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.” 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. 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. 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. 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 apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 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. 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. 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.”
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.
I wrestled long and hard as to whether or not to give the Jerusalem Council its own part in this study. Then I thought two things. It would only have two parts, but also that it really is the capstone in many ways of Paul’s First Missionary Journey. It is a resolution of sorts to a problem that has finally reached a boiling point and it is Paul’s journey that caused the heat to be turned up so to speak. The Jerusalem Council is something that needed to happen because the issue of Gentiles in the fold of faith had been growing for some time. It is actually Peter who started the issue in Cornelius’ house; Paul simply pushed it over the edge. The practical issue was circumcision but the real big issue was how much of the Law of Moses was still to be followed by the Gentile believers.
The Council of Jerusalem comes about when some Christian brethren come down from Judea and start preaching that circumcision was necessary for someone to be a Christian. In a sense the argument is that Jesus extends the covenant of Abraham to the Gentiles but that covenant is still necessary and part of that was circumcision. Paul and Barnabas of course disagree with this vehemently. It ends with Paul and Barnabas heading to Jerusalem to plead their case. The Pharisees that have accepted Christ were leading the charge for circumcision, Paul is leading against. What should be noted is this is an internal struggle. Pharisees have come to Christ but they still had their high opinion of the Law of Moses. Paul probably does as well but he is beginning to understand that Christ has changed things far more dramatically than simply allowing Gentiles an easier way to enter God’s kingdom.
The main events of this council are the Christians who are Pharisees laying out their simple case, Paul counters but gets help from Peter who as you remember also had come under fire for going to Cornelius’ house. He takes Paul’s side of things and because of the fact he is one of the original twelve apostles and one of the close associates of Jesus himself. I think this support was ultimately what will influence the Council’s decision.
Next: James’ Judgment