The second missionary journey, continued (Acts 16)
Derbe and Lystra (16:1-2)
After his pastoral visit to the churches in Syria and
Cilicia, Paul travels to the city of Derbe. His first trip to this and other
cities in Galatia was discussed in 14:6-21. After his activities in Derbe are
completed (Luke gives no details), Paul takes the northwest road to Lystra.
Again, Luke says nothing about what Paul does in the city. Luke’s main interest
here is to show how Timothy becomes Paul’s associate.
While Paul and Barnabas are teaching at Antioch, some people
come from Judea and demand that the Gentiles should become practicing Jews
before being regarded as real believers. Luke summarizes their claim in a
sentence: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses,
you cannot be saved” (15:1).
Chapter 14: Paul Takes the Gospel to Asia Minor, Continued
Missionaries at Iconium (14:1-3)
Iconium (modern Konya) is the next city in which Paul and
Barnabas carry on missionary work. The city is on the Sebaste Road about 90
miles (145 kilometers) east-southeast of Pisidian Antioch. Following their
usual procedure, the two missionaries enter the Jewish synagogue to preach
(14:1). Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas speak so effectively that large
numbers of Jews and Gentiles believe the gospel.
Luke next turns his attention to an important episode of
persecution against the Jerusalem church, which results in one item of sad
news, and another of joy. He relates the death of the apostle James (the
brother of John) (12:2), Peter’s arrest and miraculous escape from prison
(12:3-19), and the death of Herod (12:19-23). As we shall see, the three events
form one unit with a special message for readers.
The conversion of Cornelius is a milestone in the church’s
history. However, it doesn’t settle the troubling issues of the proper
relationship of Jews to Gentiles within the body of believers. In fact, the
church throughout Judea is soon buzzing with the tale that Peter met with and
baptized Cornelius. Luke writes of the controversy: “The apostles and believers
throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.
The Gospel Goes to Cornelius, a Gentile (Acts 10:1-11:18)
Part 1: Chapter 10
The Gentile challenge
Luke now begins to tell the story of a fundamental turning
point in the history of the early church. For the first time Gentiles will be directly
evangelized and admitted into fellowship with Jewish Christians. As a
result, the church will not remain just an offshoot of an ethnic religion
(Judaism). It will become a universal body embracing people from every nation
Luke’s account now switches to describe the conversion of
Paul, who will dominate the rest of Acts. While making Paul the focus of his
interest, Luke never loses sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit, and hence
God, is the true center of his story.
The decree told gentile Christians to abstain from four things.15 Minor variations occur in order and number (15:20, 29; 21:25); these variations suggest that order and number are not significant. The four prohibitions:
1) Pollutions of idols (15:20) or things sacrificed to idols (15:29; 21:25). Wilson notes that "pollutions" could have either a religious sense or a reference to morality.16 All four prohibitions may be described as pollutions, as ritual uncleanness.17
Acts 15 describes the most important meeting the early
church had. The future of the church was at stake—was it to be a Jewish group,
or would it allow Gentiles?
If Gentiles could enter the church without following Jewish
laws, the church would attract more Gentiles, and eventually Gentiles would be
the majority. The church would no longer be a sect of Judaism, but a distinct
faith. Let’s see how the council of Jerusalem developed.