices and the priests, and the tabernacle temple, and all of that.
But then there is something that began to develop within Judaism subsequent to these years and primarily after the second or after the return of the Jews from Babylon, in what is called the Second Temple period, the Second Temple period. We'll put that on the board here. The Second Temple period applies to the Jews rebuilding the temple after Ezra and Nehemiah period during that period, leading up to the New Testament era, that's the Second Temple.
Within Judaism, you should understand that Judaism...you hear this term today is a world faith. Judaism, Islam is a world faith. Christianity is a world faith, plus the various Eastern religions as well. But typically, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are kind of lumped together as three great monotheistic faiths, and we're not going to parse the word monotheistic. But today when we use the term Judaism, you must understand something, while that reflects and describes this whole body of Jewish community, culture, synagogues, teachings, and practices, and customs that have developed over hundreds and hundreds of years and that come down to today, that is not what you read in the law, the five books of Moses.
Judaism is something that has largely developed separate from that within it. I mean, they keep the law, they study Torah I'm not saying they do away with that. But Judaism has piled on many teachings and oral law that take on the level of the actual law of God. I'll read you a quote about that. That has come down to us today.
So, Judaism is not necessarily the pure way of life that God revealed through Moses established under Joshua and the elders that took over the land and let's say the administration that was set up in that first wave after the conquest. Because as you know in your study of the Old Testament rebellion took place, sin came in, judges. You know, problems that led all the way up to some of the worst, which would be child sacrifice and introduction of pagan practices in the temple for which both Israel and Judah went into captivity. When they came back in that period of the Second Temple, then the Jews never wanted that to happen again.
And so within Judaism developed these systems and these teachings that were codified. They were commentaries on the work of Moses upon the Five Books of the Torah, and commentaries upon the commentaries, and rulings by the elders upon the rulings of a previous generation of elders. And rabbinical teachings and ideas that were elevated over a period of time in tradition to the level of a oral law. And this is what happened. You've got the Five Books of Moses, okay? There's the Five Books of Moses, lift my arm here. I'm working on my arm, it's getting better. And what are the five books of Moses? Right, okay, you got them there. That was what was given at Sinai.
Secondly, there began to develop this oral law or traditions of the elders within the Second Temple period that came out. And then there's another less tangible element to this which is kind of a spiritual development based on the written and the oral law that were brought into kind of unified forms and interpreted and reinterpreted to meet the needs of changing conditions.
So there was kind of just an ongoing development of this that leads to Judaism, you know, spiritual application within the Jewish community that adapted to the needs of Judaism, whether it was the Greeks, the overlords, or the Romans, or even in their own way. So that by the time we come to the New Testament period, there has been built up on top of the Five Books of Moses layer upon layer of oral law, traditional interpretation, adaptation through the generations that these have taken on the status of what God gave through Moses and Moses wrote into a book.
And so these are well understood well documented within the Jewish community. There's a book called...actually, it's a commentary. It's an edition of the Mishnah which is a compilation of all of these. When you hear that term Mishnah, that is a Jewish record of all of these oral traditions and adaptations through the generations, that has high status within the Jewish community.
And I'm reading a quote here from a scholar named Herbert Danby, who wrote an introduction to the Mishnah making certain claims. And here's a quote, “The Mishnah's own account of the origin and history of the oral laws given in a particular reading.” And it says “At the same time that the written law was given from Sinai, the oral law too was delivered to Moses.”
So he's saying that at the same time, God gave the written law to Moses well, the Oral Law was implied or it was there it was kind of hidden behind all of that. This is how the Jews interpret that. And was delivered and handed down and turned to elders of successive generations. The Mishnah this Jewish record maintains that the authority of those rules, customs, and interpretations, which had accumulated around the Jewish system of life and religion, was equal to the authority of the written law itself even though they found no place in the written law.
It's a surprising admission by a Jewish scholar in an introduction to the Mishnah, this whole book that represents and codifies Judaism, saying that this oral law was kind of there when God gave the written law to Moses, and what has been accumulated ever since has the same weight as what you and I would read from the Word of God on the law. And so when you understand this, this helps to understand then what Peter is talking about here in Acts, where he describes a yoke, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. This oral law was beginning to solidify at the time of Jesus within the Jewish community among the Pharisees especially.
And they were making claims that their teaching originated with Moses, which then brought them into a clash with Jesus, who was the one who gave the word to Moses. And that helps you to understand the background to that clash. And so for the Pharisees, Moses written law and the Oral Law, and the traditions were all fused into one with their administration under their particular authority. Jesus rejected that and His clashes with them. Turn over to Matthew chapter 23. And we'll read the classic episode where Jesus just tore them apart root from branch. Matthew 23. And what he said. We won't read the whole chapter. But look at what he said here. He rejected all of this ostentatious show that had, you know, grown out of some legitimate points within the law, but had taken on enormous gigantic proportions, tassels, phylacteries. Many other garments and these things, pretentious show of long prayers and so many different things that had developed. Look at what he said.
Matthew 23:1-2 He said, “Jesus spoke to the multitudes and His disciples saying the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses's seat.”
This is a position of authority within Judaism, within the synagogues. They've actually unearthed within some of the archaeological sites where they've uncovered Jewish synagogues, a seat where the leader sat. And that represented the seat of Moses. It was a seat of authority, kind of somewhat of a throne within a Jewish synagogue where the authority sat.
Matthew 23:3-4 “Therefore, whatever they tell you to do observe and do but do not according to their works, for they say and do not. For they bind heavy burdens hard to bear and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
These heavy burdens. This is what Peter is talking about. The heavy burdens of Acts 15:10 a yoke that our fathers nor we have been able to bear. Christ said to them, Why do you bind a heavy burden? He might as well have said why do you bind this yoke upon the people, things that are onerous and are beyond the intent of the law and the reason they were given? And lay them on their shoulders. So that gets you the idea of this yoke that he's talking about.
Matthew 23:5 “For all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.”
Speaking of the enlarged tassels and dress that were to symbolize some aspect of their righteousness before the people to be seen of men.
Matthew 23:6 “They love the best places at the feasts and the best seats in the synagogue.”
Matthew 23:14 “Woe to you scribes and hypocrites you devour widow's houses for a pretense, you make long prayers.” All right be careful how long your prayer is when you're asked to give an opening or closing prayer for lunch or for services. “Therefore, you will receive greater condemnation.”
And he just goes on woe after woe through this chapter here talking about ceremonial matters, gifts at the altar, the obsession with the minutia of tithing. I'm not going to go through the whole chapter here. But he rejected that and he said you've created a system that people cannot bear. And it gets away from the spirit of the law and what it is supposed to produce upon the heart.
I won't turn there but in Mark chapter 7, he rejected the Pharisaic teaching about Corban, showing that it violated the spirit of the written law in regard to the offerings and tithings and how that was used. And so Christ describes this misapplication of the oral law then as heavy burdens, hard to bear. And it's very similar to what Peter says in Acts 15:10. The yoke that Peter is referring to was the misapplication of the law, fusing burdensome oral regulations with the law of Moses, and claiming the same authority for both, claiming the same authority for both.
And this is what is being talked about here. And it violated the spirit, the intent of it even being given back under the Old Covenant during the time of Moses. Why? We could talk about a lot of that after the Jews came back from Babylon in the Second Temple period, they never wanted to go through that again. And so in their teaching, they erected further teachings as it were kind of...if the law was right in the center, okay then, you know, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal. Then they created a system of teaching and commentary around that, that in time took on the same weight as that. But the intent you could say was good it was to keep people from killing or lying.
But then these traditions and these interpretations just multiplied through the generations until you had this system that in time, just obscured the law and particularly when it comes to the New Covenant. And Jesus began to rip all these away with His sermon on the mount, where He began to show the spiritual intent of the law. “I haven't come to destroy the law,” he said. “I've come to expand it.” And he did it in a spiritual way.
And so the law of Moses that question here is not the 10 commandments it is so many of these other matters that have been put on by the Jews, as well as various matters like circumcision of the flesh. That was a part of that Old Covenant and now how do we apply that to a gentile community coming into the Church? Which was the question. And so the Church had to wind its way through this with the leadership of God's Spirit, with Christ guiding the Church, to come to an understanding of how to deal with this and how to apply it.
When you understand why these commandments, the pure 10 if you will, my term, their importance, and what they would have done for Israel had they kept them it would have had a whole different outcome for the story of Israel. But we know that they didn't. But nonetheless, what God gave them through Moses in that and then a civil administrative law on top of it that was built upon each of those commandments, that was meant to regulate out of love, relationships within the community, that was not burdensome. That was something they could indeed bear up under had they chosen to do that.
Look at Deuteronomy chapter 30. Let's look at kind of a consummate idea that Moses left Israel with before they went over or he went up on Mount Nebo and died and they went over into the land under Joshua. In Deuteronomy chapter 30 beautiful passage, we all know this. But it speaks about the law of God, the pure intent of the law of God. Deuteronomy chapter 30 beginning in verse 11.
Deuteronomy 30:11 Moses says this. “For this commandment, which I command you today is not too mysterious for you nor is it far off.”
What's mysterious about not lying? What's mysterious about worshipping only one true God? There's no mystery to that. There's no mystery of not committing adultery. You don't commit adultery, you don't commit fornication, you keep yourself sexually pure morally, then there's going to be blessings and an ordered society. Families are going to prosper, generations are going to build, grow, develop, work together, and produce good without problems that can be introduced generationally when or say adultery takes place. We'll need to go into all of that. That's the stuff of literature and media and the whole history. There's nothing mysterious about keeping God's law and it's not far off, it's very easy to understand.
Deuteronomy 30:12-14 “It is not in heaven that you should say who will ascend into heaven for us, and bring it to us that we may bear it and do it.” In other words, it's not something God has reserved up there and He hasn't shared it, He put it on the tablets of stone. “Nor is it beyond the sea that you should say who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it.” It was right there in the land, in Israel, it was in the community and it was to be taught by the teachers. “But the word is very near you in your mouth,” and look at that next phrase, “In your heart.”
We get back to the heart. Even in the Old Covenant, there's an element of the heart. God purifying our heart by obedience, by really the grace of the law of God. There is grace in God's law because it represents the kindness of God, the love of God to mankind.
And so he says “And in your heart and you may do it.” The intent under Moses was that the law would produce good and it would be in the heart. And so it was not too hard for the Israelites, they just made it hard because of sin. And that's what's happened today mankind makes the law of God hard because of sin. Well, we can't keep the Sabbath because I've got to work and the whole structure of society is built around that that's what makes it hard.
And, you know, being faithful to one person for decades in my life and not being profligate sexually and experimenting, and living my life the way that I want, you know, that crimps my style. And so I don't want to do that. I mean, I want to be a free bird, a free spirit of, you know, self-expression and all that goes along with that. No, no, that creates complications, that creates problems. Stealing that creates the IRS, Internal Revenue Service. Think that one through for a minute and the need for lawyers.
So, God's law simplifies things. What had changed from the time of Moses well, it was the appending of all this oral traditional law, you know, and all of these interpretations based upon the needs of a particular time and place. And human reasoning that got codified into Judaism administered by Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. And that's what Peter is talking about. And so it's a matter of...really not very complicated to really know then what is being said. So, with that, let's go back in to the Acts text in chapter 15. And I've mentioned they kept silent afterPeter. They listened to Barnabas and Saul declare the fruits of their ministry.
Acts 15:13 "After they had become silent James answered them."
This is the James who's the brother of the Lord, brother of Jesus. This is not the James who is the brother of John. Why? He's already been killed by Herod back in chapter 12. So this is James the brother of the Lord. He is the presiding, if you will, minister, the lead minister it seems in Jerusalem. We know from Josephus as accounts and there are some extra-biblical accounts about James. He was highly revered, highly respected. He comes later. He wasn't among the 12 apostles so he comes later, but he is highly respected, and he seems to be presiding over this council of the ministry.
Acts 15:13 “And so he answered saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me.’”
So he's giving a summary of this, and he's taken it all in. There probably have been meetings and discussions leading up to this day on this particular meetings, and everybody's read their position papers and thought it through. They've talked to Barnabas and Paul, they've heard Peter, they've heard the other sides.
Acts 15:14 “Simon or Peter has declared how God at the first visit of the gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.”
So, remember, the name of God was on Israel, one who is a prevailer with God. God had covenanted with Israel, they were a special people. Now, these leaders in the Church, Jews themselves were saying very clearly, that God is taking out people from among the nations, all the nations.
Acts 15:15-17 “And with this, the words of the prophets agree just as it is written” verse 16. Here's a quote from Amos chapter 9. “After this, I will return and will rebuild the Tabernacle of David which has fallen down. The house of David.” The dynasty if you will, or the whole kingship that David had He said, “I will return.” That's quoting Amos 9:11-12. “And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins and I will set it up so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord even all the gentiles who are called by my name.”
This is the quote, it's a bombshell. Look at that. "The rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even the gentiles called by my name." And he's quoting out of Amos, an Old Testament prophet, but a significant one as to what was happening here. Now, the door of salvation is open to the gentiles, Paul is going out to them, and there will be other embassies to the gentiles. We'll read about them here as we get into the next chapter and much that we don't have recorded in Acts. But the door was open to these nations God is making a people out of them. James is tying it back to a prophecy from Amos that connects to the house of David that will be rebuilt.
Now, the word of God has gone to the gentiles, but has the house of David been rebuilt? “I will rebuild its ruins I will set it up.” Has that been done? Not in its completeness, not in its totality. One reason is because in Luke 1, when the angel spoke to Mary about the child Jesus that was in her womb, “He will sit” it says “Upon the throne and his father, David.” Christ will do that when he returns. Ezekiel 37 tells us that there will be a reuniting of the houses of Israel and David will be their king. That's in the future that is in the millennium that hasn't happened yet.
And again, understand this and the connection with the whole...understanding of the promises to Abraham because that's at the heart of what is being talked about here. The spiritual promises of Abraham to Abraham through Christ, now are open to all peoples, to all nations. But have all nations in themselves come to Christ? Have they heard and repented? No. I should not need at this time to go into all the whys and results of that, despite 2000 years of a false Christianity.
And even that has had its failures as well as, you know, certain successes in terms of what they've done. But looking at all of that, you know, it doesn't represent the work of God and aspect of truth. There's much yet to be done that we understand will begin to fall into place with the second coming of Christ. And including the fullness of the promises to all the...the spiritual promises to all peoples that will begin as people come up to learn of the God of Jacob in Jerusalem.
Isaiah chapter 2, which this verse doesn't quote, but it speaks to that. When they go up to Jerusalem they're going to go where David is, and the situation that is beginning to go out from there. These two verses we could unpack and talk a lot about but that's just kind of a summation of it. But it's a bombshell to this audience that James is talking to. The gentiles called by God's name is true, that all can share in the grace of God.
Acts 15:18 He says, “Known to God from eternity, are all his works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the gentiles who are turning to God.”
And so the works of God are known from eternity. He's quoting here from Isaiah 45:21. God's purpose and God's plan have been known to Him from eternity. This goes back even to the first few verses of Ephesians 1 with what God has purposed, the Father has purposed to do in Christ, God and the Word knew what they were going to do. They both existed in eternity and the purpose was laid down that has been known. And so now with that as a background, James is going to then make his judgment because in verse 19 he says, "Therefore." Coming to the judgment, he is going to mention several things here that are details that have to be communicated to the gentiles and sent out to them so that they know how to conduct themselves.
And I think that's best left into the next class. So we'll have the time to develop that and to go into it because they're going to write a letter. And I like to call it a doctrinal paper to explain the results of their deliberations. And that's going to go out to these gentile congregations and be carried out by Paul and the others.
So, let's just cap it right there and we'll pick it up with what he says there in verse 20 with four things that are going to be enumerated. We'll talk about why that is important in the next class period. So, we'll pick that up in the next session.