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BRUCE C WEARNE, in his series on the Book of Acts, writes about the ongoing discussion among the disciples about the acceptance of the Gentlles in chapter 15… 

Council meeting

The apostles and the elders convened a gathering to consider this matter.
     And after extended debate, Peter [in summing up] rose to make the following statement: “Brothers, you know from the earliest days about God’s choice made in your midst; that meant the Gentiles would hear via my mouth the word of the Gospel and believe it. And God who is the One who knows the heart bore witness by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He had to us; and He made it so that there was nothing to distinguish us from them, but by faith their hearts were indeed cleansed. Now therefore why do you want to put God to the test by placing on disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor ourselves have been able to endure? But it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in whom we believe, that we are saved just in the same way as they are.”
     And the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what God done through them by the signs and wonders among Gentiles.
     After hearing them out, James responded [with the following resolution]: “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God, from the outset, has visited Gentiles, taking out from them a people for His own Name. This view is in agreement with the words of the prophets, namely, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, along with all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from ancient times.’ Therefore my judgment is that we must not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols, from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. For since earliest generations Moses has had those who have proclaimed him in every city in the synagogues, when he is read every Sabbath.” – Acts 15:6-21/transliteration by BRUCE C WEARNE

Council meeting

COUNCIL MEETING: The debate in Antioch centred on the outreach to the Gentiles. PICTURE: Svilen Milev

The council in Jerusalem heard Peter’s introduction. Paul and Barnabas reported on their journeys. Finally James, the brother of Jesus, affirmed the work they had done. 

In the meeting of the church council, first Peter, then James, confirmed the validity of what Paul and Barnabas had done in setting up Gentile churches. By this time Peter was ‘on side’ with Paul. There is nothing here to suggest he wanted to have it both ways. It is important to note that a period of time has elapsed between Peter’s visit to Cornelius, his visit to Antioch and confrontation with Paul (as described by Paul in Galatians 2), and the sending out of Paul and Barnabas by the church at Antioch.

But there is another struggle going on here. It concerns the place of Jerusalem in the developing network of churches. This meeting was convened in Jerusalem since that is where the apostles were located. They would not be there forever. They were men just like everyone else in the church.

But the issue is also about the action of the Antioch church in sending Paul and Barnabas to preach the Gospel in Gentile regions. Were they allowed to do that? Did they have to have prior authorisation from the apostles to do that?

Notice how, while going up to Jerusalem to resolve the matter, Paul and Barnabas continue to give their reports in Phoenicia and Samaria as they travel. They took every opportunity to pass on the news because it is also part of the Good News about Jesus.

Peter and James, Jesus’ brother and leader of the Jerusalem church, fully endorsed the work of Paul and Barnabas. It was not only that they were right to continue to sow the seed in Gentile fields, but the endorsement implied approval of the Antioch church’s action. That congregation had pioneered the wholehearted sharing of the Gospel with Gentiles. This continued the Lord’s work; the Apostolic way was to wait upon the Holy Spirit for His guidance and that is what the endorsement of Antioch had done.

The important events that have served to frame Luke’s narrative are also those which can help us discern the background developments in terms of which Paul’s letters were written and made their indispensable contribution. There was the split between Paul and Barnabas (15:36-41), Paul’s reporting back to the church at Antioch with Silas (18:18-23) as well as the decrees of the two church councils that assisted those engaged in teaching the congregations that welcome Jesus the Messiah how “the way” was to be lived (chapters 15 and 21). The second Jerusalem council meeting (Acts 21:17-39) is also the crucial turning point in Paul’s ministry – his arrest and continued detainment.


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