Lesson 33: Paul and Barnabas Council with the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem
At the close of Acts chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria at the end of the first missionary journey; after spending possibly two or three years in southern Galatia. When they first returned, there was much interest in hearing about the congregations established in Galatia. V.28 tells us they abode a long time with the disciples at Antioch. It was during this time at Antioch that certain false teachers arose teaching that Christians must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. This is in the beginning of Acts. IS. The men mentioned in v.l came down from Judea. They were Christians, i.e. they had confessed Jesus and been baptized for the remission of sins. They had been with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, we learn later. They, no doubt, used this to give their teaching clout. Now, WHAT WAS IT they taught! V. 1 said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." And we learn later that they taught also, "... to keep the law of Moses." (v.5). That may have been implied in the statement in v.l, but, to you and me it broadens the implications. Now, put a little soap on your glove, hang on to this one. You need to see and understand what is happening here. Possibly you are aware today, many denominations are trying to keep Christ's law (so they claim) AND trying to keep the Law of Moses also. Now, that was what these Judaizing teachers were trying to do. We have covered this ground before. Do you remember Peter's sermon in the temple (Acts chapter 3)? Peter quoted Moses himself (in Deuteronomy 18:18) where Moses said that another prophet, like as he, i.e. Jesus, would rise up AND they must hear HIM in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. That is, Jesus superseded Moses. That's the way it is. That's the way it was intended to be. Do you remember what Stephen was teaching in the Grecian synagogues around Jerusalem? Do you remember the charges brought against Stephen? Moses told the children of Israel to heed that Prophet when he came. Galatians 3:19 says, "It (the law) was added because of transgression, till the seed should come..." i.e. Christ. Verses.24 & 25 in the same chapter say (I quote) "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are NO LONGER under a school master" (i.e. under the law of Moses). Do you remember Matthew 5:21 through the end of the chapter? The sermon on the mount? Jesus said, "it was said by them of old time, "thou shalt not kill" that was Moses' law. Then in the very NEXT VERSE Jesus said: "But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." And, he proceeded to give HIS LAW that supercedes the Law of Moses. The rest of that chapter is devoted to other commandments in the Law of Moses and in every case Jesus follows by saying, "But I say unto you." i.e. He gives that which supercedes the Law of Moses. Thus, to teach the 10 commandment law and being circumcised was necessary to salvation was a false doctrine. First of all, we ace sat to keep the Law of Moses BECAUSE it wasn't given to us. S**fldlv, Christ is "... the author of eternal salvation unto all theatllM obey him..." (Heb. 5:9). So, these "certain men" were making their own doctrine and commandments. Notice that "...Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them..." Paul and Barnabas tried to teach them, but they insisted on teaching Paul and Barnabas. And that brought on a real impasse. Is it wrong to argue religion? Paul and Barnabas had NO SMALL disputation with them. And, I would suspect that during this debate those Judaizing teachers insisted that they were teaching what the apostles and elders at Jerusalem were teaching. Thus, declaring that Paul and Barnabas taught an erroneous doctrine, contrary to what Peter and John and the other apostles taught. Now, if Peter and Paul, John, Barnabas and the other apostles WERE all directed by the SAME Spirit, THAT could not be, because "...God is not the author of confusion..." per ICor. 14:33. If there is confusion, it comes from another source. So, what's the source? The brethren at Antioch saw ONE WAY to ascertain the truth of the matter. Bring Paul and Barnabas together with those other apostles and see if they agree or disagree. If they agree, then these Judaizing teachers are wrong. If they disagree, then Paul and Barnabas just might be wrong. So, in the middle of v. 2 it says, "...they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." Now, this decision overlooks the fact that Paul and Barnabas were indeed apostles of the Holy Spirit; Spirit directed men AND the Judaizing teachers were not. This was somewhat degrading to Paul and Barnabas. Had it been me, I probably would have said, "O.K. you contentious brethren go on up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question and satisfy yourself, but I'm not going to spend my time on a laborious trip like that when I already know the answer." AND, it very well could be, that these apostles took that stance because Paul reiterated this instance to the Galatian brethren at a later time in the book of Galatians (chapter 2). In verse 2 there, Paul said, " And I went up by revelation..." Thus, it could be that the Lord instructed Paul to go. And, if that be the case; naturally Paul would have had questions arise in his own mind about what the Lord wanted him to learn. And, that seems to be the attitude he describes in Galatians 2:2. It could be that Paul and Barnabas just wanted to take a little jaunt to Jerusalem anyway. At any rate, Paul and Barnabas truckled out toward Jerusalem "with certain others." Did you catch that? The wording here would cause one to wonder if these were elders at Antioch, some of those Judaizing teachers, or yet others. I see no reason to believe the Judaizing teachers went, judging from the things that transpire later. But in Galatians, we do learn who ONE of THEM is that went, a young man by the name of Titus. It says there he was a Greek. Apparently, he was a sort of test case. He must have been one of those in the middle of the controversy between Paul and Barnabas AND the Judaizing teachers. So, Paul took Titus along to Jerusalem. O.K. let's read v.3&4., "And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 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." We have talked about Phoenicia and Samaria before, that territory between Antioch and Jerusalem. It would appear that several churches had now been planted in these territories. You will remember the last time Paul and Barnabas made this journey was when they made the relief trip to Judea about the time Herod killed the apostle James. That must have been something like 3 to 5 years before. This is an opportunity to visit old acquaintances. And, they never missed an opportunity to teach and edify the brethren. Can you imagine as they finally approached Jerusalem? Barnabas, the son of consolation, was a well-respected man at Jerusalem, you will remember. His sister (Mary), the mother of John Mark, lived in Jerusalem and apparently owned a large house there. Barnabas' nephew (Mark) must have had a lot of questions about what happened after he had left them in Perga of Pamphylia and vice versa. To Barnabas, Jerusalem must have been a family reunion. Paul also had a lot of memories of that city, including Stephen, AND the threat on his own life when he had to leave there for Tarsus. AND what a thrill it must have been for these men to relate their missionary journey in southern Galatia. Now, let's read v.5. "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. It's interesting to note some of the Pharisees are now Christians. Paul WAS ONCE a strong leader in that sect. Can you imagine Paul shaking hands with Pharisees that he may have known at the stoning of Stephen? OR later during his persecution of the church? Here they are, church members in Jerusalem. What a thrilling thought! What a touching occasion! But THEN comes the let down. I suppose it was not TOO SUPRISnsfG to Paul to find out that they were on the wrong side of the question concerning circumcision and keeping the law. In Galatians 2:4, Paul LATER described AND, although they apply to both equally, it gave credit to the Jews where credit was due, in their cultural difference. AND, the Gentile Christians were not shackled by Jewish tradition. Now, James's proposal was to write a letter and include these points. So. What's the pleasure of the group? Notice Peter, Barnabas, Paul and James, men of the Spirit, gave the doctrinal TRUTH on WHAT to do. They settled the question fully, by the Holy Ghost (we learn in verse 28). Then, James made a proposal on how to communicate the answer to this question to Antioch. Write a letter! But, I get the impression in verse 22 they permitted the whole church to participate in the decision on HOW TO communicate. Let's read it, "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barnabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:" To me, this is just good common sense. Immediately, they got the whole church at Jerusalem involved in getting this message out. James proposed to send a letter. It could very well be, (we don't know this) but the suggestion to send some of their own Jerusalem brethren, outstanding and highly respected men to Antioch MAY have come from others besides the apostles. And it allowed more people to participate in teaching and supporting this doctrinal truth. Why not? It also showed genuine concern to the brethren at Antioch. They had compassion on those in Antioch who were victimized by those false teachers. As I said before, these little splintery, faction causing, false doctrines and hobbies of men can solidify into real hard feelings that sometimes take decades and generations to melt away. I say false a doctrine because it is just as cancerous to go beyond what God has said, as it is to change his word from "yea" to "nay." The bible ends with this thought in Rev. 22:18 "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life." And while we are dwelling on that thought; let's look at a couple implications FOR US. These false teachers, "I commanded them to keep the law of Moses." That's verse 5 up above. VERSE 1 says they taught it was necessary to salvation. I want to ask you, you tell me! What about those today who teach keeping the "Sabbath day"? i.e. worship on Saturday and justify this by appealing to the fourth commandment in the law of Moses? We're talking about the tenth commandment law now...Ex. 20. Do you get the point? Jesus did NOT incorporate the fourth commandment into His law. How can we appeal to Moses' law to justify ANY act of worship? What about burning of incense? The Israelites did it under Moses' law. They were required to do it! But Jesus did not include it. Thus, when YOU DO IT as worship to God, you go beyond what is written. That's ADDING to God's word. What about infant baptism and infant church membership? Those Israelite babies, (boy babies) were circumcised the 8th day. They became members and partakers of God's covenant, but not so in the Christian Age. Do you remember Acts 2:47? "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." That's talking about baptized believers. Babies are not believers. They are not capable of believing, even if it was permissible to baptize them...AND it's not. They couldn't be baptized for the remission of sins; they don't have any sins! And that's what Peter told those people on Pentecost to be baptized "FOR". F-O-R, that's the way it's spelled in my bible, "...for the remission of sins." Acts 2:38. Read it again! Then, what about the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship today? David used them, yes! The children of Israel were COMMANDED to use mechanical instruments of music. But, we are NOT! Christ did not authorize it. Every command and every example in the N.T. says: "sing." Is that plain enough? I challenge you to check it out. If circumcision in the O.T. is not to be required in the N.T. age...that's what Peter, James, Barnabas, and Paul concluded here in Jerusalem. The H.S. concurred in this conclusion, (it's down in verse 28). If circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses were not required of those Christians in Jerusalem and Antioch (that's the wording in verse 1). THEN how can we presume to go even beyond that today? Bind on Sabbath worship? Instrumental music? Offering of sacrifices? Burning of incense, anything? It all goes together. My friends: we have enough commands (Jesus' commands in the N.T. commands directly without trying to invent and scrape-up leftovers from another era. The Holy Spirit, here in Acts 15, concluded against that. AND, we would be pretty wise NOT to ignore and blaspheme the Spirit. If you want to read about that, Matt. 12:31 puts it pretty blunt, "...blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall NOT be forgiven unto men." And that's what Jesus had to say about it. Now, someone will probably be so brazen as to say, I have left the book of Acts and started preaching. AND they can say it anyway they like, make any accusation you like; BUT that's the only honest conclusion you can draw from Acts 15. Listen closely! Study this letter they wrote in verse 23-29 with a fine-tooth comb. It's got a lot of meat in it. It would be just about one standard sized page in longhand. They said what they meant AND they meant what they said. McGarvey points out this letter is the earliest document we have that purports to be written by the pen of an apostle. It's called an epistle in verse 30. AND, it must have circulated many years before the book of Acts was written which included this letter. Let's read the first part of verse 23, "And they wrote letters, by them after this manner." It is interesting; the word "letter" in the KJV is plural in verse 23. All the other translations, I have, has it singular. "After this manner" may imply this is a sample, rather than an actual copy. All the commentaries I have side step this thought completely. And not being a Greek scholar, I'll have to leave it to the experts to explain. It very well could be that since the letter is addressed to Gentiles at different places (Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia), three different copies were made. And, since copies were made by hand in those days before printing, ditto, or Xerox, it could be essentially what we would call a letter in triplicate. (Thus, letters would be plural.) And undoubtedly the letter was re-copied and circulated even more widely in scroll form as time passed. Although unlikely, Paul's copy could have been one of those parchments he told Timothy to bring in II Tim. 4:13. O.K. we meet up with two more men here in writing and delivering this letter. Joseph surnamed Barnabas, AND Silas in verse 22 ending in verse 29. BUT! We're out of thread. We must hold that for lesson # 35. We have covered a grand total of one verse. But, some days, that's the way it goes. See you at lesson #35. Hurry back!