Who Received the Apostolic Decrees

31 Dec

Since Luke seems to place great importance upon the Jerusalem Council, it should be asked who received the letter from James, and more importantly, who received the Apostolic Decrees, if James’ four abstentions were required of all gentiles, if fellowship between them and Jewish believers was an issue. This letter from the Jerusalem Council, signed by James and perhaps other elders from the Jerusalem church, is never mentioned again in the New Testament. Is the great controversy upon which Luke places such importance nothing more than a ‘flash in the pan’ so to speak?

Many scholars seem to believe that, because the decrees and / or the letter from James aren’t mentioned in Paul’s epistle, Galatians must have been written before the Jerusalem Council took place. However, this isn’t logical, if we believe that Paul took Titus to the Jerusalem Council (Galatians 2:3). It would be logical to assume that Titus was taken to the Jerusalem Council as a point of verity, showing the real truth behind the words that would be said or written. The elders in Jerusalem couldn’t say circumcision wasn’t required of gentiles for table-fellowship with Jews and at the same time demand that Titus be circumcised, before they would eat with him at the same table. If Titus wasn’t circumcised in Jerusalem, then the Jerusalem Council must have already taken place, if Paul was able to say circumcision was not required of Titus by the Jewish believers there (Galatians 2:3).

There were a number of checks and balances that accompanied the letter from James for insurance purposes that would satisfy the doubts of all parties concerned. The believers at Antioch could trust the letter, knowing Titus wasn’t required to be circumcised at Jerusalem. Also, the two prophets who came down from Jerusalem to Antioch could also reassure any doubters that the claims made by Paul and Barnabas there were in agreement with what is believed at Jerusalem. Moreover, these same prophets from Jerusalem could also reassure any doubters in Jerusalem that nothing more was added or taken from what was agreed upon by the Jerusalem Council. So, Antioch received the letters.

We can also be fairly certain that the churches Paul raised up in Tarsus and surrounding communities were also given the letter, because James addresses them who were in Cilicia as well as the believer at Antioch. Moreover, Luke tells us in Acts 16:4 that “the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe” were delivered to the churches there. So, all the churches who had a large number of gentile believers worshiping with Jews, whether in Antioch, Cilicia or Galatia, received the Apostolic Decrees.

What about the churches that would be raised up in the future missionary efforts of Barnabas and Paul? Would they be given the decrees? Is there any evidence that the decrees were given to any of those churches? Yes, I believe there is.

In 1Corinthians 8 & 10 Paul writes to the churches there concerning table fellowship. He says to give offense to neither Jew nor Greek (1Corinthians 10:32), and the whole chapter concerns what was permissible to buy at the marketplace to eat or to eat at an unbeliever’s table if invited (cp. 1Corinthians 10:24-27; 8:7-13). Paul also brought up matters of spiritual fornication (1Corinthians 10:7-8), and all this involved table fellowship, not the physical immoral act of fornication. Even today part of the Passover meal is the acting out of certain aspects of what occurred during the first Passover in Exodus 12. So, part of ancient worship, whether pagan or Jewish, involved acting out something that God had done or the worshiper wished to have God do (cp. 1Corinthians 10:7; Exodus 32:6-8). The pagan practices were forbidden to gentiles, and such practices were abhorred by Jewish believers. Though the idol is nothing, still table-fellowship would be skewed, if the gentiles didn’t comply with the Apostolic Decrees, so the Corinthian letter shows the decrees were part of the Gospel that Paul preached.

If Paul taught the Corinthian church to give no offense to either Jew or Greek, it can be safely assumed that he did so in all the churches raised up after the Jerusalem Council (cp. Romans 14:14, 22), whether Thessalonica, Berea, Philippi and the churches in Asia (cp. Acts 19:18-20).

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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Gospel, Jerusalem Council


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