Some Notes on Acts 15, Pt 2

Here is part 2 of some notes I wrote a few years ago on Acts 15. This passage is at the heart of the debate about Gentiles, Torah, and the Yeshua-movement.

Acts 15 Notes: Part 2

Reference:
Luke Timothy Johnson, Acts: Sacra Pagina Vol. 5. Collegeville, MN, The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Recap: In Acts 15, Part 1, we considered that the issue before the apostles was not works versus grace. Although some believing Pharisees had said that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order “to be saved” (vs.1), the apostles did not go on to discuss salvation by faith alone. That discussion occurred in many other places, as evidence in Paul’s letters. Rather, in Acts 15, the issue was how Gentiles were to be included in the new people of God. Were they to become Jews in order to enter? If so, this would mean that Gentiles had to be circumcised and observe the dietary law and Sabbath as well as other laws from Moses.

Acts 15:13-21, James Cites Amos 9
The apostles were careful to cite scripture as a precedent for their actions. They wanted to move ahead with God’s wisdom and not their own. For example, in choosing a disciple to replace Judas, they cited two scriptures in Acts 1:20—Psalm 69:25 and 109:8.

Now, in deciding this issue that they had to see as a turning point in the progress of the Yeshua-movement, they grounded their decision in scripture. James saw the answer in Amos 9, a scripture about Gentiles in the Messianic kingdom. The prophets of Israel, starting with Moses, had a long tradition of speaking of Gentile inclusion in God’s kingdom:

Rejoice, O nations, with His people. (Deut 32:43, “nations” is goyim).
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You (Psalm 22:27).
Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it (Isa. 2:2).
Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious (Isa. 11:10).
It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isa. 49:6).
I will also take some of them [the nations] for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord (Isa. 66:21).
Naaman said, “If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules’ load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord.” (2 Kings 5:17).
Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you (1 Kings 17:9).
…and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:26-27).

James sees the principle clearly in Amos 9:11-12. James quotes Amos 9 with a few variations:

Amos 9:11-12 In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; 12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” Declares the LORD who does this.

Acts 15:16-18 AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ 18 SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.

Of the variations between James’ citation and the text of Amos 9:11-12, one stands out as major. James says, “That the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,” whereas Amos says, “That they may possess the remnant of Edom.” This variation comes from the Septuagint, the Greek version also called the LXX.

Luke Johnson says it is this variation in the Septuagint that allows James to use this verse “midrashically” (p.265). In other words, James knows that the Hebrew text does not contain this phrase, but uses it as the rationale for citing this verse. James finds a hidden meaning in Amos 9:12 that God wants all mankind, including Gentiles, to seek him.

This view of scriptural authority, however, would not fit the pattern of the apostles. For them the scripture was the word of God. They would not base a doctrine on a difference between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text.

Rather, James cites the Septuagint because that is what he has memorized. Even Jews living in the land read from the Septuagint and found it an easy translation. James’ point does not come from the phrase, “That all mankind may seek the Lord.” Rather his point come from the phrase, “Gentiles who are called by his name.”

Gentiles Called by God’s Name
What occurred to James and brought light to the discussion of the apostles was a simple idea seen in the prophet Amos. In the last days God would take Gentiles to himself and put his name on them. And God said nothing about these Gentiles converting. Rather, God accepted them as Gentiles.

That means they would not need circumcision. They would not need to join Israel, as Caleb, Ruth, and others had done. They are Gentiles called by God’s name, not Gentile converts.

That is to say, God had always been open to accepting Gentiles. Further, it was understood that these Gentiles would not have to go back to their country and live the Jewish calendar and eat the Jewish diet. The Torah called upon Israel to eat a peculiar diet to separate them as holy from the Gentiles. The Torah called upon Israel to keep Shabbat as a sign between God and Israel (Exod 31:13). These Israel-specific practices were not incumbent on Gentiles to have a relationship with God.

With this precedent from scripture as a foundation, James and the apostles would receive Gentiles by faith into the community of Yeshua without circumcision or dietary law or Sabbath observance. Gentiles are welcome as Gentiles and Jews as Jews. The two are one, yet distinct, just as man and woman are one yet distinct.

MORE TO COME . . .

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Paul, Theology, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Some Notes on Acts 15, Pt 2

  1. Marc says:

    Derek I might have missed something in the previous entries.

    Where is the text that says that Sabbath is not incumbent on Gentiles to have a relationship with God?

    Marc

  2. Marc:

    Exod 31:13 says Sabbath is between God and Israel.

    Romans 14:5-6 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (CONTEXT IS EXPLAINED IN MY PAUL BOOK, THIS IS ABOUT DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN JEWS AND NON-JEWS).

    Acts 15.

    Etc.

    Derek

  3. Marc says:

    Derek,

    I’m the type of person that takes the opposite view to debate to get closer to the truth. Please don’t take it personal.

    I always look at what scripture doesn’t say.

    What about the mixed multitude? Are they included as children of Israel?

    Marc

  4. Steve says:

    AMOS!!!!!!!

    So Critical here!!!!! Good for you Derek, so many miss this….!

    Prophecy Fulfilled, put a check in the box.

    Well Done.

  5. Geert ter Horst says:

    Shalom Derek,

    I have a question. If Jews and Gentiles are made equal in Messiah Yeshua (in Eph. 2 & 3), how is it that your viewpoint leads to a second class position for Gentile believers? For, if none of the typical ritual commandments of the Torah applies to Gentiles, then the religion of these Gentile believers is a very incomplete one. It is a religion without holy rest days (like the Shabbat), without festivals and celebrations, without ritual reminders during our daily activities, without any real obligation for a sanctification of the distinct domains of earthly existence. It is an almost purely spiritual religion. In practice, this view comes down to the idea that a secularized lifestyle is the best type of lyfestyle for Gentiles in Messiah. That cannot be true.

  6. Steve says:

    Derek,

    Have you considered adding an additional subject to your blog, I know your a great fan of Paul, why not James and Jude, those anchors in Jerusalem…

  7. Jonathon says:

    Under Torah, the average Israelite has quite a few laws to follow. The Levite also has those laws, but has even more on top of them. So too the gentile has less.

    Derek, if your blog is indicitive of Messianic Judaism as a whole, the depth of knowledge the movement is coming to is astounding. I confess I had written it off as a source of learning, but your site forces me to re-evaluate my view.

    How wonderful it is to see the continuing fulfilment of Zechariah 8.23, that 10 will take hold of a Jew, not to preach but to learn. May God continue to send light on your path, that you can spread that light to others such as myself.

    “Thus saith the Lord of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.”

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