Jesus's Words

Chapter 6: Paul Disbelieved Continued.—Jerusalem Visit III. Deputation Visit.—Paul and Barnabas Delegated by Antioch Saints, To Confer on the Necessity of Jewish Rites to Heathen Converts to the Religion of Jesus

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Section 3: Debates—Course Carried by James Against Peter

Of what passed at this assembly, the only account we have—the account given to us by the author of the Acts—is curious:—curious at any rate; and whether it be in every particular circumstance true or not,—in so far as it can be depended upon, instructive.33

We have the persons mentioned as having spoken: they are, in the order in which they are here enumerated, these four:—to wit, Peter, Barnabas, Paul and James. Of the speech of Peter, the particulars are given: so likewise of that of James: of Barnabas and Paul, nothing more than the topic.

Against the Mosaic law in toto, we find Peter; and such contribution as he is represented as furnishing to this side of the cause in the shape of argument. On the same side, were Barnabas and Paul: what they furnished was matter of fact:—namely, in the language of the Acts, what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.acts 15:12b—in plain language, the success they had met with among the Gentiles.

On this question, on the side of the chief of the Apostles, were—the manifest interest of the religion of Jesus as to extent of diffusion,—the authority derived from situation,—the express command of Jesus as delivered in the Gospel history,—and Jesus' own practice: not to speak of the inutility and unreasonableness of the observances themselves. Yet, as far as appears from the author of the Acts,—of these arguments, conclusive as they would or at least should have been,—it appears not that any use was made: the success, he spoke of as having been experienced by himself among the Gentiles,—in this may be seen the sole argument employed in Peter's speech. Thus,—in so far as this report is to be believed,—thus, upon their own respective achievements, did,—not only Paul but Peter,—rest, each of them, the whole strength of the cause.

Spite of reason, religion, and Jesus, the victory is in this account, given to James—to Jesus' kinsman, James. The motion is carried: the course proposed, is a sort of middle course—a sort of compromise. At the hands of Gentile proselytes, in deference to the Mosaic law, abstinence from four things is required: namely, meats offered to idols, blood, things strangled: these, and the irregularities of the sexual appetite,—whatsoever they were, that were meant by the word, rendered into English by the word fornication.

If any such decision were really come to,—by nothing but necessity—necessity produced by the circumstances of place and time—will it be found excusable. Abstinence from food killed in the way of sacrifice to heathen gods, on the occasion of public sacrifices: yes; for, for such food, little relish could remain, on the part of persons devoted to the religion of Jesus: from fornication, yes; for, for a sacrifice in this shape, even among the Gentiles, some preparation had been made by stoicism. But, as to blood and things strangled,34 that is to say, animals so slaughtered as to have more blood left in their carcasses than the Mosaic law would allow to be left in them—animals slaughtered otherwise than in the Jewish manner,—thus forbidding teachings of the religion of Jesus, to eat a meal furnished by Gentile hands,—this, as above observed, was depriving them of their most favourable opportunities, for carrying their pious and beneficent purposes into effect, by adding to the number of believers.

Altogether remarkable is the consideration, upon the face of it, by which, if the historian is to be believed, this decision was produced. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.Acts 15:21 May be so: but what if he has? what is that to the purpose? Good, if the question were about the Jews: but, it is not about the Jews: the Gentiles, and they only, are the subjects of it. And the Gentiles—what know or care they about Moses? what is it that is to send them into the synagogues, to hear anything that is "read in synagogues"?

By this imaginary abstinence from blood,—for, after all, by no exertion of Mosaic ingenuity could the flesh ever be completely divested of the blood that had circulated in it,—of this perfectly useless prohibition, what would be the effect?—Not only to oppose obstacles, to the exertions of Christian teachers, in their endeavors to make converts among the Gentiles,—but, on the part of the Gentiles themselves to oppose to them a needless difficulty, in the way of their conversion, by rendering it impossible for them, consistently with the observance of this prohibition, to associate with their unconverted friends and families at convivial hours. Thus much as to what concerns the Gentiles.35

Since, and from that time, the religion of Jesus has spread itself:—we all see to what extent. Spread itself: and by what means? By means of the decision thus fathered upon the Apostles? Upon the Apostles, the Elders, and the whole Church?—No: but in spite of it, and by the neglect of it.

Charged with a letter, containing this decision, did Paul, together with his friend Barnabas, return from Jerusalem,—if the author of the Acts is to be believed,—to the society of Christian converts, by which he had been sent thither: charged with this letter, carrying with it the authority of the whole fellowship of the Apostles. Paul himself—he Paul—what sort of regard did he pay to it? He wrote against it with all his might. No more Jewish rites! No more Mosaic law! Such is the cry, that animates the whole body of those writings of his which have reached us.


33 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 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? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Acts 15:5-21

34 After the word blood, the mention made of things strangled seems to have been rather for explanation than as a separate ordinance. Of strangling, instead of bleeding in the Jewish style,—what the effect would be, other than that of retaining blood, which the Mosaic ordinance required should be let out, is not very apparent.

35 Another observation there is that applies even to the Jews. By Moses were all these several things forbidden. True: but so were a vast multitude of other things, from, which (after the exceptions here in question) the prohibition is, by this decision, taken off. These things, still proposed to be prohibited, as often as they entered a synagogue, they would hear prohibited: but, so would they all those other things, which, by this decision, are left free.

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