Lecture 15: Acts Chapters 13 - 15
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Paul's speech at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch was about how the history of Israel points to the coming of Jesus. The Jews persecuted them here and in Iconium. In Lystra, the people thought they were an appearance of Greek gods. Some people came from other cities and stoned Paul. They left him for dead but he survived and they returned to Antioch. There was a controversy about whether or not gentiles who became believers in Christ would be required to follow the Jewish law and become circumcised. The apostles agreed that the gentiles should be responsible to abstain from meat that had been offerred to idols, from blood and animals that were strangled, and sexual immorality. Paul and Barnabas went separate ways and Silas went with Paul.
Lecture 15: Acts Chapters 13 - 15
1. Chapter 13 – Paul’s Sermon Continued h. Acts 13 – Pisidia Antioch
In the last session, we introduced Paul’s sermon; it was his speech in the synagogue in Pisidia Antioch. As in the case of Stephen’s speech, this is going to be a Scripture exposition showing how the entire history of Israel fulfills and points toward the coming of Jesus. In Luke 24, Jesus is explaining to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus from the Scriptures expounding about his own mission. Later on in Luke 24, he is explaining to all of his disciples about his mission and how the Scriptures talk about his death and resurrection and their mission to proclaim the good news to all people. Luke doesn’t have to tell us what Scripture he is talking about in chapter 24 because it is explained in some of these speeches in Acts examples and what the approach was. This enables us to see Jesus in the Old Testament. In Chapter 13:17-19, he speaks of 450 years, adding up all the numbers; historically there may have been overlapping. Chapter 13:27-29 shows that those who condemned Jesus were fulfilling the Scriptures in doing so. We have something that we often see as a theme in both Luke and Acts; you see it in chapter 2:23 where they executed Jesus. But it was fulfilling God’s plan. It was predetermined. God is so sovereign he can work even through human disobedience to achieve his purposes and his plan. They meant it for evil but God meant it for good. People sometimes mean things for evil, but God can work things out for good because he has a purpose. God didn’t tell them to do evil things, but instead God has his way of working things out for our eternal good and even during our lives, even though we don’t always see it at times. So, they fulfilled the Scriptures in condemning him. Luke may have been thinking of Isaiah 53 which is quoted back in chapter 8. Also, the Psalms of the Righteous Sufferer, like Psalm 22 and 59. These Psalms are quoted in the Gospels and in Acts.
i. The Son of David
In Acts 13:33, he cites Psalm 2:7 which may be alluded to in Luke 3. Psalm 2:7 says that this is God’s son, ‘you are my Son today; I have begotten you.’ It is an enthronement Psalm. We sometimes have decrees like this in the ancient near east as a way of hailing a divine king. Jewish people did not hail their kings as divine but they did recognize that their kings were installed by God. The Dead Sea Scrolls applied this Psalm to the enthronement of the Messiah, the ultimate king to whom the nations would submit. This is the fullest expression to what we have in Psalm 2. David’s eternal dynasty was ultimately fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus. In 13:34, he quotes Isaiah 55:3 which you can link together as a song about the Son of David. This one has to do with the promise to David. Isaiah’s future hope in Isaiah 55:3 is bound up with the promise to David. He doesn’t go on to quote verse 4, but verse 4 of Isaiah 55, undoubtedly Paul would have known and Luke would have known along with some of Luke’s audience would recall it as well. This verse goes on to talk about hope for the gentiles. In verse 35 in speaking of the holy in Isaiah 55:3, this leads him to cite Psalm 16:10. This is according to the Jewish Hermeneutical principle of gerzerah shawah where biblical passages containing synonyms or homonyms are subject, however much they differ in other respects, to identical definitions and applications. So, his audience would have appreciated this in a synagogue homily. Psalm 16 has already been cited in Acts 2 with reference to Jesus’ resurrection. So we see a kind of continuity in the apostolic message. Psalm 16 guarantees that the object of David’s promise would never rot. In chapter 2:25-28 Peter explains that we know David not only died but he also decomposed. His tomb is with us until this day. There were a few tombs in Jerusalem that were thought to be the right tombs that were known in the first century which Josephus talks about. Archaeologically, we have found some of these tombs. Everybody knew that David died and so this isn’t literally referring to David himself, but to a descendant of David; the Davidic Messiah. Ezekiel talks about David reigning in the future, but in the language of Isaiah, this is the Son of David, the descendant of David.
j. Acts 13:41 – A Servant of Israel
In 13:41 he quotes from Habakkuk 1:5 and gives a warning not to be like those who don’t pay attention to this message. Habakkuk 1:5-6 talks about impending judgement under the Chaldeans. If you fail to pay attention to this, you will be under God’s judgement. Interestingly, Habakkuk goes on to talk about only a righteous remnant will endure and they will survive by faith. Habakkuk 2:4, here the principle was applied to the judgement at the end. We know from Paul’s own letters that he liked to quote from Habakkuk 2. So, we are getting just a summary of his message here. In verses 42-43, we see that the gentile God fearers hear him gladly because Paul is proclaiming to them good news. Many of the gentiles attended synagogues with great interest. That was going on even as late as the fourth century. John Chrysostom complained about this as some were receiving teaching that was contrary to Christian teaching. In 13:44, there were a lot of people coming; Luke in a hyperbole basically says that the whole town shows up. When famous speakers came to town, much of the town would come out to hear the person. Paul has proclaimed a great message; word would spread quickly about any new speaker at the synagogue. In gentile terms, he would be built as a great rhetorical speaker and orator or a great philosopher because he was bringing the kind of message philosophers cared about. Sometimes they talked about cosmological issues, but they also talked about ethical issues. Religion didn’t primarily deal with ethnics but rather with ritual in the Greco-Roman world. So, they came out to hear Paul. In 13:47 Paul cites Isaiah 49:6 and the servant in the context of Isaiah was Israel. It explicitly says this and then in 49:5-7 he is the one who carries out the servant’s mission and suffers for Israel as in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as we saw back in Acts chapter 8. But here, Paul isn’t applying it to Jesus but instead to himself. That makes sense in light of the larger mission of the servant. The servant was Israel which was God’s people. Isaiah 42:18-19, Israel didn’t fulfill that mission. So there is one within Israel that fulfills the mission. It is still the appropriate message for God’s people and the appropriate mission for the righteous remnant within Israel. This text actually alludes to this back in Acts 1:8 where the good news will go to the ends of the earth. Paul can quote this; we have been sent as a light to the ends of the earth. This is also the mission of believers today.
k. Acts 13:48-49
It was a common Jewish belief that the Jews were predestined for salvation by virtue of descent from Abraham. But here, many gentiles are ordained to life. This would be shocking to some of the Jews who were listening. This was already implied in Isaiah 49:6 with a light to the nations. But now some of Paul’s Jewish listeners are getting upset with him. In 13:50 many prominent women were interested in Judaism. Sometimes this helps in the spreading of the Gospel, like in Acts chapter 16. Sometimes it hurts if the local Jewish community was against the apostles. Here, these prominent women belonged to the Aristocracy. These local aristocracies had most of the political power in a community and from them came the local councils who controlled the cities. So the opposition of the members of the local aristocracy could force somebody out of town. Their authority was purely local. They had no authority in other towns of the area. Paul and Barnabas had to escape the range of their jurisdiction often. In 13:51-52, they go on to Iconium. Did Luke hear these stories from Paul? We know that Paul did talk about Barnabas in churches and his travels. He speaks about Barnabas both in Galatians 2 and also in 1 Corinthians 9 as if his hearers should know who Barnabas was. Apparently, Paul has told these stories to people before and Luke would have heard them while staying with Paul. Iconium was about 85 miles or 135 km east on the same road. The Terrain was roughed and there was no other route that one could take. So, we know that Paul took this road at this point. It would have been a four days walk; interestingly they shake the dust off their feet when they leave the city of Pisida Antioch. When Jewish people would return to the Holy Land or coming into the temple, they would sake the dust off their feet. That is why you have in Luke 10:10-12, Jesus saying when you go to Galilean towns of God’s own people and preach the good news and they don’t listen, sake the dust off your feet and treat them as profane. Treat them the same way you would treat gentiles. It will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in that day. Showing your heel to a person was also an insult in the ancient Middle East.
So, they walk for four days. They get to Iconium and also find opposition there as well. We read about their ministry in 14:1-4. Iconium spoke a Phrygian dialect, an ancient Indo-European language of west-central Anatolia. Paul could have used interpreters when needed; we get this impression from 14:11-14. Sometimes you are better off with interpreters. I know when I used French interpreters and they made mistakes, I was usually able to catch those mistakes. When my interpreter in Hausa made mistakes, people would stare at me in horror and I would turn to find out what the problem was. They would understand if people spoke in Greek. In Iconium, they worshiped the same range of local deities as other places did. But they especially worshiped the emperor and the Phrygian mother goddess. Later, Iconium became a major center of Christianity in Asia Minor.
2. Chapter 14 and verse 5 a. Lystra
The city magistrates could do whatever that was necessary to stop disturbances. That meant banding them but not killing them. They weren’t allowed to stone them; that would be a mob action. We see this in Mathew 10:23 and Luke knows of this as well; Jesus said that if they persecute you in one city flee to another one. So they are preaching in the city of Iconium. Sometimes Iconium was included in what was called Lycaonia which also included Lystra and Derbe. So, they fled Iconium to continue their ministry. Paul didn’t want to do this in Jerusalem later on even though his friends urged him to. So he preaches in Lystra in Acts 14:8 through the first part of chapter 20. Lystra had been a Roman colony for fifty years now. They emphasized both local culture and also Roman culture. They were a sister city to Pisidia Antioch, even though they were a hundred miles apart. They had a special relationship between them. They were both Roman colonies and saw themselves as distinct compared to some of the Greek cities. Of course, one way they communicated was through open preaching. They didn’t seem to have that many local connections in Lystra so they just starting preaching. Elite philosophers often served wealthy patriots or lectured in halls, but others just preached in markets. So this was common in this city. Chrysostom criticized philosophers who reserved their lectures for the classroom. Paul’s letters show that he shared some of the type of philosophical ideal, sometimes using philosophical arguments that were familiar to the Greco-Roman culture. There was some controversy stirred up by some which may have added attention. If someone is criticizing you, it draws attention to your work. I’m not sure all publicity is good publicity but we make the best of what we get.
1) Acts 14:9-11
Paul perceives that somebody has faith to be healed. He healed them in the name of Jesus. Some of the language Luke uses here is very closely related to the language Luke uses in Acts 3 for the disables man there. We see a lot of parallels with what God does through Peter in the Jerusalem church. We also have the language evoking Isaiah 35 where it shows a foretaste of the future in Luke 7. In Isaiah 35, it talks about how the disables would leap for joy and other kinds of healing would take place at the time of the eschatological restoration. So, God’s power will manifest in an ultimately way in the future which is already at work. But the Phrygians take it a little differently, not an eschatological sign breaking into history as part of God’s promised kingdom. They view it in terms of local Phrygian legend; Zeus and Hermes had come to their region in Phrygia and they had been rejected as people had not shown them hospitality, except for Baucus and Philemon and therefore the remainder of Phrygia was destroyed in a flood. These were Lycaonians and were about to make the same mistake. Miracle workers in antiquity were sometimes understood as gods and you had better show hospitality to these gods. There were many stories where people got into trouble by not showing hospitality to these gods. We have the story in the Old Testament where people were unaware that they had entertained angels. In Galatians, Paul talked about people receiving them as angels of God. Well, the people wanted to worship them. Some people have disputed this allusion to Baucus and Philemon, Zeus and Hermes and Phrygian’s tradition saying this was from Avid a Roman author who was writing back in the time of Augustus. When I was reading Acts for the first time as a young Christian. I knew Greek mythology because of my background; I knew it a lot better than I knew the Bible. So, this is what the locals thought as they still valued Zeus and Hermes worshiping them together in this region. Hermes was considered the messenger of the Olympians. They also had Iris, but Hermes was their messenger. He was the one who would do the speaking for the more dignified Zeus. In other stories, Zeus was a lot less dignified, out chasing women or boys. We can say all sorts of things about Greek Mythology. Philosophers have tried to get around this by allegorizing those stories and making Zeus a symbol of something. In any case, Hermes was the divine messenger; so they identified Paul with Hermes and they took Barnabas as being Zeus.
Sacrificial animals were often decorated with garlands before being offered. One of the priests of the temple outside the city gates would bring a bull with garlands on it. A bull was really expensive and so this was going to be a big sacrifice. Lystra citizens spoke Latin as it was a Roman colony, but it was also a market town for the whole region and so there was also a local language. The people would have understood Greek, but they would have spoken to one another in the local language. It’s like when my wife and I are in a French speaking country, she will naturally speak French with people but if she is in her own area in the Congo with the local language, she will speak that instead. Then she turns to me and speak in English or sometimes in French if it isn’t too complicated French.
2) Acts 14:15-16
Paul clearly rejects the worship. They asked, why do you think it is from our own power? In Acts 28, they also thought Paul was a god. Peter rejects veneration in Acts 10 when Cornelius bows before him. This all contrasts with Simon who claimed to be the great power of God in Acts 8 and it contrasts particularly with Agrippa I in Acts 12:22-23 when he is hailed as a god, accepting the divine worship before being struck dead. He responds in a language that was actually biblical and in terms of the Anatolian farmers could understand. He speaks about the God who rules nature. Jewish apologists used philosophical teaching about a supreme God which Jews felt contradicted the pagan worship of idols. Many philosophers thought that the use of statues to focus veneration of a deity was acceptable and that is how they often understood those statues. Jewish apologists used local teachings or the teachings of a pagan culture, usually, in order to communicate their point. Even for gentiles idolatry was not permitted; Paul doesn’t permit it. This is still in a general Phrygian context even though it is in Lycaonia. The Phrygian culture spilled over. This region was fertile; they especially worshiped the mother goddess who provided fertility. In addition, stoic philosophers said that nature testifies to the character of the supreme god. It wasn’t just stoics who said that; it was also Cicero along with others. But it was especially stoics who were associated with this and they were the most philosophical school of this period. Luke’s audience will appreciate Paul’s wisdom and his versatility in communicating in this brief summary we have in 14:15-17.
Even though they are preaching monotheism and even though the crowds like them, often in ancient historical works we read that mobs quickly change their opinions; this happens today also. In fact in Acts 19, it says that most of the people gathered there didn’t even know what the issue was about or that it had anything to do with Paul. We read that about other mob situations in antiquity. Denying the gods was considered impious; hence, they would have appeared as magicians. If they weren’t gods and they were saying that there were no gods to clarify that they shouldn’t be worshipped. They would appear instead as sorcerers or as magicians. But what really stirred up trouble was Jewish people that came from Pisidia Antioch their sister city, and Paul ended up getting stoned. This was the most common form of urban mob violence. This happened often; we read about it in other ancient sources as stones, tiles and cobbles were readily available. It was also a suitable punishment for blasphemy; in the case for Stephen, it was also against early Christian leaders. The irony here is that Paul is preaching monotheism and is being denounced by fellow Jews.
So they go on to Derbe which wasn’t on the main Roman road. It was about 60 miles or 95 km southeast; it could have been on an unpaved road, about three days journey. It had Greek language and perhaps Greek culture but it wasn’t really considered a Greek city at this point. In 14:22 they go back to Lystra and Iconium to contact those who had expressed interest in Jesus when they were there before. In summary, their message was through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus is worth suffering for and you had better be ready to do it, just like Paul and Barnabas had been suffering. Jewish people expecting a period of intense suffering before the coming of the kingdom; Paul sometimes spoke of this in a general way, like in Romans 8:22 where he talks about how the creation is groaning and travailing with birth pains. Jewish people spoke of their final period of birth pains before the Messiah and the messianic era. Paul says that this is because of the New Creation that was taking place. Sometimes, there is suffering before the release of joy. In Acts, there were people who rejoiced in their suffering. Tertullian and other early Christians had a saying about this that came from oral tradition.
Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in the local churches. Elders governed and judged in towns and villages. They also had a place in synagogues fulfilling a religious office there. There could have been several elders who acted as councilors. If anybody was an elder; just from being an older person they would be respected. In 1 Timothy 4, Timothy was exhorted to not let anybody despise his youth as he was indeed a younger person and also a leader. Normally such positions went to older people. In the Greek east, there was a lot of influence given to the gerousia, an ancient club of elders. They appoint them, even though it was fairly recent that these people have come to faith in Jesus. They had to have some sort of structure to keep the group going.
c. Attalia - Acts 14:24-25
Attalia is the place they go after Perga; it was Pamphylia’s main port on the mouth of the Catarrhactes River. In 14:26-28 remember diaspora Judaism promoted a positive image of Judaism to others. They welcomed converts, but they didn’t have a mission’s movement as such. Synagogue communities kept in contact through travelers who reported news. In the case of Paul and Barnabas, they will also report back to their home base as we already know with Antioch being their home base.
3. Chapter 15 a. Controversy - Circumcision of Christians
In chapter 15, we encounter a controversy with some people who came to Antioch saying the gentiles has to be circumcised to be saved. This is more radical than what people were saying in South Galatia where Paul ministered in Acts 13 and 14. What the Galatians seemed to say that you had to be circumcised to be fully righteous, to be part of the people of God and to be part of the covenant and be the children of Abraham. Most Jewish people believed that you needed to be just a righteous gentile to be saved and follow the basic commandments that God gave to Moses. But there were some conservative Jewish Christians that said that in order to be a convert to Judaism you had to be circumcised. But no Jew believed that gentiles would actually become part of the covenant people without being circumcised. This would be an issue because they had been reaching out to gentiles for a long time, but they hadn’t been circumcising them, yet treating them as fellow believers in Jesus. Now there is an issue; do these fellow believers now need to be circumcised? That is going to be an issue and Luke doesn’t mention Titus yet he is mentioned often in Paul’s letters. Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem when they returned to resolve this dispute. Titus may have been from either Antioch or the mission in Galatia because the Galatians seem to have known who he was already. Either that or he may have accompanied Paul from Antioch. Some people even in Jerusalem want to circumcise Titus. That will become a big issue and we are going to look at that in more detail in Acts 15 here.
So, Paul and Barnabas have had a great experience among the gentiles with signs and wonders. They are sent as representatives of the church at Antioch; Titus and perhaps others travelling with them. They are on their way to Jerusalem but they stop in other places and talk about the mighty works that God has done among the gentiles and everybody is rejoicing. But now they come to Jerusalem, the center of the most conservative part of the Christian movement. Sometimes we have this today; those who are sent out to other people see that God works in a lot of different ways. But sometimes those who can only relate to their own local cultural upbringing and expression of the Christian movement only evaluate everything according to their own local expression. But sometimes that are just different ways of doing things. The kingdom of God isn’t about eating and drinking, Paul says in Romans 14:17, it is about righteousness, peace and joy and the Holy Spirit. One person regards one day above another and another person regards everyday alike. But there are certain things central and that is what makes us brothers and sisters. And we can respect one another on the other issues even though we may differ on some of the secondary issues. It is okay and we can work together.
b. The Jerusalem Council - Chapter 15:2
Churches like synagogues were ruled by local elders. Apostles would therefore work together with them as they had a more trans-local role. The Jerusalem church also had elders. Synagogues respected messengers from Temple Authorities in their home land. Judean believers in Jesus also held a special status; people elsewhere wanted to hear what the Jerusalem church had to say. This was important with keeping the unity of the church and if there was a headquarters, Jerusalem was it. Antioch may have been center of the Gentile mission, but Jerusalem was the center of the church until AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. In verses 3 and 4, some of the Pharisees were speaking up; now Paul and Barnabas were talking about all these miracles among the gentiles but many strict Pharisees believed that signs were insufficient if they contradicted traditional interpretation. The traditions of the Pharisees took precedence. Christian Pharisees may have been more open to signs and they already know that the Spirit is being poured out and God is doing miracles. But this is going to become an issue. The Pharisees raise their complaint in verse 5 in regards to circumcision and it is understandable that this issue would have eventually come up. Remember Agrippa 1, he died in Acts 12; he was in Judea only from 41-44 AD but having a Jewish King who was partly descended from the Hasmonean dynasty from the Maccabees had aroused nationalism. You can see this in Josephus as well; you also see it by the time you get to Acts 21. It is also caused by Roman misadministration afterwards which posed a stark contrast to Agrippa 1 rule, which was very pro Jewish. So conservative nationalism had been on the rise; we often see things like this in different cultures today.
We often see people being reactionary moving in one direction or in another direction or being polarized because of certain kinds of cultural issues and then churches are often influenced by this. You will have Christians in culturally very conservative circles adamant that this is the way to do it. Christians in culturally less conservative circles will be adamant that their way is the way to do it. This sometimes brings clashes, especially when we are bringing Christians from one culture to another. We really have to listen to one another and this is what happens with this Jerusalem Council. Yet, people spoke their mind; they said what was going on. Among the Pharisees there were two schools of thought, there was the Shammai and Hillel. The Hillel group was more generous toward gentiles and became dominate, especially after AD 70. Before that, the Shammai group was more dominate and probably among the Pharisees in terms of fellowship with gentiles, they would not have liked that. Pharisees were respected for their piety and knowledge of the Torah and they probably held a high status in the Jerusalem church which we know from Acts 21. Most of the people there did observe the Law being part of their culture and a good witness within their culture. Those who didn’t keep the law respected those who did.
c. James’s Response - Chapter 15:6-11
This helps us with some conflict; these are some models for conflict resolution also. We know that Paul pleaded his case, especially before the apostles. (We see this in Galatians 2). He didn’t seem to take the lead in this as he wasn’t the one who was trusted. He talks about the signs and wonders but Peter who was known in the local community, speaks up. Other Jewish groups also had a general session with all the people together with a council of leaders separate from that. The apostles didn’t rule without the elders; they did engage in vigorous debate just like Jewish teacher did, but they sought to achieve a consensus. Among Jewish Rabbi’s the majority opinion was always accepted as final word. Later Rabbis even told a story of two who were debating; one Rabbi convinced the majority and then there was a voice from heaven stating that the other Rabbi was correct. And the Sages rules, well, no; even a voice from heaven cannot overrule the majority opinion of the Rabbis. So, achieving majority opinion was very important in Jewish circles, at least among Pharisaic circles. Once agreed upon, they would have to abide by this majority opinion. In verse 22, they were seeking to achieve consensus, but in between this in 15:12-21, James was highly respected locally and James speaks up in verses 15-16. We also know in Paul’s letter to the Galatians that James was respected among the very conservative community. He is the one that could be a bridge and in ancient rhetoric, appealing to the person who would be most respected by the other side was considered a good rhetorical strategy. So it is not surprising that Luke spends time on this. James speaks of God calling the nations of people for his name. In the Old Testament, normally that title was applied to Israel. James applies it here to gentiles Christians as well and he bases his argument on the Book of Amos, which he cites in verse 17. He speaks about the tabernacle of David from Amos 9:11; there are various opinions of what the tabernacle of David referred to. One tradition of interpretation is that it referred to the restoration of the ideal form of the temple where there would be worship the way it was in the day of David, a Spirit inspired worship. I certain believe in Spirit inspired worship, but I think the meaning in this text is more general than that. He doesn’t speak of the restoration of the temple of David but instead the restoration of the tabernacle of David. Probably Amos 9 refers to the House of David I think which had fallen into such disrepair being like Isaiah where in the same generation speaks of the stump of Jesse’s root. The Davidic house had been cut off, but it would be restored. So I think it is talking about the raising up of a Messiah after David’s line. This is applied as being messianic in the Dead Sea Scrolls also. Whatever the truth is, clearly the restoration is associated with what Jesus is doing.
Amos 9:12 talks about the remnant of Edom, but by slightly changing the spelling, what you have in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it goes from the remnant of Edom to the remnant of Adam. There are Greeks present, Hellenists that are present and sense this involves Greeks, James is probably using the Septuagint but even if he wasn’t, we can see that in within context of parallelism the remnant of Edom is also linked with the nations. So Edom is just an example of the nations and here we have these nations, a remnant of humanity who are called by his name; language that could be applied to becoming part of God’s people. You see something like this more explicitly in Isaiah 19 where Assyria and Egypt will also become part of the people of God. I think what it is talking about is what we see in the New Testament where you can have gentiles as well graphed into the people of God, into the covenant through faith in following Jesus the Messiah. What he suggests is; we don’t believe in table fellowship with gentiles who aren’t pure but we don’t need to tie them to their food; just require the basics that most Jewish people require of righteous gentiles. They don’t have to be circumcised like proselytes to have table fellowship with them. To become part of the people of God, that issue wasn’t going to be solved right away. Paul would say that they are part of the people of God, but some of the Pharisees would not have agreed with him. But there is a consensus that deals with the orthopraxy of the church, how they live together. Idolatry, immorality, blood and meat, these were the kinds of things that the gentiles were to abstain from. These are things in Leviticus 17 and 18 about being a stranger in the land. So the lenient Jewish position was that any gentiles could have a share in the world to come. Here, what they could solve was the issue of table fellowship and stricter Pharisees had to get along with other Pharisees who were more lenient. They didn’t try to invalidate the majority view. So the church in Jerusalem comes to a consensus.
d. A Partial Compromise
In 15:22-35 a partial compromise was in favor of the church in Antioch; they didn’t have to circumcise the gentiles. This was really good as this would have been a heavy burden for Christian males. They sent a letter using some of the best written Greek in the New Testament. James would have had some of the best Hellenists Jews working for him that would show the greatest respect for the gentile Christians. They start out by calling the ethnic gentiles who were believers in Jesus, brothers and sisters. That is significant! They give a standard greeting that was used in most ancient letters as opposed to grace and peace that Paul uses. So greetings were standard and then it was a circular letter. It was to be copied and circulated by its messengers to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Luke may have been able this from people’s memories without having to a copy of it. In 15:28, they conclude the letter by saying that it seemed good to us. It could also be translated as, ‘be it resolved.’ In Greek decrees, this was often used after votes. So, this is really good news for the church in Antioch and for the gentile mission. Immediately after this master piece of God orchestrating a consensus in the Jerusalem church; this unity which probably didn’t hold too long but it was good enough for Luke to make the point. Not everybody in the Jerusalem church did agree with the decision as the church became more and more conservative. Right after this unity, we are going to see a division that strikes right at the heart of the ministry partnership in Acts 16:36-41.
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