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Acts 15:19-21 (NIV, Emph mine)

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.

This verse is used for and against observing law. Seems like this could mean either, "There are enough people following Moses and observing the law, so no need for more people to follow the law." or "The law is repeated in synagogues and new believers will go to synagogues, so they'll learn and follow them later."

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I don't think this is saying the Gentiles should have to learn the law of Moses. Quite the contrary, I believe it is saying they should not have to be burdened with the law of Moses.

Earlier in Acts 15 Peter asks why should the Gentiles be required to follow the law the Jews have.

Acts 15:10-11 NIV
10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

When contrasted with this, I would understand James response in verses 19-21 to be saying most of the law of Moses would be an extreme burden on the Gentiles, considering even the Jews who heard the law weekly were not able to uphold it.

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This is related to the question discussed here. Both question discuss the same passage.

Quoting from the verse given by user

therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

What was difficult for gentiles turning to God ? Difficulty was following the Law as we can see in verse 5 (NLT)

some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

The conclusion was that gentiles should not be burdened by the Law of Moses

Verse 10

why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?

Then as I explained in question quoted, leaders given some concessions considering that complete disregard of Law should not be a stumbling block to Jewish Christians. Considering "For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath", they asked Gentile believers to observe just four things, two which are affirmed elsewhere in the New Testament: food offered to idols and sexual immorality. So I believe those principles are binding to us even today, and another two (eating the meat of strangled animals, and consuming blood), which appear more to the situation at hand (strong views of Jewish Christians).

So I believe in summary, this do not call for observing the law, but re-affirming that salvation is not by Law, but by Grace as pointed out already by a_hardin.

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In the Gospels, the Pharisees always came to Jesus armed with the law.
On every occasion he turns the tables back on them to expose them as law breakers too. The woman caught in adultery that they brought to Him is a good example. (John 8: 4-11)1

The law convicts us all. Even when we try our very best to obey the law we find we cannot do so in our own strength; we need abide in the Holy Spirit to do so. So it is only through Jesus that we are able to be completely obedient, and in my humble opinion that too is grace; He enables obedience and He forgives those who have sinned and repent. Holy, holy, holy is He!


1 The Woman and the Pharisees(KJV)

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to get a feel for how this Q&A site works. I have edited your answer to include the scriptural reference that supports your answer; sort of a "show by doing" thing. Please review the edit and improve it if you think any of your answer was misunderstood. – KorvinStarmast Nov 15 '17 at 13:33
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Yes, I conclude that the point of vs 21 is that new believers could learn more about God’s Laws, than these 4 basic rules, from their local synagogues. It would be like saying, today, “You have your own Bibles.”

But the point was not to put pressure on Gentiles to subject themselves to as many laws as quickly as possible, nor to subject themselves to the interpretation or applications of others. Had that been the point, the Council would have supported circumcision.

If Gentiles are urged to live by more than four of God’s rules, but without the pressure of the interpretations of others, then Gentiles are urged to interpret and apply for themselves, governed by conscience, as Romans 14 explains in detail.

The following is my paraphrase (not posted anywhere else) of vs 21 and the preceding four rules that is consistent with several other passages. This paraphrase is fleshed out with principles from other passages. It is written to make clear not only what the Apostles meant, but how their principles apply today.

"Circumcision identifies you as a Jew. You don’t need to be Jews. You are spiritual descendants of Abraham, who had fellowship with God because of his faith, before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:12) Moses’ law does not ask for any Gentile, living among Jews, to be circumcised. (Exodus 12:49 makes circumcision the requirement before participating in the Passover meal/ceremony. Gentile immigrants had all the other legal rights of citizens; they were even welcome to live wherever they liked, Deuteronomy 23:16.)

“Of course the principles of God’s laws, adapted as warranted by changes in our situation today, (Matthew 9:14-17), are for our own benefit. Some basic prohibitions are for our own health: things like fornication, drinking blood, eating meat from which blood was never drained. And of course going to feasts for idols makes a terrible Christian witness!

“As for how to apply God’s principles in your lives, you don’t need us to add, to the Bible, a book of new rules which embed our interpretations. You can interpret the Bible for yourself. (Romans 14.) You have your own Bibles – you can visit the synagogue in your city and hear it read every Sabbath.

“As you grow spiritually in your faith and your understanding of the Bible, you can and should discuss how to live by it. You may listen to the advice of distant Christians, but it is not the place of distant Christians to govern you. (1 Corinthians 5:7, vs. 3, 2 Cor 2:6-7 indicate Paul thought it his place to urge judgment against a fornicator, but not to order action.) Matters for judgment (1 Corinthians 6) should be resolved in your local assembly.”

I've just read about 20 public domain commentaries and 12 translations on my computer. It was after that, that I found this web article which mercifully validates my theory that the point of vs 21 was that new believers could learn more about God’s laws from local synagogues. That possibility was not noted in any of the commentaries I read.

They all say the connection between vs 21 and the preceding is that Gentiles and Jews should compromise on the things that offend each other: Gentiles needn’t compromise on circumcision, but these other four things should be given up so as not to shock the Jews too much.

That is a definition of “offense” embedded in American culture today but not found in the Bible! The Bible “skandalon” was a stone that fell into a mountain pass, forcing the traveler to go another way. Paul’s discussions of eating meat sacrificed to idols was to keep believers who are still tempted by idolatry from seeing their temptations validated. But there was no danger whatsoever that Jews, seeing Gentile Christians drinking blood, would be tempted to join in!

(I am working on an analysis of The Law as presented in the New Testament, compared with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 3. It is for my book, "The Prehistoric Angel Diary", a history from before creation through Noah's flood from the perspective of an angel, a fictional device which really does open new possibilities for understanding. It is about half finished; what there is is posted at www.Talk2me.Saltshaker.us.)

  • Thank you and +1 for having the courage to deal with this old question which has been inadequately answered, in my opinion. It would be helpful if you give us a link to the website you mentioned. Also, the text you have block quoted looks doubly like a quote, because it also has quote marks internally. If it is your own writing, including a summary in your own words of information from a website, it would be best to reformat it. It often helps if you include some short quotes from a site, and summarize their points in your own words. I hope to see more of your work on the site. – disciple Jul 21 '18 at 3:04
  • Thanks! I didn't know I could go back and edit again. I clarified that the block quotes were not of anything posted elsewhere. Should it still be reformatted somehow? I can't figure out what you mean by "the website you mentioned." Where I wrote " I found this web article", I mean this page you are reading right now. The commentaries and translations "on my computer" are those provided by the free e-sword program. – DaveLeach Jul 22 '18 at 4:43
  • We prefer answers backed up by scripture quotes, church leaders, or scholars, so I was hoping you could add support for your position. It is always possible to come back and edit the answer later if you find something useful. While this is quite a bit opinion-based now, it could be the beginning of a very good answer. If you find contradictory viewpoints, you can compare them, or even add another answer from a different viewpoint. – disciple Jul 22 '18 at 5:22
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That simply means, don't burden them with too much now. Since this stuff is tough every Sabbath (Saturday), they will learn gradually.

The other interpretation, that it means we don't have to burden gentiles with the laws, is inconsistent with God's character. Keep in mind, The Book of Revelation (12:17, 14:12, 22:14) indicates that God's remnant people will be keeping God's Laws and Commandments. Obviously, it still matters. And it's Lucifer's aim to have God's people to ignore God's laws. After all, that was Lucifer's claim, that God's laws are unjust. Therefore Lucifer began his campaign against God and His laws.

There are other things you also need to consider. Such as, what are the Moral Laws and ceremonial laws. Ceremonial laws were done away with at the Crucifixion of Jesus, because those laws all foreshadowed the final Lamb (Jesus).

Non-ceremonial laws, such as dietary and the 10 commandments are still in effect and were followed by all the early Christians.

In Romans 7, Paul says, "Wherefore the law is holy , and the commandment holy, and just and good."

The following Q/A's can be read in the book Bible Readings for the home circle. Look for the section on "The Law Of God".

Question: When Christ came to this earth, what was His attitude toward God's will, or law? Answer: "The said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do They will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart" Ps. 40;7,8 See Heb. 10:5,7

Question: Who did He say would enter the kingdom of heaven?
Answer: “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 7:21.

Question What did He say of those who should break one of God’s commandments, or should teach men to do so?
Answer “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:19, first part.

Question Who did He say would be called great in the kingdom?
Answer: “But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom.” Same verse, last part.

Question How did Christ estimate the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?
Answer “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Verse 20.

Question For what did Christ reprove the Pharisees?
Answer“But He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” Matt. 15:3

  • 1
    Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. When you have a chance, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is an OK answer, but also comes across as preachy. Since this is not a religious site, try to stay away from telling people what they should do, instead simply explain why you believe what you believe. – ThaddeusB Dec 23 '15 at 16:22
  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for offering an answer. The question is an old one, which was asked before current site guidelines were in place. Your answer could be brought up to current specs by specifying what group or denomination of Christians in represents, including stating who issued the material from which your extended quote is taken. See: What makes a good supported answer? Thanks again, and I hope we'll see more of you here. – Lee Woofenden Dec 23 '15 at 21:28
  • This is a good and beneficial answer bringing new concepts to light and offering a certain degree of depth. I couldn't care less about denomination A or B, but rather exploring the truth. I heard a good explanation about study once. The Word has 1 interpretation and many applications. This sites rules make the interpretation illegal and focus on applications. But without a valid interpretation application is meaningless and a chasing of the wind. – Adam Heeg Apr 27 '17 at 11:51
  • The dietary laws were ceremonial laws. – Andrew Shanks Sep 3 at 19:24
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Acts 15:21 simply means there are Jews in every city who have been brought up to know the law of Moses, and some of these Jews have become Christians and have joined themselves with the Gentile believers; and the Gentile believers are urged to behave in such a way so they do not become a stumbling block to any of these Jews while in their company in the fellowship, or other Jews whom they need to seek to win for Christ.

To understand 15:21 it is necessary to understand the whole passage:

Gentiles and Jews are becoming believers and joining together in one body, the Church. The Jews have been brought up on the law of Moses and "are zealous for the law". Gentiles cannot see why the law should remain in force seeing they are free in Christ. Their consciences are differently instructed. So as not to be a stumbling block to the Jewish believers (and those Jews interested in the Gospel) the Gentile believers are asked to do four things as in Acts 15:20 and 29.

The four things in the list appear to be very arbitrary: to abstain from eating things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and to abstain from fornication. Why prohibit fornication which is a subcommand of the command "Thou shalt not commit adultery" but not any of the other ten commandments?

For instance, why does the list not include "Don't steal" and "Don't murder"? The answer is found in Leviticus chapters 17 and 18. These chapters deal with those small number of Mosaic regulations which are binding not just on the Israelites but are also binding on those "strangers"/foreigners/gentiles who have decided to make their home in the Promised Land amongst the Israelites.

These gentiles are not bound by any other ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, nor do they need to attend any of the Jewish festivals. They do not need to keep the whole ceremonial law.

As for the moral law, as summarised in the ten commandments, of course gentiles must seek to keep it, and that is taken for granted by the Jerusalem Council in this recommendation. The moral law is not the issue here in Acts 15.

In the King James Version "stranger" or "strangers" is found in Leviticus 17 verses 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, and in Lev 18 verse 26. This is the passage that the list of four recommendations in Acts 15:29 is referring back to, even in the same order:

  1. They should not eat things offered to idols, Lev 17:1-9;
  2. They should avoid eating blood, Lev 17:10-14;
  3. They should avoid eating things strangled or dying in an "unapproved" way, Lev 17:15-16 (- it seems that, amongst the gentiles in NT times, strangulation was a way of killing animals that were going to be eaten);
  4. They should not commit fornication, Lev 18:6-26.

It follows from this that the recommendation to abstain from "fornication" in Acts 15 is an appeal to abide by that definition of fornication as found in Leviticus chapter 18, a definition that the Gentiles might have needed instruction in.

These recommendations are not recommendations to which gentiles are to be bound to at all times or forever: they only are given "because Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read every Sabbath in the synagogues", the recommendations are given so as to keep the fellowships harmonious which have both Jews and Gentiles, and to help gentiles to evangelise Jews in their daily lives. When Jews are not present Gentiles are not bound by these recommendations.

For instance, if you wanted to invite a Muslim couple who are neighbours round to have a meal, in the hope of sharing the Gospel with them, I think you would not cook up roast pork and tell them their rules against pork are silly and don't apply any more. They will be offended and you will have lost all opportunity for sharing the Gospel with them forever. But you can eat pork within the privacy of your own family and when you invite non-Muslims or non-Jews for a meal. You can eat things offered to idols, and blood, and things strangled, when Jews are not present: we are told this, for example see 1 Corinthians Chapter 8. Do not use your freedom in the Gospel from the Mosaic law to cause others to stumble.

Bible passages relevant to this passage, then, include Leviticus chapters 17 and 18; Romans 14:1-23; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 1 Corinth 9:19-23; 1 Corinth 10:23-11:1; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 2:8-23; Mark 7:5-23.

Romans 14 is especially interesting because Romans is not written to correct abuses as some of the other letters; Romans is a general declaration of the Gospel and then a declaration of the behaviour that God desires as a consequence of faith in Christ: and a whole chapter is dedicated to the issue of not causing offence to other believers in areas where your conscience is differently informed to theirs.

See also Acts 16:3 where Paul circumcises Timothy because his mother was Jewish so he should have been circumised already according to the law. The reason given for circumcising Timothy is not because the law still needs to be kept but "because of the Jews", i.e. for the same reason, so as not to cause unnecessary offence, and because the Jews still think the law needs to be kept. Paul and Timothy are free, they don't have to keep the law; but they are also free in the sense that they can keep the law for the benefit of the consciences of others:

"For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, (I became) as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law... I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you." 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

So Acts 15:21 does not mean that new Gentile believers will go to the synagogue. Why would they? New Christian fellowships are being established everywhere and believers, once they understood, would leave the synagogues and never see them as a place to worship God. It was from the synagogues that a large measure of early opposition to the Gospel originated. Neither does it mean that new Jewish believers would stay in the synagogue.

The same interpretation was given by Charles Taze Russell founder of the group which became known as the Jehovah's Witnesses:-

“The answer ignored every feature of that law, except four points; and the first three of these were mentioned no doubt as a basis of common fellowship between those who had been Jews and those who had been Gentiles, namely, (1) abstaining from meats that had been offered in sacrifice to idols; (2) abstaining from animal food that had not been killed after the manner of the Jews; (3) abstaining from the eating of blood. It would be almost impossible for those who had been reared as Jews to ignore these three points, and if the converts from the Gentiles did not observe them it would be a constant barrier to their social intercourse.” The Watchtower 05/15/1897, p. 153 (Reprints p. 2158)

If Charles T. Russell went into a Kingdom Hall today and gave his explanation of Acts 15:19-21 he would be told he was proud and puffed up and not willing to submit to the Discreet Slave class, which gives the food appointed to eat at the proper time. And if he persisted he would be disfellowshipped.

Christians who are working amongst Jews today need to think what steps they should take in order to minimise offence amongst the Jews they are seeking to win for Christ: a consideration of the four recommendations of Acts 15:20 might be a good place to start.

For more reading see this website:- http://ajwrb.org/bible/acts-15-and-the-apostolic-decree

A related question is asked here with some great answers:- How do Protestants counteract the Witnesses stance on Blood Transfusions?

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Churches existed apart from synagogues. Recognizing the distinction helps clarify the meaning of this verse.

It is not expecting Gentiles to adopt Jewish laws over time. The first requirement for someone to follow Old Covenant laws was circumcision.

This was never a requirement for Gentile Christians and was vehemently opposed by the Apostle Paul.

More specifically, Paul claims that we have been released from the law:

Romans 7:4,6 - Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

And in Galatians, mentions that being circumcised would obligate one to keep the law. This assumes the corollary to be that a Gentile believer was not under that obligation. Paul concludes that being circumcised would be an inferior choice to their current relationship to God via grace:

Galations 5:2-4 - Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

  • This answer would be improved if you cited the scripture (in Acts, I believe, but likely in a few of the epistles as well) – KorvinStarmast Sep 2 at 1:26
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The word translated "for" in this verse means giving a reason, a therefore, a because of.

γάρ gár, gar; a primary particle; properly, assigning a reason (used in argument, explanation or intensification; often with other particles):—and, as, because (that), but, even, for, indeed, no doubt, seeing, then, therefore, verily, what, why, yet. -Strong's-

Wherefore my [James, brother of Jesus] sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. Acts 15:19-21

In other words, we know some Jews are offended by Christ and wanted more Law applied to the Gentiles (v 5). but we will not trouble the Gentiles except for a few things that may source to the Noahide covenant that Moses wrote down or influential Book of Jubilees because we believe we should honor what came before, whether it actually applies or not to anyone.

So, to answer the OP question, the answer is no. The apostles were not assuming the importance of a location per se, but the reading of Moses.

  • A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles Vol 2 agrees with you that "the requirements may have been based upon the so-called Noachian precepts" but then it says that "a better, and today widely accepted, parallel is to be found in the regulations given in Lev 17 and 18 for Gentiles living among Jews.", so I think Andrew's answer is more accurate. – GratefulDisciple Sep 4 at 5:48
  • @GratefulDisciple thank you for pointing out Lev. 17-18 (had missed it in the longer answer). It thus makes my main point that the word "FOR" should be understood as the reason or because of more imperative. IOW, as Moses wrote Lev 17-18, he is read weekly, therefore should be respected. – SLM Sep 4 at 15:35

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