In about 47 or 48 AD, Paul first preached his message of Grace to the Galatian cities, including Pisidian Antioch. Circumcision missionaries soon followed him and presented a gospel in contradiction to his. In about 50 AD, these contrarians arrived in Paul's base of operations, in Syrian Antioch (also called ‘Antioch the Great,’ or simply ‘Antioch’). Their gospel message of salvation was all about circumcision —
|Act 15:1 : And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.|
What is easy to forget about these circumcision missionaries (they are often called ‘Judaizers’) is that they were Christians. They believed in Jesus Christ. They just preached a different gospel, teaching that salvation came, not only by believing in Jesus Christ, but by following the law too. Essentially you had to become a Jew to be saved.
The Jewish-Gentile controversy had been present from the earliest days of Christianity. The Christian Church (or group of individuals who believe in Jesus Christ), in the beginning, from the day of Pentecost, had been made up entirely of Jews, Jews who followed the Law of Moses. As it grew in Jerusalem and Judea, Christianity was seen more as a sect of Judaism than as a separate religion. And the Jewish Christian's relationship to the Gentile became more and more a subject of debate.
Jesus Christ had told his disciples to “teach all nations” (see Matthew 28:19-20), but it took the disciples a few years to get moving on it. The first outreach step was driven by persecution in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen in about 35 AD. Phillip went to Samaria and preached to the Samaritans, people who the Jews considered half-breeds, not fully Jewish —
|Act 8:5-8 : Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.|
Simon Peter, one of the first of the Apostles called by Jesus, made the next outreach step, preaching Jesus Christ to the first Gentiles, to Cornelius the Centurion and his ‘Italian band’ in Caesarea (Acts 10:1-2) in about 40 AD. And it took direct, coordinated acts of God to get it accomplished. God gave Cornelius a vision to go and contact Peter (Acts 10:3-8). Then God gave Peter a vision that had a particularly Jewish flavor to it (so to speak) —
|Act 10:9-15 : ... Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.|
God repeated this vision two more times to make sure Peter got the message. It was Peter, the Jew who prayed at the sixth hour in the Jewish manner, the Jew who followed the Law of Moses and would never eat anything forbidden by the Law, who understood that God was directing him to visit the Gentile Cornelius, also forbidden by the Law. And it was Peter who met with Cornelius, heard about the vision Cornelius had had, and finally put all the pieces together —
|Act 10:34-36 : ... Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)|
When Cornelius and his band responded positively to the gospel message Peter gave and then began to speak in tongues, it was confirmed for Peter.
Salvation to the Gentiles? This was not an obvious outcome. And it required some special actions by God. And when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he had to carefully repeat the story, visions and all, to make sure the Jewish Christians understood what had happened and didn't condemn him as a Law-breaker (Acts 11:2-3). There was amazement when they understood —
|Act 11:18 : When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.|
And the inference with “they held their peace”? They stopped criticizing him for breaking the Law of Moses.
Another example of direct, coordinated intervention by God in the book of Acts is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul, or Saul the Pharisee, the zealous follower of the Law of Moses, hated Christians. Not only were they Law breakers, they were blasphemers for saying that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.
In about 35 AD, as Paul traveled from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians, Jesus Christ met him —
|Act 9:3-6 : And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.|
Those further orders were conveyed by a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. In his own vision, when the Lord told him to go to Paul and he hesitated, the Lord said —
|Act 9:15 : ... he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:|
It is certain that Paul was soon in close communion with God and began to receive what he later called an ‘abundance of revelations’ (II Corinthians 12:7). He wasted no time in proclaiming his new conviction —
|Act 9:20-22 : And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.|
It is also pretty clear the Lord was soon telling him what the ultimate plan was, that he would become the Apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). And the Lord was revealing a new gospel message to him (Galatians 1:11-12).
About 14 years after his conversion, Paul went to Jerusalem and met with the Jewish Christian leaders in private —
|Gal 2:1-2 : Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.|
Paul was cautious. He was already preaching to the Gentiles. And the gospel he was preaching was salvation by Grace, not by the works of the Law. In order to continue, Paul needed official sanctioning, but he risked being shut down completely (and then having to “run in vain” with his message). So he presented his gospel to the leaders privately, not to the Jewish Christian majority (who Paul probably knew would not approve). He received from the Christian leaders what could best be called ‘tentative’ approval —
|Gal 2:7-10 : But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.|
Nothing written, only a verbal agreement. And the only stipulation was that Paul remember the poor in Jerusalem (almost sounds like extortion to me, but Paul agreed to do it). Although tentative and verbal, the approval was enough for Paul to widen the scope of his ministry and begin his missionary journeys to places like, for example, the cities of Galatia.
Paul, in Galatians 1:19, identifies James as the brother, or half-brother, of Jesus. He is mentioned by name with the other half-brothers Jesus had in Mark 6:3. According to John 7:3-5, James and the other half-brothers did not believe in Jesus at the time of his earthly ministry, but after the resurrection, he is noted by Paul, in I Corinthians 15:7, as having seen the resurrected Lord (and, presumably, having believed).
Although Peter is clearly the leader of the Jewish Christians immediately after the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, it is James, after a number of years, who seems to out-rank Peter. In Acts 11, when Peter returns to Jerusalem after the Cornelius conversion event, Peter has to answer to critical Jewish Christians (although James is not mentioned by name, we can assume he was part of the critical group). In the next chapter, when Peter was imprisoned by Herod and then miraculously escaped, it was James that Peter requested be informed (Acts 12:17). Finally, in Galatians 2:9, Paul lists the Christian leaders in Jerusalem (he calls them ‘pillars’) and puts James at the top, ahead of Peter (‘Cephas’ was his name in Aramaic).
Along with Peter, James had already given tentative approval to Paul's mission to the Gentiles. But there is evidence that James disagreed with Paul's message of Grace. Of the Jewish Christian leaders, James seems the most conservative, leaning more to the Law of Moses than to the Law of Christ preached by Paul. Given his experience with Cornelius, however, Peter's view of the Law had softened. When Peter traveled to Antioch shortly after Paul's visit to Jerusalem, he even went so far as to openly meet and eat with the ‘unclean’ Gentile believers there. But when Jewish Christians later arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem, to Paul's dismay, Peter, and even Barnabas, withdrew from the Gentiles —
|Gal 2:11-14 : But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?|
And from whom did Paul say these Jewish Christians came? Why, from James, of course. And although the text does not say they were judgmental, the disruption they caused certainly seems to suggest they were.
When the circumcision missionaries appeared in Antioch with their message that salvation could only come through following the Law of Moses, Paul and Barnabas confronted them. With no agreement, Paul and Barnabas decided to go back to Jerusalem to meet with the Jewish Christian leaders and have the matter publicly resolved (Acts 15:2). This event has come to be known as the Council of Jerusalem.
When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Apostles and elders, but another group appeared and voiced their opinions on the conversion of the Gentiles —
|Act 15:5 : 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.|
The Apostles and elders then came together to consider the matter. After some debating, Peter reminded the group how he had first brought the gospel message to the Gentiles and how God confirmed their salvation when they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:7-11). Paul and Barnabas then recounted many of the miracles and wonders that God had performed through them while they shared the gospel with the Gentiles (the order of their names in Acts 15:12 suggests that Barnabas did more of the talking than Paul). James then summarized the matter by recalling again Simon Peter's encounter with Cornelius. Demonstrating that James had become the primary Jewish Christian leader, it was his decision to compromise, to not require the Gentiles to be circumcised or to follow the full Law of Moses (Acts 15:13-19). Believing Gentiles would only be asked to follow four commandments out of the Law (Acts 15:20).
To document the decision that James and the Council made, a letter was written for delivery to the Gentile Christians in Antioch by the Council's representatives, Judas and Silas. Here is the text of the letter —
|Act 15:23-29 : ... The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.|
Only Four Commandments? Not bad. Here they are, as listed at the end of the letter —
All four of the Commandments were aimed at what the Jewish Christians considered abominable practices of the Gentiles. For the Jewish Christians, there was also a practical side to the requests. The first three of the Commandments are dietary restrictions. If the Gentile Christians followed them, the Jewish Christians would be better able to eat meals provided by them without having to worry as much about being served forbidden food.
The Council of Jerusalem succeeded in endorsing Paul's mission to the Gentiles with his Gospel of Grace. Paul got the official sanctioning that he needed. And most importantly, the Christian Church did not split along Jewish and Gentile lines. There was, at least outwardly, unity.
Paul expanded his missionary efforts, taking his message of Jesus Christ and salvation by Grace across Asia Minor and into Europe. But, at the same time, the circumcision missionaries were undeterred and continued to follow Paul with their message of salvation by the Law. Apparently they hadn't gotten the memo.
And what about the Four Commandments?
It was the promise Paul had made at his earlier meeting with the Christian leaders, to remember the poor in Jerusalem, that you will find the most evidence of Paul having carried out.
There is one more time recorded in Acts where Paul met with James, at the end of Paul's third missionary journey, just before he was arrested and sent to Rome —
|Act 21:17-20 : And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:|
Although it was not part of the original agreement, that all Jewish Christians should accept the message of Grace, James pointed out that a great number of Jewish Christians were still following the Law of Moses rather than the Law of Christ.
The final piece of evidence to consider is the epistle, or book, of James, written, most believe, by our James. The beginning of the letter is very telling —
|Jas 1:1 : James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.|
This is a letter addressed specifically to Jewish Christians (or, as James refers to them, ‘the twelve tribes’). It should come as no surprise, then, that this book is the most Jewish of all the books in the New Testament. Nothing wrong with that, we just need to keep it in mind to explain the context.
Some scholars say that James was the first book written in the New Testament. That could be, but what I see is someone who has already been exposed to Paul's teaching on Grace and is providing a rebuttal to it. Here are statements Paul made in Galatians contrasted with statements from James.
For Paul, liberty means freedom from the Law — For James, liberty means freedom in the Law —
|Gal 5:1 : Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.|
|Jas 1:25 : But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.|
For Paul, salvation comes from faith, not works — For James, salvation comes from works, not faith —
|Gal 3:2 : This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?|
|Jas 2:14 : What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?|
For Paul, justification comes from faith, not works — For James, justification comes from works, not faith —
|Gal 2:16 : Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.|
|Jas 2:24 : Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.|
For Paul, Abraham was a great example of faith over works — For James, Abraham was a great example of works over faith —
|Gal 3:6-8 : Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.|
|Jas 2:21-23 : Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.|
Although we don't know which letter was written first, the letter from James or the letter from Paul, it is clear that James was very familiar with Paul's teachings on Grace, on Faith over Works. And, despite having extended his blessings at the Council of Jerusalem to Paul's mission, we can see that James had not fully accepted Paul's teachings. The answer to these apparent contradictions in the Bible, of course, is that the letter from James is addressed specifically to Jewish Christians, believers who were more apt to be following the Law of Moses, while Paul was writing his letters to a wider audience, to both Jews and Gentiles, members of the body of Christ who had accepted the message of the Law of Christ.
But, to be fair to James (and the Bible), when you read the statements from James more carefully, it seems to be just a matter of emphasis. James never discards faith entirely, he simply says that it is not ‘faith only.’
Paul never steered away from his original message —
|Tit 3:5-7 : Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.|
But, in the verse that follows immediately, we can see he also never forgot the importance of works —
|Tit 3:8 : This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.|
LINKS — For Further Consideration
Ten Commandments — Listed with Old Testament and New Testament references.
613 Rules? — Jesus and the Law of Moses.
Back to — 9 Rules? — Paul and the Law of Christ.
Next up — 2 Rules? — All you need is love.
Sabbath? Sunday? — Solving the Sabbath versus Sunday puzzles, once and for all.
Council of Jerusalem — Wikipedia article on the Apostolic Conference that took place in 50 AD.