“And the words of the prophets agree with this.” (Acts 15:15)
James is standing up at the council of Jerusalem to support Paul and Barnabas who have been converting the Gentiles.
These new non-Jewish converts have been receiving the Holy Spirit.
Paul, Barnabas, and James are advocating for an open door policy for non-Jews.
Other Christians would require Gentile converts to adopt the ritual and cultural practices of Judaism. That would be a huge barrier to entry!
James offers an argument from Jewish scripture.
When we think of the Hebrew Bible, we often think of the great many rules, laws, and commandments imposed on God’s people. And so it might surprise us that James goes to scripture to support relaxing these laws.
But if you read the Old Testament attentively, as the early Christians did, you find it not only full of laws, but also full of promises and prophetic hope for a renewed and expanded relationship between humanity and God.
James is saying that to take these prophecies seriously requires an openness to change. This means letting go of many scriptural laws and adopting rules appropriate for what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world.
The Greek word James uses for agree is symphonousin. It is the same word that comes into English as symphony. It literally means to sound together or speak in harmony.
One way of interpreting the Bible sees scripture not as a set of fixed commandments forever determining what is and isn’t allowed, but as a harmonious voice singing along with and confirming the new things God is doing.
This is the symphonic way of reading the Bible. It was the practice of James and the early Christians.
Let’s make it our practice.
Nothing in the Bible is intended to limit the new things God is always doing and has always known he would do.