The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 15:7-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 21, 2011

Text in red, if any, are my additions to Fr. Callan’s notes.

7. And when there had been much disputing, Peter, rising up, said to them: Men, brethren, you know, that in former days God made choice among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
8. And God, who knoweth the hearts, gave testimony, giving unto them the Holy Ghost, as well as to us;
9. And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

Peter . . . said to them, etc. Peter, as head of the Church, having heard both sides of the dispute, rises to give the decision. He recalls to the minds of those present the case of Cornelius some fourteen years before, and points out that God, by a special revelation, had manifested His will to the eifect that the Gentiles were to be admitted to the Church on an equal footing with the Jews,
without being subjected to the observances of the Mosaic Law (see Acts 10:1-11:18). He further observes that God gave to the Gentile converts, whom he had received, as well as to the Jews, the Holy Ghost, and that their hearts were purified, according to God’s own testimony, not by Mosaic observances, but by faith in Jesus Christ whom he had preached.

Much disputing. The Greek συζήτησις (suzētēsis) implies debate, questioning, etc. It is from the word συζητέω (suzēteō  ) which is used in Acts 6:9; 9:29 for debates between those who preach the Gospel and those who expound the Law of Moses.

By my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe.  Once again we see a connection between hearing and believing as was noted in the commentary on Monday’s first reading (Acts 14:5-18).

10. Now therefore, why tempt you God to put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?

Why tempt you God; i.e., why provoke God to anger by resisting His manifest will?

Nor we have been able to bear; i.e., scarcely able to bear; there is not here a question of absolute impossibility. There were really two parts to the Law: (a) the Natural Law, or the Ten Commandments; (b) the ceremonial and legal regulations. The form.er were not at all abolished, but perfected, by the New Law; the latter Christ intended to do away with, since they had become an unsupportable burden, and were in time regarded by the Jews as even more important than the divine Natural Law, summarized in the Decalogue.

Why do you tempt God? This statement and, in fact, Peters words as a whole should be seen in relation to his experience as narrated in Acts 10:1-11:18.  He was told not to “hesitate” (διακρινομενος: doubt, judge, discriminate) regarding God’s will in the matter of the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 10:18).  When other “contended with him” (διεκρινοντο) for what he had done (Acts 11:2) he related his experience and asked: Who am I that I could withstand God? The Greek words used in these passages are derived from διακρίνω (diakrinō), as is the word St Peter used in verse 9 above: And (God) put no difference (διεκρινεν) between them and us. This family of words is rather important because it shows that the “judgement” (κρινω = krino) of St James (verse 19) is based upon the revelation, experience and testimony of St Peter.

11. But by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe to be saved, in
like manner as they also.

Although the Jews had the Law, Peter says, they were not justified and saved by the Law, but by faith in the Redeemer to come; and likewise both Jews and Gentiles are now to be saved, not by the Law, but by the grace of faith in Jesus Christ who has come.

12. And all the multitude held their peace ; and they heard Barnabas and Paul telling what great signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

After Peter had spoken, and his words had been respectfully received by the assembly, Paul and Barnabas related to the multitude the success of their mission among the Gentiles. The relation of the miracles and signs of approval with which God had favored their labors was a confirmation of what Peter had just said.

13. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying: Men,
brethren, hear me.

James answered. This was James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He was the son of Alpheus, also called Cleophas, and Mary, the cousin of the Blessed Virgin. He was therefore a cousin of our Lord, and was consequently, according to Jewish custom, called ” the brother of the Lord.” See on Acts 1:14; Matthew
13:54-56.

14. Simon hath related how God first visited to take of the Gentiles a
people to his name.

God first visited . . . the Gentiles; i.e., looked upon them with favor (επεσκεψατο) to take from among them a people who would do His will and serve Him.

15. And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written:
16. After these things I will return, and will rebuild the tabernacle of
David, which is fallen down; and the ruins thereof I will rebuild, and I will set it up:
17. That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all nations upon whom my name is invoked, saith the Lord, who doth these things.

The action of God, in looking with favor and mercy on the Gentiles, and wishing to receive them into His Church independently of Mosaic observances, was in conformity with what the prophets had foretold. St. James cites the prophet Amos 9:11, 12 according to the Septuagint version, which is somewhat different from the Hebrew. The tabernacle of David means the royal power of David which was destroyed and taken away by the Babylonians under Nabuchodonosor, but which was to be restored in the time of the Messiah. See Jer 23:5; 33:15; Ezek 17:22; 21:27, etc.

That the residue of men, etc. In the Hebrew it is “the residue of Edom.” The sense is that in the time of the Messiah, when the kingdom of David should be restored, all nations and all peoples, even the Edomites, who were enemies of the people of Israel, should be admitted to a participation in the privileges and blessings of Israel.

Saith the Lord. This shows that the prophecy just uttered would be fulfilled, because it was God who uttered it.

18. To the Lord was his own work known from the beginning of the
world.
19. For which cause I judge that they, who from among the Gentiles are converted to God, are not to be disquieted.

St. James here says that God could foretell the conversion of the Gentiles and their participation in the blessings of the new kingdom. His Church, because He knows from eternity all that shall take place in time. The Gentiles, therefore, who are but enjoying the privileges God foretold for them and provided for them, are not to be troubled.

20. But that we write unto them, that they refrain themselves from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

The converted Gentiles were not obliged to submit either to circumcision or to the Mosaic observances, and yet St. James thought it well, for the sake of peace, to ask them to be careful about certain things which were very offensive to the Jews.

The pollutions of idols; i.e., the meats offered in sacrifice to idols. These meats were afterwards partaken of by those present, and often sold on the public market. Even Christians converted from paganism thought it perfectly legitimate to eat of this meat, while to do so was an abomination to the Jews.

Fornication, although forbidden by natural law, was so common among the pagans, even at public entertainments and religious services, that St. James considered it necessary to warn Gentile converts against this vice, lest after their conversion they should continue to practice it. Cf. also 1 Cor 5:1; 6:9, 13-20;
2 Cor 12:21.

Cornely and others, however, think that “fornication” here refers to marriages between near relatives, which were forbidden by the Law of Moses (Lev 18), or marriages between pagans and believers.

From things strangled, etc. The command to abstain from “blood” as food was given by God himself to Noe (Gen 9:4), and the prohibition to eat “things strangled” was a deduction from the Law (Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:13, 14). Strangled meats were forbidden because of the great quantity of blood they contained, and blood by divine ordination was supposed to be used only for the expiation of sin (Lev 17:11). See below, on verses 28, 29.

21. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him in the synagogues, where he is read every sabbath.

St. James here explains why he counsels the pagan converts to abstain from the foregoing things; namely, because the Mosaic Law which prohibits them has been read in the Synagogues every Saturday from the remotest times, and is, therefore, so well known to the Jews that to see pagan converts openly disregard it would be more than they could peacefully tolerate.

St. James, therefore, agrees with St. Peter and St. Paul that the Gentiles are free from the Mosaic observances which the Jews wish to have imposed on them, but he at the same time counsels the Gentiles to refrain from certain pagan practices which were extremely obnoxious to Jews. So much was necessary for peace and
unity in the Church.

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4 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 15:7-21”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 15:7-21). […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 15:7-21). […]

  3. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 15:7-21). […]

  4. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 15:7-21). […]

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