In the Regions Beyond
THE apostles and disciples who left
Jerusalem during the fierce persecution that raged there after the martyrdom of Stephen,
preached Christ in the cities round about, confining their labors to the Hebrew and Greek
Jews. "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and
turned unto the Lord." Acts 11:21.
When the believers in
Jerusalem heard the good tidings they rejoiced; and Barnabas, "a good man, and full
of the Holy Ghost and of faith," was sent to Antioch, the metropolis of Syria, to
help the church there. He labored there with great success. As the work increased, he
solicited and obtained the help of Paul; and the two disciples labored together in that
city for a year, teaching the people and adding to the numbers of the church of Christ.
Antioch had both a large
Jewish and Gentile population; it was a great resort for lovers of ease and pleasure,
because of the healthfulness of its situation, its beautiful scenery, and the wealth,
culture, and refinement that centered there. Its extensive commerce made it a place of
great importance, where people of all nationalities were found. It was therefore a city of
luxury and vice. The retribution of God finally came upon Antioch, because of the
wickedness of its inhabitants.
It was here that the
disciples were first called Christians. This name was given them because Christ was the
main theme of their preaching, teaching, and conversation. They were continually
recounting the incidents of His life during the time in which His disciples were blessed
with His personal company. They dwelt untiringly upon His teachings, His miracles of
healing the sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead to life. With quivering lips
and tearful eyes they spoke of His agony in the garden, His betrayal, trial, and
execution, the forbearance and humility with which He endured the contumely and torture
imposed upon Him by His enemies, and the Godlike pity with which He prayed for those who
persecuted Him. His resurrection and ascension and his work in heaven as a Mediator for
fallen man were joyful topics with them. The heathen might well call them Christians,
since they preached of Christ and addressed their prayers to God through Him.
Paul found, in the populous
city of Antioch, an excellent field of labor, where his great learning, wisdom, and zeal,
combined, wielded a powerful influence over the inhabitants and frequenters of that city
Meanwhile the work of the
apostles was centered at Jerusalem, where Jews of all tongues and countries came to
worship at the temple during the stated festivals. At such times the apostles preached
Christ with unflinching courage, though they knew that in so doing their lives were in
constant jeopardy. Many converts to the faith were made, and these, scattering to their
homes in different parts of the country, dispersed the seeds of truth throughout all
nations and among all classes of society.
Peter, James, and John felt
confident that God
had appointed them to preach Christ among their own countrymen at home.
But Paul had received his commission from God, while praying in the temple, and his broad
missionary field had been presented before him with remarkable distinctness. To prepare
him for his extensive and important work, God had brought him into close connection with
Himself, and had opened before his enraptured vision a glimpse of the beauty and glory of
of Paul and Barnabas
God communicated with the
devout prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. "As they ministered to the
Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work
whereunto I have called them." Acts 13:2. These apostles were therefore dedicated to
God in a most solemn manner by fasting and prayer and the laying on of hands; and they
were sent forth to their field of labor among the Gentiles.
Both Paul and Barnabas had
been laboring as ministers of Christ, and God had abundantly blessed their efforts, but
neither of them had previously been formally ordained to the gospel ministry by prayer and
the laying on of hands. They were now authorized by the church not only to teach the truth
but to baptize and to organize churches, being invested with full ecclesiastical
authority. This was an important era for the church. Though the middle wall of partition
between Jew and Gentile had been broken down by the death of Christ, letting the Gentiles
into the full privileges of the gospel, the veil had not yet been torn away from the eyes
of many of the believing Jews, and they could not clearly discern to the end of that which
was abolished by the Son of God. The work was now to be prosecuted with vigor among the
and was to result in strengthening the church by a great ingathering of souls.
The apostles, in this, their
special work, were to be exposed to suspicion, prejudice, and jealousy. As a natural
consequence of their departure from the exclusiveness of the Jews, their doctrine and
views would be subject to the charge of heresy; and their credentials as ministers of the
gospel would be questioned by many zealous, believing Jews. God foresaw all these
difficulties which His servants would undergo, and, in His wise providence, caused them to
be invested with unquestionable authority from the established church of God, that their
work should be above challenge.
The ordination by the laying
on of hands was, at a later date, greatly abused; unwarrantable importance was attached to
the act, as though a power came at once upon those who received such ordination, which
immediately qualified them for any and all ministerial work, as though virtue lay in the
act of laying on of hands. We have, in the history of these two apostles, only a simple
record of the laying on of hands, and its bearing upon their work. Both Paul and Barnabas
had already received their commission from God Himself; and the ceremony of the laying on
of hands added no new grace or virtual qualification. It was merely setting the seal of
the church upon the work of God--an acknowledged form of designation to an appointed
First General Conference
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 at 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 country.
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 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 valueless the divinely appointed ceremonies and sacrifices of the
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
of Cornelius' Experience
The question 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 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 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
the 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.
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."
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 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. The four servants of God were sent to Antioch with the epistle and message, which
put an end to all controversy; for its 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 faultfinding, proposing new plans and seeking to pull down the
work of the experienced 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
Copyright © 1974
The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
All Rights Reserved