While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”Acts 15:1-5
So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and He confirmed that He accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for Himself. And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written: ‘Afterward I will return and restore the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, dso that the rest of humanity might seek the LORD, including the Gentiles—all those I have called to be Mine. The LORD has spoken—He who made these things known so long ago.’ And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”Acts 15:6-21
Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. This is the letter they took with them: “This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings! “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question.”
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”Acts 15:22-29
The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message. Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. [But Silas decided to stay there.] Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.Acts 15:30-35
After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.Acts 15:36-41
It is probably no coincidence that this chapter of the Book of Acts is right in the middle of the historical account Luke has written for us. It’s a Hebrew technique to use the beginning, the middle and the end to say the most important things. Hebrew Chiastic Structure (an hour glass arrangement of poetic material) uses the middle position to make a strong point. Here we find Luke has attempted an impossible task – to give an account of how it came to pass that an agreement was reached between the strict Jewish believers in Jerusalem and the rather more liberal Gentile church in Antioch. Luke has also given us a glimpse behind the scenes of the workings of the inner circle. How Paul and Barnabas came to represent two different approaches to mission activity concerning the Gentile. This Chapter marks a turning point in the understanding of the mission thrust to the Gentiles. But not only that it gives us an insight into the tensions and disagreements within the inner circle.
Luke’s summary lays out the following issues:
- How the Pharisaic group within the church insisted the Gentiles be circumcised and the agreement to submit the matter to the Church in Jerusalem to decide. (1-5)
- How the Apostles and elders met and listened to both Barnabas and Paul and to Peter and James their different views. (6-21)
- The letter from the Church of Jerusalem summarizing the decision of the Apostles and elders and sent to the Church in Antioch. (22-29)
- The reception of the letter to the church in Antioch. (30-35)
- The dispute between Paul and Barnabas (36-41)
This is perhaps the hardest chapter in the whole of the New Testament to harmonize historically, but also one of the most important. There have been numerous attempts to harmonize the accounts found in Acts and Galatians. This fifteenth chapter in Acts is Luke account of the issue that arose and its handling, whereas Galatians is Paul’s account of what happened and its resolution or otherwise.
I will deal with the issues for you in later Gems and some of the suggestions made in an attempt to reconcile the discrepancies and the issues. For the moment, we come to the first section in the Book of Acts where we have to switch to a letter of Paul’s which sheds more light on the events described by Luke. This happens frequently in our tracking Luke’s account through the Book of Acts. Many times we have to stop our reading in Acts and go to a letter of Paul which deals with the same or similar events. In this case you need to read Paul’s letter to the Galatians in order to gain greater insight. The historical hub of the New Testament is Luke’s Book of Acts. Then the epistles or letters of the New Testament are arranged around the Book of Acts. Many times they are interrelated and given us deeper insights when we read the letter in conjunction with the events described in Acts.
I have clipped a slide from the introductory session of Deeper Bible. History 1 is the history of Jesus given to us through the Gospels. History 2 is the Book of Acts, the history of grow of the church and the normalizing of the approach of the church to sharing the Gospel. The blue circles are Paul’s letters, first those written to churches and then those written to individuals. The orange circles are letters written not by Paul but by other people.
Now it’s time for me to stop and give you time to read Paul’s Letter to the Galatians in conjunction with Acts 15.
I don’t go by the rule book; I lead from the heart, not the head.Princess Diana
Paul’s letter to the Galatians contains some of the most difficult Greek of the New Testament. Why? Because he is writing from the heart and intensely emotional.Ian Vail
I know you think you heard what I said but you only heard the words, not the intent.Ian Vail
A wise man does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.Epictetus
90% of what’s stressing you today will be irrelevant in a year. Get over it. Move on and enjoy your life.Ian Vail
Wise people have their security and identity in the One they worship, the Lord of heaven and earth, not their stuff.Proverbs 18:10
A grandfather is someone who carries pictures where his money used to be!Ian Vail