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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Acts 15: Apostolic Decrees and Old Testament Laws

Acts 15: The Feasts, Sabbaths, Dietary Laws, Tithing, and other Matters..
Should WE be Observing Them?

-according to the Jewish apostles and the Holy Spirit.

Let's define the problem.
Question: In the New Testament, are the churches instructed or commanded to observe the Jewish feasts, sabbaths, ordinances, or dietary laws, which were given to Israel in the Old Testament?
It may surprise you to know that this became a HOT, hot topic in the early years of the church.
The apostles and others were confronted by this burning question as the Good News spread across Asia.

Let's see about the Jewish apostles and what they did or did not write in the New Testament scriptures for us to believe and do.

The Holy Spirit spoke through the writer to the churches in Galatia:
...that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

In Christ's Will, his Testament, we are directly instructed (as a command) to be baptized, assemble ourselves, work, love, to pray, and given instructions that are “written”. One instruction is that we are "NOT go beyond that which is written”. -1Cor. 6:4.

Paul wrote Timothy to deliver commands to the churches, but there is no mention of dietary laws, Sabbaths, feasts, or even tithing1Timothy 4:11  These things command and teach.
Then we need to read what he wrote "these things" were in order to know His Will, and those commands to teach are in the preceding passages.

-again, notice the how Peter reminded the saints in Christ in
2Peter 3:2 that ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets,
                         and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour
                         through your apostles:
So Peter, a Jewish apostle obeyed and wrote “the commandments” that Jesus gave us in the NEW Covenant as directed by the Holy Spirit.
Paul, another Jewish apostle, wrote the saints at Corinth which included BOTH Jews and gentiles and knew the OT Law.
Look here:
1Corinthians 14:37 If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual,
                                       let him take knowledge of
                               ==> the things which I write unto you,
                                       that they are the commandment of the Lord.

But today we encounter many among us that want to bring us back under "bondage" to laws and ordinances
that Christ never gave as commandments through the apostles to the church.

The problem of the law and grace in the church.
As it happened in the early church as they transitioned the covenants and began to live New Testament life.
The Jewish  APOSTLES and ELDERS of the ORIGINAL church dealt with this question of the OLD Covenant law and NEW Covenant disciples, in Acts 15 especially.

Let’s read what the (Jewish) apostolic writer said in Acts 15
5)  But there rose up certain of the *sect of the Pharisees who believed
     saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.

WHOOPS!  -They had a BIG problem early in the NT church.
How did they resolve this controversy with the law as an “issue” and debate among the churches?
The apostle (Luke) wrote about this important meeting:

6)  And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter. (following Moses' law)
7) …   Peter rose up, and said to them, Brethren, you know that a good while ago God made choice
            among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

 Peter points out that non-Jewish gentiles were now partakers of the gospel through faith.

8)  And God, who knows the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit,
     even as he did to us ( Jews)
9)  and He made *no distinction between us and them*
              -->   cleansing their hearts by faith. <--

Let's continue to see if the Jewish apostles instruct the churches to be cleansed by faith AND keeping laws or points of law from the OLD Covenant.

10)      Now therefore why make a trial of God,
           that you (the pharisees that believed and sought to make the gentiles keep the law of Moses in vs.5)
should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples
           which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

 What "yoke" were they talking about?

-it was the LAW of the OLD Covenant of course,  remember verse 5?
“certain of the *sect of the Pharisees who believed*,
      saying, It is needful to circumcise them,
     and to charge them to keep the law of Moses
11)   But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,
         in like manner as they.

Did you see that?

 “WE (Jews) shall be saved … in LIKE MANNER as THEY (the gentiles)”.

Did Peter get out of the boat again and someone need to correct him here, as Paul would later do later with Peter when Peter reverted to a law observance in Galatians 2?

Witness James, another apostle,  the brother of Jesus speaks to the assembly:
13)   And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, give ear to me…
(skipping down)
19)  Wherefore my judgment is that we (Jews)  *trouble not*  them from among the Gentiles turn to God…

What kind of "trouble" was he referring to?
It is written right there in the passage:
24)   Forasmuch as we have heard that certain who went out from us have
        --->  troubled you with words,
        --->  subverting your souls;
        ---> to whom we (Jewish apostles) gave no commandment;

Now hold it right there!
The apostle James, one of the Jews who were given
the commandments of the Lord”, said to the  assembly regarding people who were “troubling” the disciples, and “subverting”  their souls, went on to say about the people bringing Christians back under law:
"to whom we gave NO SUCH COMMANDMENT"?

Again, what was the problem?
-remember, verse 5):
“ certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying,
   It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses."

So the Jewish apostles and elders there in the heart of law-observant Israel,  who gave us the commands of the Lord in the New Covenant said:

20) .... that we write to them, that they abstain from the pollution of idols and from fornication,
           and from what is strangled, and from blood.
23) and they wrote this to them,
     The apostles and the elders, brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch
     and Syria and Cilicia, greeting:
For as we have heard that certain who went out from us have troubled you with words, *subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment; (*subvert means to trouble, upset. Evidently gentiles became alarmed by the legalists imposing the many laws, ordinances, and commands for the Law of Moses)

Here is what the apostles who gave us the New Testament  "wrote the churches":
28)  For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us,
        ---> to lay upon you no greater burden
        ---> than these necessary things:
29)   that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled,
        and from fornication; from which if you keep yourselves,  it shall be well with you.
        Fare you well.

‎So they said "NO GREATER BURDEN"
from all the laws, ordinances, commands, and statutes from the Law of Moses where we find the feast laws, tithing laws, Sabbath laws, stoning law breakers, animal sacrifices, and more????

Brother, this was THE place and time to either affirm matters of the law or free the disciples from them!  And letters in writing were sent out to the churches with the "decrees" of the apostles and elders from Jerusalem.

If you are a bit shaken, go back to Acts 15:5 one more time to see what the problem was.
Then go forward to verses 28-29 to conclude what the HOLY SPIRIT, the apostles and elder who knew a thing or two from Jesus wrote.

What is significant is what they purposely left out.
Flesh circumcision omitted.
Tithing omitted.
Sabbath observance was left out.
Mandatory feast observances according to the law were abolished,
-especially the three required feasts to be kept in Jerusalem, and not somewhere else.
- the complex dietary laws were dropped (except blood). ‎
-they did not even tell the churches they had to learn the Hebrew names or language!

Now when the apostles delivered the "decrees" from the Holy Spirit to the churches,
 there was no debate.  The saints did not argue, contend for the law, or accuse Paul of being a heretic.
Here was their reaction:
31) And when they had read it, they rejoiced for the consolation.

After those days, the issue of keeping the laws continued to trouble the churches and Paul wrote to New Testament churches regarding these same matters of the law warning them. He warned them of being "bewitched" by those that would compel you to observe what the apostles of the NEW Covenant church had already set in order regarding the OLD Covenant laws, statutes, commands, and ordinances, which "troubled" and "subverted" the souls of the disciples:

Gal 5:9   A little leaven (from the law) leavens the whole lump.
Gal 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse:
                for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written
                in the book of the law to do them.

After Acts 15, we never, never read where either  the Sabbath, the feasts, tithing, circumcision, or even stoning someone for Sabbath breaking was given to any church or saint. 
But there are still many today who would “trouble” the disciples and “subvert your souls”,  and teach contrary to what the Jewish apostles wrote “as seemed good to the Holy Spirit”.

Galatians 1: 6)
     I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ
     unto a different gospel;
7)  which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you,
      and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

Heb 7:18 For there is VERILY (indeed-truly) A DISANNULLING OF THE COMMANDMENT
               going before  the weakness and un-profitableness thereof,
          19)  for the law MADE NOTHING PERFECT, but the bringing in OF a BETTER HOPE,
       by which we draw nigh unto God

Please, do not let them "subvert" your soul, or "bewitch" you into thinking we have commandment to observe laws which are IMPOSSIBLE to keep.

In addition to what the Holy Spirit directed in Acts 15, Peter, Paul, James, and John
never wrote a command to keep the feasts, sabbaths, dietary laws,
circumcision, tithing, or the many matters of the 613 ordinances in the Old Covenant law.

They DID write:
Col. 2:14
having blotted out the bond written in ordinances  that was against us,
which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross;
And they did write the commandments of Jesus to the mixed Jewish gentile church at Ephesus:
Eph. 2:15
     having *abolished* in the flesh the enmity,
     even the law of commandments contained in ordinances;
     that he might create in himself of the two  (Jews and gentiles)
     one new man,  (in Christ)
     so making peace

 Acts 16:4   And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to keep,
                  that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

Fare ye well.


  1. Rory,
    This was a very good presentation on the subject of O.T. law keeping and the early church, It is interesting to me that the pressure to put the Gentiles under the law came from the Pharisees that had wormed their way into the church body there in Jerusalem and it was out from these that all this trouble was coming. Jesus warned the disciples,

    "How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees. Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees." (Matthew 16:11-12 RSVA)

    It would seem that the leaders of the Jerusalem church failed to heed Jesus warning for in Acts 21 we read James speaking up again in favor of law keeping...

    "And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had greeted them, he declared particularly what things God had done among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe; and they are all zealous of the law: (Acts 21:18-20 KJ2000)

    Also, this same James, the half brother of Jesus (see Matt. 13:55) is not listed as one of the original 12 apostles:

    And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him: and they went into a house. (Mark 3:14-19 KJ2000)

    This James is one of the sons of Zebedee, not Joseph. James the half brother of Jesus and his sect of Pharisees in Jerusalem had rose up and taken power there. The leavening had become to fill the whole lump. They also became a real problem for the Gentile church.

    But when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed. For before certain men came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. And the other Jews joined likewise with him; so that Barnabas also was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compel you the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14 KJ2000)

    This whole letter to the Gentiles is addressing the Judaizers and their false teachings of dead works of the law and how they were subverting the church there in Galatia... bewitching them with their teachings.

  2. This is a topic I've been chewing a lot on lately... what does the Lord require of us?

    He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? - Micah 6:7

    You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. - Luke 10:27

    What was God's "big mission" for Adam and Eve but to tend the garden? What was the "big mission" for Israel when finally brought across the Jordan but to live with no king but our Sovereign God and glorify him? It's hard for me to wrap my head around what seems to be a simple truth in the word; that the Lord's big requirement of us is only that we love him. Our lives should play out as an extension of that, not as a means to attain it. A life in keeping with the fruit of the Spirit is in line with the law, for "against such things there is no law."

    It would seem our Father's command of us is simple, so much more so than the commands we keep trying to burden ourselves with. Do not touch, do not taste, etc. We would prefer a form of holiness accomplished by our own hands and within our own control so that we may be free of God's authority. In our wretchedness we want to pursue almost anything other than him! Praise God for his mercy on us!

    Fantastic, Rory. Thanks for sharing!