6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,
9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
The events of Galatians 2:6-10 probably took place before the meeting described in these verses.
Luke’s picture must be interpreted by Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Without suggesting that either is untrue, it is quite certain that if they be read together we shall catch a different tone. There is a touch in Paul’s account of the story, which reveals how keenly he felt certain attitudes taken up toward him, even on the part of the apostolic band. We cannon read Paul’s account of the council, and of its findings, without seeing that had they been other than they were, he would not have obeyed them. He was not seeking the authority of the church at Jerusalem. He was not asking for an expression of truth by James or by Peter, ex cathedra. He was there for purposes of consultation; and had the finding been one that put the Gentiles into bondage, he would have broken with Jerusalem, and all the apostles, in the interests of the truth. There are evidences in his account of the story, of the fact that there was a good deal of dissension, and difference, and argument, before finality was reached. — Morgan, page 356.
Paul’s response to the confusion is given in Galatians 2:5: to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
This was just a beginning, for the council at Jerusalem did not even consider the question whether or not the Jewish believers were to remain under the law. They assumed that they were, for no revelation had as yet been given by God to the effect that they were to be freed from it. As late as Acts 21:20 they were still “all zealous of the law.” — Stam, page 253.
An examination of the list of those present at the special meeting of “the apostles and elders” will give us an inkling of the difficulties Paul faced as he defended his apostleship and message and the liberty of the Gentiles.
First, there were probably all of the twelve apostles except James the brother of John, who had been killed by Herod. Then there was also James, the brother of Christ, who was an apostle in the secondary sense, but not one of the twelve. He was a strict legalist and a stickler for the letter of the law. It is doubtless for this reason that he came to be called “James the Just.”
A comparison of Acts 15:7 and Galatians 2:4-5 reveals that among those present at this meeting there were also “false brethren, unawares brought in,” working under cover to “spy out” the liberty which the Gentiles enjoyed in Christ and to bring them into bondage; men secretly brought in to infiltrate the audience and use political persuasion or pressure or other illegitimate means to sway the decision.
Then, of course, there were also the subordinate elders of the churches of Judea (v.6).
Representing the Gentile believers there were Paul, Barnabas, Titus and several others (Acts 15:2; Galatians 2:1). The choice of Barnabas and Titus to accompany Paul on this occasion was particularly wise. Barnabas was a Jew, a Levite, who had formerly belonged to the church at Jerusalem and had sold his property, laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37). He would well understand their viewpoint. Titus, on the other hand, was a Greek, brought along doubtless as an example of the reality of Gentile conversion and also as a test case in the event of a battle with the legalizers over circumcision, so that the Gentiles might have practical proof that circumcision and the law were not to be enforced upon them. What a valuable experience this must have proved to Titus when later he had to stand against the legalizers in the island of Crete! (Titus 1:10-11). — Stam, pages 259-262.
God had given Peter [his] experience with Cornelius and his household (significantly after the raising up of Paul) with this very council in view, that he might bear witness to the simple facts he had observed and so confirm Paul’s ministry. And why should the Jewish believers complain? Was it not after all circumcision of the heart and its purification by faith that even Israel must experience before she can be saved? (See Jeremiah 4:1, 4; 9:26; cf. Acts 7:51; Romans 2:25-29). — Stam, page 266.
giving them the Holy Spirit (v.8) — absolute proof that God was dealing with the Gentiles
purifying their hearts by faith (v.9) — in contrast with the external, ceremonial purification required by the law, including circumcision. God does the cleansing — see Acts 10:15.
test God (v.10) — To insist on circumcision would be questioning and challenging God’s will.
yoke (v.10) — the law
Closing his remarks, Peter makes a most remarkable statement: But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they (v.11).
He does not say: “they shall be saved in the same manner as we” but “we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” So far from the law being necessary to their salvation, he argues, it is not really that by which we are saved, and this will yet be demonstrated.
This is the last recorded statement in the account of Peter’s ministry in Acts. It should be compared with the last words of his epistles. Explaining there that Paul has written some things “hard to be understood,” he closes: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen (2 Peter 3:18). — Stam, page 267.