The Ordination of Paul and Barnabas; their Missionary Tour in Asia Minor; and the Council of Jerusalem.
A.D.44 TO A.D.51.

Soon after returning from Jerusalem to Antioch, Paul was formally invested with his new commission. His fellow-deputy, Barnabas, was appointed, as his coadjutor, in this important service. "Now," says the evangelist, "there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers, as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said -- Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted, and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." [70:1]

Ten years had now elapsed since the conversion of Paul; and during the greater part of this period, he had been busily engaged in the dissemination of the gospel. In the days of his Judaism the learned Pharisee had, no doubt, been accustomed to act as a teacher in the synagogues, and, when he became obedient to the faith, he was permitted, as a matter of course, to expound his new theology in the Christian assemblies. Barnabas, his companion, was a Levite; [70:2] and as his tribe was specially charged with the duty of public instruction, [71:1] he too had probably been a preacher before his conversion. Both these men had been called of God to labour as evangelists, and the Head of the Church had already abundantly honoured their ministrations; but hitherto neither of them seems to have been clothed with pastoral authority by any regular ordination. Their constant presence in Antioch was now no longer necessary, so that they were thus left at liberty to prosecute their missionary operations in the great field of heathendom; and at this juncture it was deemed necessary to designate them, in due form, to their "ministry and apostleship." "The Holy Ghost said -- Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." When we consider the present circumstances of these two brethren, we may see, not only why these instructions were given, but also why their observance has been so distinctly registered.

It is apparent that Barnabas and Saul were now called to a position of higher responsibility than that which they had previously occupied. They had heretofore acted simply as preachers of the Christian doctrine. Prompted by love to their common Master, and by a sense of individual obligation, they had endeavoured to diffuse all around them a knowledge of the Redeemer. They taught in the name of Jesus, just because they possessed the gifts and the graces required for such a service; and, as their labours were acknowledged of God, they were encouraged to persevere. But they were now to go forth as a solemn deputation, under the sanction of the Church, and not only to proclaim the truth, but also to baptize converts, to organise Christian congregations, and to ordain Christian ministers. It was, therefore, proper, that, on this occasion, they should be regularly invested with the ecclesiastical commission.

On other grounds it was desirable that the mission of Barnabas and Paul should be thus inaugurated. Though the apostles had been lately driven from Jerusalem, and though the Jews were exhibiting increasing aversion to the gospel, the Church was, notwithstanding, about to expand with extraordinary vigour by the ingathering of the Gentiles. In reference to these new members Paul and Barnabas pursued a bold and independent course, advocating views which many regarded as dangerous, latitudinarian, and profane; for they maintained that the ceremonial law was not binding on the converts from heathenism. Their adoption of this principle exposed them to much suspicion and obloquy; and because of the tenacity with which they persisted in its vindication, not a few were disposed to question their credentials as expositors of the Christian faith. It was, therefore, expedient that their right to perform all the apostolic functions should be placed above challenge. In some way, which is not particularly described, their appointment by the Spirit of God was accordingly made known to the Church at Antioch, and thus all the remaining prophets and teachers, who officiated there, were warranted to testify that these two brethren had received a call from heaven to engage in the work to which they were now designated. Their ordination, in obedience to this divine communication, was a decisive recognition of their spiritual authority. The Holy Ghost had attested their commission, and the ministers of Antioch, by the laying on of hands, set their seal to the truth of the oracle. Their title to act as founders of the Church was thus authenticated by evidence which could not be legitimately disputed. Paul himself obviously attached considerable importance to this transaction, and he afterwards refers to it in language of marked emphasis, when, in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans, he introduces himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God." [71:1]

In the circumstantial record of this proceeding, to be found in the Acts of the Apostles, we have a proof of the wisdom of the Author of Revelation. He foresaw that the rite of "the laying on of hands" would be sadly abused; that it would be represented as possessing something like a magic potency; and that it would be at length converted, by a small class of ministers, into an ecclesiastical monopoly. He has, therefore, supplied us with an antidote against delusion by permitting us, in this simple narrative, to scan its exact import. And what was the virtue of the ordination here described? Did it furnish Paul and Barnabas with a title to the ministry? Not at all. God himself had already called them to the work, and they could receive no higher authorisation. Did it necessarily add anything to the eloquence, or the prudence, or the knowledge, or the piety, of the missionaries? No results of the kind could be produced by any such ceremony. What then was its meaning? The evangelist himself furnishes an answer. The Holy Ghost required that Barnabas and Saul should be separated to the work to which the Lord had called them, and the laying on of hands was the mode, or form, in which they were set apart, or designated, to the office. This rite, to an Israelite, suggested grave and hallowed associations. When a Jewish father invoked a benediction on any of his family, he laid his hand upon the head of the child; [73:1] when a Jewish priest devoted an animal in sacrifice, he laid his hand upon the head of the victim; [73:2] and when a Jewish ruler invested another with office, he laid his hand upon the head of the new functionary. [73:3] The ordination of these brethren possessed all this significance. By the laying on of hands the ministers of Antioch implored a blessing on Barnabas and Saul, and announced their separation, or dedication, to the work of the gospel, and intimated their investiture with ecclesiastical authority.

It is worthy of note that the parties who acted as ordainers were not dignitaries, planted here and there throughout the Church, and selected for this service on account of their official pre-eminence. They were all, at the time, connected with the Christian community assembling in the city which was the scene of the inauguration. It does not appear that any individual amongst them claimed the precedence; all engaged on equal terms in the performance of this interesting ceremony. We cannot mistake the official standing of these brethren if we only mark the nature of the duties in which they were ordinarily occupied. They were "prophets and teachers;" they were sound scriptural expositors; some of them, perhaps, were endowed with the gift of prophetic interpretation; and they were all employed in imparting theological instruction. Though the name is not here expressly given to them, they were, at least virtually, "the elders who laboured in the word and doctrine." [74:1] Paul, therefore, was ordained by the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery of Antioch. [74:2]

If the narrative of Luke was designed to illustrate the question of ministerial ordination, it plainly suggests that the power of Church rulers is very circumscribed. They have no right to refuse the laying on of hands to those whom God has called to the work of the gospel, and who, by their gifts and graces, give credible evidences of their holy vocation; and they are not at liberty to admit the irreligious or incompetent to ecclesiastical offices. In the sight of the Most High the ordination to the pastorate of an individual morally and mentally disqualified is invalid and impious.

Immediately after their ordination Paul and Barnabas entered on their apostolic mission. Leaving Antioch they quickly reached Seleucia [75:1] -- a city distant about twelve miles -- and from thence passed on to Cyprus, [75:2] the native country of Barnabas. [75:3] They probably spent a considerable time in that large island. It contained several towns of note; it was the residence of great numbers of Jews; and the degraded state of its heathen inhabitants may be inferred from the fact that Venus was their tutelary goddess. The preaching of the apostles in this place appears to have created an immense sensation; their fame at length attracted the attention of persons of the highest distinction; and the heart of Paul was cheered by the accession of no less illustrious a convert than Sergius Paulus, [75:4] the Roman proconsul. Departing from Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas now set sail for Asia Minor, where they landed at Perga in Pamphylia. Here John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, by whom they had been hitherto accompanied, refused to proceed further. He seems to have been intimidated by the prospect of accumulating difficulties. From many, on religious grounds, they had reason to anticipate a most discouraging reception; and the land journey now before them was otherwise beset with dangers. Whilst engaged in it, Paul seems to have experienced those "perils of waters," or of "rivers," [75:5] and "perils of robbers," which he afterwards mentions; for the highlands of Asia Minor were infested with banditti, and the mountain streams often rose with frightful rapidity, and swept away the unwary stranger. John Mark now returned to Jerusalem, and, at a subsequent period, we find Paul refusing, in consequence, to receive him as a travelling companion. [76:1] But though Barnabas was then dissatisfied because the apostle continued to be distrustful of his relative, and though "the contention was so sharp" between these two eminent heralds of the cross that "they departed asunder one from the other," [76:2] the return of this young minister from Perga appears to have led to no change in their present arrangements. Continuing their journey into the interior of the country, they now preached in Antioch of Pisidia, in Iconium, in "Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia," and in "the region that lieth round about." [76:3] When they had proceeded thus far, they began to retrace their steps, and again visited the places where they had previously succeeded in collecting congregations. They now supplied their converts with a settled ministry. When they had presided in every church at an appointment of elders, [76:4] in which the choice was determined by popular suffrage, [76:5] and when they had prayed with fasting, they laid their hands on the elected office-bearers, and in this form "commended them to the Lord on whom they believed." Having thus planted the gospel in many districts which had never before been trodden by the feet of a Christian missionary, they returned to Antioch in Syria to rehearse "all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." [76:6]

Paul and Barnabas spent about six years in this first tour; [76:7] and, occasionally, when their ministrations were likely to exert a wide and permanent influence, remained long in particular localities. The account of their designation, and of their labours in Cyprus, Pamphylia, Lycaonia, and the surrounding regions, occupies two whole chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. The importance of their mission may be estimated from this lengthened notice. Christianity now greatly extended its base of operations, and shook paganism in some of its strongholds. In every place which they visited, the apostles observed a uniform plan of procedure. In the first instance, they made their appeal to the seed of Abraham; as they were themselves learned Israelites, they were generally permitted, on their arrival in a town, to set forth the claims of Jesus of Nazareth in the synagogue; and it was not until the Jews had exhibited a spirit of unbelief, that they turned to the heathen population. In the end, by far the majority of their converts were reclaimed idolaters. "The Gentiles were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord, and as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed." [77:1] Astonished at the mighty miracles exhibited by the two missionaries, the pagans imagined that "the gods" had come down to them "in the likeness of men;" and at Lystra the priest of Jupiter "brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people;" [77:2] but the Jews looked on in sullen incredulity, and kept alive an active and implacable opposition. At Cyprus, the apostles had to contend against the craft of a Jewish conjuror; [77:3] at Antioch, "the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution" against them, "and expelled them out of their coasts;" [77:4] at Iconium, the Jews again "stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren;" [77:5] and at Lystra, the same parties "persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead" [78:1] The trials through which he now passed seem to have made an indelible impression on the mind of the great apostle, and in the last of his epistles, written many years afterwards, he refers to them as among the most formidable he encountered in his perilous career. Timothy, who at this time must have been a mere boy, appears to have witnessed some of these ebullitions of Jewish malignity, and to have marked with admiration the heroic spirit of the heralds of the Cross. Paul, when about to be decapitated by the sword of Nero, could, therefore, appeal to the evangelist, and could fearlessly declare that, twenty years before, when his life was often at stake, he had not quailed before the terrors of martyrdom. "Thou," says he, "hast fully known my long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra, what persecutions I endured, but, out of them all, the Lord delivered me." [78:2]

The hostile efforts of the Jews did not arrest the gospel in its triumphant career. The truth prevailed mightily among the Gentiles, and the great influx of converts began to impart an entirely new aspect to the Christian community. At first the Church consisted exclusively of Israelites by birth, and all who entered it still continued to observe the institutions of Moses. But it was now evident that the number of its Gentile adherents would soon very much preponderate, and that, ere long, the keeping of the typical law would become the peculiarity of a small minority of its members. Many of the converted Jews were by no means prepared for such an alternative. They prided themselves upon their divinely-instituted worship; and, misled by the fallacy that whatever is appointed by God can never become obsolete, they conceived that the spread of Christianity must be connected with the extension of their national ceremonies. They accordingly asserted that the commandment relative to the initiatory ordinance of Judaism was binding upon all admitted to Christian fellowship. "Certain men which came down from Judea" to Antioch, "taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." [79:1]

Paul was eminently qualified to deal with such errorists. There was a time when he had valued himself upon his Pharisaic strictness, but when God revealed to him His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, he was taught to distinguish between a living faith, and a dead formalism. He still maintained his social status, as one of the "chosen people," by the keeping of the law; but he knew that it merely prefigured the great redemption, and that its types and shadows must quickly disappear before the light of the gospel. He saw, too, that the arguments urged for circumcision could also be employed in behalf of all the Levitical arrangements, [79:2] and that the tendency of the teaching of these "men which came down from Judea" was to encumber the disciples with the weight of a superannuated ritual. Nor was this all. The apostle was well aware that the spirit which animated those Judaising zealots was a spirit of self-righteousness. When they "taught the brethren and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" they subverted the doctrine of justification by faith alone. [79:3] A sinner is saved as soon as he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, [79:4] and he requires neither circumcision, nor any other ordinance, to complete his pardon. Baptism is, indeed, the sign by which believers solemnly declare their acceptance of the gospel, and the seal by which God is graciously pleased to recognise them as heirs of the righteousness of faith; and yet even baptism is not essential to salvation, for the penitent thief, though unbaptized, was admitted into paradise. [80:1] But circumcision is no part of Christianity at all; it does not so much as indicate that the individual who submits to it is a believer in Jesus. Faith in the Saviour is the only and the perfect way of justification. "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him," [80:2] for Christ will, without fail, conduct to glory all who commit themselves to His guidance and protection. Those who trust in Him cannot but love Him, and those who love Him cannot but delight to do His will; and as faith is the root of holiness and happiness, so unbelief is the fountain of sin and misery. But though the way of salvation by faith can only be spiritually discerned, many seek to make it palpable by connecting it with certain visible institutions. Faith looks to Jesus as the only way to heaven; superstition looks to some outward observance, such as baptism or circumcision, (which is only a finger-post on the way,) and confounds it with the way itself. Faith is satisfied with a very simple ritual; superstition wearies itself with the multiplicity of its minute observances. Faith holds communion with the Saviour in all His appointments, and rejoices in Him with joy unspeakable; superstition leans on forms and ceremonies, and is in bondage to these beggarly elements. No wonder then that the attempt to impose on the converted Gentiles the rites of both Christianity and Judaism encountered such resolute opposition. Paul and Barnabas at once withstood its abettors, and had "no small dissension and disputation with them." [80:3] It was felt, however, that a matter of such grave importance merited the consideration of the collective wisdom of the Church, and it was accordingly agreed to send these two brethren, "and certain other of them" "to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." [81:1]

It is not stated that the Judaising teachers confined their interference to Antioch, and the subsequent narrative apparently indicates that the deputation to Jerusalem acted on behalf of all the Churches in Syria and Cilicia. [81:2] The Christian societies scattered throughout Pamphylia, Lycaonia, and some other districts of Asia Minor, do not seem to have been directly concerned in sending forward the commissioners; but as these communities had been collected and organised by Paul and Barnabas, they doubtless considered that they were represented by their founders, and they at once acceded to the decision of the assembly which met in the Jewish metropolis. [81:3] That assembly approached, perhaps, more closely than any ecclesiastical convention that has ever since been held, to the character of a general council. It is pretty clear that its deliberations must have taken place at the time of one of the great annual festivals, for, seven or eight years before, the apostles had commenced their travels as missionaries, and except about the season of the Passover or of Pentecost, the Syrian deputation could have scarcely reckoned on finding them in the holy city. It is not said that the officials who were to be consulted belonged exclusively to Jerusalem. [81:4] They, not improbably, included the elders throughout Palestine who usually repaired to the capital to celebrate the national solemnities. This meeting, therefore, seems to have been constructed on a broader basis than what a superficial reading of the narrative might suggest. Amongst its members were the older apostles, as well as Barnabas and Paul, so that it contained the principal founders of the Jewish and Gentile Churches: there were also present the elders of Jerusalem, and deputies from Antioch, that is, the representatives of the two most extensive and influential Christian societies in existence: whilst commissioners from the Churches of Syria and Cilicia, and elders from various districts of the holy land, were, perhaps, likewise in attendance. The Universal Church was thus fairly represented in this memorable Synod.

The meeting was held A.D.51, and Paul, exactly fourteen years before, [82:1] had visited Jerusalem for the first time after his conversion. [82:2] So little was then known of his remarkable history, even in the chief city of Judea, that when he "assayed to join himself to the disciples, they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple;" [82:3] but now his position was completely changed, and he was felt to be one of the most influential personages who took part in the proceedings of this important convention. Some have maintained that the whole multitude of believers in the Jewish capital deliberated and voted on the question in dispute, but there is certainly nothing in the statement of the evangelist to warrant such an inference. It is very evident that the disciples in the holy city were not prepared to approve unanimously of the decision which was actually adopted, for we are told that, long afterwards, they were "all zealous of the law," [83:1] and that they looked with extreme suspicion on Paul himself, because of the lax principles, in reference to its obligation, which he was understood to patronise. [83:2] When he arrived in Jerusalem on this mission he found there a party determined to insist on the circumcision of the converts from heathenism; [83:3] he complains of the opposition he now encountered from these "false brethren unawares brought in;" [83:4] and, when he returned to Antioch, he was followed by emissaries from the same bigoted and persevering faction. [83:5] It is quite clear, then, that the finding of the meeting, mentioned in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, did not please all the members of the church of the metropolis. The apostle says expressly that he communicated "privately" on the subject with "them which were of reputation," [83:6] and in the present state of feeling, especially in the head-quarters of Judaism, Paul would have recoiled from the discussion of a question of such delicacy before a promiscuous congregation. The resolution now agreed upon, when subsequently mentioned, is set forth as the act, not of the whole body of the disciples, but of "the apostles and elders," [83:7] and as they were the arbiters to whom the appeal was made, they were obviously the only parties competent to pronounce a deliverance.

Two or three expressions of doubtful import, which occur in connexion with the history of the meeting, have induced some to infer that all the members of the Church of Jerusalem were consulted on this occasion. It is said that "all the multitude kept silence and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul"; [84:1] that it "pleased the apostles and elders with the whole church to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch:" [84:2] and, according to our current text, that the epistle, intrusted to the care of these commissioners, proceeded from "the apostles and elders and brethren." [84:3] But "the whole church," and "all the multitude," merely signify the whole assembly present, and do not necessarily imply even a very numerous congregation. [84:4] Some, at least, of the "certain other" deputies [84:5] sent with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, were, in all likelihood, disposed to doubt or dispute their views; as it is not probable that a distracted constituency would have consented to the appointment of commissioners, all of whom were already committed to the same sentiments. When, therefore, the evangelist reports that the proposal made by James "pleased the apostles and elders with the whole Church," he thus designs to intimate that it met the universal approval of the meeting, including the deputies on both sides. There were prophets, and others possessed of extraordinary endowments, in the early Church, [84:6] and, as some of these were, no doubt, at this time in Jerusalem, [84:7] we can scarcely suppose that they were not permitted to be present in this deliberative assembly. If we adopt the received reading of the superscription of the circular letter, [84:8] the "brethren," who are there distinguished from "the apostles and elders," were, in all likelihood, these gifted members. [84:9] But, according to the testimony of the best and most ancient manuscripts, the true reading of the commencement of this encyclical epistle is, "The apostles and elders brethren." [85:1] As the Syrian deputies were commissioned to consult, not the general body of Christians at Jerusalem, but the apostles and elders, this reading, now recognised as genuine by the highest critical authorities, is sustained by the whole tenor of the narrative. The same parties who "came together to consider of this matter" also framed the decree. The apostles and elders brethren were the only individuals officially concerned in this important transaction. [85:2]

In this council the apostles acted, not as men oracularly pronouncing the will of the Eternal, but, as ordinary church rulers, proceeding, after careful inquiry, to adopt the suggestions of an enlightened judgment. One passage of the Synodical epistle has been supposed to countenance a different conclusion, for those assembled "to consider of this matter" are represented as saying to the Syrian and Cilician Churches -- "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden" [85:3] than the restrictions which are presently enumerated. But it is to be observed that this is the language of "the elders brethren," as well as of the apostles, so that it must have been used by many who made no pretensions to inspiration; and it is apparent from the context that the council here merely reproduces an argument against the Judaizers which had been always felt to be irresistible. The Gentiles had received the Spirit "by the hearing of faith," [86:1] and not by the ordinance of circumcision; and hence it was contended that the Holy Ghost himself had decided the question. Peter, therefore, says to the meeting held at Jerusalem -- "God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers, nor we, were able to bear?" [86:2] He had employed the same reasoning long before, in defence of the baptism of Cornelius and his friends. "The Holy Ghost," said he, "fell on them.... Forasmuch, then, as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, -- what was I that I could withstand God?" [86:3] When, then, the members of the council here declared, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us," [86:4] they thus simply intimated that they were shut up to the arrangement which they now announced -- that God himself, by imparting His Spirit to those who had not received the rite of circumcision, had already settled the controversy -- and that, as it had seemed good to the Holy Ghost not to impose the ceremonial law upon the Gentiles, so it also seemed good to "the apostles and elders brethren."

But whilst the abundant outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles demonstrated that they could be sanctified and saved without circumcision, and whilst the Most High had thus proclaimed their freedom from the yoke of the Jewish ritual, it is plain that, in regard to this point, as well as other matters noticed in the letter, the writers speak as the accredited interpreters of the will of Jehovah. They state that it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to them to require the converts from paganism "to abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication." [87:1] And yet, without any special revelation, they might have felt themselves warranted to give such instructions in such language, for surely they were at liberty to say that the Holy Ghost had interdicted fornication; and, as the expounders of the doctrine of Christian expediency, [87:2] their views may have been so clear that they could speak with equal confidence as to the duty of the disciples under present circumstances to abstain from blood, and from things strangled, and from meats offered to idols. If they possessed "the full assurance of understanding" as to the course to be pursued, they doubtless deemed it right to signify to their correspondents that the decision which they now promulgated was, not any arbitrary or hasty deliverance, but the very "mind of the Spirit" either expressly communicated in the Word, or deduced from it by good and necessary inference. In this way they aimed to reach the conscience, and they knew that they thus furnished the most potential argument for submission.

It may at first sight appear strange that whilst the apostles, and those who acted with them at this meeting, condemned the doctrine of the Judaizers, and affirmed that circumcision was not obligatory on the Gentiles, they, at the same time, required the converts from paganism to observe a part of the Hebrew ritual; and it may seem quite as extraordinary that, in a letter which was the fruit of so much deliberation, they placed an immoral act, and a number of merely ceremonial usages, in the same catalogue. But, on mature reflection, we may recognise their tact and Christian prudence in these features of their communication. Fornication was one of the crying sins of Gentilism, and, except when it interfered with social arrangements, the heathen did not even acknowledge its criminality. When, therefore, the new converts were furnished with the welcome intelligence that they were not obliged to submit to the painful rite of circumcision, it was well, at the same time, to remind them that there were lusts of the flesh which they were bound to mortify; and it was expedient that, whilst a vice so prevalent as fornication should be specified, they should be distinctly warned to beware of its pollutions. For another reason they were directed to abstain from "meats offered to idols." It often happened that what had been presented at the shrine of a false god was afterwards exposed for sale, and the council cautioned the disciples against partaking of such food, as they might thus appear to give a species of sanction to idolatry, as well as tempt weak brethren to go a step further, and directly countenance the superstitions of the heathen worship. [88:1] The meeting also instructed the faithful in Syria and Cilicia to abstain from "blood and from things strangled," because the Jewish converts had been accustomed from infancy to regard aliment of this description with abhorrence, and they could scarcely be expected to sit at meat with parties who partook of such dishes. Though the use of them was lawful, it was, at least for the present, not expedient; and on the same principle that, whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God, the Gentile converts were admonished to remove them from their tables, that no barrier might be raised up in the way of social or ecclesiastical communion with their brethren of the seed of Abraham.

It was high time for the authoritative settlement of a question at once so perplexing and so delicate. It already threatened to create a schism in the Church; and the agitation, which had commenced before the meeting of the council, was not immediately quieted. When Peter visited Antioch shortly afterwards, he at first triumphed so far over his prejudices as to sit at meat with the converts from paganism; but when certain sticklers for the law arrived from Jerusalem, "he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision." [89:1] The "decree" of the apostles and elders undoubtedly implied the lawfulness of eating with the Gentiles, but it contained no express injunction on the subject, and Peter, who was now about to "go unto the circumcision," [89:2] and who was, therefore, most anxious to conciliate the Jews, may have pleaded this technical objection in defence of his inconsistency. It is said that others, from whom better things might have been expected, followed his example, "insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation." [89:3] But, on this critical occasion, Paul stood firm; and his bold and energetic remonstrances appear to have had the effect of preventing a division which must have been most detrimental to the interests of infant Christianity.

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