It wasn't long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: "If you're not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can't be saved."
Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.
After they were sent off and on their way, they told everyone they met as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria about the breakthrough to the Gentile outsiders. Everyone who heard the news cheered - it was terrific news!
When they got to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were graciously received by the whole church, including the apostles and leaders. They reported on their recent journey and how God had used them to open things up to the outsiders.
Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. "You have to circumcise the pagan converts," they said. "You must make them keep the Law of Moses."
The apostles and leaders called a special meeting to consider the matter.
The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: "Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it - and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth.
And God, who can't be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person's thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us.
He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him.
"So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too?
Don't we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?"
There was dead silence. No one said a word. With the room quiet, Barnabas and Paul reported matter-of-factly on the miracles and wonders God had done among the other nations through their ministry.
The silence deepened; you could hear a pin drop.
Simeon has told us the story of how God at the very outset made sure that racial outsiders were included.
This is in perfect agreement with the words of the prophets:
After this, I'm coming back; I'll rebuild David's ruined house; I'll put all the pieces together again; I'll make it look like new
So outsiders who seek will find, so they'll have a place to come to, All the pagan peoples included in what I'm doing.
It's no afterthought; he's always known he would do this.
"So here is my decision: We're not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.
We'll write them a letter and tell them, 'Be careful to not get involved in activities connected with idols, to guard the morality of sex and marriage, to not serve food offensive to Jewish Christians - blood, for instance.'
This is basic wisdom from Moses, preached and honored for centuries now in city after city as we have met and kept the Sabbath."
Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas - they both carried considerable weight in the church - and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas
with this letter: From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Hello!
We heard that some men from our church went to you and said things that confused and upset you. Mind you, they had no authority from us; we didn't send them.
We have agreed unanimously to pick representatives and send them to you with our good friends Barnabas and Paul.
We picked men we knew you could trust, Judas and Silas - they've looked death in the face time and again for the sake of our Master Jesus Christ.
We've sent them to confirm in a face-to-face meeting with you what we've written.
It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities:
Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage. These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you! Barnabas and Paul Go Their Separate Ways
And so off they went to Antioch. On arrival, they gathered the church and read the letter.
The people were greatly relieved and pleased.
Judas and Silas, good preachers both of them, strengthened their new friends with many words of courage and hope.
Then it was time to go home. They were sent off by their new friends with laughter and embraces all around to report back to those who had sent them.
Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren't alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)