Reading for Thursday, April 26: Acts 15
Acts 15 is another landmark chapter in our reading this year. This chapter describes the resolution to a tremendous controversy in the early church: the inclusion of the Gentile believers. All the major players are here for this council-discussion: Peter, Paul, James, Barnabas. The question: should Gentile converts also be required to undergo circumcision?
Peter speaks first, alluding to his call to baptize Cornelius: “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe,” (v7). Peter appeals to his experience at Cornelius’ (Acts 10) and concludes with this assessment: “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will,” (v11). Barnabas and Paul also make a personal appeal, relating all the signs and wonders God has provided in their ministry to the Gentiles. James, as one of the influential voices of Jerusalem, appeals to Scripture, turning to Amos 9 and God’s promise of restoration for His remnant people — including the Gentiles.
The council agrees not to further burden the Gentile Christians, only to ask them to exercise discretion in food and sexual restrictions. Judas and Silas are nominated to accompany Paul and Barnabas as they share this news in the Gentile churches.
But the collaborative victory of the early part of the chapter is quickly forgotten; by chapter’s end, Paul and Barnabas have separated. The cause of this rupture? John Mark. On their first missionary journey, John Mark returned home halfway through (Acts 13.13). Paul seemingly loses confidence in the young man, but Barnabas remains an encourager to the end. He refuses to give up on John Mark, much as he refused to give up on Saul years earlier.