Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
Understanding And Applying the Text
The Jerusalem church responded to the false teaching in writing. After the apostles and church officers met, the whole church gathered. The entire church agreed with the conclusion reached by their leaders. The apostles did not send off the letter without meeting with the entire church.
Pastors today should take note. Many abuse their parishioners with a high handed and dictatorial rule. But the apostles themselves involved the whole congregation. This issue was no small matter. The entire church needed to understand.
The church sent both a letter and men to deliver the letter to Antioch. A letter alone was not good enough. The pretenders could accuse Paul and Barnabas of writing the letter themselves. It would not be hard to do. So the church sent Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas. They could attest to the veracity of the letter.
The church did not send the letter in Peter’s name. They sent it in the name of the entire church. The letter is according to James’ proposal. Peter played a role. He played an important role. But the church did not recognize him as supreme.
Both the letter and its deliberation shows the church had no concept of Peter’s primacy. That claim did not occur until the 4th Century. Damasus I made the claim. As it would happen he was the bishop of Rome. It was a self-serving proclamation. The rest of the church ignored the claim.
The letter starts by saying, “Ya know those guys who came from Jerusalem, Yeah they’re frauds. Don’t pay any attention to ‘em. But Paul and Barnabas, you should listen to them.”
This should give us pause. When we go off on our own, we are in danger of being frauds. We have no authority. We need to be sent under the authority of the church. We are not to go off on our own.
The large growth of independent bible churches today is dangerous. A man who starts a church and is under no authority is in danger of going off the rails. Many have.
The letter said they, the church in Jerusalem, all agreed to the contents of the letter. And they commend Paul and Barnabas for their zeal and courage. Paul and Barnabas were not afraid to sacrifice their lives for Christ. The fraud’s claimed authority had no commitment. They never suffered anything for Christ’s sake. To put it in Texas terms. They were all hat and no cattle.
The letter goes on to say, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (v28). It is key to note the Holy Spirit is the driver. The apostles attributed nothing to themselves. The Holy Spirit was the captain, guide, and governor. They did not set down, write or decreed anything themselves.
This is a common manner of speech in the Scripture. As an example, when it says the people believed God and his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:31) It is not suggesting their faith was divided between God and Moses. They had faith in Moses as God’s spokesman. God was the driver. They only believed Moses because he was God’s mouthpiece.
Rome misses this point. They claim this verse shows the church has the right to created law. NO! The church has no authoritative in itself. It is authoritative only as along it states God’s commands. The church cannot add to or detract from what God says. The Church cannot command under pain of mortal sin.
Paul later clarifies the teaching of the letter. “The welfare of our weaker brothers is to be our concern. How others understand our actions is to concern us. The thing in itself was neutral. Nothing is unclean.” (Romans 14:14). God grants the right to eat any type of meat, even meat sacrificed to idols, (1Corinthians 10:25). The summary is this; love is the end of the Law. God commands we strive to preserve unity in Him. Everyone is to serve and edify his neighbor.
The letter says they were to: “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality”. (v29)
Codex Bezae and some others add, “And whatever you do not want to happen to yourselves, do not do to another/others.” This is no doubt a commentary. But it gives some insight into the letter commands. This is a negative form of the Golden Rule. It is not changing ceremonial restrictions into more ethical demands.
God has never permitted the eating of blood. This was from creation. The scripture is clear on this point. From Adam to Noah no one ate
The whole Antioch church gathered to hear the letter read. Christianity is not a secret religion. All the people are to know all the teachings. That was one of the vital things recovered in the reformation. The Scripture was to be available to all from the plowboy to the bishop. It was also one of the drivers behind the expansion of literacy.
The congregation rejoiced at the encouragement. Circumcision was not required. Jerusalem had affirmed Paul and Barnabas’ teaching.
Luke tells us Silas and Judas were prophets. We understand “prophet” in a different sense today. They were not foretelling the future. Luke’s meaning is, Judas and Silas had great knowledge and understanding of the mysteries of God. They were good interpreters of God. Paul said the same to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 14:3-6) He preferred prophecy over all the other gifts.
After a short time, Silas and Judas left. But Paul and Barnabas remained to preach the gospel.