Acts 15:1-29 The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem
Gentiles are turning to the Lord by the multiplied thousands. To this point the church has been decidedly Jewish. Many ancient Jewish customs have been taken for granted. But the Gentiles know little about these customs. Yet the Lord has accepted them just as they are. How then are the Jewish and Gentiles Christians to have fellowship?
And so we turn to the most important study in the book of Acts. The council of Acts 15 is the only church council in history that can claim to have a direct bearing on the Christian conscience. Others may claim it, but only this council has been put in place by the apostles themselves, and has been made part of the sacred Scriptures. What happens in this council will determine the direction of the church throughout the age.
This is Acts029 - Acts 15:1-29 The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem.
Vs1: "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'"
....It will later be shown that these men had taken upon themselves to teach a necessity of circumcision. It is also likely that they put themselves off as representing James and the apostles in Jerusalem. After the decision of the council, this same group will continue to frustrate the work of the gospel. (To be covered later.)
Vs2: "And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue."
.... Keep in mind that Paul and Barnabas are apostles themselves. But it was crucial that the Church be of one mind. This issue could easily split the church into various factions.
.... The term 'apostles and elders' marks the government of the Church in Jerusalem. James was the presiding elder.
Vs3: "Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren."
.... The word had been spreading and when the group from Antioch brought first hand reports of the Gentiles turning to Jesus, joy was the overwhelming reaction.
Vs4: "When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them."
.... The church in Jerusalem had heard the reports also, and they gathered to listen to Paul and Barnabas. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem received them as special envoys of the church in Antioch. You can be sure that the general reaction was the same as it had been in other churches. The glory of the Lord was being revealed to all peoples! Of course there is a group who will cause deep concern at the meeting.
Vs5: "But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'"
.... The joy over Gentiles receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior was soon dampened after Paul and Barnabas shared their report. Some of the the sect of the Pharisees went to work, demanding that the Gentiles be circumcised. But this is not something new that would disappear. There have always been groups who place additions to our salvation in Christ that are not Scriptural.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this group did not represent all the Pharisees. Many of the Pharisees truly loved Jesus and were not a party to the troublers. Paul himself came from the Pharisees.
Vs6: "The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter."
.... The church is not mention here, but later verses allow us to understand that a greater part of the church was present. Feelings were running high, and all parties were allowed to offer their thoughts. You can be sure this was an exhausting moment. The apostles themselves may have not have participated in much of these discussions.
What happens next will cause everyone to get quiet. One of the the apostles of the Lamb begins to speak. Peter is held in deep admiration by all parties. A hush comes over the assembly.
Vs7: "After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, 'Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe."
.... When Peter speaks of 'the early days' he is referring to Cornelius. This had happened several years ago. The council takes place in approximately 50 a.d. Cornelius came to the Lord several years earlier.
Vss8,9: "And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith."
.... Peter explains that God looks at the heart alone. In doing this He made no difference between Jews and Gentiles. This is something the Pharisees opposers did not want to hear, but truth is truth. What Peter is sharing is crucial to the Christian faith. There are no conditions to be met for God's work of salvation other than believing in the message of Jesus Christ. Peter's point goes further. There can only be one body, and faith alone will determine who becomes part of the body of Christ.
Here it comes....
Vss10,11: "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."
.... What a stunning statement! Peter tells the assembly what the true message of the church is to be. We are all saved the same way. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Any other gospel that does not bring this emphasis cannot be accounted a true gospel.
Now its Paul's turn again...
Vs12: "All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles."
.... Can you imagine the presence of the Lord that revealed itself in these moments. Everyone else has had had their say, and now the great apostles of the church are speaking.
After Peter comes Paul and Barnabas. These men of God relate their experiences, and share from the miracles and the many conversions. What a spell-binding moment.
Next it will be time for James to speak. Let's take a moment to share a bit on James. Not only is James the brother of our Lord Jesus, but he is also bishop of the church in Jerusalem. (Bishop is the presiding elder.) We also need to remember that Jesus appeared to James by himself. All these things count for the important role that James had in the Jerusalem church.
There is another reason that James held such esteem with the Jewish Christians. James was of the house of David. This was a distinction of great honor among the Jews.
We can see why the Lord used James to give the Jerusalem church a person of whom they could rally around. As for the the apostles, they were never given the role of being 'over' any local church group in the sense of pastoring. They were to lay the foundations. Each church would have its own governing body.
James is going to sum up the proceedings. There is no question that the apostles are in agreement, and that a spiritual consensus is in place. We will see this shortly. But the fact that James takes the lead should silence any notion of papal authority. Everyone remains quiet as James speaks.
Let's hear what he has to say:
Vss13,14: "After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, 'Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name."
.... This is the only place in Scripture where Peter is referred to by his Hebrew name.
Vss15-18: "With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 'After these things I will return, and I will rebuilt the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My Name', says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago."
.... The essence of this prophecy is that God intended from the very beginning to have a people from all the nations. The tabernacle (booth) of David has its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. There is more to this prophecy but we can deal with that if questions arise. (The tabernacle of David is a prophetic picture of the new covenant. The tabernacle of Moses represented the covenant of Law.)
Vss19,20: "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood."
.... When James says 'it is my judgment', he is making a summation for the apostolic council. The summation is not, however, an issue of making the Gentiles responsible for the Noahide laws, while the Jews are responsible for the Mosaic laws. It is about table fellowship.
The actual problem centered on how to bring Gentile believers into fellowship with Jewish believers, so that they could have things in common, such as table fellowship. The Jews were very sensitive about many things. Some of the problem area came from the traditions of the elders. Over time these extras would disappear.
The issue was this: The Jew was not to require more of his Gentile brother than these afore mentioned things, and the Gentile brother was not to concede less than these things to his Jewish brother. Paul lays this principle out in Romans 14, and in other places.
Vs21: "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
.... The point James is making is that as the gospel goes forth, there will be many opportunities to minister to the Jewish peoples and in their synagogues. Therefore God's new people are to be careful to not offend the Jewish peoples. It is estimated that 10% of the Roman Empire at that time was Jewish or Jewish converts.
Paul later elaborates on this, when he says, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law." (1Co9:20,21)
Vs22: "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas-- Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren...."
.... The entire apostolic assembly came into agreement. The principle was established. Leading men from the Jerusalem church would accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to give additional testimony concerning the findings of the council.
The letter is sent as follows:
Vss23-29: "and they sent this letter by them ...
'The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.
'Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.'"
Here are the things to take note of:
(1) The letter represents the full consensus of the apostles and elders of the church of Jerusalem. "Having become of one mind." The consensus certainly would include both Peter and Paul. These apostles had become close friends through the years.
(2) The letter includes the testimony of the Holy Spirit; "Seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials."
(3) The issue was that Gentile believers are under no obligation to observe Jewish traditions. It is certainly fine for Jewish believers to do so as long as these traditions do not nullify the freedom that belongs to the full community of faith, or, that these traditions do not become overstressed so that the body of Christ becomes divided.
This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.
Page added October 22, 2004
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