Acts 15:1–21

"After they finished speaking, James replied, 'Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree'" (vv. 13–15).

Our best resource for understanding the Old Testament prophets is their inspired interpretation in the New Testament. So, we turn to Acts 15:1–21 to see how the Apostles explain the fulfillment of Amos 9:11–15.

The most significant issue the church faced in its earliest days was the place of Gentiles in the new covenant, particularly the Gentiles' relationship to the Mosaic law. Circumcision was the flash point. For instance, the Judaizers' attempt to impose circumcision upon the Gentile Christians in Galatia prompted Paul to write his epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 2:1–16; 5:2–4). Many Jewish Christians thought Gentile believers had to obey even the ceremonial aspects of the law of Moses. By the first century AD, after all, faithful Jews had been following this law for nearly fifteen hundred years. When they read about "the nations who are called by my name" in Amos 9:11–12, Jews naturally thought of what it meant for them to be called by God—which included the mark of circumcision—and they applied this to the Gentiles.

Yet when the Gentiles en masse began bowing to the God of Israel via faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, a remarkable thing happened. Gentile Christians were receiving the new covenant promise of the Holy Spirit without being circumcised (Acts 10; see Joel 2:28–29). The Apostles turned to the Old Testament to understand what was happening, and found that they had to reconsider their long-standing assumptions about what the prophets meant when they predicted the conversion of the nations. At the first church council in history, in Jerusalem, the Apostle James cited Amos 9:11–15 and reminded the gathered church leaders that the new covenant promise of Gentile inclusion was being fulfilled with the Gentiles' faith in Yahweh through His Son. If God saw fit to accept the Gentiles without circumcision, the church could do no less (Acts 15:12–18).

The Apostles did not believe the Mosaic law had no place in the lives of Gentile Christians. Acts 15:19–21 reveals that all believers are bound by God's eternal moral law, which is found in the Mosaic code alongside ceremonial and civil legislation. Before Christ, the Lord did not condemn the Gentiles for not keeping Israel's ceremonial rules, but only for violating the moral law found on the consciences of all people (Amos 1:1–2:3). This did not change when the Gentiles became full members of the new covenant.

Coram Deo

In His great grace, God has restored the tent of David, raising His Son from the dead and seating Him on His throne. As a consequence, He is bringing the nations to worship His Son and join His covenant people. There are many peoples and nations, however, that have not yet been brought into the kingdom through faith in Christ. We are to be witnesses and lights that point people to God's Son, calling them to faith so that His church will include all the nations called by the Lord's name.

For Further Study