Acts 15: 13-35:
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. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
‘After these things I will return,
And I will rebuild 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.
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. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
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, 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.”
So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.] But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord.
James is recognized by most church histories as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Whether or not he had an official title in this or not is debatable because the Book of Acts does not say. He does seem to act as the final arbiter in this dispute at this time. James is Jesus’ half brother. They have the same mother but Joseph is James father. His judgment is that they the leaders of the believers would not trouble those who are turning to God from the Gentiles.
The Council decided that the Gentiles not be burdened with the letter of the Law of Moses but that they follow a simple few guidelines. 1) To refrain eating things sacrificed to idols, 2) Refrain from fornication, 3) Refrain from eating things strangled or with blood in them. This is actually all about idolatry as every behavior listed was used in pagan worship. The one thing the church wanted to get across to the Gentile believers is that following Christ was an all or nothing proposition and they were not simply adding another deity to the Pantheon of deities out there. eating meat offered to idols that was strangled or still had blood in it was definitely part of the sacrificial system to the gods as well as fornication. In short these guidelines would have kept every Christian Gentile out of the pagan temples.
The judgment seems good to everyone else and so what happens is very quickly turned into a letter that is sent uses some interesting words – “that we lay no greater burden on you”. That burden was all about keeping the Gentiles free of idolatry and outside that any following of the Law of Moses was a personal choice not to be forced on anyone. Paul and Barnabas deliver the letter to Antioch and the result is great rejoicing. The early church has passed its first hurdle and controversy.
It is during this time in Antioch that is believed that Paul penned the book of Galatians and it is also believed that James penned the book bearing his name. The thing is the Jerusalem Council may have ended the practical problem of circumcision be required of the Gentiles but other theological controversies existed. Most notably what lead to salvation faith or works. Paul and James will both attempt to address this issue along with many others that have come up in the church.
At this point in the study I am going to break away from Acts and handle both book of James and Galatians. I want us all to remember they had both been to the Jerusalem Council and with that fresh in their minds they sit down and pen there respective works. They are coming at their problems with their understandings of the situation from their perspective at that point. For my purposes I will be studying both books together at the same time. The idea being to see if the two men really contradict each other or are actually engaged in something else. We will see. When we return to Acts Paul will be getting ready to head out on his next missionary journey.
Next: The Book of James and the Book of Galatians.