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
Section 4: Result, Supposed Apostolic Decree and Letter to Antioch, Which, Per Acts, Paul Circulates
Of a decision, agreed upon and pronounced to the above effect—a decision expressed by a decree;—and of a copy of that decree, included in and prefaced by a letter addressed to the saints at Antioch,—were Paul and Barnabas, along with others who were associated with them, on their return to that city, the bearers:—that is to say, if, as to these matters, credence is given, to the statement, made by the author of the Acts; by whom the alleged decree and letter are given, in words, which, according to him, were their very words:—these words are those which follow:
We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
Supposing it genuine,—a most curious, important and interesting document, this letter and decree must be allowed to be. Supposing it genuine: and, in favor of its genuineness, reasons present themselves, which, so long as they remain unopposed, and no preponderating reasons in support of the contrary opinion are produced, must decide our judgment.
Not long after the account of the acceptance given at Antioch to this decision,—comes that of a conjunct missionary excursion from that place made by Paul, with Timotheus, and perhaps Silas, for his companion. At the very commencement of this excursion—if, in the decree spoken of, this decree is to be understood as included; and there seems no reason why it should not be, they are represented as taking an active part in the distribution of it. And says the historian,
That, by Paul, this token, of association with the Apostles, should at that time be exhibited and made manifest, seems altogether natural. It affords a further proof, of the need, which, at that period of his labors, he regarded himself as having, of the appearance—the outward signs at least—of a connection with the Apostles.
True, it is, that the persuasion of any such need is altogether inconsistent with that independence, which, in such precise and lofty terms, we have seen him declaring in his Epistle to his Galatians,—is sufficiently manifest. But, in the current chronology, the date, ascribed to that Epistle, is by five years posterior, to the date ascribed to the commencement of this excursion: date of the excursion, A.D. 53; date of the Epistle, A.D. 58: difference, five years: and five years are not too great a number of years, for the experience of success and prosperity, to have raised to so high a pitch, the temperature of his mind.36
Even before this time, we find him even outstretching the concessions, which, in that decree, in the case of the Gentiles, in compliance with the scruples of the Jewish disciples they had to deal with, we have been seeing made by the Apostles, in favor of the Mosaic law. Abstinence—from meat offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication—composed all the Mosaic observances exacted in that decree. To these, he, in his practice, at this time, added another, and that, in respect of extent, in a prodigious degree a more important one: to wit, the submitting to circumcision. For, to this painful observance,—in which a submission to all the other Mosaic observances was implied,—he had already subjected his new convert Timotheus, whom, in this excursion, in addition to Silas, he took with him for a companion. Born of a Greek father as he was,—adult as he was,—he took him, says the historian, and circumcised him. Circumcised him—and why?—"Because of the Jews, which were in those quarters."37
36 In the account of this excursion, Galatia—now mentioned for the first time in the Acts,—is mentioned, in the number of the countries, which, in the course of it, he visited. It stands fourth: the preceding places being Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Phrygia.Acts 16:1-6 "He ... went over [all] Galatia ... strengthening the disciples."Acts 18:23