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The Origin of the Ecclesia.

THE pause before the local limits of the ancient Ecclesia were overstepped was of short duration. St Luke’s next section tells us how fugitives from the persecution which began with Stephen had preached the word all along the Syrian coast up to Antioch, and by this time a large number of disciples had been gathered together. In other words, here was a great capital, including a huge colony of Jews, in close relations with all the Greek-speaking world and all the Syriac-speaking world; and in its midst a multitude of Christian disciples had come into existence in the most casual and unpremeditated way. No Apostle had led or founded a mission; no Apostle had taught there. But there the Christian congregation was, and its existence and future could not but be of the highest interest to the original body of Christians. What the 60relations would be between the two bodies was certainly not a question that could be answered off hand. “Hearing the tidings”, we read (xi. 22), “the Ecclesia which was at Jerusalem” (here once more we have a narrower title, doubtless with a view to the antithesis of Jerusalem and Antioch) “sent forth Barnabas to Antioch.” Barnabas, as we know, was not one of the Twelve. Probably the Twelve themselves felt that at the present moment it might be imprudent to take part personally in the affairs of Antioch, and to put forth even the semblance of apostolic authority there. But they (and not they only but the whole Ecclesia) sent a trusted envoy whose discretion could be relied on. He came and recognised what St Luke calls “the grace that was of God” (τὴν χάριν τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ), (the repetition of the article in the true text is full of meaning), the merciful extension of the area of saving knowledge and faith, and that by a kind of instrumentality which could be referred to nothing but the Providence of God. Accordingly, as a true son of encouragement or exhortation, Barnabas exhorted (παρεκαλει) all to abide by the purpose of their heart in the Lord, and many fresh conversions were the result of his teaching. But feeling apparently that this was a work for which St Paul’s experience peculiarly fitted him, he fetched him from Tarsus, and together at Antioch they spent a year. The disciples, we are told, were there first called Christians; but there is reason to believe that St Luke does not 61mean that the name was assumed by themselves. He does speak of Paul and Barnabas being “hospitably received1212Such is the least difficult explanation of the curious word συναχθῆναι as in Matt. xxv. and (with εἰς τὸν οἷκον, εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν) some Old Testament passages; also their original ’āsăph (to gather) in Ps. xxvii. 10. in the Ecclesia”, thereby recognising the disciples at Antioch as forming an Ecclesia — a significant fact as regards both the recognition of this irregularly founded community at Antioch, and the changes in the use of the term ecclesia itself. Still however it was a community of men who were in some sense or other Jewish Christians: the widely spread opinion to the contrary rests on the wrong reading Ἕλληνας in xi. 20.

Sending help to Jerusalem.

Before long an opportunity came for a practical exhibition of fellowship between the two communities. The famine in Judæa led to the sending of help (εἰς διακονίαν) by the disciples at Antioch to the brethren in Judæa. It was sent by Barnabas and Paul, and sent to “the elders” (xi. 30). Who were they? And why was it not sent to the Apostles? Both questions have been practically answered by Dr Lightfoot. He points out1313Galatians, p. 123, n. 3, p. 126. that St Luke’s narrative of the persecution by Herod in xii. 1-19 (his vexing of certain of them of the Ecclesia) comes in parenthetically in 62connexion with this mission to Jerusalem, but probably preceded it in order of time. After the murder of James the son of Zebedee, St Peter, we are told (xii. 17), on being delivered from prison (after prayer being earnestly made by the Ecclesia) “went to another place”; and it is likely enough that the other ten did the same. It is possible that on their departure they appointed elders to whom to entrust the care of the Ecclesia in their absence. It is also possible that the Ecclesia itself may have provided itself with elders when the Apostles departed. But it is more likely that they were in office already, and merely assumed fresh responsibilities under the stress of circumstances. Some have even thought that they were the Seven under another name. This is a very improbable hypothesis. But it is at least conceivable, supposing the Seven to have been appointed for the Hellenists alone, that there were already elders, and that these supposed elders at that time chiefly represented the Hebrew part of the community. This however is quite uncertain; nor is it important to know. In any case it is but reasonable to suppose1414See Lightfoot, Philippians, 191-3. that the Christian elders were not a new kind of officers, but simply a repetition of the ordinary Jewish elders, zegēnīm, πρεσβύτεροι, who constituted (as Dr Lightfoot says) the usual government of the Synagogue. “Hence,” he adds, “the silence of St Luke. When he first mentions the presbyters, he 63introduces them without preface, as though the institution were a matter of course.”

The Antiochian Mission.

From this point the distinctive work of St Paul begins, and the first stage of it has a remarkable inauguration. At Antioch, “in the Ecclesia which was there”, there were certain prophets and teachers, five being named, Barnabas first and Paul last. The prophets here spoken of are probably the same, wholly or in part, as the prophets mentioned before in xi. 27 as having come down from Jerusalem to Antioch, Agabus being one of them. While they are holding some solemn service (described as λειτουργούντων τῷ κυρίῳ) and fasting, the Holy Spirit speaks, evidently by the mouth of a prophet, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul unto the work unto which I have called them.” The service here denoted by the verb λειτουργέω was probably a service of prayer. The context suggests that it was not a regular and customary service (like “the prayer” at Jerusalem earlier, see p. 45) but a special act of worship on the part of a solemn meeting of the whole Ecclesia, held expressly with reference to a project for carrying the Gospel to the heathen. Thus the voice would seem to have sanctioned the mission of particular men, perhaps also even the project itself: but not to have been a sudden call to an unexpected work. The persons 64who are thus represented as doing service to the Lord are almost certainly the prophets and teachers mentioned just before. With fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands, Barnabas and Saul are let go. It is disputed whether the recipients of the prophetic word and performers of the last-mentioned acts of mission, were the prophets and teachers, or the Ecclesia. But on careful consideration it is difficult to doubt that the mouthpieces of the Divine command should be distinguished from those who have to execute it. In other words the members of the Ecclesia itself are bidden to set Barnabas and Saul apart; and it is the members of the Ecclesia itself that dismiss them with fast and prayer and laying on of hands, whether the last act was performed by all of them, or only by representatives of the whole body, official or other. So also on their return they gather the Ecclesia together (xiv. 27) and report what has befallen them.

This mission is no doubt specially described as due to a Divine monition: the setting apart comes from the Holy Spirit (to which in all probability the later words in xiii. 4 “being sent forth by the Holy Ghost” refer back); but the mission is also from the Christians of Antioch, whether directly or through the other three prophets and teachers, since the Holy Spirit, Himself the life and bond of every Ecclesia, makes the Christians of Antioch His instruments for setting Barnabas and Paul apart. It is with reference to this mission that, as I mentioned before, St Luke 65applies the name Apostles to Paul and Barnabas; and under no other circumstances does he apply the name to either of them. Thus his usage both illustrates and is illustrated by 2 Cor. viii. 23 (“apostles of churches”) and Phil. ii. 25 (“your apostle,” viz. Epaphroditus).

The first missionary journey.

We need not follow the details of the journey, memorable for the turning from the Jews to the Gentiles at the Pisidian Antioch, and so beginning the preaching of the Gospel to heathen Gentiles in their own land. But we must not overlook one important verse, xiv. 23. Having preached successfully at Lystra, Iconium and the Pisidian Antioch on the way out, they visit these cities again on the way home, stablishing (ἐπιστηρίζοντες) the souls of the disciples. Then “having chosen for them (χειροτονήσαντες — the confusion with χειροθεσία is much later than the Apostolic age) elders in each Ecclesia (κατ᾽ ἐκκλησίαν), having prayed with fastings, they commended them to the Lord on whom they had believed.” Here first we find that these infant communities are each called an Ecclesia, not indeed (so far as appears) from the first preaching, but at least from the second confirmatory visit. Further, Paul and Barnabas follow the precedent of Jerusalem by appointing elders in Jewish fashion (elders1515Lightfoot, Philippians 193. being indeed an institution of 66Jewish communities of the Dispersion as well as of Judæa), and with this simple organisation they entrusted the young Ecclesiae to the Lord’s care, to pursue an independent life. Such seems to be the meaning of the phrase “they commended them to the Lord on whom they had believed” (xiv. 23), which resembles some of the farewell words spoken to the Ephesian Elders at Miletus (xx. 32).

On their return to Antioch, “from whence”, St Luke takes care expressly to remind us — “from whence they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled”, they at once proceed to give an account of the task entrusted to them. They call together the Ecclesia and relate what God had done with them and how he had opened to the Gentiles a door of faith. No defence or explanation was necessary here. They had done what they had been sent to do. The turning to the Gentiles (xiii. 46) had evidently been contemplated from the first as a probable contingency, though the Jews were to be addressed first.

It is hardly necessary to say that these events, which happened about the year 50 A.D., constitute one of the greatest epochs, perhaps the greatest, in the history of the Ecclesia at large. Henceforth it was to contain members who had never in any sense belonged to the Jewish Ecclesia. There was henceforth no intelligible limit for it short of universality: and thus, while it never cut itself off from its 67primitive foundation, it entered on a career which imposed on it totally new conditions.

The Conference at Jerusalem.

In the steps hitherto taken the Ecclesia of Antioch had acted independently and apparently without difference of opinion. But soon a troubling of the peace came from without, from Judæa. It is worth notice that we hear nothing of complaints against the Ecclesia of Antioch as having exceeded its legitimate powers. The appeal of the envoys from Judæa was simply to the Jewish law as binding on all Christians, “Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (xv. 1). Evidently the heathen converts made by St Paul and St Barnabas had not been circumcised, and this proceeding had been accepted by the Ecclesia of Antioch, and was evidently intended to guide their future action in regard to converts from the heathen. To act thus was to decide that Judaism was not the necessary porch of entrance into the discipleship of the Gospel, and that Gentiles might pass at once into the Christian fold without doing homage to the Jewish law, and without any obligation to future allegiance to it. It would have been surprising indeed if all the Jewish Christians of Palestine had been ready at once, either to accept this as the right course to adopt, or to acquiesce in leaving the Christians of Antioch free to pursue their own way without hindrance or remonstrance. 68What view the Twelve took of the matter, we do not know. It is hardly likely that the Jewish zealots within the Ecclesia of Jerusalem would commence an agitation at Antioch in person without having first tried to induce the leading men at Jerusalem to take action. If they did so, we know that they failed: nothing can be clearer in this respect than the words of the epistle recorded further on in the chapter (xv. 24), “Forasmuch as we have heard that certain of our number (τινὲς ἐξ ἡμῶν, so the rather startling right reading, meaning doubtless ‘some members of our Ecclesia’) — that certain of our number troubled you with words, disturbing your souls, to whom we gave no charge” (οἷς οὐ διεστειλάμεθα, ‘we’ being the Apostles, Elders, and the whole Ecclesia). But if the Twelve and other leading men refused to abet the Judaizing zealots, it does not follow that they already were firm and clear on behalf of the policy of Antioch: later incidents render it improbable that they were. Doubtless they were not prepared to come to a final decision without taking time.

What might have easily become a schism of impassable depth was averted by the forbearance of the brethren at Antioch. The disputes between the Judaizers and Paul and Barnabas led them to send Paul and Barnabas, with others, to hold a consultation with “the Apostles and Elders” at Jerusalem. It would seem as though St Paul himself hesitated at first about going, doubtless from a fear of compromising 69the cause which he was determined that no Jerusalem authority should lead him to abandon. “I went up”, he says (Gal. ii. 2), “in obedience to a revelation.” The envoys set out, “speeded on their way by the Ecclesia” (Acts xv. 3). They passed through Phœnicia and Samaria, telling the tale of the conversion of the Gentiles, and “caused great joy to all the brethren”: to those regions the scruples of Jerusalem had not spread. At Jerusalem “they were received by the Ecclesia and the Apostles and the Elders”, the three being carefully enumerated, as if to mark the formality of the reception, and its completely representative character. Before the assembly the envoys repeated the tale of the successful mission, and then the gainsayers, now described as of the sect of the Pharisees (xv. 5), rose up to maintain the necessity of circumcision and the retention of the Law, as obligatory on the Gentiles. Then the discussion would seem to have been adjourned. It was probably before the assembly met again that those private conferences with the leading Apostles took place to which alone St Paul makes explicit reference in his narrative in Galatians1616See Lightfoot, Galatians 124 f..

The final assembly is described by St Luke (xv. 6) at the outset as a gathering together of the Apostles and the Elders to see concerning this discourse (λόγου, practically, this matter). It can hardly be doubted that the Ecclesia at large was in some manner likewise 70present1717So Iren. cont. Haer. III. xii. 14 cum . . . universa ecclesia convenisset in anum.. This follows not only from the association of “the whole Ecclesia” with the Apostles and the Elders in the sending of a deputation to Antioch (v. 22), but still more clearly from the words “and all the multitude held their peace” in v. 12, since it is inconceivable that the body of Elders should be called “the multitude.” On the other hand St Luke could hardly have omitted to mention the Ecclesia in that initial v. 6, unless the chief responsibility had been recognised as lying with the Apostles and the Elders.

Every one knows the order of incidents, the opening speech by St Peter appealing to the very similar event of his own Divinely sanctioned admission of Cornelius, and arguing against tempting God by laying on the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither their own Jewish fathers nor themselves had had strength to bear; next the recital by Paul and Barnabas of the signs and wonders by which God had set His seal to the work among the Gentiles; then James’s renewed reference to Peter’s argument, confirmation of it from the prophecy of Amos, and final announcement of his own opinion (διὸ ἐγὼ κρίνω) against troubling Gentile converts, but in favour of sending them a message (or possibly, enjoining them, ἐπιστεῖλαι) to observe four abstinences. These need not be considered now1818See Hort’s Judaistic Christianity, pp. 68 ff.. It is enough 71to say that on the two points at issue, circumcision and the bindingness of the Jewish law, they give no support to the demands of the Judaizers. Whether the abstinences here laid down be of Jewish or even Mosaic origin or not, at most they are isolated precepts of expediency, not resting on the principle which was in dispute. And lastly we have the decision of “the apostles and the elders and all the ecclesia” to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas two chosen envoys from their own number, “leading men among the brethren”, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, and with them a letter.

The letter and its reception.

The salutation at the head of the letter is from “the apostles and the elder brethren to the brethren who are of the Gentiles throughout Antioch and Syria and Cilicia” (such seems to be the force of κατά with a single article for the three names), the central and in every way most important, Antioch, being placed at the head, and then the rest of Syria, and the closely connected region of Cilicia. The Ecclesia is not separately mentioned in the salutation; on the other hand the unusual phrase “the elder brethren” (for such is assuredly not only the right reading but the right punctuation) indicates that they who held the office of Elder were to be regarded as bearing the characteristic from which the title itself had arisen, and were but elder brothers at the head of a great 72family of brethren. The letter, after the salutation, begins by repudiating the agitators who had gone down to Antioch. Next it states that it had been agreed in common to send back chosen men with Barnabas and Paul, who are spoken of in emphatically warm language, with indirect recognition of their mission as that for which they had exposed their lives: this was in fact a deputation from Jerusalem, exactly answering to the deputation from Antioch to Jerusalem. Thirdly, in a fresh sentence the letter gives the names of the two envoys (Judas and Silas), and the exact purpose of their mission, to repeat in person what had just been recited in writing (τὰ αὐτά), probably also with the inclusion of what comes next, or fourthly, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no further burthen save these necessary things, viz. the four abstinences; from which if ye keep yourselves it shall be well with you. Fare ye well.”

To some points involved in this letter and the accompanying circumstances we must return just now. But first we should glance at the historical sequel, under the two heads of St Luke’s and St Paul’s narratives.

Paul and Barnabas ‘go down’ to Antioch (the phrase is significant, — Jerusalem is still the central height). They gather together the multitude of the brethren (τὸ πλῆθος) and gave them the epistle (ἐπέδωκαν); a phrase which shews that, as might 73indeed be gathered from the terms of the salutation, it was to the Ecclesia at large that the letter was addressed. Having read it they rejoice at the encouragement (παρακλήσει); a vague word, it might seem, but an appropriate one: it expressed the “God speed you” (so to speak) which had been pronounced on their own work and on the conditions of freedom under which it had been begun. The effect of the letter is reinforced by the personal representatives of Jerusalem: Judas and Silas, themselves also prophets, with much discourse encouraged (or exhorted, παρεκάλεσαν) the brethren and stablished [them] (ἐπεστήριξαν). They stay some time, and then are dismissed by the brethren with peace and return to those that sent them (the ἀποστόλους of the Textus Receptus and the Authorised Version is certainly a wrong reading). Meanwhile Paul and Barnabas continue in Antioch, teaching and preaching the good tidings of the word of the Lord, along with many others also (xv. 35).

St Peter at Antioch.

Such is St Luke’s account, a history of smooth water. It did not enter into his purpose to wake up the memories of an incident on which the Ecclesia had been well-nigh wrecked, but which happily had ended in a manner which enabled it to pursue its course uninjured, or rather we must suppose strengthened. Nothing, we may be sure, but the 74conviction that the whole future of the Gentile Ecclesiae was bound up in the vindication of his own authentic Apostleship, would have induced St Paul to commit to paper the sad story of his conflict with St Peter. St Peter, it would seem, had after a while followed the four envoys to Antioch. Nothing was more natural and expedient than that he should visit the vigorous young community in person, and establish friendly relations on the spot. A personal visit like this, which might once have been imprudent, had now become expedient. At first all went well. He carried out completely the purpose of the Jerusalem letter by associating on equal terms with the Gentile converts; he “ate with them”, just as he had done (to the scandal of many) at Cæsarea (xi. 3). But when certain came down from James, he withdrew himself in fear of them of the circumcision. This conduct St Paul plainly calls “acting a false part” (ὐπόκρισις Gal. ii. 13), pretending to be that which he was not: but it was shared by the rest of the Jewish Christians at Antioch and even at length, strange to say, by Barnabas. St Paul alone stood firm, and rebuked St Peter to his face in the presence of them all. To go into the various questions arising out of this account, as I did to a certain extent two years ago1919See Judaistic Christianity, pp. 76 ff., would be out of the question now. What specially concerns our own subject is that the point of principle really at stake was, under one aspect, the question 75whether membership of the Christian Ecclesia could be of two orders or degrees, an inner for Jewish Christians only, and an outer. The position practically taken up for a while by St Peter and his associates must not be confounded with the position taken up by the uncompromising Judaizers who had been repudiated in the letter from Jerusalem. There is not the least sign that he affected to wish to exclude heathen converts from baptism or most other Christian privileges. But he did persuade himself that, for the time at least, uncircumcised Christians should not be allowed to sit at table with circumcised; in other words that they might in a certain sense be members of the Christian brotherhood but not be recognised as full members, unless by first becoming Jews, and accepting Jewish customs as binding on them. St Paul does not tell us how the matter ended. That was unnecessary, for all the subsequent history shewed that this compromise, the fruit of timorous and untimely prudence, must have quickly collapsed, and left the policy represented by St Paul now more firmly established than before St Peter’s arrival. Thus the freedom of Gentile Christian communities was assured anew in the completest form.

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