Why reference Moses to the Gentiles?
Here’s an interesting question which my wife asked a few days ago. It’s a good question yet one in my fifty-plus years of Bible study I never thought to ask.
After Jesus’ ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the beginnings of the early church, the first believers slowly learned that the grace of God extended not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. Jesus had made the way back to God possible for all people… “God so loved the world!” (John 3:16).
As this fact became evident a council was held by the pioneering pillars of the church in Jerusalem. A group of men from Judea had been teaching believers in Antioch that circumcision was still necessary for salvation. Consequently, Paul and some others had travelled to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to resolve this matter.
Both sides of the debate were represented and there was lengthy discussion. Finally Peter rose. He recounted how since God had made no distinction in granting the Holy Spirit to Gentile believers it would be wrong to impose upon them the legalistic practice of circumcision. Paul and Barnabas also testified how God had confirmed His acceptance of non-Jews through signs and miracles, and James cited the prophet Amos who proclaimed God’s intention to one day bring salvation to believing Jews and Gentiles alike.
James was a late-believing brother to Jesus and presided over the Jerusalem council. At length he proposed the following:
“…we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 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. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21).
This they did, and Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas hand-delivered the letter to those in Antioch.
The question my wife raised was this: Why include to Gentile believers the caveat that the Mosaic law was so widely accessible (v.21)? It’s almost as if they are saying, “We’ll tell them they don’t need to follow the practice of circumcision, but in case they want to hear about it they still can.” As well, Gentiles would not have been – nor have intended to become – synagogue goers. Why is this mentioned in the Jerusalem injunction?
Well, though it’s taken thus far just to form the question, the answer may be quite simple.
Matthew Henry offers good insight on this…
Remember, this letter was sent to “the church” in Antioch (Acts 15:30). It was not delivered only to Gentile believers but to the mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the newly assembled Church. The letter was intended to give direction to the Gentiles but also to foster Jewish acceptance of the Gentiles into their midst.
Henry puts it this way,
“…great respect ought to be shown to the Jews for they have been so long accustomed to the solemn injunctions of the ceremonial law that they must be borne with, if they cannot presently come off from them… though the gospel has set us free from these things… We must therefore give them time, must meet them half-way; they must be borne with awhile, and brought on gradually, and we must comply with them as far as we can without betraying our gospel liberty.” – Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary
What a great Truth it is that we ALL have access to One Father through the One and only Son by One Spirit. (c.f.. Eph. 2:18).
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