"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
Discuss the main problem discussed by the Council in Acts 15. What were the main details of the controversy? In what ways can/should this text be applied to modern Christians?
Acts 15:1-21 (NKJV)
Conflict over Circumcision
15 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
The Jerusalem Council
6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ[a] we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. 13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
16 ‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’[b]
18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.[c] 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality,[d] from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Acts 15:1-5 begins with the debate around the teachings of some believers as to whether new gentile converts should be circumcised and obey the laws of Moses. These believers appear to be more Messianic Jews that just Christian. There was debate between them, Paul, and Barnabas which required them to seek council by the other elders and apostles of the Church. After they had debated, Peter made the proclamation reminding them all the revelation that God had given him. God had shown him that we were to be saved by faith and not the laws that no man had been able to completely follow before. Verses 13-21 gives us the account of James who agrees that the gentiles would see salvation through faith by the testimony of the prophets (v.16-17). However, he also goes on to say that the moral laws and violations of God’s laws should be kept intact by ordering them to abstain from sin (v.20-21).
I believe that this portion of Scripture within Acts is significant in many ways outside just that of the laws and gentiles. This helps us to see how the Temple had now been replaced by the body. The Spirit who now would reside in man at their baptism were now the temples of God. This is one reason it was significant to have a “clean” temple, free from sin and uncleanliness as James described (sanctification). This is also why the Pentecostal churches tend to give a lot of focus to the “cleaning of our temples” through sanctification and a life of holiness. As our article by F.F. Bruce points out, Jesus was filled “with the Holy Spirit and with power.” Up until the parents of John the Baptist, this was only temporary, but now could be maintained in the life of man by keeping the faith and a clean house for the Lord to dwell in. Many will say that this story points out that we are not obligated under the law and shows we are to invite everyone to taste of this life-giving bread, but I believe it points out that we must still respect God’s moral commands as they have been given. Jesus was careful not to violate God’s commands and we are “Christ-followers”, which makes it a requirement for us to respect God’s commands as well.
The later parts of the chapter end with letters and instructions being written to the various churches that were known at that time and they were also accompanied by apostles and leaders. These instructions were clear and, also again pointed out the fact that God has also given us moral standards to live by. The chapter ends with the disagreement by Paul and Barnabas, but goes to show us that many times within the church, we will not agree with one another. Sometimes we step outside of God’s will and other times we just have different paths to follow. Regardless of the outcome, just as the denominations may differ on spiritual gifts, we can work towards the common goal of sharing the Gospel of Christ. One day, God will judge us and sort these details out and on that day, we can worship side by side once again.
 F.F. Bruce,“Luke’s Presentation of the Spirit in Acts,” Criswell Theological Review (1990): 15-29, accessed July 13th, 2017, https://lc-grad3.gcu.edu/learningPlatform/externalLinks/externalLinks.html?operation=redirectToExternalLink&externalLink=https%3A%2F%2Flopes.idm.oclc.org%2Flogin%3Furl%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fsearch.ebscohost.com%2Flogin.aspx%3Fdirect%3Dtrue%26db%3Drfh%26AN%3DATLA0000847623%26site%3Dehost-live%26scope%3Dsite