Executive mansion. Virginia capitol.
Wednesday, 22 March 2023
“For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” Acts 15:21
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
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In the previous verse, James listed several things that the Gentiles should refrain from to live holy lives in the Lord. In each instance, it was more than apparent that James was distancing his ruling from law observance, the very issue that had brought about this council in the first place. Now, to nail that coffin shut once and for all, he continues with, “For Moses.’’
The word “for” explains the reason for the statement to follow. Although most explanations of James’ words limit this verse to an explanation of the giving of the prohibitions to the Gentiles stated in the previous verse, it surely goes beyond that to his entire statement which began in verse 15:13.
As for the word “Moses,” It is not referring to the man, but to the teaching of the man, the Law of Moses. The law is now being set against the doctrine of the church in the matter at hand. The two are incompatible. The law (Moses) is of works; the gift of God in Christ (the gospel) is of faith (15:7). The law is a yoke and a burden; the grace of Jesus Christ is freedom to live in His righteousness (15:10). Of this law, James next says it “has had throughout many generations.”
More literally, it reads, “from ancient generations.” It is a way of saying, “All the way back, and until this day, this has come about.” The point is that the thing he will next describe never changed a thing. Israel was to be a light to the nations, bearing the name of the Lord.
And yet, that never came about. They remained a small, isolated group of people. They were at war and at enmity with those around them for their entire history. The only thing the law did was to further isolate them and cause a wall of division to grow between them and those around them. James himself is relaying this because it is what had been the case.
Now, the Gentiles were coming to know the true God in ever-increasing numbers. It was in a manner that provided freedom, not bondage. How could imposing on the Gentiles a law that they were never under bring them anything but the same as Israel had faced?
With this thought in mind, he continues with “those who preach him in every city.” This is not limited to the cities of Israel. Rather, it means every city where there was a synagogue, especially those where Gentiles had come to listen and maybe even become proselytes. Within the Law of Moses that was read there, the prohibitions that James had just set forth could be found.
Therefore, those who attended the synagogue wouldn’t need instruction on the prohibitions given by James. They were already observing Moses, which was stricter than what he had decreed. And more, the law was “being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” As this was so, and as the Jews would be opposed to the idea that the Law of Moses was now set aside in Christ, it would be appropriate for the Gentiles to abstain from those things James mentioned in the previous verse so that the Jews would not needlessly take offense at the acceptance of these Gentiles.
In other words, and stated from the opposite side, the Gentiles who had come to Christ were given these prohibitions as a means of evangelizing the Jews, not the other way around. The Jews in the synagogues were bound under the Law of Moses. The Gentiles had come directly to Christ without ever having been under the law. How could a Gentile be anything but an offense to Jews if the Jew thought the law was still binding?
And so, if a Gentile said, “I have been accepted by the Messiah of Israel,” living according to these prohibitions now stated by James would be the least he could do to demonstrate that he was living in that saved state in a holy manner. Once the Bible was complete, that would become the standard for all people to live by. The epistles would provide the necessary explanation of how to be saved and then how to live rightly in that salvation.
Life application: James has, through his words which agree with the statement of Peter and the words of Barnabas and Paul, shown the total superiority of life in Christ over the Law of Moses. He has given the Gentiles a reasonable set of standards to live by so that those Jews who were under the law could see that Christians lived in a reasonable manner while not being burdened with the innumerable laws found within the Mosaic Code.
Further, he has placed salvation chronologically before the requirement for right conduct, as it should be. And he has shown that the conversion of the Gentiles by grace through faith came in the exact same manner as it did for the Jews. And more, the fact that these Gentiles were considered saved, and yet expected to live to a certain standard in order to not offend the Jews, meant that the Gentiles were actually being witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those unsaved Jews.
It is this state of things, meaning the Gentile-led Christian church, that would continue from this point on in the church age. Peter will no longer be seen in Acts. Rather, Paul – the apostle to the Gentiles – began to take center stage in Acts 13. That will continue until the end of the book of Acts. The banner is now passing from Jew to Gentile in carrying the message of the One true God to the nations of the earth.
Lord God, You are the God of the surprising! When we fail You, instead of bringing about our end, You make a path for restoration available back to You. When the world is to be destroyed by water, You save it through an ark that prevails over the flood. While the law is found to bring only condemnation, You have sent Jesus to remove that obstacle from us. Every step of the way, You are the God of the surprising! Thank You, O God, for Your wonderful hand of tender care toward us. Amen.