Acts 15 offers a perfect example of AUTHORITY in context when determining a scripture passage. The Jerusalem Council established the procedure many meetings have since followed, especially when sensitive issues are involved. This writer remembers the time he as a member of a board attended such a meeting.
First, an open meeting of all concerned parties occurred—lay, eldership and apostles. The only opinion recorded was that of the circumcision group, because their assumption, loudly vocalized, summarized the occasion of the Council. We can be sure, however, that Paul and Barnabas also took the floor in defense of Gentile freedom from Jewish rules.
Second, given the prejudice of Jewish conservatives, we can’t be too surprised that “much discussion” occurred in the executive session. It included strong opinions reflecting opposing views. We would expect apostles in attendance to side with Paul and Barnabas while some elders sided with the Judaizing faction.
Three, and here the issue of Authority became critical, Simon Peter, the apostolic origin of Gentile evangelism, minus any reference to circumcision—see Acts 10:44-48—addressed the executive session. His stirring summation couldn’t be misunderstood: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Note the pronouns we and they—all equally saved by grace through faith in Christ.
Four, Peter’s declaration, backed by apostolic integrity, and by an eye-witness account of Cornelius’ baptism based on faith in Christ, silenced arguments and established the NORM of Gentile evangelism. They then presented that decision to the whole church in open meeting.
Five, only then did Barnabas and Paul take the floor with spellbinding stories of God’s indisputable evidence of success in Gentile evangelism, including “miraculous signs and wonders”, minus any reference to circumcision.
Six, the excitement hardly diminished when elder James rose to make the definitive statement. (The apostles likely wanted the “chairman” of the elders to articulate the unanimity between Spirit-baptized apostles and Spirit-filled lay leaders.)
Seven, not only did James align the elders with the apostles, but he distanced all of them from the heretics 15:24. That’s the application of the entire context. Scripture determined the apostolic/elder decision. The principle outlined in 15:22-29 remains relevant to our day in resolving spiritual issues. When: questions rise about the acceptability of beliefs and behaviors; or disputes come and disagreements threaten to divide God’s people, side with, support fully, follow carefully, adhere completely—ONLY with apostolic teaching.
A truth Paul demanded in forceful language Galatians 1:6-9. And if we say we can’t agree on God’s Word, we’ll never agree on human opinions. End Part VI