Acts 15 - we can't both be right...
Whole Bible Old Testament New Testament Pauls Letters Church History
I am going to jump in here briefly just point out that you are guilty of serious Eisegesis, the very thing you are trying to correct. You are reading your doctrines into texts you are using and not interpreting them in their proper context.
As far as the old testament law goes... if you were not willfully blind to it, you would see that this question was answered in the council of Acts 15.
The gentile Christians were being taught:
Acts 15:24 "Forasmuch 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:"
Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; Acts 15:29 That 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.
Paul answered the questions concerning the New Testament law repeatedly after this. The ministry of the Spirit is more glorious than the ministry of condemnation (2 Cor 3).
You seriously misuse Mat 5:17-19 above. Jesus is not teaching there that they should follow the old testament law. He is teaching them they are to go beyond the old testament law.
If you read the sermon on the mount as a unit, the "these commandments" He is talking about in Mat 5:19 is not the old testament law but the sermon on the mount. The section in Mat 5:17 - Mat 7:12 forms an inclusio concerning the "law and the prophets". His teachings go beyond the letter of the law. Jesus then talks to them about entering through the narrow gate (Mat 7:14), "keeping these sayings of mine" (Mat 7:24; Mat 7:26).
We have died the law through the body of Christ (Rom 7:4). We are to follow Him and obey Him through the ministry of the Spirit. He is our righteousness.
Thank you Peter for bringing up Acts 15 and the first Jerusalem Council.
With any online discussion it is easy for feeling to be hurt, or things to be misunderstood. Neither is my goal.
For many years, I believed exactly as you explained. Until, I was challenged about core doctrines and began studying doctrines objectively: by assuming the doctrine to be 100% correct, then I use the doctrine as the backdrop for related passages and evaluate them based on a simple criteria.
Does the doctrine in question:
- Uphold the foundation that all scripture is true? Joh 17:17, Psa 33:4, Psa 119:142, Psa 119:151, Psa 119:160
- Maintain that God cannot change? Mal 3:6, Jas 1:17, Heb 1:12
- Cause any scriptural contradictions? 1Co 14:33, Titus 1:2
I believe that Acts 15 is when the Jerusalem Council decided how to handle the huge volume of new ex-idol worshiping pagan Gentile converts that were coming to the faith.
Some believing Jews wanted to require circumcision as a prerequisite for salvation, the Council decided that it wasn't necessary for salvation. The “yoke which our Father’s nor we were able to bear." wasn't "following the law" it was a man being circumcised when he was grown. The Jews physically couldn't do this - since they had been circumcised all their lives - since the 8th day. Mandatory circumcision of proselytes was an ongoing debate within Judaism, this same debate had spilled over into the early Church.
The four decrees were determined to be minimum acceptable conduct for ex-idol worshiping pagan Gentiles to be able to fellowship and learn more. Because “the Law of Moses is taught every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21.) The Gentiles would eventually choose to be circumcised and will keep all of the Law that applied to them. (A man can’t keep the laws for a women, the Levitical laws are only for the Levites, etc…) In other words the Law is still in force! A Pro-Law Doctrine.
Because the no-law doctrine you espouse and the pro-law doctrine I espouse are diametrically opposed, one of is correct the other is not. Period.
The correct doctrine will be able to stand up to intense scriptural scrutiny.
1. Act 14:3 ISV They stayed there a considerable time and continued to speak boldly for the Lord, who kept affirming his word of grace and granting signs and wonders to be done by them.
A no-law doctrine doesn't have an applicable definition to define a false prophet. (The definition of a false prophet is a part of the Law, Deu 13:1-5) Therefore the determination would have to be based on assumptions and opinions: Paul and Barnabas were prophets therefore they did miracles. (Not necessarily wrong, but highly subjective.) The no-law doctrine would require the non-believing Jews to completely ignore Deu 13:1-5 altogether. Since they were looking for any excuse to kill Paul it is difficult to believe that they passed up this opportunity.
2. Act 15:1-2 ISV Then some men came down from Judea and started to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Law of Moses, you can't be saved." (2) Paul and Barnabas had quite a dispute and argument with them. So Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and elders about this question.
The No-Law doctrine ignores the fact that the original question Paul and Barnabas were to ask the apostles and elders was weather circumcision was required for salvation. The No-Law doctrine focuses on Acts 15:5 which adds the phrase “and ordered to keep the Law of Moses.”
3. Act 15:20-21 ISV Instead, we should write to them to keep away from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from anything strangled, and from blood. (21) After all, Moses has had people to proclaim him in every city for generations, and on every Sabbath his books are read aloud in the synagogues."
This passage makes no sense in the context of a no-law doctrine. Why would the council reference the “teaching of Moses every Sabbath” if they were teaching against it! That would be like the AMA saying “Hospitals are evil and unnecessary! Seminar at your local Hospital’s training center every Tuesday!"
4. Act 16:1-4 ISV Paul also went to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish wife whose husband was a Greek. (2) Timothy was highly regarded by the brothers in Lystra and Iconium. (3) Paul wanted this man to go with him, so he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who lived in that region, because everyone knew that Timothy's father was a Greek. (4) As they went from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for them to obey.
If Paul was teaching that the Law shouldn’t be followed, this passage very unusual, in fact its contradictory. Was Paul simply trying to pacify the Jews? It appears from the inclusion of the fact that he was “highly regarded by the brothers” that it was to be an example rather than to pacify. If believers were never to be circumcised: why would Paul circumcise Timothy in order to go with him to the brethren to tell them NOT to ever be circumcised. This is a non sequitur.
5. Act 20:6 ISV After the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we sailed from Philippi, and days later we joined them in Troas and stayed there for seven days.
If Acts 15 was the beginning of the rejection of the Law it is odd that unleavened bread is even mentioned here. It should have stated late in the month of Nissan or something similar to differentiate between the Jews and Christians.
6. Act 20:16 ISV Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in Asia, as he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, if that was possible.
This is also odd that Pentecost is mentioned. Especially that Paul felt an urgency. It should have stated a few weeks later or something similar to differentiate between the Jews and Christians, however it doesn’t.
7. Act 20:21 NIV I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
This is part of the Law: “Exo 12:49 ISV A single law exists for the native and the alien who resides among you." No distinction regarding the Law for Jews and those that have chosen to follow the ways of the Jews.
8. Act 21:20-24 ISV When they heard about it, they praised God and told him, "You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and all of them are zealous for the Law. (21) But they have been told about you—that you teach all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. (22) What is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. (23) So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. (24) Take these men, go through the purification ceremony with them, and pay their expenses to shave their heads. Then everyone will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you are carefully observing and keeping the Law.
This passages is also a non sequitur. There are 1,000s of believing Jews that were zealous for the Law. They had heard a false rumor: “that you (Paul) teach all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” The goal was to refute the rumor and convince the believing Jews: that you (Paul) are carefully observing and keeping the Law. If the No-Law is true why would James and the elders seek to deceive fellow believers? This is truly a conundrum for the no-Law Doctrine.
9. Act 21:24-25 ISV Take these men, go through the purification ceremony with them, and pay their expenses to shave their heads. Then everyone will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you are carefully observing and keeping the Law. (25) As for the gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our decision that they should keep away from food that has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from anything strangled, and from sexual immorality."
Even though Acts 15:5 has the added phrase “and ordered to keep the Law of Moses.” It is not stated here. I believe that because this phrasing is not included in the original question Acts 15:1-2, not in the restatement of the decree in Acts 21:25. I believe that this is a “smoking gun to Eisigesis by the translators. (This is my personal opinion.)
As far as the contents of the four decrees:
A Modern example of this would be if a street preacher witnessed to 1,000 strippers and prostitutes and all of them came to your services to learn more. What would you do? You would have some basic rules? 1) Dress modestly. 2) Don’t use foul language. 3) Don’t try to get “dates” at Church. 4) Come back and keep studying! (This is analogues to the Jerusalem Council’s position)
Other’s might demand: 1) Negative tests for venereal disease and AIDS, 2)They must give back all money they have ever made, 2) They must ask forgiveness of all the wives whose marriages they ruined. (This is analogues to those requiring circumcision for salvation.)
10. Act 24:1-9 ISV Five days later, the high priest Ananias arrived with certain elders and Tertullus, an attorney, and they summarized their case against Paul before the governor. (2) When Paul had been summoned, Tertullus opened the prosecution by saying: "Your Excellency Felix, since we are enjoying lasting peace because of you, and since reforms for this nation are being brought about through your foresight, (3) we always and everywhere acknowledge it with profound gratitude. (4) But so as not to detain you any further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness. (5) For we have found this man a perfect pest and an agitator among all Jews throughout the world. He is a ringleader in the sect of the Nazarenes (6) and even tried to profane the Temple, but we arrested him. (8) By examining him for yourself, you will be able to find out from him everything of which we accuse him." (9) The Jews supported his accusations by asserting that these things were true.
This is yet another problem text. The charges presented to Felix contained no mention of not following the Law or teaching this to others. If Paul was advocating not keeping the Law. The High Priest, the Elders and Tertullus would have gone ballistic! They should have made multiple accusations and charges against him for being a false prophet according to Deu 13:1-5. No such allegations are ever made.
11. Act 24:12-14 ISV They never found me debating with anyone in the Temple or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or throughout the city, (13) and they cannot prove to you the charges they are now bringing against me. (14) However, I admit to you that in accordance with the Way, which they call a heresy, I worship the God of our ancestors and believe in everything written in the Law and the Prophets.
How can Paul say that he “believes everything written in the Law and prophets” yet teach against following it? If Paul really taught the No-Law doctrine then with this statement he appears to be trying to deceive Felix? The No-Law doctrine would bring all of Paul’s character and writings into question.
12. Act 25:7-8 ISV When Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem surrounded him and began bringing a number of serious charges against him that they couldn't prove. (8) Paul said in his defense, "I have done nothing wrong against the Law of the Jews, or of the Temple, or of the emperor."
If Paul is preaching and teaching the No-Law doctrine how can this statement to King Agrippa be true?
13. Act 26:22-23 ISV I have had help from God to this day, and so I stand here to testify to both the powerful and the lowly alike, stating only what the prophets and Moses said would happen— (23) that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead and would bring light both to our people and to the gentiles."
Why would Paul tell King Agrippa things from the Prophets and Moses to convince him to follow Jesus - in order NOT to keep the Law? That makes no sense.
14. Act 28:16-17 ISV When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with the soldier who was guarding him. (17) Three days later, Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. When they assembled, he told them, "Brothers, although I haven't done anything against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.
This is another problem text for the No-Law doctrine, unless Paul believes that teaching other not to follow the Law isn't a breach of the Law.
15. Act 28:23 ISV So they set a day to meet with Paul and came out in large numbers to see him where he was staying. From morning until evening he continued to explain the kingdom of God to them, trying to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and the Prophets.
If the no-law doctrine were true why would he use the Law if Moses that “isn't to be followed” to prove Jesus is the Messiah?
I limited this exercise to Acts. I thought this would adequately make the point that doctrines must be scrutinized, and make the hard decisions about whether is a true doctrine. If you have read this far - you can see when the no-law doctrine is examined outside its "scriptural bubble" - it fails horribly. However the pro-law doctrine passes this scrutiny completely.
There are many passages where Paul takes exception with "the Law.” As you can see when it is blindly assumed he is talking about the Law of Moses many problems are created that are irreconcilable. Paul uses "the law" to refer to: the Roman Law, the oral law of the Pharisees, and the law of Moses. Context and exercises like the one above will reveal the which Law is being referenced.
The Law that Paul and the others had a problem with is the Oral Law of the Pharisees, He was an expert in it, trained at the feet of Gamaliel. The Oral Laws are "the traditions and commandments of men" that Jesus repeatedly clashed with the Pharisees over. Especially Matthew 23. More on that later...