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Acts 15:21 – Gentiles in the synagogues

Acts 15:21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

An assumption cast onto the text by a few MJ’s has this verse implying Gentiles were to go to Shabbat services to learn the rest of Torah.

Yet, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Gentile Christians were ever instructed to learn the Law from the Pharisees or any other Christ denying sect by attending their synagogues. Why would Gentiles be instructed to learn the Law from unbelieving heretics?

It’s been assumed that James was addressing Jewish believers about the schooling of Gentiles to the faith.  That he was the one who assumed they were being led into the synagogues for further instruction.  And that is why he made the comment to the assembly, after those four things that was all they had to currently impose on them.  As his ‘assumption’ was that they would learn the rest each week by hearing the Torah read.

Using only the ‘words of Messiah’ alone.  We have to justify these verses to fit the assumption that Yeshua was leading all his disciples to enter the synagogue to ‘learn the rest’ from there.

You can find these statements in all the gospels, but I will use Luke and John here;

Yeshua is asked about the coming of the end and he tells his followers this in his warning of hard times to come.

Luke 21:12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.

Hand you over to the synagogues and persecute you. But its assumed that after this warning, James actually lead the gentiles into these synagogues?

By the time Yeshua had healed the blind man, it was agreed that anyone who even acknowledged Yeshua and his teachings would be banned from the synagogues.

John 9:22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)

The leaders of the synagogues who did come to trust in Yeshua did not speak of it openly for fear of being banned.

John 12:42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;

Yeshua implicitly tells us in the bible that his followers would be banned from the synagogues.

John 16:1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.

Yeshua told them this very thing, that they would be banned from the synagogues and when the time came they would remember that He told them so.

John 16:3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.

All this from the mouth of Yeshua the Messiah himself. No Paul needed. So how can one believe that the apostles, his followers, James his own brother, after his death ‘implied’ to lead all the gentiles into these synagogues?

Paul and some emissaries did enter synagogues after Yeshua told them what would happen.  The text is quite clear to the outcome of these encounters with the synagogues.

Acts 6:9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.

We all know what happened to Stephen at the end of his confrontation with the Synagogue members.

Acts 13, 14 & 17 have Paul gaining believers from the Synagogues. He at times had to talk to them ‘after’ or took them ‘aside’.

Even by the end of Acts 13 he is stating this:

Acts 13:46″It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.

He went to the synagogue but they expelled him.

And by the next chapter they fair even worse for having gone into a synagogue.

Acts 14:1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.

They went to the synagogue and the outcome was the members wanted to stone them.

Acts 17 proves no better:

Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Paul and Silas in Berea

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there.

They went to the synagogue but the outcome was riotous mobs against them and their Mission, Messiah.

Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue.

He went to the synagogue and they turned against him, and he said he will no longer go to the synagogues. Probably for fear of death. Just like Yehsua said.

Acts 19:8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.

Went to the synagogue and eventually the unbelieving Jews started defaming the Mission before the whole synagogue. So Paul uses the Yeshiva next door. Spite? Or divine convenience?

And now in Acts 22 a reference to what Paul did to all believers who attended synagogue before his conversion.

Acts 22:19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.

Again, to imply that the leaders where leading new gentiles into these synagogues is implausible.

Last mention of a synagogue in Acts.

Acts 26:11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Bottom line: Rabbinic Jews are not believers, and the Pharisees no longer have authority over God’s people. We are commanded in scripture to separate from heretics and not to sit under unbelievers. This is why Acts 15:21 makes no sense the new way some people are trying to interpret it.

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About Shimshon

Humility is the beginning of ones relationship with God, or the reminder of it's existence...... LOVE ~ Life's Only Valuable Emotion

5 comments on “Acts 15:21 – Gentiles in the synagogues

  1. Kathy
    December 17, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about something you said in this post since you posted it – “Why would Gentiles be instructed to learn the Law from unbelieving heretics?” There are a lot of Gentile Christians or Messianics who would be afraid to call the Pharisees or Jews “unbelieving heretics” because people emphasize that the Jews are the Chosen People and the Olive Tree. And the verse in Genesis about “I will bless them that bless you and curse him that curses you” is repeated pretty often among some groups. Maybe that is part of the problem – some gentiles don’t understand how everything fits together. Even I am confused about it.

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  2. Shimshon
    December 18, 2011

    Thank you for your comments Kathy. I believe the reason a lot of them would be afraid is because they did not come from within the community. This hits at the core of the issue too.

    Gentiles, having not been raised in any form of Judaism, view it in a romanticized way. Like when someone holds an item they have never held before. They are careful with it, so as not to damage or desecrate it. Why are they careful? Because they do not know if they are desecrating it because they do not know about the item. They only know little tidbits about it and make conclusions off of those. They have not had and intimate relationship with it.

    Jews, having been raised in Judaism view it in a more tangible way. Like when someone asked you to get something from another’s desk. You have only an idea of where that item may be, but the person who’s desk it is knows exactly where to look and how to open the drawer. Where the key is and how to jiggle the lock. And what group of papers the item is under.

    Another great example is how some African Americans will call a close relation the ‘N’ word as a form of closeness. It’s about who said the critique. That said, those exact words (unbelieving heretics) were presented to us in CF by an Anglican Priest, who is a Messianic Jew. I believe he was motivated to this view through the words of Yeshua. Another Jew can call an other Jew something that a gentile can not. My mother can call me a putz, or a spic, where as I would find it offensive coming from someone else, ‘outside the family’. And yet, to use the term heretic is really an accurate form of description, but maybe not the most respectful.

    I will spare the teaching with verses and simply state from memory. Yeshua told the leaders of Yisrael in Matt 23 that Yisrael was not to do what they did, called them blind, snakes, vipers, said they lead others to hell instead of God, and culminated his statements by saying that their house would be made desolate. In John he tells them that God is not their Father, but the Devil. That if they knew God they would believe in Yeshua, the One He sent.

    That’s what it all comes down to Kathy, is authority. Notice the chapters I used? Matt 23 and John 8, deal with the authority of Yeshua. John 8:12-30 deal with the validity of Yeshua’s testimony, and Matt 23 deals with the abused authority of the Pharisees.

    Now, I do not endorse using Yeshua’s words to the pharisees as the way to respond to unbelievers. But to take the issue at hand into real consideration. And to consider Paul’s and John’s words telling us to keep apart from unbelievers in regards to our spiritual walk. I think it’s really just a matter of describing what it really is.

    John 8:12When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

    John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

    1 John 1:5-10 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

    As uncle Ted sings: Come house of Jacob let us, walk in the light, walk in the light of the Lord……

    I can not truly believe that this ‘Light’ is shining in the synagogues of the unbelieving Jews. Not then, and not today. It’s the difference of eating a Mediterranean kabab or an American one. In the middle east they take ground meat and form a kind of meat ball on a stick. In America, we take choice cuts of rib eye and skewer them over the fire on a grill. MMMMM…. real STEAK! 🙂 making you hungry yet?

    In the end, it’s not about disparaging anyone, but about being honest, AND HUMBLE with those who do not have ‘this’ faith. It’s not about poking them with the rod..’your an unbelieving heretic’, but about stating it in humility and then humbly dealing with the person. To me, this is what Yeshua did. As is described in the statement at the end of Matt 23 where Yeshua cries “all day long I have longed to gather you…but you would not come…. So your house will be made desolate….” It’s not from an evil heart, it’s from a heart of compassion.

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  3. Kathy
    December 19, 2011

    I understand your points about name calling. My roots are in the Appalachian mountains and some people use the word “hillbilly” as an insult.

    It is about authority. What a lot of people who bring up Acts 15 don’t mention is Acts 21:25 regarding the gentiles. ” Act 21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.”
    There is no mention there of the gentiles going to the synagogue to learn the rest of Torah.
    It took me a few years to understand this myself!

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    • Shimshon
      December 19, 2011

      You are very correct. The assumption is missing in the details.

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  4. Pingback: The gospel of the grace of God « Messianic Way

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