Full Text for Galatians- Volume 9 - More about the Jerusalem Council (Video)

No. 9. >> Tell us about that Apostolic Council, if you will. >>DR. ARTHUR A. JUST, JR.: As I said in the previous answer to the question right before this, it is a watershed event. And this is a place where you see coming together every major figure in the New Testament. In fact, when we look at what happens in the private meeting in Galatians 2, the same people are involved, and in fact if you count up the books in the New Testament, 24 out of the 27 books of the New Testament are represented by Peter, Paul, John and James, the brother of our Lord. The only books that aren't represented are Matthew, Jude, and the book of Hebrews, who we don't know the author to. And I would bet that Matthew is at this Council as well as Jude. So everybody who was everybody was at this Council. Now, this is an important point: Both the church of Antioch and the church in Jerusalem recognized that they had to bring all the players to the table. And the precipitating event, unlike Antioch, which was table fellowship, the precipitating event for the Apostolic Council was circumcision. Now that's what the Book of Acts says. Listen how it begins, Chapter 15 of Acts. But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers: Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And then it tells about how Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them. And Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and to the elders about this question. And then the end of this little section, verses 5 and 6 said this: But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees -- notice that the party of the Pharisees -- rose up and said it is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. So circumcision and keeping the law of Moses as a means of salvation is the significant point of the meeting of all of these great leaders in the New Testament in Jerusalem in the Apostolic Council. And if you look at your chronology, you'll see this is around the year 49. Now, in any kind of a situation like this, it's important to know what the points of view are. And there are three points of view that are represented here. The first one we just mentioned, the Pharisaical point of view. These are Christians. They are Pharisees. And their point of view is they certainly believe in salvation by grace through faith. But they also add that one must be circumcised and keep work for the law. So it's salvation plus something. The second point of view represented is the point of view by Paul. And Paul, of course, because he is the head of the Gentile mission is just absolutely passionate about keeping works of the law out of it. So his point of view is that salvation is by grace through faith and that's it. You don't have to do anything to be saved. You don't cooperate with God. God does it all. God saves you. And God gives you the faith by which you can passively as a recipient receive that grace. And he really in a sense represents the Gentile point of view. Then there is going to be a third point of view. And that's the Jewish point of view represented by James, the brother of our Lord, who is the bishop of Jerusalem. And he says very clearly that salvation is by grace through faith alone. Not by works of the law. But he will also say that there are some issues that people have to be sensitive to. And that is if you're in a Jewish context, you must recognize that the greatest danger for Jews and Gentiles is idolatry. That is the First Commandment. And the First Commandment is critical to the church of Jerusalem because of the idolatrous nature of Gentiles and the idol worship in the ancient world. Now, I think we should pause for a moment and talk about that. Because it certainly is a big factor in Paul's ministry and it certainly is in the Apostolic Council. I don't know if you realize it but pagan worship was obviously the worship of the empire. And this was a very vital way of life for the pagan Rome. And they had temples and they had what we might call two sacraments so to speak. And by sacraments I simply mean that the pagans had two ways of communing with the god. They communed with the god by means of the food that they ate after it was sacrificed to idols. And they also communed with the god by means of sexual idolatry with prostitutes. So great food. And consorting with temple prostitutes. Those were the means by which they communed with their god. And you're going to see that what James responds to in the Apostolic Council is a response to these two things. Now, it's interesting that as the Council begins, it is Peter, of course, who stands up first. And in a way, I think this is one of the most courageous moments in the New Testament. Now, again just looking at the context here, the Antioch -- the incident in Antioch where Peter seems to depart from the Gospel has happened and he and Paul seem to have a falling out there and I think here and the Apostolic Council Peter is assuming a point of view leadership to demonstrate his repentance for what happened in Antioch. Because what Peter represents is not the Jewish point of view. And remember, Peter from Jerusalem would have really been more in tune with the Jewish point of view than the Gentile point of view. I mean, he probably lived like a Jew when he was in Jerusalem. But Peter now in place of Paul represents the Gentile point of view. Now, I think he realizes for Paul to stand up and represent this point of view would have been political disaster. The Jerusalem church didn't like Paul. He was the one causing the trouble. The people had gone to undermine Paul there was great division there between some of these Jews from the Pharisaical party and Paul. So Peter realizing a that for Paul to represent himself would have been a disaster. So Peter stands up courageously and represents in front of all of his Jewish friends there in Jerusalem the Gentile point of view. And this is what he says: He says brothers you know that in the early days God made a choice among you. That by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us. And he made no distinction between us and them having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ just as they will. Now, that yoke is the yoke of the law. And here Peter is very clearly testifying to the fact that through that revelation, his going to Cornelius, he had revealed to him that it was okay to eat with Gentiles. That it was right for them to enter the church. Now, I want to point out here that Paul -- that excuse me Peter is not referring to Scripture at all. He's referring to his experience. His experience there by the revelation of God and his experience with Cornelius. And he shows very clearly that the Gentile point of view is that salvation is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that Gentiles are saved exactly like Jews are. Now, it says that the assembly fell silent. They must have been stunned that Peter, the great apostle to the Jews, got up and defended the Gentile point of view. But then it says the assembly listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Now, again, Paul and Barnabas, no testimony of Scripture. But they are talking about their first missionary journey and how the Gospel was opened up to Gentiles. They are in a sense testifying to their experience. Now, there's nothing wrong with this. But I just simply want to point out that Peter, Barnabas and Paul do not refer to Scripture. That is for the bishop of Jerusalem. That is for James. And here you can see that James is the major figure at the Apostolic Council. He is the bishop. He stands up. He quotes Scripture. He's the rabbi. He's the one that people listen to. And because James speaks, because of his authority as bishop of Jerusalem, even over Peter and Paul, the church submits to his words. Now, listen what it says, this is what James says after Paul and Barnabas are finished speaking: Brothers, listen to me. Simeon -- that is Peter -- has related how God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agreed just as it is written. After this I will return and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen. I will rebuild it's ruins and I will restore it. And the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by my name says the Lord who makes these things known from of old. Therefore, my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has in every city those who proclaim him for he has read every Sabbath in the synagogues. Now, I wish I had time to totally unpack these two citations here. James is citing from Amos and from Leviticus. The Amos citation is a clear proclamation from the prophets that the Gentiles are part of the kingdom of God. They are called by name. Which means they can enter into the presence of God. That is a critical point. And really in a way what James is referring to is the fact that Jews and Gentiles are clean and can enter into God's presence. Not just Jews who have all of the temple cleanliness codes and purity codes. But now in Christ the Gentiles are declared holy, as well. Now, this is a radical statement, especially for the bishop of Jerusalem to say. Especially somebody who is in charge of a Jewish church. But James does something that has always bothered people. Is it seems like he does give laws. And Paul and Barnabas as you're going to see and Peter, too, completely agree with James. But in citing the Leviticus holiness code, what James is basically doing is appealing to the First Commandment. And the Sixth Commandment. And what he's saying is this: Whether you're Jew or you're Gentiles, there's to be no idolatry. There's to be no sexual immorality. Now, remember what I said about the temples. He's not just talking about the run of the mill idolatry and sexual immorality. He's talking about worship at the temple cult. He's talking about how the fact that Gentiles who up until this time have worshiped there, if they are going to be in the context where there are Jews who are deeply, deeply offended by this activity, that they must refrain from this. Now, this is the interesting thing: After this Council, for all intents and purposes, circumcision ceases to be an issue. It really isn't discussed as a problem in the church. Even up until this day. Nobody really insists after this, except perhaps some stray Jewish cults, that one must be circumcised. And it really ceases to be an issue for Paul. However, the other issues that have to do with idolatry and the temple cults not only continue to exist for Paul in places like Corinth. But if you read the history of the early fathers, the first 3 or 400 years of Christianity when the temple cult was still alive and well, they would repeatedly go back to these admonitions in Acts 15 and show that they still obtain for the people of God because of the temple cult. Today, since we don't have those kinds of idol worship around, that is perhaps not as big an issue for us. But I will say: Last December I was in India. And I went into a Hindu temple where there was idol worship and there was clearly food that was being sacrificed to idols. In a context like that, this passage in Acts 15 might be very important to that church there. In summary, Acts 15 basically now says to Paul and Barnabas: With the imprimatur of Peter, James and all the leaders of the church, that the mission to the Gentiles is not only God's will, but even the Old Testament testifies to the fact that this is what God had in mind for the world. And so from this point on, Paul and Barnabas are given the blessing of the Jerusalem church to go out and preach the Gospel to Gentiles.