The Jerusalem Council: The Second Serious Error of the Apostles

Galatian 2.1-10 is the Council of Jerusalem of Acts 15

One of the elements which must be considered is whether the account Luke recorded in Acts chapter 15 is the same event as recorded by the Apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 2.

My position in this series is that Galatian 2.1-10, the Apostle Paul’s record of the Council of Jerusalem, is the same as that event recorded by Luke in Acts Chapter 15.

There are two common theories regarding the event about which Paul wrote in Galatians chapter 2: namely, that he spoke either of

  • the “famine-relief” trip (Act 11.27-30), or
  • the Council of Jerusalem of (Acts chapter 15).

I won’t here summarize the arguments; extended arguments are found in competent commentaries.

[A good deal of their argumentation lies in where, exactly, the “churches of Galatia” were. You’ll find much on the Northern Galatia and Southern Galatia theories along with the time sequences of a span of 3 years + 14 years or 3 years overlapped with 14 years and the two different Greek prepositions that distinguish their mention.

As I now present, these theories are moot. It really isn’t necessary to know these details; it isn’t even necessary to know if the Northern/Southern theory is plausible in the first place…]

There are exactly two reasons that Acts chapter 15 and Galatians chapter 2 are the same event and which stand out from the “interpretive noise and chaos” typically presented in commentaries:

  1. The descriptions of the accounts in Acts 15 and Gal 2 are identical. This is such an obvious and simple detail that it is surprising that alternate theories would even be proffered.
  2. The problem with the incipient legalism recorded in both accounts is so serious and destructive to the gospel of grace that the Lord was pleased to illuminate it in two separate accounts: the historical (Acts 15) and the historical/theological (Gal 2).
    This is very significant; to miss this glaring fact is to fail to recognize the deadly nature of the legalism which essentially “cloned” early Christianity and emasculated it by denigrating free grace, elevated the Law, then sent it out into the world for all time.

Once we realize that the Apostle deals with the theological nature of the issue in Galatians chapter 2, everything falls into place.

Stated another way: Luke recorded (in Acts 15) what happened; the Apostle (in Gal 2) told us why it happened and, more importantly, the significance of the entire event relative to the true gospel of free grace.

[The Epistle to the Galatians is often regarded as the first of Paul’s epistles. (Some chronologies place the Thessalonian epistles earlier, but this is irrelevant for the details below.) This assumption is very reasonable if you understand what was happening in the early church regarding the attempted distortions of truth that it faced daily from Jewish legalism.]

 


It is helpful to view the sequence of events in chronological order (without attempting to present actual dates). The following fits with the accounts both in the book of Acts and in the Epistle to the Galatians:

1
Paul was saved in a spectacularly dramatic way and commissioned directly by the Lord Christ to be the “Apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles” (Act 9.1-18).
2
Paul visited Jerusalem for the first time after his conversion. While in the temple praying he experienced a vision in which he was commanded to leave Jerusalem immediately and begin preaching the gospel to the Gentiles because the Jews would not accept the truth of the gospel of grace (Act 9.26; 22.17-21).
3
Paul initially settled in Tarsus, then moved to Syrian Antioch because of the invitation of Barnabas (Act 11.25-26).
4
Paul brought the famine relief gift to Jerusalem (Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem) (Act 11.27-30).
5
Paul conducted his first missionary journey and returned to Syrian Antioch (Acts 13 and 14).
6
Jewish legalists (the so-called “brethren”) arrived in Syrian Antioch (note Gal 2.4, “false brethren”).
7
There, the Jewish legalists attempted to impose the Jewish rite of circumcision on the Gentile converts, declaring it necessary “to be saved” (Act 15.1).
8
Paul traveled to Jerusalem to deal with the issue initiated by the Jewish legalists in Syrian Antioch; this is what is typically termed the Council of Jerusalem (his third visit to Jerusalem) (Acts 15).
9
Following the Council, Paul, Barnabas, Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas traveled back to Syrian Antioch (Act 15.22,30).
10
Peter (after the Council and apparently during the continued visit by Judas and Silas) traveled to Syrian Antioch and “warmed considerably” to the Gentile converts, socializing, fellowshipping and even eating with them (Gal 2.12), something that had been avoided by the Jews.
11
Sometime after Peter’s arrival, Jewish legalists traveled once again to Syrian Antioch (Gal 2.12) (probably because they were frustrated by the Council’s failure to impose circumcision) to continue their resistance at the epicenter of Gentile Christianity by imposing whatever rules they could.
[I maintain in this series that the Council’s decision did not stop the legalists; it may, in fact, have caused them to intensify their efforts. Luke records that by the time (many years later!) Acts chapters 21 and 22 occur, the legalists are still firmly entrenched in Jerusalem, had a huge following among so-called “believers” and essentially forced James’ hand in the ridiculous and doomed advice he gives to the Apostle Paul during what became Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem.]
12
Once the legalists had been in Syrian Antioch (probably for only a short time) Peter “feared them” and began to “hold himself aloof” from his Gentile brethren (Gal 2.12). This action was tacit support for the legalists and a virtual declaration of war on the gospel of grace as far as the Apostle Paul regarded it.
13
Paul publicly called out and condemned Peter’s (and by implication the others’ as well) hypocrisy, then rebuked them all, by means of a very strong verbal argument, and maintained the preeminence, efficacy and sufficiency of “grace alone” without the works of Law.
[Interestingly, Peter is never again mentioned in the books of Acts and is mentioned only in passing in the remainder of the NT until you encounter his epistles. He might have traveled to Corinth (1 Cor 1.12: there was a “sect of Cephas” just as there was for Paul, Apollos and Christ; this could have formed merely from his reputation, but we know nothing of his work there, if any.]
14
After “some days” (Act 15.36), Paul began and completed his second missionary journey, then returned to Syrian Antioch (Act 18.22).
[Note that the Holy Spirit forbad them to preach in the Phrygian and Galatian region (Act 16.6); as a result, we can safely assume that the gospel was not yet established there and therefore could not have been infected with the legalism that was present when Paul wrote the Galatian epistle.]
15
Paul began and completed his third missionary journey; they were apparently allowed to preach the gospel in the Galatian region and “strengthen the disciple there” (Act 18.23), a clear indication that the gospel must have come to those in that region from another source. Moreover, it may be that on this visit Paul observed there firsthand the beginnings of the influence of the Jewish legalists.
16
Paul wrote the Epistle of the Galatians.
[With the memory of his third journey among the Galatians fresh in his mind, and perhaps hearing of additional inroads into Galatia by the Jewish legalists, Paul had detailed knowledge of the trap into which the Galatians were falling and wrote the epistle to warn them. There are severe criticisms (“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you!?” (Gal 3.1)), and terse and impassioned warnings throughout the short epistle. The Apostle feared greatly for them; they “[had] been severed from Christ” and “had fallen from grace” (Gal 5.4).]

 

[In another chapter I detail the record of the attempts made by the Jewish legalists to pollute assemblies throughout the region with error throughout Paul’s long and very extensive ministry, particularly among the Gentiles.

Let it suffice here to say that if you read the NT epistles carefully, many present evidence that the influence of the Jewish legalists literally was everywhere. Paul, Peter and Jude all deal with various aspects of it as they detected its presence within the groups to whom they wrote.]

Therefore, as I proceed through this series, I do so with the conclusion that the event recorded by Luke in Acts chapter 15 is the same as the event recorded by Paul in Galatians chapter 2.

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