Luke writes in acts 15:1 ‘And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, you cannot be saved”. This was the root issue of the Jewish and Gentile controversy, the controversy was on the issue of salvation. This men who came down from Judea was preaching a different message to what Paul and Barnabas had preached to the gentiles in Antioch. The men from Judea preached to the already converted Christians that they must obey the law of Moses, they must be circumcised if they are to be saved. This message was contrary to what they already would have heard from Paul, and for them to hear of this new message would have created confusion in their hearts leading them astray and away from the truth of the gospel in which was first preached to them. The Jewish/Gentile controversy was not just a mere debate that could be put away and not attended to, it was a matter of life and death , heaven and hell and so it was a matter to be taking seriously and thus Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, to the elders and apostles on the matter. As Christians today, living in the 21st century where there are so many branches of different beliefs and doctrines being put forward in denominations, one ought to consider to himself whether his beliefs are the one that are affirm by solid scripture that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves you. “So God, who knows the heart , acknowledge them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts15:8-9).
The burden of the Jewish law
Paul strongly believed as well as the apostles that the law of Moses was a burden. They opposed the sect of the Pharisees who said concerning the gentiles that “it is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses“ (Acts15:5). In Galatians 2 Paul describes this sect of Pharisees as “false brethrens secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they may bring us into bondage”. Peter also says to the Pharisees that “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). The Pharisees insisted that keeping the law of Moses was essential to salvation thus making salvation an act of works rather than faith. This was their understanding of the law of Moses, because the law was originally meant to be completed by faith but this they did not understand, Christ was the fulfilment of the law and the law always pointed to a righteous man but this they did not heed but seek to establish their own righteousness.
How the conflict was resolved and how Christians today can use the same means to resolve conflicts.
The conflict was resolved in the council of Jerusalem where a number of apostles and elders gathered together to discuss the issue. Three decisive speeches were made by the three apostles. As Christians if there arise an issue of debate in our church, it would be wise to set up a council of elders, people who are of knowledge and godly in their behaviours according to the fruit of their faith in Christ Jesus. It would be unwise to have any one there; just as the controversy was brought before people of high authority in the council of Jerusalem I advise our churches to do likewise so that there may be unity and coherence on the preaching of the gospel.
Peter was the first to speak after there had been much dispute among them. Peter reminded them about his experiences with Cornelius and how God chose him that by his mouth gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. What peter is saying here concerning the event that happened with Cornelius is that God regarded Jews and gentiles as equals “So God, who knows the heart , acknowledge them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” . This speech nullifies the argument of the Pharisees on the observance of the law because Peter is saying that it is the inward purity of the heart that draws people towards God not the rituals of the law but by faith and not by the works of the law. Peter makes it clear when he says “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (acts 15:11) that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ which Paul and Barnabas preached to the gentiles and not by works of the law in which some Jews insisted.
Paul and Barnabas
The speech that Paul and Barnabas put forward were not recorded in act 15 but we already know there position on the discord. Paul says in Galatians 2:16 “We know that a man is….justified….by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus”. Paul and Barnabas shared their testimony to prove that the message they preached was genuine and accepted by God.
James came to a decision that “they should not trouble those among the gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). James is agreeing with Peter and Paul, that if the gentiles are turning to God by their faith in Christ Jesus then let us not trouble them by putting yokes on their necks.
All three apostles agreed with each other that it is by faith and not the works of the law that brings you into fellowship with God. The conflict was resolved and now there was a sound agreement on whether gentiles are to follow the law of Moses. The way this conflict was resolved can also be transferred to the church today. If there is a conflict within a church, it is the responsibility of the elders in the church to resolve the disagreement in a wise manner concluding their results are in accord with scripture as it was also with James when he quoted Amos 9:11-12 to affirm his judgement.