The Jerusalem Council
The foundation of anything is of the utmost importance.
A foundation is the basis and the heart, the starting point that sets the standard for continuance and growth. A foundation is the unseen building block that sets the tone for the future, whether that is limiting or limitless. For an organization, it is the underlying justification or reason, your purpose for banding together as one. For an individual, it is the principles upon which you establish your thoughts, your words, and your actions, either positive or negative. It sets the individual’s character. For a building, it is the understructure that bears the bulk of the load and determines your possibilities and your limits.
Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
The same principles can be seen also in James.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas were separated for the work God had called them to do.
The foundation of Barnabas can be seen in God’s Word.
And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
Barnabas held nothing back, God was his sufficiency.
The Word does not declare what God had said to Barnabas. But it shows us his love and boldness when Paul came to Jerusalem after being in Damascus and later when Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek Paul. The Word also shows that Barnabas was held in high esteem with the leadership in Jerusalem. When Jerusalem heard the Word of God was moving in Antioch of Syria, they sent forth Barnabas.
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Then there is Paul’s foundation.
Paul’s foundation may appear confusing at first glance, first a Pharisee, and then an apostle of Christ. But under both extreme and conflicting ways of functioning Paul’s foundation is seen, his love of God and a thirst to know His Word and Will.
If there ever was a person who would have a hard time letting go of the Law of Moses, you think it would be Paul.
Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
As far as the flesh goes, Paul went all the way.
But then he met Jesus Christ while traveling to Damascus. Jesus Christ taught Paul a secret that God had hidden within Himself throughout the Ages. Over the course of three years Paul was in Arabia and Damascus. Some of his time was spent teaching, some of his time was spent learning. In the end, he had received the divine secret of the Gospel of the grace of God.
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people [Israel], and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship [oikonomia = administration] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world [aionon, plural = ages] hath been hid in God, who created all things. by Jesus Christ:
(The words in red are not in the original text.)
Paul’s foundation was to preach the Mystery, the Administration of God’s Grace. Opening people’s eyes with the Truth, so that, people could turn away from darkness and the power of Satan unto God, who is Light. These people, upon believing, would receive forgiveness of sins, which is justification, and God would negate their sin nature, passed on from Adam, making them as righteous as God, through His new creation of holy spirit.
This is the foundation communicated from God, through Christ Jesus, to the Apostle Paul. This is the foundation Paul stood upon and preached to Judean and Gentile alike. The foundation given to the Apostle Paul replaced circumcision of the flesh with circumcision of the heart. In the Administration of Grace our identification in Christ gives us our internal circumcision.
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
These men, Paul and Barnabas, were sent to Jerusalem by the leadership of Antioch to handle the issue of circumcision.
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
The actions of these men are what motivate the Jerusalem Council. The foundation these men stood upon is the Law of Moses, but even in that they were dishonest, for they gave a false witness.
Paul spoke of these men in the Epistle to the Galatians.
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.
These men were false brethren, pseuadelphos. The word “unawares” tells us they came in under false pretenses, in other words, they lied! Their real purpose was to “spy out our liberty and bring us into bondage.”
What bondage did these men desire to impose upon the believers in Antioch of Syria? The Law of Moses, the bondage of the Law.
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Why does the Covenant with Moses, meaning Israel, tend to bondage? Because it was after the flesh. It only dressed up the outside of the package. Abraham saw the day of Christ, he believed the promise of God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, internal.
The Law directed Israel to Christ because they did not see him or recognize the need for him.
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
The Law was a necessary step to bring Israel to Christ. Then, as Christ fulfilled the blessing side of the Law, all those that believe, Christ brings to God.
Many theologians set the timing of this council around 48 to 51 A.D. Understand I set no authority by dates that have come to us through history. They can be used as a reference point to a certain degree, to give you something of a timeline. But they are not Truth because God did not give us these dates. If you check with different historians, they will sometimes give different dates for the same event, such as this council being in 48 A.D., 50 A.D., or 51 A.D. So, these dates can be a “rule of thumb,” but they are not gospel.
In any event, if we use the date of 51 A.D. as the date of the council, then God, through revelation to Paul, helps us set an early timeline to Acts.
Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas and took Titus with me also.
The timeline Paul is giving us refers to times when he saw the other apostles, not to each time he was at Jerusalem, as in Acts 11 and 12.
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
This was 14 years before the council in Acts 15 when Barnabas brought Paul to see the apostles.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,
Contextually “my mother’s womb” refers to God calling Paul in Acts 9 when God sent His son to speak with Paul when he was travelling on the road to Damascus. His “mother’s womb” is the Nation of Israel and the Judean religion that had been built around the Law of Moses.
The account continues.
To reveal his son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.
Fourteen years before the council, places Paul in Jerusalem around 37 A.D. He was there for 15 days and saw the Apostles Peter and James. Now add in the three years in Arabia and Damascus and you have Paul’s conversion around the year 34 A.D. Some seven years after God gave His gift of holy spirit on the day of Pentecost.
A point to remember, because it will come up again, is how Paul received the Gospel of God’s grace that he taught. It was not from men. No other apostles taught him. We will see more on this as we progress through the account.
Another aspect to this event is added when Paul is defending himself before the crowd right after his arrest in Jerusalem.
And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; And saw him saying unto me, make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.
It was Paul’s Lord that told him to leave Jerusalem with haste. The context of Acts 22 bears out the timing of this event as Paul’s return from Damascus. You will remember from the last teaching concerning Peter in Acts 10, that we considered this word trance. Using the word trance is a great advertisement for psychics and séance leaders but did nothing to explain what happened with Peter on Simon’s rooftop. Likewise, it does nothing to help us understand what happened here with Paul. However, upon closer examination, we could see the word translated trance was more closely related to amazing or astonishing and told us Peter had received an amazing vision.
Well, what is so amazing about this vision received by Paul? Paul was simply told to leave Jerusalem.
Israel is the only nation on the face of the earth that had received the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), meaning the Word of God. Paul was at the city, Jerusalem, where God had placed His name allowing His Temple to be built with the Holy of holies marking His presence. And Paul has a vision from His Lord to make haste and quickly get out of Jerusalem because they will not receive his testimony concerning Christ!
That is an amazing and astonishing vision! Paul is in the heart of where God has shared His Word and they will not receive Paul’s witness! God wants to give them the ultimate benefits of the Messiah and they will not hear it as they work for their own righteousness. Natural man is always looking to make himself righteous verses accepting the righteousness God provides. The vision Paul received is amazing indeed.
So, in Acts 15, Paul is once again returning to Jerusalem and once again he will meet with apostles. This time for a council about circumcision. Circumcision and the accuracy of what he has been teaching is Paul’s concern. He knows a believer’s true circumcision is in his identification with Christ. Paul is committed, there will be no compromise!
In Antioch of Syria, when this conflict started, Paul and Barnabas had a face-to-face discussion about circumcision with these false brethren, these Judeans lately come from Jerusalem.
To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
“Not for an hour” is an orientialism meaning not at all, not for a minute. We are never to compromise on the accuracy of God’s Word. Society, our friends or family, nothing takes precedence over the Word of God.
Walking away from the source of life and light will not allow you to introduce either into another’s life.
When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
The word “determined,” tasso in the Greek, means to set in proper order or arrangement. Paul and Barnabas were the right men to set the issue of circumcision in proper order.
And I went up by revelation and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
Paul is going to Jerusalem by revelation, God, as well as leadership in Antioch, wants this issue resolved accurately. This is not a social call, Paul is not going for a friendly chat, an important doctrinal issue needs to be handled.
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem the church had a celebration to receive the men and hear all that God was doing in their ministry. Then, right in the middle of the celebration, the legalists interrupt.
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
First, there was a public meeting as Galatians 2:2 stated. It was during this public welcome and celebration that Acts 15:5 kicks in with these Pharisees that believed and called for circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses.
There is no indication that these Pharisees are the same men that went to Galatia and demanded circumcision. The circumcision guys in Antioch of Syria were false brethren while Acts says these Pharisees were believers. Although, demanding circumcision and the Law of Moses you must question exactly what they believed! Did they accept the accomplished work of Christ?
Perhaps they are more aligned with those who judged Peter because of what happened with Cornelius.
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with [judged] him, Saying, thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
Then Galatians 2:2 speaks of a private meeting, “but privately to them which were of reputation.”
And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
Having a public argument was to no one’s benefit, so the discussion became private. At first it was more disputing. No distinction as to who was speaking or what was said.
Peter was the first to speak individually.
Peter’s foundation is a man who walked with and stood with Jesus during his earthly ministry. Yes, he wavered and even denied Jesus but when the time came to act, after the ascension, Peter was right in the front.
Peter has walked in love and manifested the power God had given him. He was bold under pressure and exercised his freedom to speak God’s Word, even to those who killed his Lord. Peter has been fearless since the day of Pentecost.
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith [pistis = believing]. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
All that Peter declares lines up with the Truth of God’s Word. It is an excellent sharing based upon God’s Word. However, there are aspects of Peter’s witness that he omitted, or left out. These are also the last recorded words of Peter in the book of Acts.
We will get to what Peter omitted and some other aspects concerning Peter in a few minutes.
After Peter spoke the meeting turned to Paul and Barnabas to stand and speak.
Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
We do not have a record here of what was said by Paul and Barnabas, but we have the record of what happened in Acts 13 and 14. I will only bring one thing to your remembrance, and it is from Paul’s first teaching in Antioch of Pisidia, Acts 13:39, Paul teaches justification in the present tense verse Peter teaching justification when Christ returns in Acts chapters 2 and 3.
The doctrine of the Old Testament concerning Gentiles is not the doctrine preached by the Apostle Paul.
Galatians gives us a little more insight of this private meeting and the inter-action between the apostles and elders.
But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:
As Peter said to Cornelius, “I myself also am a man” Paul also shows we do not elevate men. No matter how impressive the title may sound. The greatest title, and all believers hold it, is child of God.
“Added nothing to me,” is in reference to what he was teaching. These leaders in Jerusalem did not add to what Paul taught, neither did they take away from what Paul taught. We saw this earlier when Paul said he did not confer with men. Paul handled in Galatians 1 how he received the doctrine he taught.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul received his doctrine from God, through His son, by revelation. We saw this in Acts 26 when Jesus said he would be appearing to Paul more than on the road to Damascus. The other apostles, or leaders, added nothing or subtracted nothing from what Paul taught.
But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)
Further, this private meeting acknowledges the gospel of the circumcision was committed to Peter. But who is to hear this gospel of the circumcision? To whom is it addressed? For that answer we return to the commission received by the apostles from their Lord.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the (my) name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world [aion = age]. Amen.
(The words in red are not in the original text.)
“Teaching them to observe…whatsoever I have commanded you…” who is to receive this message?
The word “nations” in the text is ethnos. It is used 164 times in the New Testament. 93 times it is translated Gentiles, 64 times nation, 5 times heathen, and twice people.
Helps Word-studies says of ethnos, “(from ethō, "forming a custom, culture") – properly, people joined by practicing similar customs or common culture; nation(s), usually referring to unbelieving Gentiles (non-Jews).”
Strong’s Concordance says of ethnos, “a race, a nation, the nations as distinct from Israel.”
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says, “A tribe, specially, a foreign (non-Jewish) one (usually, by implication, pagan): Gentile, heathen…”
Thayer’s says, “foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentile.”
There is no misunderstanding. The twelve apostles know the gospel Jesus committed to them was to be taken, by them, to Israel, locally, and the diaspora, and to the Gentile world as commanded by their Lord. These Gentile converts would be considered part of the circumcision because they are coming to God through the ministry committed unto the 12 apostles. They would be part of the Bride of Christ.
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are, depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
When the council acknowledges the gospel of the circumcision was committed to Peter, they are acknowledging their responsibility, as Judeans who have accepted Jesus Christ, to take the Gospel of Jesus to the unwashed, unworthy, pagan world of the Gentiles.
However, according to the declaration of Galatians 2:7-8 we have the beginning of a rationalization. They are acting as though Paul’s ministry will in some way cover for their failure to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. We will see more of this as we continue in the record.
There are major differences between the Gospel of Jesus Christ carried by the 12 Apostles and the Gospel of Christ Jesus carried by the Apostle Paul. We will look at some of these differences in another teaching, although I have pointed out some differences here and others in previous teachings.
After Paul and Barnabas finished speaking, James, as the overall leader in Jerusalem, stood to give his judgment. James is the writer of the Epistle that carries his name. From the content of his epistle, it would appear to be written before the Council in Acts 15 and probably after the Judeans go out to preach the gospel in Acts 8.
The foundation of James is somewhat complex. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, James is an unbeliever.
Then, James addresses his epistle to the 12 tribes that are scattered abroad, the diaspora. You have no place to send such a letter if you are looking for the ten northern tribes. They were scattered some seven hundred plus years ago. But you do have a diaspora to write to after the Judeans go forth in Acts chapter 8 and you address it to all 12 tribes if that is how God inspires you.
Next, the Epistle of James reads like the sermon on the mount in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, which identifies his perfect Law of Liberty. Consider some examples.
But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also, shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
James not only changed by believing in his half-brother, but James also became an Apostle and the head of the Church in Jerusalem. That is an awesome turn around! When he wrote the Epistle that carries his name, he knew Jesus was the Christ. He knew the Law of Moses was not the way to follow.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So, speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
It is James who speaks of the royal law because he knew Jesus was the King of kings. James does not look to the Law given to Moses, he looks to the perfect, or complete, Law of Liberty. As Peter said, “as free, and not using liberty as a cover to do evil,” like the men who went to Antioch in Acts 15:1.
When we come to Acts 15 you can already see a change in James from when he wrote his epistle.
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon [speaking of Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets…
No doubt James was present in Acts 11 when Peter returned from Cornelius. If so, then he also heard and agreed with Peter’s conclusion. He has also heard Paul and Barnabas share twice now concerning the things that happened in Galatia during their mission there.
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
James continues about the prophets and the Gentiles.
…as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
James is quoting Amos.
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.
In Amos we see a prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel, which comes with the return of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom Administration. Therefore, James understands the Revealing Administration as taking place just before the Millennial Kingdom, but he fails to realize the doctrine Paul teaches is a different doctrine than what the Old Testament declares about Gentiles.
James is not seeing the Administration of Grace but rather he sees Paul as an outreach method of the Revealing Administration. He sees Paul as a way for “Israel” to reach out to the Gentiles without placing a burden upon himself or the Judeans he is working with in Jerusalem. You do not change or compromise God’s Word because it upsets the social structure of your day and time.
James sees a united Israel in the Revealing Administration and therefore the Epistle that carries his name is addressed to the twelve tribes. But he is seeing Paul’s ministry as part of the outreach of the Judeans in the Revealing Administration.
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.
Paul’s issue, his concern is now handled, no circumcision, no law given to Moses. Scripturally, that applies both to the Revealing Administration and the Administration of Grace.
“Sentence” is the Greek word krino, meaning judgment. James speaks with the authority we should have expected to hear from Peter, the man who told the Sanhedrin, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Why did Peter, and James, and the others who believed since the day of Pentecost, abandon or at least ignore the commission of Jesus to take his Gospel to the nations? Was their disdain of the Gentiles so great, they could ignore their Lord?
Did Peter even recognize his commitment to the Law given to Moses and how that commitment would interfere with the Gospel of Christ? What of the other Apostles and the elders at this Council? How does a Pharisees believe but still demand circumcision and the Law of Moses?
Although what Peter stated concerning Cornelius was accurate, he omitted a few things in his testimony to the council. Notice there is no recognition nor acknowledgement that Israel is supposed to take God’s Word to the nations. Isaiah said Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, God’s salvation to the end of the earth. Peter ignores this aspect of their ministry completely. Matthew 28 is ignored, Acts 1 is not mentioned.
Just now we took a brief look at the commission to the apostles of Jesus in Matthew 28. The commission is clear, take the Gospel pertaining to Jesus to the nations.
Peter also said it was a “good while ago” that his Lord sent him to Cornelius. We have already seen that Acts chapter 9, when Barnabas brought Paul to meet Peter and James, was 14 years prior to the Council meeting. Cornelius is in Acts chapter 10, presumably close together in time.
There has been no record of an outreach by the Judeans to the Gentiles during these 14 years even though Peter said that God, “put no difference between us and them…” Why are we still discussing circumcision and the Law of Moses so many years after Cornelius?
Although God puts no difference between the Judean and the Gentile, it appears the Judeans hold to a difference between Judean and Gentile. A hurdle they seem unwilling to go over, or through, or around.
I have said in the past that God knows the end from the beginning. What Israel would do with the commission they received from their Lord is no different. God knew they would, in essence, refuse to act.
In Galatians there is a record of Paul confronting Peter because he withdrew from eating with Gentiles when some Judeans from James came (we will look at this record in another teaching). After the event with Cornelius, Peter was judged by the Judeans for going into the home of Cornelius and eating with him. Did that confrontation in some way hurt Peter, emotionally, mentally? Did he fear for his reputation among the Judeans after that incident? Is that why he withdrew from the Gentiles in Antioch?
Even though the council meeting is the last we hear of Peter in the book of Acts, we do hear from Peter later by way of the two epistles God inspired him to write.
1 Peter 1:1
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
The word translated “strangers” could be taken to include Gentiles that have come to God’s Word through the ministry of Peter.
1 Peter 1:17
And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:
This sounds a lot like what Peter realized when ministering to Cornelius.
Peter wrote these epistles from Babylon to the diaspora and those he taught on his travels to Babylon, possible Gentiles are included. In Babylon Peter was far from the Judeans in Jerusalem and the fear he demonstrated in Antioch of Pisidia that caused him to withdraw from the Gentiles. I like to think Peter regained his fearless attitude.
The council continues.
But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
As for James, he obviously saw that Israel would carry the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles when he quoted Amos. But James is another Judean that has a commitment to the Law of Moses. At the Council meeting he is more than willing to let circumcision slide to the side, but he has that one small caveat in his judgment, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” If you direct people to the Law, people will endeavor to follow the Law. The Law is not part of the commission of Matthew 28.
All these new followers were not walking with Jesus in his earthly ministry, but the apostles were with Jesus and God gave them His gift of holy spirit, which in part was to work in them to remember everything whatsoever Jesus had said (John 14:26). What an amazing aspect for the apostles of Jesus to minister unto these new believers, to remember all that Jesus had said!
These new believers did not need the Law of Moses, they needed the words of Jesus Christ! Remember Acts 2, steadfast in the doctrine of the apostles.
In comparing Paul’s ministry to that which Amos spoke of, James is demonstrating a blindness to see and acknowledge the Administration of Grace committed to Paul.
Later in Acts 21 James acts surprised when the Judeans in Jerusalem are zealous for the Law.
And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
How could the believers not become zealous for the Law; it is where leadership has been directing them? It is what some, the “believing” Pharisees, are saying they need to return to, much like Israel during the exodus wanting to return to Egypt. They are zealous for the Law because James and the other leadership direct the Judeans back to the Law that is read every Sabbath.
When James writes his epistle, he is all in on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then in Acts 15 we see a slide toward the Law of Moses, and by Acts 21 James and the elders are all in on the Law of Moses, including circumcision.
And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
Look at what James wants to prove to the zealous Judeans, the legalists.
… but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
What happened? What went wrong?
1 Corinthians 15:33
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
1 Corinthians 15:33
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
New International Version
Although 1 Corinthians is not addressed to Israel in the Revealing Administration the principle still applies. We walk in the world, in its darkness and despair but we walk there to bring the Light of God’s Word not to join it or become its associate.
That Peter, and James, and any other apostle present, did not immediately and boldly confront any who still believed following the Law given to Moses invited corruption into the fellowship. “Bad company corrupts good character.” They needed Peter’s boldness, “we ought to obey God rather than men.”
The slide back to legal Judaism can also be seen in the makeup of the council. In Acts 2 those who believed were steadfast in the Apostles doctrine. A council of elders is a facsimile of Moses having the help of the original Sanhedrin. The first answer of the Apostles to growth in numbers was to ordain more leaders, Acts 6. The Word of God shows us no revelation to begin a council of elders in the book of Acts.
James adds in a few aspects that generally apply to the idol worship of Gentiles.
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
This is the only contribution of James when it comes to the commission of Matthew 28, aspects Paul already handles with those to whom he ministers God’s Word.
This council ends with agreement by all. First, they acknowledge that the original men that came to Antioch and spoke of circumcision and the Law were not sent by the Church in Jerusalem. Then, they acknowledge in a letter and by men sent along with Paul and Barnabas that Gentiles neither need to be circumcised or to obey the Law.
With those two decisions you can see why the Apostle Paul agrees, as well as the Apostle Peter. The other elders and James agree because they feel they have been relieved of the burden to become witnesses to the Gentiles. But James and the elders, we have seen slide completely back into the Law given to Moses by Acts 21.
Today we do not have debates about circumcision. But for some reason we reject the words of our Lord and still debate water baptism. Why? Jesus Christ said over two thousand years ago, we replaced water with God’s gift of holy spirit. So why do we dip, sprinkle, and submerge people in our day and time?
When I think of James I am reminded of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The feet were made of iron and clay, a mixture that does not work. One part strong and one part weak. So too are believers that compromise with the world. You have heard of the idiom; “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link?” Any compromise is that weak link.
I have spoken in other teachings about Israel and the Revealing Administration being held in abeyance. Although Peter and the rest of Israel will continue to minister throughout the remainder of their lives, their administration will temporarily stop until the Administration of Grace has concluded. Israel’s refusal to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the “Nations” is one of the two reasons their administration was held in abeyance. We will see the other reason as we continue our journey through the book of Acts.
© Auxano Ministry 2021