Acts 15 falling into its (literary) place at last

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by Neil Godfrey

Something about the Jerusalem Council meeting in Acts 15 has eluded me — including even the question to help me know what that “something” is.

This morning I’m sure I’m catching up with what most others have long known, must surely have been alluded to countless times in the literature not to mention “basic texts”, when it finally hit me.

The author could more economically have said in a half dozen verses all that was necessary: that the elders met, the apostles spoke, they all agreed, and the decree went out.

But of course it’s a far more dramatic narrative picture that the author chose to present.

Ancients, it suddenly dawned on me this morning, loved to throw in a good council meeting with leaders presenting arguments to and fro before a great leader or king who makes the final decision. They are found throughout the works of Homer, in the Aeneid, the Argonautica, and other ancient novels I’m sure I’ve come across if I took the time to check them up too. (Of course Homer predates Acts by quite a bit but Homer was THE basic literary work still studied and enjoyed and adapted in early Christian times.)

What the author of Acts is indulging in here is a good old popular Hellenistic trope that he knows/hopes his audience will enjoy as much as divine prison escapes and shipwreck scene.

Only one difference between the Acts Council and those I read in Virgil and Homer: suprise surprise! all the speakers in Acts 15 agree, and all potential opposition are humbled into silent conversion! Thus demonstrating the superiority, of course, of councils under the guidance of God in that early church. Contrast those messy pagan councils where leaders get up and expound contrary viewpoints! Acts 15 gives us good old unity of the spirit and all that.


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Neil Godfrey

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