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The Jews were forbidden by the law of Moses to marry with idolaters. Deut. vii. 3, 4. And see Malachi ii. 11. Ezra obliged many, who had married such women, to put them away, though they had children by them, ch. ix. and x. Nehemiah severely reproves such persons, and gives a reason against such marriages, which would be of some weight in the early times of the gospel, ch. xiii. 23-27. Remarkable are the words of Ex. xxxiv. 15, 16. "Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods: and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice: and thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and they make thy sons go a whoring after their gods."
St. Paul has wisely determined the point: that Christians should not marry with idolaters, as before seen. Nor should a person converted to Christianity dissolve by separation a marriage, contracted whilst he was an idolater, and before his conversion to Christianity. But, if the unbelieving relative went off, then the Christian would be at liberty. So I understand what he says, 1 Cor. vii. 12-16. "If any brother has a wife, that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which has an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother, or a sister, is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace." That is, if the unbelieving relative depart, the marriage must be dissolved. But the believing relative is not to be the first mover in dissolving the contract of marriage. Such things were done under the law. But a more friendly and peaceable behaviour is required of us. For, as he goes on, "What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or, how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" that is by bringing off in time such relatives, respectively, from idolatry to Christianity.
The danger of idolatry might still be great: but not so great under the gospel, as under the law. And the gospel of Christ was less burdensome, and more reasonable and inviting, than the law of Moses.
Marriages with idolaters were not to be dissolved: but yet should not be contracted. Though such a marriage would not be unlawful, yet it was a point of prudence, and a matter of expedience, to avoid it. This is what I understand by fornication in this Epistle. And as there are not now, and have not been for a good while in this part of the world, any heathen idolaters: this article, like the rest, is become obsolete. And as all the directions, here given, relate to things expedient in the circumstances of those times; it is not to be at all wondered at, that the meaning of several of them is now obscure and doubtful.
VI. OBSERVATIONS, IN THE MANNER OF COROLLARY. I have now shown, that this Epistle was designed for the use of all believers from among the Gentiles; that the regulations, contained in it, are not of a moral nature, but relate to such things as are in their own nature indifferent. I have also endeavoured to show the meaning of each particular.
I am in great danger of being esteemed prolix. Nevertheless, as the subject is before me, I shall go on to put down some other observations, chiefly in the way of corollaries.
1. This decree is not to be understood as a precept, or commandment, but as delivering advice and counsel concerning some matters of prudence and expedience, considering the circumstances of things and persons at that time..
When Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch from a peregrination in several cities and countries, where they had preached the gospel, "They gathered the church together, and rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples," Acts xiv. 27, 28.
Whilst they were there," certain men, which came down from Judea, taught the brethren, and said: Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined, that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. When they were come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church, and by the apostles and elders: and they declared all that God had done with them: but there had risen up certain of the sect of the pharisees which believed, who said, that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and spoke"- After that Barnabas and Paul were heard, "who declared what
miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them." After which James riseth up, and reasons upon the point. And then concludes: "Wherefore my sentence is," Ato εyw npvw, I judge, I determine, "that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write to them," exigea auTois, that they "abstain from pollutions of idols Then pleased it the apostles," or it seemed good "to the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch- And they wrote letters by them after this manner- It has seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden, than these necessary things From which, if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well:"You will do what is acceptable, and agreeable, and will be well taken by us, and by all the brethren of the circumcision. So Cornelius says to St. Peter, ch. x. 33. “Immediately therefore I sent to thee. And thou hast well done, that thou art come." Philip. iv. 14. "You have well done, that you have communicated with me in my affliction." 3 John, ver. 6. "Whom, if thou bring forward in their journey, after a godly sort, thou wilt do well.
Afterwards ch. xvi. 4. It is said of Paul and Barnabas, "that as they went through the cities they delivered them the decrees to keep, that were ordained," determined, "by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem." The meaning of the Greek word here rendered decrees is equivalent to placita, resolutions, decisions, upon a question, and particularly, upon that question, which had been brought from Antioch to the apostles at Jerusalem.
For certain, if we have given a right interpretation of the words, these regulations are not a part of the gospel of Christ, which is everlasting; but wise decisions and determinations, suited to the circumstances of things, in the Christian church at that time.
2. These regulations are the result of that wisdom, with which the apostles of Christ were inspired, for deciding the question, whether Gentile converts should keep the law; and for directing their conduct, in the use of that liberty, which they had a right to, and was now secured to them.
"It has seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us," that is, it has seemed good unto us, under the divine influence and direction, "to lay upon you no other burden, than these necessary things:" which we have judged expedient to be observed by you in the present circumstances.
say these regulations are the result of that wisdom, with which the apostles were inspired upon this occasion. For it does not appear, that any such regulations had obtained before. If they had, some notice would have been taken of it. And the reminding men of it would have tended to reconcile those, to whom these directions were sent to comply with them, and pay a regard to them. Nor can I discern either in Josephus, or in the books of the Old, or the New Testament, any hints or traces of them, before this council at Jerusalem.
I may hereafter enlarge farther upon the wisdom bestowed upon the apostles for conducting the affairs of the Christian church. All that I intended to say here, is no more than this: that the four articles in this decree are not taken from any Noachic precepts, nor from any other Jewish traditions: but were now first thought of, and first proposed and recommended by the apostles, upon occasion of the present emergency.
3. The several regulations of this decree were expedient and useful (as has been already hinted' several times) on one or both these accounts. 1. To prevent offence in the believing Jews, and facilitate civil converse, and religious communion between believing Jews and Gentiles. And 2. To secure the Gentile converts themselves, the more effectually from apostasy, or a return to idolatry, by keeping them out of the way of some dangerous snares and temptations.
That the former was one ground and reason of these regulations, may be reckoned evident from the history in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, and from many things in St. Paul's epistles: where he shows the expediency of forbearing some meats, when there was any hazard of offending a Christian brother. As Rom. xiv. and xv. at the beginning, and 1 Cor. chap. viii. and x. 25-33. That the latter was another ground and reason of the counsels here given, may be also argued to be very probable from St. Paul's exhortations to avoid dangerous temp
* Τοτε έδοξε τοις αποςόλοις.
b Εδοξε γάρ τῳ ἁγίῳ πνευματι, και ήμιν.
e Vid. Grot. in Act. x. 33. et xv. 29.
Ο Παρεδίδεν αυτοις φυλασσειν τα δόγματα τα κεκριμμένα όπως των αποστόλων. κ. λ.
Visum est Spiritui Sancto, et nobis.] Id est, visum est nobis ex extinctu, sive suggestione Spiritûs Sancti. v dia duw. Piscator in Act. xv. 28.
! See particularly, p. 505, note 8,
tations to idolatry, which are likewise in the same context. See particularly, 1 Cor. x. 1—22, and 2 Cor. vi. 13-18.
4. There was a happy agreement in the council, and the regulations, now determined, were carried with great unanimity; as appears from the history in the fifteenth chapter of the book of the Acts.
St. Luke intimates, that for a while there was much disputing. It is very likely, that they who were for imposing the law upon the Gentiles, and now appeared before the council laboured to maintain their cause, and carry their point. And, possibly, their arguments at first appeared specious and plausible to some others, who were not engaged with them. But, that the resolutions, finally determined, were carried with a general consent, is manifest. We have the speech of the apostle Peter, who openly declares against imposing a law upon the Gentiles, as necessary to salvation. James afterwards speaks to the like purpose, sums up the arguments that had been alleged, and concludes the debates. The Epistle itself is written in clear and strong terms. And the judgment upon the point is delivered with the joint authority of all the members of the council. "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: namely, Judas, surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. And wrote letters by them after this manner. The apostles, and elders, and brethren, send greeting unto the brethren, which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia." Then they pass a censure upon those, who had occasioned the disturbance at Antioch, and say: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain, which went out from among us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment." They proceed. "It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.We have sent therefore unto you Judas and Silas, who shall tell you the same things by mouth." How affectionate and respectful is all this! "For it has seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us," that is, to us, under divine influence and direction, " to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things- So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch. And when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle. Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren, and confirmed them."
Every part of this whole affair shows great unanimity, good temper, and admirable candour and discretion. When the messengers from the church at Antioch came to Jerusalem, and proposed the question; "The apostles and elders came together to consider of the matter." Having carefully weighed it, they all agree in one judgment. And when they send the decree away, they make the most honourable mention of Barnabas and Paul, who had preached the gospel in Syria, and other parts. With them they send Judas and Silas, who were some of the most eminent men of the church of Jerusalem, and also prophets themselves: next in knowledge. and understanding, and in spiritual gifts, to apostles. Who, when they came to Antioch, "gathered together the multitude," or the whole church, and delivered to them the epistle: adding also observations of their own, tending to reconcile them to the regulations contained in it. And the Christians at Antioch were well satisfied, and rejoiced for the consolation afforded them, and for the regard that had been shown to them, in asserting and securing their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial appointments of the law of Moses.
This harmony continued: as appears from the discourses of James and the elders at Jerusalem, when Paul came thither again several years afterwards. "As touching the Gentiles which believe," say they, "we have written, and concluded, that they observe no such thing:” which shows, that this was still the judgment of James himself, and of the elders, and of the church at Jerusalem. Some exceptions there might be: but the determinations of the council were what the church at Jerusalem generally agreed to, and heartily approved of. They did not exact of the Gentile believers an entire conformity to the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation.
Paul readily received these regulations, as prudent counsels, or matters of expedience at that time. And the other apostles intended no more by them.
Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas, are the persons, who by name are charged with the epistle by the council. They carry it to Antioch, and deliver it to the church there. And Judas and Silas, moreover, recommend the observation of the things therein ordained: and
doubtless with the approbation of Paul, who was then at Antioch, and continued there some time. When he left Antioch, he chose Silas to accompany him. And St. Luke has assured us, that "as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily," ch. xvi. 4, 5. And, several years after this, as before observed, when Paul came again to Jerusalem, and the elders there, with James, remind him of the several articles of the epistle, they mention them as things with which Paul was well satisfied. Nor does he show any dislike. His accepting of these decisions is also manifest from his epistles above quoted.
Once more, for showing the general consent with which these determinations were made, it ought to be observed, that all the apostles of Christ, or most of them, were present in the council of Jerusalem. For, as formerly shown at large, there is good reason to think, that none of the twelve apostles left Judea to go and teach either Jews or Gentiles in other countries, until after the council. It is likely therefore, that they were all at the council where the controversy was fully determined; which was a great advantage. By that means the manner of receiving Gentiles into the church of God was fixed and settled beyond dispute, and beyond opposition. Or, if any opposition should be made afterwards, it could not be successful, nor very troublesome. And we may be assured, that all the apostles, and their disciples, would be harmonious, and preach the same doctrine to Jews and Gentiles wheresoever they went.
5. We may hence perceive the wisdom with which the apostles of Christ were furnished, for behaving in cases of difficulty that came before them; so as might be for the peace of the church, the edification of believers of every rank and capacity, and the preservation of the purity of the Christian doctrine.
I think the regulations of the council at Jerusalem, as just represented and explained, are a proof of this. The first and principal thing to be regarded by the apostles of Christ was the preservation of the purity of the doctrine which they had received from him. The Gentiles were by no means to be brought into subjection to the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation. It behoved the apostles of Christ to assert their freedom from an obligation to observe the peculiarities of the Mosaic dispensation. This is strongly done by Peter, and the others, in the debates at the council. And the rights of the Gentiles are well secured in the epistle written by them.
Nevertheless some regard was due to the Jewish believersAnd the Gentiles were to be directed to avoid such such things as might be offensive to their brethren of the circumcision: and likewise to decline such things as might prove dangerous temptations to themselves, and be a means of ensnaring them, and leading them into apostasy.
In a word, one exercise of wise and good men in this world arises from different sentiments, especially in things of religion. We can evidently discern, that there were some differences of opinion, and some controversies among the followers of Jesus Christ, even in the apostolic age. Some thought, that the observation of the law of Moses was necessary for men's salvation, and were for imposing it, as such, upon the believing Gentiles.
Others of the Jewish believers, thought, that the law was obligatory upon themselves and their posterity, as a distinct nation and people, to whom that law had been delivered: whilst they hoped to be justified in the sight of God, and to be eternally saved, by faith in Jesus Christ, and sincere obedience to his precepts. These did not expect the Gentiles should come under the law of Moses, as necessary to salvation. Nevertheless they still had scruples about meats and drinks, and about conversing with them, who observed no such distinctions. Others there were, as it seems, among the Jews, who thought that the obligation of the law of Moses, as to its peculiarities, had ceased. And they judged no wholesome meat to be unclean; which was the opinion of the Gentile believers in general.
Hence there arose an obligation to a different conduct. And these last mentioned, whom we reckon the more knowing, and strong, were to practise prudence, condescension, forbearance, compliance. They were to do what lay in their power, as they had opportunity to enlarge the minds of men. In the mean time they were "to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please themselves," Rom. xv. 1.
See vol. III. ch. vi.
But others, who were rigid, and would impose indifferent things, as necessary to salvation, were to be blamed, and reproved, as they are by this council. And every one knows, how they were withstood by the apostle Paul. And all who are attentive in reading the New Testament, may perceive, that the epistle of the council at Jerusalem exactly corresponds with the doctrine of Paul in his epistles, and that the temper of both is one and the same.
Some regard was due to the Jewish nation in general, even to the unbelievers among them, whilst they behaved with decency and civility. For a long time they had been favoured with many religious privileges above other men. As is acknowledged in Rom. ix. 4, 5. And it is the apostle's direction, 1 Cor. x. 32. "Give no offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:" by the two former plainly meaning such as were unbelievers. And it is said, Acts xvi. 2, 3. that when Paul determined to have Timothy with him, who was "the son of a woman that was a Jewess, and believed; he took him, and circumcised him, because of the Jews who were in those quarters; for they all knew, that his father was a Greek.” I think, those Jews were unbelievers. Paul would not offend them; and he might hope to gain some of them. See 1 Cor. ix. 19, 20.
But they were not the men, who occasioned the council of Jerusalem, or the decisions of it. The men, who came to Antioch, and taught the brethren there, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved," were pharisees who believed, Acts xv. 1. They were men, who went out from the church at Jerusalem, ver. 24. These are now reproved. But whilst the freedom of the Gentiles is asserted from a subjection to the law of Moses, and its appointments, some things are recommended to them as expedient for the time. Which might facilitate converse and communion with all the Jewish believers, who were tractable, and would be also useful for preserving themselves from some temptations to apostasy. in those times.
6. We may hence perceive the reason, why those of the Jewish believers, who were for imposing the law upon the Gentiles, are so severely reproved, and condemned by St. Paul.
They were for imposing the law, and its observances, upon the Gentiles, as necessary to salvation. Which should be always attended by us, when we read St. Paul's epistles, and observe the tartness of his expressions. So says St. Luke very clearly. Ch. xv. 1. "Certain men which came down from Judea, taught the brethren: Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." See also ver. 5. And are not these men tartly reproved by the apostles and elders in their epistle, ver. 24?" Forasmuch as we have heard," say they, that certain, which went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law."
And justly does St. Paul say of Peter, and the rest, who separated themselves from the Gentile Christians at Antioch, that " they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel," Gal. ii. 14. And as justly does he exhort, and argue, Gal. v. 1—4. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty, wherewith Christ has made us free. And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised," esteeming it necessary to salvation, "he is a debtor to the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law. Ye are fallen from grace.' Ye are fallen from grace." Which now must be all clear. It can need no farther explication.
7. We may now discern, wherein lay the fault of the apostle Peter, and others, who complied too far with the rigid part of the Jewish believers.
The only place of scripture, where this is mentioned, is Gal. ii. 11-16. "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles. But when they were come, he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews likewise dissembled with him: insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw, that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all: If thou being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews; why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ,