Despite Peter’s vision, and the fact that the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles in chapter 10, the acceptance of Gentiles in the church was still meeting resistance. In Acts 6:7, we are told of a significant number of priests that believed and were added to the church. Many of these would be of the Pharisaic party referred to in verse 5. There were people being taught that all had to be circumcised and to keep the law of Moses, causing Christianity to be looked upon as a sect of Judaism (and to some, a sect that had gone very wrong). The time had come to deal with this issue once and for all.
Paul had been given his revelation on the matter, as the Lord had told Ananias in Acts 9:15 that “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” He and Barnabas and others were appointed to go to Jerusalem to speak to the apostles and elders about the matter. In verse 3, we have them passing through Phoenicia and Samaria, bringing great joy as they describe the conversion of the Gentiles.
Peter spoke to the council in verses 7-11, reminding them of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then Paul and Barnabas related the signs and wonders God had done through them on their journey. James, the Lord’s brother, then affirms by quoting Amos 9:11-12 in verses 16-18. The apostles then chose men to go with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, and sent a letter with them, affirming with one accord that the Gentiles were not to be burdened with the requirements that the circumcision party was trying to impose. The stipulations referred to in verses 20 and 29 were to make clear that they were to abstain from behavior that would make them appear to the world as the idol-worshipers that were so common (sexual immorality was a predominant theme in idol worship).
Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch (of Syria) preaching for a while, then prepared to re-visit the cities where they had been. Verse 39 describes “a sharp disagreement” between the two. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them. But verse 38 says that “Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” Separating, Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia. The Scripture does not elaborate on this, but it has been pointed out that the disagreement had the end result of making their efforts doubly fruitful.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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