The Law and the Gentiles in Acts 15

Divine Authority in Scripture

by Hui-Chun (Peggy) Chen (Author)
©2021 Monographs XII, 232 Pages


This book is for people who are interested in Luke and the law, and specifically in Acts 15. For all students writing papers related to Luke and the law or Acts 15 and especially for professors who are teaching Acts, this is a book they must consider. This work provides a new approach to reading Acts 15. It reads both Peter’s and James’ speeches in Acts 15 in light of Jesus’ view of the law in the Gospel of Luke. For example, this book proposes that Peter’s reference to God’s cleansing the heart of the Gentile believers, in conjunction with his speaking of the Jews’ inability to do the law in Acts 15:9-10, should be understood against Luke 11:37-41. This book also proposes that in James’ use of Amos 9:11-12 (in Acts 15:16-17), he recalls Jesus’ stress upon his name in Luke 24. In Luke 24:47-48, Jesus explains that the Scriptures (the law of Moses, prophets, and Psalms) speak of the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • A Survey of Secondary Literature
  • Methodology
  • 1 Jesus’ View of the Law in the Gospel of Luke
  • Introduction
  • Jesus’ Teaching on the Law
  • Jesus’ Passing References to the Law in Interactions with People
  • Jesus’ Breaking the Sabbath
  • Jesus’ Pronouncements of Woes upon the Pharisees (Luke 11:37–44)
  • Conclusion
  • 2 Cultural Intertexture of Acts 15:1 and 15:5
  • Introduction
  • Jewish Perceptions of Circumcision in the First Century
  • The Observance of the Law for Salvation in the First Century
  • 3 Peter’s Speech in the Jerusalem Meeting in Acts 15:1–21
  • Introduction
  • Inner Textual Study
  • Argumentative Texture
  • Ideological Texture
  • Law in Acts
  • 4 James’ Use of the Scriptures in Acts 15
  • Introduction
  • Inner Texture in James’ Speech
  • Intertextual Study: James’ Use of the Scriptures in Acts 15:16–18
  • Echo of Jesus’ Reading of the Scriptures in James’ Reading of the Scriptures
  • Social and Cultural Texture in James’ Use of the Scriptures and Jesus’ Teaching
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Ancient Sources
  • Index of Authors
  • Subject Index


When I was a Th.M. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois, USA), there were times when I walked by the bookshelves of Rolfing Library, I would hope that someday in the bookshelves there could be a book by Peggy Chen. This book is a dream come true. I thank the Peter Lang acquisition editor, Dr. Meagan Simpson for giving me an opportunity to publish my revised dissertation. This book is the revised work of my dissertation of Stellenbosch University, South Africa. I thank Dr. Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary) for giving me several insightful suggestions on Chapter 2 of this work, dealing with law in the Second Temple period. His comments on Chapter 2 in the peer review of my dissertation, conducted by Peter Lang, helped me to gain my own voice and give my opinion in the midst of the myriad of discussions on the law of the Second Temple period. I have rewritten Chapter 2 of my dissertation, with the help of Dr. Blomberg’s most helpful suggestions.

I thank my parents for their long-suffering support. I am fortunate to have parents who believe in education and who support their children to complete their dreams. They endured with me in getting my Ph.D. and now with getting my dissertation published. Helping their daughter to complete a publication of a book is their joy and honor. I thank my friend Susan Fan for her prayers for me since my days in TEDS. I thank my students in Holy Light Seminary, Kaohsiung, ←ix | x→Taiwan for their prayers for me to finish this book. I thank my colleague Dr. Rebecca Doyle for help with English of certain parts of this book. During her busy schedule, she went out of her way to help with proofreading and editing some parts of this book. I thank my friend Rev. Jeff Ho (Gurnee Chinese Christian Church) for driving to Wheaton college to get the two books I need. I thank God for His faithfulness in upholding me throughout the process of revision.

Since this book is the revised work of my Stellenbosch University dissertation which was completed in March 2017. It is fitting here to thank again people who contributed to the completion of my Stellenbosch dissertation. First, I thank my supervisor, Dr. Jeremy Punt, for enabling my participation in the doctoral program in Stellenbosch University. Dr. Punt gave detailed and insightful comments in each draft of every chapter of my dissertation. At the completion of my Stellenbosch University dissertation, he encouraged me to seek publication of my work.

I thank Dr. William J. Larkin, who taught several N.T. courses during my Master of Divinity study at Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina, USA. Dr. Larkin passed away on Feb 18th, 2014. This work is dedicated to his memory. I benefited from Dr. Larkin’s interactions with me in several e-mails about the topic of this dissertation even during his illness. I am honored and fortunate to have been Dr. Larkin’s student.

Third, I thank Dr. Morris Vos, who taught me theological German the summer before I started my ThM study at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, USA, in 2000. Later Dr. Vos was helpful in proofreading and editing the English of my dissertation during my dissertation writing stage. I thank the three examiners of my dissertation. They asked critical and helpful questions about my dissertation in the examiners’ reports. Honestly speaking, I couldn’t thank them back then because of the amount of revision they asked me to do on my dissertation. But now from this vantage point, I can see how important their requests for revisions were for paving the way for this publication of my dissertation.

I thank my former colleagues, Dr. So-young Chen and Dr. Tony Chen, in Holy Light Seminary, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for their encouragement and prayers for me during the process of writing of my Stellenbosch dissertation. They were in their first year of teaching at Holy Light Seminary, and yet they immediately extended their love to a colleague who was coping with the dual challenges of teaching and completing a Ph.D. degree.



Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae Dissertationes Humanarum Litterarum


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International Critical Commentary


In die Skriflig


International Theological Commentary


Journal of Biblical Literature←xi | xii→


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Journal for the Study of the Old Testament


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This work studies Luke’s presentation of Peter’s speech and James’ speech in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 in light of Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ comments on the law in the Gospel of Luke. The work argues that in Luke’s Acts 15 account, as the early church faces the demand to have the Gentile believers circumcised and ordered to keep the law, Luke’s representation of Jesus’ teachings of the law in the Gospel of Luke can be used for the resolution of the problem posed before the Council. In the account in Acts, Peter’s talk of the cleansing of the heart (Acts 15:9) recalls Jesus’ teaching of the cleansing of the inside in Luke 11:37–41. James’ use of the Scriptures to speak of Gentiles called by God’s name seeking the Lord (Acts 15:17) recalls Jesus’ reading of the Scriptures as containing the preaching of repentance for forgiveness of sins in his name (Luke 24:47–48).1 In Luke’s depiction, taking up Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures, James emphasizes that Gentiles are included among the people of God as Gentiles through calling upon the name of Jesus.

Through his presentation of Peter and James using Jesus’ comment upon the law to solve the law problem for the Gentile believers, Luke2 stresses that the Gentile believers do not have to be circumcised and keep the law because the identity marks of the Jesus movement are the purification of heart and calling upon the name of Jesus. To Luke, having their hearts cleansed by God and their act of ←1 | 2→calling upon the name of Jesus are sufficient for the salvation of the Gentile believers; thus, the keeping of the law has no bearing for them in terms of salvation.

Thus, the approach taken in this study reads Peter’s speech and James’ speech in Acts 15 against the background of Jesus’ remarks on the law in the Gospel of Luke. The following literature review of the topic of law in Luke-Acts demonstrates that the project of this study has not been adequately addressed in Lucan studies of the law.

A Survey of Secondary Literature

In Luke and the People of God in the chapter “The Law in Luke-Acts” Jacob Jervell discusses Luke’s view of the law from the connection between Israel and the law. Jervell argues that Luke finds the law important because “it is Israel’s law.”3 Jervell explains that Luke’s portrayal of the Jewish believers’ abiding by the law is important because by doing so they demonstrate that they are the people of God. Jervell emphasizes that “[b]ecause Jewish Christians are the restored Israel, circumcision and law become the very marks of their identity.”4

Jervell insists that Luke’s attitude toward the salvation of the Gentile believers also involves the law, and explains that in the Apostolic Decree, Gentile believers are ordered to keep the law for them to live with Jewish believers.5 From the charges that lay upon Jesus, Stephen, and Paul (Acts 6:11–14; 21:21, 28; 28:17) and Luke’s response to these accusations, Jervell detects that the problem Luke faces is from the Jews, and Luke counters the charge from the Jews that Christian Jews apostatize from Israel.6 On the other hand, Jervell does not think that the inclusion of the uncircumcised Gentiles presents any problem to Luke at the time of his writing.7 Jervell concludes that for Luke the Jewish believers’ law keeping and the Gentile Christians’ status as “an associate people” are the distinctive marks of Israel, and they are foretold by “Moses and the prophets” to be the people to receive salvation.8

Stephen G. Wilson in his monograph, Luke and the Law, starts with a study of legal terms in Luke-Acts, continues with a thematic study of law in Luke’s Gospel, follows with a presentation of law in Acts, and concludes with a chapter entitled “Law, Judaism and the Gentiles.” In his first chapter on the legal expressions of Luke-Acts, he studies Luke’s use of the words “law” (νόμος), “custom” (ἔθος) and “Moses.” He notes that in some occurrences Luke uses law (νόμος) and custom (ἔθος) interchangeably.9 Wilson finds the closest parallel to Luke’s usage in the works of Josephus, and to a lesser degree in Philo.10 Based on this parallel, ←2 | 3→Wilson proposes that Luke is tolerant with the keeping of the law by the Jews but finds it unnatural to impose the law on the Gentiles.11

In his second chapter, Wilson discusses law in the Gospel of Luke. He lists several concepts of the law that co-exist, including the prophetic function of the law (explicitly in Luke 24:27, 44 and allusively in Luke 9:29, 33; 16:16), the affirmation of certain requirements of the law (Luke 10:25f; 16:17; 16:29, 31; 18:18f cf. 11:42),12 Jesus’ undermining certain commands of the law (Luke 6:1–11; 6:12f; 13:10–17; 14:1–6; 11:41; 16:18; 18:18f), and the ambiguity in the juxtaposing of “potentially contradictory sayings” (Luke 11:41–42; 16:16–18).13 From his study, Wilson concludes that there is no consistent pattern that would express Luke’s view of the law.14 Wilson emphasizes that in Luke’s presentation, sometimes Jesus upholds the law and sometimes he is against the law.15

In his chapter 3, “The Law in Acts,” Wilson conducts his discussion in the order of the topics of “Law and salvation,” “Keeping the law,” and “Law and Gentiles.” In the section of “Law and salvation,” Wilson considers Acts 13:38–39 and Acts 15:9–11. With respect to Luke’s portrayal of the keeping of law by Jewish Christians in “Keeping the law,” Wilson focuses upon the narratives pertaining to Stephen and Paul. In the section “Law and Gentiles,” Wilson probes into the problem of the connection between Peter’s vision in Acts 10–11 and the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 and aims to grasp the Lucan understanding of the decree by examining different proposals for the decree. His conclusions for the chapter, “The Law in Acts,” are that (1) “living according to the law ultimately has no bearing on the salvation of Jews or Gentiles,” (2) that the Jewish Christians’ keeping the law as a way to express their piety is viewed positively, (3) that the decrees the Gentile believers are to keep are apostolic rather than Mosaic in origin, and (4) that “the law understood as prophecy plays an important role in Acts.”16 In his concluding chapter, “Law, Judaism and the Gentiles,” Wilson pulls together his arguments in the previous chapters and considers their implications. He relates Luke’s view of the law to Luke’s view of Judaism and the Jews.


XII, 232
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 232 pp.

Biographical notes

Hui-Chun (Peggy) Chen (Author)

Hui-Chun (Peggy) Chen completed a Ph.D. in New Testament at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and has been teaching New Testament at Holy Light Theological Seminary in Kaohsiung, Taiwan since 2008.


Title: The Law and the Gentiles in Acts 15
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246 pages