Acts 15:1–35 comment (0)
July 24, 2008
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Acts 15:1–35
Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
JERUSALEM: FACING CONFLICT
During the stay of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, a conflict arose between Jewish and Gentile believers. It nearly broke the Christian community into two camps and resulted in Paul and Barnabas going to Jerusalem to meet with Christians there to resolve the problem. This meeting is the story of Acts 15.
Conflict came when men came to Antioch teaching that Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes to be saved. Keeping the Law of Moses meant living by the rabbis’ interpretations of those laws. At the heart of the issue was whether circumcision was necessary. This account later implies these “Judaizers” were neither sent nor approved by the Jerusalem church. Earlier the church admitted the possibility of Gentile salvation. Now the question concerned how a Gentile may be saved.
Paul and Barnabas opposed the Judean teachers. The two, with some brethren from Antioch, w
ent to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and elders. They didn’t go to ask if they were right in proclaiming salvation for Gentiles, but rather to silence the Judaizers.
The Antioch delegation and Jerusalem believers had at least three meetings.
There was a public reception during which Paul and Barnabas gave an account of their work among the Gentiles. At the meeting’s closing, the Judaizers registered a protest that the two had taken Gentiles into the church without first becoming Jewish proselytes.
There was a private meeting between Paul and the three “pillar apostles” (Gal. 2:3–10). Luke did not record this meeting in Acts.
Then there was a public conference where the group reached a decision. At this public meeting, there were the “apostles,” “elders” and congregation of believers.
In the conference, there was a speech by Peter which recounted the Cornelius episode and showed that at that time, God indicated “He made no distinction” between Jews and Gentiles but gave both the Holy Spirit. Peter concluded that Jew and Gentile are saved the same way — “through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” This is Peter’s last appearance in Acts.
A hush fell on the assembly, and it gave rapt attention when Barnabas and Paul rehearsed the signs and wonders God wrought among the Gentiles through them.
James’ speech summed up the discussion. The admission of Gentiles as reported by Peter agreed completely with the Old Testament (Amos 9:11–12). This settled the first issue: How are Gentiles saved? James then concluded that Jewish Christians should not make trouble for Gentile converts and that Gentiles should respect their Jewish brethren’s scruples by avoiding things like meat offered to idols or not properly drained of blood and by rejecting the low moral standards of the pagan world. This settled the second issue: On what terms can Gentiles be admitted to church membership alongside Jewish believers?
The assembly accepted James’ proposal and decided to send certain men of the Jerusalem church to go with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch, taking a letter explaining the consensus. The letter recounted the problem, suggested that the Judaizers did not have the approval of the Jerusalem congregation and asserted the church’s love for and confidence in Paul and Barnabas. Then it stated the decision of the conference. At its end, the letter claimed that the Holy Spirit guided the church in its decision and noted some things “necessary” for keeping fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians (not for salvation).
At Antioch, the party and epistle were received with joy. After a time, Judas and Silas went home to Jerusalem, but Paul and Barnabas kept working in Antioch.
The Jerusalem Conference made three contributions. It confirmed the principle of salvation by grace, showed Christianity transcends racial, national, social and cultural bounds and demonstrated the practical methods of settling church problems.