The Jerusalem council was a major discussion regarding whether Gentiles had to conform to Old Testament norms before becoming Christians. Looking back 2000 years later, we easily understand that no one was bound by the Law of Moses after Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Such realization was not quickly reached in the early days of the church. Circumcision, the rite performed on young Jewish males, was the primary point of concern. Did Gentiles have to become Jewish proselytes (converts) before becoming Christians? Jewish Christian teachers who came from Jerusalem to Antioch made unauthorized demands of Gentile converts.
Paul and Barnabas were cordially greeted by the Jerusalem church and the rest of the apostles. Those demanding circumcision of the Gentiles quickly made their position known. A meeting of the apostles and the Jerusalem elders took place before the larger discussion (15:6-11). It seems the Jerusalem elders were so deeply involved because those who had gone to Antioch were part of their local fellowship. Peter recounted his experience in the conversion of Cornelius’ household (ch. 10). God had made it clear to Peter that Jews and Gentiles were saved in the same way, without distinction, and without reference to the Law of Moses.
Then the whole assembly heard from Barnabas and Paul, who told how God had worked powerfully among the Gentiles through them. Obviously, no prerequisite of circumcision had been required of Gentile converts. James the brother of Jesus made a powerful statement by reference to the prophecy of Amos, who clearly included Gentiles alongside Jews. The rebuilding of David’s tent was a spiritual, figurative reference to the establishment of the church. James’ recommendations for the Gentiles included warnings against practices that would pull them back into their previous sinful, idolatrous lifestyle.
There was agreement between local church leaders and the apostles to send a letter to Antioch, along with witnesses. The letter stated that those who demanded circumcision along with conversion, did so without authority. The Holy Spirit guided the conclusions which were reached at the Jerusalem conference (15:28). The Great Commission includes all people, and no one is bound by the Law of Moses. The letter to the Gentile Christians included the warnings mentioned by James. Judas and Silas, the witnesses who accompanied Barnabas and Paul, had the gift of prophecy or inspired preaching, and brought messages to encourage and strengthen the church in Antioch.
When the time came for the 2nd missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along, but Paul disagreed since Mark had not completed the 1st journey with them. The two great evangelists went their separate ways this time. Disagreements do not have to destroy relationships. They both did well, and Barnabas obviously helped John Mark. Later on, Paul would request Mark’s company (2 Tim. 4:11). Barnabas excelled at the practice of encouragement and reconciliation. Be a Barnabas!
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.