The Two Ways Of The First Century Church

The Two Ways Of The First Century Church


A study in the book of Acts of the conflict between law and grace- as seen in the conflict between James, the Lord’s brother, and Paul, the apostle and as seen in the church today

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Lyndhurst, Ohio 44124


Copyright 1989 – David A. Anderson

To the memory of Verda Barga, as wonderful a Christian example as God ever put on this earth. Her untimely departure from this world was a shock and a loss to many. But, the impact of her kindness and helpfulness lives on.

Table of contents



If I were to try to list everyone who helped in bringing this book to pass, I would fail miserably. God’s family is truly wonderful and how God works through the members of that family is beyond finding out. There must be thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ who have shown me their love over the years, in person and in writing, and brought me to the place of being able to present this book to you.

I would not want to offend any of them by presuming to rank their helpfulness. The most casual comment given to me by any one of them may well prove as important as the hours of labor spent to bring the book to completion. I rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, called His body, and directs its functioning.

I must, however, give special thanks to those who helped so willingly in reviewing the first few drafts with me. Their patience, hospitality and many helpful suggestions, corrections and insights were priceless to me. Bill and Irene Baroni watched, rooted and helped for the past eleven years, mostly from a distance of three thousand miles away. Billy Howse gave me his computer, without which I would have fainted from the prospect of writing a book. Ken Klug furnished the help that enabled me to use it.

John and Mary Somerville put up with me for ten months during some of my “leaner moments” and were kind enough not to wince at “draft zero”. Donna Randall has always gone beyond the call of duty, ever since I first met her twenty four years ago. Her critical comments over the past four years, the books she furnished and the hospitality that she and her husband, Gene, so graciously furnished for the month it took us to go over the second draft were a blessing I will always cherish.

Perhaps the hardest job fell to Pat Lynn and Sue Pierce who each went through the first draft and provided the rudder and the gentle breeze to sail on. Alan Anderson, a brother in Christ although no relation, showed me how to “present the case to the jury” by his enthusiastic comments on the second draft. Many others, to numerous to mention by name, have read the manuscript since it came into roughly final form. Their helpfulness is acknowledged with thanksgiving. Finally, to Jerry and Edith Howell and to George Barga, thanks for all your help.

To Jesus Christ I acknowledge supremacy- even over any conflict that this book may cause. I am only a member in the body of Christ, He is the Head. I am thrilled that He loves me!


The purpose of this book is to show a different picture of the book of Acts than is commonly perceived. This picture did not arise out of a desire to write a book. It arose out of many high expectations and then hurtful disappointments while pursuing Christian causes. If it succeeds in capturing your attention, it will be due to the thrill of God’s Word rather than to any exceptional literary skills on my part.

I have no “air tight” answer to the critic who may ask, “who does he think he is to presume to write on such a topic?” other than the worldly weak answer that I am a child of God. The only other answer that I could give is that the subject needs to be addressed, and it does not appear that anyone has adequately addressed it for the best part of two thousand years. Conflict is not the easiest subject to graciously address without diminishing its seriousness.


The kernel of truth that developed into this book was not discovered by an academic searching for new or novel ground in which to dig. It arose out of a practical search to discover, from within the word of God, how to solve disputes within the Christian community. Like many others, conflict among Christians has been all to common in my life. I was prepared for conflict with the “ungodly”. Conflict within the “church” was another matter entirely. At times I was surprised. At times I was overwhelmed. But conflict seems to be among the standard fare of Christians. Fortunately, joy, love, peace, miracles and blessings go along with conflict and serve to moderate it’s bitterness.

The Apostle Paul advises Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier” (II Tim. 2:3). This hardness certainly includes evil, trouble, conflict. Conflict is unpleasant to consider. Nevertheless, I think you will agree that understanding and resolving conflict in the church is very needful. A “good soldier” needs to learn all he can about the conflict in which he engages, if he is to effectively “endure hardness”.

I have tried to be fair and reasonable in presenting the evidence for conflict within the church of the first century. But, you may find that this book is not an easy book to read because of where the evidence leads. Ten years ago I began to suspect that James, the brother of Jesus, was in conflict with the apostle Paul. At times I asked myself, “Who cares? What difference does it make?” I struggled with the answers to these questions until it dawned on me that the very liberty of the Christian was at stake. I concluded that there could be no more critical an issue for the Christian today than understanding the threat, ever present, to our liberty in Christ Jesus. That threat comes both from the direction of law and the direction of license. This book deals primarily with the threat to grace from the direction of law. A study of the similar threat from the direction of license would be more focused on Paul’s epistles to the Corinthian church and is outside the scope of this work.

I used to think that the threat to the Christian’s liberty was primarily from those outside the church. I now think it comes primarily from within the church. My personal experiences in going through life lead me to this conclusion and this investigation into the first century church points in that direction as well. The threat, the conflict, that this book deals with is over the issue of law versus grace within the church.

Solving my conflicts with others in the “church” by relegating all my opponents to the category of “ungodly” would not have been honest or fair. And, at times when I tried to do so, the solution did not satisfy. Christians want to love one another, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. It is the preeminent characteristic of the gift that God gave in making us “Christian”. And yet, conflict remains. To me, it is the ultimate practical problem of Christianity. I fully believe that conflict within the Christian church shows the urgent need for each Christian to more fully understand the Word of God. Some have held the opposite position over the centuries and felt that the study of God’s Word should be done only by “authorities”. Such a position has not done service to the church of grace. Only the truth sets men and women free. The more truth the individual learns, the more freedom he possesses. Ignorance of the truth keeps us in bondage.


I do not believe that conflict in the church will be solved through philosophy, through psychology, or through any worldly wisdom. It certainly will not be solved by the “unbeliever”. His interest is in a different direction than Christianity. Most importantly, conflict within the church will not be solved by ignoring it or yielding to “strong arm” tactics of “authorities” in the church simply to avoid it. Jesus Christ must be at the center of the solution. Not even James, Jesus half-brother, will do. Jesus Christ only is our Lord.

Acts is clearly a focal point of Christianity and Jesus Christ is the focal point of Acts. The perception we have of the church in Acts becomes our model for how we should behave today. If we misunderstand Acts, our understanding of how to live today suffers. Also, Acts is fundamental to our understanding of Paul’s epistles in that it shows the setting in which Paul wrote. Misunderstanding Acts causes us to misunderstand Paul.

My involvement with Acts began when I remembered the conflict in the early church at Antioch (Acts 15:1). Some came down from Jerusalem and told the believers in Antioch that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised. I thought, “certainly there cannot be a bigger conflict in the church today than this conflict in Acts 15:1.” The “believers” from Jerusalem were telling the “believers” in Antioch that some of them were not saved at all because they were not circumcised.

I concluded that if I could find in Acts how the problem in Antioch was solved, I would have a key to solving conflict in the church today. In studying the record of the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), the surface solution, compromise, did not satisfy at all. It seemed to only gloss over the problem and in fact presented a greater problem. Namely, how did James get to the position of being the head of the Jerusalem church, 15 years after the start of the church age, so that he prevailed in the Council with his ‘sentence’?” I had always thought of Peter when I thought of Jerusalem. Seeing James, the brother of Jesus, as being superior to Peter in the Council, presented a major problem.

For the past ten years I have been trying to answer the question, “How did James become the leader of the Jerusalem Church?” and its implications. This book is the result. My intention is not only to report what I have found but also to solicit help in pursuing the subject further in the hope that conflicts in the church today will yield to the discoveries forthcoming from that pursuit.


My desire is to promote God’s wisdom, the Word of God, rather than man’s wisdom. Many books could be recommended for further study, many wonderful books. But, it seems that as many pertinent books are lost or hidden as are found and so I feel safe only in recognizing and recommending God’s Word for future study. In other words, I feel much more comfortable assuming the role of a journalist who is not compelled to reveal his sources than I do assuming the role of a scholar who tries his best to examine and report all the sources he can possibly find. The scholar will know how to proceed further academically. The layman will hopefully appreciate the lack of footnotes and references outside the Bible.

There are striking contrasts in Acts which are not commonly perceived as contrasts at all. If we do not expect to see contrasts, we sometimes do not see them at all when we study the Bible. On the other hand, when we discover one surprising contrast, we begin to look for others to confirm our first observation.

Since first suspecting that James was presented in Acts as a contrast to Paul rather than a compliment, much data has been uncovered to confirm my suspicions. If you feel that I have overstated my case at certain points, please bear with me. The subject is far to critical to be dismissed because of any inadequacy on my part in addressing it or my imperfect knowledge about it. By the time you finish reading this book I think you will agree that the evidence presented shows that there were “two ways” within “the way” of the first century church, Paul’s way and James’ way.

In searching the literature to see if others had written on the subject of conflict in Acts, I was disappointed. The closest I could come to finding any one that pursued the idea of conflict within Acts was the “Tubingen school” in Germany in the nineteenth century. But, they saw the conflict existing between Peter and Paul, a conflict that I do not see at all in Acts. Peter did great things as did Paul. They were clearly on the same side, although Peter was caught in the middle, at times, in the conflict between Paul and James.

The “Tubingen school” held that “the impossibility of the miraculous is an axiom of historical criticism.” In other words, the impact of the many miracles, signs and wonders, recorded in Acts, were not considered. Obviously, if the miraculous is disallowed, the whole book of Acts is discredited. Therefore, the conflict they endeavored to develop could not address the conflict between James and Paul. The power of God, inherent in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to that conflict. The conflict they endeavored to develop dismissed the most vital element of Acts.

One well known scholar stated, “All the mistakes which have been made by New Testament Criticism have converged in Acts as in a focal point.” I came to Acts to solve a practical problem and found Acts to be a focal point of the Christian church. Scholars have evidently known it was a focal point all along. They have either defended Acts or attacked it, depending on their motive. I am hopeful that the defenders will see the conflict between James and Paul and will make their defense of God’s Word stronger as a result. As for the attackers of God’s Word, hopefully they will change their mind after reading this book and conclude that the Bible is God’s Word after all. They simply must not know Jesus Christ well enough yet or they would love Him.


It seems to me that there are two basic branches of Christianity today. Both branches teach salvation and profess to believe the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, how they perceive Christianity tends in opposite directions. There are two ways for the Christian to go after salvation, toward Jesus Christ and away from Him. I call these branches “Paul’s Church” and “James’ Church” because the contrasts between them are much the same as similar contrasts seen in Acts and Paul’s epistles.

I have no doubt that many are “saved” in both branches of Christianity today. I also have no doubt that there are impostors in both branches. But, separating one branch from the other today is far more difficult than in the first century because two thousand years have gone by and doctrinal elements of both branches seem to exist in every Christian organization and denomination today. I hope to present the sides of the conflict in the first century church without claiming that any one organization or denomination in the church today is superior to any other. Hopefully, this reinvestigation of Acts will help them all. My interest is to promote the church of Jesus Christ rather than a subgroup of that church.

The postulate of this book is that there were two churches within the Christian church of the first century. And, they went in two different directions. These are “The Two Ways of the First Century Church”. One is the Church of Bondage, the other the Church of Liberty. The former is the church of the bondwoman, the church of the law of sin and death, the church of the world, the church of the old nature, the church of the self-righteous, the church of the walk by the flesh. The other is the church of the freewoman, the church of grace, the church of the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, the church of the body of Christ, the church seated in the heavenlies, the church of the new nature, the church of Christ-righteousness, and the church of the walk by the spirit. The one heads up in James, the other in Paul. The Bondage Church emphasizes the power of the group, the Liberty Church the power of the individual as directed by the spirit of God.


Although the King James Version is the main version used throughout this work, there are two translations of the bible that I refer to in the text that may be unfamiliar to the reader. I call them to your attention, not because I believe them to be superior to other translations of the bible, but because they have come to be my first recourse when confronting a difficult verse in the King James.

The first is “Concordant Literal New Testament”, compiled by A. E. Knoch and published first in 1926 by Concordant Publishing Concern, 15570 West Knochaven Road, Canyon Country, CA 91351. It differs from other translations in that the compiler set as his rule to use only one English word for a Greek word, rather than allowing more than one, so that the English reader would know by differing English words that different Greek words were being translated. I have found Knoch’s translations very helpful in correcting misconceptions in my understanding of many verses in the King James Version.

The second is “A New Translation of The Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments” translated by James Moffatt and published first in 1922 by Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. It differs from the King James in that Moffatt used other greek sources beyond the Stephens text from which the King James came. In his introduction he points out that the Stephen’s text was based on only about one percent of the Greek evidence available by Moffatt’s time.

In using Moffatt’s translation to discuss scriptures with others who use the N.I.V., I have not yet been convinced to set aside Moffatt in favor of the newer translation. The two seem very similar to me in their advantage to the student who uses the King James Version as his first source. I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and therefore do not have access to ancient manuscripts exceptthrough English translations and concordances. Many translations have proved a benefit to me over the years, as have Greek interlinears and English concordances.

However, Jesus’ words, “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established,” (Matt. 18:16) seem to apply to my difficulty in studying God’s Word. If the King James Version is hard for me to hear, I resort to Moffatt and Knoch. If one or both render the verse differently than the King James Version, one of the renderings usually helps my hearing. I consider all three translations to be dear friends and although friends sometimes differ, the differences always lead to growth.

Since I do not pretend to have thoroughly mastered the subject matter of conflict in Acts, I feel quite free to cite evidence on the subject, however incomplete, and can not hope to present conclusive proof on each and every point and every scripture. To do so is quite beyond me. I would get lost in analysis and never get to synthesis. In my view, synthesis is the objective of analysis. I leave it to others in the body of Christ to dig further and deeper where I have only scratched the surface. By so doing, they can help correct, and expand the picture, admittedly imperfect, that I have painted.

My method (due probably to my training in engineering as opposed to the pure sciences) aims at substance, sometimes at the expense of form. Having identified the problem (the conflict between law and grace), I have tried to clarify and define it as best I can. Speculation over possible solutions is a necessary next step (science uses the word “postulate” rather than “speculate” but I find little difference). I have then tried to focus on the main elements of the solution and proceed in developing them. Hopefully, the outcome will be functional, even if not elegant. My goal is practical rather than academic. If this work lacks the elegance that some might desire, it is because I feel a personal urgency to address the issue that precludes any delay. In the contest between brevity and completeness I claim both as my friends and am not ashamed to be eclectic in my presentation. I am after opening a new debate rather than concluding an old one.

I recognize my shortcomings and the reality of life that we only know and see in part until “that which is perfect is come” (I Cor. 13:12). I bow to God’s Truth and hope that all who read what follows will heed the statement, “criticism in what we say, think, and feel, should be the balance of what we bow to versus what we feel doubtful of.” Debate is wonderful when the love of God prevails in it. As Paul says in I Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness!” When debate degenerates into controversy, the joy of discovery turns to anger. If we are to learn more of God’s Word, debate must be encouraged and anger turned to diligent study. Debate seems, among many people, to be a long lost art. Christians cannot afford to let God’s Truth remain undiscovered for fear of controversy. We must rediscover the fine art of debate so that we can prove “what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Science has little problem with “Prove it!” Theology sometimes does.


One of the chronic problems, to me at least,in reading most non-fiction books is that little, if anything is included about the author. Stories of fiction can be enjoyed without reference to the author. However, since the content of a non-fiction book can only be fully appreciated and carried further in the light of the author’s motives, his background and his experiences, most non-fiction books would do well, I believe, to include more about the author. Even the publishers of the King James Version usually fail to include the preface of “the translators to the reader”. Such an omission seems a disservice to the reader. Certainly the words selected by the translators of the King James Version to include in their preface are worthy to include along with the work they wrought. The reader can then choose whether or not to read them. To remedy the problem of “the invisible author” I have included some information about myself as an appendix.


This is a book about compromise. Not the sort of compromise wherein both sides of a dispute agree to the decision of an arbitrator, nor the kind of compromise that involves an insignificant issue- for example, one wants red paint for the building, the other wants blue, so they compromise and paint the building purple. The compromise with which this book deals is a compromise of integrity, a compromise of truth, a compromise between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

In the course of working with a Christian organization twenty years ago, the logical position was advanced that we should “yield on insignificant issues”. Of course most would agree that one should not waste his time defending a position that has no significance in the first place. The statement was readily accepted. However, over time, I began to notice that the intent behind promoting such a statement was to eliminate disagreement within the group on any issue- significant or insignificant. With the passing of time, I began to feel increasing pressure placed on the individual to relinquish his own judgement as to what was significant in favor of the official position of the organization.

As this pressure was accelerated, I noticed also that the issues on which the individual was to yield became increasingly significant. “Follow the leader, right or wrong”, was one of those issues presented. Such a position may have a place in a military organization, but certainly not in the church! Our leader is Jesus Christ and His instruction is very clear. We are to follow Him, and He is never wrong, even if we are. Yielding to any other “authority” on matters of truth and conviction can only lead to disaster. And, the major conflicts in the church seem always to center around which man or group of men should be followed. Our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. The power of God that is manifested about us should be the standard by which we measure “how we are doing”, not the size or “authorities” of the group or groups to which we belong. When we finally realize that Jesus Christ is the only “authority” in the world today, our response to council, advice, instruction and “orders” will be to evaluate if the person giving them is doing so as an “agent” of Jesus Christ or as one who presumes to replace Him.

The methods of our adversary, the devil, are subtle. One method is to move the discussion from the truth to a half truth, promote the half truth by group pressure, and establish it within the group by driving out the dissenting voices. The same method is seen in the book of Acts. And, since it is a method of the world, it is not surprising that it has been used over and over ever since the book of Acts was written. It seems that whenever a group is formed, correction from within becomes increasingly difficult as the group ages and grows in size. As one pastor said to me, “the seeds of death are in the start of every organization.” In order to promote itself, the group searches out and promotes concepts that make it exclusive and that exclusivity defines membership. The image of the group takes on an aura of holiness that individuals would never take on themselves apart from the organization. The group appears to be more vital than the individual members and the members are deceived. God’s church seems to become more divided as new sects, denominations, cults, or whatever the new groups may be called, are formed. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph.4:3) is made more difficult by over zealous defenders and attackers of such groups.

Since the group as a whole is much more visible than a single dissenting voice, it is not surprising that the groups’collective position has been advanced down through history. Many, if not most, of the dissenting voices within Christianity are not found in history books or historical records. But, God knows who they are and as the Amplified Bible says in Psalm 92:12, “The uncompromisingly righteous shall flourish like the palm tree- be long-lived, stately, upright and fruitful; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon- majestic, stable, durable and incorruptible.”

The dissenting voices may not always be merely “trouble makers”. Many times their dissent arises from error within the group meeting resistance from the truth of God’s Word. When such conflict is resolved by driving out the dissenting voices, the group may well continue, but the Bible is no longer at the center of the group. It is moved to the side because of the group’s perception that it causes conflict. Christianity suffers as a result.


As a follower of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul is an excellent example of the uncompromisingly righteous. Moffatt’s translation of I Corinthians 15:8 says that he was “an abortion of an apostle”. And so he was. He was “born out of due season.” Such a description of himself reveals much about Paul’s focus. He tells us he had no right to be an apostle. In fact, he tells us that he killed Christians before he met up with Jesus Christ. Whatever love of God he possessed, before his conversion, was certainly misdirected.

But, after that meeting, he never recognized any man as his superior, or his subordinate. He did try to accommodate the position of the Jerusalem church for a time, but ultimately found that he could not do so without compromising his defense of grace at the same time. Paul was the servant of Jesus Christ and was faithful to that service. He was not perfect. But, he was faithful.

Because the book of Acts has survived as well as Paul’s epistles, we know much about him that we do not know about the other apostles. He is an excellent example of the uncompromisingly righteous. If we examine all there is to know about Paul in Acts and all he wrote in his epistles, we will have a detailed picture on how to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

James, the brother of Jesus, is the antithesis of Paul. By the middle of the book of Acts, he is clearly the head of the Jerusalem church. Many say that he was an apostle- and yet we will see that he was not. Many think he must be a fine example to follow because a book of the bible was written by him. That the book of James was written by James, the brother of Jesus, I have no doubt. I have serious reservations as to whether God told James what to write. I think the words of James are his alone and not God’s. If the book of James is viewed as a compliment to Paul’s epistles when it is studied, much squeezing is required and some statements won’t squeeze at all. If it is viewed as a contrast to Paul’s epistles, then much is revealed.

How the book of James became part of the New Testament has a surprising answer. We know from the Word of God that “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21). But, who decided which books would be part of the New Testament and when? That is a question that can only be answered by the historical data available to us and great caution must be used in searching it out since the very groups that throughout the centuries have driven out the dissenting voices have been the custodians of the data.

To find out who decided to include the book of James in the New Testament and when it was included, I read a number of books on the canon, or “official list”, of Scripture. All of them talked about “the early Fathers” as being the oldest authorities- even though they spanned a period from 200 A.D. to 400 A.D.. Their comments are hardly “early” since they were hundreds of years after the fact.

Then there was finally a man in the second century. But, the authors I read all called him “the Heretic Marcion” as though heretic was his first name. My encyclopedia had quite a bit to say about Marcion, but the words that jumped out from all the rest were, ” It may be said that in the second century only one Christian, Marcion, took the trouble to understand Paul; but it must be added that he misunderstood him.” I was transfixed. The author was saying that during the second century, only Marcion endeavored to search out Paul’s epistles. And yet, the third and forth century “early church fathers” all said Marcion was a heretic. I had to find out more about this “heretic”.

I found that Marcion was the first to fix a New Testament canon- which he did in about 140 A.D. (the Marcionite church rivaled the Roman Catholic church until about the sixth century A.D.). His canon included only Paul’s writings and Luke’s writings because Luke traveled with Paul. The Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts, and Paul’s epistles are therefore the oldest collection of books to be considered “New Testament”- and that not until seventy or more years after those books were written.

The study of Marcion is interesting because invariably the authors take sides when writing about him. Some show their disdain by saying that Paul would never have such a dominating position in the New Testament if it had not been for Marcion. Others say he was a heretic in the same sense as Luther- because Luther expunged from the Bible the aprocryphal books. It should be noted also, that Luther did not accept the book of James to the same degree as he accepted Paul’s writings. He called James’ epistle “the epistle of straw” and forbade its use in the University of Wittenberg toward the end of his life. Undoubtedly this was because James said that faith without works is dead, whereas Paul said faith without works is alive- “The just shall live by faith”.

All that is known about Marcion comes from his enemies. The earliest, and most extensive, is Tertullian-and he didn’t write until about 200 A.D.! In his work, he calls Paul “Marcion’s apostle” and “the heretic’s apostle”. So much for Tertullian.


One fundamental question to keep in mind when reading the early church fathers or others regarding the history of Christianity is, “Was christianity, or was it not, a reformed Judaism?” The answer to this question will determine where the author is headed with his work.

Many will say that Christianity was a reformed Judaism and that it started in Jerusalem and spread out from there as waves move across the sea. The picture that these people will develop is one of deliverance of the Gentiles by Jesus Christ and then the addition to them of almost all the baggage of Judaism. To those who answer yes to the question, “Was Christianity a reformed Judaism?”, Paul’s epistles are incomprehensible. Trying to harmonize contrasts while thinking they are not contrasts is wearisome and unprofitable work.

When Jesus Christ said that he came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10), He was not saying that He came that we could have more money, as some preach. Luke 12:15 makes that very clear. Jesus Christ says in that verse, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” It is clear that in John 10:10 Jesus is not saying that He came merely to allow man to have more of the same that he had before. He is talking about a new relationship with God. A new life. A life that transcends mere abundance. He brought in a new covenant based on a better promise. This covenant was a walk with Christ, not a walk with Israel- in any of it’s forms or traditions. To the Christian, “old things are passed away, behold all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17). The new covenant resulted in a New Testament and the Old Testament became a contrast to it- a “shadow of things to come” (Col. 2:17).

The book of Acts clearly shows that Christianity was not a reformed Judaism. It shows that the spreading of the gospel happened in spite of the bondage exercised by the Jerusalem church. In one way or another, that bondage church has come down to this day. It is the church of the visible, the church of the tangible, the money church. It is the church of rules and regulations, the church of pecking order, of boards of elders and boards of deacons. The church of thousand member congregations and million dollar mortgages. It is the church that has a form of godliness but denies the power thereof.

In contrast, the church of the body of Christ is the secret church. It is not composed of buildings and organizations and man made devices to control peoples lives. Paul writes toward the end of his ministry that all Asia had forsaken him. But, God did not forsake him and the glorious gospel of grace has prevailed ever since Paul made it known. But, it prevails in the hearts and lives of those who are spiritually minded. For, the carnal mind cannot see or comprehend that prevailing church. To the world, it is a secret church. God grant that the secret church be filled to overflowing as new members find it not a secret anymore! I eagerly await your response to “The Two Ways Of The First Century Church”.











“Imarvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” 

Galatians 1:6-8

If I were to point my finger at you or one of your friends, while in a crowd, and say “Let him be accursed!”, there would be few, if any, in the crowd whose emotions would not be deeply stirred. Such a statement would guarantee conflict, not only between the two of us but within the entire crowd. Even reading a hypothetical statement, such as the one I’ve just given, stirs the emotions and a bell rings in the mind to signal danger, caution, trouble. We set our defenses, our attention is riveted and our senses respond with maximum effort to ascertain the magnitude of the problem, to contain it, and to solve it.

Paul’s statement in Gal. 1:8, “Let him be accursed”, is a similar situation. Knoch’s translation says, “Let him be anathema.” Moffatt’s translation says, “God’s curse be on him.” The statement could be no stronger. Paul does not mince words to tell us there are two gospels and that he is firmly on the side of the gospel of grace and at war with those promoting “the other gospel”. To make the point emphatic Paul repeats his conclusion in the following verse.

If the Christian church did not face the same conflict today, Paul’s statement would, perhaps, best be forgotten. No one likes conflict or the thought of conflict in his life. But it is there and cannot be ignored. As with the first century church, so also today there is conflict in the church. There is the gospel that leads us into the grace of Christ, and there is “another” (the Greek word heteros is used in Gal. 1:6, meaning “another, of a different kind”) gospel, which is not “another” (the Greek word allos is used in Gal. 1:7, meaning “another, of the same kind”). The “heteros” gospel does not lead us into the grace of Christ but away from the grace of Christ.

To begin examining the conflict involved over Paul’s “two gospels”, the cautious approach seems best, for I seek no conflict with the reader. Like dynamite, the subject needs to be handled gently and carefully in order to be useful and yet not damage the user. What is presented is not a final verdict on the matter. It is a case for grace. It is a case in support of the gospel that Paul and his associates preached, the gospel contrasted to “any other gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9). It is my hope that you will weigh the evidence carefully and return a verdict in favor of the gospel of grace.

If the issue were not so critical, it would be best to present the case briefly and move on. However, because the issue is so critical, the calm approach seems called for rather than a hurried one. Tangential observations, hunches, partial information, personal experience, as well as hard evidence, may all help to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this enemy called conflict. The subject is safely studied only by letting “the peace of God rule in our hearts” (Col. 3:15).

Preliminary Comments

Allow me to start my report from a great distance away. When I was a child, it seemed to me that there were only two kinds of boys in the world- those who wanted to play in the sandbox and those who wanted to destroy what the players had built. There were only good guys and bad guys. Life was simple and fun. It consisted of playing in the sandbox.

There was no stress. The only demands were a call for lunch or supper and an occasional warning to play nice or not wander too far. Since a spanking awaited any serious breeches of obedience, it was not difficult to comply. If the destroyers would come around to wreck havoc with the sandbox, they were driven away (by me if they were small enough). If they were too big, a high volume bellow would bring “The Enforcer”, my mom, immediately to my rescue.

It was a grand time. There was no worry, no fear, no subtlety. Sometimes the good guys became bad guys and the bad guys good. But, that state of affairs never seemed to last very long. My friends and I knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were and if we were in doubt, we kept comparing observations until we were sure. Life was preeminently simple. It consisted of discovering, experiencing, comparing, snooping, questioning, learning, PLAYING! Paul’s words, “let him be accursed” would have been dismissed by us as “grown up stuff”.

When mom would say, “why don’t you go out and play?”, my response was always to think, “what a GRAND IDEA!”. There was never an argument over that suggestion nor a need to request that the word “play” be defined. Play covered everything! What a brilliant suggestion! “Yes, mama, I most certainly will go out and play,” was my instantaneous response.

Time went by, as if by magic. There was no thought of it, no keeping track of it, no worry over “wasting” it, it just somehow went by. And with the passing of time, a great evil crept into my life. It was some nebulous, yet real, enemy to the only thing in life that I knew, play. It was called “work”. I didn’t understand it. But, it made everything change. Had I heard Paul’s words, “let him be accursed” at this time, I probably would have said, “he’s talking about work!”

Play was now bad because work was good. Fun was now gone because “the chores” had to be done. Enthusiasm gave way to plodding. “Go mow the lawn” was not met with “what a GREAT IDEA”. It was met with resistance. Even when the instruction was framed as a suggestion, “why don’t you go mow the lawn?”, I could tell that it was not a great idea but rather a bad idea. It was WORK, that dreaded enemy of play.

It took a long, long time before that enemy of mine was finally conquered. It still comes around when I’m least expecting it. But, when my play is seriously threatened, I get angry and attack it with every weapon I can find. Sometimes I don’t even fight fair. But then, my enemy doesn’t fight fair either. He doesn’t even call himself by the right name! His name isn’t work at all. His name is CONTROL! No wonder I had such a problem with him. I didn’t know him at all-not even his right name.

So, I started examining the facts that I knew about work and play to see just where the differences lay. Play was fun. Why? Well, there was love in it. I knew that my mom loved me when she said, “why don’t you go out and play?” Love suffers long and is kind. Never did my mom get impatient with my play. Never did she destroy the castles I made in the sandbox.

Work was a different thing altogether. Mowing the lawn could be fun- except there was no love in the command, “go mow the lawn”. Neither did there seem to be much patience on the part of my parents when I took too long to finish my assigned chores. My mom never got provoked when I played but my work seemed to offer much more opportunity for provocation. Neither was she discouraged by my play. But, work was different.

And so, as I grew up I mowed the lawn many times. Sometimes it was play. Sometimes it was work. It was play when I loved to do it. It was work when I was forced to do it. Motive was everything! If my motive was love, I could play all the time, (even if my actions were misunderstood as work by others). I could do everything “heartily, as unto the Lord and not unto men” (Col. 3:23) if my motive was love.

A friend of mine also mowed his families lawn. His experience was different than mine. His dad asked him to mow the lawn one time and he didn’t, but rather went off to do something else. When he came back, his dad was mowing the lawn and he felt so bad that he never again refused his fathers request. With him, mowing the lawn was something he did because if he didn’t do it his father would have to do it. And, he knew his father loved him. So, his motive was always love when he mowed the lawn. It was PLAY!

Life became more complex as sandbox time receded into the clouds of yesterday. My world grew in size and it became more difficult to separate the good guys from the bad guys. A vast grey area appeared and was filled with too many people for me to classify. I developed a test to help me deal with this uncomfortable and uncertain grey area.

The test was designed to remove the grey area as far from me as possible. The test was a kind of fence to protect me from the encroachment of those in the grey area. Those who wanted to get close to me had to pass the test. The test was not designed to determine doctrinal positions or ascertain “salvation” status. It was not a litmus test, simplistic to the point of being almost worthless. It was strictly geared toward evaluating behavior. And, more importantly, it was geared to ascertaining the underlying motive of the applicant.

It was a simple test, a test of love. I felt safe with this test because I’d learned that “Love never fails.” (I Cor. 13:8). From the grey area came good guys and bad guys as life went on. Many stayed in the grey area for want of a verdict. However, some emerged and became fast friends. They were good guys in my mind regardless of their sometimes bad behavior. They were few. I could trust that their motive was love in spite of visible evidence to the contrary. Some have disappointed me, but not often. Some emerged and became enemies. They were bad guys in my mind regardless of their sometimes good behavior. They also were few. I could trust that their motive was not love in spite of visible evidence to the contrary. Some have surprised me, but not often.

It seems to me that the good guys and the bad guys are always influencing the people in the grey area to go their way. The bad guys want control, superiority, and power over the people. The good guys want love, joy, peace and power given to the people.

I imagine that everyone can identify with my childhood, either by comparison or by contrast. Probably a mixture of the two. Everyone started at the same place. Their experiences differed from mine, but the same themes played through their lives as well. They experienced love. They experienced it’s absence. In Paul’s words, the absence of love is “accursed”. Nothing can grow or prosper. Destruction and desolation are everywhere. The seeds of death are sown in every direction. A plague ensues that is only stopped by love.

Historical Perspective

A child was born into the world about two thousand years ago. He experienced all the things we did when we were children. The same excitement, the same sadness. The same wonder. But, he was different than us because the only father he had was God. His father always loved him- for God is love. This child was Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten son. He changed the world by the power of God’s love.

A study of His life shows some aspects of love that are not usually associated with love by the world. He got angry. He had a sharp tongue at times. He talked back to his “elders”. Some hated him so much that they finally killed him. But, God raised him from the dead in a victory of love over hate.

Fifty days later, less than two months, the church age began and that day about three thousand new born babies came on the scene. They were God’s children. The church age had begun. The family of God began to play. What FUN! The family grew and grew. Thousands upon thousands were added to it. A multitude here, another multitude there. They all played as new born babies will. WHAT FUN! Healings, miracles, signs, wonders. WHAT FUN!

The children were playing and it was wonderful to behold. The children of a loving Father were learning, comparing, contrasting, giggling, laughing, questioning, thriving. They had it made. They shared their toys. They shared their secrets. They shared their discoveries. The book of Acts is the family history of their first thirty or so years.

But, this family history is not about the lives of people born for the first time. It’s about the lives of those who were born a second time. Born from above. Born again. It is about those who had an old nature by the first birth and a new nature by the second birth. They were adults by the first birth. They were young children by the second. They could play as children, and they did play, for the first few years. Then some of them were introduced to that wicked enemy of play, WORK!

There is a subtle difference between labor with love and labor without love. Some of God’s children did not see the difference. Some did, and may have even recognized the insidious element in work by his real name, CONTROL. Many did not.

God’s children were familiar with control from their old nature, their “old man”. Some thought the new nature, the new man, should conform to the old. And so, the “old man” in them encouraged the thought and caused the young child to conform. The family of God split in two. Those children who bowed to CONTROL were pitted against God and the rest of His delightfully playing children. Conflict ensued.

Within the first four years or so of the church age, great joy, great deliverance in Jerusalem was mitigated by the deception of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), the fighting between the Grecians and Hebrews (Acts 6), and finally the killing of one of the children, Stephen (Acts 7). The children were scattered (Acts 8). Jerusalem could stand them no longer. Playing was not allowed in Jerusalem.

Somehow it was decided that control must be maintained at all times, and at all cost. Who gained control in Jerusalem at that time is not apparent up through Acts 8:1, when the scattering occurred. It only becomes apparent as Acts continues to unfold the events of the following twenty five years. But, the scattering of the children in Acts 8:1 enlists our sympathy and requires an answer as to how this could happen. Surely there were those in Jerusalem that were not in the family of God and they were involved. But, after examining the first seven chapters of Acts and seeing how many thousands of Christians there were in Jerusalem, it did not seem possible to me that “outsiders” could interfere and dominate unless they had allied to them children from within the family.

What follows is an attempt to dig out from the book of Acts all that may contribute toward defending the children at play. My desire is to minister grace to the hearers (Eph. 4:29), and conflict is not an easy subject to communicate gently. Please bear with me. As a child of God I know only in part and see in part. “At present I know out of an instalment, yet then (when the Lord Jesus Christ returns) I shall recognize according as I am recognized also.” (I Cor. 13:12 Knoch).

Mind Pictures

I believe the mind thinks in pictures, not words. Words help develop the picture and change it, but what stays is the picture. As we grow, these mind pictures are modified, corrected, and sometimes drastically changed. Our beliefs and actions are largely determined by the motion picture going on in our minds. That which our senses register is compared to the picture in our minds and if the two don’t agree, either the picture in our mind must change or we go to work on the external picture to change it.

Over the past ten years, the picture in my mind of the first century church has undergone radical change. Ten years ago the picture I had of the forty year period from the start of the church age to the final demise of Israel as a nation consisted of a small group of Christians here and a small group there. The picture showed that these small groups were vastly outnumbered by the “big bad wolves” among whom they lived.

In studying the book of Acts and other literature of that forty year period, I was compelled to change the picture in my mind. The children born into God’s family were numerous indeed, more so than had ever been presented to me. Three thousand the first day. Then multitudes. Five thousand a short while later. Then more multitudes and “multiplied” multitudes are recorded in Acts, before Paul was even converted. After his conversion, more multitudes in other cities were converted and whole cities turned out to hear the Word of God spoken by Paul.

As my “mind picture” changed questions crept into my mind such as, “If three thousand believed the first day of the church, how many believed the second day, and the third?” Acts does not specifically answer this question. However, on the first day of the church age we are told there were three thousand and a short while later (whether days or months or a year or two later I do not know) we are told that about five thousand men believed. In between those numbers is no suggestion that the daily activity in God’s “maternity ward” dropped off to five or ten “new births” a day. I had to change my mind picture and paint in a much larger maternity ward bustling with activity as thousands upon thousands of new born babies were delivered each day.

Of course with it, the picture in my mind had to change regarding where all these new babies went. The first seven chapters of Acts record activities only in Jerusalem. They cover the first four or five years of the church age in that city. But, many of the early babies were now five years old and had been playing in God’s sandbox a good while. And so I had to paint in more maternity wards around the world where many would have returned who came to the required feasts in Jerusalem each year.

By the time Acts 8 began to register, I was painting with broad strokes and a serious intensity. I thought, “what had the five year olds been doing for the past five years?” They were devout people and surely had discovered many things in their study and in comparing notes with their friends. How they must have relished the three times a year when they would go to Jerusalem and visit with their friends from all over the world. And so I painted in excited children saying to each other, “In a week we get to see Joe from Egypt and Pete from Mesopotamia, and Mike from Rome. What fun we’ll have.”

This mind picture was thrilling to contemplate. For perhaps five years, all Jerusalem was filled with the doctrine of Christ. The word of God prevailed. All the sick were healed. To see such a mind picture was overwhelming. Christianity was not some insignificant thing that affected few people. It was spread world wide within the first five years of the church age and had an impact on the world that has been felt ever since.

But, in the midst of this excitement there was trouble. Acts 5 tells us about Ananias and Sapphira being deceptive. The next chapter tells us of conflict between the Grecians and Hebrews. And in Acts 7, one of God’s children, Stephen, is killed. Painting these events into my mind picture was difficult indeed. I could not deny them, but realizing that these people were Christians and were involved in trouble was unpleasant to consider. There was conflict within the Christian community. Only a few years had gone by. What happened?

Logical Considerations

There must have been some bad guys around, “Wolves in sheep’s clothing”, because the children would have run from wolves without disguise, but not from sheep. How many followed “the big bad wolf”? I don’t know. But Jerusalem is not the same after Stephen’s death. God’s children there are changed. The voice of happy children is gone. A judgmental attitude seems to prevail.

The Sanhedrin gave Stephen a trial, but in the middle of it they could take no more when Stephen reported that he saw Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of God. What made them so angry with Stephen that they cut off his trial and summarily killed him? They sure didn’t like the picture Stephen painted of Jesus Christ STANDING on the right hand of God.

After that, Jesus is always pictured as sitting rather than standing. I do not know the purpose behind Stephen presenting the picture of Jesus standing. I suspect that He was ready to return and assume His position as King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s at that time. If so, Israel as a nation lost its big chance by refusing to listen to Stephen.

The record of Acts goes on after the death of Stephen for about another twenty five years. No more is Jerusalem presented in Acts as a happy place. The apostles stay there for a time. The people try to kill Paul when he goes there in Acts 9. The apostle James (not James, the brother of Jesus) is killed there in Acts 12. In the same chapter Peter is thrown in prison. In Acts 15 representatives from the Jerusalem church trouble the believers in Antioch. In that chapter we learn that a council was held in Jerusalem, attended by the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul. James, the brother of Jesus, is clearly in charge of the Council. He gives his “sentence”. Peter asks the council why they are tempting God.

By the time of the council in Jerusalem, about fourteen years had passed since the stoning of Stephen. Around the time of the council we are told that the same thing happened among the other nations of the world as had happened to Israel in the first five years of the church age. Deliverance, miracles, and growth unprecedented were experienced among the Gentile nations of the world. Paul says in Colossians 1:6 that the gospel was preached “in all the world”.

The events recorded in Acts indicated a much larger church among the Gentiles than I had previously thought possible. In Syrian Antioch a great number believed and turned to the Lord. In Roman Antioch, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God and the word of the Lord was published throughout the region. In Iconium, Thessolonica, Berea, Corinth and Ephesus we are told that multitudes believed.

The Evidence Comes Together

In Acts 19:20 we read, “And so mightily grew the word of God and PREVAILED!” The picture is thrilling and awesome to contemplate. As in Jerusalem during the first few years of the church age, so also in other cities the Word of God prevailed. But, Acts 19:23 tells us, “The same time there arose no small stir about that way.” “Two Ways” become apparent in Acts as the church grew and time went by.

One “Way” was the way of the Jerusalem church, of which James, the brother of Jesus, was the leader. James says in Acts 21:20, “Thou seest, brother,(talking to Paul) how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.” The record goes on to show that the people in Jerusalem tried their best to kill Paul. The other “Way” was the way referred to in Acts 19:23. It was the way that Paul represented. It becomes increasingly apparent that the two “Ways” conflicted.

After the council in Jerusalem, Peter goes to Antioch and we are told that Peter removes himself from the Gentiles when representatives from James come to Antioch (Gal. 2:12). His motive is fear of James! James was not evidently a man of compassion, he was the head of the “circumcision party” in Jerusalem and was feared. To consider the fact that Peter feared anyone in the Christian church is a very difficult thing to consider. In the light of all the miracles he did and his overwhelming popularity in Jerusalem during at least the first four years of the church age, to see that Peter feared James, the brother of Jesus, only fifteen years later, is hard to believe. And yet, not only did Peter remove himself from the Gentiles when representatives from James came to Antioch, all the Jews with him did likewise, including Barnabas.

For most of my life, I assumed that James, the brother of Jesus, was somehow associated with the rest of the “leadership” of the first century church in an amicable and loving way. That assumption had no basis in fact. The evidence points in the opposite direction. It points to conflict between James on the one hand and Paul on the other. There is no clear evidence that James was even “born again”. There is clear evidence that James rejected Jesus Christ throughout His pre-resurrection ministry. James was certainly familiar with all that Jesus Christ did and said, and yet he did not believe as Jesus clearly states, “For neither did his brethern (brothers) believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). If James was converted after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have no record of that conversion. We are told that James saw Jesus Christ after the resurrection and are therefore inclined to believe that salvation is implied in that fact. However, he saw Jesus many times before the resurrection and still did not believe, and we must conclude that seeing Jesus does not imply believing in Him.

James tells us he was “a servant of Jesus Christ” (James 1:1), but how he served Him can only be discovered from examining his “service” in Acts and comparing his statements in the epistle of James to those of Paul in Acts and Paul’s epistles. His “service” is certainly a contrast to Paul’s “service”. And, the most striking element in the contrast is that not one miracle is recorded that was done at the hand of James. In any event, it is hard to believe that James was not “born again”. In the light of Acts, it does not seem that near as many were “unsaved” as I had previously supposed, in Jerusalem, or among the dispersion. What follows will hopefully make this clear.

Knoch’s translation renders Acts 21:20, “You are beholding, brother, how many tens of thousands there are among the Jews who have believed, and all are inherently zealous for the law.” If this be true, James was the leader of not a small minority among the nation of Israel, but a large minority or perhaps a majority. James was in control of a large group of Christians.

Peter feared James by about 50 A.D. and Paul had to be escorted out of Jerusalem by a huge Roman guard about 57 A.D. (a Jerusalem in which James resided and in which there were thousands or tens of thousands of “believers” at the time of Paul’s visit in Acts 21). James advice to Paul, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, is not “sound doctrine” and does not work. By the end of Acts it becomes clear that James and Paul are not on the same side at all.

Paul draws a contrast in Galatians between “children of the bondwoman” and “children of the freewoman”. It appears that Paul’s “children of the bondwoman” (Gal. 4:23-31) were the children in God’s family that were “zealous of the law”. They were God’s children. They were saved. They were true children of Abraham just as Ishmael was. Paul does not appear to be refering to the unsaved Jews that did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He appears to be talking about those children who were “zealous of the law.” These children did not want the children from among the other nations of the world, as well as those Jews who believed as Paul did, (the “children of the freewoman”), to have the same status as themselves. They wanted the Gentiles “saved” but only according to their rules and under their authority. And, they were obviously jealous of the thought that the children of the freewoman could be on a par with them. It seems to me that the children of the bondwoman just could not accept in their hearts and minds that only one leader was allowed in God’s family and that leader was Jesus Christ. All of God’s children had access to Him directly. Paul speaks of this reality extensively in his epistles. He didn’t try to control the lives of God’s children.

It appears that James did try to control the lives of God’s children. A careful study of Acts shows that it is not merely a record of the growth of the early church. Almost half of Acts is devoted to only three instances of conflict (the events surrounding the death of Stephen, the events surrounding the conversion of the household of Cornelius, and the events surrounding Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem). The record of Acts clearly shows that the first century church was not all harmoniously joined together as the church grew and spread to the ends of the earth. It clearly shows “Two Ways” in the church of the first century. The one way represented by Peter and Paul. The other represented by James. One was the “Liberty Church” whose members were “children of the freewoman”. The other was the “Bondage Church” whose members were “children of the bondwoman”. Acts shows a striking contrast between the two.

The book of Acts starts with the “Liberty Church” in Jerusalem and shows how that church was overshadowed by the “Bondage Church”. It then shows the rise of the “Liberty Church” among the other nations of the world and how the “Bondage Church” tried to limit their liberty as well. Understanding Paul’s epistles in this light should open worlds of understanding that were perhaps dark and cloudy before.

Seeing conflict in the first century church leads to the conclusion that the Christian’s major problems today do not come from outside the church but from inside the church. The unsaved merely dismiss the Christian message as inconceivable. The saved fight bitterly at times over doctrine and practice. The issue always seems to reduce to deliverance and Liberty versus captivity and Bondage.

Listed below are some “pieces of evidence” regarding James that suggest he was in conflict with Paul. I am confident that there is more evidence than I’ve listed. There always is when one of the “good ole boys” is found out and the spotlight focused on him. The list given below is in no particular order.

Summary of the Evidence

  1. Peter was afraid of James (Gal. 2:12)
  2. James rises in prominence as the Jerusalem church decays.
  3. Jesus said, “the world cannot hate you” to James. (John 7:7)
  4. James and his brothers thought Jesus was crazy. (Mark 3:21)
  5. James gave his brother Jesus no honor (Mark 6:4)
  6. Jesus did not pick James to be an apostle, nor was he chosen to replace Judas in Acts 1.
  7. James’ “sentence” in Acts 15 seems contrary to sound doctrine and “seemed good to the holy spirit” in verse 28 is not convincing as having been sanctioned by God.
  8. James’ advice to Paul in Acts 21 seems to be the “kiss of Judas”
  9. James was of the circumcision party (Gal.2:12)

10.Paul said “those whoseemedtobe somewhat in conference (at the Jerusalem Council) added nothing to me”(Gal.2:6) 11. God raises up Paul soon after Stephen is killed and the believers arescattered. James stays in Jerusalem throughout Acts while Paul ends up almost killed there and Peter ends up in Babylon or Rome(I Pet.5:13).

  1. Paul distances himself from the Jerusalem church (Gal. 1)

13.Peter is resisted in Jerusalem after the household of Cornelius is saved. (Acts 10 and 11)

14.Peter is jailed in Jerusalem while James is not among the “certain of the church” that Herod vexed. (Acts 12)

15.Barnabas and Paul fight over John Mark’s return to Jerusalem, presumably to report the events surrounding the conversion of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:13 and 15:36-41).

16.The epistle of James was not added to the cannon of Scripture until 367 A.D.. The book of Acts and Paul’s epistles were always accepted.

  1. The epistle of James contradicts Paul’s epistles.
  2. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not mentioned in the book of James and the content of James does not depend on the resurrection.
  3. The epistle of James was placed before that of Peter in the New Testament even though Peter’s apostolic ministry is clearly demonstrated in Acts while James’ “ministry” is not defined in Acts by miracles, signs and wonders, but rather by control. No first century evidence exists of him demonstrating the power of God in any way.

20.James says, “you see how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24) while Paul says, “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:28) and “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God.” (Gal.3:21)

21.James tells people not to become teachers (in James 3:1, the word “masters” should be translated “teachers”) whereas Paul encourages people to become teachers (I Cor. 12:31)

  1. James was not a comfort to Paul (Col. 4:10-11)

23.James did not leave Jerusalem upon the persecution in Acts 8:1 but was still there in Acts 12:17 and thereafter throughout the book of Acts.

  1. The “certain men” that came down from Judea in Acts 15:1 were not immediately overruled by the Jerusalem church but instead a council had to be called.
  2. James statement in Acts 15:21 seems incriminating.

26.The book of Romans and the book of Hebrews seem to clearly stand against James advice to Paul in Acts 21:20-25.

27.Paul makes a point in Gal.1 that he did not go to Jerusalem to see James even though he did see him while he was there (his first trip to Jerusalem).

28.Two translations of Gal. 1:19 (Moffatt and Knoch) make clear that James was not an apostle.

29.Martin Luther called the epistle of James “the epistle of straw” and forbid its use in the University of Wittenburg.

30.Josephus indicates that James was well respected in Jerusalem at the time of his death in about 62 A.D.. Paul was hated there and imprisoned in 57 A.D..

The following examination of the book of Acts is presented with the above facts in mind. Some of these facts can be reasoned away by those who wish to defend James, but all of them together are difficult to dismiss. They are a formidable indictment.

The general arguments in defense of James are two in number. The first says that James must have been a good guy because he was the head of the church in Jerusalem. But, Jesus said, “Many shall come in my name saying I am Christ, and shall deceive many.”(Matt.25:5). The second argument says that surely James must have been a “good guy” because he saw Jesus after the resurrection. But, Jesus said, “neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). These verses do not necessarily refer to James, but they do counter the general arguments used in support of James and tend to show that they are arguments without substance.

James is presented in the book of Acts as a person in control, not as a person who does miracles, suffers persecution or teaches the Word of God. He replaces the apostles in Jerusalem so that by the time of Peter’s removing himself from the Gentiles in Galatians 2, James is someone to be feared. Paul, on the other hand, is presented as one who does suffer persecution, does teach the Word of God, and does demonstrate the power of God. There is a striking silence regarding Paul’s asserting any amount of control over any believers. He appears always as one who considers others as his peers rather than as his subordinates and encourages them to do God’s will, not his own. He makes requests rather than giving orders and there is no evidence that he ever desired to centralize the church or control it.




“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…..And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”

Acts 2:1,5

The day of Pentecost was waiting to “fully come” for a long time. Every year the feast of Pentecost, also called the feast of weeks, was celebrated in Jerusalem. But, in the year 30 A.D., a very special Pentecost arrived and marked the start of a new era- an era the world had never seen before. Not since the creation of Adam and Eve had the world witnessed such an outpouring of the spirit of God. With the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind had been left to drift through a spiritually designed world without a spiritual nature. He was in desperate need of a redeemer who could pay the price for his redemption and reinvigorate him with a new nature.

A Short Review From Adam Until Christ

Four thousand years had gone by since Adam and the results of man’s lack of a godly nature are clearly seen in the Old Testament. Cain killed Able. Mankind became so wicked that only one man was left who trusted in God, Noah, and God sent a flood to clean house. Shortly thereafter, Nimrod shows up on the scene with the intention of leading all mankind away from God. His efforts are foiled by a cataclysmic division of the nations (the formation of the continents) and an equally permanent establishment of diverse languages. Nimrod’s designs were foiled.

The clock ticked on. Two thousand years had passed since Adam when Abraham arrived on the scene. He looked for a city whose builder and maker was God and God promised him that in his seed all nations of the world would be blessed. Israel thought they were the fulfillment of that promise because they were the descendants of Abraham. They were not the fulfillment of the promise! They strove by their human effort to bless themselves but never rose to the grand design of being a blessing to all the nations of the world.

No wonder. Israel as a nation was also devoid of a spiritual nature. Although God placed his spirit from time to time upon the Old Testament prophets so that by them He could talk with the descendants of Abraham, the descendants did not listen well. Their ears transmitted what they heard to a faulty brain that had difficulty understanding and interpreting a spiritual message.

And so, the clock ticked on. Another two thousand years passed by as Moses came on the scene, then Joshua, then the judges and the kings. The kingdom of Israel was split in two after the death of Solomon, ten tribes going one direction, the two remaining going another. Both factions ended up in captivity sooner or later. The nation that God chose to be a nation of priests, was scattered to the four winds.

In the four thousand years from Adam to the coming of the promised seed, mankind occasionally had a glimpse of what blessings God would bring when man believed Him, but those times were rare indeed. For the most part, man just drifted. He wandered through a spiritual world without a spiritual nature. Then came the promised seed, promised first to Eve and two thousand years later to Abraham. His name was Jesus Christ. He came to the other “seeds” of Abraham. By the time of His coming, a remnant from the dispersion had returned to the land of their fathers and Herod The Great was busy having the Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem.

In the two thousand years or so from Abraham to Jesus Christ, the descendants of Abraham were enslaved by the power of Egypt, and delivered from that enslavement through Moses. They were led into the “Promised Land” and about one thousand years before Christ, Solomon built The Temple which focused their identity and their ambitions.

That Temple was destroyed and the descendants of Abraham were led into captivity by their northern enemies, Babylonia and Assyria. About five hundred years after the first Temple was built, Zechariah and Haggai oversaw the rebuilding of it and Ezra and Nehemiah then consolidated and strengthened the community on a religious basis. In 165 B.C., after the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Maccabees came to power in Israel and a century later the country finally lost it’s independence as it passed into Roman control after the siege of Pompey in 63 B.C.

Twenty six years later, Jerusalem was again besieged, this time by Herod The Great. In about 20 B.C. he began rebuilding the Temple. It would be built on a larger and grander scale than ever before but would take over eighty years to complete. It was completed shortly before Titus (not the Titus to whom Paul wrote an epistle) destroyed it for the final time in 70 A.D.. For all its glory, Herod’s Temple lacked the essential ingredient. The Arc of the Covenant was missing in the Holy of Holies as was the shechinah cloud. In Herod’s Temple, the Holy of Holies was empty!

Herod the Great also had all the members of the Sanhedrin killed after he came to power, and by doing so he destroyed the hereditary and life long nature of the High Priesthood. No longer did the sons of faithful Zadoke preside over the priesthood of Israel. Instead, money and intrigue determined who would be High Priest, and, in all, twenty eight High Priests filled the office in one hundred and six years of Herodian rule. The Hasmoneans, in the one hundred fifteen years before Herod came to power, had only eight High Priests.

By the time that Jesus Christ came, political intrigue dominated the Temple rather than godliness. And, the Temple dominated Israel as a nation. Everything from money to welfare to public works to government to the Sanhedrian came under the authority of the High Priest. And, on average, the Herodian High Priests lasted less than four years in power. Such was the scandalous nature of the nation and the land into which Jesus was born.

The Promised Seed

Jesus Christ was the unique seed promised by God to Abraham. And all the man-made traditions and rituals, developed between the time of the promise and the time of its fulfillment, could not add too nor take from the perfection of God’s complete fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ was that perfect fulfillment of the promise. In Jesus Christ, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That blessing began when the day of Pentecost was “fully come”.

Jesus Christ, the perfect man, came to a nation that appeared to be striving for perfection. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the divine record of how He was received. They each terminate with the story of His death and resurrection and that story is the centerpiece of each account.

The story in the Gospels culminates in the rejection of Jesus Christ by the nation of Israel, their will carried out in His crucifixion and God’s will prevailing over the nations will in His resurrection. Jesus Christ became the High Priest forever, even though impostors continued to preside over Herod’s temple until it was destroyed forty years later.

The book of Acts is the record of how the “seed” of Abraham- Jesus Christ- did indeed bless all the nations of the earth. It begins with the “taking up” of Jesus Christ 40 days after his resurrection and ends about 32 years later with the imprisonment of Paul in Rome.

The Gospels cover a period from about 4 B.C. to 30 A.D.- 33 years. (From 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. is a period of only one year, not two years) Acts covers the period from 30 A.D. to 62 A.D.- 33 years. About eight years after the book of Acts terminates, in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus and his Roman legions, and Israel as a nation ceased to exist.

And so, in the Gospels, in the Acts Of The Apostles, and in Paul’s Epistles, God’s Word reveals to the Christian a complete picture regarding the 33 years that Jesus lived and the 40 years following His ascension, 73 years in all. Numerous people would have lived through that entire 73 year period and would have been witnesses to the many thrilling and miraculous events it contained.

It should be noted at the start that, while some of the books of the New Testament- particularly the books of James, II Peter, Jude and Revelation- have been disputed as to origin and godly authority, the book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles have never been questioned by the church. It is primarily from these sources-The Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s Epistles- that we gather our data to present a picture of the first century church which is both hopeful and tragic, exciting and discouraging. As one author said, “There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice.” I trust that we can show that this statement was as true in the first century as it is today.

Our Primary Choice

There has always been a war between good and evil, between truth and error, between God’s will and man’s will. The opposition to God arises, as Paul says in Romans 1:25, because some “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature (the thing made or the creation) more than the Creator who is blessed forever”.

The Christians first choice in this war is to be an immediate disciple of Jesus Christ or to be a disciple of a disciple. Paul points out in I Corinthians 1:11-13 that contentions arose in Corinth over this very issue. Some said they were of Paul, some said they were of Apollos, some said they were of Cephas, while others said they were of Christ. Paul reminds them that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, not the messengers who bring His message. And this is the continuing problem- some would have us follow men rather than follow Jesus Christ.

Paul does instruct the church in Philippians 3:17 to be followers of him, but the word “followers” means to copy or imitate. He presents an entirely different picture than today’s common conception of leader and follower. Today’s “leaders”, at least some of them, want people to follow, not imitate. Often times people may follow only at a distance. If they show too much promise they become a threat to the “leader”. Paul presents himself as an example of the believers and encourages us to be examples also. He does not present himself as a ruler, as a military commander or as a dictator. He presents himself as a guide, as a teacher, as a brother. Love is his motive, not control over people.

The Christian has a choice. He worships and serves God or he worships and serves man. God’s Word is his center of reference in life or some other authority is his center of reference. Paul uses the phrase “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” in II Corinthians 10:5 to explain what our mind set should be.

When the Christian worships and serves the creature more than the creator, he cuts himself off from the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free and becomes entangled in a massive system of bondage. Not only does he diminish the effectiveness of his own life, but he encourages usurpation and tyranny over the lives of others. He does this by giving his implicit approval and backing, to the man or organization he serves, allowing that man or organization to deceive others by virtue of the numbers of his-or its- followers. “See how many people I have following me” becomes the justifying statement for all the tyrant’s actions. So it was in the first century church, and so it is today wherever one man assumes he is closer to the heart of God than other men.

The Scriptures reveal that it is impossible for a man to save himself by any amount of good works. For, in the nature of man, there is a basic flaw. One can climb only so far in trying to reach God’s presence on the ladder of good works. For, it is a ladder with a rung missing. No matter how far a person climbs, he eventually hits the missing rung and falls back to the bottom. That is our flaw.

Our pattern of good works will consistently produce imperfection because of our very nature. God knew this and also knew that the only solution was a new nature; a nature without flaws, a nature that would allow us a place in God’s presence without the necessity of climbing a broken ladder.

The Two Natures

Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, provides our new nature. No other man, or doctrine, can lay claim to obedience or worship for bringing us into the presence of God.

To understand the “conflict of interest” in the first century church, it is crucial to understand these two natures. It is also crucial to understand who provides our new nature. And it is crucial to understand that the old nature does not vanish when the new nature arrives. It is always there, ready to do war with the new nature and ready to seduce us into leaving the presence of God.

When a person confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, he receives a new nature. As Paul says in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (creation): old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

The operative words are, “if any man be in Christ.” Paul says, “as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” (Col. 2:6). We always have a choice how we are going to live, after we are “born again” as well as before. The old nature does not vanish with the advent of the new nature. Paul asks in Galatians 3:3, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” He is talking to people who had received a new nature and yet wanted to walk by the old nature.

No end of confusion has resulted from a failure to recognize this reality. Christians are prone to dismiss the reality of the new birth in people who sin- especially if the sins are big black ones instead of little grey ones. To these people, a person becomes “unborn again” if he sins too badly or too often.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” The people who think that God takes back His gift do not understand the magnitude of God’s love. In I Timothy 2:4 we read that God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto a knowledge of the truth.” God’s will is to save every man. And, sooner or later, I believe He will accomplish His will!

In the mean time, there are “saved” and “unsaved”. And, among the “saved” are two groups. One group consists of those who walk by the old nature. The other group consists of those who walk by the new nature. In the study of Acts that follows, I hope to show that many more people were “saved” than is commonly supposed. If I am successful, it will become clear that much of the resistance to Paul and those endeavoring to walk by the spirit came from within the church, and the center of that resistance was the Jerusalem Church.

If I succeed in showing a massive impact of Christianity on the world, to your satisfaction, you will be drawn to the conclusion that a far greater resistance to the “new nature” Christians came from the “old nature” Christians than was previously supposed. I do not doubt that the “unsaved” used the “old nature” Christians for their nefarious purposes, but I do not believe the “unsaved” could have accomplished very much without their aid.

The Result of Legalism

In Acts 15:5, about twenty years after the start of the church, we see that “certain of the sect of the Pharisees” were in the Jerusalem Church and had considerable influence. I call the Pharisees “ladder makers”. They well knew the rule book for making ladders: The Old Testament Law. In fact, by the time of Jesus Christ, they had so annotated and amplified this instruction on how to make ladders that the instruction book became more important than the ladder.

Being critical of other ladders went along with gaining a reputation of knowing the instruction book, and, as this game became more refined, of course the penalty for not following the instructions became more severe. No one seemed to notice anymore that none of the ladders were sufficient to climb to the presence of God. But, for sure, the Pharisees built higher ladders than anyone else. Perhaps they felt as modern men feel; “We are getting better and better, smarter and smarter, and, given enough time we will be perfect.” They ran out of time! Jesus Christ came and severely threatened the entire industry of ladder making. He exposed both the ladders and the makers by saying, “I am the way, the truth, the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me!” (Jn 14:6).

One manifestation of the flaw in the old nature is that it severely dislikes having its work condemned. It would have been bad enough had Jesus Christ shown them Jacob’s ladder upon which the angelic host ascended and descended from earth to the very presence of God. But, worse than that, He said, “I and my Father are one” and by making such a dramatic statement, He proclaimed that He was already in the presence of God and didn’t need a ladder. He said that others could also be one with the Father and that He would gain access for them- without the help of any man-made ladder of good works, or earned righteousness, or meritorious achievement.

The “good works” ladder of the letter of the law, feasts, traditions, the sacrifice of animals and ordinances of touch not, taste not, handle not, gave way to the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Striving to be made perfect gave way to perfection itself. Thereafter, the bondage of the law would give way to the fruit of the spirit- love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal.5:22,23). Paul would later amplify the vast difference between the good works concept of the Pharisees and “being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10) that was made possible by Jesus Christ. The one was bondage and death. The other was liberty and life.

The Result of the Resurrection

The leaders of Israel finally couldn’t take it anymore and had Jesus Christ put to death. But, to prove that what Jesus Christ said was true, God raised him from the dead. Forty days later, after having been seen alive by many people- the twelve apostles and those with them, (Luke 24:33-36), the men on the road to Emmaus, (Luke 24:15), and over 500 people at one time, (I Cor. 15:6), as well as untold people in Galilee (Matt. 28:7)- he ascended. His instructions before the ascension were for the apostles and those with them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father to be endued with “power from on high”. (Luke 24:49).

Jesus told the people that He would not leave them comfortless, but would send them the Comforter who would guide them into all truth. When the day of Pentecost was “fully come”, that Comforter did indeed come. A new age began. A new set of rules applied. And, the promise to Abraham was fulfilled as God poured out His blessings to the nations of the world through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Man once again had access to a new nature, a spiritual nature, the nature that Adam and Eve lost when they sinned. Only now, the spiritual nature would be given unconditionally rather than conditionally as with Adam and Eve. And, by receiving that nature man would revolutionize the world. Jesus Christ said, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my father.” (Jn. 14:12). He was not saying that we could do more than He could do. He was saying that we would be able to more than he was able to do before His death and resurrection. He would do more after His resurrection than He did before and the Christian would do more than Jesus Christ did before His death and resurrection. The statement in John 14:12 does not suggest that we would be superior in any way to Jesus Christ. But, “because I go unto My Father” the world would experience “greater works” than it had seen, even in Jesus life before the resurrection. Jesus Christ would do those works and the Christian would also do those works through His authority. As God’s children, we would have the privilege of being Sons of God and servants of Jesus Christ. This privilege and the “greater works” of Jesus Christ are what the book of Acts is all about.

The Ascension is where the book of Acts begins. The time, around 30 A.D.. The place, the City of the Temple, Jerusalem. Jesus Christ had been the Passover Lamb, slain just forty days earlier. But, God raised Him from the dead three days later and during the following thirty seven days, all Israel must have been alive with reports, rumors, expectation. “Is it true?” “Is Jesus Christ really the Messiah?” “Is He really risen from the dead?” “Who did you say saw him?” Such would have been the questions repeated and modified throughout the land as the Jews from all over the world waited for the day of Pentecost to FULLY COME!

Would Jesus Christ take over the duties of High Priest on that day? Would the King of Kings and Lord of Lords cast out the Herodian impostors? Would He deliver Israel from the iron fist of Rome? Would He set up a new kingdom in which righteousness reigned? Such would have been the thoughts and questions of the Apostles on the day of the Ascension as pictured in Acts 1.

Jesus told them it was not for them to know the times and the seasons which the Father had not revealed. But, He said, “Ye shall receive power after that the holy spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:8) and ten short days later the Apostles began to see just how powerful this power was that Jesus said they would receive.




“And that same day there were added about three thousand souls…..and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved….howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand…..and the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common…..neither was there any among them that lacked…..and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women…..and in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied….and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Acts 2:41,47,4:4,32,34,5:14,6:1,7

On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, God undid the effect of the division of languages He had caused over two thousand years earlier during the time of Nimrod (see Genesis 10:8-11:9). The apostles were all filled with the gift of pneuma hagion- holy spirit- and began to speak in languages that they had never learned. They spoke as God gave them utterance and although they did not understand the languages in which they spoke, the “multitude” (Acts 2:6) heard them speak “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).

They All Spoke In Tongues

As the division of languages during Nimrod’s time prevented or at least inhibited the spread of ungodliness, so now the new language- the tongues of men and of angels (I Cor. 13:1)- would cement the spread of godliness throughout the world. The apostles spoke in tongues.

Gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost were devout Jews out of every nation under heaven. Many would have stayed in and around Jerusalem since the Passover fifty days before and would have witnessed the crucifixion. Both Passover and Pentecost were required feasts for every Jewish male over thirteen years of age to attend. Only the disabled and infirm were excused from this requirement.

The devout were all there. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Libya, Cyrene, Rome- all understood the words spoken. Jews, proselytes, Cretes and Arabians all heard the apostles speak in their own languages THE WONDERFUL WORKS OF GOD!

They witnessed an unprecedented miracle in the history of the world and in witnessing that miracle they had undeniable proof that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. They heard in their own languages, from unlearned Galileans, the wonderful works of God. And, although we are not told the words that were spoken, the most wonderful work of all was bound to have been spoken- Jesus Christ had risen from the dead!

Such was the start of the new age. Some tried to dismiss the miracle by saying that the apostles were drunk. But, those who heard the wonderful works of God in languages that they understood, but which they knew the apostles did not understand, would not buy that line. The miracle was undeniable. What a great day in the history of the world!

Jesus’ promise that they would be endued with power from on high was delivered! The era of the new nature had begun! The church of the body of Christ was created. The age of grace, kept secret since before the world began, was now made manifest. And, on that same day, Jesus Christ poured out God’s spirit on about three thousand souls and as Peter pointed out in Acts 2:33, Jesus Christ “hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.”

Did all three thousand speak in tongues so that everyone heard from them also the wonderful works of God? I do not know. But, God did a pretty good job of confounding the people during Nimrod’s time by causing them to speak in languages that their neighbors did not understand. That work is still obvious as there are many languages in the world today. It would be in character for God to unconfound to the same degree now that the new age had begun. It took two thousand years, but the commotion caused at the Tower in Babylon finally gave way to a new order in the Temple in Jerusalem.

There is a hint of evidence in Acts 5:32 that speaking in tongues was common in that the apostles on trial state that the holy spirit was God’s witness of the resurrection as well as the apostles themselves. Since the apostles were on trial before the Sanhedrin, what they said must have been clearly understood by the members of the Sanhedrin. If the apostles were not referring to speaking in tongues, what other manifestation of the spirit they could have been referring to is not clear. Certainly speaking in tongues was a witness of the resurrection (as is clear from the account in Acts 2 of the day of Pentecost and also from the account of the “pouring out of the gift of holy spirit” on the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-46 where Peter and the six Jews with him were astonished because the Gentiles also spoke in tongues) and may well have been “the witness” spoken about in Acts 5:32.

There is ample evidence in the rest of Acts and in Paul’s epistles that speaking in tongues was common throughout the Christian community. There is ample evidence today that speaking in tongues is common throughout the Christian community. What Jesus Christ poured out on the first day of the church age, He continues to pour out as men and women believe. “Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The Effect of the First Day of the Church

The effect of that single day in Jerusalem on the history of the world cannot be overestimated. Jesus Christ began pouring out the spirit and continues to pour it out down to this very day. As Peter told the multitude that day, “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:39) And, Jesus Christ did not merely dole out the spirit and then leave the recipients on their own. He kept pouring out to them wisdom and knowledge and enlightenment, and correction and power and all the things that are needed by a lively body from an active head. (see Eph. 1:17-23).

No longer did man have to pursue the impossible task of building a sufficient ladder on which to climb into the presence of God. He could now accept the finished work of Jesus Christ. He could accept the immediate leadership of Jesus Christ and by so doing, he could receive a new nature as a free, unearned gift. In that nature, Jesus Christ made him righteous! This righteousness was not earned. It did not come because of any merit on the part of the recipient. It was a gift from God. It was due to God’s divine favor, God’s grace. And, in this new nature, the Christian received an ability unknown to him before. He could relate to God as a Father instead of as an exacting and all powerful Stranger. He could approach Him as a son approaches a father, without thought of inadequacy, inferiority, or a sense of condemnation. In this new nature, timidity would give way to boldness and fear to love.

In short, those who came to God by Jesus Christ were in much the same position as Adam and Eve were before the fall. The great difference being that man now had a mediator, a defender, a protector and advocate- Jesus Christ, The Righteous One. Unlike Adam and Eve, whose spiritual nature was given upon a condition, those who received the new nature given by Jesus Christ were given it unconditionally. It would never be taken away from those who received it. It could not be lost. God’s gift was eternal. God’s gift was life. God’s gift was eternal life!

Adam and Eve were created with a spiritual nature upon a condition. They did not meet the condition and therefore lost their spiritual nature. When Jesus Christ came, man was dead in his trespasses and sins. But, those who believed in Jesus Christ were quickened, were made alive, and were given a new nature. And, that gift was unconditional (see Eph. 2:4-9). Adam and Eve’s choice was to obey God or die. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, man’s choice was, and still is, to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and live or not accept Him and stay dead in trespasses and sins.

After receiving God’s gift of holy spirit, those who chose to believe in Jesus Christ still had a choice regarding how they would live. The “believer” now had two natures, an old nature and a new nature. Which nature would be exercised and which nature ignored, was the choice of the believer. Neither nature dominated him. He was still in control of his actions. He could choose to walk by the new nature. He could choose to walk by the old nature. He could be deceived by his old nature if he allowed himself to be. He could be tricked if he wearied of being “in Christ”. But, he could overcome such deceit and trickery, if he wanted to, by the power of God inherent in his new nature.

The “two natures” are clearly revealed after the day of Pentecost in the behavior of those who were “born again”. Some chose to return to “the weak and beggarly elements” (Gal. 4:9) and desired to again be in bondage. They saw strength in “the law of sin and death”, the law that governed the old nature. And so they focused on sin rather than the savior from sin, Jesus Christ. In so doing, their focus was turned from life to death, for “the sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law” (I. Cor. 15:56). They wanted “wages” for their “work” and did not continue in the reality that “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” had made them free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). Instead of “speaking the truth in love” as Paul did when he said, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23), they left off the second part of the verse and simply said, “the wages of sin is death”.

What these people saw as strength was not strength at all. For the law was not strong. The law was weak (Rom. 8:3) because it could only deal with the old nature. In contrast, grace was strong because a new nature was available to man and grace could deal with this new nature. However, the strength of grace could only be appreciated by those walking in and by the new nature. The old nature knew only carnal strength. As Paul wrote, “the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the laws of God, neither indeed can be… because they are spiritually discerned” (Rom.8:7 and I Cor.2:14). Only the new nature could understand the instruction, “be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good”(Rom.12:21).

The old nature said that evil was stronger than good. The new nature knew that good was stronger than evil. The righteous (at least those among the righteous who were walking by the power of the new nature) did good because it was their nature to do so. The unrighteous, those who had only the old nature, and those who had a new nature but “returned to the weak and beggarly elements”, did good in order to improve their nature. They invariably failed in their efforts and therefore concluded that evil was stronger than good.

The Size of the Church

With the outpouring of holy spirit described in Acts, chapter two, a dramatic change occurred- a change unparalleled in the history of the world. The spreading of the Good News took hold like a forest fire out of control. And, on an individual level, it has continued to spread down through history to this very day.

After hearing the wonderful works of God in their own languages as the apostles spoke in tongues on the first day of the church age, the devout Jews who were gathered from all over the world believed Jesus was The Christ and about three thousand souls were saved on that day alone. After that first day, the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved (Acts 2:47).

Some people take longer to make up their minds than do others. However, often times, when they do decide, they are more durable in their convictions than those who change quickly. If there were an additional three thousand saved on the second day of the church age, they could well have been more deeply convinced than the three thousand that believed the first day. And, if three thousand were saved the first day, as we are told in Acts 2, it is more likely that the number of converts grew the second day, the third day, and thereafter, rather than dropping off to a trickle. A mighty miracle had been witnessed on the day of Pentecost and the effects of it would hardly have died off in a day.

Consider also the reality that just fifty days earlier, Israel had been shaken by the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke (Luke 23:44) tells us that there was darkness over all the earth the day Jesus Christ died and it lasted from noon until 3 o’clock P.M.. Such an event would have shaken the world. And, it would not be soon forgotten. From facts such as this, the picture that develops is one of three thousand converts a day being typical of the new order of things rather than being exceptional.

The next event we learn about, in Acts, chapter three, is Peter healing the lame man at the gate of the Temple. Consequent to that miracle, ” many of them which heard the Word believed; and the number of men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4). Notice the words “many of them which heard the Word believed.” The indication is that a majority of those who heard the Word, or a large minority, if not an overwhelming majority believed rather than only a few of them believing after many hearing God’s Word spoken.

The conclusion to which we are drawn is one of an eager acceptance of the Word of God rather than a reluctant admission that a miracle may have been done and Peter may have been right in what he told them after the man was healed. This was a mighty moving of the spirit of God, not a parochial event that soon fizzled. The number of men who were converted was about five thousand. Add to that number the women and children. This means perhaps ten or fifteen thousand converts consequent to Peter’s healing the man lame from his birth. This event included a mighty miracle following closely on the heels of the miracle of Pentecost. These were only two of many miracles witnessed in Jerusalem for we are told that “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43).

Some translators picture the statement recorded in Acts 4:4 as a summary of the number of believers up to that point in time and therefore translate the verse “and the number of men became about five thousand” or “bringing up their number to about five thousand.” However, such a picture does not do justice to what was happening in Jerusalem. Luke, the writer of the “family history” of Acts, is not here giving a head count of the number of children born into the family up to that time. If so, he would have fixed some kind of date on which the head count was done. He didn’t. We do not know from the account whether the man was healed within days, or weeks, or perhaps even a couple of years of the first day of the church age.

Also, there is ample evidence in the Old Testament that God’s people were not to take a census or rely on numbers to indicate their strength. God was their strength. Luke uses numbers throughout his gospel and the book of Acts to signify the magnitude of events, for example, the feeding of the five thousand in Luke 9;14, and it seems much more likely that in Acts 4:4 Luke is indicating the magnitude of the event surrounding the healing of the man lame from his birth rather than the overall size of the church.

Another point to consider is that if Luke was giving a count of the number of believers to that time, he would have kept up the method throughout his history. He does not do so in any other passage in Acts. On the contrary, he records a multitude here, a multitude there, a whole city here, a great number of priests there. He indicates the magnitude of events without ever numbering the church.

Finally, the statements of the High Priest indicate that the growth of the church was not slowing down but rather increasing. The High Priest says, “for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16), and “ye have filled all Jerusalem with your doctrine.” (Acts 5:28).

For all these reasons, I am confident that the phrase “and the number of men was about five thousand” (Acts 4:4), refers not to the total number of men in the church up to that time, but rather to those who believed after seeing the man healed and hearing Peter’s explanation of the event.

The Change in Jerusalem Caused By the Church

A comparison of the record of the man healed by Peter, who was lame from his birth (Acts 4), to that of the man healed by Jesus, who was born blind (Jn 9), shows that Jerusalem had changed dramatically in the time between the two events. In the gospel account, Jesus healed the man born blind and the religious leaders did their best to deny that the miracle had happened. In John 9:9, “some said this is he, others said, he is like him, but he said, I am he.” This gave the religious leaders an opening to deny the miracle. But, in the Acts account, the man healed by Peter was a far more difficult matter for the religious leaders to handle. Jerusalem had indeed changed. You can bet your last dollar that the High Priest and his cronies on the Sanhedrin tried their best to find a way to deny the miracle. They could not! It was known to everyone in Jerusalem!

Acts 4:21 tells us that after Peter and John were interrogated they were let go, the rulers of Israel “finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.”

Stop for a moment and consider just how different this Jerusalem was from the Jerusalem of only a short time prior. The man that was healed had been born lame only a few years before Jesus was born. We are told that he was brought daily to the gate Beautiful of the Temple to ask alms of them who went into the Temple. Unlike healthy men who had much to do with their lives and places to go, this man who was more than forty years old, could go nowhere without being carried. And so, he was set there each day, perhaps for most of his life, and was a known man.

Jesus would have passed him many times going in and out of the Temple and there may not have been another single man in all of Israel who knew so much of what went on in the Temple each day for so many years. He may even have been there while Jesus, as a twelve year old child, was teaching in the Temple. The man would have been perhaps twenty years old at the time.

When Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” and then took him by the right hand and lifted him up, the man had to have in mind all the incredible things that had been happening in Jerusalem in recent months. And, when his feet and ankle bones received strength, what thrill must have gone through the man. What joy must have permeated Jerusalem at news of his deliverance. Jesus Christ had healed him!

I can imagine people hurrying home with the good news and when asked by their spouses, “What has Jesus Christ been doing today?” answering, “Why, He healed that man at the gate Beautiful! The one who has been there all these years.” “How wonderful!” would have been the reply.

Another telling verse regarding the first months and years of the church age is Acts 2:47. In it we see that the saved, the born again, had “favor with all the people.” They were not considered as outcasts or oddballs or fanatics. They were welcomed by those who had not yet been saved. Jerusalem was a different place indeed!

Acts 4:32 mentions “the multitude of them that believed”. Acts 5:14 records, “and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” Acts 6:7 declares that the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. Notice that multiplied is used, not added. (ten added to ten equals twenty; ten multiplied by ten equals one hundred) And, in the same verse we are told that a “great company of priests were obedient to the faith.”

And so, in the first six chapters of Acts, which covers a period of about five years, how many people were there in Jerusalem and around the world that had a new nature? There were three thousand the first day. Then the Lord added daily such as were being saved. Then there was another five thousand men, plus women and children. Add to that a multitude. Add to that another multitude. Add to that a great company of priests. Then multiply that number by some number. How many? Fifty thousand? Five hundred thousand? Five million?

The point is simply this: Within five years of the time of the ascension of Jesus Christ, a massive number of people in Jerusalem believed in Jesus Christ, saw great miracles, great deliverance, great rejoicing. And, an equally massive number of people would have heard the “Good News” around the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the empires of Rome and Persia. Five years is a long time. To think that such wonderful things happening in Jerusalem could have been kept secret from the rest of the world is unrealistic. The ranks of Judiasm must have swelled dramatically as devout Jews went from their homes to the feasts in Jerusalem each year and then came home to tell their friends, neighbors and associates of all the healing and deliverance they had seen. The Messiah had come! Proselytes and “God-fearers” must have been added to the Jewish cause in a way hard to appreciate without historical numbers to go by.

Many of the pilgrims would have gone home after the various feasts, and it is not possible to judge the effects they had on their local communities. But, the residents of Jerusalem certainly had all heard the gospel message by the end of the first five years of the church age. Those who did not hear were only those who refused to hear. Many, many of Jerusalem’s residents believed.

Many of them would have remembered Herod having all the male children under two years of age in and around Bethlehem murdered when the wise men from the East did not return. Many would have lost sons at that time. Many would have remembered John the Baptist being beheaded because he condemned Herod Antipas’ marriage to his brother’s wife. Many remembered Jesus Christ being crucified. Surely, each had heard, by experience or at least from their neighbors, of the many miracles that Jesus did. Those who refused to believe chose not to believe. They were not innocent people who had never had the opportunity to believe. They certainly had had the opportunity to hear. Their unbelief was of a different kind than those elsewhere who had never had a chance to hear up until that time.

The Size and Nature of Jerusalem

In short, all Jerusalem was well aware of what Jesus Christ came to do and what He stood for by the time that the first few years of the church age had passed. It was filled with men and women who believed.

How big a city was Jerusalem? The evidence outside the general picture painted in the book of Acts is sketchy and conflicting. Josephus says about two hundred thousand people lived in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. Tacitus says six hundred thousand. Some recent writers say about fifty thousand.

The city was about four miles in circumference and some say its population was limited by the water supply to it. But, it had an elaborate water supply and the amount of water that could be stored in the various pools and cisterns (not to mention springs and other sources of running water) probably exceeded ten million gallons. It is hard to imagine that only fifty thousand people lived in the city in view of this and in view of the numbers and “multitudes” mentioned in Acts.

As a comparison, evidently about one million people lived in Rome (among them 60,000 to 80,000 Jews) and fifty four million people lived in Roman lands at the time Christ was born. According to Chrysostom, about two hundred thousand people lived in Syrian Antioch in the fourth century (probably excluding slaves), and Antioch rivaled Damascus as a trade and political center. Antioch was the intersection of north, south, east and west trade routes and could be called the “Rome East” of the Roman empire. Chrysostom also tells us that Antioch had about one hundred thousand Christians at the time of Theodosius (350- 400 A.D.). In Alexandria, the second largest city in the Roman Empire, two of the seven sections of town were entirely Jewish. With so many Jews living in Rome, Alexandria, and other cities of the Mediterranean world, it is hard to imagine that only 50,000 Jews lived in Jerusalem.

In any event, since Tacitus was a Roman historian and Josephus a Jewish historian, Josephus’ numbers are probably more accurate when talking about Jerusalem. Also, Tacitus wrote around 100 A.D., after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and was therefore removed from the events that Josephus would have observed, being a priest and living in or around Jerusalem from his birth in 37 A. D. until its destruction in 70 A. D.. Therefore, a normal population of two hundred thousand people seems as reasonable an estimate as can be obtained. If we accept the fact that Rome was six per cent Jewish, and assume that the Roman Empire contained the same percentage of Jews, then there were about 3.25 million Jews in the Roman Empire in the first century. If we assume that there were an equal number living in the Persian Empire and other areas of the world, then the total Jewish population was about 6.5 million. If 200,000 of them lived in Jerusalem, this would represent three per cent of the Jewish population, not an unreasonable number.

Along these lines, it should be mentioned that Josephus gives an account that Cestius requested the High Priest to make a census, in order to convince Nero of the importance of Jerusalem (Nero was emperor from 54 A.D. to 68 A.D.). The High Priest did so by counting the number of lambs slain at Passover. He counted 256,500 lambs and at a ratio of ten people fed for each lamb slain, the number of people in Jerusalem during the feast of Passover that year would have been about two and a half million. Again, not an unreasonable number for a feast that was “required attendance” for 6.5 million people.

It should also be noted that the pilgrims were not required to stay within the city but could reside within a “Sabbath Day’s Journey” of the city, or about three quarters of a mile away. If the normal population was two hundred thousand, Jerusalem would have been packed with visitors sleeping on roofs and in the countryside outside the walls.

Also, to prevent the reader from being overwhelmed by the prospect of 256,500 lambs being killed in the Temple, it should be pointed out that the Temple area occupied roughly a square whose sides were about one thousand feet, or about twenty three acres. In the Temple, twenty four courses of priests and twenty four courses of levites each served a week at a time during the normal course of the year, but all served together during passover. There were evidently about five thousand priests and seven thousand levites living in and around Jerusalem during the time covered by the book of Acts.

With the above facts and estimates in mind, it should be clear that the impact of the pouring out of holy spirit on the day of Pentecost and the growth of the church in the first few years following, were dramatic, not only as regards Jerusalem but among the millions of people of the dispersion as well.

That being the case, why did not Jerusalem far surpass all the rest of the nations of the world in power and prestige? What checked the growth?

We see throughout the scriptures that “righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people”(Prov. 14:34), and “when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn”(Prov. 29:2). What sin and wickedness crept back into Jerusalem and brought it down?

It is true that about twelve years after Jesus Christ’s death, in 41 A.D., Jerusalem was again a Royal City and King Agrippa I reigned. Not since 161 B.C. under Judas Maccabaeus had Israel achieved its independence as a separate (though subordinate) nation. But, Israel’s independence was short lived- a mere three years. King Agrippa died in 44 A.D. (see Acts 11:20-23) and the nation was again parceled out by the Roman authority. Not only did Israel lose its autonomy, but by 46 A.D., severe famine was in the land.

What happened in Jerusalem? What cancerous growth stole the life from that city so that forty years after the outpouring of holy spirit, it was reduced to ashes. It was destroyed physically, politically, religiously, and economically. Israel as a nation disappeared from the face of the map. It would not revive for almost nineteen hundred years.

The Rulers in Jerusalem Cannot Stop the Church

What can we discover from the first eight chapters of Acts that might begin to explain such a tragic demise? We have seen that a vast multitude in Jerusalem believed. Certainly, such a number of believing people could not be persecuted out of existence by those outside their number. At least, it is highly unlikely.

In Acts, chapter four, the leaders of the Jewish nation had the apostles arrested and thrown into jail. But, they could not do anything except threaten them because of their popularity with the people. They could not deny the notable miracle that was done to the man who was lame from his birth and was healed after living with his handicap forty years or more.

The response of the church to this threat was to pray for more boldness to preach The Word. They asked for God’s support by healings, signs and miracles. Chapter five records God’s response to their prayers and in that response He gives to Israel the most marvelous period in its history!

Never was there a time when healing was so wide spread. It was unprecedented, exciting, thrilling, awe inspiring. In short, the period could be summed up by saying that grace held sway in Jerusalem. The Word of God prevailed. Jesus Christ reigned over the city of Jerusalem. Acts 5:16 says, “There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits; AND THEY WERE HEALED- EVERY ONE!”

Never before had Israel experienced such deliverance. It was a deliverance even greater than the exodus from Egypt! Jerusalem had reached its high water mark, the pinnacle of its history. Had there been an election in the city of Jerusalem, the apostles could have run for any office and won overwhelmingly. Peter was so popular that people laid their sick by the side of the road in the hopes that just his shadow would pass over them and they would be healed.

The Chief Priest and all his support group were indignant with all this and forcibly threw the apostles in prison. But, even this action was turned around by God to make the Chief Priest and his power look foolish in the sight of the people when the angel of the Lord delivered the apostles from prison and they went right back to the Temple and taught.

Among the best testimony as to the state of affairs in Jerusalem at this time is that of the High Priest himself. In Acts 5:28 he declares accusingly, “ye have filled all Jerusalem with your doctrine!” To what doctrine was he referring? Verse seventeen says that the power base of the High Priest was the Saducees and one of the Saducees central beliefs was that there was no resurrection from the dead. They denied any supernatural intervention in the affairs of men. The apostles had filled Jerusalem with not only the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also with all the implications of that fact, miracles, deliverance, healing, joy, etc.. All those implications would undoubtedly point to the Chief Priest and the Saducees as being impostors. For, Jesus had said after His resurrection, “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18).

During the ministry of Jesus Christ, he was harassed mainly by the Pharasees over points of law. But now, the apostles are harassed by the Saducees because they preached that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead. The evidence points to the fact that the Pharasees finally believed in Jesus Christ. (see Acts5:34, 15:5, 23:9).

What angered the Chief Priest and the Saducees was that they were losing their power base. And, if they lost their power base, they would loose their money! Then, as now, the love of money was the root of all evil. The Temple income was huge and they controlled it all. They refused to be brought under the doctrine of Christ and administer their offices by its precepts. They wanted a firm hold on the peoples lives and considered themselves the supreme authorities. They were the law!

For our purposes, the account shows conclusively that the people now knew of the resurrection and all that it implied, and no one in Jerusalem could later say that he had never had the opportunity to hear.

Acts 5:26 tells us that the Chief Priest and his followers were concerned to the point that they were convinced that they themselves would be stoned by the people if they did violence to the apostles. They feared the people! Imagine the state of affairs in Jerusalem.

The Church in Jerusalem Prevails

The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was accepted by the people with all that those events implied. The rulers were well aware of this and faced the choice of either complying, (which would mean losing face and perhaps their positions), or finding a way to regain authority over the people without losing face. This was a Jerusalem that had never been seen before. And, as we shall see, would never be seen again. Imagine the people so solidly behind the apostles that they would have stoned their own leaders if those leaders had harmed the apostles.

With all this evidence, it is very doubtful that the believers in Jerusalem could have been persecuted out of existence by those outside their number. Therefore, we must look within the group of believers to see if we can find a cause for the decline in godliness which became so evident as the years went by. What breaching of the dike occurred that allowed in the forces of evil?

How did the believers relate to each other? How did they organize? In the first five years of the Christian church, who were the principal characters? Remember, Paul had not yet arrived on the scene. His conversion on the road to Damascus occurs in the ninth chapter of Acts. So, Paul was not yet in the picture. Who was?

In Acts 1:2 we see “the apostles whom He had chosen.” They were with Jesus Christ at His ascension. In verse thirteen we find these apostles named -except Judas who had hanged himself. In verse fourteen we find additional people- some women not named, and Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus’ brothers. The apostles “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” with these others. Verse fifteen mentions that there were about one hundred twenty people present. (There were obviously many more people who believed in Jesus Christ at that time, but these were the only ones gathered together in Jerusalem between the day of the Ascension and the day of Pentecost, ten days later. For example, Jesus was seen by over five hundred people at one time after his resurrection as stated in I Cor. 15:6.) From these, Matthias was chosen to fill the place of Judas.

In the first five chapters of Acts, the only recorded miracles are done by the apostles. (This by no means implies that the rest of the church did no miracles or that no other miracles were done than the ones recorded). The apostles are the ones in the forefront of the church. In Acts 2:43, “and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.” Note also that in verses forty four and forty five, all that believed sold their plurality and gave to others as the others had need. The individual believer not only sold his excess goods, for he now had a life that transcended mere worldly abundance, he also decided where the proceeds were to go.

Chapter three shows Peter healing the lame man at the Temple. Acts 4:33 says, “and with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them.” The people brought the money from the things they sold and laid it at the feet of the apostles. The apostles distributed to every man as he had need. Verse thirty four states that there were none that lacked! Everyone had their needs met. Both direct giving to those who had need and indirect giving, through the apostles, is seen.

The Rulers Try to Stop the Popularity of the Apostles

Acts 5:12 says, “and by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people”. The story continues to unfold as the apostles are again arrested. This time, not only are Peter and John arrested. All the other apostles are arrested as well.

Acts 5:26 shows the political power of the believing community that was now beginning to prevail in Jerusalem. The apostles were brought without violence, for the Captain of the Temple (the second most powerful man in Jerusalem next to the High Priest) and his officers feared the people. They fully expected that the people would stone them if they did any violence to the apostles.

Again we see a different state of affairs in Jerusalem than existed at the time of Jesus crucifixion. There is no evidence that the Captain of the Temple and his officers were afraid of the people when Jesus was arrested.

It should also be noted that at this time, the Saducee party controlled the Sanhedrin and the Pharasee party was well in the minority. This helps explain why Gamaliel, a Pharasee, spoke for the defense of the apostles and why, in verse seventeen, only the Saducees were responsible for putting the apostles in jail.

It also explains why the High Priest did not listen to Gamaliel and had the apostles beaten. In verse forty, they said they agreed with his argument, although it is clear that they feared for their own lives, and this was their major motivation. Verse thirty three tells us that after the apostles gave their defense, the members of the Sanhedrin were cut to the heart and took council to slay them. They realized that they could not do so because of the popularity of the apostles and therefore only had them beaten instead of having them put to death.

It must be stated emphatically that this entire dialogue between Gamaliel and the other members of the Sanhedrin was political in nature and a beating was as far as they dared to go because of the popularity of the apostles. There is a major difference between the imprisonment of Peter and John in Acts 4 and the imprisonment of all the apostles in Acts 5. In the first event, the rulers, elders, scribes, Annas the High Priest, Caiaphas (the previous High Priest), John, Alexander and all the kindred of the High Priest (Acts 4:5-6) formed a council to discover any possible accusation to use against Peter and John. They could find no accusation to make against them. Peter and John were put in prison and held for trial. But with no accusation, the only thing the council could do was to release them and command them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John were too popular among the people of Jerusalem to allow a false accusation to be made (Acts 4:21). And, the High Priest, together with his Saducee family and friends, dared not accuse them of committing a crime in teaching about the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the second event, the council was able to accuse the apostles of insubordination (Acts 5:28). But, when they heard the apostles say that they were witnesses to the resurrection and that the holy spirit was also a witness and was given to them that obey God (Acts 5:32), the council could not help but understand the implications. Not only did the apostles clearly state that the council had killed Jesus Christ (Acts 5:30), but they were also implying that the council did not receive holy spirit and were not obeying God. This insubordination gave the council cause to have them beaten. They wanted to kill them (Acts 5:33). But, they dared go no further than a beating.

Nothing could more clearly show the extensiveness of Christianity in Jerusalem than the record of these imprisonments. Acts 5:31 shows the apostles proclaiming Jesus Christ as a Prince and Saviour exalted by God, and proclaiming Him to the “Princes” of Israel while on trial and in the face of those “Princes” wanting to kill them. That those “Princes” could not kill them is an amazing thing to consider and reflect upon.

This is certainly a different Jerusalem from the one at Jesus Trial. Even after being faced with insubordination and clear defiance, the council could not do away with the apostles. What a change from the bogus trial of Jesus! In Jesus case, they didn’t even finish the trial but rather “railroaded” Him to the cross. Now, the apostles are openly defiant and yet are only beaten- and the beating was accomplished at great risk to the Sanhedrin because of the popularity of the apostles (the extensiveness of the risk is seen in Acts 5:26).

Summary of the First Years of Christianity

And so, through the first five chapters of Acts, which covers perhaps the first four years of Christianity in Jerusalem, there is no evidence of any division within the church or any hierarchy. If the apostles were the hierarchy, then our conception of hierarchy does not fit. For, the apostles were the ones doing the work, taking the beatings, etc.. And, there is no evidence of any special privileges they assumed. If anything, they performed more service and suffered more abuse than any of the other believers.

There is no evidence that they in any way regimented the believers through a chain of command. There is no evidence of a split between those who were saved and those who were unsaved among the population. The believers had “favor with all the people” (Acts2:47). The High Priest and Sanhedrin were clearly against God and the pouring out of holy spirit in the early church, but the people were clearly for God and the apostles.

The giving done by the believers and apostles appears to be spread throughout the Jerusalem community and not confined within an exclusive Christian community. There is no evidence in the first five chapters of Acts to suggest an exclusive community. The evidence points to all Jerusalem being filled with the doctrine of Christ. The believers continued in the Temple, ate their meals from house to house, met in the synagogues (see Acts 22:19) and had favor with all the people.











“Why hath satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…..and in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration”
Acts 5:3;6:1

The first record we have of any wrong doing within the church is the fifth chapter of Acts. Exactly when the event occurred, we are not told. It occurred sometime within the first five years of the church age and probably during the middle of that time period, say 33 A.D..

In any event, some time must have elapsed between the trial of Peter and John in Acts 4 and the trial of all the apostles in Acts 5. In the former case, the Sanhedrin could find no way to punish Peter and John while in the later case, they did have the apostles beaten. Intervening between the two trials are “great power” and “great grace” (Acts 4:33), the selling of lands and houses (Acts 4:34), “many signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12), multitudes of believers added to the Lord (Acts 5:14) and everyone healed that was brought from the cities around Jerusalem (Acts 5:16).

All this would have had to take time and there was only aboutfive years from the start of the church age until the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Paul. While it is not my purpose to fix exact dates throughout Acts, and while various authorities differ on the subject, there are well accepted dates that fix the time frame of Acts. The dates of 30 A.D. for Jesus death, 44 A.D. for the death of Herod Agrippa I (recorded in Acts 12:23), and the destruction of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D., are all well accepted. All the events of Acts fit into the time frame of these recognized dates.

No end of confusion has resulted from not recognizing that Acts is a history that spans most of this forty year period. While some may dispute whether one, or two, or three years passed between certain events, the sequence in Acts is chronological and covers the entire time period from the start of the church until Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, a period of about thirty three years. And, while Luke’s history is short, (only about 45 pages), it is complete and accomplishes his purpose. Any assumption other than the author presenting to us the most significant facts from all the facts he had available to him does disservice to a work that many historians feel will stand as supreme compared to all other histories of the time, in fact and in detail, given that they are all measured by the same standards of evaluation.

To assume that the events recorded do not systematically span a large period of time, hides the very purpose of the book of Acts. That purpose is not to show haphazard miracles to fuel mystical speculation. Such a premise assumes a work of fiction and not of fact. The scripture clearly tells us that our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:5), and the power of God is not fiction. The manifestation of that power in the first thirty three years of the church age is not fiction. And, the consequence of God’s power being made manifest can be seen in the study of the Roman empire, and every other empire of the first century, and every age since then. If it is not seen, such blindness is due to a refusal to see rather than an obscurity of the facts (See II Cor. 4:3-4).

The book of Acts shows the factual outpouring of holy spirit over an extended period of time, the consequences of that outpouring, and how the people lived and related to each other after they had received holy spirit. Acts is the foundation on which Christianity stands, and it is a firm, not a precarious, foundation. If it is recognized that a period of fifteen years elapsed from Acts 1 to Acts 12, and another twenty five years from Acts 13 to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, many facets of the first century church come to light.

The Trouble with Ananias and Sapphira

By the time of the apostles second trial, recorded in Acts 5, the authorities were desperate to stop the fame of the apostles caused by the overwhelming amount of healing being accomplished. Truly, the prayer of Acts 4:29-30 was answered! The Lord did stretch forth His hand to heal and therefore the Word of God could be spoken with all boldness.

If we allow two years from the start of the church age until the first trial, and two years between the first and second trials, we can gain some perspective on just how extensive the outpouring of holy spirit was. The outpouring of holy spirit was not limited to a few days or a few weeks, and the consequences of it were felt not only among peasants but in the highest and most powerful levels of society. If we allow four years from the start of Acts until the second trial, then an additional year goes by before the death of Stephen.

Somewhere during the time between the two trials we are introduced to Ananias and Sapphira. The record of them sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of glorious deliverance. Anyone who reads Acts 4 and 5 must wonder why Luke includes the account at all. We would all rather read only the good things and the great. With Ananias and Sapphira we are introduced to tragedy in the church. Luke waves a big red flag in the middle of the glorious picture he is painting. All is not well with the church in Jerusalem.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a possession and brought part of the money to the apostles. In itself, the act was no different than that of many others in the church. The difference was that Ananias and Sapphira represented their gift as the total amount they had received for their property.

Why would they do such a thing? It is not hard to develop reasons from the “old nature” point of view. Deception and lies seem to be the norm with the ungodly. But, from the “new nature” point of view, such an action is unfathomable. When Peter calls Ananias and Sapphira to task he sounds incredulous as he asks them why they did such a thing.

He reminds them that they didn’t have to sell the property in the first place. And, after they sold it, they were under no obligation to give all the proceeds away. He then tells them that they have not lied to men but to God. The record tells us that they both died as a result of their attempted deception and presumably the fear and shame at being found out.

What a record to be included in the history of the early church. Why is it included? Granted that many preachers have used it to give sermons that say, “don’t mess with God.” Some have even used it to extort money out of the pockets of people in the church. But, certainly God did not have Luke include it for these reasons. There must be a reason for God including this account in His Word.

Consider some of the possible reasons:

  1. God wants to caution us that while many are being added to the church, all are not living as they should.
  2. We are being shown the magnitude of the “money issue” in Jerusalem and its implications to the Temple treasury. Those who wanted to impress their neighbors or the authorities are now beginning to do so by deceptive giving to the apostles rather than deceptive giving to the Temple.
  3. God is showing us a side of the apostles ministry that we may not have otherwise considered. Certainly Peter did not like pointing out their sin or seeing them die.

Certainly many more possible reasons could be generated, but the above does cause us to pause and consider. The account is not included to show that anyone who tries to deceive or lie in the church will die. This is obvious to anyone who attends a church and sees the same thing today. Nor is it included to show the wrath of Peter. He did not kill them.

It is the kind of unique account in Acts that pleads for a reason for it’s inclusion. It’s like talking about apples, oranges and hand grenades. From nice things to eat we are suddenly faced with an explosion. Such is the account in Acts 5. It’s an explosion in the midst of wonderful things to eat. It is the first recorded tragedy in the church. We are compelled to think about it, to search the scriptures and to study on the matter.

Perhaps Paul’s words in Romans 7:21 apply, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” In any event, the church in Jerusalem is changing. Along with great deliverance, evil raises its ugly head in the church. The common conception of good guys in the church and bad guys outside the church does not fit with our experiences today and the account we are considering shows that it did not fit then either. All did not lead perfect lives after they were saved, never to sin again.

Acts 5:12-13 gives us a hint of how the event of Ananias and Sapphira affected the church. “And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest, durst no man join himself to them.” The people knew from the event of Ananias and Sapphira that Christianity was no casual thing. And, you can bet that the Chief Priest and his cronies were burning the midnight oil to see how they could use the event to their advantage.

And, as much as we would like to point the finger only at Ananias and Sapphira, it should be recognized that there must have been some within the church that Ananias and Sapphira were trying to impress or they never would have thought up the deception in the first place. Were they trying to impress their neighbors? The religious leaders? The Apostles? We are not told, but people do not do what Ananias and Sapphira did without a motive. And, it is clear that their motive was not godly. The “babies” in the church were growing up, and all were not growing up well.

A Turning Point in the Jerusalem Church

This was a turning point in the Jerusalem church, the beginning of decline in Jerusalem. Together with Jerusalem being delivered on a scale never seen before, we see trouble and the high water mark of godliness being reached. It is not long before the tide of godliness begins to recede from Jerusalem.

It is significant to note the timidity of the Sanhedrin in the last half of Acts 5. When the angel of the Lord delivered the apostles from prison and they went back to the Temple to teach, they were not asked by the authorities how they escaped from prison. The authorities were silent before the people and certainly did not want to elicit further testimony from them of supernatural deliverance. God’s power was demonstrated by the apostles deliverance from prison and the Sanhedrin was on shaky ground indeed- and they knew it!

The apostles could well have caused an insurrection against the Sanhedrin had they chosen to do so. Their boldness before the Sanhedrin, as contrasted to the Sanhedrin’s timidity, shows the popularity of the apostles and the extent of the Christian community in Jerusalem. It seems impossible to exaggerate the prestige of the apostles at this time.

The apostles were tried and this time the Sanhedrin at least had a charge they could use, disobedience to their order. Consequently, they mustered the boldness to have the apostles beaten. They wanted to kill them but dared not for fear of their own lives.

The shame the apostles suffered by the beating they were given did not stop them. They “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”(Acts 5:41). And, although they were specifically commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus Christ by the Sanhedrin, verse forty two tells us that they completely disobeyed and taught not only from house to house, but in the Temple as well.

The Choice Facing the People

The people faced a dilemma. They could not honor the apostles and the Sanhedrin as well. Either the prestige of the Sanhedrin must decline or the prestige of the apostles. Jerusalem could not long continue with such an unresolved conflict in her midst. Either the Sanhedrin must be overthrown or, at least, forced to admit that their command to the apostles was ungodly, or the apostles must be considered lawbreakers. It was a tough choice indeed for the people of Jerusalem.

We see in Acts 6:1 that as time went by, the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem, even with the dilemma in their midst. How long a period of time went by, we are not told. Whether it was a few months or a couple of years, we do not know. From the context, it could not have been only days, and from the insubordination evidenced by the apostles, it is unlikely that it was as much as two years.

But, whether a few months or a year had passed, Acts 6:1 introduces us to another tragedy in Jerusalem. This one deals not merely with individuals, but with factions or groups. There was a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews because the Grecian widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food. The dilemma in Jerusalem was causing strain among the people.

The open defiance of the apostles to the order of the Sanhedrin was causing sides to be taken not only among the unsaved but within the believing community as well. In the midst of signs, miracles, wonders, healing and great discovery of God and His ways, the people had to wonder what would be done to settle the dilemma of authority in Jerusalem.

Perhaps it is well to recall the words of the founding fathers of the United States of America. They wrote in the Declaration of Independence that people throughout history “are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Similar thoughts must have been going through the minds of many of the devout men and women during this time of uncertainty. Surely there were those who expected the Lord to return at any moment and establish His Kingdom, but the Apostles had been told by Jesus Christ Himself that it was not for them to know the times or seasons, which the Father did not reveal (Acts 1:7).

Perhaps five years had gone by since Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and although the people would have been hoping for His eminent return, they also had to know that it could well be another five years or longer before He returned. The struggle could not continue for that length of time between the apostles on the one hand and the High Priest and the Sanhedrin on the other. Defiance on the one hand and hate on the other could not coexist for long.

The Murmuring of the Grecians Against the Hebrews

It is difficult to tell the extent to which the authority of the apostles superseded the authority of the Temple. The distribution to the widows was clearly the responsibility of the Temple throughout its long history. In the sixth chapter of Acts, we find this function either being carried out by the church already (as in Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:35) or else being taken out of the hands of the Temple for the first time. Which case is the correct one depends on whether the Grecians and Hebrews in Acts 6:1 were exclusively Christian or whether they were Christian and non-Christian mixed together in a city-wide problem. The verse does not clearly state the matter one way or the other.

As will be explained in more detail, the Grecians in Acts 6:1 were Helenistic Jews who did not “measure up” in the eyes of the Hebrew Jews who resisted the inclusion of greek customs and philosophy in the culture of Israel. The contention between the two groups is focused on money and clearly the Hebrews are slighting the Grecians in some way.

It seems reasonable to conclude that the income to the Temple had severely dropped off as the believers gave their wealth directly to those who had need or to the apostles rather than into the Temple for distribution that was controlled by the Sanhedrin and ultimately the High Priest. This would logically follow from the “dilemma” that Jerusalem continued to face. Those that sided with the apostles would surely contribute their money mainly to the church rather than to the Temple.

It should be pointed out that the practice of giving and tithing, among the Jews in the first century, was extensive. It was a way of life and was intimately tied to the laws and customs of Israel. Charity, giving of the first fruits of all their increase, and other categories of giving were all in addition to the tithe. In fact, there was a “second tithe” practiced at the time and the rule of the second tithe was that in addition to the 10% tithe, an additional 10% was required to be spent in Jerusalem. When the required feasts arrived, not only did perhaps two million people come to Jerusalem, but perhaps 20% or more of their income came with them.

Historians also tell us that the Roman tax together with the Temple tax was in the neighborhood of forty per cent of the average income, an intolerable burden. Each tax was calculated without respect for the other and the result of both taxes was considerable unrest and resistance. It seems likely that many Jews could not sustain such a heavy burden and the famines in Israel are no doubt related to the extent of taxation. Twentieth century taxation lends credibility to the correlation of famine and taxation, especially in communist countries where famines are common and private initiative is virtually non-existent because of the dominating power of the state. Even in America, especially in the past twenty years, overbearing taxation is beginning to show disastrous results. Homelessness is a major issue today and was hardly thought of twenty years ago. Few will dispute that our total tax burden exceeds forty per cent (when federal, state, county, and city income taxes are considered as well as social security taxes, property taxes, gasoline and other commodity taxes, sales taxes, various fees and the hidden taxes passed on to consumers in product prices- not to mention the massive tax of inflation which takes not only from income but from savings as well). Surely we were better off as a nation when we voluntarily gave to churches and individuals to provide for education, welfare and other necessities, than we are today by allowing the government to provide the same services through taxation.

The purpose of all this “money talk” is to show that the state of affairs in Jerusalem during the first six years of the church age was not all that different than the state of affairs today. Christianity provided a hope that transcended the worldly system and in spite of a “tight” budget for most of the population and “loose” budget for the Roman government and Temple, the believers prospered.

When many of the Jews in Jerusalem became Christian, they would not have used the excuse that they were not under law to diminish their giving. It is far more likely that their giving would have increased. The New Testament is clear that “offerings” as well as tithes are done away with by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, giving, on a scale even greater than the requirements of the Old Testament, is evidenced in the early church. The giving was out of a thankful heart rather than from compulsion for II Cor. 9:7 says that God loves a cheerful giver.

It may be difficult for some to appreciate the vast amounts of money involved with “the church” and the Temple. Today’s churches are hardly an example to use as a comparison. A fairer comparison would be to picture the people in a major city today deciding to give half of their tax money directly to those who have need instead of to the tax collectors. Such an action would cause a revolution in the economy of the city and in the well being of its citizens. So also, Jerusalem must have faced a revolutionary situation in the matter of money at the time of Acts 6:1. It seems that the “murmurings” of the Grecians against the Hebrews were symptomatic of a much greater problem of “money management” rather than being the total problem.

It is difficult to determine to any great extent just who the Grecians and Hebrews were in Acts 6:1. We do not even know clearly if all these Grecians and Hebrews that were murmuring were among the disciples or if some were outside their number. We assume they were among the number of disciples because the apostles called the multitude of disciples together to discuss the matter. But, it is an assumption. Many “unbelievers” could have been among the Grecians and Hebrews of Acts 6:1 as well as “believers”. The “seven” were selected, and there is no indication that they replaced anybody. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the distribution to the widows was administered by the Temple up to that time. Now it seems that at least the “Christian widows” were going to be cared for by the church through the rules, regulations, methods, and direction of the seven.

From what we have shown so far of the state of affairs in Jerusalem, the apostles could well have called a meeting of disciples to discuss a city- wide problem. This problem could well have been caused by a deliberate decision on the part of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin to favor the Hebrews over the Grecians in an effort to divide the people and move the debate in Jerusalem from the supernatural deliverance the people were witnessing to the practical demands of daily life.

In other words, if it was the High Priest determining to favor the Hebrews over the Grecians, his public reasoning would have been that the Hebrews deserved favoritism because they were “purer” in their practices and religion than the Grecians who had adopted many cultural practices of the Gentiles. No other issue could have been so ruthlessly calculated to divide the people of Jerusalem.

On the other hand, if the Grecians and Hebrews referred to in Acts 6:1 were exclusively within the Christian community and the Grecians were slighted by those within the church in control of the distribution of funds to the widows, the reasoning would most likely have been the same. The Hebrews deserved more because they more closely followed the customs, traditions and practices of Israel. In either case, we are led right back to the bondage of the law being contrary to the freedom purchased by Jesus Christ.

Whether the Temple or the “church” was responsible for the problem is unclear. It is clear that the word “church”, as used by Luke, does not carry with it all the connotations of today. It is the word “ekklesia” in greek and refers to a group, gathering, or mob. It literally means “that which is called out”. It does not imply a hierarchy of priests or synods or boards of elders or boards of deacons, as we associate the word “church” today.

In any event, the problem in Acts 6:1 was a serious one in that seven men full of the holy spirit and wisdom were appointed to resolve the issue. It seems from this fact that no one within the church, up to this time, was responsible for distributing the relief money to the widows since it does not appear that the seven selected were replacing anybody, but were initiating a solution to a new problem.

The “Hellinistes” and the “Hebrews”

The atmosphere in Jerusalem, at the time of Acts 6:1, is filled with tension, not only because the apostles continued to defy a court order to cease to speak in Jesus name, but also because of a deliberate decision by someone or some group, to favor the Hebrew faction over the Grecian faction.

Although we do not know much about the size of the Hebrew and Grecian factions mentioned in Acts 6:1, we do know something about who they were. In Jerusalem, there were many synagogues. Tradition fixes the number of synagogues in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus at four hundred sixty to four hundred eighty. The point is debatable. But, whether two hundred or five hundred, the number certainly was not twenty or fifty. Jerusalem was a large city and had many synagogues.

Centuries before the time of Jesus, the Jews were dispersed during and after the Babylonian captivity. Having been residents of every part of the world for generations, those who returned to Jerusalem would naturally segregate according to their adopted languages, cultures and conditions. The concept of synagogues had its origins after the return from the various “captivities”.

Jerusalem was a “melting pot” of Jews from all over the world. It was the power center of Israel. Not only did Priests and Levites live there. Retired people, wealthy people and students of the Law lived there as well. Among the multitude of Jewish believers in Jerusalem there were many cultural and circumstantial differences. The “Grecians” of Acts 6:1 were evidently greek speaking Jews, the word “Grecian” being translated from the greek word “Hellinistes”. A. E. Knoch’s Concordant Version of the New Testament translates the word “Greekist”. It is the same word used in Acts 9:29 and Acts 11:20.

The greek word “Hellinistes” should not be confused with the greek word “Hellen”. “Hellen” is translated into english by the word “Greek”. “Hellen” is the greek word used in Acts 14:1; 18:4; 19:10; 19:17; and 20:21. It refers to people who were not Jews but rather Greeks. In contrast, the Grecians of Acts 6:1 were Jews who had adopted the customs and culture of the greeks. They were citizens of Israel living in Jerusalem. Today, we might call them “Reform” as opposed to the Hebrew faction that might today be called “Orthodox”.

These “reform” Jews began complaining that the widows among their number were being neglected in the distribution of relief. The accusation was undoubtedly true. We are not told who was responsible for causing the neglect. If it was an “honest mistake”, it is hard to imagine that Luke would have included it in his history. We can conclude that it was a legitimate problem because the apostles considered the matter.

We also can get a hint at the nature of the problem when we consider the fact that the apostles declined to solve it- or even have a part in selecting who would look into the problem. They obviously did not want to get involved with this money issue and considered it a distraction from their work of teaching in Jesus name. The High Priest and his people could not have been far removed from the problem and the issue could well have been a trap intended to snare the apostles and allow the Sanhedrin to execute them. If so, the apostles did not go for the bait.

The Effect of Factions in the Church

It is highly significant that factions now exist in Jerusalem. Up until Acts 6:1, there is no evidence of factions. The believers had favor with all the people, all the sick in the city and the surrounding countryside were healed, the apostles were so popular that the Sanhedrin couldn’t carry out their desire to kill them.

For how long a time period the Word of God prevailed in Jerusalem, we do not know. There was certainly conflict within the church by the time of Paul’s conversion five years after the start of the church age. However, it is not credible to believe that God’s Word prevailed for only days or weeks or months. Whether it prevailed for three years or for four years is debatable, but by Acts 6:1, close to five years had passed and there was “murmuring” in Jerusalem. The Hebrews, who evidently looked down on the Grecians because of their lack of adherence to the old laws and customs, were shown favoritism and the Grecians responded to the discrimination by objecting.

Acts 6:2 records the apostles’ position that it was not proper for them to be diverted from their teaching of the Word of God to tend to this affair. Therefore, seven men full of the spirit and wisdom were chosen to do so. Note that the names of the seven were all Greek and the implication is that they were all of the “Grecian” faction. We are even told that one of the seven was not a Jew at all but rather a proselyte from Antioch, Nicolas. Also notice that the apostles did not have a part in choosing them.

Stephen was the central member of this group. However, even though he did great wonders and signs, some of the people were not satisfied as evidenced by those who disputed with Stephen in Acts 6:9. It should be noted that this verse does not say the dispute was engaged within the confines of the synagogues listed. In all probability it would have been ongoing in the Temple. It should also be noted that the names of the synagogues listed seem to suggest that they were “Grecian” synagogues. We are told in Acts 22:19 that Paul “imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed” in Jesus Christ. From this fact we see that Christians were in all the synagogues. It seems that elements of the Grecians and the Hebrews were in all the synagogues as well as other groups such as Pharasees, Saducees, Essenes, Scribes, etc. but it is natural that one group or the other would be the dominating force. The names seem to suggest that the synagogues were centered around areas from which people came rather than around doctrinal, cultural and religious practice. In any event, we are told that certain people in these synagogues could not withstand the wisdom and spirit by which Stephen spoke so they “set him up”.

We are told in Acts 6:11 that the accusation against Stephen was that he spoke “blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” There is no hint in the accusation, or in Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin, that the issue was an objection to salvation or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is obviously over the implications rising out of salvation, and in the light of what we have shown regarding the size and extent of the church, it seems much more probable that Stephen’s accusers were Christians rather than being non-Christians. The fact that they tried to resist the wisdom of Stephen, but could not, implies that the debate was not over the fact of the resurrection. It is hard to imagine that any debate with Stephen could have been sustained by non-Christians at this time over the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even the Sanhedrin could not stop the apostles from teaching in the name of Jesus because of the miracles, signs and wonders that were done and were obvious to the people. For all these reasons, the account in Acts 6:9-14 seems to indicate evidence of conflict within the church in Jerusalem rather than persecution from without. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus Christ was established as fact in Jerusalem by this time and those who wanted to deny the fact would hardly have contended with Stephen since he was the selected representative of the Christian community to resolve the dispute between the Grecians and Hebrews.

Considerations Pointing to Conflict Within the Church

Before proceeding, some comments on Acts chapter six are in order. There are those who contend that the record beginning with verse nine is not related to the first eight verses of chapter six. If so, the “setting up” of Stephen and his subsequent death have no relationship to the “murmurings” of verse one. To these people, the selection of Stephen to be one of the seven to effect a solution of the “murmurings” merely launched his career- so to speak- and he went on in other areas of ministry and did great wonders and miracles among the people, as verse eight says.

But, it is a major assumption that the “murmurings” of verse one were solved. There is no scriptural evidence to suggest that they were. And, since the “murmurings” are introduced into the only inspired history we have of the first thirty three years of the church age, we must conclude that of all the many events of that time, these “murmurings” were singularly important. If the murmurings were solved, then the solution of the problem should also be stated or implied.

These are not unrelated events separated by faded memories over long periods of time. They must have all happened within about three years. It is doubtful if any of the members of the Sanhedrin had changed, let alone all of them. In one way or another, the “murmurings” must have driven a wedge into the believing community and allowed the forces of ungodliness to prevail. The method is not new. Satan has used the same devices throughout all of time. “Divide and Conquer” often allows the enemy to prevail when frontal assaults can do nothing. And, it certainly prevailed in this instance, as shown by the scattering of the church in Acts 8:1.

More Considerations on Acts 6

One of the main problems with the sixth chapter of Acts is the statement by the apostles in verse two, “It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables.” It seems to suggest that seven men were picked out to wait on tables. Surely, the “murmurings” were not complaints about the food service. If so, it is hard to conceive that the “Grecians” would say it was the “Hebrews” fault.

This was not a “pot luck dinner” that needed some food servers. We know that it had something to do with the “distribution” to the widows and again, it is hard to believe that the complaint was over delivery service.

It must have had to do with who decided which widows received what. It was an issue over the control of money, or goods, or wealth. And, that the apostles refused to get involved with the issue may well be the only reason they were able to stay in Jerusalem when the persecution of the church started after Stephen’s death. This again may be a startling statement, but I hope it causes further research into the matter. I am confident that the record of the apostles refusing to involve themselves with this money issue is not included by chance. It seems of the highest significance in the light of Acts 8:1 which tells us that only the apostles were not scattered.

It seems evident that the events of Acts 6 are included in Luke’s account to show us a major turning point in the church. We are led to the conclusion that although the rulers could do nothing to prevent the Word of God from prevailing in Jerusalem from without, factions developing over money distribution allowed them the opportunity they needed to “divide and conquer”.

With the selection of the seven and the recognizing of them by the apostles in Acts 6:6, the word of God increased and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. In Acts 2,4, and 5, the numbers 3,000 and 5,000 are listed as well as the general terms “multitude” and “added daily”. Now, in Acts 6 we are told that the number of disciples “multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7). Moffatt translates the phrase “greatly increased” and Knoch translates it “multiplied tremendously”. There is no question that a greater increase than ever is being experienced by the church in Acts 6.

And, not only are we told that a greater increase than ever was being experienced, we are also told that a great company of priests became obedient to the faith. Moffatt uses the phrase “a host of priests” and Knoch says “a vast throng of the priests”. It is clear that a significant change in the priesthood is being experienced. As mentioned before, there evidently were about five thousand priests living in and around Jerusalem at this time. Of this group, it is hard to imagine any less than an overwhelming majority of priests comprising the “great company” or the “host” or the “vast throng”. It was certainly not a handful, or a dozen, or a hundred. More likely, it was three thousand, or four thousand, or forty nine hundred. I know this is a radical proposal, but, if it is correct, the changes that would be forced to happen in the Temple and among the Temple authorities would be dramatic.

If there were no other indications of the size and influence of the church in Jerusalem than this single reference to the great company of priests, it would suffice to show the extent of godliness in Jerusalem. The priests were honored and respected by the people in Jerusalem and were the servants of the people before God in the Temple. No more unlikely thing can be imagined than that a “great company” or a “host” or a “vast throng” of priests would believe without a corresponding company, or host, or throng of the general population believing.

Stephen is Singled Out

The seriousness of the threat to the High Priest and the Sanhedrin is impossible to overstate. Their prestige, their money, their control were all threatened. The threat was real and it was imminent. The picture is not cloudy. It is clear and in sharp focus. I trust that ample evidence has been given from within the first six chapters of Acts to show that this was so. Jesus Christ was exercising the “all power given to Him” in a way far greater than is commonly perceived. The spirit of God was being “poured out”, not “dribbled out” a drop at a time.

In Acts 6:8, we read that Stephen did great wonders and miracles among the people. This is the first record in Acts of someone other than the apostles performing wonders and miracles. This certainly does not mean that no other miracles were done than those done by the apostles for God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Certainly many in the church were doing the same. But, Stephen is singled out and by listing the miracles and signs he did, the magnitude of his work is indicated. There is no reason for thinking that the work he was doing was other than that for which he was appointed in Acts 6:3-6. To separate the work he performed in Acts 6:8-10 from the work he was called to perform in Acts 6:3-6, requires totally unfounded speculation. No evidence exists to support such an assumption.

It appears that the main reason people try to divorce the former part of Acts 6 from the latter is that the magnitude of the task Stephen was appointed to do is not appreciated. The law was giving way to grace and the spokesman for grace was Stephen. He must have been saying that there was no difference between Hebrews and Grecians and giving his reasons from the scripture. And, the Lord confirmed Stephen’s words by signs following.

In verses nine and ten, we are introduced to people from various synagogues who did not like what Stephen was doing. These verses do not say that Stephen reasoned with them in their synagogues. The scene is probably the Temple. With a great company of priests becoming “obedient to the faith”, certainly the Temple was the focal point of Christianity at this time. In any event, verse ten tells us that there were some people who were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which Stephen spoke. The statement is another indication that godliness was still the prevailing attitude in Jerusalem. These people certainly wanted to resist Stephen but could not do it. Stephen’s words prevailed among the group or groups he was talking to rather than his detractors words and arguments prevailing.

These people therefore set Stephen up and brought false charges against him. Who these people were is a debatable question. They could have been believers. They could have been unbelievers. They could have been Hebrews. They could have been Grecians. That they had something to gain from setting up Stephen, seems obvious. There motive was not godly and so some ulterior motive was involved. Perhaps they would win favor with the High Priest or the Sanhedrin. Perhaps they would gain some measure of control in Jerusalem. Perhaps they would receive money.

Whatever the motivation of those who accused Stephen, theaccusation against him was that he spoke against the law of Moses and against the Temple. Stephen was therefore brought before the Sanhedrin and in the middle of his testimony, he was stoned to death.

Stephen’s Speech

For years, I couldn’t understand why Stephen’s speech was included in the book of Acts. I read it and reread it in hopes of finding why God placed it where it was. It is by far the longest speech recorded. It must have been of singular importance for Luke to devote about six percent of the whole account of Acts to Stephen’s speech and the events surrounding it. It does not seem unreasonable to conclude that chapter six and chapter seven of Acts should be read together as one story, as one entity. And, if we examine Acts from the point of view of those things Luke spends most time with, we see that the events surrounding Stephen’s death, those surrounding the conversion of Cornelius, and those surrounding Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem account for about half of the entire book of Acts. All three events involve conflict in the church and lead to the conclusion that showing conflict is a major purpose of the book of Acts, rather than being of minor importance or no importance at all.

The stated purpose of the seven being selected (Stephen, with the six others), was to effect a solution to the “murmuring” of Acts 6:1. It seems clear that Stephen was attempting to solve that dispute when he was “set up” and consequently killed. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the speech at his trial was his last effort in trying to solve the dispute.

If Stephen’s speech is read alongside Paul’s instructions in Galatians chapters three and four, the one account amplifies the other. And, between the two, we can get an idea of just why the Grecian widows were overlooked in the daily distribution. The people in charge of deciding on the distribution of money, etc., were walking by the old nature, not the new! There is at least a hint, if not an obvious picture, that legalism is beginning to grip the Jerusalem church.

Notice that the accusation against Stephen was not that he believed in Jesus Christ and the resurrection. That accusation would have gotten his accusers nowhere. We have established that many, if not most, of the people believed, or professed to believe, in the resurrection by this time.

Stephen was accused of teaching against the law and against the Temple. There must have been an element of truth in the accusation or the people would not have stood for his arrest. It would have been a serious charge for the converted priests to hear. And, it may well be the same charge as is leveled today at Christians who begin to seriously study Paul’s epistle to the Romans. To those Christians today who have never heard or considered the truth that the law was weak (Rom. 8:3) or that a new law has replaced the old (Rom. 8:2), statements such as “we are not under the law” are interpreted as advocating stealing, killing, and all the other things that the ten commandments clearly stand against. Paul certainly is saying no such thing. He says, “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid!”(Rom. 6:1-2). But, if a person hears the statement, “we are not under the law” and then does not give the speaker a chance to explain his position, he may consider the speaker to be a heretic and be his enemy forever after. This is all to common an experience in the church today, especially concerning statements like “we are not under law.”

Consider the analogous situation of a man having a car that he has driven for years and finally decides to replace after three or four hundred thousand miles. He is likely to say, “my new car is wonderful, my old car is no good” or “my old car is worthless.” He is liable to offend someone who happens to have a car of the same make and year as the speakers old car. If he is not allowed to explain further the advantages of the new car over the old car, or the state of his old car when he finally decided to get a new one, he has no hope of overcoming the antagonism of the hearer. And, if the hearer is by nature antagonistic and hateful, he will spread hatred and lies about the new car owner.

The accusation against Stephen seems similar. He was accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and against God. Notice that he was not accused of speaking blasphemous words against God only, but against Moses and against God. The issue was law and not godliness. The accusers tried to make the two synonymous. The powers behind the accusers could not resist the wisdom and the spirit by which Stephen spoke. They could not deny the faith and power of Stephen and the great wonders and miracles that he did among the people.

In Acts 6:14 the false accusers said, “For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” We are told that the witnesses against Stephen were false witnesses (Acts 6:13), and so we know that they did not hear Stephen say the words he is accused of saying. The words that the false witnesses were instructed to say were calculated to bring about the desired effect of doing away with Stephen. The “murmuring” over the distribution to the widows allowed the false accusations to stick. If one faction sided with Stephen, the other faction was sure to be against him. If the Hebrews represented Law and the Grecians represented Grace, then the Law won and Grace lost. Stephen was killed. It can well be imagined how the false premise, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” could have spurred good people to nefarious acts. The same slogan has done so throughout history.

Stephen’s defense begins with Abraham and God’s promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. As Paul says in Gal. 3:17, “the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after (Abraham), cannot disannul.” The people were witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham as Jesus Christ poured out the spirit to multitudes and multitudes in Jerusalem. Issues of law could not change that reality.

In short, Stephen tries to move the issue to higher ground, from that of Moses and the law to that of the covenant of promise made by God to Abraham: In Jesus Christ, all nations of the earth would be blessed. Moses, the law and the Temple came long after God’s promise to Abraham. Paul says in Gal.3:19 that the law was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise was made. Jesus Christ was that seed. The administration of Grace, heading up in Jesus Christ, replaced the administration of Law, heading up in the Temple authority.

But, the accusation against Stephen had touched a sensitive chord among the people in Jerusalem. The factions of Hebrews and Grecians must still have been very much alive. And, the people, in being party to the stoning of Stephen show themselves to be fractured by the issue of law. Stephen tries to move them to the higher level of promise, but does not succeed.

Stephen tries to transcend the righteousness of the law by pointing to the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. One author points out that “the postulate that faith is the only possible ground of righteousness rests on the historic facts of faith antidating and outlasting law.” Abraham believed God and his expectation was “reckoned unto him for righteousness”. “Reckoned unto him for righteousness” does not mean “instead of righteousness”. God does not suggest a legal fiction whereby faith is substituted for a righteousness not forthcoming. Rather He means “so as to amount to righteousness, with a view to righteousness”.

The author goes on to make the distinction between the REQUIREMENT of the law and the METHOD of the law. Righteousness is the requirement of the law. The method of the old covenant (the law) was inadequate to achieve its requirement (righteousness). Jesus Christ divorced the requirement of the law (righteousness) from the dead letter of external precept (the law), and the stultifying form of ceremony. He did so by condensing all the law into two commands- love God and love your neighbor. Jesus Christ divorced the form of the law from the requirement of the law. In so doing, He established righteousness by faith. Such righteousness could not come from looking backward to the law. It had to come by looking forward to Christ. It was a “pull” or a “draw” rather than a “push” or a “shove”. Law righteousness had been established on the motivation of fear. Faith righteousness builds on a motivation of love. The “buildings” were diametrically opposed.

The murder of Stephen and the Introduction of Paul

Stephen’s accusers used the form, the external precept and ceremony, of the law to kill Stephen. Stephen, in his last breath demonstrated his righteousness by faith when he said, “lay not this sin to their charge”. In Christ, evil is no longer met merely by an opposition from without, but by a revulsion from within. Stephen did not ask that the people who stoned him be punished. He asked that they be delivered!

Did the murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews stop? Did the discrimination of the Hebrews against the Grecians stop? There is no evidence in Acts that they did. The apostles gave their recommendation as to how to solve the problem, seven men full of the spirit and wisdom were selected to see to the matter and about all we are told is that one of the seven, Stephen, is set up and killed. (We also see later in Acts that Philip is no longer in Jerusalem and presumably “the seven” are broken up and their work disallowed in Jerusalem).

The record of Stephen’s defense and death does at least one other thing. It introduces Paul. He is not introduced as an apostle. He is not even introduced as a believer. He is introduced as one of the people consenting to Stephens death. He may even have been one of the false witnesses against Stephen or more probably the person that paid the false witnesses. He was tied to them in some way. They laid their garments at Saul’s feet (Acts 7:58). The false witnesses participated in the stoning of Stephen and Paul approved of Stephen’s death as well.

Moffatt translates the word “death” in Acts 8:1 as “murder” and Knoch translates it “assassination”. They are better translations than death in that it is clear that Stephen was not given a fair trial but was killed before his defense was finished. He was assassinated. He was murdered. The Sanhedrin got what they wanted and could hide behind the excuse that the crowd got out of hand rather than having to officially decide the issue. They may well have been unable to legally kill Stephen if the trial had been allowed to be finished. But, because the trial was not finished, the Sanhedrin could well have issued the orders to drive the believers out of town by saying it was needful to prevent such an outbreak from happening again. It is clear that they could not drive the apostles out of town, nor could they kill them. But, at least those believers who sided with Stephen were undoubtedly targeted.

Paul’s description of himself before his conversion in Philippians 3:5-6 gives us a clear picture of the kind of mentality that allowed Stephen to be murdered. Verse six is particularly revealing, where Paul says of himself before his conversion, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” It was that righteousness, self-righteousness, law-righteousness, that resulted in Stephen’s death. Many people in Jerusalem sided with the High Priest and the Sanhedrin over this issue. Those who sided with Stephen and the apostles were scattered and persecuted.

As for Paul, the rest of Acts will show that he was stopped in his anti-Christian pursuits by Jesus Christ himself and would become the most hated man in Jerusalem within the next twenty five years. In Acts 23, we see that four hundred seventy Roman soldiers have to escort Paul out of Jerusalem to prevent the people from killing him. But, in contrast to the hate focused on him, Paul would also be the man by whom God fully revealed grace and the man who fully revealed the contrast between law and grace so that not even a fool need to err therein.

The Scattering of the Church

In Acts 8:1, we learn that the church in Jerusalem was subject to a great persecution upon the death of Stephen and the church was scattered. Some say that every Christian left Jerusalem because of the phrase “they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” The phrase does not say that every Christian left Jerusalem. It is talking about the church being “all scattered” rather than every believer being forced out of Jerusalem. The apostles were not “all scattered” but the church was “all scattered”. Nevertheless, a dramatic change occurred in Jerusalem consequent to the killing of Stephen. It is as if the dyke of godliness had been breeched and the church was overwhelmed with the tide of evil that came rushing in. It is reminiscent of mob action in the old west when whole towns of good citizens were whipped to a frenzy and innocent men were hung. The blood lust of mob action is hard to comprehend. But, the rulers used it to their advantage and scattered the church. The false accusation against Stephen incited the people to murder by the forces that then drove many of them out of town.

Certainly, Jerusalem did not lose half or more of its population. Certainly the “great company of priests” who believed were not all forced to leave Jerusalem. And, the fact that the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria implies that there were some of the believers who stayed in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is in Judea. It should also be remembered that the High Priest and Sanhedrin did not have supreme authority but were under the authority of the Romans. The Romans had no interest in doctrinal disputes among the Jews but did have an interest in maintaining order in the city of Jerusalem. The persecution following the death of Stephen must have been confined within the framework of what the Roman authority allowed to happen in Jerusalem. Certainly, Roman citizens among the Jews, (like Paul), could not be driven out of Jerusalem easily. And, there is no evidence that the Roman authority participated in the persecution of Acts 8:1.

Also, if every believer left Jerusalem, there would be no one there to make it possible for the apostles to stay in Jerusalem. We’ve already seen that the Sanhedrin wanted to kill them and they certainly hadn’t changed their mind. The only thing that prevented the Sanhedrin was the popularity of the apostles.

For these reasons, the word “all” appears to be linked to the word “scattered” rather than to the word “they”. Instead of “all” meaning “every believer”, it is more likely that it refers to the effectiveness of the scattering. In other words, instead of being partly scattered, they were “all scattered” or “thoroughly scattered”. Perhaps the figure of speech, hyperbole, is being used by Luke.

Some may think the understanding of the usage of the word “all” in this verse is not important. But, it is of the utmost importance. If God is trying to tell us that every believer left Jerusalem, then we must try to find how and when they were allowed back in by the authorities in Jerusalem, because it is evident throughout the rest of Acts that there were substantial numbers of believers in Jerusalem. If they all left and were let back in at a later date, the implication is that the rulers in Jerusalem had a change of heart. There is no evidence that such a change in heart occurred.

On the other hand, if only a part of the believers left Jerusalem, then the implication is that the criterion for being forced out of town was not belief in the resurrection but some other standard. It seems clear that the bogus trial of Stephen was not over salvation but over adherence to the law. The rest of Acts will show that the issue in Jerusalem was no longer the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but had moved to adherence to the law, even after salvation. The purpose of the law was to keep men and women until salvation came, not enslave them after it’s arrival. The whole picture hinges on a proper understanding of the meaning of “all” in Acts 8:1.

The Law and The Grace of God

Acts 8:1 begins the era of “Two Ways in the First Century Church,” the way of law and the way of grace. The rest of Acts shows a substantial church in Jerusalem, but it is not the same church (Acts 12:1-3). The apostles are no longer in the forefront of the Jerusalem church, and this church becomes the persecutor of Paul and the vehicle of bondage and legalism to the churches of the nations.

The evidence in the rest of Acts suggests that it was the “uncompromising believers” who were forced to leave Jerusalem while the “compromising believers” stayed home. Acts 8:1 says that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem and from that fact we can assume that there was still an official “hands off” policy regarding them. The fact that they refused to select the seven in Acts 6:3 and refused to address the “murmuring” issue in Acts 6:2 seems significant in relation to their being allowed to continue in Jerusalem. They were evidently “outside” the problem or “above” the problem. As we shall see, the “hands off” policy didn’t last long.

Those believers who stayed in Jerusalem, must have somehow compromised their position in Christ to avoid persecution. Hints of this are found in Paul’s suggestion that some that had begun in the spirit felt they could be made perfect by the law (Gal.3:3). The “Circumcision Party” is first mentioned in Acts 11:2. James, the brother of Jesus was the head of this party (Gal.2:12). Another “hint” seems to be in the statement of Acts 9:31 that after Paul left Jerusalem there was “rest in Judea”.

What happened to the “children at play” in Jerusalem that was evident in the first six chapters of Acts? What allowed the breach in the dike of godliness to occur and the forces of evil to wreck havoc on the church? Which believers were forced to flee Jerusalem? What happened to those appointed with Stephen? Did they all have to flee?

There is a lot that we do not know. But, the problem in Acts 6:1 was obviously much deeper than a mistake on the part of someone who forgot to give certain widows among the Grecians their due. When Acts 6:9-10 says that certain disputed with Stephen, and that they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke, we are lead to the conclusion that what he was speaking had to do with the dispute between the Grecians and the Hebrews. If not, there is no continuity at all in Acts 6. And, if Stephens solution to the problem was so objectionable to some that they had him arrested and finally stoned, then the “murmuring” must have been far more than what appears on the surface. And, if this “murmuring” resulted in persecution of the church to such an extent that many were forced to flee their homes, which faction was forced to flee, Grecians or Hebrews? Perhaps many from both factions had to leave.

Later evidence in Acts shows that the circumcision party contended with Peter (Acts 11) and the sect of the Pharasees had a major say at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Whether the circumcision party was composed of mostly Hebrews or mostly Grecians, is not apparent. Whether the Pharasees were mostly Hebrews or Grecians is not apparent. The evidence would cause us to suspect that both groups were mostly Hebrews but there is not enough known about these groups to come to any definitive conclusions. In fact, the meaning of the word Grecian still causes books to be written (for example, see, C. F. D. Moule, “Once More, Who Were the Hellenists?”, in the Expository Times, volume 70, 1958-9, pp. 100 ff)

James declaration in Acts 21:20, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous for the law,” indicates that those who stayed in Jerusalem had at least in part conformed to the laws and customs and traditions that had gotten the Jews nowhere for hundreds of years. In short, those who stayed in Jerusalem were back to their old ways. Although there is much, much more to find out about the “murmuring” of Acts 6:1, suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was no longer an issue in Jerusalem. No one could dispute that fact. The Saducees were loudly silent on that issue. But it appears that there was still plenty of truth that could get believers in trouble, and many had to leave Jerusalem.

In Acts 8:5, we learn that Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them. Whether this was Philip the apostle (Acts 1) or the Philip we read about who had four daughters who prophesied to Paul and who was one of the seven along with Stephen (Acts 21:8), is not certain.

However, in Acts 8:1 we read that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, and in verse fourteen we read that when the apostles heard that Samaria believed, they sent Peter and John to them. The indication is that the Philip mentioned in verse five was not the apostle Philip but one of the seven picked with Stephen. The question is debatable.

In Acts 8:26, we read that the angel of the Lord tells Philip to head toward Gaza. The following verses tell of a man who was the treasurer of Ethiopia and had traveled to Jerusalem to worship. On his way back, God sends Philip all the way down to Gaza to meet him, for he had not heard the Gospel in Jerusalem.

What were all the Christian Jews doing that were still in Jerusalem? What were the “great company” of priests saying? Evidently, they were all either intimidated, discouraged, or simply back to the walk of the old nature, because the man from Ethiopia didn’t hear the Gospel from anyone in Jerusalem. Jerusalem had surely changed from the time perhaps two or three years earlier when all the sick were being healed and the apostles were so popular that the Sanhedrin feared for their own lives if any harm came to the apostles. The record of how the Ethiopian eunuch finally heard the Gospel is as much an indictment against the believers remaining in Jerusalem as it is a joyous message of deliverance.

Acts 8:40 tells us that Philip ended up in Caesarea after going to Gaza and Azotus. About twenty years later, Acts 21:8 tells us that Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, lived in Caesarea. All the evidence points in the direction that the Philip of Acts 8 is the same Philip as the Philip of Acts 21, rather than Philip the apostle.

And so, the first five years of the church age in Jerusalem are marked with rapid growth, miracles and healing on an unprecedented scale, and, towards the end, persecution and the scattering of the church. Paul comes on the scene in chapter nine, and the rest of Acts will show the effectiveness of the gospel diminishing among the Jews and rising among the other nations of the world.

We will see that God did indeed answer Stephens last request, “lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60) for God did not hold Paul’s sin to his charge. Paul consented to Stephens death, but then began with the gospel where Stephen left off. Praise God for Stephen, Philip and the other five who were chosen to solve the dispute between the Grecians and the Hebrews. They did provide the solution, even if it wasn’t what Jerusalem wanted to hear. Grace and promise are the solution, not law and bondage!




“But the Lord said unto him, ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel…..'” Acts 9:15

Jesus Christ said after His resurrection, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt.28:18). The book of Acts tells us, in part, how Jesus Christ chose to exercise that power. The first seven chapters of Acts indicate that the reign of Jesus Christ began in a far greater way than is commonly taught or perceived. Three thousand believed the first day of the church. Five thousand men believed after the lame man was healed. Multitudes here and multitudes there believed. A great company of priests believed. We are left to fill in the picture of just how extensive the church was and how fast it grew.

The writer of Acts, Luke, ends his former work, the Gospel of Luke, with the account of Jesus saying to the apostles, to the men Jesus talked with on the road to Emmaus, and to all the others that were gathered together with them (Luke 24:9-33), that He would send the promise of the Father upon them and they would be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). Luke 24:47 gives us Jesus Christ’s stated purpose in doing what He said He was going to do. The purpose is that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Although the first seven chapters of Acts deal with events only in Jerusalem, the first six years of the Christian church certainly included “repentance and remission of sins” being preached in the name of Jesus Christ among all nations. It is hard to imagine that the message could have been contained in Jerusalem for so long a period of time.

Most of the Jews and proselytes, gathered for the feast of Pentecost on the first day of the church age, went home after the feast was over, and we can only conclude that many of them preached “repentance and remission of sins” in Jesus name when they arrived home as well as along the way home.

No greater vehicle for spreading the “good news” could have been in place in the world than the Jewish feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles together with the requirement that every Jewish male over thirteen years of age attend these feasts. It is likely that the world has never seen such a systematic gathering of people from all over the world since the Temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.. Certainly, large crowds have gathered from time to time in the world, but it is doubtful if the world has seen such a systematic gathering, three times a year, for forty years, as was in place in Jerusalem for the first forty years of the church age.

Even in today’s world of telephones, television, radio, computers, the “information explosion” and the rest of the “fast travel” devices at our disposal today, the spreading of such revolutionary truth as was spread in the first century could hardly be matched today. None will deny that the best and most convincing testimony comes from “friends and neighbors” rather than from books, newspapers, or strangers. The revolutionary truth that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and made available “repentance and remission of sins” to all mankind was carried throughout the world by people who had been changed by its reality.

It seems impossible to overestimate the effect of such a massive witness to the truth. Picturing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christians going back and forth from their homes to Jerusalem, three times a year for forty years, is a back drop for the book of Acts that cannot be ignored. It causes the book of Acts to be seen not as a comprehensive summary of the first century church (certainly a book larger than Josephus’ record of the unbelieving world at that time would be required for such a purpose) but as a record with a specific purpose in mind. Endeavoring to determine that purpose is what this book is all about.

At the risk of doing injustice to the “fast travel” of the “good news” in the first century, allow me to draw the analogy of the state of affairs in America in the late sixties and early seventies of this century. There may have been other times in the past two thousand years of a similar nature, but I do not know of them. I am familiar with the spreading of the Gospel in the late sixties and early seventies for I was young then and a part of the “Jesus Revolution”. The dissatisfaction among young people of the time was apparent with Vietnam protesters and the “Hippie” movement. Among this culture (and among the not so visible “normal” population) a convincing case was made that the bible was the Word of God after all. Those who were revolutionized by its study and application were likely to show up thousands of miles away in a short period of time telling their friends the “good news” they had learned. Homes were opened to bible study and from coast to coast and from Mexico to Alaska young people would hitch hike with no money in their pockets but a swelling heart to make up for it.

The particular group I was involved with was only a part of the “Jesus Revolution”. But, as was typical of the time, a feature article appeared in Life Magazine entitled, “The Groovy Christians of Rye, New York” and showed pictures of long haired young people sitting in a room studying their bibles. The article reported the comments of some parents who said they could understand “dope” but this was spooky. Interest in the bible seemed to grow everywhere. From teaching the bible in a bowling alley in Long Island to the basement of a catholic monastery in Cleveland, to the homes of the very rich to those of the very poor, I traveled the country. For me, it was an electrifying time of great discovery and of establishing friendships with thousands of Christians all over the country. Only the Lord knows how many other people were doing the same kind of thing that I was doing.

That was twenty years ago, but the effects of the “Jesus Revolution” are still seen today. Jesus Christ is more popular than He ever was. Speaking in tongues is regularly discussed and practiced. The Christian school movement gains momentum every year and has in fact been described as a “time bomb” as more and more children are brought up in Christian schools and then take their place in the adult world. Even the predominantly protestant “Moral Majority” and the predominantly Catholic “Right To Life” groups found common cause over the issue of abortion and immorality in general. The “Beetles” claimed to be more popular than Jesus Christ when they started and maybe they were. They certainly were not by the time they finished. Even Bobby Dylon sings Christian songs today.

Certainly no group can take credit for such a wide spread and pervasive moving of the spirit of God in the past twenty years. The Christian must conclude that Jesus Christ was at the center of it, causing the various parts of the body of Christ to have effect in miraculous ways. We cannot help but think that the “Jesus Revolution” of the 60’s and 70’s, as far reaching as it was, had little impact compared to the “Jesus Revolution” of the first forty years of the Christian church. Whatever part the individuals named in the New Testament played must have been very small in comparison to the overall work accomplished by Jesus Christ through the millions of Christians of the time. Nations were changed and western civilization became centered in Christianity. We mean no disrespect to the Apostle Paul when we say that there must have been many, many “Apostle Paul’s” around the world doing the same things that Paul did. Christianity is preeminently “Pauline” only because Jesus Christ was Paul’s Master. That reality does not take away from Paul. It adds to the comprehension of the preeminence of Jesus Christ.

We have seen from Acts 8:1 that the Jerusalem Christians were “all scattered” after the death of Stephen and although it is inconceivable to me that in exercising the “all power” of Matt. 28:18, Jesus Christ would allow His followers to be “all scattered”, it is a fact that He did allow it. We are told that Stephen saw Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of God in Acts 7:55. He surely could have prevented the scattering, but did not. The scene of Acts then moves from Jerusalem to the work being done among those scattered (Acts 8). Then it moves to one of the “scatterers”, Paul, and we are told that Jesus Christ personally appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.

This is the first account in Acts of Jesus Christ appearing anywhere on earth after His Ascension. As with all “first events”, it is filled with significance. I do not imply that Jesus Christ could not have appeared anywhere else previously, only that Luke first mentions the fact that He did appear on earth in Acts 9. Luke does not present Jesus Christ as appearing in the Temple to take over as High Priest. Many people had expected him to do just that. Instead, He appears on the road to Damascus and He chooses to appear to a Jew who is actively persecuting the church. It is as if Jesus Christ has allowed Himself to be “scattered” with the rest of those in Acts 8:1 and wants to demonstrate just how effectively He can work in spite of the persecution emanating from Jerusalem. The man that Jesus Christ appears to is named Saul in Hebrew, Paul in Greek.

Some Background on Paul

In Paul, Jesus Christ calls a man with seemingly the worst set of credentials possible. Paul persecuted the church and destroyed believers. He gave his consent to the stoning of Stephen, and was more than likely one of the instigators that caused Stephen’s death. Although some say that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, it is highly unlikely that he was, for Acts 7:58 says he was a “young man” and the Sanhedrin members were usually elders and were the wealthy men from the twelve tribes.

Probably the most persuasive argument against Paul being a member of the Sanhedrin is Paul’s omission of the fact in his list of credentials in Philippians 3:5-6. If he had been a member, surely Paul would not have omitted it from his list of things whereby he could trust in the flesh if he had chosen to. Also, it is unlikely that a member of the Sanhedrin would have been doing what Paul was doing in going from house to house and from synagogue to synagogue, taking Christians to prison (Acts 8:3, 22:19). Presumably, a Sanhedrin member would have had other people doing that kind of work for him.

In all probability, Paul would have been a member of the synagogue of Cilicia- mentioned in Acts 6:9- since his home town was Tarsus. Since he obtained letters from the High Priest (Acts 9:2) and since he studied under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), he would have been recognized by the Sanhedrin as a “promising young man”. Paul mentions in Acts 22:5 that the High Priest and “all the estate of the elders” would bear him witness, which shows a familiarity with them all.

From Paul’s statement (and the setting about twenty years later in which he gave it in Acts 23:3) that he “taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day,” we see both Paul’s misdirected zeal before his conversion and the misdirected zeal of those still in Jerusalem twenty years later. After Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, the book of Acts shows us that Jesus Christ had something far different in mind for Paul to do than to persecute Christians.

Regarding Paul’s being a member of the synagogue of Cilicia, it should be pointed out that about 63 B.C., Pompey carried a large number of Jews to Rome. When they were liberated and many returned to Judea, they formed the synagogue of the Libertines, or Freedmen. It seems from the listings in Acts 6:9 that the synagogues represented geographical interests. The Libertines, or Freedmen, would probably have been tied to the Jews in Rome, the synagogue of Cilicia to the Jews of Tarsus, and so on. If so, they would have had Saducees, Pharisees, Hebrews, Grecians, and others in each of them, much like we have a broad cross-section of people in most churches today.

Undoubtedly there were hundreds of synagogues in Jerusalem at the time, but the four listed in Acts 6:9 are singled out as the ones that were not able to withstand the wisdom and spirit by which Stephen spoke. This “wisdom and spirit” was a threat to the leaders of these synagogues. It seems that they were in danger of losing control over their members. And so Stephen was accused on false charges, put on trial, and stoned before the trial was completed.

Paul was evidently one of the leaders in the synagogue of Cilicia. From Galatians 1:14, we learn that he profited in the Jews religion above many of his equals, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers. From Acts 26:5 we learn that Paul lived from his youth in Jerusalem according to the strictest sect of the Jews religion- a Pharisee. He was born in Tarsus.

From the evidence that Paul gives of himself before his conversion, it becomes apparent that the “wisdom and spirit” by which Stephen spoke was powerful indeed. If Paul was a leader of the synagogue of Cilicia and even he was not able to withstand the testimony of Stephen, that testimony must have been powerful indeed.

Paul, and others like him, had certainly been developing their defenses and arguments against Christ for a long time. Perhaps six years. And yet, the fact that they could not prevail by “fighting fair” points to the conclusion that they were in the minority in Jerusalem at the time of Stephen’s death. Or, if they were in the majority, that majority seems likely to have been maintained by deception and trickery rather than reason. The message of Jesus Christ was apparently accepted as more reasonable. It is doubtful that a Pharisee, such as Paul, would have stooped to deception and trickery to defeat Christianity, although hate and murder is not difficult to understand in Paul, and those like him, since their whole system of thought and training were threatened. I leave it to the reader to decide if these opinions on the nature of “scholars” are reasonable.

In Philippians 3:4-6, Paul says, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee, concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.”

But all these things (background, accomplishments, heritage) he counted as nothing after he found Christ or rather was found by Christ. After his conversion, he certainly was the most outspoken advocate of the new nature, the nature of trusting in God, the nature of “no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord” (see Rom. 8:1-39). Paul was also the most outspoken person concerning the total uselessness of the old nature, that nature that wars against the spirit and leads men and women into bondage (see Rom. 10:1-4).

In Paul, God calls a man of entirely different character than Peter. Peter was a rural fisherman. Paul was an urban scholar. Peter was born and raised in Israel and his native language was undoubtedly Aramaic. Paul was born and raised in Cilicia and his native language was most likely Greek (although, as a Pharisee, it might also have been Aramaic). Both men demonstrated the power of God in a mighty way. Peter’s strength and determination are matched by Paul’s tenacity. And, Paul’s great heart would be spoken against by many in the church down through the ages just as Peter’s has been. Neither deserve the erroneous picture of them that has come down to us.

To many Christians, the events that come first to mind when thinking about Peter are his doubting when he walked on water, his denial after Jesus was arrested, or his dwelling with Simon the tanner in Joppa. In the first case, he is pictured as weak because he began to sink. The correct picture of him will show that he is probably the only man to ever walk on water besides Jesus Christ. Such strength of character and trust in Jesus Christ should not be made light of simply because Peter began to sink. And, Jesus Christ did rescue him.

In the second case, Peter is pictured as a man full of fear. But, the correct picture will show that the same evening that Peter denied Jesus, he defended Him by cutting off the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus (Jn. 18:10). Considering the odds, his was a brave act indeed. Also, no one dared to follow Jesus to the High Priest’s house except Peter. These were acts of a very brave man, not a coward. That his courage failed him is not a discredit to Peter at all. It merely shows the inability of the best of men.

In the third case, Peter is pictured as a man who was hiding out and not fulfilling his ministry by being in Joppa. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is absolutely no evidence that he was anywhere other than where God wanted him to be. The correct picture will show that, by Peter, the whole nation of Israel was forced to admit that the Gentiles had received the same gift of holy spirit as had the Jews. Peter had six witnesses with him and reported to the extensive Christian community in Jerusalem that Cornelius and his household had all spoken in tongues.

As with Peter, so with Paul. Some Christians today think that Paul was blind or had bad eyes. Some think that he was ugly. Some think he was a homosexual. We will see that many thousands of Christians in Jerusalem wanted to kill him. But, all the distortions and hateful accusations against Paul fly in the face of Jesus Christ appearing to him on the road to Damascus and selecting Paul as a “chosen vessel”. Of all the millions of “vessels” that Jesus Christ could have chosen, He chose Paul. That fact alone sets Paul above and beyond all unfounded criticism.

As we shall see, he was not the most popular personality in Jerusalem after his conversion- within or without the church. In Acts 9:27, we find Barnabas (the Levite recorded in Acts 4:36) with Paul. He brings Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem and in Acts 9:29, we find Paul disputing with the Grecians.

The Grecians and Paul

Since this term “Grecians” is only used three times by Luke in the book of Acts, it is reasonable to conclude that each usage is referring to the same group of people. In Acts 6:1, the Grecians murmured against the Hebrews over the distribution to the widows. We have endeavored to show that this issue resulted in the murder of Stephen. In Acts 9:29, we see that the Grecians planned to assassinate Paul. If this is the same group as in Acts 6:1, the implications are serious indeed. They lead to the conclusion that people within the Jerusalem church were trying to kill Paul.

As we have seen, the Jerusalem of the first six chapters of Acts readily accepted Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It seems clear that the issue debated by Paul with the Grecians in Acts 9:29 was not whether or not Jesus Christ had risen from the dead but rather the implications arising from that fact. The event occurred about three years after Stephen’s death and perhaps eight years after the start of the church age. All the residents of Jerusalem would certainly have known about Jesus Christ and His power by this time. Those who did not believe in Him refused to believe rather than being innocents who had never had the chance to hear the gospel. It seems clear that the issue in Jerusalem had moved to the sanctity of the law by the time of Acts 9:29.

Times had changed in the eight years since the church age started. This was not even the same Jerusalem that is seen three years earlier in Acts 6:1. The Grecians were not merely murmuring against the Hebrews anymore. Now they went about to kill Paul! Some will say that certainly these are not the same Grecians as those referred to in Acts 6:1. And, whether or not they were exactly the same people, I do not know. But, Luke used the same term to describe them and I believe he does so in order to communicate some “tie in” between the people of Acts 9:29 and the corresponding people of Acts 6:1.

The common definition for “Grecians”, “Greek speaking Jews”, does not satisfy. There were probably relatively few Jews who did not speak Greek. Paul spoke Greek and yet he calls himself “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5). Even the explanation of “Grecians” being “those who followed the customs and traditions of the Greeks rather than strictly adhering to the customs and traditions of Moses”, does not satisfy. This explanation is far to broad and ambiguous to define the group Luke is talking about. It seems that such a definition could cover the whole range of Jews from the Saducees, who said there was no resurrection, to those Pharisees who were not as strict in their observance of law as was Paul.

Therefore, it seems apparent that the context of Acts 6:1 and Acts 9:29 must be the basis upon which any definition of “Grecian” depends. In Acts 6:1, they were mostly, if not all, Christians. In Acts 9:29 we must assume they were also mostly, if not all, Christians. And, it is logical to assume that the motive for them wanting to kill Paul is tied to the motive for the killing of Stephen. There may well have been others who wanted to kill Paul (the High Priest and Sanhedrin could well have had him on their “list” for being a traitor to them) but we must confine ourselves to the Grecians since they are the ones referred to in Acts 9:29.

Consider for a moment some of the possible motives of the Grecians for wanting to kill Paul:

  1. They wanted to kill Paul because they were “unbelievers” and he was telling them about salvation. This is highly unlikely because the apostles had been doing that same thing for perhaps nine years and they were not killed or driven out of town.
  2. They wanted to kill Paul because they were “unbelievers” and Paul had betrayed them and was now a Christian. This is also unlikely since “unbelievers” were no more likely to be Grecians than Hebrews and Luke would have used the more general term “unbelievers” or “Jews” if this was the case. Also, since Paul calls himself a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, the unbelieving Hebrews would be more likely to want to kill him than the unbelieving Grecians. And, as has been mentioned previously, since Paul was “disputing” against them, it is hard to imagine that he was arguing about the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ with them. The facts of the preceding eight years were all well known and one either accepted them or rejected them. Arguing about them would have been unlikely. Disputing over facts only occurs when the facts are cloudy, not when they are clear. Disputing over concepts, or ideas, or doctrine, is more likely.
  3. They were “unbelievers” and the same people who could not resist the “wisdom and spirit” by which Stephen spoke in Acts 6:10. They were trying to kill Paul for the same reasons that they set up Stephen and had him killed. This is very probable except that the “Grecians” in Acts 6 were more likely to have been “believers who were zealous for the law” rather than unbelievers. In other words, it seems that the hate for Paul was over the issue of law and grace rather than over salvation.
  4. They were “believers” and among the “disciples” of Acts 9:26 who were afraid of Paul until Barnabas took him to the apostles and they were satisfied and “officially” welcomed him into the church at Jerusalem. (Acts 9:27-28). This is likely since Acts 9:26-29 shows that the apostles were still popular in Jerusalem and therefore the “church” was still large rather than small. Verse 28 says that Paul was “with them (the apostles) coming in and going out at Jerusalem”. Verse 29 says that Paul “spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Grecians but they went about to slay him”. Since verse 29 is all one sentence, Paul’s work seems very similar to Stephen’s in Acts 6 and the Grecians in Acts 9:29 seem to correspond to the people from the synagogues of Acts 6:9 who were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which Stephen spoke. So also, the Grecians of Acts 9:29 were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which Paul spoke but hated him nevertheless.

If we say that “every believer” had to leave Jerusalem in Acts 8:1, then we would have to say that the Grecians were “unbelievers”. But, if “every believer” was forced to leave Jerusalem, there is no explanation as to how the “disciples” arrived back in Jerusalem by Acts 9:26. Acts 9:26 also shows that the “disciples” in Jerusalem were “timid” in that they were afraid of Paul. This seems to suggest that they remembered the persecution three years prior. If these believers had been among those driven out of Jerusalem when Paul was “entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3), there should be some explanation as to how they came to be back in Jerusalem three years or so later.

It seems much more probable that the disciples mentioned in Acts 9:26 never left Jerusalem. If so, Stephen’s death and the resulting persecution of Acts 8:1 was not over “salvation” but over law, and the church was split over that issue. Those who stayed in Jerusalem deluded themselves into thinking that the “old wineskin” (Luke 5:37) could hold the “new wine” of the age of grace. But, as one author stated, “the house of delusions is easy to build, but drafty to live in.”

The disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of Paul by the time he came to Jerusalem, even though they had seen many examples of miraculous deliverance and could well have believed the reports of the previous three years that Paul had been converted. And, although Paul was “with them (the apostles) coming in and going out at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:28), the Grecians tried to kill him. Some will say that “believers” would not do such a thing as to try to kill Paul. I will only point out that the Crusades resulted in the killing of many innocent people. Some Christians are not above any wicked act imaginable if they are given the right deception to spur them on. And, more to the point, the whole city of Jerusalem tried to kill Paul in Acts 21:31 and there were still thousands or tens of thousands of believers who were zealous for the law in Jerusalem at the time. (see Acts 21:20).

The Loss of Vitality of the Jerusalem Church

If we read from Acts 1 through Acts 9:29, we see that except for the events outside of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 8:4 through Acts 9:25, everything takes place in Jerusalem. Multitudes are added to the church, the believers have favor with all the people, and finally Stephen is stoned. The very next event recorded about Jerusalem is the Grecians trying to kill Paul. Jerusalem had somehow changed in the course of the first eight years of the church age and the attempt on Paul’s life is probably for the same reason that Stephen was killed. He was perceived as speaking against Moses. The issue was not Jesus Christ and the resurrection, the issue was Jesus Christ with Moses or Jesus Christ without Moses! And, Paul’s credentials in the law made his position against the Mosiac Law’s usefulness much more poignant than even the twelve apostles, who were not as educated and had no reputation in Jerusalem before they became disciples of Jesus Christ. With this in mind, the fact remains that Jesus Christ called Paul on the road to Damascus and the Grecians tried to kill him in Jerusalem.

If one considers the contrast between the old nature and the new nature, he can readily see that the old nature is no different when lived in by believers than when lived in by unbelievers. We choose how we are going to live. We decide. So it was with the believers in the first century. Some chose to walk by the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Some chose to walk by the law of sin and death, even after accepting Jesus Christ as Lord.

We see in Acts 9:30 that the “brethren” escorted Paul out of Jerusalem and sent him on his way to Tarsus. The next verse says, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the holy spirit, were multiplied.” With Paul removed to Tarsus, the church in Israel had rest. The issues that Paul would later write about are removed from the land of Israel and accommodation between Moses and the law and Jesus Christ is somehow achieved in Israel. Compromise prevailed and with it the Bondage Church prevailed in Israel as well. Some are bound to say that getting Paul out of town was good for Christianity since the churches had rest throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria and were multiplied. But, Jesus Christ had called Paul to minister not only to the Gentiles but also to the children of Israel, and Paul’s being forced out of Jerusalem certainly indicates a problem with Jerusalem rather than a problem with Paul.

The picture that begins to unfold is one in which the church at Jerusalem and in Israel continues to grow. But signs of its losing its vitality begin to show themselves. We see that the Apostles cannot prevent the designs of the Grecians and that Paul is forced to leave Jerusalem. The continuing loss of vitality in the Jerusalem church seems to correspond to the degree to which it was absorbed into the worldly system of the Jewish nation. The believers in Jerusalem ultimately became known as the “Sect of the Nazarines” and were understood to be a part of Judiasm. Today we might call them a “cult” or other such disparaging term. The Jerusalem church was assimilated into the Jewish nation. The believers there compromised their liberty and yielded their uniqueness, in the hope of achieving worldly unity. Instead of resisting the morally bankrupt system of the world, they resisted the truth represented by Paul and became ineffective as servants of Jesus Christ. The same attitude today causes the same ineffectiveness wherever it is found.

The Apostles were still respected in Jerusalem but we see next that Peter is not held in the same regard as previously, when he returns to Jerusalem after the event of Cornelius, together with his family and friends, speaking in tongues. Acts 11:2-3 says, “they that were of the circumcision contended with them saying, ‘thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them’.”

Cornelius and Company Speak in Tongues

A time frame for the events recorded in Acts up to the end of Acts 12:20 is fixed by the death of Herod Agrippa I recorded in Acts 12:21-23. He was King of Israel during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Caligula, and for three years after Caligula was assassinated. Herod Agrippa’s death occurred in the third year of the Roman Emperor Claudius, or 45 A.D. (some say 44 A.D.). Paul’s missionary journey, as recorded in Acts 13, begins about this time, or about fifteen years after the start of the church age. If we allow five years from the start of the church until the conversion of Paul and three years from that time before Paul goes to Jerusalem in Acts 9 (see Gal.1:17-18), the conversion of the house of Cornelius must have occurred somewhere around 38 A.D. to 40 A.D..

One of the surprising things about Luke’s account of Peter and Cornelius is the amount of time he spends on it. Almost seven percent of the book of Acts is devoted to the account. The only other events he spends as much time with are those surrounding the death of Stephen (about six percent) and those surrounding Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem (about thirty five percent). The extensiveness of the three accounts seem to fully reveal Luke’s purpose in writing the book of Acts. It seems evident that Luke’s purpose is not merely to show the growth of the early church. Luke does not even mention the spread of the Gospel throughout Egypt, or Babylonia, or even Galilee. Since Jesus did most of His work in Galilee before His crucifixion, certainly the church there would have been numerous and active. Luke’s silence on the subject speaks loudly that his purpose in writing Acts was not to show the gradual and harmonious spread of Christianity. The extensive amount of time spent on the account of Stephen’s death, the conversion of Cornelius, and Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem seem to point to the purpose being to show the conflict between law and grace within the early church.

Scholars have noted that Luke’s portrayal of Paul, as a flexible, reasonable person willing to compromise his principles for the sake of expediency (see Acts 16:3,4; 21:26) are a contrast to the Paul of the epistles (see Gal. 1:8; 2:3). Some even question the reliability of Acts because of these differences. However, if Luke’s purpose in writing Acts is to show the conflict between law and grace within the early church, then there is no reason to question it’s reliability on account of Paul trying to compromise but finding he was unable to do so and still stand for God’s unmerited, divine favor to all men. Most of Paul’s epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and the personal epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon) were written after the events of the book of Acts when the positions of the opposing camps had hardened beyond the possibility of compromise.

It should also be pointed out that the book of Acts was not titled “The Acts of the Apostles” until the second century. Luke did not give it a title, and the title given his work in the second century certainly does not fit the text. Most of the twelve apostles are not dealt with at all in the book of Acts. A title such as “The Acts of Jesus Christ” or “The Acts of the church of Grace and the Acts of the church of Law” seem more descriptive of the message and purpose of Luke’s history.

In any event, Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman Legion, a semi-proselyte, or “God fearer” of the Jew’s religion (not a proselyte which required acceptance of all Jewish practices, including circumcision and meant, in essence, becoming a Jew) and living in Israel, was converted along with his whole family. Peter had left Jerusalem to minister throughout the countryside (see Acts 9:32-43) and was staying in Joppa when an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send men to Peter and bring Peter back to Caesarea (a distance of about thirty miles).

The account in Acts 10 shows how Peter was given a vision and subsequently went with the men when they arrived. The record shows us clearly that Peter was “zealous for the law” and would not have gone without the vision. It is interesting to note, however, that he was staying with a tanner, whose profession dealt with dead animals and who was therefore looked down upon by the Jews. Contact with a “tanner” would render a person “ceremonially unclean” and would require a period of purification before being able to participate in Temple activities.

After Peter arrives and Cornelius has gathered together his family and friends, Peter says, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28). In other words, Peter was saying to Cornelius, “you know I’m breaking the law don’t you? What is it that is so important to you that you have called for me?”

Peter knew he was disobeying the law but did so because God told him to! He also brought six witnesses with him and they also knew they were disobeying the law. Who the six witnesses were, we are not told. But, from Peters previous reputation, it is safe to say that they were of the highest integrity and respected in Jerusalem. It is significant that Peter took six witnesses with him rather than one or two. Peter certainly knew he would be in trouble when he got back to Jerusalem. Peter and his six witnesses heard everyone speak in tongues that Cornelius had gathered together (Acts 10:46). Thereby Peter knew that the Gentiles had received the same gift as had all the Jews who believed.

Notice in Acts 11:2 and 3, how much static Peter, chief spokesman for the Apostles, got upon returning to Jerusalem with his report. The members of the circumcision party in the church accused Peter, saying, “Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.”

My first reaction is, “How Dare They!” Not only did Peter heal the lame man at the Temple and do many mighty miracles in Jerusalem, he even raised the dead at Joppa (see Acts 9:36-42). And now, in Acts 11 we find people in Jerusalem bold enough to accuse Peter of eating with the wrong people! What audacity! Perhaps enough time had gone by that they had forgotten what happened to Ananias and Sapphira when they were caught in a lie by Peter. These men of the circumcision party in the church in Jerusalem were not awed by Peter at all. In fact, it appears that they felt superior to him. What a change from the events of perhaps six years prior when the people were blessed beyond measure just to have Peter’s shadow pass over them.

It is hard to believe that these were the same group of people who in Acts 5 laid their sick in the street so that the mere shadow of Peter passing over them would heal them. Who were these people that dared to accuse Peter of anything? Why were they not routed from the church? What dismal state of affairs had the Jerusalem church come to that these people could sit in judgment of Peter- and have the support of the church behind them? This was a different Jerusalem entirely than the one we saw in the first five chapters of Acts!

Notice also that Peter knew he would get static in Jerusalem and therefore had his six witnesses with him. In verse fifteen Peter reports that “the holy spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning”. In verse seventeen, Peter says, “God gave them the same gift as he gave us”. But, notice the response of the people Peter was addressing. They said, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” They did not admit that the Gentiles were given the same gift! What they said was true. But, it was far less than what Peter had reported and his six witnesses had confirmed.

These Jews did not joy in the thrilling revelation that the Gentiles had received the same gift as they. They still held to their “old nature”, superior attitude that the Gentiles could never be equal to the Jews. Where was their realization that their own salvation was as much by grace as was the Gentiles?

Acts 11:2 should raise some eyebrows when one asks, “How did a party system rise up in the church at Jerusalem so that now there was a Circumcision Party?” And, how was this party strong enough to force Peter to defend his actions to them? And why, when Peter finished his report, did he not force them to confess that the Gentiles had received the same gift that they themselves had? Was it not politically expedient for Peter to do so? After all, Peter and the apostles couldn’t even influence the Grecians when they wanted to kill Paul!

The church we see Peter reporting to is the very church which Paul distances himself from. In his epistles he warns against it, reasons with the people against it, shows the futility of it, and goes so far in Galatians as to say, “Those who seemed to be somewhat in conference added NOTHING to me.”(Gal.2:6). Clearly, the Jerusalem church was robed in its own haughty self-righteousness by this time.

The Jerusalem Church Extends its Influence

Acts 11:19 takes us back to where Acts 8:4 leaves off- namely, the scattering of the believers upon the death of Stephen. Notice that these believers preached the Word to Jews only. Verse twenty one says that a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

So, news of the spreading of the Gospel reaches Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem church decides that their representatives should go as far as Antioch. A few questions are in order. Was the church in Jerusalem responsible in the first place for the spreading of the Gospel in Antioch? Absolutely not! If anyone was responsible other than God, it would have to be the political leaders that persecuted the church and caused its scattering. Notice that Acts 11:22 says, “then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem.” Clearly, the actions of the Jerusalem church in sending representatives to Antioch were “after the fact’.

Why was it necessary for an official representative of the Jerusalem church to go to Antioch? The obvious answer is that by this time the church in Jerusalem was a political power as well as a church. The church in Jerusalem wanted to extend its control to include the church in Antioch. Notice also that Luke does not tell us in Acts 11:22 that the apostles sent Barnabas to Antioch. The “church which was in Jerusalem” had “tidings of these things (that) came unto their ears.” From what we have seen so far, the make up of the Jerusalem church had changed after the “scattering” of Acts 8:1, and Peter had been called in question regarding his entering the house of Cornelius. From what we will continue to see, the apostles were no longer in the forefront of the Jerusalem church. James, the brother of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church. The Jerusalem church had been weakened by the “scattering”, not only in numbers but in doctrine as well. It seems more than coincidental that one of “the seven” of Acts 6:1 was a proselyte from Antioch and now the Word of God was growing mightily in Antioch after, presumably, the remaining six of “the seven” were driven out of Jerusalem.

In Acts 11:27 we find prophets coming down to Antioch from Jerusalem who told of a coming famine throughout all the world. We are told that this famine came to pass during the reign of Claudius Caesar in Rome.

Claudius became emperor in Rome in 42 A.D. after the murder of Caligula. He ruled until 54 A.D. A number of famines occurred during his reign, but the one referred to in Acts 11:28 occurred before the Jerusalem Council in 49 A.D., recorded in Acts 15. It seems most likely that the famine referred to in Acts 11:28 occurred from 45 A.D. to 47 A.D..

With all the wonderful things that had happened since the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, why was there a famine? We read in Proverbs 11:11, “by the blessing of the upright, the city is exalted.” This city was being brought low. It is a very certain indication that godliness was diminished in Jerusalem even though the Jerusalem church still had a “form of godliness”.

Fifteen years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jerusalem was receiving welfare from outside sources. The glorious rise evidenced during the first five years of the church age by great healing, by signs and wonders, by boldness to speak God’s Word, and by the multitudes of people who believed, was gone. Jerusalem was in decline and famine was in the land after just ten more years. Recall the account in Acts 4:34 where it says that there were not any among them that lacked. By Acts 12, there were many that lacked.

But, in the mean time, the “murmurings” of the Grecians occurred. Stephen was stoned. Peter was questioned and criticized for eating with Gentiles. The Grecians tried to kill Paul. And, about the time of the famine, Herod Agrippa I had the apostle James killed because he saw that it pleased the people and then proceeded to arrest Peter (with the intent of killing him after the days of unleavened bread, or the Passover, were completed).

Famine had arrived in the land instead of blessing. In just fifteen years, from 30 A.D. to 45 A.D., the greatest deliverance Israel had ever seen had passed and the nation was in the midst of famine. Israel had been eager to accept God’s pardon, but they were reluctant to walk in it. However, the decline of Israel is the occasion for the rise of godliness among the Gentiles. The message of deliverance and grace escaped the confining influence of Jerusalem and that message would continue to spread to the ends of the earth.




“But he (Peter), beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of prison. And he said, ‘go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren.’ And he departed, and went unto another place.”
Acts 12:17

Time is a relative term. To a child who is eight years old, four years is an almost incomprehensible amount of time. It is half of his entire life. To a person twenty years old, it is still a long period of time and making a four year commitment to the military or to college is a very major decision.

A person eighty years old has an entirely different perspective on time. Four years seems to be an almost insignificant amount of time to someone who is eighty. So it is with many when trying to study history and trying to perceive the significance of four years. The past four years are not difficult at all. They are fresh in our minds. But a four year period that takes place two thousand years ago is much more difficult to bring into focus. To many of us, the year before our birth is ancient history. Twenty years before our birth is very ancient history. Two hundred years before our birth is only myth and legend and may not have happened at all.

It helps if we can project ourselves into the time we are considering and look at it through the eyes of a child. If we do so, everything appears bright and new. Our eyes are not clouded with age but bright and active like those of a child who has not yet learned how to talk. He sees everything. And everything is of the utmost urgency and interest. If we only knew what the child was thinking, we might be surprised at the wisdom in the little child’s head.

A Brief Review of the First Fifteen Years of the Church Age

So far, we have covered a period of about fifteen years in this study of the first century church. The first three years were alive with miracles, deliverance and unprecedented events in the history of the world. It was a time of “pouring out” of holy spirit from a vast supply. The “water of life” was received with great joy and caused wonderful growth and development in Jerusalem. The believers had favor with all the people of the city.

The next two years were much the same as the first three years. All the sick were healed, multitudes upon multitudes believed in Jesus Christ and a great company of the priests believed. But, signs of conflict begin to appear. Ananias and Sapphira are tragedies. The Apostles are arrested and commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus Christ. They cannot obey both God and the Sanhedrin and must choose who they will obey. Murmurings appear and after five years of the church age have gone by, the greatest tragedy of all occurs. Stephen is stoned.

The next three years begin with believers being driven out of Jerusalem. Glorious deliverance continues in spite of that city’s resistance. The people of Samaria are blessed with signs and wonders and receive holy spirit. Paul is introduced to Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He goes to Arabia and then returns to Damascus. Jesus Christ continues to “pour out” God’s blessings and deliverance. But conflict continues to appear. Simon tries to buy power from Peter in Samaria. The disciples are afraid of Paul when he returns to Jerusalem. The Grecians try to kill him. He has to leave town.

The final period, of about seven years, begins around the time that Paul leaves Israel and goes to Tarsus. Peter leaves Jerusalem and travels throughout the land, healing the sick and even raising the dead. Again we see great and wonderful deliverance. All the people in Lydda and Saron turn to the lord. In Joppa, many believed in the Lord. In Caesarea, Cornelius, his family and his friends, believe and speak in tongues. Peter is amazed that the Gentiles had received the same gift as the Jews. But, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, he finds resistance and issues of law confronting him. At the same time, a great number of people believe in Antioch, Barnabas goes to Tarsus and brings back Paul to Antioch, and they both teach many people there in the following year. But, famine comes to the land of Israel.

Jerusalem at the Time James, the Apostle, was Killed

Fifteen years had gone by since the age of grace had begun, and Acts 12 begins to show just how the church had changed in Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, had the apostle James killed. And, because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he took Peter also. What a change from the accounts earlier in Acts where the Sanhedrin would not dare to kill the apostles because they feared the people! Perhaps nine years or so had gone by since the events of Acts 5, and now Herod saw that it PLEASED the people when he had James the apostle killed. What an incredible change!

Where were the multitudes of believers in Jerusalem? How had they changed? Granted, some of them were dispersed upon the death of Stephen. But still, if Christianity was as widespread in Jerusalem as the first six chapters of Acts indicate, all of Jerusalem should have remembered the miracles of Jesus Christ and the miracles of the apostles as well. Many had undoubtedly witnessed miracles in their own lives. The world had never seen miracles on such a scale since the dawn of time. And, of all the cities in the world, none could compare to Jerusalem in the number and quality of its devout citizens. The scripture was studied and discussed each day to an extent unparalleled in the rest of the world. It was the major activity of the city. Certainly the dramatic events of the first fifteen years of the church age were all thoroughly discussed and examined in the light of the prophesies of the Old Testament. However, by the time of Acts 12, it pleased the people to see an apostle killed. How could anything be more sad!

It is overwhelming to consider. An apostle, who was chosen by Jesus Christ, and who was taught by Jesus Christ, was killed and the people were pleased. How could they be pleased? All of Jerusalem should have been mourning its loss. Instead, they were pleased! Their attitude is reminiscent of the time when Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt. In spite of the miracles and deliverance the people saw, they still wanted to go back to Egypt! They even made a golden calf to worship. What “Golden Calves” were they building when James, the Apostle, was killed? Jerusalem was not some pagan town filled with statues to “unknown” gods. It was supposed to be the city that Abraham looked for, whose builder and maker was God. It’s inhabitants were not people unconcerned with the things of God. What lies and distortions had been fed to the people to get them to the point of thinking it was the godly thing to do to kill one of the Apostles? How could the people think they were so right when they were, in fact, dead wrong?

The point being made is that, even fifteen years after the start of the church age, Jerusalem was still the most “godly” city in the world. It was the “best” city that the world had to offer. In fact, in all its long history, Jerusalem stands out as a contrast to all the other cities of the world. It has never had one single product for which it was famous. It was not on a major trade route. It was not at the mouth of a major river. Commerce was not the reason for Jerusalem’s existence. Its industry was “godliness”. And, it’s citizens were undoubtedly as “zealous for the law” at the time of the Apostle James’ death as they were at any other time in their history. Fifteen years or so after the start of the age of grace, the Sanhedrin was finally able to effect the killing of an apostle, a desire they had hoped for since they “took council to slay them” (Acts 5:33) ten years prior.

Notice that Acts 12:1 says that Herod stretched forth his hands to vex “certain of the church.” This was not a general persecution of the church, it was selective. The term “certain of the church” is very revealing since it implies that Herod knew who was popular and who was unpopular in the church. If the church in Jerusalem was insignificant in size and impact, it is hard to imagine that Herod would have bothered to persecute “certain of the church”. His doing so indicates that the church in Jerusalem was now a sizable and politically viable entity. The previous discussion regarding the size of the early church tends to confirm this conclusion. Similarly, had not Nero seen a significant Christian community in Rome in 64 A.D., he would not have tried to blame the fire on them.

Consideration of Herod’s actions also reveals that there were at least two factions in the church, one faction popular and the other faction unpopular. Whether these factions developed around the “Hebrews” and “Grecians” or “Pharasees” and “non-Pharasees” or some other division, is not clear. However, we are led to the conclusion that it must have been the “trouble makers” within the church that Herod attacked.

The first one killed was the apostle James. Why? What did he do or say that caused the population to be pleased when Herod had him killed? Also, why was Herod’s next move to take Peter? Why was he selected? Why would Peter’s death please the Jews? Was Herod’s intention to kill all twelve of the Apostles? It is critical to note that Herod was not persecuting the entire church. He was only doing that which was popular within the population of Jerusalem. He vexed “certain of the church.”

Further Considerations

To approach the subject from a different point of view, consider the relief sent in chapter eleven. It was sent to the brethren which dwelt in Judea (Acts 11:29). Presumably this includes the brethren in Jerusalem. It must have been massive relief when one considers the number of disciples in Antioch and that every man, according to his ability, determined to send relief. Notice also that Barnabas and Saul delivered the money to the “elders” in Jerusalem (Acts 12:25). This is the first time we encounter elders in the church.

It is unlikely that these “elders” were the six picked with Stephen because Stephen was killed. The other six were fulfilling the same task as Stephen and they would have been the most likely candidates for “leaving town” upon the persecution of Acts 8:1. We have already shown that Philip went to Caesarea and lived there later (Acts 21:8). Presumably, the other five left Jerusalem as well. In any event, there are elders in the church in Jerusalem by the time Barnabas and Saul delivered the relief money.

How had the church in Jerusalem changed? Why did not Paul and Barnabas deliver the relief money to the Apostles? Apparently they were all still in Jerusalem since Acts 9:28 tells us that Paul was “with them (the apostles) coming in and going out at Jerusalem” perhaps seven years earlier. How could the people in Jerusalem be pleased when an Apostle was killed? And, after James, the Apostle, was killed, it pleased the people when Peter was imprisoned! What had happened to the people in Jerusalem?

We will see in the discussion of Acts 21, that there were still a multitude of “believers” in Jerusalem almost thirty years after the start of the church age. But, they certainly were not “believers” as defined by Paul’s epistles. There is ample evidence that they knew and understood the righteousness that could only be appropriated by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. There is also evidence that the belief of earned righteousness or righteousness by the law contended with the righteousness of Christ for supremacy in Jerusalem.

Life in Jerusalem was not a matter of knowing the one form of righteousness and walking by it or knowing the other form of righteousness and walking by it. It seems evident that both doctrines were common knowledge and the people living there had to choose which they would live by. The rulers of the city were undoubtedly “self-righteous, vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds” as Paul would later write about deceivers in general in Col. 2:18.

The choice of “Christ righteousness” or “law righteousness” was not an easy one for the people to make. It seems clear that a price had to be paid in order to stay in Jerusalem after Stephen’s death. And, it seems clear that the price paid was compromise. The believers who stayed must have had a constant struggle with the carnal powers in a vain effort to keep the debilitating precepts of the law and yet try to satisfy their own minds that they were living as Christ wanted them to live. As one author pointed out, “Carnal men fuss about the ‘weak and beggarly’ forms of the law, spiritual men fulfill its spirit while disregarding its form”. Those who saw danger in compromise left town. Those who compromised stayed.

The Imprisonment of Peter

After the murder of the Apostle James, the brother of John, Herod proceeded to go after Peter. We know that his motivation was to please the people and rulers of Jerusalem, and the question to ask is, “what about Peter made Herod think it would please the Jews if he was “vexed”? Was it the fact that he had eaten with the Gentiles when he went to the house of Cornelius? Was it his proclamation that the Gentiles had received the same gift as the Jews? It must have been something that differed from the “norm” since Herod vexed only certain of the church.

It is apparent that Herod planned to kill Peter, as evidenced by the fact that the keepers of the prison were put to death when it was discovered that Peter had escaped. The Roman practice was evidently to inflict the prisoner’s intended sentence on the guards if the prisoner escaped. When Peter is delivered from the prison, he goes to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. John Mark comes up later and, therefore, it is appropriate to stop and ask why Peter went to this house and not some other, or why he didn’t leave town immediately.

The house of Mary was evidently a “recognized place of fellowship”. A central fact to consider in this account is that the people there did not believe that God had delivered Peter. Where was their expectation of God’s deliverance? After all, this was not some social party that Peter had broken into. They were assembled and were praying. This was a meeting of the church in Jerusalem and yet, when Peter came to them, they did not believe it was possible for him to be there. They thought he was a “spirit”.

What kind of prayer were they praying? Acts 12:11 sets the “mood” of Jerusalem at the time. Peter’s declaration after he realizes he has been delivered from prison is, “..The Lord… hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod and FROM ALL THE EXPECTATION OF THE PEOPLE OF THE JEWS.” What were the people expecting that were praying in Mary’s home? Did the people praying feel that if enough people prayed the volume of prayer would help? Did God ever need a multitude of people to deliver a request to Him? Was it not always that one believed and his prayer was answered?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, some idea of the prayer they were likely to be praying needs to be given. The prayers could not have been like Stephen’s when he was being stoned and saw Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. Perhaps they went something like, “Oh God, please save Peter’s soul from hell when Herod kills him”, or “Lord, forgive him for his sin in eating with Cornelius and help Herod to forgive him also”. Some will say that it is unfair to speculate so. Perhaps it is, but I know of no other way to paint a picture of the state of affairs in Jerusalem at this time. Something is dramatically wrong, and to assume that everyone in the church was “a nice guy” ignores the problem rather than addressing it. The expectation of the people was that Peter would be killed. And, Acts 12:16 reports that when the people did see Peter, “they were astonished!” That is an indication of unbelief!

Verse seventeen also indicates unbelief. If the people were awed by God’s power, would Peter have had to quiet them down? Would they not have been quiet in the first place? Is it not true that when God’s power is made manifest that godly people stand in awe while the unbelieving raise a storm of protest, questions and “their two cents worth”?

There is a difference between a spontaneous burst of joy and a corresponding burst of contention. Somehow, it seems much more likely that objections were being raised to Peter having escaped from jail than that the people were thrilling in God’s miraculous deliverance. The reasons for thinking this center on Peter’s instruction after he explains how God delivered him. He says, “Go show these things unto James and to the brethren.” Moffatt renders this, “report this to James and to the brothers.” We are also told that Peter did not stay at Mary’s house but went to another place. It evidently was not safe for him to stay at Mary’s house. Notice that neither James, nor the brothers, were at the “prayer meeting”. The obvious unanswered question is “Why not?”

The Three Imprisonments of Peter

Before proceeding further, consider for a moment the three imprisonments of Peter. The first imprisonment recorded in Acts 4, is a result of Peter healing the man lame from his birth. The Sanhedrin would have loved to punish him but could not do so because “all men glorified God for that which was done” (Acts4:21).

The second imprisonment, in Acts 5, was caused by the overwhelming popularity of the Apostles as a result of the many signs and wonders they did. The high priest and his people were “filled with indignation” (Acts 5:17). In that second imprisonment, the angel of the Lord opened the prison and told Peter, and the other eleven, to go back to the Temple and teach the people (Acts 5:19-20).

The third imprisonment, in Acts 12, is not caused by great healing, signs and wonders in Jerusalem. It is not caused by indignation on the part of the High Priest. It is caused by Herod concluding that it would be a popular thing to do since it pleased the Jews when he killed the Apostle James (Acts 12:3). When Peter finally realizes that he had been delivered, he says to himself, “Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews” (Acts 12:11).

And, this time, Peter does not go back to the Temple when the angel of the Lord delivers him. He goes to a private home and is met with unbelief. When Rhoda heard his voice through the door, she was so thrilled that she ran back into the meeting to tell everybody and they said she was crazy! Even after she insisted, they said that it must be his angel (Acts 12:13-15).

With all these differences in mind it seems clear that the Jerusalem church by this time was a weak church, an unbelieving church, a worldly church that had been conformed to the political authority and absorbed into Judiasm in general. The church in Jerusalem was certainly weakened by the “scattering” of the church in Acts 8:1, ten years earlier. It was weakened further by the Circumcision Party questioning Peter over the conversion of the household of Cornelius. It was weakened as well by the Grecians trying to kill Paul. Peter tells the people at Mary’s house to go tell James and his brothers that he had escaped and then he leaves them. He had been “delivered FROM all the expectation of the people of the Jews” rather than being an example of God’s deliverance TO all the people as he had been previously. His deliverance is not an occasion for great revival in Jerusalem. He does not have the opportunity to even save his jailers from death. There is no evidence that Peter had changed in any way. There is no reason to believe that he was any less powerful or any less dedicated than he had ever been. It seems clear that the people of Jerusalem changed. They had hardened their hearts to God’s deliverance and were clinging tenaciously to their laws and customs in the face of God’s deliverance.

It is true that Herod “dries up from the roots” in the following verses, but, “the expectation of the people of the Jews” did not “dry up from the roots”. The resistance to God and His deliverance only increases as the rest of Acts unfolds. James, the brother of Jesus, appears on the scene for the first time since the outpouring of holy spirit and he appears at a time when Peter is being delivered from “all the expectation of the people of the Jews”. The time is clearly marked by the death of King Herod Agrippa, 45 A.D..

James, the Brother of Jesus, Enters the Picture

Who is this James and who are the brothers? James, the apostle, was just killed and it is well accepted that James, referred to in Acts 12:17, is the same James found in Acts 1:14. The brothers therefore would also be the brothers of Acts 1:14. The James referred to by Peter was the brother of Jesus Christ and the brothers were the other brothers of Jesus Christ-Joses, Jude, and Simon (Mk. 6:3).

Why did Peter instruct the people in John Mark’s mother’s house to go tell Jesus Christ’s brothers how he had been delivered from Prison? It would seem more likely for Peter to have a report sent to the Apostle John or the other Apostles. Why was James, along with his brothers, singled out instead? What position did they have in the church that Peter should report to them? Were they his “superiors” by this time? James, the brother of Jesus, is clearly the head of the Jerusalem church by the time of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. That event occurs about 49 A.D., only four years or so after Peter’s last imprisonment. Peter’s instruction to the people at Mary’s house is the first mention of James in Acts since the day of Pentecost. He was certainly among the people in Jerusalem for the preceding fifteen years and yet he is not mentioned until Acts 12:17, and then, only in a nebulous sort of way.

Some will say that it is dangerous to speculate on Peter’s motives, or to consider any other than highly spiritual, good will motives. For now, I will only point out that the church in Jerusalem was a sick church, a worldly church, a church that lacked power and a church that didn’t expect deliverance. If nothing else, the record of Peter instructing those at Mary’s house to go tell James and the brothers indicates that they were in some kind of position of authority in the Jerusalem church.

Remember, Herod saw that it pleased the people when he killed the apostle James. So, he proceeded to take Peter also. He did not imprison James, the brother of Jesus. In itself, the observation does not mean much. But when the words “certain of the church” are used in Acts 12:1 to describe who was being “vexed”, it is natural to assume that some in the church were not being “vexed” and to ask if James, the brother of Jesus, was among the “vexed” group or the “unvexed” group.

How does one get to possible motives when the motive is not clearly stated? Some say that you don’t. But, trial lawyers are trained in methods to uncover motive because it is so important. It is of the utmost importance to uncover even a hint of motive if the stakes are high enough. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. It will reveal motive. The more we search, the more it reveals. Jesus said, “seek and ye shall find.” And so, we formulate a legitimate question and see if God’s Word will answer it.

What was Peter’s motive in reporting to James and his brothers? The account does not say, “Now this is Peter’s motive.” But, it does give Peter’s instructions. Surely the whole city would know by the next morning that Peter had escaped. Why are we told that Peter wanted James informed of his escape in the middle of the night? The rest of Acts shows no action taken as a result of James being informed. All we can see on the surface is that James is mentioned for the first time, about fifteen years after the start of the church age. The motive is not clear, but there is considerable circumstantial evidence we can gather. And, circumstantial evidence is important- especially if all of it points in one direction, without any evidence pointing in the opposite direction.

The Evidence Regarding James

What does the scripture tell us about James and his brothers? In Mark 6:1-6, we read of Jesus ministering in his home town of Nazareth. The people questioned both his ability and his authority by stating that he was a mere carpenter or workman- a term used of Jesus only by those who rejected him.

The account mentions his brothers, James, Joses, Juda and Simon, along with his sisters. We are told that the people were offended by him. They state, regarding Jesus’ brothers and sisters, “are they not all here WITH US?” (The greek word for “with” is pros). Does this indicate that James and his brothers and sisters were on the side of those who were offended by Jesus? Jesus’ response adds clarity. He says, “A prophet is not without honor but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” Matthew 13:54-58 has a similar account.

Jesus own statement about his family was that they gave him no honor. We can find no higher authority than Jesus Christ’s own statements on which to rely in finding out about James and his brothers. If there were other places in the Scriptures that contained statements of Jesus saying that His brothers or sisters DID honor him, then the two accounts above would have to be qualified. However, there are none. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus made the statement because He wanted it known that his family did not honor him- He was without honor in His own home!

In Luke 2:42-52 is an account of Jesus in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Notice that when His parents came back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus- after having started on their way home- they found him in the Temple. They had spent three days looking for him and finally decided to look in the Temple. Why did they not look there first? In verse forty nine Jesus asks them, “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?”

These are the first recorded words that Jesus spoke. We must therefore ask, “Should Jesus’ parents have known that Jesus had to be about His Father’s business?” They surely should have. The visit by angels to both Mary and Joseph are only two of the reasons they should have known. It is interesting that verse forty three says, “and Joseph and his mother knew not of it”. It doesn’t say that his father and mother knew not of it. And, when Mary says in verse forty eight, “thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing”, Jesus replies, “How is it that ye sought me? Knew ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The following verse says that they did not understand what He was saying to them.

Who was Jesus Father anyway? Was it Joseph? Certainly Mary knew it was not Joseph. They had brought him up to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old and when Jesus asked them, “did you not know that I must be about my father’s business”, either they should have been well aware of where He was supposed to be, or else Jesus was being sarcastic with them.

Since from other scriptures we know that Jesus never sinned and was therefore the model son, we must conclude that He was honestly asking a question to which their proper answer should have been “yes”. But, they didn’t know what He was talking about.

I do not mean to suggest that Jesus’ parents were wicked or ungodly. However, even though they had seen much evidence that this was an exceptional child- the virgin birth, the visit by angels, the deliverance from the hand of Herod, the prophesies of Simeon and Anna, and the experience of Elizabeth and Zacharias regarding John the Baptist- they did not keep His Messianic mission foremost in their minds. Otherwise, when they found Him absent on the way home, they would have immediately gone to the Temple where they could easily have concluded He would be.

The picture we have gathered so far shows that at least Jesus did not get full support from his family. But, to be indifferent about the Christ is one thing; to actively resist him is quite another. In Mark 3:14-19 is the record of Jesus ordaining the twelve apostles. Verse twenty one is the record of His families response upon hearing the news. The word “friends” in that verse should be translated “kinsfolk”. Moffatt translates it “family”. and the word clearly refers to His brothers and mother as mentioned again in verse thirty one.

What were Jesus’ mother and brothers doing? They were attempting to lay hold on Jesus because they thought He was crazy! The reason they thought so is probably because Jesus had picked twelve disciples to whom He would later promise that they would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). If that was the reason, their objections could have been either to the fact that he dared to choose such a group or because He chose the kind of men that he did- for the most part, mere fishermen.

Perhaps we should pause here before continuing, because it is certainly not easy to accept that Jesus’ mother and brothers thought Jesus was crazy. But, if the entire section from Mark 3:21 to Mark 3:35 is examined as one story, in one context, then the evidence is conclusive that they were against Him. The words “beside himself” could be translated “out of his senses”. Moffatt translates it “out of his mind”.

The scribes said He was possessed of devils (verse 22). But, at least, they were not family. For Jesus to find that even his own family thought he was crazy must have been a very bitter pill to swallow. We have in this account a very serious cause for concern. If there were any Scriptures that could offset this action on the part of Jesus family, then we should dismiss it as an addition to the text or an interpreters erroneous rendering. But, we can find no offsetting record and must therefore conclude that the text is correct when it presents Jesus’ family attempting to capture Jesus and put Him away because they thought He was crazy.

Perhaps the greatest indictment of the family comes from Jesus Himself when He is told that His family wants to see him. His response is to totally deny them by saying, “Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35).

Luke 8:19-21 presents the same circumstance. Here, Jesus’ mother and brothers stated that they desired to see Jesus. However, we’ve seen in Mark that they didn’t just want to see him, they wanted to put him away because they thought He was crazy. When told of their presence, Jesus replies, “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the Word of God and DO IT!”

What was Jesus saying? He was saying that his mother and brothers were not doing the will of God! Think for a moment about how Jesus must have felt. Here his family thought He was crazy and wanted to capture Him, lay hold on him, and put him away. It is one thing to have the scribes and religious leaders accuse him of being possessed. But, far more bitter than this, his own family thought that he was crazy!

There are records in the scripture that vindicate Mary and Joseph. Mary even encouraged Jesus to do his first miracle of turning water into wine. In fact, a case can be made that the only reason Jesus did that miracle is because his mother asked him to do it.

No such records exist to vindicate Jesus’ brothers. Was Mary intimidated by Jesus’ brothers into going with them when they tried to put him away? It seems likely. Whether Joseph refused to go or was dead by this time, is not known. It is evident that he was not party to the action because the scripture would certainly have mentioned him if he was.

Jesus’ Brothers Taunt Jesus

In John 7 is a record of Jesus confronting his brothers. In John 7:1 we read that Jesus stayed in Galilee because He knew that people in Judea sought to kill him. His brothers however, in verse three, advise him to go up to Judea. It seems clear that they also knew that people in Judea sought to kill Jesus and, therefore, the question must be raised as to their motive in giving Jesus such advice.

Remember, Jesus ministry lasted only three years (some people say one year because Jesus was the Passover lamb and the Passover lamb was to be one year old. However, Jesus would have been at least thirty one years old and to equate one year of age to one year of ministry is not sound reasoning. Also, three Passover feasts are listed in the Gospel of John (Jn. 2:13, 6:4, and 13:1), the first occurring after Jesus had spent considerable time in Galilee (Jn. 2:12), and the last occurring at the time of His crucifixion. It could be argued that Jesus ministry was less than three full years, but certainly not one year. And, if Jesus was born in the spring of the year, when shepherd’s would have been in the fields “watching their flocks by night” during lambing season, most likely His ministry lasted three full years). Since only two years or so had passed since the brothers of Jesus had tried to “put Him away”, there is no reason to assume that their attitude had changed from thinking Him crazy. Certainly, if there was such a change in attitude, there would be a record of the change in the scripture. There is no such record. Also, they were not among “the twelve” picked by Jesus nor were any of them considered to take Judas place in Acts 1.

The argument used by Jesus’ brothers seems to be that the disciples in Judea had the right to see Jesus’ works. The end of verse three could read, “in order that they also may be spectators of the works that thou doest.” The word “see” in Jn. 7:3 is the greek word “theoreo”, meaning “to view” or literally “place-see”. “Theory” is a close english equivalent. The challenge of Jesus brothers to Jesus is that the people in Judea should have the opportunity to view Jesus works, be able to theorize on them, speculate on them, view them, consider them, behold them. The Amplified Bible translates John 7:3, “So His brothers said to Him, Leave here and go to Judea, so that Your disciples there may also see the works that you do. This is no place for you.” They are clearly baiting Jesus or taunting Him. The four Gospels are clear that Jesus had already done many mighty works in Judea and so on the face of it, the accusation, or challenge, or argument, is the result of unbelief and not the sincere desire of supportive brothers.

In verse four, the brothers prod him further by accusing him of acting in secret rather than openly. Knoch translates verse four, “For no one is doing anything in hiding when he is seeking publicity.” Moffatt says, “For nobody who aims at public recognition ever keeps his actions secret.” Verse five says, “For neither did His brethren believe in Him.” The verse clearly states their motive- THEY DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM! There is no question at all about their motive. The scripture could not be any clearer. But, just to make sure that there could be no doubt whatsoever regarding their motive, Jesus says, “THE WORLD CANNOT HATE YOU, BUT ME IT HATETH BECAUSE I TESTIFY OF IT THAT THE WORKS THEREOF ARE EVIL!”

Note the amazing contrast that Jesus makes between himself and his brothers. He says that it is impossible for the world to hate James, Jude, Joses and Simon. On the other hand, the world did hate Jesus. The contrast between Jesus and His brothers is absolute.

I think sometimes we don’t appreciate just how hated Jesus was. We remember that He was crucified, but that was only one event. There are many others throughout His ministry. It is one thing to be hated when there is cause. But, Jesus Christ did no wrong and yet He was HATED! In the gospel of John alone, there are at least twenty instances of people trying to harm or kill Him. (See John 4:29; 5:18,19,20; 7:1,25,30,44; 8:6,20,37,48,59; 9:20; 10:31,39; 11:8,4 7,53; 12:10,33; 15:25). Surely He was hated among a broad spectrum of people. He was also loved by many. In fact, it is doubtful if there were any in Israel during His life that had a “take him or leave him attitude”. If there were, it is hard to imagine. He didn’t leave much room for the “take it or leave it” folks.

But, Jesus’ own brothers were against Him. What brothers Jesus had! They were held in favor by the forces of the world and yet, perhaps fifteen to twenty years later, Peter is sending a report of his escape from prison to these same brothers. In John 7:8, Jesus tells his brothers that He is not going with them to the feast in Jerusalem. However, in verse ten, after they leave, He goes up secretly. Why did Jesus not go to the feast with his brothers? The answer seems clear. They did not believe in Him! In all probability, they would have turned him in to the people who sought him out so that they could kill him. At least, Jesus did not trust them. What a picture of the brothers of Jesus!

James, the Brother of Jesus, Vilified

The evidence is overwhelming regarding Jesus’ brothers. We would not belabor the point except that James, the brother of Jesus, grows in prominence in the Jerusalem church as the book of Acts unfolds. His position in the church grows as the Jerusalem church forsakes God’s deliverance and blessing and reverts to what Paul later refers to as a form of godliness that denies the power of God. This is a shocking realization and one that is not easy to digest. But the further one investigates into the matter in the Word of God, the clearer it becomes that only one conclusion can honestly be drawn. James never was, and does not become, a “good guy”. The conclusion is troubling. It is so unpleasant that you may want to turn your back or cover your eyes. I felt the same way at times over the past ten years. And yet, it seems unavoidable that we must understand this situation if we do not wish to doom ourselves to repeating it. Think about it. Look around. The results of not understanding have been, and continue down to this moment to be, costly to the body of Christ.

It is tempting to say that the only fight of the first century church was a fight between those without and those within. Certainly there was a fight. However, the more the book of Acts is studied, the clearer it becomes that the primary fight was within the Christian church over how the Christian should live, by law or by grace. James was within the Jerusalem church and became the leader of that church. And, Jesus said that the world could not hate him!

Josephus, a priest who lived in or around Jerusalem from his birth in 37 A.D. until the destruction of the city in 70 A.D., tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, was stoned to death after the death in office of the Roman Governor Festus in 62 A.D. and before Albinus arrived to take his place (Antiquities XX.9,1). On the surface one would think that the world did hate James. However, Josephus goes on to say, “those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were uneasy at the breach of laws, they disliked what was done.” If we consider the fact that Josephus was certainly not a Christian, that he speaks highly of James, that James was killed during a “power vacuum” in Israel, and that the “most equitable of the citizens” objected to the stoning of James, it seems clear that James was held in respect by the “worldly powers”.

It should also be pointed out that Paul was imprisoned for two years in Caesarea under Antonius Felix, until Felix was removed from office in 59 A.D. because he was accused by the Jews, before Nero, of bad administration. Porcius Festus then became Governor and tried to move Paul’s trial back to Jerusalem to appease the Jews. Paul insisted on his right of appeal to Caesar as a Roman citizen, presumably to avoid certain death in Jerusalem. It is reasonable to assume that the removal of Felix had at least something to do with his protection of Paul in Caesarea because of the immediate attempt to get Festus to move the trial back to Jerusalem upon his arrival to take over as governor or procurator. This was no small issue in Israel. And, if Josephus’ portrayal of James is considered, the failure of the effort to kill Paul could have been laid at James’ feet by the more radical element in Jerusalem although the “most equitable of the citizens” objected to James being killed (two years after Paul was taken to Rome and about the time of Paul’s trial before Nero). It seems clear, even from Josephus account, that the “world” did not hate James.

James is a man who thought his brother was crazy, he is a man that did not believe in Jesus. And, he is a man that Jesus says very clearly the world cannot hate. If there were no other evidence against James, this only would suffice to indict him- Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you, but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.”

From Jesus statement on, there is no evidence of a change of heart on the part of James recorded for us in the scripture. James does call himself “a servant of Jesus Christ” (James 1:1) but never mentions the resurrection of Jesus Christ in his epistle. He writes to the twelve tribes of the dispersion and not to “Christians”, or “believers”, or “saints” among these twelve tribes. We must conclude that James was of the world and not of God! There is no record that he was converted, no record of any miracle that he performed, no record that he spoke in tongues. In short, nothing to suggest that he repented or changed in any way other than to gain the ascendancy in the Jerusalem church. And, by the middle of Acts, Peter is afraid of him! (Gal.2:12). Peter, a man not afraid to step out of a boat and walk on water, a man not afraid to cut off the ear of one of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus, a man not afraid to break the Jewish laws and eat with Cornelius, becomes a man afraid of James. This is an awesome thing to consider.

Many have concluded that James must have been born again because he was the head of the Jerusalem church. It is a circular argument and goes nowhere. Position certainly does not guarantee godliness. In fact, if I were satan, I would try my hardest to put my men behind every pulpit in the world, at the head of every denomination in the world and at the head of every board of deacons in the world. Hopefully, he hasn’t succeeded, but, you can bet that he never gives up in his effort, and you can bet that he has not been a total failure. I will concede that James may have been “saved”, but there is no indication in the scripture that he was other than his own declaration in James 1:1.

If we examine Acts and the rise of James in the light of what is recorded in scripture about him, we will have a whole different picture develop than is commonly imagined. Instead of trying to harmonize what Paul says with what James says, and harmonize what Paul does with what James does, we should realize that the two are absolute contrasts. In Paul we have the walk by the spirit. In James we have the walk by the flesh.

You may ask, “how could all the believers in Jerusalem be fooled by James?” The answer is simple. They weren’t fooled! They chose to walk by the flesh instead of by the spirit. And, who more eminent to lead them by the flesh than Jesus’ fleshly brother? In fact, the name, James, is close to the old testament name, Jacob, or “supplanter”.

James is the first obvious case of nepotism in the Christian church. And, just the fact that Judiasm had a sect called “The Sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5) implies that the Jews lumped Jesus and his brothers into one movement and called the movement the Sect of the Nazarenes. If the movement was recognized as being led by Jesus Christ alone, it seems that they would have called it the sect of the Nazarene. Remember also that many believers were forced out of Jerusalem upon the death of Stephen. James’ rise in the Jerusalem church happens after these people leave. He evidently did not leave. Could it be that Ananias and Sapphira were trying to impress James by lying about their offering? Could James have been the head of the “Hebrew” faction in Acts 6:1? I do not know the answer to these questions. But, since starting ten years ago to investigate James, much has come to light that I never saw at all in the scripture prior to that time. Perhaps even these questions are answered in the scripture. We miss so much truth because we do not expect to find it. As our expectation to find truth increases, so also will our satisfaction increase when we discover that God has answered our questions long ago and the answers await our discovery.

One other piece of evidence should be presented regarding the brothers of Jesus before we return to Acts 12. John 19 contains the record of the crucifixion of Jesus. Verse twenty six and twenty seven show Jesus giving custody of his mother to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In Jewish law, it was the responsibility of the eldest son to provide for the welfare of his mother in the event that the father was dead or gone- which Joseph must have been. In this account, Jesus fulfills his duty and the obvious question is, “Why didn’t Jesus intrust the care of his mother to James or his other brothers?” They were certainly there, and James was the head of the Jerusalem church fifteen years later.

The fact of the matter seems obvious. Jesus would not trust his brothers with the custody of his mother. Also, it should be noted that although James was with the “about one hundred twenty” in the ten days between the ascension and the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14), he was not picked to replace Judas as an apostle, nor was he considered. This fact is certainly significant in light of the fact that he later becomes head of the Jerusalem church.

As we continue in Acts, we will see that James rises to the position of controlling the entire church in Jerusalem. A man who thought Jesus was crazy, a man who Jesus did not pick to be an apostle, a man that Jesus said the world could not hate, a man who apparently wanted Jesus captured by those who sought to kill him, a man that Jesus would not even entrust the care of his mother to, a man who was not even considered to take Judas’ place, let alone being selected, finally becomes the head leader of the church in Jerusalem.

And so, in Acts 12 we find that the church, for the most part, is an unbelieving church; political expedience replaces godliness, and Peter is seen sending a report to James and his brothers and then leaving town. We find the people in Israel worshiping Herod, the angel of the Lord smiting Herod, and Barnabas and Saul leaving town after having delivered the relief to the famine stricken area. The time, about 45 A.D., fifteen years after the start of the church age.




“And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses…..For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
Acts 13:39,47,48

Acts 13 begins Luke’s account of the spreading of the message of grace among the nations at the hand of the apostle Paul. The time is somewhere around 46 A.D.- sixteen years or so after the outpouring of holy spirit on the day of Pentecost. It is by the mouth of chosen men of Israel that the Gentiles are privileged to hear the Gospel. But, these men are chosen of God, not chosen, nor sanctioned by the earthly authorities in Jerusalem. In fact, the Gospel reaches the Gentiles in spite of Jerusalem’s earthly authorities.

Observations on Anti-semitism

Today, we are asked to take sides in most Christian circles as to whether we are for or against Israel. On the one hand are those who honor Israel as a nation and believe that we will be blessed to the extent that we are a blessing to Israel. This belief comes from Old Testament scriptures that are transcended by the coming of Jesus Christ. The Christian should live in the knowledge that God’s grace is unconditional and not the result of a “correct” response or view to any nation of the world.

On the other hand are those who hate Israel as a nation and manage to lay all the problems around us at the feet of Israel. To them, Israel is the scapegoat for, and the cause of, all the world’s wickedness. This anti-semitism runs wide and deep.

Semitism, and its counterpart, anti-semitism is, in truth, a non-issue. It is merely the divisive thinking of the natural man. It is undoubtedly very real to those engaged on either side of the issue. But the efforts of both sides are misdirected. Since Jesus Christ came, the central issue has been, and continues to be, whether or not we accept that God gave Him “all power in heaven and in earth”.

To the Christian, the people who accept Jesus Christ’s supreme authority, semitism versus anti-semitism is an issue that distracts from the work to be done in reconciling men and women to God. Those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord should be busy serving Him, not arguing over which nation is superior and which nation is inferior. Such an argument is over two sides of the same coin, unbelief. Neither side of the argument has submitted to the authority of Christ. Neither side knows Jesus Christ well enough yet to realize the futility of the argument. Jesus Christ did not come to save nations or condemn nations. He did not come to save groups and factions or to condemn groups and factions. He came to save people, all people. He wants “all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).

The central accusation that fuels the anti-semitic argument is that Israel, as a nation, was responsible for crucifying Jesus Christ. We have attempted to show that the acceptance of Jesus Christ in Israel, after the resurrection, was far more extensive than is commonly supposed. If this picture is correct, then the root argument against Israel vanishes since obviously the people asked for, and received, forgiveness from God. It is quite possible that even those who shouted, “His blood be on us and our children!” were converted and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is also doubtful if any other nation could ever boast of a higher percentage of converts to Christianity than Israel during the first century. On the other hand, it is also doubtful if any other nation exhibited a more severe case of “hardness of heart” than did the nation of Israel. In short, regardless of the measuring stick used, Israel comes no closer, and no farther away, than any other nation of the world in it’s relation to God. Those who accept the finished work of Jesus Christ can walk in newness of life. Those who do not are stuck with a life that promises little and delivers less.

The truth is that good and evil exist in Israel as they exist in every nation of the world. The question to be answered regarding all nations is whether or not they accept the supreme authority of Jesus Christ. The Christian’s question should not be the futile question of which nation is superior to other nations. When Jesus Christ gathers together His church, He will bring all nations under His authority. Until then, there is not likely to be any nation willing to be governed by the supreme authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has refrained from asserting His authority at many places, but this does not mean His authority is lacking. Sooner or later, all men will discover its reality. He “overrules” in the affairs of men, at times, but, for whatever reason, allows all nations the privilege of making mistakes and showing arrogant disregard for His authority.

Today we hear much of the “Judeo-Christian tradition”. If such a phrase is understood as having Jesus Christ at the center of it, one message is implied. If, however, the phrase is understood as having Jesus Christ absent from it, another message is implied that is altogether bankrupt. Unfortunately, the phrase is most commonly used to imply a common ground between Jew and Christian that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. As such, it does not satisfy, because neither Jewish tradition nor “Christian” tradition will satisfy without Jesus Christ being recognized as the one to whom was given “all power in heaven and in earth”.

We shall see as we continue in Acts that the main persecutors of the Gospel were Israelites. But, the Gospels chief proponents were also Israelites- Jesus Christ, the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul, to name just a few. In short, God’s blessings came to the nations of the world through Israel and in spite of Israel.

Acceptance of Peter is Turned to Rejection

The first twelve chapters of Acts have shown us the rise of the gospel in Jerusalem and its rejection. This acceptance and rejection of Jesus Christ is typified by how Peter is treated. The people (except for the leaders) loved the healing that he represented and even sought out Peter’s shadow in order to obtain it. The nation (including the leaders) did not like the thought of Peter going into the house of a Gentile as he did when he went into the house of Cornelius (Acts 10).

From being a man sought out for blessings, he became a man sought out by those who cursed him. From being a man with the total support of the people, he became a man arrested because the leaders perceived it would be pleasing to the people. From God rescuing the people through Peter, we find Peter being rescued from the people by God. From Acts 5 where we find there was no lack in the church, we find famine in Acts 12.

What an incredible change in the short span of about fifteen years. Beginning in Acts 13 and following, we find that instead of the nations receiving God’s blessings through Israel as a nation, they receive God’s blessings in spite of Israel. Instead of Israel as a nation being the channel through which God’s blessings flow, it acts in the rest of Acts to restrict the flow of God’s blessings. The nation that God said was to be a nation of priests becomes a nation of persecutors.

The Sending Out of Barnabas and Paul

The first recorded missionary journey by Paul is in Acts 13. About eleven years had passed since Paul’s conversion in 35 A.D.. What Paul did in those nine years is largely unknown. Since Jesus Christ called him to “bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15), we can safely assume he did just that during those nine years. And, there is no reason for thinking he did it any less effectively than in the following years.

The common perception, that the first Gentile in the world to be saved was Cornelius, (Acts 10), belies the fact that Paul was converted at least three years prior to that event and “straightway he preached Christ” (Acts 9:20). This perception also belies the fact that multitudes upon multitudes believed in Jesus Christ starting with the first day of the church age and then dispersed throughout the world. It is inconceivable that no Gentile had heard the salvation message and believed until Peter went to the house of Cornelius perhaps eight years later. It is true that Peter said to the men at the Jerusalem Council, “ye know that a good while ago (prior to 49 A.D.), God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe..”, but the context is talking about leaders of the Jerusalem Church, not all believers. God chose Peter, rather than the other “leaders” to go to Cornelius, but this does not imply that no other “believers” had spoken to a Gentile since the day of Pentecost had “fully come”.

The conversion of Cornelius is presented as an undisputable test case to the Council at Jerusalem in that Cornelius spoke in tongues without being circumcised, and Peter and his six witnesses verified the event. To leap from this “test case” to the conclusion that no Gentile had believed prior to Cornelius implies that God waited perhaps eight years before allowing the Gentiles to be “saved”. The theories built on this assumption all do injustice to the grace of God and imply that something in addition to the resurrection was required before the Gentiles could receive salvation. (Namely, the “falling away” of the Jews.) It seems reasonable to believe that the Gentile converts in the first eight years of the church became proselytes. It does not seem reasonable to believe that no Gentiles were saved during the first eight years of the church age.

In any event, after Paul’s conversion and the recovering back of his sight in Damascus, we are told that he went to Arabia, went back to Damascus, and three years later went up to Jerusalem to see Peter (and saw James, the brother of Jesus also) (Gal.1:17-19). Then he went to Syria and Cilicia. He stayed in Tarsus until Barnabas came to ask him to go to Antioch. He delivered the relief money with Barnabas, and that is about all we know of the first eleven years of his ministry.

Acts 13 tells us of Paul’s ministry beginning in about 46 A.D.. The book of Acts ends with Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome around 62 A.D.. The entire book of Acts covers a period of about 33 years- half of that time dealing primarily with the Jerusalem church and half with Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles.

Acts 13:1,2 tell us that certain prophets and teachers in Antioch were told by revelation ( word of knowledge and/or word of wisdom, I Cor. 12:7-10) to separate Barnabas and Saul for a work that God wanted them to do. It is important to realize that Paul’s instructions did not come from the church in Jerusalem, nor the apostles in Jerusalem, nor the elders in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem church had nothing to do with this work. They neither initiated it, approved it, nor disapproved it. It was initiated by God, and approved by prophets and teachers in Antioch.

We are not told how God revealed His will to the five men listed in verse one, only that His will was revealed. As these men ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said….. Whether they heard a voice, saw a vision, were confronted by an angel or a burning bush, we are not told.

But, it is important to recognize that this was not just a consensus of opinion by the five, nor a majority vote, nor merely the will of the group. It was a revelation from God. It was God’s will, and the five were privileged to receive God’s immediate and specific will that Paul and Barnabas were to be separated out from their number for a work that God called them to do.

It should be emphasized that the church in Antioch was not a product of the “outreach ministry” of the Jerusalem church. The people remaining in Jerusalem had nothing to do with the start or growth of the Antioch church. In Acts 11:19 we read that persecution in Jerusalem arose because of Stephen. What all Stephen did and said to cause such persecution we are not told. He was killed, but whatever his ministry involved, it not only resulted in his death, but was followed immediately by the scattering abroad of many from the Jerusalem church.

The Composition of the Antioch Church

Acts 11:19 tells us that those believers who were driven out of Jerusalem traveled as far as Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch and preached to Jews only. In Acts 8:1 we see that those who were forced out of Jerusalem were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. By Acts 11:19, perhaps four years had gone by since the “scattering” and now we are told that some went even further abroad. Phenice (or Phoenix) is a harbor city on the south side of Crete, the same place that Luke mentions in Acts 27:12 when he was with Paul on the way to Rome and the ship was wrecked. It is about 600 miles from Jerusalem by sea. Cyprus is about 250 miles from Jerusalem by sea. Antioch in Syria is about 300 miles by land.

The picture we see develop is one of believing Jews traveling throughout the known world. We are told in the following verse that some to whom the word was preached were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyrene is on the African coast of the Mediterranean in what today is Libya. It is about 800 miles due east of Jerusalem by sea. By naming all these places, Luke seems to be giving us a summary showing the vast extent of Christianity in few words. He also points out that those who left Jerusalem preached only to Jews.

It should be noted that travel in the first century was not nearly as difficult as many people today might think it was. Historians point out that travel in the first century was not matched for ease until the twentieth century. The Roman roads were good. The Roman Empire assured safe travel by its laws and its armies and for all intensive purposes, the Mediterranean Sea was an inland lake of the Roman Empire. Sea travel, as well as land travel, was extensive and secure. One piece of evidence exists of a merchant who made over fifty trips to Rome from Asia in his lifetime.

The Grecians of Antioch

Acts 11:20 tells us that some of those who were preached to by the scattered Christians went to Antioch and preached to the Grecians there. The people who spoke to the Grecians in Antioch were “second generation Christians” so to speak. They evidently had no experience with the church in Jerusalem. In other words, the Grecians in Antioch received the Word from “non-Jerusalem” Jews. The account also suggests that at least some Jewish Christians who wanted to learn more and become more active in the ministry of the Word of God migrated to Antioch rather than to Jerusalem. We see that Antioch is clearly an active center of Christianity sixteen years or so after the start of the church age.

Acts 11:20 is the last occurrence in Acts of the word Grecian, or “greekist” or “hellenistes”. To me, it is one of the most difficult verses in the book of Acts. I am not alone. The word “hellenistes” in this verse has presented a problem at least from the time of Chrysostom (c 375 A.D.) down to the present day. Some of the early manuscripts have the word “hellen” instead of “hellenistes” (Papyrus #74, Uncial A, Uncial D, and Alexandrius) in order to solve the problem and make the word mean Greeks instead of Grecians. However, textual scholars find in this evidence an attempt to do away with the problem by changing the text rather than finding evidence that the original text contained the word “hellen”. Even the Codex Alexandrius will not support the thesis that the original contained the word “hellen” since it also uses the word “hellen” in Acts 9:29 instead of “hellenistes”, a clear departure from all the other textual evidence, and a sure indication that the editors of Alexandrius changed “hellenistes” in Acts 11:20 to “hellen”. Most of the early texts have the word “hellenistes” and all the evidence points to this being the word used in Acts 11:20.

It remains to determine what Luke was trying to communicate by the use of the word “hellenistes” in Acts 11:20. The problem is compounded by the fact that scholars can find no other usage of the word “hellenistes” outside of the three usages by Luke in the book of Acts. It is found nowhere in previous Greek literature, nor is it found in the hellenistic-Jewish literature of the period. We are left with a classic case of having to determine from the authors own work just what he meant by the use of a word.

If the book of Acts was not so critical to our understanding of Christianity, we could afford, perhaps, to leave this problem set and relegate it to the category of “unknowable”. But, Acts is critical to our understanding of Christianity. As we understand the first century church so also will we pattern the church today, or at least endeavor to conform our lives to what we perceive as “godly”. We also cannot reject Acts as “flawed”. Some have tried to do so but have failed. As one Roman scholar recently said, “Any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians (unlike many New Testament scholars) have long taken it for granted.”

The problem remains. Luke uses the word “hellenistes” three times in Acts (Acts 6:1, 9:29, 11:20). The word can be found in no other literature of the time. And, understanding what Luke wanted to communicate to us is critical to our understanding of Acts.

The promise of reward for our effort in trying to understand what Luke meant by the word hellenistes is substantial. Luke has either “coined” a word, or has used a very unique word, to tie together three sections of Acts that otherwise would seem unrelated. Any other starting point for trying to understand hellenistes seems futile. To say, as some do, that Acts 6:1 refers to Christians, Acts 9:29 refers to non-Christians, and Acts 11:20 refers to Greeks does discredit to a writer who was educated and who was a physician. Because Luke was educated, we must assume that he had a more than adequate vocabulary. Because he was a physician, we must assume that he was oriented to exactness and precision. We must, therefore, conclude that whatever he meant by the word “hellenistes” in Acts 6:1, he also meant in Acts 9:29 and Acts 11:20. The picture that comes to mind of Luke writing is one of him using words like he would use a scalpel, carefully and exactly.

If what follows does not totally clarify the issue, it hopefully will at least start in the direction of resolving the problem. We are told that the Grecians in Antioch received the Gospel from those who heard the Word outside of Jerusalem. Implied in that statement is the suggestion that these Grecians would not have received the Gospel from people who were in the Jerusalem church. At least we are specifically told that “non-Jerusalem” Jews preached to “Grecians” in Antioch. It remains for us to try to discover why this information is given to us in Acts 11:19-21.

Since the occurrence of “Grecian” in Acts 11:20 is the last of the three usages of the word, the logical place to start in trying to discover why Luke uses the term is the previous usages. In Acts 6:1 the term is used in contrast to “Hebrews”. The Grecians and Hebrews were on opposite sides of a dispute over the distribution to the widows. We have discussed that verse in considerable detail.

The second usage is in Acts 9:29. The Grecians in Jerusalem tried to kill Paul. We have also discussed this verse in substantial detail. In both previous discussions we have admitted that there is much that we do not know about the Grecians. Certainly more can be known and, I hope, will be known about them in the future. I am confident that whatever Luke meant by the word “Grecian” in his first usage of the word, he also meant in the second, as well as the third. In the first two usages, they are in Jerusalem. In the third usage, they are in Antioch.

How big a group the “Grecians” were, is not clear. Whether all the “greekists” in Israel are meant when the term is used, is not clear. What common issues they had among themselves and how tightly organized they were, is not clear. However, if we define the group being referred to from the context of its first and second occurrence, we see that the Grecians were in the church, or partly in the church, in Jerusalem and “murmured” over the treatment of the widows among their number. We then see that members of this group tried to have Paul killed in Acts 9:29.

From Acts 11:20, we see that this group was in Antioch and received the Gospel from “non-Jerusalem Jews”. It is not likely that all the Grecians first lived in Jerusalem and then moved to Antioch, although it is possible. It does not appear likely that Luke means “every Grecian” when he uses the term “Grecian”. Rather, he seems to use the term to define whatever it is that made a Grecian a Grecian, their “grecianness”. This would have included their politics, their beliefs, their associations, their customs, their likes and dislikes, their status in the eyes of the “Hebrews”, and/or their status in the eyes of Israel as a whole.

Differences Between the Antioch and Jerusalem Church

In Acts 11:21 we see that “a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.” This “great number” could either be referring to the Grecians of verse 20 or to residents of Antioch in general, depending on who the word “them” refers to in the first part of the verse where we are told, “And the hand of the Lord was with them.” If “them” refers to the men from Cyprus and Cyrene, then the “great number” must be Grecians. On the other hand, if “them” refers to the Grecians, then the “great number” refers to residents of Antioch in general and could be Jews and Gentiles alike. Since the evidence does not seem conclusive regarding who the word “them” refers to, my hope is that by presenting a discussion of both possibilities, an answer will be forthcoming.

In the event that “them” refers to the men of Cyprus and Cyrene, we see a great number of Grecians in Antioch turning to the Lord. A. E. Knoch’s translation says that “besides, a vast number (presumably of Grecians in Antioch) who believe turn back to the Lord.” Knoch uses the same phrase “turn back to the Lord” in Acts 9:35 regarding the residents of Lydda and Saron. If “turn back to the Lord” is a more accurate translation, then we are lead to the conclusion that many Grecians in Antioch, who had previously believed, were turned back to the gospel by “non-Jerusalem” Jews. Such a conclusion suggests that perhaps many of the Grecians in the Jerusalem church at the time of Acts 6:1 left the church and left town over the “murmurings” and went to Antioch where they were discouraged in mind until the “non-Jerusalem” Jews preached the Lord Jesus to them.

The other possibility is that the word “them” in Acts 11:21 refers to the Grecians of the previous verse rather than to the men of Cyprus and Cyrene. If this is so, then the “great number” who “turned to the Lord” could have included Gentiles as well as Jews. Also, if it is the Grecians in Antioch being referred to when we are told “the hand of the Lord was with them,” and if Gentiles are included in the “great number” that believed, then we can conclude that the Grecians in Antioch were willing to preach to the Gentiles whereas those who came out of Jerusalem were not.

This possibility, if confirmed by additional study, would add much to the understanding of Luke’s use of the word “hellenistes”. It would confirm our suspicion that the “murmuring” in Acts 6:1 was over law versus grace, with the Grecians on the side of grace and the Hebrews on the side of law. It would also help us understand, at least in part, why the Grecians in Acts 9:29 wanted to kill Paul in that Paul had been a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, had been party to the killing of Stephen, and could be presumed by the Grecians to take the side of the Hebrew faction within the Jerusalem church after his conversion. If the Grecians in Antioch were the means by which the Gentiles heard the Word of God, then what Stephen had taught them did indeed bear fruit and his death was certainly not in vain.

One additional possibility should be mentioned. We have discussed the introduction of James, the brother of Jesus, into the narrative of Acts and raised the possibility that he could have been one of the principal characters among the “Hebrew” faction in Jerusalem. Could the use of “Grecian” in Acts 11:20 be meant by Luke to contrast the makeup of the Antioch church with the makeup of the Jerusalem church at this time? It does seem reasonable to believe that such was the case, Hebrews in Jerusalem, Grecians in Antioch.

The six verses following Acts 11:20 all tend to confirm Luke’s purpose in the use of “hellenistes” to tie together the events of Acts 6, Acts 9 and Acts 11. We are told that the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to go “as far as” Antioch. We are told that Barnabas saw “the grace of God” when he came and that he then apparently disobeyed the orders of the Jerusalem church and went up to Tarsus and brought Paul back to Antioch. Luke then tells us that the disciples were “called Christians first in Antioch”. In Jerusalem the disciples were known as the “sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). However unclear and uncertain our understanding of the word “hellenistes” is, it seems evident that Luke is setting a contrast between Paul and the Antioch church on one hand, and James and the Jerusalem church on the other.

While there is undoubtedly much more to be known about who the “Grecians” were and what they stood for, I am confident that the more the subject is investigated, the clearer the picture will become of the state of affairs in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in Antioch within twenty years of the start of the church age. The fact that “non-Jerusalem Jews” preached to “Grecians” in Antioch begins to show us that the Antioch church is a contrast to, rather than an extension of, the Jerusalem church.

The church in Antioch which we see in Acts 13, is a church removed from Jerusalem in more ways than merely geographically. First it is removed by virtue of those driven from Jerusalem being a contrast to those who compromised the truth and stayed. Second, it is removed by virtue of the fact that those persecuted ones preached the Word to Jews only and the “second generation” delivered the gospel to Grecians in Antioch. It is removed by the fact that Paul is brought down to Antioch by Barnabas rather than Barnabas bringing Peter, or James, or others from the Jerusalem church to Antioch. And, it is removed by virtue of the fact that the disciples in Antioch were the first to be called “Christian”.

And, finally, it is removed from the Jerusalem church by virtue of the fact that the Holy Spirit spoke directly to prophets and teachers in Antioch rather than the Antioch church seeking the approval or sanction of the church in Jerusalem. Acts 13:4 says that Paul and Barnabas were sent forth by the Holy Spirit. God’s authority was their only authority. They needed no man made authority, no group consensus, no official O.K.. This is commonly called “Paul’s first missionary journey” although it should be obvious from the fact that he was converted perhaps eleven years prior that it was not his first missionary journey.

Difficulty with John Mark

Acts 13:5 tells us that John Mark was at Salamis with Barnabas and Paul and he is introduced into the narrative for a godly designed purpose. What this purpose is can only be determined by examining all that is said about him.

In Colossians 4:10, Paul writes that Aristarchus sends greetings to the Colossian church and to Marcus, who was Barnabas’s sister’s son. It also says, “touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him”. Colossians was written about fifteen years years after this missionary journey of Paul. The quotation implies that had the Colossian church not received instructions they would not have received John Mark.

Barnabas’ sister was Mary, the woman in whose house the people were meeting when Peter was delivered from prison in Acts 12:12. It was to these people that Peter said, “Go shew these things unto James and the brethern.” We also know from Acts 4:36, that Barnabas was a Levite, and from Acts 11:22, we see that the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to go “as far as Antioch” when they heard that a great number believed in Antioch. From Acts 9:27 we learn that Barnabas found Saul in Jerusalem and brought him to the apostles and told them of his conversion and his bold preaching in Damascus.

From Acts 11:25, we learn that Barnabas, although he was instructed to go “as far as Antioch” (Acts 11:22), disobeyed the church in Jerusalem and went on to Tarsus, picked up Paul, and returned with him to Antioch. He then went with Paul on his “first missionary journey” which again exceeded his instruction from the Jerusalem church to “go as far as Antioch”.

In Acts 13:5, we read that John Mark was the minister, or helper, to Barnabas and Paul while they were in Salamis. The account goes on to tell us of the conversion of Sergius Paulus in Paphos and then tells us in Acts 13:13 that John Mark left Paul and Barnabas immediately after they left Paphos in order to return to Jerusalem.

We know from Acts 15:38 that this departure was not a happy one. In fact, the record in Acts 15:36-41 shows conclusively that Paul was against his leaving them and cited it as the reason why he refused to take him along later when he suggested to Barnabas that they revisit the churches they had ministered to during their previous missionary journey.

It was no small point of disagreement! Acts 15:39 says, “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other.” This could not have been a matter of John Mark being a “tripped out” believer who could not “take the pressure” and wanted to go home. If John Mark was merely “faint hearted”, Paul would not have contended so vehemently with Barnabas. And, the reference in Col. 4:10 mentioned above would not be significant. The people in Colosse would not have had anything to be concerned about in merely receiving a “weak” Christian. They would have been concerned about a “Judaizing Christian” from Jerusalem. Also, Paul would not write that the strong should bear the infirmities of the weak (Rom.15:1) and then behave contrary to that instruction himself. He tells us in Rom. 14:1 that we should receive the weak, “but not to doubtful disputations.” There must be something much more significant to John Mark’s leaving than his just being tired and wanting to go home.

The question then is, “what was so critical about John Mark’s leaving Paul and Barnabas?” The only hint of evidence is that a leading government official in Paphos, Sergius Paulus, believed. The likely conclusion is that John Mark wanted to return to Jerusalem so that the Jerusalem church could exert a measure of control over the believers in Paphos, as they attempted to do in Antioch.

At the conclusion of the argument in Acts 15:39, we are told that Barnabas and John Mark went back to Cyprus while Paul took Silas and went in the other direction to Syria and Cilicia. We can see no other reason for the above information in the book of Acts regarding John Mark and his ties to Barnabas, Mary, and the Jerusalem church, than to show the contrast between Paul’s ministry and the Jerusalem church.

The Missionary Journey of Paul and Barnabas

After John Mark departed for Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas went to Antioch in Pisidia and preached the gospel- first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles that were there (Acts 13:14-51). Psidian Antioch is just about in the middle of what today is called Asia Minor. As the crow flies, this city is about two hundred and fifty miles from the city that is today called Istanbul. In the first century, Istanbul was called Byzantium and at other times in its long history it was called Constantinople.

Antioch in Psidia is not the same city as Antioch in Syria, the town from which this missionary journey began. Syrian Antioch is about three hundred miles north of Jerusalem. Psidian (or Roman) Antioch is about three hundred miles further north and east of Syrian Antioch.

We see in Acts 13:15 that the rulers of the synagogue in Psidian Antioch invited Paul and his company to speak “if ye have any word of exhortation for the people.” This event occurs about twenty years after Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. Paul’s “word of exhortation” is recorded in Acts 13:16-41. It is similar to Peters speech on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:14-40. The result of Peter’s speech and the events of the first day of the church age was the addition of about three thousand souls. The picture we gather from the content of Paul’s speech is much the same as we saw in Acts 2. At the conclusion of Paul’s speech (Acts 13:42-43) the Gentiles are eager to hear Paul the next sabbath and many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas to hear more.

There is no hint of resistance to Paul and Barnabas, either from the rulers of the synagogue or from the people after they heard the strong words of Paul. To fully appreciate just how significant this observation is, Paul’s speech should be read in full. He does not mince words and yet there is no resistance but rather eager acceptance of what he said. Verse 43 says, “Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” We are not told that Paul and Barnabas tried to persuade them. We are told that they did persuade them. And, what Paul and Barnabas persuaded them to do was to “continue in the grace of God.” They had obviously “begun in the grace of God” sometime previously and were persuaded to “continue in the grace of God” (see also Gal. 3:1-9).

Paul told them in his speech that through Jesus Christ they could receive forgiveness of sins and be justified from all things and that they could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39). They did not object! Many followed Paul out of the synagogue and wanted to hear more! The “pouring out” of holy spirit continues, twenty years later and six hundred miles up the road from Jerusalem! Paul and Barnabas persuade many to continue in the grace of God and I expect they continued to persuade them from dawn til dusk, or longer, every day until the next sabbath.

Before continuing, consider the likely scene in Psidian Antioch. Many of the Jews had been to Jerusalem sometime in the previous twenty years, some more frequently, others less frequently. Some would even have gone three times a year as required by Jewish law even though Jerusalem was six hundred miles away. For these most devout Jews (who were probably the rulers of the synagogue) strict obedience to the law would mean that they had been to Jerusalem sixty times in the preceding twenty years. They were well aware of just about everything that happened there over that period of time. They would have known about all the events and characters we have covered so far in this study. They probably had not met Paul, but they had certainly heard about him.

It is not conceivable that Jesus Christ had not been thoroughly discussed in Psidian Antioch. It is also not conceivable that there were none in Psidian Antioch that were “saved”. The thrust of Paul’s speech is not a “salvation” message, although any who had not heard of God raising Jesus Christ from the dead did hear that message (Acts 13:30). The thrust of the message goes beyond salvation to Jesus Christ being the “justifier” and not the law of Moses. And, that message was readily received! For a week, the city came alive with the message of “the grace of God”. It is the same message that continues to bring people and churches alive today.

Verse forty four says, “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” The message of deliverance was still fresh, and eagerly sought after, twenty years after the start of the church age. But, by the second sabbath, a change had occurred.

Some of the Jews, who had heard the Word, were moved with envy when they saw the multitude of Gentiles who believed. Notice that these Jews were not those who had never heard the gospel. They had heard the gospel. Paul and Barnabas said, “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” This statement does not mean that they had never heard the word of God before Paul came to town, but simply that Paul considered it necessary to speak to the Jews first when he did come into town. That was his method wherever he went, Jew first and then Gentile.

The “Resisters” in Psidian Antioch

Some of the Jews had heard the Word, but put it from themselves. They began to contradict Paul because they were jealous or envious of the Gentiles who believed. The difficult word in Paul’s statement is the word “unworthy”. It seems to imply that these Jews did not think themselves good enough for eternal life. But, just the opposite is evidenced from the context and from all the preceding events we have examined in the book of Acts.

Where does jealousy and envy come from? Is it not always involved with the question, “What makes him better than me that he should have something and me not have it? Or, why should he have it, he didn’t work for it as hard as I did?” What was the motivation of these Jews to contradict and blaspheme Paul and Barnabas? What caused them to speak against those things spoken of by Paul?

The simple answer is that they felt that they were superior to the Gentiles, not inferior! They rejected Paul’s teaching because he had the audacity to tell the Gentiles that they could receive the same gift as the Jews. These Jews could not tolerate the concept of the Gentiles having equal status with them. In short, they were self-righteous, and they could not allow God’s righteousness to overshadow and negate their own righteousness.

The word “unworthy” is the greek word “ouk axios”. Axios is translated many places as “worthy”. It is not the problem. The problem is the translation of the prefix “ouk” by the prefix “un”. It should be translated “ones own” or “self”, so that the term “ouk axios” should be translated “self-worthy”.

Paul’s statement to the Jews that resisted him in Psidian Antioch is therefore, “you judge yourselves self-worthy of eternal life.” They thought they were too good for something that mere Gentiles could have. Whatever the Gentiles could have from God, they felt that certainly they could have more. Therefore, they rejected Paul’s teaching and, as we shall see, this type of Jew resisted Paul throughout his ministry. They were clearly “born again” but refused to “continue in the grace of God”.

Many of the Jews in Psidian Antioch were persuaded to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43). Others who had “begun in the grace of God” and were Christian, perhaps gave lip service and grudgingly admitted that Paul was a “brother”, but they, together with the “unsaved” Jews, consistently harassed him and contradicted him on every occasion. However, remember that God had called Paul and Barnabas to this missionary journey and three other prophets and teachers in Antioch were witness to God’s calling and separating them for this work.

The “Resisters” could well give lip service to God’s deliverance, God’s blessing, God’s healing, but they refused to get rid of their superior attitude and refused to admit that what they received from God was unmerited and in no wise due them.

They thought they could box God up in a Temple that they had made, and, just as they had stoned Stephen for stating that God did not dwell in temples made with hands, so also they persecuted Paul for suggesting that God was out of the box and could do whatever He chose, without their sanction or approval.

In short, not only did many of the Jews fail to accept grace as God’s unmerited, divine favor, they certainly were not about to admit that God could also pour out His grace upon the people of the rest of the nations of the world.

Paul’s Fight

We see a contrast within one short week at Psidian Antioch. From an initial group that was eager to hear the Word of God, we see within one week that Paul’s message began to be resisted. This contrast can more clearly be seen by examining Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.

The Jews in Psidian Antioch considered themselves to be Abraham’s children. But, Galatians 4:22-31 explains that Abraham had two children, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was born after Abraham had received the promise from God that in Abraham’s seed all nations of the earth would be blessed. But, Ishmael was conceived by Hagar, Abraham’s servant. Abraham thought he would help God fulfill His promise by overcoming the age and seeming sterility of Sarah. Abraham’s solution was to have a son by Hagar, a perfectly legal arrangement but not based on belief in God’s promise. God’s solution was for Abraham to have a son by Sarah even though she was old and well past the age of childbearing. She was ninety years old, and Abraham one hundred years old, when Isaac was born.

Ishmael was the son of the bondwoman. Isaac was the son of the freewoman. In Paul’s allegory he equates Ishmael to the old covenant, the law, and Isaac to the new covenant, Jesus Christ. In Galatians 4:25, Paul says that the old covenant answers to Jerusalem that now is, “AND IS IN BONDAGE WITH HER CHILDREN”. This was written about 52 A.D.. A few verses later Paul says, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethern, we are not of the bondwoman, but of the free.” Isaac was born because God promised. He was a child by promise. Ishmael was born because Abraham thought he could help God along by taking Hagar to bed. He was a child by works.

So also in Acts 13, the Jews had the choice of being children by promise or children by works. The ones that rejected Paul’s teaching and contradicted him, were children by works. They could not have been humble and contrite people saying to Paul, “this is far too good for me, I am not worthy of eternal life.” They were the opposite. They said to Paul, “you don’t know what you are talking about, we have earned our eternal life by ourselves.”

Those Jews that accepted Paul’s instruction and rejoiced in it were children by promise. So also, the Gentiles that believed were children by promise. The children of the bondwoman, superior only in their own conceit, pushed themselves away from Paul’s gospel as being beneath their dignity. Paul says, “Ye put it from you” (Acts 13:46). They rejected it, they set it aside.

In verse fifty, we see these self-righteous Jews stirring up the devout and honorable women and the chief men of the city, and raising persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelling them from their coasts. This is not the work of a humble and contrite people who think themselves not good enough for God’s grace. This is an arrogant and stiffnecked people who judge themselves too good for God’s grace. God sent Barnabas and Paul to Antioch in Psidia to do a work that He wanted done, and these Jews had the audacity to kick them out of town!

It should be noted that Acts 13:2 lists Barnabas first and then Saul. Verse seven has the same order. But, verse thirteen, which records John Mark’s departure to Jerusalem, says, “Paul and his company”. After that, Paul is listed before Barnabas (see Acts 13:43,46). In Acts 14:12, the people called Paul Mercurius because he was the chief speaker and in verse nineteen they stoned Paul, not Barnabas. A change had clearly occurred in the relationship between Paul and Barnabas after John Mark left to return to Jerusalem.

Acts 13 and 14 record the work done by Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, after which they returned to Antioch in Syria. Many Jews and Gentiles believed. Signs, miracles and wonders were done. And of course, the unbelieving Jews stirred up the unbelieving Gentiles and caused as much trouble as they could.

But, when Paul and Barnabas arrived back in Antioch and reported all that God had done with them there must have been great joy and rejoicing, even if it was mixed with sorrow for those who caused the persecution they suffered.




“And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, ‘Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”
Acts 15:1,2

Trouble seems to have a way of invariably showing up, even in the most well intentioned group. There does not appear to be a single Christian group in the world today that does not have its share of trouble. Some groups will try to deny it, some will try to hide it, some will make laws to prevent it, but it inexorably forces its way in. Those labeled “trouble makers” are not always the ones who make the trouble. Many times they are the ones who simply will not bow to the trouble and they only stand out because so many people run from confrontation. A magazine article commented years ago, “Some people, when confronted with evil, simply turn their backs and figure it will get discouraged and slink away.” It obviously does not slink away. It may sneak in, but it seldom, if ever, sneaks out. Our response to trouble and our behavior during conflict determine the extent to which trouble is overcome and the extent of permanent damage that is causes in our lives and among the groups with which we are associated.

Today there seems to be a perception common in the church that conflict itself is evil. When a church splits over some issue, the community generally points its’ finger at the entire congregation as if to say, “They are all wrong, Christians should be above conflict.” Such an attitude arises from a Utopian view of Christianity that is neither based on the reality of the death of Jesus Christ and its causes, nor on the truth of what the New Testament has to say. It is essentially a pagan accusation designed to intimidate the Christian into yielding to errors, lies, half-truths, and non-Christian behavior. The supreme conflict of the ages is yet to come when Jesus Christ appears. Until then, conflict remains in the world and the Christian has a position to maintain at all costs in many conflicts that arise. He simply cannot lead a victorious Christian life and yield to the adversary simply to avoid conflict. If we sow to the wind, we will reap the whirlwind (Hos.8:7).

In Acts 15 we see trouble developing between the church in Antioch and the church in Jerusalem. Unlike the previous “troubles” we have talked about, this trouble is clearly explained, its principal characters, on both sides of the conflict, clearly identified, and its consequences clearly seen.

We may have been unable to clearly identify the motives of Ananias and Sapphira. We may not have seen a clear picture of who the Grecians were in the three accounts in which Luke uses the term. The motives and principal characters involved with Stephen’s death may not all be clear. The reason for Peter reporting to James and his brothers after being delivered from prison may be cloudy. The reluctance of the Jerusalem church to receive Paul when he first went there after his conversion may not be fully understood. But, the light shed on all of these events by the clear conflict in Acts 15 helps to explain all of the previous “troubles” we have seen so far.

Trouble in Antioch

Trouble had been brewing since the start of the Church Age nineteen years prior, and what started as a little cloud became a destructive storm. “Certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, ‘Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1). The storm hit full force in Antioch! The church was told that no one could be saved unless they were first circumcised after the manner of Moses. No bigger lie would ever be foisted on any other group of Christians at any subsequent time. And, like most lies, it can be stated in hundreds of different ways. “Salvation is not possible except through Israel”. “Israel is superior to Jesus Christ”. “All those who say they are Christian are liars if they are not circumcised and obedient to the authority of the Temple”. The statement given by the representatives of the Jerusalem Church to the church in Antioch, “You must be circumcised after the manner of Moses or you cannot be saved” is a bold-faced lie.

In the previous two chapters of Acts, there is not a hint that Paul or Barnabas circumcised even one of those who believed, let alone all of them. Now we see men coming down from Jerusalem and as much as saying that Paul and Barnabas did not accomplish a thing- they saved no one! You would think that the great number of believers in Antioch would have laughed them out of town.

Perhaps they would have laughed them out of town if Paul’s epistles had been available. But, Paul had not written them yet and so these men were given respect and their statements considered. The “children of the bondwoman” came down to Antioch and tried to prevail over the “children of the freewoman”. In all probability, they arrived while Paul and Barnabas were gone.

If so, when they returned, trouble was in their midst. They did not run from it or minimize its importance. They had “no small dissension and disputation with them” (Acts 15:2). In other words, they objected in no uncertain terms. The battle was engaged, the storm confronted. Trouble was recognized, and it was challenged.

Ten years ago, it was this verse in Acts that started me on the subject of this book. For, time and time again, I had seen disagreements among Christians and had been party to them myself. I went to this scripture in hopes of finding a pattern for solving similar disputes in the church today. My search was with an honest motive. I thought that examination of this dispute between those who came from the Jerusalem Church and Paul would give me the pattern I was looking for. My hope was that God would reveal His secrets on how to overcome trouble. The secrets revealed were hardly what I had expected to find.

In Antioch we have a church that has the distinction of being the first church in which the believers were called “Christian”. We have shown that people from distant parts of the world came there after they became believers. In Acts 13:1 we are told that one of the “prophets and teachers” in Antioch was from Nigeria and another from Cyrene. We are also told that one of the “prophets and teachers” was brought up with Herod the tetrarch. These facts tell us that Antioch was a major center of Christianity. Paul and Barnabas were also among the “prophets and teachers” there. It was from this church that they were sent out on a tremendous missionary journey as revealed in Acts 13 and 14. But, in Acts 15, we find men from the Jerusalem church teaching the people in Antioch that salvation is not possible without circumcision “after the manner of Moses” preceding it!

When I first started my search for an answer to resolving conflict in the church today, I did not appreciate the powerful benefit we have today in having Paul’s epistles in front of us. The Antioch church did not have them. They were not yet written. It is quite possible that Paul did not even know, at the time, all of the information he was to write at a later date. In 49 A.D., none of his epistles had yet been written.

Perhaps Paul had to go through the events recorded up to the time of Acts 15:1 and following to fully appreciate just how absolute is the split between law and grace. He had taken relief money down to Jerusalem during the famine. Surely, the Christians there were his brothers in Christ. Surely he must have felt that they were on the same side in the war against ungodliness. Surely he must have felt that the problem could be solved and agreement reached that salvation was the unmerited gift of God and that Jew and Gentile alike were saved by God’s grace.

Paul and Barnabas Go to Jerusalem

However, the trouble was not resolved by the dissension and disputation of Paul and Barnabas with the men that came down from the Jerusalem church. The trouble caused by the “trouble makers” from Jerusalem must have been serious indeed. In fact, Paul and Barnabas were probably considered to be the “trouble makers” by many. The same people who try to avoid trouble by minimizing its importance also seem to be the ones, many times, who are offended when someone dares to stand against it. It is not an uncommon phenomenon in the church today. In any event, the Antioch church determined to send Paul and Barnabas with certain others (undoubtedly the people who started the problem were included) down to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders about the question. This was no minor point of disagreement. Either Jesus Christ earned our salvation, or else what He did wasn’t quite good enough and had to be prefaced by a work on our part in bowing down to the religious superiority of the Jewish Christians and showing it by circumcision “after the manner or Moses”.

It should be pointed out that these men were not impostors or the Antioch church would certainly have known it. They would have had credentials of some kind or there would never have been a Jerusalem Council. And, had there not been some of the Jerusalem authorities that adhered to their position, as well as a substantial number of people in the Jerusalem church and the Antioch church who did the same, there would have been no need for a council in the first place.

The fact that there was a council is conclusive evidence, to those of us who have access to Paul’s epistles, that substantial unbelief existed in the Jerusalem church. Paul said, “If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing” (Gal.5:2). He also points out that those who insisted on circumcision “desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh (Gal. 6:1). (See also: Phil.3:3, Col. 2:10-11, 3:10-11, Rom. 2:24-3:16). How that unbelief took root is seen from the first half of the book of Acts which we have already endeavored to show.

Ananias and Sapphira’s death said in no uncertain terms to the unbelievers that Christianity was serious business indeed, and the fight over money by the “reform” (Grecian) verses “orthodox” (Hebrew) faction in the church gave Satan the divide and conquer issue he was looking for. Now we have an issue that is seriously contested over whether a person must be circumcised in order to be saved. The official position of the Jerusalem church, as represented by those who came down to Antioch, was that he did. We dare not gloss over the severity of the problem. Paul and Barnabas were unable to resolve it by their efforts in Antioch. The men from Jerusalem were clearly not impostors or interlopers. And, a council had to be called in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. In view of these facts, it appears evident that many in the Jerusalem church as well as the Antioch church believed that a person could not be saved unless he was first circumcised after the manner of Moses.

And so Paul and the others went up to Jerusalem to debate the issue and on the way (Acts 15:3) Paul and Barnabas declared the conversion of the Gentiles in spite of the dispute, and in obvious contempt for the position that one must be circumcised to be saved, and they caused great joy among all the believers in Phoenicia (not Phenice or Phoenix which is in Crete) and Samaria.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, they declared all things that God had done with them. But, instead of the scripture saying that there was great joy there also, we are told (Acts 15:5) that certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed said that these people had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.

The question to be asked is how did some of the “sect of the Pharisees” get into the Jerusalem church? How did the Jerusalem church tolerate such a situation? These people were believers in Jesus Christ and yet adhered to the sect of the Pharisees. They belonged to the same group that was instrumental in having Jesus crucified. And, not only did they keep their double standard, they had enough sway to cause a council to be convened. This is a highly significant fact to consider. It appears that members of the Jerusalem church could maintain their standing among the Pharisees and not offend either group. How had the Jerusalem church changed to allow such a situation? And, how had the Pharisees changed as well to allow such a situation? These are weighty questions to consider. Among other things, they point to the perception of an extensive church in Jerusalem that was at least tolerated by the Pharisees (if not openly embraced by them).

The Jerusalem Council

Acts 15:7 tells us that when the council was convened, there was MUCH DISPUTING! This was not a situation of a few trouble makers trying to stir the pot. There was a substantial element in the church that took the position that salvation was dependent on circumcision “after the manner of Moses”. Finally, Peter rose up and spoke the last words we have recorded of him in Acts. (He would later recognize Paul in his epistle, II Peter 3:15-16) Peter reminded the council that God had chosen him (not them) to be the one that spoke the gospel to the Gentiles so that they believed to the end of speaking in tongues! Remember the grilling Peter took over the conversion of Cornelius? Certainly everyone in the council did!

Words do not adequately convey the picture of Peter standing up in the council and giving his declaration. I can imagine his face being flushed and his voice trembling with emotion and conviction. Perhaps there were tears in his eyes. And, I’ll bet the silence in the room was deafening as he said, “God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as He did unto us-AND PUT NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US AND THEM- purifying their hearts by faith.” Such a declaration could hardly have been given without some kind of emotion. Peter was saying, “God put no difference between us, the leaders of the Jerusalem church, and the Gentiles who believe.” In the sight of God, there was “no difference”.

There were sure to be those in the audience that frowned and hated Peter for daring to suggest that the Jews were no better than the lowly Gentiles. But, Peter continued. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Peter accuses the men in the council of tempting God! This is a monumental thing to consider. If a preacher today responded to a question about the Jerusalem Council by saying, “Oh, that Council! The one where they were tempting God!”, many Christian people would wonder how a preacher could say such a thing. And yet, this is exactly what Peter said to the council. We can imagine Peter looking right into the faces of those scowling Christian Pharisees and saying with all the emotion in him, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ WE SHALL BE SAVED, EVEN AS THEY!” (Acts 15:11). It is clear that the “ye” refers to those advocating circumcision and the “we” to those advocating grace.

These are the last words of Peter in the book of Acts. There is no compromise, there is no hesitancy, there is no wavering. He tells the members of the Council who are also members of the sect of the Pharisees, as well as those who sided with them in the Council, that they were tempting God and that God put no difference between Jew and Gentile.

The Jerusalem church had truly gone a long way on the road down since the time people hoped that just Peter’s shadow would pass over their sick so they would be healed. Those Christian Pharisees who could quote the law and strutted around so filled with their self importance, if they could have done one day’s worth of Peter’s ministry they would have been blessed beyond measure. Instead, they quoted from their books and solicited the votes of their followers in hopes of prevailing in the council. Big shots!

After Peter finished, Paul and Barnabas spoke and declared the miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. How could those who said a person has to be circumcised before he can be saved explain away the miracles and wonders? At least that is what Paul and Barnabas must have had in mind. Surely, these Christian Pharisees would have to change their minds in the light of God performing miracles and wonders among the Gentiles. Surely the rest of the people in the Council would see the striking contrast between Paul and the Christian Pharisees who advocated circumcision. Paul had been “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” and a Pharisee himself (Phil. 3:5). But, unlike the Christian Pharisees in the Council, he did not consider his accomplishments in the law as gain but rather counted them as loss for Christ (Phil, 3:7). The Christian Pharisees did feel superior and even had the nerve to contend with Peter, Paul and Barnabas in siding with those who had gone to Antioch and said, “you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised after the manner of Moses.” They contended over the wisdom of men while Peter, Paul and Barnabas pointed out the power of God. Perhaps Paul had this confrontation in mind when he wrote that “your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:5).

When Paul and Barnabas finished their presentation, James spoke and he has the final word in the Council. This was not James the apostle- for he had been killed years before. This was James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the book of James. It is clear that he was, by the time of the council, the undisputed head of the Jerusalem church because he speaks last, and because, in verse nineteen, he gives his sentence or verdict on the matter. In Acts 15, about nineteen years after the start of the church age, James, the brother of Jesus Christ is clearly the supreme authority in the Jerusalem church. One well known author goes so far as to say, “James emerges as the undisputed leader of the Jerusalem church, perhaps president of the Sanhedrin of the new Israel.”

What does James say? Does he point out God’s grace as did Peter? No. Does he point out miracles and wonders as does Paul and Barnabas? No. He quotes from the prophet Amos about building again the tabernacle of David and then says, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” The incongruity of the statement given at the end of a debate over as critical an issue as the Christian church has ever faced, fixed my attention on James. I came to this statement by James and thought, “what an empty thing to say!”

No one would disagree with the statement, “known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world”. It was not wrong. Certainly God knows all his works from the beginning of the world. But, everyone in the council knew that. The men in the council were not neophytes. They were not novices or newcomers to Christianity. They were elders in the church and apostles. They were all men well versed in the Old Testament. There was no disagreement among them regarding such an obvious statement. James, as head of the Jerusalem church, is about to give his decision on the crucial matter of whether a person must be circumcised to be saved, and he says, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” The more I thought about James saying these words the more I questioned his competence to give the final word on the matter before the council.

James simply does not address the issue before the Council. He does allude to Peter’s comments. He admits that Peter’s statement had some validity because the prophets agreed. But, James refers to Peter as Simeon rather than the name that Jesus gave him, “Petra”, or Peter. James does not even recognize Paul, let alone anything that Paul said. And so, my suspicions grew rather than diminished. They were confirmed when I read Paul’s summary of the meeting in Galatians. He says, “for those who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me!” (Gal. 2:6).

James’ Verdict

At the conclusion of his presentation, James says, “My sentence (declaration) is that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” (Acts 15:19). Don’t trouble them he says! Don’t trouble them? The whole purpose for the meeting is to decide the issue raised by the men who were sent to Antioch by the Jerusalem church. The Antioch church had been troubled indeed! This was not a Council that was called by innocents that had caused no trouble. The people sent from James had caused trouble that even Paul and Barnabas could not stop in Antioch. Nor were they cordially received when they arrived in Jerusalem to try to solve the problem. My mind asks the question, “James, did Jesus Christ save the Gentiles or are they not saved because they are not circumcised?”

James does not address this kind of question but rather continues, “but that we write them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” He then gives his reason for deciding to write these edicts. He says, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” (Acts 15:21). In other words, the Gentiles will be sure to hear about Moses once they are converted. In short, James wants a letter written that will obviously trouble them. Perhaps it will not trouble them as much as “you can’t be saved if you are not circumcised”. But, it is a sure statement affirming that the Jews are superior to the Gentiles.

The letter will trouble them most of all because James does not clearly state that the Gentiles do not have to be circumcised to be saved. It will trouble them because James does not deny that the men who started the trouble were authorized by him to go to Antioch (Acts 15:24). The best he can say is that he did not tell them to say what they said. It will trouble them because James does not say “God has put no difference between us and them” (Acts 15:9) as Peter had reminded the Council.

It is true that James is backing down from the position of “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), but he covers himself with the Pharisees in the Council by his next statement. “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” The Pharisees could nod their heads in agreement with this statement as if to say, “I see what he’s driving at, we’ll bring the Gentiles under our authority in the end, one way or another.” In short, James is the perfect appeaser. He says, in essence, “Don’t trouble them.” “God knows everything.” “We’ve got Moses covered.”

Questions Regarding James

In my initial study of the Jerusalem Council, some questions came to mind and demanded answers: “Who is this guy James anyway?” “Is he a good guy or a bad guy?” “If he’s a bad guy, what about the book of James?” “Is it God’s Word?” So, I read the epistle of James. In it, James mentions Jesus twice and the resurrection NOT ONE TIME! He says, “faith without works is dead.” Paul says, “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). In other words, faith without works is alive!

Over ten years ago these questions began to present themselves to my mind, and although many answers have been found to the questions raised by the possibility that James was a bad guy rather than a good guy, more remain to be discovered. Hopefully, this book represents a good start in that direction.

There may well be others who have written on this subject, but I have not been able to find them. At least those who have written on the subject in the past two hundred years do not appear to address the question of how James became the head of the Jerusalem church. All of the authors I have read agree he was the head of the Jerusalem church by Acts 15, but none address the question of how he became the head. The oldest succession list, that of Hegesippus in about 150 A.D., shows that James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. And yet, there is silence on how he became the head of the Jerusalem church. To think that James was superior to Peter in the Jerusalem church is something that demands an answer, based on the evidence of Acts, as to how such a thing could happen. One of those that may have shed light on the subject was Marcion, in the second century. But, none of his writings have apparently survived and students of the canon of scripture have only his critics from which to gather their information.

In studying about Marcion to find how we got the present Bible and who decided which books should be in it, all the books and articles I read mentioned “the heretic Marcion” as though heretic was his first name. Finally my curiosity led me to an old encyclopedia that said, “It may be safely said that in the second century, no one took the trouble to try to understand Paul, except Marcion, and it must be added that he misunderstood him”. I was overwhelmed. To think it possible that no one in the second century knew about the wonderful things in Paul’s writings, was beyond me. I still do not believe it. But, I do believe it is possible that no one in the “organized church” of the second century, except Marcion, tried to teach and live the wonderful truths that Paul’s Epistles reveal.

In about 140 A. D., Marcion was excommunicated from the old catholic church and whether before or after that event, declared that the only books he would accept as “God breathed” were Paul’s epistles, the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts because Luke traveled with Paul. His is the earliest canon. And, there is evidence that the Marcionite church rivaled the Roman Catholic church from the second century through the fifth century. One author suggested that Marcion was a heretic in the same sense that Martin Luther was a heretic- Marcion by stating a canon and Luther by expunging the apocryphal books from the canon of his day.

It should be added that Luther relegated the book of James to a secondary position in the New Testament and called it “the epistle of straw”. Also, the book of James did not become recognized as canonical until the fourth century. That is three hundred years after the events of Acts. And, if it be true that Paul’s writings only survived because of Marcion’s insistence in the second century one can only imagine the state of unbelief in the “organized church” by the fourth century.

The Letter Sent from the Jerusalem Council

But, we have gone quite astray from Acts 15:21. James statements conclude the council of Jerusalem and Acts 15:22 starts a new thought. After the council, it pleased the apostles and elders to send chosen men from Jerusalem with Paul and his company back to Antioch. And it pleased them to write a letter as James had instructed. Acts 15:23-29 is the content of the letter and there are some obvious problems with that letter.

First of all, it admits that the people who came to Antioch and started the problem, were recognized by the Jerusalem church and authorized by them. “Certain which went out from us” (Acts 15:24) can be read no other way. The letter does say, “to whom we gave no such commandment”. In other words, they were saying, “we didn’t tell them to tell you that you must be circumcised to be saved.” The letter certainly reveals much about the Jerusalem church, both by what it does say and by what it doesn’t say.

By not specifically denying that “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved”, it is obvious that this position was popular in the Jerusalem church. Notice also that the letter is written not only to the Gentiles in Antioch. It is addressed to the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia as well (Acts 15:23). The work among these Gentiles was apparently started by Paul before the churches in Judea ever saw Paul (Gal.1:21-22). The fact that the believers in Syria and Cilicia were addressed in the letter make it clear that the conflict between the churches represented by Paul and the churches represented by James was a major conflict indeed!

We can safely assume that the conflict was not a small, local one. It was a huge, general one. It was not a couple of impostors speaking on their own behalf in Antioch to a small insignificant group of Christians. It caused much disputation in Antioch. It caused a Council to be convened in Jerusalem, and it caused letters to be written even to the churches in Syria and Cilicia. It is more likely that many representatives from James traveled all over the world teaching the same thing as those who said, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1).

The letter does not say that James representatives were lying. It merely says that James did not command them to say the things they said. In fact, the letter does not even state the problem accurately. It says, “ye must be circumcised, and keep the law.” Nothing about salvation is mentioned. It also minimizes the trouble that the representatives from James caused- saying, in effect, that it was just words and that, after all, the Jerusalem church didn’t command them to say what they said anyway.

The record in Galatians 2:12-13 makes it very clear that the conflict centered in Paul on one side and James on the other side. Peter was in the middle of the conflict and clearly sided with Paul in the Council. We are told in Galatians that before “certain came from James, he (Peter) did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” (Gal.2:12-13). James controlled the circumcision party, and he did it by fear. Paul defended the church of Liberty from the poison of the church of bondage.

It is significant to note that the letter does not accurately state what the men said. The representatives from James said, “except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved”! (Acts 15:1) The letter says, “ye must be circumcised and keep the law.” (Acts 15:24). The letter is a cover up, not a solution!

Acts 15:28 is the central statement of the letter, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…” The word necessary is “epanankes” in the greek. It means “compulsory”. The letter claims that these necessary or compulsory things seemed good to the Holy Spirit. Moffatt’s translation of Acts 15:28 says “The Holy Spirit and we have decided not to impose any extra burden on you, apart from these essential requirements…”

Certainly they are not trying to say that they had a meeting with the Holy Spirit and reached agreement on what to write. In verse 19, there is no mention of Holy Spirit. James says that it is his decision. There is no evidence that the council heard a voice from heaven, or that a prophet arose and said, “thus saith the Lord!” The letter does not say, “thus saith the Lord”. It says, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

When Peter spoke at the council, he accused them of tempting God (verse 10) by endeavoring to put a yoke upon the Gentiles which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear. Then he emphatically states that the Jews would be saved in the same manner as were the Gentiles, not the Gentiles saved as were the Jews. It is clear that the “burden” the letter was about to put on the Gentiles was NOT GOOD to the Holy Spirit. A word study of the word “seemed” in Acts 15:19 will also show that the verdict of the Jerusalem Council was not sanctioned by the Holy Spirit. “Seemed” is the word “dokeo” in Greek and means to judge by appearances and personal opinion. It has nothing to do with receiving revelation from God.

Paul’s Response to the Jerusalem Council

Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, written a short time after the Jerusalem council, is Paul’s version of what happened. In chapter one he gives his credentials and emphasizes his lack of association with the Jerusalem church.

Galatians 1:19 is a verse that many use to show that James, the Lords brother, was an apostle. The King James version seems to say that he was when Paul says that he went up to Jerusalem to see Peter. It says, “but other of the apostles saw I none save James the Lord’s brother.” It is the only “evidence” that James could have been a “good guy”. However, the word “other” is not the Greek word “allos”, meaning “other of the same kind”. It is the Greek word “heteros”, meaning “other of a different kind”. If Paul meant to call James an apostle, he at least meant an apostle of a different kind than Peter and the other eleven. If so, Paul must have had in mind an apostleship to a different gospel, the contrasting “gospel” he points out in Galatians 1:6-9. Regarding that gospel, Paul could be no more emphatic in denouncing it. In both verse eight and verse nine he says, “let him be accursed.”

From this fact and all we have seen so far, it is hard to imagine that Paul would call James an apostle. It seems more likely that he would be the last one to call James an apostle, especially in Galatians 1 where his purpose is clearly to distance himself from the Jerusalem church. The fact that James does not even call himself an apostle, in the book of James, should also be noted. Peter and Paul both clearly establish their apostleship in their epistles. Certainly James would point out his apostleship if he was, in fact, an apostle.

We have pointed out the fact that Jesus Christ did not select James, His brother, to be an apostle. We have also called attention to the fact that James was not considered to take the place of Judas in Acts 1. If Paul is meaning to call James an apostle in Galatians 1:19, the obvious question is when, how, and by whom was he called to be an apostle? After all, Paul wrote Galatians twenty years or more after the start of the church age. In I Cor.15:8 Paul says regarding his own apostleship that it was “as of one born out of due time”. Moffatt renders it, “an abortion of an apostle”. If Paul says that his own apostleship was “an abortion”, it is hard to conceive that he would attribute apostleship to James at all.

A better translation of Galatians 1:19 is, “but other THAN the apostles saw I none save James the Lord’s brother”. A. E. Knoch’s Concordant Literal New Testament translates verse nineteen, “Yet I became acquainted with no one different from the apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord.” Moffatt translates the verse, “I saw no other apostle, (I saw) only James the brother of the Lord.” It seems clear that James was not called an apostle by Paul! And, nowhere else is he called an apostle in the scripture.

Galatians 2:1 begins Paul’s record of the Jerusalem council and he states in verse two that he went up BY REVELATION. In Acts 15:2, we read that the Antioch church determined to send Paul and others up to Jerusalem. Paul says he went up by revelation, which indicates that he would not have gone without revelation even though the Antioch church wanted him to go.

He continues to say in Galatians 2:2 that he communicated the gospel privately to those of reputation which speaks to the extent of unbelief in Jerusalem. At least, it shows how unpopular Paul was in Jerusalem. Also, Paul says that “they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me!” (Gal.2:6).

Verse nine records the proposal of James, Peter and John, that Paul should go to the heathen and they to the circumcision. But, what was God’s commission to Paul? Acts 9:15 states it very clearly, “for he is a chosen vessel to me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL!” Nowhere does it say that Paul accepted the proposal of James, Peter and John! All the evidence in Acts and Paul’s epistles points to the fact that he did not accept their proposal. Paul did minister to Gentiles, and Kings, and the children of Israel after the Jerusalem Council.

Galatians 2:10 says that they wanted Paul to remember the poor and he points out that he always did that anyway. There is no mention by Paul of the letter sent to the Antioch church, nor of any intervention by the Holy Spirit sanctioning the letter. Contrarily, the following verses of Galatians show the result of the letter sent with the people from Jerusalem. Paul says that when Peter came to Antioch, he withstood him to the face- because he was to be blamed.

Galatians 2:12 is an amazing account. Peter ate freely with the Gentiles until representatives from James came down. When they came, Peter withdrew and separated himself BECAUSE HE FEARED THEM WHICH WERE OF THE CIRCUMCISION! Verse 13 tells us that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy! One “pillar”, Peter, (Gal.2:9) was afraid of another “pillar”, James! Did the letter from the Jerusalem church reconcile the differences between them and the Antioch church? No! It appears to be merely an attempt to assert their authority over the Antioch church and the other churches that Paul had started as well. The evidence provided by Paul’s account in Gal. 2 shows that the Jerusalem church still felt superior to the Gentiles. And, in this division between the Jerusalem church and the Antioch church we find that Peter was afraid of James! Did the letter “seem good to the Holy Spirit”? It is obvious that it did not. And, it also becomes obvious that Paul’s references to the circumcision throughout his epistles are not to the non-Christians in Jerusalem but rather to the Jerusalem church headed by James, the brother of Jesus Christ. They are the children of the bondwoman.

Paul sums up his position in Galatians 2:21 where he says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” He is clearly contrasting himself with the Jerusalem church who did frustrate the grace of God and who, although they would not admit it, said by their example that Jesus Christ died in vain.

The law frustrates the grace of God, and the letter sent by the Jerusalem church in Acts 15:28,29 is an obvious attempt to frustrate the grace of God. And, the book of James is also an attempt to frustrate the grace of God. James 1:8 says, “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” James also says that “he that wavereth” should not be allowed to “think that he shall receive anything from God.” (James 1:6-7). James presumes to set limits on God’s ability to give! How many believing men and women have condemned themselves when they read these verses, knowing full well that they had unanswered questions in their minds about the things of God, and therefore doubted that they were good enough to receive anything from God. How these verses frustrate the grace of God! I John 3:20 tells us that, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” These are words that encourage us in the grace of God.

Even when we are confused or frustrated in our minds, God is able and willing to direct our path and give us stability. One who has the spirit of God is not unstable in all his ways! He can be deceived into thinking he is. But, all he has to do at that point is rely on his Lord, Jesus Christ, and He will deliver him!

Paul says that the just shall live by God’s faithfulness, not our own (Gal. 3:11). These are words of wonderful encouragement. We can forget whether or not we are wavering or “getting our believing up” or “renewing our minds” or all the other subtle condemning slogans we’ve heard over the years. We can rest in God’s great peace and have the assurance that He will deliver us, He will provide for us, He will comfort us, He will teach us. The burden is not on our shoulders, it was laid on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. He bore the iniquity of us all (Is.53:5). And, because He did, we can “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1).

James Versus Peter, Paul and Barnabas

Perhaps a few words should be said regarding Peter and Barnabas and their apparently contradictory behavior. For that matter, Paul should be included as well, for Acts 16:3 says that he had Timothy circumcised and Acts 16:4 says that Paul delivered the decrees as he went from city to city that were contained in the letter sent to Antioch. Certainly Paul did his best to live in harmony with the Jerusalem church. But, he found that it could not be done, as is clear from his epistles. He even went to Jerusalem to try to achieve reconciliation with the Jerusalem church, in spite of God telling him not to go (Acts 21:4). He considered the effort to achieve reconciliation of higher importance than his own life (Acts 20:24). But, reconciliation with prideful and self-righteous men is not possible at all. Reconciliation on any other terms than God’s love and under the authority of Jesus Christ is sheer foolishness.

The simple truth is that although Peter, Paul and Barnabas were all God’s ministers and did mighty things by virtue of His power and strength, they made mistakes and did wrong. It should be an encouragement to us to know that we also can do great things by the power of Him that worketh in us to will and to do His good pleasure. Even if we make mistakes, and even if we condemn ourselves God does not condemn us. The epistle of John continually calls to our attention that God is greater than our hearts, even when our hearts condemn us.

But, James is another matter. There is no record of any godly works that James did and in fact we have Jesus own words that the world could not hate him. How he became head of the Jerusalem church is clear from Paul’s epistles- the people chose to walk by the flesh rather than by the spirit and the first obvious case of nepotism in the church is the result.

The Christian Jews of the circumcision may well have asked themselves, “who better to head the church in the absence of Jesus Christ, than his brother?” It seems that their answer was, “No one!” How Peter could have been afraid of James is difficult to imagine. He must have been motivated by his great love for Israel or some misguided hope that he could do more good within the group than outside of it. These are common justifications today for defending groups that become increasingly ungodly. Certainly the fear of Peter was not the result of cowardice. Peter was no coward. And, evidently, Peter finally dissociated himself from the Jerusalem church as did Paul. From the end of Peter’s two epistles, it appears that he finished his ministry either in Babylon or Rome (depending on how the word Babylon is understood in his epistles.) In any event, we cannot diminish the work that Peter did. However, Israel, as a nation, is another matter. As one author has pointed out, Israel was quick to accept God’s pardon, but they refused to walk in it. Peter, who was once held in awe by the children of Israel, removes himself from the Gentiles in the Antioch church because of fear. It is an awesome thing to consider and I do not doubt that the fear was real. Just what form it took, is not apparent. However, we cannot conclude that Peter was a coward or weak in any way. From all that we know about him, it is inconceivable that his fear arose out of weakness. It is much more conceivable to think that it arose out of a consideration of the consequences in Jerusalem to the church there if it was reported that he ate with the Gentiles in Antioch. Perhaps it would even have caused an insurrection. We do not know. We can say, as Paul said, that he was wrong. We cannot say that cowardice was his motive.

But, the account in Galatians 2 tells us that the war between the carnal man and the spiritual man is a real one. And, as a nation, Israel lost that war. However, the contrast to that loss, as revealed in the rest of Acts, is a glorious one. No finer record exists of God’s deliverance and grace.




“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”
Galatians 5:4-6

Deliverance presumes something to be delivered from. Paul asks the believers in Rome to pray with him, “that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.” (Rom.15:31). He asks for the prayers of the believers in Thessalonica “that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.” (II Thess.3:2). Paul tells Timothy, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (II Tim.4:17).

In II Corinthians 11:23-28 Paul says, in contrasting himself to others in Corinth who called themselves ministers of Christ, “I am more, in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep, In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”

Paul continues in II Cor. 12 to contrast his “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me”, (namely all the “messengers” that afflicted him above with beatings, robbery, stoning, etc.) with the glory that was his as well. He implies (verse 9) that if suffering must be endured in order manifest the power of Christ, then he would even glory in his infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions and distresses (verse 10).

Certainly Paul paid a price far dearer than most for the privilege of ministering God’s Word. He was delivered from all of his afflictions, but law did not easily give way to grace. Many books have been written about Paul, many wonderful books. They tell of his travel, of his work, of the persecution against him and are wonderful in their insight of a man, who, as the servant of Jesus Christ, was without peer in the first century, and probably without peer in any century since then.

However, in these books there are few hints of Paul’s persecution coming, in no small part, from within the church. James, the brother of Jesus, does not appear to be suspected of being a culprit, even though he held the chief position in the church in Jerusalem for most, if not all, of the time that Paul was being persecuted. Certainly the backdrop of James living in Jerusalem since the start of the church age and as the head of the Jerusalem church for perhaps twenty years or more, without any evidence given by Luke of being persecuted, is central to the picture of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles and the persecution he suffered.

In II Cor. 11, before the section quoted above, Paul clearly identifies his antagonists in Corinth as “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.”(verse 13). He further identifies them as Hebrews (verse 22) and, facetiously, as “ministers of Christ” (verse 23). From what we have seen regarding James, a man of whom Jesus Christ said, “the world cannot hate you”, we cannot help but think that the men hindering the work of Paul in Corinth were representatives of James.

Although the whole subject of who persecuted Paul pleads for further study, it is safe to say that law did not readily give way to grace, either from within the Jerusalem church or from the rest of Judiasm. It is true that Paul also faced persecution from the Gentile world. But that threat does not seem to be nearly as wide spread as from the Jews. As with the Jews, the threat from the Gentiles seems to be more from within the church than without. Pulling the Gentile Christians back from license to grace had to be every bit as much of a challenge as pulling Jewish and Gentile Christians back from law to grace. But, the glory of life in the grace of God was well worth the effort to ward off the enemy from both directions. Satan was not without “messengers” in both the camp of law and the camp of license.

The Choice of the Christian

The Jerusalem Council took place about nineteen years after the events recorded in Acts one and two. The works of Jesus Christ were amply demonstrated by that time and many eye witnesses to His works and words remained alive. Jesus declaration in Matthew 28:18, after He was raised from the dead, that “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” had been thoroughly demonstrated to the world by the signs, miracles, and wonders performed during those twenty years and by an ever increasing number of Christians in the world.

We have seen from Acts 15:1 that men came down to Antioch from Judea, about this time, and taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” The results of that teaching were cataclysmic. The teaching was a frontal assault on grace and caused all out war. Paul and Barnabas met the attack boldly and without hesitation and the result was “no small dissension and disputation.” (Acts 15:2). Jesus Christ had clearly “poured out” the new birth, the power from on high, the holy spirit, to the Gentiles, and the war was engaged to determine whether the Gentiles would be able to continue in the grace of God or be brought under the bondage of law.

The people had to decide whether they would serve Jesus Christ as Lord directly or whether they would agree to serve him only through an intermediary- James, the brother of Jesus. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and others take the former position. James, the men who came down to Antioch, those who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees which believed (Acts 15:5), and others, took the latter position.

Of them all, only Paul saw with clarity the absolute impossibility of a compromise. He says after the Council in Jerusalem, “we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue in you.” (Gal. 2:5). He declares, “they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.” (Gal. 2:6). He even took with him Titus, as a test case, and Paul’s victory was demonstrated by Titus returning to Antioch uncircumcised. (Gal. 2:3) Paul’s work and his writings in the following twenty years would show his stand for grace. There could be no compromise.

The choice was clear. Continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43) or fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). The issue was clear, the choice was clear, the cast of characters was clear. And, overruling in the conflict was the One to whom was given “All authority in heaven and in earth”, Jesus Christ. He had already given His verdict. “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13).

This was no mere contest. It was not a game being played with rules and referees and spectators enjoying an afternoon’s entertainment. It was war! And, in war there is only one rule, survival. Had Jesus Christ not overruled and enforced His rulings throughout the years since the church began, there would be no survivors in the church. But, He did overrule as we shall see in the second half of Acts and His “overruling” is as glorious as His “outpouring”. It should be pointed out, before proceeding, that the word “mammon” in Luke 16:13 means money, or wealth. Jesus Christ said, “you cannot serve God and money!” Further, “mammon” means all that money or wealth stands for: prestige, earthly power, recognition, man’s favor, man’s control over other men, man’s pride. In short, every arrogant misuse of money is implied in the word “mammon”. We love God or we love money. The love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10). The love of God is the root of all good (Acts 17:28). If we love God it is only because we come to realize that He first loved us (Rom. 5:5-8, I John 4:19). We either love God and live in, and by, all that is implied in God’s love, or we love money and live in, and by, all that is implied by money’s love. We are servants of whom we obey (Rom. 6:16).

The war that we see so clearly engaged in Acts 15:1,2 had been going on for some time. If we look back over the ground we have already covered, we see evidence of this war as early as Acts 5:1, with the attempted money deception of Ananias and Sapphira. This was not a war between the unbeliever and the believer. It was not the war referred to by Peter in Acts 4:25-27 where he points out that the kings of the earth stood up and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. Those people could do nothing, as we have seen. The apostles were more popular than the rulers at that time.

The war we are attempting to show was in the church. It was a war of subversion, a war of intrigue, a war of subtlety. It was a war going on between factions inside the church. It may have been fueled and funded by the enemies of Christ from without, but the principals in the conflict were all inside the church. Divide and conquer was the strategy and grace versus law was the issue.

The Word Circumcision in Acts

After Ananias and Sapphira, we see “murmurings” over money in Acts 6:1. We then see a member of the church, Stephen, assassinated in Acts 7. The account of Stephen’s speech introduces the word “circumcision” (Acts 7:8) to the narrative of Acts. It is a very revealing word. A study of who used this word and who did not use it is instructive, as is the sequence of its uses in Acts.

In the Old Testament the word circumcision, and it’s derivatives, is used thirty times. About half of those uses are in Genesis and describe the instruction given to Abraham. Outside of Genesis, it is used only sixteen times throughout the entire Old Testament.

In the Gospels, the word circumcision is used only by Luke and John, twice in Luke and twice in John. In Luke they refer to Jesus and John the Baptist being circumcised. In John, Jesus contrasts circumcision on the sabbath with His healing on the sabbath.

Paul uses the word “circumcision” forty times in His epistles. That is more times than the word is used in the entire Old Testament. The word “circumcision” is missing from Hebrews, as well as the rest of the New Testament except for Acts. It occurs nine times in Acts, with the first occurrence being in Stephen’s speech. In that occurrence, it is used as a literal fact. God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.

The second occurrence is in Acts 10:45 at the event of Cornelius and his family speaking in tongues. It clearly refers to the six men that came with Peter and they were undoubtedly tied to the Jerusalem church. They were “of the circumcision” (Acts 10:45). This usage is not referring to the literal act but to a group or party within the Christian church. And, the context makes it clear that Luke is not using it as synonymous with “Jew”. He uses the word to define six men who were undoubtedly well known and respected within the Jerusalem church.

The third occurrence is in Acts 11:2 and again clearly refers to those in the Jerusalem church that contended with Peter for having gone into the house of a Gentile. “They that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.” (Acts 11:2,3). The fact that Peter “rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them” (verse 4) makes it clear that Peter is not talking to Jews in general but to Christian Jews in the church in Jerusalem. Since all the believers in the Jerusalem church were Jews, the phrase “they that were of the circumcision” must be intended by Luke to mean either everyone in the Jerusalem church or a group within the church that was called “the circumcision party”, the same group that Peter’s “six witnesses” belonged to. In any event, the phrase does not refer to “unsaved” Jews.

Acts 15:1 is it’s forth usage and we see it is a command given by those who came from the Jerusalem church. They state not only the necessity of the act of circumcision but include the keeping of the whole law of Moses as well. The men that taught this doctrine came from James and were undoubtedly members of the Jerusalem church.

In Acts 15:5, the word “circumcision” is used by “certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed” and is linked by them to the keeping of the law of Moses. In Acts 15:24 it is used in the letter sent from the Jerusalem church and is again linked with the keeping of the law of Moses. In Acts 16:3, Paul has Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews which were in those quarters” (and presumably only because of them).

The final usage of “circumcision” in the book of Acts is in Acts 21:21. In this usage, James is stating his concern about Paul’s reputation in Jerusalem and again the word circumcise is linked to keeping the law. James points out how many Jews there are in Jerusalem which believe and that these believers are all zealous for the law and are informed that Paul was teaching the Jews of the dispersion to forsake Moses by saying, “they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” It is evident that these believers are among those in Jerusalem that try to kill Paul.

From the usages of “circumcision” in Acts, we can conclude that, except for references to the physical act, the word is used to refer to people in the Jerusalem church and not to Jews in general. When it is used in Acts to describe the physical act, it is used by members of the Jerusalem church, not by those outside the church. James, the brother of Jesus, was the leader of this “circumcision party”. (Gal. 2:12). It seems clear that this church felt superior to the Gentile Christians and insisted that the Gentiles be brought into the church not on an equal footing but rather as inferiors who acknowledged their inferiority to the Jews by circumcision and the keeping of the laws of Moses. If the Gentiles did so, they would be accountable not only to the Jerusalem church but to the Temple authority as well. Such a condition was clearly unacceptable to Paul (and I think unacceptable to Jesus Christ).

If the fact that James gives his sentence at the Council in Jerusalem is not sufficient to some to prove that James is the head of the circumcision party which controlled the Jerusalem church, Galatians 2:12 should be. In that verse, we see that Peter removed himself from the Gentiles when representatives from James came to Antioch and the reason is given clearly, “fearing them which were of the circumcision.”

In Acts 15:5 we see that certain of the Pharisees which believed asserted that it was needful to circumcise the Gentiles and command them to keep the law of Moses. It is perfectly clear that James was the head of the Jerusalem church and that by the time of the Council this church insisted that the Gentiles must be circumcised and be brought under the law of Moses. It is the Bondage Church and James, the brother of Jesus, is in control of that church. In nineteen years, James had somehow usurped the authority of the twelve apostles and Peter was afraid of him. We see in Galatians 2:13, that even Barnabas removed himself from the Gentiles when the representatives from James came to Antioch.

The Choice Between Law and Grace

At the end of Acts 15, we see that Barnabas and Paul severed their longstanding relationship over the issue of John Mark’s behavior. The split was unquestionably serious and resulted from differences that at least Paul thought were important. The war within the church raged on as the James’ faction contended with Paul and evidently, even Barnabas and Peter thought that Paul had gone too far in his uncompromising stand for grace. It seems clear that John Mark had to be perceived by Paul as a threat to grace and Paul stood his ground in spite of losing his good friend Barnabas. Barnabas and John Mark went back to Cyprus. Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

The question that Israel faced was how to be proper servants of an unseen master. They had to reconcile the fulfillment, in Jesus Christ, of the promise made to Abraham with more than a thousand years of tradition built up between the promise and its fulfillment. Tradition runs deep and is not easily overthrown by new revelation. The “new clothes” of Christianity were uncomfortable to wear. The new “weapons of our warfare” were awesome to use, and the friction between that which was comfortable and that which was effective was bound to generate heat.

As with today, the people in the first twenty years of the church age had to first realize that in Christ we are a new creation. The immediate result was thrill, wonder, awe, expectation. But, as with a new born baby, the wonder and inquisitiveness generated by a whole new world, gave way to “the terrible two’s”. They in turn gave way to adolescence and finally adulthood.

Those children of Israel who accepted the reproof and instruction of their Father grew into fine men of God. But, those who did not obey and learn, but rather thought they knew more, held on to and developed the traditions of the past. Their behavior was designed to frustrate the grace of their Father- not honor Him. They wanted people to follow and be obedient to them, not to Jesus Christ.

The Council of Jerusalem brought both groups of children together and Paul readily saw the difference. Within a few years of the Council, Paul wrote the book of Galatians and contrasted these two groups. He calls them the children of the bondwoman and the children of the freewoman. His exhortation to the believer is: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1).

Shortly after writing Galatians, Paul wrote the two books of Thessalonians and the book of Hebrews. All four of these epistles point to the preeminence of Jesus Christ and to the fact that all power (the word power in Matthew 28:18 is the greek word exousia, meaning privilege or authority) was indeed given unto Him, both in heaven and in earth. What the law could not do, Jesus Christ did. By His authority man could be transformed, something that the law could never do.

Paul’s interest was in bringing Jew and Gentile alike under the authority of Jesus Christ- and in so doing, transforming them so they could walk in newness of life. The children of the bondwoman were interested in bringing Jew and Gentile alike under their own authority. The first nineteen years of the church age was a time of great deliverance and joy in Israel, as well as among the dispersion, mixed with a challenge to the authority of Jesus Christ. The second twenty years starts with that challenge and ends with the challenger, Israel, being destroyed as a nation.

At the end of Israel’s forty years of probation, for two years and seven months, the Roman legions, under Vespasian and his son Titus, dominated and decimated Israel. During that time, Josephus tells us that Israel killed more of it’s own while the Roman army watched, than did the Roman army itself. Civil war was rampant as well as war with Rome.

The Roman Empire, and it’s authority, fared little better than Israel during the decade of the 60’s, especially after 62 A.D. when Acts ends with Paul awaiting his hearing before Nero. Rome burned. Ten of Rome’s fourteen districts were either totally destroyed or severely damaged. Civil war and revolt threatened throughout the empire. But, Paul’s epistles were finished at that time also, and they brilliantly explain and establish the unchallengable authority of Jesus Christ. The grace of God was fully proclaimed and law had given way to grace. The world would continue to see the church of law, but the Christian would be continually pulled toward the church of Grace. In many respects, the church of Grace has been the “Hidden Church” ever since that time. But, the power in that “Hidden Church” has been fully exercised and evident to all who will look for it.

Paul’s Ministry Answers to Peter’s

The account of Paul’s ministry after the Jerusalem Council begins at the end of Acts 15. The first fifteen chapters of Acts show the rise of Christianity throughout the Jewish nation, beginning in Jerusalem, and it’s spread among them throughout the nations of the world. The first half of Acts also shows us that eager acceptance of God’s Word is turned to a reluctant sharing of the “good news” with the Gentiles of the world. In fifteen years time, the status of Peter changes from being overwhelmingly popular in Israel to being thrown in jail because Herod sees that such an act would be pleasing to the Jews. It should be noted that Herod Agrippa I (the Herod who had Peter imprisoned and the apostle James killed in Acts 12) was brought up with and was good friends with the Emperor Claudius. One wonders whether the killing of James the apostle and the imprisonment of Peter was pleasing to Claudius as well as to Agrippa I and the Jews in Jerusalem.

There is evidence to show that Claudius did have a concern over the effect of Christianity on the Roman Empire, particularly the “trouble” between the law and grace factions within the Jewish communities of the empire. Claudius’ edict expelling all Jews from Rome in 49 A.D. caused Aquilla and Pricilla to move from Rome to Corinth (Acts 18:2). Early historians attribute the problem among the Jews in Rome (Christians and Jews were not seen as separate entities at the time), that caused their expulsion, to someone named “Chrestus”. The word most probably referred to Jesus Christ.

It seems more than coincidental that the edict was issued the same year as the problem revealed in Acts 15 that occurred in Syrian Antioch (the third largest city in the Roman Empire behind Rome and Alexandria). Perhaps the representatives from James went to Rome as well as to Antioch (and elsewhere) and said that salvation was impossible without first being circumcised. Examination of events in Alexandria for the year 49 A.D. may also shed light on the extensiveness of the conflict between Paul and James. It should be a fruitful area for further study. Also, an inscription has been found in Nazareth from Claudius, warning of exceptionally severe penalties for grave robbing. This inscription seems to date from the same period as the expulsion edict and some historians imply that Claudius was trying to put down rumors of the resurrection of Jesus Christ by his order. If so, Christianity had come to the attention of the Roman Emperor by at least 49 A.D..

In any event, what starts as a hint of trouble in the first years of the church in Jerusalem, arrives full blown, at least in Antioch, about nineteen years later. By that time, James, the brother of Jesus, had succeeded in usurping the authority and popularity of Peter. But, the first nineteen years of the church age also includes Jesus Christ meeting up with Paul on the road to Damascus and Paul proceeds to spread the gospel of grace to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews of the dispersion. By the time of the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15, Paul had been ministering for about fourteen years.

If possible, the feats done at the hand of Paul among the Gentiles are even greater than the feats done among the children of Israel at the hand of Peter. (There is no evidence of any feats done by James, the brother of Jesus.) For example, Peter’s imprisonment in Jerusalem (Acts 12) results in the death of the guards. Paul’s imprisonment (Acts 16) results in the keeper of the prison being saved, as well as his entire house. Peter had to leave town in the middle of the night. Paul received an apology from the magistrates.

Peter’s raising Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9) is followed by Paul’s raising Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20) and perhaps the believers in Lystra raising Paul from the dead (Acts 14:19-20). In the second event, Paul had been teaching all evening and about midnight, Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of the third floor window. The event did not result in Eutychus being condemned because he had fallen asleep, but resulted in Paul’s continuing to teach until the break of day. The summary (Acts 20:12) is a refreshing understatement. “They brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.”

The Missionary Journey of Paul and Silas

The demonstration of the authority of Jesus Christ by Peter is continued by Paul. After the Jerusalem council and Paul’s return to Antioch, he chose Silas to go with him (after his altercation with Barnabas) and they are recommended by the brethren in Antioch to the grace of God. The statement, “being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God” (Acts 15:40) seems to imply that Barnabas and Mark were not given the same cordial send-off. Acts 16 through 20 tell of the spreading of God’s Word throughout the nations in the following seven years. Jesus Christ continued to “pour out” holy spirit, and that “pouring out” was glorious indeed.

In Acts 16:5, we see that churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and the cities in that area were “established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” In Acts 17:4, we see that a “great multitude” of devout Greeks in Thessalonica believed and many of the “chief women” as well.

Just how extensively and effectively the spreading of the gospel of grace was carried out is shown by the statement of the Jews that resisted Paul. They said to the rulers of the city of Thessalonica, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” (Acts 17:6). We are prone, in today’s “modern age”, to think of people that lived two thousand years ago as approaching the level of Darwin’s “half-hairy ape”, perhaps walking, but surely stupid and uninformed and incapable of today’s “brilliance”. Our conditioning in such an atmosphere of man’s arrogance causes us to think that the accusation in Thessalonica was exaggerated and spoken by illiterate men to equally illiterate rulers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was a “known man” even before his conversion and Acts clearly shows the extensiveness of his work in spreading Christianity throughout the world.

When the unbelieving Jews said, “these that have turned the world upside down are come hither also”, there is every reason to expect that they knew what they were talking about. The Roman Empire was not a collection of isolated, insignificant cities that had no communication with each other. The opposite was the case, and there is every reason to expect that Paul’s accusers knew exactly what they were saying. No clearer description of the immensity of the work wrought by Jesus Christ could be given than to say that the world was being turned upside down (or more properly, right side up). The “pouring out” of holy spirit was changing the face of the world.

In Berea, many people believed (Acts 17:12). In Athens “certain men” believed (Acts 17:34). In Corinth, Paul spent over a year and a half teaching the gospel and the Lord said to Paul, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” (Acts 18:9,10). Paul was informed that the Lord had many people in the city of Corinth before he had reason to know it by experience. Jesus Christ was indeed Paul’s Lord and kept him informed and encouraged in spite of the visible evidence that would tend toward discouragement.

In Ephesus, Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia and Phrygia, Paul taught and strengthened all the disciples (Acts 18:19-23). After he returned to Ephesus and spent two years and three months there, we are told, “all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10). Again we see a huge picture of the impact of Christianity on the world. As one Roman historian commented, despite the attacks on Christianity, it was finally the city of Rome and the Roman Empire that capitulated to the church rather than the other way around. That capitulation did not happen over night, but it did happen. Despite what one may think about the theology of the various churches of the second and third centuries, none of them denied the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And, nations also accepted the resurrection of Jesus Christ as fact.

We are also told that God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul so that when “from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, the diseases departed from them and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:12). It was a glorious time of deliverance in Ephesus, reminiscent of the similar scene in Jerusalem perhaps twenty five years prior where “they were healed every one (Acts 5:16). In the former event, the people in Jerusalem sought out Peter’s shadow. In the latter event, clothing from Paul was delivered to the people in Ephesus. The result was the same, they were healed!

As the outpouring of holy spirit in Jerusalem can not be exaggerated, so also the outpouring of holy spirit in Ephesus can not be exaggerated. We are told that “many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and PREVAILED!” (Acts 19:19-20). To think of the Word of God prevailing in Ephesus is awesome to consider. The implications of such a statement could fill a book all by themselves.

In Acts 19:21 we are told that Paul determined to go to Jerusalem and determined also that he would go to Rome after Jerusalem. In Acts 20, we see Paul go to Macedonia, Philippi, Troas (where Eutychus was raised from the dead), Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogylium and Miletus. In Miletus, Paul sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus and the instructions he gave them reveal his love and his concern for their welfare. He warns them to be on guard for those who were bound to arise and speak perverse things in order to draw away disciples to themselves. He commends them to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32) and tells them he will not be seen of them again (Acts 20:25) and departs with an emotional and heartfelt farewell (Acts 20:36-38).

Notes on Paul’s Ministry

In all, Paul’s ministry covers a period of thirty or more years. Except for about the first five years of the church age, when he was persecuting Christians, his ministry coincides with Israel’s 40 year probationary period. We can well imagine the hopes he had for Israel as a nation as he began searching the scriptures in the light of the walk by the spirit.

We can also appreciate how he would have kept separating the chaff from the wheat in his mind as he grew and saw the increasingly worldly church grow in Jerusalem. The tone of his first writing, Galatians, written around 52 A.D., shows a clear disappointment in the Jerusalem church.

When he writes, “Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?” He was not referring to ignorant and unlearned people bewitching them. Such people may hate but they do not “bewitch”. It is more probable that he was referring to members of the Jerusalem church. Galatians 3:2-3 makes that clear. The Galatians had received the spirit from the message of Paul, not the message of James and the Jerusalem church. The spirit was not received by the message “you must be circumcised according to the law of Moses in order to be saved.” Galatians stands out much more clearly when it is understood that Paul wrote it shortly after the Jerusalem council.

It should be noted that the book of Hebrews was written at about the same time as Galatians, as were the two epistles to the Thessalonians. Some say that Hebrews was not written by Paul, some say that it was. The early evidence indicates that in the second century, the church in the west said Paul didn’t write Hebrews and the church in the east said he did. When we consider the fact that, for the first fourteen or more years of his ministry, Paul ministered in the “east” (Syria and Cilicia, Gal. 1:21) while the Jerusalem church was more likely to extend its influence and political authority to the political capital of the world, Rome, the evidence swings in favor of Paul being the writer of Hebrews- not to mention the content of Hebrews. In it, Jesus Christ is presented as the rightful High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem!

Those who say Paul did not write Hebrews, use as one argument the fact that his name is not mentioned in Hebrews. The argument has no weight. For, Paul was no popular person among many in Israel (remember that he went to those in authority in private in Galatians 2:2) and prudence would dictate that he leave his name off the work and let the work stand by itself among the Hebrews.

In any event, the seven years following the Jerusalem council is summed up by Acts 19:10,20, “All they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” and “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.” Just as the message of Jesus Christ being “the authority” had permeated Jerusalem and Israel, so also it now had permeated the rest of the world. No one could say that they had not had the opportunity to hear the gospel. The “out pouring” was wide spread, it was thorough, and it was effective.

Paul did not accept the suggestion of the Jerusalem church that he go to the Gentiles and they go to the Jews.(Gal.2:9) His habit was to go to the synagogue and teach whenever he came into a new town. And, many Jews believed. Paul’s ministry was to Jews, Gentiles and Kings (Acts9;15), and he fully exercised that ministry.

The Persecutors of Paul

In the seven years following the Jerusalem Council, many Jews as well as Gentiles believed. Many Jews also persecuted Paul. They weren’t alone, the Gentiles persecuted him also. But, in Thessalonica it was the “Jews which believed not” (Acts 17:5) which persecuted him. In verse thirteen these same Jews came from Thessalonica to Berea. Notice that Paul, “as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.” (Acts 17:2). The fact that “some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4), implies that Paul and Silas spent three full weeks teaching the Word of God rather than limiting their teaching to an hour or so a week in the synagogue on the sabbath.

Some would have us believe that Paul “worked a full time job” during the week and ministered the gospel “part time” throughout his ministry. This is hard to conceive in a man who was arrested in his “full time” persecution of the church by Jesus Christ Himself. It is true that he tells the elders from Ephesus (Acts 20:33-35), “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye aught to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

But, he also said to the Corinthian church, “I have robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” (II Cor. 11:8,9). Paul also says he had been “through hunger and thirst, starving many a time” (II Cor. 11:27, Moffatt). From all the evidence in Paul’s epistles and the book of Acts, it is just not reasonable to assume that Paul spent anywhere near a majority of his time working with his hands to support himself.

From all the evidence, we must conclude that Paul’s calling as an Apostle came first, and last, and inbetween. Of all people, Paul would have “obeyed the voice at eve, obeyed at prime”. The times that he worked with his hands must have been to set an example rather than out of necessity to provide an income. It is more probable that he preferred starving to working with his hands if there were people to teach and the opportunity to teach them. Perhaps this is his reference to “starving many a time.”

The point about how Paul normally lived is not unimportant to the picture developed from a study of Acts and Paul’s epistles. If Paul only preached on the Sabbath in Thessalonica then the Jews that believed, the chief women, and “a great multitude” of devout Greeks only had the opportunity to hear what he had to say for a few hours while the majority of his time was spent working with his hands to provide for his needs and those of the people traveling with him. However, if he taught night and day (as he did in Acts 20:7-11 when Eutychus fell out of the window) for three weeks, then the “uproar” caused by the Jews that believed not is much more understandable.

The fact that they enlisted “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort” or “some wicked men of the loafers” (Knoch) or “some idle rascals” (Moffatt), implies that they could not solicit legitimate help from the synagogue. It also implies that they could not “withstand the wisdom with which he spoke”, just as the people in Acts 6 could not withstand the wisdom by which Stephen spoke. It is hard to believe that Paul could have made such an impact with three “sermons” given on the three sabbath days recorded. It seems much more probable that the unbelieving Jews tried to refute Paul’s teaching throughout the three week period and when they could not, they resorted to less honorable tactics.

The fact that Paul was able to spend three weeks in the synagogue of the Jews also implies that the fight against him was not over salvation in Jesus Christ but rather was over issues of law and how to live in that salvation. Certainly it does not take much time to proclaim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and it would have been among the first declarations that Paul made. From what we have endeavored to show of the extensiveness of Christianity in the first twenty or so years of the church age, it is improbable that the Jews in Thessalonica were ignorant of the salvation message. If they were, and the majority of the people in the synagogue refused to believe that message, Paul would not have had a second chance the following day, let alone the following week or for three weeks following.

Also, if the people in the synagogue had heard the “salvation” message before and refused it, the case is even stronger against their allowing Paul to continue even one week. Much more likely than either of these two possibilities is the conclusion that many of the people in the synagogue, Jew and devout Greek alike, had heard and at least not been hostile to the “salvation” message before Paul came, even if they had not wholeheartedly believed in Jesus Christ. If such was the case, then Paul could well have spent three full weeks showing the people not only that the Old Testament prophesies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ but also that holy spirit was available as a free gift to all, Jew and Gentile alike, so that the faith of all men could stand in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men. Such a message would be a threat to “the Jews which believed not” while it would be gladly accepted by many Jews and Gentiles alike.

Perhaps a personal example would be in order. I was brought up in a “main line” Christian Denomination and went to their schools for the first twelve years of my education. I fully believed that the bible was the Word of God and had no question about Jesus Christ being raised from the dead. However, as a young adult I was shown, for the first time, the scriptures regarding the “mystery”, the hidden wisdom kept in God until it was revealed to the Apostle Paul (Col. 1:26,27; 2:2; 4:3; Eph. 1:9; 3:3,4,9; 5:32; 6:19). This mystery, that the Gentiles should be joint heirs with the Jews, of the same body, and that they would all have “Christ in you, the hope of glory” was thrilling beyond anything I had ever learned. But, to have pointed out to me from I Cor. 2:7 and following that none of the princes of this world knew this mystery, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, was breathtaking. It was electrifying, astounding, filled with implications that I had never considered.

I truly thought that everyone I knew would be as thrilled as I was to hear this information. I was wrong. Many Christians that I knew didn’t want to hear the information at all. Their responses varied from “who does he think he is to tell us anything” to “this is of the devil”. Many, of course, did love to hear the information. But to some, the implications of such a teaching were just to personally threatening to accept. Their status in their church was threatened by accepting any significant truth from someone not officially sanctioned by their church.

The implications of what I had learned were enormous. If every Christian has received “the full measure of faith”, then there is not one Christian who is superior to another. The “pneumatikos” of I Cor.12:1, translated in King James as “spiritual gifts”, were found to be more properly understood as “spiritual matters” and the so called “gifts” of the spirit, commonly perceived as being sparingly doled out by God, were found to be “manifestations” of the spirit, available, all the time, to every Christian for the benefit of the “body of Christ”. In short, the logical conclusion is that if we can receive anything from God, we can receive everything from God. If “the measure of faith” was given to all in the gift of holy spirit, then our opportunity is to fully exercise what we have already been given rather than to seek more “gifts” from God. The scripture that controls these thoughts is Eph. 3:20, which says that God is more willing to give than we are to think or to ask. ( see also Eph. 1:19, 2:7).

Therein is the problem. Some Christians find such a possibility unthinkable. And, they are likely to feel animosity, if not hatred, toward those who do believe that God has given us more than we can possibly comprehend. My experience over the past twenty five years has been that much more hate comes my way from Christians than from non-Christians. Obviously, much more love comes my way from Christians as well. But, the practical conflicts in life seem to come much more from within the church than to originate from without. Non- Christians, for the most part, simply walk away from any discussion about Jesus Christ because they consider it foolishness. They seldom feel threatened and are many times more gracious than the Christians.

It is not my intention to evaluate who is a Christian and who is not. I generally assume that those who say they are Christian are telling the truth. My point in giving the above personal example is only to give reason why I feel it more likely that the conflict in Thessalonica, as well as much of the rest of Paul’s conflict was not over salvation but over the teaching of grace as opposed to law. The conflict I experienced because I was shown some of Paul’s “teaching” causes me to think that the same teaching, by Paul directly, resulted in the same conflict.

The effectiveness of Paul’s work in Thessalonica and it’s consequent problems are not unique. In Acts 18:12, “The Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul” in Athens. In Ephesus (Acts 19:9), we see that in the synagogue many were hardened and spoke evil of that way. In Greece, (Acts 20:3) the Jews laid wait for him. And in Ephesus just prior to his going to Jerusalem, Paul says to the elders of the church there (Acts 20:19) that he was “serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews”.

So, we see a picture of many Jews among the nations believing and many not believing but rather hating Paul. It should be pointed out that these were not isolated Jews who had no contact with Jerusalem because the law was that every able male over 13 years of age was required to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Certainly they did not all obey the law. But, many did. And during those feasts, the city was full to overflowing- the same as recorded in Acts 2.

And, Israel was not a picture of good guys stand to the left and bad guys stand to the right. If it had been, there would have been civil war in Israel- perhaps that was what Peter was afraid of when he removed himself from the Gentiles upon the arrival of the representatives from James in Antioch. In any event, the grace of God had been compromised within the Jewish nation and that compromising church had influence throughout the Jewish people among the nations. James statement in the Jerusalem Council makes that clear, “for Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” (Acts 15:21).

It is also interesting to note that the epistle of James is written to “the twelve tribes” rather than to Christians among the twelve tribes. Hebrews, I and II Peter, I, II and III John, as well as Paul’s epistles, all identify “to whom it is written” with followers of Jesus Christ. Only James addresses his epistle to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” Also, James does not mention the resurrection in his epistle as do the other epistles.

Acts 19:20 tells us that the Word of God grew mightily and prevailed by the end of the seven year period following the Jerusalem council. But, in Acts 19:23, we are told, “and the same time there arose no small stir about that way”.

Whose way? What way? It is obvious from the whole context that those who believed Paul’s gospel are being referred to. Paul spells out two gospels in Galatians 1, his gospel and the gospel presented by the Jerusalem church. Their gospel commingled law and grace. Paul’s gospel was received by revelation from Jesus Christ and was the glorious gospel of grace alone, without the deeds of the law. During this time (c. 55 A.D.), Paul wrote the epistle of Romans to amplify the subject.

And so we see that by about 56 A.D., the Word of God was growing mightily and prevailing while at the same time there was no small stir about it. Paul determines to go to Jerusalem and we will see just how hardened the people in Jerusalem had become in the seven or eight years following the Jerusalem Council.




“After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome…..For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost…..and now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the holy spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me…..and finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem…..And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, thus saith the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem…. and when he would not be persuaded, we ceased saying the will of the Lord be done.”
Acts 19:21; 20:16,22,23; 21:4,10,11,12,14

Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem. And so he did. We cannot question his motive for it was undoubtedly honest and with the interest of the Christian church at heart. His prudence in going is another matter. Some may feel, after reading Paul’s epistles and the book of Acts, that Paul always did God’s will and was doing so when he went to Jerusalem for the final time. Although it is a hard thing to consider, nevertheless it is a fact that no one always does the will of God, including Paul.

A servant is not above his master, nor equal to him. Jesus Christ was the only perfect man. All others are inferior to Him, including Paul. All others, including Paul, made mistakes and will continue to make them. Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man for the simple reason that man needs a mediator. Every man needs a mediator, including Paul. And, examination of Paul’s epistles shows that Paul would be the first to admit this reality. Nowhere does Paul say or imply that he became a perfect man when he was saved. He received a perfect gift from God but realized his continuing dependence on God to overcome his old nature. He says, “for when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Rom. 7:21).

Paul also tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39). Therefore, we can rest in the peace of God even when our mind tells us to do one thing and our heart tells us to do another. It is clear from Acts 19:21 that Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem. But, “purposed in the spirit” in that verse is translated “pondered in spirit” by Knoch and the greek word used, titemi, means to put or to place. In other words, Paul sought in spirit to determine whether or not he should go to Jerusalem.

Should Paul Have Gone to Jerusalem? Part I

The question that needs to be asked is, “Did God want Paul to go to Jerusalem?”. It is certainly not my intention to belittle Paul in any way by posing this question. Rather, my purpose is to try to show that Paul’s attempts to maintain fellowship with the Jerusalem church had reached a clearly impossible stage. If it is true that God was telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem, as well as telling other Christians by the spirit to confirm to Paul that he should not go to Jerusalem, then the state of events within the Christian church by the year 56 A.D. become much clearer.

If we assume that God must have wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem because Paul went there, then we must allow that God could tell people, “by the spirit” (Acts 21:4), to tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem and also tell Paul, “by the spirit”, that he should go to Jerusalem. Such a possibility is not comprehensible and leads to the erroneous conclusion that the bible is not understandable. Great damage has been done to the Christian community by such conclusions.

Such conclusions cause many people to cease from reading their bibles altogether, and thereby deny them the opportunity to feast on the bread of life. As one author pointed out regarding the second and third century church, “God came to be viewed as fundamentally mysterious and outside the realm of reason”. Such a view is essentially pagan and not Christian. The Christian view is that God revealed Himself clearly in His Word and in His Son, Jesus Christ. We can know God’s will clearly by the study of His Word, the guidance of His spirit, and the intercession of His Son. Acts 20 and 21 provide clear evidence that God’s will for Paul was to refrain from going to Jerusalem.

We can understand Paul’s desire in wanting to go to Jerusalem. Many of us today have experienced the frustration of trying our best to achieve reconciliation with a person or group, only to conclude ultimately that reconciliation is not possible without a willingness on the part of both parties to “repair the breach”. Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem was surely this kind of “one sided” attempt at reconciliation.

Today we hear much about “forgiving” others. Seldom is it brought to our attention that “forgiveness” is a meaningless term unless it is associated with “repentance”. Jesus said, “and if he repent, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). He amplifies his instruction in the following verse by saying “if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; though shalt forgive him.” (Luke 17:4). Surely, forgiveness is clearly required of the Christian. But, just as surely, repentance is the act that makes forgiveness possible. We can understand Paul hoping to achieve a reconciliation with the Jerusalem church. We can also understand (as Paul later did) that “the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed” (Acts 28:27). We do not question Paul’s desire, only his failure to admit that the situation in Jerusalem was such that he could not possibly achieve a reconciliation by his presence there.

Jesus said, “the children of this world are in their generation ‘wiser’ (meaning more thoughtful or prudent) than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). Certainly Jesus is not suggesting here that the children of light should become children of this world. But, in the parable in which He makes the above statement He concludes with the statement that “you cannot serve God and mammon (money)”. We are left to draw the proper parallels.

One parallel seems to be that Christians sometimes get “mixed up” when they try to evaluate a situation from both God’s point of view and man’s point of view. The natural man has no such problem because he cannot even try to evaluate a situation from God’s point of view. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Cor. 2:14). Perhaps this is why Jesus says that the children of this world are “wiser” or “more thoughtful” or “more prudent” than the children of light. The children of this world do not have the “task” of balancing their own views with those of the spirit of God- a sometimes troubling task for the Christian who realizes that he has imperfect knowledge of God’s will and yet desires to do God’s will.

Perhaps Jesus words can be applied to Paul’s situation in wanting to go to Jerusalem. Paul did bring with him representatives from the churches of Asia with collections taken up from those churches to bring to Jerusalem. It seems possible that Paul felt the offerings would mitigate against his unpopularity there. If so, Paul may have been confusing “serving God” with “serving mammon”. It is not an uncommon mistake of the Christian. Often times the Christian feels that “giving things” will “open a door” that would otherwise stay closed. Many times he finds that the door stays closed even after he has “given things”. Certainly the door stayed closed to Paul in Jerusalem as we will see.

Should Paul Have Gone to Jerusalem? Part II

Whether the money that Paul brought was to be given to the Jerusalem church, or to the nation of Israel as a whole, is a question of no small importance in our perception of the Jerusalem church. The natural assumption, due no doubt to the common perception of the Jerusalem church as the “mother church”, is that Paul brought this money for the Jerusalem church. However, in Paul’s defense before the governor Felix, he says, “Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings” (Acts 24:17). If this is true, then we see the Jerusalem church as an integral part of Israel and not an unpopular and insignificant “sect” that had no status with the nation.

In any event, the verses cited at the start of this chapter seem to make it clear that God did not want Paul to go to Jerusalem. In Acts 20:22 Paul says, “I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem”. If he would have said, “I go rejoicing in the spirit unto Jerusalem” we would have no difficulty in understanding that he was “free in the spirit” to go. But, “bound in the spirit” seems to imply a resistance by the spirit to his going. The following verses show that resistance. Acts 20:23 says that “the holy spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me” (if I go to Jerusalem). In Acts 21:4 we find disciples in Tyre “who said to Paul through the spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem”. It does not seem possible that God could tell the people in Tyre “through the spirit” that Paul should not go up to Jerusalem and at the same time be telling Paul by the same spirit that he should go up to Jerusalem.

I know it is difficult to picture Paul doing something that God did not want him to do, but Luke goes to great lengths in Acts to fully describe the circumstances under which Paul went to Jerusalem, his reception when he arrived, and the consequences of his action in going to Jerusalem. Almost a third of the book of Acts is devoted to Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem (about 57 A.D.) and his imprisonment following. It is, by far, the event that Luke deals with most fully. We must conclude because he did so that of all the events he covers it is the most important.

Fully half of the book of Acts is devoted to the events surrounding Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, the events surrounding Stephen’s death and the events surrounding the conversion of the household of Cornelius. All three events deal with conflict within the Christian church and, because of the extensiveness with which Luke deals with these events, we are drawn to the conclusion that showing the conflict over law and grace, within the church, is a major purpose of the book of Acts rather than Acts merely furnishing “an orderly and reliable record of the rise and progress of the Christian faith”. There is evidence that the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were originally two parts of one work. If so, the purpose, given by Luke in Luke 1:1, applies also to the book of Acts. Namely, “to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us.” Luke could hardly give an account of “all things believed among us” since that would be an impossible task. He tells of the most important, the “most surely believed”. The amount of time Luke spends with Stephen, with Cornelius, and with Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem seems to show that the message of “the grace of God” was central to “those things which are most surely believed among us”. If so, it is not only the thrilling reality that “so great a salvation” has been given to us, but also a rejection of that reality by a substantial number of people in the church that Luke wants us to know. It is a critical issue and may well have been the cause of the death of Stephen, the loss of esteem of Peter, and the four or more year imprisonment of Paul.

With all these things in mind, certainly is it important to decide the primary question “Did God want Paul to go to Jerusalem or did He not want him to go?” In Acts 21:8 we are told that, as Paul continued on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed with Philip the evangelist, “which was one of the seven” of Acts 6:3. We are then told that Philip’s four daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9). We are not told of what they prophesied, but, in the context, we are led to the conclusion that the prophesy included the statement, “don’t go to Jerusalem”. Some may object to “reading something into a verse that is not there”, but the fact that Luke tells us that Philip was living in Caesarea and was “one of the seven” (namely, one of those picked with Stephen in Acts 6:5), indicates that Philip had been driven out of Jerusalem (probably upon the persecution of Acts 8:1), and the “tie in” to “they won’t accept you either, Paul” is not unreasonable.

Acts 21:10 tells us that Paul and his company “tarried there many days”. This could, perhaps, be showing us a hesitancy on Paul’s part to proceed on to Jerusalem as well as telling us that Paul arrived in Caesarea well before Pentecost. We then see that God sends down a prophet from Judea, named Agabus, and he demonstrates what will happen to Paul if he goes to Jerusalem. After the people heard what the prophet had to say, “both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:12). Not only did the believers in Caesarea, Philip, Agabus, Philip’s four daughters, and assumably a large Christian community, plead with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Luke makes clear that he also was against Paul going to Jerusalem as were those that traveled with Paul.

Should Paul Have Gone to Jerusalem? Part III

In response to what must have been a unanimous appeal for Paul not to go to Jerusalem, Paul says, “what mean ye to weep and to break mine heart.” (Acts 21:13). It is evident that all the people who were trying to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem loved him. And it is evident that Paul loved them as well. It seems obvious that virtually everyone knew that Paul would be in deep trouble if he went to Jerusalem. And, when we see in Acts 21:20 that “many ‘myriads of thousands’ ( myriad means ‘ten thousand’) of Jews there are which believe” are in Jerusalem, and “they are all zealous of the law”, we cannot help but see two entirely different groups of Christians, those in the Jerusalem church or affiliated with it and those who did their best to plead the case that Paul should not go up to Jerusalem.

Paul also shows us his determination in Acts 21:13 by declaring “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus”. Implied in his statement is the fact that Paul also knew the risk he was taking. The question was not whether or not Paul would be at risk by going to Jerusalem. Luke tells us very clearly that Paul, and everyone else that he was associated with, knew he would be at great risk if he did go. As early as Acts 20:23, Paul told the elders from Ephesus that the holy spirit testified in every city he went to that bonds and afflictions awaited him if he went to Jerusalem. The only question that needs to be answered is whether or not God wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem.

Acts 21:14 is a verse that should be totally clear on the subject and should answer the question unequivocally. However, in the King James Version, as well as most other versions, it does not do so. Because of the way in which commas are added, it is made to say that when Paul would not be persuaded by all the evidence discussed above, to refrain from going to Jerusalem, the people “ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” We are led to believe that after the people did their best to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem, and were virtually unanimous in their efforts, that they then admitted that they didn’t know the will of the Lord after all and were finally saying, “whatever you do, Paul, it will be the will of the Lord.”

With the commas removed, the verse says, “And when he would not be persuaded we ceased saying the will of the Lord be done.” The sense of the verse becomes opposite without the commas. But, when we realize that there were no commas in the uncil and cursive texts from which the King James version ultimately came, we are forced to admit that the punctuation of the verse is a matter of interpretation rather than translation. If Luke did not spend so much time with the account of Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, perhaps we could afford to leave the verse as an undecided detail.

However, because Luke does spend so much time with the events leading up to Paul going to Jerusalem, the accurate understanding of this verse cannot be left undecided without clouding the whole reason for Luke going into such detail to tell us how extensively Paul was urged not to go to Jerusalem. If we understand Acts 21:14 to be saying that the people tried their best to persuade Paul not to go up to Jerusalem, including saying “through the spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4), beseeching him “not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts21:12) after hearing the prophet Agabus, and when he would not be persuaded they ceased to plead with Paul that “the will of the Lord be done”, we must conclude that it was definitely not the will of God for Paul to go up to Jerusalem.

Such an understanding does not belittle Paul or take away from his stand for grace in any way. In fact, God’s grace is amplified when we consider the possibility that Paul could be disobeying God by going to Jerusalem and yet be delivered from his enemies there after ignoring a clear instruction from God that would have kept him from going in the first place. Such amazing grace is exactly what Paul shows us in his epistles. Our inability is overcome by His ability. Our error is corrected by His truth. Our imprudence is covered by His protection. Our sins are washed away and made not to count against us by our Lord. Such grace is truly amazing, but, as we shall see, it was an intolerable concept in Jerusalem. The unparalleled apostle of grace was hated in Jerusalem.

Paul Arrives in Jerusalem

We can well imagine Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem and plead the cause of grace to the Jerusalem church even though God told him not to go. He was “bound in the spirit” (Acts 20:22). Disciples said to Paul through the spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). And the prophet Agabus came to Paul and demonstrated what would happen to him if he did go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:11). Paul went, and his Lord went with him, to mediate, defend, and deliver him. As Jesus Christ had told Paul to speak boldly in Corinth (Acts 18:9,10), so also He had told Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Paul disobeyed and yet his disobedience was not held to his account. He was delivered.

Hopes and dreams and compassion are powerful things- as are background and education. And, all these surely entered into Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem. He must have felt that if he could just reason with them from the scripture he could get them to see that the gospel of grace was bigger than they were. He must have felt that he could convince them that the moving of the spirit of God throughout the world was a move of God in a way the world had never known before and they should not fight it.

He must have felt he could get them to repent and accept Peter’s reproof given in the council seven or eight years before, “Why are you tempting God, to put a yoke about the Gentiles which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear?”(Acts 15:10). In any event, Paul went to Jerusalem and Acts 21 is the record of what happened. Acts 21:17 tells us that the brethren received Paul and his company gladly. The following day Paul went to see James and all the elders were present at the meeting. This was a big meeting, and a serious meeting.

Paul reports what God had wrought by his ministry among the Gentiles and then James speaks. Acts 21:20 says, “when they heard, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him…” A. E. Knoch’s translation says, (Acts 21:18-20) “Now by the ensuing day Paul had been in, together with us, to James. Besides, all the elders came along. And, greeting them, he unfolded, one by one, each of the things which God does among the nations through his dispensation. Now those who hear glorified God. Besides, they said to him…”

The question is, who does the speaking that follows? Certainly it was not a rehearsed speech that was spoken in unison. It had to be James that did the speaking, and he is obviously the head of the Jerusalem church. Paul went to see James, not a council, and not the elders. The elders went with Paul to see James. Clearly James is the head of the church. Notice also that the apostles are absent both from the initial group that greeted Paul and from the meeting the following day with James.

James says, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law” (Acts 21:20). Knoch’s translation has it, “You are beholding, brother, how many tens of thousands there are among the Jews who have believed, and all are inherently zealous for the law”. Eusebius, about 324 A.D., cites this same verse and says, “there were many ten thousands of Jews who were persuaded that he (Jesus) was the Christ of God”. The difference between “thousands” and “tens of thousands” is substantial. It certainly impacts on the picture we develop of how extensive Christianity was in Jerusalem twenty seven years after the start of the church age. It also indicates how big the city of Jerusalem was at this time. The greek word used in the verse is not “chilias” or “thousands”, but rather “murias” in its plural form “muriades” or “myriads” which means “ten thousands”. The same word is used in Acts 19:19 where “fifty thousand pieces of silver” is “five myriads” or “five ten thousands”.

The word, muriades, is the same word used in the singular by Paul in I Cor. 4:15, “Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ…” and in I Cor. 14:19, where Paul says, “I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue”. See also Jude 14, and Matt. 18:24 where muriades is also translated “ten thousand”. Why just about all translations, including Moffatt, chose to erroneously translate Acts 21:20 as “many thousands” instead of “many ten thousands”, as “murias” or “muriades” is everywhere else translated, can only be due to a failure to believe there were so many Christians in Jerusalem at the time rather than not understanding the greek word “muriades”.

We see, unequivocally, that this was no small church of which James was the head. Notice that James says, “they are informed of thee, that thou teacheth all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” (Acts 21:21). We are not told how they were informed, only that they were informed. And James, the brother of Jesus, is the one who speaks the words. We are not told if the “information” was correct or not, but we do know from Paul’s epistles that “neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision” (Gal. 5:6). Since the epistle of Galatians was written shortly after the Jerusalem Council, it was probably available, orally if not in writing, to the Jerusalem church. It also seems clear from the rest of Paul’s epistles that the “information” the “tens of thousands of Jews that believed” had, was substantially correct, even if it was distorted and applied wrongly.

James’ instructions to Paul clearly show his concern, not necessarily for Paul’s safety, but for Paul acting so as to disprove the information that the Jerusalem church had in it’s possession. James wanted Paul brought under law, and thereby under his authority! (see Acts 21:24). Furthermore, he reminds Paul of the directive he had issued to the Gentiles, following the Jerusalem Council (Acts 21:25). The fact that Luke tells us these things make them stand out as important to our comprehension of the Jerusalem church at this time. Clearly, James was the head of the Jerusalem church and we have seen that this church had many tens of thousands of members at the time of Paul’s arrival there. From what we have discussed earlier, it is also apparent the the Christians who “in every city witnessed that bonds and afflictions” awaited Paul in Jerusalem knew of the size of the Jerusalem church and that James was the head of that church.

In summary of the account in Acts 21, James tells Paul in verse 24 to go pay his Temple dues, and purify himself and pay the charges of four of James representatives, and then everyone would know that what they heard about Paul not keeping the law was false. He then reminds Paul of the letter he had written at the Jerusalem council, seven or eight years prior, regarding the Gentiles and amazingly enough, Paul does what James instructs.

The Effect of James’ Advice

Does it work? Is James advice sound? Absolutely not! All those tens of thousands of “believing” Jews in Jerusalem for the feast, did their best to try to kill Paul. And the only thing that saved his life was his Roman citizenship (and the mediation of Jesus Christ).

This is the same Jerusalem and the same feast of Pentecost where twenty seven years earlier a mighty deliverance began in Israel as recorded in Acts 2. Twenty seven years isn’t much time for someone fifty years old. It’s an incomprehensible amount of time for someone fifteen. But, there were sure to be many in the Temple who had been there twenty seven years earlier when everyone heard the apostles speak in tongues “the wonderful works of God” and some three thousand people believed.

Most had been adults during the following twenty seven years. They had seen the great deliverance in Israel during that time and now they were seeing God’s deliverance in the other nations of the world as well. They were jealous.

It is possible that some would have been there who remembered the events of about sixty years before when Jesus was born and Herod had all the male children two years and younger in and around Bethleham killed. They would have remembered the prophesies of John the Baptist, Anna, Simeon, and most of all, they would have known of the miracles that Jesus did and also that the nation of Israel caused His crucifixion.

Many of them had repented and had been born again and received a new nature and spoke in tongues and manifested miracles and received healing. How could they be so hateful to Paul? Who spread the hatred? Was it not, at least in part, the sect of the pharisees within the church? Was it not, at least in part, with the sanction of James?

Acts 21:27 tells us who started the turmoil that day. It was the Jews which were of Asia. And where had Paul been ministering for the previous seven years? Asia! And where was the Word of God growing mightily and prevailing? Asia.

And, were these Jews from Asia acting on their own behalf? Were they isolated from the rest of the “Christian Jews” or “believing Jews” who had been informed about Paul as James pointed out. It is not likely that they were. The context points to the conclusion that they were under the authority of the Jerusalem church headed by James and that they had been “informed” about Paul. If they were not among the many tens of thousands of Jews that believed, it seems irrelevant that Luke would point out that they were from Asia. Verse thirty says that they moved all the city. Verse thirty one says that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

And, what was the accusation they leveled against Paul? Verse twenty eight says, “This is the man, that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the Temple, and hath polluted this holy place.” Notice that the accusation was not only that Paul brought a Greek into the Temple. We are told that the main accusation was that Paul “taught all men everywhere” against the people, against the law and against the Temple. There was obviously a “kernel” of truth in what they were saying, but not in the sense in which they meant it. Also notice that the accusation did not include the fact that Paul taught the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such an accusation could not have carried any weight with tens of thousands of Christian Jews being in Jerusalem.

The Nature of the Jerusalem Church

It does not appear that twenty seven years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there was much of an argument in Jerusalem over the resurrection. James, Jesus’ brother, was the undisputed head of the Jerusalem church and the ruling powers could say, “that isn’t an issue anymore, go see James about it. He is the Lord’s brother and is the head of that sect- with our blessings.”

It seems clear that the High Priest and leaders of Israel had effectively contained the Jerusalem church within the framework of their authority. Nothing more was required. That church would do their bidding. Like many churches today- you can be a member but you can’t speak in tongues. Or, you can be a member but you must follow the leader, right or wrong. In short, the people in Jerusalem were free like birds in a cage and after a while they got used to it and didn’t even try to find a way out.

These people did not accuse Paul of teaching the resurrection, they accused him of teaching against the people- the “chosen of God”, Israel! As one minister stated the situation, “To avoid the pain of persecution, they used the gospel to swell the ranks of Judaism. They were facing two ways, studying the safest, not the truest course, anxious to be friends at once with Christ and his enemies. The circumcisionists were true representatives of apostate Israel. They were a living embodiment of the moral and spiritual degradation to which the chosen nation had sunk.” These were not a small minority in Israel that were “Christian”. They were, in all probability, the majority.

And of them all, Paul would write about four years later in Colossians, that Aristarchus, Mark and Justus were the only members of the circumcision who were a comfort to him by that time (Col. 4:10-11). In that epistle, he would also give his answer to James’ sentence about not eating anything strangled or offered to idols. Paul’s “sentence” is, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath” (Col. 2:16).

There is a verse of scripture in the gospels that sheds light on the subject we are discussing, and is one that I misread for many years. Matthew 24:5 says, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ: and shall deceive many.” I always read it, “Many shall come in my name saying that they are Christ and shall deceive many.” Clearly, that is not what the verse says. It says that many will come and declare that Jesus is Christ and yet they will deceive many even as they do so. Jesus Christ is clearly stating that there will be deceivers in the church. Paul points out the same problem when he says, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

Paul also writes to Timothy, “Now the spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth (I Tim. 4:1-3). Clearly, there are those who will come and declare that Jesus is Christ and yet they will deceive many.

The evidence in Acts shows that James was one of these deceivers. He apparently admitted that Jesus was the Messiah, but his intention was to bring the people into the bondage of the law and under his authority and the authority of the Temple and Israel. Acts 21 and following show that either this was the case or else they show that James and the tens of thousands of Christian Jews in Jerusalem stood by helplessly as the people in Jerusalem tried to kill Paul. It is hard to believe that James and many tens of thousands of believers were helpless or powerless.

Paul had to appeal to his Roman citizenship to save his life. A man who’s heart’s desire was always that Israel might be saved, and who’s ministry was unparalleled in the history of the world, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law, blameless, has to appeal to his Roman citizenship to save his life while he is in the Temple in Jerusalem. To me, this is truly an amazing state of affairs!

Paul would state years later in the letter to Timothy that there were those who had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof. His instruction to Timothy was, “from such, turn away” (II Tim. 3:5). Perhaps Paul’s mistake in going to Jerusalem was in his mind when he wrote those words.

In Jerusalem, and in the Temple itself, Paul faced hatred and the people were incited to want to kill him. The location of the effort to take Paul’s life is as significant as everything else Luke tells us about Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem. There was no greater form of godliness than the Temple in Jerusalem and the whole structure of the Jewish nation culminated in the Temple. We even saw in Acts 6:7 that a “great company of priests were obedient to the faith.” And yet, Paul had to be rescued from the Temple by the Roman authority and hustled out of town at night by the Roman guards in order to save his life.

Acts 21,22,23 show the absolute hatred and contempt that all of Jerusalem had for the apostle Paul. It is similar in many respects to the picture of Jerusalem when Israel killed Jesus Christ and when Israel killed Stephen. The end to God’s delivering Israel as a nation is suggested by the deliverance of Paul from the nation of Israel by the Roman soldiers. Two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen are required to escort him out of Jerusalem (Acts 23:23). That is four hundred seventy soldiers securing the safety of one man on a trip of 55 miles from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

Paul’s Defense Before the People of Jerusalem

Acts 22 gives us the account of Paul’s defense after being rescued from the Temple by the Roman guard. Paul’s deliverance from certain death came from the Tower of Antonia which was connected to the Temple area and garrisoned by Roman soldiers. As Paul was being escorted up the stairs to the Tower, he asked the chief captain for permission to speak to the people and was granted his request. The speech that Paul makes to the multitude shows us many things that add clarity to the picture of Jerusalem at this time.

In the first place, Acts 21:31-32 tell us that “all Jerusalem was in an uproar” and that the people were beating Paul when the soldiers came to his rescue. We are also told in no uncertain terms that the intention of the people was to kill Paul (verse 31). Presumably this was because of the rumor that spread through the crowd that Paul had brought a Gentile past the court of the Gentiles, a capital offense. However, this is not necessarily the only reason they were incited to want to kill Paul. From what we have seen from Acts 20 and 21, there must have been plenty of evidence, clearly seen by the Gentiles in every city where Paul ministered, that the Jews in Jerusalem hated Paul. To say that the rumor of Paul’s bringing a Gentile into the Temple proper was the only cause of their hatred, denies the fact that Paul was well known in Jerusalem and that the “many tens of thousands of believers” there had been “informed” of Paul before he came to Jerusalem (Acts 21:20). It also seems highly significant that Luke does not mention that either James, the elders, or any of the “tens of thousands of believers” came to Paul’s defense or even tried to intercede on his behalf. Once again, Luke’s silence seems to speak loudly to us.

We are told that “Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue” (Acts 21:40). We are also told that “when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence” (Acts 22:2). Since Luke was in all probability an eye witness to this event (see Acts 21:17) he can hardly be exaggerating in his description of the crowd’s attention. When we consider the fact that there may have been a hundred thousand people or more in the Temple area (which covered more than 20 acres) the magnitude of the event comes into focus.

Paul starts his defense by introducing himself as “brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Acts 22:3). Since Gamaliel was the disciple and successor of Hillel, and since the school of Hillel was one of the two dominant schools in Jerusalem in New Testament times, Paul’s credential as an intimate student of Gamaliel was bound to have an effect on the crowd. After saying that he had persecuted “this way unto death” (Acts 22:4), he goes so far as to say that the High Priest would bear him witness as would “all the estate of the elders” (Acts 22:5). If there were no other indications of Paul’s being well known in Jerusalem, this verse would be sufficient to demonstrate the fact. Before a hateful crowd, Paul says that the High Priest and all the estate of the elders would bear witness to the fact that he actively persecuted the Christian church before his conversion.

The rest of Paul’s defense adds to our knowledge of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus recorded in Acts 9. However, it does much more than this when we consider that it is given in the context of an angry mob wanting to kill Paul. In pointing out to the people that he was on an official mission authorized by the High Priest and “all the estate of the elders”, Paul established that Jesus Christ interrupted the mission and countermanded the orders of the High Priest and the elders. That the people allowed him to proceed with his defense after mentioning Jesus Christ is in keeping with our being told that there were “many tens of thousands of Jews” who believed in Jerusalem. It also shows us that the people did not hate Paul because he believed in Jesus Christ, nor did they hate him because they doubted the fact that Jesus Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. They allowed him to speak until he used the word Gentile (Acts 22:21,22). When Paul said, “and He (Jesus Christ) said unto me, depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles”, the Jews would listen no longer and “lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fitting that he should live.”

The question to be asked is, ” why did they conclude that it was not fitting that Paul should live?” The only answer that fits the substance of his defense is that he dared to state that Jesus Christ sent him to the Gentiles. They allowed him to continue speaking after he said the High Priest and elders would bear him witness of his actions before his conversion. They allowed him to continue speaking after he told them of his meeting with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. They allowed him to continue speaking after he told them that Jesus Christ had spoken to a man named Ananias in Damascus (not Ananias the High Priest) and that Ananias told him, “thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.” They even allowed him to continue speaking after he reported that Jesus Christ came to him in the Temple and said, “make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning Me.”

But, when Paul reports that Jesus Christ said to him, in the Temple, “Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles,” they would not allow him to speak further but raised their voices and expressed their will that he should be killed. It seems clear that their hatred was focused on the “equal salvation” of the Gentiles rather than on “salvation” in general.

It is also interesting to note that Paul says in his “argument” with Jesus Christ in the Temple, that “I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believe on Thee.” (Acts 22:19). In Acts 8:3 we are told that Paul entered “every house” and took Christians to prison. Since “house” and “synagogue” are different words in the greek texts, we must conclude that Paul did both. Our earlier discussion of the magnitude of the Christian church in Jerusalem is confirmed by the statement that Paul went into “every synagogue” as well as “every home”. It seems clear that the Christian Jews continued to attend the synagogues in Jerusalem rather than separating and meeting only in houses, as many suppose. And, to see “many tens of thousands of Jews” which believed in Jerusalem more than twenty five years later, is a fact that concurs in showing us that Christianity was well accepted in Jerusalem and among the dispersion. It was grace that was not accepted rather than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The issue which generated conflict seems clearly to be the conditions under which salvation was acceptable to Israel rather than salvation itself. The church in Jerusalem, headed up by James, the brother of Jesus, seems to clearly stand for the superiority of the Jew over the Gentile, while the church represented by Paul clearly stands for the “new creation in Christ” where there is neither Jew nor Gentile.(see I Cor. 12:13, Eph. 3:6, Rom. 3:9, 9:24, 10:4,12).

Paul’s Beating at the Hands of the Roman Soldiers

After Paul was taken into the Tower of Antonia, the chief captain gave the order to have Paul interrogated by scourging so that he could ascertain just why the people were so upset (Acts 22:24). Since he had given Paul permission to speak to the crowd, it is evident that he heard Paul’s speech and yet could not understand why the people were so upset with what Paul said. It is unlikely that the chief captain was totally ignorant of the Jews religion or of the fact that there were “many tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem which believed”. If Paul was hated simply because he was a Christian, it seems that the chief captain would have drawn that conclusion from Paul’s speech. However, the implications of the fact that the crowd stopped Paul from speaking when he mentioned that Jesus Christ had sent him to the Gentiles might well have escaped the chief captain. In any event, it is clear that the chief captain could not conclude from Paul’s speech what was the nature of the problem.

It also should not be lost on us that the chief captain would have reexamined in his mind the content of Paul’s speech while Paul was being “examined”. He faced a severe disturbance and he was responsible to the Roman authority for maintaining order in Jerusalem. We can well imagine him sitting at his desk and outlining the major elements of Paul’s speech on a note pad. From the statement that the High Priest and “all the estate of the elders” would bear Paul witness, he would conclude that Paul was well known and “well connected”. That he had violated their “trust” would be apparent. That Paul was following their orders when he was interrupted by Jesus Christ, would probably be something he would put down as “Jewish superstition”. And when he came to the point that Paul caused an uproar by stating that Jesus Christ had sent him to the Gentiles, he would have to shake his head and consider the Jews as “unfathomable” since they were always trying to make proselytes out of the Gentiles. Why they would be upset with Paul going to the Gentiles would certainly be unfathomable to him.

We can well imagine that the chief captain would be left to wonder how and why Paul could cause such a disturbance. And, we can well apply Paul’s instruction, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor.2:14), to the chief captain. He evidently was not a Jew and he evidently was not a Christian. He could not, therefore, understand the hatred thrown at “the apostle of grace” by those “zealous of the law”.

We see from Acts 22:25-29 that the chief captain was “afraid” when he found out that Paul was a Roman and that in having him bound and beaten, he had broken Roman law. Once again we see the word “afraid” applied to a courageous man (as we saw in Gal. 2:12 where we saw that Peter was afraid of those who came from James). It can hardly mean that he was a coward. But, it was a serious matter for him to have had a Roman citizen bound and beaten. And, no doubt more serious still, the chief captain realized that the “mob” in Jerusalem had been very close to killing a Roman citizen, and the consequences of such an action could have precipitated all out war with Rome. Paul had implicated in the disturbance the High Priest as well as all the estate of the elders.

Paul’s “Examination” before the Sanhedrin

In Acts 22:30, we are told that on the following day the chief captain was still intent on getting to the “bottom of the matter” and therefore commanded the Sanhedrin to meet. From this fact, it is clear that Paul was not on trial before the Sanhedrin but rather that the Sanhedrin was “on trial” before the chief captain. Paul was brought “unbound” to the meeting, as a Roman citizen, and his actions at the meeting could hardly be described as those of a defendant before a judge and jury. The setting is clearly defined as one in which the chief captain was determined to pinpoint the cause of the previous days riot. It seems clear that he had not decided the issue and still held open the possibility that Paul was not to blame but rather the High Priest and the people of Jerusalem were to blame.

The first ten verses of Acts 23 are the record of the meeting called by the chief captain of the Roman guard. Paul begins the meeting by “earnestly beholding the council” and saying, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” In other words, Paul declares that he is innocent of any wrong doing and is not responsible for the riot of the previous day. If it were not for the words in Acts 22:30, that the chief captain of the Roman guard “commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear” we would be inclined to think that the High Priest was in charge of the meeting. However, because we are specifically told that the chief captain called the meeting, we must understand the statements and actions in the meeting in the light of the chief captain watching the whole proceedings to decide how the riot of the previous day was caused. In that light, the order of the High Priest, Ananias, to have Paul slapped on the mouth is much more understandable. Paul’s claim that “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day”, could hardly, in itself, have been sufficient cause for the High Priest to have acted so precipitously.

However, if the High Priest’s action is seen as a demonstration designed to convince the chief captain of the Roman guard that Paul’s implication (that the High Priest and his agents were responsible for the riot) was wrong, then it is much more understandable. Paul’s reaction to the blow was as out of character for a trial as was the High Priests reaction to Paul’s opening sentence. Paul said, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:3). Knoch’s translation says, “God is about to beat you, whitewashed wall! And you are sitting to judge me according to the law, and illegally are you ordering me to be beaten!” This meeting seems much more like a fight than an orderly judicial proceeding. Paul’s use of “whitewashed wall” is reminiscent of Jesus calling the Pharisees, “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).

The “brethren” which were standing by must have been amazed by Paul’s frontal attack on the High Priest for they said, “Revilest thou God’s High Priest?” Who these “brethren” were, is not clear. However, in Paul’s first defense on the stairs to the Tower, the day before, he addresses the people as “men, brethren, and fathers” and it seems to me that the “men” would be the men of Israel, the “brethren” would be the Christians who were “zealous of the law, and the “fathers” would be the elders of the people. If so, the “brethren” that were “standing by” would have been Christians of the Jerusalem church who were amazed that Paul would dare to “revile” the High Priest.

If these “brethren” were Christians of the Jerusalem church, then Paul’s answer to them becomes much more understandable. He says, “I wist (knew) not, brethren, that he was the High Priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” (Acts 23:5a). It seems clear that Paul knew he was addressing the “High Priest” from the fact that he said “sittest thou to judge me after the law” in his angry retort to Ananias’ command to have him struck. Therefore, it cannot be an apologetic response that Paul is making. He certainly was not saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know he was High Priest or I would not have offended him.” The second part of Paul’s answer to the “brethren” shows that he is emphatically saying that Ananias is not the High Priest at all! He says, “for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” (Acts 23:5b).

If the “brethren” were Jewish Christians, and if, as is commonly accepted, the book of Hebrews was written about the time that Galatians was written, shortly after the Jerusalem council of 49 A.D., then we can assume that the content of the book of Hebrews was common knowledge among the Jerusalem Christians. If so, the “brethren” could readily conclude that Paul was drawing a contrast between the “secular” High Priest and the “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 6:20), Jesus Christ. Even if the position of some is admitted that Paul did not write Hebrews or that the book of Hebrews was written at a later date, it seems reasonable that the concept of Jesus Christ being High Priest was known and discussed during the first twenty five or more years of the church age. Certainly in Jerusalem it would have been discussed. With this in mind, Paul’s answer to the question, “Revilest thou God’s High Priest” seems clearly to be, “the High Priest you are referring to is not the High Priest at all because he speaks evil of the ruler of thy people, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the people.”

There were evidently fifteen High Priests that served in the Temple in the thirty six years of the church age prior to the war with Rome which began in 66 A.D.. Not one of them was worthy to be compared to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the High Priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec (all we know of Melchisedec is that Abraham gave him an offering from which some conclude that he was Shem). Since Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and since according to the original Jewish law, the High Priest was High Priest for life, Jesus Christ was obviously the High Priest, not Ananias! The buying of the office from the Roman governor by the wealthy Sadduceeian families had made a mockery of the institution of the High Priest and many of the Pharisees would have understood Paul’s point even if they did not wholeheartedly believe in Jesus Christ.

The record of the rest of the meeting is also significant. Paul causes the Sanhedrin to be split in two by his declaration that he was a Pharisee and had been called in question because of “the hope and resurrection of the dead”. We can imagine Jesus Christ whispering in Paul’s ear, “what we have here, Paul, is an opportunity for a little ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.” Acts 23:6 says, “and when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other part Pharisees, he cried out in the council…” Certainly Paul knew the general make up of the Sanhedrin long before the meeting we are considering. Therefore, “perceived” must be considered in the sense of “it dawned on him” or “he recognized an opportunity in light of the fact” or “he received revelation” rather than finding out for the first time that there were Sadducees and Pharisees present.

In any event, the Pharisees and Sadducees began arguing among themselves over the issue and Paul was rescued by the chief captain of the Roman guard from what must have been a violent argument. It is helpful to our understanding of the picture of the extensiveness of Christianity in Jerusalem to realize that the Pharisees took Paul’s side in the meeting and said, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” (Acts 23:9). The fact that many tens of thousands of believers in Jerusalem had been informed of Paul, as well as the fact that the High Priest and all the estate of the elders knew Paul, make the Pharisees declaration “we find no fault in this man” much more significant. They were not siding with an unknown man but with a very well known man. It becomes apparent in the rest of Acts that their support of Paul did not run very deep. But, it did at least show the chief captain of the Roman guard where the problem originated, and the problem wasn’t due to Paul’s actions but rather to the actions of others in Jerusalem.

It is also very significant that the “rumor” that Paul had brought Trophimus into the Temple with him (Acts 21:29), was not brought up at this meeting. It seems obvious that no witnesses to that accusation could be produced by the High Priest or his people, or else they certainly would have brought it up and insisted on Paul’s execution. Bringing a Gentile into the court of Israel was one of the few cases (if not the only case) where the Roman authority allowed the High Priest and Sanhedrin to administer capital punishment.

It seems clear that Paul was able to get the Pharisees to come over to his side my moving the debate from the matter of law to the question of the resurrection. Again we are drawn to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was accepted by many in Jerusalem and was not the reason for Jerusalem’s hatred of Paul. The controversy over resurrection in general had been fought over by Pharisees and Sadducees long before Jesus Christ came. On the other hand, the fight in which Paul was involved seems clearly to be over law and grace. Also, we cannot resist mentioning the possibility that James, the brother of Jesus, was at the meeting called by the chief captain of the Roman guard. He may even have been among “they that stood by” of whom Paul used the term “brethren” (Acts 23:4,5). If James was the head of “many tens of thousands of Jews which believe” (Acts 21:20), that fact would surely have been known by the chief captain of the Roman guard and James would likely have been among the “chief priests and all their council” who were commanded to appear for the meeting (Acts 22:30).

Perhaps the most significant thing about this meeting is that Luke includes it at all in the record of Acts. It is clearly not a trial and no evidence is given. Violence breaks out after Paul has spoken his first, seemingly harmless, sentence. Luke must have had a different purpose in mind than recording the events and outcome of a trial. The record of this meeting does show one thing very clearly, and that is conflict over Paul and what he stood for, in the highest levels of Jerusalem government and society. There does not appear to be any similar conflict in Jerusalem over James, who had lived in Jerusalem for many years, or over the many tens of thousands of believers that were in Jerusalem with him. Clearly there is a major difference between James and Paul and what they each stood for. Unless we say that Paul was wrong, a position that can hardly be taken by those saved by God’s grace, we must conclude that James was wrong and at best, hid the gospel of grace in order to avoid trouble. At worst, he may well have been party to wanting to kill Paul.

Jesus Christ Rescues Paul from Jerusalem

In Acts 23:11, we read that the Lord appeared to Paul the following night and said, “be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” Some will say that because the Lord appeared to Paul in Jerusalem, that it must have been the Lord’s will for Paul to go to Jerusalem in the first place. However, from what we have already discussed, it is clear that Paul should not have gone to Jerusalem. The wording of Jesus’ statement to Paul tends to confirm the conclusion that Paul should not have gone to Jerusalem. Jesus says, in essence, “because you have testified of me in Jerusalem, you must now go to Rome.” It seems clear that Jesus is not instructing Paul to go to Rome, but encouraging him in his confinement and pointing out that this confinement will result in his being taken to Rome.

Paul had told the believers along the way to Jerusalem that he was willing to die in Jerusalem if need be and perhaps he thought he was about to die the night that Jesus appeared to him. If so, Jesus’ words, “so must thou bear witness also at Rome” would have been words to cause Paul to “be of good cheer”. If we are right in our conclusion that Paul should not have gone to Jerusalem, then the fact that Jesus appeared to him while there establishes the truth of Heb. 13:5, where Jesus’ words are quoted, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

It was just such a message that Paul stood for and that the Jerusalem church could not accept. The unconditional grace of God is impossible to accept while at the same time believing that conditions are required in order to receive God’s favor. Jesus Christ appearing to Paul in Jerusalem, after telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem, shows clearly that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts, our thoughts (see Rom.11:33-35). He will continue to be with us even if we do not always do His will. This is the crux of the conflict between law and grace. Law says that Jesus Christ leaves when we sin. Grace says that Jesus Christ will never leave us or forsake us so that we can boldly say, “the Lord is my helper and I will not fear what man may do unto me.” (Heb. 13:5-6).

Paul certainly knew that nothing could separate him from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). In that light, perhaps Jesus’ meeting with Paul could be presented in a humorous light. We can imagine the Lord coming to see Paul and slapping him on the back and saying, “Cheer up, Paul! You wanted to come to Jerusalem and testify of Me. Now you’ve done it and it’s no big deal. No matter that everyone here wants to kill you and are even now making plans how they can do it. We’re going to Rome!” And we can imagine Paul’s response, “I’m sure glad you have a sense of humor, Lord, ’cause things are looking pretty bleak right about now.” And, we can picture Paul saying to the Lord on the way out of town, “not a bad escort you’ve arranged!” After all, four hundred seventy Roman soldiers (Acts 23:23) was an impressive escort for one man.

So much for Paul’s trip to Jerusalem. Outside of stirring the pot a little bit, it does not appear that he accomplished a thing. He certainly did not change the mind of the Jerusalem church nor Israel as a nation. Did God hold it against him that he decided to go to Jerusalem? No. Paul was given a pretty clear picture of what would happen if he did go. After he went, God got him back out of town in one piece.

In Acts 22:17-21, Paul recounts a former visit to Jerusalem and a similar “argument” he had with the Lord while he was in the Temple at that time. Jesus Christ had appeared to him and, in essence, said, “Hurry up, get out of town NOW!, for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.” The last trip was like the former, they would not receive his testimony concerning Jesus Christ!

The rest of the book of Acts tells of Paul’s convoluted trip to Rome and his imprisonment there for two years. It ends with a picture of Paul dwelling in his own rented house and receiving all who came to him. He taught them concerning the kingdom of God and concerning Jesus Christ and the final words of Acts are “quite openly, and unhindered.” The King James version says, “with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” The picture we see is one of grace triumphing over law. Even in prison, Paul is able to proclaim the gospel “openly and unhindered.” What he could not do in Jerusalem, he freely does in Rome! And, he does so even in prison. He also wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon during this time and what tremendous enlightenment and comfort they are, and have been to Christians through the ages.

We do not know for sure what Paul did after his imprisonment in Rome. We know that Paul presented his case directly to Nero himself because the angel of God said to Paul, “thou must be brought before Caesar” (Acts 27:24). We can assume that Paul was acquitted, or at least brought to trial at the end of two years of confinement since Acts ends so abruptly. If Paul was executed at that time, surely Luke would have mentioned the fact unless his motive for writing Acts was to present evidence in Paul’s defense before Caesar, in which case Acts was finished before the case was heard by Caesar. This possibility seems to fit in with all we have shown of conflict in Acts and is certainly worthy of further study. There is evidence to show that Christianity was considered to be a part of Judiasm before Paul presented his case to Caesar. There is also evidence to show that afterwards Christianity was recognized as distinct from Judiasm. If Luke’s motive was not merely to show conflict in general between law and grace, but rather to develop a specific position for presentation to Nero in defense of Paul, Paul’s acquittal based on Nero’s examination of the book of Acts is exciting to consider.

In the event that Luke did not write Acts to present to Nero, his abrupt ending still appears to signify Paul’s acquittal. If Paul had been convicted and killed, that fact could hardly have been hidden from those who read Acts. Such an omission would have discredited the whole book if Luke ended it on a positive note when in fact Paul was killed.

Some say that Paul was again imprisoned in Rome in 68 A.D.. If so, Paul could have continued on to Spain as he had planned after his release in 62 A.D. (Rom. 15:24,28). Of one thing we can be sure, that wherever he was, he continued to teach the grace of God. And, of all his teaching, nothing could transcend his revelation that the mystery that was kept secret from before the foundations of the world was now revealed, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs with the Jews and all those who accepted Christ as Lord, Jew and Gentile alike, would receive a new nature, that nature which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”












“Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doeth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost (in a little or with a little) thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” 
Acts 26:24-28

The last four and a half chapters of Acts deal with events while Paul is in the custody of the Roman authority, first in Caesarea and then in Rome. The first part of Acts 23 tells us how certain death awaited Paul in Jerusalem had not Claudius Lysias, the chief captain of the Roman guard, been informed by Paul’s nephew of the plot to kill Paul. We are told that forty Jews, of unknown character and affiliation, bound themselves with an oath to kill Paul and would do so before they ate or drank anything again. They were obviously intent upon killing Paul at the first possible opportunity. Acts 23:14 shows clearly that they were in conspiracy with the High Priest and the Sanhedrin.

It is not clear who these forty men were. We do not know if they were Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, Zealots, Christians or non-Christians. We do know from the context that they had access to the High Priest and the Sanhedrin and from that fact we can conclude that they were not mere peasants. It also seems clear that they were not hired by the High Priest or Sanhedrin to kill Paul since they initiated the conspiracy to have Paul brought out in the open where he could be conveniently killed. They were hardly “lewd fellows of the baser sort” as in Acts 17:5, or “false witnesses” as in Acts 6:13.

Had Luke told us more fully who these men were, and who they were affiliated with, our picture of affairs in Jerusalem would undoubtedly be clearer. We cannot necessarily conclude that Luke omitted telling us who they were because such details were unimportant. It is equally likely that it would have been “imprudent” for him to have done so, especially if the forty men were among the “many tens of thousands of Jews that believe and are all zealous for the law”. Since Paul was delivered from them, it is likely that they starved to death since they appear to be very devout Jews and had revealed their “great curse” to the High Priest and Sanhedrin (Acts 23:14). It seems that their hatred of Paul was born out of religious zeal rather than motivated by bribes or to win favor with the authorities. If so, they could hardly have gone back on their “great curse”. If they did go back on it, their shame would have been difficult to live with.

Luke also does not tell us how Paul’s nephew found out about the plot so that he could tell Paul about it and then tell Claudius Lysias. It is another piece of information that might tell us much of the state of affairs in Jerusalem at the time. If someone from the Sanhedrin told Paul’s nephew of the plot, either because he sided with Paul or because he thought the action unjust, we would see one picture. However, if the knowledge of the plot was so widespread that Paul’s nephew found out “accidentally”, we would see an entirely different picture. We do get some idea of how important Claudius Lysias felt the information to be by the fact that he charged Paul’s nephew to “see thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me” (Acts 23:22) and by the fact that he immediately ordered four hundred seventy soldiers to get ready to take Paul to Caesarea and had them take him there in the middle of the night (Acts 23:23-33).

We cannot help, even at the risk of belaboring the point, to draw attention to the fact that Luke devotes nearly a third of the book of Acts to the events surrounding Paul’s going to Jerusalem, his reception while there, and the consequences of his going. Why he does so is a question that begs for an answer. From the first part of Luke’s account of “Paul’s Jerusalem trip” we see that virtually everyone Paul met and was associated with pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Luke then devotes almost three full chapters to events in Jerusalem while Paul was there, almost as much space as he devotes to the Ascension, the start of the church age, the growth of the church in perhaps the first two years of the church age, and the healing of the man that was lame from his birth, all put together. Such facts point to the possibility, mentioned in the last chapter, that the book of Acts could well have been written with the immediate purpose being to help Paul in his appeal before Caesar.

The Silence of the Jerusalem Church

There are some striking things to consider about Luke’s record of Paul’s final stay in Jerusalem. After being told that Paul and his company were “received gladly” by “the brethern” (Acts 21:17) and that, after Paul told James and “all the elders” what God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry , “they glorified the Lord” (Acts 21:18-20), we find no further mention of the Jerusalem church acting or responding in any way while Paul is there. We are not told that the church met together and prayed, as Luke points out in Acts 4:23-31 (about 23 years earlier), or as we see in Acts 12:12-17 (perhaps 12 years earlier). We are not told that James or any of the elders interceded on Paul’s behalf. The only thing Luke tells us about the Jerusalem church is that James gives Paul instructions to be carried out so that all would see that Paul walked orderly and kept the law, and James tells Paul that there are tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem that believe and have been “informed” about him (Acts 21:20-25). James clearly implies that these Christian Jews did not think well of Paul.

From what we have already discussed of Paul’s experience in Jerusalem, the “backdrop” of such a large number of Christians in Jerusalem cannot be ignored. If Paul was so hated in Jerusalem, why was not James hated? Why were not the elders in the Jerusalem church hated? How could such hatred of Paul be allowed to dominate the city when many tens of thousands of Christians were there? And, where were the apostles, and especially Peter and John, while all the attacks on Paul were going on? Since Luke does not mention any of the apostles in this account, we assume they were no longer in Jerusalem. If so, why were they not there if many tens of thousands of Christians were there? How and when were they driven out of Jerusalem, if indeed they were forced out? When Paul tells us in Galatians that Peter was afraid of James, was that situation ever rectified? These are serious questions that require serious consideration. The answers to all these questions seem to be centered in James statement of Acts 21:20, “and they are all zealous of the law.”

Because the possibility that James, the brother of Jesus, was the opposite of Paul is so revolutionary a concept, I can hardly go further than to show the evidence in Acts that such was the case. A thorough investigation of the epistle of James as contrasted to Paul’s epistles and to those of Peter and John must come later. However, there is a verse in James that I used to think was not James’ position at all but rather a quote he used to draw a contrast and somehow he felt the opposite. I bring it up here because it is so clear and because it makes James position emphatic when he said to Paul that tens of thousands of Christians in Jerusalem were “zealous for the law”. The verse is James 2:10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all”. If this is the position of James, and try as hard as we might, we cannot ignore this verse, then James is clearly opposite to Paul and the silence of James and the Jerusalem church while Paul was in Jerusalem is explained. Regarding the law, James says, “Guilty”. Paul says, “Not Guilty”. As for the book of James, it is my hope that further examination of it will amplify grace by the contrast it provides, since the epistle of James can hardly be made to correspond to grace but rather corresponds to law.

The Trial Before Felix

When Claudius Lysias has Paul delivered to the governor of Judea, Felix, he also sends a letter to him explaining the situation (Acts 23:26-30). He concludes that Paul has merely been accused of “questions of their law” and he has discovered nothing that would give cause for Paul to be imprisoned, let alone executed. While all the city of Jerusalem screamed “Guilty!”, the chief captain of the Roman guard wrote to the governor, “Not Guilty!”.

It cannot be emphasized enough that Paul had done nothing wrong regarding the law while in Jerusalem, or for that matter throughout his entire ministry. As he had said before the Sanhedrin, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). This was no man that used grace as an occasion for the flesh or as an occasion to sin. Concerning the law, he was blameless. How many men can say that today? Paul must have lived a very contented life (and we won’t mention for the moment the beatings, stonings, starvation, etc.). To be able to say, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” is something rather awesome to consider. And, for this kind of man to be so hated in Jerusalem is even more awesome to consider.

How many people today, given the evidence in Acts 22 and 23, would conclude that Paul was innocent? We can hear the whispers and echos carried on the wind, “Where there is smoke there is fire!”, “They couldn’t all be wrong!”, “Who does he think he is anyway?”, “If he’s so smart, why ain’t he rich?”, “I knew he’d get in trouble!”. How easy it is to side with the majority, and how wonderfully safe. The heart just swells with self-satisfaction at “being on the winning team”. The shoulders go back a little bit, the head comes up, the chin sticks out and pride shows all over to think we’re in the majority and therefore we are right! If I had to venture a guess, I’d say there probably isn’t one in a hundred today, if placed in Jerusalem when Paul was there, that would side with Paul. Far easier it is to weigh the size of the crowd with the eyes than to weigh the truth with the heart. And yet Paul could say, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”

Even Claudius Lysias, that Roman “pillar of objectivity”, couldn’t resist the opportunity to cover his own complicity by lying a little. His eyes had also weighed the crowd and had concluded that Paul was guilty. So, Claudius saw no harm in having him beaten to get a confession out of him. But after he realized he had made a big mistake, he wrote to Felix and said, “This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman” (Acts 23:27).

If the actions of Claudius Lysias were not so typical of human nature, we’d be inclined to say to him, “Oh, come on Claudius, don’t go telling tales out of school. You know you had Paul beaten before you found out he was a Roman.” Anyway, seems to me that he took some risk in lying to the governor. Perhaps he felt it was less of a risk than the governor finding out he had beaten a Roman citizen. Certainly it would go hard on any of his soldiers if they told the governor Claudius had lied (and probably the governor would not have believed them anyway).

Five days after Paul was escorted out of Jerusalem, Ananias and the Sanhedrin descended on Caeserea and brought with them their “hired gun”, Tertullus. Assumably, Tertullus was the best of his trade and well versed in Roman law and “well connected”. He starts his prosecution by saying to Felix, “we have found this man a pestilent fellow” (Acts 24:5), or as Moffatt translates the verse, “The fact is, we have found this man a perfect pest.” The Christian who has read and studied Paul’s epistles can’t help but see how ludicrous this statement is. A man, called by Jesus Christ Himself, is considered a “pest” by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin of Israel.

The formal charges are three in number. First, Paul is charged with sedition. Second, he is charged with being “a ringleader” of the Nazarene sect. Third, he is charged with “trying to desecrate the Temple”. Acts 24:9 says, “and the Jews assented, saying that these things were so.” We can imagine them nodding their heads and saying, “Yep, you betcha, Paul did all that!”

Paul then responds by pointing out that it was only twelve days prior that he went up to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 24:11). If we consider that the first day he was greeted by the church, the second day he met with James, five days had passed since he arrived in Caeserea, and two days passed after the day he met with the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem before he was escorted out of Jerusalem, we are left with only four days in which Paul could possibly have been “a pest”. During those four days he had to purify himself with the four men of Acts 21:23, and “be at charges with them”. Also, the fourth day was the day of the riot when he was almost killed, and we are left with very little time in which he could have been “a Pest”. The time frame would not have been lost on Felix (even though he goes down in history as a man that “in the practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty he exercised the power of a king with the temper of a slave”).

Paul then denies that he did anything wrong in Jerusalem and points out that his accusers cannot prove any of their charges (as should have been obvious to Felix by the fact that they brought no witnesses with them). It is interesting to note the difference between their charge here that Paul “tried to desecrate the Temple” (Acts 24:6 Moffatt) and the hew and cry in Jerusalem that he “brought Greeks also into the Temple, and hath polluted this holy place”(Acts 21:28). We can’t help but think that Felix was wondering who were the bigger “pests”, Paul or the High Priest and his company. Paul goes on to say that he came to Jerusalem after many years absence “to bring alms to my nation, and offerings” (Acts 24:17). This “rang bells” in the mind of Felix as evidenced by his later treatment of Paul and Luke’s statement, “He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul” (Acts 24:26). Perhaps Luke knew this fact from himself being approached by Felix.

Perhaps the most revealing fact about Paul’s trial before Felix is Luke’s comment that Felix had “more perfect knowledge of that way” or as Moffatt puts it, “Felix had a rather accurate knowledge of the Way”. Knoch says, “being acquainted more exactly with that which concerns the way.” The fact that the Roman governor of Judea had an extensive and accurate knowledge of Christianity says much about how extensive Christianity was. Luke even tells us that Felix and his wife Drusilla, sent for Paul later “and heard him concerning the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:24). We are not told whether or not they were “born again”. We hope they were! We do see in verse twenty five that Felix became afraid when Paul brought up the subject of righteousness, self- control, and impending judgment. We are also told that Felix hoped to get money for Paul’s release which presumably is the reason he kept him imprisoned for two years. We are told that Felix conversed with Paul “pretty frequently” (Acts 24:26 Moffatt).

Most everyone seems to thing that Felix was a “bad guy” because he hoped to get money from Paul. Historians don’t have much good to say about him either. Some suggest that he wasn’t very qualified and only had his office because his brother Paulus was influential in Rome. Others point out that he had Jonathan, one of the High Priests, assassinated because he protested against some of Felix’s practices. It is even recorded that he enticed his wife away from her husband with the help of a magician. All these point to the probability that he wasn’t much of a “sterling fellow”, at least for part of his life.

However, a case can be made in his defense. It is possible that the money he wanted from Paul was the payment of a fine rather than a bribe. As the governor, Felix had a volatile situation on his hands. (It was only about six years later that the daily sacrifice for Caesar was stopped, thereby starting the war that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem). If he found Paul innocent and let him go, he might have been faced with severely unpleasant political consequences. If however, he could get Paul to pay a fine and thereby admit his guilt, he could conceivably accomplish his purpose in letting Paul go while at the same time pacifying the situation in Judea.

We bring up this possibility to show that it was at least as likely that Felix and his wife did become Christians, after talking with Paul “pretty often”, as it was that they did not become Christian. Certainly their background was no worse than Paul’s, Paul having killed Christians. And, from the vantage point of God’s grace, we’d have to say, “Why, that would be just like God to give eternal life to Felix and Drusilla”. Luke does say that Felix and Drusilla “heard him concerning the faith of Christ” and also says Felix later sent for Paul often and “communed with him”. And, such conversations can hardly be relegated to talk about the weather when we consider the fact that Paul’s ministry was to Jews, Gentiles and Kings and also that Felix was the Roman governor.

One other point in favor of Felix. Historians tell us that he was removed from office because the Jewish nation was dissatisfied with him and appealed to Rome to have him removed. Although there does not seem to be any evidence outside of Acts for the position that Paul’s being under the protection of Felix was the cause for Felix’ removal from office, the evidence that Acts does contain seems to overshadow any other “secular” evidence, especially if Felix and his wife became Christians. In that case, Paul would have grown in the minds of the High Priest and his cronies from a “pest” to a “prehistoric monster”! And, grace would once again have triumphed over law!

We should mention also, that regardless of whether or not Felix was converted, Caeserea became Paul’s “headquarters” for two years and the centurion that kept Paul was instructed to “let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him” (Acts 24:23). Paul’s status seems similar to his later two years imprisonment in Rome where we see that he “received all that came in unto him. Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). We can’t help but wonder how many people heard the gospel in Caeserea during those two years. Paul did mighty things in much less time in other cities of the world. He hadn’t changed, even if Jerusalem had changed for the worse.

Paul’s Trial Before Festus

The evidence that Paul was the cause for Felix being removed from office continues in Acts 25:1. From the time that Festus arrived in Judea, only three days went by before he went to Jerusalem and was informed of the Jews position against Paul. We are told that after Festus was “informed” the Jews “besought him, and desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him” (Acts 25:2-3). Knoch translates verse three, “and they entreated him, requesting a favor against him, so that he should send after him to bring him into Jerusalem, making an ambush to assassinate him by the way.”

The way the verse reads seems to suggest that the High Priest and the “chief of the Jews” were being “out front” with Festus and basically saying, “Do us a favor. Send for Paul and we’ll kill him on the way to Jerusalem. It will solve a big problem.” It could be that they didn’t tell Festus about their plans to assassinate Paul, but the verse seems to suggest that they did. If Paul was the reason for Felix being dismissed, then Festus would have known that Paul was “the first thing on his list” when he took office. In any event, Festus declines their request and says that he will go up to Caeserea shortly and they should bring all their “ammunition” with them and the matter of Paul would be addressed then.

The King James Version translates Acts 25:6 by saying that Festus stayed with them in Jerusalem “more than ten days”. Knoch and Moffatt both say “not more than eight or ten days”. The difference in the translations may not be critical. However, if “not more than eight or ten days” is more accurate, then an urgency is implied that is missing in the King James. If Festus had only three days to organize affairs in Caeserea and then only eight to ten days to do the same in Jerusalem, then the trial of Paul was indeed on the “front burner”. The day after he arrived back in Caeserea, he had Paul brought before him. When we realize that Festus only stayed in Caeserea three days (about the time needed to unpack), went up to Jerusalem for eight to ten days and then immediately put Paul on trial upon his return back to Caeserea, it becomes fairly clear that Paul was “the first order of business”. If so, there is every reason to believe that Paul was the cause of Felix being dismissed and the likelihood that Felix became a Christian increases.

Acts 25:5 is revealing when Festus says to the High Priest and the “chief of the Jews”, “Let them therefore, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.” The fact that Festus had the High Priest and his company travel “with him” certainly puts him “in bed with them”. Verse seven tells us that “the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grevious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.” We can picture the High Priest and his crew mulling over accusations for two years time and probably even had in their “many and grevious complaints” that Paul didn’t wash his hands when he ate bread, or “he sneezed last thursday”. When we consider the almost infinite possibilities for accusations that could be developed by “devout” Jews over two years time, especially when they hated someone as much as they hated Paul, we can well imagine how long they “stood round about” heaping one accusation on top of another. We can almost picture Luke with tongue in cheek saying, “Oh, by the way, none of these are true.”

Luke only dedicates one verse to Paul’s defense. Paul says, “Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the Temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended anything at all” (Acts 25:8). Paul certainly knew what he was up against. He spends little time on his defense, one sentence. Since he was “at liberty” under the centurion’s protection for the two years he was in Caeserea, he might even have had agents sitting around the coffee shops in Jerusalem, gathering the latest “inside information” as they appeared to be idly sipping their coffee. It is also likely that Paul knew the reasons for the dismissal of Felix, especially if Felix had become a Christian.

In any event, Acts 25:9 shows the trap that Festus has set for Paul. Festus says, “Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?” Many historians say that Festus was a better man then Felix. If so, they didn’t get their information from Acts. This verse shows him to be a perfect creep! And, if it is true that the High Priest and his people were “out front” with Festus while he was in Jerusalem and he knew and sanctioned their plan to assassinate Paul on the way to Jerusalem, then he must be seen here as the worst kind of man possible, a conniving, treacherous, waste of a man. We are told that he was “willing to do the Jews a pleasure” (Acts 25:9), and it is obvious that he could have cared less for Paul’s safety or wellbeing. If nothing else could be said about his predecessor, Felix, at least Felix kept Paul safe for two years. Festus is in Israel for less than two weeks and tries to get Paul to consent to going up to Jerusalem.

Paul replied, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest”(Acts 25:10). The fact that Paul says, “as thou very well knowest” makes the entire scene very clear. In the next verse, Paul reminds Festus that he did not have the power to deliver Paul to the Jews. For Paul to talk this way to Festus, there must have been a whole lot of attention being paid to the matter, not only in Jerusalem but also in Rome. Otherwise, we cannot imagine Paul pointing out the governor’s limitations to Festus. A free man would hardly dare to do such a thing, let alone a prisoner. However, Paul knew he would be judged by hate in Jerusalem rather than by law and was not about to let Festus transfer the case from Roman Jurisdiction to the jurisdiction of the High Priest and Sanhedrin, even though Festus assured Paul that he would hear the case himself in Jerusalem. The attempt by Festus to get Paul to agree to move the trial to Jerusalem can be seen in no other way than that Festus was willing to do the Jews a favor.

Paul completes his part of the meeting by saying, “I appeal unto Caesar” (Acts 25:11). The following verse says that Festus “conferred with the council” and we can well imagine the “expletives deleted” that they all tossed at each other. There was nothing that any of them could do, including Festus. Festus tells Paul, “Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.”

It should be pointed out that Festus could have released Paul since there was no evidence against Paul. The fact that he did not, shows that no longer was there any pretense of justice. Paul was faced with a raw power struggle. The Jews and Festus were on one side with all their money and political clout. Paul was on the other with only a right to appeal to Caesar (and of course, Jesus Christ having all power and authority in heaven and in earth).

Paul’s Audience Before King Agrippa

As was the case with Claudius Lysias’ letter to Felix, so also Festus failed to tell the “whole story” to King Agrippa when The King of the Jews came to Caeserea to welcome Festus into office. The complicity of Festus with the High Priest is omitted. His desire to do them a favor is omitted. He indicates that he was surprised by the accusations against Paul (but failed to tell him that he had spent eight or ten days with the Jews in Jerusalem and traveled back with them to Caeserea). He then tells Agrippa that the questions were over some fellow named Jesus, who died and yet Paul affirmed that He was alive. Festus then tells Agrippa, in a very innocent light, that he asked Paul to go to Jerusalem. He clearly did not wish to inform Agrippa that he was “willing to do the Jews a pleasure” (Acts 25:9).

Agrippa tells Festus that he wants to hear Paul himself and Acts 25:23 begins the record of that meeting. It is truly a revealing account to consider. With all the things that Luke has told us so far about the events surrounding Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, this is one clear episode that demonstrates that Paul was surely called to minister to kings.

We are told that “when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city”, Paul was brought before them all. The place of meeting was not the judgment hall, but the “audience chamber” as both Moffatt and Knoch render it. This was King Herod Agrippa II, King of the Jews (son of Agrippa I who had been raised with Claudius, Emperor of Rome and was a personal friend as well as a counselor to him and who, Acts 12 tells us, killed the apostle James, imprisoned Peter, and then was “eaten of worms” and died). Perhaps fourteen years had gone by since his father had died and King Herod Agrippa II reported to no one but to Caesar in Rome. His relationship to Festus was not one of subordinate to superior, but rather was the relationship of a King to a Roman administrator.

This meeting is not a trial at all. It is an audience. There are no accusers, no charges, and no evidence brought forth. There also is no indication that the High Priest or his people were even invited to attend this affair. It is held in a thoroughly Gentile city, by the order of the King of the Jews, and all the Roman military leaders are invited to attend as well as all the leading citizens of the city of Caeserea. This is a big meeting and it is called with the express purpose of hearing Paul. God could not have put together a more Royal forum for Paul to present his case for grace (with the possible exception of his later appearance before Nero). We have seen from previous accounts in Acts that whole cities came together to hear Paul. But, he never came before the King of the Jews before. Many people have missed the tremendous reality of this meeting because they have thought it was a trial. It is not a trial. It is an audience before a king, interested in hearing what Paul has to say, who has called a meeting, and has gathered all the influential people of the city together with him to hear Paul.

After Festus has Paul brought in, he addresses the King and all the rest of the people and says, “ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both in Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer” (Acts 25:24). The picture of Festus standing in front of all those influential people and saying such a thing almost makes us want to have pity on him. He had only been in town a little while and most of the people present must have been unknown to him. There is little doubt that they were mostly, if not all, Gentiles. The picture is a pretty pitiful sight. Festus points at Paul and says, in essence, “You see this man, he has occupied my entire time since I got here. It seems there is not a Jew around that has not shouted, Away with him!”

Festus goes on to tell them that he could find nothing worthy of death in Paul but that since Paul had appealed to Caesar, he had determined to send him. Acts 25:26 shows the state to which Festus had been reduced in his short time in office. He says, “I don’t have anything to accuse him of!” Imagine the situation. Festus brings out Paul, tells all these people that the man is thoroughly hated by the Jews, he has appealed to Caesar, Festus concludes he will send him to Caesar, but doesn’t have any charges to send with him. It is pitiful! I can imagine the smiles, the guffaws, the whispered questions, “who is this jerk Festus? Why didn’t he let the man go? There are not even any charges against him!”

But, Festus blunders on and solicits their help, as well as the help of Agrippa. He says, “wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O King Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.” (Acts 25:26-27). Had we not already seen the kind of character that Festus had shown himself to be, we might feel truly sorry for him, standing in front of such an illustrious crowd with a prisoner and such a ridiculous case. As it is, we want to say, “shut up, fool, and let Paul speak!”

Chapter 26 is the record of Paul’s speech before Agrippa and all the influential people of the city of Caesarea. The setting is wonderful, the speech is wonderful and most important of all, the outcome is wonderful. In fact, the outcome is so wonderful that it may be very hard to accept. And, it has been hidden away by virtually every translation and every commentary of which I am familiar. It is one place in which I will dare to stand against them all without apology and without hesitation. If I am wrong, what follows will hurt no one. If I am right, the grace of God may be seen beyond my wildest expectations.

Paul’s speech, and in fact, the rest of the chapter seem clear and easily understandable. In fact the only word in the entire chapter that does not ring true in the context is the word “almost” in Acts 26:28. The Greek word used by Agrippa in verse 28, and by Paul in verse 29, is the word “oligo”. It is used elsewhere in the bible, but only here is it translated “almost”. Everywhere else it has been translated “in a little”, “with a little”, “a short space”, “briefly”, etc..

If we say, as most do, that Agrippa’s words were, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” we must conclude that Paul didn’t quite persuade him. If, however, Agrippa’s words were, “Briefly thou persuadest me to be a Christian”, then our conclusion is quite the opposite. We see that Paul did persuade Agrippa to be a Christian. In other words, with Paul’s brief explanation, or short message, or “with a little” scripture, King Agrippa did become a Christian. Knoch translates the verse, “Yet Agrippa to Paul, Briefly are you persuading me, to make me a Christian.” (And it should be added that even after Knoch so translated the verse, his commentary indicates that it did not dawn on him that Agrippa had become a Christian).

If we leave the verse uncertain for the moment, and consider which is the more likely outcome from the context, much becomes absolutely clear. In verse 24, Festus interrupts Paul in the middle of his presentation. He does so “with a loud voice”. This is not Agrippa that is interrupting Paul. It is not the people gathered with Agrippa that are interrupting Paul. It is Festus interrupting Paul, and he does so “with a loud voice”. His words match his action. He says, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doeth make thee mad.”

We must ask ourselves, “why would Festus take it upon himself to interrupt Paul when Agrippa had given Paul permission to speak?”(See Acts 26:1). If Agrippa had wanted Paul to stop speaking, all he would have had to do was make a gesture with his hand or say “enough”. Festus had heard Paul speak before. He had even briefed Agrippa that Paul believed Jesus to be alive (Acts 25:19). Why did he, “with a loud voice” declare that Paul was crazy?

We can only conclude that Festus felt Agrippa was being unduly influenced, or some other nefarious reason. Perhaps he was on the “payroll” of the High Priest and Paul’s testimony was getting entirely out of hand. Perhaps he was possessed, like Barjesus in Acts 13:6-12, when Paul was talking to the deputy Sergius Paulus on the island of Paphos. In that event, Sergius Paulus believed and was “astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.”

Whatever prompted Festus to interrupt Paul, we can be sure that he was not being courteous. There is no evidence that he was asked to interrupt Paul. Paul’s response assures Festus that he is not crazy but that he is speaking forth “words of truth and soberness” (Acts 26:25). Paul then contrasts Festus with Agrippa by saying, “For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). In other words, Paul says that Agrippa understands what Paul is saying even if Festus does not. He also points out to Festus that he was given permission to speak by Agrippa. And, from all that we have discussed so far in Acts, certainly the evidence of Jesus Christ’s resurrection was “not done in a corner”. From Paul’s statement, “I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him,” it seems more than likely that King Agrippa also knew about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus before Paul’s audience with him.

The following verse is the verse that hit me like a ton of bricks when it first dawned on me that Agrippa could have been saved that day. Paul says, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I KNOW THAT THOU BELIEVEST!!!” (Acts 26:27). Nothing could be clearer. Paul says that he knows that Agrippa believes. Some will be bound to say that Paul is referring only to an academic interest on the part of Agrippa in the Old Testament. The whole context of Paul’s presentation flies in the face of such a position. And, Festus’ outrageous outburst puts the counterpoint to the fact that Paul had reached into the heart of Agrippa and Agrippa’s next words are, “Paul, you have persuaded me to be a Christian!” It is such an overwhelming thing to consider that words are inadequate to do the scene justice.

The very next verse gives Paul’s response to Agrippa’s confession. Paul says, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” (Acts 26:29) Paul uses the exact same word as Agrippa did, “almost” or “oligo”, to say that he wished that all the illustrious crowd gathered with Agrippa were “oligo” persuaded to be a Christian as Agrippa was, or persuaded “in a brief time” to be a Christian, as Agrippa was. And, not only that, Paul wished them all to be “altogether such as I am, except these chains.” It can’t be that Paul was saying, “I wish you all were ‘half-Christians’ like Agrippa and even better than that, ‘full Christians’ like I am.” It is unfathomable that Paul would be sarcastic to Agrippa at this point. He was even courteous to Festus when Festus was screaming at him. The only satisfactory conclusion is that King Agrippa (and perhaps many of those gathered with him that day) was converted, saved, born again.

The only argument that appears to prevent anyone from believing that King Herod Agrippa II became a Christian is that they don’t want him to be a Christian. So very much has been made of Agrippa’s “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”, and so very little has been made over the clear evidence that he did become a Christian. After almost two thousand years, it seems about time that Christians rejoice that they have a brother in Christ, King Herod Agrippa II.

Acts 26:30 should also be considered in any evaluation of whether or not Agrippa became a Christian that day. We are told, “And when he (Paul) had thus spoken, the king rose up, and Bernice, and they that sat with them” and the meeting was ended. There is nothing to suggest that Agrippa was angry, or that he gave any response at all to Paul’s final wish. We can only conclude that everyone left quietly to ponder over and consider all that Paul had said.

We do not know how many of the people there believed after hearing Paul. We will know when the Lord returns. We can also well imagine that few demonstrations of joy would have been likely in the presence of the king. And, if we are right that King Agrippa said to Paul, “you have persuaded me to be a Christian” what more could have been said at the meeting? Luke’s record of the end of the meeting seems to show ample evidence that Paul’s message was effective and hearts had been reached with the overwhelming truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The final two verses of Acts 26 tell us that Agrippa and his wife found nothing worthy of death or of bonds about Paul and Agrippa even said to Festus that he would have let him go, then and there, had not Paul appealed to Caesar. These certainly are not the words and actions of a King who Paul had insulted. Much more likely, they were the response of a man who, after hearing about Christianity for a long time, had finally accepted Christ after hearing Paul’s brief, but thorough message.

There is some question in Acts 26:31 regarding to whom the “they” is referring. If it refers to all the people gathered with King Agrippa, then we see a much larger discussion going on in the city of Caeserea than if “they” refers only to the King and his wife. Knoch’s translation says, “And retiring, they spoke with one another, saying that, ‘Nothing deserving of death or bonds this man is committing'”. It seems obvious that another meeting was not called and since “they” seems to be referring to all the people in the previous verse, Luke seems to be telling us that all the people talked with one another after the meeting and all agreed that Paul’s being imprisoned was totally unjust.

The fact that Agrippa then said to Festus, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar” does not imply that Festus was among those involved in the common discussion around town that Paul was innocent. From what we have seen of Festus’ character, we would have to think he would be more inclined to go and hide. And, it is possible that Agrippa’s statement to Festus contained some hint that Festus should have let Paul go so that he would not have had to appeal to Caesar.

Certainly, Paul was not the reason for his own confinement. And, unless the “machinery had already been set in motion” regarding his appeal to Caesar and he could not do so, certainly Paul would have preferred to be released rather than insist on an appeal. It is true that the High Priest and Festus would be in trouble if Paul appeared before Caesar without any charges against him. Roman law was not so short sighted as to let false accusers go unpunished, especially if they were wasting Caesar’s time. However, we cannot imagine that Paul was responsible for his failure to be released as is implied by the statement of Agrippa that he could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar. In any event, it seems clear that all the leading people of Caeserea, as well as King Agrippa, pronounced Paul “Not Guilty!”.

Paul Goes to Rome

Acts 27 tells us of Paul being sent to Rome for his appeal. Some will point out that it was Paul’s own fault that he was imprisoned for so long because he should not have gone to Jerusalem in the first place. Granted, he could have avoided almost five years of imprisonment if he had not gone to Jerusalem. But, it certainly was not Paul’s fault that he was imprisoned. The chief captain of the Roman army at Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias, pronounced Paul, not guilty (Acts 23:29). Felix evidently found him not guilty (Acts 24:22,27). Agrippa found him not guilty (Acts 26:31) as did the whole city of Caeserea. It is obvious that Paul was, in fact, not guilty. Only the hate emanating from Jerusalem keep him confined.

No clearer picture of the difference between Paul and James could be drawn than that drawn by Luke in his extensive account of Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem. While Paul was imprisoned in Caeserea, James and tens of thousands of Christians were in Jerusalem. And, if Josephus can be believed at all, his account of James’ assassination (about the time that Acts ends and presumably Paul appears before Nero, in 62 A.D.) tells us that James was held in honor by “the most equitable of the citizens”. We find it odd that Josephus fails to mention anything about Paul in the light of Luke’s extensive description of the controversy caused by Paul going to Jerusalem. Josephus was evidently there at the time and seems to be familiar with James reputation in Jerusalem. Also, it should be noted that Josephus wrote about 30 years after Acts was published and certainly he could have had access to Acts if he had chosen to read it.

Josephus also tells us that he was an aristocratic priest, on intimate terms with the High Priest and the elders of the city, which make it implausible that he did not know about Paul. His speaking well about James, and not speaking at all about Paul certainly shows a difference between Paul and James. Historians also point out that Agrippa had the High Priest removed because of the assassination of James, in order to assure the new governor when he arrived that the act of assassinating James was not a lawful act and not sanctioned by him. And, the fact that “those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were uneasy at the breech of laws, they disliked what was done” as Josephus says about James death, would hardly have been said about Paul had he been killed in Jerusalem.

We are told in Acts 27:1 that Paul and other prisoners were delivered to a centurion named Julius for delivery to Rome. There is some evidence that Julius later became Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, second only to Caesar in power. If so, the implication is that the person selected to take Paul to Rome was not lightly made. Also, when the soldiers council was to kill the prisoners (after the shipwreck of Acts 27:41), we are told that the centurion kept them from their purpose because he was “willing to save Paul”(Acts 27:42,43). In Acts 27:3 we are told that Julius “courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.” All indications point to the direction that Julius was given special orders regarding Paul and we can’t help but think that Agrippa was in the background somewhere with a concern for Paul’s care on the trip to Rome. Even in Rome, when the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, special arrangements were made for Paul to live in his own quarters and to be able to receive any people that wanted to see him (Acts 28:16).

The account of Paul’s voyage and shipwreck, recorded in Acts 27 and 28, shows clearly that God had not forsaken Paul. On the contrary, the miracles and healing recorded, as well as the wisdom given to Paul that saved the lives of all on board ship, (276 people, Acts 27:37) tell us that Paul’s ministry continued unabated. On the Island of Melita, the father of the chief of the island was healed, and when the news spread, others came and were healed. Paul was even bitten by a poisonous snake that should have killed him, but didn’t. We can imagine how all these events allowed Paul the opportunity to boldly proclaim the Word of God. And, they seem typical rather than exceptional. II Cor. 11:25 tells us that Paul was shipwrecked three times, and we can only imagine the miracles surrounding the other two times in the light of the one we learn about in Acts. When Paul finally arrived at Puteoli (Acts28:13), on the bay of Naples, he was greeted by Christians and stayed with them for seven days. When he arrived in Rome, he was also greeted by Christians.

All in all, we see that Christianity was indeed spread all over the world by the time that thirty years or so had gone by from the the first day of the church age. What Luke starts off in Jerusalem, he ends up with in Rome. Signs, miracles, wonders, massive conversions, are woven through Acts like gold thread. Jerusalem, and the many tens of thousands of Christians in it, who were zealous for the law, went to war with Rome. They lost that war and Jerusalem and the Jerusalem church were no more. They had driven Paul out of town by their hatred of him and were in turn consumed.

In Rome, Paul called the chief men of the Jews together and reviewed his case with them. A day was set for him to explain Jesus Christ to them and he did so “from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23). Some believed and some did not believe. When they could not reach agreement among themselves, Paul brought their attention to the prophet Isaiah in one final effort to turn them from their stiff-necked ways. “‘You will hear and hear but never understand, you will see and see but never perceive.’ For the heart of this people is obtuse, their ears are heavy of hearing, their eyes they have closed, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they understand with their heart and turn again, for me to cure them.” (Acts 28:26-27 Moffatt).

For over thirty years, the Jews had heard and heard. They had seen and seen. There were in Jerusalem “many tens of thousands of Jews who believe” and all of them were “zealous of the law.” (Acts 21:20). So also, there must have been, in Rome, multitudes of Jews that believed and were all zealous of the law. They just would not admit that Christianity was as high above Judiasm as God was above the law of Moses.

With Paul’s last meeting with the Jews, the realization comes clearly into focus that their main concern was to keep the Gentiles under their authority. Paul’s final words to them show that he is through with compromise and through with appeasement. His defiant last words to them were not the result of momentary frustration. Paul had attended the Council in Jerusalem eleven years before. He had carried James’ “sentence” around to the churches.

Paul had even gone back to Jerusalem against the pleading of those who loved him and against the clear advice from God saying “do not go up to Jerusalem”. He had sat in prison for two years in Caeserea because of the hatred of the Jews. He had been almost killed on at least two occasions on the way to Rome and he was through with the whole bunch of them. He had gone way beyond the “first and second admonition” of Titus 3:10. Paul was through with Israel as a nation. They would not hear. And so he said emphatically to them, “Be it known unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that THEY WILL HEAR IT!”(Acts 28:28).

In recording these last words of Paul in Acts to the Jews, Luke shows us that an impass has been reached between the bondage church of James and the liberty church of Paul. Paul nowhere says that the Jews cannot be saved. His contrast is not between individual Jew and individual Gentile. His contrast is clearly between the nation of Israel and the rest of the nations of the world. And, in the light of the angel telling Paul he must appear before Caesar (Acts 27:24), we can’t help but wonder what happened at that meeting and what impact the gospel of grace had on Nero.

Nothing good is generally spoken of Nero. However, just as the Jews in Asia had accused Paul of turning the whole world upside down (Acts 17:6), so also it seems to the Christian that in many instances history books have turned the truth around. Many “good guys” appear to be “bad guys” and many “bad guys” appear good. It would be incredible if Nero turned out to be a “good guy” after all. I know of nothing that points in that direction. But, there seems to be no evidence of Paul’s meeting with Caesar and yet we know that Paul did meet with him because the angel told him he would. In the light of Paul “turning the whole world upside down”, it seems strange that no such record is evident. But, Paul’s final words in Acts, “The salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it” ring true, not only in the first century, but down through every century since then. And, Paul could well have had in mind the chief Gentile of them all, Nero, when he said, “They will hear it!” Judiasm could no more capture Christianity than the law of Moses could capture God. Jesus Christ was most certainly given “all power in heaven and in earth” and the Jews could not confine Him. He is Lord of all who believe, perhaps even Nero’s Lord!




“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20,21

Almost two thousand years have passed since the New Age began. Trying to look back over such a span of time with the hope of seeing a clear and accurate picture of the first century church would be a hopeless task without the book of Acts as our controlling guide. Historians need only point to how little is accurately known of the thirty years following Acts to show us how critical a record it is.

While sometheologians argue over the impossibility of Luke writing Acts before the destruction of the Temple (because, they say, he could not have known of it in advance, and thereby deny that Jesus Christ prophesied that it would occur, forty years before the fact), it seems clear from the ending of Acts that Luke completed it while Paul was still in prison after two years in Rome.

Since Acts ties in so readily with other historical records of the era, we know that Felix was governor (procurator) of Judea from 52 A.D. to 59 A.D. and that Paul was imprisoned in Caeserea for the final two years of that time. We know from Acts 27:12 that by the winter of 59 A.D. Paul had not yet arrived in Rome. Therefore, the two years he spent imprisoned “in his own hired house” in Rome were the years 60 A.D. and 61 A.D.. Presumably, Paul was released in 62 A.D. (we cannot imagine the angel of God giving Paul encouragement at sea by saying “Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar” (Acts 27:24), only to have Paul convicted when he came before Caesar), about the time that James was assassinated in Jerusalem. (Festus died in office in 62 A.D. and James was assassinated before Albinus arrived to replace him).

We are not left without witness of events after 62 A.D. because Paul wrote I and II Timothy after that time as well as Titus. One commentator wrote, “That the names, places, and incidents alluded to in the Pastorals cannot be fitted into the outline of Acts, is a very good reason for extending the life of Paul beyond the narration of Acts.” Some say that Paul went before Nero again in 68 A.D. and was executed. Others tell us, “That Peter as well as Paul was put to death at Rome under Nero is the unanimous testimony of Christian tradition.” But, this testimony of tradition comes long after the time that the events were supposed to happen, and in the light of many other “traditions” that have been shown to be false, this tradition also must be considered to be suspect.

Paul’s own words, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (II Tim.4:6), do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that he was martyred. Knoch’s translation says, “For I am already a libation, and the period of my dissolution is imminent. I have contended the ideal contest. I have finished my career. I have kept the faith.” (II Tim. 4:6-7). Paul knew that his work was finished and that he would soon die. But the fact that he states that he finished his career leads us to believe that his career was not terminated by his enemies. However much the traditional church values martyrs, the evidence in Acts shows clearly how often and in how many different ways Paul was delivered from death by the miraculous power of God. To think that Jesus Christ would finally let Paul be martyred after Paul had not spared himself for perhaps 35 or 40 years, is hard to believe.

It seems more likely that he died in his sleep one night being contented that he had fully exercised his ministry and had seen the power of Jesus Christ manifested in a way that few, if any, have seen since Paul. After all, he would have been at least in his 60’s, not a young age for a man that had gone through as much as Paul had gone through. The trials, shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, perils, starvations, and imprisonments would surely have taken a toll on Paul’s “earthen vessel”. Paul was delivered from them all. And, he says at the end of II Timothy, “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (II Tim. 4:18). Surely, it was not an “evil work” that overcame Paul at the end of his life. We would rather believe that he was translated, like Enoch, than to believe that he was overcome with evil. We simply need not believe such a thing from the evidence of scripture.

During Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in 60-61 A.D., he wrote the epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (as well as the letter to Philemon). Studying them in the light of all that Paul had gone through in the book of Acts provides a backdrop that allows them to stand out with a brilliance impossible to see otherwise. To understand the extremes to which Paul went to achieve reconciliation with the Jerusalem church, culminating in Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, allows an understanding of these three epistles, impossible to gain otherwise. Understanding that Galatians was written shortly after the Jerusalem council of 49 A.D. also amplifies the glorious truth of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. And, realizing that Romans was written about three years before Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem causes Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians to show a brilliance, dazzling in glory. They are preeminently the “rule of faith and practice” of the church age.

If Christians today read, studied, and understood these three epistles and applied them day by day (and they are not that long, Ephesians is about 6 pages, Philippians and Colossians less than 5 pages), it is impossible to imagine the changes that would take place and the power of God that would be manifested in the world. These epistles have been hidden for so long, from so many, simply because they are too glorious to believe. And, “the James faction” has a vested interest in keeping them hid. But, Jesus Christ is the head of the church, not members of “the James faction”, and, as a shepherd has the job of finding the lost sheep, not the sheep the shepherd, so also Jesus Christ keeps looking for us when we wander, and calls us back to Him.

To realize that the many tens of thousands of Christians in Jerusalem had access to the Epistles of Galatians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Corinthians, Romans, and probably Hebrews, before Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem, puts their hardness of heart in a perspective that shows just how far apart they were from Paul. And, it shows just how hard they tried to keep the Christians from among the Gentiles under their authority. It is evident that they could not refute the documents and so they tried to kill their writer. But, Jesus Christ delivered Paul from their hands and Luke spent the final third of Acts reporting that deliverance and reporting Paul’s final conclusion that there could be no reconciliation between the children of the bondwoman and the children of liberty. Surely, this fact alone shows Luke’s purpose to be much more than merely providing an orderly account of the rise of Christianity in the first thirty years of the church age. Clearly, his purpose goes far beyond the vague purpose of showing “growth” and “outreach”. Conflict within the church over law and grace are evident throughout and Acts ends with the priceless demonstration that “my grace is sufficient for thee”(II Cor. 12:9).

Acts and Paul’s Appeal Before Nero

Late in the development of this book, the suggestion was brought to my attention that Luke’s immediate purpose in writing Acts may well have been to provide a document for Paul’s appeal before Nero. The suggestion seems to fit so exactly with the thesis of this work, namely, that there was conflict in the early church and that conflict is a major theme in Acts, that a short examination of the suggestion may well provide fuel for additional study as well as provide a summary for this work.

Many times throughout scripture, as well as in life today, those who endeavor to do God’s will have little idea of the overall impact that their work will have. Martin Luther, for example, could not have known, at the time he posted his ninety five thesis for public examination and comment by other professors and students, that the impact of that work would be so revolutionary and begin the reformation that changed the world within fifty years of Columbus discovering America.

So also, Simeon (Luke 2:25), could not have known when the holy spirit came upon him and revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, just how dramatically the world would change as a result of Christ’s coming. When Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and prophesied, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to they word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”, he could not have known that his words would be preserved two thousand years later and that Christians the world over would read them with tears of joy in their eyes. So great was the salvation of Jesus Christ, so brilliant was the light that lightened the Gentiles, so glorious was His glory to His people Israel, that Simeon could not possibly have comprehended the magnitude of what he was saying. Surely, he was blessed beyond measure by what he did comprehend. But still, his comprehension encompassed only a small part of what would unfold as time went by.

Many other examples could be given of a man’s immediate purpose being far less, at its highest and most pure, than God’s overall purpose. So also, Luke could well have had an immediate purpose in mind when he wrote Acts that did not anticipate the impact that Acts still has, two thousand years after it was written. Luke could well have written Acts to present in Paul’s defense before Nero. In fact, such a purpose would fully explain why Acts seems to end so abruptly with Paul in his own “hired house” in Rome, awaiting his appearance before Nero.

Many have wondered why Luke did not continue his “history” and tell us how Paul’s life ended or when it ended. These questions are answered if Luke’s immediate purpose was to present evidence in support of Paul at his trial before the Roman Emperor, Nero. And, if Nero read and studied Acts before hearing Paul’s case, and had all the information documented and investigated by his agents, and summoned eyewitnesses to confirm the many events that Luke covers in Acts, we can well imagine that the trial was not a casual affair that was lightly considered by Nero.

Nero’s attention could well have been focused on the matter from the time that Paul arrived in Rome, (or perhaps even before that time when Felix was dismissed and Festus installed as governor) and for the two years following as evidence was submitted and confirmed. From what we have shown, surely Christianity was widespread throughout the Roman Empire and it could well be that the issue before Nero was not merely Paul versus the High Priest, but rather Christianity versus Judiasm. This may sound far- fetched, but consider the evidence.

In 49 A.D., the year of the Jerusalem Council, the Roman Emperor, Claudius, had the Jews (including Aquila and Priscilla) expelled from Rome because of riots caused by one “Chrestus”. If this reference to “Chrestus” was in fact to Christ rather than some unknown slave, then we see that Christianity was a part of Judiasm in Rome at that time and the “infighting” among approximately 60,000 Jews in Rome became intolerable to Claudius. On the other hand, the claims that Nero blamed the fire in Rome on the Christians point to the fact that Christianity was separate from Judiasm by 64 A.D. when much of Rome was burned to the ground. In the fifteen years between these two events, the record of the second half of Acts takes place and Paul appeared before Nero. In this light, it seems quite possible that Nero ruled in favor of Paul and also ruled that Christianity was distinct from Judiasm, based on the evidence in Acts.

If Paul was released in 62 A.D., it seems more than coincidental that James was killed that same year, that concurrently the High Priest was removed from office by Agrippa II, and that Festus died in office (of unknown causes) the same year. We have seen from the evidence in Acts that the issues represented by Paul were most likely the cause of Felix being removed from office in 59 A.D.. And, the massive fire in Rome in 64 A.D., together with the ceasing of the sacrifice for Caesar in 66 A.D. (and the war which followed), all fit together if in fact Nero ruled that Christianity was a recognized religion in the Roman Empire, distinct from Judaism. Such a ruling would appear to go a long way in explaining the above facts and in clarifying the origin of the Roman Catholic Church as being distinct from the Jerusalem church.

There is no evidence that the edict of the Jerusalem Council in 49 A.D. was enforced after Jerusalem was destroyed although there is evidence of a Jewish Christian church headed by relations of Jesus Christ. Hegesippus, an early Christian writer who was of Palestinian origin (c. 150 A.D.), says that those who were related to the Lord in the flesh met after the death of James to elect his successor since the greater number of them were still alive. If this be true, the case for nepotism in the Jerusalem church is clearly seen. Also, Harnack states that “the Jews were probably the instigators of the Neronian outburst against the Christians.” If this is so, then clearly the Jews were divorced from the Christians soon after Paul’s appeal before Nero.

If we add to this evidence the fact that Nero was Emperor for 14 years, (from 55 A.D. until his death in 68 A.D.), and that during the first seven years of his reign the empire was apparently administered well while the second seven years were not, we see that 62 A.D. was a year in which not only was Paul heard by Nero, but Nero’s administration dramatically changed as well. In that year, Burrus, Nero’s honest and able head of the Praetorian Guard, died, and Seneca, Nero’s advisor, was forced to retire and soon afterward was forced to commit suicide. Seneca’s forced retirement appears especially significant when the fact is considered that Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (who would not hear charges against Paul in Corinth in Acts 18) was Seneca’s brother. Also, Seneca’s own words, “Meantime the customs of this most accursed race (the Jews) have prevailed to such an extent that they are everywhere received. The conquered have imposed their laws on the conquerors” suggest that in a confrontation between the Jews and Christianity, he would have taken the side of Christianity.

It is hard to accept that such dramatic changes as occurred in the Roman Empire in 62 A.D. were merely coincidental with Paul’s appeal before Nero. Historians tell us that, after the death of Burrus and Seneca, selfish, calculating persons gained control of Nero and the empire was worse off for the change. From what we have seen of the size of the Jerusalem church as well as the dramatic spreading of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, it is not difficult to believe that Paul’s appeal before Nero was central to the intrigue and the changes that occurred in Rome in 62 A.D..

Paul’s own testimony leads to the same conclusion. Namely, that his imprisonment in Rome had a very major impact in that city. In Phil. 1:13 he says, “My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace and in all other places.” If we consider that no charge was found against Paul nor forwarded with him to Rome by Festus (see Acts 25:25-27) and that Paul’s work continued unabated for two years during his imprisonment in Caesarea and an additional two years in Rome, we can well imagine the stir caused throughout the whole Roman empire at such injustice.

Paul was imprisoned solely for preaching the gospel and not on account of any crime (see also Col. 4:3). Well can we imagine the kinds of doors that opened to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome just as they had opened in Caesarea when King Agrippa II was persuaded to be a Christian (as well as perhaps many of the “chief captains and principal men of the city”-Acts 26).

Paul specifically states in Philippians 4:22, “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.” Since Philippians was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, we must either say he was exaggerating (a position against all the evidence) or acknowledge that the gospel of Christ was accepted within Caesar’s own household. Paul was clearly optimistic about his release (see Phil. 1:24-26 and Phil. 2:23-24) and we must assume he had reason to be optimistic based on his experiences in Rome. Certainly, if enthusiastic Christians were in Caesar’s own household, he would have cause for optimism.

How Nero Might Have Examined Acts

If we try to picture ourselves as Nero, sitting at a table and reading Luke’s submittal, perhaps we can gain some insight as to whether or not it is probable that Luke wrote Acts for use at Paul’s trial in Rome.

To begin with, we would read, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus” and we would ask an attendant, “what is the former treatise?”. After being briefed on the content of the gospel of Luke we would then ask, “Who is Theophilus” or else we would understand that Luke was addressing us (the Emperor, Nero) as “Beloved of God”. We might smile and think, “flattery will get you nowhere!” but we would be pleased nevertheless at the admission that God loves the Emperor.

It should be noted that Luke’s use of Theophilus in Luke 1:3 is preceded by the words “most excellent” which in the greek is the word “kratistos”. Kratistos means a host, strongest, most powerful, noble. It is only used four times in scripture, all of them by Luke: “Kratistos” Theophilus (Luke 1:3), “Kratistos” Felix (in the letter from Claudius Lysias in Acts 23:26), “Kratistos” Felix (translated “most noble” in Paul’s address to Felix in Acts 24:3), and “Kratistos” Festus (also translated “most noble” in Paul’s response to Festus in Acts 26:25).

Since Theophilus is a combination of two greek words, theo= God and phileo= love, its literal meaning is “God Loved” or “Beloved of God”. Therefore, instead of Luke writing the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts to some person “about whom nothing is known”, as some commentaries say, it is more reasonable to conclude that he is either writing them to Caesar or else that he has coined a word (as in the case of hellenestes) to signify that he is addressing “the beloved of God” as a “most noble” or “most excellent” group of people. Although the second alternative is certainly acceptable, the first alternative, addressing Caesar himself, is certainly not unreasonable from the other usages of kratistos. After all, Caesar worship was insisted upon in the Roman Empire and “kratistos Nero” would not have the impact of “kratistos Theophilus” if Luke did indeed address his Gospel and Acts to Nero.

As we (Nero) continued to read Acts, we might consider the first chapter to be myth and, if so, not jot down a note to have any of the apostles called to verify that Jesus Christ talked with them after the resurrection. But, we would conclude that the chapter was certainly in line with what Paul believed and Festus found ridiculous. We would also appreciate from verse 6 and the fact that over 30 years had gone by since that time, that Jesus Christ was not a threat to the Roman Empire but only a threat to a troublesome Israel. From verse 8 we would understand that this Jesus Christ wanted the twelve apostles to be witnesses rather than rulers. Realizing that the apostles were not major political powers in Jerusalem would confirm our conclusion that Jesus Christ was not a threat to the Roman Empire.

We would probably also ask an attendant to gather all the information available about the death of Jesus Christ and we would note with interest that darkness prevailed over the Roman empire on the day of Jesus death from noon until three o’clock in the afternoon. We would be reminded of this fact when we read in Acts 2:20, “the sun shall be darkened”. We might even have information in front of us regarding the veil of the Temple being “rent in the midst” (Luke 23:45) and if so, we would surely comment to the attendant that the High Priest must have had fits upon hearing that the empty Holy of Holies was exposed to public view. We might also comment that the preparation for the Passover must have been in disarray with darkness for three hours in the middle of the day, making it very difficult to slaughter the many thousands of lambs and sheep that needed to be processed.

When we read that Matthias was picked to replace Judas we would undoubtedly jot down a note to investigate further why James, the brother of Jesus, was by-passed at this time. In chapter two, we would notice that three thousand believed and we would jot down another note to get a report on how Jerusalem “behaved” in the years after 30 A.D.. We might even summon Peter to confirm that he was in the Temple and did say the things recorded in Acts 2. As we read on, we would see that Peter was certainly a key figure and would undoubtedly summon him (if he was not in Babylon and beyond our reach).

From Acts 3 through 7 we would see that the High Priest and the Sanhedrin had no end of problems with Christianity and would probably smile and understand that the conflict between Paul and the Sanhedrin had its roots over thirty years earlier. And, we would know from the killing of Stephen and the record of Acts 8 that Paul was a “turncoat” in the eyes of the High Priestly families and perhaps our appreciation of the record before us would go up a notch as we learned that Paul was no “dummy” and that even he was “converted”.

Along the way, we would note the “multitudes” that believed and perhaps have confirmed for us that a “great company of priests were obedient to the faith”. If Luke was exaggerating, it would discredit the whole submittal. When we received confirmation that indeed such was the case, we would begin to appreciate just how “troublesome” Christianity was to the High Priest and his associates, not that we could care much about their problems because the Jews were as “troublesome” a people as any in the empire. In fact, we might begin to think that Christianity was good for the empire in that it might keep Judiasm in check. As the Emperor, we might lean back in our chair, put a finger to our lips and consider the possible implications of recognizing Christianity as a separate religion from Judiasm. Such an action might be a good thing for the Roman Empire.

When we came to the introduction of Stephen, his speech before the Sanhedrin, and his assassination, we would be sure to understand that Luke was presenting information showing Christianity as distinct from Judiasm. If an expert was called in to examine the verses of scripture quoted by Stephen, he would readily recognize that Stephen used the Samaritan Pentateuch rather than the Masoretic text and would therefore conclude that Stephen was in all probability a Samaritan rather than a full blooded Jew.

The history of the nation, contained in Stephen’s speech, would seem favorable to the Christian position and unfavorable to the High Priesthood. The fact that the Grecians, including a proselyte from Antioch, made up the “seven”, together with the later fact that the “believers” were first called “Christian” in Antioch, not Jerusalem, would remind us of our earlier thought that recognizing Christianity as a separate religion might not be a bad idea. And, realizing that Luke was a physician from Antioch, rather than a priest from Jerusalem, would lend credibility to his account in our mind. (Especially if Luke was a Gentile rather than a Jew as most theologians of the past hundred fifty years assume. If Luke was a Gentile, he has the unique distinction of being the only Gentile writer in the Bible).

The “great persecution” of the church at Jerusalem would probably enlist our sympathy, and seeing Paul as a persecutor and then a convert would cause us to have his activities since his “conversion” investigated to see if they constituted a threat to the Roman Empire. When we found that he had set up no “organization”, had no wealth to speak of, had no “official headquarters” or any “power base” that could be construed as a threat to the Roman Empire, and that he was from Tarsus and had spent little time in Jerusalem for the past twenty five years, and yet had caused a major stir among the Jews of Jerusalem as well as the Jews of the dispersion, our sympathy would be sure to swing in his favor. This man had done nothing wrong and was in fact bringing money to Jerusalem when he was almost killed there.

As we read through Acts we would see that Paul’s teaching among the nations caused no problems for the Roman Empire and we would be sure to notice Sergius Paulus “siding” with Paul (Acts 13), the fact that Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, was a teacher in Antioch (Acts 13), that the Jews stirred up the chief men of the city of Pisidian Antioch against Paul (Acts 13), and that the Jews also stirred up the Gentiles against Paul in Iconium (Acts 14). In Acts 10 and 11 we would note with interest the “conversion” of Cornelius, the centurion, and probably would have someone enquire how his “Christianity” affected his life and attitude toward the Roman Empire in the past twenty years. The amount of time Luke spent with the account of Cornelius would not be lost on us and we would certainly come down on the side of Cornelius and Peter rather than the side of the Jerusalem Church under James.

The account of Herod Agrippa I having the apostle James killed, intending to kill Peter, and then being eaten of worms and dying, would well cause us to wince and squirm in our chair a little. In fact, we might reread Acts 12 just to make sure Luke was not trying to imply anything against the Emperor of Rome. In the process, we would notice that Peter had a report sent to James, the brother of Jesus, about his escape from prison and we would jot another note down to be briefed fully on James, who he was friends with, how extensive his influence was, and what his attitude toward the Roman Empire was. If we read his epistle, we would see clearly that he did not like “rich people” and when we read, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low” (James 1:9-10) we could not help but think he was a “rabble rouser”. And, when we discovered later in Acts that there were tens of thousands of Jews that believed and were under James’ authority, we might conclude that he was a dangerous “rabble rouser”.

We would probably note with interest, in Acts 14, that Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra and caused Paul to be stoned and dumped outside of town and left for dead. We might even send to Lystra for a report from the Roman authority there, to tell us if he thought Paul’s work there was a threat to the Roman Empire or a benefit to it. In fact, we might send for a report to all the cities where Paul had been to get evaluations on Paul from the Roman authorities there.

In Acts 15, we would see that the Jerusalem church, under James, did their best to extend their authority beyond the confines of Jerusalem and we would undoubtedly give an order to have a study done of the growth of Judiasm since 30 A.D. to see just how much more influence and power they had in the Roman Empire, if any, since that time. If the report came back that their influence, their number of converts and their wealth had dramatically increased, we would conclude that James and the people he associated with in Jerusalem were much more of a threat than Paul.

In Acts 16, we would note with interest that Paul was imprisoned illegally in Philippi and that he made the magistrates come to the jail and apologize for imprisoning a Roman citizen without cause. We might also send for a report to see how Christianity had affected the jailers life since Paul had been there and what his current attitude was toward the Roman Empire. In Acts 17 we would see from the account of Paul in Athens that the God Paul preached was not a God of the Jews but a God of all mankind, and although we might consider such a teaching as a threat to “Caesar worship”, in our heart of hearts we would know that surely we were not God and after all, “Caesar worship” was only meant to insure obedience to Rome rather than to gain converts to an exciting new religion. Paul’s speech in Athens would not appear to be a threat to obedience to Rome.

In Acts 18 we would be impressed that when the Jews in Corinth made a united insurrection against Paul, the Roman deputy, Gallio, dismissed the case as groundless and the Greeks beat up on the chief ruler of the synagogue while Gallio did nothing about it. A confirming report from Gallio (together with input from his brother Seneca) would certainly move us to the side of Paul and against the High Priest and Jerusalem. We would probably begin looking forward to hearing Paul present his case to see just how one man could cause such hatred among the Jews and yet enlist the sympathy of the Roman authority, time after time.

In Acts 19, we probably would not believe the claim of all the miracles Paul did at Ephesus in his stay there of two years and three months. We would certainly want a report from the Roman authorities there to see if Paul caused any trouble to the Roman Empire by his stay in Ephesus. We might even ask Luke to reveal the names of the “certain of the chief of Asia” (Acts 19:31) who were Paul’s friends and see if they were acting subversively or were “solid citizens” in the Roman Empire. As for Paul causing a decrease in business for Demetrius, and his associates who made silver shrines for the gods of Ephesus, we would likely say, “good for Paul! Diana of the Ephesians is no god at all!”

When we finally got to Acts 20 and following we would be at the heart of the immediate problem. Paul went to Jerusalem and was almost killed there. And, he would have been killed had not Claudius Lysias and the Roman Soldiers come to his rescue. We would note with increasing anger that there were no charges against Paul and yet he was in Rome as a prisoner because of the hatred of the Jews toward him. Claudius Lysias found no fault in him. Felix found no fault in him, and the Jews had even exerted their influence to have Felix replaced because he would not turn over Paul to them. Festus also found no fault in Paul and King Agrippa was persuaded to become a Christian by Paul. He was in favor of Paul being released. It would also not be lost on us that King Agrippa’s sister, Drusilla, was the wife of Felix and that Felix and Drusilla had talked quite often with Paul during the two years before Felix was dismissed. We would probably conclude that Agrippa and Drusilla (as well as Bernice and Felix) had talked quite often during that time about Christianity and that Agrippa’s interest in hearing Paul in person was more than a casual interest. We might even comment to an aide that Agrippa certainly gathered together a formidable audience of illustrious persons to hear Paul. We would have to conclude that all the Roman evidence was on the side of Paul and even King Agrippa II, the king of the Jews, was on Paul’s side.

As we finished reading the forty five page document that Luke had submitted in Paul’s defense, we would note with interest that his ship had been wrecked on the way to Rome and the angel of God had told Paul that he would appear before Caesar and therefore all the people on the ship would live. We would read of Paul’s final meeting with the Jews in Rome and would probably say, “Good for you, Paul, it’s about time you wrote the whole bunch off your list.”

Was Acts written to Caesar?

The above exercise of imagining we are Caesar going through Acts is not given to make light of Acts or of Nero. It is given to see if the suggestion, that Luke’s immediate purpose in writing Acts was to submit to Caesar a document in defense of Paul, has any merit. It clearly does have merit as is seen from the exercise above. Surely, books could be written on the subject, from a Roman historians perspective, from a Jewish perspective, from a political and psychological perspective. It is an exciting thing to consider that does not appear to have been given much serious consideration to date.

And, such a purpose on the part of Luke does not take away from our confidence that God revealed to Luke what to write and how to write it. It is an amazing document, especially considering that it is only about forty five pages long. The book you are reading is quite a bit longer and certainly cannot be compared to the book of Acts in value or impact. Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written about Acts and they all are a tribute to the unique position that Acts maintains in the world today. Even those books written to discredit Acts show what a powerful document it must be to have such attention paid to it. Hopefully, this work will show that its wealth has not been exhausted, even after two thousand years. If a serious and extensive reevaluation of Acts results from this effort, my purpose will have been achieved. If nothing else, hopefully the claim has been substantiated that the book of Acts is clearly the focal point of Christianity today.

Also, if we recall that James was assassinated by the High Priest about the time that Paul appeared before Nero in 62 A.D., we can well imagine the “dilemma” faced by James and his “many tens of thousands of Jews that believed” if Nero ruled that Christianity was a recognized religion in its own right. This same “dilemma” could have been involved in the Jews starting the war with Rome in 66 A.D. by ceasing the daily sacrifice for Caesar in the Temple. This “dilemma” could also have kindled the civil war which raged concurrent with the war with Rome. And, if Nero acquitted Paul at the expense of Jerusalem, then Jerusalem’s actions in the years following that acquittal could well have been a reaction to Nero’s decision. Even the fire in Rome of 64 A.D., could have been a subversive attempt on the part of Jerusalem to both hurt Rome and blame the Christians as well.

While these speculative suggestions are by no means conclusive, they hopefully will provide “fuel” for a reexamination of the commonly accepted explanations of the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the termination of Israel as a nation. If so, they will have served a worthy purpose.

Our Response to Acts

Having examined the book of Acts in some detail, we finally must ask the question, “How does this affect our lives today” or “What should this information encourage us to do?”. Hopefully, the study of Acts will show that the church of the body of Christ is much more that groups of people meeting on sunday morning to sing songs, hear a sermon, and offer prayer. The life of the Christian consists primarily in his relationship with Jesus Christ, not his relationship with various groups of people. Reconciling men and women to God is our primary task, not reconciling them to our group or community. Men and women will be reconciled to each other if they are first reconciled to God. But, try as we may, endeavoring to achieve harmony among men, without first reconciling them to God, is a fruitless task. The “social gospel” promoted by various church groups is devoid of God’s power. And, what the world needs to see and experience is the power of God, not the “brain-power” of men. A new perspective on Acts will give us a new perspective on how we should live and relate to other Christians today. Certainly Christianity is more than merely “going to church on sunday”.

Salvation occurs in a moment of time. When we come to the position that our lives are worthless without the direction of Jesus Christ to show us the way, we accept Him as our Lord and find a new life. We find that a position of servant under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is far superior to any promise that the ungodly, worldly system of power, prestige, and attainment by works, can offer. Striving for recognition, for power over others, for wealth, all become meaningless to a proper servant of Jesus Christ. Even the dawning realization that we are sons of God and that we can manifest God’s power, must be kept in the perspective that such grace is given to us, not so that we can claim superiority over other men, but so that we can be fully equipped to serve Jesus Christ as Lord.

It seems evident that the “new” Christian has little problem with walking as a servant of Jesus Christ. He realizes his limitations, discovers the thrill of God’s Word and, like a little child, he is full of energy, curiosity, enthusiasm, and expectation. He thinks about God and the things of God day and night. His world is brand new. He understands that “meditation” is not some ritualistic service he must perform but rather “a thinking about”, a “considering”, a “pondering” and it is in the nature of a child to do so all the time. He also does not need to be told to “pray without ceasing” because he does that all the time as well. But, his “prayer” is also not a ritualistic service accomplished only in a kneeling position with the hands folded. It is prayer in the true sense of asking, questioning, inquiring. And, like a little child, the “new” Christian is unabashed to ask, “What is this?”, “Can I have that?”, “How does this work?”, and the question above all others asked by children the world over, “Why?”

But, what happens to this “new born” Christian as he “grows up”? Where is he likely to be ten or twenty years later? Has he found “his place in the world”? Has he ceased to ask, to inquire, to make demands on his Heavenly Father? Is God’s Word still the refreshing, exciting, and revealing source of life to him that it was when he was a baby. Or have the cares of the world choked out his enthusiasm. Has he “settled down on earth and forgotten heaven”? Has he found a place to “park” in a church somewhere and settled for “follow the leader” instead of being an active servant of Jesus Christ? Has he stopped “going to church” altogether and relegated his Christian walk to “wishful thinking”?

These are troubling questions to ask because Christianity today seems to have focused so extensively on getting people “saved” and so little on the requirements for Christian maturity. Much more time, effort and money is spent on bringing the physical child to maturity than is spent on bringing the spiritual child to maturity. Many times, the Christian “child” assumes he has “grown up” simply because he is twenty years older and has gone through school and has taken his place in a trade or profession and is raising his own family. But, the ungodly do the same and so such maturing cannot be equated to a spiritual maturity. The rise in the Christian school movement in this country has helped to bring up children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). But, what about the person who becomes a Christian when he is an adult? How is he or she to receive the training that brings Christian maturity?

Hebrews 5:14 says that “strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” The previous verse says, “for every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” Two kinds of Christians are evident, mature Christians and “babes”. In the physical world, babies are wonderful. But, if a baby never grew and never matured for twenty years, the situation would be tragic, not joyful. Likewise, if the physical child grew for twenty years and then reverted to childhood behavior, the situation would also be tragic. And yet, Christian “adults” seem to have an abundance of both kinds of tragedy. Paul describes the problem as returning to “the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage” (Gal.4:9).

Inhibiting and preventing such a situation is surely a major challenge worthy of acceptance by Christianity. Just as we desire children to grow up into responsible and capable men and women, so also we should look for the day when the Christian child “grows up” and “leaves home” to assume his or her place as an adult Christian, fully equipped to feed on “strong meat” and to be effective as an adult servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. As one author pointed out, religious education that brings a person only to the level of obedience, and not to the level of independent judgment and action, does not make the child a man but keeps him a child.

It is my sincere hope that this study of the book of Acts will help to enable the Christian community to meet the challenge of producing “grown ups” in Christ. One element in the contrast between Paul and James seems abundantly clear. Paul was preeminently a teacher. James discouraged teachers (see James 3:1, where the word “masters” is more accurately translated “teachers”). Not only was Paul a teacher, he encouraged the function of teaching at every opportunity. There is nothing that comes through more “loud and clear” throughout Paul’s epistles and his example in the book of Acts than the message that God’s Word must be taught and learned and made the center of our lives as Christians. It alone is our “rule book”, our “road map”, our “food for life”.

The Christian cannot afford to neglect the study of God’s Word or treat such study as a convenience or a luxury. He can neither bask in the brilliance of another man’s knowledge of the Scripture nor be content with the knowledge that those around him do not study the Word of God either. Learning God’s Word is not a competitive endeavor. It is a need in every Christian’s life. Just as we are not nourished by someone else eating dinner, so also we are not nourished by someone else studying the Word of God.

Our efforts as servants of Christ do not depend on how much or how little our friends know of God’s Word. Paul says, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (II Cor. 10:12). However, our effectiveness as servants does depend on our understanding of God’s Word. It makes us “wise unto salvation” (II Tim. 3:15). It is our “sword of the spirit” (Eph. 6:17). It is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). We do not need to measure ourselves by some fictitious standard of what we should do our how much we should study. We need only ask ourselves if we are equiping ourselves to be increasingly effective servants of Jesus Christ. As we learn more, we can do more. The underlying principle to our study of God’s Word should not be condemnation, guilt, or a feeling of inadequacy. It must be with thanksgiving and “heartily, as unto God and not to men”. Whatever mental and physical capacities we possess should be used to the full. Realizing that God loves us will cause us to study His Word regardless of whether we are “preschoolers”, “fifth graders”, or “high school graduates” in God’s scheme of things.

God’s University

One author compared the system of higher education in this country to the organized church and called it “The Church of Reason”. He pointed out that, like the church, higher education operated on two distinct levels. The visible level,(the one of pecking order, buildings, chairmen of departments, boards of Regents, Presidents, various national societies for Professors of various branches of learning with their International publications and conventions), behaves just as the organized church behaves with similar assets, control, hierarchy, and events.

But, he pointed out that The Church of Reason operates on another level as well and this level is independent of the “organized” church of Reason. This level needs no buildings, no control, no hierarchy. It is ruled by the realm of discovery, the realm of ideas, the realm of truth. It consists preeminently of a teacher and a student (many times one person fills both roles).

At times, the visible “Church of Reason” is threatened by the invisible “Church of Reason” when a new discovery, a refuting of an old axiom, or a revolutionary concept threatens the established order or embarrasses a “recognized authority”. In contrast to the common man, who understands an “expert” to be “an ordinary guy away from home”, academics, both in the religious world and the secular world, often place great emphasis on academic “credentials” and position in the visible Church of Reason. By doing so, they endeavor to define for us their rendition of what an “expert” is.

There is no question that everyone prefers the better trained person to do a job over the lesser trained person. However, when it comes to the teaching of God’s Word, “better trained” is not so easily defined as in the case of a welder, a scientist, or a linguist. Training in “Godliness” is the requirement for this endeavor. It demands a training of heart as well as head. Such training may be found in seminaries and bible schools. But, the opposite may be found as well.

Training in godliness certainly is not the exclusive prerogative of seminaries or bible colleges. After all, these will only teach that which is acceptable to, and in conformity with, their organization. No denomination or sect can “capture” Christianity any more than Judiasm could “capture” the Gentiles who became Christian. Christian groups must satisfy themselves that they are only part of Christianity and their standards, or laws, or regulations, do not define Christianity for us. Jesus Christ defines Christianity for us as we live the life of a servant to Him. Servants endeavoring to control other servants cannot be what Jesus Christ has in mind for us to do.

There certainly is nothing wrong with the idea behind seminaries and bible schools. The only danger in them resides in the tendency of them all to become exclusive. For example, Lutheran seminaries do not allow “95 Theses” to be published against them without opposition, just as the Catholic church did not retain Luther among their number after he published his “95 Theses”. Consequently, the Lutheran church was born (and patterned itself, for the most part, after the Catholic church). Both groups have obviously done good in the world, as have many others like them. However, they also come in conflict with each other over doctrinal positions. Members of each group who defend their organization at the expense of seeking resolution to doctrinal differences from the Word of God, end up causing hatred and ill will among Christians. The root of the problem seems to be the same conflict that existed between Paul and James, namely, the question of authority.

With one Jesus Christ, with one Word of God, with one spirit, multiple positions adamantly defended over “laws” or “doctrines” can hardly be central to how the individual should live as a Son of God and a Servant of Jesus Christ. They are the “smoke and mirrors” of Christianity. They are the visible “Church of Reason” that has visible assets to defend. Breaking through the “smoke and mirrors” is our challenge as Christians and what follows is one suggestion as to how this challenge can be met.

Teachers and Students, Time and Money

Paul instructs the Galatian church, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Gal. 6:6). Knoch’s translation says, “Now let him who is being instructed in the word be contributing to him who is instructing, in all good things.” We see in this verse both teachers and students and in the context we can clearly see that Paul is not talking about a formal educational setting as we understand it today, of schools, colleges, universities, and the like, but rather a general setting that includes all members of the church, not a select few.

When we realize that Galatians is a letter (six pages long in most bibles) and that it was written shortly after the Jerusalem council, the importance of this verse begins to dawn on us. Paul is not saying “support your local church” in this verse. Nor is he saying “give to the poor”. He is specifically instructing those who are being taught to share with, contribute to, support, teachers of the Word of God. And, this verse appears to be the only specific function that Paul does call to our attention for support. Elsewhere Paul talks about giving to the poor, giving in general, and doing good to all men, especially those of the household (family) of faith. He also talks about giving to him personally (see I Tim.6:17-20, Phil. 4:14, Heb. 13:16, II Cor. 9:5-8). But, giving to teachers seems to be the only specific area of giving that he calls to our attention. Giving is obviously a way of life for a servant of Jesus Christ, but just as we do not spend our last dollar on clothes when we have no food, so also money should be provided so that we have an adequate supply of the food of God’s Word. I submit that an adequate supply of godly food will only be assured if we commit our resources to encouraging the function of teaching in the church of Christ.

In the context of Galatians, nothing could be more crucial to defending the walk by the spirit against the proponents of law than the function of teaching the grace of God. From Acts 15:1 we saw that men came from Jerusalem and taught the believers in Antioch that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised after the law of Moses. In Acts 15:21 we saw James point out in the council that “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” Such a well organized and well funded attack against grace could hardly be matched dollar for dollar by those who stood for the grace of God. The answer to the problem seems clearly to be Galatians 6:6, those who are being taught God’s Word are to support teachers of God’s Word. Paul goes to the heart of the matter for he well knows that the truth sets men and women free. Truth taught by able men and women to diligent “students” will prevail against any heresy, regardless of how well funded, how well organized, or how popular. Only those who are ignorant of satan’s devices can be fooled by such devices.

The circumstances surrounding the Christian at the time Paul wrote Galatians are not all that different than those faced by the Christian today. Jerusalem as a center of authority has been replaced by synods, denominations, and hierarchical structures of all kinds. And, the primary relationship inherent in all hierarchical structures is the relationship of “superior and subordinate” rather than “teacher and student”. One difference between a teacher and a “superior” seems to be the reality that a “superior” always remains a “superior” whereas a teacher’s desire is that the student ultimately becomes “superior” to him in knowledge.

In first century Judiasm, the minimum requirement for starting a synagogue was ten members, sufficient to establish an “authority”. Jesus Christ, however, did away with this requirement by saying, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Jesus Christ is the “authority” and therefore the minimum size “meeting” coincides with the minimum requirement for any “meeting”, two people. (One person is not a “meeting” although it is also clear that Jesus Christ is our “authority”, individually as well as collectively.)

Wherever the “authority” of the group replaces the “authority” of Jesus Christ, the function of teaching is bound to suffer. And, it seems that the bigger the group, the more the function of teaching in the church suffers. In the largest denominations, the perception of “teacher” is either one who teaches at a seminary or a layman who teaches a “bible study” in the evening from a book of devotions after expending all his energy at a “job” that day. The concept of a well qualified teacher teaching the word of God to a group of two or six or ten people, and doing so on a full time basis in a community or from city to city is foreign to most Christians.

The experience of having someone come to town and teach like Paul did in Troas (Acts 20:7-12), from dinner time to midnight, with time out to raise a young man from the dead, and then continue to teach until day break, should be closer to the norm in the Christian church, rather than to the exception. The church of Jesus Christ has had two thousand years to build on Paul’s example, but it seems that James’ example has been the one that has caught the public’s eye. We would do well to expect “a Paul” to come to our community and teach all night long. Well can we imagine being in the room where Paul taught and watching the young man fall asleep and then fall three stories to his death. We are not told how many disciples were gathered together in the house in Troas. Certainly is was not hundreds or thousands that got together to eat dinner and hear Paul teach in some believers home in Troas. Perhaps there were ten, perhaps thirty people. They need not have been the only Christians around. But, in any event, their lives were all changed that night. They were already Christians. But, the power of God that was seen in raising Eutychus from the dead would have caused the things that Paul taught for perhaps twelve hours not to be soon forgotten.

We are told in I Cor. 2:5 that our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. This certainly does not mean that we need not study or learn God’s word. And, it cannot mean that teachers in the church are unimportant and unworthy of our support. They certainly should be supported. The problem in the Corinthian church was not that people were taught too much of the word of God. The problem was that they magnified the messenger rather than the message. Factions developed over which teacher should be followed. Some said, “I’m of Paul”, others “I’m of Apollos”, etc.. Such attitudes caused strife, envy and divisions, and Paul tells these people that they are carnal and walk as men (I Cor. 3:1-23). I submit that this problem is best solved by more and more teachers, not by less and less.

A similar situation exists in the church today. Some say, “I’m a Lutheran”, others, “I’m a Catholic”, etc.. Jesus Christ is not divided and He gives all for the benefit of the believer. I submit that one effective way to overcome such factionalism is to encourage the function of teaching in the church. This can be done by individual Christians from various church groups, as well as those Christians not associated with any group, meeting in private homes in small groups for bible study and supporting individual teachers. Such “independent” bible studies with “independent” teachers need not have any “authority” superimposed over the authority of Jesus Christ. Let’s face it, some people love to study and could spend their whole life in a library or searching out men and women who have knowledge in certain areas that few study. Why not encourage them to do so by supporting them? Are we afraid that they might become our “superiors”? Or, do we feel that no need exists for such activity? It seems to me that few teachers of God’s Word would be offended by being perceived as “errand boys”, chasing down answers to questions, moderating discussions, and being “servants” to those who would love to know the answers but don’t particularly love to wade through books or pursue “hunches”. We readily pay for someone to fill up our cars with gasoline. Why not have the same attitude towards a “fill up” of God’s Word?

In small groups of friends meeting in homes, there need be no corporate assets to worry about. There need be no buildings to be maintained. And, the legitimate functions of community churches need not be threatened by such bible studies. If they are threatened, it is only because a knowledge of the Word of God will be more generally known and, like the Sanhedrin being against the apostles in the early part of Acts, the churches will be faced with the option of conforming to the Word of God or resisting God’s Word. Without such bible study, the individual has little choice but to conform to the church or the community or withdraw from them. Withdrawing is not the answer. The Christian needs to reestablish the truth in his church and community, not withdraw from them.

Practical Considerations on Learning

From a practical point of view, there are a number of things to consider when it comes to teaching and learning the word of God. First of all, there is probably not an educator in the world who will disagree that overshadowing any other factor in education is class size. In retail sales, the axiom is that three factors control: Location, Location, Location. In education, these are: Class size, Class size, Class size. Traditional Christianity is prone to think that “bigger is better” and churches strive for ever larger memberships. And, large groups are wonderful, at least for singing, and the enthusiasm that goes along with seeing hundreds or thousands of smiling faces that have similar interests. But, in such a setting, learning much of the word of God is not possible. The best that can be hoped for is a lecture format with no questions, no discussion, and no intimate knowledge of “where the student is coming from” by the teacher. Such a format is among the least effective in education.

Some educators go so far as to say that the less the teacher teaches, the more the student learns. And, in a sense it is true, especially when it comes to students in whom the spirit of God dwells. Questions, comments, suggestions, “speculation” as to possible meanings on the part of the student make a “bible class” a unique forum for learning God’s word. And, the teacher who considers himself a “facilitator of learning” rather than an “expert” who dares not be questioned, will grow as much as the student in such a class. Such classes need to be encouraged and promoted in the body of Christ.

The opposite end of the spectrum from meetings with hundreds or thousands is individual study, such as reading the bible, reading this book, listening to a tape, or looking at a videotape. Such activities are certainly helpful and beneficial. But, they also are not a substitute for a teacher in a class setting. And, although there are adults that cringe at the word “class”, for one reason or another, the word does imply a certain regimentation both on the part of the teacher and the student. The subject matter is identified, requirements are expected both of the students and the teacher, and a goal is stated at the start of a “class” and its achievement expected at the conclusion of the class. Such a format is ideally suited for bible study groups meeting in homes. And, whether a particular “class” is one day long or one year, the members of the bible study can decide what subjects they want to address, what form is best suited for the study, and to what extent the subject should be addressed. For those who do not like the word “class”, “seminar” or other similar words define the same thing. The label is not important, the activity is!

Too often in “bible study”, the time goes by without the bible being studied. The time becomes merely “visiting”. Those who come to such a meeting thinking that the bible will be revealed to them end up being disappointed. I submit that this problem is solved by “a teacher” who is responsible for seeing that the meeting “starts” on time (and finishes on time). “Visiting” can happen before and/or after but the urgency is placed on learning God’s Word rather than “putting in time” or “showing up for a meeting”.

I fully believe that there are more qualified teachers in the body of Christ (that are currently doing other things) than there are bible studies at which to teach (because Christianity has not placed near enough emphasis on bible study). When we realize that Christianity undoubtedly has more members and is more powerful than any other “organization” in the world today, because Jesus Christ is the head of it and He was given all power in heaven and in earth, our expectation will rise when we ask a teacher, however well known, to come and teach on a subject dear to his heart and in need of being learned by those in a bible study. The Lord knows how many He has that will travel land and sea for the opportunity to teach His word, just as Paul did. And, like Paul, many will come to spend a day, a week, six months or three years if need be. These people should not be held to a different standard than any other believer in the body of Christ. Nor should it take hundreds or thousands of people to pay their expenses or provide for their personal needs.

To emphasize the importance of “class size”, allow me to give a personal example. Years ago I had the opportunity to teach a high school math class in western Ohio. The course was for ninth graders who basically did not like math. When I first walked into the room and saw thirty pair of blank eyes staring at me and dreading the coming hour in which they would have to suffer through a subject that intimidated them on the one hand and offended them on the other, I was at a loss to answer the question that came to my mind, “how do I get all these kids to love math?” For, love is the most powerful force in the world and people will do what they love to do. However, I felt as if I were holding a shotgun loaded with math formulas to be scattered around the room in the hopes that one or two “bullets” would hit one or two of the students. In the semester that I had with them, I did the best I could and undoubtedly some of them did learn some math. However, to this day, I am convinced that had I had five students, or seven students, instead of thirty, I could have gotten all of them to love math.

So I believe it is with bible study. While it may be a chore to attend a bible study with thirty people, it becomes an event not to be missed when five or seven “friends” get together (or two or three) and when they all love the subject they are studying together. Love never fails! And, the miracles, the provision, and the “neat little things” that God sends their way during the week become a feast for all to share when they meet. In such an environment, learning is truly an exciting adventure and learning God’s word especially so because God confirms His word with signs following (Acts 14:3). If five such bible studies met on consecutive evenings in a community, they could easily pool their resources and invite the formost expert in the world to come and teach on a subject for two or three hours a night for a week. It seems to me that relatively few teachers would prefer lecturing to hundreds or thousands of “spectators” rather than sharing information with five or ten “hungry” students. Most, I believe, prefer small groups. And, such teachers thrive on the realization that our faith dwells in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men. As Emerson wrote, “Love, courage, piety and wisdom can teach and these angels will bring to man the gift of tongues. But, the man that endeavors to teach as books enable, as synods dictate and as the fashion guides, babbles. Let him hush!”

One final point on the practical necessity of teachers functioning in the body of Christ. The average cost per student in the public school systems in America today is around $6,000 per year. Of that amount, well over half goes to places other than the teachers salary. In many schools, the average class size is about 30 students which means $180,000 going somewhere (certainly not in the teachers pocket). The churches in America today function with much the same inefficiency as money is spent on virtually everything except teachers of God’s Word. It has been recently stated that the largest expenditure in Christianity today is to banks, for interest on money borrowed. Evidently, more money is spent on interest than is spent on all of mission work in the world. If this be true, Paul’s instruction in Gal. 6:6 stands in vivid contrast to such reality.

Many able teachers of God’s Word are forced by the necessity of feeding a family to work full time jobs and teach when they have time (which all to frequently ends up with their not teaching at all). I know of many such teachers. They are not people who were saved six months ago and want to teach. They are people who have been studying their bibles for twenty years or more. Many are repulsed by the thought of starting an organization to support them. Such a method usually ends up with a thousand people supporting one man and then tying him down to tend to the affairs of the organization. He ceases to be a teacher and becomes an administrator. Instead of “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8), the concept of working for a wage creeps in and the very life of the church is perverted. Others worry that if gifts are given to an individual teacher to support him or her directly, rather than being filtered through an acceptable board or organizational structure, that the teacher will become rich and waste God’s money. The few examples of such extravagance by “preachers” in the body of Christ are hardly comparable to the extravagance of many others inside the church and outside the church as well. Teachers of God’s Word do not appear to be a financial threat to world markets.

It also seems to me that much more trust is required in a man to not “handle the word of God deceitfully” (II Cor. 4:2) than is required in trusting him with a gift. And, overriding all other considerations is the reality that if gifts are filtered through a board or an organization before being given to a teacher, the teaching will be filtered as well. I believe that Christianity would benefit much more by having independent and “cross-denominational” teachers and independent teaching than by having dependent teachers who can be coerced into conformity and who in turn may coerce the local bible study into conformity. The Word of God needs to prevail, not necessarily a group or organization. The power of God needs to be manifested, not the power of men. I submit that this is effectively encouraged by individual believers giving to individual teachers as Paul instructs in Galatians 6:6.

Observations on the Church Since Paul

The past few years have seen much scandal in the church, especially among T.V. evangelists. But, more than ever before, believers are calling themselves “Christian” rather than Lutheran, Catholic, or other denominational names. More than ever before, people are seeing that they are members of the body of Christ, not merely members of a particular group or sect.

The damage done to Christ’s Church by the infamous or wicked deeds of its members, is easily healed. Jesus Christ is the head of that church, His body, and consequently, it heals rapidly. However, wounds in Christian organizations or churches that rely on men rather than relying solely on Jesus Christ seem to never heal. The seeds of death seem to be in the start of them all.

These churches or organizations seem to start for a worthy purpose, but as time goes by, they seem invariably to be perceived as bigger than life. Instead of being a vehicle of service, they become masters that demand service to them. Instead of faith being made possible by love, they promote obedience by fear. Such is not the method of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since the Apostle Paul wrote, “Now we have received the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God”, innumerable people have had their lives changed by the power of God. Their works, the miracles and deliverance they’ve seen, the blessing they have been to their neighbors and enemies, are largely unknown. Nor is it necessary for us to know. God knows.

We do know that the church of the body of Christ is, and has been, alive and well. It has been established by Jesus Christ himself and not by man. The churches that men have established have come and gone and have no lasting or sacred value. Cooperative effort is needful, and helpful, in many areas. But the tendency in all cooperative effort, including churches, is for the pride of man to dominate.

Group decisions are seldom superior to individual decisions, despite what secular educators may propound. The world’s failed experiment with communism over the past seventy five years shows the lifelessness of group planning and committee implementation. God did not make us so that we could hide behind “the will of the group”. He made us so that we could be, not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). That “proving” is an individual effort, not a group effort.

With group effort, man’s accomplishments begin to be magnified instead of the accomplishments of Jesus Christ being promoted. Man’s power, wealth, and wisdom are respected instead of God’s power, wealth and wisdom. Many times, man holds on to that which is seen, and is temporal, when he should be holding on to that which is not seen, and is eternal. When conflict arises in a Christian group, the response should be controlled by what God’s Word says rather than an overriding concern to keep the group together. Solutions achieved by way of appeasement and compromise result in dead churches. They have a form of godliness but deny the power of God. The Word of God is forced to the side and ceases to be the center of reference for truth. The bible becomes worshiped as a relic rather than studied as a vital necessity. In such churches, those who do not bother to study the scripture are given equal status in group discussions with those who do, and their comments and insights are given equal weight. Nothing could be more damaging to the Christian life.

Opinions, suggestions, questions are wonderful when they are based on a sincere desire to know the Word of God. They are tragic when they are only offered as a “smoke screen” to hide a lack of interest in what God has to say. Such a state of affairs exists all to frequently in the vast majority of “Christian Churches” today. In such situations, The Book, the Word of God, can only be discussed through a filter of unbelief. Little, if any, discovery of God’s Will can be achieved in such an environment. No one would seriously discuss any other book with someone who had not taken the time to read it. It is one thing to have little knowledge and desire more. It is quite another to have little knowledge and pretend to be an “expert”. Examination of any other book would soon expose the pretenders. The church should hold itself to the same objective standard in the study of God’s Word. Ignorant speculation leads nowhere.

On the other hand, serious speculation based on previous knowledge and a desire to know more is often helpful. A Chemistry Professor once answered my “why” question with the statement, “The real question in Chemistry is What, not Why”. The “Why’s” may help to fit the “what’s” together and may lead to major discoveries, but they are not a substitute for knowing the “what’s”. So also, the “what’s” of the Word of God are the foundation upon which the “why’s” must be built.

A man I knew became a Christian late in life and began to vigorously study his bible. His habit in his retirement years was to visit the race track every day and his friends there began asking him questions regarding his new found Christianity. Over time, he realized that their motive was not a desire to know about God but rather to see if they could talk him out of his faith. Their questions bothered him for some time until he discovered a proper response. When confronted one day, he responded that he considered it an amazing thing that they wanted to know the plays and they weren’t even on the team. He said, “get on the team, and then we will talk about the plays.” His problem was solved.

Jesus Christ told the saducees, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” (Matt. 22:29). The “measuring stick” in any Christian group must be these same two vital needs. How much of the scripture is known? How much of the power of God is manifested? If the Christians in the world today would ask themselves these two questions, over and over as they go through life, a godly revolution would ensue. Some of the groups they associate with would have to change or else the people would associate with different groups.

A case can be made that the body of Christ exists in spite of worldly churches, not because of them. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Where the spirit of man is, there is bondage. The fight is between the two. Paul says in Ephesians that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness. The spiritual food of the Word of God and the visible reality of God’s power are mandatory if the fight against spiritual wickedness is to be won.

James in Retrospect

I have attempted to show the contrast in the early church between what Paul stood for and what James stood for. My desire has not been to furnish a work that is so complete and so thorough that no questions remain on the subject. Rather, it has been to open a debate that starts with God’s Word and ends with a practical application of God’s Word to our lives. The size and extensiveness of the first century church should open our eyes and raise our expectations. The conflict in that church should alert us to similar conflicts today. The extent to which the power of God was visibly seen should cause us to pray for more boldness to speak God’s Word as we see His power today.

It is clear that by 49 A.D., James, the brother of Jesus, was the head of the Jerusalem church. It is also clear from the Gospels that James resisted Jesus Christ. Any investigation of James must proceed from Jesus words, “The world cannot hate you, but me it hateth because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil.” Those who would defend James must proceed from what the scripture says about him and not from an assumption that he must have been a godly man doing God’s work because three hundred years later the book of James was added to the cannon of Scripture. Many, many Christians that lived from the time of the start of the church age until 367 A.D. recognized that the letter of James was not God’s Word. We need not feel intimidated in agreeing with them simply because sixteen hundred years have gone by in which the book of James has been silently accepted as “Gospel” (in spite of its many contradictions with Paul’s epistles). James was party to wanting to put Jesus away because he thought Jesus was crazy. He was not chosen by Jesus to be an apostle, nor was he was chosen by the eleven to take Judas’ place in the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost. The record in Galatians 1 does not show that James was an apostle, but shows the opposite when the translation is investigated closely. The record in I Corinthians 15:7 does not say that James was an apostle. It merely say that James saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection, but does not say anything other than that. James also saw Jesus Christ many times before the resurrection and yet Jesus points out that James did not believe in Him.

The Scripture does not say that James was converted or was not converted. In fact, the debate is not over whether he was converted or not converted. Like many today, James could well have received the spirit of God and then chose to walk by the flesh rather than by the spirit. Where James will end up in God’s scheme of things, God knows. That must be sufficient for us regarding his salvation. However, the Gospels, the book of Acts, and Paul’s epistles reveal much about James and the Jerusalem church as does the book of James itself. We certainly should consider this information in our evaluation of James.

One author I read years ago made a case that, after the events of Revelation, in the “eon of the eons”, God will reconcile all to himself. He stated that even satan would be reconciled to God. And, my thought after reading that was, “that would be just like God”! Paul seems to be saying the same thing in Ephesians 1:10, “That in the dispensation (administration) of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth: even in Him.”

Some will say that no one would be saved if such a position was taught. It is true that people could not be scared into salvation and perhaps many pews in churches would be empty. But, fear has never been a vehicle of salvation anyway. It may gain and keep converts to a man made organization, but the only method Jesus Christ ever used was love. He said, “I will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32). And so, what will become of James, God knows. And that must be sufficient for us.

What About the Book of James?

The most unsettling question raised by this investigation of James is, “If James’ rise to the head of the Jerusalem church is not godly, then what about the book of James in the New Testament? Is it God’s Word or is it not?” In other words, did James receive revelation from God to write what he did, or are the words of James his alone and of no higher authority. There is no dispute that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the letter of James. Although I do not claim to be an authority on the canon of Scripture, the evidence from those who are shows that as of the end of the second century (from the Muratorian fragment) the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, 13 Epistles of Paul, two epistles of John, the Epistle of Jude, the Apocalypse of John and the Apocalypse of Peter were acknowledged as New Testament.

During the third century, the influence of Origen encouraged a wider Canon. Even so, he expressed hesitation about some of the books later included- specifically, James, II Peter and II and III John. It was not until the fourth century that the Canon assumed its present form. At the beginning of that century, there was still much uncertainty (see the works of Eusebius). The canon which finally won acceptance first appears in the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius in 367 A.D. That is more than three hundred years after the book of Acts was written! Many, many Christians for the first three hundred years of the church age understood that the book of James was not God’s Word. If we say the same today, we are not offending them or doing injustice to the Word of God they recognized. We are only pointing out that the organized church of the forth century was wrong in accepting the epistle of James as God’s Word.

As we have mentioned briefly, the farthest we can go back in history regarding a Canon of Scripture, is to Marcion. His was the first Canon and he was evidently excommunicated by the church in Rome in 140 A.D.. He excluded from his cannon everything except the Gospel of Luke, The Acts of the Apostles (because Luke traveled with Paul) and Paul’s writings. Most writers on the Canon of Scripture refer to Marcion as “The Heretic Marcion”, as if Heretic is his first name. However, Harnack makes a case that he is the Father of the Roman Catholic church!

In any event, the question of whether the book of James was authored by God or merely by James, cannot be decided, to the spirit-filled Christian’s satisfaction, by a council meeting three hundred years after the events recorded in Acts. The record of Acts itself must decide. If this is not sufficient, then the information in Paul’s Epistles and the book of Luke should be searched as these books have never been disputed as to God’s authorship- they are the earliest Canon.

The Question of Authority

This work is not meant to be of merely academic interest. The practical question that is as applicable today as it has been throughout the last two thousand years, is “Who decides?”. It is a question of authority. We are either complete in Jesus Christ or we are not complete. If we are complete in Him, then the “Authorities” in the church are only “Helpers” and not “Superiors”. The distinction is of critical importance. We are either responsible to God for our actions or we are responsible to some “Higher Authority” who is responsible to God.

We see this distinction clearly in the contrast between Paul and James. Paul never declared himself as Head of the church and there is no evidence in any of his writings that he considered any Christian superior to any other Christian. He continually points to Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church. He does mention Bishops and Deacons, but only on a local level and that for service, not for establishing a hierarchy.

Ephesians 4:11 does list apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But again, these are not hierarchical in nature but are for service- for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Some have called these “Gift Ministries” as though they are special gifts given to some people that make them superior to other people. The text in Ephesians will not substantiate such a teaching. Verse seven tells us that God has given to every one of us GRACE- according to the MEASURE OF THE GIFT OF CHRIST. None have received less than a full measure.

Verse eleven does not say, “And He gave some the Gift Ministry of an Apostle…” It says, “And He gave some, apostles…” In other words, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are gifts given to the church rather than being “special gifts” given to an individual. The gift resides in the blessing manifested as these people function in the body of Christ. If they do not function, the church does not receive the benefit. It seems quite possible to me that the questions asked in I Cor. 12:29, 30, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” could be answered with an emphatic YES! While this is not the place to discuss I Cor. 12, 13, and 14 in detail, it is a fact that the questions above are a matter of interpretation by the translators. They could as well be translated “All apostles. All prophets. All workers of miracles. All have the gifts of healing. All do speak with tongues. All do interpret.” Or, as a matter of interpretation we could say, “All can be apostles. All can be prophets. All can be workers of miracles. All can have the gifts of healing. All can speak with tongues. All can interpret.” The point is that there is nothing about the ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that make them superior to any others in the body of Christ. The service they perform is certainly unique. But, such service is not superior to any other Christian’s activity as a servant of Jesus Christ. Understanding the “gift ministries” in this light should cause us to encourage one another to do more and more rather than to magnify some and set them on a pedestal while at the same time instilling in others a feeling of “not measuring up”.

The statement of Ephesians 4:11 that God gives to some apostles, to some prophets, to some evangelists, to some pastors and to some teachers should cause us to expect their arrival when we need them. In other words, to some believers are sent apostles, when they need them (especially when they want them and ask for them). Some are given teachers, when they need them (especially when they want they and ask for them). If local Christians feel they are lacking in help, their proper response should be to ask God (and/or ask the person they feel can help them). Many times we do not receive simply because we do not ask.

The picture seen in Ephesians 4 is one of God providing local fellowships and individual Christians with everything they need, when they need it. If an individual or group needs a teacher, God will send a teacher. If he, or they, needs a prophet, God will send a prophet. The picture seen in Ephesians 4 is not a picture of God providing a special gift to an individual so he or she can be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher and then gather people under him to control! We are all servants. Jesus Christ is the master. We are complete in Him, who is the Head, Jesus Christ! We can learn, grow, become more effective, by that which “every joint supplieth” (Eph. 4:16) but are not to be “brought under the power of any” (I Cor. 6:12).

The question of “authority” in the church is answered by the realization that Jesus Christ was given, and still has, all power in heaven and in earth. The established churches in the world seem to confuse the authority of Jesus Christ with the authority of men. Somehow, the very genuine and good attitudes of honor and respect get corrupted in many churches and obedience to a man or men is the result. Instead of being followers of Jesus Christ, many seem to become followers of followers and their unique position in the body of Christ is compromised.

It is the supreme joy in life to see people thrill in the knowledge of God’s Word. It is the height of sorrow to see them brought back under bondage. The issue is “authority”. The advantage that Christians have is in having Jesus Christ as head of the church. They can bring every thought captive to Christ. They can rest in His Peace and can work with others in the body of Christ as fellow heirs.

Every member of this body can reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. They need not wait for blessings to flow through “channels” to get to them. Blessings do not come from man. They come from God! We may not fully appreciate what devastation and destruction man made organizations can effect. But, in many cases, they certainly do. They can spread lies and hatred much faster and farther than one objecting member can spread reproof and correction. Paul’s experience in Jerusalem shows that fact.

Teachers and Students, Time and Money: Part II

When Paul says in Gal. 6:6 that those who are taught the Word should support those who teach the Word, his advice is much bigger than “give to get” or “you owe me” or “you can’t be blessed if you don’t tithe”. Such statements are totally bankrupt and belong in front of a circus tent, not in the church of God. We love God because He first loved us. (I Jn 4:10-11). Any other motive for our actions, other than being overwhelmed and thankful for God’s love toward us, is doomed to fail. These motives will result in deception, lies, and every evil work. They will never result in God’s blessings being “poured out”.

We do not work for rewards. We work because we have already received the greatest reward of all, Jesus Christ died for us! The Christian is instructed to “labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” (Eph. 4:28). In other words, the Christians goal in life should be to give as much as he can in as many ways as he can rather than to accumulate wealth. Our motive is not “give to get” but rather “work to give”. Our motive must be love if we are to reap love’s benefits. It is absurd to see churches with thousands of members supporting one or two or three teachers.

On the basis of the Old Testament tithe, ten believers should be able to support one teacher. This certainly is an extreme position to many, but it allows the other extreme to be put in perspective. We have no danger in the Christian church of having an overpopulation of teachers of God’s Word. We also have no danger from the prospect of too much money being given to the work of the ministry of reconciliation. The danger clearly lies on the other end of the spectrum, too few willing to teach and too few willing to give financially. And, which is the more scarce is a debatable question, not to mention teachers who are tied up with administration and money that is wasted or given to things that do not profit.

We are clearly not under any kind of compulsion to give even one dime. However, love’s answer to Old Testament compulsion goes far beyond it, not beneath it. In the early church “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that ought which he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). Their attitude went far beyond the tithe to the realization that as servants of Jesus Christ everything they possessed belonged to Him. The Christian’s question is not “How much SHOULD I give?” but “How much CAN I give?”. With this frame of reference we will look for ways and resources to give more rather than measuring how we are doing by some “law of giving” and the size of our bank accounts. Implied in our willing acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord is the reality that our resources are His as well as our lives. We are stewards of our resources rather than owners of them. If giving based on such an understanding was practiced extensively in the church today, God’s Word could well revolutionize the world again as it did in the first century (without a revolution).

In many churches, ninety percent of the people give ten percent of the money and ten percent of the people give ninety percent of the money (and, it is not necessarily the wealthiest who give the most) . The net result is that the ninety percent want a say and a vote on the spending of the money and only serve to hold down the ten percent who desire to do all they can to be proper servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ninety percent will readily voice their objection that we are not under the Old Testament tithe. And, they are technically correct. The members of the body of Christ are not compelled, by God, to give one dime. But, if the motive behind the objection aims at “saving money” and not giving, then these people should practice giving twenty percent of their income, or thirty per cent, and then talk about tithing. Motive, in financial giving as in everything else, is all important. Any motive other than love must fail to promote a knowledge of the scripture and the power of God. Love wins. Compulsion does not win but only instills fear. And, fear brings a snare.

God’s Word could well prevail to an extent not known since the first century if the ninety percent of the people in the churches that do not give as they should were preempted from hiding behind an “organization” by the ten percent giving at least a part of their gifts directly to a teacher or teachers of God’s Word. As one author pointed out, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil for every one striking at the root.” I submit that giving directly to teachers of God’s Word is one effective way to strike at the root of evil. It seems to clearly be Paul’s method in his advice of Gal. 6:6. The love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10). The love of God is the only way to overcome this evil. Money must somehow be obtained and used within the church today. But, if it is only given to a church and then used by the church to control the actions and teaching of a pastor or teacher, that church will soon find out that what is presented is only what it wants to hear and not necessarily what it needs to hear.

Some will argue that a teacher cannot be trusted to receive “offerings” without the oversight of a church or non-profit organization of some kind. To respond to such a position it should first be pointed out that “offerings”, like tithes, are not the standard for the church age. Both tithes and offerings imply a duty, a payment, an obligation. We do take on duties, accept responsibilities, and assume obligations just about every day of our lives. But, these are different from the New Testament concept of “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). We buy a house, take a job, assume a mortgage. In all of them there is a benefit received for the commitment of our time and money. Likewise, we become members of a church so our children can go to sunday school and we can enjoy the many benefits of the church being in the community. We make a commitment of money to sustain these benefits as well. But, Christian giving starts where no benefit is expected. The church goer who thinks he is “giving” when his “offerings” are not even his fare share for the services he receives, deceives himself.

Giving begins after such services are paid for. Giving to a teacher or missionary sent out from the church, is one example of proper giving. No direct benefit is expected. A “sharing in the labor” is the attitude of such giving. And, if the money given for such work is given directly to the man or woman, rather than to the church and then from the church to the teacher or missionary, it is much more likely that all the money will get to them rather than a part being taken out for “expenses” or “overhead”. It seems much more reasonable to trust that God will direct the teacher or missionary rather than to hold them accountable to a board of deacons or elders as inevitably happens if the money flows from the church instead of from individuals directly. If for no other reason, such direct giving disallows the perception that “the church” is supporting missionary work and encourages the perception that individual members in the body of Christ support other members in the body of Christ. Our strength is not in numbers but in the power of God. The common “worry” over teachers misspending “God’s money” should be of no more concern than “worrying” over any Christian’s misuse of the resources that God has given him.

It is the unbeliever who chortles and clamors for retribution when a self-proclaimed “preacher” is found guilty of fraud or other misuse of money. Meanwhile, the unbeliever does far worse himself. We should not be discouraged from giving to Christian causes because of the chortling of the unbeliever.

Paul says in Philippians 4:17, “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” Some who read that may say, “Sure Paul wanted a gift, why would he be asking otherwise?” I believe Paul truly did not want a gift. I believe he would have preferred to earn his own livelihood. And, at times he did, for it is true that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). Everyone knows that in their heart of hearts. When we help someone, we feel far better than when someone helps us. But, teachers of God’s Word have to live, just like everyone else, and that requires money. The Christian should not hold teachers to a different standard than he holds himself.

Many people buy new cars when the old one would do. Some people are not satisfied with a teacher of God’s Word unless he is walking. Such an attitude is the cause of a dismal lack of knowledge of the Word of God within many churches today. Many Christians expect God’s teachers to provide for their own needs and then wonder why there are so few teachers available to teach. They are all busy providing for themselves and their families! The church gets the “left overs”. This should not be. It hinders “fruit” abounding to the Christians account.

On the other hand, many people in denominational churches will say, “we have a full time pastor.” But, they have, many times, so “locked up” the pastor that he is not free to teach either. If the church owns the pastors home, his car, and pays him a minimal salary, how free is he to teach? If he discovers a concept that has been misunderstood, can he dare to teach it if such teaching is unpopular, even though it is the truth? Few men will risk the well- being of their families to stand against a recalcitrant congregation that desperately needs to change it’s ways. In such a situation, the pastor is as effectively chained down as the bible teacher who works a full time job and belongs to no denominational church.

The church of the body of Christ needs to address the issue of giving. And, it needs to confront it head on. I submit that one way to do so is to support individual teachers. I fully believe that if such direct giving is practiced, once again men and women who have that special talent to search out and teach God’s Word will be able to do so, without the shackles of a board of deacons or a superior to whom they must give account or starve. Once again, the believer can show a teacher “the Way of God more perfectly”, as did Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18:26 to Apollos, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, without fear of being ostracized by the “congregation”. Correction has little chance of succeeding in large groups whereas in small groups, error and misunderstandings can readily be “worked out”.

The individual is responsible to God for his time and his money. How he spends both is of vital interest to Christianity. Jesus Christ did come that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). But, withholding money from God’s teachers, and then pointing at them and saying “get your believing up” is the height of hypocrisy. Such action will not make known the life that Jesus Christ came to establish. Nor will magnifying “Our Teacher” make known the life that Jesus Christ came to establish. Only providing “shoe leather” for the feet of those who teach the Gospel of Peace will do. Such, I believe, is the intent behind Paul’s instruction in Galatians 6:6, “Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.”

In Conclusion

As there were “Two Ways” in the first century church, so also there are “Two Ways” today. We choose who we will serve, and the choice is critical. We either allow ourselves to be brought back into bondage or we continue in the grace of God to the best of our ability. Only one way leads to a rich and full life of being blessed and being a blessing. Only one way allows us to develop our abilities to their maximum potential. Only one way equips us to see through the subtle snares that can so easily beguile. Jesus Christ said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee”. It must be sufficient for us as well.

The words in John 10:10 translated “more abundantly” are better translated “transcending abundance”, or “above abundance” or “more than abundant”, or “beyond abundance”. Knoch translates it, “superabundantly”. Moffatt says, “have it to the full”. Part of that life is an active learning of “the ways and means” of Jesus Christ as Lord in our lives. The life that Jesus Christ came to make available was unknown to the world until the day of Pentecost. Teachers of God’s Word who use John 10:10 to teach about a life of mere worldly abundance err. Jesus own words in Luke 12:15 make it very clear that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. The abundance that Jesus Christ brought transcends “things” and “possessions”. It consists of the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts by the holy spirit (Rom. 5:5).

The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the Christian can live a life filled with miracles, filled with joy, and filled with purpose. It is true that “man wants not so much something to have, but something to do, and above that, something to be.” In Christ all three are fulfilled. We are a new creation in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:17), we are called to the ministry of reconciling men and women to God (II Cor. 5:18), and we are given the Word of reconciliation with which to accomplish this worthy task (II Cor. 5:19). And God is able to make all grace abound to us so that we can always have all sufficiency in all things and be able to abound to every good work (II Cor. 9:8).

The Christians primary work is to reconcile men and women to God rather than reconciling men to each other. God will reconcile men to each other when they are reconciled to Him. The work of reconciling men to God only begins at salvation. Many questions remain in the “new” Christians mind after salvation. Many erroneous concepts remain to be changed to bring the person to the full realization the God is at peace with him and will never leave him nor forsake him (Heb. 13:5). This growth process is best facilitated in small local fellowships rather than big meetings. The life of the church is at its most vital in such meetings where friends can help one another accomplish their goals, their ambitions, their hearts desires and answer their questions from the Word of God rather than from “man’s wisdom”. It is primarily in these independent bible studies where the Word of God can become and remain the center and focal point of the Christian life. Such bible studies cannot help but to revitalize local churches and local communities as more and more of God’s Word is known.

Jesus Christ came that we could have a life that was never known before. He made available a life that overshadowed man’s concern with mere abundance. As Adolf Harnack said in the close of his book, “The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries”, “Christianity was a religion which proclaimed the living God, for whom man was made. It brought men life and knowledge, unity and multiplicity, the known and the unknown. Born of the spirit, it soon learnt to consecrate the earthly. To the simple it was simple, to the sublime, sublime.” May God’s Word prevail in our lives so that this life which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord may be seen and read of all men. To God be the glory, great things He has done. I am thrilled that He loves me! Even so, Lord, quickly come!





I would love to be able to trace my lineage back to Adam but can’t. From Genesis I can go forward from Adam to Noah and be certain of my beginnings since Noah was the only one to survive the flood (together with his wife, his three sons and their wives). Since Adam was 930 years old when he died and Noah was born 126 years later and was 600 years old when the flood came, I am confident that my lineage for the first 1656 years of man’s sojourn on planet earth was well known to everyone. Everyone in the world has come from the same “stock” whether they want to admit it or not. We are all relatives.

It appears from Genesis that the average life expectancy was about 900 years before the flood came (see Gen. 5) so that Methuselah, as well as many others, would have known both Adam and Noah and would have been able to transmit historical data, as well as values and thoughts, faithfully from generation to generation. In Methuselah’s case, he was contemporary with Adam for the first 243 years of his life and contemporary with Noah for the last 600 years of his life (he lived to be 969 years of age and died just before the flood.)

Attempts to distort or falsify records for the first 1600 years of man’s stay on earth would have been challenged by many eye witnesses and so I am confident that my “beginnings” are as stated in the first eight chapters of Genesis. The record is not unclear. It may be difficult for some to believe, but that is a secondary consideration. The record is clear.

With the flood came the condensing of all of man’s imperfections, (starting with the first sin), in the genetic “pool” of Noah and his progeny. Consequently, “post-flood” man lived to be only about a hundred years of age and the last 4,500 years of my “family tree” are much more difficult to trace than the first 1,500. I’d like to say that I came out of Shem rather than Ham or Japheth but to say so would be the merest speculation. (There is only a 33% chance that I would be right. However, that is considerably better than the fantastic odds required to show that I came out of “The Big Bang” or some “Black Hole in Space” that evolutionists would ask us to swallow.) I can’t even get back two hundred years from the present with any surety let alone back to Shem. I rest in the belief that I came from “a long line of love”.

My father came from Swedish parents and lived to be 87. He died recently in the same home he lived in with my mom for 54 years. His parents came from Sweden when they were young. My mom is 81 and is in good health, as are two of her sisters who are 80 and 87 years old. Her mom died at 95. My great uncle, Oscar Anderson, lived to be 99 and told me shortly before his death that he suspected some French blood in the Anderson line since a great, great, grandmother of mine had the name Severena. My grandfather on my mom’s side of the family was an Englishman and my grandmother was German.

Into such a heritage I was born on July 14, 1943. This means that July 13, 1943 is ancient history to me. But, I was not born into a vacuum. And, although the second world war was raging (as one auuthor commented, by this time the powers that be had the nerve to number their wars) and decisions of major impact on the world were being made, of much more significance to me was my family and a distance of about two miles to St. John’s Lutheran Church in South Euclid, Ohio (an eastern suburb of Cleveland). About half way from home to church lived my grandmother, and my mom was born about one block from the church. “The Church” was the center of life, around which life revolved.

“The Church” had a history also. It was 90 years old when I arrived on the scene. Established in 1853 at the intersection of two Chippewa Indian trails, the membership soon made the commitment to build a school. St. John’s Lutheran School came into being and was the school where I received my first eight years of education, as did my two brothers and two sisters. My mother went to school there when she was a child as did my grandmother before her. My great grandmother’s family name appears on the membership list of the church in connection with the passing of the churches constitution in 1860. And so, “church and school” were tied together in my mind from the time I was born.

The school was not without its precarious times. In 1918, in the midst of a national debate and court battle over whether parochial schools should have the right to exist, the South Euclid Board of Education tried to “cash out” the school and use it for state purposes. But, the church asserted its right by saying, “We mean to maintain our own school, and we shall need those buildings.” In 1923, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of parents to send their children to schools of their own choosing. And so, the school was still there to provide for me a Christian education, based on Christian principles, and taught by Christian men and women. Perhaps their views and methods differed from my views today, but I cannot question their motivation. It certainly was not money and I conclude that it must have been love (dispite examples of harshness or wrong doctrine to which all of us fall victim from time to time). My experience at St. John’s church and school are among the priceless treasures of my life.

Undoubtably the most significant experience of my childhood years was an event that happened as I walked through the field across from our house one day when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. At the time, I did not appreciate the significance. In fact, it would be almost ten years later before I did. While walking across the field, I began to speak in languages unknown to me and thought to myself, “Why, I can speak in any language I want to!” After rejoicing in my discovery for perhaps ten minutes or so, another thought came to mind, and that was, “I’d better not tell anyone about this or they will think I am crazy and put me in a nut house.”

Looking back over the years and the conflict that developed between me and my family and church over the matter of speaking in tongues, I conclude that my family would surely have done exactly as I thought they would. For, speaking in tongues was not mentioned in church or school and certainly was never discussed or considered, at least to my knowledge. Years later, a cousin of mine asked our pastor about speaking in tongues and his reply was, “That is why we have missionaries,” a total denial of the validity of speaking in tongues. However, by this time I was an adult and had learned much from the scripture regarding speaking in tongues, what it was, what it was for, how it was to be used both in private and in public, and most importantly, that it was a manifestation of the spirit rather than a special gift and, as such, every Christian could speak in tongues if he or she chose to do so. (I also learned that Martin Luther spoke in tongues.)

I had no trouble accepting the truth that every Christian could speak in tongues because I had done so when I was twelve or thirteen years of age. Certainly it could not be dependent on knowledge, experience, or special privilege. I certainly had not “earned the right” to speak in tongues. Nor was I “controlled” or “possessed” when I spoke in tongues. I could speak or not speak as I chose. Nor did I hear a voice from heaven, or see a sign, or feel anything other than wonderful. The only thing I had “trouble” with years later was accepting that the “unsaved” could not speak in tongues. It was just to easy! However, my senior year in college I discussed the matter with many classmates in order to satisfy myself and not once did any of those who did not believe in Jesus Christ speak in tongues. At times they said I was crazy when I spoke in tongues for them. But when I would reply, “O.K. then, you speak in tongues if it is not a manifestation of the spirit of God!”, they never did (and I assume they could not or they would have.) Since then I have witnessed thousands of people who did speak in tongues but never have I witnessed anyone speak in tongues who said he was not a Christian. I concluded from all this that speaking in tongues was indeed a wonderful thing that all Christians could do if they so desired. But, I’m getting ahead of my story.

High school was a continuation of my Lutheran training at Cleveland Lutheran High School East, where I graduated in 1961. Unlike my two brothers, I LOVED high school. It was a time to flex my physical, social and mental “muscles” and so I played football and basketball, ran the mile on the track team, was president of my class for two years and vice president the other two, and got mostly A’s and B’s in my class work. The graduation speech I gave was entitled, “The Value of a Christian Education.” My mom had brought me up well. At the time I suspected that I was one of those “big fish in a small pond”, but looking back on the makeup of the school, and seeing that it’s students came from all over the east side of Cleveland, perhaps the pond was bigger than I supposed. In numbers we were small, but in purpose our view was as big as the promises of God. The experience was another of the priceless treasures of my life.

College was my first experience with “a government school”. Rutgers University, first called Queens College when it was started in 1766 (to compliment Kings College, later to be known as Harvard), had become the State University of New Jersey in the 1950’s and by the time I got there in 1961, the freshman class was 1,500 students. The adjustment from 69 students in my high school graduating class to 1,500 freshmen at Rutgers was a challenge (as was being 500 miles away from home for the first time in my life). It seemed that the more people in attendance, the less people I knew. And, by the time I graduated in 1966 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I don’t think I’d made as many friends at Rutgers as I had among the 250 or so students while at Lutheran High.

My field of study in college was exciting because in the sciences, all was law and order. My perception of a Creator, as the “Divine Hand” or “Spiritual Authority”, that made all things by the council of His own Will and caused them to behave according to fixed patterns, stood me in good stead in learning physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, and the like. For, in these subjects, all was according to principle and law.

The heresies of the ninteenth and twentieth centuries, promoted by arrogant men that did not like to admit that God was superior to them, were thrown off by me as so much drivel. After all, the concept that order could come out of disorder and life out of non-life, with nothing but statistical improbability to guide them, was contrary to all my experience and observation (and contrary to “The Increase in Entropy Principle” as well, which assumes that disorder derives from order unless some “energy” is put into the system.) We may not understand some of the laws and principles that control what happens, but to dismiss the creator and assume that the creation came about with no motivator and no purpose seems to be an act of folly rather than an act of wisdom.

The language of mathematics was a tool that allowed sharp and clear expression and communication of concepts. It was a language that left little room for debate (except to perhaps debate if a user understood the language). Such was not the case with Psychology and Philosophy. These courses may have helped me to shed the “Lutheranisms” I had learned, but they could not shake the reality in my mind of a Creator, even though that reality may have been covered with the veneer of Lutheran dogma. In other words, the “Cult” of Lutheranism gave way but the “Christianity” of Lutheranism did not. (I use “cult” in its basic sense as a system of religious worship or ritual and not in any derogatory sense. It does, however, also serve to caution those in the Lutheran church that would point their finger at other Christian groups and derogatorily call them “cults”. Such accusations are not defensable, by Lutherans or any other “old time” religious groups that at times try to intimidate and slander newer groups of Christians.)

My senior year in college marked a quantum leap in my understanding of the Scriptures. My cousin married a girl whose father was a bible teacher and after hearing him teach a few times, I cut a final exam and drove 600 miles to take his class (which was held three hours a night, six nights a week, for two weeks). I was thrilled to find that the Bible was indeed understandable and could be studied as one would study mathematics or physics. And, as with these other disciplines, I found that danger did not lie in studying the Bible too closely but rather in not studying it at all. The Bible was “Solid as a Rock” just like the Creator was “Solid as a Rock”. To me, the question became, “How much of the Word of God do I know and how much can I learn?” rather than “Is the bible God’s Word?” From the brilliance of its contents, any question of God’s authorship was removed. By far, it was the most informative and rewarding book I ever studied.

And, as with my studies in engineering, my main interest in the Bible was the workability of what I had learned. I had entered the “perilous times” of Paul’s letter to Timothy. There was a war going on and it was being fought in earnest. The prize was the hearts and minds of the people on planet earth. Some of the characters in this war are described by Paul as follows, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, dispisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (II Tim. 3:2-5) Paul’s instruction is, “from such turn away” because among other things, they are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 3:7). To study machines without any thought of designing them or using them would have been folly to my way of thinking. So also, to search out God’s Word without a view to His power being manifested would have been folly to my way of thinking. Those who had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof became no different in my mind than those who totally denied God.

The other side in this war consisted of those who stood for the Gospel and wanted it known. Finding the one side and resisting the other became a life’s work. My first response to an extensive introduction to God’s Word was anger at the church and schools I had attended for the first twelve years of my education. (Ironically, I was not angry at the universities I attended which didn’t even attempt to instill godliness in its students.) In grade school and high school I had learned Christian morality and many of the stories in the Old Testament and the Gospels. I had not learned much about Paul’s epistles, speaking in tongues and the other eight manifestations of the spirit, the grace of God and the power of God.

Certainly, the bible was not given “equal time” with all the other things we studied. (And from what friends have told me, it evidently is not given “equal time” in seminary either). Miracles in daily life were seldom, if ever, pointed out to me. Healing was attributed only to doctors rather than allowing that God could and would heal today. In short, I concluded that the bible was at the side of the church I had grown up in instead of being at the center where it belongs (but at least it was at the side and not nonexistant).

Theological double talk like “three in one”, so central to some that they “believe” a person cannot be “saved” without accepting the “Trinity”, seemed much more important to some than an understanding of who Jesus Christ was and what He did. The placebo of theology took the place of an extensive knowledge of the truth. Such theology had the effect of moving the debate away from God’s Word and an understanding of Jesus Christ rather than moving the debate to God’s Word so that people would have a common ground upon which to build their knowledge and their relationships.

The rigidity of Lutheran theology became unacceptable to me and I “moved on” in my quest for an understanding of the things of God. Over the years, my youthful zealousness mellowed and my anger toward the church in which I was raised abaited. Nevertheless, there are rigid theologies in the Lutheran church that hide great truth and cause people to think the bible is complicated rather than simple. I will continue to resist and challenge such theology. It is part of the Bondage church that has come down to us through James the brother of Jesus and reduces to a question of who is the authority and who is not rather than the question, “How well do we know Jesus Christ and how much do we serve Him?”

For seven years, from 1966 to 1973, I worked to promote an organization that I am now ashamed to even name. I traveled extensively teaching bible classes and in the process met many wonderful people of all ages and every conceivable background. It was a wonderful time, filled with action, filled with deleverance, filled with discovery, filled with joy. The bible class my cousin’s father-in-law had taught for perhaps fifteen years (to an average of about 50 new people a year) answered many questions and above all taught people how to study the bible themselves. To me, it was wonderful and so I promoted the idea of placing the entire thirty six hour class on film so that three or four people could sit through it wherever they might be located. I was instrumental in raising the money to produce the class on film and when it was finished I left my engineering job and spent full time promoting the class and traveling around the country with the films.

By 1973, about 9,000 people a year were taking the class instead of 50 people a year. But, disasterous change was taking place within the organization as well. Where there had been no perception in my mind of “superior- subordinate” relationships but rather “fellowlaborer” relationships, all kinds of petty jealousies became apparent. Out and out lies were told to further programs developed by the organizations president and I could not in clear consience condone, ignore or support such obvious abuse of Christian stewardship. The issue of “authority” superceded all other issues. Reliance on the power of God went out the door- especially in the area of finances. The organization became the object of service rather than a vehicle of service. Money flowed in graciously (at least at times) but flowed out reluctantly. Ignorant arrogance and “pecking order” replaced God’s love and grace. The concept of “a man of God” gave way to “The man of God” which in turn gave way to “The Man”.

Some of the friends I had made while there left before I did. Some left later. Some never left and to them we all became devils. We were the enemy as were all people who had never even heard of the organization. The term “cult” became popular by the middle or late 70’s and the organization I had been associated with grew in notoriety as time went by. Although I never lost a night’s sleep over it, I did wrestle for years over how so much good could grow side by side with so much evil.

When I left, I was certain that either truth would have to give way in the organization or else their practice would have to change. But, I was wrong. And gradually I came to realize, as Throeau said, that “there is not an instants truce between virtue and vice.” Both always seem to be found together. Regardless of the organizations I had been affiliated with in my life, all had truth and all had error right along side the truth. There may have been differences in the degree of error and the extent of bondage, but truth and error seem to exist side by side in every organization. In the case of the Lutheran chruch, I suspect that Martin Luther would be appalled at some of the theology and some of the theologians in the Lutheran church today. In the case of the later organization I was associated with, the offensiveness became so obvious as to need no further comment.

One well known biblical scholar recently wrote me that, “The struggle for Christian liberty has to be renewed in each generation within the church.” He said, “There are too many Christians who are afraid to enjoy the liberty with which Christ has set them free, and they are afraid to let other Christians enjoy theirs; they PREFER to live by rules and regulations.” And so it is. As one of the founders of this country replied when asked what kind of government was formed, “You have a republic if you can keep it!” “Give me liberty, or give me death” is not some idle boast. It is a thoughtful statement showing the supreme value of liberty. If safety, security, lack of conflict, and the like are valued more highly than liberty, we can be sure that we will lose our liberty. This applies to churches as well as governments. However, if liberty is asserted throughout the land, bondage must back up. Our choice is to “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free” or to sell our birthright for a transient showing of “unity” and a deceptive perception of “peace”. The Prince of Peace is the bringer of peace, not man’s philosophies, man’s systems or man’s money.

For the past seventeen years I have associated myself with many religious and political groups and have seen the same conflicts within all of them. To me, they all boil down to the same essence. Did grace and truth come by Jesus Christ or did it not? We choose to believe it did or deny it. People in every organization in the world must accept or deny it. When Jesus Christ returns, He will assert the truth of the matter. Until then, John 1:17 is very clear, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” We can choose to assert this reality by our actions, decissions and relationships, or we can consider it not worth defending. Or, worse yet, we can dismiss it as irrelevant or untrue. Those who choose one way will always clash with those who choose the other. How we carry on in the conflict determines who wins in our day by day lives. We loose if we are tricked into moving away from the Word of God. We win when we assert the truth of God’s Word, but we only win if our motive is love.

To round out this short autobiography, I worked on various engineering projects in this country and overseas in the middle seventies and then went back to school and received a Master of Education degree from Wright State University in 1976 (with certification to teach Chemistry, Physics and General Science in secondary schools in Ohio). The following year I taught chemistry at Wright State while studying in the graduate school of Chemistry. For the following five years I ran a business in western Ohio reclaiming metal values from industrial residues to provide revenue to persue further my interest in the ministry of God’s Word.

In the late seventies I became politically active with such groups as Right to Life, Moral Majority, The Ohio Committee to Restore the Constitution and the Christian school movement. During this time I learned how the political system in this country had been fractured over the years so that no direct link was maintained between precinct committeemen at one end of the spectrum and national government at the other. In trying to find out who the culprits were (so as to help effect their replacements,) I finally concluded, after serving as ann aide in the Ohio Senate for a time, that the problem does not rest in Columbus or Washington, D.C., but rather in the hearts and lives of the people of this couunntry. As a nation, we cannot prosper if our lives are not guided by God’s truth. Selfishness and “the dole” are always destructive, individually and collectively.

By the early 1980’s I gave up persuing political solutions to spiritual problems. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions, and I am convinced that only a massive dose of God”s Word, taken by the citizens of this country, can remedy the terminal illness this country faces. It will take a miracle from a miracle working God. And, I trust that there is a relationship between people expecting deliverance (and conditioning their minds to God’s truth) and God’s providing that deliverance. Surely, God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. But, if we as a nation do not ask and do not think, it seems to me that our willful disobedience shackles God’s love and hides his goodness.

Since the early eighties, I have taught from time to time in high schools on a temporary basis and love the intellectual honesty of students in their teen age years. They, for the most part, are not afraid to challenge the teacher at every opportunity, and I love such challenge. But, even better, is the challenge of finding and living God’s Word and teaching his grace to individuals and small groups. God’s favor has been wonderful in allowing me to do so as my first priority in life.

Since I never married, my compensation comes in the form of less structure and less demands on my time than that which a family brings. Therefore I am able to travel and my needs are relatively few. If you have benefited from this book, pray forme, as Paul says, “that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). I would love to hear your thoughts regarding the book. And, if you are able to take the time to write, my address is in the front of the book.

As regards giving and receiving, this book is given as a gift of love. To the extent that I am able, I will continue to send it to anyone who wants to read it. I have nothing that I did not first receive and am confident that Christians can and should live on the higher level of “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8) rather than conforming to the “lets make a deal” world, whose focus is on getting rather than giving. (Some preachers even promote the idea of “give to get” as though man has something to bargain with in dealing with God.) I have no objection to “marketing” this book if such a method would aid its distribution. However, I have no intention of doing so myself.

I would of course be thankful for any help you can give me. However, this is a very sensitive matter to me as I know that only gifts given with love can prosper. God loves a cheerful giver, not gifts given out of compulsion or a feeling of necessity (II Cor. 9:7). I must rely on God’s abiding grace to provide for all my needs according to His riches in glory and therefore hope that you will consider my needs after, and not before, all the others you see around you. To the extent that you are willing and able to help meet all these other needs, please do so. And, if love compells you to give to me also, I will thrill in His love and His provision. Thank you for taking the time to read my book and may His grace abound to you yet more and more in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.