Acts 15 : 1 - 2, 22 - 29 ( NRSV )

Some others came down from Judaea and taught, "Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved."(1) This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with them it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.(2) . . ,
Then the apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leaders in the community,(22) and gave them this letter to take with them:
'The apostles and elders send greetings to the communities of gentile origin in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.(23) We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us,(24) and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul,(25) whom we highly respect and who have dedicated their lives to the name of Jesus Christ.(26) Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter.(27) It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials:(28) you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.'(29)

Comment

     Hebrew Christians had visited from Judaea and had taught the non-Hebrew Christians at Antioch in Syria that circumcision was necessary. Disagreement followed a heated discussion and the matter is referred to the Jerusalem community for settlement.
     In Luke's time the Christian community at (Syrian) Antioch had long replaced Jerusalem as the centre of eastern Christianity. When this problem arose it interrupted Paul and Barnabas' positive attitude to their work among the non-Hebrew people. According to Peter's account, Jerusalem had been satisfied and supportive (Ac.11:1-18). The problem is therefore referred back to Jerusalem in an effort to resolve a basic question about the missionary movement.
     The Christian assemblies were a new reality. Life in the Spirit of Jesus represented a new age in history. But did it actually transcend ancient exclusive traditions and Hebrew institutions; or did it merely open membership to include all-comers? A decision for the latter would mean new communities could develop among non-Hebrews. They would not need circumcision or the practice of Hebrew laws and customs. On the other hand, if the new communities were an extension of exclusive Judaism, non-Hebrews would first have to become Hebrews to be Christians. The new community would then be defined as a Hebrew religious reality - open to non-Hebrew converts.
     The church in Jerusalem invokes the holy Spirit in it's written reply, that was entrusted to the two delegates who accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Syrian Antioch, to authenticate their decision (Ac.15:28-29). The answer affirms the radical transcendence and non-exclusiveness of Christianity. The Hebrew-Christian community in Jerusalem required non-Hebrew Christian communities to avoid only those practices that appeared illicit for all Christians. This compliance was independent of their cultural and religious origins.
 
footnotes:
Acts 15:1-35 The Jerusalem Council marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic law completely. From here to the end of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke's writing.
Some scholars think that the apostolic decree suggested by James, the immediate leader of the Jerusalem community, derives from another historical occasion than the meeting in question. This seems to be the case if the meeting is the same as the one related in Ga.2:1-10. According to that account, nothing was imposed upon Gentile Christians in respect to Mosaic law; whereas the decree instructs Gentile Christians of mixed communities to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols and from blood-meats, and to avoid marriage within forbidden degrees of consanguinity and affinity (Lv.18), all of which practices were especially abhorrent to Jews. Luke seems to have telescoped two originally independent incidents here: the first a Jerusalem Council that dealt with the question of circumcision, and the second a Jerusalem decree dealing mainly with Gentile observance of dietary laws (see Ac.21:25 where Paul seems to be learning of the decree for the first time).


 

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