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The Council at Jerusalem


Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. 14Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,


‘After this I will return,

and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;

from its ruins I will rebuild it,

and I will set it up,


so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—

even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.

Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18known from long ago.’

19 Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. 21For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, 23with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

30 So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. 32Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them. 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.


Paul and Barnabas Separate

36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

9. And he put no difference. There was indeed some difference, because the Gentiles who were uncircumcised were suddenly admitted unto the covenant of eternal life; whereas the Jews were prepared by circumcision unto faith. But Peter’s meaning is, that they were both chosen 102102     “Utrosque pariter allectos esse,” that both were in like manner allured. together by God unto the hope of the same inheritance, and that they were extolled into the like degree of honor, that they might be the children of God and members of Christ, and, finally, the holy seed of Abraham, a priestly and princely generation. Whereupon it followeth, that they cannot without sacrilege be counted unclean, sithence God hath chosen them to be a peculiar people, and hath consecrated them to be holy vessels of his temple. For the wall of separation being pulled down, whereby the Gentiles and Jews were divided among themselves, he hath joined the Gentiles to the Jews, that they might grow together into one body, (Ephesians 2:14;) and that I may so say, he hath mixed circumcision and uncircumcision together, that as well those of the household as strangers may be one in Christ, and may make one Church; and that there may not be any longer either Jew or Grecian.

Seeing that by faith he hath purified. This member is answerable to that former adjunct which he applieth to God; as if he should say, that God, who knoweth the hearts, did inwardly purge the Gentiles, when he vouchsafed to make them partakers of his adoption, that they might be endued with spiritual cleanness. But he addeth farther, that this purity did consist in faith. Therefore he teacheth, first, that the Gentiles have true holiness without ceremonies, which may suffice before God’s judgment-seat. Secondly, he teacheth that this is attained unto by faith, and from it doth it flow. In like sort, Paul gathereth, that uncircumcision doth not hinder a man but that he may be counted holy and just before God, (Romans 4:10;) because circumcision did follow after righteousness in the person of Abraham, and by order of time it was latter, [posterior.]

But here ariseth a question, whether that purity which the fathers had in times past were unlike to that which God gave now to the Gentiles? For it seemeth that Peter distinguisheth the Gentiles from the Jews by this mark, because, being content with the cleanness of the heart alone, they need no help of the law. I answer, that the one of them differ from the other, not in substance, but in form, [only.] For God had respect always unto the inward cleanness of the heart; and the ceremonies were given to the old [ancient] people only for this cause, that they might help their faith. So that cleanness, as touching figures and exercises, was only for a time, until the coming of Christ, which hath no place among us at this day; like as there remaineth from the very beginning of the world unto the end the same true worship of God, to wit, the spiritual worship; yet is there great difference in the visible form. Now, we see that the fathers did not obtain righteousness by ceremonies, neither were they therefore pure before God, but by the cleanness of the heart. For the ceremonies of themselves were of no importance to justify them; but they were only helps, which did accidentally (that I may so term it) purge them; yet so that the fathers and we had the same truth. Now, when Christ came, all that which was accidental did vanish away; and, therefore, seeing the shadows be driven away, there remaineth the bare and plain pureness of the heart.

Thus is that objection easily answered which the Jews think cannot possibly be answered. Circumcision is called the eternal covenant, or of the world, (Genesis 17:13;) therefore, say they, it was not to be abolished. If any man shall say that this is not referred unto the visible sign, but rather unto the thing figured, it shall be well answered; but there is another answer besides this. Seeing that the kingdom of Christ was a certain renewing of the world, there shall no inconvenience follow if he made an end of 103103     “Nihil esse absurdi si finem... imposuerit,” there is no absurdity in his having put an end to. all the shadows of the law, forasmuch as the perpetuity of the law is grounded in Christ. I come now unto the second member, where Peter placeth the cleanness [purity] of the Gentiles in faith. Why doth not he say, In perfection of virtues, or holiness of life, save only because men have righteousness from another, and not from themselves? For, if men, by living well and justly, should purchase righteousness, or if they should be clean before God by nature, this sentence of Peter should fall to the ground. Therefore, the Spirit doth in these words plainly pronounce that all mankind is polluted, and with filthiness defiled; secondly, that their blots can by no other means be wiped away than by the grace of Christ. For, seeing that faith is the remedy whereby the Lord doth freely help us, it is set as well against the common nature of all men, as against every man’s own merits. When I say that all mankind is polluted, my meaning is, that we bring nothing from our mother’s womb but mere filthiness, and that there is no righteousness in our nature which can reconcile us to God. Man’s soul was indeed endued with singular gifts at the first; but all parts thereof are so corrupt with sin, that there remaineth in it no drop of pureness any longer; therefore we must seek for cleanness without ourselves.

For if any man allege that it may be recovered by merits of works, there is nothing more absurd than to imagine that wicked and coward nature can deserve anything. Therefore, it resteth that men seek elsewhere for that which they shall never be able to find within themselves. And surely it is the office of faith to translate that unto us which is proper to Christ, and to make it ours by free participation. So that there is a mutual relation between faith and the grace of Christ. For faith doth not make us clean, as a virtue or quality poured into our souls; but because it receiveth that cleanness which is offered in Christ. We must also note the phrase, that God purifieth the hearts; whereby Luke doth both make God the author of faith, and he teacheth also that cleanness is his benefit. To make short, he signifieth unto us, that that is given to men by the grace of God which they cannot give to themselves. But forasmuch as we said that faith taketh that of Christ which it transpoureth [transferreth] into us; we must now see how the grace of Christ doth make us clean, that we may please God. And there is a double manner of purging, because Christ doth offer and present us clean and just in the sight of his Father, by putting away our sins daily, which he hath once purged by his blood; secondly, because, by mortifying the lusts of the flesh by his Spirit, he reformeth us unto holiness of life. I do willingly comprehend both kinds of purging under these words; because Luke doth not touch one kind of purging only, but he teacheth that the whole perfection thereof consisteth without the ceremonies of the law.

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