Tuesday, October 9, 2007

More Thinking about the Jerusalem Council

Loren Rossen offers his summary of events here.

I have a couple of items that pop up as I continue to think about the Jerusalem Council.

1. If it is a historical event (which I lean toward because of the knowledge and application of the Noahide laws in early Christianity; and we would expect the Jerusalem Church to be the one who "ruled" on the Gentiles), then it likely occurred after the Antiochean Affair, not before.

2. It does not have to be identified with Gal. 2. This could be an entirely separate affair. Gal. 2 may be an earlier meeting. Paul may not have even been involved in the Jerusalem Council since its food rulings are no compromise for Paul. It is not clear to me that the Jerusalem Council made any decision about circumcision (see Acts 21:25).

3. For years (even from the beginning?) the Jerusalem Church allowed for a range of behaviors on the part of Gentile converts, and supported the Antiochean Church (and at first Paul) which allowed Gentiles to remain uncircumcised, but not Jews. Peter was the big advocate for this position, and this moderate position appears to have been permitted by Jerusalem who sends Barnabas and other teachers and prophets to help with the Gentile mission. The Gentiles in Antioch weren't necessarily circumcising themselves given Paul's connection to their mission.

4. There seems, however, to have been real hostility especially in Jerusalem in terms of Gentiles who remained uncircumcised, perhaps for fear that the implications would be that Jews don't need to be circumcised either (if we follow what Luke tells us). Here I'm not even thinking of folks within the Jerusalem Church. I'm thinking of Jews external to it. Was Stephen's martyrdom about it (cf. Acts 7:51)? Was Saul's persecution of the church about it? Was James son of Zebedee killed by Herod because of it? Was Peter arrested because of it? Was the riot that got Paul arrested because of it?

5. Something happened in Jerusalem in the 50s that caused James to send an envoy to Antioch telling them to circumcise the Gentiles. This doesn't have to be a case where James is going back on his word. This suggests that something socially or politically was happening that caused James to finally make a decision to circumcise the Gentiles, a decision that he maintains following the Antiochean Affair when Paul goes out on his own and faces churches who are now being told by Jerusalem to circumcise the Gentiles. In other words, the uncircumcised had become a liability and James had to act. But why?

6. After the Antiochean Affair, James rules on the food laws, and allows for Gentiles to follow some form of the Noahide Laws. Is this later ruling the Jerusalem Council?

UPDATE 10-10-07: Doug Chaplin posts his thoughts on the subject here.


James F. McGrath said...

I have long felt that the simplest explanation for what we find in Acts is the following:

1) Either
(a) Luke was aware of the Jerusalem Council's letter or something purporting to represent a decision by the Jerusalem church


(b) Luke was offering this solution to the problem in his time as an attempt at compromise between the Jerusalem and Pauline churches.

2) Luke also knew that Paul had not been present at Council and/or had not been aware of its decision. This is suggested not only the reference to Paul learning about it later, but the problem which the Western addition of Acts 15:34 was intended to resolve. Luke has either inserted a Council that did not occur, or placed Paul and/or Silas at it when they were not in fact there.

3) Luke seems persuaded that Paul would have agreed to the Gentiles accepting some minimal requirements for the sake of church unity, and thus presents Paul as present at the Council and in agreement with its decision.

April DeConick said...


Very good.

Bob Webb said...


With reference to #5 in your post, I do think that Gal 6:12-13 is significant. It suggests that one motivation of Paul's opponents is to avoid persecution. Robert Jewett (in his NTS 1971 essay) proposed that rising nationalism in Palestine (and the developing Zealot movement) was opposed to Jews fraternizing with Gentiles. Thus, by getting Gentile Christians circumized, Jewish Christians in Palestine might avoid such persecution.


Robert L. Webb

Stephen C. Carlson said...

James, how does the Western reading at Acts 15:34 (μόνος δὲ Ἰούδας ἐπορεύθη -- but Judas went alone) fit into what you're saying?

April DeConick said...


This is exactly the trajectory that I was thinking about when I wrote this post! I am going to go and dig out Jewett's article.

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

To realise what was going on in Acts 15, it is better to go back to Acts 13.

The journey in Acts 13 is the first journey attributed to Paul, not the second (my mistake). But if one wanted to sail from Antioch to Perga in Pamphylia (13.13), why take a longer route south of Cyprus to Salamis (13.5), walk across the island to Paphos (13.6.), and then take a second ship to Perga? The logical route would have been to sail the shorter distance north of Cyprus directly to Perga from Selucia (a place said to be ‘down from’ Antioch in Syria) (13.4).

The probable answer is that ‘the two’ (of us?) (13.4) ‘went down’ from Rome to Puteoli (not from Antioch ‘down to’ Selucia ) and sailed from Puteoli on a traditional sea route to the harbour of Paphos in Cyprus (13.4). I suggest they were on their way to Jerusalem via the port of Caesarea in Syria. Further I suggest, that after proclaiming the Spirit in the Jewish synagogues of Paphos, they met the prophet (note) Bar-Jesus who was probably visiting the island (not visiting the Proconsul) (13.6,7). The Pauline editor turned the prophet Bar-Jesus of the original text into a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet, to make out that it was the Gentile Proconsul who was interested in the Pauline message. Thus the introduction of the Proconsul and the story of the sorcerer Bar-Jesus (Elymas) (13.7-11) was fabrication to support the idea of a mission to Gentiles. Thus the ‘intelligent man’ (13.7) was in fact the prophet Bar-Jesus who was probably a ‘righteous man’ in that he kept the law. It was this prophet who wanted to ‘hear’ (explicit in 13.7) the Spirit of God, not the Proconsul who wanted to hear the word of God. When the prophet heard (not the ‘Proconsul saw’), I suggest that in the original text, the prophet was filled with the Spirit of the Lord (not the Proconsul ‘was amazed at the teaching about the Lord’).

From Paphos the two would have sailed to Caesarea in Syria (not Perga in Pamphylia, 13.13). The real clue as to where the two were going is given by the editor’s device of ‘John’. The Pauline editor inserted ‘John was with them as their helper’ in 13.5, and then had ‘John’ removed from the scene in 13.13 with his ‘where John left them to return to Jerusalem’. Clearly, the insertion of ‘John’ was a device to give the impression that the two were NOT headed for Jerusalem when in fact they were. Thus from Caesarea (not Perga), they (we?) went on to Jerusalem (not Pisidian Antioch) (13.14). So, on the Sabbath, they (we?) entered the temple (not the synagogue) (13.14). The two were in the temple in Jerusalem.

Richard Fellows said...


if I have understood you correctly, you give three reasons why the council of Acts 15 visit belongs later in the Acts sequence.
1. You suggest that the men from James (Gal 2:12) would not have been sent to Antioch after the harmonious agreement of Acts 15. However, Stephen Carlson has presented a good argument that the men from James were already in Antioch when Peter returned to Antioch. He made this argument from the textual variants of Gal 2:12. I'm on holiday now, so I can't send you the link, but you could search his blog. Anyway, his suggestion was that the men from James were the men from Judea of Acts 15:1 and arrived in Antioch before the events of Gal 2 and Acts 15.

2. You suggest that the Palestinian Christian countermission to Galatia would not have occured after the council of Acts 15. However, Mark Nanos, among others, have denied that there was a Palestinian counter-mission to Galatia. I have suggested that false brothers of Gal 2:4-5 were Galatian Jews and that they caused the confusion in Galatia when they returned there.

3. You suggest that the Antioch incident would not have happened after the harmonious agreement of Acts 15. However, it seems to me that the agenda at the meeting of Acts 15 was carefully controlled by the leaders so that the (modest) resolutions would pass and the controversial views of Paul and the Antioch church would not come to light. Notice how Paul and Barnabas keep a diplomatic silence during the meeting. Paul's policy on these matters was one of conflict avoidance. He would be a Jew to the Jews and in their company he would keep quiet about his radical views about Gentiles. It was this habit of Paul that led to the confusion in Galatia about what he really believed. The meeting of Gal 2:1-10 was private and this shows that Paul did not want the extent of his views to be known by the wider Christian community in Jerusalem. Gal 2:1-10, I suggest, was a pre-meeting meeting and was followed shortly by the more public meeting of Acts 15. The issues that were later at stake in Galatia were kept off the agenda of the Acts 15 meeting. That is why Paul does not mention the Acts 15 meeting. Some of this is admittedly a bit tentative, but my point is that the Acts 15 meeting addressed all the issues and we should not be surprised to find that issues were still unresolved when Peter returned to Antioch shortly after.

On any hypothesis Barnabas was not with Paul during his second and third missionary journeys. They went together to Jerusalem for the Gal 2 visit and for the Acts 15 visit, so both visit(s) should be placed before the second missionary journey (before Paul and Barnabas split).

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I believe the blog post Richard is referring to is: Textual Criticism and the Antioch Incident (Sep. 18, 2006).

Frank McCoy said...

Luke needs to be read on his own terms--and on his own terms there never was a brother of Jesus named James who was an important person in the early Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem.

He does not name any of the brothers of Jesus in either Luke or Acts.

In Acts 1:13-14, he lists the brothers of Jesus as being the lowest of the Low in the early Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem--even lower than the women. Peter is listed first and Luke wants us to believe that Peter led the early Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem. He lists two people named James. By Acts 15, one of them (i.e., James the son of Zebedee) is dead. So, by default, Luke wants us to understand that the other James (i.e., James the son of Alphaeus) is the James of Acts 15.

If you look closely, in Acts 15, this James basically rubberstamps Symeon's declaration is one is saved by grace, only adding as a token concession to the hard-liners that Gentiles should obey what appear to be Noachian laws. So, the impression Luke wants us to have is that Peter is still the leader, with his speech basically carrying the day, and with Peter enunciating what appears to be Pauline doctrine.

IMO, this Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem meeting either never occurred or else Luke has so radically modified it as to make it unhistorical as written by him.

Michael F. Bird said...

Doh, Bob you beat me to the punch! I was just about to say the same thing about Jewett's article and the rise of nationalistic violence in the 40s and 50s!

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

Originally, that is in a Jewish milieu, I suggest that 'those' (Gal.6.12) were the priests. And 'those' were not, as the Pauline editor would have us believe, Jewish Christians trying to compel Gentiles to be circumcised. But 'those' were the priests trying to compel Jews who were obeying the Spirit to return to sacrificing.

So, the sentence of 6.11: 'The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ' is a Pauline interpolation, pure and simple.

There was no early mission to Gentiles.

geoffhudson.blogspot.com said...

Further, I would suggest that Gal.6.15 was originally: Neither sacrifice nor the law counts for anything - 'counts' agrees with the next sentence. This would then link with 6.13 which I suggest would have been: Not even those who sacrifice obey the law. The issue was a Jewish one about cleansing. For the original writer: what 'counts' is a cleansed spirit, not 'a new creation' of the Pauline editor.(6.15). Those promoting sacrifice wanted to boast about 'your' cleansing, not 'your flesh' (6.13) nor about making 'a good impression outwardly'.(6.12) The issue at stake had nothing to do with circumcision.

James F. McGrath said...

Sorry I didn't reply sooner, Stephen, so I'm not sure if you'll see this. The point (which I didn't express clearly) is that the Western scribe who added that detail sensed the problem with Silas returning whence he had come, only to be found still there ready to depart from Antioch as Paul's companion "some time later".

This could of course simply mean that Silas had left and then come back, and Luke just skips over the information. But awkward disjunctions such as this, particularly ones that later scribes felt the need to 'fix', can be a sign that an author is bringing together two disparate traditions, or editing a source, or in some other way putting together already-existing puzzle pieces, or adding new ones of his own creation, which do not fit together in a straightforward way.