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The Teachings of Certain Men
The teachings of certain men, who were apparently Pharisees in close association with James, caused a great uproar in the Gentile churches. They were saying that submission to the law of Moses, as demonstrated by circumcision, was required for one to be saved. They also taught that it was improper for a Jewish Christian to eat with Gentile Christians, likely specifically those who had not been circumcised. Their teachings led to Paul and Barnabas raising some serious questions and the apparent division of the church into two distinct camps. Ultimately, even Barnabas participated in the Judaizers' acts of hypocrisy. Commanded by the Lord and commissioned by the church in Antioch, Paul, Barnabas and some unnamed others went to Jerusalem ( Act_15:1-2 ; Act_15:5 ; Gal_2:2 ; Gal_2:12-13 ).
On their overland journey to Jerusalem, the group reported the conversions which had been occurring in the Gentile world because of the preaching of the gospel. The Christians who heard the report rejoiced because of the things God had accomplished. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they again reported on the good which had been done among the Gentiles. If, as it appears, Gal_2:1-21 is a more detailed account of the events reported by Luke, Paul first reported to a small group of reputable men. In this way, public confrontation between apostles could be avoided. Converts from among the Pharisees still pressed their point by saying that all Gentiles who would go to heaven would have to submit to the law of Moses ( Act_15:3-5 ).
A Great Multitude In Iconium Believed
When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium, they immediately went to the synagogue and seized upon an opportunity to preach. Though no record is left of their exact words, Luke does let us know that the message was powerful enough to move a great multitude, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, to obedient belief. However, those Jews who refused to obey the gospel did all they could to poison the thinking of the Gentile citizens, as well as the authorities very likely, so Paul and Barnabas could have no further impact on the city.
Nonetheless, they stayed on for some time in the city. As they preached, the Lord caused great miracles to be worked by them, thereby confirming the words as being from Him ( Heb_2:3-4 ). The city continued to be divided into two groups, those who obediently believed the preached word and those who demonstrated their lack of belief by refusing to obey. The enemies of preaching conspired to work physical harm on the preachers, even to the point of stoning. So, they moved on and preached the gospel in Lystra and Derbe ( Act_14:1-7 ).
The matter was placed before the apostles and elders to be considered. Quite a discussion followed. Though Peter's actions were not always commendable, as when he dissembled in Antioch, it is clear that the apostle knew the truth. He insisted that God intended for the Gentiles to receive salvation through Jesus and such was the rule of authority for the church. He reminded them that God had sent him to the house of Cornelius to preach the gospel and they were accepted on the basis of the same obedient faith demonstrated by the Jews on Pentecost. He asked why they would burden them with a law which neither they, nor their fathers, had been able to keep. In fact, he said placing such a requirement on the Gentiles would tempt God. Instead of meriting salvation through perfect law keeping, all would be saved by the grace of God. The stage was set for Paul and Barnabas' dramatic report of the miracles God had worked through them among the Gentiles ( Act_15:6-12 ).
James, the Lord's brother, then asked the group to listen to him as he reminded them of Simon Peter's work with Cornelius. He went on to quote from Amo_9:11-12 , which he saw as referring prophetically to the inclusion of the Gentiles in God's people. So, James said he judged that they should not place legalistic requirements on the Gentiles which God had not placed on them ( Gal_1:7 ; Gal_5:10 ). He listed four simple rules for them to follow. They were not to eat of things polluted by idol worship or participate in sexual immorality which was sometimes associated with idol worship. They also were not to eat meat from an animal that died by strangulation or the blood of animals. These last two rules actually predated the law of Moses. They were first essentially given to Noah ( Gen_9:4 ). Since the law of Moses was still being read in the synagogues, this served as a good means of maintaining fellowship ( Act_15:13-21 ).
A Letter for the Gentiles
The group decided to send Paul and Barnabas back to the Gentiles along with some men closely associated with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Judas Barsabas and Silas were specially selected to go help deliver a letter which explained the thinking of the assembled group. McGarvey thought these men might have been sent because they had not been associated with converting the Gentiles and would be "above suspicion of undue partiality toward them." He went on to suggest that they "might use their influence with the Jewish brethren to induce them to accept the teaching of the epistle."
When they got to Antioch, the multitude of believers assembled to hear the letter from the apostles and elders. After they heard they were to be accepted into the church without submitting to the law of Moses, there was great rejoicing. Further words of encouragement were delivered by Judas and Silas, who Luke says were prophets. The brethren told them they could return to Jerusalem after they had spent and unspecified amount of time with them. However, Silas apparently chose to remain in Antioch ( Act_15:22-35 ).
Contention Parts Paul and Barnabas
Paul knew the importance of continued teaching and encouragement for young churches, so he approached Barnabas about visiting the brethren in all the cities in which they had previously preached. Barnabas had a strong desire to take his cousin, John Mark, on the journey. Paul did not want to go with the man who had left them at Perga on their first journey ( Act_15:36-38 ; Act_13:13 ). Both Paul and Barnabas were so firm in their opinions, even to the point of being provoked to anger, that they had to separate.
It should be noted that Paul later used Barnabas as a good example of one who worked to support himself while preaching the gospel. He also described John Mark as one who was useful in ministry ( 1Co_9:6 ; 2Ti_4:11 ). As Coffman says, "the one redeeming note in this otherwise unhappy and regrettable episode is that neither party to the dispute permitted it to hinder the work of God."
Luke quietly noted that God used the disagreement between these two great men of faith to produce two teams to go in different directions with the gospel. Barnabas went with John Mark to Cyprus, his homeland ( Act_15:39 ; Act_4:36 ). Paul took Silas, one of the leading men among the brethren at Jerusalem ( Act_15:22 ), with him. It appears he had to return from Jerusalem, but Luke does not give us the details of how he and Paul got together ( Act_15:33 ). They went through Syria and Cilicia to southern Galatia. Along the way, they strengthened the churches ( Act_15:40-41 ).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Acts 15". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
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