Christian Churches of God
The Acts 15 Conference
(Edition 2.0 20040604-20070825-20100103)
In this paper we will talk about an erroneous view that has been pushed into the Churches of God from late Protestantism. It is based on the forgery in Acts 15 in the Textus Receptus and strikes at the Law of God.
The Acts 15 Conference
As most of us know, the text in Acts 15 deals with the debate between Peter and the other disciples and Elders in the Church regarding circumcision and the purification rituals that the Pharisees had introduced. It was made obvious from that conference that the Gentiles (Nations) coming into the Church had some serious problems regarding the adult males being circumcised. This was exacerbated by the fact that many were slaves. A person was not allowed to interfere with (hence circumcise) another man’s slave with impunity. The text in Acts 15 outlines the problems and the resolution of the matter.
The correct doctrinal position as it was carried out in the Church has been published in the paper Purification and Circumcision (No. 251).
The problem arose because some of the people in Judea (perhaps some of the priests mentioned in Acts 6:7) came down to the churches in Asia Minor and remonstrated with the people, demanding that they be circumcised or they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas disputed with them, and afterwards they and a party went to Jerusalem to argue this matter with the Apostles and Elders. They came via the coast road as far as Caesarea, travelling through Phoenicia and Samaria, and proclaimed the extension of salvation to the Gentiles; and the people rejoiced.
There were members of the sects of the Pharisees who were converted, and these rose up in Jerusalem and demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. The Church considered this matter and Peter rose and said:
“Men and brothers, know how that a good while ago God made choice among us that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the hearts, bore them witness and gave them the Holy Spirit as He did to us, and put no difference between us and them purifying their hearts by faith. Therefore why do you tempt God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they” (Acts 15:7-11).
The brethren then listened in silence as Barnabas and Paul gave an account of the miracles God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.
James (Yakob, the Lord’s brother; cf. Acts 12:17 and fn. to The Companion Bible; and Gal. 1:19) then stood up and said: “Men and brethren listen to me”. He then used Peter’s real name when he said: “Simeon [i.e. Simon] has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out a people for His name; and to this agree the words of the prophets, for it is written: after this I will return again and build again the Tabernacle of David [i.e. the Tent of David as a lowly condition], which is fallen down and I will build again the ruins [things overturned, cf. Rom. 11:3] thereof, and I will set it up, that the residue [kataloipos, the faithful remnant] of men might seek after the Lord and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called” (taking the second place; cf. Zech. 8:23 and see also Deut. 28:10; Jer. 14:9; Jas. 2:7).
James did a number of things here. He showed that he was the senior Apostle, or chairman of the conference, and that Peter was not the senior Apostle. Paul also showed here that he was part of and subject to the direction of the Council of Apostles and Elders of the Church that were under the chairmanship of James – a fact which he also acknowledged, as did Peter. James also shows that the Temple was to be destroyed, as this conference took place in Jerusalem when the Temple still stood.
The Faith and salvation were thus intended to be extended to the Gentiles, who would also compose the Tabernacle of David. That edifice preceded the Temple of Solomon and obviously expanded beyond the physical structure. James showed here that the prophecy applied to all nations, and that the people to whom the salvation of God extended would be the faithful remnant. Thus, there must be a remnant of mankind faithful through the tribulation. But faithful to what, one might ask?
James then continued with what has been turned into the most baffling of pronouncements. He said:
“Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the age (aeon). Therefore my sentence is (I judge or decide): that we do not trouble them from among the Gentiles that are turned to God. But that we write unto them that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled and from blood. For Moses of old time had in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day” (Acts 15:18-21).
Then the Apostles and Elders and the whole Church sent out Judas Barsabas and Silas – chief men of the Church with Paul and Barnabas – with letters written by them to the churches in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.
They said: “Forasmuch as we have heard that certain men went out from us troubling you with words unsettling you to whom we gave no such commandment. It seemed good to us who were assembled with one accord to send chosen representatives to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have hazarded their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas who will tell you the same things by mouth” (Acts 15:22-27).
This text has in it a forgery in the KJV from the Textus Receptus, in which the words, “saying, you must be circumcised, and keep the law” have been added after the emphatic you and before to whom we gave no such commandment. This wording is not present in the ancient texts and it was inserted into the Receptus during the Reformation. It was inserted into the Aramaic text of the Peshitta some centuries after the Greek and Latin texts were written. From there it was inserted into the Receptus. The Peshitta was compiled in the fifth century. It is not known if this inclusion was in the original or inserted later. It occurs nowhere else in any other text. However, these inclusions reflect the later Gnostic Antinomianism by this insertion. It has no basis in fact. This text is used to justify the grace-law argument, saying that the Law is done away and that the only limitations on the Gentiles – and hence also the Church in its entirety, given the failure to identify the nations of Israel – are those listed here in this text (see the paper The Relationship Between Salvation by Grace and the Law (No. 82)).
The text then continues in Acts 15:28-29:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these you shall do well.”
They went back to Antioch and delivered the message there first. Being prophets, Judas and Silas exhorted the brethren and remained there for some time strengthening the brethren.
Now if this were a comprehensive synopsis of the requirements of the Faith, then we are rudderless indeed. Why would we need a Bible, and all the subsequent epistles of the Church, to deal with matters that arose in the keeping of Sabbaths, New Moons and Feasts if they were cast aside for the Gentile Churches of God?
This list, if taken on its supposed intent of restricting the Law of the Pentateuch given to Moses to these few categories, does away with the Ten Commandments. Indeed, that is precisely what the false Christians claim it does mean!
John’s entire treatise on love and the transgression of the Law is thereby rendered meaningless. So also James’ epistle is meaningless and contradictory to this his own ruling. Paul’s entire series of treatises are rendered nonsense and so are Peter’s. The texts in Hebrews are also made nonsense, unless it is admitted that the churches of the Hebrews are subject to an entirely different Law and sequence than are the Gentiles. The Gospels, and Christ’s words and actions, are placed in total opposition to what is said here. Christ’s teachings are cut to the ground with this view. God is made capricious and is blasphemed.
If this interpretation that the Law is reduced to these categories is correct, then we are able to abuse God, hold any view of theology we wish, adopt any calendar we thought suited us (or keep no days at all), abuse our parents, murder or kill by euthanasia or abortion, lie, break agreements with impunity, cheat, rob, covet and eat any filthy thing. We can take as many concubines as we wish and as many wives as we wish. There are no prohibited relationships and incest is permitted. We can do what even the Gentiles would regard as scandalous. Our societies are then free to do what they do now and introduce relative morality.
The very condemnation of Paul in 1Corinthians 5:5, where a man was living with his father’s wife, would be meaningless. It would be a valid marriage after the fact. The interpretation of Acts 15 on these lines would make Christianity a laughing stock among the nations, and would have seen its death knell within a few months after such an interpretation. No reasonable person would have ever bothered with Christianity. It would have been an amoral cult, and every state would have had an obligation to restrict it.
This is the view that antinomians would have us adopt; but it is a false teaching or interpretation. No church of the Reformation ever adopted such an interpretation. The views of the Protestant churches are all covered in the paper Distinction in the Law (No. 96). The distinction is between the sacrificial law and the Laws of God as expressed from the Commandments.
The issue here was in the manner of dealing with food, and the introduced legislation of the Pharisees regarding handlings and purifications, which the Gentiles could never keep because of their environment. The slaves were held in marriage and they were unequally yoked in many cases. Concubinage was endemic. That is what was meant here, in a society that was vastly different to our own.
James says to be doers of the word and not hearers, calling the Law the perfect law of liberty (Jas. 1:25). He says in James 2:8-14:
"If you really fulfil the Royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ you do well. But if you show partiality you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said: ‘Do not commit adultery’ also said: ‘Do not kill.’ If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment. What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has no works? Can his faith save him?
James is saying the Law of God must be tempered with mercy in judgment. Why would one need mercy if the Law was done away? One cannot be punished in the absence of law.
James is therefore saying something entirely different in Acts 15 than what is being portrayed by the antinomians or gnostics of today, who call themselves Christians but lie. They go from door to door trying to persuade the weak, and when pressed regarding the Sabbath and the Ten Commandments, tell us this is so. Indeed, the major sects who claim this error now combine for survival because their illogic and hypocrisy are manifest in the light. Test the spirits as we are commanded.
James is not removing the Law of God in this judgment at the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15. There is no authority for that, and, indeed, he would be disqualified from the Faith if he were to do so. This man James was the son of Joseph and Mariam, the parents of Christ, and he was Christ’s brother. He understood what Christ meant and that is why this text is misused and forged. The lie of the Trinitarians regarding the primacy of Peter is exposed also in this text.
If people in the Church of God tell us that the Law of God is done way, we know thereby they are not of us but as wolves sent in among us to destroy us. Such was the strategy of Balaam, son of Beor, to lead Israel to sin (see the paper The Doctrine of Balaam and Balaam's Prophecy (No. 204)). If they do not speak according to the Law and the Testimony, there is no light in them (Isa. 8:20).
The later provisions for the release of the slaves under Christian masters was made in accordance with the law of the Pentateuch, as had happened, but which had also been rescinded, as recorded by Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 34:8-17).
Peter says that Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree (1Pet. 2:24). John tells us that “sin is transgression of the law” (1Jn. 3:4). No one born of God commits sin for God’s nature abides in him and he cannot sin, for he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God and who are the children of the Devil. Whoever does not do righteousness is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother (1Jn. 3:9-10). Thus, how can we be guilty of transgression of the Law of God and then be told that we are at liberty from the Law, which required us to be baptised into the Body of Christ? Then we are allegedly told it need not be kept anyway. How can the penalty be other than capricious if such were the case? There is no logic to this thinking and it makes the Church out to be feeble minded.
The Churches of God have those among them who utter these puerile sentiments. They are as ones who come in among us planting tares, and seeking to subvert the Churches of God by this false teaching. By this we know those who do not speak in the Holy Spirit. The elect are those who keep the Commandments of God and the Testimony or Faith of Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:17; 14:12).
Recently, one of the Churches of God, after declaring itself Binitarian a little while ago, stated that it is all right to worship on Sundays, or any day they add. They say the keeping of the Sabbath does not come directly from the requirements of the Law, but more from the example of Christ and the Apostles. Thus, one can refrain from labour on the Sabbath and go to services on Sunday. So also did the false teachers destroy the Worldwide Church of God. However, the error comes with the attack on the unity of God first. The argument regarding the Sabbath within the Law is put thus:
Since God commanded no assembly or worship in observing Sabbath, how can we correct one who rests the seventh day (according to Ex. 20:8-11) and also worships at other times? Our pattern of Sabbath worship comes more from the example of Christ (see Luke 4:16) than from the law (Bible Advocate, September 2004, p. 17)
Well, does it come from the Law or does it not? Did Christ obey the Law or did he not obey the Law? He kept the Sabbaths, New Moons and Holy Days and the Feasts commanded by God. So, if we are guided by Christ’s example we should do what he and the Apostles did and keep the complete Calendar of God and not just the Sabbath.
It is written: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”. Not just to rest but to keep it holy.
The Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:12-14 are clearer. There we are commanded:
Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days shall you labour and do all thy work but the Seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God, in it you shall not do any work, you nor your son nor your daughter nor your manservant nor your maidservant, nor your ox nor your ass nor any of your cattle nor the stranger that is within your gates, so that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.
The Hebrew accent zarha is used to show that the Commandment is two-fold, with labour being required for the six days and the Sabbath to be sanctified. It is not just to be rested, but sanctified. How, one may ask, is one to keep the Sabbath correctly without keeping it holy or sanctified? How can we keep it holy but in worship or service of the living God?
It is written: You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary; I am the Lord (Lev. 19:30; 26:2). So, we reverence the Sanctuary of God.
We must therefore go before God on each Sabbath. As we are the Temple of God, we worship God and establish His Temple in holiness each Sabbath. Thus, worship is inseparable from the Sabbaths of the Lord – all of them – and is enshrined directly in the Law. We are commanded to not forsake our assembling together for this purpose. The Acts show that James and the Apostles followed all these practices in the Church – on Sabbaths, New Moons and Holy Days and throughout all the Feasts of God.
Clear false teachers from us and restore the Churches of God to the Faith. If it is too late and they are in the majority then leave them. It is better to be a voice crying in the wilderness. “You shall not follow after a multitude to do evil, neither shall you speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment” (Ex. 23:2). Because the majority of people who claim to be followers of Christ wrest judgment of the Law by false statements, that does not excuse us for accepting it in the Churches of God.
It is written: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind [or understanding]. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself and on these two commandments hang [or depend] all the law and the prophets” (Mat. 22:37-40).
The Law and the prophets were teachers to bring us to God through Christ. We are not removed from the Law but rather placed in a position to live within it as the perfect law of liberty, and go beyond it in grace and mercy. We are freed from sacrifice through the sacrifice of Christ. The whole body of sacrificial law was fulfilled in Christ. The Law of God was not removed, and not one jot or tittle will pass from it until all is accomplished and Heaven and Earth pass away (Mat. 5:18).