« Prev Chapter VII. The Apostolic Council. Next »

CHAPTER VII.

THE APOSTOLIC COUNCIL

1 ORIGIN OF THE COUNCIL.

(XIV 27) WHEN PAUL AND BARNABAS WERE COME TO ANTIOCH AND HAD GATHERED THE CHURCH TOGETHER, THEY REHEARSED ALL THINGS THAT GOD HAD DONE WITH THEM, AND HOW THAT HE HAD OPENED A DOOR OF BELIEF UNTO THE NATIONS. (28) AND THEY TARRIED NO LITTLE TIME WITH THE DISCIPLES. (XV 1) AND CERTAIN PERSONS CAME DOWN FROM JUDEA, AND TAUGHT THE BRETHREN, THAT “EXCEPT YE BE CIRCUMCISED, AFTER THE CUSTOM OF MOSES, YE CANNOT BE SAVED”. (2) AND WHEN PAUL AND BARNABAS HAD NO SMALL DISSENSION AND QUESTIONING WITH THEM, THEY (i.e., the Brethren) APPOINTED THAT PAUL AND BARNABAS AND CERTAIN OTHER OF THEM SHOULD GO UP TO JERUSALEM ABOUT THIS QUESTION. (3) THEY, THEREFORE, BEING BROUGHT ON THEIR WAY BY THE CHURCH, PASSED THROUGH BOTH PHŒNICE AND SAMARIA, DECLARING THE CONVERSION OF THE NATIONS; AND THEY CAUSED GREAT JOY UNTO ALL THE BRETHREN.

A considerable lapse of time is implied in v.28, during which Paul and Barnabas resumed their former duties at Antioch (III 1). Luke, as usual, states the lapse of time very vaguely, and it is impossible to estimate from his words the interval between Paul’s return and the arrival of the envoys from Jerusalem (V 1). If v. 28 includes only that interval, the Apostolic Council cannot have occurred before A.D. 50; but if, as is more likely (p. 256), v. 28 refers to the whole residence of Paul at Antioch before and after the Council, then probably the Council took place in the end of 49.

A difficulty (which is described in § 2) occurred at Antioch as to the obligation of the Gentile members of the Church to come under the full ceremonial regulations of the Jewish Law; and it was resolved to send delegates to the governing body of the Church in Jerusalem about this question. We cannot doubt that this resolution was acquiesced in by Paul; probably he even proposed it. Now, the resolution clearly involved the recognition that Jerusalem was the administrative centre of the Church; and this is an important point in estimating Paul’s views on administration. With the vision of a statesman and organiser, he saw that the Church as a unified and organised body must have an administrative centre, and that a Church of separate parts could not be unified without such a centre, which should be not a governor over subordinates, but the head among equals; and his whole history shows that he recognised Jerusalem as necessarily marked out for the centre. Hence he kept before the attention of his new foundations their relation and duty to Jerusalem; and he doubtless understood the solitary injunction given him by the older Apostles on his second visit to Jerusalem (p. 57), as involving a charge to remember that duty.

Moreover, he had already communicated privately with the recognised leaders in. Jerusalem, and knew that their sentiments agreed with his own; and he must have been fully alive to the great step in organisation which would be made, if Antioch set the example of referring such a question to authoritative decision in Jerusalem at a meeting where it was represented by delegates.

In the mission of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem it is noteworthy that the Divine action plays no part. The Church in Antioch resolved, and the Church sent them to Jerusalem, escorting them on their way. This is not accidental, but expresses the deliberate judgment of Paul and of Luke. The action that led up to the Council in Jerusalem and the ineffective Decree did not originate in Divine revelation.

The accepted view is different. There is a practically universal agreement among critics and commentators of every shade of opinion that the visit described as the third in Acts XV is the one that Paul describes as the second in Gal. II 1-10. Scholars who agree in regard to scarcely any other point of early Christian history are at one in this. Now, Paul says in his letter to the Galatians that he made his second visit in accordance with revelation. Lightfoot tries to elude the difficulty of identifying this second visit by revelation with the third visit without revelation recorded in Acts XV: he says (Gal., p. 125), “here there is no contradiction. The historian naturally records the external impulse which led to the mission: the Apostle himself states his inward motive.” He quotes “parallel cases which suggest how the one motive might supplement the other”. But the parallels which he quotes to support his view seem merely to prove how improbable it is. (1) He says that in Acts XIII 2, 4, Barnabas and Paul were sent forth by the Holy Spirit through a direct command; while in XIII 3 they are sent away by the Church of Antioch. But that is not the proper force of XIII 3 (p. 67 f.): the Church merely gave Barnabas and Saul freedom from their duties and leave to depart, while the Spirit “sent them out”. In XV 3, on the contrary, the Church is said to have initiated and completed the action. (2) He founds another parallel on the mistaken idea that XXII 17 and IX 29 f. refer to the same visit (p. 62).

The journey to Jerusalem occupied some time; for in Phœnice and in Samaria the envoys took the opportunity of “describing in detail the turning of the Nations to God”. Here, evidently, the newly accomplished step, “the opening of the door of faith to the Nations,” is meant. The recital of the circumstances and results of the new step caused great joy. Now, Luke pointedly omits Judea; and his silence is, as often elsewhere, eloquent: the recital would cause no joy in Judea. Accordingly, we are not to suppose that the joy was merely caused by sympathy with the spread of Christianity, in which the Judean Brethren would doubtless rejoice as much as any. The joy of the people of Phœnice and Samaria was due to the news of free acceptance of Gentile converts: Paul, as he went, preached freely to all and invited all. When he did this in Phœnice and Samaria, it follows that he had been doing the same in Antioch since his return from Galatia: the door which had once been opened, XIV 27, remained permanently open.

2. THE DISPUTE IN ANTIOCH.

The new departure in Galatia and Antioch—the opening of the door of faith to the Nations—forced into prominence the question of the relations of Gentile to Jewish Christians.

There had already been some prospect that this question would be opened up during Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem (p. 56 f.); but for the moment the difficulty did not become acute. The older Antiochian converts, as we have seen, had all entered through the door of the synagogue; and had necessarily accepted certain prohibitions as a rule of life. But the newly rounded Galatian Churches contained large numbers who had joined Paul directly, without any connection with the synagogue; in the face of Luke’s silence on such a crucial point we cannot think that Paul imposed on them any preliminary conditions of compliance with Jewish rules; and, if so, we must understand that the same interpretation of “the open door” characterised his action in Antioch, Phœnice and Samaria.

The Jews who had been settled for generations in the cities of Syria and Asia Minor had lost much of their exclusiveness in ordinary life (p. 143). Moreover, the development of events in Antioch had been gradual; and no difficulty seems to have been caused there at first by this last step. We learn from Paul himself (Gal. II 12 f.) that even Peter, already prepared to some extent by his own bold action in the case of Cornelius, had no scruple in associating freely with the Antiochian Christians in general. But the Jews of Jerusalem were far more rigid and narrow; and when some of them came down on a mission to Antioch from the Church in Jerusalem, they were shocked by the state of things which they found there. They could not well take the ground that one Christian should not associate with another; they put their argument in a more subtle form, and declared that no one could become in the full sense a member of the Church, unless he came under the Jewish Law, and admitted on his body its sign and seal: the Nations could be received into the Church, but in the reception they must conform to the Law (XV 2). The question, it must be clearly observed, was not whether non-Jews could be saved, for it was admitted by all parties that they could, but how they were saved: did the path of belief lie through the gate of the Law alone, or was there a path of belief that did not lead through that gate? Had God made another door to Himself outside of the Law of Moses? Had He practically set aside that Law, and declared it of no avail, by admitting as freely them that disregarded it as them that believed and followed it?

When the question was put in this clear and logical form, we can well believe that Jews as a rule shrank from all the consequences that followed from free admission of the Nations. We can imagine that some who had answered practically by associating with the Gentile Christians, repented of their action when its full consequences were brought before them. Only rare and exceptional natures could have risen unaided above the prejudices and the pride of generations, and have sacrificed their Law to their advancing experience. The record confirms what we see to be natural in the circumstances. Paul stood immovably firm; and he carried with him, after some wavering, the leaders (but not the mass) of the Jewish Christians. This point requires careful study.

The occasion of the dissension at Antioch is thus described by our three authorities,—Luke, the Apostles at Jerusalem, and Paul himself.

Acts XV 1. Acts XV 24. Gal. II 12.
CERTAIN PERSONS CAME DOWN FROM JUDEA AND TAUGHT THE BRETHREN, THAT “IF YE BE NOT CIRCUMCISED AFTER THE MANNER OF MOSES, YE CANNOT BE SAVED WE HAVE HEARD THAT CERTAIN PERSONS WHICH WENT FORTH FROM US HAVE TROUBLED YOU WITH WORDS, SUBVERTING YOUR SOULS [AND (as v. 28 implies) LAYING ON YOU GREATER BURDEN THAN THE FOUR NECESSARY POINTS OF RITUAL]. BEFORE THAT CERTAIN PERSONS CAME FROM JAMES, PETER USED TO EAT WITH THE GENTILES; BUT, WHEN THEY CAME, HE BEGAN TO DRAW BACK AND SEPARATE HIMSELF, FEARING THE CHAMPIONS OF CIRCUMCISION. (14) BUT I SAID UNTO CEPHAS BEFORE THEM ALL, “HOW COMPELLEST THOU THE NATIONS TO CONFORM TO JEWISH CEREMONIAL?”

It is noteworthy that Luke used the vague expression that “persons came down from Judea,” which is made more definite in v. 24: the champions of circumcision who caused the dissension in Antioch had come on a mission from the Apostles in Jerusalem. Luke pointedly avoids any expression that would connect the leading Apostles with the action of these emissaries. They had been sent from Jerusalem: but in v. 24 the Apostles disclaim all responsibility for their action. While Luke gives all the materials for judging, the substitution of Judea for Jerusalem in his narrative is very significant of his carefulness in the minutiæ of expression. It is in no sense incorrect (it puts the general name of the whole land in place of the city name), and it guards against a probable misconception in the briefest way.

The incidents described in Gal. II 11-1 are not usually referred to this period; and it is therefore advisable to elicit from the words of Paul the precise situation as he conceives it. Certain persons had come to Antioch from James: James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem, here stands alone as “the local representative” of that Church (to borrow a phrase from Lightfoot, Ed. Gal., p. 365). These persons had found in Antioch a situation that shocked them, and they expressed their disapproval so strongly and effectively, that Peter shrank from continuing the free intercourse with Gentile Christians which he had been practising. What do we learn from the context as to their attitude? They are styled “they of the circumcision”; and this phrase (as distinguished from the mere general expression of disagreement and dislike used about persons of the same class in Gal. II 4) implies that they actively championed that cause against Peter. The exact form of the argument which moved Peter is not stated explicitly by Paul in his hurried and impassioned narrative; but we gather what it was from the terms of his expostulation with Peter. He said to him in public: “how compellest thou the Nations to Judaise? “The words have no force unless Peter, convinced by the Judaistic envoys, had begun to declare that compliance with the Law was compulsory, before Gentiles could become members of the Church fully entitled to communion with it.

Accordingly, the situation described in (Gal. II 11-14 is that which existed in Antioch after Paul’s return from the Galatian Churches. In the first part of his letter to the Galatians, Paul recapitulates the chief stages in the development of the controversy between the Judaising party in the Church, the premonitory signs on his second visit to Jerusalem, and the subsequent open dispute with Peter in Antioch. The dispute occurred after Paul’s second, but before his third, visit to Jerusalem, i.e., either between Acts XII 25 and XIII 1, or between XIV 26 and XV 4. Now in XV 1 (cp. v. 24) envoys from James caused strife in Antioch; and we can hardly think that envoys also came from James after XII 25, and caused exactly similar strife, which was omitted by Luke but recorded in Gal. II 12.

When the question was put distinctly in all its bearings and consequences before Peter, he was unable to resist the argument that Christians ought to observe the Law, as Christ had done, and as the Twelve did. On one or two occasions, indeed, Christ had been taunted with permitting breaches of the Law; but His actions could be so construed only by captious hypercriticism. It is quite clear that Peter and the older Apostles did not for a time grasp the full import of Christ’s teaching on this subject: the actual fact that He and they were Jews, and lived as such, made more impression on them than mere theoretical teaching. Barnabas, even, was carried away by the example of Peter, and admitted the argument that the Gentile Christians ought “to live as do the Jews”. Paul alone stood firm. The issue of the situation is not described by Paul; he had now brought down his narrative to the situation in which the Galatian defection arose; and his retrospect therefore came to an end, when he reached the familiar facts (p. 185 f.). We must estimate from the context the general argument and what was the issue. Obviously, the rebuke which Paul gave must have been successful in the case of Peter and Barnabas; the immediate success of his appeal to their better feelings constitutes the whole force of his argument to the Galatians. The power of his letter to them lies in this, that the mere statement of the earlier stages of the controversy is sufficient to show the impregnability of his position and the necessity of his free and generous policy: the narrow Judaising tyranny was self-condemned; Peter was wholly with him, and so was Barnabas; but the victory had been gained, not by listening to the older Apostles, but by obeying “the good pleasure of God, who called me by His grace to preach Him among the Gentiles”. If the hesitation of Peter and Barnabas had resulted in an unreconciled dispute, the force of Paul’s argument is gone: he has urged at great length that the older Apostles were in agreement with him, and accepted him as the Apostle called to the Foreign Mission, as they were to the Jewish Mission; and, as the climax of his argument for equality of privilege, he says: “Peter and even Barnabas wavered for a moment from their course, when the gravity of its consequences, viz., the supersession of the Judaic Law, was set plainly before them by some of their friends; but I pointed out Peter’s error in one brief appeal from his present wavering to his own past action”.

From this analysis we see that the issue of the situation implied in Gal. II 11-14 is described in Acts XV 2, 7: Barnabas joined Paul in combating the Judaising party, and Peter championed the cause in emphatic and noble terms at the subsequent Council in Jerusalem. That follows naturally on the interrupted narrative of the Epistle: the history as related in Acts completes and explains the Epistle, and enables us to appreciate the force of Paul’s argument and its instantaneous effect on the Galatian Churches.

It is an interesting point, that Peter used at the Council the argument in favour of freedom with which Paul had pressed him in Antioch. Paul said to him, “In practice thou, a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles; how then compellest thou the Gentiles to act according to the Jewish Law? “Struck with this argument, Peter puts it in a more general form to the Council, “Why put a yoke on them which neither we nor our fathers could bear? “It is true to nature that he should employ to others the argument that had convinced himself.

It must, however, be confessed that while Galatians leads up excellently to Acts, and gains greatly in force from the additional facts mentioned there, Acts is silent about the facts narrated in Galatians. The eyewitness’s narrative gains from the historian and stands out in new beauty from the comparison; but here Acts seems to lose by being brought into juxtaposition with the narrative of the eye-witness. To our conception the omission of all reference to the wavering of Barnabas and Peter appears almost like the sacrifice of historic truth, and certainly loses a picturesque detail. But the difference of attitude and object, I think, fully explains the historian’s selection amid the incidents of the controversy. For him picturesque details had no attraction; and the swerving of all the Jews except Paul from the right path seemed to him an unessential fact, like hundreds and thousands of others which he had to leave unnoticed. The essential fact which he had to record was that the controversy raged, and that Paul and Barnabas championed the cause of freedom.

But, it may be objected, Barnabas had wavered, and it is not accurate to represent him as a champion along with Paul. We reply that Paul does not make it clear how far Barnabas had gone with the tide: the matter was one of tendency, more than of complete separation. Peter began to withdraw and separate himself2424Imperfects, not aorists. from familiar communion with the Gentile Christian: the resident Jews joined him in concealing their real sentiment and their ordinary conduct towards the non-Jewish members of the Church: even Barnabas was carried off his feet by the tide of dissembling. These words would be correct, if Barnabas had merely wavered, and been confirmed by Paul’s arguments in private. Paul’s public rebuke was not addressed to Barnabas, but only to Peter. There is a certain difficulty in the record; but I confess that, after trying honestly to give full emphasis to the difficulty, I see no reason why we should not, as the issue of the facts in Gal. II 11-14 conceive Barnabas to have come forward as a thorough-going advocate of the Pauline doctrine and practice.

Moreover, the difficulty remains, and becomes far more serious, on the ordinary view that the incidents of Gal. II 11-14 occurred after the Council in Jerusalem. According to that view, Barnabas, when delegates came from Jerusalem (Acts XV 2, 24), resisted them strenuously, represented the cause of freedom as an envoy to Jerusalem, and obtained an authoritative Decree from the Apostles disowning the action of the delegates, and emphatically condemning it as “subverting your souls” thereafter delegates came again from James, the same Apostle that had taken the foremost part in formulating the recent Decree;2525“The Apostolic letter seems to have been drawn up by him” (Lightfoot, Ed. Gal., p. 112, II 12). but this time Barnabas, instead of resisting, weakly yielded to their arguments.

Worse, almost, is the conduct of Peter in that view. When the ease came up before the Council to be considered in all its bearings and solemnly decided, he, “after there had been much discussion” (in which we may be sure that the consequences were fully emphasised by the Judaising party), appeared as the most outspoken advocate of freedom, and declared that “we must not demand from them what we ourselves have been unable to endure” Shortly after the Council (on that view), Peter went to Antioch and put in practice the principle of freedom for which he had contended at the Council. But “certain persons came from James” the same Apostle that had supported him in the Council; these persons reopened the controversy; and Peter abandoned his publicly expressed conviction, which in a formal letter was declared with his approval to be the word of the Holy Spirit.

We are asked to accept as a credible narrative this recital of meaningless tergiversation, which attributes to Peter and to Barnabas, not ordinary human weakness and inability to answer a grave issue at the first moment when it is presented to them, but conduct devoid of reason or sanity. Who can wonder that many who are asked to accept this as history, reply that one of the two authors responsible for the two halves of the recital has erred and is untrustworthy? For the truth of history itself one must on that theory distrust one of the two documents. That is not the faith, that is not the conduct, which conquered the world! The only possible supposition would be that the Apostles were men unusually weak, ignorant, and inconstant, who continually went wrong, except where the Divine guidance interposed to keep them right. That theory has been and is still held by some; but it removes the whole development of Christianity out of the sphere of history into the sphere of the supernatural and the marvellous, whereas the hypothesis on which this investigation is based is that it was a process intelligible according to ordinary human nature, and a proper subject for the modern historian.

It is true that Peter once before denied his own affirmed principles, but that was when he was younger, when he was a mere pupil, when a terrible strain was put on him; but this denial is supposed to have been made when he was in the maturity of his power, after he had experienced the quickening sense of responsibility as a leader of the Church for many years, and after his mind and will had been enlarged and strengthened at the great Pentecost (see p. 365).

Further, according to the view stated by Lightfoot, the feeble action of Peter and Barnabas in Antioch produced lasting consequences: it “may have prepared the way for the dissension between Paul and Barnabas which shortly afterwards led to their separation. From this time forward they never appear again associated together.” If it was so serious, the total omission of it by Luke becomes harder to understand and reconcile with the duty of a historian; whereas, if it was (as we suppose) a mere hesitation when the question was first put explicitly, it was not of sufficient consequence to demand a place in his history.

Peter’s visit to Antioch was not of the same character as his visits to Samaria and other Churches at an earlier time, in which he was giving the Apostolic approval to the congregations established there. The first visit of Barnabas to Antioch, followed by the Antiochian delegation to Jerusalem (XI 28, XII 25), and the recognition of Paul and Barnabas as Apostles (Gal. II 9), had placed Antioch on a recognised and independent basis (XIII 1). In Luke’s view, therefore, as in Paul’s, Peter’s visit was not a step in the development of the Church in Antioch, as Barnabas’s had been.

3. THE COUNCIL.

(XV 4) AND WHEN THEY WERE COME TO JERUSALEM, THEY WERE RECEIVED BY THE CHURCH AND THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS, AND THEY REHEARSED ALL THINGS THAT GOD HAD DONE WITH THEM. (5) BUT THERE ROSE UP CERTAIN OF THE SECT OF THE PHARISEES WHO BELIEVED, SAYING, “IT IS NEEDFUL TO CIRCUMCISE THEM, AND TO CHARGE THEM TO KEEP THE LAW OF MOSES”. (6) AND THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER TO CONSIDER OF THIS MATTER. (7) AND WHEN THERE HAD BEEN MUCH DISCUSSION, PETER ROSE AND SPOKE. (12) AND ALL THE MULTITUDE KEPT SILENCE; AND THEY HEARKENED UNTO BARNABAS AND PAUL, WHO REHEARSED WHAT SIGNS AND WONDERS GOD HAD WROUGHT AMONG THE NATIONS BY THEM. (13) AND AFTER THEY HAD CEASED, JAMES SPOKE.

At Jerusalem there occurred in the first place a general meeting of the Church as a whole to receive and welcome the delegates. The Apostles and the Elders are specified as taking part in the meeting; and the separate article before each name implies distinct action of each body. At this meeting the delegates explained the circumstances which had caused their mission; and the extreme members of the Judaising party, who are described here as Pharisees, stated their view forthwith.

A mark of the developed situation since Paul’s last visit must be noted in v. 4. Paul and Barnabas now expound in a formal and public way all their missionary experience; but on their previous visit, Paul privately submitted to the leaders of the Church his views as to missionary enterprise.

Thereupon, a special meeting of the Apostles and the Elders was held to consider the matter, and a long discussion took place. Peter delivered a speech in favour of complete freedom for the new converts; and the effect which he produced was shown by the patient hearing accorded to Barnabas and to Paul, as they recounted the proofs of Divine grace and Divine action in the test that God was with them. Thus, the course of the meeting was very similar to the discussion that followed after the conversion of Cornelius (XI 1-18. The general sense was clearly against the claim of the extreme Judaistic party (called “them of the circumcision” XI 2, Gal. II 12).

But, while the champions of circumcision were clearly in the minority, apparently a decided feeling was manifest in favour of some concessions to the Jewish feeling and practice: the Nations were to be received into the Church, but the widened Church was not to be apart from and independent of the old Jewish community: it was to be “a rebuilding of the tabernacle of David”. To render possible a real unanimity of feeling, the Nations must accept the fundamental regulations of purity. The chairman’s speech summed up the sense of the meeting in a way that was universally accepted. James, the recognised head of the Church in Jerusalem, said:—

(XV 14) SYMEON HATH REHEARSED HOW FIRST GOD TOOK CARE TO GATHER FROM AMONG THE NATIONS A PEOPLE FOR HIS NAME. (15) AND TO THIS AGREE THE WORDS OF THE PROPHETS: AS IT IS WRITTEN, (16) “I WILL BUILD AGAIN THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID, (17) THAT THE RESIDUE OF MEN MAY SEEK AFTER THE LORD, AND ALL THE NATIONS, OVER WHOM MY NAME IS PRONOUNCED,” SAITH THE LORD, WHO MAKETH THESE THINGS (18) KNOWN FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME.2626The Bezan Text, and many other authorities, have “saith the Lord who doeth this. (18) Known to the Lord from the beginning of time is His work. (19) WHEREFORE MY VOICE IS THAT WE TROUBLE NOT THEM WHICH FROM AMONG THE NATIONS TURN TO GOD; (20) BUT SEND INSTRUCTIONS TO THEM TO ABSTAIN FROM THE POLLUTIONS OF IDOLS AND FROM MARRIAGE WITHIN THE DEGREES FORBIDDEN BY THE LAW, AND FROM WHAT IS STRANGLED, AND FROM the use of BLOOD as food. (21) FOR MOSES FROM ANCIENT GENERATIONS HATH IN EVERY CITY THEM THAT PREACH HIM, AS HE IS READ IN THE SYNAGOGUES EVERY SABBATH.

James grounds his advice for partial conformity on the fact, v. 21, that the Mosaic Law had already spread widely over the cities of the empire, and that the existing facts which facilitated intercourse between Jews and “God-fearing” pagans should be continued. He grounds his advice for freedom from the rest of the Law on the declared will of God, first by prophecy in time long past, and afterwards by revelation to Peter, that the Nations should be admitted to the tabernacle of David, from which he infers that their own duty is to make admission easy.

Incidentally we observe that James used the Septuagint Version, quoting loosely from Amos IX 11, 12, passage where the telling point for his purpose occurs only in the Greek and not in the Hebrew Version.

Another point of development since Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem must be noticed here. On the second visit, as Paul declares, the recognised leaders in Jerusalem gave him no advice and no instruction, except to remember the poverty of the brethren there. It would. be hard to put that in more emphatic terms than he uses (p. 56). But on the third visit, the delegates bring a question for settlement, and receive from the recognised leaders in Jerusalem an authoritative response, giving a weighty decision in a serious matter of practical work. a decision that would have been epoch-making, if it had been permanently carried into effect. On the second visit the difficulty could be foreseen; between the second and third visit it became acute; at the third visit it was settled in a way that was a distinct rebuff to the Judaising party, but not a complete triumph for the party of freedom. It would not be honest to use the words of Gal. II 10 about the visit described in Acts XV.

Another contrast between the second and the third visit must be observed. The Church sent forth several delegates along with Paul and Barnabas on the third journey; but on the second they were the sole delegates. The common view, which identifies the second visit of Gal. II 1-10 with the third visit of Acts XV, is defended by its supporters on the ground that Titus, who went along with Paul (Gal. II 1), was one of the additional delegates mentioned, XV 2. This argument sins against the facts. In Gal. II 1 Titus is defined as a subordinate, and not as one of the delegates;2727συμπαραλαβών, cp. XII 25 and pp. 59, 71, 177. we have no reason to think that any subordinates went up to the Council, whereas it was necessary for the work of the second visit to use assistants. Moreover, we may be certain that, if Paul did take any subordinates with him to the Council, he was too prudent and diplomatic to envenom a situation already serious and difficult by taking. an uncircumcised Greek with him. It was different on a later visit, when the authoritative decree had decided against circumcision, or on an earlier visit, before the question was raised; but when that question was under discussion, it would have been a harsh and heedless hurt to the susceptibilities of the other party, to take Titus with him; and Paul never was guilty of such an act. The example of Timothy shows how far he went about this time in avoiding any chance of hurting Jewish feeling.

4. THE DECREE.

(XV 22) THEN IT SEEMED GOOD TO THE APOSTLES AND ELDERS, WITH THE WHOLE CHURCH, TO CHOOSE MEN OUT OF THEIR COMPANY, AND SEND THEM TO ANTIOCH WITH PAUL AND BARNABAS, namely, JUDAS CALLED BARSABAS, AND SILAS, CHIEF MEN AMONG THE BRETHREN. (23) AND THEY SENT A LETTER BY THEIR MEANS: “THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS [BRETHREN]2828Dr. Blass’s explanation of this word as an accidental corruption is highly probable. UNTO THE BRETHREN WHICH ARE OF THE NATIONS IN ANTIOCH AND SYRIA AND CILICIA, GREETING. (24) FORASMUCH AS WE HAVE HEARD THAT CERTAIN WHICH WENT OUT FROM US HAVE TROUBLED YOU WITH WORDS, SUBVERTING YOUR SOULS; TO WHOM WE GAVE NO COMMANDMENT; (25) IT SEEMED GOOD UNTO US, HAVING COME TO ONE ACCORD, TO CHOOSE OUT MEN AND SEND THEM UNTO YOU WITH OUR BELOVED BARNABAS AND PAUL, (26) MEN THAT HAVE HAZARDED THEIR LIVES FOR THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. (27) WE HAVE SENT THEREFORE JUDAS AND SILAS, WHO THEMSELVES ALSO SHALL TELL YOU THE SAME THINGS BY WORD OF MOUTH. (28) FOR IT SEEMED GOOD TO THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND TO US, TO LAY UPON YOU NO GREATER BURDEN THAN THESE NECESSARY THINGS. (29) THAT YE ABSTAIN FROM THINGS SACRIFICED TO IDOLS, AND FROM BLOOD, AND FROM THINGS STRANGLED, AND FROM MARRIAGE WITHIN THE DEGREES; FROM WHICH YE KEEP YOURSELVES, IT SHALL BE WELL WITH YOU. FARE YE WELL.”

The Decree is, as Lightfoot says, a compromise. On the one hand the extreme Judaising party is entirely disowned and emphatically condemned, as “subverting the souls” of the Gentiles. But, on the other hand, part of the Law is declared to be obligatory; and the word selected is very emphatic (ἐπάναγκες). If this word be taken in its full sense, the Decree lacks unity of purpose and definiteness of principle; it passes lamely from side to side. Now it seems impossible to suppose that Paul could have accepted a Decree which declared mere points of ritual to be compulsory; and one of them he afterwards emphatically declared to be not compulsory (I Cor. VIII 4 f.). But those who had listened to the speeches of Peter and James, and were familiar with the situation in which the question had emerged, were prepared to look specially at the exordium with its emphatic condemnation of the Judaising party; and thereafter, doubtless, they took the concluding part as a recommendation, and regarded the four points as strongly advised in the interests of peace and unity.

But the real power of a law lies in its positive enactment; and most people would look only to what the Decree ordered. Now, whether or not the last sentences must bear the sense, they certainly may naturally bear the sense, that part of the Law was absolutely compulsory for salvation, and that the Nations were released from the rest as a concession to their weakness: “we lay on you no greater burden than these necessary conditions”. This seemed to create two grades of Christians: a lower class of weaker persons, who could not observe the whole Law, but only the compulsory parts of it, and a higher class, who were strong enough to obey the whole Law. The Gentile Christians were familiar in the pagan religions with distinctions of grade; for stages of initiation into the Mysteries existed everywhere. It was almost inevitable that a Decree, which lays down no clear and formal principle of freedom, should in practice be taken as making a distinction between strong and weak, between more and less advanced Christians; and it is certain that it was soon taken in that sense.

The question is often asked, why this letter was not addressed also to the Churches of Galatia; and several answers are suggested. But the answer which seems obvious from our point of view is that the letter was addressed only to those who asked the question. The provincial organisation of the Church began through the compulsion of circumstances (p. 135): there must either be a provincial organisation or no organisation. The principle, when it has been once stated, is self-evident. Circumstances made Antioch the centre of the Church in the province Syria and Cilicia; and the address of this letter attests the recognition of that fact and its consequences.

Hence, when Paul went forth on his next journey, he did not communicate the Decree to the Churches in Syria and Cilicia, XV 41, because they had already received it, when it was first sent out. But, when he and Silas reached Galatia, “they delivered them the decrees for to keep, which had been ordained of the Apostles and Elders,” XVI 4. But the Bezan Reviser, not understanding this delicate distinction, interpolated the statement in XV 41, that Paul and Silas “delivered the instructions of the Apostles and Elders”.

5. THE RETURN TO ANTIOCH.

(XV 30) SO THEY, BEING SET FREE TO DEPART, CAME DOWN TO ANTIOCH; AND HAVING GATHERED THE MULTITUDE TOGETHER, THEY DELIVERED THE LETTER. (31) AND WHEN THEY HAD READ IT, THEY REJOICED AT THE ENCOURAGEMENT. (32) AND JUDAS AND SILAS ON THEIR OWN ACCOUNT ALSO, INASMUCH AS THEY WERE PROPHETS, ENCOURAGED THE BRETHREN AT GREAT LENGTH, AND CONFIRMED THEM. (33) AND AFTER THEY HAD SPENT SOME TIME, THEY WERE SET FREE BY THE BRETHREN TO DEPART IN PEACE TO THEM THAT SENT THEM FORTH; (34) But it pleased Silas to abide there still. (35) AND PAUL AND BARNABAS TARRIED IN ANTIOCH, TEACHING AND PREACHING THE WORD OF THE LORD, WITH MANY OTHERS ALSO. (36) AND AFTER CERTAIN DAYS PAUL SAID . . .

As in XI 24, so here, v. 32, the qualification of Judas and Silas for exhorting the congregation is carefully stated. Luke lays such evident stress on proper qualification, that he seems to have considered Divine gifts necessary in any one that was to address a congregation (p. 45).

After the Council, Paul and Barnabas returned to their ordinary duties in Antioch, where the number of qualified prophets and teachers was now larger than in XIII 1. They remained there a short time (v. 36, cp. IX 19, 23. The second journey began probably in the spring of the year 50.

At some period v. 34 was deliberately omitted from the next, from the mistaken idea that v. 33, declared the actual departure of Judas and Silas: but the officials of the Church in Antioch (the Elders?) simply informed Judas and Silas that their duties were concluded and they were free to return home, and Silas did not avail himself of the permission. Considering how XII 25 prepares the way for XIII 5, we must hold that XV 34 is genuine and prepares for XV 40; and the fact that the Bezan Reviser found 34 is the text and added to it the comment “and Judas went alone,” constitutes a distinct proof of its genuineness. It is not that any difficulty need be found in Paul selecting Silas from Jerusalem, for Barnabas here takes Mark from Jerusalem (XIII 13). But it is one of the points of Luke’s style to furnish the material for understanding a new departure, and the very marked statement that Silas voluntarily remained, when his official duty was declared to be at an end, makes the next event much more intelligible (p. 176). There is in the sequence of thought 33-4a certain harshness (characteristic of Luke when he wants to draw attention to a point); and this led to the omission of 34 in the great MSS. and by many modern editors.

6. THE SEPARATION OF PAUL AND BARNABAS.

(v 36) AND AFTER SOME DAYS PAUL SAID UNTO BARNABAS, “LET US RETURN NOW AND VISIT THE BRETHREN IN EVERY CITY WHEREIN WE PROCLAIMED THE WORD OF THE LORD, HOW THEY FARE”. (37) AND BARNABAS WAS MINDED TO TAKE WITH THEM JOHN ALSO, WHO WAS CALLED MARK. (38) BUT PAUL THOUGHT NOT GOOD TO TAKE WITH THEM HIM THAT WITHDREW FROM THEM FROM PAMPHYLIA AND WENT NOT WITH THEM TO THE WORK. (39) AND THERE AROSE A SHARP CONTENTION, SO THAT THEY PARTED ASUNDER ONE FROM THE OTHER; AND BARNABAS TOOK MARK WITH HIM, AND SAILED AWAY UNTO CYPRUS; (40) BUT PAUL CHOSE SILAS AND WENT FORTH, BEING COMMENDED BY THE BRETHREN TO THE GRACE OF THE LORD: AND HE WENT THROUGH SYRIA AND CILICIA, CONFIRMING THE CHURCHES.

Barnabas here passes out of this history. The tradition, as stated in the apocryphal Periodoi Barnabæ, a very late work, was that he remained in Cyprus till his death; and the fact that Mark reappears at a later stage without Barnabas, is in agreement. At any rate his work, wherever it was carried on, did not, in Luke’s estimation, contribute to work out the idea of the organised and unified Church. That idea was elaborated in Paul’s work; and the history is guided by Paul’s activity from the moment when he began to be fully conscious of the true nature of his work. Others contributed to the earlier stages, but, as it proceeded, all the other personages became secondary, and Paul more and more the single moving genius.

The choice of Silas was, of course, due to his special fitness for the work, which had been recognised during his ministration in Antioch. Doubtless he had shown tact and sympathy in managing the questions arising from the relations of the Gentile Christians to the Jews. His sympathies had also been shown by his preferring to remain in the mixed and freer congregation in Antioch, when he had been at liberty to return to Jerusalem.

The name Silas is a familiar diminutive of Silvanus; and the full and more dignified form is employed in the superscription of the two letters to the Thessalonians. Silvanus is a Latin name; and Silas is implied in XVI 37 to have been a Roman citizen. It may, however, be looked on as certain that he was a Hebrew, for only a Hebrew would have been a leading man among the Brethren at Jerusalem (XV 22). His double character, Hebrew and Roman, was in itself a qualification for a coadjutor of Paul; and, doubtless, the Roman side of his character caused that freedom from narrow Judaistic prejudice which shines through his action.

It appears from the term employed in v. 40 that Silas took the place of Barnabas, not of Mark. The latter was a mere unofficial companion in every case, as is shown by the word used.2929συμπαραλαμβένω XII 25, XV 37, p. 170/ The verbs in the next few verses are all singular; though it is clear that Silas is concerned in many of the actions. The singular was preferred by Luke because certain of the actions were special to Paul, the choosing of Silas and of Timothy. There is a decided harshness in the narrative that follows, owing to the variation between the singular and the plural. At some points in the action Paul monopolises the author’s attention; and probably the expression, harsh though it be grammatically, corresponds to the facts. At the opening of the journey Paul alone is the subject: now at the opening the new comrade was untrained to the work. After a time the plural begins, XVI 4, and, wherever travelling is described, it is employed; but, when the direction given to missionary work is alluded to, Silas disappears, and Paul alone is the subject, XVII 2.


« Prev Chapter VII. The Apostolic Council. Next »





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |