Saving Grace

After much debate had taken place,
Peter got up and said to the Apostles and the presbyters,
“My brothers, you are well aware that from early days
God made his choice among you that through my mouth
the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe.
And God, who knows the heart,
bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit
just as he did us.
He made no distinction between us and them,
for by faith he purified their hearts.
Why, then, are you now putting God to the test
by placing on the shoulders of the disciples
a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
On the contrary, we believe that we are saved
through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”
The whole assembly fell silent,
and they listened
while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders
God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

After they had fallen silent, James responded,
“My brothers, listen to me.
Symeon has described how God first concerned himself
with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name.
The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:

After this I shall return
and rebuild the fallen hut of David;
from its ruins I shall rebuild it
and raise it up again,
so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord,
even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.
Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things,
known from of old.

It is my judgment, therefore,
that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God,
but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols,
unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.
For Moses, for generations now,
has had those who proclaim him in every town,
as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”
(Acts 15:7-21)

Scripture Study

15:11 we believe: Peter speaks as the head and spokesman of the apostolic Church. He formulates a doctrinal judgment about the means of salvation, whereas James takes the floor after him to suggest a pastoral plan for inculturating the gospel in mixed communities where Jewish and Gentile believers live side by side (15:13–21).

15:13 James: A close relative of Jesus (Gal 1:19) who became the leader of the Jerusalem Church after Peter first fled the city and began to travel.

15:14 Symeon: The original Semitic name of Peter transliterated into Greek (Heb. Shime‘on, Gen 29:33). It is used of him only here and in the Greek text of 2 Pet 1:1.

15:20 write to them: James sets forth a pastoral initiative to promote fellowship and preempt foreseeable friction between Jewish and Gentile believers coming together in the Church. The result is an apostolic letter from Jerusalem to the Churches in Syria and Cilicia that requires Gentile converts to observe a minimal code of religious purity—abstinence from idol foods, sexual immorality, and the consumption of blood in meat or by itself (15:23–29). The Jews abhorred these practices as cultural expressions of idolatry. James is saying that even though the Gentiles are exempt from the ritual observances of Judaism (circumcision), they are still expected to break away from the ritual observances of paganism. Allusions to this decree appear in 1 Cor 8–10, 1 Thess 4:3, and Rev 2:14, 20. ● According to the Council of Florence in 1442, the apostolic decree was only a temporary measure to facilitate unity among Jews and Gentiles in the early Church. The binding force of its food restrictions was relaxed once the ethnic circumstances that made them necessary passed away.

Scripture Reflection

Once again, Peter is a decisive factor in Church unity. Not only does he draw together all the various legitimate views of those trying to reach the truth on this occasion: he points out where the truth lies. Relying on his personal experience (what God directed him to do in connection with the baptism of Cornelius: cf. chap. 10), Peter sums up the discussion and offers a solution which coincides with St Paul’s view of the matter: it is grace and not the Law that saves, and therefore circumcision and the Law itself have been superseded by faith in Jesus Christ. Peter’s argument is not based on the severity of the Old Law or the practical difficulties Jews experience in keeping it; his key point is that the Law of Moses has become irrelevant now that the Gospel has been proclaimed the Law is not necessary for salvation: he does not accept that it is necessary to obey the Law in order to be saved. Whether one can or should keep the Law for other reasons is a different and secondary matter.

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.