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Jerusalem Conference (2)

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The Importance of the Conference

The significance of what they were doing was surely not lost on the apostles themselves, and historians have long recognized that the conference was a turning point in early Christianity.






   • The conference solved one problem by approving the dual mission, but left another unresolved:  how Jews and gentiles were to co-exist in a single church, especially when it came to meal time.
What happened at Antioch after the conference illustrates painfully the problem of interdining in a mixed community; click on Antioch Sequel. Would--or could--the parallel lines of mission ever meet?
   • The agreement made clear that the church was no longer obliged to function as a sect of Judaism but was now free to become a world religion.

   • The decision to approve a mission to the gentiles without the requirement of Torah observance made official what had already been happening: a greater distance between the church and the synagogue, especially since the church was increasingly gentile Christian.

    • The institutional differentiation of the church from Judaism raised in ever more urgent form the question of how much of historical Judaism the church was going to carry over (the God of Judaism? The Jewish scriptures? Jewish worship? a Jewish Jesus?), and how much the church was going to leave behind (Sabbath observance? dietary regulations? nationalistic hopes centering upon a Messiah?).

By Sabbath observance here is meant the prohibition of all forms of work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.          

   • As the church by stages became differentiated from Judaism, it also became exposed to the risk of persecution by the Roman state, inasmuch as Judaism was a legally tolerated religion, and Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism was not.
This exposure to persecution seems to be presupposed in Paul’s puzzling statement in Galatians 5:11, “But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? . . . .”

The Collection

The significance of the collection for Paul’s unfolding story is greater than is often acknowledged.


(1) At the very least, a gift from the gentile churches to Jerusalem would serve to relieve human need. Humanitarian relief in itself would explain the urgency with which the apostle undertook his side of the collection project. This urgency or haste has important implications for Pauline chronology.
In Gal. 2:10, the Greek word espoudasa may express haste as well as eagerness:   “. . . which was actually what I have made haste to do . . . ."
(2) The collection would also be a gesture of unity and reciprocity between the Jewish Christian mission of Cephas and the gentile Christian mission of Paul. 

It is probably true that by intention as well as in eventual participation  the collection was a gentile project, as is evident from the fact that Paul and Barnabas were assigned responsibility for both the gentile mission and the collection: “. . . that we [Paul and Barnabas] should go to the Gentiles . . . that we remember the poor . . .” (Galatians 2:9-10).




Politically speaking, the collection would sweeten the deal for the rigorists, who could hardly be happy with the approval of the law free gentile mission.

(3) During the final several years of Paul’s apostolic career he would be occupied with this project, and his plan to accompany those who were to deliver the funds to Jerusalem would have probably fateful consequences in terms of bringing his career and perhaps his life to an end. 

(4) The references to the collection in four of his letters help us establish useful chronological sequences, as we get glimpses of the collection at various stages in the respective churches. 

  (see below)
(5) Paul evidently agreed to invite participation in the collection from the gentile churches which he had founded prior to the second Jerusalem visit, namely, those in Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia. 
(6) Of these three foundations all participated in the work of the collection, though only Macedonia and Achaia completed their parts of the gift. Work on the collection was begun in Galatia, but probably lapsed when controversy arose, never to be resumed. The nonparticipation of Ephesus (Asia) is intelligible if Paul had not yet founded the church there when he agreed to the collection among his churches.

For the lapse of the collection in Galatia, click on collection.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4  1Now concerning the collection for the saints:  you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

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

2 Corinthians 8:3-6,10-11,13-14   3[The churches of Macedonia] voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. . . . 10And in this matter I am giving my advice:  it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—11now finish doing it . . . . 13It is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need . . . .

2 Corinthians 9:1,5   1Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry [i.e., aid] to the saints . . . . 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion [or, exaction].

Romans 15:25-31   25At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain. . . . 31[But pray] that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.


The Antioch Sequel

Did the formulation of the parallel mission policy at the Jerusalem Conference mean that there would be two churches, one Jewish, the other gentile? Or if there was still to be one church, how could the two missions coexist—especially at the dinner table?  The conference had not solved that problem.

The next scene features some of the major players at the conference:  Cephas-Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and (indirectly) James. It is set at Antioch of Syria, where the church was partly Jewish Christian and partly gentile Christian. These Christians had for a time shared a common table, at which Cephas participated, and of course Paul and Barnabas too.

This experiment in inclusiveness came to an end with the arrival of representatives of James. These rigorists, as we may identify them, presumably took offence at what would have been lax observance of food laws by the Jewish Christians in Antioch. Under pressure from the rigorists, Cephas, the nominal leader of the Jewish mission, withdrew from table fellowship with gentile Christians. Even Barnabas, the nominal co-leader of the gentile (!) mission, was carried away by the rigorist influence.

Paul saw this separation as inconsistent with the one gospel for both Jews and gentiles, and roundly criticized both Cephas and Barnabas. In this heated confrontation Paul probably did not succeed in restoring a common table to the Antioch church, but his sharp words helped ensure that the Jerusalem agreement would stand, and that the law-free gentile mission would go forward.

Galatians 2:11-14   11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned, 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.  13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray be their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

When Paul departed from Antioch for the province of Asia (in Asia Minor, or what is today Turkey), he did not know that some of the same persons (or their cohorts) who had pressed the rigorist cause in Antioch would be seeking to impose Jewish legal observance in Paul’s congregations in Galatia, Macedonia, and possibly in Corinth and Ephesus, too.


Though Antioch was not one of Paul’s churches, it was nevertheless a place where the cause of the law free gentile mission could be championed, and where the agreement reached at the Jerusalem conference was being tested.  See Antioch Episode, for a fuller discussion.      


Click Next button below to continue, Ephesian Headquarters (1).


Revised January 26, 2003
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