Next Week's Readings
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
1st Sunday after Trinity
1 Kings 21.1-10 [11-14] 15-21a
By Robin Griffith-Jones
LUKE tells with great care of the Church’s expansion. Among those who fled
to Antioch after Stephen’s death, some Cypriots and Cyrenians begin to preach
to Gentiles. The Cypriot Barnabas is sent from Jerusalem to investigate. He is
pleased by what he sees; and takes the opportunity to fetch Paul, by now back
in Tarsus, to join him.
Barnabas and Paul are commissioned as missionaries by
Antioch’s church. They reach southern Galatia, preaching to Jews and Gentiles.
The Jews turn against them; and they declare themselves to be missionaries,
from now on, specifically to the Gentiles.
Back at Antioch, visitors from Jerusalem raise an objection:
surely any Gentile converts must undertake to observe the Law. Barnabas and
Paul go to Jerusalem, according to Luke, to debate such Gentiles’ admission.
The set-piece scene of the Jerusalem council is at the very centre of Luke’s
narrative (Acts 15).
James, now head of the church in Jerusalem, proposes four
rules for Gentile converts to observe. Three ban the use of meat from certain
animals: those killed in pagan rituals or in contravention of Jewish laws on
slaughter. The fourth bans sexual laxity. The rules match the minimal
conditions, stipulated by later rabbis, to which any Jew must adhere even under
the direst persecution. The rules provide, as it were, for a minimum of
Jewishness. The Jerusalem leaders send Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch with a
letter laying down the newly agreed regulations.
It is likely that Paul is referring to this conference in
Galatians 2.1-10. (Likely, but not certain: Paul never mentions the decree from
Jerusalem.) He and Barnabas believe themselves wholly vindicated. Their
converts — Jewish and Gentile — are a single community, and quite properly eat
together. Peter, also in Antioch, joins them.
Enter representatives of James. They object fiercely. James
is working for the renewed purity of God’s land and people. Gentiles who
observe the Council’s rulings — Gentiles, that is, who are now on the borders
of Jewishness — are more dangerous to that purity than they had been as
outsiders, before their conversion.
Peter and Barnabas stop sharing meals with Gentile members
of the church. Paul is on his own. He will later write angrily to the
Galatians, invoking the words he had used to Peter. But, however compelling
Paul’s words might be in retrospect, they had been ineffective at the time.
Paul is defeated. He leaves Antioch as a maverick, never to return.
James’s influence spreads through Paul’s churches. Paul
writes to the Galatians to defend his gospel. It is not, he says, through the
"works of the law" — that is, through the Law’s observance — that anyone is