A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 15:13-21 c). James.
The James who spoke next was ‘James the Just’, as he came later to be known because of his reputation for godly righteousness, one of the brothers of Jesus, who had probably come to believe in him through being granted a resurrection appearance (Mk. 6:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 15:7). In his New Testament letter he would later emphasize that saving faith always issues in good works of love and that heavenly wisdom is ‘peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere’ (Jas. 3:17). He manifested some of that wisdom now. Almost certainly an apostle (Gal. 1:19), and already recognized as a (even ‘the’) leader of the Jerusalem church (12:17; Gal.2:9; cf. Acts 21:18), he was evidently the moderator of the assembly. He waited until the leading missionary apostles Peter and Paul had completed their evidence. Then *when they had finished, he spoke up* (NEB, ‘summed up’), addressing his audience as *Brothers* and requesting them: *listen to me* (13). Then, referring to Peter by his Hebrew name (an authentic touch), he summarized his testimony in these words ‘*Simon [literally, Symeon] has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself*’ (14).
His statement is considerably more significant than it looks at first sight, for the expressions ‘people’ *laos* and ‘for himself’ (literally, ‘for his name’) are regularly applied in the Old Testament to Israel. James was expressing his belief that Gentile believers now belonged to the true Israel, called and chosen by God to belong to his one and only people and to glorify his name. He did not refer also to the testimony of Paul and Barnabas, perhaps because it was their mission policy that was on trial. Instead he went straight from the apostolic evidence to the prophetic word: *The words of the prophets are in agreement with this* (15). Councils have no authority in the church unless it can be shown that their conclusions are in accord with Scripture. To substantiate his claim, James quoted Amos 9:11-12:
“*After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the
Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things”
that have been known for ages*
At it stands, this quotation from Amos is a powerful statement of two related truths. God promises first to restore David’s fallen tent and rebuild its ruins (which Christian eyes see as a prophecy of the resurrection and exhalation of Christ, the seed of David, and the establishment of his people) so that, secondly, a Gentile remnant will seek the Lord. In other words, through the Davidic Christ Gentiles will be included in his new community.
Thus James whom the circumcision party had claimed as their champion, declared himself in full agreement with Peter, Paul and Barnabas. The inclusion of the Gentiles was not a divine afterthought, but foretold by the prophets. Scripture itself confirmed the facts of the missionaries’ experience. There was an ‘agreement’ between what God had done through his apostles and what he had said through the prophets. This correspondence between Scripture and experience, between the witness of the prophets and apostles, was for James conclusive. He was ready to give his *judgement*. The Greek verb *krino* could mean merely to ‘express an opinion’. But the context demands something stronger than that. ‘I rule, then’ (JB), on the other hand, is too strong as is Kirsopp Lake’s explanation that ‘it is the definite sentence of a judge, and the *ego* implies that he is acting by an authority which is personal’. So we need a word stronger than ‘opinion’ and weaker that ‘decree’, perhaps ‘conviction’, since James was making a firm proposal, which in fact the other leaders endorsed, so that the decision was unanimous and the letter went out in the name of ‘the apostles and elders, with the whole church’ (22).
Tomorrow: Acts 15:13-21 c). James (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.