Acts 15:7-11 – Putting God to the Test

Test in ProgressPeter reports his experience with Gentile salvation and argues that requiring Gentiles to keep the Law is placing an unnecessary yoke upon them (Acts 15:7-11).  He first briefly reminds the assembly of his encounter with Cornelius, a conversion which was confirmed by evidence from the Holy Spirit. At the time this was a shock to Peter and his companions, as well as to the Jerusalem community. Cornelius received the Spirit before he converted to Judaism. In hindsight, this may be the reason that the Spirit comes upon him even before baptism, so that there can be no question that Cornelius was saved apart from conversion.

When Peter describes the Law as a “yoke” on the Gentiles he is not necessarily criticizing the Law. In Judaism, the idea of being “yoked” to the Law is a positive image, although there is often the implication of completeness – if you are yoked to the Law, you are required to keep it all (Bock, Acts, 501).  To live under the yoke of the Torah or yoke of Wisdom was to live as God intended!

Sirach 51:26 Put your neck under (wisdom’s) yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.

PsSol 7.8-9 For you will have compassion on the people Israel forever and you will not reject (them); And we are under your yoke forever, and (under) the whip of your discipline.

Despite being given the Law, Peter says the forefathers were never able to “bear the yoke.” Luke 11:46 uses a similar phrase with respect to the traditions of the Pharisees, so it is possible Peter has traditions which go “beyond the Torah” in mind.  I really cannot see the requirement of circumcision for converts to Judaism as one of these sorts of burdens, however.

What is more, Peter calls the imposition of law on the Gentiles “testing God.” The verb is often used for testing something to see if it is genuine or a person to see if they will prove themselves to be true. Perhaps this is why Luke used πειράζω in 5:9, Sapphira “tests” the Holy Spirit in order to see if he will “prove true.” But to test God is always to invite disaster! Peter already knows if God has accepted a Gentile without circumcision and given the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, then it is dangerous for the Jerusalem community to require circumcision as a proof of God’s commitment to Gentile salvation.

Peter is agrees with Paul, God saves both Jew and Gentile by faith.  But God has only given the Law to Israel, not the Gentiles. He agrees with Paul’s claim that Gentiles are not converts to Judaism, although he may stop short of agreeing that Jews and Gentiles both are converts to something new, a new people of God which Paul will later call the “body of Christ” (Eph 3:1-6).  Peter is not saying that Jews ought to disregard Law, but only that Gentiles should not be given the additional of the Law.

What are the ramifications of Peter’s speech here in Acts 15? In the short term, this may sway James’s mind to accept Paul’s view of Gentiles and the Law, but do you think Peter’s views were enough to change thinking of the opponents of Paul in Galatia or in Antioch? Perhaps more interesting is the application of Peter’s agreement with Paul for modern church life and practice; do we “test God” today with any modern practices?

7 thoughts on “Acts 15:7-11 – Putting God to the Test

  1. I think that Peter’s speech and his arguements although good and acceptable by those who were with him, I do not think that it would have swayed the thinking of Paul’s opposers. The reason I say this is because I believe that no matter what was said, there would be jews who would still stand against him. I would compare this to the Atheists and evolutionists today. No matter what arguments are countered by believers, these people are still not swayed, unless it’s God’s will that they be swayed in such a way. Another example, there are Christians that believe baptism is necessary and a symbol of our decision to follow Christ as a statement to everyone around us, while others like GBC, think that baptism is a thing of the past and no matter the arguments pushed at either side will change these beliefs.

  2. To think that Peter’s speech changed everyone’s minds at least at that moment would be hard for me to believe. Much like modern times we get things in our minds on how we think they should be and wont sway from it, or it takes us awhile to mull over in our heads before our hearts can take action. I agree with Jess says, such as the GGF and many other denominations we have beliefs on baptism and drinking, and smoking that divide us. If i was a missionary in another country and i posted a picture on Facebook of me and some young people drinking at a bar in a country that its the normal to do things i would face huge scrutiny and possibly lose support from supporters because they don’t either wish to support me drinking or condone that type of ministry. The law is a tough set of rules to follow, to put them on non Jewish people would be crazy. to go from following the law to eating bacon would be difficult, going from worldy behavior and expected to hold to a law that the Jewish people struggled with when they grew up in it is impossible.

  3. I like what Dave says here. I also think that it is hard to believe that Peter would be able to sway everyone to his side with this speech. It seems like every culture in the world is so stuck in it’s ways that no amount of scrutiny or naysayers could overturn what the culture as a whole does. Yes there were probably people whose minds we’re changed by Peter concerning Gentiles and whether or not they should uphold the law or not. I think that we “test God” on a daily basis because sin is disobedience. It is like when we used to try to do just enough so that we would not get into trouble by our parents but we would eventually go too far and we would get punished. I think that we like to push the boundary of what God has told us not to do and we can easily get caught up in that sin in our lives.

  4. I would have to agree that Peter would have had a hard time convincing all those people to his side. But Gentiles did not convert to Judaism, they convert to Christianity and although they weren’t under the Law they did have to obey the law of the Lord. I also agree with Tyler that we do “test God” everyday. It is our sin nature that condemns us to do so. It also comes to my mind that we test God on purpose sometimes. We know he loves us and we know we are saved so we can do what is wrong, ask for forgiveness and then do it all over again. How long will that last though? Can we push God’s patience without consequences?

  5. I would agree that by requiring the gentiles to be circumcised, they would be questioning God’s authority, because God had already given the Holy Spirit to the gentiles. To say that circumcision was necessary for the gentiles to be saved is questioning God. I would add that for the Jewish-Christians, this would be a heavy pill to swallow; they had been taught all their lives that they have to follow the law, and even after they know that they are saved by Grace, they do not understand that things like circumcision are no longer necessary. Peter would have had a hard time convincing them.

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