About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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ch. 15:1-21    ch. 15:22-35  ch. 15:36-41

The Council At Jerusalem (ch. 15:1 - 21)

 

If you remember back in Acts 11 Peter was called to explain the incident of the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit in chapter 10.  Although the other leaders in Jerusalem seemed to be convinced by Peterís explanation, the whole questions of what to do with Gentile converts was still not settled.

This chapter has often been called "the Jerusalem conference".  Some suggest that what Paul speaks of in Galatians 2, when Peter and Barnabas withdrew themselves from Gentile Christians when some Jerusalem Jewish Christians came to visit, is what is being seen here.  I'm not sure that is the case.  This is a highly debatable subject. 

This whole chapter comes down to what constitutes salvation.  Is salvation by faith or is it by works.  This issue was settled here in this chapter, but now, two thousand years later, the same question arises both in Catholicism and also in the new movement towards what is called "the return to our Jewish roots".    

In verse 1 Luke records that "certain men came down from Judea".  These men were teaching the Antioch Christians that in order to be a real disciple of Jesus, you had to be circumcised.  This dispute over circumcision gets to the heart of the matter of salvation.  These men believed in salvation by faith, but they added a stipulation as seen here, and that was that a man had to be circumcised.  Instead of salvation by faith alone, it's salvation by faith and works.  Of course, those who came down from Jerusalem would say that these works were God mandated works. 

Note the word "down" in verse 1.  Antioch is up directionally from  Jerusalem but it is down geographically since   Jerusalem is situated on hills.  

In verse 2 we see that Paul and Barnabas "were brought into sharp dispute" with these men from Jerusalem, so much so that they, along with a few other men were appointed to go to Jerusalem to get this problem corrected once and for all.

We should realize that the words "sharp dispute" are strong words.  This was a very highly explosive and emotional event in the early days of the church.  Even in these early days, there were problems that had to be worked out, which is what this chapter is all about.  Unlike today when we simply split from each other, these men tried to solve this problem.     

In verse 2 Luke says that they went to see the "apostles and elders" in Jerusalem.  This is the first mention of both apostles and elders in Jerusalem in one verse.  In the beginning we saw the apostles as leaders in Jerusalem.  Then, we saw the apostles flee the city, it appears that elders alone were in charge of the church.  Now we see both apostles and elders in Jerusalem making some important decisions.

Were both the apostles and elders leading the Jerusalem church?  This may be hard to answer.  It is quite possible that the elders were in charge of the daily operation of the church.  The apostles would come and go from their missionary trips and therefore would not be able to have hands on authority, yet at the same time, since the apostles were the first ones to be in leadership, they certainly would have input on important matters, like this one. The question of circumcision was obviously one of these important matters.  This question affected all churches in all regions.  This was not just a local Jerusalem matter and that is why I believe both the apostles and elders brought this issue to the floor.           

Does the fact that the Antioch delegation went to Jerusalem to have this matter settled suggest the Jerusalem church had authority over other churches?  I donít think so.  From Paulís writings we understand that the church was one.  There is no real suggestion that one church had authority over another.  Hierarchy, as in the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations does not appear to have existed in the infant church.  The reason why Paul and others went to Jerusalem is because that is where the first leaders of the church came from.  Paul and the others wanted to get this problem solved, and who better to talk to than Peter, James, and the rest.

In verse 3 we see that the Antioch church sent Paul and Barnabas and the men with them on their way.  Note that the whole church sent Paul and Barnabas on their way.  This was a congregational event.  The elders alone did not send these men to Jerusalem.  This speaks to the congregational form of church.  That is to say, church does have elders to care for church affairs, but, those who are being cared for do have a good measure of input into the situation. 

Verse 3 also states that in every place these men went through they spread the word that the Gentiles had received the good news of Jesus.  I am sure that those of the circumcised group from Jerusalem did not appreciate such talk, although for many, these were happy things to hear.  As Luke puts it in verse 3, ďthis made all the brothers very gladĒ.

In verse 4 we see that when the Antioch delegation arrived in Jerusalem they were warmly welcomed by the "church and the apostles and elders".  Note here that the whole church welcomed Paul and his company and heard what they had to say.

Note that we have three aspects of church mentioned here.  We have the church as a whole.  I see this as those who are being cared for by the next group mentioned who are elders.  Beyond the elders, we have the apostles.  This is how I view this.  The Jerusalem congregation had elders who cared for the people.  Note that their main job was to care for people, not to administrate church affairs as we would know it today.  There were also apostles that I believe existed prior to the formation of elders.  If you follow the progression of the early church to date in Acts, you'll know this to be true.  The elders were local leaders who stayed in Jerusalem to care for the church.  By nature of the apostolic ministry, the apostles would come and go.  They could not logically care for the people on a daily basis, but, they could serve as leaders in some cases.  What we see here in chapter 15 is one such case.  

Paul spoke to the church about how the Gentiles had received the good news in every city that they had visited.  Then, as verse 5 says, "some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, 'the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses'". 

We note that some of the party, or sect, of the Pharisees spoke out in opposition.  These were Pharisees who had become Christians.  Maybe Nicodemus was one of these men.  They felt that both Jews and Gentiles had to obey the Law of Moses even though they were Christians. 

We should note that the matter of Gentiles being circumcised in order to be saved has now been greatly expanded by these Christian Pharisees.  It wasn't just circumcision any more.  It was obedience to all of the Law of Moses that was the issue.  This is one huge issue.

This issue is vitally important today in our 21st century church because there is a movement towards what is called "the return to our Jewish roots".   This movement promotes obedience to the Law of Moses just as these Christian Pharisees were promoting here. 

Note that it appears these Christian Pharisees did not leave their Pharisaical order once becoming Christians.  That might not sit well with some Evangelicals today.  

In verse 6 Luke notes that the apostles and elders met to consider this question.  This suggests that once the Pharisee Christian spoke up to refute what Paul had said, the gathering was disbanded.  The apostles and elders met together alone to discuss this issue further.  We don't know if any of these Christian Pharisees were part of the body of elders or not.   

In verse 7, in this second meeting there was much discussion, after which Peter got up to speak.  I believe the words "much discussion" means "a really long and emotionally charged discussion". 

In verse 7 and following Peter reminded the group that not long ago God chose him to speak to the Gentiles, resulting in them receiving the Holy Spirit.  Peter stressed the point that this was Godís doing, not his. It might be possible for some Gentiles to claim faith in Jesus by Peter persuading them, but they could not fake receiving the Holy Spirit. 

Peter says that these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as they did in Acts 2.  This is proof that in fact the people of Acts 2 did receive the Spirit at that time and not in John 20 as some suggest.  To me this has always been clear.  Though Jesus breathed on the disciples in John 20 and said, "Received the Spirit", this was only symbolic of what was to come, and that happened in Acts 2.  There was no doubt in Peterís mind that they received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, and not at any other time.

Note in verse 8 that God knew the hearts of these Gentiles.  He knew they wanted all that God had for them and this is why God gave them the Holy Spirit.  Receiving the Holy Spirit into one's life is a matter of the heart.  If you do not have the Holy Spirit, it is clear that there is a matter of your heart that needs correction.

Peter goes on to say in verse 9 that God "made no distinction between us and them but purified their hearts by faith".  Faith, or trusting Jesus, was the way to be purified according to Peter.  This purification resulted in receiving the Holy Spirit of God into the lives of the Gentiles.  It's clear to me that what Peter is saying here is that salvation is all about faith, getting one's heart purified, and receiving the Holy Spirit.  Receiving the Holy Spirit is simply a part of getting saved.  

Note the word "purified" in verse 9.  This is an Old Testament type of word.  It speaks to the Law of Moses rules concerning clean and unclean animals and people.  You might remember Peter's vision of the clean and unclean animals.  God told Peter to not call Gentiles unclean any longer.  The word "purified" here is in reference to God making Gentiles clean through faith in Jesus.  It doesn't mean that these Gentiles are perfectly righteous.  It means that in a legal sense of the word, the designation of "unclean" has been r

This is Peterís conclusion to his argument as found in verse 10 and 11.  "Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that we nor our forefathers have been able to bear?  No, we believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are". 

The yoke that Peter is speaking of here is the strict adherence to the Law of Moses for the purpose of salvation, and circumcision being the issue at hand.   I believe the church over the years has put a similar yoke concerning the Law of Moses on Christians.  This can be seen concerning the issue of tithing, the Sabbath, and other Law issues that church leaders say applies to New Testament Christians.  Of course, it is my opinion that the Law of Moses does not apply to Christians for a number of reasons.  If Peter is right, which I'm sure he is, then the Law of Moses no longer applies to the Jews or Gentiles in a way it once did. 

In Matthew 11:30 Jesus asked those who are heavily weighted down with their yoke to come to Him because His yoke is light, I believe the yoke He is talking about is the yoke of the Law of Moses.  

It is interesting that Peter says that the Jews are saved in the same way that Gentiles are saved, and that's through faith in Jesus alone. Peter hasn't yet convinced everyone that Gentiles could even be saved, and now he is saying that Jews are saved in the same way Gentiles are saved.  From a Jewish perspective, you'd think that Peter would say that the Gentiles are saved in the same way Jews are, but the problem with that is that some in the room were struggling that Jews were saved by faith alone, without the works of the Law of Moses.  This statement would disturb some.  How could Jewish believers be saved in the same way that Gentile believers are saved?  

What Peter was doing here was speaking directly to the group of the Pharisees who believed that Gentiles must observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  He was reminding the Pharisee group that the apostles had already concluded that Jews are saved by faith alone, not by observing the Law of Moses.  The Pharisee group had seemed to forgotten this.  This was even a more fundamental question than Gentiles being saved by grace. 

Peter believes that by making the disciples bare the yoke of the Law is in fact testing God.  These are strong words.  How is this so?  Peter says that salvation is now clearly by Godís grace alone, and if you say that you need to obey the Law, then you are making Godís grace of no effect, thus you test God, and perhaps bring His wrath upon yourself.  Peter has just said that it was God Himself that first brought salvation to the Gentiles without any mentioning of the Law.  If God did not consider the Law important for salvation in Acts 10, why should anyone else consider it important for the purpose of salvation? 

Notice that Peter does not say, "Why do you want to bring the yoke of the law on the Gentiles"?  He does not specify the Gentiles.  He uses the word disciples, as in all disciples, both Jews and Gentiles.  What Peter is saying here is very dramatic and important.  He is saying that obedience to the Law is not necessary for both Jews and Gentiles.  He is saying that both Jews and Gentiles alike are saved by grace, and nothing else.  Peter says "we believe"; that is to say, all Christians, Jew and Gentile alike, all get saved the same way. 

Another point to make about what Peter says.  He says, "Why do you want to test GodÖ"  Who is the word "you" referring to?  Remember in this meeting it appears that only the apostles and elders are present.  If this is the case, then the "you" refers to some of these very apostles and elders.  This tells me that not all of these men were as convinced as Peter concerning the Gentiles becoming Christians.  Some of these elders might well have been those from the Christian Pharisees, and that would not surprise me in the least.  They were very educated men.  

Note the words "test God" in verse 10.  What Peter is saying here with the use of these two words is that the Jewish Christians were actually testing God by making the Gentile believers obey the Law of Moses.  Testing God is a very serious thing, so these words need to be thought of seriously, especially by those today who claim that the church and Christians should revert to a more Jewish tradition.  Some of these people think we should actually revert to the Law of Moses, celebrate Jewish feasts and Sabbaths, and call God by His Hebrew name.  I suggest that this thinking might well be testing God as Peter stated here.   

After Peter speaks, the church became silent.  This suggests that there might well have been some interaction between Peter and those in the room.  There might have been some interruptions of Peter's speech, but not so with Barnabas and Paul.  Note that it is back to being Barnabas and Paul; not Paul and Barnabas.  Even though Barnabas originated from Cyprus, his own church was in Jerusalem and this is why he is mentioned first. 

Barnabas spoke "of the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them". This brought a silence to those listening.  Everyone wanted to hear from Barnabas and Paul because they were the ones in the midst of this controversy.  It's because of their preaching this gathering was now taking place.     

Luke does not record just what Paul and Barnabas said, but when they were finished talking, in verse 13 James got up to speak.  This James is the half brother of Jesus.  Josephus says that he was executed fro his faith in 62 A D. 

What James attempts to do in the following words is to reconcile the two factions in this gathering.  So far, what has been said by various people has been in support of their position.  Now, James is attempting to bring this meeting to and end with some kind of compromise that will be agreeable to both sides. 

James points out what Peter had just said concerning God taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself.  Jin verse 15 James agrees with Peter and quotes from Amos 9:11 and 12 to back Peterís position.

Verse 17 quotes Amos 9:11 and 12.  This is important to understand because this shows us that James seems to be coming around to Barnabas and Paul's thinking.  We don't know if this has suddenly dawned on him or he has thought this for a while.

We should note that this quote is taken from the Septuagint, which the Old Testament Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  I mention this because the Hebrew text states that "they (Israel) will possess the remnant of Edom".  (Amos 9:12)  Here in Acts 15:17 the text states, "that the remnant of man will seek the Lord". The Septuagint changes the word "Edom" into the word "Adam".  It does so because both words have the same Hebrew consonants.  The writers of the Septuagint understood the word to be translated as Adam, meaning, all men, not Edom, meaning the tribe of the Edomites.  All that being said, Edomites are often symbolized as Gentiles in the Old Testament.               

The interpretation of this quote is somewhat controversial.  God says that "after this I will return and rebuild Davidís fallen tent.  Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bare my name".

Some take this Scripture to mean that at some point in the future God will rebuild the nation of Israel.  Others say that the rebuilding process is actually the church, and the process began on the day of Pentecost.  

The question should be asked, "in what sense is James using Amos 9:11and 12"?  This is how I understand what James is getting at.  The words "after this" is important in figuring out what he is saying.  The words "after this" is not found in the Hebrew version of Amos 9:11.  Instead, the words "in that day" are written.  Whatever way you want to say it, these  words in the context of Amos' message to the northern kingdom of Israel are in reference to the time after God judges Israel and scatters Israelis throughout the world.  Some Biblical prophetic futurists point out that God will restore Israel to what she was meant to be in the first place, and that will take place after she is judged, as seen in the first ten verses of Amos 9.  During this time of judgment, when Israel is scattered throughout the world, God would raise up another expression of His kingdom.  Jesus said this in Matthew 21:43.  That expression is the church.  James was simply telling his Jewish brothers not to worry.  God was not finished with Israel.  Once the last Gentile would come into the church as Paul spoke of in Romans 11:25 and on, all  Israel would be saved and her restoration would come. 

I believe what James says here should put to rest the doctrine of Replacement Theology that states God is through with Israel and that all the Old Testament promises directed towards Israel now apply to the church.  I believe James is saying just the opposite here.  James uses Amos to tell his Jewish brothers that God is not finished with the Jews just because He is allowing Gentiles to find salvation.           

There's one point that is often overlooked when thinking of the Jew and Gentile relationship. God's plan for salvation, and including people into His family, has always included Gentiles.  God chose Israel to be a nation of people to be an example to the rest of the world.  Israel was meant to represent God to the rest of us, but they failed to do so, much like the church is failing today with a similar purpose. This is all seen at the end of the book of Revelation.  We see in the thousand year rule of Christ that Jesus will rule from Jerusalem.  Israel will be the example she was to be, and the Gentile nations will follow Israel's example.  We also see this in the new earth.  The new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, that I believe speaks to the Jews, and the nations of the earth come in and out of the new Jerusalem, that I believe speaks to Gentiles. 

Verse 19 gives Jamesí conclusion to the discussion.  Some suggest because James is the one that makes this conclusion that he is the leader of those gathering here, and also the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  They say that he is one of the elders but he is the lead elder, or, an elder above other elders.  This may be the case, yet to prove this from this text is somewhat speculative, or so I think.  Did James make this conclusion because he was the lead elder, or was he simply the one who brought this conclusion to the forefront?  Both points need to be considered and have equal validity. 

James concludes that they "should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God".  History shows us that James, unlike Paul kept much of his Judaic traditions.  Therefore, it is important to know that what James says here is out of character for him.  This took a lot of grace on his part to actually say such a thing.  By religious nature, James would have preferred the Gentiles being more connected to the Law of Moses.   

We see in verse 20 that there are only four things that James wants the Gentiles to follow, and they are; "to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and blood".

It's important for us to know that James was only applying these four rules to Gentile believers.  I don't believe he conceded to the idea that Jews had to only follow four rules.  I don't believe that he was about to forsake all of the Law of Moses and only follow these four rules.  Most scholars will say that James kept his Jewish heritage intact. 

We now need to ask another question.  "Why did James present these four points for the Gentiles to obey"?  A secondary question also might be; "was this some kind of apostolic directive, that is, a New Testament Law of Moses type thing"? 

The answer to the second question is "no".  Apostolic authority did not replace the Law of Moses.  The grace of God seen in Jesus Himself replaced the Law.  Thus, these four directives were rules to follow, but not on the same level as the Old Testament Law.  I'll speak to this a bit later.

Then, why dictate these four particular points?  The four issues James mentions are key issues for the Gentile world, and the pagan worship that they came out of.  First of all, meat offered to idols was part of the pagan worship.  In pagan meals the meat that was sacrificed to idols was often eaten in a ceremonial meal.  James says; donít eat such meat because of its relation to the idol.

It is interesting to note how Paul views this idea of not eating meat offered to idols.  You can read about this in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14.  To sum up, Paul is not against eating meat offered to idols.  He is against sitting down and eating meat in a ceremonial meal, because at that point you are involved in worship to a pagan god.  Paul sees no harm in eating meat offered to an idol in an ordinary meal that would be eaten during the process of any given day.  The one qualification that Paul does give though is that if the eating of this meat will cause a brother to loose his trust in Jesus, then it is best not to eat the meat.  In one sense of the word then, Paul agreed to include this rule in a letter to the Gentiles, but in his heart, I don't believe he totally agreed.  I think Paul conceded on this point, or at least, partially conceded.  

You can then see that even though James says not to eat meat offered to idols, and this was a directive to the Gentile Christians, Paul himself did not fully agree with this part of the directive, although we do not know that from this chapter in Acts. 

The next point was sexual immorality.  Such immorality was also part of pagan worship.  Also sexual immorality was also an accepted practice in the Gentile world.  Men were expected to have other women besides their wives in Greek and Roman society.  The wives knew this was the social norm and they just accepted it.  The reason why Romans did not see this as a sin was because it was something of the flesh and not the soul.  It was merely a fleshly activity, like eating, and thus would not pollute the soul.  They made a very clear, clean cut, distinction between body and soul.  Only things that polluted the soul would do them harm.

The last two points are joined together because of the issue of blood.  The issue of the Jews eating blood was taken directly from the Law of Moses.  This was something that the Jews deemed important, but why James centered this law out over other laws, such as circumcision, I am not sure. At least out of respect for their Jewish brothers, James may be suggesting that the Gentiles stay away from meat with blood in it, or the digestion of blood.

In verse 21 James gives a reason for only these four directives.  He says, "for Moses has been preached in every city Ö:  What I believe James is saying here is that Gentiles need to respect their Jewish brothers.  The Law has been preached for centuries in every Jewish synagogue and you simply canít expect them to all at once just drop what they have sincerely believed for centuries.  Also, if the Gentiles were interested in observing the Law of Moses, they wouldn't have to go far to learn how to observe it.  There were Jewish synagogues throughout the Roman Empire , and the Law was read every Sabbath.  I suggest that even at the mention of the word "Sabbath", James is insisting on his Jewish heritage concerning the Sabbath rest.     

 

The Councils Letter To The Believers  (ch. 15:22 - 35)

A third meeting is now called.  This meeting includes the whole Jerusalem church, along with the apostles and elders. The main reason for this meeting was to choose some men to travel back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with a letter they wrote concerning these issues.  They chose two men, Judas and Silas.  Silas would soon become one of Paulís best friends in the ministry.   Luke says that both of these men were leaders in the church. 

The letter begins with, "the apostles and elders, your brothers".  The NIV doesnít show this clearly in my thinking, but there are three groups mentioned in this greeting.  They are the apostles, the elders, and the brothers, or the rest of the church.  The KJV puts a second "and" between the word elders and brothers which suggests three groups of people.  You might take from the NIV that there are actually two groups, and the "brothers" refer to the apostles and elders, yet this letter was sent by the whole church.

This letter was not just written to the church in Antioch but also to the churches throughout Syria and Cilicia .  You can also note that in Acts 16 Paul took this letter with him when he visited other regions beyond these mentioned here.

Verse 24 states the first point to the letter, and that is certain men went out from the Jerusalem church, or, possibly more specifically, the Jerusalem elders and apostles, without the churches authorization and was teaching things that should not have been taught.  To me, the fact that these things were being taught by some means that possibly the subject of the law and grace was not fully understood at this time, as it is till not totally understood by some.  This meeting should have brought understanding to everyone, but as we see today, the same questions and debate persists in some corners of the church. 

The idea that certain men went out from Jerusalem teaching about the Law was not authorized by the church at Jerusalem might suggest some kind of translocal authority.  Translocal authority in terms of church is that one community of believers has authority over another community of believers.  One example is the Jerusalem church having authority over the Antioch church.  I can certainly understand how some might believe we have translocal authority here, but I'm not convinced we can make a dogmatic doctrine out of this.  We must consider that the church began in Jerusalem so it is only natural for the Jerusalem church to have some kind of input into the affairs of other Christian communities.  To doctrinalize this practice might well be a mistake.        

Just as people in the first generation church did not understand the relation of grace to the law, or Old Testament, so it is true today.  One of the biggest misunderstandings in the church today is the relationship between the New Testament to the Old Testament.  That is to say, many live their lives as Christians under an Old Testament format, when in reality we should be living by the New Testament format.  There is a big difference between the two formats.  This is what law and grace is all about as espoused by the Reformers of the 1500's.  For those who understand Reformation Theology, that is the teaching that came from Luther and other reformers, you will understand what the term "law and grace" means.  Law is meant to bring us to grace.  Once at grace, we are no longer under law.  I know the very mention of this brings up many questions that I can't speak to here.  I recommend you read my commentaries on Romans and Galatians that will further discuss this matter. 

We should note that these men were not sent out by "our authority".  Who is the word "our" referring to?  Is it just the apostles and elders?  I donít think so. If this letter is written from these three groups mentioned above, which includes the whole church, then the word "our" refers to the whole church.  The significance of this is that the whole church is involved in the process of sending this letter and also authorizing people who they send out.  As in Acts 6 when the church members chose seven administrators, the whole church was involved.  So it is the same in this instance.

The letter acknowledges the fact that these men troubled the minds of the Gentile Christians.  So, because of the trouble these men caused "we all", that is to day, the whole church, decided to send certain men with Barnabas and Paul along with this letter.  Note that Barnabas is mentioned first here, most likely because they were more familiar with Barnabas.  Besides, you may recall, the Jerusalem community of believers was Barnabas' home church. 

The letter also acknowledges the fact the both Paul and Barnabas "have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".  This is no understatement.  The point to be made here is that there must be something to Paul and Barnabas' gospel if they were willing to die for it.   That being said, the men the text states that risked their lives for the gospel's sake might not have been speaking of Paul and Barnabas.  The men who risked their lives might have been the men the church chose to send with Paul and Barnabas.  If this is so, we clearly see that other believers than Paul and Barnabas were risking their lives for the sake of the gospel.    

Verse 27 says that Judas and Silas were coming with Paul and Barnabas to confirm with their mouths what was in the letter.  Obviously this added more weight to the letter, and added a sense of security.  This was not a letter written by Paul or Barnabas.  This is an official letter from the whole church at Jerusalem , where church life first began.

One might wonder if there was a matter of mistrust here and that's why other men accompanied Paul and Barnabas.  Well, such mistrust is simply human nature.  The decision was made to send other men to cover all the bases.  Everyone needed to be clear that this was not a bias letter written by Paul and Barnabas. 

With verse 28 comes the meat of the letter.  The letter states, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to usÖ"  Who is the word "us" referring to?  Once again, you should conclude that the word "us" refers to the whole church because, as we have already mentioned, the letter is from the whole church.  This therefore, tells us something.  It tells us that this letter was probably drafted in this third meeting, when the apostles and elders met with the whole church.  So it appears that not only did the church choose Judas and Silas to accompany Paul and Barnabas at that meeting, but they also helped in drafting this letter.

The conviction that the Holy Spirit helped them in this decision only adds strength to the resolve of the letter.  That being said, the words "seemed good" suggests to me that although the church believed the letter was Holy Spirit led, the rules in the letter were more of recommendations  than commands.  This letter was not meant to be taken as a New Testament Law of Moses. 

In verse 28 we mote that the good news for the Gentiles is that those in Jerusalem "did not want to burden them"; "them" meaning the Gentiles; beyond what was stated in this letter.  The Law of Moses had six hundred and thirteen rules that must be followed.  This letter had four recommendations.  

There are four recommendations this letter advises the Gentiles on.  I use the word "advise" because you cannot make these four recommendations into a law as I've said above.  These recommendations are to abstain from meat offered to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.  As I stated earlier, the significance of these four recommendations has to do with pagan worship.  Christians should not involve themselves in any kind of pagan worship.  As I also said earlier, 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, tells us that Paul would eat meat offered to idols, but not in the context of a pagan worship service. 

Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas took the letter back to Antioch where they read it to the whole church.  Upon hearing what was said the Gentile believers were quite relieved and happy.  Christians today would be greatly relieved and happy as well if they received such a historic letter concerning tithing, the Sabbath, and other such issues.

Verse 32 tells us that both Judas and Silas were prophets.  This should tell us that the ministry of the prophet is not restricted to the Old Testament.  These men stayed in Antioch for some time, encouraging the church, and then returned to Jerusalem where they had been sent from. 

Verse 35 says that Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch where they taught and preached along with many others.   It is thus clear that Paul and Barnabas were not the only teachers in this church.  The words "many others" tell us that many in a church can have a ministry of teaching.  I suggest that this should be the case in today's church but it isn't.  For the most part, only he who is called the pastor teaches.

Before going any farther, imagine yourself a new Christian man living in Corinth .  Only a few short weeks ago you were a pagan, involved in worshipping multiple gods.  Part of your pleasure and even pagan worship was the sexual relations you had with the temple prostitutes, which by the way, included both male and female prostitutes. You grew up in this culture.  If you were a man you saw your father and grandfather visit these prostitutes from a young age.  It never entered your mind that this could be wrong.  You were taught that religion was a matter of the heart and soul.  That which is material and physical was not considered religious or important.  Thus, sex outside of marriage was only a physical act, having no effect on oneís soul, yet like the wooden and stone idols which were material and physical, the prostitutes were used as an external part of worship. 

You also had no problem with eating certain foods and meat, whether with or without blood.  Now that you have become a Christian, mainly because of Jewish friends, you are told that you have to obey a book full of rules and regulations to maintain your salvation.  This is altogether foreign to you and you just donít understand why you need to do all of these things. Sacrifices, circumcision, and all the rest, did not look much different that what you were used to in your pagan religion. Why did one have to become a Jew when he became a Christian?  These Gentile believers would have had many questions.

Then, at some point someone like Paul comes along and says that you donĎt need to have anything to do with the Law of Moses.  You were never a Jew, and it simply does not apply to you.  It is Godís grace that you have now come to trust in.  At this point you are totally confused, and almost ready to quit.  You have two conflicting viewpoints.  Who is right?

I can imagine Paul being very upset about these things and he made sure that the problem was going to be corrected and so he presented the facts to the church in Jerusalem .  The official letter comes back to you that tell you that there are only four recommendations you need to concern yourself with when it comes to laws.  They are, no immorality, no strangled meat, no blood, and no food offered to idols.  How much of a relief that is to you.  Compared to a whole book of rules, this is no problem.  Of course there are other things you will not do because the number one command is to love your God and your brother.  Therefore, you wonít lie and you wonít kill and you wonít do other such things.  Paul was not telling you that you could do such things because there is no more law.  Jesus had one Law, and that was the Law of love.  Love demands certain things. This is understandable to you and you never had a problem with that.  What you had a problem with, was all of the Jewish Laws.  This has settled the question now and forever.  Gentiles are not under the Law.  The Jews are no longer under the Law as well.  If they want to follow certain things contained in the Law, that is fine for them, but donít make these laws a qualification for salvation.

Most of us today in North American are Gentile Christians.  Acts 15 is very important to us.  The implications of this letter drafted almost two thousand years ago are for us as well.  We are not under the Law of Moses, or any other man made law when it comes to getting saved or maintaining our salvation.  When reading the Old Testament, we can learn about God, but we must understand that anything remotely associated with the Law of Moses does not apply to us in terms of obedience.  There are lots to be learned about the Law of Moses.  One thing to learn is its prophetic significance.   

Many in the Evangelical world are confused about this issue.  They pick and choose certain laws from the Law of Moses to choose and leave the rest.  The Law of Moses does not allow you to pick and choose like this.  If one is to obey the Law, they must obey all of the Law.  If one fails to obey one law, they fail to obey all the law.  If you feel compelled to obey the Law of Moses you canít pick and choose.  You must obey it all.  That being said, the gospel that Paul preached clearly stated that Christians are no longer under the Law.    

Then what significance does the Old Testament have for New Testament Christians, if we donít need to follow all of the rules?  Paul says in his letter to the Romans hat it is an example for us.  By this he means that we can learn from how God dealt with Israel , and how Israel continued to drift from Godís ways.  We can learn what God is all about.  Although how He relates to humanity has changed in certain respects, He Himself has not changed.  We should also note the prophetic aspect to the Old Testament.  The Law is just as much prophetic of Jesus and Israel 's future as it is a list of rules.  So, we can learn much from the Law of Moses, but we cannot use it for a means of salvation, and a list of rules to follow to maintain one's salvation.  It's that simple.          

                       

Disagreement Between Paul And Barnabas  (ch 15:36 - 41)

Verse 36 tells us that Paul asked Barnabas if he would like to go back on another trip and visit all of the churches they visited on their first trip.  One thing to note here is that there is no mention of the Holy Spirit sending Paul and Barnabas like He did the first time.  It appears to be Paul's idea.  This doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit wasn't involved.  It's just that the text doesn't specifically say so.  I'm sure the Holy Spirit would be involved in Paul's thinking here.  

In verses 37 and 38 Barnabas seemed to agree with Paul on the idea of another trip, but he wanted to take John Mark with them, as they did on the first trip.  Paul was not in favour of this because Mark had "deserted" them in the middle of their first trip, and did not continue in the work. 

Why Barnabas wanted Mark to come with them, we donít know for sure.  One thing we do know, and that is Mark was Barnabasí cousin.  This could have been a real motivating factor in Barnabasís thinking.  He had family ties with Mark that Paul did not have.  Paul only knew that Mark had quit on them part way through their work, and Paul was not very happy about that.  Paul was no quitter.

We note in verse 39 and 40 that Paul and Barnabas could not come to any agreement concerning Mark, and had a very sharp disagreement over the matter.  They decided to separate.  These men did not separate as brothers. They separated in the sense that they divided their trip into two parts.  Barnabas would head out to Cyprus with Mark, which was the southern leg of their first trip.  Paul and Silas took the mainland route which was the northern part of their first trip.  Thus, all churches got covered.  It thus appears to me that even though there was a sharp dispute between Paul and Barnabas they did agree on what churches would be visited by both.  We should understand that there is more to this story than what Luke records. 

To say that Paul and Barnabas were so mad at each other and separated in great anger is reading too much into this passage, or so I think.  Yes, there was a sharp dispute, but the separation came in separating their work into two parts, not their fellowship as brothers. To be even more accurate the separation concerned what direction the two men should take on their trip so that they would not duplicate each others mission. 

Verse 40 tells us that the church sent these men on their way in the grace of God.  Despite the dispute, the church in Antioch believed both men were sent out in the grace of God.  This would be another point to make that we should not make a bigger deal about this split than what we often do.  

This is the last we hear of Barnabas.  It is not the last we hear of Mark. He ends up being one of Paulís close friends later on and a real help to his ministry.  See Colossians 4:10.  Mark also got to know Peter.  See 1 Peter 1:13.  Peter actually called Mark his son in the Lord.  Why Mark left Paul and Barnabas we donít know, but we do know that he turned into a real man of God.  He is the Mark that wrote the gospel of Mark.

Paul chose Silas to go with him.  Silas was a Roman which helped in the ministry.  He was also a prophet.  It appears that in many cases apostles and prophets worked together in the ministry in the early church.  They each had their own sphere of responsibility in the work of the Lord.    

 

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