Acts 15:21
For Moses of old time has in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) For Moses of old time.—Literally, of ancient generations. The conjunction gives the reason for writing to the Gentiles, and giving them these injunctions. The Jews, who heard the Law in their synagogues every Sabbath, did not need instruction. It might be taken for granted that they would adhere to the rules now specified. So, in Acts 15:23, the encyclical letter is addressed exclusively to “the brethren of the Gentiles.”

15:7-21 We see from the words purifying their hearts by faith, and the address of St. Peter, that justification by faith, and sanctification by the Holy Ghost, cannot be separated; and that both are the gift of God. We have great cause to bless God that we have heard the gospel. May we have that faith which the great Searcher of hearts approves, and attests by the seal of the Holy Spirit. Then our hearts and consciences will be purified from the guilt of sin, and we shall be freed from the burdens some try to lay upon the disciples of Christ. Paul and Barnabas showed by plain matters of fact, that God owned the preaching of the pure gospel to the Gentiles without the law of Moses; therefore to press that law upon them, was to undo what God had done. The opinion of James was, that the Gentile converts ought not to be troubled about Jewish rites, but that they should abstain from meats offered to idols, so that they might show their hatred of idolatry. Also, that they should be cautioned against fornication, which was not abhorred by the Gentiles as it should be, and even formed a part of some of their rites. They were counselled to abstain from things strangled, and from eating blood; this was forbidden by the law of Moses, and also here, from reverence to the blood of the sacrifices, which being then still offered, it would needlessly grieve the Jewish converts, and further prejudice the unconverted Jews. But as the reason has long ceased, we are left free in this, as in the like matters. Let converts be warned to avoid all appearances of the evils which they formerly practised, or are likely to be tempted to; and caution them to use Christian liberty with moderation and prudence.For Moses - The meaning of this verse is, that the Law of Moses, prohibiting these things, was read in the synagogues constantly. As these commands wore constantly read, and as the Jewish converts would not soon learn that their ceremonial law had ceased to be binding, it was deemed to be a matter of expediency that no needless offence should be given to them. For the sake of peace, it was better that they should abstain from meat offered to idols than to give offence to the Jewish converts. Compare 1 Corinthians 8:10-13.Of old time - Greek: from ancient generations. It is an established custom, and therefore his laws are well known, and have, in their view, not only the authority of revelation, but the venerableness of antiquity.

In every city - Where there were Jews. This was the case in all the cities to which the discussion here had reference.

Them that preach him - That is, by reading the Law of Moses. But, in addition to reading the Law, it was customary also to offer an explanation of its meaning. See the notes on Luke 4:16-22.

21. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him … every sabbath day—thus keeping alive in every Jew those feelings which such practices would shock, and which, therefore, the Gentile converts must carefully respect if the oneness of both classes in Christ was to be practically preserved. The wisdom of these suggestions commended itself to all present. The reason why St. James would not have the ceremonies buried as soon as they were dead, was because the Jews had been so long confirmed in them, and bare such a love unto them; and he would purchase concord between them and the Gentile converts; though the Gentiles should bear with some inconvenience into the bargain, as not presently using all the liberty which through Christ they had a right unto. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him,.... That is, for many years past, even from the times of Ezra, the law of Moses has been publicly expounded by them, whom the Jews call Derashim, preachers, or expounders, in every city where there was a synagogue; and every city belonging to the Jews, were obliged to build a synagogue, yea, they were obliged to do it where there were but ten Israelites (n): this is given by James as a reason why the Gentiles should be wrote unto concerning the above things; because that they hearing the law read and expounded every week, would be ready to conclude that they were obliged to submit unto it, as to circumcision, and other things; unless they were told that they were free from it; only in order to maintain peace with their brethren the Jews, it would be necessary for them to abstain from the above things: and it may also carry in it a reason, why the Jews need not be wrote unto, and why they had no reason to complain for thus writing to the Gentiles; since they had the law read and explained to them every week, and there would be no attempt to make any alteration in that form of service:

being read in the synagogues every sabbath day; See Gill on Acts 13:15.

(n) Maimon. Tephilla, c. 11. sect. 1.

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 15:21. See Düsterdieck in the Götting. Monatschr. 1849, p. 282 ff. Γάρ] gives the reason why it was indispensable to enjoin this fourfold ἀπέχεσθαι—namely, because the preaching of the Mosaic law, taking place from ancient generations in every city every Sabbath day by its being read in the synagogues, would only tend to keep alive the offence which the Jewish-Christians (who still adhered to the synagogue[36]) took to their uncircumcised brethren, in view of the complete freedom of the latter from the law, including even these four points.[37] These words thus assign a ground for the proposal on the score of necessity (corresponding to the ἐπάναγκες in the decree, Acts 15:28), and, indeed, of the necessity that there must be, at least so far, accommodation to the Mosaic law. Others: περιττὸν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ταῦτα ἐπιστέλλειν· ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ταῦτα μανθάνουσιν κ.τ.λ., scholion in Matthaei, Chrysostom, Lyra, and many others, and recently Neander. Out of place, as there was no question at all about an instruction for the Jewish-Christians. Erasmus, Wetstein, Thiersch, and others still more arbitrarily import the idea: “Neque est metuendum, ut Moses propterea antiquetur;” or (so Grotius and Ewald, p. 472): it is not to be feared that the Mosaic law generally will be neglected and despised.[38] Still more freely Gieseler[39] reads between the lines what is supposed to be meant: “The Mosaic law already has been so long preached, and yet there are few who submit to embrace it. Now, when the service of the true God is preached without the yoke of the law, many are turning to Him, and it is indisputable that the ceremonial law is the only obstacle to the universal diffusion of true religion.” Lange, II. p. 183, likewise imports: “We have nothing further to do. To assert the statutes of Moses, is not our office; there are already preachers for that.” Similarly Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 2, p. 41, who, however, discovers under the words of James the presupposition as self-evident, that Gentiles, if they pleased, might along with the faith embrace also the law of Moses; to those, who wished to become Mosaic, nothing need be said about the law, because they would always have an opportunity to become acquainted with it. As if one could read-in such a very important presupposition as self-evident! And as if Paul and Barnabas could have been silent at a proposition so entirely anti-Pauline! Further, we cannot see how what Brenske (Stud. u. Krit. 1859, p. 711 ff.) finds as the meaning, considering the proselytes of the gate as those to whom the κηρύσσειν took place, is contained in the words: the κηρύσσειν has the notion of publicity and solemnity, but not of novelty (Brenske), which even passages such as Galatians 5:11, Romans 2:21, should have prevented him from assuming. Lastly, Wieseler (on Galatians 2:11 ff., p. 148) finds in the words the designed inference: consequently these statutes have for long been not a thing unheard of and burdensome for these Gentiles, because there are among them many proselytes. But even thus the chief points are mentally supplied.

[36] Comp. Lechler, apost. Zeitalt. p. 291 f.

[37] Lekebusch and Oertel adopt in the main this interpretation, to which Calvin already came very near. Nor is the explanation of Düsterdieck essentially different. Yet he understands ἔχει in the sense: he has in his power, holds in subjection, which, however, appears not to be admissible, as not the Jews generally, but the κηρύσσοντες, are the object of ἔχει. It is the simple: he has them, they do not fail him.

[38] Thus in substance also Schneckenburger, Zeller, Baumgarten, Hilgenfeld. Peculiarly ingenious, but importing what is not in the text, is the view of Bengel: “Prophetas citavi, non Mosen, cujus consensus est apertior,” holding that James had Deuteronomy 32:21 in view.

[39] In Stäudlin und Tzschirner’s Archiv. f. Kirchengesch. IV. p. 312. Baur, ed. 1, also adopted the explanation of Gieseler. But in the second edition, I. p. 137, he interprets it as if James wished to say: “a worship so ancient as the Mosaic is perfectly entitled to such a demand.” This, however, is in no way contained in the words, in which, on the contrary, the point is the ancient preaching and the constant reading.Acts 15:21. ἐκ γενεῶν ἀρχαίων: pointing back to the first days when the Diaspora had first spread to any considerable extent in heathen lands: see on Acts 15:7. The exact phrase (ἀπὸ) γενεῶν ἀρχ. occurs in Psalms of Solomon, Acts 18:14—from the generations of old the lights of heaven have not departed from their path. For the custom referred to here, see Schürer, Jewish People, div. ii., vol. ii., p. 55, E.T. The words seem closely connected in sense with the preceding in this way, viz., that the Gentile proselytes could long ago in the synagogues have been acquainted week by week with the spirit and enactments of the Mosaic law, and they would thus be the more easily inclined to take upon themselves the few elementary precepts laid down in the decree of the Jerusalem Church, so as to avoid any serious cause of offence to their Jewish-Christian brethren. Others however take the meaning to be that, as the Jewish Christians in their continual association with the synagogue would still hear the law read every Sabbath, there would be no intercourse between them and the Gentile Christians, unless the latter observed the necessary restrictions enjoined by the decree for brotherly intercommunion. There is no occasion to interpret the meaning to be that it is superfluous to write the decree to the Jewish Christians, since they knew its contents already from the law (so St. Chrysostom, and Blass), for a decree for the Jewish Christians is not in question, see Acts 15:23. Others again interpret: there is no fear that the Mosaic law should be neglected or despised “for Moses, etc.”. See further, Wendt, Weiss, McGiftert, Knabenbauer.21. For Moses of old time (lit. from generations of old) hath in every city, &c.] Here we have the reason why these injunctions are to be laid upon the Gentile converts. It is necessary however to take the whole verse into consideration before we can decide on the force of the reason. Laying stress chiefly on the expression “from generations of old,” some have thought that St James’ argument meant that the Mosaic ritual having been preached for so long a time and found to be a load too heavy to bear, must now be given up, except in these specified points. Again the verse has been taken to mean that there was no need for the Christian church to legislate about the observance of the Mosaic law other than in these few points, because there was public teaching on the subject everywhere in the Jewish synagogues. Jewish Christians were therefore supplied with guidance, and would be so supplied until by degrees Judaism had entirely given place to Christianity. No doubt the Apostle contemplates the retention by the Jewish Christians of much of their old ritual, and that they would make no breach with the services of the synagogue. But in these enactments, which were apparently only for a time (since St Paul nowhere alludes to them in his Epistles), and to promote peace between Gentiles and Jews, we must remember that the Jews were regarded as the weaker brethren. And the argument of the council may be supposed to run thus: We may make this concession to the Gentiles without fear of doing any injury to the Jew. It is not probable that his feelings and prejudices will be interfered with, or the Mosaic law in its other portions set aside; ‘For Moses, &c.’

being read in the synagogues] On the Jewish manner of reading the law, see additional note at the end of chap. 13.Acts 15:21. Μωσῆς γὰρ, for Moses) The words not merely of the prophets, Acts 15:15, but of Moses also, correspond to the sentiment of Peter; but Moses is too well known to need his testimony being quoted. Often the γὰρ has the effect of an Ætiology (reason assigned) for what has been said, that the sense may be this, I have quoted the prophets, not Moses, whose agreement (with Peter’s sentiment) is more open. See Deuteronomy 32:21. James seems to have had in his mind this declaration of the Lord by Moses; but, to avoid giving offence (Euphemy, Append.), he did not wish to quote it in this passage: also Genesis 12:3, etc. Moses, in mentioning the recency of circumcision as compared with the promise, very much proves the fact (the point at issue).—ἀρχαίων, ancient) The same word as in Acts 15:7. Everything that is most ancient in ecclesiastical, and still more in divine institutions, ought to be had respect to.—κηρύσσοντας, who preach him) regularly and periodically.Verse 21. - From generations of old for of old time, A.V.; sabbath for sabbath day, A.V. The meaning of this verse seems to be that, in requiring the above compliances, the council was not enjoining anything new or strange, because the Gentiles who attended the synagogues were familiar with these Mosaic doctrines. It has been often stated that these four prohibitions were in substance the same as the so-called seven precepts of Noah, which were binding upon proselytes of the gate. This is, however, scarcely borne out by the facts. The four prohibitions seem to have been a temporary arrangement adapted to the then condition of the Church, with a view to enabling Christian Jews and Gentiles to live in brotherly fellowship. The Jew was not to require more of his Gentile brother: the Gentile was not to concede less to his Jewish brother. St. Augustine ('Cont. Manich.,' 32, 13), quoted by Meyer, ridicules the idea of Christians in his time being bound by the law of things strangled (see Hooker and Bishop Sanderson, quoted by Wordsworth, in the same sense).
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