First Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Principle or Peace?

Popular Translation

1 Some people who had traveled from Judea to Antioch taught: “If you are not circumcised according to our religion, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas had a very fierce argument with them. So the church leaders in Antioch decided to send some people from their community along with Paul and Barnabas up to Jerusalem. There, they would see the Apostles and other church leaders about this question.

22 After a long discussion, the Apostles, other church leaders, and the entire church decided to send some men to Antioch with a reply. Along with Paul and Barnabas, they send two leaders from the community, Judas (also called “Barabbas”) and Silas. 23 They carried the following letter from the leaders in Jerusalem:

From your brothers, the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem.

To our Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.

Greetings!

24 We heard some believers from our area went down to Antioch. They taught you things that upset you. They did this without our permission. 25 So, all of us decided to send you men we chose, along with our friends, Paul and Barnabas. 26 These men have risked their lives because they love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent Judas and Silas to explain this letter to you in person. 28 We and the Holy Spirit have decided not to place any more burdens on you than are absolutely necessary. Here are the rules: 29 Do not eat meat that was offered to idols. Do not eat food with blood in it. Do not eat the meat of strangled animals. Be faithful in marriage. If you keep clear of these sins, you will succeed.

Farewell!

Literal Translation

1 Some (men), having come down from Judea (to Antioch) were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the practice of Moses, you are not able to be saved.” 2 After Paul and Barnabas had no small (intense) disagreement and discourse with them, they set (in their decision) for Paul and Barnabas and some of their (company) to go up to the Apostles and the elders in Jerusalem concerning this question.

22 Then, it seemed (reasonable) to the Apostles and elders, along with the entire assembly, having chosen men from among them, to send (them) to Antioch, along with the Paul and Barnabas, Judas, being called “Barabbas,” and Silas, (both) leading men among the brethren, 23 having written a letter by their hands. “(From) the brethren, the Apostles and elders (in Jerusalem), to the brethren in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, the Gentiles: Rejoice! 24 Since we heard that some of our (company), [having gone out (to you)], troubled you with words which we did not command (them to speak), unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed (reasonable) to us, having come to one mind, (personally) having chosen men to send to you, along with our beloved, Paul and Barnabas, 26 men having given up their lives on behalf of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent Judas and Silas and they (will be) relating the same (things) by word of mouth. 28 For it seems (reasonable) to the Holy Spirit and us to place nothing more burdensome on you besides these necessary (practices): 29 to refrain from (those foods offered to) sacrificed idols, blood, choked (animals), and sexual immorality, from which keeping yourselves, you will do well. Be strong.”

15:23 “having written a letter by their hands” This phrase has caused some confusion. The phrase is actually “having written a letter through their hands.” Whose hands, the Apostles’ and elders’ or the companions of Paul and Barnabas? In the greater context of the meeting, it could be assumed the leadership wrote the letter and the companions delivered it. They also explained its meaning to the church in Antioch.

15:23, 29 “Rejoice!...Be strong!” These are the typical salutation and farewell language in Greek.

15:25 “having come to one mind” can either mean “by consensus” or “speaking with single voice.” The former addressed the outcome of the discussion. The later spoke of the authority that the Apostles had.

15:26 “ men having given up their lives on behalf of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” The participle “giving up one’s life” can mean “put at risk” or “dedicate one’s life to.” Danger or devotion.

Sometimes, people prefer principle over the good of the community. This, of course, leads to scandal.

In his first missionary journey, Paul began to preach in the synagogues, only to find near violent resistance. But Paul also preached to the non-Jewish Greeks, who converted in great numbers. The growing influx of Gentiles into the community raised a problem of Christian self-identity. Because the Savior was Jewish, shouldn’t the converts also be Jewish? Because the community was originally Jewish, shouldn’t the converts share the same cultural values as those already in the community? [1] To these questions, Paul said “No”; faith in Christ is the only thing necessary for salvation. Paul’s answer, of course, meant that the cultural “pollution” of the Gentiles would invade what was then a Jewish sect. This caused great controversy.

Why did Paul so readily preach to the Gentiles? In the act of preaching the gospel, Paul truly believed he was an instrument of Messianic prophecy. Paul was the apostle who would make Christ known as the “light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6). Now Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem in order to defend their beliefs. [2]

After discussion (which Luke portrays as reasoned in 15:3-21), James, leader of the Jerusalem church, sent the letter found in 15:23-29. The letter introduced an official delegation to clarify the issues [23] and backed the Gentile ministry of Paul and Barnabas [25-26].

There were four regulations in the letter [29], each meant to keep the Jewish-Christians from being scandalized. First, eating meat offered to idols was a communion meal with the deity (even if the meat was distributed free), so eating this meat would be seen as an act of idolatry. Second, as a symbol of life, blood was sacred to Jews; the covenant God made with Noah and his descendants (that is, all humanity) expressly forbade eating blood (Genesis 9:3-6). Third, strangling animals was seen by Jews as a cruel death and an insult to God’s creation; eating animals who died in this way would share in this cruelty. Finally, unlawful marriage would include incestuous marriages or polygamy. In each case, the Gentile Christian would be acting as a “righteous Gentile,” a non-Jew who worshiped the Jewish God and honored his people.

Paul and his opponents stood on principle. James addressed the need for peace in the community.

What do we require of fellow Christians, principle or peace? Are we willing to accept the scandal that comes from principle?