Acts 15

by peacefulpete 5 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • peacefulpete

    Acts 15

    The pericope has been long interpreted by the Catholic Church as a proof text for a central authority. Churches like the WT repeat this claim. However, reading the text without this coloring reveals something very different.

    The story starts with Paul and Barnabas going to the Antioch church and there they encounter Pharisee Christians from Jerusalem (15:24) contradicting the doctrine held by the Antioch church. The church leaders in Antioch send Paul and Barnabas to go to the church these guys were from (Jerusalem) and find out if they had in fact sent them with what was deemed heretical doctrine by Paul. They are greeted and a short airing of opinions ensues. Then the leaders of the Jerusalem church make clear they in fact had not sent the guys and they did not agree with them (again 15:24). Then James declares his opinion is that the Pharisee brothers needed to accept the changes but at the same time thought it best if the Antioch church would accommodate the Jewish Christians on matters that they (the Pharisees) regarded as "essential/necessary" The Jerusalem church then sent 2 guys along with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to ensure the relationship between churches was 'back on track'.

    IMO the story was created was to create the impression that these powerful churches had in fact been unified at an early date (6:5 also) not to suggest Jerusalem was in control. However, soon after, the Catholic church used it to support the role of Rome and the apostolic succession doctrine. The long Catholic tradition has widely influenced the interpretation of this story. It has also influenced the translating with words like "commanded" rather than 'Instructed' and James saying I "judge" rather than 'in my opinion'. (Unless we are conceding James was in charge of all Christians)

    BTW, Paul effectively denies this version of history in Gal 2.

    Also Acts 21:21 relates a slightly different version wherein Paul has to be informed of the Jerusalem letters distributed rather than Paul being present and involved in the distribution of the letters. This contradiction reflects the complicated textual history of the work.

    As an aside, this pericope has many textural variants. A number of manuscripts changed the list of necessary things or preserved an older form. And what also cues me editing is involved is the simple change from a definite article before each item in the list in verse 20 to no articles in 29. A small thing but reflecting a different hand IMO.

    For a modern student of religious studies, the text represents a Proto-Orthodox polemical attempt to revise the story of Christian beginnings. The pericope is a 2nd century retrojection of unity between the historically divided branches of Christianity.

    The story certainly reflects real issues of the day that divided the churches and it is possible that some early effort was made to find a middle ground. Paulinist positions on sexuality (real or perceived) and freedom from ceremonial taboos were upsetting Jewish Christian converts around Jerusalem. (Acts 21:21) It appears to me however that this argument was of secondary importance to the author of Acts 15. The subject merely served as part of the plot, as a literary device. The historical divisions over Jewish views of ritual and sex were well known to the second century readers, (in fact little had changed by the time of the writing of Acts) and would serve the story purpose of uniting the branches of Christianity of the early 2nd century.

    Some might add a secondary purpose, that of supporting a central hierarchal church structure. I am not presently convinced this is evidenced by the story details, but it certainly was used that way and has influenced the translating.

  • Kosonen

    Let's consider the way the New Testament was written. It was not by a central governing body. Instead it was by different apostles and disciples of Jesus indivudually from different locations.

    They did not consult each other about what to write. That was unnecessary because they were in accord with Jesus' illustrations about Jesus' slaves and were led by Jesus their Lord and master and teacher.

    But this did not prevent the apostles to councel each other or read each others letters. Apostle Peter mentioned apostle Paul's letters for example.

  • KalebOutWest

    While I am neither Catholic nor a supporter of the Roman Catholic Church, I was raised a Catholic as a child before becoming a JW.

    The Catholic Church does not look to any Scripture as a proof text for central authority or any of its teachings.

    The New Testament writings did not exist or were not widely circulated by the time the bishops of the Church chose how to govern itself. One has only to read the writings of the Church Fathers to see that it was due to Apostolic tradition by which the Church evolved into the organization it did.

    The writings of Luke wete unknown until Marcion of Sinope, the Gnostic and heretic bishop of the 2nd century, invented the first Christian canon. He rejected the gospels written by the apostles since they were Jews (and Marcion was against the Jews), so he employed a non-apostolic gospel, that of Luke, removing the first two chapters, and claiming that Luke was also a Gnostic and also against the Jews.

    When the Catholic Church excomminicated Marcion, it began the process of developing its own canon, imcluding the works of Luke who not an apostolic witness to counter Marcion's anti-Jewish claims.

    By the time this was done, the Church already had a central authority. In fact, Marcion had gone to the pope to get his canon approved only to find his Gnostic views rejected.

    Luke & Acts would become official books of the New Testament in 367 CE by the hand of two Catholic bishops on Easter Sunday of that year along with the rest of the 27 books.

    Marcion of Sinope was the first to introduce the concept of salvific "proof texts" as a concept of Gnosticism. This heresy was the reason the Church coined the Greek word "katholicos" or "catholic" to oppose the "proof text" concept, to teach that salvation came not just to those who found proofs in written books but was universal or all-inclusive (the meaning of the word "catholic") to anyone who heard the gospel about Jesus Christ.

    Christianity is not based on texts like the New Testament. For proof, read the Church Fathers. They speak of Jesus being the authority and the Apostles as the foundation, and their authority being given to the Fathers and bishops after them, not to writings like Marcion and the Gnotics taught.

  • Phizzy

    Phew ! there was a lacuna on here,with no "peacefulpete", I thought you had maybe converted to Scientology or something !

    Good to have you back ! and thanks for yet another erudite and thoughtful Post !

    Your Post confirms the view of most who study the N.T properly, that the N.T works have not only been edited, but even in the first place were written with an Agenda of establishing what was considered "orthodox" so as to class anything else as "heresy".

    This is an important find, as this Text gave impetus to he power of the established orthodoxy, and more power into the hands of the hierarchy.

    No wonder the J.W org like it ! They make a great fuss about establishing the purity and accuracy of the Text, and yet blithely ignore late interpolations and editing.

  • Kosonen

    I am happy to have the New Testament. How else could we know about the truth?

  • PetrW


    I agree with you that the NT-text is reconstructed. Disputes over the verbiage of the NT-text, therefore, should be conducted with very moderate intensity. It even strikes me that the Christians of the time did not preserve any text carved in stone or engraved on some metal plate. We have, for example, a very interesting text from the time of Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti) still extant, and even bilingual. There are very many Latin tomb inscriptions, various Greek votive texts. If any of you have visited Ephesus in Turkey as tourists, there is still something engraved on every stone there. And that's from before or at the time when there were demonstrably Christians there. And from Paul or others, nothing... The island of Patmos, nothing. And maybe, for Christianity, it's a more important place than Jerusalem.

    On the other hand: it is claimed that Christians, instead of carving something in stone or digging into bronze slabs or pressing it into clay and then drying it or burning it, preferred other tactics. Speed. They used non-durable materials (see 2 Tim. 4:31 - Paul is probably writing from Rome to bring him a cloak, papyri and parchment from Troas, a place several hundred miles away. Wasn't there a coat and a few sheets of papyrus or a piece of leather for Paul in all of Rome? I suppose not. Then it shows the socio-economic status of one of the leaders of Christianity when it seemed more profitable for him to have his things brought to him than to beg from the locals... respect, Paul!) and spread the message quickly.

    So John, writing on papyrus, sent Revelation to seven congregations. He made seven copies. Although he could have carved a few lines in the rock: I was here, your John. Or: In the reign of Caesar (text broken), I was here and saw the Revelation. John the Evangelist. And again, nothing. Or no one has found anything yet.

    If I evaluate the evidence individually and in its overall context, I find that there is very little, almost imperceptible difference between your conclusion (very simplistically!) that there is a great risk that the NT text, is not what it was and not removing the risk that for centuries, people were being fooled and kept in ignorance.

    Against this is the fact that late finds like Codex Sinaticus or the Dead Sea Scrolls, prove the "tenacity" of the text, that the differences are in grammar, and respecting this limitation, one can say without much concern that the text as it stands today, is very likely what was written, as the original.

    So how do I decide? Since the evidence is almost equivalent, the difference that prevails is personal belief. And I lean in favor of what we have is 99.99% what the prophets or apostles wrote. I'm not ashamed of that. Yes, it's a risk. But the others are not without risk either.

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