[Act 15:12-19 CSB] (12) The whole assembly became silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. (13) After they stopped speaking, James responded: "Brothers and sisters, listen to me. (14) "Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for his name. (15) "And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written: (16) "After these things I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again, (17) "so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord -- even all the Gentiles who are called by my name -- declares the Lord who makes these things (18) "known from long ago. (19) "Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God,

I think verse 17 should be amended to:

so the remnant of men may seek the Lord -- even all the men of the nations who are called by my name -- declares the Lord who brings these things about

This connects with Isaiah:

[Isa 10:21 NASB] (21) A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.

[Isa 28:5 NASB] (5) In that day the LORD of hosts will become a beautiful crown And a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people;

[Isa 46:3 NASB] (3) "Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb

So if this is correct it seems to not be about the gentiles but rather the diaspora, scattered among the nations.

So why does James conclude from this passage that the gentiles were welcome and did not have to get circumcised or observe Jewish orthopraxy? It doesn't seem to follow.


3 Answers 3


I think verse 17 should be amended to:

so the remnant of men may seek the Lord -- even all the men of the nations who are called by my name -- declares the Lord who brings these things about

Our best source for interpretation of scripture is other scripture. If Acts is quoting Amos and telling us that it refers to the Gentiles, I believe that's how we should understand it. I believe there is a distinction between the "remnant" and "the nations". God has been pursuing all since Genesis and ends with the culmination in Rev (every tongue, tribe, and nature, before the Lamb).

A few examples of the "nations" in the OT: Nations, families of the earth, etc

From the Abrahamic covenant - And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Gen 12.

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations will worship before You. Psalm 22:27

Psalm 67 God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us— Selah. 2 That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness And guide the nations on the earth. Selah. 5 Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. 6 The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us. 7 God blesses us, That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.

all NASB


James' decision does not end at verse 19; his ruling follows:

but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
(Acts 15:20-21) [ESV]

James does not say the the Gentiles have no need for the Torah. He states Moses was read and will continue to be read every Sabbath.

As Joseph B. Tyson states, the requirements are taken from the Torah:

That these requirements come out of the Jewish tradition would probably be clear to any Greek reader of Acts, but it would be perfectly clear to to one whom Luke regards as a Godfearer...The use of the term eidōlōn, in whatever combination, is a signal of the Jewish background of the apostolic decree. But the narrator wants to assure that the implied reader not miss the point, and he adds in 15:21 the explanatory phrase, "For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues." The function of this verse in this context, immediately following the first report of the apostolic decree, is to affirm that the requirements, which are understood to be Mosaic, are familiar to those Gentiles in the Diaspora who have attached themselves to synagogues. 1

About the four requirements Jacob Jervell notes:

No matter how the complicated passage Acts 15:21 is to be interpreted in detail, the function of the verse is to validate the decree, to call upon Moses as witness. Everyone who truly hears Moses knows that the decree expresses what Moses demands from Gentiles in order that they may live among Israelites (15:15-17). The four prescriptions are what the law demands of Gentiles; perhaps Luke consciously refers to what Lev 17-18 demands from 'strangers' that sojourn among Israelites. 2

Thus the passage shows while the Torah is not essential for salvation and is burdensome in its entirety, it is still necessary to observe it in part:

Although some Christian Pharisees insist that the new converts must be subject to the entire Torah and must undergo circumcision, the leaders determine that such would be unnecessarily burdensome. At the same time, however, they agree that certain minimal ritualistic requirements, drawn from the Mosaic legislation, should be imposed on the Gentiles. If we should image a spectrum of opinions ranging from those on the right that would advocate the retention of the entire Torah to those on the left that would totally dispense with it, Luke-Acts occupies a centrist position. It teaches that while observance of the entire Torah is burdensome, it cannot be totally jettisoned. It is good to observe certain parts (15:29).3

1. Joseph B. Tyson, Images of Judaism in Luke-Acts, University of South Carolina Press, 1992, p. 149
2. Jacob Jervell, Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts, Augsburg Publishing House, 1972, p. 144
3. Tyson, p. 149

  • Thanks for reminding me of the provisions for gentiles living among Jews, which is very key and Noachide laws approach is indeed just a red herring. I still think the Amos quote is a red herring as well.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 10, 2019 at 14:14
  • I read the article. The author seems to argue that the conflation of various scriptures to create a pastiche to match contemporary events is normal Jewish eisegesis and that it was probably already done by the translators of the Greek text "James" was using. That is completely unsatisfactory to me, personally and makes me ask why I trouble myself with exegesis at all. Eisegesis of corrupt texts seems to work just as well.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 11, 2019 at 19:33

Ellicott suggests that James was looking at a version of the Greek text that had misread or intentionally changed "Edm" as "Adm" so what struck him was "all men" but what the Hebrew scriptures originally, in Amos 9:11 seem to have intended was "Edm" or rather "Edom".

That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

(17) That the residue of men . . .—The Hebrew gives, as in our version, “That they may possess the remnant of Edom and of all the heathen which are called by my name.” The LXX. translators either paraphrased the passage, so as to give a wider and more general view of its teaching, or followed a reading in which the Hebrew for “man” (Adam) took the place of Edom. It will be seen that the argument of St. James turns upon the Greek rendering. The “name of God” was to be “called” upon by those who were “the residue of men,” i.e., all that were outside the pale of Israel. So understood, the words became, of course, a prediction of the conversion of the Gentiles, and to the uncritical habits of the time, accustomed to Targums or Paraphrases of many parts of Scripture, the LXX. was for all but the stricter and more bigoted Hebraists, as authoritative as the original.

With his LXX version it becomes fairly easy to see "all men" but the contextual link in Amos is completely compromised making his reasoning appear very specious.

Something to note from the Jewish Encyclopedia is the Talmudic use of "Edom" for "the Roman Empire":

The name "Edom" is used by the Talmudists for the Roman empire, and they applied to Rome every passage of the Bible referring to Edom or to Esau. In Leviticus Rabbah (xiii.) Rome, under the name of "Edom," is compared to a boar, and the symbolic name "Seir" was used by the poets of the Middle Ages not only for Rome (comp. Ecclus. 1. 26, Hebr.), but also for Christianity (Zunz, "Literaturgesch." p. 620). On this account the word "Edom" was often expunged by the censor and another name substituted (Popper, "Censorship of Hebrew Books," p. 58). In place of "Edom," the word "Ḥazir" (swine) was occasionally used, perhaps as a mere term of reproach (but see Epstein, "Beiträge zur Jüd. Alterthumskunde," p. 35). In Midrash Tanḥuma Bereshit, Hadrian is called "the King of Edom." The Talmudists, however, made an exception in favor of Antoninus Pius, whom they assured would attain paradise, because he had not acted in the manner of Esau ('Ab. Zarah 10b). 'Abodah Zarah 10a, however, explaining Obadiah, verse 2, says that Edom had neither written nor spoken language. This is inconsistent with its application to Rome. See Teman.

  • Contextually, it seems undisputed that it refer to Edom - the "remnant of Edom and all the nations...". But I guess build the case and we'll see if it shakes.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 8, 2019 at 19:03
  • So what is his syllogism?
    – Ruminator
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:52
  • It isn't just the word in question. For example, why "dispossess the remnant of the Adam"? What does that even mean? The point of the passage is that in the age of the Messiah the Promised land will be ethnically be cleansed and restored to the descendants of the northern tribes and they will inherit the land forever. Nothing to do with true gentiles.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 9, 2019 at 17:34
  • My motto is "Eschew Obfuscation" so please allow me to clean up my comment again: This but this passage seems to be an addition with the Levitic gentile laws being a reasonable answer of such a council without all this about Amos teaching that the gentiles are complete without the Torah? Amos teaches no such thing.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 11, 2019 at 22:36

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