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Early Church History: Part 11--Effects of the Council

Aug 08, 2007

Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, p. 353, originally published in 1858, dates the Jerusalem Church Council in 51 A.D. It was just eighteen years after Pentecost that the circumcision issue came to its crisis point.

Likewise, King Saul's primary crisis came in the eighteenth year of his reign when he was rejected by God (1 Sam. 15:11), at which time Samuel anointed David as his replacement.  I wrote about this in Secrets of Time.

Again, King David reached his crisis point in the eighteenth year of his reign when Absalom usurped his throne for a season. There seems to be a pattern here, and so it is not too surprising to find the Church in its first major crisis in 51 A.D.

The Council composed a letter to be read in the churches (Acts 15:30), and this was taken to Antioch. Verse 31 says, "And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement." History shows, however, that not everyone was happy with this ruling. We see from this point the rise of two sects, the Ebionites and the Nazarenes, who continued to insist that circumcision was necessary to be in covenant with God. In other issues, they appeared to agree with James and the Jerusalem Church, for they all continued to worship in the Temple, perform sacrifices, keep their holy days in the Old Testament manner, refrain from eating with non-Jewish believers, and observe all of the other forms which the Jews equated with the divine law.

These groups, however, had hitched their future to a falling star, for Jerusalem's destruction in 70 A.D. would destroy the central feature of Judaism wherein they trusted. Likewise, their narrow exclusiveness and demand for circumcision only served to repulse non-Jews and keep their numbers small. Their primary field of evangelism was within Judaism itself, and success in that arena was quite limited, due to priestly opposition. For this reason, these sects remained minor blips on the screen of history, while the rest of the Church flourished.

Paul and Barnabas continued ministering in Antioch for some time before the second missionary journey, which began in 52 A.D., the same year that Claudius expelled the Jews and Christians from Rome. According to the Roman Historian Suetonius, who wrote his volumes on Lives of the Caesars in 110 A.D.,

"Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

Of course, "Chrestus" was Jesus Christ, and the disturbances were caused by Jewish opposition to Christ. Tacitus, Annals 15.44 spells his name "Christus," and says that he was executed during the reign of Tiberius.

This expulsion affected Aquila and Priscilla, who left Rome and went to Corinth, where Paul met them on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1).

In the year of this expulsion (52 A.D.) Claudius took elephants to Britain and won a great battle, taking captive the British royal family. Caradoc appeared before Claudius and the Senate later that same year and gave his famous speech that saved his life. Caradoc had to remain in Rome for seven years (52-59 A.D.), during which time he often terrorized the Roman citizens by driving a chariot at high speed through the streets of the city.

And so, about the time that Paul was considering a second missionary tour to visit the churches that he had established earlier, these events were going on in Britain and Rome. We read this in Acts 15:36,

"And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are."

A number of ancient manuscripts leave out this verse, causing some to question its validity. But Ivan Panin includes it in his Numeric New Testament. His work is valuable in the matter of disputed texts, because he establishes the inspiration of the text by gematria, the mathematical structure of the inspired text. Thus, whenever some might question a Scriptural text, I defer to Ivan Panin.

We are then told that Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along (as in the first journey). But Paul had lost confidence in his ability to stand under the rigors and persecutions of missionary work and absolutely refused to take him again. This disagreement resulted in two teams of missionaries going forth. Barnabas took Mark and took a ship to Cyprus; Paul took Silas and traveled by land westward through Syria and Cilicia. During this time he composed his two letters to the Thessalonians.

Acts 16:1 tells us that Paul and Silas went to Derbe and Lystra. It was at Lystra a few years earlier that Paul had been stoned (Acts 14:8, 19). But as the brethren gathered around him, no doubt praying, Paul got up and went with them to Derbe. In returning to Lystra, Paul met a disciple named Timothy, who had a Greek father and a Jewish mother.

It is possible that Paul had met him on his first trip, though he is not mentioned. It is likely that he would have witnessed the miracle of healing that Paul worked on the crippled man (Acts 14:10). We can surmise that Timothy had been attached to the synagogue there, considering his Jewish mother, but yet also was uncircumcised. At any rate, on this second journey, "Paul wanted this man to go with him" (Acts 16:3), along with Silas.

Interestingly enough, Paul then recommended that Timothy be circumcised, not because it was necessary for his salvation, but in order that he might not hinder Paul's access to the synagogues in various cities. It was a matter of expedience, not of divine compulsion. In fact, we are told specifically in verse 4,

"Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem for them to observe."

These were the decrees specifically stating that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Paul took them along on this trip to add weight to his teaching and to show his unity with the Jerusalem Church. The missionary band, however, was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, perhaps because the leaders of the synagogues knew him and may have stoned him again.

So they passed through Asia (modern Turkey), picking up Timothy in Lystra, then going to Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, and finally to the west coast at the city of Troas (old Troy). There Paul had a prophetic dream in which a man from Macedonia appealed for him to come and help him.

Immediately, they crossed over by ship into Macedonia to the city of Neapolis (Acts 16:11) and "from there to Philippi" (16:12). There they met Lydia, a businesswoman from Thyatira, who responded to the Gospel. She invited them to stay at her house, and her whole household were baptized.

There also Paul commanded the spirit of python ("divination") to come out of the young woman who was following them (16:18). Her deliverance caused an immediate economic crisis in the idol-making business, which landed Paul and Silas in prison. Apparently, Timothy was not imprisoned with them. This was one of the five times that Paul was beaten with 39 stripes (2 Cor. 11:24). One can only imagine all the scarring on Paul's back by the end of his ministry!

But that night as Paul and Silas sat in the stocks, with their backs in shreds, they sang praises to God, with the other prisoners thinking that they surely must be demented. A great earthquake struck around midnight, however, which destroyed the prison and (supernaturally?) released everyone's "stocks and bonds." The warden was about to commit suicide, when Paul called out to him, and the man was converted to Christ.


This is the eleventh part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.

Early Church History


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