The Jerusalem Council
“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses you cannot be saved”, is the summary of the main issue Paul faces in his letters to the churches. The Gentile mission is successful with many becoming disciples and churches planted all over the Mediterranean. Some Jewish believers, the Judaisers, are wanting to add the law to grace. Peter, who had received the vision that led to the acceptance of Cornelius, gets sucked in and stops eating with Gentile believers. Paul talks about that in Galatians 2. In today’s passage Paul and Barnabas are sent back to Jerusalem to iron out this issue.
Under the old covenant the boundary markers for the people of God were circumcision, Sabbath observance and keeping the food laws. Under the new covenant, being Spirit-filled is the observable boundary marker of being in the people of God. The Ultra-Jewish believers want Gentile believers to come under the law. Peter, the apostle to the Jews, surprisingly sides with Paul and Barnabas, citing his experience of Gentiles receiving the Spirit. Paul and Barnabas relate their experiences.
Then James (the Just, Jesus’ brother) acting as the chair of the council, takes them to the Scriptures. Describing the Gentile believers as “people for His name”, showing that they, and we, are part of the new people of God, he appeals to Amos’ prophecy to show that Gentile believers are part of the people of God without law observance. He then asks that a letter be written asking Gentiles to show courtesy to their fellow Jewish believers with 3 common dietary matters that would inhibit common meals and also to refrain from unlawful sexual intercourse. They have not been forced to squeeze into the Jewish mould.
Very few of us today would want new believers to squeeze into a Jewish framework to be acceptable. What frameworks do we try to put on people that are not of grace – like clothing, hair styles or pastimes?
Thank God that the Jerusalem council opened the cage to let the gospel break free of the shackles of law!