“Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” Acts 14:27-28
Saul (Paul) and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria after many months on a journey that began with the Holy Spirt saying, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) That “work” included preaching the Gospel in several countries and opening “the door of faith to the Gentiles.” This was something that “both” Barnabas and Saul did, so again we see a powerful connection back to the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem who sent Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch as their representative.
It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who saw what God was doing in Antioch and traveled to Tarsus to find Saul. It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who brought Saul back to the Antioch Church to minister to the congregation of Gentiles and Jews. It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who the Holy Spirit sent with Saul to open the door of faith to the Gentiles. It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who returned to Antioch with Saul to tell the church congregation all that God had “done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” It was Barnabas, representative of the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem, who traveled with Saul to Jerusalem to face those same apostles about what they had done in opening the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Was Paul an apostle or a fraud? Let’s see what happened when he and Barnabas met with the apostles in Jerusalem. If they thought Paul was a fraud, this would be their opportunity to call him out and set the record straight forever.
Even though the Holy Spirit sent Peter to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and other Gentiles in his family, and even though the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas to open the door of faith to the Gentiles, that didn’t convince everyone in Jerusalem that what was going on was of God.
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. ” Acts 15:1-2
Some men from Judea traveled to Antioch and taught Gentiles in the church that unless they were circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved. The Jews from Judea were not just talking about issues of fellowship or leadership. They were saying that the Gentiles could not be “saved” unless they were circumcised. Here you have Paul and Barnabas telling the Gentiles that Jesus was their salvation, not obedience to Mosaic Law or the “custom of Moses” — “through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)
Did Paul and Barnabas have any problems with the men from Judea teaching the Gentiles in Antioch that they had to be “circumcised according to the custom of Moses” or they couldn’t be saved? You bet they did — “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them.” Paul and Barnabas knew God’s message to the Gentiles and they were not about to let these men from Judea preach anything different without opposing them.
That dissension and dispute led to a remarkable meeting in Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas on one side, the men from Judea on the other side and the Jewish apostles trying to decide what to do. Here’s what happened between Antioch and Jerusalem.
“So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:3-5
The Christians in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas told believers along the way about the “conversion of the Gentiles.” That caused great joy to all the brethren. Paul and Barnabas met with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem and “reported all things that God had done with them.”
“But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up.” It’s interesting to see that the congregation of believers in Jerusalem included members of the Pharisees. Enough years had gone by since the Holy Spirit came on disciples at Pentecost that even some members of the Pharisee sect that opposed Christ and the apostles had become followers of Christ. However, they still believed that Gentiles had to be circumcised and commanded to “keep the law of Moses.”
So, what will the apostles and elders do about this dispute? On one side are the Pharisees who believe Gentiles can be followers of Christ only by being circumcised and keeping the Mosaic Law. On the other side are Paul and Barnabas who the Holy Spirit used to open the door of faith to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas do not believe that Gentiles have to be circumcised or keep the Mosaic Law to become legitimate followers of Christ. What will they do?
Remember Peter? Remember his experience with the sheet and the Gentile men who came from Cornelius? Remember that Peter saw the Holy Spirit fall on the Gentiles in the same way He had fallen on Jews at Pentecost? Will Peter say anything? If he does, what will he say?
“And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on 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 in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:6-11
Peter’s words to the apostles and elders gave an opening to Paul and Barnabas to share their hearts in a calmer atmosphere. “Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.” (Acts 15:12) When Barnabas and Paul were finished talking, James, the half-brother of Jesus, spoke to everyone, saying:
“Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’ Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Following speeches by Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James, all of the apostles and elders, “with the whole church,” decided to send a group of chosen men of their own company (Judas-Barsabas and Silas) to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They took with them a letter from the apostles, elders and brethren in Jerusalem. Here’s what they wrote in the letter:
“To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:23-29
Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas traveled together to Antioch. They gathered the church members together and read the letter to them. Church members in Antioch “rejoiced over its encouragement.” Judas and Silas, who were both prophets, exhorted and strengthened the Christians in Antioch with many words. They stayed in Antioch for a time, but Judas eventually returned to Jerusalem with greetings from the believers to the apostles. Silas remained in Antioch.
What we see in this amazing exchange is more evidence that the Lord’s apostles in Jerusalem accepted the apostleship and ministry of Paul. If Peter wanted to expose Paul as a fraud, he missed his opportunity to do that. Instead, Peter stood up in support for what God was doing through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. If James wanted to expose Paul as a fraud, he also missed his opportunity to do that. Instead, James agreed that what Paul and Barnabas had done in opening the door of faith to the Gentiles was of God. In the letter James wrote to the Gentile believers in Antioch, he called Paul “beloved.” James also wrote that Barnabas and Paul had “risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is an extremely STRONG endorsement by James and the Lord’s apostles for the apostolic ministry of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles.
This face-to-face meeting between Paul and the Jewish apostles should CRUSH any argument that Paul was fraudulent in his claim to be an apostle. However, that has not been the case during almost 2,000 years of Church history. Join us next time as we look at that history and attempt to determine why people have opposed Paul’s ministry with such vigor through the centuries, even to this day.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”