My Scripture Studies
Remove the Blinders - Study the Bible!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

What's all the Fuss About in Acts 15?


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

I enjoy golf, but it would be mean to ask any rank beginner with no instruction other than the rules of golf to start playing the game from the back tees at Pebble Beach.

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

The raw, untrained beginner would become discouraged in the first round and likely quit the game before finishing the 18th hole. Perhaps before hitting the first tee shot!

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

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.

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

Not only that, throughout their competitive careers, they all had teachers they could trust to go beyond the basics as mentors, 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 had passed before he really started winning. It took even longer for the "Majors." He finally won the PGA in 1946, the US Open in 1948, The Masters in 1951 and the British Open in 1953 to top off golf's big four major championships.

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

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

When we open the book of Acts to chapter 15 we see a conflict in the 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 5th verse we find a slight variation... 

"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 observed customs and traditions and this Acts 15 segment points to the same Galatian question Paul raised about circumcision. Is it a mandate for conversion, and a requirement for salvation.

To understand Acts 15, we can't finish by reading only two verses. We have to slow down and not speed read past the history and culture of the Pharisees. Otherwise, we could get side-tracked and we might not make good sense out of the common sense of the situation.

We have to understand the basics. In Paul's day, the sect of the Pharisees preached some oral law traditions and there were disagreements, some subtle, some obvious in those traditions. 

Two have already been shown, another was unless you were circumcised, you cannot become "a people for God's name." Read Acts 15:13-18 for more on that argument as James, the disciple's leader in Jerusalem points everyone to the prophetic words found in Amos 9:11-12. 

There we find the prophet Amos shares some words from another prophet... Nathan. You should remember Nathan, he's the prophet that king David sought counsel from. 

By the way, you'll not find a book of prophecy called Nathan, but you'll find his name 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 the prophet of God that declared God's promise to David of the Messiah and Kingdom to come that will build a house containing a family of those belonging to the same household under His throne. The covenant is found in 1Chronicles 17:9-15.
"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 promise to David and he paraphrased the prophetic message from Amos because he believed the Scriptures. After all, he had read and studied them for years and he knew about God's promise to restore the fallen tabernacle of David. 

With the restoration promise, Amos points toward Nathan's prophetic words in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. Nathan's prophecies are also supported by Jeremiah 3:17-23, Isaiah 25:3 and Psalm 106:47 and those prophecies are about ruthless, heathen Gentiles that will 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 song of king David from the very same place:
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 Kingsom gospel assignment that Jesus gave to His disciples to proclaim the good news of salvation to "all nations" comes from the book of Chronicles!!

"And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations." Mark 13:10  

The foundation assignment to declare the good message is rooted the so-called Old Testament, and as you can see it's not old at all.

Back to the Acts 15 Jerusalem debate...

The religious conversion issue was raised by the Pharisees, not the disciples... "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

With some help from the historic context of the cultural and religious issues of that day, we might better understand the reason that Paul, a Pharisee argued against their ordinance (takkanah) that was not directly drawn on Biblical authority or the written word regarding salvation.

Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem with Barnabas because he knew the Torah had a Biblical instruction to do so. It's found in Deuteronomy 17:8-10. So he went there to meet with the disciples regarding the issue of whether circumcision was required for a non-Jew, a Gentile of the nations to become a child of God.

Together, they discussed the tradition and the Scriptures but take notice...

They had no need to mention not to 
blaspheme God's name, murder or 
make idols or worship them, or 
to honor the Sabbath, 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 been lost in translation in a sermon or two 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.

Instead, the issue at hand that the council dealt with was the "pagan" problem.

Pagan worship was steeped in idol worship, fornication and blood lust like a modern horror movie.

The disciples were dealing with Bible basics on stance, posture and alignment as the new Gentile believers needed to be turned away from their bad habits learned in idol worship contaminated by formication, eating strangled animals and so on. The council knew that each of these pagan ways tied directly to God's instruction manual to turn away (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 instruction and voice found in Leviticus. For those thinking Acts 15 does away with Leviticus, think again. You may find this mind blowing, but don't give up, the truth is worth the journey!

If you insist on a new belief that God changes His mind and think Acts 15 changed the commandments in Leviticus, you might also think Paul was confused about the council's conclusion when he penned Romans 3:1-12 and wrote this:
"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect."
Also think about this question: 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. Read it for yourself.

As you do, don't forget the background story behind the story in Acts 16. Timotheus (aka Timothy) was the son of a father that was a Greek Gentile. His upbringing in his father's house was the reason Timothy had not been circumcised until he met Paul and learned that the ways of Torah are good and to be kept, not for salvation from death's sin penalty, but out of respect, worship and love for almighty God and His teaching and instruction (Torah) which is The Lord's Kingdom constitution.

Keep in mind, Timothy had left his childhood home:
"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 context of Greco-Roman Gentile culture, the Scriptures, the outline of the Ten Commandments and the details that follow them in Leviticus provide a Torah teaching from the center of the Bible. The mountaintop teaching at Mount Sinai is God's character, that was understood by the disciples and Paul in Acts 15 and Acts 16. They understood "holy" and they knew this:
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. 6 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; 7 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 this about the council that's OK, but grab a Bible, set aside 15 minutes and read four short chapters in Leviticus 17-20. These chapters are also known as the two Torah portions of Leviticus called Acharei Mot which means "after the death" and Kedoshim which means "holy."

The counsel of apostles and elders had read and studied the two Torah portions for years on holiness so naturally they agreed that these two Torah portions provide the basic training for Gentiles coming into the faith from paganism.

The knew the Bible basics of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. They knew that the new believers should stop doing these immediately because they reeked of the same smell of the pagan idol lifestyle picture shown in Leviticus 17-20 about the Egyptians and the Canaanites.

What goes around comes around. The disciples knew that God's word in Leviticus plainly declared the Bible basics for their 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  
After all, the new believing Gentiles were coming out of a Greco-Roman lifestyle infused with idol worship focused on the pagan traditions from the Egyptians and Canaanites that had morphed into Roman religious custom.  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 simple guideposts against the abominable customs of irreverent pagan life noted in 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 the messages found in the rest of the Bible.

The former pagans were not ready for the first tee at Augusta.

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 should be learned each Sabbath in the weekly synagogue Torah portion teachings as the Scriptures would be read and 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... should a beginner start golf 
by teeing it up in The Masters, 
could a flag footballer play quarterback in the Super Bowl, 
could a first year med student perform a heart transplant? 

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 over and again each year.

Paul and the counsel of 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 and decision through a faith training we now call discipleship.

That's why Paul wrote these words to his disciple Timothy long before the New Testament was ever compiled or known of:
"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
One week at a time, one Sabbath at a time is how the disciples had all learned the Scriptures and their Biblical training was the way of Yeshua of Nazareth. This is described 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 sustain life and grow in faith, equipped for every good work. We should all do the same.

One big reason for gathering with others to hear the Word of Elohim God is that everyday, average people 2,000 years ago or even 500 years ago did not own a family 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 for those that had not grown up hearing God's Word each week in a synagogue on the Sabbath.

Paul and the disciples were relying on the weekly study of Scripture 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 rather than properly butchered 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 the 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 the smallest instruction aside:
"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 answer to the fuss about Acts 15.

Paul is the focus to a large degree in Acts 15. 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.

As a lifelong student of Scripture, he agreed with the disciples that learning about the Kingdom lifestyle outlined by the teaching of Torah takes time and training. 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 still agree to laws against murder and theft?

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

We all know murder and mayhem are wrong, yet we tend to ignore The Lord's Sabbath and the Torah.

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. hen 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 get into bad habits. 

Not only that, he also knew all the teachings of the sect of the Pharisees. 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 
So, if we want to stop skimming and dig in deep into Acts 15 and the pagan conflict with the Bible in the days of Paul of Tarsus, you might find something, a hidden treasure if you will in the book of Acts that can help us all better understand.

The counsel at Jerusalem wasn't turning against the Biblical instruction of circumcision found in the teaching Paul upheld that a chapter later with Timothy. The council did not do away with any of God's words recorded by Moses that Yeshua of Nazareth explained with authority including the amazing Sermon on the Mount about the importance of every jot and tittle.

Instead, we can know Paul upheld the Torah in his faith in the Messiah of Israel simply because he professed it:
"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, they upheld the Torah of Leviticus knowing the rest should be learned each Sabbath.

Many pulpits have mistakenly portrayed the Acts 15 decision of "former Jews" that turned their backs on the Old Testament and started a new religion. They did not.

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 God's Torah revealed at the mountaintop of Sinai.

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