Friday Mar 24, 2023

Acts 15:23

Friday, 24 March 2023

They wrote this letter by them:
The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Greetings. Acts 15:23

 

Note: The NKJV clears up a lot of the errors of the KJV, but it still doesn’t reflect the Greek as well as it should. The original reads:

 

“Having written through their hand these things:
‘The apostles, and the elders, and the brethren.
To those in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia –
Brethren, those from the Gentiles,
Greetings!’” (CG)

 

This will be used for the commentary.

 

The previous verse noted the choosing of men who were then to be sent to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The men were Judas, who was also named Barsabas, and Silas. With that having been stated, it next says, “Having written through their hand these things.”

 

The meaning is not that those carrying the letter also wrote it, but that it was written with the consent of those who will next be named and then transmitted through the hands of those who were selected to carry it, namely Judas and Silas. What is more likely than even that is that one person was chosen to write it, probably James, who did so with the full approval of those named. Whatever is the case, it is the oldest such letter within the church. Luke probably copied directly from the original or a copy of the original.

 

At this point, it would be good to note that there are differences in this opening address in some manuscripts. Going to the more modern versions which often use these variations and comparing the two side by side, one can spot the differences. With this understood, the contents of the letter begin with, “The apostles, and the elders, and the brethren.”

 

It is an acknowledgment that the letter has come from the council in Jerusalem where the apostles were based and that it has the concurrence of the elders of the churches there as well as the understanding and agreement of those within the overall church. This would be perfectly in accord with the words of the previous verse that said, “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church.”

 

There is complete harmony among all of the believers, at least for the sake of the letter, concerning the contents of what will be stated. Remembering that Jerusalem is the very heart of where temple worship was still being conducted, the letter’s contents will be an ironclad argument against the requirement for law worship by any Gentile, ever. This will be seen as the letter continues. For now, it next says, “To those in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia.”

 

Of these words, Cambridge appears to be correct in saying, “As we have no mention of this decree of the synod of Jerusalem in St Paul’s Epistles, we may suppose that the agitation on the subject, begun at Antioch, had spread only into Syria and Cilicia, and that the authoritative decision of the mother church quieted the controversy there, while it did not arise in the same form in other places.”

 

Equally insightful, Albert Barnes notes that by including Syria and Cilicia, which have not been noted before, it is “showing that churches then existed in Cilicia as well as Syria, which owed their existence, in all likelihood, to Paul's labors during the interval between his return to Tarsus (Ac 9:30) and his departure in company with Barnabas for Antioch.”

 

These reasonable inferences can be derived from just a few short words in the opening of this most important letter. The address next continues with, “Brethren.”

 

It is an acknowledgment that those being addressed are in full and right standing within the church. They are equals in Christ, meaning without distinction`, even if differences exist. The obvious difference is that these are Jews who are writing, and their addresses are “those from the Gentiles.”

 

The reason it is understood that no distinction exists between the two is found later in Paul’s letter to the Galatians –

 

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29

 

However, this is implied in these opening words of the letter with the use of the term “brethren.” With that, the opening salutation ends with the word, “Greetings!”

 

It is the Greek word chairó. It signifies “to rejoice.” However, it is a salutation common in Greek. As such, the word in this context is variously translated as “Greetings.” “Hail,” “Rejoice,” “God Speed,” etc. The word sets the welcoming tone for the main contents to follow. There is an obvious state of brotherly fellowship that is communicated in the letter’s opening statement.

 

Life application: As noted above, translations do vary in this verse. Putting translations side by side, the differences become evident. Note that in the original, the letters were all drawn together with little or no capitalization, punctuation, line change, and so forth, the form of the first translation is to suit a modern reading of such a letter. The second would actually be closer to the way it was originally laid out, despite any textual differences –

 

“Having written through their hand these things:
‘The apostles, and the elders, and the brethren.
To those in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia –
Brethren, those from the Gentiles,
Greetings!’” (CG)

 

“...and they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.’” (NASB)

 

Which is actually closer to the original is debated, but the differences do not substantially change anything doctrinally.

 

As for the offsetting of each clause through a line change, some translators find this type of change appalling. Even if the translation is 100% correct, they feel that the form of the original must be maintained. An example of this is that the psalms were originally written in a continuous line and block format familiar to the Hebrew writings.

 

For example, the preface to the LSV says, “The LSV may be the only English translation of The Holy Bible entirely formatted with justified typographic alignment throughout. This same format is maintained in poetic literature. While some readers may prefer paragraph breaks in narrative and line breaks in poetic portions for the purpose of readability, it was the decision of the translators to mimic the style of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek autographs in presenting God’s word as a continuous text block. This decision wasn’t arbitrary. In formatting the text this way, the LSV sets itself against the modern push for more and more formatting within the text, in favor of simplicity. Furthermore, the modern trend even extended to differentiating the words of Christ in red letters, as if God’s word should be divided in such a way. The LSV is the polar opposite, regarding the entirety of Scripture as God-breathed, with its different genres of literature resting on a level playing field.”

 

The ridiculously stupid nature of this type of thinking is highlighted in several ways. First, just three paragraphs later in the same preface, it says –

 

“For ease of readability, the LSV includes the double pipe (“||”) caesura mark to separate phrases within poetic portions of Scripture. The caesura mark was extensively used this way in ancient Greek, Latin, and English poetry. Verse numbers, periods, colons, semicolons, question marks, exclamation marks, and em dashes generally stand in for caesura marks in these passages if they are followed by a capital letter.”

 

The translators admit that there are purposeful markers within the text that naturally break the flow of the reading for the mind of the reader. Why shouldn’t such marks be variously employed for the modern reader in his own language?

 

But more poignantly, as noted above, there is almost no punctuation or capitalization in the original manuscripts. To use the logic of the LSV stated in the first cited paragraph, they should do exactly the same thing and have everything follow a simple block format with no other markings, including capitalization or punctuation. It would be insane for an English reader to even bother reading such a translation, and so these changes are made.

 

A third hint of the ridiculous nature of their commentary is that between the Old and New Testament in their version, a painting is included in the hard copy translation. Where is that found in the original manuscripts? As nice as the painting is, was that painted by God as breathed out through His Spirit? Obviously not. It is a hypocritical thing to say one thing and do another.

 

As for the text itself with the various formatting differences, at what point does it become “wrong” to make a translation more understandable for the reader? This is the fallacy of the beard and the LSV translators entered into it just when the beard was enough to tickle the faces of baby readers who first pick it up. Others have the beard a bit longer and can tickle even toddlers. While others choose for the beard to be fully grown and mature.

 

Don’t get legalistic! Get into the word! How it is formatted is something each reader will find suitable to his own needs. So, look through the next Bible you want to read, see if it will help you in your reading, and buy that one.

 

O God! Hallelujah for Your word! You have allowed us to translate it, format it for clarity, add red letters to honor the words of Christ Jesus, use colors to differentiate various parts of the text, and so on. We can offset, use block formats, use different fonts, and more, just to make Your word come alive in a way that we can appreciate. Thank You, O God, for this latitude You have granted to us. Thank You for Your precious word. Amen.

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