So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and He confirmed that He accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for Himself. And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written: ‘Afterward I will return and restore the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity might seek the LORD, including the Gentiles—all those I have called to be Mine. The LORD has spoken—He who made these things known so long ago.’ “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”Acts 15:6-21
A couple of you readers took issue with my title of the previous Gem – “The Meeting Behind Closed Doors”. Two of you wondered if this was a closed meeting or not. You based your challenge on the fact that in verse 15:12 other versions use terms like the whole crowd, the whole assembly. Doesn’t that infer that the whole church came together? Was this the first Church conference. It is true that the gathering swells to include “the assembly”. Yet still begins as a meeting behind closed doors. Many at this point try to harmonise this part of Acts with the private discussion that Paul mentions in Gal 2:1-10. Others on the other hand think there was one meeting, one which included a large crowd. As I indicated to you a couple of Gems ago when I introduced the comparison to Galatians, that it was hard to harmonise and I wouldn’t pursue the matter. There are differing opinions among the commentators.
What is clear is that this has become known as the Council of Jerusalem. It was the first ever general Christian council or conference ever held and certainly the greatest and most significant of the First Century. It is quite likely that it began behind closed doors but soon was open up for anyone and everyone to join. The end result seems to have been that the whole concurred on the matter before them. That after all is the strength of what is said in verse 12. “Everyone listened quietly” of the NLT is a little bland I think. Other versions replace it with “the whole assembly kept silent”, “the multitude were silent” or “There was dead silence. No one said a word” from Eugene Peterson in the Message version. The weight of this statement is more likely to mean that after arguments were presented, those who opposed the apostles and elders were left without anything to say. The body concurred on the matter and the opponents were defeated.
There were two issues before them:
- Should Gentiles be forced to be circumcised?
- Should Gentiles be forced to observe all the requirements of the Mosaic Law?
This in a nutshell was what they were debating. The outcome of this Council (be it between the leaders only or a full conference of those involved in the early church in Jerusalem) was to arrive at a watershed moment for what was to follow for the church universal. This was a momentous meeting. Thus there was strong debate – much strong debate, impassioned emotions, and full blown controversy and discussion. We are told that the discussion or debate went on a long time. We are not told exactly how long but it was “full on”. Then Peter got up to speak. Notice what he said. “Brothers, you all know that in the early days God made a choice among you.” He appears to be referring to the time when Peter was called to go to Cornelius and the debate which followed after that. Ten to fifteen years before that this debate had been settled by God Himself by His intervention. The fact that Peter had been spoken to by God in the vision and so he had gone to the share the Gospel with the Gentiles. God had then given to them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us! God knows people’s heart and it is He who gave the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and his household. It is not us you are challenging (debating against); it is God Himself. Besides we couldn’t even keep the Mosaic Law, why should we put that on them?
Peter concludes with the statement – We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus. So who is the “we” he is referring to? He is clearly talking about all the apostles and elders. The leaders concur. Notice what happens at the point first Barnabas and Paul tell their stories and then James gets up and gives his speech. I will stop this Gem at the beginning of James speech to give us time to ponder what James had to say.
Suffice to say at this point, that Barnabas and Paul add their weight to the argument by telling what happened when they shared the Gospel with the Gentiles. Notice too the order of the names. Luke has reverted back to placing Barnabas’ name first in the pairing. Why is that? Likely as not Barnabas was highly esteemed back in Jerusalem. After all they had sent him out as the stronger one of the pairing. Hence he likely to have spoken first, followed by Paul. They both told their stories. What stories did they share? Well the ones that told of God’s intervention on their behalf. They told about the miraculous things, the signs and wonders, that God did among the Gentiles. See how similar it is to Peter’s testimony. These leaders are simply gathering together all the indications that God is behind these events. Once that becomes clear then it is also clear the direction they ought to move in or they will find themselves contending with God. That is a no-win situation.
Notice the progression: –
- fierce debate
- a retelling of what God has done
It is a good principle to follow. When you debate make sure all dissenting voice are heard. Once you have all the contrary opinion on that table it is possible to weigh up the issues and make an informed decision. There is a principle that I followed when I led Wycliffe NZ and interacted with the Board.
You can’t come to consensus until all the dissenting voices have been heard. Many times we say we have unity but what we have is uniformity. Until everyone has had a chance to voice their opposition we don’t have unity. After all counter arguments have been heard, then we can arrived at agreement. That is what happened at this first Council in Jerusalem. The fiery debate took place first, then Peter, Barnabas and Paul tell their stories of what God did. That helped them to focus on what God’s intention was for them. That is where we are up to in the process at the moment. Then comes James’ input. We will look at what James had to say in the next Gem.
Seek true unity, not just uniformity. Unity only comes after all have said what they think and recorded their disagreement.Ian Vail
It is only after storming that true unity can be attained. Before that we only have uniformity.Ian Vail
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.Plato
If you didn’t participate in the debate you are not entitled to voice your dissent after the decision has been made.Ian Vail
No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow!Rick Godwin
Silence comes once all debate has ended.Ian Vail