The Problem: Those from Syrian Antioch: Part 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

1 Western text—the main characteristic of the Western text is a love of paraphrase: "Words and even clauses are changed, omitted, and inserted with surprising freedom, wherever it seemed that the meaning could be brought out with greater force and definiteness." One possible source of glossing (commenting) is the desire to harmonize and to complete; more peculiar to the Western text is the readiness to adopt alterations or additions from sources extraneous to the Scriptures.

2 The Sadducees were a sect or group of Jews that were active in Judea during the Second Temple period, starting from the second century BC through the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The sect was identified by Josephus with the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society. As a whole, the sect fulfilled various political, social, and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple. The Sadducees are often compared to other contemporaneous sects, including the Pharisees and the Essenes. Their sect is believed to have become extinct sometime after the destruction of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Law as proposed by the Pharisees. Rather, they saw the Torah as the sole source of divine authority. 10 The written law, in its depiction of the priesthood, corroborated the power and enforced the supremacy of the Sadducees in Judean society.
According to Josephus, the Sadducees believed that:
There is no fate
God does not commit evil
Man has free will; “man has the free choice of good or evil”
The soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife, and
There are no rewards or penalties after death
The Sadducees rejected the belief in the resurrection of the dead, which was a central tenet believed by Pharisees and by Early Christians. The Sadducees supposedly believed in the traditional Jewish concept of Sheol (hell) for those who had died.
3 Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and tradition transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it is possible for a society to transmit oral history, oral literature, oral law and other knowledge across generations without a writing system.
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6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.
18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.


Introduction

This section of Acts 15:1-35 relates to the debate in Jerusalem over the circumcision issue. There were two major witnesses, both in defense of the view that the Gentiles should not be burdened by circumcision and the law. Peter spoke first (vs. 7-11), followed by James (vs. 13-21). Both speeches are preceded by brief summary notices that set the larger context of the conference (vs. 6, 12).


Commentary
6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

Verse six relates the gathering for the conference. Since it mentions only the apostles and elders, many interpreters see this as a reference to the private conference Paul mentioned in Galatians 2:2 with “those who seemed to be the leaders.” If Luke mentioned Paul’s private conference at all, it would more likely be the initial meeting with the apostles and elders in verse 4. On the other hand, verses 6-29 are a continuous narrative, and one would assume the whole group was gathered together for the discussion—the apostles and elders, other members of the Jerusalem church (including the Pharisaic Christians), Paul and Barnabas, and the other members of the Antioch delegation. The apostles and elders were singled out as the leaders of the assembly. They initiated the formal inquiry.

There can be no doubt that it was a fateful day for the future of Christianity. Failure to reach the right decision would forever split the church or else reduce it to the status of a Jewish cult. Although all of them at the same time were likely to be intimidated by the considerable and vocal segment of legalists in the church, the opinion of James would ultimately be crucial to the entire debate–and James was inclined to be a legalist.


7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

The meeting began with a lively discussion. Peter rose to speak. No one in Jerusalem could speak with more authority. He was acknowledged as the apostle to the circumcision (Galatians 2:7-8), so when Peter rose to his feet the legalist’s hopes were raised. No doubt Peter would speak for the Jewish side of the question. But Peter had learned his lesson. Paul had already “withstood him to the face” (Galatians 2:11). Peter did not speak at once. He wisely waited for both sides to air their views. We can well imagine that a great deal of feeling would be exhibited. It would be no quiet debate. Hot passions would be aroused on both sides of the issue. After the various viewpoints had been aired, he began by reminding the assembly of his own experience in the household of Cornelius (v. 7b). Even though it was “some time ago, possibly as much as 10 years before, the experience had made an indelible impression on Peter. God had chosen him to witness to the Gentiles (see 10:5, 20, 32). Peter could expect the Jerusalem Christians, including the circumcisers, to remember this because he had given them a full report following the incident (11:1-18). What he had learned on that occasion was that God looks on the heart, not on external matters. God is no respecter of persons (10: 34).

“God enlisted me for a very great task,” Peter began. “God could have chosen anyone. He chose me, the apostle of the circumcision. But He sent me to the Gentiles so that by me they might have the Gospel preached to them.”


8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

God did not make the slightest difference between Jews and Gentiles in the giving of the Holy Ghost. That was Peter’s point. The undeniable sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles as fully and as freely as it had been given to the Jews. The Holy Spirit had thus baptized the Gentiles into the mystical body of Christ in the same way He had baptized Jews into our body. Surely if circumcision were that important, the Holy Spirit would have said so. If God did not demand circumcision and Mosaic Law as appendages to Gentile’s salvation, then how dare anyone add them now?

God had proved his acceptance of Cornelius and the Hellenists at his home by granting them the gift of the Holy Spirit. God only grants His spirit to those He has accepted (Numbers 10:44, 47; 11:17).

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