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 15:20-21
The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers
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.”
The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter.Acts 15:22-30
Take note of the letter and those who were sent to take it to Antioch and beyond. It seems the Council didn’t want Paul and Barnabas alone to take the letter. I am sure that was because it’s clear that as apostles to the Gentiles they were in favour of not forcing Jewish rules on Gentile believers. (Read 1 Cor 9) Paul and Barnabas were also the ones who were sent to Jerusalem to seeking a ruling from the leaders there. Clearly the Council in Jerusalem wanted to make clear to those in Antioch the representative nature of their decision. So they didn’t just send Paul and Barnabas back again. I wonder too if they were just being biblical in terms of the Mosaic Law and what Jesus had told them.
Moses had given them a legal requirement to choose at least two or three witnesses when verifiying evidence. So too Jesus had given the disciples the same principle in Matthew 18:16. Hence the Council is careful to choose these representatives of the different points of view either side of the discussion. Paul the trainee Pharisee, Barnabas the one who is local to the area around Antioch and beyond. (See my earlier comments related to the trip to Cyprus). However, both of these men were the ones who took the message to the Gentiles in the first place and were appointed by those in Antioch to inquire of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So it is only right that they should go back to Antioch with the decision the Council handed down.
Next Judas, also called Barsabbas, is chosen. What do we know about him? He is most likely the brother of Joseph Barsabas who replaced Judas in Acts 1:23. Clearly he was a man of good standing among the believers. One whom the Council felt could represent the Christian – Jewish point of view to those back in Antioch. That would go some way to setting the Judaisers at ease knowing they had representation in the decision.
Then Silas (or Silvanus 2 Cor 1:19, 1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:1 and 1 Peter 5:12) who was a Hellenist was sent to represent the Gentiles. Notice that he then becomes the one who accompanies Paul on the successive missionary journeys into the future when Paul and Barnabas part company. Both of these men, Judas (Barsabas) and Silas (Silvanus) were men of influence, experience and who had authority in the church. We are told in verse 32 that both of these men had a prophetic ministry as well. Meaning they spoke out with words from the Holy Spirit. They were of the same nature as Paul and Barnabas who had been chosen by the church in Jerusalem when they first sent them out after waiting on the Holy Spirit for direction. It is safe to assume that similar process happened in this case. When you want the Holy Spirit to be involved in the ministry then it is necessary to choose men who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
In addition to this, these men carried the document – the official letter from the Council in Jerusalem. Now we have a three-fold witness to the decision of the Council in Jerusalem. There are the two who were delegated by the church in Antioch to go to the Apostles and leaders in Jerusalem seeking a ruling, both of whom represent different viewpoints and cultural backgrounds. Then there are the two whom the Council appointed, again who represented two different factions. Then lastly there is the official document (the Letter) sent from the Council and no doubt sealed with the Council’s seal. This was a very serious matter and the Council were taking the matter seriously after the input from James the Just, the current or future leader of the Church in Jerusalem.
The contents of the letter make it very clear that this document is official. Furthermore it is made the clear that the Judaisers were not party to this decision. The leaders in Jerusalem make it clear that the Judaisers were not sent by them in any official way at all. “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them!” They were acting totally independently. They also state that they, the leaders in Jerusalem are unanimous in their decision outlined in the letter. They are in complete agreement with the decision taken. They also make it clear that Paul and Barnabas have their full support in whatever they may say. In other words they speak on the Council’s behalf as well. Further we send Judas and Silas to confirm our decision. And now for the real confirmation – It seems good to the Holy Spirit as well. These men were keen to also seek and to know the voice of the Holy Spirit at every turn. They seek Holy Spirit at the beginning of Acts 13 and now they seek Him again in the context of the Council of Jerusalem.
We don’t wish to burden you by these requirements. They are not many. We just have a few things we require of you.
- You must abstain from eating food offered to idols,
- abstain from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals,
- and abstain from sexual immorality. (which was also prevalent in worship in the ancient world).
If you do this, you will do well. End of story. We require nothing more of you.
Why these requirements?
Because in Antioch as in other places the Jewish believers in Messiah must get along with the Gentile believers in the Christ. They are to be one and to act accordingly. Now this bring some sense to why verse 21 is in the midst of this passage. “For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” You Gentile God seekers know how zealously the Jews around keep preaching the teaching of Moses each Sabbath. So the point here is to do your best to maintain relationship in the interests of brotherhood. Not only that but you have to get along with them socially as well. You eat in their homes. So don’t be an offense to the weaker brother among you. Do all you can to accommodate to their culture. Paul will clearly develop this line of thinking later in his ministry – 1 Corinthians 9 among other places.
Having given the Gentiles these few requirements it is hoped they will be able to fellowship in the homes of fellow Jewish believers in Jesus the Christ. And be mindful of the same should the Jews believers in Yeshua the Messiah come to their homes. (Which was unlikely)
These are the bottom line requirements we would place on you to be part of the One Body. You don’t need to be circumcised as the Judaisers are telling you.
Half the secret of being smart is knowing what is dumb.Anon
To avoid failure don’t try to please everybody.Anon
A measure of your spiritual maturity is your response to negative circumstances. Don’t conform to those around you.Ian Vail
The way to live without the approval of others is to know the approval of the Christ.Ian Vail
Don’t look for wisdom from Uncle Google. Seek wisdom in the Word of God. Seek a quickened Rhema Word from the Holy Spirit.Ian Vail