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Keeping All United: The Council of Jerusalem

Submitted by on Wednesday, 13 May 2009No Comment

Acts 15:1-6 begins the narration about the Jerusalem Council. A problem about communion has arisen and the nascent Church had to come up with a solution that would unite rather than divide. Up until this point in Luke’s narrative, the Church has been making grounds among the Gentiles. In Acts 13:51 we saw Paul and Barnabas shaking the dust off their sandals before the Jews who rejected the gospel in Antioch (Pisidia). From that moment on they turn to the Gentiles. In their subsequent travel through the regions of present-day Turkey, it became evident that more Gentiles were turning to the Lord. The originally Jewish community has begun to admit Gentiles into its fold and the problem soon arose: should these Gentiles first become Jews so that they can be Christians, or not. If they had to become Jews first, then they have to enter the covenant with Abraham through circumcision. This was what some brothers from Judea were saying such that Paul and Barnabas had to debate with them (v.1). The issue then became an issue for the whole Church. Paul writes about this in his letter to the Christians in Galatia:

1Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Galatians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Paul’s emotional account of the event should be taken into the proper perspective: he is writing to Gentile Christians who have become “ensnared” by certain proselyters whose gospel was closer to the Law of Moses than the Law of the Spirit. Hence, his presentation is biased towards the gospel he proclaims: that of God’s gratuitous love expressed in Christ Crucified.

Acts 15:1-6
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
1And some coming down from Judea, taught the brethren: That except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.
2And when Paul and Barnabas had no small contest with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the other side, should go up to the apostles and priests to Jerusalem about this question.
3They therefore being brought on their way by the church, passed through Phenice, and Samaria, relating the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.
4And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church, and by the apostles and ancients, declaring how great things God had done with them.
5But there arose some of the sect of the Pharisees that believed, saying: They must be circumcised, and be commanded to observe the law of Moses.
6And the apostles and ancients assembled to consider of this matter.
Acts 13:51
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
51But they, shaking off the dust of their feet against them, came to Iconium.
Galatians 2:1-10
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
1Then, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me.
2And I went up according to revelation; and communicated to them the gospel, which I preach among the Gentiles, but apart to them who seemed to be some thing: lest perhaps I should run, or had run in vain.
3But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Gentile, was compelled to be circumcised.
4But because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privately to spy our liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into servitude.
5To whom we yielded not by subjection, no not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
6But of them who seemed to be some thing, (what they were some time, it is nothing to me, God accepteth not the person of man,) for to me they that seemed to be some thing added nothing.
7But contrariwise, when they had seen that to me was committed the gospel of the uncircumcision, as to Peter was that of the circumcision.
8(For he who wrought in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, wrought in me also among the Gentiles.)
9And when they had known the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship: that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision:
10Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do.

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