Debate Over Gentiles Keeping the Law
Verse 1 – And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren. Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
These new believers, which were also Jews, couldn’t stop thinking that those who wanted to be Christians also had to now follow the laws of Moses. This goes back to the story Jesus told when He said, “You can’t put “new wine” into an old wine skin, for it will burst.”
Verse 2 – Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
When this question arose in the early church, Paul and Barnabas thought it wise to go discuss it with some of the original apostles who heard Jesus teach on salvation.
Verse 3 – So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.
Verse 4 – And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.
Verse 5 – But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Though the Pharisees, including Paul, had opposed Jesus and His teaching, they were now believers. But this group failed to see the freedom Christ had won through His death and resurrection for them.
Verse 6 – So the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
Verse 7 – And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them, “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
Verse 8 – “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us,
The pattern of Gentile conversion was the same as for Jewish believers. God made no ethnic distinction in building His church.
Verse 9 – “and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Verse 10 – “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
No one could keep the law, so why would, including those that were now saying the Gentiles had to keep it, make the Gentiles try to keep Mosses law? It was a heavy yoke to all who bear it.
Verse 11 – “But we believe through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.
Verse 12 – Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
Verse 13 – And after they had become silent, James (Jesus brother) answered saying, “Men and brethren listen to me:
Verse 14 – “Simon (Peter) has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.
Verse 15 – “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
Verse 16 – ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which had fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up,
Verse 17 – so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all things.’
James cited the prophets Amos and Isaiah to show that God had long ago foretold that the Gentiles would be called by His name.
Verse 18 – “Known to God from eternity are all His works.
Verse 19 – “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,
Verse 20 – “but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
Some of these Gentiles had come out of idolatry worship, so they needed to know: stay away from food that had been sacrificed to idols and sexual immortality, a common part of idol worship and don’t eat the blood of animals, (Leviticus 17:14).
Verse 21 – “For Mosses had throughout many generations those who preached him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
If Gentile believers would abstain from these practices, they would get along with their Jewish brothers and sisters.
When we are setting boundaries for new believers, make sure it’s Biblical, not man’s opinion. Cultures are very different in our world today and it doesn’t hurt to show respect to some who eat different or do certain practices. If the new believer continues in the word of God, the Holy Spirit will do the correction where it is needed.
The Council Sends an Official Letter
Verse 22 – Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
Verse 23 – They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.
Verse 24 – Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law – to whom we gave no such commandment –
Verse 25 – it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Verse 26 – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 27 – We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
Verse 28 – For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
Verse 29 – that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
It is always more helpful when believers learn, not only what to say, but how to say it with the right attitude behind it. We may be correct in content, but we can lose our audience by our tone of voice and attitude.
Verse 30 – So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter.
Verse 31 – When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.
Verse 32 – Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them.
Verse 33 – And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.
Verse 34 – However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.
Verse 35 – Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
Contention Over John Mark
Verse 36 – Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”
Verse 37 – Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.
Verse 38 – But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed form them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
Paul wasn’t about to take someone who had deserted them once already. It didn’t seem to bother Barnabas that John Mark had done this. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. This riff caused a huge disagreement and they parted ways.
Verse 39 – Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;
Barnabas is not mentioned in the Book of Acts after this incident.
Verse 40 – but Paul chose Silas, and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
Verse 41 – And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
However, in 1 Corinthians 9:6, we see Paul and Barnabas reconciled and again became traveling companions. And there is evidence Paul reconciled with John Mark in Colossians 4:10.