On the Origins of Religious Animosity
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The Clash at the Council At Jerusalem
Why Separation of Jews From Non-Jews Was Never God’s Intention
(Acts chapter 15, verses 1–12)
Last week when we concluded part 2 of chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas had just returned to Antioch from Iconium, Lystra and Derbe on their first missionary journey together. Their evangelistic crusade had been a rousing success, despite the fact that Paul had nearly been stoned to death at one point in that journey. Many souls had been won for Christ, and that was compensation enough for them both. This week as we move on to chapter 15, we find conflict and dissent taking place within the early Church at Antioch, due primarily to a distortion of the Scriptures by some Jewish converts. So let’s begin at verse one:
Part One of This Week’s Study Verses
“1) Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ 2) This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3) The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4) When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5) Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’” (Acts 15: 1–5)
The Modern Application of the Law of Moses
These first five verses are an argument as old as the Church itself, and it was originally inserted into Christianity by agents of the Sanhedrin as a means to divide the church and start arguments within congregations. This false teaching lives on today, principally in two forms: Jewish congregations who hold dearly to these beliefs call themselves “Messianic Jews”, while Gentile — and almost exclusively Protestant — congregations call themselves “Messianic Christians”, or “Christian Messianic” and other similar variations.
Back in 1993, a few months after I first gave my heart to Christ, I joined one of these churches due to an opportunity to be their keyboard player. I’ve been a piano player all my life, so naturally I eagerly accepted the opportunity. For the next 3 years, I played keys every Sunday morning there, but I also celebrated Passover with Easter, Hanukkah at Christmastime, the Feast of Tabernacles a few weeks before each Halloween, not to mention Yom Kippur and a couple of others.
Leaving the “Messianic Christian” Denomination
But I also noticed that I was one of the few who actually read their Bible regularly (Some ‘of the members didn’t even own one). It was only when I got to Acts chapter 15 that I began having questions about what was being taught. I ultimately left that congregation after concluding that what they were teaching was incorrect. Like Paul and Barnabas, I too came into sharp dispute with that pastor — who I will decline to name — and moved on to a better church. If any of you ever finds yourselves in a similar church, get out of there and find a good one.
Off to Jerusalem They Went
“So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.” Unlike ourselves, the apostles had no written Word at the time of the early Church, and so the “teaching” of the apostles was without precedent at that time. There was so much consternation regarding this issue among Jews as well as Gentiles that Paul and Barnabas decided to go to Jerusalem and ask the Twelve this question.
An Ecstatic Welcome for Paul and Barnabas
“When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” Although everyone was ecstatic at the news of the rousing success of the missionary trip taken by Paul and Barnabas, but it was not so much concerning this then-new assertion of the Pharisees. In the course of converting so many souls, they had drawn a whole lot of new believers into the Church, and a few of them were there for the wrong reasons. It was at this point that the entire group began to grapple with this issue, as we will see in part two of this week’s study, beginning at verse 6.
Part Two of This Week’s Study Verses
“6) The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7) After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8) God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9) He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10) Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11) No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’ 12) The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” (Acts 15: 6–12)
The Gospel of Christ Is For Everyone
In verse 7, Peter is referring to Acts chapter 2, or the Day of Pentecost, when a crowd of about 3,000 first heard and embraced the Word of the Lord regarding eternal salvation that can only be found in Christ. There were a lot more Gentiles in that crowd than Jews on that fateful day. Peter, who was what we call an Orthodox Jew today, had some second thoughts about taking the Gospel of Christ to anyone except other Jews like himself. By today’s standards, we could say Peter was prejudiced against non-Jews, but political correctness has no place in the Gospel of Jesus.
The Same Almighty God Has Made Us All
Peter, knowing this, continued on so as to make his point very clear. “8) God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9) He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” There you have it straight from Peter’s mouth. One thing Jew and Gentile, Arab and Jew, or Black and white have in common is that the same Almighty God has made us all (see Proverbs 22: 2). Which is exactly why Peter turns on these phony “teachers” in the very next sentence.
Jesus Has Already Done It All
“10) Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11) No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’” Whether a man has been circumcised or not, a tradition dating back to the days of Abraham (see Genesis 17: 10), is completely besides the point. I’m also quite sure that Peter, remembering the words of Christ at the Sermon on the Mount, reminded them all that Jesus “did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it”. Peter was telling his Jewish brethren that there was no need for them to continue to honor the Law of Moses. The life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus has already done all that. All further discussion about whether Christian and Jewish males needing circumcision — or not — was moot at this point.
All Believers Will Be United As One Faith
But more than that, Peter was calling out his Jewish brethren for imposing Jewish laws and customs on Christians when it was unnecessary, not to mention being contrary to the teachings of Christ (Matt. 5: 17). If Jews and Christians are to be united in their faith in the salvation of Christ, then that faith must be practiced the same way on both sides. Let Jew and Christian continue to self-identify as such, provided they remain united in their faith. Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. Yet the set of beliefs he left behind, which first and foremost is that of the cross, comprises what we call Christianity today. The reason it’s not called Judaism is because of Judaism’s rejection of the deity of Christ. That’s why the two faiths remain separate to this day, and they will remain so until Christ’s return for his Church.
All Who Claim the Name of Christ Will Be Saved
Peter related this very sentiment as he witnessed to them all about what Jesus had done. “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” If God has done this for the Gentiles through his Son Jesus, Peter preached, then anyone who calls upon his Name as they ask for his salvation will be saved. This was radical stuff back in the first century AD. The entire concept of equality between Jew and Gentile, as well as gender equality (Mary Magdalene is my favorite Scriptural example), was unheard of prior to this point in history. And so this discussion continues as we move on to verse 13, which I think will be a good place to close out this week’s study for brevity’s sake. Be sure and come back next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 15. See you then….
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