The misunderstanding of "the Grecians and Hebrews" in the days of Stephen, the suspicion of the Apostles when Paul came from Damascus to Jerusalem, the secession of Mark at the beginning of the first missionary journey, were symptoms of the prejudice, ignorance, and infirmity, in the midst of which the Gospel was to win its way in the hearts of men. And the arrival of the Apostles at Antioch at the close of their journey was presently followed by a troubled controversy, which involved the most momentous consequences to all future ages of the Church; and led to that visit to Jerusalem which, next after his conversion, is perhaps the most important passage in Apostle Paul's life.
We have seen that great numbers of Jews had long been dispersed beyond the limits of their own land, and were at this time distributed over every part of the Roman Empire. "Moses had of old time, in every city, them that preached him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day." (Acts 15:21).
In every considerable city, both of the East and West, were established some members of that mysterious people, - who had a written Law, which they read and re-read, in the midst of the contempt of those who surrounded them, week by week, and year by year, - who were bound everywhere by a secret link of affection to one City in the world, where alone their religious sacrifices could be offered, - whose whole life was utterly abhorrent from the temples and images which crowded the neighborhood of their Synagogues, and from the gay and licentious festivities of the Greek and Roman worship.
Thus a strong line of demarcation between the Jews and Gentiles ran through the whole Roman Empire. Though their dwellings were often contiguous, they were separated from each other by deep-rooted feelings of aversion and contempt. The "middle wall of partition" (Ephesians 2:14) was built up by diligent hands on both sides. This mutual alienation existed, notwithstanding the vast number of proselytes, who were attracted to the Jewish doctrine and worship, and who, as we have already observed, were silently preparing the way for the ultimate union of the two races.
The breach was even widened, in many cases, in consequence of this work of proselytism: for those who went over to the Jewish camp, or hesitated on the neutral ground, were looked on with some suspicion by the Jews themselves, and thoroughly hated and despised by the Gentiles.
It must be remembered that the separation of which we speak was both religious and social. The Jews had a divine Law, which sanctioned the principle, and enforced the practice, of national isolation. They could not easily believe that this Law, with which all the glorious passages of their history were associated, was meant only to endure for a limited period: and we cannot but sympathize in the difficulty they felt in accepting the notion of a cordial union with the uncircumcised, even after idolatry was abandoned and morality observed.
And again, the peculiar character of the religion which isolated the Jews was such as to place insuperable obstacles in the way of social union with other men. Their ceremonial observances precluded the possibility of their eating with the Gentiles. The nearest parallel we can find to this barrier between the Jew and Gentile, is the institution of caste among the ancient populations of India, which presents itself to our politicians as a perplexing fact in the government of the presidencies, and to our missionaries as the great obstacle to the progress of Christianity in the East.
A Hindoo cannot eat with a Parsee, or a Mohammedan, - and among the Hindoos themselves the meals of a Brahmin are polluted by the presence of a Pariah, - though they meet and have free intercourse in the ordinary transaction of business. So it was in the patriarchal age. It was "an abomination for the Egyptians to eat bread with the Hebrews." (Genesis 43:32). The same principle was divinely sanctioned for a time in the Mosaic Institutions.
The Israelites, who lived among the Gentiles, met them freely in the places of public resort, buying and selling, conversing and disputing: but their families were separate: in the relations of domestic life, it was "unlawful," as Peter said to Cornelius, "for a man that was a Jew to keep company or come unto one of another nation." (Acts 10:28) When Peter returned from the centurion at Caesarea to his brother-Christians at Jerusalem, their great charge against him was that he had "gone in to men uncircumcised, and had eaten with them:" (Acts 11:3) and the weak compliance of which he was guilty, after the true principle of social unity had been publicly recognized, and which called forth the stern rebuke of his brother-apostle, was that, after eating with the Gentiles, he "withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the Circumcision." (Galatians 2:12).
How these two difficulties, which seem to forbid the formation of a united Church on earth, were ever to be overcome, - how the Jews and Gentiles were to be religiously united, without the enforced obligation of the whole Mosaic Law, - how they were to be socially united as equal brethren in the family of a common Father, - the solution of this problem must in that day have appeared impossible. And without the direct intervention of Divine grace it would have been impossible. We now proceed to consider how that grace gave to the minds of the Apostles the wisdom, discretion, forbearance, and firmness which were required; and how Apostle Paul was used as the great instrument in accomplishing a work necessary to the very existence of the Christian Church.
We encounter here a difficulty, well known to all who have examined this subject, in combining into one continuous narrative the statements in the Epistle to the Galatians and in the Acts of the Apostles. In the latter book we are informed of five distinct journeys made by the Apostle to Jerusalem after the time of his conversion; - first, when he escaped from Damascus, and spent a fortnight with Peter; secondly, when he took the collection from Antioch with Barnabas in the time of the famine; thirdly, on the occasion of the Council, which is now before us in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts; fourthly, in the interval between his second and third missionary journeys; (Acts 18:22) and, fifthly, when the uproar was made in the Temple, and he was taken into the custody of the Roman garrison. (Acts 21 &c).
In the Epistle to the Galatians, Apostle Paul speaks of two journeys to Jerusalem, - the first being "three years" after his conversion, (Galatians 1:18) the second "fourteen years" later, when his own Apostleship was asserted and recognized in a public meeting of the other Apostles. (Galatians 2: 1-10) Now, while we have no difficulty in stating, as we have done, that the first journey of one account is the first journey of the other, theologians have been variously divided in opinion, as to whether the second journey of the Epistle must be identified with the second, third, or fourth of the Acts; or whether it is a separate journey, distinct from any of them. It is agreed by all that the fifth cannot possibly be intended.
The view we have adopted, that the second journey of the Epistle is the third of the Acts, is that of the majority of the best critics and commentators. For the arguments by which it is justified, and for a full discussion of the whole subject, we must refer the reader to Appendix I. Some of the arguments will be indirectly presented in the following narrative. So far as the circumstances combined together in the present chapter appear natural, consecutive and coherent, so far some reason will be given for believing that we are not following an arbitrary assumption or a fanciful theory.
It is desirable to recur at the outset to the first instance of a Gentile’s conversion to Christianity. (Acts 10., 11) After the preceding remarks, we are prepared to recognize the full significance of the emblematical vision which Peter saw at Joppa. The trance into which he fell at the moment of his hunger, - the vast sheet descending from heaven, - the promiscuous assemblage of clean and unclean animals, (See Leviticus 11) - the voice from heaven which said, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat" - the whole of this imagery is invested with the deepest meaning, when we recollect all the details of religious and social life, which separated, up to that moment, the Gentile from the Jew.
The words heard by Peter in his trance came like a shock on all the prejudices of his Jewish education. He had never so broken the Law of his forefathers as to eat any thing it condemned as unclean. And though the same voice spoke to him "a second time," (Acts 10:15) and "answered him from heaven," (Acts 11:9) - "What God has made clean that call not thou common," - it required a wonderful combination of natural and supernatural evidence to convince him that God is "no respecter of persons," but "in every nation" accepts him that "feareth Him and worketh righteousness," (Acts 10:34, 35) - that all such distinctions as depend on "meat and drink," on "holydays, new moons, and sabbaths," were to pass away, - that these things were only "a shadow of things to come," - that "the body is of Christ," - and that "in Him we are complete… circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands… buried with Him in baptism," and risen with Him through faith (See Colossians 2:8-23).
The Christians "of the circumcision," (Acts 10:45 with Acts 11:12) who traveled with Peter from Joppa to Caesarea, were "astonished" when they saw "the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out" on uncircumcised Gentiles: and much dissatisfaction was created in the Church, when intelligence of the whole transaction came to Jerusalem. On Peter’s arrival, his having "gone in to men uncircumcised, and eaten with them," was arraigned as a serious violation of religious duty. When Peter "rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order," appealing to the evidence of the "six brethren" who had accompanied him, - his accusers were silent; and so much conviction was produced at the time, that they expressed their gratitude to God, for His mercy in "granting to the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:1-18).
But subsequent events too surely proved that the discontent at Jerusalem was only partially allayed. Hesitation and perplexity began to arise in the minds of the Jewish Christians, with scrupulous misgivings concerning the rectitude of Peter’s conduct, and an uncomfortable jealousy of the new converts. And nothing could be more natural than all this jealousy and perplexity. To us, with our present knowledge, it seems that the slightest relaxation of a ceremonial law should have been willingly and eagerly welcomed. But the view from the Jewish standing-point was very different. The religious difficulty in the mind of a Jew was greater than we can easily imagine. We can well believe that the minds of many may have been perplexed by the words and the conduct of our Lord Himself: for He had not been sent "save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and He had said that it was "not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs." (Matthew 15:24, 26).
Until Apostle Paul appeared before the Church in his true character as the Apostle of the uncircumcision, few understood that "the law of the commandments contained in ordinances" had been abolished by the cross of Christ; (Ephesians 2:15) and that the "other sheep," not of the Jewish fold, should be freely united to the "one flock" by the "One Shepherd."
The smouldering feeling of discontent, which had existed from the first, increased and became more evident as new Gentile converts were admitted into the Church. To pass over all the other events of the interval which had elapsed since the baptism of Cornelius, the results of the recent journey of Paul and Barnabas through the cities of Asia Minor must have excited a great commotion among the Jewish Christians. "A door of faith" had been opened "unto the Gentiles." (Acts 14:27) "He that wrought effectually in Peter to the Apostleship of the circumcision, the same had been mighty in Paul toward the Gentiles." (Galatians 2:8) And we cannot well doubt that both he and Barnabas had freely joined in social intercourse with the Gentile Christians, at Antioch in Pisidia, at Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, as Peter "at the first" (Acts 15:14) "a good while ago" (Acts 15:7) had eaten with Cornelius at Caesarea.
At Antioch in Syria, it seems evident that both parties lived together in amicable intercourse and in much "freedom." (See Galatians 2:4) Nor, indeed, is this the city where we should have expected the Jewish controversy to have come to a crisis: for it was from Antioch that he and Barnabas had first been sent as missionaries to the Heathen:(Acts 13:1. &c) and it was at Antioch that Greek proselytes had first accepted the truth, (Acts 11:19-22) and that the united body of believers had first been called "Christians." (Acts 11:26)
Jerusalem was the metropolis of the Jewish world. The exclusive feelings which the Jews carried with them wherever they were diffused, were concentrated in Jerusalem in their most intense degree. It was there, in the sight of the Temple, and with all the recollections of their ancestors surrounding their daily life, that the impatience of the Jewish Christians kindled into burning indignation. They saw that Christianity, instead of being the purest and holiest form of Judaism, was rapidly becoming a universal and indiscriminating religion, in which the Jewish element would be absorbed and lost. This revolution could not appear to them in any other light than as a rebellion against all they had been taught to hold inviolably sacred. And since there was no doubt that the great instigator of this change of opinion was that Saul of Tarsus whom they had once known as a young Pharisee at the "feet of Gamaliel," the contest took the form of an attack made by "certain of the sect of the Pharisees" upon Apostle Paul. The battle which had been fought and lost in the "Cilician synagogue" was now to be renewed within the Church itself.
Some of the "false brethren" (Galatians 2:4) went down "from Judea" to Antioch. (Acts 15:1) The course they adopted, in the first instance, was not that of open antagonism to Apostle Paul, but rather of clandestine intrigue. They came as "spies" into an enemy’s camp, creeping in "unawares," (Galatians 2:4) that they might ascertain how far the Jewish Law had been relaxed by the Christians at Antioch; their purpose being to bring the whole Church, if possible, under the "bondage" of the Mosaic yoke. It appears that they remained some considerable time at Antioch, gradually insinuating, or openly inculcating, their opinion that the observance of the Jewish Law was necessary to salvation. It is very important to observe the exact form which their teaching assumed. They did not merely recommend or enjoin, for prudential reasons, the continuance of certain ceremonies in themselves indifferent: but they said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot he saved."
Such a doctrine must have been instantly opposed by Apostle Paul with his utmost energy. He was always ready to go to the extreme verge of charitable concession, when the question was one of peace and mutual understanding: but when the very foundations of Christianity were in danger of being undermined, when the very continuance of "the truth of the Gospel" (Galatians 2:5) was in jeopardy, it was impossible that he should "give place by subjection," even "for an hour."
The "dissension and disputation," (Acts 15:2) which arose between Paul and Barnabas and the false brethren from Judea, resulted in a general anxiety and perplexity among the Syrian Christians. The minds of "those who from among the Gentiles were turned unto God" were "troubled" and unsettled. (Acts 15:19) Those "words" which "perverted the Gospel of Christ" tended also to "subvert the souls" of those who heard them. (Galatians 1:7. Acts 15:24).
It was determined, therefore, "that Paul and Barnabas, with certain others, should go up to Jerusalem unto the Apostles and elders about this question." It was well known that those who were disturbing the peace of the Church had their headquarters in Judea. Such a theological party could only be successfully met in the stronghold of Jewish nationality. Moreover, the residence of the principal Apostles was at Jerusalem, and the community over which "James" presided was still regarded as the Mother Church of Christendom.
In addition to this mission with which Apostle Paul was entrusted by the Church at Antioch, he received an intimation of the Divine Will, communicated by direct revelation. Such a revelation at so momentous a crisis must appear perfectly natural to all who believe that Christianity was introduced into the world by the immediate power of God. If "a man of Macedonia" appeared to Paul in the visions of the night, when he was about to carry the Gospel from Asia into Europe (Acts 16:9) if "the angel of God" stood by him in the night, when the ship that was conveying him to Rome was in danger of sinking; we cannot wonder when he tells us that, on this occasion, when he "went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas," he went "by revelation." And we need not be surprised, if we find that his path was determined by two different causes; that he went to Jerusalem partly because the Church deputed him, and partly because he was divinely admonished.
Such a combination and co-operation of the natural and the supernatural we have observed above, in the case of that vision which induced Peter to go from Joppa to Caesarea. Nor in adopting this view of Apostle Paul's journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, need we feel any great difficulty - from this circumstance, that the two motives which conspired to direct him are separately mentioned in different parts of Scripture. It is true that we are told in the Acts (Acts 15:2) simply that it was "determined" at Antioch that Paul should go to Jerusalem; and that in Galatians (Galatians 2:2) we are informed by himself that he went "by revelation." But we have an exact parallel in an earlier journey, already related, from Jerusalem to Tarsus.
In Luke’s narrative (Acts 9:30) it is stated that "the brethren," knowing the conspiracy against his life, "brought him down to Caesarea and sent him forth;" while in the speech of Paul himself, (Acts 22:17, 18) we are told that in a trance he saw Jesus Christ, and received from Him a command to depart "quickly out of Jerusalem."
Similarly directed from without and from within, he traveled to Jerusalem on the occasion before us. It would seem that his companions were carefully chosen with reference to the question in dispute. On the one hand was Barnabas, (Acts 15:2) a Jew and "a Levite" by birth, (Acts 4:36) a good representative of the church of the circumcision. On the other hand was Titus, (Galatians 2:1- 5) now first mentioned in the course of our narrative, a convert from Heathenism, an uncircumcised "Greek." Prom the expression used of the departure of this company it seems evident that the majority of the Christians at Antioch were still faithful to the truth of the Gospel. Had the Judaizers triumphed, it would hardly have been said that Paul and his fellow-travelers were "brought on their way by the Church."
Their course was along the great Roman Road, which followed the Phoenician coast-line, and traces of which are still seen on the cliffs overhanging the sea: and thence through the midland districts of Samaria and Judea. When last we had occasion to mention Phoenice, we were alluding to those who were dispersed on the death of Stephen, and preached the Gospel "to Jews only" on this part of the Syrian coast. Now, it seems evident that many of the heathen Syro-Phoenicians had been converted to Christianity: for, as Paul and Barnabas passed through, "declaring the conversion of the Gentiles, they caused great joy unto all the brethren."
As regards the Samaritans, we cannot be surprised that they who, when Philip first "preached Christ unto them," had received the Glad Tidings with "great joy," should be ready to express their sympathy in the happiness of those who, like themselves, had recently been "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel."
Fifteen years had now elapsed since that memorable journey, when Apostle Paul left Jerusalem, with all the zeal of a Pharisee, to persecute and destroy the Christians in Damascus. He had twice entered, as a Christian, the Holy City again. Both visits had been short and hurried, and surrounded with danger. The first was three years after his conversion, when he spent a fortnight with Peter, and escaped assassination by a precipitate flight to Tarsus. The second was in the year 44, when Peter himself was in imminent danger, and when the messengers who brought the charitable contribution from Antioch were probably compelled to return immediately.
Now Apostle Paul came, at a more peaceful period of the Church’s history, to be received as the successful champion of the Gospel, and as the leader of the greatest revolution which the world has seen. It was now undeniable that Christianity had spread to a wide extent in the Gentile world, and that he had been the great instrument in advancing its progress. He came to defend his own principles and practice against an increasing torrent of opposition, which had disturbed him in his distant ministrations at Antioch, but the fountain-head of which was among the Pharisees at Jerusalem.
The Pharisees had been the companions of Apostle Paul's younger days. Death had made many changes in the course of fifteen years; but some must have been there who had studied with him "at the feet of Gamaliel." Their opposition was doubtless embittered by remembering what he had been before his conversion. Nor do we allude here to those Pharisees who opposed Christianity. These were not the enemies whom he came to resist. The time was past when the Jews, unassisted by the Roman power, could exercise a cruel tyranny over the Church. Its safety was no longer dependent on the wisdom or caution of Gamaliel. The great debates at Jerusalem are no longer between Jews and Christians in the Hellenistic synagogues, but between the Judaizing and spiritual parties of the Christians themselves.
Many of the Pharisees, after the example of Apostle Paul, had believed that Jesus was Christ. (Acts 15:5) But they had not followed the example of their school-companion in the surrender of Jewish bigotry. The battle, therefore, which had once been fought without, was now to be renewed within, the Church. It seems that, at the very first reception of Paul and Barnabas at Jerusalem, some of these Pharisaic Christians "rose up," and insisted that the observance of Judaism was necessary to salvation. They said that it was absolutely "needful to circumcise" the new converts, and to "command them to keep the Law of Moses."
The whole course of Apostle Paul's procedure among the Gentiles was here openly attacked. Barnabas was involved in the same suspicion and reproach; and with regard to Titus, who was with them as the representative of the Gentile Church, it was asserted that, without circumcision, he could not hope to be partaker of the blessings of the Gospel.
But far more was involved than any mere opposition, however factious, to individual missionaries, or than the severity of any conditions imposed on individual converts. The question of liberty or bondage for all future ages was to be decided; and a convention of the whole Church at Jerusalem was evidently called for. In the mean time, before "the Apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter," (Acts 15: 6) Apostle Paul had private conferences with the more influential members of the Christian community, (Galatians 2:2) and especially with James, Peter, and John, (Galatians 2:9) the Great Apostles and "Pillars" of the Church. Extreme caution and management were required, in consequence of the intrigues of the "false brethren," both in Jerusalem and Antioch.
Paul was, moreover, himself the great object of suspicion; and it was his duty to use every effort to remove the growing prejudice. Thus, though conscious of his own inspiration, and tenaciously holding the truth which he knew to be essential, he yet acted with that prudence which was characteristic of his whole life, and which he honestly avows in the Epistle to the Galatians.
Peter was the first of the Apostles who rose to address the assembly. (Acts 15:7- 11). He gave his decision against the Judaizers, and in favor of Paul. He reminded his hearers of the part which he himself had taken in admitting the Gentiles into the Christian Church. They were well aware, he said, that these recent converts in Syria and Cilicia were not the first Heathens who had believed the Gospel, and that he himself had been chosen by God to begin the work which Apostle Paul had only been continuing.
The communication of the Holy Spirit was the true test of God’s acceptance: and God had shown that He was no respecter of per sons, by shedding abroad the same miraculous gifts on Jew and Gentile, and purifying by faith the hearts of both alike.
And then Peter went on to speak, in touching language, of the yoke of the Jewish Law. Its weight had pressed heavily on many generations of Jews, and was well known to the Pharisees who were listening at that moment. They had been relieved from legal bondage by the salvation offered through faith; and it would be tempting God, to impose on others a burden which neither they nor their fathers had ever been able to bear.
The next speakers were Paul and Barnabas. There was great silence through all the multitude, and every eye was turned on the missionaries, while they gave the narrative of their journeys. Though Barnabas is mentioned here before Paul, it is most likely that the latter was "the chief speaker. But both of them appear to have addressed the audience. They had much to relate of what they had done and seen together: and especially they made appeal to the miracles which God had worked among the Gentiles by them. Such an appeal must have been a persuasive argument to the Jew, who was familiar, in his ancient Scriptures, with many Divine interruptions of the course of nature. These interferences had signalized all the great passages of Jewish history.
Jesus Christ had proved His Divine mission in the same manner. And the events at Paphos, (Acts 13:11) at Iconium, (Acts 14:3) and Lystra, (Acts 14:8) could not well be regarded in any other light than as a proof that the same Power had been with Paul and Barnabas, which accompanied the words of Peter and John in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 2, 5, 9).
But the opinion of another speaker still remained to be given. This was James, the brother of the Lord, who, from the austere sanctity of his character, was commonly called, both by Jews and Christians, "James the Just." No judgment could have such weight with the Judaizing party as his. Not only in the vehement language in which he denounced the sins of the age, but even in garb and appearance, he resembled John the Baptist, or one of the older prophets, rather than the other Apostles of the new dispensation. "Like the ancient saints, even in outward aspect, with the austere features, the linen ephod, the bare feet, the long locks and unshorn head of the Nazarite," - such, according to tradition, was the man who now came forward, and solemnly pronounced that Mosaic rites were not of eternal obligation.
After alluding to the argument of Peter (whose name we find him characteristically quoting in its Jewish form), James turns to the ancient prophets, and adduces a passage from Amos to prove that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. And then he passes to the historical aspect of the subject, contending that this fulfillment was predetermined by God Himself, and that the Jewish dispensation was in truth the preparation for the Christian.
Such a decision, pronounced by one who stood emphatically on the confines of the two dispensations, came with great force on all who heard it, and carried with it the general opinion of the assembly to the conclusion that those "who from among the Gentiles had turned unto God" should not be "troubled" with any Jewish obligations, except such as were necessary for peace and the mutual good understanding of the two parties.
The spirit of charity and mutual forbearance is very evident in the decree which was finally enacted. Its spirit was that expressed by Apostle Paul in his Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians. He knew, and was persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. He knew that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. But all men have not this knowledge: some could not eat that which had been offered in sacrifice to an idol without defiling their conscience. It is good to abstain from every thing whereby a weaker brother may be led to stumble. To sin thus against our brethren is to sin against Christ (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8).
In accordance with these principles it was enacted that the Gentile converts should be required to abstain from that which had been polluted by being offered in sacrifice to idols, from the flesh of animals which had been strangled, and generally from the eating of blood. The reason for these conditions is stated in the verse to which particular allusion has been made at the beginning of the present chapter. The Law of Moses was read every Sabbath in all the cities where the Jews were dispersed. (Acts 15:21).
A due consideration for the prejudices of the Jews made it reasonable for the Gentile converts to comply with some of the restrictions which the Mosaic Law and ancient custom had imposed on every Jewish meal. In no other way could social intercourse be built up and cemented between the two parties. If some forbearance were requisite on the part of the Gentiles in complying with such conditions, not less forbearance was required from the Jews in exacting no more. And to the Gentiles themselves the restrictions were a merciful condition: for it helped them to disentangle themselves more easily from the pollutions connected with their idolatrous life.
We are not merely concerned here with the question of social separation, the food which was a delicacy to the Gentile being abominated by the Jew, - nor with the difficulties of weak and scrupulous consciences, who might fear too close a contact between "the table of the Lord" and "the table of Demons," (1Corinthians 10:21) - but this controversy had an intimate connection with the principles of universal morality. The most shameless violations of purity took place in connection with the sacrifices and feasts celebrated in honor of Heathen divinities.
Every thing, therefore, which tended to keep the Gentile converts even from accidental or apparent association with these scenes of vice, made their own recovery from pollution more easy, and enabled the Jewish converts to look on their new Christian brethren with less suspicion and antipathy. This seems to be the reason why we find an acknowledged sin mentioned in the decree along with ceremonial observances which were meant to be only temporary and perhaps local. We must look on the whole subject from the Jewish point of view, and consider how violations of morality and contradictions of the ceremonial law were associated together in the Gentile world. It is hardly necessary to remark that much additional emphasis is given to the moral part of the decree, when we remember that it was addressed to those who lived in close proximity to the profligate sanctuaries of Antioch and Paphos.
We have said that the ceremonial part of the decree was intended for a temporary and perhaps only a local observance. It is not for a moment implied that any Jewish ceremony is necessary to salvation. On the contrary, the great principle was asserted, once for all, that man is justified, not by the law, but by faith: one immediate result was that Titus, the companion of Paul and Barnabas, "was not compelled to be circumcised" (Galatians 2:3). His case was not like that of Timothy at a later period, (Acts 16:3) whose circumcision was a prudential accommodation to circumstances, without endangering the truth of the Gospel.
To have circumcised Titus at the time of the meeting in Jerusalem, would have been to have asserted that he was "bound to keep the whole law." (Galatians 5:3) And when the alternative was between "the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free," and the re-imposition of "the yoke of bondage," Apostle Paul's language always was, (Galatians 5:2) that if Gentile converts were circumcised, Christ could "profit them nothing." By seeking to be justified in the law, they fell from grace. (Galatians 5:4) In this firm refusal to comply with the demand of the Judaizers, the case of all future converts from Heathenism was virtually involved. It was asserted once for all, that in the Christian Church all are equal (Colossians 3:11). And Apostle Paul obtained the victory for that principle, which, we cannot doubt, will hereafter destroy the distinctions that are connected with the institutions of slavery in America and of caste in India.
Certain other points decided in this meeting had a more direct personal reference to Apostle Paul himself. His own independent mission had been called in question. Some, perhaps, said that he was antagonistic to the Apostles at Jerusalem, others that he was entirely dependent on them. All the Judaizers agreed in blaming his course of procedure among the Gentiles. This course was now entirely approved by the other Apostles. His independence was fully recognized. Those who were universally regarded as "pillars of the truth," James, Peter, and John, gave to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, and agreed that they should be to the Heathen what themselves were to the Jews.
Thus was Apostle Paul publicly acknowledged as the Apostle of the Gentiles, and openly placed in that position from which "he shall never more go out," as a pillar of the Temple of the "New Jerusalem," inscribed with the "New Name" which proclaims the union of all mankind in one Savior.
One of those who gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul was the "beloved disciple" of that Savior. (Galatians 2:9) This is the only meeting of Apostle Paul and John recorded in Scripture. It is, moreover, the last notice which we find there of the life of John, until the time of the apocalyptic vision in the island of Patmos. For both these reasons the mind seizes eagerly on the incident, though it is only casually mentioned in the Epistle to the Galatians. Like other incidental notices contained in Scripture, it is very suggestive of religious thoughts.
John had been silent during the discussion in the public assembly; but at the close of it he expressed his cordial union with Paul in "the truth of the Gospel." (Galatians 2:5). That union has been made visible to all ages by the juxtaposition of their Epistles in the same Sacred Volume. They stand together among the pillars of the Holy Temple; and the Church of God is thankful to learn how Contemplation may be united with Action, and Faith with Love, in the spiritual life.
To the decree with which Paul and Barnabas were charged, one condition was annexed, with which they gladly promised to comply. We have already had occasion to observe that the Hebrews of Judea were relatively poor, compared with those of the dispersion, and that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were exposed to peculiar sufferings from poverty; and we have seen Paul and Barnabas once before the bearers of a contribution from a foreign city for their relief. They were exhorted now to continue the same charitable work, and in their journeys among the Gentiles and the dispersed Jews, "to remember the poor" at Jerusalem.
In proof of Apostle Paul's faithful discharge of this promise, we need only allude to his zeal in making "the contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem" in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia, and to that last journey to the Holy Land, when he went, "after many years," to take "alms to his nation." (Acts 24:17) It is more important here to consider (what indeed we have mentioned before) the effect which this charitable exertion would have in binding together the divided parties in the Church.
There cannot be a doubt that the Apostles had this result in view. Their anxiety on this subject is the best commentary on the spirit in which they had met on this great occasion; and we may rest assured that the union of the Gentile and Jewish Christians was largely promoted by the benevolent efforts which attended the diffusion of the Apostolic Decree.
Thus the controversy being settled, Paul’s mission to the Gentiles being fully recognized, and his method of communicating the Gospel approved by the other Apostles, and the promise being given, that, in their journeys among the Heathen, they would remember the necessities of the Hebrew Christians in Judea, the two missionaries returned from Jerusalem to Antioch. They carried with them the decree which was to give peace to the consciences that had been troubled by the Judaizing agitators; and the two companions, Judas and Silas, (Acts 15:22, 27, 32) who traveled with them, were empowered to accredit their commission and character.
It seems also that Mark was another companion of Paul and Barnabas on this journey; for the last time we had occasion to mention his name was when he withdrew from Pamphylia to Jerusalem, and presently we see him once more with his kinsman at Antioch. (Acts 15:37)
The reception of the travelers at Antioch was full of joy and satisfaction. (Acts 15:31) The whole body of the Church was summoned together to hear the reading of the letter; and we can well imagine the eagerness with which they crowded to listen, and the thankfulness and "consolation" with which such a communication was received, after so much anxiety and perplexity. The encouragement inspired by this letter would be increased by the sight of Judas and Silas, who were ready to confirm its contents by word of mouth. These two disciples remained some short time at Antioch. They were possessed of that power of "prophecy" which was one of the forms in which the Holy Spirit made His presence known: and the Syrian Christians were "exhorted and confirmed" by the exercise of this miraculous gift. (Acts 15:32. Compare Acts 13:1).
The minds of all were in great tranquility when the time came for the return of these messengers "to the Apostles" at Jerusalem. Silas, however, either remained at Antioch, or soon came back thither. He was destined, as we shall see, to become the companion of Paul, and to be at the beginning of the second missionary journey what Barnabas had been at the beginning of the first.
Before the second missionary journey
Two painful scenes were witnessed at Antioch before the Apostle started on that second journey. We are informed (Acts 15:35) that Paul and Barnabas protracted their stay in this city, and were diligently occupied, with many others, in making the glad tidings of the Gospel known, and in the general work of Christian instruction. It is in this interval of time that we must place that visit of Peter to Antioch, which he mentions in the Epistle to the Galatians, (Galatians 2:11, &c) immediately after his notice of the affairs of the Council.
It appears that Peter, having come to Antioch for some reason which is unknown to us, lived at first in free and unrestrained intercourse with the Gentile converts, meeting them in social friendship, and eating with them, in full consistency with the spirit of the recent decree, and with his own conduct in the case of Cornelius.
At this time certain Jewish brethren came "from James," who presided over the Church at Jerusalem. Whether they were really sent on some mission by the Apostle James, or we are merely to understand that they came from Jerusalem, they brought with them their old Hebrew repugnance against social intercourse with the uncircumcised; and Peter in their society began to vacillate. In weak compliance with their prejudices, he "withdrew and separated himself" from those whom he had lately treated as brethren and equals in Christ. Just as in an earlier part of his life he had first asserted his readiness to follow his Master to death, and then denied Him through fear of a maid-servant, - so now, after publicly protesting against the notion of making any difference between the Jew and the Gentile, and against laying on the neck of the latter a yoke which the former had never been able to bear, (Acts 15:9, 10) we find him contradicting his own principles, and "through fear of those who were of the circumcision" (Galatians 2:12) giving all the sanction of his example to the introduction of caste into the Church of Christ.
Such conduct could not fail to excite in Paul the utmost indignation. Peter was not simply yielding a non-essential point, through a tender consideration for the consciences of others. This would have been quite in accordance with the principle so often asserted by his brother Apostle. Nor was this proceeding a prudent and innocent accommodation to circumstances, for the sake of furthering the Gospel, like Apostle Paul's conduct in circumcising Timothy at Iconium; (Acts 16:3) or, indeed, like the Apostolic Decree itself.
Peter was acting under the influence of a contemptible and sinful motive, - the fear of man: and his behavior was giving a strong sanction to the very heresy which was threatening the existence of the Church; namely, the opinion that the observance of Jewish ceremonies was necessary to salvation. Nor was this all. Other Jewish Christians, as was naturally to be expected, were led away by his example: and even Barnabas, the chosen companion of the Apostle of the Gentiles, who had been a witness and an actor in all the great transactions in Cyprus, in Pisidia, and Lycaonia, - even Barnabas, the missionary, was "carried away" with the dissimulation of the rest (Galatians 2:13).
When Paul was a spectator of such inconsistency, and perceived both the motive in which it originated and the results to which it was leading, he would have been a traitor to his Master’s cause, if he had hesitated (to use his own emphatic words) to rebuke Peter "before all," and to "withstand him to the face."
It is evident from Apostle Paul's expression, that it was on some public occasion that this open rebuke took place. The scene, though slightly mentioned, is one of the most remarkable in Sacred History: and the mind naturally labors to picture to itself the appearance of the two men. It is, therefore, at least allowable to mention here that general notion of the forms and features of the two Apostles, which has been handed down in tradition, and was represented by the early artists.
Apostle Paul is set before us as having the strongly marked and prominent features of a Jew, yet not without some of the finer lines indicative of Greek thought. His stature was diminutive, and his body disfigured by some lameness or distortion, which may have provoked the contemptuous expressions of his enemies. His beard was long and thin. His head was bald. The characteristics of his face were, a transparent complexion, which visibly betrayed the quick changes of his feelings, a bright gray eye under thickly overhanging united eyebrows, a cheerful and winning expression of countenance, which invited the approach and inspired the confidence of strangers.
It would be natural to infer, from his continual journeys and manual labor, that he was possessed of great strength of constitution. But men of delicate health have often gone through the greatest exertions: and his own words on more than one occasion show that he suffered much from bodily infirmity. (See 2Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 4:13, 14) Peter is represented to us as a man of larger and stronger form, as his character was harsher and more abrupt. The quick impulses of his soul revealed themselves in the flashes of a dark eye. The complexion of his face was pale and sallow: and the short hair, which is described as entirely gray at the time of his death, curled black and thick round his temples and his chin, when the two Apostles stood together at Antioch, twenty years before their martyrdom.
Believing, as we do, that these traditionary pictures have probably some foundation in truth, we gladly take them as helps to the imagination. And they certainly assist us in realizing a remarkable scene, where Judaism and Christianity, in the persons of two Apostles, are for a moment brought before us in strong antagonism. The words addressed by Apostle Paul to Peter before the assembled Christians at Antioch, contain the full statement of the Gospel as opposed to the Law.
"But when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face because he was to be condemned;
"But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in the presence of them all, 'If you, being a Jew, are living like the Gentiles, and not according to Judaism, why do you compel the Gentiles to judaize? We who are Jews by nature - and not sinners of the Gentiles - Knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but through the faith of Jesus Christ, we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law; because by works of law shall no flesh be justified. Now then, if we are seeking to be justified in Christ, and we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then the minister of sin? MAY IT NEVER BE! For if I build again those things that I destroyed, I am making myself a transgressor.'
"'For I through law died to law, in order that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live. Indeed, it is no longer I; but Christ lives in me. For the life that I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith - that very faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness is through works of law then Christ died in vain.'" (Galatians 2:11, 14-21, HBFV)
These sentences contain in a condensed form the whole argument of the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans.
Though the sternest indignation is expressed in this rebuke, we have no reason to suppose that any actual quarrel took place between the two Apostles. It is not improbable that Peter was immediately convinced of his fault, and melted at once into repentance. His mind was easily susceptible of quick and sudden changes; his disposition was loving and generous: and we should expect his contrition, as well as his weakness, at Antioch, to be what it was in the high priest’s house at Jerusalem.
Yet, when we read the narrative of this rebuke in Paul's epistle, it is a relief to turn to that passage at the conclusion of one of Peter’s letters, where, in speaking of the "long-suffering of our Lord" and of the prospect of sinless happiness in the world to come, he alludes, in touching words, to the Epistles of "our beloved brother Paul" (2Peter 3:15-16).