19. Wherefore, I think that we ought not to trouble those who of the Gentiles are turned to God: 20. But that we must write unto them, that they abstain from the filthiness of images, and from fornication, and from strangled, and from blood.21. For Moses of old time hath those in every city which preach him, when he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.
19. That we must not trouble. He denieth that the Gentiles must be driven from the Church through the disagreement about ceremonies, seeing they were admitted by God; yet it [he] seemeth contrary to himself, when he denieth that they ought to be troubled, and yet prescribeth certain rites. The answer is easy, which I will hereafter more at large prosecute. First, he requireth nothing at their hands but that which they were bound to do by brotherly concord; secondly, these precepts could no whir trouble or disquiet their consciences, after that they knew that they were free before God, and that false and perverse religion was taken away, which the false apostles sought to bring in. The question is now, why James doth enjoin the Gentiles these four things alone? Some say that this was let [derived] from the ancient custom of the fathers, who did not make any covenant with any people which they could enforce to obey them but upon this condition; but because there is no fit author of that thing brought to light, I leave it in doubt and undecided.
But here appeareth a manifest reason why they gave particular commandment concerning things offered to idols, blood, and that which was strangled. They were, indeed, of themselves things indifferent; yet such as had some special thing in them more than other rites of the law. We know how straitly the Lord commandeth to eschew those things which are contrary to the external profession of faith, and wherein there is any appearance or suspicion of idolatry. Therefore, lest there should any blot of superstition remain in the Gentiles, and lest the Jews should see anything in them which did not agree with the pure worship of God, no marvel if, to avoid offense, they be commanded to abstain from things offered to idols.
The word alisgema, which Luke useth, doth signify all manner of profanation; therefore I have not changed the common translation, which hath pollution or filthiness. Yet it is sometimes taken for sacrifices; which sense should not disagree with James' purpose; and, peradventure, it shall be more plain and natural so to expound it in this place; because, where Luke doth shortly after repeat the same decree, he will put eidolotheta, or things sacrificed to idols.
As concerning blood and that which was strangled, not only the Jews were forbidden by the law of Moses to eat them, (Deuteronomy 12:23;) but this law was given to all the world after the flood, (Genesis 9:4,) whereby it came to pass, that those which were not quite grown out of kind did loathe blood. I do not speak of the Jews, but of many of the Gentiles. I confess, indeed, that even that commandment was but temporal; yet, notwithstanding, it was extended farther than unto one people. No marvel, therefore, if there might arise greater offense thereupon, which to cure seemed good to the apostles. But there ariseth a harder question concerning fornication; because James seemeth to reckon the same among things indifferent, whereof they must beware only in respect of offense; but there was another cause for which he placed fornication among those things which were not of themselves unlawful. It is well known what unbridled liberty to run awhoring did reign and rage everywhere; and this disease had got the upper hand principally among the men of the east country, as they be more given to lust. Assuredly the faith and chastity of wedlock was never less observed and kept any where than among them. Moreover, he doth not intreat indifferently, in my judgment, in this place of all manner [of] fornication or whoredom, as of adultery, and wandering, and unbridled lusts, whereby all chastity is violate and corrupt; but I think he speaketh of concubineship, as they call it; which was so common among the Gentiles, that it was almost like to a law.
Therefore, whereas James reckoneth up a common corruption among things which are of themselves not corrupt, there is therein no inconvenience; so that we know that it was not his meaning to place those things in one order which are very far unlike among themselves. For, whereas unclean men do thereby color and cloak their filthiness, they may easily be refuted. James, say they, coupled eating of blood with whoredom; but doth he compare them together as things that are like, at least which disagree not in any point. Yea, he doth only respect the wicked and corrupt custom of men, which was fallen away from the first law and order of nature appointed by God. As concerning the judgment of God, the knowledge thereof must be let [sought] out of the continual doctrine of the Scripture; and it is nothing doubtful what the Scripture saith; to wit, that whoredom is accursed before God, and that the soul and body are thereby defiled, that the holy temple of God is polluted, and Christ is rent in pieces; that God doth daily punish whoremongers, and that he will once pay them home. The filthiness of whoredom, which the heavenly Judge doth so sore condemn, can be covered with no cloaks by the patrons of whoredom how witty and eloquent soever they be.
21. For Moses hath. This place, in my judgment, hath been badly expounded, and drawn into a contrary sense. For interpreters think that James addeth this, because it were superfluous to prescribe anything to the Jews, who were well acquainted with the doctrine of the law, and to whom it was read every Sabbath-day; and they pick out this meaning, Let us be content to require these few things at the hands of the Gentiles, which are not accustomed to bear the yoke of the law; as touching the Jews they have Moses, out of whom they may learn more. Some do also gather out of this place, that circumcision, with its appurtenances, ought to be observed even at this day among the Jews. But they reason unfitly and unskillfully, though that exposition which I have set down were true. But James had a far other meaning; to wit, he teachers that it cannot be that ceremonies can be abolished so quickly, as it were, at the first dash; because the Jews had now a long time been acquainted with the doctrine of the law, and Moses had his preachers; therefore, it stood them upon to redeem concord for a short thee, until such time as the liberty gotten by Christ might, by little and little, appear more plainly. This is that which is said in the common proverb, That it was meet that the old ceremonies should be buried with some honor. Those who are skillful in the Greek tongue shall know that that last member, When he is read every Sabbath-day in the synagogues, was by me changed not without cause, for avoiding of doubtfulness.