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Jerusalem Conference (1)

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Jerusalem Conference (1) Second Jerusalem Visit .. Issues .. Agreements
Jerusalem Conference (2)
Importance .. Collection .. Antioch Episode

When Paul set out on his second visit to Jerusalem, it had been fourteen years since that first visit, when he had spent two weeks getting acquainted with Cephas (Peter) and with James, the Lordís brother. This time he came with solid accomplishments, having founded congregations in at least three major areas:  Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia. (We cannot exclude the possibility that the founding of a church at Ephesus in Asia also came before the conference, but  the balance of evidence supports a time afterwards.)
If we use the letters alone, it is theoretically possible to locate all of Paul's founding missions after the conference. Nevertheless, for good reasons, we place these three foundations before the conference. See Letters Based Chronology (2).

Holy Promptings

Paulís gentile mission had been both successful and novel. How could this new phenomenon, without Jewish observance, be compatible with the Jerusalem based religious community which not only acknowledged Jesus as Messiah but was Jewish in root and ramification? Could the new and old live together, faithful to the gospel, in mutual support and growth? Paul now felt guided (by a revelation, as he says) to go up to Jerusalem, to settle once and for all the status of his gentile converts.

Galatians 2:1-2   1Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2I went up in response to a revelation.  Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.




We may keep open the hypothesis that controversy over Jewish law had erupted in Paulís churches and had motivated in part the conference visit.


It was something of a summit meeting, when Paul, accompanied by Barnabas and Titus, went up to Jerusalem to meet again with Cephas, with James the Lordís brother, and this time also with John. The question before them: Would the requirements of the Jewish law be imposed upon gentile converts, so that they would be obliged to live as Jews, and even to become full Jewish converts? Here is how the sides lined up.




At one extreme we find zealous supporters of Christian Judaism, whom we shall call the rigorists.  The ďfalse brethrenĒ to whom Paul refers are probably to be numbered among them. These rigorists were ready to make the Jewish law obligatory for all gentiles who became believers, including Titus, Paulís loyal associate. Their position enjoyed a certain plausibility. The earliest followers of Jesus, during his lifetime as well as in the post-Easter period, had been Jews, and the rigorists saw no compelling reason for this situation to change. What would gentiles be required to do?

If gentiles wished to enter the community of believers, it seemed reasonable to the rigorists to expect them to adopt not only the God of the Jews, not only the Jewish scriptures, and not only the Jewish Jesus, as they were willing to do, but also to require them to accept Jewish traditions and practices. In detail, the gentiles would be obliged to submit to circumcision, to undergo a ritual washing, and to offer sacrifice in the Temple when a journey to Jerusalem was deemed feasible. In addition to these requirements for admission as Jewish proselytes, gentiles would be expected to observe dietary rules, laws of clean and unclean, Sabbath regulations, and other Jewish observances. If in all of this the missionary impulse does not seem evident, we may at least appreciate their zeal for the ancestral religion alongside of their devotion to the risen Christ. James is not called a false brother, but he probably leaned in the direction of the rigorists.


Galatians 2:3-4  3But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave usó[to the false believers we did not submit for a moment]. 

  (The NRSV, in avoiding sexist language, renders the Greek pseudadelphoi [lit. "false brothers"] as false believers.)

At the other extreme we have the inclusivists, among whom we include Paul and (at this stage) Barnabas; these resisted every attempt to impose the Jewish law on gentile converts. Paul took this position, in part because he was called to be an apostle to the gentiles; and perhaps in part because he knew that requiring gentiles to be circumcised and to become Jewish converts before being baptized and received into the church would have a chilling effect on his work. Paul could not be unaware that Jews in the ancient Greco-Roman world were the objects of ridicule for bearing the marks of circumcision. Thus, faith in Jesus Christ as Lord should be the only requirement for admission into the church. Cephas was nominally the head of the mission to the Jews, but probably sympathized with the inclusivists. We do not know Johnís inclinations.


Galatians 2:5   To them [the false brothers] we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  [RSV]


The pillars, James, Cephas and John, could surely see merit in the cause of Jewish Christians to which their own efforts were largely devoted, but were likely moved as well by Paulís accounts of missionary expansion in the west. The deal that was cut made the best of a difficult situation:

First, The Jerusalem apostles gave unqualified approval to Paulís law free gentile mission, adding nothing to him; that is, imposing no additional requirements for gentile converts.

Galatians 2:6  And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)óthose, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me. [RSV]

Next, they also gave official recognition to the concept of two parallel missions, and assigned responsibility for each: the Jerusalem apostles were to go to the Jews, Paul and Barnabas to the gentiles. Thus the legitimacy of the gentile mission was acknowledged, and the integrity of the Jewish mission was respected:  kosher diet, Sabbath observance and circumcision were still in place for Christian Jews. But there was little for the rigorists to cheer about. It was no longer true that all believers were also Jews; gentiles would be part of the community of faith, without being obliged to fulfill the requirements of the Jewish law.  This fundamental change did not go down well at all with the rigorists; they would be heard from again.

Gal. 2:7-9  7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8(for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas agreed to a proposal that they should remember the Jerusalem poor by raising a collection; this was a project which Paul energetically pursued during the closing period of his work among the churches which he had already founded. (There is no way of knowing how Barnabas went about fulfilling his part of the bargain.)

Gal. 2:10  They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. 


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Revised January 25, 2003
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