The Problem: Those from Syrian Antioch: Part 9
by John Lowe
35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
Verse 35 concludes the narrative of the Jerusalem Conference in summary fashion. Paul (again taking the lead now that he was away from the deadening influence of Jerusalem) and Barnabas again threw themselves into the work of evangelism and Bible teaching. “Many others” caught fire, too. It seems as though, set free from the deadening doctrine of the legalists, the Antioch church had a new lease on life. Now that the Gentile question had been settled, the church prospered under the teaching and preaching of Paul and Barnabas (They were actually the pastors of the church there.) and “many others.” The “many others” are significant. The preaching of Paul, Barnabas, and “many others” was directed, perhaps, to winning outsiders, the teaching was focused on establishing them in the Lord. This verse is the final glimpse into the life of the Antioch church. Paul and Barnabas would soon be leaving for mission fields elsewhere. The church was left in good hands; there were “many others” who were competent to carry on its witness. The events described in Galatians 2: 11-14 probably occurred at this time.
By the way Luke presents the decision of the Jerusalem council, one may suppose that the whole matter of the division between Jewish and Gentile Christians was settled. From Paul’s epistles, we learn that the council did not affect a complete reconciliation because the apostle was constantly faced with a group of Judaizers after this important event.
1. We today can learn a great deal from this difficult experience of the early church. To begin with, problems and differences are opportunities for growth just as much as temptations for dissension and division. Churches need to work together and take time to listen, love, and learn. There are several things we can do to avoid dissension and division within our churches:
2. Most divisions are caused by “followers” and “leaders.” A powerful leader gets a following, refuses to give in on even the smallest matter, and before long there is a split. Most church problems are not caused by doctrinal differences but by different viewpoints on practical matters. What color shall we paint the kitchen? Can we change the order of the service? What color should the carpet be?
3. Christians need to learn the art of loving compromise. They need to have their priorities in order so they know when to fight for what is really important in the church. It is sinful to follow some impressive member of the church who is fighting to get his or her way on some minor issue that is not worth fighting about.
4. As we deal with our differences, we must ask, “How will our decisions affect the united witness of the church to the lost?” Jesus prayed that His people might be united so that the world might believe on Him (John 17:20–21). Unity is not uniformity, for unity is based on love and not law.
5. God has opened a wonderful door of opportunity for us to take the gospel of God’s grace to a condemned world. But there are forces in the church even today that want to close that door. There are people who are preaching “another gospel” that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Help keep that door open—reach as many as you can! Be daring!
Summary. The agreement reached at the Jerusalem Conference was a most remarkable result and established a major precedent for dealing with controversy within the Christian fellowship. One should realize the sharp difference that existed between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Jewish Christians were faithful to all the traditions of their heritage. They observed the provisions of the Torah, circumcised their male children, and kept all the Jewish holy days. They did not cease to be Jews when they became Christians. James was himself a perfect example. In their accounts of his later martyrdom, both Josephus and Eusebius noted the tremendous respect the nonbelieving Jews gave him because of his deep piety and scrupulous observance of the law. Not requiring Gentiles to be circumcised upon entry into the covenant community was a radical departure from the Jewish tradition. That James and his fellow Jewish Christians were willing to bend on such a basic principle is a testimony to two things about them. First, they were all open to the leading of God. Throughout the account, God’s leading is stressed—in His sending the Spirit on Cornelius (v. 8), in the “signs and wonders” that God worked through Paul and Barnabas (v. 12). It was this evidence of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles that determined the decision of the council to accept Gentiles with no further burden. And the Spirit of God was present with them in the conference, leading them in their decision (v. 28). This is a consistent picture in Acts; wherever Christians are open to God’s Spirit, there is unity.
Second, the Jewish and Christian leadership showed a concern for the world mission of the church that overshadowed their own special interests. They took a step that was absolutely essential if the Gentile mission was to be a success. To have required circumcision and the Torah would have severely limited the appeal to Gentiles, perhaps even killed it. Yet the Jewish Christians only stood to lose by not requiring Jewish proselyte procedure of the Gentile converts. It was bound to create problems with nonbelieving Jews. That it indeed did so is indicated in a later passage in Acts (21:20-22). If the Jerusalem leadership had only been concerned about the effectiveness of their own witness among the Jews they would never have taken such a step. That it did so is a testimony of their concern for the total mission of the church. Their vision stretched beyond their own bailiwick—indeed, to the ends of the earth.
1 The Greek word which has been translated “encouraging” can mean either comfort or exhortation. Either nuance fits this particular context. The letter both comforted them and encouraged them by the conciliatory spirit of its exhortations.
2 Shalom means “go in peace.” Paul’s customary greeting was “grace and peace” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3).
3 Textus Receptus (Latin: "received text") is the name given to the succession of printed Greek texts of the New Testament which constituted the translation base for the original German Luther Bible, the translation of the New Testament into English by William Tyndale, the King James Version, and most other Reformation-era New Testament translations throughout Western and Central Europe. The series originated with the first printed Greek New Testament, published in 1516—a work undertaken in Basel by the Dutch Catholic scholar and humanist Desiderius Erasmus. Although based mainly on late manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type, Erasmus' edition differed markedly from the classic form of that text, and included some missing parts back-translated from the Latin Vulgate.