THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 7: Chapters 15-16
The Church's Mission to the Gentiles:
The Council of Jerusalem and St. Paul's Second Missionary Journey
In Your Divine Providence, You called men like St. Paul to fulfill Your promise to extend Your gift of salvation to all of mankind. It is a mission that began with the faithful remnant of the Jewish men and women who were Jesus' disciples and Apostles and continues in the Church today. Give us the spiritual strength and wisdom we need, Lord, to give our witness of Christ to our families, our friends and neighbors and to support the missionary efforts of the Church in reaching other peoples throughout the world. Inspire our faith communities to follow the example of the generous spirit of the Christians of the Church at Antioch who sent St. Paul and his companions across Asia Minor and Greece to establish churches that called hundreds of Gentiles to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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St. Paul to the churches in Galatia: For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it ... But when God, who from my mother's womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me; rather I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas and remained with him for fifteen days. For I did not see any other of the Apostles, only James the brother of the Lord. (As to what I am writing to you, behold, before God, I am not lying.) Then I entered into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
Galatians 1:13, 15-21
Paul often called Peter by his Aramaic title Kepha (Rock); also see 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 2:9, 11, 14 and "Peter" in Gal 2:7 and 8. Kephas/Cephas is the Greek transliteration. St. Paul's letter to the churches he helped to found on his first missionary journey in Galatia was sent in c. 49/50 AD, and is considered to be the earliest of Paul's letters. It was probably send just prior to his journey to attend the Council of Jerusalem.(1)
For so the Lord has commanded us: "I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation." That is, to be the knowledge to salvation. And not only for the Gentiles but for all who were ordained to eternal life. This is also a proof that it is in accordance with the mind of God that they received the Gentiles. St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople (344/354-407), Homilies on Acts of the Apostles 30
St. Peter's experience with the conversion and baptism of the Roman centurion Cornelius, his family, and his community of Roman God-fearers (Acts chapter 10) prepares the way for the account of Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey (Acts chapters 13-14). It was a mission that resulted in the conversion and baptism of many Gentiles in communities across the island of Cyprus and central and southern Asia Minor (modern Turkey and Syria). After St. Paul and St. Barnabas completed their first missionary journey, they returned home to report on their successes to their faith community in Antioch, Syria. They told the community they appointed presbyters from among the members of the new communities to guide the congregations. The structure they established for the new churches was apparently patterned on the model of the Jerusalem community (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 5, 22; 21:18). It is the beginning of the Church's outreach to the Gentiles in fulfillment of what Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you ...
The community of Jews and Gentiles at Antioch were the first to call themselves "Christians" (Acts 11:26), giving themselves a name that stressed their unity as believers in Jesus Christ and not their separate ethic identities as Jews or Gentiles. In sending missionaries out to preach the Gospel of salvation, this Spirit-filled community was dedicated to fulfilling the commission Jesus gave His disciples when He said: "... and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Their strength was in their unity and their submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That unity was challenged when some Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem church visited their community.
Chapter 15: The Council of Jerusalem
Bishop Cyril of
Jerusalem writing on the c. 49/50 AD Council of Jerusalem: They indicated
clearly by what they wrote that though the decree had been written by men who
were Apostles, it was from the Holy Spirit and universal.
St. Cyril (315-386), Catechetical Lecture 17.29)
Acts 15:1-2 ~ Jewish Christians from Jerusalem upset the
Christians at Antioch
1 Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved." 2 Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question.
Some Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem church visited the church in Antioch and began teaching the congregation composed of Jews and Gentiles that the Gentile members who had not been circumcised could not receive the gift of salvation and were therefore not equal to their Jewish brothers in the community. One can only imagine the furor that this teaching raised among the member of the community and the implications for the many Gentile Christian communities Paul and Barnabas founded on their missionary journey. If the uncircumcised Gentiles were not really members of the covenant, then they could no longer take part in the sacred meal of the Eucharist and community worship on the Lord's Day.
Question: What was the significance of male
circumcision for the Jews/Israelites? See Gen 17:9-14; Ex 12:43-44, 48; and
Answer: Circumcision was a sacramental sign of covenant initiation that was first established in God's covenant with Abraham and was continued in the commands of the Sinai Covenant with Israel. It signified the entrance of a male child into the bond of the covenant family with God when he was eight days old. Any male who was not circumcised was to be excluded from the covenant, from the sacred meal of the Passover, and from the ritual of sacrifice and worship in God's Sanctuary.
Under the laws of the old covenants, circumcision was the first step in covenant initiation and continuation into the next generation. Since the promise of salvation in the old covenants depended on obedience to the Law, the Jewish Christians who visited Antioch and who had not let go of what was fulfilled by Jesus in the old Law still saw circumcision as necessary for the promise of a future salvation. However, even under the old Law circumcision was not specifically linked to salvation, and the Israelites were not the only peoples who practiced circumcision. Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites and certain desert nomads practiced circumcision (Jer 9:24-25).
Question: What was the significance of the physical
sign of circumcision in God's covenant with Abraham and with Israel in the
Sinai Covenant? See Dt 10:16; 30:6;
Jer 4:4, 14;
Ex 44:7, 9 and
Answer: It was a physical sign that signified the internal condition of the "circumcised heart" of one who was in covenant with God. The uncircumcised heart is closed and unreceptive to Divine grace and guidance by the Holy Spirit, while the circumcised heart is open and receptive to do the will of God. It was a circumcised heart that led to salvation not a circumcised body.
Question: Why were both St. John the Baptist and
Jesus circumcised according to the Law of the Sinai Covenant when they were
eight days old? See Lk 1:59; 2:21; Mt 5:17-18 and Jn 19:30.
Answer: They were circumcised because the Old Covenant commands were still in effect until Jesus fulfilled the Law in His death and Resurrection. Jesus announced the fulfillment of the rituals of the Old Law from the Cross when He said: "It is fulfilled/accomplished."
Question: What sacrament replaced circumcision as the
sign of entrance in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, and how was this sacrament
more powerful than the physical sign of circumcision? See Jn 3:3, 5, Mt 28:19-20, CCC 1257, 1265-6 and 1277.
Answer: The New Covenant sacrament of initiation is Christian baptism in which the very life of the baptized person, male and female, is transformed and infused with new life and sanctifying grace (the grace of justification) through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The decision was made that the controversy at Antioch required a meeting of the Apostles and the other leaders of the Church to settle the question of the requirements concerning Gentile conversion. Acts 15:2 refers to "going up to Jerusalem" because even though the city was south of Antioch, it was 2400-2500 feet above sea-level. The council was held in the mother church in Jerusalem and is referred to as the "proto-Ecumenical Council." Since this first council that was held to determine the will of God for His universal Church, 21 councils have been called by the Roman Catholic Church (see the chart on the Church Councils in the handouts).
St. Paul mentions his mission to Jerusalem in Galatian 2:1-10. He discusses how the controversy concerning circumcision led to an argument with Peter before they left for the council meeting in Jerusalem (Gal 3:11-14). You will recall that St. Peter left Jerusalem after King Herod Antipas I gave orders that he should be executed (Acts 12:19). According to Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, after leaving Jerusalem Peter then made the church at Antioch his base for seven years until he left for Rome. Paul's dispute with Peter was probably because Peter did not immediately take a stand against the Jews from the church in Jerusalem. Peter had the difficult task of working for peace within the Church which was founded by Jews but in which the Gentile converts were quickly beginning to outnumber their Jewish brothers. As a reaction to the threat of being overrun by Gentiles and the fear of losing Jewish influence in the Church, a number of Jewish Christians began to reject the admittance of Gentiles into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus unless they first embraced all the Laws and rituals of the Sinai Covenant including circumcision. Eventually this group completely separated from the universal Church, probably after the Council of Jerusalem, calling themselves Ebionites.(2)
Acts 15:3-5 ~ The Antioch delegation travels to Jerusalem
3They were sent on their journey by the church, and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them. 5 But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law."
Most Biblical scholars set the date for the Council of
Jerusalem at c. 49/50 AD.
Question: What is significant about the route the Antioch delegation took to Jerusalem? See
Acts 8:4-25, 40; 9:31-43. What news did they share along the journey and how was it received?
Answer: On their journey to Jerusalem, the Antioch delegation proceeded along the same route as earlier Christian evangelization, through Phoenicia (Acts 8:40; 9:32-43) and Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), to communities founded by St. Philip the deacon and visited by St. Peter. They used the opportunity to spread the news among these other Christian communities of the great influx of Gentiles into the faith on their mission into Asia Minor. The news was greeted with great joy.
The delegates these communities may send to the council will have already been favorably impressed by Paul's news concerning the growth of the Church among the Gentiles. They have also had the opportunity to hear Paul's argument for welcoming the Gentiles into the Church without placing a burden upon them to convert. Perhaps it was Paul's intention that this news might result in their support for Paul's case on behalf of the new Gentile converts.
Acts 15:4-5 ~ When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were
welcomed by the church, as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters, and they
reported what God had done with them. But some from the party of the Pharisees
who had become believers stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them
and direct them to observe the Mosaic law."
Many members of the Jerusalem church and probably the delegates who arrived from other faith communities welcomed Paul's news concerning the large number of Gentile converts. However, the Pharisees immediately began to state their objections concerning Gentiles conversion.
Question: What role did the Pharisees play during
Jesus' three year ministry? See for example Lk 5:17, 21, 30, 33; 6:2, 7; 7:30,
36, 37, 39; 11:37-39, 42-43, 53; 12:1; 13:31; 14:1, 3; 15:2; 16:14; 17:20;
18:10-11; 19:39. What similar position are they taking in this controversy?
Answer: The Pharisees were Jesus' greatest opponents during His ministry. With Jesus' resurrection, some of them have come to believe that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, but they are apparently the leaders of the Jews who want to keep the old Mosaic Law with its purity laws and rituals including circumcision. Once again, the Pharisees stand in opposition to God's divine plan for mankind's salvation even though they are numbered among the "believers."
Acts 15:6-12 ~ St. Peter Addresses the Issue of Gentile
6 The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter. 7 After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, "My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. 10 Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they." 12 The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.
Notice that St. Peter is the first to address the council
after the debate. Bishop James is the leader of the Jerusalem community, but
Peter is Christ's Vicar and the leader of the Church universal. He begins by
recalling the vision God gave him concerning the end of the old ritual purity
laws (Acts 10:1-16) and the conversion experience he had with the Roman
centurion, Cornelius in Acts 10:1-48 when he witnessed the Holy Spirit descend
upon the Gentiles. It was an experience Peter shared immediately afterward with
the Apostles and the Jerusalem church along with his conviction that God has
clearly granted to the Gentiles too the repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18). Despite Paul's earlier confrontation with Peter (Gal 2:11-14), Peter's
position is clearly stated in favor of not placing the burden of circumcision
or ritual law on the Gentiles.
Question: What three points does Peter make concerning the Gentiles in verses 9-10?
Acts 15:10 Why,
then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the
disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
He follows those three points by demanding to know why they are "putting God to the test." It is an interesting choice of words since it is the same accusation Moses made against the Israelites of the Exodus generation in acting contrary to the will of God (see Ex 17:2, 7; Dt 6:16).
Question: Using this choice of words, of what is Peter accusing the Pharisees and those like-minded Jewish Christians?
Answer: He is accusing the Pharisees of not just being opposed to the Apostles or Paul and Barnabas and the Antioch delegation but of being opposed to God.
Peter speaks of the "yoke" the covenant people have been unable to bear. A yoke is a restraint for oxen, but figuratively it is a metaphor for political or social oppression (2 Chr 10:10; 1 Mac 8:31; Ps 2:3 LXX; 1 Tim 6:1). It was also used by Jesus as a symbol of acceptance and responsibility to keep His commandments when He promised His "yoke" is light (Mt 11:29-30; also see the Didache 6:2). Here Peter uses the metaphorical image in terms of the unsupportable burden of Mosaic Law, the Torah. See Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees concerning the Law burdened by the harshness of its interpretation by the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4. Paul will use this same imagery in his rejection of circumcision and the ritual Law in Galatians 5:1-6 when he writes: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1).
Question: What is the climax of Peter's argument?
Answer: Jews and Gentiles are both saved only through the grace of Jesus Christ. The implication is that the old Law could not grant God's grace of salvation.
What is amazing about Peter's climactic statement is that he introduces the principle that salvation for those born Jews is measured by salvation for the Gentiles. It is a complete reversal of the expected order where the Jews see themselves as the first in order and rank. This recalls Jesus' statement that "the first will be last and the last first" in Luke 13:30, referring to the Jews (those called first but who will come last) and Gentiles (those called last who will be first in the New Covenant kingdom) in God's plan of salvation. Peter's point is that God uses the salvation of the Gentiles to reveal to the Jews the true ground of their own salvation and stands as a direct rebuttal to the Pharisee's opening statement.
Acts 15:12 The whole
assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the
signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.
Peter's moving speech prepares the way for Paul and Barnabas to report on the new Gentile Christian communities across central and southern Asia Minor. Notice that credit for the formation of these faith communities is given to God.
Acts 15:13-21 ~ St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, Suggests
13 After they had fallen silent, James responded, "My brothers, listen to me. 14 Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. 15 The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:
16 After this I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David;
from its ruins I shall rebuild it and raise it up again,
17 so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord,
even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.
Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things, 18 known from of old.'
19 It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood. 21 For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
St. James, kinsman of Jesus, author of the New Testament Letter of James, and the first Christian bishop of Jerusalem offers the council a compromise. James was greatly revered by Jewish Christians and the Jews in general. Jewish historian and priest, Flavius Josephus, a contemporary of St. James, writes about his martyrdom in Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1 [200-203] in c. 80 AD, identifying him as the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James .... James may be one of Jesus' kinsmen mentioned in Acts 1:14 as among the disciples praying in the Upper Room with the Apostles, the women disciples and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (kinsmen). He is one of the few men Jesus met privately after His Resurrection (1 Cor 15:7). He is first named in Acts when Peter is miraculously freed from prison and must flee Jerusalem. Peter tells the disciples at the home of Mary of Jerusalem to Report this to James and the brothers (in Acts 12:17). Paul mention seeing James when he first went to Jerusalem to get the blessing of the Apostles three years after his conversion experience. He says he spent fifteen days with Peter, who he identifies by his Aramaic name Kephas (Rock), and that he did not see any of the other of the Apostles but did see James the brother of the Lord (Gal 1:18-19). Paul will call James one of the "pillars of the Church" along with Peter (Kephas) and John Zebedee when he recounts his visit to Jerusalem for the council in Galatians 2:9. St. James was martyred in Jerusalem in c. 62 AD.
First, James supports Peter, calling him by his Jewish name
Symeon (Simeon; see 2 Pt 1:1) and uses Scripture to support Peter's claim that
it was God's plan to call the Gentiles to salvation by quoting from Amos 9:11-12 from the Septuagint. In the passage he quotes, the "fallen hut of
David" refers to the Kingdom of Israel that no longer existed.
Question: Why does James quote this particular passage? See 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; Ez 37:20-28.
Answer: In the prophecy God promises that He will restore the Kingdom of David and through the restored kingdom all peoples, including the Gentile nations, will "invoke" God's name, meaning will worship the One True God. James uses this passage as a proof text of the fulfilling of prophecy in the coming of Jesus, the Son of God and the Davidic heir who has established the universal Kingdom of the new Israel that is Church of Jesus Christ. Through the Kingdom of the Church, the prophecy is fulfilled and all mankind can receive the gift of salvation.
Next, he suggests that the only requirement for Gentiles wishing to convert should be the observance of the few simple laws that God required for all people before the ratification of His covenant with Abraham and the Sinai Covenant. These religious prohibitions were part of the oral tradition of the covenant with Noah (see the Genesis study lesson 6). These prohibitions are understood to be in addition to the moral law of the Ten Commandments to which all Christians are bound.
Question: What are the requirements to be placed on a
Gentile who is a candidate for Christian baptism to separate him/her from a
pagan past? Also see the letter in Acts 15:28-29, the prohibition in Gen 9:4
and Lev 17:10-12, and the list sexual prohibitions in Lev chapter 18.
The prohibition against eating or drinking blood is first given to Noah after the Flood in Genesis 9:4. In pagan temples, animal sacrifices were strangled and then the meat was often sold in the market places. The reason is more explicitly stated in the council's letter in Acts 15:29 (also see Acts 21:25). Paul will later write that such meat means nothing, but if some have a superstition about such meat it is better to refrain from it than to cause scandal with a brother (1 Cor 8:8-13). James may have included this prohibition to help former pagans break away from their old pagan practices. Also the blood may not have been properly drained and may have continued to be present in the flesh of animals that were strangled in pagan sacrifice.
Acts 15:21 ~ For Moses, for generations now, has had
those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues
James gives his reason for these prohibitions. He says that they are also rooted in the Torah of Moses and became part of the prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant (i.e. Ex 20:3-5; Lev 17:11-12 and chapter 18). Every Gentile living near a Jewish synagogue would be familiar with these prohibitions.
Acts 15:22-29 ~ The Letter to the Churches at Antioch,
Syria and Cilicia
22 Then the Apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. This is the letter delivered by them:
23 "The Apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: 28 It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, 29 namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'"
It is significant that the council declares that the Jewish
Christians who caused the disruption within the Antioch community with their
teachings had no authority from the Church hierarchy in Jerusalem to teach as
Question: By what authority does the council claim to send this letter? What is the future significance? See verses 22 and 28.
Answer: The proclamation is sent with the agreement of the "whole Church" and by "the decision of the Holy Spirit," as will be future documents of the universal Church from future Ecumenical Councils.
Question: To ensure that the Church's teaching on the
admittance of Gentiles as candidates for baptism is understood, what two
measures does the council take?
Answer: They send a formal letter and they send their representatives, Judas and Silas, to explain the letter and to be available to answer any challenges to the council's decision.
It is the council's desire that the unity of this faith community be restored to what it was before the events that made the council necessary. Notice that the council also upholds the authority of Paul and Barnabas as servants of Jesus Christ.
Acts 15:30-35 ~ The Letter is delivered to the Community
30 And so they were sent on their journey. Upon their arrival in Antioch, they called the assembly together and delivered the letter. 31 When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation. 32 Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, exhorted and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent off with greetings of peace from the brothers to those who had commissioned them. 34 [Silas decided to remain there.] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming with many others the word of the Lord.
Verse 34 does not appear in all of the ancient manuscripts
of Act. It may have been added at a later date to account for Paul taking
Silas with him on the next missionary journey.
Question: Who are Silas and Judas? See Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 40; 16:19, 25, 29; 17:4, 10, 14-15; 18:5.
Answer: They are prophets (Acts 15:32) and prominent leaders in the Jerusalem community who were entrusted to carry the council's letter to the churches in Antioch and Cilicia. Silas will become a member of St. Paul's missionary team and will suffer many hardships along with Paul during their journeys.
Silas is a Jewish Christian and a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37) who became a companion of Paul and probably Luke on Paul's missionary journey to Asia Minor and later into Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 15:41-18:5). He is also mentioned as Silvanus (a Latinization of his name) in the letters of Paul (2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thes 1:1) and by St. Peter (1 Pt 5:12). With the exception of 2 Corinthians 1:19, he is mentioned in connection with the writing of Paul's letter, probably serving as Paul's secretary. He also served with Peter in Rome as a secretary and/or courier in the case of Peter's first epistle. According to 15:22, Judas is surnamed Barsabbas. He may be a kinsman of Joseph Barsabbas who was also named "Justus" (a Latin praenomen for the Jewish name Yoseph/Joseph) or he may be the same man. Joseph Barsabbas was put forward as a candidate to replace Judas Iscariot among the twelve Apostles after Judas' death; however Matthias was chosen (Acts 1:23-26). After accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, he later apparently returned to Jerusalem while Silas remained behind in Antioch.
The disruption caused by some of the Jewish Christians from the church in Jerusalem should remind us that there have always been disputes within the community of the Church locally and universally. However, Christ gave His ministers the power and authority to deal with those disputes and the promise that no power, earthly or otherwise, will ever destroy the mission of the ministers of His Kingdom (Mt 16:18-19). Down through the centuries 21 other universal councils have been called. Some, like the Ebionites, have disagreed with the decisions of the Church and have separated from the universal Church, but the Catholic Church remains the one institution founded by Jesus Christ and His representative to guide all mankind to salvation.
St. Paul's Second Missionary Journey
Paul was a man of
small of statue with a bald head and bowed legs and of good carriage. His
eyebrows met in the middle and his nose was rather large and he was full of
grace for at times he seemed a man and at times he had the face of an angel.
The Acts of Paul, II.3 (c. 160 AD).
Author Rachetti's summary of Paul's appearance from ancient manuscripts: A summary of the early descriptions is as follows: Paul is stylized as a short, bald man with a thick beard, a prominent nose, his eyebrows meeting in the middle, his legs somewhat bowed, but on the whole a man of dignified appearance and bearing.
Acts 15:36-41 ~ Paul and Silas travel through Syria and
36 After some time, Paul said to Barnabas, "Come, let us make a return visit to see how the brothers are getting on in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord." 37 Barnabas wanted to take with them also John, who was called Mark, 38 but Paul insisted they should not take with them someone who had deserted them at Pamphylia and who had not continued with them in their work. 39 So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and departed after being commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia bringing strength to the churches.
The community at Antioch was prepared to send Paul and
Barnabas out on a second missionary journey into Asia Minor. Barnabas wanted
to take along his young kinsman, John-Mark.
Question: Who was John-Mark and why was Paul against including him? What was the result of this dispute? See Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; Col 4:10.
Answer: John-Mark was the son of Mary of Jerusalem and was Barnabas' young kinsman. Paul had not forgiven John-Mark for leaving their first missionary journey and returning home to Jerusalem. Their disagreement could not be reconciled and so they parted.
John-Mark was the son of Barnabas' kinswoman the Jewess Mary of Jerusalem and a Roman soldier (his Latin surname was Marcus). Barnabas took John-Mark with him to continue the missionary work in Cypress, and Paul invited Silas to join him. Years later, Paul reconciled with John-Mark when he was in prison in Rome (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24). John-Mark became St. Peter's secretary in Rome and when the great persecution began in Rome he left after Peter's martyrdom and founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt (today known as the Coptic Church) where he wrote his Gospel.
SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY:
Approximate dates: 50 - 52 AD
Companions: Silas, Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, Luke
Mission field: Syria, Turkey, Greece
Approximate miles traveled: 2,800 miles
Sent by church of Antioch, Syria
Syria and Cilicia
(Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia was Paul's hometown)
|Derbe and Lystra in Lycaonia/South Galatia||Acts 16:1-5|
|Phrygia and North Galatia||Acts 16:6|
|Mysia to Troas||Acts 16:7-10|
|Samothrace and Neapolis||Acts 16:11|
|Philippi in Macedonia||Acts 16:12-40|
|Amphipolis and Apollonia||Acts 17:1|
|Beroea (Berea)||Acts 17:10-15|
|Cenchrea (Cenchreae)||Acts 18:18|
|Antioch, Syria||Acts 18:23|
Scholars have concluded that St. Luke was part of this missionary team because of the change in the narrative to the first person plural with the introduction of the so-called "we/us passages." The first is in 16:10-17 and the other passages are 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16. The realism of the narrative in the first person plural lends weight to the argument that the "we" includes Luke or another companion of St. Paul whose diary Luke used as an eyewitness source to write the second half of Acts of Apostles. The geographic details are accurate and the emotional impact of their adventures is vividly depicted.
Acts 16:1-5 ~ Paul enlists Timothy
1 He reached [also] Derbe and Lystra where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him, 3 and Paul wanted him to come along with him. On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem. 5 Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.
As was his practice in the first missionary journey, Paul and his team focus on the larger cities to preach their message. The obvious plan is that the churches established in the cities will spread the Gospel they have been taught to the outlying communities. In Lystra Paul recruits a young man who is the son of a Jewish-Christian woman named Eunice (2 Tim 1:5) and a pagan Greek father (Acts 16:3). His name is Timothy and he will become one of Paul's most faithful companions, accompanying Paul on his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:3; 19:22). Paul will mention Timothy as a co-sender in six of his letters in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians, and in the list of fellow Christians who send their greetings to the Christians in Rome, Timothy is listed first in Romans 16:21. Paul will also send Timothy as his emissary on several important missions (see Acts 19:22; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Thes 3:2). In a letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul will write concerning Timothy: For I have no one comparable to him for genuine interest in whatever concerns you ... But you know his worth, how as a child with a father he served along with me in the cause of the gospel (Phil 2:20, 22). St. Paul will also send two letters full of fatherly advice to Timothy (1 & 2 Timothy) when he is set in authority as the pastor over the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 2:17). Timothy evidently became the son Paul never had, and Paul will write to him in affection terms, referring to Timothy as his dear teknon, "child" (1 Tim 1:2, 18; 2 Tim 1:2, 2:2).
Acts 16:3b ~ On account of the Jews of that region, Paul
had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Question: If Paul was so opposed to making male Gentile converts to Christianity submit to circumcision (Acts 15:1-2; Rom 2:29; Gal 5:1-6; 6:15), why did he have Timothy circumcised?
Answer: Timothy was not a Gentile. His father was a Gentile but his mother was Jewish. Any child born from a Jewish woman was considered to be a Jew. It can be assumed that Timothy's Gentile father had prevented his traditional circumcision as a baby. Paul and the other Jewish Christian missionaries always take their Gospel message to the Jews first. It was prudent to have Timothy circumcised not as a condition for discipleship to as an act signifying loyalty to the ancestral traditions of the Jews.
Acts 16:4 ~ As they
traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the
decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem.
Question: The delivery of the letter from the Council of Jerusalem beyond Cilicia had not been part of their original mission. What does continuing to share the council's decree demonstrate?
Answer: It demonstrates that Paul and his companions saw the power of the council's decree as extending universally in the Church not just regionally.
Acts 16:5 ~ Day after day the churches grew stronger in
faith and increased in number.
This is another in the series of 14 statements Luke makes concerning the growth of the Church. We will see the same or similar statements in Acts 2:41, 47, 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 8:25, 40; 9:31; 11:24; 12:24; 14:21; 16:5; 19:20.
Acts 16:6-10 ~ The Journey continues through Asia Minor
6 They traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, 8 so they crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Question: Paul is leading the mission, but who is in
control of the mission? See verses 6-7.
Answer: God the Holy Spirit is in control of the mission.
The Holy Spirit is continuing to direct their path (also see Acts 4:31; 8:29, 39; 10:44; 13:2, 4). "Asia" in verse 6 is a reference to the Roman Province of Asia which, since 166 BC, included the geographic territories designated as Phrygia, a large region of interior western Asia Minor.
Acts 16:7-8 ~ When
they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus
did not allow them, 8 so they
crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas.
The apostles traveled a northwesterly route, since they were prevented from heading due west into Asia proper. They arrived at a point opposite Mysia, the territory which lies next to the Aegean Sea to the west, Hellespont to the north, Bithynia to the east, and Lydia to the south. They tried to turn east to Bithynia, a territory organized by the Roman General Pompey the Great into a single Roman province in 65-63 BC, but the "Spirit of Jesus" prevented them. This is the only time this expression is found in Acts. It is significant because it shows that the living Christ continues to take an active role in the spread of the Gospel (see 7:56 and 9:5). Passing through Mysia they came to Troas, an important seaport city in Mysia on the northwest coast of Asia Minor. In Troas Paul has a dream that is his commissioning for a divine mission.
Acts 16:9-10 ~ During
the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him
with these words, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 When he had seen the vision, we sought
passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to
proclaim the good news to them (emphasis added).
Notice the narrative has shifted to the first person plural in the "we" and "us" passages in verses 10, 11, 12, 13 (three times) 15, 16 and 17. Did Luke join the missionaries in Troas? Luke's name is not Jewish, it is Greek and he is also probably a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37).
Macedonia is a region in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula. It was the kingdom Alexander the Great inherited from his father King Philip and from which he launched his conquest of Asia Minor, the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and into India. Macedonia became a Roman Province in 148 BC. Do not miss the important role the Roman Empire played in God plan for man's salvation. The peace imposed by the power and might of Rome and their excellent system of roads linking the Empire became the vehicle for spreading the Gospel of salvation across the face of the known world. In 146 BC Roman engineers began to construct an arterial military and commercial road, the Via Egnatia, from the Adriatic coast through Pella, Thessalonica, Amphipolis, Philippi, and Neapolis in Macedonia to Byzantium in Asia Minor. It was the road system used by St. Paul and his missionary team. Paul's vision reminds the reader of Peter's vision that led to the conversion of the Gentile Roman Cornelius in Acts 10.
Question: What is the significance of Paul's vision?
Answer: The Holy Spirit has given Paul permission to evangelize westward into Europe.
Acts 16:11-15 ~ For the first time the Missionaries enter
11 We set sail from Troas, making a straight run for Samothrace, and on the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a leading city in that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We spent some time in that city. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there. 14 One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. 15 After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, "If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home," and she prevailed on us.
The year is c. 50 AD and Paul is making his first European converts to Christianity in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-17:14). Lydia was Paul's first convert in the city of Philippi. She was probably a widow had taken over her husband's business selling luxurious purple-dyed cloth. She was a rarity in the 1st century; she was a business woman in a male dominated world.
Acts 16:13 ~ 13 On
the Sabbath we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought
there would be a place of prayer.
Apparently the Jewish population of Philippi was so small that there weren't enough Jews to establish a synagogue. According to the Jewish Talmud, the number required to form a religious community was 120 (the number of Jesus' disciples who were praying in the Upper Room in when the Holy Spirit came down to possess the Church; see Acts 1:15). The Jews of Philippi were meeting at a site outside the gates of the city. That Lydia is called a "worshiper of God" suggests that she was a Gentile God-fearer who had been exposed to the God of Israel at the Synagogue in her hometown of Thyatira and was therefore open to the Gospel message of salvation through the Redeemer-Messiah brought by Paul and the others.
Lydia was originally from the city of Thyatira (in modern day Turkey). It was a city that was on the road between Pergamum and Sardis in western Asia Minor not far from the coast. By the late first century a significant Christian community must have existed in Thyatira since the fourth longest of the seven letters Jesus instructed St. John to send to the churches in Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation was to the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29). It appears that Lydia was now living in Philippi since Paul not only baptized Lydia but her entire household of probably children and servants.
Acts 16:16-18 ~ Trouble in Philippi
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl with an oracular spirit, who used to bring a large profit to her owners through her fortune-telling. 17 She began to follow Paul and us, shouting, "These people are slaves of the Most High God who proclaim to you a way of salvation." 18 She did this for many days. Paul became annoyed, turned, and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." Then it came out at that moment. 19 When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the public square before the local authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These people are Jews and are disturbing our city 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or practice." 22 The crowd joined in the attack on them, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely. 24 When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake.
It was probably a week later, on the Sabbath, that the
missionaries were accosted by a slave girl possessed by a demon. The literal
Greek text says that she had a pythian spirit. The python was the
mythical serpent slain by Apollo from which the prophetesses at the shrine at
Delphi received their spirit of prophecy. This girl was believed by the people
to have a similar gift of prophecy. Pagans were extremely superstitious and
relied on those who claimed to have such gifts.
Question: If what she testified about them was true, why did Paul cast out her spirit? See Lk 4:33-35, 41.
Answer: Jesus had similar experiences in the Gospels where demons identified Him as the Son of God. He silenced them because even though what they said was true, He did not want the testimony of unclean spirits. Paul silenced the girl for the same reason.
The owners of the girl were outraged that Paul had cut off a
source of their income and denounced Paul and Silas to the city's Roman
magistrates, the city's legal authorities.
Question: What accusation did they make against Paul and Silas?
Answer: The accused them of encouraging "unlawful" practices.
Christianity was not one of the recognized religions by the Roman Empire; it was considered an illegal religion. Official recognition would not happen until 313 AD in the issuing of the Edict of Milan. The magistrates had Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned.
Acts 16:25-34 ~ Paul Converts his Jailer
25 About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, 26 there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted out in a loud voice, "Do no harm to yourself; we are all here." 29 He asked for a light and rushed in, and trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved." 32 So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. 33 He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. 34 He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
Luke does not present the earthquake as a miracle of God.
That part of the northern Greece has frequent earthquakes. Nevertheless, the
earthquake resulted in a miracle of faith.
Question: When the jailor thought his prisoners had escaped, why did he attempt suicide? See Acts 12:6-8, 18-19.
Answer: It was the Roman custom for a jailor to forfeit his life if his prisoners escaped.
The Roman soldiers that were assigned to guard Jesus' body were not executed but instead were told to report that Jesus' disciples had taken His body. This is evidence of a conspiracy to undermine the miracle of the Resurrection (see Mt 28:11-15). The jailor and his household are Paul and Silas' second group of converts in Philippi. Notice once again, as in the case of Lydia and Cornelius, that the entire household is baptized which must have included children.
Acts 16:35-40 ~ The Magistrates Release Paul and Silas
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the lictors with the order, "Release those men." 36 The jailer reported these words to Paul, "The magistrates have sent orders that you be released. 37 Now, then, come out and go in peace." But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us publicly, even though we are Roman citizens and have not been tried, and have thrown us into prison. And now, are they going to release us secretly? By no means. Let them come themselves and lead us out." 38 The lictors reported these words to the magistrates, and they became alarmed when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and placated them, and led them out and asked that they leave the city. 40 When they had come out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and then they left.
The magistrates sent the lictors with the order to release Paul and Silas. A lictor was a member of a special class of Roman civil servant with the special task of attending and guarding magistrates of the Roman Empire who had the right and power to command.(3) Paul withheld the information that he, Timothy, and Silas (and probably Luke) were Roman citizens when they were first brought before the magistrates but now, to the shock and horror of the lictors, he reveals that they have illegally beaten and imprisoned Roman citizens. There were dire consequences for Roman magistrates who infringed on the rights of a Roman citizen. The Roman senator Cicero wrote concerning a Roman citizen's right to due process: To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him an abomination, to slay him almost an act of parricide (Cicero, Against Verres, 2.5.66; also see Livy, History of Rome, 10.9.3-6). Paul will play the Roman citizen "card" again with a Roman Tribune in Acts 22:29. After their release, they return to Lydia's house and then left Philippi. Paul's small beginning in Philippi will result in a Christian faith community to whom Paul will write the New Testament Letter to the Philippians.
The Council of Jerusalem in Acts chapter 15 is the turning point in Luke's narrative. Prior to the council the focus of the narrative has been on the works of St. Peter but has also included the mention of the Apostle St. John, the works of the deacons Stephen and Philip, the conversion of St. Paul, and his missionary work with the church at Antioch. After the account of the council and its momentous decision concerning the conversion of Gentiles, the focus of the narrative is entire on St. Paul and his mission in fulfilling the final phase of Jesus' command to spread the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth among the Gentile nations.
Question for reflection or group discussion: What was
the purpose of the Law of the Sinai Covenant and why was it necessary for New
Covenant Christians to let go of the rituals of the Mosaic Law while the moral
law remained? See Jer 31:31-34; Rom 7:4-6; Heb 10:4-18; CCC 1962-64, 1967-68.
Answer: The old Law was good. It was the first stage of revealed Law. The Mosaic Law served as the covenant people's tutor, setting the people on the path to righteousness and teaching them to identify sin and to understand the necessity of sacrifice, contrition and forgiveness of sin that restored fellowship with God. It was also the covenant people's guide to faith and trust in God and to belief in His promise of salvation. But it was imperfect and could not remove sins nor could it offer the blessings of eternal life. The Gospel fulfills the commandments of the old Law. The blessings of the new and eternal covenant are far greater than what was offered in the old. The New Covenant people of God needed to let go of what was good in order to grasp what was greater in the Gospel of Jesus Christ
1. Scholars are still debating whether the churches of Galatia (Gal 1:2) were located in central Anatolia (the so-called North Galatian hypothesis) or farther to the south (the so-called South Galatian hypothesis) by which the churches may be connected with the cities of Antioch, Lystra, Derbe and Iconium mentioned in Acts 13-14. Most scholars, considering the content and early date of the letter support the second hypothesis.
2. There have only been 7 (arguably 9) recognized ecumenical councils by the Orthodox churches since the Orthodox separated from the Roman Catholic Church led by St. Peter' successor the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) in 1054. Since that time the Orthodox have had no central authority but consider the Patriarch of Constantinople as "the first among equals." The canons of the first seven Ecumenical Councils are regarded within the Orthodox Church as universally authoritative, though not in a strictly constructionist sense. Unlike the 21 Ecumenical Councils called by the Pope and the universal Magisterium, the Orthodox canons have often been repealed or revised by the decisions of local synods or even by later Orthodox councils. Nevertheless, their legislation is central to the Orthodox canonical tradition, and appeals to such canons are more frequently made than to any other source of canonical legislation. The majority of the Orthodox churches do not recognize the councils later than the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 that restored the veneration of icons and ended iconoclasm (the destruction of icons). Some Orthodox churches accept as ecumenical what they call the Fourth Council of Constantinople (879-880) and the Fifth Council of Constantinople (1341-1351). The Orthodox Fourth Council of Constantinople is not the same the Fourth Council in the West (869-880) and neither of those Orthodox councils are recognized in the West. The Orthodox eighth council was a local synod that restored Archbishop Photius to his see in Constantinople (he had been deposed by the West's Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869-880). The Orthodox ninth council was a local synod affirming hesychastic theology and condemning the objections of philosopher Barlaam of Calabria. Hesychasm in tradition was the process of retiring inward to achieve a state of ecstasy in prayer by ceasing to be distracted by the material world to receive an experiential knowledge of God. Barlaam of Calabria warned hesychasm could lead to abuses and misdirection; he advocated a more intellectualist and less mystical approach to prayer.
3. The Ebionites (Greek = Ebionaioi, derived from the Hebrew meaning "the poor ones") formed a movement during the early centuries of the Christian era. In their withdrawal from the authority of the Church, they adopted doctrines that were contrary to the teachings of the Church. They regarded Jesus as the Messiah but rejected his divinity and insisted on adhering to the Mosaic Law and rituals. They rejected all the New Testament Gospels with the exception of the Gospel of Matthew. They revered St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, and they despised St. Paul and his teachings, seeing him as an apostate from the Law. Their name suggests that they placed an emphasis on voluntary poverty. Much of what is known about the Ebionites derives from the writings of the Church Fathers who wrote polemics against their false doctrines and branded them heretics. The movement apparently died out by around the 4th century AD.
4. Originally lictors were Roman citizens chosen from among the people; however centurions from the legions were also automatically eligible to become a lictor upon retirement from the army. A lictor had to be a strongly built man, capable of physical work since the main task was to attend as bodyguards and to serve as the police force for the magistrates who held the power to command. They were exempted from military service, received a fixed salary of 600 sesterces and were organized in a corporation. Usually they were personally chosen by the magistrate they were supposed to serve. They carried rods decorated with fasces (the symbol of Roman power and authority) within the boundaries of the city of Rome and outside the sacred boundary of the city of Rome the carried faces with axes that symbolized the power to execute. Dictatorial lictors had axes even within the boundary of Rome. They followed their assigned magistrate wherever he went personally and professionally. See the pictures below of a Roman fasces and a coin bearing the image of a magistrate flanked by his two lictors. A Roman fasces was the symbol of a Lictor. Also see the example in a gold coin from Roman Dacia (mid-1st century BC) depicting a magistrate in the center with two lictors on either side carrying the fasces.
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Catechism references for Acts 15-16 (*indicates that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):