Wednesday, 15 March 2023
“Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.
The words of the NKJV give a completely different sense than what the Greek is conveying. Placing the two side by side, the variation becomes noticeable:
* Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. (NKJV)
* Simeon has declared how first God visited to take out of nations a people upon His name. (CG)
The difference is a great one. God did not visit the Gentiles, as if that was the only purpose of Christ’s Advent. Rather, God visited. In His visit, it was His intent to take out of Gentiles a people upon (meaning fitting for) His name. This translation will be used to evaluate what is said.
In the previous verse, after the gathering had become silent, James began to speak. His words now begin with the name of the subject of his words, “Simeon.” This and 2 Peter 1:1 are the only times that this spelling of the name is referring to Simon Peter. And even 2 Peter 1:1 is disputed based on various manuscripts. If referring to Simon Peter, it is not inappropriate that this form would be used because James is a Jew of the land of Israel and speaking to those in a gathering in the land. Even if not inappropriate, it is highly unusual.
However, and this may be a complete stretch of the intent of James’ words, there is another Simeon in the New Testament who did exactly what James will next convey. Those words will be explained accordingly. For now, James continues with a note that Simeon, “has declared how first God visited.”
The word translated as “visited,” signifies just that. It comes from two words signifying “upon” and “to inspect.” By extension, it carries the thought of “being concerned with.” When one visits, it is to be concerned about the one visited.
James is equating the coming of Jesus Christ to God’s visitation. He concerned Himself in the narrative of human existence in a particular way. The terminology is found throughout Scripture. When God visits, it is a manifestation of His workings at a particular time and place. This is seen, for example, in Ruth –
“Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread.” Ruth 1:6
It is of note that by saying “how God first visited” there is the implication of a first advent to be followed by a second advent. If this were not the case, then the word “first” would be superfluous.
Of this visitation of God, James specifically says it is “to take out of nations.” The word translated as Gentiles, ethnos, signifies “nations,” and it usually excludes Israel. This is not always the case, though. For example, the word refers to Israel in Luke 7:5 –
“And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 5 ‘for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.’” Luke 7:4, 5
As there is no article before the word ethnos here, it is more rightly translated as “nations” rather than “the Gentiles.” This is because God visited in the Person of Jesus Christ to be a light to both Israel and the Gentiles, meaning all nations. This was for the purpose of obtaining “a people upon His name.” As noted earlier, the word translated as “upon” signifies fitting for His name. It is the Greek word epi. It is that which fits, such as skin (the epidermis) fits upon a person.
Also, as noted above, there is another Simeon that is noted in the New Testament who did exactly what James says would be the case. In Luke 2, this is recorded –
“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
29 ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation
31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.’” Luke 2:25-32
As he prophesied these words over Baby Jesus, and as his prophecy would have been well known to the apostles gathered at this time – certainly having become a part of the annual Passover story among the believers – this is not an impossible interpretation, especially considering that the name Simeon is used only one other time when referring to Simon Peter. There, it by his own hand in an epistle. Jesus addressed Simon Peter as Simon many times but never recorded as Simeon. In total, the name Simon is used about seventy-five times in the New Testament.
The prophecy of Simeon is exactly what James is now saying, referring to both the Gentiles and Israel. The prophesied work of this Baby would be for the salvation of both.
Thus, the meaning, regardless of which person James is referring to, is that God had sent Jesus on His first advent to take a particular people out for Himself from among the nations, inclusive of Israel. This is the church, a group of people comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, which would be separate and distinct from national Israel.
Life application: Very few translations of the Bible give the proper sense of what is conveyed in this verse. To see this, you can go to this link to compare what is said in a great many translations: https://biblehub.com/parallel/acts/15-14.htm.
The literal translations tend to get this right. But, surprisingly, the two catholic translations do as well. This is not uncommon. Despite having extremely flawed biblical theology in the Roman Catholic Church, their translations are often very literal and precise. Even if not literal, their paraphrasing will often be an exacting representation of the intent of the Greek.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Read multiple translations and compare them with the original. In this, you will find that many beloved translations, like the King James Version, are extremely faulty in their presentation of the original languages. This is so much the case that the inevitable result will be a flawed sense of the original leading to incorrect theology.
Take time to consider the word! Ponder what is being said! Hold fast to what is good and reject that which is flawed. In this, you will show yourself as one who truly cares about the words of Scripture and how they can direct your steps in understanding what God is doing in the world.
Lord God, what an absolute joy it is to search out Your word. It is so rich and beautiful. It is filled with treasures waiting for us to dig up and consider. Help us to cherish this marvelous word all the days of our lives. To Your glory, we pray this. Amen.