Acts 15. This is a hotly debated chapter of Acts. Many believe this chapter shows the Torah is no longer binding. Many believe they only have to do the four things stated in v20. Yet, there is a lot missing in those four things, namely love. Most believers who know something about this chapter also conveniently do not mention v21. So let’s take a look into what is going on. Also, this passage does have to do with food, which is why I chose it next.
v1 – Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Some were teaching you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judaism does not teach this. Judaism is not about works salvation. While some may believe this, it does not make it true.
On the next couple of verses, it speaks of the debate among them and Paul and Barnabas going to Jerusalem. We know they were coming from the Galatia area from the epistle of Galatians.
v5 – But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
A couple of things about this verse. One, notice it is a sect of the Pharisees and not all of them. Since the collection of Pharisees belonged to several different schools they would have believed differently. Second, this is a continuation from verse 1. These Pharisees are saying in order for the gentiles to be saved it is necessary to circumcise and to observe the Law. It is the same argument and the same with whom Paul and Barnabas were debating back in Galatia. Circumcision had become a conversion ritual by the Pharisees just as baptism is often misused today as a means of joining a particular church. This sect of Pharisees wanted to make these gentiles proselyte’s. Yeshua warned them in Matthew 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.” This sect of Pharisees were heaping not just the Torah, but all these other rules/commandments on them called fences. These fences were built to protect people from violating Torah. The unfortunate thing is they started following more the fences and not the Torah. They were requiring people to follow the fences, raising the fences above Torah. So when the term Law of Moses is mentioned above, I do not believe Luke meant Torah. In few verses I will show you why.
In the next few verses there is a debate and then Peter gets up to speak.
v10 – Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
Many believe Peter is speaking about the Torah when he says by placing on the neck a yoke no one has been able to bear. As we just finished discussing the yoke is not Torah. We are told in 1 John 5:3 that His commandments are not burdensome. The yoke is the extra rules this sect of Pharisees were requiring. Yeshua said this in Matthew 23:2-4 – “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
After this James gets up to speak. He quotes verses from the Tanak and then provides the 4 things (I say 5) the gentiles should abstain from. They are:
1. things contaminated by idols
3. things strangled
4. from blood
Before I provide the 5th item, let’s get into the 4 items.
The first 2 items are interesting, b/c they are 2 issues that are held against 2 of the assemblies in Revelation 2:14 & 20. Things contaminated by idols means anything associated with idols including food. For instance, we you go to certain Asian restaurants and you see a little statue with food at it, all the food served that day has been dedicated to that god and we are forbidden to eat at that restaurant.
Fornication. Many believe this has to do with sexual sins, but I do not think so. It being placed next to things contaminated by idols is a clue. The word in Greek is porneia can also mean associating pagan items with the things of G-d. This was an issue with the Galatians, for Paul warned them in Galatians 4:9-11 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
Things strangled and from blood. Improperly killed animals. The Greek word used is pniktos and means an animal deprived of life without the shedding of blood. The Torah says we shall not eat blood (Deut 15:23 & Lev. 17:10). Yet many will eat meat not properly killed and blood is all in the meat. Some even go out of there way to eat “bloody sausage” and things like it.
Please notice these 4 items do not tell us to love G-d, our neighbor, we should not murder, etc. this means this list was not meant to be complete. Since loving G-d is the greatest commandment. These 4 prohibitions are things the gentiles were coming from and needed to be addressed as they came to worship the true G-d. The gentiles could not be bringing these pagan practices into the synagogue.
The next verse is the 5th item. v21- For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Do you see it? The Sabbath. The 4 prohibitions was the beginning of having a relationship with G-d. The rest of the Torah will be heard as they attend the synagogue each Sabbath. In case you did not know, a portion of the Torah is read every Sabbath in every synagogue across the world. A majority (if not all) of them read the exact same passage across the world on the very same day. James was not saying they only have to do these 4 things. No. That does not even make sense. They start by removing these pagan practices out of there lives and the rest they will hear and start following throughout the year.
If, James and the other leaders, proposed doing away with the Torah, there would have been an uproar of major proportions. The whole city would have went mad. Yet, there is nothing said about this. Also, Paul would not have taken the Nazarite Vow in Acts 21 to prove that he still followed and taught Torah.
After going through Acts 15, do you really think it is saying no circumcision? Do you really think it is saying you do not have to follow Torah?
Next time, we will dig into didn’t Paul say we could eat foods sacrificed to idols and declare all foods clean.
Do you disagree with anything written above? Do you agree? If you believe differently, stand up and discuss.