Acts Chapter 15
Ver.5-7. "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that of old days God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe."
Observe Peter from the first standing aloof from the affair, and even to this time judaizing. And yet (says he)" ye know." Perhaps those were present who of old found fault with him in the matter of Cornelius, and went in with him (on that occasion): for this reason he brings them forward as witnesses. "From old days," he says, "did choose among you." What means, "Among you?" Either, in Palestine, or, you being present. "By my mouth." Observe how he shows that it was God speaking by him, and no human utterance.
Ver. 8. "And God, that knoweth the hearts, gave testimony unto them:" he refers them to the spiritual testimony: "by giving them the Holy Ghost even as unto us."
Everywhere he puts the Gentiles upon a thorough equality.
Ver.9. "And put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith."
From faith alone, he says, they obtained the same gifts. This is also meant as a lesson to those (objectors); this is able to teach even them that faith only is needed, not works nor circumcision. For indeed they do not say all this only by way of apology for the Gentiles, but to teach (the Jewish believers) also to abandon the Law. However, at present this is not said.
Ver.10. "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples?"
What means, "Tempt ye God?" As if He had not power to save by faith. Consequently, it proceeds from a want of faith, this bringing in the Law. Then he shows that they themselves were nothing benefited by it, and he turns the whole (stress of his speech) against the Law, not against them, and (so) cuts short the accusation of them:
Ver.10 (continued) -11. "which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved, even as they."
How full of power these words! The same that Paul says at large in the Epistle to the Romans, the same says Peter here. "For if Abraham," says Paul, "was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God." (Rom. iv. 2.) Do you perceive that all this is more a lesson for them than apology for the Gentiles? However, if he had spoken this without a plea for speaking, he would have been suspected: an occasion having offered, he lays hold of it, and speaks out fearlessly. See on all occasions how the designs of their foes are made to work with them. If those had not stirred the question, these things would not have been spoken, nor what follows But let us look more closely at what has been said. "And certain men," etc. In Jerusalem, then, there were not any believers from among the Gentiles: but in Antioch of course there were. Therefore there came down certain yet laboring under this disease of the love of rule, and wishing to have those of the Gentiles attached to them. And yet Paul, though he too was learned in the Law, was not thus affected. "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small disputation with them," etc. But when he returned from thence, the doctrine also became more exact. For if they at Jerusalem enjoin no such thing, much more these (have no right to do so). "And being brought on their way," etc, "they caused no small joy to the brethren." Do you mark, as many as are not enamoured of rule, rejoiced in their believing? It was no ambitious feeling that prompted their recitals, neither was it for display, but in justification of the preaching to the Gentiles. Thus they say nothing of what had happened in the matter of the Jews."But there arose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed," etc. But even if they would needs bring over the Gentiles to their side, they learn that neither must the Apostles overlook it. "And the Apostles and eiders," etc. "Among us," he says, "God chose:" and "from old days:" long ago, he says, not now. And this too is no small point--at a time when Jews believed, not turned away (from the Gospel). "Among us;" an argument from the place: "of old days," from the time. And that expression, "Chose:" just as in their own case he says not, (so) willed it, but, "Chose that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel and believe." Whence is this proved? From the Spirit. Then he shows that the testimony given them is not of grace merely, but of their virtue. "And God which knoweth the hearts bare them witness" ; having afforded to them nothing less (than to us), for, he says," Put no difference between us and them."Why then, hearts are what one must everywhere look to. And it is very appositely said, "God that knoweth the hearts bare them witness:" as in the former instance, "Thou, Lord, that knowest the hearts of all men." (ch. i. 24.) For to show that this is the meaning, observe what he adds, "Put no difference between us and them." When he has mentioned the testimony borne to them, then he utters that great word, the same which Paul speaks, "Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision." (1 Cor. vii, 19.) "That he may make the twain one in Himself." (Eph. ii. 5.) Of all these the seeds lie in Peter's discourse. And he does not say (between) them of the circumcision, but "Between us," that is the Apostles, "and them." Then, that the expression, "no difference" may not seem an outrage, After faith, he says--"Having purified their hearts by faith" -He thoroughly cleansed them first. Then he shows, not that the Law was evil, but themselves weak.--"But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved even as they."
Mark how he ends with a fearful consideration. He does not discourse to them from the Prophets, but from things present, of which themselves were witnesses. Of course (the Prophets) also themselves anon add their testimony, and make the reason stronger by what has now come to pass. And observe, he first permits the question to be moved in the Church, and then speaks. "And put no difference between"--he said not, them of the circumcision, but "us and them," i.e. the Gentiles: for this (gradual advance) little by little is stronger. "Why therefore tempt ye God?" who is become (the) God of the Gentiles: far this was tempting:*** whether He is able to save even after the Law. See what he does. He shows that they are in danger. For if, what the Law could not do, faith had power to do, "we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved even as they", but faith falling off, behold, themselves (are) in destruction. And he did not say, Why do ye disbelieve? which was more harsh, but, "Tempt God," and that when the fact is demonstrated.
COMMENTARY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, EXCERPT FROM HOMILY XXXII.