3.16 Acts -- Revenge of the Law Abiding, cont.
Following Peter's address, Barnabas and Paul testified to what God had done among the Gentiles. Then James, the brother of Jesus and head of the church, spoke. He quoted the Scriptures:
"After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name" (Acts 15:16-17,
James was the key decision-maker, after all the other leaders had given their opinions. Note that Luke does not present a full statement of the pro-circumcision position. James decided to set the bar low, ie. not to make it hard for the Gentiles to convert. There were only three requirements: avoid food that was dedicated to idols, sexual immorality ("porneias"), and drinking blood. A brief letter was written to the Greek churches which stated these minimal standards. Paul and Barnabas took the letter to Antioch, accompanied by two Jerusalem leaders (prophets).
This second go-round concerning the place of Gentiles was a success in terms of upholding of the New Covenant against the forces of tradition, segregation and legalism. Inexplicably, Peter stumbled later in Galatia, so we know that even after the Jerusalem council there was still a strong reactionary undertow trying to keep Mosaic practices alive. See also Acts 21 following. But the conference gave Paul, Barnabas and other evangelists a green light to preach to the Gentiles, without the encumbrance of the Law.
This makes it all the more incongruous that when Timothy joined Paul's next missionary journey, he required him to be circumcised! (Acts 16:3) Timothy was a half-Greek half-Jewish man from Lystra, a city where Paul had been stoned (Acts 14:19). The rite of circumcision was not performed in order for Timothy to be saved, but to prevent giving offense to Jews when Timothy would accompany Paul into synagogues to preach about Jesus. This was in line with Paul's strategy for winning people to faith in Jesus:
"To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor 9:20-22).
As we will see at the end of Acts, Paul was walking a tightrope between the two camps -- upholding the freedom of the Gentiles from the Law, and placating the Law-abiding Jewish believers. This ended up costing him his own freedom, and possibly his life.