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Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:12-21

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant[a] of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
     says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council, specifically Peter’s words to those assembled from both the pro-Gentile converts and the anti-Gentile converts, the latter being what is referred to in the New Testament as the circumcision party.

After hearing Peter’s words, the assembly fell silent (verse 12). John MacArthur says:

… you know why? Pretty tough to argue with that speech, pretty tough, they kept silence …

Then, Paul and Barnabas spoke of the signs and wonders God had wrought through them with the Gentiles (verse 12). St Luke, the author of Acts, did not detail this. First, because he already alluded to it in Acts 15:3-4. Secondly, he had also referred to this in Acts 14:27-28, Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch (Syria).

MacArthur makes a good point (emphases mine):

“and they listened to Barnabas and Paul,” and you know what they were doing? “Declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” You say, well what is that supposed to mean? Watch this one, God, now get it, does not get involved in confirming by miracles false doctrine. Are you with me? Paul and Barnabas were traveling around preaching salvation by what? Grace and faith. God was attesting to their message by what? Miracles. God…I don’t see the Judaizers having any confirming miracles, do you? I don’t see God running around with the party of the circumcision confirming their witness by miracles. But everywhere Paul and Barnabas went they preached grace through faith, and you know what happened? They had miracle after miracle after miracle, God was confirming what they were saying. You say, well how do you know they were preaching grace? l3:38, “Be it known onto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” That was their message, grace without law. And you know what? God kept doing miracles to prove that they were from Him. Do you understand that point? God only confirms true doctrine with miracles. God is not in the business of confirming false prophets.

Then James spoke, addressing the assembled as ‘brothers’, requesting them to listen to him (verse 13). Incidentally, we do not know which James this is. Neither Matthew Henry or John MacArthur says.

James referred to Peter as Simeon (Simon), recapping what Peter had just said (verse 14). However, note how James said it: God visiting the Gentiles to take from among them a people in His name. James backed that up by telling those assembled that this was something the prophets foretold (verse 15). That was no doubt directed towards the circumcision party.

James went on to cite Amos 9:11-12 (verses 16-18), rephrasing it a bit. This is what the verses say:

The Restoration of Israel

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and 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,”[a]
    declares the Lord who does this.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful exposition of these verses:

It is written, Amos 9:11,12, where is foretold, (1.) The setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah (Acts 15:16): I will raise up the tabernacle of David, that is fallen. The covenant was made with David and his seed; but the house and family of David are here called his tabernacle, because David in his beginning was a shepherd, and dwelt in tents, and his house, that had been as a stately palace, had become a mean and despicable tabernacle, reduced in a manner to its small beginning. This tabernacle was ruined and fallen down; there had not been for many ages a king of the house of David; the sceptre had departed from Judah, the royal family was sunk and buried in obscurity, and, as it should seem, not enquired after. But God will return, and will build it again, raise it out of its ruins, a phoenix out of its ashes; and this was now lately fulfilled, when our Lord Jesus was raised out of that family, had the throne of his father David given him, with a promise that he should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, Luke 1:32,33. And, when the tabernacle of David was thus rebuilt in Christ, all the rest of it was, not many years after, wholly extirpated and cut off, as was also the nation of the Jews itself, and all their genealogies were lost. The church of Christ may be called the tabernacle of David. This may sometimes be brought very low, and may seem to be in ruins, but it shall be built again, its withering interests shall revive; it is cast down, but not destroyed: even dry bones are made to live.

Note the mention of Edom in Amos 9:12:

Then Israel shall possess the remnant of Edom (so it is in the Hebrew); but the Jews called all the Gentiles Edomites, and therefore the Septuagint leave out the particular mention of Edom, and read it just as it is here, that the residue of men might seek (James here adds, after the Lord), and all the Gentiles, or heathen, upon whom my name is called. The Jews were for many ages so peculiarly favoured that the residue of men seemed neglected; but now God will have an eye to them, and his name shall be called upon by the Gentiles; his name shall be declared and published among them, and they shall be brought both to know his name and to call upon it: they shall call themselves the people of God, and he shall call them so; and thus, by consent of both parties, his name is called upon them.

These verses from Amos point to the fulfilment of God’s promise, with Gentiles brought into the Church:

This promise we may depend upon the fulfilling of in its season; and now it begins to be fulfilled, for it is added, saith the Lord, who doeth this; who doeth all these things (so the Seventy); and the apostle here: he saith it who doeth it, who therefore said it because he was determined to do it; and who therefore does it because he hath said it; for though with us saying and doing are two things they are not so with God. The uniting of Jews and Gentiles in one body, and all those things that were done in order to it, which were here foretold, were, [1.] What God did: This was the Lord’s doing, whatever instruments were employed in it: and, [2.] It was what God delighted in, and was well pleased with; for he is the God of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, and it is his honour to be rich in mercy to all that call upon him.

James concluded, offering a ‘judgement’ — informed opinion, not a diktat — that the Gentiles should not have burdens (Mosaic law) imposed upon them (verse 19). That said, James thought that the Gentiles should be keeping the broader law, which is in the Ten Commandments: no idolatry, no sexual immorality.

He also added to that what has been strangled and also blood (verse 20). Henry says that even in the time of Noah — before the law of Moses — the Jews had an aversion to these two things. MacArthur says these two principles were a matter of fellowship. Today, we would not serve our Jewish friends pork, for example.

MacArthur also tells us that Gentiles drank blood:

Gentiles drank blood, did you know that? And in their pagan ceremonies, they drank it, couldn’t imagine anything worse, but they did. And so he says for the sake of fellowship, follow some principles. Now do you see what we’re seeing here? This is so beautiful. You can’t take grace and run with it. You can’t say oh, I’m saved by grace, I don’t have to do anything, everything is perfect, and then just take off and stomp all over everybody.

Verse 21 might appear puzzling, but it is saying that, since Moses is still preached in the synagogues, let us not, as followers of Christ, be offensive to the Jews.

MacArthur says we should not get carried away with Christian freedom:

There’s no need to violate these things just for the sake of freedom, that is what the Bible calls using your freedom as a cloak of maliciousness, you see.

Indeed.

Next week — Acts 15:22-29

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