But that we write unto them - Four things are prohibited in this decree:
By the first, Pollutions of Idols, or, as it is in Acts 15:25, meats offered to idols, not only all idolatry was forbidden, but eating things offered in sacrifice to idols, knowing that they were thus offered, and joining with idolaters in their sacred feasts, which were always an incentive either to idolatry itself, or to the impure acts generally attendant on such festivals.
By the second, Fornication, all uncleanness of every kind was prohibited; for πορνεια not only means fornication, but adultery, incestuous mixtures, and especially the prostitution which was so common at the idol temples, viz. in Cyprus, at the worship of Venus; and the shocking disorders exhibited in the Bacchanalia, Lupercalia, and several others.
By the third, Things Strangled, we are to understand the flesh of those animals which were strangled for the purpose of keeping the blood in the body, as such animals were esteemed a greater delicacy.
By the fourth, Blood, we are to understand, not only the thing itself, for the reasons which I have assigned in the note on Genesis 9:4, and for others detailed at the end of this chapter; but also all cruelty, manslaughter, murder, etc., as some of the ancient fathers have understood it.
Instead of του αἱματος, blood, some have conjectured that we should read χοιρειας, swine's flesh; for they cannot see, first, that there can be any harm in eating of blood; and, secondly, that, as the other three things neither have nor can have any moral evil in them, it would seem strange that they should be coupled with a thing which, on all hands, is confessed to have much moral turpitude. Answers to such trifling objections will be found at the end of the chapter. It is only necessary to add that this χοιρειας, which is the critical emendation of Dr. Bentley, is not supported by one MS. or version in existence.
At the close of this verse, the Codex Bezae, and several others, add a fifth thing, And not to do to others what they would not have done to themselves. Though this is a very ancient reading, it does not appear to be genuine.
That we write unto them - Expressing our judgment, or our views of the case.
That they abstain - That they refrain from these things, or wholly avoid them.
Pollutions of idols - The word rendered “pollutions” means any kind of “defilement.” But here it is evidently used to denote the flesh of those animals that were offered in sacrifice to idols. See Acts 15:29. That flesh, after being offered in sacrifice, was often exposed for sale in the markets, or was served up at feasts, 1 Corinthians 10:25-29. It became a very important question whether it was right for Christians to partake of it. The Jews would contend that it was, in fact, partaking of idolatry. The Gentile converts would allege that they did not eat it as a sacrifice to idols, or lend their countenance in any way to the idolatrous Worship where it had been offered. See this subject discussed at length in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13. As idolatry was forbidden to the Jews in every form, and as partaking even of the sacrifices of idols in their feasts might seem to countenance idolatry, the Jews would be utterly opposed to it; and for the sake of peace, James advised that the Christians at Antioch be recommended to abstain from this. To partake of that food might not be morally wrong 1 Corinthians 8:4, but it would give occasion for scandal and offence; and, therefore, as a matter of expediency, it was advised that they should abstain from it.
And from fornication - The word used here πορνεία porneiais applicable to “all illicit sexual intercourse,” and may refer to adultery, incest, or licentiousness in any form. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to this expression. Interpreters have been greatly perplexed to understand why this violation of the moral law has been introduced amidst the violations of the ceremonial law, and the question is naturally asked whether this was a sin about which there could be any debate between the Jewish and Gentile converts? Were there any who would practice it, or plead that it was lawful? If not, why is it prohibited here? Various explanations of this have been proposed. Some have supposed that James refers here to the offerings which harlots would make of their gains to the service of religion, and that James would prohibit the reception of it. Beza, Selden, and Schleusner suppose the word is taken for idolatry, as it is often represented in the Scriptures as consisting in unfaithfulness to God, and as it is often called adultery. Heringius supposes that marriage between idolaters and Christians is here intended. But, after all, the usual interpretation of the word, as referring to illicit sexual intercourse of the sexes of any kind, is undoubtedly here to be retained. If it be asked, then, why this was particularly forbidden, and was introduced in this connection, we may reply:
(1) That this vice prevailed everywhere among the Gentiles, and was that to which all were particularly exposed.
(2) that it was not deemed by the Gentiles disgraceful. It was practiced without shame and without remorse. (Terence, Adelphi, 1,2,21. See Grotius.) It was important, therefore, that the pure laws of Christianity on this subject should be known, and that special pains should be taken to instruct the early converts from paganism in those laws. The same thing is necessary still in pagan lands.
(3) this crime was connected with religion. It was the practice not only to introduce indecent pictures and emblems into their worship, but also for females to devote themselves to the service of particular temples, and to devote the avails of indiscriminate prostitution to the service of the god, or the goddess. The vice was connected with no small part of the pagan worship; and the images, the emblems, and the customs of idolatry everywhere tended to sanction and promote it. A mass of evidence on this subject which sickens the heart, and which would be too long and too indelicate to introduce here, may be seen in Tholuck‘s Nature and Moral Influence of Paganism, in the Biblical Repository for July, 1832, p. 441-464. As this vice was almost universal; as it was practiced without shame or disgrace; as there were no laws among the pagan to prevent it; as it was connected with all their views of idol worship and of religion, it was important for the early Christians to frown upon and to oppose it, and to set a special guard against it in all the churches. It was the sin to which, of all others, they were the most exposed, and which was most likely to bring scandal on the Christian religion. It is for this cause that it is so often and so pointedly forbidden in the New Testament Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3.
And from things strangled - That is, from animals or birds that were killed without shedding their blood. The reason why these were considered by the Jews unlawful to. be eaten was, that thus they would be under a necessity of eating blood, which was positively forbidden by the Law. Hence, it was commanded in the Law that when any beast or fowl was taken in a snare, the blood should be poured out before it was lawful to be eaten, Leviticus 17:13.
And from blood - The eating of blood was strictly forbidden to the Jews. The reason of this was that it contained the life, Leviticus 17:11, Leviticus 17:14. See notes on Romans 3:25. The use of blood was common among the Gentiles. They drank it often at their sacrifices, and in making covenants or compacts. To separate the Jews from them in this respect was one design of the prohibition. See Spencer, De Ley Hebrae., p. 144,145,169,235,377,381,594, edit. 1732. See also this whole passage examined at length in Spencer, p. 588-626. The primary reason of the prohibition was, that it was thus used in the feasts and compacts of idolaters. That blood was thus drank by the pagans, particularly by the Sabians, in their sacrifices, is fully proved by Spencer, De Leg., p. 377-380 But the prohibition specifies a higher reason, that the life is in the blood, and that therefore it should not be eaten. On this opinion see the notes on Romans 3:25. This reason existed before any ceremonial law; it is founded in the nature of things; it has no particular reference to any custom of the Jews; and it is as forcible in any other circumstances as in theirs. It was proper, therefore, to forbid it to the early Christian converts; and for the same reason, its use should be abstained from everywhere. It adds to the force of these remarks when we remember that the same principle was settled before the laws of Moses were given, and that God regarded the fact that the life was in the blood as of so much importance as to make the shedding of it worthy of death, Genesis 9:4-6. It is supposed, therefore, that this law is still obligatory. Perhaps, also, there is no food more unwholesome than blood; and it is a further circumstance of some moment that all people naturally revolt from it as an article of food.
The apostles, in this, their special work, were to be exposed to suspicion, prejudice, and jealousy. As a natural consequence of their departure from the exclusiveness of the Jews, their doctrine and views would be subject to the charge of heresy; and their credentials as ministers of the gospel would be questioned by many zealous, believing Jews. God foresaw all these difficulties which His servants would undergo, and, in His wise providence, caused them to be invested with unquestionable authority from the established church of God, that their work should be above challenge. SR 304.1
The ordination by the laying on of hands was, at a later date, greatly abused; unwarrantable importance was attached to the act, as though a power came at once upon those who received such ordination, which immediately qualified them for any and all ministerial work, as though virtue lay in the act of laying on of hands. We have, in the history of these two apostles, only a simple record of the laying on of hands, and its bearing upon their work. Both Paul and Barnabas had already received their commission from God Himself; and the ceremony of the laying on of hands added no new grace or virtual qualification. It was merely setting the seal of the church upon the work of God—an acknowledged form of designation to an appointed office. SR 304.2Read in context »
Before his conversion Paul had regarded himself as blameless “touching the righteousness which is in the law.” Philippians 3:6. But since his change of heart he had gained a clear conception of the mission of the Saviour as the Redeemer of the entire race, Gentile as well as Jew, and had learned the difference between a living faith and a dead formalism. In the light of the gospel the ancient rites and ceremonies committed to Israel had gained a new and deeper significance. That which they shadowed forth had come to pass, and those who were living under the gospel dispensation had been freed from their observance. God's unchangeable law of Ten Commandments, however, Paul still kept in spirit as well as in letter. AA 190.1
In the church at Antioch the consideration of the question of circumcision resulted in much discussion and contention. Finally, the members of the church, fearing that a division among them would be the outcome of continued discussion, decided to send Paul and Barnabas, with some responsible men from the church, to Jerusalem to lay the matter before the apostles and elders. There they were to meet delegates from the different churches and those who had come to Jerusalem to attend the approaching festivals. Meanwhile all controversy was to cease until a final decision should be given in general council. This decision was then to be universally accepted by the different churches throughout the country. AA 190.2
On the way to Jerusalem the apostles visited the believers in the cities through which they passed, and encouraged them by relating their experience in the work of God and the conversion of the Gentiles. AA 190.3Read in context »
6, 7. Trouble in Galatia—In almost every church there were some members who were Jews by birth. To these converts the Jewish teachers found ready access, and through them gained a foothold in the churches. It was impossible, by scriptural arguments, to overthrow the doctrines taught by Paul; hence they resorted to the most unscrupulous measures to counteract his influence and weaken his authority. They declared that he had not been a disciple of Jesus, and had received no commission from Him; yet he had presumed to teach doctrines directly opposed to those held by Peter, James, and the other apostles. Thus the emissaries of Judaism succeeded in alienating many of the Christian converts from their teacher in the gospel. Having gained this point, they induced them to return to the observance of the ceremonial law as essential to salvation. Faith in Christ, and obedience to the law of ten commandments, were regarded as of minor importance. Division, heresy, and sensualism were rapidly gaining ground among the believers in Galatia. 6BC 1108.1Read in context »
The brethren hoped that Paul, by following the course suggested, might give a decisive contradiction to the false reports concerning him. They assured him that the decision of the former council concerning the Gentile converts and the ceremonial law, still held good. But the advice now given was not consistent with that decision. The Spirit of God did not prompt this instruction; it was the fruit of cowardice. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem knew that by non-conformity to the ceremonial law, Christians would bring upon themselves the hatred of the Jews and expose themselves to persecution. The Sanhedrin was doing its utmost to hinder the progress of the gospel. Men were chosen by this body to follow up the apostles, especially Paul, and in every possible way to oppose their work. Should the believers in Christ be condemned before the Sanhedrin as breakers of the law, they would suffer swift and severe punishment as apostates from the Jewish faith. AA 404.1
Many of the Jews who had accepted the gospel still cherished a regard for the ceremonial law and were only too willing to make unwise concessions, hoping thus to gain the confidence of their countrymen, to remove their prejudice, and to win them to faith in Christ as the world's Redeemer. Paul realized that so long as many of the leading members of the church at Jerusalem should continue to cherish prejudice against him, they would work constantly to counteract his influence. He felt that if by any reasonable concession he could win them to the truth he would remove a great obstacle to the success of the gospel in other places. But he was not authorized of God to concede as much as they asked. AA 405.1
When we think of Paul's great desire to be in harmony with his brethren, his tenderness toward the weak in the faith, his reverence for the apostles who had been with Christ, and for James, the brother of the Lord, and his purpose to become all things to all men so far as he could without sacrificing principle—when we think of all this, it is less surprising that he was constrained to deviate from the firm, decided course that he had hitherto followed. But instead of accomplishing the desired object, his efforts for conciliation only precipitated the crisis, hastened his predicted sufferings, and resulted in separating him from his brethren, depriving the church of one of its strongest pillars, and bringing sorrow to Christian hearts in every land. AA 405.2Read in context »