Chapter

Acts 15:21

ESV For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
NIV For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.'
NASB For from ancient generations Moses has those who preach him in every city, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.'
CSB For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues."
NLT For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.'
KJV For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

What does Acts 15:21 mean?

This concludes the debate section of the council in Jerusalem. After evangelizing on the island of Cyprus and up into modern-day Asia Minor, Paul and Barnabas returned to their home church in Syrian Antioch and shared how God had blessed Jews and Gentiles with salvation through Christ (Acts 13—14). Before long, Jewish Christians who still identified with the legalistic Pharisee sect arrived from Judea. The visitors tried to convince the church that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law if they wanted to have their sins forgiven by the Jewish God. Barnabas, Paul, and the church elders disagreed. When the two groups reached an impasse, they traveled to Jerusalem for an official verdict from the apostles and leaders of the original church (Acts 15:1–3).

In Jerusalem, Peter affirms Barnabas and Paul's testimony; he, too, has seen the Holy Spirit fall on Gentiles who hadn't been circumcised. Further, they hadn't been baptized or had hands laid on them (Acts 15:7–11). James, the half-brother of Jesus and the pastor of the church, agrees, but sees the issue in a different way. He points out how God had always promised that Gentiles would join as His chosen people. After showing God's words in Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, he reasons that if God called Gentiles, Jews have no right to enforce any requirement God hasn't. However, it is reasonable for Gentile believers to strive for a sexual purity they are not used to and to adjust their diet—not for salvation but for unity in the churches they share with Jews (Acts 15:13–20).

Having established that Gentiles are being saved as God promised they would be, James comments that no one should be surprised. Non-Jews escaped Egypt with Israel in the exodus (Exodus 12:38); Jewish scholars identify the hangers-on as the "rabble" of Numbers 11:4. In addition, Gentiles have been allowed to learn about the Jewish God in synagogues for hundreds of years. With that background in Judaism, why wouldn't they want to follow the Jewish Messiah?

Synagogues were developed in response to the destruction of the temple and the exile of the Jews into Babylon. The Jews came to understand in a real way that they were exiled because they hadn't followed God's Law, in part because they didn't study it. Synagogues became the place where the people could read from the Jewish Scriptures and discuss what the text meant. Even after the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, the tradition of the synagogue remained. Jesus started His teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21; 3:1) until the crowds grew too great. Jerusalem boasted several different synagogues that catered to Jews from regions throughout the Roman Empire who traveled to Jerusalem for the required festivals (Acts 6:9).

More to the point, whenever Paul and Barnabas enter a new city, they start by teaching in the synagogue (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:7). In the synagogue, they find Jews and Gentiles who understand the historical context of the Messiah. Like Stephen (Acts 7:2–50), they explain how Jesus fits into Jewish Scripture (Acts 13:16–41). Even those Gentiles labeled "devout" or "God-fearing," who had not made the move to fully convert to Judaism, welcome the message of salvation through Jesus (Acts 13:48).

As James points out, Gentiles have been listening. Jews shouldn't be surprised when the Gentiles sitting next to them in the synagogues react the same way to the gospel.
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