Our sojourn with Paul on his first missionary journey comes to a conclusion this week. All of the posts pertaining to this series can be found on the Current Study Page then later they will be archived and located on the Bible Studies Archive Page.
Paul and Barnabas have returned from their mission but questions concerning the practice of Christianity have come to the Antioch church. Some men from Judea have come teaching that circumcision is a requirement to the faith. A decision is made to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to seek an answer on this issue from the apostles and elders.
“Then 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.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: … “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”” Acts 15:5-11
Much discussion on matters of faith still take place in congregations around the globe today. I’ve been in council meetings when the discussions have gone smoothly and I’ve been in meetings when the issues are heavily debated and heated. Paul and Barnabas must’ve felt relieved to hear that Peter agreed with their understanding of God’s design for the Gentiles. Peter’s opinion carried much weight in the early church.
“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. [Peter] has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.” … “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”” Acts 15:12-14,19-20
James, another leading pillar of the early church, adds even more weight to Peter’s appeal. He offers a solution to the controversial dilemma. James calls for ease for the Gentiles to turn to God. They will not be required to follow all of the law nor will circumcision be required. They will be asked to honor four restrictions: To abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood. These four requested observances are acts pertaining to idol worship and used during pagan festivals. Pagan temple prostitutes and home orgies were part of the pagan festival practices and a form of idol worship. By abstaining from these acts, the Gentiles were rejecting their idolatrous ways and turning to true worship of God.
“Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message…. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.” Acts 15:22-31,35
With the Jerusalem Council’s decision and subsequent letter, they solidified that salvation was the gift of God’s grace and received by faith alone. Gentiles were still welcome to learn the law of Moses since it was read publicly every Sabbath in the synagogues but their way to God would not be hampered by the same law restrictions as the Jews. Oral testimony was valued more highly than written testimony in the first century. By sending Judas Barsabbas and Silas with the letter, along with Paul and Barnabas, to the church at Antioch, the Council was assured that their message would be clearly understood by these new Jewish and Gentile believers.
The backing of the Council gave additional support and approval to the teachings of Paul and Barnabas. The message they had carried on their first journey was humanly and heavenly approved. Many issues and controversies would arise over the years to come but these first birth pains were evidence of the strength and veracity of faith among these early Christian leaders.