Acts 15:1-21 1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that Yahweh had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.” 6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago Yahweh chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So Yahweh, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” 10 “Now therefore, why do you test Yahweh by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of Yahshua Messiah we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” 12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders Yahweh had worked through them among the Gentiles. 13 And after they had become silent, James answered saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 14Simon has declared how Yahweh at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the word of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 16 ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its’ ruins, and I will set it up; 17 so that the rest of mankind may seek Yahweh, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says Yahweh who does all these things.’ 18 “Known to Yahweh from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to Yahweh, 20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
- Who are the groups involved?
- Group A) the Jerusalem Council (vs 4) - This is the first century church leadership - They are facilitating the debate at hand and generating a decision to send to the Gentiles.
- Group B) is the Circumcision Party (vs. 1) - They believe that circumcision is necessary for salvation (they are legalistic) and they are teaching the Gentile converts this doctrine. This group is also found in Galatians 2:12, Acts 10:42, etc.
- Group C) is the believing sect of the Pharisees (vs. 5) – Defined, and this important, as valid believers, they are (of course) saved by faith and thus they know they cannot be saved by keeping the Law, but they still keep the Law out of obedience - just like Paul, also a Pharisee. This is very important to understand. Scripture is calling this group valid believers in the faith, AND teaching that the law of Yahweh, as written by Moses, IS VALID.
- Group D) New Gentile converts (vs. 7, 12, 14, 17-20, and 23) - This group has recently come into the faith but many are still deep into their pagan false god worship traditions - such as drinking blood, temple prostitution, eating unclean/strangled animals, and worshipping false gods. (vs. 20)
The next question we should ask is “what is the debate about?” We basically find that there are two positions in the debate in Acts 15.
- Position 1 - The Law of Moses should be kept as part of salvation:
Acts 15:1 “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
- The “Circumcision Party” - as this particular Jewish denomination was called - began teaching the new converts outside of Jerusalem that the Law of Moses - starting with circumcision - is necessary, key word necessary, for salvation.
- This group forced Paul and Barnabus to travel to Jerusalem to settle this matter.
Position 2 – They believe first in the faith and then still keep the Law of Moses out of obedience
Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.’”
- In verse 5, these are Pharisees who “believed,” meaning they have faith. This group in verse 5 is stated to be believers, which means they have faith in Yahshua and they understand the only way to salvation. The other group in verse 1 placed their faith in works.
- Also, the group in verse 1 was a group from outside of Jerusalem, and the group in verse 5 manifested days later inside of Jerusalem.
- In summary, the debate is about whether the Gentiles should be keeping the Law of Moses as a means to salvation (vs. 1) or be keeping the Law of Moses as a matter of obedience as a result of faith (vs. 5). The debate is between one of these two choices.
- Verses 6-12 Peter states how Yahweh called him in chapter 10 of Acts to go to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:13-15 13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 14Simon has declared how Yahweh at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the word of the prophets agree, just as it is written:”
- After the testimony of three witnesses have concluded, James brings out the final witness, which is direct Scriptural support. The process James is using is important, because according to Yahweh’s Word, Yahweh never does anything without revealing it to His prophets before hand, (Amos 9). James, of course, knows this and begins teaching what the prophets state on this matter.
- We find that in Jeremiah 3:8-10 that the House of Israel, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was divorced and scattered into the nations, or in other words Gentiles. James proves that it was always Yahweh’s plan to graft in the divorced, the House of Israel, back together with the House of Judah to save all of Israel (Ez. 37; Ro. 11; Eph. 2; Jer. 31; Ez. 36; Acts 2:36; Mt. 10:5-7; 15:24; Zech. 8:13)
Acts 15:15-17 15 And with this the word of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 16 ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; 17 so that the rest of mankind may seek Yahweh, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says Yahweh who does all these things.’
Acts 15:18-19 18 Known to Yahweh from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to Yahweh,
Acts 15:20 “But that we write unto them, that they may abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”
- This directive is straight out of the Law of Moses (Leviticus 17:12-16; Deut. 32:17).
Acts 15:21 “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
- Just as Yahshua commanded, we are to observe and do what is taught out of Moses’ Seat (Law of Moses - Mt. 23:1-3) and teach all nations to do so (Mt. 28:19-20).
Mat 23:1-3 Then spake Yahshua to the multitude, and to his disciples, Mat 23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: Mat 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.