Acts 15:9

Virginia State Capitol, Richmond.

Friday, 10 March 2023

“and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:9

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

Peter had just noted that God acknowledged the Gentiles who believed by giving them the Holy Spirit, having read their hearts. This was just the same as the Jews who believed, apart from any law observance. With that, he now says, “and made no distinction.”

The thought here is that of some sort of class. The Greek word is diakrinó. It signifies to thoroughly judge a matter and thus to completely separate. God makes no distinction in types or categories of men when He reads their hearts. Skin color, marital status, age, societal status, wealth, etc. are all irrelevant to Him. One human heart is just like any other. The sentiment is reflected in Acts 10, just prior to Peter beginning his speech to the Gentiles –“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.’” Acts 10:34, 35

In this case, Peter continues his words, saying, “between us and them.” The distinction being made, then, is between a Jew under the law and a Gentile not under the law. There is absolutely no distinction in God’s eyes between the two when the gospel is considered.

Despite this, there is a difference. A Jew under the law was obligated to the law. A Gentile not under the law was not. Paul addresses these things in Romans. This is why Peter will say what he says in the next verse. For now, however, the matter is one not of difference, but of distinction. The gospel is presented, the offer is thus made, and God will evaluate people based on that alone. In believing, He is then “purifying their hearts.”

The tense is wrong. The verb is an aorist participle, “having purified.” These Gentiles had their hearts searched, they had believed, and their hearts were purified. The idea is expressed well by Jeremiah –

“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
10 I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:9, 10

The wicked heart of the unregenerate that is willing to call out for cleansing through the hearing of the gospel is purified. The word used to describe this purifying, katharizó, is the same word spoken to Peter in his vision –

“But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’
15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed [katharizó] you must not call common.’ 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”

The “unclean” Gentiles had been purified just like the supposedly “clean” Jews, thus signifying that the Jews were actually unclean. The law never purified them in the manner that is needed before God.

And this purification was, as Peter says, “by faith.” It was an internal act for the Jews who believed. It was an internal act for the Samaritans who believed, and it was an internal act for the Gentiles who believed.

God, without making any distinction, saw that they believed and He gave His Spirit. No works of the law were associated with what occurred. The words of Peter now are exactingly mirrored by Paul in Romans 3 –

“Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Romans 3:29, 30

It is also the very thought that Paul had to correct Peter on when he made an error in his ways while in Antioch –

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galatians 2:15, 16

Life application: When reading the Bible, we may come to a thought similar to what is presented in this verse and make an erroneous conclusion if we don’t stop and think through what is being conveyed. A good example of this comes from Galatians –

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29

Because of these words, it has been inferred that everyone in the church has the same rights as anyone else. For example, this verse is used to justify the ordination of women because “there is neither male nor female” in Christ. This is a failure to understand the difference between the words “distinction” and “difference.”

God has made no distinction between any of these (or other) categories, as was noted earlier. However, God still recognizes the differences. First, Paul could not have written these words if there are no longer any differences. The fact that he says there is neither Jew nor Greek means that the categories still exist.

Paul explicitly addresses Jews and Gentiles in separate thoughts in Romans and elsewhere. Likewise, Paul specifically addresses slaves and their responsibilities to their masters several times. He specifically addresses the responsibilities of men and of women elsewhere as well. He is addressing different categories of people in whom God has found no distinction for salvation.

When the differences, which are still recognized by God, are ignored, only chaos will result. It is our responsibility to always recognize what God recognizes, such as our responsibilities as males or females, and to not recognize what God has not found distinct. Thus, we are to be willing to present the gospel to all without recognizing any differences that would bias us against doing so.

Heavenly Father, may we be willing to think through what is presented in Your word and responsibly handle the duties that have been set before us. May we not allow what You have forbidden, and may we not overlook anyone because of our own biases. You have made no distinction, nor should we. Help us in this, O God. Amen.