Dissension within the circle of the saved was stirred up by “certain men” which came down from Judaea to Antioch and taught the brethren, saying, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). James, who seems to have been the spokesman for the elders in Jerusalem, makes it clear that these “certain men” who troubled the Antioch believers with their legalizing doctrine on circumcision, were not sent out by the Jerusalem church to preach such doctrine.
This is made plain by verse 24—”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.”
Dissension and Disputation
These “certain men” who came down from Jerusalem had great influence among the Jewish believers, who had been fellowshipping with the Gentiles in the church at Antioch. Paul speaks of this in Galatians 2:11-14. We quote—”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 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?”
The positive and aggressive stand taken by Paul and Barnabas and certain others in the defense of the grace message resulted in their trial before the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:2-6).
Peter Testifies Before the Council
It seems interesting that Peter, whom Paul had rebuked openly in Antioch, should stand up in Paul’s defense before this Jewish council in Jerusalem. He withdrew from the Gentiles and refused to eat with them in the presence of certain Jews who had come down to Antioch from Jerusalem, but he stood up before the Jerusalem council and boldly testified in the language of verses 7 to 11.
We quote his testimony—”And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.”
In verse 7, Peter reminds the council that a short time before it was God’s choice to use him in the giving of His Word to the “Gentiles,” that is, to Cornelius and his household. He also emphasized the fact that God, at that time, “put no difference” between the uncircumcised Gentile which believed and the believing Jew (Acts 15:8-9). Furthermore, Peter referred to the law of Moses as “a yoke” which the Jewish fathers were unable to bear. He used this as an argument against putting such a yoke upon the neck of the Gentiles (Acts 15:10).
Barnabas and Paul Also Testified
Peter’s argument before the council brought silence among the multitude. This left the way open for Barnabas and Paul to speak. The Holy Spirit did not record their messages. He only tells us that they declared “what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them” (Acts 15:12).
We know that “the Jews require a sign” (I Corinthians 1:22). Therefore, it pleased the Holy Spirit to have Barnabas and Paul rehearse before this Jewish council the miracles and wonders which God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. This proved to every open-hearted Jew that God had opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles on a basis of Paul’s grace message.
The Enlightening Testimony of James
The message of James to the council was closely linked with that of Simeon (Peter). He added that God’s visit to the Gentiles to “take out of them a people for His name” was in agreement with the “words of the prophets” and that following the outcalling of this company of saints God would “build again the tabernacle of David” (Acts 15:14-18).
A careful study of these verses will prove that the Holy Spirit carefully explains that this work of God among the Gentiles was separate and distinct from that which He is now doing; namely, the calling out of the body of Christ. That company of Gentiles which began to be called out as “a people for His name” were included in the prophetic picture of the Old Testament. Their calling was in agreement with the words of the prophets. Such is not the case with the calling out of the church which is the body of Christ. Paul declares that the dispensation of the mystery, during which time the body of Christ is being called out, was not made known to men of other ages (Colossians 1:24-28). Therefore the prophets could not have been in agreement with the calling out of the body of Christ. This helps us to understand that the company of saints taken out as “a people for His name” may be the bride of Christ; but they could not be the body of Christ.
The Decision of the Council
James spoke his sentence, or judgment, concerning the believing Gentile’s freedom from the Mosaic law—”Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hash in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Acts 15:19-21).
The “apostles and elders, with the whole church,” seemed to be in harmony with the decision of James. Their attitude is revealed in the following verses—”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 Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner; 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. So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles” (Acts 15:22-33).
Paul and Barnabas Separate
God knew that Paul and Barnabas would separate one from the other; therefore, He kept Silas in Antioch so that he might become Paul’s new partner on his second missionary journey. The Holy Spirit explains why these two men did not continue together in the work of the Lord, and how Paul chose Silas, a man who was recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God, in verses 34 to 41. A careful study of these verses will prove the practical side of Romans 8:28. Two companies were sent out in the work of the Lord in place of one. Barnabas took Mark and Paul took Silas. God used four men instead of two.