Does Acts 15:9 Refute Intra-Ecclesial Jew-Gentile Distinction? -- By: David Woods

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 19:1 (Mar 2015)
Article: Does Acts 15:9 Refute Intra-Ecclesial Jew-Gentile Distinction?
Author: David Woods

Does Acts 15:9 Refute Intra-Ecclesial Jew-Gentile Distinction?

David Woods1


This study examines Peter’s comment in Acts 15:9, that God made ‘no distinction’ between Gentile and Jewish Jesus-believers in purifying their hearts by faith, to determine whether the text teaches that the ecclesia is composed of an undifferentiated mix of people from the two groups. Textual analysis shows that the comment could be interpreted at a lexical level as a denial of intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction, but the context of Acts 15:1-29 demands a narrower interpretation: there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in terms of how they are saved, but they remain distinct in other respects. Both Peter’s speech and James’ verdict provide strong evidence that the leaders of the nascent ecclesia made distinction between its Jewish and Gentile members, upholding Jews’ obligation to Jewish Law and faith tradition, whilst imposing only a few moral prohibitions on Gentile believers.

1. Introduction

While Acts 10:1-11:18 records the watershed event in which Gentiles are declared pure by God (Woods 2012), 15:1-29 describes a related and equally important event often called the Jerusalem council. The council ruled that Gentile believers are not subject to the Law (Torah) except for a few necessary rules (15:19-20; 28-29); the decision is variously referred to as the apostolic decree, James’ verdict, the Jerusalem council ruling, and so on. In 15:7-9, Peter retold the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about God’s work among the Gentiles, alluding to the Cornelius incident mentioned above, and claimed that God ‘made no distinction between us [circumcised Jews] and them [uncircumcised Gentiles].’2 Here, as in 11:12, Peter used the word diakrinō. Previously, I discussed difficulties of translating it as ‘distinction’ in 11:12 (partly explaining diverse translations), and concluded that ‘dispute’ is a better translation there (Woods 2014a). In 15:9, there is strong interpretive agreement among English Bibles which translate it as to ‘make a distinction’, ‘put a difference’ or ‘discriminate’ between circumcised and uncircumcised believers in Jesus. Being preceded by a negative adjective, the t...

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