What is the best way to interpret Scripture? Some would say you just need to pray. Others would say only certain Church Divines are able to interpret Scripture. Still others would say you need to visit the original languages. I would go with prayer and original languages, but there is something else that is vital. Scripture needs to be interpreted by Scripture. In our next passage we see James using what Peter had said about the Judaizers and their requirement that Gentiles be circumcised to become Christians, and compares it with Scripture. Let’s read:
Ac 15:13 When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ 18 that have been known for ages. 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
1) James. Like with Peter he is very loving, calling the General Assembly delegates “brothers”. Again this reminds us that even when challenges arise in the Church, we ought never to forget that if we are all born again, we are all part of God’s Household, thus all brothers in Christ. Humbly he calls these delegates to give him their ears … “listen to me”. We are unable to sort out issues, especially when they are deep doctrinal matters without having the full attention of all concerned. Have you noticed how at times, when people are speaking, you hear but don’t listen because you are thinking through the response you want to give? In other words, you were not listening. We are all like this at times, but when it comes to God’s Word we need to listen up without allowing anything to distract us because should it, we will not grasp what is being said. Then we will miss out grasping the deep issues of the faith. Sadly this is one of the prime reasons for arguments and fights arising over doctrinal matters.
2) Peter. James uses Peter’s Hebrew or Aramaic name before Jesus changed it. In summarizing what Peter had said, James says … how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. Taking a step backwards you will recall that God chose Israel to be His people out of all the nations of the world.
Dt 14:1 You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, 2 for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
This was the distinguishing factor for the Jews of all times. God uses the word “people” in verse 2 and not the word that would be used for “nations”. That is, God took a people out of the nations … out of the ethnicities. Look at how James puts what Peter says … and this is God’s inspired Word … how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. He is saying that now God does not take a people in contrast to Gentiles but takes a people consisting of Gentiles! Here is the issue for all Gentiles who believe:
1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
He is applying what Isaiah said of the Jews to include the Gentile believers:
Isa 43:21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
The application of this is for you and me because you (most likely) and I are Gentiles! Then James refers to the …
3) Prophets. After hearing the testimony of the missionaries, he excludes their words and deals with Peter’s testimony about Cornelius because he is a respected apostle. Now he interprets this with what the respected prophets have to say!
Ac 15:15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ 18 that have been known for ages.
See the word agreement? What they say is in agreement with what Peter had to say. James quotes from Amos:
Am 9:11 “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, 12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the LORD, who will do these things.
James uses … that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name … in place of Amos’ … may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name. There is no difference meant or intended. Both mean the same … “nations that bear my name” means the same as “Gentiles who bear my name”. Gentiles come for the nations! The important fact is … “bear my name” … that is, those who have been saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus’ meritorious work at Calvary. In other words, those “who are Christian”. James is saying that the mission to the Gentiles, that He had already made known through prophets like Amos, has materialized in Peter going to Cornelius … and without saying it, through Paul and Barnabas going to the nations (ethnicities) in Syria, Cyprus and Pamphylia with God’s Gospel of salvation. Kingdom restoration promised to and about David was taking place before their eyes. The leader of the “A Team”, Hannibal, used to say … “I love it when a plan comes together.” Don’t you? Don’t you love it as God’s plan came together? He promised it would and it did. How much more are we able to believe in and trust God to fulfil all His promises to His people?
4) James … Chairman of the Assembly. James judges with Peter not to place a yoke around the necks of the Gentiles that even the Jews could not carry! He says … we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. The original for “not make it difficult” is “stop troubling”. It means to stop demanding circumcision of the Gentiles.
5) Moses. By Moses he means the first five books of the Bible … the Torah … Genesis to Deuteronomy … the Law of Moses. He means that Gentile believers and Jewish believers would now sit together at meals, enjoy fellowship and serve God together. The Jews were brought up under strict hygiene rules, avoidance of food offered to idols and taught to avoid sexual immorality. For these two groups, now as one people need to co-exist … the Gentiles needed to abstain from certain practices that were sinful and others that were unhygienic. For us Christians there are two passage providing us with a principle. Both passage relate to a Gentile’s past.
1 Cor 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
Ro 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
As we relate to others from whatever their background, let us not be offensive, causing a brother or sister to fall.
Father, grant us a spirit of extraordinary love for all peoples born into Your eternal family. Amen.