My Scripture Studies
Remove the Blinders - Study the Bible!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

What's the Fuss ?

If you want to stop skimming and dig deep into Acts 15, your at the right place. Here we'll explore some of the basics, including the pagan problem and its conflict with the Bible in the days of Paul of Tarsus. If you hang around, you might find something, a hidden treasure if you will, in the book of Acts that can help us all.

I don't want to be irreverent in any way, but to show a parable-like perspective to Acts 15. 

Many people enjoy golf, but it would be unfair to ask any rank beginner with no instruction other than a few of the rules, to start playing the game day one from the back tees.

It would be inconceivable to require that same beginner to step in front of tens of thousands in the gallery with millions watching on TV at the first tee of Augusta National during The Masters.

The raw, untrained beginner would become discouraged immediately in the first round and likely quit golf before ever finishing the 18th hole. Perhaps deprived of hope and spirit before hitting the first tee shot at The Masters!

Everyone knows that in golf, good advice always starts with a few basics first.

The important thing is to fall in love with the game first, learn the four basics of the grip, stance, posture and alignment then and only then move on to more advanced training over an extended period of time to learn how the game should be played. The process takes years for most.

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Jack Bobby Jones all did this.

Not only that, throughout their competitive careers, they all had teachers and mentors they could trust to go beyond the basics, so they excelled quickly. 

Ben Hogan did not. He was basically self-taught and it took him many years before he became a major champion. Despite turning pro in 1929, some 20 years passed before he started winning on tour. It took even longer for the big four "Majors." He finally won the PGA in 1946, the US Open in 1948, The Masters in 1951 and finally the British Open in 1953 to top off golf's grand slam of professional major championships.

Like I said, this story is not supposed to be irreverent in any way, but to show some perspective on reality.

In my Scripture studies, I found that the way to learn Scripture and God's teaching and instruction is much the same, it takes time, a lot of devotion, a good mentor and daily practice.

When we open the book of Acts to chapter 15 we see a conflict about teaching and instruction in the very first verse...
"Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 

In the fifth verse we find a slight variation and get some clarity... 

"But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
The Pharisees had developed a doctrine in this tradition. This Acts 15 "fuss" points to the same Galatian question Paul raised about a doctrine he was very familiar with. What's the fuss all about? 

Is their doctrine a Biblical mandate required for redemption?

To understand Acts 15, we can't start with a few verse snippits and we can can't begin reading with this chapter. Five years ago, a very good friend pointed out the storyline begins in Antioch. You can find  that city in the prologue of the account in Acts 14.

Come to think of it, there were no chapters or verse when Acts was written, so we need to pay attention to the bigger picture. My good friend wisely noted the context:

"In order to understand this, you have to understand who and what the people of Antioch were and what activities they engaged in.  This area in Northern Syria, was under the control of the Seleucids.  

Seleucus was one of the four generals under Alexander the Great, who obtained this property after Alexander died.  He worshipped the sun god Zeus and dedicated the capital city of Antioch to Zeus.  These folks sacrificed to idols and engaged in all forms of sexual immorality and the elders of the early church knew this all too well.  They were simply saying, hey guys, these practices that you engaged in under the name of Zeus are not good for you, it would be best for you to stop it." 

So what is this yoke and burden that Peter and James are talking about?  Isn't that the law?  I don't think so.  Jesus clearly states in Matthew 11:30 that his yoke is easy and his burden is light and previously in Matthew 5:17-20, that he did not come to do away with the law, so this "law" that Jesus did not come to do away with could not be the burden and yoke that Peter or James don't want to lay on the shoulders of those at Antioch - or they would be in direct contradiction of their Lord Yeshua!"

His point is a Bible basic: we can't speed read past the culture or its history. 

We cannot ignore the immoral, idol-culture of the day to understand the Antioch issue in Acts 15. Otherwise, we will get side-tracked and not make good sense out of the common sense of the situation. 

Let's take a look at the four basic fundamentals of the council's decision. 

On one hand, we have to know the sect of the Pharisees preached oral law traditions. Some of them included doctrine not based on the foundation of the written Word of God. 

On the other hand, we have to know the people of Antioch were coming out of Greco-Roman worship that included both idol sacrifice and lust-laden sexual immorality in the name of Zeus.

The Pharisees in Antioch were preaching that unless you were circumcised, you cannot become "a people for God's name." Read Acts 15:13-18 for more on that argument and think carefully about Abraham and when he became God's friend, it was before he took the knife. 

Open your Bible and go back to the end of the Exodus from Egypt. Now consider James, the leader in Jerusalem as he points everyone back to the prophetic words found in Amos 9:11-12. There we find that Amos shares a few words from another prophet... Nathan. You need to remember Nathan, he's the one king David sought counsel from some 250 years before Amos ever picked up his pen. 

By the way, you'll not find a book of prophecy called Nathan, but you'll find his name embedded in 2 Samuel 7:2, 2 Samuel 12:25, 1 Kings 1:8-45, 1 Chronicles 17:1, 1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29, 2 Chronicles 29:25 and Psalm 51:1. Nathan is a big deal. He's the prophet that revealed Almighty God's critical promise to David. That promise is the Messiah and forever Kingdom to come. 

Nathan told David of God's plan. Nathan's vision showed that a descendant of David will build a house in a land containing the family of those belonging to an everlasting kingdom household under David's throne, but that the promise would occur only after David was long gone. 

That gospel of the Kingdom promise is found in 1Chronicles 17:9-15 and its the same sermon Jesus proclaimed:
"And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall waste them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will subdue all your enemies. 
Moreover, I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house. When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 

He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. 
I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.'" 
In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David."
The disciple James understood Nathan's vision, he heard Yeshua's sermons and he believed God's commitment to do it. That's why James paraphrased the prophetic message from Amos because he knew the Scriptures were true and unchanging. James had read and studied the Scriptures for years and he believed Messiah will one day restore the fallen tabernacle of David given in Amos 9:11.

With the restoration promise, Amos ties in to Nathan's prophetic words in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. 

Nathan's prophecies are also supported by the promises found in Jeremiah 3:17-23, Isaiah 25:3 and Psalm 106:47. Those prophecies reveal ruthless, heathen Gentiles that will one day revere Almighty God, glorify Him:
At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all Gentiles shall be gathered to it, to the name of the LORD... 
Therefore a strong people will glorify You; Cities of ruthless Gentiles will revere You. 
Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks to your holy name, and to triumph in your praise.
James' voice in Jerusalem reverberated the gospel good news song of king David:
Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the Gentiles, His wonders among all peoples. 1Chronicles 16:1:23-24
Holy Bible, believe it or not, just when you thought it was new, the Kingdom gospel assignment that Jesus gave to His disciples to proclaim the good news of salvation to "all nations" all peoples comes right out of the book of Chronicles!!
"And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations." Mark 13:10  
The foundation assignment to declare this good new to all nations is firmly rooted the so-called Old Testament, and as you can now see for yourself, it's not new at all.

Are you ready to go back to the Jerusalem debate in Acts 15?

The doctrine of a religious conversion requirement was raised by a tradition of the Pharisees, not the disciples or Paul. It was a tradition that stated... "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

Did you see that requirement in 1Chronicles 17:9-15?

The Pharisees forgot something in the Torah too. Doctrine and tradition does not save anyone. Works or deeds do not provide salvation. God's salvation is forgiveness in the action of God's mercy and grace. 

With some help from the historic context of the cultural and religious issues in Antioch some 2,000 years ago, we might better understand the reason that Paul, a Pharisee argued against the Pharisee's ordinance (takkanah) that was not drawn on Biblical authority and the written word regarding "salvation." 

Earning salvation in not found in God's Word!

The issue was about circumcision and the Pharisees forgot something as big as the Bible.

The background to the story is that Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem with Barnabas because he came to know the Kingdom gospel and they were both witnesses to the promises in Jeremiah 3:17-23, Isaiah 25:3 and Psalm 106:47 that proved God's great lovingkindness

So, the tow witnesses went there to meet with the disciples regarding the issue of whether circumcision was required for a non-Jew, a heathen of the nations to become a member of God's household.

Together, they discussed the Pharisee's tradition with an eye on the written Scriptures, so take some notes...

They did not mention...
do not blaspheme God's name, 
do not murder or 
make idols or worship them, or 
honor the Sabbath, do not to steal or lie, 
honor parents, or wrongfully 
covet another's wife or property.

Why not? The reason is a common sense Bible basic, but something has now been lost in translation in a sermon because a careful reading of Acts 15 reveals that they did not agree that a person coming into the faith without circumcision "should" not be circumcised. 

The reason they did not agree to that is another story.

The key issue at hand that the council dealt with was the big "pagan" problem and how the Torah would solve that. Pagan life in Antioch was steeped in idol worship, fornication and blood lust like a modern Halloween horror movie.

The disciples were dealing with the Bible basics of stance, posture and alignment.

They concluded the new Gentile believers needed to be turned away from their horror movie habits learned from years of Zeus worship. 

That idol worship was contaminated by ruthless heathen formication, eating strangled animals and so on. The council knew that these pagan ways from Babylon and Egypt tied directly to God's instruction manual to turn away (and repent) from "idolatry." 

They knew it because they understood what is written in Leviticus 17-20. 

Yes, you read that right, Acts 15 is a real world, real life teaching on God's voice in Leviticus and Moses wrote every word. 

For those assuming from a pulpit sermon that Acts 15 does away with Leviticus, think again

Peter proves it. Read 1 Peter 2, a big part of it provides insight on the Acts 15 decision and point to the keys of Yeshua’s heavenly Kingdom on earth which are to choose life, to walk in clean and holy
ways according to God's written Word.

If you find this mind bending, don't give up, the truth is worth the journey! As a friend says, it time to unwind the tangled wire of church tradition from the axle.

If you don't, your journey can get tangled up and cut short insisting on an old lie that God changes His mind. If you think Acts 15 changed God's commandments, you'll think Paul was really confused about everything including the council's conclusion or that he simply forgot it when he penned Romans 3:1-12 and wrote this message:
"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect."
Think about that and stew on it for a while: did Paul break "the new rules" of the council in the very next Acts chapter by circumcising Timothy and preaching that the decrees of Torah are to kept as plainly written in Acts 16?

Nope, he did not. Skip the sermon, re-read Acts 16 for yourself.

As you do, don't forget the background story behind the story. Timotheus (aka Timothy) was the son of a father that was a Greek Gentile of the nations. Timothy's upbringing was the reason Timothy had not been circumcised, that is until he met Paul and until he learned that the ways of Torah are good and to be kept, not for salvation from death's sin penalty, but out of love, respect, worship of Almighty God. Timothy knew The Lord's teaching and instruction (Torah) is the Kingdom constitution of Messiah.

Also, keep in mind:
"And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." Acts 16:4
With a perspective on the blatant idolatry embedded in the Greco-Roman culture, the Scriptures, the outline of the Ten Commandments and the details that follow them in the scroll of Leviticus provide a Torah teaching. That mountaintop teaching from Mount Sinai is first and foremost about God's character, and that was understood by the disciples and Paul. 

There's a hidden message in Acts 15 as well as Acts 16. They all understood "holy" and they knew this too:
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave [the guilty] unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." Exodus 34:5-7 NASB
If you doubt any of this about the council's meeting in Jerusalem that's OK, but grab a Bible, set aside 15 minutes and read four short chapters in Leviticus 17-20. 

These four chapters are known as the two Torah portions of Leviticus called "Acharei Mot" which means "after the death" and "Kedoshim" which means "holy." 

Think about that order, after the death - holy. Now think about the required death of the ways of idolatry to learn to walk properly with the holy Almighty God. Think about this too, it took 40 years to learn to walk with God before Israel ever entered the Holy Land and the whole time those that entered were not yet circumcised before they crossed over (more on that later).

The Jerusalem council of apostles and elders understood this, after all they had read and studied those two Torah portions for years, so naturally they agreed with them. Did you know these two big time Torah portions provide the basic training the disciples declared for Gentiles coming into a faith walk from the horrors and abominations of paganism?

The council understood the Bible basics of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. We must too!

The council knew that new Gentile believers must stop doing the ways of idol worship immediately because they reeked of the same Egyptian smell of the pagan idol lifestyle picture shown to the world in Leviticus 17-20. 

The Hebrew name for the book of Leviticus is "Vayikra" it means "and He called."

What goes around comes around. God called out Israel from Egyptian slavery and the pagan ways they had adopted. We know they did this because of the golden calf. It's the evidence.

A big part of that slavery was mixing in pagan-idol worship and the Egyptian society was embedded with a host of abominable false-gods. You can find them still depicted on their hieroglyphs and there's a God reason they remain. They serve as a witness to the world. 

The disciples knew that God's word in "Vayikra" plainly declared the Bible basics against pagan abominable practices:
For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 18:29-30  
Back to the book of Acts, the new believing Gentiles were coming like Isreal and Egypt. They were coming out of a Greco-Roman pagan lifestyle infused with idol worship focused on traditions from the Canaanites that had morphed into religious life.  So, the disciples warned first against four unholy abominations:
"...abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well." Acts 15:29 
These guideposts against the abominable customs of irreverent pagan life noted in the bold print of Acts 15 were never intended to be the sum of all the ways of God to be learned by Gentiles any more than Leviticus 17-20 can be considered the sum of God's Kingdom instruction found in the balance of the Bible.

Bottom line, the former pagans were not ready to start at the first tee at Augusta, there was more to learn every Sabbath.

The apostles that met in Jerusalem knew what they were instructed to do from the Torah and they understood that the balance of God's ways would be learned in the weekly synagogue Torah portion teachings as the Scriptures would be taught beyond Leviticus 17-20.

How can we know? They said so:
"For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” Acts 15:21

Think about it this way... could a beginner start golf 
by teeing it up in The Masters, 
could a flag footballer start in the Super Bowl, 
could a first year med student perform a heart transplant? 

God's heart is mercy and lovingkindness and that would not be fair. Since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Scriptures were systematically taught in cycles of public reading every Sabbath for training in righteousness to be repeated in lessons over and again each year. The reason, it can take time to learn to walk in step with God.

Paul and the disciples in Jerusalem understood this because they lived it, so much so, they took it for granted that others would follow the ages old process of learning and incorporating God's word into daily life decisions through the faith training we now call discipleship.

That's why Paul wrote these words to young Timothy long before the New Testament was ever compiled or known:
"You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Messiah Yeshua. 
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for training one week at a time, one Sabbath at a time. That is precisely how the disciples had all learned the Scriptures and their Biblical training was the way of Yeshua of Nazareth. This is proven in Luke 4:16:
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
For the disciples, weekly Scripture study in a congregation was like eating bread on Shabbat, you never swallow the loaf all at once, you chew one bite at a time, one week at a time to grow in faith, equipped for every good work. We must all do the same.

Hebrews 5:12-14 provides more on this critical maturing process:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
One big reason for gathering with others to hear the meat of the Word of Elohim God is that everyday, average people 2,000 years ago or even 500 years ago did not own a Bible, after all, there were no printing presses for another 1,600 years.

So, the Jewish men that met in Jerusalem outlined four Bible basics God had set forth as principles for those that had not grown up hearing God's Word each week, in a synagogue, on every Sabbath. The reason: If a believer misses the mark by walking outside the realm of God’s Kingdom, that carnal, pagan behavior will open the door giving Satan legal right to come at them.

Paul and the disciples were relying on the process of weekly study of God's written word for those Gentiles formerly participating in a hedonistic lifestyle that required them to: 1) sacrifice to idols and 2) eat raw meat or blood, eat animals that were strangled while engaging in 3) illicit sexual immorality in heathen worship to their false-gods and goddesses born out of Egypt and Babylon.

These faithful Jewish men we call apostles agreed to four Bible basics for beginners just as Acts 15:21 says, because they all knew the balance of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings would be read and taught to the Gentiles every Sabbath and they understood the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 included turning from wicked ways:
"My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin..."
After all, the disciples knew believers must learn to act as the King acts, walk as the King walks, and talk as the King talks. The disciples knew the Biblical principles on how to do that would be taught in due course when the Scriptures were read, studied and experienced as God's instruction manual for the good life in God's Kingdom. 

The disciples also knew that even the least of the commandments would not be set aside in the synagogue. This was a teaching of Yeshua-Jesus. Don't set aside even the smallest instruction:
"Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:19
Today, the weekly Sabbath reading of Scripture portions for a remnant of people has become a BIG part of the restoration of the fallen tabernacle of David.

The question we must ask then is: what on earth happened? 

If God's word was "the way" of Sabbath study for the disciples of Yeshua 2,000 years ago in the ways of righteousness, why does the mainstream "church" today not study in the same manner or even meet on the Sabbath or teach the Torah, The Prophets and the Writings like Jesus and the disciples did?

Why aren't we walking in the King's customs, walking as the King walked, and teaching as the King taught?

Stop and think about that for awhile, study Scripture and church history from the beginning... and you will might just uncover the Constantine problem tied to the fuss today about Acts 15. That problem is that Christians have stumbled over the written Torah. We forgot the Torah was given by God as the pathway of righteousness and holiness leading to a deeper walk into Elohim's heavenly kingdom as we rejected the Hebrew roots of our Messiah.

We forgot the meaning Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. We forgot Luke 13:24 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We forgot so we are in famine: “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD/Adonai Elohim, “That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing
the words of the LORD.” Amos 8:11 

Continuing with Acts 15, we see Paul is the focus to a large degree. The reason, he too was Pharisee, a Jew taught by Gamaliel and his ministry assignment from Yeshua was to the nations (aka Gentiles). Think about that long and hard.

Despite being a lifelong student of Scripture, he had stumbled in tradition, but his eyes were opened and he agreed with the disciples that learning about the Kingdom lifestyle outlined by the teaching of Torah takes time and training in God's written word. After all, it's a Bible basic. Ask yourself if the four guidelines of Acts 15 were the only rules for righteous living for the "church" as the spotless bride of Christ, then why do we all still agree to law of God against murder, or do we?

Why don't we just teach our children that theft or disobedience to a parent's instruction is fine and that lying, cheating, adultery and cult idol worship are OK too. What about abortion, after all there's grace, right?

We all know murder and mayhem are wrong, yet many ignore The Lord's Sabbath and the Torah calling it old and done away with.

Why do we?

On the road to Damascus, Paul experienced the new covenant "Torah of the heart" and his letters reflect this, but it took time, even for Paul. After that awakening, like Ben Hogan, it took him years before he was ready:
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. Galatians 1:16-18 
Grip, stance, posture and alignment have to be relearned if we have bad habits. 

It took Paul three years. He knew all the traditions of the sect of the Pharisees and he had to unlearn some of them but not all. That's not my opinion, he said so himself:
"Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" Acts 23:6 
"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee." Acts 26:4-5 
The Pharisees rightfully trusted in the hope of resurrection. Paul did as well.

The council at Jerusalem wasn't turning against the Biblical instruction of circumcision Paul upheld just a page later in the next Acts chapter with Timothy. The council did not do away with any of God's words, even the least of them recorded by Moses that Yeshua of Nazareth explained with authority including the amazing Sermon on the Mount as He explained the importance of every jot and tittle.

Paul upheld the Torah as well, we know because he put it in writing:
"Do we then overthrow the law (Torah) by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law (Torah)." Romans 3:31 
That's exactly what the Acts 15 council did as well, they upheld the Torah, not only that they started with Leviticus knowing the rest would be taught each and every Sabbath.

Many pulpits have mistakenly portrayed the Acts 15 decision as that of "former Jews" that turned their back on the Old Testament and started a new religion. They did not. Had they done that, the would have rejected the sermon on the mount.

None of them started a new religion, on the contrary, they upheld the law (Torah) focused on the faith, mercy and grace found at the very heart of Torah revealed at the mountaintop of Sinai according to the writings of Moses.

They all knew Abraham was God's friend long before he ever heard of circumcision.