May 17, 2010

Barnes on "the Law of Moses" in Acts 21:20

Sometimes in our propensity to only use recent commentaries we can miss helpful insights from older works. I was reminded of this recently as I was working through material Luke’s presentation of the Mosaic Law in the Book of Acts. Albert Barnes (1798–1870) observed the following in his comments on Acts 21:20 regarding the reference to the Law of Moses.

"They still observe the Law of Moses. The reference here is to the law respecting circumcision, sacrifices, distinctions of meats and days, festivals, etc. It may seem remarkable that they should still continue to observe those rites, since it was the manifest design of Christianity to abolish them. But we are to remember: (1) That those rites had been appointed by God, and that they were trained to their observance. (2) That the apostles conformed to them while they remained at Jerusalem, and did not deem it best to set themselves violently against them, Acts 3:1; Luke 24:53. (3) That the question about their observance had never been agitated at Jerusalem. It was only among the Gentile converts that the question had risen, and there it must arise, for if they were to be observed, they must have been imposed upon them by authority. (4) The decision of the council (Acts 15) related only to the Gentile converts. It did not touch the question whether those rites were to be observed by the Jewish converts. (5) It was to be presumed that as the Christian religion became better understood-that as its large, free, and catholic nature became more and more developed, the special institutions of Moses would be laid aside of course, without agitation and without tumult. Had the question been agitated at Jerusalem, it would have excited tenfold opposition to Christianity, and would have rent the Christian church into factions, and greatly retarded the advance of the Christian doctrine. We are to remember also: (6) That, in the arrangement of Divine Providence, the time was drawing near which was to destroy the temple, the city, and the nation, which was to put an end to sacrifices, and effectually to close forever the observance of the Mosaic rites. As this destruction was so near, and as it would be so effectual an an argument against the observance of the Mosaic rites, the Great Head of the church did not suffer the question of their obligation to be needlessly agitated among the disciples at Jerusalem."

Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Acts of the Apostles, Designed for Bible Classes and Sunday School (New York: Harper & Bros, 1869), 290.

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