Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 6: Jew and Gentile
The next day after the stoning of Paul, the
apostles left the city, according to the direction
of Christ: "When they persecute you in this city,
flee ye into another." They departed for Derbe,
where their labors were blessed, and many souls
were led to embrace the truth. But both Paul
and Barnabas returned again to visit Antioch,
Lystra, the fields of labor where
they had met such opposition and persecution.
In all those places were many that believed the
truth; and the apostles felt it their duty to
strengthen and encourage their brethren who
were exposed to reproach and bitter opposition.
They were determined to securely bind off the [p. 63] work which they had done, that it might not
ravel out. Churches were organized in the
places mentioned, elders appointed in each church,
and the proper order established there.
Paul and Barnabas soon after returned to
Antioch in Syria, where they again labored for
some time; and many Gentiles there embraced
the doctrine of Christ. But certain Jews from
Judea raised a general consternation among the
believing Gentiles by agitating the question of
circumcision. They asserted with great assurance,
that none could be saved without being
circumcised and keeping the entire ceremonial law.
This was an important question, and one which
affected the church in a very great degree. Paul
and Barnabas met it with promptness, and
opposed introducing the subject to the Gentiles.
They were opposed in this by the believing Jews
of Antioch, who favored the position of those
from Judea. The matter resulted in much
discussion and want of harmony in the church,
until finally the church of Antioch, apprehending
that a division among them would occur from
any further discussion of the question, decided
to send Paul and Barnabas, together with some
responsible men of Antioch, to Jerusalem, to lay
the matter before the apostles and elders. There
they were to meet delegates from the different
churches, and those who had come to attend the
approaching annual festivals. Meanwhile all
controversy was to cease until a final decision
should be made by the responsible men of the
church. This decision was then to be universally
accepted by the various churches throughout the
The apostles, in making their way to [p. 64] Jerusalem, called upon the brethren of the cities
through which they passed, and encouraged them
by relating their experience in the work of God,
and the conversion of the Gentiles to the faith.
Upon arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from
Antioch related before the assembly of the
churches the success that had attended the
ministry with them, and the confusion that had
resulted from the fact that certain converted Pharisees
declared that the Gentile converts must be
circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order
to be saved.
The Jews were not generally prepared to move
as fast as the providence of God opened the way.
It was evident to them from the result of the
apostles' labors among the Gentiles, that the
converts among the latter people would far
exceed the Jewish converts; and that if the
restrictions and ceremonies of the Jewish law were
not made obligatory upon their accepting the
faith of Christ, the national peculiarities of the
Jews, which kept them distinct from all other
people, would finally disappear from among those
who embraced the gospel truths.
The Jews had prided themselves upon their
divinely appointed services; and they concluded
that as God once specified the Hebrew manner
of worship, it was impossible that he should ever
authorize a change in any of its specifications.
They decided that Christianity must connect
itself with the Jewish laws and ceremonies.
They were slow to discern to the end of that
which had been abolished by the death of Christ,
and to perceive that all their sacrificial offerings
had but prefigured the death of the Son of God,
in which type had met its antitype rendering [p. 65] valueless the divinely appointed ceremonies and
sacrifices of the Jewish religion.
Paul had prided himself upon his Pharisaical
strictness; but after the revelation of Christ to
him on the road to Damascus, the mission of
the Saviour, and his own work in the conversion
of the Gentiles, were plain to his mind; and he
fully comprehended the difference between a
living faith and a dead formalism. Paul still
claimed to be one of the children of Abraham,
and kept the ten commandments in letter and
in spirit as faithfully as he had ever done before
his conversion to Christianity. But he knew
that the typical ceremonies must soon altogether
cease, since that which they had shadowed forth
had come to pass, and the light of the gospel
was shedding its glory upon the Jewish religion,
giving a new significance to its ancient rites.
The question of circumcision was warmly discussed
in the assembly. The Gentile converts
lived in a community of idolaters. Sacrifices
and offerings were made to senseless idols, by
these ignorant and superstitious people. The
priests of these gods carried on an extensive
merchandise with the offerings brought to them;
and the Jews feared that the Gentile converts
would bring Christianity into disrepute by purchasing
those things which had been offered to
idols, and thereby sanctioning, in some measure,
an idolatrous worship.
Also, the Gentiles were accustomed to eat the
flesh of animals that had been strangled; while
the Jews had been divinely instructed with regard
to the food they should use. They were
particular, in killing beasts, that the blood should
flow from the body, else it was not regarded as [p. 66] healthful meat. God had given these injunctions
to the Jews for the purpose of preserving their
health and strength. The Jews considered it
sinful to use blood as an article of diet. They
considered that the blood was the life; and that
the shedding of blood was in consequence of sin.
The Gentiles, on the contrary, practiced
catching the blood which flowed from the victim of
sacrifice, and drinking it, or using it in the
preparation of their food. The Jews could not change
the customs which they had so long observed,
and which they had adopted under the special
direction of God. Therefore, as things then
stood, if Jew and Gentile came to eat at the
same table, the former would be shocked and
outraged by the habits and manners of the latter.
The Gentiles, and especially the Greeks, were
extremely licentious; and many, in accepting
Christianity, had united the truth to their
unsanctified natures, and continued to practice
fornication. The Jewish Christians could not tolerate
such immorality, which was not even regarded
as criminal by the Greeks. The Jews, therefore,
held it highly proper that circumcision, and the
observance of the ceremonial law, should be
brought to the Gentile converts as a test of their
sincerity and devotion. This they believed would
prevent the accession to the church of those who
were carried away by mere feeling, or who adopted
the faith without a true conversion of heart, and
who might afterward disgrace the cause by
immorality and excesses.
The questions thus brought under the
consideration of the council seemed to present
insurmountable difficulties, viewed in whatever light.
But the Holy Ghost had, in reality, already settled [p. 67] this problem, upon the decision of which
depended the prosperity, and even the existence,
of the Christian church. Grace, wisdom, and
sanctified judgment were given to the apostles
to decide the vexed question.
Peter reasoned that the Holy Ghost had decided
the matter by descending with equal power
upon the uncircumcised Gentiles and the circumcised
Jews. He recounted his vision, in which
God had presented before him a sheet filled with
all manner of four-footed beasts, and had bidden
him kill and eat; that when he had refused,
affirming that he had never eaten that which
was common or unclean, God had said, "What
God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."
He related the plain interpretation of these
words, which was given to him almost immediately
in his summons to go to the Gentile centurion,
and instruct him in the faith of Christ.
This message showed that God was no respecter
of persons, but accepted and acknowledged
those who feared him, and worked righteousness.
Peter told of his astonishment, when, in
speaking the words of truth to the Gentiles, he
witnessed the Holy Spirit take possession of his
hearers, both Jews and Gentiles. The same light
and glory that was reflected upon the circumcised
Jews, shone also upon the countenances of the
uncircumcised Gentiles. This was the warning
of God that he should not regard the one as inferior
to the other; for the blood of Jesus Christ
could cleanse from all uncleanness.
Peter had reasoned once before, in like manner,
with his brethren, concerning the conversion
of Cornelius and his friends, and his fellowship
with them. On that occasion he had related how [p. 68] the Holy Ghost fell on them, and had said,
"Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as
he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus
Christ, what was I that I could withstand God?"
Now, with equal fervor and force, he said, "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?"
This yoke was not the law of ten commandments,
as those who oppose the binding claim of
the law assert; but Peter referred to the law of
ceremonies, which was made null and void by
the crucifixion of Christ. This address of Peter
brought the assembly to a point where they could
listen with reason to Paul and Barnabas, who
related their experience in working among the
Gentiles. "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."
James bore his testimony with decision—that
God designed to bring in the Gentiles to enjoy all
the privileges of the Jews. The Holy Ghost saw
good not to impose the ceremonial law on the
Gentile converts; and the apostles and elders,
after careful investigation of the subject, saw the
matter in the same light, and their mind was as
the mind of the Spirit of God. James presided
at the council, and his final decision was, "Wherefore
my sentence is, that we trouble not them
which from among the Gentiles are turned to
God." [p. 69]
This ended the discussion. In this instance we
have a refutation of the doctrine held by the
Roman Catholic Church—that Peter was the
head of the church. Those who, as popes, have
claimed to be his successors, have no foundation
for their pretensions. Nothing in the life of
Peter gives sanction to those pretended claims.
If the professed successors of Peter had imitated
his example, they would have taken no authoritative
position, but one on an equality with that
of their brethren.
James, in this instance, seems to have been
chosen to decide the matter which was brought
before the council. It was his sentence that the
ceremonial law, and especially the ordinance of
circumcision, be not in any wise urged upon the
Gentiles, or even recommended to them. James
sought to impress the fact upon his brethren
that the Gentiles, in turning to God from idolatry,
made a great change in their faith; and that
much caution should be used not to trouble their
minds with perplexing and doubtful questions,
lest they be discouraged in following Christ.
The Gentiles, however, were to take no course
which should materially conflict with the views
of their Jewish brethren, or which would create
prejudice in their minds against them. The apostles
and elders therefore agreed to instruct the
Gentiles by letter to abstain from meats offered
to idols, from fornication, from things strangled,
and from blood. They were required to keep the
commandments, and to lead holy lives. The Gentiles
were assured that the men who had urged
circumcision upon them were not authorized to
do so by the apostles.
Paul and Barnabas were recommended to them [p. 70] as men who had hazarded their lives for the Lord.
Judas and Silas were sent with these apostles to
declare to the Gentiles, by word of mouth, the
decision of the council: "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." The four servants of God were sent to
Antioch with the epistle and message, which put
an end to all controversy; for it was the voice of
the highest authority upon earth.
The council which decided this case was
composed of the founders of the Jewish and Gentile
Christian churches. Elders from Jerusalem, and
deputies from Antioch, were present; and the
most influential churches were represented. The
council did not claim infallibility in their
deliberations, but moved from the dictates of
enlightened judgment, and with the dignity of a church
established by the divine will. They saw that
God himself had decided this question by favoring
the Gentiles with the Holy Ghost; and it was
left for them to follow the guidance of the Spirit.
The entire body of Christians were not called
to vote upon the question. The apostles and
elders—men of influence and judgment—framed
and issued the decree, which was thereupon
generally accepted by the Christian churches.
All were not pleased, however, with this decision;
there was a faction of false brethren
who assumed to engage in a work on their own
responsibility. They indulged in murmuring
and fault-finding, proposing new plans, and
seeking to pull down the work of the experienced [p. 71] men whom God had ordained to teach the doctrine
of Christ. The church has had such obstacles
to meet from the first, and will ever have
them to the close of time.
Jerusalem was the metropolis of the Jews, and
there were found the greatest exclusiveness and
bigotry. The Jewish Christians who lived in
sight of the temple would naturally allow their
minds to revert to the peculiar privileges of the
Jews as a nation. As they saw Christianity departing
from the ceremonies and traditions of
Judaism, and perceived that the peculiar sacredness
with which the Jewish customs had been
invested would soon be lost sight of in the light
of the new faith, many grew indignant against
Paul, as one who had, in a great measure, caused
this change. Even the disciples were not all prepared
to willingly accept the decision of the council.
Some were zealous for the ceremonial law,
and regarded Paul with jealousy, because they
thought his principles were lax in regard to the
obligation of the Jewish law.
When Peter, at a later date, visited Antioch,
he acted in accordance with the light given him
from Heaven, and the decision of the council.
He overcame his natural prejudice so far as to sit
at table with the Gentile converts. But when
certain Jews who were most zealous for the ceremonial
law came from Jerusalem, he changed his
deportment toward the converts from paganism
in so marked a degree that it left a most painful
impression upon their minds. Quite a number
followed Peter's example. Even Barnabas was
influenced by the injudicious course of the apostle;
and a division was threatened in the church.
But Paul, who saw the wrong done the church [p. 72] through the double part acted by Peter, openly
rebuked him for thus disguising his true sentiments.
Peter saw the error into which he had fallen,
and immediately set about repairing it as far as
possible. God, who knoweth the end from the
beginning, permitted Peter to exhibit this weakness
of character, in order that he might see that
there was nothing in himself whereof he might
boast. God also saw that in time to come some
would be so deluded as to claim for Peter and his
pretended successors, exalted prerogatives which
belong only to God; and this history of the apostle's
weakness was to remain as a proof of his
human fallibility, and of the fact that he stood in
no way above the level of the other apostles.
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"Imprisonment of Paul and Silas"