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UNDERSTANDING ACTS 15
By Robert Clanton
The other term, which is used in the scriptures, is the term, "proselyte," (which means in Greek, "to sojourn") is a term for a gentile who became circumcised and thereby bound to the Sabbaths and all of the 613 laws under the Law of Moses. Most "proselytes" became God Fearers, first and then from there they would become proselytes. Because not all gentiles could be free enough to rest on Sabbaths, clean and unclean meats and the other non-moral requirements of the Law of Moses, most of the gentiles remained "God Fearers". The term proselyte is used in the follow verse by Christ himself when he rebukes the self-righteous Pharisees, Matt 23:15 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves" Now we can proceed to the 15th Chapter of Acts.
1And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.[It is impossible to emphasize how important this line is in the understanding of the council of Jerusalem. It is not just circumcision but also the COMMAND to tell the gentiles to keep the LAW OF MOSES. In order to truly understand this phrase, we must realize that any part of the law of Moses can be referred to as the law of Moses. For instance: circumcison was a part of the law of Moses as was sacrifices and the weekly and annual Sabbaths. So in attempt to corrupt the actual meaning of the Law of Moses many of the Sabbath keeping churches will go to reference that on pertains in part to the law of Moses instead of the whole. The best reference to the Law of Moses in total is Mal. 4:4. It reads, "4Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments". It is clear from this verse that the Law of Moses includes all of the Law from both Mount Sinai and the statues and judgements. Why does circumcision enter the picture ? Because the scripture says in Ex. 12: 47 "All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48And when a stranger (gentile) shall sojourn [from which we get the Greek word "proselyte"] with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. 49One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.". So that if any gentile wished to observe the feast of the Passover he had first to be circumcised and by circumcision be willing to keep the entire Law of Moses. As this reference makes plain. Gal 5:3 puts it this way, "3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law" ]
6And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7And 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. 8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.[this is a direct reference to the events in Acts the 10th where Peter after seeing the vision of unclean animals is told to go and preach to the gentiles, specifically, Cornelius the centurion soldier (Acts 10:21 "Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? 22And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee." Again it is of utmost importance to recognize the importance of the use of the term "one that feareth God" because it show that Cornelius was not bound to the restriction of the weekly Sabbath nor annual Sabbaths nor clean and unclean meats when the Holy Spirit comes upon him. Please take time to read Chapter 10 and 11 of the book of Acts.). The argument here is that God purified their hearts by faith and gave them the Holy Spirit just as he had done those who were circumcised and keeping the Law of Moses. God was not purifying their hearts by Law but by faith. By faith he was giving the Holy Spirit to them and thus it was evidence that of salvation. Acts 13:47 puts it this way, "47For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. 48And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
10Now 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? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.[This verse is the crux of the entire matter. Where Sabbath keeper or not, circumcised or not, God fearer, gentile or bond or free, Jew or gentile salvation and the Holy Spirit comes by faith through grace. To add the Law of Moses to the faith tempt God because God did not require Sabbaths first upon the gentiles and THEN give them the Holy Spirit, but freely gave them the Holy Spirit. Rom.8:8 says this, "8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" IT IS NOT SABBATHS THAT MAKE YOU CHRIST'S BUT HIS HOLY SPIRIT.]
Acts 15:12Then 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.[This short verse is of major importance. Why? Because the scripture say that God gave his stamp of approval on a ministry buy miracles that follow the preaching. Acts 2: 22 "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know"]
13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16After 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: 17That 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. 18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.[James agrees with Peter, Paul and Barnabas that God was at work in giving the Holy Spirit and Salvation to the gentiles apart from the Law of Moses and so he quotes the only scripture the is used in the entire debate]
19Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.[Is it so important to understand the back ground of this statement. The four things that are given to be WRITTEN to the gentiles were known as the "Noahian" or "Noahide Law". It was considered to be the moral law given orally to Noah and that if a man kept it he would be considered righteous and inherit eternal life. None of the Jews believed that the Sabbath was made "binding" to be kept until the time of Moses. Why did he want to give these commands in WRITING. THE ANSWER IS IN THE NEXT VERSE.
21For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him (Moses), being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.[When the gospel was preached among the gentiles Christ had commanded that the gospel first go to the Jew and then the gentile. The Jew in the synagogues had made a 2,000 year old HABIT of trying to convert the gentile and thus make THE GENTILES become circumcised and "COMMANDING HIM TO KEEP THE LAW OF MOSES". They were preaching Moses and this is what started the entire problem. After God had given salvation and the Holy Spirit by grace through faith as Peter declares, some of the Sect of the Pharisees began PREACHING MOSES. Let me post verse five of this chapter here, "5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. IN ORDER TO AVOID ANY CONFUSION THIS LETTER WAS SENT TO THE CHURCHES SO THAT THERE WOULD BE NO MISUNDERSTANDING. THE GENTILES WERE NOT to be made BOUND TO THE LAW OF MOSES. The whole point in verse 21 is to say that it was necessary to write to the gentiles because in every city was a synagogue where the Jews would preach Moses (not Christ, not the gospel, but MOSES AS THE WAY TO SALVATION) and the apostles wanted no misunderstanding that the gentiles were not to be circumcised and commanded to keep the law of Moses BECAUSE FAITH IN CHRIST IS THE WAY UNTO SALVATION]
22Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you NO GREATER burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. 30So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. 34Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.[Reading Acts 16:4 4 "And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily." All of this caused considerable confusion. As Paul preached the gospel in the synagogues first to the Jews and then to the gentiles, questions came up continually. Paul stuck to his guns as did the Apostles. When he would tell the gentiles that they were not to make themselves under the Law of Moses, the Jews among the gentiles would hear and then begin to wonder, if the gentiles receive salvation and the Holy Spirit and were not under the Law of Moses, then why should they be under the Law of Moses? Hence you have the problem in Acts 21 when Paul goes back to Jerusalem. Some of the Jews among the gentiles reported that he had preached to the Jews as well as the gentiles that they should not circumcise their children nor follow the customs of the Moses. You find this in Acts 21:15"And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem. 16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge. 17And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: 21And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest ALL OF THE JEWS which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. 22What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. 23Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. 25As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
[It now becomes easier to understand the entire New Testament. When Paul makes statements like that of Rom 10: 12 "For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
A major complaint from Sabbath Keeping churches when showing them these scriptures is to say, "well then you think it is ok to murder, steal, or commit adultery." This is to imply that the only thing that keeps them from doing such things is the law. Paul answered that when he says in 1Tim.1: 9 "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;" but also he answered that by faith and the use of the Holy Spirit men would walk in the following manner, Gal. 5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." It is not the law which keeps us from sin but the Holy Spirit. Therefore the gentiles were not made to be under the Law of Moses.]
2. Not to blaspheme God
3. Not to murder
4. Not to engage in incestuous, adulterous, bestial, or homosexual relationships
5. Not to steal
6. Not to eat a limb torn from a living animal
7. To set up courts to ensure obedience to the other six laws.
Since each law has extensions and interpretations (see number 4, for example) there are in fact more than seven laws that gentiles are commanded to observe.
Judaism regards any non-Jew (GENTILE) who keeps these laws as a RIGHTEOUS person who is guaranteed a place in the world-to-come." This is taken from the book; "Jewish Literacy, The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History" Chapter 263 "THE SEVEN NOAHIDE LAWS" page 509. The author is Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and author of two of the most influential Jewish books of the past decade; "The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism" and "Why the Jews? The Reason for anti-Semitism
In the book, "EVERYMAN'S TALMUD", by Rabbi Abraham Cohen, (a summary of the teachings of the oral interpretation of the Mosaic Law), Page 65 we read, "To the Gentiles who were not prepared to enter the fold of the Judaism, a moral code, known as the seven commandments of the Sons of Noah, was offered. It consisted of the precepts: "The practice of equity, prohibitions against blaspheming the Name, idolatry, immorality, bloodshed, robbery and devouring a limb torn from a live animal" (Sanh.56a). By righteous conduct, based upon these fundamental laws they would earn the divine approval." Even the strict Jews believed that the Sabbaths were not necessary as binding on the Gentiles. Circumcision of the flesh is necessary before any person is required to observe the any Sabbath.