“Lessons from Acts 15”
How To Establish Scriptural Authority
Should Gentile Christians be circumcised according to the Law of Moses? That was an issue that threatened the unity of early Christians. Judaizing teachers tried to bind circumcision on Gentile Christians (v.1).
The purpose of the meeting in the church at Jerusalem was not to determine the truth on the issue. The truth was already known. The purpose of the meeting was to silence the Judaizing teachers and the spread of their error.
Paul and Barnabas laid out their case (v.4); Gal.2:2 tells us that Paul had a private meeting with the apostles. The Judaizing teachers presented their case (v.5). The apostles and elders met to consider the matter (v.6). Peter gave a speech (v.7-11). Paul and Barnabas told of their first journey among the Gentiles (v.12). James gave a speech too (v.13-21).
As a result of the meeting, Gentile Christians were not to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (v.22-35). Letters were written to Gentile churches informing them of that. The apostles and the elders of the church in Jerusalem gave no such commandment of binding circumcision on Gentile Christians.
By necessary inference Peter learned that Gentiles could be saved by the blood of Christ on the condition of an obedient faith in Christ without being circumcised and obeying the Law of Moses. On the basis of the vision of clean and unclean animals let down on a sheet from heaven and the Word of God - "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (Acts 10:15), Peter concluded that Gentiles could be saved by faith in Christ (Acts 10:34-35). Peter necessarily inferred from the vision and the Word of God that this conclusion was true.
Paul and Barnabas spoke of the work done during their first missionary journey, especially beginning at Antioch where, being disappointed w/the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, they turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13: 42-49). They had openly reported these things to many Christians (Acts 14: 27;15:12). God had approved the work of Paul and Barnabas in the converting of the Gentiles and no circumcision was involved. The examples spoke for themselves as to what God had authorized in the salvation of the Gentiles.
The speech of James supported the conclusion that Peter had reached. James quoted Amos 9:11-12, a direct statement of God concerning Gentiles being called by His name and a part of the rebuilt tabernacle of David. A clear statement of Scripture showed that Gentiles were involved in the Messianic plans of God.
The apostles indicted the Judaizing teachers who acted on their own initiative. They were men "to whom we gave no such commandment" (v.24). The fact that no New Testament command had been given to be circumcised or to keep the Law of Moses settled the issue. God's silence is prohibitive, not permissive.
So, the way to establish Scriptural authority is by necessary inference, approved apostolic example, and direct statement or command. We should also respect the silence of the Scriptures.
In the final analysis whether we obey or disobey God is a matter of regard or disregard for the Word of God. The only possible way for us to be united is to follow the simple plan of "speaking where the Bible speaks and by remaining silent where the Bible is silent" (1 Pet.4:11).