Lesson 34: Judas and Silas to be Sent to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas
This lesson begins with verse 22 of Acts 15. But, before we get into verse 22; may I comment further on those four points that James proposed to include in the letter, verse 20, without boring you to tears, I trust? In years past when I read this, those four points (abstain from blood, things strangled, fornication and idols) seemed out of place. Why include them here? Well, once it began to soak in, it raised my understanding of the ISSUE causing problems at Antioch by about 200%. It was really MORE OF a cultural phenomenon than a religious phenomenon. It was the Jewish culture verses the Greek culture. Idols or gods were just common household decor with many Gentiles. Sexual gratification was a game like 20th century America. They lived a little like animals in that respect, family was not important. Any pair, made an affair! Jews on the other hand served Jehovah God, one God, the living God. AND, although their ancestors seem to be easily led off into idolatry after Baal and the Egyptian gods, it would appear that the Jews, as a people, had been cured somewhat of that malady after their Babylonian servitude. The Babylonians were like the Greeks, in that idols were more common than men. The second commandment in the Mosaic code forbade idols and idol worship. The seventh commandment forbade adultery. And the penalty was severe, death by stoning. Thus, adultery was not unknown among the Jews but far less common than with the Gentiles. These two characteristics distinguished the Jews and Gentiles like a sore thumb. Eating blood and flesh with the blood not drained out has been forbidden in every age. The covenant that God made with Noah and his sons in Gen.9 says: (in verse 3-4) "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, but the blood thereof, shall ye NOT eat." This restriction was imposed in the Patriarchal age. In the Jewish age, God gave through Moses many restrictions on food (animals must chew the cud, have split hoofs, etc... that's Lev. ch. 11). AND eating of blood was ALSO forbidden in the Jewish Age (see Lev. 17:10-11). AND there God gave a reason for this prohibition. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood." Now, I don't understand this a well as I would like but in Heb. 9:22 shedding of blood is connected with remission of sins. "Without the shedding of blood is no remission." Then, the very passage we are dealing with (Acts 15:20) forbids eating blood in the Christian age. Especially as sanctioned by verse 28-29 down below. The Jews looked at the Gentiles as dogs. The Gentiles would eat anything, they lived like animals, and they served pagan gods. The Pharisees particularly were strict in this respect. It had become traditional with them. AND, they had so many traditions, it was hard to distinguish WITH THEM which was imposed by divine intervention, and which was legislated by their forefathers. It seems they made little distinction, BUT they were very zealous to teach their traditions AND abhor non-observance. So, you can see, after the Gentiles were grafted in, and Jews and Gentiles became one new people in Jesus Christ, there was a common plan of salvation that applied to both, religiously. But their cultural background conflicted. The Jews washed their hands ceremoniously, the Gentiles didn't. Thus, the Jews, and the Pharisees in particular, sought to impose the Jewish culture on the Gentiles in the church. You see, at this point both Jew and Gentile Christians had accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah, i.e. the Son of God. They were both baptized believers: brothers and sisters in Christ. They accepted that. But, YOU KNOW, there is a tendency for us to make everyone else fit OUR MOLD. They should change, but we shouldn't. And that was the attitude that caused impasse. Now, don't get the feeling that the rules were lax and both could do as they pleased with reference to morality and paganism. Not so! Christ's law is more binding than the Ten Commandments. The penalty is not immediate as it was THEN in many cases, but ultimately the penalty is greater. There is also more love and opportunity for repentance and second chance in Christ's law. That's why this same James called it the "perfect law of liberty" in the book of James, 1:25.
Take a look at Christ's code as compared to the Mosaic code on the point of adultery for example. You will remember, Jesus gave this comparison in the Sermon on the Mount.(Matt. 5:27). Listen at it, "Ye have heard that it was said, by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery." Now, that's Moses' law. Right? But what is Christ's law? Listen at it! (verse 28), "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart." Thus, the law of Christ is much more inclusive than the Mosaic law. Can you see why the Jews had a feeling of superiority over the Gentiles? In their view, those dirty, greasy, grimy Gentiles simply needed a bath. And sexual propriety did not come easy with the Gentile Christians because of their past culture and their speech could easily become contemptible in this respect. Thus, the Jews simply wanted to do the Gentiles a favor, i.e. learn hygiene and control your passions like WE JEWS do it. These Gentile Christians were trying, they were converted, they were sincere, but it was EASY for them to lapse back into THE routines of their past; just like it is hard for a person who has learned vulgarity, slang and coarse speech to overcome those habits. New habits of thought must be learned. So some of the Jews must have thought like this; if those Gentiles would be circumcised and keep the law of Moses like we did, THEN they would learn BETTER than that pagan nonsense. Now, couple that with the fact that the Jews were proud of their ancestry. They prided themselves on keeping the traditions. And as I said before, some had trouble separating the divine from mere customs and stereotyped behavior. Thus, their prescription for a curriculum for the Gentiles "be circumcised and keep the law." And those overzealous Judaizing teachers at Antioch went one step further. They taught, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." Therefore they presumed to legislate for God. They made it a condition of salvation. And that is about two or three steps too far. Col. 2:14 says Christ took THAT LAW out of the way, nailing it to the cross. That is, the Mosaic Law was removed at the time of the cross. So, they not only wanted to keep it after Christ removed it, they wanted to impose it upon others AND make it a condition of salvation. There is a great lesson here. Don't try to change the MOLD that God made, i.e. his rules and his laws are his rules and his laws. Don't try to alter them. They were made for us to obey NOT to amend. Denominationalism in the world today is the result and an example that amending, legislating, rule changing syndrome; these presumptive Jews were dabbling in then. AND, when we get away from that business; when we get down to the pure gospel; AND THE pure gospel alone, THEN and ONLY THEN can we be what God wants us to be. One people under God with justice, respect, dignity, wealth, and salvation for all. Yet, this old world WOULD rather have its own way than what God has to offer. Think about it! What does the CONTROVERSY at Antioch illustrate to you? Isn't the religious world today mostly an amplification of that false teaching process?? Just a few centuries down the road? Doctrines and commandments of men! Now, let's get back to the question. WHY did James and the H.S. see fit to include those four points: abstain from idols, abstain from fornication and abstain from earing blood? Actually, the third and fourth point, eating blood and things strangled, boil down to the same thing. "Things strangled" undoubtedly has reference to eating meat with the blood still in the flesh, i.e. not drained out. James! What does that have to do with circumcision and keeping the law? You see, each one of these things WAS INCLUDED in the old law. But they are also part of Christ's law. Thus too many have said to the brethren at Antioch, "forget the old law," would have been an over simplification. And may have caused some to minimized the sin of idolatry, fornication, and eating blood. THIS, James did not want to do. BECAUSE these things that are common to both laws, i.e. Moses' law and Christ's law; are just as binding IN Christ's law as any other precept He gave. And no doubt these were sins that needed emphasis in Antioch even as they need emphasis today. Finally, these four points go to the very root of the cultural differences between the Jews and Gentiles.
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!