BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
THE COUNCIL AT JERUSALEM
It was William Barclay who wrote, “The paradox of Christianity is that, the way to victory is through surrender, and the way to power is through admitting one’s own helplessness”.
In the, now famous, “Acts 15 Council” that is chronicled by Luke here in this chapter of the Book of Acts, we see, once again, the core differences between the man who sees religion as “ritual”, and the man who sees in religion, loving GOD and loving his fellowman. Perhaps we saw it first in the Gospel of Mark in chapter 7, verses 1-15, when JESUS sought to teach the Pharisees about “inner purity”, on an occasion in the port village of Gennesaret, shortly following HIS legendary “walk on water”.
For the orthodox Jew, the law meant two things. First of all, it meant the “Ten Commandments”, and then secondly, it meant the “Pentateuch”, the first five books of the Old Testament that were written by Moses. From these two documents, they formed a very complex, “self-made”, spoken list of rules and regulations, known as “Oral Laws”, or, “The Traditions of the Elders”.
However, it wasn’t until roughly 300 years, after the Crucifixion of CHRIST, that these “Oral Laws”, were first written down. Over time, they came to form the compilation we know today as the “Mishnah”, which is the first, and most basic part of the “Jewish Talmud”, and the written basis of religious authority for traditional Judaism. To the orthodox Jews, Scribes, and Pharisees, these rules and regulations were the essence of religion. In their minds, to observe and obey them was to please GOD.
Here in Acts 15, while Paul and Barnabas were still at Antioch of Syria, some men came from Judea and began teaching the newly formed Christian Church, that, unless they keep these ancient Jewish customs, and, in this case, the ancient custom known as “circumcision”, they could not receive “Salvation”. In other words, they seemed to be telling the Gentile newcomers that the only way to become a Christian, was that they first, become a Jew.
Paul and Barnabas sharply disagreed, and they argued forcefully and at length with these former Pharisees. Finally, Paul and Barnabas, along with a few of the other Believers, were sent to Jerusalem to discuss this dispute with the apostles and elders there at the central Church. The discussion that ensued that day is what has now come to be known as the “Acts 15 Council”.
During this council, the Apostles and Elders ruled in favor of Paul and Barnabas and stipulated that the Gentile believers only had to abstain from eating foods that were sacrificed to idols, abstain from sexual immorality, and abstain from drinking blood and eating the meat of strangled animals. They felt that these requirements were “HOLY SPIRIT” led, and had been preached in the Synagogues for centuries.
James, the half-brother of JESUS, apparently the head of the Church at Jerusalem at that time, cited a quote from the Prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12) as the basis for their decision in Acts 15:16-18. They then sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with a letter announcing their decision.
All of the requirements cited by James in his letter speak only to moral issues that any person in CHRIST should seek to observe. The things mentioned by the Jerusalem council did not require a person to make physical changes, such as circumcision, in order to come to CHRIST, but rather, they required a person to make certain spiritual disciplinary adjustments that are necessary to become more like CHRIST.
No person can be justified by keeping the “Law of Moses”, but rather, one can only be justified through surrender to CHRIST. Circumcision was that part of the law that GOD gave to Abraham only as a sign of the Jews personal commitment to HIM. It was never intended to be a requirement for Salvation, as GOD’s plan of Salvation had not yet been revealed to man in those days.
Abraham was accredited righteousness by GOD, because of his faith, not because he was circumcised, or kept any other law. Salvation has always been, is now, and will forever be, a gift of grace from GOD, and serves as a reward for our belief in our LORD and SAVIOR, GOD’s only begotten SON, JESUS CHRIST.
Christianity is the only true religion, because it is the only religion that is a product of GOD’s mind. It is the religion that is based simply on listening to GOD, and accepting HIS Word. And so we can conclude that, any rule that prevents us from helping our fellowman can never be a rule of GOD.
JESUS came to show us that worshiping GOD can only be done from the inside out. Peter, perhaps, put it best in Acts 15:10-11 when he says, in effect, “Why are we now questioning GOD’s way, by burdening other believers with a yoke that neither we, nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, and that is, by the special favor of our LORD JESUS”.
And so, all of the Church leaders involved themselves in the process of solving and getting over the early Church’s first major internal hurdle. They first obtained a clear statement of the issues, heard arguments from both sides, consulted the scriptures, maintained good communications, and as a result, built upon the strong unity that it takes to be successful in GOD’s work.
THE LETTER FOR GENTILE BELIEVERS
When Paul and Barnabas, along with a group of chosen delegates arrived back at Antioch of Syria with the report and letter outlining the results of the Acts 15 Council, they immediately called a meeting of the Christians to give them the good news about Gentile inclusion. There was great joy throughout the church that day as the apostles read the letter that had been given to them by the heads of the Mother Church at Jerusalem. The letter was stated thusly (Vs.24-29 - NLT);
“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.”
Afterwards Judas and Silas (Silvanus), two of the chosen delegates, both being prophets, stayed for a while and spoke extensively to the congregation in an effort to encourage them, and strengthen their faith before returning to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas, on the other hand, stayed in Antioch of Syria to help those who were teaching and preaching the Word of the LORD there.
PAUL AND BARNABAS SEPARATE
After spending some time in Antioch of Syria, Paul and Barnabas began to discuss returning to some of the cities that they had visited and planted churches in, during their first and only missionary journey together. They were curious to see how the new believers in those cities and towns were getting along, and to help to encourage them to hold fast to their newly found Christian faith.
Barnabas agreed with Paul, but wanted to again take along young John Mark to assist them. However Paul, still greatly disappointed in the young man for deserting them on the first journey near Pamphylia, strongly opposed bringing John Mark along again. This disagreement was so sharp that the two apostles decided to separate and go in different directions. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed back to his homeland of Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia to help strengthen the churches there.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website