While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”Acts 15:1-5
I am back from my flashback in Jakarta and we have dealt with the flashback to Lystra, so now let’s analyse the text before us. Who were these men from Judea? It is clear they were converts to Christianity from Judaism whose sole purpose was to infiltrate the new believers in Antioch and persuade them to keep the Jewish laws. These were men who were part of the body of believers from in and around Jerusalem who clear had objected to the Good News going to the Gentiles after what had happened with the conversion of Cornelius and his household. I imagine they had even been present when Peter gave his account to the elders/apostles in Jerusalem. It seems that initially they had accepted the conversion of Cornelius and his household but now were actively working against what was happening in Antioch. It was one thing to accept what happened to Cornelius but it was quite another to accept that this ought to be the normal. They had not agreed to what they must have seen as an exception to the rule in the case of Cornelius, but now wanted to let everyone know that all Gentile believers needed to keep the Laws of Moses. The verbal form of “teaching the brethren” is in the imperfect. This may well indicate that these men were continuously seeking opportunities to force their teaching on the new Gentiles believers in and around Antioch.
The issue at heart initially was over circumcision but it is clear after reading the whole chapter that circumcision was just the thin edge of the wedge. What would soon follow is the call to keep all the laws of Moses – regarding eating, cleanliness, and even the sacrificial laws. Judaizers and those who call for us to follow the Law will always attempt to apply the whole law. As Paul said in Romans if you are going to try to work out your salvation by keeping the Law then you need to keep the whole law. The term law of Moses is really the Jewish customs or minutiae of rules related to what it means for a person to be holy, what it means to keep the Sabbath and all the rules for fulfilling the Law in the way the Pharisaical spirit would seek to enforce it.
We are told in verse two that Paul and Barnabas opposed them vehemently. Literally, this was no small dissension; not a minor matter. Paul and Barnabas could see that if they left these Judaizers unopposed this thinking would soon settle upon the whole church. We know in looking back it has. The term “no small dissension” is a litotes, a figure of speech that uses understatement to emphasise a point by stating a negative to further affirm a positive. We Kiwis use litotes a lot. That’s “not bad” meaning its good; even really good. She is “not bad looking” meaning she looks sensational. Luke’s use of litotes is to send us the message that this issue WAS a big deal. It would set the course for Christianity into the future. Thus Paul and Barnabas rightly oppose it for all they are worth. It was important enough for Paul and Barnabas to confront the Judaizers to their face. This was something that needed to be resolved. There were other members of the church in Antioch who were involved as well but who were not mentioned by name. Notice how the men from Judea took the teaching to an extreme – unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved. Hello, where did that thought come from?
Paul and Barnabas impress upon the church in Antioch (the fellowship of Gentile believers) that this was an important issue. Note that Barnabas the son of encouragement is involved. Sometimes it is important for those of us who see the positive and like to encourage everyone, to take stock and realize when it is necessary to oppose something. Some things are worth opposing and taking a firm stand on. Seemingly the Antiochean church realized this matter needed to be resolved and so the church sent Paul and Barnabas with some local believers to Jerusalem to sort this out. A couple of you have drawn my attention to a seeming contradiction where Paul says in Gal 2:2 that he went up by revelation to Jerusalem over this matter and yet here we read the church sent him and the team to Jerusalem. So which is it? Was it by revelation or was it as a result of the church appointing him? What do you think?
Whatever you decide, it was clear that this was an important enough of an issue that it needed to be resolved by the highest authority in the land. Thus the delegation was sent to the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem. Clearly the Eleven were still based in Jerusalem. “The apostles and elders” are governed by the one definite article – the apostles and elders; not the apostles and the elders. The apostles were clearly perceived to be the elders of the Messianic church. Hence the matter needed to be referred to them. They needed to give their ruling on the matter. The assumption is that when they did, everyone would recognize their authority and the matter would be resolved. Pigs might fly too. They went up to Jerusalem specifically to resolve the issue being taught by the men from Judea. Here you leaders in Jerusalem! This is a problem for the fledgling church so you guys need to resolve it.
While you are thinking this through, notice what happened on the way up to Jerusalem.
Sometimes issues are worth taking a stand on.Ian Vail
There are times when the little things become big things if they are not resolved.Ian Vail
A window stuck open is just as bad as a window stuck shut. Either way, you’ve lost its use. Ditto for a mind.Ian Vail
Oh, foolish Galatians! . . . How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?Galatians 3:3
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.Muhammad Ali