Acts 15-16

Good morning! Remember a few days ago when the disciples, overwhelmed by the number of Jews and Gentiles to take care of, established a system of deacons? That episode yielded insights into the parallels in how churches then and now respond to concerns, and how their fixes establish precedent for years (sometimes centuries) to come. We have a similar window into ancient church drama today in Acts 15-16, where we see how the disciples respond to the question of whether Gentiles need to follow the same behavioral covenant as Jews.

Acts 15 describes the famous Jerusalem Council, where the question of welcoming Gentiles in (and what will be required of them) is to be decided once and for all. Though the immediate question is about whether men need to be circumcised, the matter of keeping dietary laws has also already come to the fore in Peter’s vision telling him to eat unclean meats. Peter’s of the mind that God makes no distinctions between Gentile and Jew, so neither should they. Barnabas and Paul make their case, James chimes in, and they come to unanimous agreement about a few limited restrictions on Gentile behavior. They plan next steps that includes sending a letter and character witnesses with Barnabas and Paul to the people of Antioch, who asked for this judgment in the first place. These details read like minutes of an ancient church meeting! I’m glad someone was keeping track of the discussion so there is a record for posterity, but can you imagine if the Trustees minutes wound up on a holy book centuries from now? And are the Trustees (or another governance group) making such consequential decisions that their minutes would be worth saving for millennia?

Traveling again, the apostles retrace the communities where they had first traveled to see how people were following through after the initial missionizing. A squabble between Paul and Barnabas over an insufficiently-loyal third apostle leads to them parting ways. (They’re human!) I found it very interesting a few verses later in Acts 16 that Paul, wanting to involve in leadership a recent convert named Timothy, has this son of a Greek man and Jewish mother still get circumcised. (Who do you find to help with that??) Paul advocates for total parity between Jew and Gentile in this faith movement, but when he chooses someone for leadership, he doesn’t treat an uncircumcised person as good enough. One could argue that “the Jews who were in those places” will respond better to a circumcised evangelist, and this is about removing any barriers to receiving the gospel. However, it still strikes me as curious that Paul’s deeds fall short of his words in this area. Perhaps his ultra-Jewish identity (which he describes in an upcoming letter) keeps him from fully seeing a Gentile as an equal. Nevertheless, he and Timothy go on from there to share with new churches the decision reached by the Jerusalem council, enduring another bout of imprisonment along the way. Lydia from Thyatira, “a dealer in purple cloth”, is an example of the “women with cash” who supported the mission of Christian apostles (in this case by hosting them at her home). Happy reading!

Read Acts 15-16.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 17-18. Thanks for reading!

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