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Purpose: Acts 15:19-21's Bible exposition on Resolve the Problem gives us an excellent model on how to discuss a touchy issue on how one is saved by grace through faith and how the three requests for the Gentiles to abstain are related to this decision (Part 5 of 7).
Decisions Acts 15:1-36 | Make Acts 15:1-5 | Discuss Acts 15:6-12 |
Scripture Acts 15:13-18 | Decision 15:19-21 | Council Acts 15:13-21 | Communicate Acts 15:22-36 | Acts 15 Video Making Significant Decisions
“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:19-21).
James made his proposal consisting of two parts.
James said, “Do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” (It is interesting that James did not emphasize salvation through faith here. He only stated that we are not to trouble the Gentiles coming to God.
Although the main issue was doctrinal, he stated it in such a way that was relevant to the focus of the discussion, that is, how the Jews were to expect change among the Gentiles. From this statement, it is to be understood that the believing Jews were not to enforce the Old Testament Law on the Gentiles. Also interesting, they did not draw any conclusion as to the importance or non-importance of the Old Testament Law to the Jews. This would become a preference.
James also suggests, “We write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” Again, we see that they did not clearly divide between the moral and non-moral issue. They were very practical. They only mentioned the things that would most offend the Jews. There are three things the Gentiles were asked to abstain from for the sake of their relationship with the believing Jews that would worship alongside them.
They were not to eat those things that that have been offered to idols. This is a relative issue because as Paul later said, there are no real idols so what is offered to them is not really stained. “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).
They were not to commit fornication. This is a moral issue that Jesus clearly spoke of, but the Gentile community were not very sensitive towards the immorality of this lifestyle. We personally might think this would be incredible but norms have so greatly changed that we often find unbelievers commonly commit sexual sins without thinking twice. Even some new believers are not very aware of this problem.
Abstain from what is strangled and from blood. The Jews had a great difficulty with the Gentiles habit of eating meet with the blood because of God’s command. This law was given before the Law and so could be thought of a moral issue or merely as a cultural one.
Later Improper Changes
“At a later time, when the issue was no longer a live one, the provisions proposed by James and adopted by the council were modified so as to become purely ethical injunctions: thus the Western text makes James suggest “that they abstain from idolatry, from fornication and from bloodshed, and from doing to others what they would no like done to themselves” (These three sins were the Jewish cardinal sins binding upon the whole human race from Noah’s time onward.) (The Book of Acts by F.F. Bruce, p. 312.)
Our society, for example, largely drains the blood from the animals before selling it. This is not true in every culture and was quite offensive to the Jews especially when they were expected to eat at the same table with the Gentiles for the Lord’s supper.
“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:3-4).
Later on, it seems that some people wrongly modified these these three things in their translations to accommodate their own times (see sidebar).
Application for Acts 15:13-21
They clarified the issue and brought relevant discussion, testimony and scripture to bear. As a result God was free to keep working among the Gentiles. They were not held up by the Old Testament Law.
We should remember that we are not saved by completion of the Law. No one could be saved like this. There are two key words: grace and faith. Grace is in contrast to works or something deserved. It is God’s mercy that He reaches out to us and not because we were good or deserved it. No one is good. Faith is the belief we put in Christ. Our confidence is in what Christ has done for us. He died for our sins. He was raised in righteousness on our behalf.
Next -> Important Guidelines for Church Councils (Acts 15:13-21) takes the observations from Acts 15 and applies them as guidelines for other church councils. It also provides some summary statements of this whole section.
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Acts_01:1-11 Bible Study Questions
Acts 1:6-11 The Kingdom Plan and Purpose | Video podcast
Acts 2:14-40 Be Saved! | Video podcast
Acts 6-7 Motivation | Acts 6:5-8 | Acts 6:9-15 | Act 6-7 Video podcast
Acts 7 Affirming motivation
Acts_7 Stephen's Defense
Acts_8.2-25 Persecution & Evangelism
Acts_8.14-24 Simon & Gnosticism
Acts_8.25-40 Ethiopean Eunuch
Acts_9:1-22 Saul the Terrorist
Acts_8-9 Perspectives on Conversion
Acts_10:1-48: Intersecting in Time: Vision #1
Acts_10:9-16 Vision #2 Peter
Acts_10:17-48 The Meeting that Changed History
Acts_10:34-44 The Christian Historical Message
Acts_13-14 Paul's First Missionary Journey
Acts 13: 1-3 A Model for our Church
Leadership - Diversity - God-seeking - Mission-minded
Acts_13:1-3 Sending Out Missionary Church
Acts_13:4-12 Power Encounter in Cyprus
Acts_13:13-50 Gospel Message in Antioch
Acts_13:51-14:28 Other Missionary Stops
Acts 20:28-30 Detecting Error in the Church
Acts 21:4 Discerning God's will