What does Acts 15:14 mean?
ESV: Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.
NIV: Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.
NASB: Simeon has described how God first concerned Himself about taking a people for His name from among the Gentiles.
CSB: Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for his name.
NLT: Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself.
KJV: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, is addressing the church in Jerusalem. They need to decide if Gentiles must first convert to Judaism before they can follow Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Paul and Barnabas have related their work during their first missionary voyage. They went to the island of Cyprus and through the center of modern-day Asia Minor (Acts 13—14). They have shared the many miracles the Holy Spirit empowered them to perform, affirming their message and work, and described how Gentiles have received salvation through Jesus (Acts 15:4, 12).
Now, James reiterates Peter's testimony, how God allowed him to visit a Roman centurion in Caesarea Maritima and share Jesus' offer of salvation to him and a house filled with friends, neighbors, and fellow soldiers. While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles and gave them such signs that made Peter realize these non-Jews were chosen to receive God's grace (Acts 10; 15:7–11).
James is not saying that God visited the Gentiles "first" before He visited the Jews. Rather, he means that Peter's encounter was the first conversion of a large group of Gentiles. Jesus made it clear that salvation came from the Jews, meaning the Messiah is Jewish and Jews were first offered eternal forgiveness from God (John 4:22). God had promised Abraham, long before, that this salvation would be to "all the families of the earth" (Genesis 12:3). The Old Testament prophet recorded God speaking of people from foreign nations who would be "called by [His] name" (Amos 9:12), meaning, identifying with God as their sovereign ruler. And Jesus said, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16). This "one flock" is comprised of Jews and Gentiles all of whom, as Peter asserted, are "saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11).
"Simeon" is from the Hebrew Shim'on and means "hearkening." It is a variation of "Simon," Peter's birth name (Mark 1:16). Jesus gave Simon the name "Peter" in Matthew 16:13–18. In his letters, Paul sometimes uses "Cephas," which is the Aramaic version of the Greek Peter (1 Corinthians 1:12; Galatians 1:18). By using the name "Simeon," James may be reminding the council that Peter is a Jew and Jesus' chosen evangelist to the Jews. James is not basing his decision on Paul, who took on a Greek name and spent only limited time in Jerusalem since his conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:26–30). Nor does James rely on the beloved Barnabas, who first invited Paul to help him reach the Gentiles (Acts 11:19–26). James references the testimony of Peter.
Acts 15:12–21 continues the account of the church of Jerusalem's debate. They are discussing whether Gentiles must convert to Judaism to be saved by Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Paul, Barnabas, and Peter say salvation is through the grace of Christ (Acts 15:2, 7–11). Jewish Christians from the Pharisee sect disagree (Acts 15:1, 5). Now, Barnabas and Paul will relate their work among the Gentiles on their first missionary journey. James, the half-brother of Jesus, will share his conviction: God has not placed ritual requirements on Gentiles for salvation. However, Gentiles should make reasonable concessions to maintain unity with Jewish brothers and sisters.
Paul and Barnabas are in Syrian Antioch, home from their first missionary journey. Legalistic Christians from Jerusalem arrive and insist Gentiles must convert to Judaism. When negotiations fail, a delegation travels to Jerusalem to request clarification from Jesus' closest students. The leadership in Jerusalem agree with Paul and Barnabas. They write a letter that Gentiles should only make concessions, mostly dietary, which will ensure unity with the Jews in their congregation. After delivering the letter to Antioch, Paul takes Silas and Barnabas takes John Mark to share the letter to other churches they have planted.
Acts chapter 15 resembles Acts 11:1–18, where Peter testified before the leadership of the church in Jerusalem. His subject was how the Holy Spirit had fallen on uncircumcised and unbaptized Gentiles. Here Paul and Barnabas also testify that Gentiles are coming to faith in Jesus without being circumcised. The issue the leadership must decide is the extent Gentiles must be responsible to follow the Mosaic law. Their decision is that the Law is in no way required to be saved, but Gentiles should graciously make concessions so their Jewish brothers and sisters feel free to live in community. This forms a partial background to the rest of Paul's missionary journeys as explained in Acts.
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
Accessed 12/6/2023 10:12:16 PM
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