4. The Apostles’ Convention



The Apostles’ Convention

A local dispute in Antioch, which was accidentally caused by some arrivals from Judea by their assertion of the necessity of circumcision for salvation, causes a decision that settles the whole dispute about the necessity of the law, secures the freedom of the Gentile Christians and establishes the peace of the parties.

But again, it is not Paul who conquers and secures the freedom of the Gentile Christians – but he and Barnabas, since both cannot control the unrest caused by those arrivals from Judea, are sent by the church of Antioch to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders to get their decision on the question (15:1-2).

If Paul’s activity had been initiated by the early church from the beginning and had received its legitimation from the leaders of the church, he now had to get the document from Jerusalem that would resolve the question of the position of the Gentile Christians, and he had to get it before he started his great missionary journey to Europe.

The apostles and the elders of Jerusalem come together as a court of justice when, after the arrival of the Antiochene envoys and after their report on the work of divine grace outside among the Gentiles, the question of dispute (v. 5) was once again stirred up by Pharisees who had become believers and insisted on the unconditional validity of the Mosaic Law – no! no! The author has already forgotten that the Antiochian envoys are to present the already pending dispute for solution, and only now, after their arrival, does he allow the dispute to break out through the preaching of the converted Pharisees.


Enough, – the court meets – a public hearing takes place in the presence of the congregation (v. 12) – it is debated, finally a decision is made and the congregation helps to give it the force of law by agreeing to it.

After the argument had wavered unsuccessfully at first, Peter prepares the decision by recalling how “the Gentiles”, the heathen in general, heard the word of the Gospel through his mouth and how God had testified about them through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then Paul and Barnabas tell about the great deeds the Lord has accomplished through them among the Gentiles. But only James gives the decisive statement, creates the real decision and, what is more, only refers to Peter’s report in his argumentation – only relies on the testimony which God had laid down in Peter’s work. He does not pay any attention to what Paul and Barnabas have said. He only proves from Peter’s report and deed that “God has accepted a people from the Gentiles for His name” – only from Peter’s report and deed does he draw (vv. 14-16) this conclusion, which he proves with the prophecy of Amos. The agreement of Peter’s deed with the prophecy has therefore decided the matter and James only gives the decisive answer by drawing attention to this agreement and drawing the conclusion. While Paul stands humbly before the Apostolic Council with Barnabas and must await the decision, he even has to hear that the foundation of the universal church is nothing new, but only the restoration and renewal of the fallen tabernacle of David – nothing but an expanded Judaism, and that the conversion of the Gentiles is only their attachment to the glorified Judaism.


The Creator of the new freedom must humble himself even deeper: —- the council of the early church does not reject Paul’s approach, but also does not approve it unreservedly. Instead, they believe that they can only give the real decision by (v. 28) establishing four “necessary” provisions, which Paul had not yet adhered to, and whose observance would only prove (v. 29) that the Gentile Christians are serious about “behaving properly.” Therefore, the Apostle must quietly endure that dogmas, which he would consider as “weak and worthless elemental forces” and rudiments of humanity, as “worldly elements” (Gal. 4:9, Col. 2:20-21), are imposed on Gentile Christians as highly necessary.

Yes, the apostle must experience that the Gentile Christians, through the obligation to these four regulations, are put on a par with the Gentiles of the OT. who, even if they did not participate in all the lawful things, were nevertheless forced to show some consideration for the holiness of the chosen people and had to comply with the law of the chosen people in four respects: They had to refrain from participating in idol worship, they were not allowed to eat anything with blood or strangled, and they had to avoid the prohibited sexual relations *). If the Gentile Christians are allowed all other freedoms besides observing those four points, what does this leniency mean other than the recognition that they occupy an equally exceptional position in the community, just as the foreigners who lived among the chosen people were part of its theocratic union? And if circumcision is specifically waived for them, does not this leniency still put them on the same level as the foreigners of the Old Testament, for whom circumcision was also not required, even though it would have made them fully-fledged members of the legal community?

*) Leviticus 20:2, 17:12, 17:15, 18:26.


While the Paul of the Epistles knows nothing of these four regulations and even contradicts the first point, which forbids the eating of things sacrificed to idols, since he declares this eating to be indifferent, in the Acts of the Apostles he recognises the decision of the early church and its leaders to such an extent that there is nothing left for him to do but to deliver it to the church – simply to hand over the solution. He and Barnabas come to Antioch with the delegates of the early church, assemble the crowd, deliver the decree to them and the community feels reassured and uplifted by this decision (15:30-31). And when he went on, “travelling through the cities”, he again had nothing more to do than to hand over the apostle’s decree, and always a consequence of this spreading is that the churches are strengthened in the faith (16:4, 5).

The contradiction between the subordinate role assigned to Paul in Acts alongside the leaders of the early church and the force with which the apostle asserts and enforces his independence in the epistles is so great that even the apologists must acknowledge it, albeit with evasive words, but can never compensate for it. If, for example, Schneckenburger *) says that one turned to Jerusalem because of the Antiochian discord, it was “natural, because in a certain sense the authority of Jerusalem was recognised in all the congregations”, he does not take into account that it is at the same time about Paul and that he does not recognise this authority in his everyday affairs. If Schneckenburger, on the other hand, finds it natural that “now a decree went out from Jerusalem that made the Gentile Christians secure,” he does not bring up the fact that Paul fights for their freedom in his own strength and makes them secure beside and against Jerusalem. If it seems very natural to him that Paul simply spreads the decision of the primitive apostles in his congregations “because he hoped thereby to oppose the Judaizers with a more respectable defence than his own spiritual authority was capable of, he can only ascribe this hope and intention to the apostle if he carefully refrains from how jealously he preserved his independence and that he always wanted to decide only by virtue of his own authority and by virtue of the revelation that was given to him personally.

*) op. cit. p. 72, 73.


chnecktnburgrr is of the opinion that the report of the Acts of the Apostles and the communications of the apostle (Gal. 2) about his negotiations with the apostles at Jerusalem refer to the same fact – (and indeed, if a parallel is to be proved in the apostle’s letters, that report can only be brought together with these statements of the Epistle to the Galatians) – but the contradictions between the two cannot be attributed to a mere “difference of viewpoint”. The apostle’s own account does not help us to “complete the picture” *) which the author of Acts draws of the teacher of the Gentiles, but both are mutually exclusive.

*) ibid. p. 76.


Step by step, the two portrayals exclude each other.

Immediately after his conversion, the Paul of Acts preaches the Gospel to the Jews in Damascus, but persecutions that immediately rise up against him force him to flee and he goes to Jerusalem. The stay in Damascus is so short that the author counts by days **), and the fact that the disciples in Jerusalem, when the apostle wanted to join them, avoid him (9:26) is also consistent with this assumption of the historian – they do not think it is possible that he is a disciple, and their suspicion was natural, since the conversion had happened shortly before and the news of it had not yet reached Jerusalem.

**) “after a number of days” the persecution broke out 9:23, ως δε επληρουντο ημεραι ικαναι

The same assumption is made by the author in the two accounts that Paul gives of his conversion. In the first account – the speech to the people – the Apostle is given the command by his Lord to go to the Gentiles only when he prays in the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 22:17-21) – so here in Jerusalem is where the vision from Damascus is completed. Both visions are essentially one vision – they are just two acts that take place in different locations but form an immediately connected whole, and therefore cannot be separated by a longer interval. And they are indeed closely connected, for the Apostle returns to Jerusalem (v. 17) after his conversion, as if he can only stay there; his trip to Damascus has fulfilled its purpose.


In the second account – the defence before King Agrippa – his first appearance in Damascus and Jerusalem is just as closely connected: – “first I preached, says the apostle (26:20), to those in Damascus and Jerusalem”, then to all of Judea and the Gentiles.

In the Epistle to the Galatians the apostle assures us that after his conversion he did not go to Jerusalem (1:17-18) but to Arabia, then “returned to Damascus, and after three years went to Jerusalem, and here, besides Peter, he only saw James, the brother of the Lord. Only James, no one else of the other apostles, he assures with great pride and invokes God (v. 20) that he is not lying – not lying, while in the Acts of the Apostles Barnabas introduces him to the circle of apostles immediately after his first stay in Jerusalem – not lying, when he claims that he is unknown to the face of the church in Judea (v. 22). 22), while according to the account in Acts, after a fine introduction in the circle of the apostles, he preaches to the church of Jerusalem until persecutions force him to flee.

Only after fourteen years had passed since his first visit to Jerusalem, according to the Galatians letter (2:1-2), Paul went up to the holy city again in response to a revelation to discuss his gospel with the apostles. He united with them, agreeing that the Gentiles belonged to him and the children of circumcision belonged to them – this being the only trip that can be compared with the journey to the council of the early church in the Book of Acts in terms of its purpose and success. However, it remains the case that this trip is explicitly referred to as the second one in the Galatians letter, while in the Book of Acts it is the third one.


The apostle of the Epistle to the Galatians does not know anything about the second one of the Acts of the Apostles, which (11:30) only had the purpose of bringing alms – if it nevertheless wanted to intrude, then he would adamantly include it, since he, in order to preserve his independence, insists that he only made these two journeys to Jerusalem in that time period.

The second journey of the Acts of the Apostles cannot be the second journey of the Epistle to the Galatians, since the purpose of both – the purpose that each of them had alone – is completely different.

So the contradiction remains that the second journey of the Epistle to the Galatians is the third of the Acts of the Apostles – to which is added the contradiction that not even the first and third journeys of the Acts of the Apostles can be separated by the period of fourteen years, Finally, the negotiations that follow the third journey of Acts and the second journey of Galatians about the relationship between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians have an essentially different format and an equally different result.


In the Acts of the Apostles it is a public, official negotiation that leads to a legal decision of the congregation – the negotiation that the Epistle to the Galatians speaks of is conducted privately between Paul and the pillar apostles (C. 2, 9), James, Peter and John.

The Paul of Galatians stands up for his rights and forces the three pillar apostles to recognise him – the Paul of Acts, hardly noticed, has to stand before the barriers of the convention and submit unconditionally to the decision of the congregation.

The former comes to Jerusalem of his own accord, as a result of a revelation, in order to discuss every case with the original apostles, and the private negotiation which he initiates with them is the only correct course worthy of him which he could take – the latter, however, is sent by the Antiochian congregation in order to obtain a decision and solution from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for a question and a dispute which he could not master.

He stands alone in Jerusalem and when he defended the freedom of Titus from circumcision against “intruding brethren”, the apostles were at least passive “and they did not indicate with a word that the demands of the law-setters were not also theirs – he, on the other hand, received from them the document that secured the freedom of the Gentile Christians.

However, the three apostles in the Galatians letter do recognize Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. They shake hands with him, expressing their willingness to have fellowship with him *). However, this fellowship is reduced to the observance of neutrality, that they will tolerate each other’s separate spheres of influence. There are two gospels, the gospel of the Gentiles and the gospel of circumcision, two spheres of influence in which grace operates, two teachings, and the peace treaty that the apostles of circumcision make with the apostle to the Gentiles contains only the declaration of neutrality, that they will let each other alone and tolerate one another. In short, the original apostles of the Galatians letter allow Paul to work on his own field and leave him to his own responsibility. Therefore, they are very cautious about interfering in his sphere of influence, which is a foreign world for them. In the Book of Acts, however, they are the ones who ensure the freedom of the Gentile Christians and intervene decisively in their living conditions. They sanction what they only tolerate under Paul’s responsibility in the Galatians letter. They act as supreme arbitrators and owners of a domain that, in the Galatians letter, is just outside their inheritance as foreign property and a foreign conquest.

*) 2:9 δεξιας εδωκαν . . . . κοινωνιας


These contradictions must be recognised and can never be resolved in the sense that their conflict ceases. They can only be explained, i.e. recognised as the products of two different points of view.

That the author of the Acts of the Apostles, when he wrote his work, followed a very definite purpose, and also calculated quite precisely, is proved by the fact that he excerpted several characteristic features from the life of the apostle, which were known to him from his letters.


He does not mention Titus at all, so he does not report that Paul did not allow him to be circumcised; on the other hand he emphasises very deliberately how the apostle, when he came to Derbe and Lystra, circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewess but of a Greek father, purely and solely for the sake of the Jews (C. 16, 1-3), – purely and solely for the sake of the Jews, because they knew very well that Timothy’s father was a Greek, so that they also had no claims on him – Timothy was also not destined to work among the Jews. The apostle had only appointed him as a companion for his further journeys – but he circumcised him so as not to cause offence to the Jews by taking an uncircumcised man with him as a helper on his journeys – purely and solely for the sake of the Jews, in order to show that he did not want to get in the way of the law.

That is, the Paul of the Acts of the Apostles allows himself to be driven by the consideration of the Jews to an action that the apostle of the Epistle to the Galatians was not capable of. The author of the Acts of the Apostles first created this timorous act of the apostle – if we also consider how he placed it in the same close connection with the apostle’s decree and the quarrel with Barnabas, in which the struggle for the freedom of Titus stands with the negotiations about the freedom of the Gentile Christians and with the groundless behaviour of Barnabas, then we will no longer be in doubt about the author’s intention.

He does not mention the Antiochian quarrel between the apostle and Peter, and he could not include it in his writing, since Peter’s fear of the men who came from James (Gal. 2:12) was impossible, when the latter had only just tipped the scales in favour of the freedom of the Gentile Christians at the Jerusalem Council.


Of course he could not mention that Barnabas was seduced by Peter and his Jewish environment (Gal. 2:13) – instead he lets a third person cause the rift between Barnabas and Paul in that the former (Act. 15:37-40) was the one who would bring John Mark with him on the journey, but Paul did not want him because he had previously departed from him (13:13). Only Paul’s dislike of Mark is to blame for the dilemma – Barnabas had not caused the separation through his personal behaviour.

Paul also does not mention the collection that he gathered in Europe for the early church, and whose delivery was the purpose of his last trip to Jerusalem – of course not! – as it served as a gesture of love from the Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians and as the only bond that could connect the separated, theoretically separated, in a practical way. At the same time, it testified that their life journeys were completely separate and that they lived in such different worlds that the only bond that could still connect them to some extent was the memory of the early church for the Gentile Christians, and the proof of that memory could only be a donation. On the other hand, in the Book of Acts, the early church creates the freedom of the Gentile Christians and regulates their circumstances.

He could not incorporate the collection into his work, especially since its collection was the only stipulation that the three pillars of the Galatians letter (Gal. 2:10) added to their private agreement with Paul and their concession to recognize him in his own sphere of influence. Meanwhile, in the Book of Acts, the author added a completely different judgments to the decision of the early church, which established the freedom of the Gentile Christians and should apply to the life of the Gentile Christians.


He only involuntarily remembers this collection when he has the Apostle in his speech before Felix describe the purpose of his journey to Jerusalem (24:17) as the offering of a sacrifice and alms – only these alms are offered by the Apostle as his personal gift *) and is offered “to his people”, to the Jews in general, not to the Christian community in Jerusalem.

*) παρεγενομην ελεημοσυνας ποιησων

Earlier, when he had begun his work abroad in Antioch, the apostle brought a collection to Jerusalem on behalf of the elders of this church (11:27-30) – this alone was only arranged by chance, because the brethren in Judea wanted to be helped in an upcoming famine prophesied by the prophet Agabus. It is the freely formed counterpart to the collection, the raising of which the apostles in the Galatian letter laid out for the apostle as a stipulation and condition of their recognition, just as the author, with well-considered intention, had made John Mark the companion of the apostle and created his anger (12:25, 13:13), in order to later bring about the rift with Barnabas in his own way. If one wanted to call the report of the Antiochian collection with Schneckenburger **) much too “harmless” to bear the suspicion that it was a freely formed metamorphosis of the collection of the Pauline letters – the notes on John Mark much too “simple, harmless and unbiased”, *) than that they could be regarded as calculated preparations for the break with Barnabas – if, then, one were to acknowledge intention and calculation only in the case where the author calls them out, one would be asking a thing of impossibility and more of the author than he could and was allowed to do.

**) ibid. p. 114.

*) Ibid. p. 108.


With such deliberate intent, the author suppresses any memory of the partisan struggles within the church and of the battles the apostle had to wage with the Judaizing party, that he does not even let him preach the gospel during his first journey through Galatia and Phrygia. (16:6) – Galatia with its tearing battles over the validity of the law and with the testimony of the Epistle to the Galatians about the battles the apostle had to fight with the Judaizing zealots of the churches there, was the most dangerous country for the author, therefore he lets the apostle pass through it quietly and silently “and would have achieved in his way what he aimed at, if only he had not, during the apostle’s second passage through Galatia and Phrygia (C. 18, 24) he had established churches in these countries without reporting their foundation, and had let the apostle strengthen them without explaining how the apostle came to relate to these churches. But he had to be inconsistent. He finally had to admit that there were also churches with which the apostle had communicated.

But in this he is consistent, that he suppresses everything that could remind of those inner struggles of the church. Only the faithless Jews persecute the apostle and pursue him – within the church, on the other hand, there is peace and unity and false teachers are even impossible to the extent that the apostle has to prophesy about them and portray them as deceivers who will only appear after his return (20:29-30). Only once, when he came to Jerusalem for the last time, did the believing Jews express some concern about the rumour that the apostle was leading the foreign Jews to apostasy from Moses (21:20-21), but it was only a rumour, the groundlessness of which Paul proved by showing his strictly legal attitude.


Thus, there was no fighting or struggle, and even the freedom of the Gentile Christians was safe-guarded by the early church in Jerusalem on the occasion of an accidental misunderstanding. The apostolic decree was a foundation that made any further dispute and discord impossible!

And yet history tells of a deep discord that divided the congregations, of a struggle that only came to an end when, around the middle of the second century, the value of circumcision had so declined that it was no longer mentioned in the Clementines and only the course of life was praised as the means of rebirth and deliverance from paganism, that in the Epistle of Barnabas *) circumcision is completely refuted and even called a mirage with which an evil spirit bewitched the Jews, while God had not spoken of a carnal circumcision. Ignatius opposes the true, the upper, i.e. the spiritual circumcision to the false and lower circumcision **).

*) Ch. 7.

**) κατω περιτομη ad. Philad. c. 6


Where, then, did the struggle come from that led to this late conclusion of peace, after a solution had already been given in the Apostles’ Decree that must make every dispute impossible and cut off all questions from the outset?

We have already given the answer by proving the late origin of the Acts of the Apostles. The peace that followed the struggle, the peace that surrounded the author in his time, – he transferred this peace to the early days of the Church, and by this anachronism brought about the problem, which is, however, insoluble on the grounds of his work, of how this ancient and original peace could ever again be lost in the struggle.

In the Apostles’ Decree he laid down the judgement of his time on the freedom of the Jewish Christians and the recognition of this freedom, and he created this decree freely and independently.*)

*) Schwegler has drawn attention to the stylistic similarity of the Decree and the Prologue to the Gospel of Luke. (Post-apostolic era I. 127.)

The late editor of the Gospel, which Marcion had in his hands, styled the Decree after the Prologue, which he prefixed to the Gospel of Urlukas:

Luke 1:1-3 επειδηπερ πολλοι επεχειρησαν αναταξασθαι . . . εδοξε καμοι παρηκολουθηκοτι ανωθεν πασιν ακριβως καθεξης σοι γραψαι . . .

Acts 15:24, 25 επειδη ηκουσαμεν οτι . . . εδοξεν ημιν γενομενοις ομοθυμαδον . . . . πεμψαι προς υμας . . . .

The author also proved his skill for the pure Greek style in the entrance to the speech of the rhetor Tertullus before the governor Felix (24:3). It was only fortunate for him that his rhetor gave in immediately after the elegantly and artistically styled entrance (v. 4), did not promise to delay the governor too long and went straight to the point. In other words, it was difficult for the author to write in this style for more than one episode, and he sought to return to his usual course as soon as possible.


By the way, at the very moment when the freedom of the Gentile Christians was to be secured by borrowing the clauses that he attached to the apostolic decree from the Old Testament provisions regarding the position of gentiles, he created the illusion that Gentile Christians should occupy the same exceptional position within the community as the gentiles did in the midst of the holy people, according to the assumption of those provisions. However, when he modeled the clause that Gentile Christians should refrain from fornication on the provision that strangers should avoid forbidden degrees in marriage, this allusion probably sufficed for him, and he would likely have regarded the question of whether fornication referred to marriage within forbidden degrees or even second marriage as somewhat intrusive.



The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)