The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
Third Quarter 2018 • July, August, September
COMMENTARY—THE BOOK OF ACTS
Week 8: August 18–24
COMMENTARY ON "The Jerusalem Council"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Sabbath afternoon, Aug. 18, The Jerusalem Council
This week’s lesson is specifically focused on the first Church Council, held in Jerusalem, and attended by the Apostles and many disciples of Christ.
The lesson author states,
Many believers in Jerusalem were not happy. For them, Gentiles would need first to be circumcised, that is, to become Jewish proselytes in order to become part of God’s people and have fellowship with them. (Pg. 64, Standard Lesson Quarterly, emphasis mine)
Actually, Scripture tells us that most believers were overjoyed to hear about the conversions among the Gentiles. Luke tells us in Acts 15:3-5
So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses."
Apparently, there was a party of the Pharisees, Christians converted from Judaism, but remaining under the teaching of the Pharisees, the protectors of the Law.
The lesson author then tells us correctly that,
Acts 15 is all about the Gentile problem reaching a critical level and about the church working together to find a solution. The Jerusalem Council was a turning point in the history of the apostolic church in relation to its worldwide mission.
However, it was not only the church working together to find a solution. The Jerusalem leadership of the church understood that they must be given direction by God about these matters. The Holy Spirit performs one of his most important roles, by helping the believers to understand Gods requirements for believers in relation to the entire old testament law.
Acts 15:28 tells us, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’ The Apostles, Elders and others in church authority had been led by the Holy Spirit to reach their conclusion. They did not rely on mere human logic, or instinct when relating to the problem of keeping the law. They relied on direction from the Holy Spirit himself.
As the author correctly stated,” the Jerusalem council would be a turning point in the history of the apostolic church …”
Sunday, Aug. 19, The Point at Issue
The lesson author would have us believe that there was only one element in the controversy: circumcision. The fact is that the entire Mosaic law was the focus of the controversy. Acts 15:5b tells us, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." Next would be the seventh-day Sabbath, then the food laws of Leviticus 11, and then the entirety of the law God gave to Israel through Moses. Circumcision is only the entrance requirement for new believers; once in, they would have to keep the entirety of the law.
The lesson author then states:
Their point was rather simple: unless the Gentiles were circumcised and kept all the other Jewish ceremonial laws, they could not be saved.
There is no distinction in the entire Bible between “ceremonial”, “moral”, or “Civil” laws. Laws were given by God to Moses, through angels, all of the Mosaic law. No distinctions were made when it was given. There are so-called “moral” laws written within a set of “ceremonial” laws; in the same passage. Moses never codified the law into separate categories, and switches between “categories” effortlessly.
The author then states, referencing Galatians 2:11-13:
…another episode that also took place in Antioch some time later shows that most Jews, including the apostles, were not very comfortable with the presence of uncircumcised Gentiles in the church (Gal. 2:11–13).
This directly opposes the Bible about Jew and Gentile believers.
Gal 2:12 For before certain men came from James, he (Cephas/Peter) was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Peter did not fear the average Jewish Christian. What he feared most was the “circumcision party.” Until they came Peter was eating with the Gentile believers and did not fear the average Jewish believers.
Although the author references Galatians 2:11-13, it is in verses 14-19 in which Paul makes an astounding statement, which includes a statement that he has died to the law. Galatians 2:14-19 tells us:
But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
Once one has “died to the law” one becomes free from its requirements, free to “live to God”. The law is only binding on those who are “alive” under the law
The lesson author concludes today’s lesson with a true statement:
Yet, the matter was too important to be dealt with at the local level only. The unity of the church was at stake. The brethren of Antioch then decided to send a number of delegates to Jerusalem, including Paul and Barnabas, to find a solution.
He then makes a suggestion, one that I would warn against doing. He says:
Put yourself in the position of the Judaizers. What arguments could you make for your case? (Pg. 67, Standard Quarterly)
Seventh-day Adventism is rife with legality and legalism. It would be too easy for a well-studied Adventist to come up with the arguments supporting the keeping of the law. Rather than being known as the “party of the circumcision” Adventists should be known as the “party of the Sabbath.” A better question for an Adventist would be “What arguments could you make to support the Apostles’ case?”
Monday, Aug. 20, Circumcision
Today, the lesson author makes some very good points.
By saying that no Gentile could be saved without first joining Judaism, these men were mixing up two distinct concepts: covenant and salvation. Being a member of God’s covenant community did not guarantee salvation (Jer. 4:4, 9:25). In addition, Abraham himself was saved (justified) by faith, which happened before, and not because, he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9–13). Salvation has always been by faith, whereas the covenant was a gracious provision through which God would make Himself and His saving plan known to the entire world. Israel had been chosen for this purpose (Gen. 12:1–3).
Adventism is guilty of mixing up two distinct concepts as well, Law and Gospel. (It is also guilty of mixing the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.) Adventism teaches that the Law and Gospel are like the two oars of a rowboat. Only when both oars are used simultaneously does the boat move in a forward direction. But in the New Covenant, there is a motor on the back of the boat.
At the end of today’s lesson, the author asks us to think about the “danger of thinking that salvation comes from being a member of the right church?” Also ask about the danger in thinking there is one true remnant church on Earth. The Seventh-day Adventist church has only been around for 174 years (that’s calculating from 1844, when they were known as “Millerites” or “Adventists.”)
Tuesday, Aug. 21, The Debate
Today’s lesson begins with the author making the following statement (Pg. 67 of Standard Quarterly):
Luke, of course, does not report all the proceedings of the meeting. It would be interesting to know, for example, the supporting arguments of the Judaizers (Acts 15:5), as well as Paul’s and Barnabas’s responses (Acts 15:12). The fact that we have only Peter’s and James’s speeches shows the importance of these men among the apostles.
Scripture very rarely states the teachings of false teachers and prophets. It is not because of the importance of James and Peter, but is the importance of presenting only the true doctrines from scripture, and is why we do not have the full text of what happened in Jerusalem. The “supporting arguments of the Judaizers” would not be a good thing to know. We already know that they taught circumcision for new Gentile believers, along with all the other laws of Judaism.
The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record only the contents of the letter from the council at Jerusalem, as related by Peter and James.
Acts 15:19-20 tell us much.
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
God’s requirements for new Gentile believers are simple and four in number.
The lesson author then makes a strange statement:
Even if they lacked the purifying benefits of Old Covenant rules and regulations, the believing Gentiles could no longer be considered unclean
The fact is, that the “Old Covenant rules and regulations” had no purifying benefits. God’s purifying benefits are found only through the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for us and all who would believe. Real purification is found only at the cross, which is why Paul made the statement to the Corinthians, in 1 Cor. 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The lesson ends with this strange statement:
Because of this, his decision was that no further restrictions should be imposed on Gentile converts, other than those that normally would be required from foreigners who wished to live in the land of Israel.
In making this statement, the lesson author is putting all of the laws of Judaism back onto the Gentiles. Those “that normally would be required from foreigners” includes the seventh-day Sabbath, the clean and unclean food laws, and various other laws from the law of Moses.
If this were true, why did not the Jerusalem council present this with their letter of regulations? If the seventh-day Sabbath were to be so important, identifying true from false worshippers, why is it not even hinted in this letter?
Wednesday, Aug. 22, The Apostolic Decree
The lesson author then presents the four prohibitions that the council would impose upon Gentile converts.
He then makes a statement that has been on our mind from the beginning of this week’s lessons: what about the Sabbath?
This, however, was just the first step. Once in, he or she naturally was expected to do God’s will by obeying those commandments that are universal, pre-Mosaic, and not intrinsically ceremonial, such as the Sabbath (Gen. 2:1–3) and following the differentiation between clean and unclean food (Gen. 7:2). (Pg. 68, Standard Quarterly)
This is what the lesson is all about, imposing those laws which are considered moral, not ceremonial, onto new believers and Christian converts to Adventism.
Next, the lesson author explicitly states that the “Decree” was not temporary but permanent, as he states:
That the decree was not temporary is clear, for example, from Revelation 2:14, 20, where the first and the last prohibitions are repeated, implicitly contemplating the other two, as well. In fact, historical evidence shows that the decree was still considered normative by Christians long after the New Testament period. (Emphases mine)
How is following one command “implicitly contemplate the other two”? And what historical evidence is provided to show the decree was “normative” by Christians long after the New Testament period?”
But, how can a Christian in today’s culture identify foods that have been sacrificed to idols, or offered to idols, before being sold in the market place? We don’t go to the slaughterhouse and ask if there are any non-Christian believers who pray that their god accept the meat as a sacrifice. Nor do we go to the supermarket and ask the meat department head if there are any non-Christian believers who pray to their god, offering the meat before selling it to the unsuspecting shopper. Christians who eat meat do not usually ask these types of questions when purchasing meat.
Christians today should be living under the food “prohibitions” that are stated clearly in First Corinthians 8:1-9, as follows:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (Emphasis mine)
The argument here is about meat being sacrificed to idols, not whether someone is a vegetarian or not. (For discussion regarding those who eat meat and those who only eat vegetables, see Romans 14.)
In Deuteronomy 12:20, God gives a fairly clear statement about meat eating. That verse states:
"When the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, 'I will eat meat,' because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire.
Thursday, Aug. 23, The Letter From Jerusalem
The lesson author makes a strange statement on pg. 69 of the Standard Quarterly:
The first most serious division in the early church was thus reconciled, at least in theory.
It is not theory, it is fact. This letter, read to a large number of churches and believers, brought joy and peace to those who heard it. It was not a problem with the Apostles, Elders of the Jerusalem church, or any other member of the “we” who wrote the letter.
The lesson author would have us believe that there was still significant doubt about the letter, and so would Ellen White. Near the end of the lesson for today, the author quotes Ellen White:
This issue is shown, for example, by the incident involving Peter in Galatians 2:11–14. “Even the disciples,” says Ellen G. White, “were not all prepared to accept willingly the decision of the council.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 197.
This is sheer speculation. Of course, the Party of circumcision still existed and exerted influence on a few believers, yet there is no scriptural evidence that the Apostles, disciples, or receivers of the decree, or others had a problem with the new decree.
The author also speculates what it would have been like for the Jewish Christians who lived among Gentile believers.
Yet, those Jewish Christians who continued to live by the Jewish law would still find it highly problematic to have table fellowship with the Gentiles, who, for all intents and purposes, did remain ritually unclean.
This is a ridiculous statement. The Jewish Christians would see Gentiles as clean because they are in Christ. There would be no problem with “table fellowship” as all were clean in Christ. These are Christians we’re talking about here, not Jews. And they have just received teaching from the Apostles that would overcome many problems at “table fellowship.”
Friday, Aug 24, Further Thought
As is often the case, two Ellen White quotes are provided for reading and meditation.
Read the two quotes, then remember scripture saying that those who heard this new proclamation were overjoyed in hearing it. All, from Apostles, to disciples to those who fellowshipped with the Christians, were rejoicing because of this decree. There would only be a small minority of Christians, sitting under the authority of the Pharisees, who would have problems with this letter.