Acts 15:1-21 (JDV)
Acts 15:1 Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be rescued.”
Acts 15:2 After Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, Paul and Barnabas and some others were appointed to go up to the missionaries and elders in Jerusalem about this issue.
Acts 15:3 When they had been sent on their way by the congregation, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they brought great joy to all the brothers and sisters.
Acts 15:4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the congregation, the missionaries, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
Acts 15:5 But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to keep the law of Moses.”
Acts 15:6 The missionaries and the elders gathered to consider this matter.
Acts 15:7 After there had been much debate, Peter got up and said to them: “Brothers and sisters, you are aware that in the early days God made a selection among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe.
Acts 15:8 And God, who knows the heart, testified about them by giving them the Sacred Breath, just as he also did to us.
Acts 15:9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.
Acts 15:10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have had the strength to bear?
Acts 15:11 On the contrary, we believe that we are rescued through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”
Acts 15:12 The whole assembly became silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and marvels God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Acts 15:13 After they stopped speaking, James reacted: “Brothers and sisters, listen to me.
Acts 15:14 Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for his name.
Acts 15:15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written:
Acts 15:16 After these things I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again,
Acts 15:17 so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord — even all the Gentiles who are called by my name — declares the Lord who makes these things
Acts 15:18 known an age ago.
Acts 15:19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God,
Acts 15:20 but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.
Acts 15:21 You see, since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”
One of the questions that missionaries grapple with is how much the newly organized church in the field should look like the sponsor churches back home. In essence, this is the question being discussed here. Those believers who had been Pharisees argued that the new believers should imitate them, and try to follow the whole Mosaic covenant.
But Paul and James argued against that. Paul compared the idea suggested by the Pharisees to attaching a yoke that the new converts could not bear. The weight of attempting to follow all the Mosaic regulations was something that even the Jews found difficult to shoulder. James suggested a compromise. His suggestion only included those prohibitions which would make fellowship with unconverted Jews more possible.
Paul and James would address this issue from a theological standpoint in their letters. But at this point the issue is more a practical and missionary concern. We should not be surprised that believers in other parts of the world do not look like us, or even worship like us. Our goal is not to recreate the church in our hometown, it is to spread the gospel in someone else’s.
Lord, thank you for the beautiful diversity that is your body, the church.